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Saturday, February 26, 2011

EDITORIAL 26.02.11

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 26, edition 000765, 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 GOOD RAILWAY BUDGET
  2. GOODBYE, UNCLE PAI
  3. MACAVITY OF OUR TIMES - GAUTAM MUKHERJEE
  4. INITIATIVE RETURNS TO BJP - SANJAY KAUL
  5. HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN - SWARN KUMAR ANAND
  6. …BUT GLOATING WILL NOT HELP - CP BHAMBRI

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. YOU GIVE ME FEVER
  2. YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION - GAUTAM ADHIKARI
  3. OF DUCKS AND CROCODILES - CHETAN BHAGAT
  4. SMACKS OF MORAL POSTURING
  5. CURBING WASTE LAWFULLY - DEEP K DATTA-RAY

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. A SURVEY WITH A CONSCIENCE
  2. LIVE ON FM RADIO - GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI
  3. WAIT WHILE WE THINK OF NEW NAMES - PRATIK KANJILAL,  

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. STATE OF IR
  2. CHAPTER & VERSE
  3. SAYING NO TO DRUGS
  4. LOK SABHA, 2014 - SHEKHAR GUPTA
  5. THE SEASON TO CHOOSE POLICY - YOGINERKALAGH
  6. 'GOVT AT NO STAGE INTERFERED IN CBI PROBE' - MANMOHAN SINGH
  7. A LETTER FROM UNCLE PAI  - SHARON FERNANDES
  8. DON'T STOP MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT - CHARULATARAVIKUMAR
  9. RIFT IN PUNJAB - RUCHIKA TALWAR

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. REPUBLIC OF MAMATA
  2. A BIT OF THIS, A BIT OF THAT
  3. NOWHERE TO HIDE - SHAILESH DOBHAL
  4. PROMISES TO KEEP... - RC ACHARYA

THE HINDU

  1. MAMATA'S POPULIST BUDGET
  2. LESSONS FROM THE KIDNAPPING
  3. HOW NOT TO TACKLE THE BLACK ECONOMY IN INDIA  - ARUN KUMAR
  4. U.S. TRYING TO PICK WINNERS IN THE NEW MIDDLE EAST  - HELENE COOPER AND MARK LANDLER
  5. THE ARABS ARE DEMOCRACY'S NEW PIONEERS  - MICHAEL HARDT AND ANTONIO NEGRI
  6. THAILAND MAKES ANOTHER IVORY SEIZURE

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. POPULIST MAMATA A LITTLE CIRCUMSPECT?
  2. VIVE LA DIFFERENCE - FARRUKH DHONDY
  3. SETTING: IN INDIA, IT'S A VERB - SHOBHAA DE
  4. NEED START-UPS TO REBOOT IT - GANESH NATARAJAN
  5. LOADED DICTATORS & OTHER MONSTERS - KISHWAR DESAI

DNA

  1. A RIGHT TO OGLE AT AIR HOSTESSES
  2. ASHOK KRISH
  3. HUBBY, THE HANDYMAN - PADDY RANGAPPA
  4. MOTHER INDIA! WE LOVE YOU MADLY! - MAYANK TEWARI
  5. PEPSI WANTS RICKY PONTING FOR TV  - RAHUL ROUSHAN

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. LAND GRABBING MENACE
  2. AN HISTORICAL ACCOMPLISHMENT
  3. PAKISTAN JUDICIARY - BY M L KOTRU
  4. PROTECTING STATE FORESTS - BY HARJINDER SINGH
  5. LESSONS FROM MIDDLE EAST - BY ARUN NEHRU

THE TRIBUNE

  1. RED SIGNAL AHEAD
  2. ECONOMY IS LOOKING UP
  3. BEYOND THE EUPHORIA
  4. REGIONAL GRIEVANCES IN J&K - BY BALRAJ PURI
  5. STRIKING IT RICH -  BY S. RAGHUNATH
  6. SONIA'S DISTRESS, ADVANI'S REGRET - S. GURUMURTHY
  7. NEED TO BALANCE EMOTION WITH HARD FACTS - ABHISHEK SINGHVI

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. AMUL ADORNS THE FLYING DUTCH

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. OFF-BALANCE SHEET
  2. T N NINAN
  3. OUTGROWING INFANCY
  4. SHUBHASHIS GANGOPADHYAY
  5. THE INDIA-BHARAT BLINKERS - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
  6. DESTROYING THE GLOBAL COMMONS - SUBIR ROY
  7. WHAT'S GONE WRONG IN THE ARAB WORLD? - V V
  8. THE LULL AFTER THE STORM - DEVANGSHU DATTA

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. OFF-TRACK, MAMATADI
  2. THE WAY FORWARD
  3. SHORT AND SWEET
  4. STOPPING RAIL RANI IN HER TRACKS
  5. RAGHU DAYAL FORMER CMD, CONCOR
  6. 'LACK OF BIOTECH FOOD SAFETY IS A MYTH'  - PRABHA JAGANNATHAN
  7. INDIA AND THE ARAB TRANSITION  - CP BHAMBHRI

DECCAN  CHRONICALE

  1. POPULIST MAMATA A LITTLE CIRCUMSPECT?
  2. VIVE LA DIFFERENCE  - BY FARRUKH DHONDY
  3. DEJECTION AFTER A CELEBRATION  - SETTING
  4. IN INDIA, IT'S A VERB  - BY SHOBHAA DE  

THE STATESMAN

  1. JPC TAKES OFF
  2. ORISSA ABDUCTIONS
  3. 'FORM OF EXTORTION'
  4. HAJ SUBSIDY & SECULARISM - FAIZAN MUSTAFA
  5. 'WE WANT TO TRY FOR PEACE TO END THE CONFLICT'  
  6. INDIA'S ROAD TO EGYPT?  - RAJINDER PURI
  7. THE FOLLY OF A FAUSTIAN BARGAIN

THE TELEGRAPH

1.      TRAIN WRECK

2.      DREAM TEAMS  - RAMACHANDRA GUHA

 

DECCAN HERALD

  1. LACKING IN VISION
  2. DEADLY TREMOR
  3. PM'S IMAGE AT STAKE -  RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA
  4. PROFITABLE BUSINESS  - KHUSHWANT SINGH
  5. LESSONS FROM MARVIN DOROTHY VICTOR

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. THE WAR ON WOMEN
  2. 3 TO 2 FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM
  3. STOLEN HISTORY
  4. RUN MITCH, RUN - BY DAVID BROOKS
  5. Look at the Science
  6. A SAUDI PRINCE'S PLEA FOR REFORM - BY ALWALEED BIN TALAL BIN ABDULAZIZ AL-SAUD
  7. JUPITER'S EL SOL - BY LAWRENCE DOWNES
  8. PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY BOOK CLUB - BY GAIL COLLINS
  9. THE G.O.P.'S ABANDONED BABIES - BY CHARLES M. BLOW
  10. ABSORBING THE PAIN - BY BOB HERBERT
  11. PAYING FOR OLD AGE - BY HENRY T. C. HU AND TERRANCE ODEAN

TIMES FREE PRESS

  1. MIDEAST TROUBLE AND OUR MONEY
  2. REMARKABLE CANDOR
  3. OOMING 'HOT-LANTA'!
  4. UNION GROWTH VS. AIRLINE SECURITY

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. BANKRUPTCY OF THE EU'S MEDITERRANEAN POLICY - GİLA BENMAYOR
  2. A BIRD'S EYE VIEW - EURO! WHAT EURO? - ADVENA AVIS
  3. MERYEM'S OUTCRY - EYÜP CAN
  4. THE CORRIDOR - IN SEARCH OF AN ELECTION COALITION - GÖKSEL BOZKURT
  5. BUTTERFLY EFFECT OR 'DOMINO THEORY' - YUSUF KANLI
  6. IF YOU DIE IN TURKEY… - SADETTİN ORHAN
  7. 'IN PEOPLE POWER, THERE IS HOPE YET FOR THE MIDDLE EAST' - FETHI MANSOURI
  8. SARKOZY FOR 300 MINUTES - CENGİZ AKTAR
  9. WHERE HAVE ALL THE ISLAMISTS GONE? - MUSTAFA AKYOL
  10. INTERCULTURAL BRAND MANAGEMENT - ZAFER PARLAR
  11. TURKEY'S NEW A LA CARTE NERVE - SONER ÇAĞAPTAY

THE NEWS

  1. THE TIMES CHANGE
  2. KASHMIRI RIPPLES
  3. CONGRESS IN CRISIS, BJP NO ANSWER  - PRAFUL BIDWAI
  4. CHANTS OF LIBERTY SHAKE THE WORLD  - DR QAISAR RASHID
  5. BEYOND THE DAVIS AFFAIR  - TAJ M KHATTAK
  6. QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE  -  MIR ADNAN AZIZ
  7. FROZEN MINDSETS  - BABAR SATTAR
  8. GUT REACTION  - MINUTES TICKING

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. FOREIGN NETWORK OF SUICIDE BOMBERS
  2. NEED TO MODERNISE PN
  3. PLIGHT OF POWER CONSUMERS
  4. AVOIDING WATER WARS - MOHAMMAD JAMIL
  5. WHO ISSUED BULK VISAS TO THE AMERICANS? - DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN
  6. BALOCHISTAN THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITIES - ABID LATIF SINDHU
  7. FREEDOM IN WRONG HANDS - KHALID SALEEM

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. HELPING MATES ACROSS THE DITCH
  2. THE PROMISES OF YESTERDAY ARE THE TAXES OF TODAY
  3. LABOR'S POLL OMISSION SPARKS MPS' EMISSIONS

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. NO WALKING AWAY ON CLIMATE AGAIN
  2. IF OFFERED OLD BLYTON, JUST SAY 'SHAN'T'
  3. GILLARD MUST HOLD THE LINE ON CARBON
  4. BAILLIEU SHOULD THINK AGAIN ON TARGET 155

THE GUARDIAN

  1. LIBYA: LIMITED OPTIONS
  2. UNTHINKABLE? SIMPLER SPELLING
  3. BIG SOCIETY: BREACH OF CONTRACT

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. A TROUBLING TREND ON ROADS
  2. TOLL SYSTEM IS SERIOUSLY FLAWED
  3. CONSCRIPTED PRISONERS OF THE RUSSIAN ARMY - BY SERGEI GURIEV AND ALEH TSYVINSKI
  4. THE BATTLE FOR BAHRAIN - BY BARAK BARFI

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. PROTECTING THE WEAK
  2. CYPRUS AND RI: OLD FRIENDS WITH NEW RESPONSIBILITIES, POSSIBILITIES - NICOS PANAYI
  3. IS MOVING THE CAPITAL A SOLUTION? - DEVISARI TUNAS
  4. LIBERALISM IS ALIVE IN THE ARAB WORLD, FOR NOW - ENDY M. BAYUNI
  5. OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM HAS A MAFIA  - MOCHAMAD SUBHAN ZEIN

DAILY MIRROR

  1. POLICY ON POLITICAL COALITIONS: JVP BACK TO SQUARE ONE
  2. INDIA LOOKS TO BAN LAVISH WEDDINGS TO FEED POOR
  3. THE CASE OF LABOUR RIGHTS AS HUMAN RIGHTS – BONDED LABOUR AND MODERN SLAVERY  - BY JUSTICE SURESH CHANDRA
  4. INDIA'S COSMETIC EXERCISE AGAINST CORRUPTION  - BY NEETA LAL

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. 9/11 is revisited  - by paul balles 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

A GOOD RAILWAY BUDGET

MAMATA BANERJEE MUST NOW KEEP HER PROMISES


For the third consecutive year Ms Mamata Banerjee has presented what can be termed as a 'passenger friendly' Railway Budget that should not leave too many people unhappy for having been ignored. There has been no hike in passenger fare and freight rates. Senior citizenship benefits have been further relaxed with women being the main beneficiaries of the relaxation. To disprove critics who have been carping about the finances of Indian Railways being in a mess, Ms Banerjee has announced the highest-ever Plan outlay of Rs 57,630 crore while providing Rs 9,583 crore for new lines. And, as with every Railway Budget, a clutch of new trains have been announced: 56 Express Trains, three Shatabdis and nine Durontos have been promised in the coming year. Bearing in mind the need to increase capacity, air-conditioned double-decker services will be introduced on Jaipur-Delhi and Ahmedabad-Mumbai routes. Ms Banerjee has also promised to upgrade stations and improve services for commuters in cities like Mumbai and Kolkata. It is laudable that the Minister has not forgotten about the need to improve the safety record of Indian Railways, especially in view of the series of accidents last year which claimed a terrible toll of human lives. We are now informed that anti-collision devices have been sanctioned to cover eight zonal railways and GPS-based 'fog safety' devices will be deployed; also, all unmanned level crossings will be done away with. These are commendable measures but as the proverb goes, the proof of the pudding is in the eating. We will have to wait and watch whether these measures are actually implemented and if they bring down the rate of mishaps that have plagued Indian Railways for quite some time. It also merits mention that there are many promises that have been made in the past, and not by Ms Banerjee alone, which are yet to be fulfilled. In fact, many of the things which were mentioned in last year's Railway Budget speech are yet to see the light of the day. This is partly because Ms Banerjee has been distracted with West Bengal politics and till such time the Assembly election in that State is over, it is unlikely that she will focus on her responsibilities as Minister for Railways. Of course, if the Trinamool Congress were to win the election, as is widely expected, she is likely to move on to Kolkata as the new Chief Minister, in which case her successor would have to take on the burden of fulfilling the promises made by her.


Ms Banerjee's critics have been prompt in claiming that individual States have been ignored or that West Bengal has got a larger share than others. There may be some truth to it but we must remember that previous Railway Ministers have followed the same path of pandering to their own States and constituencies over others. To that extent, she has not done something out of the way or extraordinary by displaying a certain bias for West Bengal. That said, she should now get down to the business of managing the finances of Indian Railways better so that there are adequate funds for both upkeep of rolling stock and tracks as well as adding to the existing network and increasing passenger and freight capacity of our trains. Too much emphasis on showering sops and adding to existing benefits without minding the purse could prove to be counter-productive in the long run.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

GOODBYE, UNCLE PAI

CHILDREN AND THEIR PARENTS WILL MISS YOU


For those of us who remember a time when the blackberry was just a fruit and Shaktimaan the ultimate superhero, the death of our beloved Uncle Pai has led to melancholy mixed with nostalgia. Uncle Pai — few knew his real name, Anant Pai — gave us our first desi comic strip, the Amar Chitra Katha series. The 81-year-old comic book pioneer, whose simple stories accompanied by colourful illustrations enthralled generations, died of cardiac arrest in a Mumbai hospital on Thursday evening. Anant Pai sought to teach little Indians about their heritage through simple stories that were fun and engaging. A traditionalist to the core, he believed that strong cultural roots and solid understanding of one's heritage was the key to success. In fact, when the Amar Chitra Katha series — which brings to life the Ramayana and the Mahabharata — was first introduced in the 1960s, it was essentially for educational purposes. The turning point came while Anant Pai was watching a quiz contest where the young participants were unaware of Lord Rama's mother but knew all about the gods of Olympus. It was then that he took it upon himself to bring back the fascinating world of India's cultural heritage to the children of the country. The year was 1967 and Anant Pai was a junior executive at the books division of The Times of India, where he had already been actively involved in the production of Indrajal Comics. Soon, he left his job and launched the Amar Chitra Katha series. The first issue, Krishna, came out in 1970 but received only a lukewarm response. It took another four years for the project to take off, but once it did there was no stopping Uncle Pai from becoming a household name. He travelled often and extensively, meeting with his young readers and persuading their teachers to use comic books as an educational tool. He even organised nation-wide contests for children and in fact that was how he discovered 12-year-old girl Elaine D'Lime who helped create Anant Pai's comic magazine, Tinkle — India's first modern day comic that was a roaring success. Across the country, children and adults alike took to the foolish Suppandi and the conniving, Tantri the Mantri. Once again, simple illustrations and bold colours brought to life Uncle Pai's magical world as it both entertained and educated another generation of young Indians.


Little wonder that Uncle Pai's comics have already sold more than 100 million copies and have been translated into several languages. His comic and cartoon syndicate Rang Rekha Features has now become ACK Media and Uncle Pai who had no copyright over his own creationa served as its Editor Emeritus and Chief Storyteller. His demise is a terrible loss for young Indian readers who know little beyond the mindless world of Spongebob Squarepants but hopefully when they stumble across the Amar Chitra Katha series at the iTunes Apps store, they will let themselves be amazed.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

MACAVITY OF OUR TIMES

GAUTAM MUKHERJEE


Manmohan Singh now uses his natural gifts of modesty, honesty and erudition to attempt an audacious suspension of disbelief worthy of a master cine artiste


He always has an alibi and one or two to spare Whatever time the deed took place, Macavity wasn't there!

The Mystery Cat by TS Eliot

The Prime Minister's brazen, evidently much-rehearsed performance during his interaction with the editors of TV news channels recently was reminiscent of poet TS Eliot's story of an elusive mystery cat he called Macavity. As spectator sports go, one finds the packaging of a position between a rock and a hard place particularly fascinating. But still, the nation waited and waited for a gritty, integrity-laden truth out of the whole thing.

Instead, we were treated to a series of anodyne and self-serving statements. But perhaps, to read the tea leaves correctly, our wait will have to be extended. Because the only clear-cut thing Mr Manmohan Singh said is that he wasn't quitting and that he intended to do some restructuring of the Union Cabinet after the Budget session of Parliament.


But verily, he has matured and ripened as a politician. Mr Singh now uses his natural gifts of modesty, personal honesty, erudition, the familiar white bearded and blue turbanned persona, to not just give an appealing and sympathetic account of himself but also attempt an audacious suspension of disbelief worthy of a master cine artiste.

Many senior media persons and Opposition politicians have already marvelled at how the Prime Minister has positioned the precarious state of governance with corruption and bad news pouring out of every crack and orifice as a matter he is just about to tidy up, having recently located his misplaced broom.


The transmogrification, over the years, of the once decidedly leftist professor and economist-turned-World Bank-inspired reformer-liberator of the Indian economy in 1991 eliding, kaleidoscopically, imperceptibly, into the blasé politician of today, is impressive.


Mr Singh, as we see him in 2011, must have been reminding himself, as he fielded questions with practised ease, that he was exactly where he always wanted to be. He was informing us that he was determined to go down in history as the first non-dynasty Congress Prime Minister to stay in office for two full back-to-back terms.

And, by implication, he underlined that there was no one in the UPA, or for that matter in the Opposition, who could unseat him. Increasingly, this very durability and tenacity of tenure, along with his knack to see his pet projects through, may turn out to be his lasting testament. In this, he has quite a lot in common with former US President George W Bush who was also not thwarted from his essential purposes by mere criticism.

Besides, even if we cast Mr Singh into the Faustian mould of having struck his particular bargain to share power with the Congress president, we can't fail to note his emphasis on the satisfactory performance of GDP growth with him as the helmsman. Based on this success alone Mr Singh seeks to minimise the impact of all the corruption on his watch.

Besides, Faustian pacts aside, the sharing of prime ministerial power is hardly unprecedented. Our first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, had to do so with both the Mahatma and Home Minister Vallabhbhai Patel while they lived. More recently, the charismatic Mr Atal Bihari Vajpayee shared his primus inter pares powers with his friend and comrade-in-arms, Mr LK Advani. Besides, it has taken Mr Singh off the hook on matters connected with the electoral success or failure of the Congress.


Meanwhile, on the other side of the binary of power, all does not seem well. Electorally there have been hardly any State Assembly or by-poll successes for the Congress. Equally, we can't help but note that the poverty alleviation and rural employment programmes for the aam admi are lying in a shambles.


Mr Singh could, therefore, be consciously benefitting from the weaknesses in his own party. He was also determined to reach out to the Opposition to rescue the Budget session from the fate that befell the Winter session of Parliament, even though this means he could be summoned to appear before the Joint Parliamentary Committee that will look into the 2G Spectrum scam.


Mr Singh, the politician, is also adept at breaking logjams. He did it in UPA1 to get the Left off his back by deftly utilising Mr Mulayam Singh Yadav's numbers in the Lok Sabha. The Left has been floundering both politically and electorally ever since.


To assess Mr Singh as politically naïve or weak may be a classic misjudgement. He knows how to play the hand he has been dealt adroitly. He also knows age and health dictate that this is his last chance in active politics. And while minding the store and sweeping the Augean stables of domestic politics interests him, it is not by any means his passion. The economy qualifies in this regard, as does foreign policy.


Mr Manmohan Singh will see to it that that India tilts decisively towards the United States by way of our defence purchases before he leaves high office. This will reduce the strategic disadvantage we have always found ourselves in with regard to neighbouring bugbears China and Pakistan.


Both these countries are occasionally strident in their relationship with the US but know which side their bread is buttered. They have consequently benefitted enormously from being perceived as allies.


By way of contrast, India has long been in the Soviet camp while pretending to be non-aligned. The Russians today may also be selling us military equipment on more or less favourable terms, though the Admiral Gorshkov affair and the allegedly faulty Sukhois sent to India lately seems to give the lie to this.


An economically pressured America and Europe now won't be that far behind in pricing and technology transfers too. To hark back to the nuclear fuel stoppages after our covert nuclear weaponisation as American/ Canadian/ European unreliability ignores the civil nuclear deal which couldn't have materialised without their concerted support. Besides, Russia has stopped supplying us the cryogenic engines too.


Fact is, we have to trust in our own usefulness, not so much in the old way of the world divided into blocs, but the emerging new world order of functioning democracies and/or economic clout. China, in the contest of the permanent UNSC seat for India, is beginning to see India in these terms despite itself. After all, in a changed world, the future may need India and China to jointly pick up the pieces that used to be Pakistan.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

INITIATIVE RETURNS TO BJP

SANJAY KAUL


The mishandling of the 2G scam and the setback to the secular position on Godhra this week has handed the political initiative back to the BJP. Not since the mid-1990s has the Indian right looked as strong


Three developments in quick succession over the past weeks have had a marked effect on the
political mood in the country and it is perhaps for the first time since the Kargil intrusion by Pakistan in 1999 that a whiff of the consonance of public opinion can be sensed in the air. The denouement, so to say, which began with the historic judgement on Ayodhya and which routed itself through the gritty fight for a JPC has rounded off, for the while, with the Godhra verdict. Importantly, in all the three matters under review here, the BJP's line has held sway.


The larger import of these developments has to do not only with the moral aspects of governance under the UPA and its political miscalculations, but also with the state of the nation, the psychological imprint of these developments on the mind of the populace and our view of ourselves as a people. At no time in recent memory have we seen such emaciation of the national spirit as we have encountered over the last few months. But lest we look at these issues myopically and without a thread of continuity, it may be pertinent to point out that the unraveling of the present government began really and truly almost towards the end of its last term which only got worse as the Congress slipped into a self-induced stupor of invincibility after the 2009 election win.


In the Ayodhya matter, we rose mature as a people to the occasion even as the BJP and right-aligned parties maintained their composure and exhorted everybody to not view the judgement as any referendum on polarities, rather as a logical outcome. The RSS stood out for its sagacious position on the issue, appealing to the Hindus to not see the verdict as a win, and to Muslims to see it as a solution.


Subsequent attempts by a section of the Congress and the SP to rake up the issue became effectively null and void in the similarly sane response from the Muslim community which saw the judgement as fair even as another section was inspired to brand it fait accompli.


The appeals by the BJP and other right-wing groups to try and avoid another legal confrontation at the Supreme Court since no new evidence is expected to be presented has once again rung true with the rational among the Muslim community who don't want to be seen as spoiling for a fight with no weapons except bluster and egotistic communalism. In this episode too, the public at large has lauded the manner in which the BJP has handled this contentious issue raising its profile as a responsible party in which more people are expressing confidence each passing day.


In the demand for a JPC on the telecom imbroglio, the party remained steadfast from the initial stages even while other Opposition parties dithered before settling to their final positions on the issue. It was not lost on anyone that the media-inspired castigation of the BJP for the loss of an entire session of Parliament which was being thrust at their door all through the run up to the Budget Session, was turned on its head with the churlish capitulation of the Congress. Now they are asking the PM, if your government was going to agree to the JPC, why did you waste the entire winter session? The PM's weak and injured explanation is not only uncharitable, it is specious too. The real reason for his agreeing to the JPC is not just the Opposition's force of integrity, but his exasperation with his own situation within the government and the internecine relationships that emanate out of the special conditions of prime ministership that he accepted on his anointment as a proxy for the Gandhis.

On Godhra, an entire episode in the chapter of Gujarat found perspective. The edifice of untruth, half truths and stilted commissions crumbled, which had been put together by the UPA in a negotiated agreement within detractors of the Gujarat government and the BJP, to remix the episode to obfuscate and divert attention from the original sin. Nobody defends what followed, as nobody can, but there is always the historical starting point for everything that must eventually end and without which all we have are lingering doubts and continuing pain. The BJP's stated position that the Gujarat riots had a clear and definable starting point and which stood up to the machinations of the centre all through this time, today stands vindicated. The closure that this judgement brings to the kin of those who died innocently in that horrific night of burning alive, heals many hearts even as it may not change much about their lives — and which goes for both sides of the divide.

 

The key to the unraveling of the Congress' fortunes as far as public opinion has its roots deeper than the Raja-Radia episode would have us believe. The progressive hardening of the Congress' organisational arteries goes to the heart of the problem, for it has exposed the thin base that the party was building itself on. Not for nothing has it been said that fiscal consolidation in Congress parlance has a different set of meanings and has mostly to do with private accumulation of wealth at the cost of the treasury. This is no empty charge. More Congressmen have been indicted on corruption charges that any other party in the history of this country. You could put that on the numbers of years they have been in power but that wouldn't change the character of the charge, or the culture that has allowed this to prosper.


The turn of events of the past few months, the general dereliction of governance, the decidedly pusillanimous leadership, the ungraceful aplomb in defending of the indefensible has cost the
country its self-confidence and self-esteem. That it has also been at the cost of historical highs in prices of essential commodities and every day use of the common man, falling industrial production and serious shortcomings on the development index have exposed the brittleness of the UPA command structure and laid bare the deficits that are now dimensionally visible to all sections of the public, the nation and the world.

Having achieved the nadir of public faith in the institution of government, what we now need as a nation is a realignment of our self image with the tenets of high idealism, because it remains an unalterable fact of history, as of life, that truth needs a throne of ethics to preside. It must now fall upon the leading Opposition to show the way, as it has recently on a series of issues that have ranged from Ayodhya and Godhra to inflation and corruption to telecom and Telangana.


The people of India are witnessing the outlines of a new dispensation that waits in the wings with the right alchemy of maturity, integrity, vision, strategic insight and selfless leadership. Aberrations aside, the BJP is poised appropriately to take centre stage on all counts, as the past few months seem to have shown — and this is said with all humility, suppressing the urge to gloat, and say, we told you so.


The writer is a BJP spokesperson and can be contacted on sanjay.kaul@bjp.org

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

HAPPY DAYS ARE HERE AGAIN

SWARN KUMAR ANAND


The BJP seems to be bouncing back and Sushma Swaraj has definitely given Gen-X the
India which Manmohanomics had stolen from them. But there are still miles to go


One day in 2007, noticing the way UPA-1 was ruining the economy and surrendering the security of the people to fundamentalists, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee let out a cry of anguish. "Congress harchhey, BJP aaschey, aamader samasya badchhe" (Congress is going down, BJP is bouncing back, our problems are growing).


Thing looked good for the BJP at that stage. Pretty good actually; it had an abundance of morale having put the "Jinnah issue" behind it. Prakash Karat in Delhi and Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee in Kolkata were gifting the Opposition enough issues which, with the right allies everywhere, was constantly being shaped into powerful programmes. Simultaneously, there was building up a collective sense of regret over 2004. A lot of real Indians — whom the chattering elite of Delhi don't see — were seething over the wasted mandate of that election.

Then, a series of blunders followed — the naming of which would create needless digression from the issue on hand — which gave the initiative back to Manmohan Singh. The result of the 2009 election was a forgone conclusion. But happy days are here again.


Hearing Sushma Swaraj hold forth on the JPC debate on Thursday, one was transported back to the heady days of the mid-1990s when the public was persuaded that a credible body of politicians were waiting in the wings to end the drudgery and cynicism that had consumed their lives.


India is a young country, with the average age hovering in the late-20s. The greatest disservice that UPA-2 has done to this generation is the stealing of their dream. No country can hope to reap the demographic dividend by keeping its youth obsessed with negativity. The free ride given by Manmohan Singh to corruption, and then justifying it in the name of 'coalition dharma' was the last straw.


But when Sushma Swaraj rose to speak, she opened a new chapter in their lives. In chaste Hindi she demolished Pranab Mukherjee's self-righteous profanity. Manmohan Singh seemed a defeated man even before the contest could begin. It was clear from the expression of the UPA leaders that they had lost the moral position on corruption. Usually the attacking side in every conflict takes the maximum casualties. But under Sushma, the defence was overwhelmed in their trenches.


Saturday Special has been focusing these past few weeks on the winds of change sweeping societies under tyrannical governance for generations. Whether or not the situation in India warrants such mass mobilisation is unimportant to the bigger message, which is the role of young people. Historical cycles from 1968 onwards have seen every generation uphold the right to assert a new course for governments. Thanks to the BJP's resurgence, the youth of India have been assured that democratic channels are enough to take on the corruption and decadence imposed by UPA-2. It won't be necessary to brave bullets and form human chains.


The historical conjunction of this development with the 20th anniversary of Manmohan Singh's neo-liberalisation programme should not be overlooked. The most important question today is why corruption, once associated with the discretionary powers of the earlier "license-permit raj," seems to be on the rise in India, instead of falling with the abolition of that control regime. According to Prof Pranab Bardhan, a frequent contributor to Saturday Special, there are three reasons to explain this puzzle.

First, despite a great deal of deregulatory reforms and trade liberalisation, major controls still prevail. For example, anyone who wants to start a factory needs land, often acquired from the state, water and electricity connections made possible by relevant departments, and then need environmental clearance, putting the applicant at the mercy of factory inspectors and labour law implementing agencies, and so on. This is not to suggest that some of these


regulations do not have rationale based on legitimate social objectives — say, overseeing minimum work conditions in factories or restrictions on pollution — but considerable official discretion is involved and, with that, some scope for corruption.


Secondly, with high economic growth the market value of scarce public resources — land, oil and gas fields; mineral resources; the telecommunication spectrum and more — has gone up enormously, and so has the chance of making money from their favoured allocation. For example, in the case of the allocation of 2G spectrum, instead of the standard method of auctions, the minister concerned allocated them to crony agents in 2008 at low 2001 prices, resulting in a loss to the treasury of up to $39 billion.


Third, over time elections at all levels have become more expensive in terms of advertisement costs, petrol for transport, and alcohol and cash for the large numbers of vote-mobilising youth, particularly as an Indian constituency involves numbers of voters much larger than elsewhere, more than a million in case of parliamentary seats. Often through illegitimate means, is indispensable. Of course, those private sources in turn demand and get quid pro quo from politicians in terms of policy favours.


The BJP must not be stuck in hyperbole. If the Congress made the mistake of attempting economic reforms before cleaning the polity first, the BJP should do precisely what was missed out. It should go back to its original message of being a "party with a difference". In that way it could bring back respectability for institutions and the people who run them.


The BJP has the right people at its helm. What has also helped is a series of facilitating factors which for any Opposition party is welcome. The vindication over Ayodhya, followed by endorsement by a hostile judiciary of its Godhra position, has re-instilled in the heart of the BJP supporter the confidence which was somehow missing since mid-2008.


The BJP should remember that initiatives tend to get unsustainable without chew-size programmes. It is time the party shed its pro-rich image. The original manifesto of the Sangh Parivar should be recalled, which was essentially left leaning. With the coming Communist wipeout, a huge political void would be created. It is time the BJP grabbed that space.

 

The writer is Deputy News Editor, The Pioneer

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

…BUT GLOATING WILL NOT HELP

CP BHAMBRI


After their 'victory' celebrations over the JPC and Godhra clinchers, the BJP leaders must reflect on the duplicity of their position and adopt a self-correcting course


The BJP is prematurely celebrating 'victory' by compelling the UPA government to appoint a JPC. The special judge's ruling that Godhra was a 'pre-planned conspiracy' has also heightened its enthusiasm. These two issues are still wide open. It is too early to draw conclusions.


The first thing to note is that the Gujarat riots cannot be delinked from the bandh called by VHP on February 28. The mayhem which followed in March against the Muslims was a direct result. The special court's judgement will undoubtedly be challenged, but more important is the establishment of the Nanavati Commission which maintained that it was a pre-planned conspiracy. The Nanavati Commission's credibility is questionable because the report referred to the conspirators as 'communal Muslims'.


It is not expected of an Hon'ble Judge to identify the conspirators and trouble makers as members of a particular community. The Nanavati Commission was not able to convince the people of its fairness and objectivity. The Justice (retd) UC Banerjee Committee categorically stated that Godhra was an 'accident' and not a 'conspiracy'.


If two inquiry panels arrived at contradictory conclusions, it often leads to doubts over the ability of the nation to find a resolution. The BJP is jumping the gun because the conspiracy bogey suits their agenda. The issue is important because it is a mindset which maintains that 'communal Muslims' hatched a conspiracy to burn Kar Sevaks. The government of Gujarat was helpless when emotions burst and riots followed. It is not only disingenuous to link the burning with its 'consequences' (the riots) because it amounts to absolving the BJP of its failure to take effective action against the rioters.


The BJP's own logic of 'cause-leading-to-consequence' should have made them alert to the possibility of vendetta lynching of Muslims. This is the reason why the Supreme Court directly intervened to investigate the entire series of events of March and April 2002 under its own SIT.


The political class of Gujarat is not ready to confront the rioters. The police functionaries become passive at the suggestion of booking the culprits. It is nobody's argument that Gujarat was the first-ever communal riot incident in India. The defence in favour of Narendra Modi ('why single poor Modi out?') collapses; unlike previous governments that failed to act against communally inspired riots, Modi's failure was deliberate.

If Modi's logic is accepted, the 2G scam can also be dismissed by the Manmohan Singh government because scams are nothing new in India. This country is notorious internationally for its corrupt public figures. Consequently, the BJP must bear the sole responsibility for destroying one whole Parliament session. It cannot hope to gain credibility by adopting different standards for the post-Godhra riots and 2G.


Is India doomed to suffer corruption and communalism because its politicians get away by playing a blame game? The larger question is the total change effected in Indian politics. The first decade of the 21st century has seen every major political party, whether at the central or state level, being proved corrupt. So every political party is responsible for its acts of commission and omission. The Congress was trying to scuttle the issue of corruption by pointing fingers at the BJP government in Karnataka. Should the Congress be allowed to get away with this game? Similarly, the BJP cannot be allowed to shun its duty to provide secular governance. The issue gets dramatised whenever the BJP is attacked because this party's leaders hark back to the 1984 anti-Sikh riots. Should every riot not be condemned? Or should the Congress and the BJP escape their responsibilities by playing the tu-tu-main-main game?


All political parties in power on the basis of one-man-one-vote has to be focussed on the safety and security of life and property of all citizens irrespective of religion. New questions have risen over the role of the judiciary in corruption. The judiciary's neutrality when ruling on communal riots is also an issue today. Every defender of democracy should be extremely worried about this development. It is the role of the political executive and not the judiciary to govern on the basis of supremacy of law. And, any violation of law should be viewed by the Executive with exceptional concern particularly if its own leaders and employees are involved. Amit Shah, a minister in Gujarat, was arrested because the judiciary wanted it. A Raja has been arrested because the CBI was being supervised by the judiciary and therefore the premier investigating agency had no option.


Judicial activism and interventionism, which is growing in India, can lead to oligarchy and undermine democracy. If judges are seen managing the affairs of governments by creating SITs or ordering the CBI to report progress, every lover of democracy should be embarrassed. In Pakistan it was the judges who presided over the fall of the Musharraf dictatorship. The principle of power separation and balance of power in the Indian Constitution seems to have been lost on the political class of India today.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

YOU GIVE ME FEVER

 

Cricket fans wanted tickets for a World Cup match in Bangalore, but got lathi-charged instead. It only proves cricket is in the pink of health in India, its financial centre of gravity. Health, we know, is wealth. And wealth is what the IPL best attracts. For communists, of course, prosperity's unhealthy. So CPM's Sitaram Yechury is yet again lamenting "two Indias in the making": IPL, symbol of cash-rich cricketing glamour, and BPL, the poverty line that spawns slogans like Garibi Hatao. Returning to his pet IPL-BPL theme, he recently diagnosed the UPA's malaise of excessive corporate-friendliness. Wealth lost in 2G hera-pheri, he said, could have funded healthcare for all, among other things. And so the UPA was out, leg before wicked.


But BCCI's Rajiv Shukla lobbed a retaliatory googly. This Congressman reportedly claimed that the Left stalwart watches most IPL matches! If that's indeed true, the Cricket Association of Bengal must SOS the red brigade. Surely patronising IPL glitz doesn't befit the Marx brothers, themselves a premier league of extraordinary gentlemen. Why don't they instead visit Kolkata's Eden Gardens to help fill near-empty stands the way they do the denuded venues of poll rallies? Following a fracas over shoddy World Cup readiness, Eden has no India matches scheduled and organisers must dangle sops to draw crowds for the non-India clashes. What's on offer for ticket-buyers? Free health check-ups! For a stadium touted to be India's heart of cricket spectatorship, it's clearly a medical emergency.


Now, Left ruled denizens may welcome complimentary blood pressure checks, echocardiograms and doctors' advice. Imagine the stress of living in 35-year communist intensive care, negotiating congested roads, politicised academia and factory lockouts. On their part, with comrades holding Bengal's crease, Marxists holding durbar in Dilli can hardly allow Kolkata's famed cricket viewership to tank. So, backing CAB's health plan can be a revolutionary mission. For many reasons. One, in the pre-assembly poll slog overs, the reds can claim they're Kolkata's real knight riders. Two, promising cures for ailing Bengal, Mamata is padding up. That too at a time when, with the EC playing umpire, electoral match-fixing is a little read chapter of the Rigged Veda.

Finally, Bengal's capital has contracted a virulent strain of cricket fever. A survey on the game's bowled and the bountiful says ODIs are the most popular format. But Kolkata roots nearly as much for T20, the 'decadent' IPL's fast-paced formula! And it's no help when South Africa's
Jacques Kallis describes T20 as a game changer and World Cup squads bank on IPL stars to win Cup matches. Even worse, other sports are virus-hit too. Ask the Indian Boxing Federation. To make ringside temperatures rise, it plans an annual boxing tournament modeled on the IPL! What if Team Mamata delivers a similar knockout punch?


Last heard, the BPL - blood pressure level - in red ranks has shot up. See? Everybody can do with a free health check.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

JUST GRAFFITI

YOU SAY YOU WANT A REVOLUTION

GAUTAM ADHIKARI

 

WASHINGTON: How do you brew a revolution? No simple recipe there. And after you have drunk the elixir of freedom, how do you get life around you back to normal?


With almost the entire Arab world in turmoil and various non-Arab tyrants watching events in the Middle East warily, thoughtful people everywhere are trying to formulate answers to such questions. The questions are not new. They have been hanging over revolutions for a couple of centuries. The debate is no longer so much between those who want violence and those who advocate a non-violent path. It revolves today around the idea of non-violent civil disobedience, its efficacy as a revolutionary tactic and whether it should have an expiry date. Inevitably, M K Gandhi's ideas figure prominently in the discussion.


The young revolutionaries of Egypt and Tunisia did not noticeably invoke Gandhi's name when they organised a tactically brilliant movement against a despot by using Twitter, Facebook and texting via mobile phones. Emerging research suggests they drew inspiration from many sources, including the tactics of Serbian youth who had mobilised against tyranny a decade ago by using the internet and the cell phone. But the young Arab organisers worked hard to ensure that matters did not take a violent turn through errors on their part. And some reportedly drew ideas from an obscure, 83-year-old American academician, Gene Sharp, who has studied Gandhi closely and listed 198 methods of non-violence in his book, The Politics of Nonviolent Action.


It worked for them. But does non-violent civil disobedience work every time? Clearly not. It worked for Gandhi and the Indian nationalist movement even as it took decades to achieve its goal and was aided to an extent by a growing incapacity of the British rulers to sustain a far-flung empire after two draining world wars. It didn't work in Hungary in 1956, in Czechoslovakia in 1968, and in Tiananmen Square in 1989, where the authorities employed armed force to stifle the cry for democracy.


Then again, it worked in Eastern Europe in the late 1980s when, starting with Poland, dictatorship after dictatorship collapsed before the onslaught of mass mobilisations by the people. A crucial element there, however, was Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev's decision not to use the army to stop the revolution in its tracks.

Thus, which way the army swings remains a pivotal question of revolutionary change. A recent
Oxford University project, titled 'Civil Resistance and Power Politics: The Experience of Nonviolent Action from Gandhi to the Present', suggests that non-violent movements hardly ever succeed on their own. A web of interconnections exists between civil resistance and other forms of power.


That's why the young Tunisians and Egyptians took care to persuade the army not to squash their movement by force. They made friends with soldiers. In Egypt, they even sowed a divide between the army and the regime's hated secret police; at one point the army intervened to stop Mubarak's police thugs from attacking protesters. They also cleverly used a mainstream medium like satellite television along with a new vehicle like YouTube to propagate their message worldwide. In non-violent movements of protest these days, coverage by the media plays a vital part in their success. Of course, not everywhere. In China, the party makes sure it doesn't.

In short, there's no simple formula for revolutionary success through non-violent civil disobedience. What works in one society may not in another. But today it's increasingly apparent that non-violent resistance has acquired critical mass.

That still leaves a question: when does civil disobedience stop? When does revolution cease and democratic consolidation begin? Here Gandhi's answer of creating a decentralised rural economy with diffused governance has proved neither cogent nor feasible. In
India, civil disobedience continues as a style of political action despite available options offered by democracy resting on a fine Constitution. But the Egyptian youth, for the moment at any rate, seem to know how important it is to follow revolution through with a patient effort to consolidate.

Perhaps they are well aware of John Lennon's cautionary line for all revolutionaries: "You say you got a real solution, well, you know, we'd all love to see the plan."

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

OF DUCKS AND CROCODILES

CHETAN BHAGAT

Once upon a time, there was a beautiful village on a hill. The simple villagers worked hard on their terrace farms. Everything was perfect, apart from one problem. There wasn't enough water through the year. The rainy season was fine, but at other times, the villagers relied on a lake on top of the hill. In rainy season, the hard-working villagers collected water in buckets and filled the lake. Once full, the village enjoyed the lake water rest of the year. It was a good system and the village was set to prosper. The lake also became a wonderful picnic spot. It housed some beautiful ducks. The children from the village liked to come watch them. The ducks often invited the children for a swim.


The villagers felt they owed their life to the lake. The ducks became like deities. In particular, there was a family of ducks with gold-tipped feathers. Villagers saw these golden ducks as a divine life source. When the villagers toiled to collect buckets of water to refill the lake, they chanted praise for the golden ducks.

Other ducks also followed the golden ducks. The golden ducks had appointed a
wise duck - an old, intellectual looking duck - to stand at the centre of the lake. The wise duck barely moved, and the stillness added to his mystique. Villagers prayed to the wise duck as well.


Everything was wonderful. Sometimes, the golden ducks smiled at the villagers and everyone would go into an ecstatic frenzy. The wise duck always had the same expression so it was difficult to tell if he was smiling or not.

One day, however, things went horribly wrong. Three children who had come to the lake for a swim went missing. People looked everywhere, but the children could not be found. The next week, two more children went missing. The villagers went to the only person they knew could have an answer - the golden and the wise ducks.

However, the golden ducks didn't speak. The wise duck said something like this could not happen in this village.

The next week, four more children went missing. One villager found some bits of children's fingers by the lake. It looked like someone had eaten the kids. The villager heard a rustle in the water. He could recognise the creature.

"Crocodiles in the holy lake!" the villager screamed as he ran across the village square.


The villagers went into a panic. However, they could not believe it. They confronted the holy ducks again, although apologetically, as they didn't like to disturb them so often. "What are you talking about?" the wise duck said, "We have no crocodiles. Other jealous villages have stolen our babies." The wise duck, having said enough, limped away to swim to the other side of the lake. The golden ducks remained in their private cave.

Over six months, 50 children went missing. Some villagers pointed fingers at the lake, but the villagers called such people attention-seeking hacks and ignored them. The villagers felt that if the wise duck had said there were no crocodiles, there were no crocodiles.


One night, however, almost all the villagers heard a noise from the lake. Scared, they woke up and tiptoed there. They were stunned at what they saw. There was a grand party of crocodiles by the lake. They had all come out to feast, dance and lay new eggs. Some ducks danced with the crocodiles too. The golden duck family remained in their private cave and the wise duck sat still at the corner of the lake.


"Oh wise duck," villagers rushed to him, "what is this? You said there are no crocodiles."


The wise duck seemed in pain as he spoke. "You have to compromise sometimes," he said.


"With people who eat our babies?" the villagers said. "If you had told us early, we could have killed the few initial crocodiles. Now there are hundreds of them. Why, wise duck, why?"


Dawn broke even as the wise duck remained silent. After many months, it promised to be a sunny day. The sunrays came out, enabling one to see under the water clearly. The villager saw the wise duck's feet in the water. A strong set of teeth grabbed it. Aghast, the villagers saw the set of crocodile eyes under the water. It swam away. The wise duck, leg stuck to the reptile's jaw, went along with him.


The villagers realised what was going on. Even the golden duck family had crocodiles outside their cave.

"Enough's enough, we have to do something ourselves," the villagers said.


Over the next few months, they started to dig a new lake. They also made several mini-lakes at various levels of the terrace farm. They put strong iron meshes, so the crocodiles could not enter. The villagers collected buckets of water and filled it in the new lakes. One smart villager put an underground pipe to empty out the old lake and fill the new one. Soon, the old lake had no water. As it dried up, the crocodiles and ducks struggled to live. They begged the villagers for some water but the villagers paid no attention.


The new lakes opened, and the villagers loved them. They also realised that they made the lake, and not the other way around. Children came back to swim in the new lakes, crops had enough water and the village prospered like never before. Everyone in the old lake died. And then, the villagers lived happily ever after.

The writer is a best-selling novelist.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

VIEW

SMACKS OF MORAL POSTURING

 

How much food does India waste every year? According to minister of agriculture and food Sharad Pawar himself, it's Rs 58,000 crore worth of food items such as grains and vegetables. And that's only at the warehousing stage. If the amount were to include the food leaked through the public distribution system (PDS), the figure would be far higher. And the best way to plug this enormous hole? Why, pass a law that limits the number of guests anyone can have at a wedding and thus save more food for the economically disadvantaged. This logic is as full of gaping holes as the PDS itself.


The biggest factor causing food shortage is a lack of storage and distribution infrastructure. What is needed is massive investment in cold chain and warehousing facilities. This is the root cause the government should be focussing on via both its own revenues and opening up the retail market to invite private investment. Likewise, reforming the PDS by trying out alternatives such as a voucher system would cut down on wastage and corruption further down the distribution chain. It is ludicrous to suggest that compared to these, trimming wedding guest lists will have any perceptible effect at all on food security. Not to mention another niggling problem: how to ensure that the food 'conserved' by denying it to wedding guests is actually passed on to the poor?

The
whole affair smacks of moral posturing; an attempt to foist a finger-wagging nanny state statute on people even as it infringes on their basic freedoms. These are not the 1960s any more. The self-righteous state socialism of that era is no longer relevant. The government should focus on fixing its own problems instead of trying to divert attention by using such populist tactics. They will only breed hypocrisy, as politicians are the first ones to hold extravagant weddings.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

CURBING WASTE LAWFULLY

DEEP K DATTA-RAY

 

That the government is mulling a proposal to ensure people don't waste food is a dismal indictment of our society, not the party which considers it. That's because to not waste is an ideal that all of us ought to, in the very least, aspire to. Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh have both criticised the tendency to ostentatious displays of wealth, most evident in huge, wasteful weddings. What is surprising is not that the idea is being considered, but that the society which produced the exemplar of frugality, Mahatma Gandhi, has chosen to wantonly cast aside his sterling example.


In doing so we've created an obscene problem. The distastefulness of extravagant public displays of wealth is accentuated by its proximity to some of the poorest people in the world. But it's not just a matter of taste. Cutting back on profligate banquets would save the nation 15% of its total foodgrains and vegetables. This waste is intolerable given that nearly a 100 million Indians go to sleep everyday hungry while malnourishment is rife. All of this makes it necessary to enforce austerity by law. That it might resemble the 1960s Guest Control Order, which limited the number of people invited to weddings, is of little concern given the gulf between the rich and poor that only seems to be broadening.


Growing social tensions and frustrations could be ameliorated by a measure which cuts out the fat. A significant way of doing so is to provide food security. It is unrealised because of poor infrastructure and a frayed distribution network. Both will take considerable time to renew but the issue can't be put off. The quickest way to ensuring there is enough for everybody requires targeting the wasteful. Other societies have demonstrated how the law can be used to reform pernicious social customs - racism in the US, for example. Similarly, in India, if the rich cannot control themselves, then they must be made to.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

A SURVEY WITH A CONSCIENCE

The official assessment of the state of the economy is cautiously optimistic. The Economic Survey sees gross domestic product growing by 9% next year, and speeding up over the medium term, but flags inflation as the predominant concern today. There are also calls for reforms to improve farm and factory output, fiscal management, financial inclusion, foreign investment, export competitiveness, and infrastructure building. Most of these are long-standing demands that have been given the business-asusual treatment by successive governments, but Kaushik Basu, the finance ministry's economic guru and author of the Survey, feels they acquire an immediacy now because "the next two decades should see the Indian economy growing faster than it has done at any time in the past". Each of the worry areas has the potential to apply the brakes.

Indians' legendary thrift is the reason for Mr Basu's optimism — they are saving a third of their income, a tad less than the 36.5% that is being invested. It takes R4 to generate every additional rupee of income, so the Survey sees 9% GDP growth as hardly a stretch. Unless, of course, external and internal shocks poop the party. A global rise in food prices that has been felt acutely at home over the previous year gets elaborate academic treatment by the former Cornell University professor. Indian policymakers will for the foreseeable future have to balance the growth momentum with price stability.

The Survey makes the case that an inclusive agenda would be better served by direct income transfers from the haves to the have-nots without tinkering too much with the price mechanism. The upshot would be to do away with rations and give money to the poor to buy food in the market, at market rates. This would be a radical departure from the enormous, and horribly inept, food procurement machinery India has erected over decades. The approach deserves serious consideration from a government on the verge of making food a universal entitlement and should influence the State's welfare ambitions overall, which currently rest on a raft of subsidies from fuel to fertilisers. Mr Basu's work on poverty and inequality is seminal. When he delves into — in a dry official document — social behaviour that transcends markets, a proto-welfare State should listen up. As Economic Surveys go, this one has a conscience.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

LIVE ON FM RADIO

GOPALKRISHNA GANDHI

Money makes news. When it is found, promiscuously. And when it is lost, presumptively. And when it is found to lie hidden. Also when it stands brazenly, as in election candidatures. Does hunger, to satisfy which money, income, wages — the power to purchase food — are needed, make news? Does the crisis in our agriculture make news?

When Amartya Sen speaks of hunger and malnutrition, when MS Swaminathan does so at an agriculture convention, or when P Sainath writes about those subjects, the media clears space in the way traffic edges sideways to let a screaming ambulance pass.

But, by and large, the 'national shame' of hunger as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described it, does not make it to the front pages. Starvation deaths in Orissa's Kalahandi, are now history, news wise. Farmers' suicides are taken as a continuing tragedy. Breaking News desks are for trauma, not tragedies. One suicide every 35th minute (based on 2009 tallies) is not traumatic enough, not any longer.

How would Jawaharlal Nehru have reacted if he were to have been told that six-and-a-half decades after he became PM, a global mapping of hunger levels would place India at rank 67, below Sri Lanka (39), Pakistan (52) and even Nepal (56)? Using an expression he often employed — vaahiyaat (nonsensical, scurrilous) — Nehru might well have exploded: kyaa vaahiyaat baat hai!

But there it is. In the new global hunger index by the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute, that is precisely where we are. In deep hunger. We have to accept the message of this finding even if we debate its calibrated precision. Close on the heels of this comes the report from the Food and Agriculture Organisation that says as of 2010, 28% of the world's under-nourished lived in India.

So, did our planners go wrong ? A few 'firsts' help piece the sequence. Our first finance minister RK Shanmukham Chetty, in the first budget speech in 1947-48, said: "The various steps necessary for making the country self-sufficient in foodgrains must now claim the highest priority."

The years between Independence and the first Lok Sabha election in 1952 saw the Planning Commission come into being and a scheme launched during World War II, 'Grow More Food Campaign', continued. But it was food anxiety not food, that grew.

In the budget speech for India's first elected Parliament (1952-53), finance minister CD Deshmukh admitted as much, but obliquely: "… in the case of foodgrains, the additional production from the 'Grow More Food' schemes was more than offset by the fall in production in large areas of the country affected by drought".

PM Nehru having gone on record saying 'everything can wait, but not agriculture', the ministry of agriculture and the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) did not wait. With the dynamic MS Randhawa at the ICAR and the peasant leader Panjabrao Deshmukh as agriculture minister, a momentum was attained. But before its results could be felt, Nehru was gone. Finance minister TT Krishnamachari in his first post-Nehru budget speech (for 1965-1966) assured the country: "We shall… take care that… the farmer… will have a continuing incentive for producing more…"

From mid-1960s to mid-1970s, it was given to three Tamils, minister C Subramaniam, secretary B Sivaraman and ICAR (a 1929 Raj creation) director general MS Swaminathan to pioneer the green revolution comprising three leveragings — high yielding seeds, intensified use of chemical fertilisers and increased acreage through double cropping and intensified irrigation through deep bore wells.

Can agriculture be leveraged unmindful of nature's grammar and the prose of land-labour dynamics? PM Indira Gandhi sensed the crisis for she inducted the former agriculture minister C Subramaniam as her finance minister during the Emergency. His first budget speech (1975-76) admitted to a 'sluggishness' in the farm front which he as agriculture minister had done so much to rejuvenate. Subramaniam placed a new focus on farm production. The continued sluggishness of agriculture since 1971-72 has contributed to the distortions which have emerged in our economy in the last two or three years.

But the resolves of the past have played their role. With 100 ICAR institutes and 50 agricultural universities, we have increased the production of foodgrains by four times, horticultural crops six times and fish by nine times since 1950-51. And yet we are among the world's hungriest and see a farmer suicide every 35 minutes. It is more than likely that Census 2011 will acknowledge the resultant fall in the number of our farmers.

With ground-water plunging, loan-burdens rising and smaller holdings yielding less and less, Swaminathan tells us that "farming has become unviable". He warns: "We are entering a state of agrarian crisis. This crisis has many dimensions. It is not a single or simple cause that is responsible for this… We need to have new systems of management. We need to put all pieces together. We don't have an integrated approach… There are so many ministries and departments to take care of water, rainwater, food- grains and food processing. How are we going to deliver it as one offering to farmers would hold the key."

Decisions are called for well beyond what money can do. They are directional, not budgetary. They have been signposted in the Report of the Farmers Commission. The finance minister's speech on February 28 will address the fiscal issues it is meant to. But if it also reflects a serious intent to address the farm crisis, it will be a speech to remember and to be grateful for.

Gopalkrishna Gandhi is a former administrator, diplomat and governor The views expressed by the author are personal

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

WAIT WHILE WE THINK OF NEW NAMES

PRATIK KANJILAL,

The ancients believed that to be able to name something was to take control of it. So, for instance, the exorcist had to force a demon to yield up its name before he could command it to be off. And cults issued secret names to members to keep them from harm. There is a real basis to this primitive magical belief. The most empowering technology that a human ever learns is language, the ability to name and describe things. It confers the uniquely human power to control the world. If you've seen how a baby's mastery over its environment increases as it learns to speak, you have seen this magic at work.

But we lose power over things when we misname or mislabel them. Which is why we are doing some rather peculiar things these days, as we come to terms with an unfamiliar world. The real world, as distinct from the world of spin in which we live.

This week, the passage of two Iranian warships through the Suez Canal was read as 'provocative', because it happened against the backdrop of the Jasmine Revolution. In retaliation, Israel sent two warships of its own through the Canal. However, the Iranian ships were on an unarmed training mission, which was cleared with the Egyptian authorities months ago. Meanwhile, some Tunisian kids lit the fuse, the spark of revolt spread across the desert, and everyone now thinks that the Iranians are doing it on purpose, flexing Muslim revolutionary muscle.

To believe that, you would have to believe in the power of a name: the 'Arab world'. It's a name coined elsewhere, in some place which thinks that 'Arab' and 'Muslim' are fuzzily identical. Which is all right, of course, because none of us gets to name ourselves, barring pseudonymous writers. But Iranians are not Arab. They are Persian. The only common factor is a Muslim identity. And even within the Arab region, consider the vast differences. The cultural and political roots of Tunisia and Libya differ from those of Egypt, which differ from those of Yemen. And standing apart from them all is Bahrain, the cosmopolitan Lebanon of the Gulf. And yet, the revolution has visited all of them and is forcing regime change.

'Regime change', another power word coined elsewhere, which confers control over the destiny of the 'Arab world'. London, Paris and Washington legitimately undergo changes of government. Less fortunate capitals from Tunis to Kabul suffer cataclysmic 'regime change' attended by assault rifle fire. Because by definition, democracy can't take root in Arab or Muslim lands. But this time, there is a twist in the tale. The Arabs forcing 'regime change' are not wannabe dictators but votaries of an approved magical word: democracy. And along with their despots, they are exorcising another magical term: the 'clash of civilisations'.

And so the new coinage: 'smooth transition'. Now, the western powers must help the 'Arab world' to transit from Western-supported dictatorship to Western-style self-determination without disturbing the peace established by the West. It's complicated. Much more complicated than the clean break the Arabs want. But when you misname a thing and lose the plot, you must cook up new names to regain control.

Pratik Kanjilal is publisher of The Little Magazine, pratik@littlemag.com. 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

STATE OF IR

 

There are a few good things in Mamata Banerjee's railway budget that at best might indicate a faint attempt at battling her instincts. But none of those will undo the destructive potential of the Union railway minister's vision. That the railways can be used as an instrument of social change, assuming the mantle of a big-daddy state, is an idea that should have been consigned to a railway dustbin long ago. Yet, railway ministers continue to treat the ministry as such, and Banerjee has done so with a retrograde vengeance. The question of "social viability", as she phrased it last year, doesn't arise without economic viability. Economic viability needs efficiency and an acceptable operating ratio, social viability should first of all be reaching passengers to their destinations on time, safely.

We could pick any figure for the state of the railways — 10 out of 16 Indian Railways' zones have missed their operating ratio targets; the Economic Survey notes that only 206 route km were electrified of the targeted 1,000 rkm this fiscal while freight loading fell short of target. We could go on, but Banerjee's budget proposes the highest-ever plan outlay — Rs 57,630 crore. The good things are railway infrastructure development in J&K and the Northeast — a socio-economic and strategic necessity — and expansions of public-private-partnership projects. While these PPPs can better utilise railway resources, the budget is unclear about how those resources will be used. Banerjee has little for India Inc, which continues to bear the burden of passenger subsidy (another year of zero fare hike) through disproportionate freight charges.

The single-window all-India smart card is a smart idea; sanction of anti-collision devices, fog-safe devices through GPS and elimination of unmanned level crossings were necessary. However, the full scope of railway safety is a larger matter, wherein Banerjee has been abysmal. There's a fresh flood of new trains — including 56 new expresses — when the ability of IR's existing network and finances never looked so non-existent. Clearly, the railway ministry cannot be a state within a state. Banerjee's budget is not just about the Bengal assembly polls — all her smart ideas will be cosmetic additions over a hollowed-out core if the railway ministry doesn't catch the bull by its horns immediately. This year's chance is over.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

CHAPTER & VERSE

 

As long as Kaushik Basu is Chief Economic Advisor, two things will happen with the government's Economic Survey: it will have a classy cover for a sarkari document, and its heart will be Chapter 2. Last year, the 2009-10 Economic Survey used Chapter 2 to make a persuasive case for considering direct transfers as a method to reform India's leaky subsidy regime; the 12 months since have seen them become very much part of India's policy and political conversation, and the Centre has now set up a task force to consider the possibility of their implementation. This year's Chapter 2 focuses, unsurprisingly, on inflation — but not as some inflation-hawks would have it, because inflation is always bad. No, this is not an apolitical Economic Survey; it is very definitely a UPA policy document, and it makes the point that inflation is mainly a concern because the benefits of growth might well be unevenly distributed, and inflation therefore could technically make the excluded worse off.

The Survey repeats the point that, in the medium term, there are structural reasons why India might have to tolerate inflation higher than the earlier trend of 3 per cent or so. Inflation, the Survey argues, could be a consequence of desirable changes. For example, financial inclusion — when poorer people enter the formal banking system — raises the amount of money in circulation, raising the average inflation rate. There are some theoretical predictions, too, that the price of non-traded goods in a globalising economy increase. These are negative by-products of processes we cannot, and must not, stop.

Indeed, the Survey emphasises the very sensible point that not all price increases should be met with government intervention. Prices are crucial signals. They should be handled with the greatest of care. State action should always, where possible, support the market, and include the excluded through market-friendly methods. This is, again, an argument for reform of the public distribution system, and of our absurd, dangerous and counter-productive fuel subsidy regime. Such reforms require, the Survey points out, a clear-eyed assessment that if a mechanism has flaws, people could exploit it. The Survey, however, takes that sentiment and turns it around, ending the chapter on a hopeful note. Societies that value open and enforced contracts, it says, can grow to trust each other, opening up the scope of possible policy.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

SAYING NO TO DRUGS

 

When Lancet claimed that the New Delhi Metallo-1 superbug was a side-effect of Indian surgeries and transplants, as a result of the profligate use of antibiotics, it was much maligned by the medical community here. However, now there is further endorsement from an article published in the journal Antimicrobial Agents and Chemotherapy, which has identified bacteria resistant to the commonly used carbapenem, and declared that "isolates producing NDM-1 were disseminated as early as 2006".

Appearances apart, we know only too well that India is guilty as charged as far as indiscriminate use of antibiotics is concerned. There is enough anecdotal evidence that physicians prescribe these drugs even for mild infections. Partly, this is out of an immediate concern for the patient, and partly because pharma reps incentivise them to use these drugs. India lacks effective regulation, so most of these antibiotics can be casually bought over the counter, without prescriptions. The problem is that the more you use antimicrobials, the less effective they become because they encourage bacteria to develop resistance and effectively create tougher mutant strains. Cumulatively, they do tremendous public health damage.

Certainly, India is only one among many implicated countries that make the problem of antimicrobial resistance worse. But we can, and should, begin remedial action. Recently, a group of public health experts had drawn up guidelines for government hospitals, on the appropriate use of antibiotics. They sought to underline the difference between grave and intense illness that called for strong antibiotic use, and others to be administered to out-patients. They also suggested an infection-surveillance system, an exclusive team to check cleanliness standards, etc. However, the problem will persist unless all medical care facilities are strictly monitored.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

LOK SABHA, 2014

SHEKHAR GUPTA

 

The resumption of our parliamentary proceedings has coincided with the cricket World Cup. And, at least in the early rounds, it has looked like more fun than the one-sided matches being played in the World Cup preliminaries. Also, while the first week of the World Cup has still not changed any equations in terms of the eventual favourites, the first week of a functioning Parliament for nearly six months has made one thing dramatically clear: that the election of 2014 is no longer a done deal. Opening exchanges showed a new energy in the opposition, particularly the BJP. In a debate that must rank among the classics of our recent parliamentary history, Sushma Swaraj notably worsted veteran Pranab Mukherjee, point by point, and then gave us one of those moments you cherish in parliamentary politics, by giving a smiling Pranabda a friendly hug at the end of the day. It's been a long time since we saw such mutual large-heartedness in our Parliament.

The BJP's mood is easier to explain. At this time last year, it was staring at a hopeless future. Its top leaders engaged in a Mahabharata of sorts, no happy turning point in sight. Across the ideological fence, their Congress counterparts were sharpening the knives as well, to stab their own in the back as they jockeyed for the spoils of an election already "won" in 2014. And, in the process, brutally undermining their own government much like a body afflicted with autoimmune disease that begins attacking itself. Both sides would acknowledge that an upset of sorts has now been caused. Not that the tables have turned but the next election has been thrown open as nobody would have anticipated.

Five things have made it happen, three of which are rooted in our major states, Andhra Pradesh, Bihar and Tamil Nadu, and do not need too much explaining. It is difficult to see the UPA repeating its near-sweep of 2004 and 2009 in Andhra and Tamil Nadu. And the disaster of Bihar stunned the Congress. Even more than its tally of four seats, the shocker was the fact that its candidates lost their deposits in 221 out of the 243 seats it contested. For the NDA, on the other hand, the success of Bihar showed what kind of political gains were available in the new India if you were willing to dump old, exclusionist, negative agendas. Bihar has, therefore, emerged as that fortuitous turning point that an opposition, in the dumps, prays for, so early in the life of a Lok Sabha. The two factors outside of these states are the obvious ones: the withering damage the UPA has suffered because of corruption charges and the discordant, disruptive noises that began emerging from within the Congress, exposing its disastrous complex of ideological laziness, conflicting ambitions and political impatience. And even if its leadership seems to have put down that noise for now, some damage is done.

To understand this shift, National Interest has to revisit its long-held theory that an Indian national election is now like a best-of-nine-sets tennis match — whoever wins five of these will take the trophy. These nine "sets" are our large states where electoral fortunes can change: Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Andhra, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Kerala

and Karnataka. Together, these account for 351 seats in Lok Sabha, so whichever coalition wins five of these is likely to cross the 200-mark anyway. That 200 is the new 272 in our Lok Sabha now, as you would presume that the same coalition would collect some more seats out of the remaining 192, and if it is still short, some small parties with totally fungible ideologies would join it. If you were a Congress strategist, that equation would look far from reassuring today, and you would be a fool not to acknowledge, at least to yourself, that this will be a much closer election than you had expected it to be. And how does the BJP pass this "best-of-nine-sets" test? It would err in hoping to ride Bihar's euphoria to victory in Lok Sabha, because it does not exist in Kerala, Tamil Nadu and Andhra, and has been decimated in

Uttar Pradesh.

So where do the UPA and NDA, or, more accurately, the Congress and BJP go from here? The lesson for each is somewhat similar. The next election is its to win or lose depending on whether it can dump some of its awful, outdated and politically suicidal basic instinct or not. Take the Congress first. Its entire politics is built around loyalty to one family. Which, by itself, may not be such a bad thing for it, because it keeps the party together. But should it also continue to mean that the party will build no other, strong leaders, particularly regional chieftains who will conquer their states for it, just like YSR, Hooda and Sheila Dikshit had done in the last election? How many such does the party have right now, particularly in these nine key states? To expect Rahul to go out and win all these states by himself will be a tough call in 2014 when so many of India's voters would have been born after the assassination of Indira Gandhi. So the Congress will have to build a new set of genuinely empowered state leaders, an idea Indira Gandhi junked in 1969.

The BJP, similarly, should know from its Bihar experience that its original, Muslim-hating, narrow Hindutva is now outdated and there are rewards to be had in discarding it. In a state with a sizeable Muslim vote, the BJP has won 91 of the 102 seats it contested, possibly the highest strike rate (90 per cent) for any party ever in our history. Would it have done as well if Modi, Mandir, Hindutva had been floating in the Bihar air? Only if it takes that logical lesson forward, does a mea culpa with Chandrababu Naidu, Naveen Patnaik and Jayalalithaa, can it put together a coalition that will once again begin to look like a winner, particularly if the election does turn out to be that best-of-nine-sets match.

The challenge for both parties is, therefore, similar: liberate itself from its past, bury the old politics of hatred, insecurity, grievance and embrace the new Indian mood of resurgence and aspiration, particularly among the young. The first week of this budget session has confirmed to us that the election of 2014 is now open. The winner would be the party that makes that bold, final and convincing move from its outdated politics of grievance to India's wonderful new politics of aspiration.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE SEASON TO CHOOSE POLICY

YOGINERKALAGH

 

This is the season when everybody is sure of their take on the next year.

Nobody is worried about the uneasy nature of the global recovery and the underlying domestic pressures, over some of which we have little control. Yet honesty demands we hedge our bets on the future.

When you grow in per capita terms at around 6.5 to 7 per cent every year, while demand for cereals grows slowly, the demand for vegetables, milk, meat and tree crops grows very substantially. This is happening in India somewhat suddenly and is leading to not only the resurgence of income possibilities for the agricultural sector but also wage-goods inflation becoming a constraint on macro policies.

Agricultural growth is 5.4 per cent, but comes after a low base. The PM's Economic Advisory Council is right in saying that grain production is not rising, but that is also on account of nobody wanting more grain. This year the performance on rice, wheat and pulses is impressive. But the average growth of the last three years is less than 2 per cent, which means that a half per cent of GDP is weather-related and fuel inflation was around 15 per cent, although the former is showing a seasonal downturn. It would be imprudent to relax one's guard.

Bad rains — deficient, but also untimely — and poor policy could also boomerang. The latter would include subsidising three-quarters of the grain market, which some policy-makers want. Economists have argued against this — both for macro policy constraints, but also, importantly, for fashioning a focused food security law, a very important initiative.

Corporate results in the year's third quarter show the impact of rising costs. Manufacturing growth is half of the first half of the year. Interest rates are high at around 10 per cent. As the PM said, inflation is a threat to the growth rate if glossed over. The January figure was 8.23 per cent, largely led by food and fuel. Food is not an immediate concern but it is now spreading to a more general inflation, with manufacturing prices edging upwards on account of higher input costs.

High fuel prices can cause macro pressures, through food, fertiliser, fuel subsidies and direct government expenditures. Salary bills will be higher. These are matters of concern. Pre-budget noise about linking fertiliser prices to gas prices for subsidies, and about adding more tax sops to power projects, is by itself innocuous — but shows a definite trend to sidestep basic reform on energy- and nutrient-based prices. If the principles of such sovereign interest policies are not stated clearly and transparently, there is always the possibility of interest groups hijacking the implementation.

At this stage, forecasting is hazardous, given the fragile political economy of reform, the compulsions of coalition politics and the fact that state elections are coming. But the outlines of various alternatives are clear. It is almost certain that radical fiscal policy steps in terms of expenditure cutting and revenue increases are not on the agenda. It is hoped that at least the pre-stimulus tax cuts will be restored, as they are the world over. There are larger constraints here: for example, the RBI consistently maintained that monetary policy has limits given the fiscal overhang. Pressure on interest rates will continue, even while they will be seen as a major instrument of inflation control.

Trade and tariff policy will be seen as a source of managing the price rise, even though international agri-markets are highly imperfect — while there will probably be little concern devoted to price incentives for ensuring agricultural supply over the medium term. This combination of priorities would put paid to better supply. For example, export restrictions after price-rises in commodities like onions, rice, raw cotton and so on are common, and their impact is seen in harvest prices crashing. Government policies are reactive rather than taken with advance planning.

While the larger economic environment will be uncertain for domestic agricultural sector supply, reform of the management of subsidies will no doubt continue. Investments in marketing, processing and distribution infrastructure, including FDI, will also continue.

It is extremely unlikely that growth will fall below 8 per cent if the rains are average. It is also extremely unlikely that inflation will not be around 7 or 8 per cent in the next fiscal year. These outcomes will require progress, however slow, on some of the issues this column has been highlighting.

On the other hand, with a bad monsoon, higher international fuel prices, and greater political pressures, things could get temporarily worse, but the sun is always shining outside my cottage in Gandhinagar and so I do believe they will eventually get better.

The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'GOVT AT NO STAGE INTERFERED IN CBI PROBE'

MANMOHAN SINGH

 

The leader of the opposition has raised a number of issues related to inflation, falling investment, problems in infrastructure, etc. Many of these were raised by other members also, and I will deal with them in turn.

However, the hon'ble leader of the opposition has also referred to my role in the formulation and implementation of policy in relation to the allocation of 2G spectrum. The 2G issue has occupied the front-pages of our newspapers for the past several months following the submission of the CAG report. The government was keen to have the matter discussed in Parliament, but this could not happen in the winter session.

The issues that most concern the public are whether the government was responsible for allowing 2G spectrum to be allotted in 2008 at unacceptably low prices which led to a large loss to the exchequer; and whether established procedures for selecting applicants were followed in a fair manner.

The leader of the opposition has alleged that I have distanced myself from key policy decisions and also that the spectrum pricing was decided against the explicit dissent of the then finance minister. I regret the attempt to create the appearances of differences through innuendo and misrepresentation. The issue will now be examined by a JPC, and I have no doubt the JPC will bring out the full facts. However, I feel it is only appropriate that I should place the facts before the House, and through the House, the people. Since the issues involved are complex, I would not like to take up too much time of the House at this time but state only the essentials.

The government's policy on the pricing of spectrum was taken on the basis of the cabinet decision of 2003, which specifically left this issue to be determined by the ministry of finance and the ministry of telecommunications. Contrary to the assertion of the leader of the opposition, the record clearly shows that the then finance minister, while he initially had a different view, which he communicated to me on January 15, subsequently consulted with the minister, telecommunications, and the two ministers worked out an agreed formula on spectrum charges, which was reported to me in a meeting on July 4, 2008. Furthermore, this decision that was put to me by the two ministers was in line with the recommendations of TRAI in its report of August 2007. In that report TRAI had clearly stated that only 3G spectrum should be auctioned and the policy for 2G spectrum should continue on the same basis as hitherto. This recommendation of TRAI was based on the need to ensure a level playing field between the new entrants and the incumbents. The two ministers had agreed on this, because of legacy considerations, and I accepted their recommendation.

On the issue of the implementation of the first-come-first-served policy, the situation is more complex. I was categorically assured by the minister, telecommunications, that the policy was being implemented appropriately with one departure which had been cleared by the solicitor general. Subsequent developments suggest that this was not the case. The matter was taken up for investigation by CBI in 2009. The government at no stage interfered with this investigation.

Given the concern in the public mind of extensive wrong doing, there is often impatience that government should take some action. This is entirely understandable. But I am sure hon'ble members will recognise that government must also act with due process of law. I can assure the House that we are making every effort in this regard. No one should have any doubt that those found guilty of manipulating the system unfairly will be severely dealt with under the law.

The hon'ble leader of opposition has made several observations about the Antrix-Devas agreement. He asked about who M/s. Forge Advisers were and what their credentials were. This question is better posed to his own party leadership who were in the NDA government and to the then prime minister. The fact of the matter is that the first discussions between M/s. Forge Advisers and Antrix and ISRO were initiated in March 2003 and May 2003 respectively, and continued throughout 2003 and 2004. The memorandum of understanding which M/s. Forge Advisers signed with Antrix was in July 2003. All this happened when the party to which the hon'ble leader of opposition belongs was in power and led the NDA government. The then prime minister was also the minister-in-charge of the department of space.

The hon'ble leader of opposition has stated that this is the mother of all sweetheart deals and has spoken of figures in the range of lakhs of crores. I think he is confusing S-Band space segment capacity with terrestrial spectrum. The prices he is quoting are for terrestrial spectrum. I wish to clarify that no allocation of terrestrial spectrum has been made by the government to either Antrix or Devas and therefore the figures he has quoted have no basis in fact.

Shri Jaitley asked who determines these prices and how. I would like to inform the hon'ble leader of opposition that the decision to open satellite services to non-governmental parties, Indian and foreign, was taken and approved by the government in 1997. Thereafter, the norms, guidelines and procedures to operationalise this policy, including the modalities for pricing of lease of transponders were approved in 2000 by the cabinet of which the hon'ble leader of opposition was himself a member of at that time. The pricing of the lease of the transponders in the agreement was made in accordance with these guidelines.

Shri Jaitley has said that the cabinet approved this agreement in December 2005. In December 2005, the Union cabinet approved building of the GSAT-6 satellite following the approval given by the space commission in May 2005. The proposal sought approval for launching the satellite to offer a satellite digital multimedia broadcasting service and in addition to use the satellite capacity for strategic and social applications. The proposal stated that ISRO is already in receipt of several firm expressions of interest by service providers for utilisation of this satellite capacity on commercial terms. Neither the space commission nor the cabinet was informed of the prior agreement between Antrix and Devas and therefore there was no question of approving it.

The leader of the opposition has said that the prime minister should not close the issue only by annulling the deal, and that this will not wipe out criminality. I assure him that there is no such intention. A high-powered review committee has been set up, and the government will take all requisite action based on its findings and recommendations.

But before I close my remarks on the issue, I wish to say that the country takes great pride in the spectacular achievements of its space scientists. The government is fully committed to preserving the integrity and excellence of India's space programme and the honest efforts of our scientists.

Excerpted from the PM's reply in the Rajya Sabha debate on February 24, on the motion of thanks on the president's address

 

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

A LETTER FROM UNCLE PAI

SHARON FERNANDES

 

Way back in 1986, I wrote a question in neat cursive, using a pencil: "What causes hiccups?" I wrote my age, address and the name of my school, and made sure I stuck enough glue to the Re 1 stamp on the envelope. I remember walking with my mother to the post box to mail my letter to Uncle Pai, to get my question printed in Tinkle, copies of which were my most prized possessions. Cracking a snobbish group of five-year-olds is difficult, the requirement back then was at least 10 copies of Tinkle (I was safe, I had saved over 30). The question would be printed in the "Tinkle tells you why" section. I was nervous, and I am sure I prayed every night for Uncle Pai to read my letter. It was a big deal. Tinkle, with its panels of cartoon characters such as Pyarelal, Suppandi, Raja Hooja and Tantri the Mantri, Shikari Shambu, Kaalia the crow, was a saviour for us entertainment-starved kids of the '80s.

Train journeys were eagerly awaited , so that we were closer to the A.H. Wheeler stalls, the mother-ship that held spanking new, crisp copies of the 20-odd page Tinkle. It was a ritual — when I got my monthly copy of Tinkle, each story was savoured slowly, each panel scanned for the bits of grass at the bottom of the tree, the white clouds "w"-ed in the sky and the "v" birds in the distance. Tales from the Ramayana and the Mahabharata were brightly illustrated with the queens and apsaras adorned in transparent veils, and proud moustachioed kings. The evil guys were marked with an eye patch or a missing tooth. Like our childhoods, everything was perfect, nothing was grey.

Anant Pai, who started Tinkle in 1980, gave us the world for Rs 10. Uncle Anu's club, another series in the same comic, explained fundamental science, the one-pager with the quick-witted Nasrudin Hodja or Suppandi with his large head and an infuriated "master" ordering him around was a fun read, and a conversation-starter for most of the under-ten crowd. Shikari Shambu was the portly, lazy hunter who barely moved an inch, yet managed to snare a runaway circus lion, thanks to some help from a plate of idlis (yes, it could get as random as that) — it was always fun.

The stories always began with a panel with the title of the story, the name of the illustrator and the name of the contributor, mostly a child, his or her address with a pin-code printed below the name. This has now been replaced with e-mail IDs. No kid will now share her postal address, but back then we knew the names of roads in Guwahati and Chennai, thanks to the tiny box. We would imagine having friends from all over the country. Each issue of Tinkle was a journey we took over and over again. We had Tantri the Mantri sharing his devious plans to displace Raja Hooja, which fit in with our own little white lies and childish cruelties, though Tantri always managed to mix up sleeping potions so they were consumed by everyone but the king, or somehow end up with an arrow in his behind when a hired sharp-shooter mistook Tantri for Hooja. It was a riot.

But the most priceless bits in the comics were the middle sections, with the infotainment pages, something that Uncle Pai introduced himself with a paragraph addressing millions of us as if we were his own. He would write about India's rich history and in little neat squares down the page, we were told to "match the following" — images of the Qutub Minar, the Charminar, and the Taj Mahal were lined up, and eager readers were asked to match them with the names. It was decades later that I actually saw the Qutub Minar, but I was first introduced to it in a little box. Tinkle now has illustrations that looked Photoshopped, the mythological figures have rippling muscles — maybe now the kids may even know what a Botoxed queen is all about. The answers to a question about "hiccups" can be found easily on the Internet, and Shikari Shambu is way too slapstick for any five-year-old today. But in a time when finding a pen friend was a big deal, even writing an "It happened to me" (entries from seven-year-olds on how they sipped castor oil mistaking it for a bottle of juice, or how they took hold of a stranger's hand in a crowded market, and realised later it was not their father, but the kind stranger got them home) is all in the past now.

But we were glad Anant Pai gave us Tinkle.

My question never got printed, but I got an envelope, saying thank you for sending it across. I didn't mind. I had a letter from Uncle Pai and it meant the world to me. It always will.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

DON'T STOP MY TRAIN OF THOUGHT

CHARULATARAVIKUMAR

 

The railway budget happened. And happened again. The railway promise was made, and made again now. After a whole year of anticipation, at least by the watchful eyes of a few change-seekers, it remains just that. Still an anticipation. The railway ministry's promise of modernisation of 584 stations with 75 per cent completion by March 2012 may well remain an unfulfilled dream like the prior year's assurance of "world-classisation" of 50 stations across India. Not all of this failure can be ascribed to lack of action. The lack of funds with the railways and private companies still shying away from joining hands are keeping this promise just that. Still a promise. While still more have come our way as a preamble to introducing the Rs 2,500 crore deficit for this year.

A lot of railway ministry (RM) speeches to the public is much like that desperate advertising agency (DAA) pitch made to grab the big business at any cost. So here's how it happens :

RM: The people of India are very important to us (read "vote for me")... begin the anthem of "Koi Sikh, Koi Jaat, Maratha..."

DAA: Your account is very important to us ... (read "hire us"); the account executive and creative junior are made to open the pitch with a dedicated couplet or quote.

RM: In the last year, we introduced so many trains, so many new jobs, so many ticket booths. All for you.

DAA: Last year, we introduced a new retail department, digital department, new creative team. All for you.

RM: And this year, we propose to develop a bridge factory in J&K, coach factory in Singur, diesel locomotive centre in Manipur and many more.

DAA: And we will set up a retail practice team for you in Delhi. Client quips: But our biggest markets are Tier-2 towns.

Agency quickly rebounds: Oh yes, and in Jabalpur, we already have a strong retail team in place so we can easily set up more.

RM : And as our social revolution initiative, the suburban railways will set up shelter homes for the homeless. Toilets will still remain the rail tracks.

DAA: We are very interested in CSR initiatives (read "awards") and will charge you only at half the price for any such campaign you route through us.

RM : We will have world-class facilities in 50 stations.

DAA : We will provide world-class service and our regional teams will provide strategic and creative inputs.

RM: We will increase security for commuters. Two sabotages should not be held against us.

DAA: We will give original award-winning work on your account. A downturn in your sales is due to other factors.

RM: We will also help "logon ko 100 kms suffer (in Hindi or English, you decipher) karne ke liye hum madad karenge". All Indians must understand the budget. So I switch to Hindi... now English...actually Baingolli.

DAA: All our advertising will only be in Hinglish. We specialise in that. We understand new India best. But of course our creatives will only be in English and we will get them translated.

RM: Eighty-five proposals to involve public-private partnerships.

DAA: We will get the best knowledge and skill partners to complete our 360-degree offering. (Shhh... hope you don't remember that bit about our various in-house skills of

digital, retail, etc.)

RM: It is only the interest of the people we have in mind. This will be a budget for the common man.

DAA: We have only your interest in mind. We accept any fee you tell us. (We need this account at any cost as long as you are happy and will vote... I mean, appoint us.)

One year later, evaluation time

RM: The number of commuters has gone down. More accidents. Higher fares. No modernisation of stations.

DAA: Only one account executive on the account. No awards. No impact on brand scores and sales. Not even the CEO met the client.

RM: Continues the same way.

DAA: Sacked. New agency appointed.

The writer is CEO, 'Product of the Year', India, and has worked in advertising for more than 20 years

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

RIFT IN PUNJAB

RUCHIKA TALWAR

The ruling PML-N in Punjab has notified and recognised the PML-Q's Unification Group, a breakaway faction of the PML-Q (Pervez Musharraf's political platform, when he was Pakistan's president), in the Punjab assembly late last week. The new outfit then sought the speaker's permission to take seats separate from those of the PML-Q. The PML-N employed this splintering to its advantage, to strengthen its cadres just in case the PPP causes an unexpected parliamentary jolt.

Daily Times reported on February 21: "Capitalising on the number game in the Punjab assembly by declaring the PML-Q Unification Group as a parliamentary party, the PML-N is set to say goodbye to its coalition partner, the PPP, by February 24... The sources claimed the plan has been tailored in such a fashion that it will not affect the working relationship... with the federal government... without leaving a chance for the PPP to table a no-confidence motion against the CM with the help of the PML-Q." The Express Tribune added on February 24: "But at the same time, the Raiwind leadership has left a small opening for the PPP by deferring a mass movement to dislodge the government at the centre 'in order to give time to the PPP to implement the 10-point economic agenda spelt out by PML-N'." PML-N leader, Nawaz Sharif has, however, stated that allying with supporters of a former dictator would be a curse for his party.

The PML-N had also given the PPP a deadline (February 21) to implement the said agenda, failing which they had warned action. The PPP showed signs of anxiety, as a report in The News on February 21 suggested: "Sources said the president has... authorised on behalf of the PPP, the PM to hold a meeting with the PML-N chief for negotiations on implementation of the 10-point agenda." PM Yousaf Raza Gilani only managed to buy time through this meeting, urging the PML-N to "keep its cool," reported The Express Tribune. Subsequently, Nawaz Sharif announced his party had decided to remove PPP ministers from the Punjab government and dissolve the cabinet. The Express Tribune reported on February 25 that PPP's Punjab unit will challenge in the Lahore high court the Punjab assembly speaker's decision to allocate separate seats to the unification bloc.

Who is Davis?

Just like PPP-PML-N relations, the status of US consulate staffer, Raymond Davis has also been in flux since he was arrested for double murder last month. After a dramatic debate on his diplomatic status — in which two senior PPP functionaries lost their jobs in the government and the party — the latest is that he could be a CIA operative and/or even a Taliban recruiter. Attributing the story to The Guardian and other foreign news outlets, Dawn reported on February 22: "Davis was attached to the CIA's Global Response Staff, whose duties include protecting case officers when they meet with sources... Moreover, The New York Times, Washington Post, Associated Press and other media outlets reported for the first time that Davis was a CIA employee."

The Express Tribune broke another sensational news on February 22: "The alleged killer... had close links with the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP)..." The report quoted a senior Punjab police officer: "The Lahore killings were a blessing in disguise for our security agencies which suspected Davis was masterminding terrorist activities in... Punjab... His close ties with the TTP were revealed during the investigations." The report added Davis could have also been working on a plan to give credence to the American notion that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are not safe.

In national interest

The Davis saga has cast a dark shadow on the ISI-CIA relations, reported The Express Tribune on February 25: "A senior Pakistani intelligence official... said the case of Raymond Davis had strained but not broken relations between the CIA and the ISI because the ISI didn't know about Davis before he... killed two Pakistanis... 'It's not business as usual; it's not open war... Cooperation and operations together will continue at a lesser scale.' Another intelligence official said: 'We are not ready to split... There has been a patch up because we have both realised that in the larger interest of the region and the war on terrorism, CIA and ISI must work together'."

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

REPUBLIC OF MAMATA

Purists will pillory railway minister Mamata Banerjee for getting the Railways further offtrack, for growing at a rate that's less than half that of GDP (revenues rose 8.9% in 2010-11 as compared to nominal GDP growth of 20%), with little prospects of this rising much (2011-12 projections are 12.6% compared to a likely 21-22% for GDP). Mamata, however, has her sights set higher. As she said last year, 'we cannot and should not have a myopic view of viability … another … consideration was social responsibility'. So, apart from the usual sops for West Bengal like a coach factory at Singur and a software centre in Darjeeling, there are special projects for the Northeast where the Trinamool has just won 5 seats in Arunachal and 1 in Manipur—all state capitals are to be connected by rail in 7 years, a diesel loco centre is to be set up in Manipur, and an industrial park in Bongaigaon. Around 10,000 homes are to be provided for those living near railway tracks, a wagon unit is to be set up in Kerala (along with 12 new trains), another in Karnataka ...

 

If this is a lot better than last year's promise of 552 hospitals, 50 Kendriya Vidyalayas and 10 residential schools, it's because finance minister Pranab Mukherjee doesn't have either the large heart or large mind that Banerjee said on Friday was needed to 'undertake big works'. He sanctioned a budgetary support of just Rs 20,000 crore against her demand for Rs 39,000 crore, so the Railways need to borrow an extra Rs 10,000 crore over the usual levels. The operating ratio has worsened from 76.3% in 2007-08 to an estimated 92.1% this year. With less money, Banerjee has decided to contribute less to future investment and even safety, probably minor considerations when weighed against the political capital she hopes to get. With contributions to the Depreciation Reserve Fund falling to Rs 5,800 crore in 2010-11 as compared to the budgeted Rs 7,000 crore, the fund's balance is down from Rs 3,336 crore last year to a projected Rs 72 crore next year. The Railway Development Fund's opening balance is to fall from Rs 3,023 crore to Rs 60 crore and the Pension Fund from Rs 1,524 crore to Rs 217 crore. With Mamata's budget so focused on elections, it'll be interesting to see if Mukherjee goes the same way on Monday.

 

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

A BIT OF THIS, A BIT OF THAT

If no one looks at the Economic Survey as a pointer to what the Union Budget will say a few days later, it's for a good reason—the Survey is written by economists while the Budget is made by politicians. In the case of the UPA, the contradiction gets underscored by the fact that the Prime Minister is an economist while Sonia Gandhi is a politician. Even so, the Survey is an interesting combination of faith and economic analysis. So it is optimistic on growth for 2011-12, even while acknowledging the problems of investment levels not having recovered and industrial outlook being a bit iffy in the short run—the fact that interest rates are to be hiked to dampen inflation will worsen the outlook. The headers for the sub-sections say it all—industry's sub-head is 'volatility and waning momentum' and that for services is 'the potential growth engine'. Services are even more important as the Survey is clear the balance of payments can be managed only with more services exports—it doesn't stress the role of government policy in slowing FDI for obvious reasons. The Survey admits inflation 'continues to be a cause for concern', doesn't stress on the supply-side failure (agriculture supply is stagnant and prices are up while the opposite is true of manufactures) and limits itself to the need-to-reduce-middlemen argument. The Survey is at once hopeful inflation will get controlled while also arguing it will exacerbate with GDP growth picking up—the latter, a big debate between the chief economic advisor and FE columnists.

The Survey bats for lower government spending to lower inflationary pressures as well as for not removing the stimulus as investment levels haven't returned to pre-crisis levels—the apparent contradiction is due the Survey's inability to explicitly say wasteful expenditures should be eliminated and productive ones increased. So the Survey praises the effects of what it calls social spending to protect the poor (MGNREGA) while at the same time saying 40% of grain targetted at the poor doesn't get to them—an FE analysis of the MGNREGA in 2007-08 found the government spent Rs 10,800 crore to give wages of Rs 3,833 crore! The Survey points to employment having risen by 13 lakh last year but is understandably not able to make the obvious policy prescriptions. If the finance minister chooses to raise MGNREGA budgets despite this, or even foots the bill for a food security legislation, it's because of the wide gap between him and his chief economic advisor—the way the wise men designed the seating plan, there's a whole floor between the chief economic advisor who sits on the ground floor and the finance minister who's on the first floor.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

NOWHERE TO HIDE
SHAILESH DOBHAL

In hindsight, the unravelling of the Rs 12,000-crore accounting scam at the IT major Satyam two years ago was overbilled as India's Enron moment. Satyam's likeness with Enron (the early 2000s infamous case of now defunct US energy major cooking its books systematically—and uncovering soon after other scandals of its ilk like Tyco and WorldCom—which spawned the tough Sarbanes-Oxley Act, or SOX, that put the fear of God in US businesses) looks overstretched.

True, the scam's chief perpetrator, promoter Ramalinga Raju, was put behind bars, and the auditor Price Waterhouse was hauled over coals, but the wrongdoings at Satyam were perceived more as 'personal infidelity' rather than a systemic risk, and therefore its solution too was one-off—the government quickly stepped in and sold the company to keep its business going. Period.

Did Satyam change the way businesses in India managed or manipulated the environment? Did it teach them that there are grave business perils of crony capitalism and unjustifiably influencing policy? Or that there is a direct, not inverse, relationship between probity and profits? Or that there are no sacred cows when it comes to public good?

The answer is a big no. Cooking up books was the dumbest way to show profits or siphon away funds, when there were a million ways to make 'real money' without the danger of getting caught with your pants down. Yes, his fudging was a 'piece of art', as one government nominee salvaging Satyam once mentioned, but surely Raju wasn't naïve enough to believe that such blatant illegality was sustainable. No wonder, Indian businesses paid mere lip service to better corporate governance and disclosure policies in the wake of Satyam, and moved on with their old, often corrupt ways.

In contrast, the Enron-inspired SOX fundamentally changed US businesses. The possibility of physical risk (jailing, in short) for the first time becoming a reality for the US business executives, and not just for malafide intent but even for reporting errors, created an all round atmosphere of utmost vigilance that made any wrongdoing easily detectable. In the fast and furious legalistic society like the US, the 'clear and present' danger of ending up in jail did wonders for corporate governance. But in India, the long and often inconclusive investigative process, followed by endemic judicial delays that virtually ensures that most economic offenders remain out of harm's way, made sure that most corporate governance measures remain just compliance issues, ticking-the-box approach as it may. Though Satyam did sully the sweaky clean image of Indian IT globally, the crisis itself was very company specific, and like it or not, everyone just shrugged it off as a case of just 'one bad apple'.

Cut to the present, in fact the last year or so. The hullabaloo over the Commonwealth Games, Indian Premier League, 2G, wire-tap controversy, illegal mining, loans-for-bribes and various other scams, some quite unrelated to businesses, have had an unintended, yet life-changing impact on how businesses in India will henceforth conduct themselves. And quite like the post-Enron moment for US businesses, of late there has been a feeling that the whole 'business of the country' is coming unstuck. There is a feeling of a systemic rot and collapse, and that, fortunately, has led to a resolve amongst policy makers and businesses alike to steel the moral timber across the polity.

It's true that our oversight mechanisms haven't changed much in the last five years, barring the Right to Information Act, which has had a fairly mixed record in attempting to make government more open. We have the same government auditor (CAG), the same investigating agency (CBI), the same regulator (Sebi), and the same, often combatant judiciary and the media.

But somehow the tumbling of one corruption skeleton after another—whether its was government contracts in CWG or awarding scarce national resource like spectrum or minerals in others—has willy-nily created an atmosphere where it is increasingly becoming difficult for businesses of all manner not just to 'manage' the environment, but even to hide perceptions of past wrongdoings. Much like the Arab world dictators, Indian businessmen could manipulate the environment only till the time there was a symmetry of information. With information and opinions becoming available on real-time basis, thanks to technology and the media, happily that luxury of hiding and fudging information is forever lost on company spin doctors. The hammering of selective stocks associated with some of these scams shows the investor community's uneasiness in putting their money with these perceived offenders. Old institutional investors walking out or new partnerships coming unstuck for perceived public trust deficit is becoming common now, clearly putting a premium on corporate openness and honesty. The RTI Act empowered the ordinary citizen to demand accountability from the government. And the pending Whistleblowers Bill will give an additional push to clean government, this time by encouraging insiders to raise the red flag on corruption.

In this new atmosphere of bringing the guilty to book, many regulators, too, are emboldened to inflict exemplary punishment on big errants like never before.

With the media, the Opposition and the judiciary upping the ante on corruption within the government ranks, a collateral damage has been the hitherto unassailable status of some companies and their bigger-than-life CEOs. The concomitant public glare, though sometimes wholly unjustified, is putting many businesses, among them some global subsidiaries of big multinationals, in an uneasy spotlight. This public opinion is making businesses sit up and revisit fundamental questions on business ethics—the third missing element of the good corporate governance plank, the other two being strong internal controls and strong financial checks.

shailesh.dobhal@expressindia.com

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

PROMISES TO KEEP...
RC ACHARYA

In her more than an hour-long spiel, Mamata Banerjee's 47-page budget speech had only 7 lines for one of the most important initiatives by her ministry—the dedicated freight corridor!

Estimated to cost over Rs 60,000 crore, for the dedicated freight corridor she has apparently opted for Japanese International Cooperation Agency, instead of asking for one-time grant from the central exchequer. Reportedly, the loan agreement has been signed and the consultants—Nippon Koei in the lead with Parsons Brinckerhoff Japan and others—are also in place.

According to Mamata, the good news is that the Dedicated Freight Corridor Corporation of India has been able to reduce the land needed—a highly vexing issue—by realigning the route, utilising 12,000 acres from Railways' own land bank, thereby reducing the cost by Rs 300 crore. However, the bad news is that the earlier target of 2013 set by the previous railway minister Lalu Yadav has been pushed to 2016, that is, if all goes well.

However, funding for the 1,300-km-long eastern leg has yet to get the World Bank's nod, which is reportedly going through it with a fine tooth comb. In the meantime, Mamata has gone ahead, commencing work from the eastern end, viz., Dankuni in West Bengal.

Every railway minister finds it imperative to show his or her magnanimity by promising dozens of new projects on the floor of the Lok Sabha and this year, too, Mamata has not failed her fans. Some of these may be to ensure a steady growth in Railways' capability to move higher levels of traffic, but most of these are to meet people's aspirations; in other words, are socially desirable.

For the proposed Rs 57,630 crore annual plan for 2011-12, she has been able to persuade the mandarins of finance ministry to cough up a whopping Rs 20,000 crore as budgetary support, and hopes to garner Rs 1,041 crore from diesel cess, Rs 14,219 crore from internal resources and Rs 20,594 crore as market borrowings from the Indian Railways Finance Corporation (IRFC).

She hopes to raise Rs 10,000 crore through tax-free bonds next year, again courtesy IRFC. However, the possibility of her raising Rs 1,776 crore through public-private partnership and wagon investment scheme on the basis of past experience is somewhat remote.

She was quick to admit that her promise of completing 1,000 km of new lines every year may not fructify and Railways may end up with only 700 km for 2010-11. Rs 3,406 crore for doubling and Rs 2,470 crore for gauge conversion has been earmarked for 2011-12, while Rs 13,820 crore for new rolling stock should meet the ever growing demand for wagons.

However, Mamata's promise of running double-stack containers from Gujarat ports to the ICD terminal at Gurgaon may come a cropper—if and when her proposal to electrify the Ahmedabad-Palanpur-Phulera-Ringus-Rewari-Delhi, including Kandla/Mundra Port- Gandhidham-Bhildi-Palanpur materialises after the feasibility study for these sections has been completed—putting at risk the survival of a highly productive container transport system on this route.

In her quest for making a mark in the Northeast sector, she has created a non-lapsable fund for undertaking all projects in that region, promising rail connectivity to all state capitals, except Sikkim, within the next 7 years. Of course, the funds at her disposal may be in the process of being worked out, but given the hilly terrain and the difficulty in executing civil works in that area, it is rather a tall order. But then 7 years is long way and she may not be there to answer!

As a part of the development of the Northeast, she has also proposed setting up a diesel locomotive centre (basically a diesel loco homing depot) at Manipur, when it gets connected by rail.

According to Mamata, one of the most vital projects in J&K—railway tunnel between Banihal and Qazigund—is expected to be completed this year. In the meantime, she proposes to give the people of J&K something to look forward to—a brand new factory to build bridges so that it may come in handy for the scores of bridges needed to be built for the hilly terrain, and a state-of-the-art Institute for Tunnel and Bridge Engineering at Jammu. Perhaps the Banihal tunnel will serve as a model project study if and when it gets completed.

The author is a former member of the Railway Board

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

MAMATA'S POPULIST BUDGET

Mamata Banerjee's third Railway budget in UPA-II contains few surprises: full of populist symbolism and sops but weak in substance. She made it clear to Parliament that the Indian Railways was passing through a very difficult phase financially but has failed to come up with any credible solution. With elections to the West Bengal Assembly round the corner, there was no question of the leader of the anti-Left coalition altering the fare structure. As the freight rates were raised a couple of months ago, she has left them untouched. Nevertheless, she proposed an increase in the annual plan outlay, from just over Rs.40,000 crore in the current year to Rs.57,630 crore in 2011-2012. This would involve a market borrowing of Rs.20,000 crore. The opposition, especially the Left parties and Ms Banarjee's predecessor in the Railway Ministry, Lalu Prasad, were quick to point out that the implementation record of the Railway Minister has left a lot to be desired. The truth is that most of the projects she announced in the last budget and a number of others under execution have failed to get the budgetary support necessary for early completion. Ms Banerjee's response to her critics is the proposal to set up a Central Organisation for Project Implementation, with four regional offices, to keep a tab on progress.

Making no bones about her preference for her home State, Ms Banerjee announced a metro coach factory in Singur and a Rail Industrial Park in Nandhigram district — two areas where her party, the Trinamool Congress, launched violent agitations, allying with extremists, to prevent major private industries from coming up. In addition, the Kolkata Metro is set for expansion and more services. In keeping with recent trends, Ms Banerjee has lowered the eligibility age for women from 60 to 58 years to avail themselves of the fare concession for senior citizens, besides increasing the concession rate from 30 per cent to 40 per cent for both men and women. A special package is on the anvil for the North Eastern region, with a mission to connect all these States except Sikkim in seven years. The proposal to develop an integrated suburban railway network for Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Hyderabad, and Ahmedabad is welcome. The really worrying aspect is the worsening operating ratio — which indicates how much the Railways spend to earn Rs.100 — to 92.1. For the Railways to be considered healthy enough, this figure should be in the 70s. If Nitish Kumar laid the foundation for the turnaround of the Railways, Mr. Lalu Prasad presided over the best years. What can Ms Banerjee claim at the end of the day?

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

LESSONS FROM THE KIDNAPPING

On Thursday evening, Maoist insurgents freed an upstanding public servant, Ravella Vineel Krishna, whom they had kidnapped and held hostage in a densely forested area near Jantapai village in Orissa's Malkangiri district. The State government had no choice but to accept 14 Maoist demands as the price for sparing the lives of the Malkangiri District Collector and junior engineer Pabitra Majhi, who had been abducted along with him, in the Papermetla panchayat. Thursday's release brought the curtain down on a tense drama that held the nation's attention for eight days. The Orissa administration as well as political leadership showed astuteness in handling the evolving situation. No less commendable was the role played by the three mediators, R.S. Rao, G. Haragopal, and Dandapani Mohanty, in narrowing the gap and paving the way for the releases. In the end, the episode raised civic morale by showing how people rally behind a dedicated, empathetic, and hard-working public servant. Mr. Krishna is possibly the only Collector to visit the tribal villages around the Balimela project, officially called 'cut-off' areas as they are highly inaccessible. His willingness to move into these 'Maoist strongholds' without any security, to implement development programmes, and to evaluate the development process with an open mind, rekindles hope about the integrity and efficacy of India's civil service, whose reputation has come under a cloud in recent times.

After this experience, Orissa would do well not to adopt the 'battalion approach' of deploying a huge number of security force personnel for counter-insurgency operations. Such macho responses are guaranteed to be counter-productive. Instead, the government must reach out to the 'cut-off' areas and take up developmental programmes — even if they are the ones the extremists suggested in their apparently earnest discussion with their captive, Mr. Krishna, on the nature of development. The spontaneous tribal rallies in these 'cut-off' areas demanding Mr. Krishna's release should make the Maoists think twice before employing the tactic of hostage-taking again. Apart from honourably implementing the promises made on the release of jailed Maoist leaders and the withdrawal of cases against tribals, the State government must initiate processes for the speedy and effective rehabilitation of tribal people displaced by the Balimela reservoir and Nalco projects. One does not need a Kalashnikov-holding Maoist to highlight people's problems. There is no dearth of funds and there are other civil servants like Mr. Krishna, may his tribe increase. Sagacity lies in encouraging such officials and replicating their initiatives in the remotest parts of this vast country.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

HOW NOT TO TACKLE THE BLACK ECONOMY IN INDIA

TECHNICALLY, WE KNOW HOW TO CHECK THE BLACK ECONOMY BUT THE PROBLEM IS POLITICAL. MORE STUDIES OR COMMITTEES AND TREATIES WITH FOREIGN GOVERNMENTS ARE ONLY TO STALL ACTION.

ARUN KUMAR

Another Joint Parliamentary Committee has been announced. The government has been trying to create an impression of being proactive with regard to tackling the black economy. The President's address and the speech by Sonia Gandhi in January mentioned the need to curb it. The Prime Minister at various fora, while expressing helplessness, has emphasised action. The Supreme Court has been applying pressure to tackle black savings spirited out of the country and for unearthing wrongdoings in cases of corruption like the 2G spectrum allocation case. Home Minister P. Chidambaram admitted in Davos that in road construction, 50 per cent of the funds are misappropriated. He has stated that there is deficit in governance and ethical functioning of government and the Prime Minister has endorsed this. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has announced studies into different aspects of the black economy and a Group of Ministers has been set up to tackle the problem. Talks are on for Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAA) with various countries — supposedly to unearth wealth kept abroad by Indians.

Is the government finally serious about bringing back the black funds stashed away abroad, variously estimated to be between $ 462 billion and several trillions of dollars? These figures seem credible when one considers the scale of the current scams (tens of billions of dollars) and the case of Hasan Ali where the tax demand runs into billions of dollars. The CD containing names of Indians with bank accounts in the LTG bank which the Indian government accepted in March 2009, a year-and-a-half after it was offered by the German government, has added to the pressure on the government. There are 77 tax havens where illegal funds are stashed away; Switzerland is only the biggest and best known.

The government's actions seem to be in direct proportion to the public pressure on it as exposes come in thick and fast. The problem is not new, so what explains the earlier inaction? Consider Bofors or the 2G spectrum case. Initially there has been denial and then minimal action, allowing the culprits time to escape (as in Hasan Ali's case where the money has disappeared). Rs.35 lakh crore in black income is generated annually and about 10 per cent of it goes abroad. The capital lost through this route is greater than annual net foreign investment, yet action is minimal.

The government pleads that tax havens do not reveal names unless criminality is established and that the Swiss government does not treat tax evasion as a crime. The moot point is why did the Swiss government announce the immediate freezing of Hosni Mubarak's assets without the Egyptian government giving any evidence of criminality? Further, why did UBS agree first to give the names of 250 U.S. citizens and then another 4,500 names to the U.S. tax authorities in 2007-08 without any criminality being individually established? In the Hasan Ali case, the Swiss government has said that it has not been given the information required. Similarly, in Ottavio Quattrocchi's case, the Indian government has twice lost in foreign courts because the case has not been properly established. In 1992, Madhavsinh Solanki, then Minister of External Affairs, passed on a chit to a Swiss Minister apparently to slow down the Bofors case but the Narasimha Rao government quietly buried the embarrassment by accepting his resignation. The few cases of corruption initiated against the high and mighty are apparently spoilt or not pursued.

Given this history, will there be seriousness this time or will the government wait out the storm? In the last 60 years, dozens of committees have studied various aspects of the black economy and given thousands of suggestions. Hundreds of these suggestions have been implemented but the size of the black economy has grown exponentially. The Wanchoo Committee report bulges with suggestions. Since 1971, when the highest tax rate was 97.5 per cent, tax rates have fallen but the black economy has grown from 7 per cent to 50 per cent of GDP. Controls and regulations have been drastically eliminated after 1991 but the size of black economy continues to rise. The causes of black income generation lie elsewhere. The recent rise in corporate tax collection is a reflection of rising disparity and not better compliance.

Plugging loopholes has only made the laws more complex, as in the case of taxation. The ingenuity of the corrupt thwarts the enforcement agencies by either devising newer ways of circumventing the law or simply bribing the officials. In India, laws on paper and in practice differ because of the 'Triad' of the corrupt business class, the political class, and the executive (see the article "Honesty is indivisible," The Hindu, January 29, 2011) who bend rules to their advantage. The philosophy is: if I am in power, I can bend rules for the favoured.

In brief, technically we know what needs to be done to check the black economy — but the problem is political. The top echelons of the leadership are the prime drivers of the black economy. They do not wish to forgo the massive illegal profits they generate. So how can the political will be generated?

A voluntary disclosure scheme to bring back black savings stashed away abroad for 'development' is being considered. Wasn't the Mauritius route created to allow round tripping of funds? It has accelerated black income generation by facilitating it. A National Security Adviser alerted the nation to terror funds entering the stock markets to destabilise the financial markets. The Wanchoo Committee argued that this kind of scheme makes honest people dishonest. A report of the Comptroller and Auditor General of India on the 1997 voluntary disclosure scheme pointed out that the same people who declared their black incomes earlier took advantage of the 1997 scheme — becoming habitual tax offenders.

Some argue that elections underlie black income generation and corruption. Presently, when a Lok Sabha constituency sees the expenditure of crores of rupees per serious candidate, state funding will make little difference. At best, it can be to the tune of the allowed election expenditure of Rs.25 lakh — just a few per cent of the actual expenditure by most candidates. Further, what is spent on the national elections officially and unofficially is not even 1 per cent of GDP for that year; so this cannot be the cause of black incomes. It is the black economy that works to subvert the elections. Our present day legislators are largely the representatives of the monied and the powerful and not of the people; so they need to keep the public confused to win elections. They resort to vote bank politics and bribing voters and that is what makes elections costly. Genuine democracy would not be expensive. Today, we have formal democracy with weak content.

In this background, it is clear that the government's actions against corruption will be in proportion to the public outrage and that too the minimum necessary. It is likely that there will be pretence while the real culprits go scot-free. Setting up a committee is to buy time and to stall questions on the subject since the government can claim it is waiting for the report. Later, it can buy time by pretending to look into the recommendations or bury an inconvenient report (like the Vora Committee report).

The Supreme Court is going after the names of those spiriting away money abroad but not after the generation of the funds. The black incomes generated in the country are ten times the size of what is siphoned out. In the liberalised environment, those with black money stashed away abroad can turn into non-residents overnight and escape prosecution in India. This is perhaps the reason the Indian government is unable to proceed against the eight entities named in the Liechtenstein disc. For the rest, little money may be left in their accounts, given the inordinate delays. Taxation treaties being entered into by the government with other governments are all about legal incomes traceable to known individuals. But black incomes are typically parked via shell companies and in benami accounts.

What is needed is serious investigation and prosecution in the country that will also expose the money siphoned off abroad. The government functionaries generating black incomes personally indulge in various illegalities such as using hawala. So, in principle, there is private knowledge but not public information to stop these activities. The help of foreign governments is hardly needed in this matter. Intelligence agencies provide the leadership with information through tapping and so on, which can be mined instead of being used for political blackmail. The prosecution agencies deliberately spoil cases for political reasons. If prosecution is not possible in India, how can the case be made in foreign lands for booking the culprits?

In brief, the policy pronouncements are delaying and diversionary tactics to allow those generating black incomes to escape via shell companies and benami accounts. There were limited gains from earlier JPCs but will this time be different? It will be only if there is political will and action — and not more studies or treaties with foreign governments.

(The author is Chairperson of the Centre for Economic Studies and Planning, School of Social Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi. He is the author of The Black Economy in India, Penguin India, 2002. He can be reached at arunkumar1000@hotmail.com.)

 

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THE HINDU

OPED

U.S. TRYING TO PICK WINNERS IN THE NEW MIDDLE EAST

THE REGION'S MONARCHS ARE LIKELY TO SURVIVE; ITS PRESIDENTS ARE MORE LIKELY TO FALL.

HELENE COOPER AND MARK LANDLER

As the Obama administration grapples with a cascade of uprisings in the Middle East, it has come to a stark recognition: the region's monarchs are likely to survive; its presidents are more likely to fall.

In the rapidly changing map that stretches from Morocco to Iran, two Presidents have already tumbled: Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia. Administration officials said they believe that Yemen's authoritarian President, Ali Abdullah Saleh, is in an increasingly tenuous position.

Yet in Bahrain, King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa has so far managed to weather a surge of unrest, winning American support, even though his security forces were brutal in their crackdown of protesters. Officials believe that King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia is also unlikely to be dethroned, while the emirs of the Persian Gulf have so far escaped unrest. Even in Jordan, where serious protests erupted, King Abdullah II has manoeuvred deftly to stay in power, though he still has to contend with a restive Palestinian population.

Reassurance and advice

This pattern of kings holding on to power is influencing the administration's response to the crisis: the United States has sent out senior diplomats in recent days to offer the monarchs reassurance and advice — even those who lead the most stifling governments. But it is keeping its distance from autocratic presidents as they fight to hold power.

By all accounts, that is more a calculation of American interests than anything else.

"What the monarchies have going for them are royal families that allow them to stand above the fray, to a certain extent," said Kenneth M. Pollack, the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution. "It allows them to sack the government without sacking themselves."

Many of the monarchs have run governments every bit as repressive as the presidents'. And the American calculation of who is likely to hang on to power has as much to do with the religious, demographic and economic makeup's of the countries as with the nature of the governments.

The differences

Arab presidents pretend to be democratically chosen, even though most of their elections are rigged. Their veneer of legitimacy vanishes when pent-up grievances in their societies explode. Most of the presidents oversee more populous countries, without the oil wealth of the gulf monarchies, which would enable them to placate their populations with tax cuts and pay raises, like the kings of Saudi Arabia and Jordan have done recently.

The Americans acknowledge that they have no choice but to support countries like Saudi Arabia, and that all of the situations could change rapidly.

On Libya

A case in point is Libya, where Col. Muammar el-Qadhafi — neither a king nor a president — has been brought to the verge of collapse with dizzying speed.

On February 24, the administration failed again to evacuate diplomats and other American citizens from Libya. A ferry chartered by the United States government remained tied up at a pier in the capital, Tripoli, unable to sail to Malta because of heavy seas in the Mediterranean.

The 285 passengers are safe, according to the State Department spokesman, Philip J. Crowley, but they cannot leave the ship, which he said is guarded by Libyan security forces. A hotel across the street from the pier has been the site of gun battles between rebels and loyalists of Colonel Qadhafi, witnesses said.

The stalled evacuation has led the Obama administration to temper its condemnations of Colonel Qadhafi's government, because officials worry that the Libyan government could take Americans hostage. But Mr. Crowley said that the United States would support a European proposal to expel Libya from the United Nations Human Rights Council, when it meets in Geneva on February 27.

Unlike in the case of Egypt, where President Obama spoke by phone with Mr. Mubarak several times during the crisis there, neither he nor any other American official has spoken with Colonel Qadhafi since the violence erupted. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton was unable to reach the Foreign Minister, Moussa Koussa, Mr. Crowley said, citing a technical glitch.

The Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, William J. Burns, did speak twice with Mr. Koussa, he said, and conveyed the administration's "concern" that Libya continue to cooperate with the evacuation.

The monarchs

The spotty American communication with Libya contrasts with the regular phone calls Mr. Obama and Mrs. Clinton have held with Arab monarchs. King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia pressed Mr. Obama in at least two conversations to back Mr. Mubarak. Since his ouster, an administration official said, Saudi officials have expressed some misgivings about their support for the former Egyptian leader. So far, the kings appear to be hanging on. The administration is sanguine that the Saudi royal family will survive any upheaval, though some acknowledge that they misread the prospects for change in Egypt.

Earlier this week, King Abdullah, returning home from three months of medical treatment abroad, announced a $10 billion increase in welfare spending to help young people, buy homes and open businesses.

The administration has urged Saudi Arabia not to impede King Hamad's attempt to undertake reforms in Bahrain, an island connected to Saudi Arabia by a causeway and dependent on the Saudis for political and economic support. Saudi Arabia is rattled by the prospect of Bahrain's Shiite Muslim majority's gaining more political power, at the expense of its Sunni rulers, in part because Saudi Arabia has a substantial Shiite population in its east.

American officials have sought to keep the focus on what they insist have been concessions made by Bahrain, where the Navy's Fifth Fleet is stationed, as a sign that the protests can prod the king, and the crown prince who will head the dialogue with the protesters, in the right direction.

Jordan

Similarly, in Jordan, King Abdullah, who faces a tricky situation because of his majority Palestinian population, has signalled a willingness to cede some power to an elected government or parliament.

American officials and independent experts say that they think that could allow him to hang on to power. The administration's clear hope is that all these kingdoms will eventually be constitutional monarchies.

"That approach to Jordan or Bahrain is the right approach; these are countries that have moved in the right direction, but not enough," said Elliott Abrams, a Middle East adviser in the Bush administration who has been a frequent critic of the Obama administration. "Constitutional monarchy is a form of democracy." There has been far less unrest in other Persian Gulf states, like the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Qatar or Kuwait — in part, experts say, because they are essentially regal welfare states, where citizens pay no taxes and are looked after by the government. In the United Arab Emirates, for example, when one citizen marries another citizen, the government helps to pay for the wedding and even to buy a home.

Even so, an administration official noted, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed, recently toured less prosperous parts of the United Arab Emirates to hold town-hall-style meetings — at least a nod to democratic rule.

"The truly wealthy societies like Qatar, the UAE and Kuwait have greater advantages," said Ted Kattouf, a former United States Ambassador to Syria. In many ways, he added, "the monarchies have more legitimacy than the republics."

In Yemen

In Yemen, a lack of legitimacy is plaguing President Saleh and the prospect of instability there poses national security problems for the United States, which has had the government's support for counterterrorism operations. Protesters are demanding his resignation even after he pledged not to seek re-election. The administration is pushing Mr. Saleh — a crafty authoritarian who has manipulated factions in his country to cling to power for 30 years — to revive a stalled effort at constitutional reform, though an official expressed pessimism about the likelihood of progress.

"The republics — and hence, the presidents — are the most vulnerable because they're supposed to be democracies but ultimately are not," said an Arab diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity. "They pretend people have a voice, but this voice doesn't exist. With the monarchy, no one's pretending there's a democracy."

     © New York Times News Service                   

 

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THE HINDU

THE ARABS ARE DEMOCRACY'S NEW PIONEERS

THE LEADERLESS MIDDLE EAST UPRISINGS CAN INSPIRE FREEDOM MOVEMENTS AS LATIN AMERICA DID BEFORE.

MICHAEL HARDT AND ANTONIO NEGRI

One challenge facing observers of the uprisings spreading across north Africa and the Middle East is to read them as not so many repetitions of the past but as original experiments that open new political possibilities, relevant well beyond the region, for freedom and democracy.

Indeed, our hope is that through this cycle of struggles the Arab world becomes for the next decade what Latin America was for the last — that is, a laboratory of political experimentation between powerful social movements and progressive governments from Argentina to Venezuela, and from Brazil to Bolivia.

Sparked by unemployment

These revolts have immediately performed a kind of ideological house—cleaning, sweeping away the racist conceptions of a clash of civilisations that consign Arab politics to the past. The multitudes in Tunis, Cairo and Benghazi shatter the political stereotypes that Arabs are constrained to the choice between secular dictatorships and fanatical theocracies, or that Muslims are somehow incapable of freedom and democracy. Even calling these struggles "revolutions" seems to mislead commentators who assume the progression of events must obey the logic of 1789 or 1917, or some other past European rebellion.

These Arab revolts ignited around the issue of unemployment, and at their centre have been highly educated youth with frustrated ambitions — a population that has much in common with protesting students in London and Rome. Although the primary demand throughout the Arab world focusses on the end to tyranny and authoritarian governments, behind this single cry stands a series of social demands not only to end dependency and poverty but to give power and autonomy to an intelligent, highly capable population. That Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak or Muammar Qadhafi leave power is only the first step.

The organisation of the revolts resembles what we have seen for more than a decade from Seattle to Buenos Aires and Genoa and Cochabamba, Bolivia: a horizontal network that has no single, central leader.

Traditional opposition bodies can participate in this network but cannot direct it. Outside observers have tried to designate a leader for the Egyptian revolts since their inception: maybe it's Mohamed ElBaradei, maybe Google's head of marketing, Wael Ghonim. They fear that the Muslim Brotherhood or some other body will take control of events. What they don't understand is that the multitude is able to organise itself without a centre — that the imposition of a leader or being co-opted by a traditional organisation would undermine its power.

The prevalence in the revolts of social network tools, such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter, are symptoms, not causes, of this structure. These are the modes of expression of an intelligent population capable of organising autonomously.

Although these movements refuse central leadership, they must nonetheless consolidate their demands to link the most active segments of the rebellion to the needs of the population at large. The insurrections of Arab youth are certainly not aimed at a traditional liberal constitution that merely guarantees a regular electoral dynamic, but rather at a form of democracy adequate to the new forms of expression and needs of the multitude. This must include, firstly, constitutional recognition of the freedom of expression.

The hope

And given that these uprisings were sparked by not only unemployment and poverty but also by frustrated productive and expressive capacities, especially among young people, a radical constitutional response must invent a common plan to manage natural resources and social production. This is a threshold through which neo-liberalism cannot pass and capitalism is put to question. And Islamic rule is completely inadequate to meet these needs. Here insurrection touches on not only the equilibriums of north Africa and the Middle East but also the global system of economic governance.

Hence our hope for the Arab world to become like Latin America, to inspire political movements and raise aspirations for freedom and democracy beyond the region.

Each revolt, of course, may fail: tyrants may unleash bloody repression; military juntas may try to remain in power; traditional opposition groups may attempt to hijack movements; and religious hierarchies may jockey to take control. But what will not die are the political demands and desires that have been unleashed, the expressions of an intelligent young generation for a different life in which they can put their capacities to use.

As long as those demands and desires live, the cycle of struggles will continue. The question is what these new experiments in freedom and democracy will teach the world over the next decade. ( Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri are co-authors of the trilogy Empire, Multitude and Commonwealth.)

© Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011

 

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THE HINDU

THAILAND MAKES ANOTHER IVORY SEIZURE

Thai authorities, on February 25, displayed over a tonne of illicitly smuggled African elephant ivory and rhino horns seized at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport, a haul described as a victory for better international intelligence sharing among wildlife officials. The last seizure was in late 2010.

The Customs Department said the 118 tusks and 50 additional cut pieces of ivory, along with three rhino horns weighing a total of 1,208 kg (2657.6 pounds) are valued at 52 million baht ($1.69 million). The tusks were found on February 23 at the airport in 11 boxes declared as "craftworks," after a roundabout journey from Lagos, Nigeria via Doha, Qatar and Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. "Nigeria, despite having few elephants within its borders, is a major departure point for poached ivory from Africa," said FREELAND, a Bangkok-based NGO that fights wildlife and human trafficking.

The seizure was the sixth law enforcement action against ivory smugglers since an intelligence sharing meeting between Thai and African wildlife/enforcement officials late last year.

 AP

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

POPULIST MAMATA A LITTLE CIRCUMSPECT?

When Trinamul Congress leader Mamata Banerjee presented her first Railway Budget last year, her heart lay in Kolkata, the "Mahanagar" she had set her sights on wooing in order to accomplish her primary objective of becoming the presiding deity at Writers' Buildings. Accordingly, a single state — West Bengal — figured high in the railways' scheme of things. Ms Banerjee's stewardship attracted criticism all round. The project to woo the electorate in her home state impacted the railways'

performance. The state of its finances showed that the minister's frequent absences from the nation's capital affected high-level supervision in one of the country's key infrastructure areas. Key sources of revenue generation were sacrificed on the altar of populism. Basically, the vision for the future of the railways — a vital key to the nation's economic life — at a time of acceleration of India's economic growth cried out for exposition. In the 2011-12 Railway Budget that she presented to Parliament on Friday, Ms Banerjee was circumspect about being openly solicitous of the West Bengal electorate. But if she does succeed in her ambition of becoming the state's next chief minister this summer, this would have been her last chance at dispensing largesse courtesy the railways. It is evident she has not forgotten this. That much is evident from her ideas about metropolitan projects, the integrated suburban railway networks, or the "cultural activities" of the ministry under her charge. On the whole, the politician in Ms Banerjee has once again clearly trumped the manager of the nation's high-value assets.

This time round the `57,630-crore investment outlay is more ambitious than last year. Even more interesting is the announcement about setting up of factories that would make coaches, tracking machines, diesel locomotives and bridges, and even a 700 mgw gas-based power plant in Maharashtra. Sceptics will be forgiven if they think that many of these are mere announcements, because the implementation of the promises made in the last Railway Budget appears to have got derailed. Indeed, the minister may have done well to have given a list of projects that have been completed. None of the public-private partnership projects, for instance, is said to have come up because of problems over land acquisition. The addition of 700 km of rail lines has been proposed this year even as last year's target of 1,000 km is far from completion. Besides, there is the concern for the poor, social sector projects and the usual sops to senior citizens, students and women. Being political creatures, all ministers try to earn popular goodwill in this manner. But the far-sighted among them should also be concerned about the railways' role in strengthening the nation's economy. This can only happen if rolling stock of the right quality and specifications are created, economically viable freight corridors are established rather than just talked about, internal resources are generated by raising fares alongside improving passenger amenities, and rates for freight are skilfully upped while bypassing inflationary implications. Finding ways to cut the wage bill without hurting employment in select areas also goes with the job.

The railways carry about 50 per cent of the nation's freight. If this effort is not stepped up by creating viable assets in the service of the economy, it will be bad news for the country. As Ms Banerjee herself noted while introducing the Railway Budget in Parliament, the objective should be for the railways to grow faster than the rate of GDP growth. The absence of this will create bottlenecks for the economy. The minister's accounting system befuddles economists. They wonder if she has a magic wand that helped her produce a surplus larger than last year, although freight tonnage was down, there were disruption losses and the outgo on account of Sixth Pay Commission commitments was considerable.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

VIVE LA DIFFERENCE

FARRUKH DHONDY

"Let Baigans be Baigans..."

From The Brinjalnama by Bachchoo

In my youth my father constantly told me that I wouldn't realise it then, but as I matured, experience and the world would bear upon me and I would turn away from the Left-wing, socialistic, even communistic views I

eld and spouted. This happened, he said, to everyone.

"

I wonder how old Mao Zedong is?" would be my reply.

"You think you are so damned smart, don't you..." would be the line of his dismissal.
I admit now that there was something in what he said — but not in the political field. I may have digested the fact that there is precious little I can do to translate conviction into political action; that those who have purported to put Left-wing and communistic views into practice have been not only mistaken but have been some of the worst tyrants, despots and murderers of the last century. Who would want to identify with Pol Pot? Was the Cultural Revolution of China really an admirable phase in human history? Are the Indian Communists in power free of the corrupt practices and goonda-gardi of other Indian political parties? Very many apples in the barrel are contaminated and rotten but that doesn't invalidate "appleness" properly applied. Jai Karl Marx!
What does change as one grows is taste. I can still listen to Elvis, Bob Dylan or Bob Marley on my CD player (No, I haven't got an iPod!) but have moved on to very different sort of music and it doesn't include the very popular BBC's Radio 1 which is "DJed" by jocks with annoying voices and jokes who play music that the juveniles of Britain adore and I can't seem to find the tunes in.

While driving or at home, wanting to listen to the news, I turn on BBC's Radio 4. "Turn on" is right because all the radios I use are tuned to the station anyway. Radio 4 has a distinctly upmarket flavour. It doesn't play music, it's a talk station and the talk, apart from the news, is comment on current affairs with my favourite programme of the genre being Question Time in which a self-selected cross-sectional audience puts questions to a panel representing all shades of political opinion plus one maverick (Yes, I've been invited onto the programme a few times!).

It also reviews the arts every day and runs the extremely enlightening and often challenging Woman's Hour. It has book extracts and studio contests, comedy and drama.

From this, albeit selective, description you may have gathered that Radio 4 is not the sort of station that would appeal to all ages, classes and levels of engagement.

Now David Liddiment, a member of the BBC Trustees' Board, urges Radio 4 to become what he sees as more representative, to widen its appeal to include people of a different class and even of the different "races" or cultures that inhabit these islands.

On the face of it this is a solid democratic proposal but actually an absurd and unnecessary one. Radio in the digital age has evolved in a fragmented way. There are hundreds of radio stations in Britain and probably thousands if not millions in the world. The availability of frequencies has spawned a welcome diversity. BBC Radio 1 does pop music. BBC Radio 2 does slightly more middlebrow pop music and might appeal to an older age range. Radio 3 is classical and its programming is often challenging in that it doesn't give you a limited diet of Tchaikovsky and the pop romantics, but delves into more recondite archive and features experimental and innovative modern stuff. Radio 5 Live does a lot of sport and discussion.

There was a BBC Asian network which has now, through the vaunted need for austerity, been axed. It used to feature among interesting interviews and forums for business chat and political discussion, Bollywood songs, news, reviews and interviews. It also sponsored concerts by South Asian stars such as Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.
None of this list of programmes and categories would sit easily in the schedule of Radio 4. The station would confuse and perhaps even lose its core audience which would be quite bewildered by a review of a Bollywood film following Woman's Hour or the weekly dramatic episode of The Archers, Radio 4's long running soap about country folk.

I absolutely understand David Liddiment's plea for broadening the spectrum. It is the politically correct idea that the man in Dewsbury, who arrived 30 years ago from Mirpur and still speaks no English, because he never needs to, can share the same radio station with the 50-year-old feminist in Bristol, the 70-year-old retired judge who lives in rural Shropshire and the 15-year-old black rap-addict gang-member from Brixton who can speak colloquial English but prefers to spout pseudo-Jamaican. Can't be done, boss. They each have their own radio stations.

One may go further. Our Dewsbury man will never tune in to "Radio Desidews" (made up name) which plays non-stop Bollywood hits and exchanges anonymous, parent-dodging Valentine's messages on its public-phone-in hour. The Bristol feminist may be inclined to listen to Radio 3 if she is classically minded, but will probably never listen to "Radio Fantasyjihad" (another fictitious name to protect the innocent) which features religious speeches about women having and knowing their "special" divinely-allocated place in society. The 15-year-old black gang member from Brixton has 300 London pirate stations to choose from. A critical appraisal of the lyrics of "Jhooky Badman" (another made up name) by Solomon Rushperson (err… yet another made up name) wouldn't induce him to tune in to Radio 4.

As for our retired judge, he probably finds Radio 4 disgustingly infiltrated by Communists and anarchists and can't handle the technology of the digital radio his grandson bought him anyway.

Very recently Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a speech which was reported as saying, as Nietzsche had done with God, that multiculturalism was dead. Reading his speech, what he and his multiculturally-naive speechwriters actually want to say is that the government shouldn't fund jihadi groups and individuals who preach hatred against Britain and British values. That's okay, fine, dandy. Take away my taxpayer money from the namak harams!

If he was indeed saying that multiculturalism was dead, he was grievously mistaken. In evidence, Your Honour, I submit Exhibit A: The thousand radio stations in Britain that have very select audiences. Vive la difference!

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


THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

SETTING: IN INDIA, IT'S A VERB

SHOBHAA DE

Late one afternoon, my car drew up next to a police van, and my firebrand driver Choudhary (yes, Raj Thackeray, he's from Bihar, and I'll never sack him!) pointed to a couple of Nigerians in the van. "Nothing will happen to these charsees", he said laconically, "Sab setting ho gaya hai". He went on to narrate a longish story about his

friend, a taxi driver (of course, he's from Bihar too), who had similar looking drug dealers as passengers recently, and saw an exchange of money (Thappas of `500 notes) between these burly men, a couple of cops and a local supplier. "Poora setting tha", repeated Choudhary, his tone almost respectful.
Well… as we know, without "poora setting" nothing works in this country. As I watched Opposition leader Arun Jaitley's incisive, cutting and brilliant address in Parliament on February 22, I wondered about the assorted settings that must have culminated in this outspoken attack on the Prime Minister (who sat stone-faced through the broadside, like Mr Jaitley was giving a lecture on the breeding habits of flamingos). Next came Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj's "Pranab-Da" broadside that really rattled our Bengali babu. She taunted. He fumed.

Where was this moral outrage earlier? How come everything is coming apart all of a sudden? In one dramatic week, several silenced voices rediscovered the larynx and tongue. Even though, in Mumbai, the Kasab verdict was met by an indifferent, thanda response (largely because of the "settings" factor — people believe he'll go scot-free eventually).

The next morning, India woke up to the Godhra ruling (a few shockers, but otherwise, pretty predictable). Then came the Kalmadi bomb (Uska setting khatam!). And Sheila ki badnaami. Plus, the joint parliamentary committee decision, where again, cynics believe nothing will emerge, given the sensitive nature of the matters under scrutiny. Sandwiched in between all these dramatic disclosures, was the fate of a young collector and a junior engineer kidnapped by Maoists in Orissa, besides the endangered lives of Indians trapped in Tripoli.

So many settings to put into place, that too, in such a short time!

For those unfamiliar with Bambaiyya (the street-speak of Mumbai), "setting" refers to an arrangement or a deal between two parties. Someone has to broker this informal but pucca understanding. That "someone" plays a key role. There are several revered corporate honchos whose sole job is to organise key settings. These men make it to the boards of mighty corporations and, in return for a fat fee, they promise complete co-operation while undertaking mega settings. It's deal making at its sharpest. Mr Kalmadi was once known as the King of Setting (his mentor had trained him well!). He could not have pulled off the Commonwealth Games (CWG) without such skills. But what invariably happens when our local satraps try and adopt the desi model to foreign conditions is that they trip over themselves and get caught.

Greed catches up, and someone or the other in the long food chain snitches on the boss. Besides, people like Mr Kalmadi misjudge (or underestimate) the settings undertaken by their foreign counterparts.
Every country has its fixers, and every country creates its own settings. Mr Kalmadi and his cronies obviously lacked the sophistication needed to pull off an international scam of this scale and ended up in the doghouse.
Imagine, even the sweet-old Queen of England got to know about their evil deeds at some point! Like an A. Raja, Mr Kalmadi was not operating on his own. Which is another reason why Delhiwallahs believe, Mr Kalmadi's personal settings with his ultimate bosses, will see him through this crisis. It is being speculated he has agreed to take the rap for other, high-profile culprits, in return for several concessions that the public will never know about. By agreeing to become the face and villain of the CWG scam, Mr Kalmadi may, in fact, have saved his own scalp.

From our stock markets to the World Cup and beyond, we accept corruption in all spheres. We express shock and grief when matters go completely out of hand (Godhra, 26/11), but at the back of our mind we acknowledge our helplessness and agree "That's how it is in India".

While talking to an international hotelier of Indian-origin recently, I wasn't all that surprised when he expressed his desire to meet the "right" people in order to get his ambitious projects off the ground. The man was candid enough to admit that marketing a top-end, very exclusive resort experience was one thing (and he's probably the best in his field at that), but getting around bureaucratic road blocks and traps in India, required skills he did not possess. He'll learn! They all do eventually. Once people like him get over the unorthodox methods of conducting business in India (a practice that has been cultivated and encouraged by successive governments), they promptly forget their ethics and moral principles as they scout around frantically for touts to move those files.

Settings takes place at each and every level. Try hiring domestic help on your own, without the intervention of a local supplier who takes a fat commission — well, at least, in Mumbai that is virtually impossible these days. For whatever reason, housemaids come from Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh. Drivers from Bihar and people who do "top work" (such a comical term!) from Karnataka. The cornering of lowly municipal jobs is also complete, with each state having its own quota.

Not that anybody is complaining. As long as the job gets done, it doesn't matter who the person is or where the person comes from. It's the same logic that protects those Nigerian drug dealers (who speak fluent Hindi). The story remains identical. They do it because they know they can. Simple.
Settings are everything, yaar. As India will discover once the JPC charade gets under way.

Mr Jaitley and Ms Swaraj should have saved their breaths. But what the hell… it was good television.

— Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

NEED START-UPS TO REBOOT IT

GANESH NATARAJAN

With The export sector looking at a resumption of 20 per cent-plus growth, the surge in domestic spending on information technology (IT) by the government and the corporate sector, the accelerating demand for IT hardware and software, the IT sector in India is witnessing a resurgence in fortunes.

The sector has a few expectations from Budget 2011-2012, begins with an increased focus on infrastructure development — an aspect that can propel India towards a new level of accelerated growth. Over the last decade, much of the growth of the IT and the business process outsourcing (BPO) sector was focused on a set of seven to 10 locations, owing to various factors like infrastructure, access to a large talent pool, developed policies, et cetera. However, with the industry maturing day by day, it is important for the IT-BPO sector to expand across more locations. Already around 50 cities have the basic infrastructure and human resource to support global sourcing, domestic technology and business services industry. Development of Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities will offer a significant cost advantage and employment of opportunities. This is vital for balanced development of the country. Some centres could emerge as regional hubs to support domestic companies. However, expectations of improved infrastructure are not just references to readily available physical structures and direct capital investment requirement but include focus on enhancing the social infrastructure as well.

While India has ample amount of talent, it is largely not employable. This leads to incremental training costs and increased downtime for the industry. This is challenging keeping in mind the availability of quality talent in competing countries. On a broader scale, tax incentives and investment benefits given to infrastructure providers and skills development companies would be welcome. For the IT sector this would ensure that input costs, which are burgeoning, are brought under control and the competitiveness of India as the "office of the world" is reinforced.

There is also hope that some anomalies that continue to exist in taxes and duties, particularly for product companies, will be removed in this Budget. The industry is laying strong emphasis on developing software products along with the services. The Indian software product industry has been delivering world-class software products in various domains. Disruptive technologies such as virtualisation, service-oriented architecture (SOA) and delivery model innovations such as Web services have helped several new entrants overcome barriers-to-entry and successfully compete with incumbents to build million-dollar businesses in existing as well as new markets. These developments have also helped expand the addressable opportunities for Indian software product businesses in the export as well as domestic markets. India offers a good combination of talent and economic factors to nurture businesses to early profitability. Cost savings from a favourable cost structure — in talent, infrastructure and development costs — may be redeployed to increase the reach and scale of the business.

Rationalising the tax and duty structures applicable to the sale of software or allowing rebates for specific user segment focused pricing will help address the challenge of high cost of software being a hindrance to more widespread usage. The government should encourage the setting up of alternate, hybrid (public-private) investment vehicles to channel funding towards software product technology start-ups and streamline access to available public funds.

The Software Technology Park (STP) scheme has played a dominant role in the emergence and development of the industry. Currently, over 94 per cent of total IT exports are accounted for by STP units.
While for this industry to grow it certainly needs the large companies and medium-sized ones, what is really important for us to understand is that it also needs entrepreneurial start ups. The entry barriers are low under the STP scheme, creating a level-playing field for both large as well as small enterprises. Over the years this has propelled growth of several small and medium enterprises (SME) that contribute significantly to the industry. It provides a conducive environment for the sustained growth of the SME segment and needs to be continued.

Dr Ganesh Natarajan is vice-chairman and MD of Zensar Technologies Ltd

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

LOADED DICTATORS & OTHER MONSTERS

KISHWAR DESAI

In a week when Libya seems set for a regime change, there have been calls in the United Kingdom to freeze the assets and bank accounts of both Col. Muammar Gaddafi and former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak who are known to have invested in property and to hold bank accounts in the UK. Mr Mubarak's overall wealth is

said to be worth more than $70 billion. It may be too late to touch his assets, so the attention has shifted to Col. Gaddafi. While Switzerland has now said that it will freeze Col. Gaddafi's bank accounts, the UK has not found this as simple to do. It now appears that these accounts can only be frozen if there is a request from the Libyan government or through a UN Security Council resolution. This means that there is every chance the money could be transferred to some safe haven. Sounds like a familiar story? Apart from bank accounts, the Gaddafis also own millions of pounds worth of real estate and shares in various companies, in the UK. It remains to be seen if, at least, these can be eventually sold and the money repatriated to the people of Libya where it belongs.
Perhaps learning a lesson from the fast-moving scent of the Jasmine Revolution, a desperate King Abdullah has unveiled benefits worth $37 billion, which are specifically targeted towards lower- and middle-income groups, including pay rises, unemployment benefits and affordable homes. Now we have to see whether the March 11 Facebook call for a day of rage actually happens or have people been bought off?

Meanwhile, sometimes the timing of a film or a play seems spot on. After watching Col. Gaddafi's wild ranting on television my thoughts turned to the play Frankenstein which has just opened at the Olivier Theatre in London.
The similarity between the two creatures was fascinating. I don't know which one is more frightening or repulsive.
And yes, it is Danny Boyle who is directing it. The man is incorrigible! Apart from the excellent timing, the play has also got wonderful reviews. Nick Dear has adapted it from Mary Shelley's book, written almost 200 years ago. The story in which a scientist creates a creature for the greater good, only to find that it eventually murders him and rapes his wife apparently can still draw packed houses!
It might sound amazing, but it is difficult to get a ticket for a play which has been repackaged and sold over and over again in various mediums.
The first production of the play was in 1823, attended by Mary Shelley herself in which women shrieked and fainted with fright, and critics sagely advised that wives and daughters should not see it. But the credit for the success of the present production lies both with Dear's interpretation of Frankenstein and with the production quality itself. A further twist has been added by the director's decision to interchange the two lead actors on alternate nights. Thus both Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller (Angelina Jolie's ex-husband) get to play Frankenstein as well as the Creature.
But at a more philosophical level, the play which Shelley referred to as her "hideous progeny" resonates very well with today's scientific discoveries which continue to tamper with the creation of life. To think she wrote it when she was barely 18…

And so, in recognition of brilliant women everywhere, some great news! After Davos, UK companies are also being given a reality check regarding the number of women they have in their top echelons.
It is no secret, alas, that company boards are usually women-free zones. This old boy's network has dominated British business for a long time, but now Lord Davies has been specially appointed to examine the paucity of women board members and directors and how to push for a fairer representation.
He has suggested a system of quotas: an aggressive policy of the inclusion of, at least, 20 per cent women on the board of companies right now — which should increase to 25 per cent by 2015. Naturally this rather radical policy has met with enormous resistance —with most of the companies shying away from the suggestion. Only 11 per cent were in favour.
But the fact that developed countries are taking the existence of a glass ceiling for women very seriously is something to be welcomed.
There can be no equitable progress in a country where women are left behind. Therefore, along with a quota, it has also been suggested that there should be an annual report by companies on the number of women they employ, including those in the top jobs.
It is a controversial idea but something that should be urgently implemented even India. Instead of caste-based reservations, we should have gender-based reservations and quotas at every level, right from school. It will transform Indian society completely. The time has come to give women a helping hand.
But there may be a strict message in all this for the UK top firms. To begin with, the quota could be voluntary — and if it is not implemented then there would be a legislation to enforce it. In some countries it already exists: Norway has a 40 per cent quota, while Germany, France and Spain are coming on board with legislations.
The European Union is also planning to enforce quotas on the largest companies to create more women directors.
Of course, the usual arguments against quotas are being trotted out — but, at least, it may mean that yet another generation of women might not go unrepresented at the pinnacles of power.
However, Lord Davies has a tough battle ahead; there will be many clones of Lalu Prasad Yadav and Mulayam Singh Yadav waiting in the bushes out here too, to trip him up, just as they have constantly wrecked the final passage of the Women's Representation Bill in Indian Parliament.
Another familiar story!

The writer can be contacted at kishwardesai@yahoo.com

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DNA

 

A RIGHT TO OGLE AT AIR HOSTESSES

ASHOK KRISH

 

The Indian male passenger believes that a Rs3,000 investment in an air ticket entitles him, in addition to the pleasure of being transported from point A to point B, to a nubile young flight attendant he can ogle at during the journey.

 

The comely lasses modelling in the inflight magazine or the suggestive photo of the upcoming Bollywood starlet right next to the story about farmer suicides in India's largest selling newspaper are not enough.

 

The full three-dimensional enacting of the dream girl satisfying the Indian man's fantasy of the pretty, docile girl who wears skintight uniforms and asks "What would you like to eat, Sir" in a posh accent, is the birthright of every Indian passenger.

 

See, that's why whenever the subject of the national carrier comes up, everyone unleashes the standard complaints first – the shoddy service, the rundown inflight décor and the general ineptitude of "government company" — but then quickly and unfailingly add the clincher — "and all those old, surly air hostesses". "How dare an airline keep around a woman who is old enough to be my aunt" is the logical extension of the "I-liked-watching-Madhuri-Dixit-when-she-was-not-married" train of thought that departs from feudal station and does a long halt at sexism junction.

 

Not surprisingly, when the Indian man goes abroad for the first time, he completely and utterly fails to notice the average age of a flight attendant in any American airline, especially ones like Delta and United. Clearly, our colonial hangover still keeps the great Indian fantasy libido from expecting the same docility from Caucasian women.

 

It's quite funny actually. I often encounter several gentlemen who will say things like — "I let my wife pursue her career", "We let our daughter have boyfriends", and then in the same breath bemoan the fact that Air India cannot seem to find the cojones to sack an employee on the basis of her proximity to menopause.

 

It gets even better. There are private airlines whose customer service is fairly bad, but these chaps will add — "Well, at least their air hostesses are pretty". At one level, men will be men and there will always be item songs in movies and that sort of thing, but what always fascinates me is the Olympic gold-medal-level mental gymnastics involved in being able to consider oneself "women friendly" and then expect uniform-based, docility-laced inflight role play.

 

I mean, we can just be honest about it and behave consistently. For instance, we must accept dinner invites only if the hostess meets some personal criteria of hotness (which, not surprisingly, is rather consistent, if matrimonial ads are to be believed).

 

We can also petition our government to ensure that all clerks at the post office are comely women dressed like brides who can issue stamps on a silver plate. With a glass of milk.

 

Slightly techie, moderately musical, severely blogging, timepassly tweeting

 

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DNA

HUBBY, THE HANDYMAN

PADDY RANGAPPA

 

My wife and I noticed my cousin's living room cupboard door was flapping outwards at an angle, supported only by its lower hinge.

 

"I'm waiting for my husband to return," my cousin said.

 

"He has the handyman's number?" I asked.

 

"No, Ashok will fix it himself – he is very good with his hands. You should see his toolkit!"

 

"I can fix things too," I told my wife on our way home. I had noticed her sharp intake of breath when my cousin had spoken.

 

"No need," she said, "Everyone's good at different things. Ashok is good at fixing things. You're good at… er… well, other stuff."

 

Ashok's secret was obviously his toolkit. I had to buy one.

 

"Please give me one normal toolkit for fixing things in the house," I briskly instructed the do-it-yourself store salesman.

 

He said this didn't exist. People simply bought the specific tools they needed.

 

"Please tell me what I need," I said.

 

The good man put together spanners, screwdrivers, pliers, adjustable wrench, hammer, rubber-headed mallet, super-glue and hack-saw.

 

"For complex jobs, people buy an electric drill, Sir." He looked at me doubtfully.

 

I took the hint. "No, I'll warm up with these; then come back for more elaborate stuff."

 

Putting the toolkit firmly on the dining table, I announced: "I'm ready."

 

"Oh," my wife said dully, without clapping her hands in girlish glee.

 

"What needs fixing?" I said.

 

"Nothing.Have some tea."

 

I was having none of this prevarication.

 

"This guest bathroom door latch is giving trouble, right?" I said, "I'll fix that."

 

"No!" she cried, "Achai" – our handyman – "said we need a new one."

 

"Achai will dismantle it, purchase a new one, then come back to fix it, charging us for two visits and the new latch. Instead, I'll dismantle it and buy a new one. Achai can simply fix it."

 

"But can you dismantle it?"

 

I bristled. "Yes. I have a toolkit."

 

The round knobs of the latch came off easily, but the circular base wouldn't budge. The wrench kept slipping.

Finally, by inserting the screwdriver underneath and banging on its other end with the mallet, I wrenched it out.

 

"You've ruined the door!" cried my wife.

 

"It's a scratch. I'll paint it later." I moved towards the door to curtail further whining, "I'm buying a new latch."

 

When he came home later, Achai frowned.

 

"Velly infelior latch, lah," he said, "May become jam. Next time I buy. I charge $20 to fix it now" – I gave my

wife a see-how-I-saved-$30 look – "and $40 to paint door. Badly sclatched."

 

"I'll paint it," I said coldly.

 

My wife requested me to check the post. When I returned, Achai had fixed the latch… and was painting the door.

 

"Have some tea," my wife said.

 

I magnanimously acquiesced since I wasn't 100% sure I could have done the painting with finesse.

 

Two months later, the bathroom door wouldn't open.

 

"It's jammed, just like Achai said," my wife said.

 

"It's the curse of the Achai," I said.

 

"Or the inferior latch you purchased."

 

Ignoring the slur, I took out my toolkit. But the latch wouldn't budge though I tried the pliers, hammer, wrench…

 

"You haven't tried the mallet," said my wife.

 

I had once observed a handyman open a jammed door by sliding a card in the gap between door and wall; with a click, the door had opened. I slid my best bookmark into the gap and pushed. It got stuck. No click.

 

"Why not try the full book this time?"

 

I could feel my wife's breath on my neck. How can an artist perform under such close scrutiny? Would Picasso have produced his paintings if his wife had stood behind him suggesting which brush he should use?

 

At this moment, our cleaning lady was passing by.

 

"Door jammed?" she asked. She calmly picked up the large screwdriver, inserted it into the slot in the middle of the knob – a slot I had somehow missed noticing - and turned it sharply. With a click, the door opened.

 

"See that?!" my wife asked in amazement.

 

"Yes!" I said, "I'm shocked too. She took my screwdriver without even asking me."

 

"Why not gift her the toolkit?"

 

I refused to stoop low and respond to her patently mean-spirited remark.

 

Paddy Rangappa is a freelance writer based in Singapore.

 

Read more on his blog

 

http://theflip-side.blogspot.com

 

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DNA

MOTHER INDIA! WE LOVE YOU MADLY!

MAYANK TEWARI

 

Every time American politicians visit India and expound on our democracy, they secretly thank God (the secular, globally accepted one) that they don't face such a parliamentary democracy back home. They also thank God they don't have a party like the BJP in the USA.

 

In the last decade, if LK Advani was the leader of the opposition in the USA, he would not have attacked the president's for failing to find Osama bin Laden. He would have shamed him. Publicly. Perhaps streets in Washington might have had posters and graffiti of Osama lying on a bed, connected to a dialysis machine, with the caption: The sick, ageing, most dangerous man in the world who we can't find.

 

Now before you start thinking about how the BJP would have tackled 9/11 and the non-transparent way in which the US government handed out information, let me remind you that for the BJP, the national interest is supreme. (If you want an Indian politician to take on the USA government on 9/11, the man you are looking for is Subramanium Swamy. But I don't think he has the time. National interest is supreme for him too.)

 

I love the BJP because I like to listen to my elders (who are beyond reproach). It's a party madly in love with the nation. And love means never having to say you are sorry. Even if it is Mother India. For love is love.

 

But I really love the BJP because I am a brick- holder in the proposed Ram mandir at Ayodhya. One morning, when I was 10 years old, Advaniji came to my neighbourhood in Delhi with the message of Hindu awakening. "Hindu ghata desh bata" was the slogan. By then (September 1990), VP Singh had found his nemesis: "Thakur buddhi, Yadav bal, Jhandu ho gaya Janata Dal". His days were numbered.

 

Advaniji's mood was strong and the message was clear: Mandir wahi banayenge! At any cost. Since politics is about loving Mother India truly, madly and deeply, and not about petty cash, the average Hindu had to pitch in.

 

My mother gave five rupees each to my brother and me to book a brick each in the Ram mandir. In the light of what's happening in Parliament now, I wonder if I am wrong in asking what happened to my money? Is the loss notional or real? But then I check myself: My elders are beyond reproach. Plus Advaniji is an elder not just to me but also to my retired father.

 

Which is why I don't ask silly questions. The BJP wants the PM to tell us how he let Raja do what Raja did under his leadership? I want to ask the BJP how LK Advani let the kar sevaks bring down a mosque in front of his own eyes and against his will? If Advaniji is allowed his darkest moment in personal history with sincerity, Manmohan uncle should also be allowed his darkest minister in the cabinet.

 

What say?

 

Mayank Tewari is a struggling writer mayankis@gmail.com

 

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DNA

PEPSI WANTS RICKY PONTING FOR TV

RAHUL ROUSHAN

 

After Ricky Ponting allegedly broke an LCD TV in a fit of rage inside the dressing room at Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera, Ahmedabad, last Monday, Pepsi Co, one of the leading advertisers and sponsors of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, has asked the Australian captain to feature in their ongoing 'Change the Game' campaign that currently showcases cricketing gems like 'helicopter shot', 'oopar cut' and 'palti hit'.

 

If Ricky Ponting agrees, he would be promoted as the progenitor of a new 'TV tod' shot (break-the-television shot) and some of the random hook or pull shots played by him in the past would be presented as the practical execution of his trademark 'TV tod' shot.

 

"We can show him smashing an LCD TV kept at a shoulder height in a hotel room when he is irritated at not being able to find remote control when Rakhi ka Insaaf is being broadcast on a channel," said an advertising copywriter visualising the proposed ad, "Then Rakhi Sawant comes out of nowhere into his hotel room; she slaps him and then challenges him to try the same on the cricket pitch if he was a real mard.

 

"We would assort some random hook and pull shots played by him in the past, which would appear as if he is smashing an imaginary television set kept at shoulder height in the air," said the copywriter, defining the 'TV tod' shot for Youngistaan, ie, the young generation as defined by the soft drinks company.

 

Ponting has been offered an undisclosed sum for this endorsement deal, which is also being dressed up by the marketers as an exercise in his 'image makeover', as the Australian captain is not exactly a favourite among the Indian cricket fans for his antics.

 

While Ponting is reported to be excited about this whole image makeover thing, sources say that he finds the whole concept of learning a hook or pull shot from someone like Rakhi Sawant a little too absurd. And why call it a 'TV tod' shot when it's already called hook or pull shot in normal cricketing parlance?

 

"We are explaining to him the ideas in our current television commercials," a representative of Pepsi Cosaid, referring to the 'Change the Game' campaign, "If Virender Sehwag can learn a late cut from Ranbir Kapoor and we can call it 'oopar cut', why should it be so bizarre if Ponting learns a pull shot from Rakhi Sawant and we call it the 'TV tod' shot?

 

"Isn't Kevin Petersen's 'palti hit' just a reverse sweep, and have you ever seen a grass chopper or cane crusher machine in rural India being turned clockwise, which we successfully presented as the inspiration for 'helicopter shot' by Dhoni? Come on!" the Pepsi guy reasoned and rejected all the apprehensions of Ricky Ponting.

 

While the Australian captain was still hesitant about the whole idea, Rakhi Sawant, who has been analysing cricket and cricketers on a couple of television news channels of late, is reportedly excited about playing the coach of Ricky Ponting by slapping and challenging him to perform.

 

"Rakhi and Ricky, oh jejus!"

 

she said.

 

Rahul Roushan thinks he can make some sense through nonsense. He attempts the same through his news satire website

 

www.fakingnews.com

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DNA

PEPSI WANTS RICKY PONTING FOR TV

RAHUL ROUSHAN

 

After Ricky Ponting allegedly broke an LCD TV in a fit of rage inside the dressing room at Sardar Patel Stadium, Motera, Ahmedabad, last Monday, Pepsi Co, one of the leading advertisers and sponsors of the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup, has asked the Australian captain to feature in their ongoing 'Change the Game' campaign that currently showcases cricketing gems like 'helicopter shot', 'oopar cut' and 'palti hit'.

 

If Ricky Ponting agrees, he would be promoted as the progenitor of a new 'TV tod' shot (break-the-television shot) and some of the random hook or pull shots played by him in the past would be presented as the practical execution of his trademark 'TV tod' shot.

 

"We can show him smashing an LCD TV kept at a shoulder height in a hotel room when he is irritated at not being able to find remote control when Rakhi ka Insaaf is being broadcast on a channel," said an advertising copywriter visualising the proposed ad, "Then Rakhi Sawant comes out of nowhere into his hotel room; she slaps him and then challenges him to try the same on the cricket pitch if he was a real mard.

 

"We would assort some random hook and pull shots played by him in the past, which would appear as if he is smashing an imaginary television set kept at shoulder height in the air," said the copywriter, defining the 'TV tod' shot for Youngistaan, ie, the young generation as defined by the soft drinks company.

 

Ponting has been offered an undisclosed sum for this endorsement deal, which is also being dressed up by the marketers as an exercise in his 'image makeover', as the Australian captain is not exactly a favourite among the Indian cricket fans for his antics.

 

While Ponting is reported to be excited about this whole image makeover thing, sources say that he finds the whole concept of learning a hook or pull shot from someone like Rakhi Sawant a little too absurd. And why call it a 'TV tod' shot when it's already called hook or pull shot in normal cricketing parlance?

 

"We are explaining to him the ideas in our current television commercials," a representative of Pepsi Cosaid, referring to the 'Change the Game' campaign, "If Virender Sehwag can learn a late cut from Ranbir Kapoor and we can call it 'oopar cut', why should it be so bizarre if Ponting learns a pull shot from Rakhi Sawant and we call it the 'TV tod' shot?

 

"Isn't Kevin Petersen's 'palti hit' just a reverse sweep, and have you ever seen a grass chopper or cane crusher machine in rural India being turned clockwise, which we successfully presented as the inspiration for 'helicopter shot' by Dhoni? Come on!" the Pepsi guy reasoned and rejected all the apprehensions of Ricky Ponting.

 

While the Australian captain was still hesitant about the whole idea, Rakhi Sawant, who has been analysing cricket and cricketers on a couple of television news channels of late, is reportedly excited about playing the coach of Ricky Ponting by slapping and challenging him to perform.

 

"Rakhi and Ricky, oh jejus!"

 

she said.

 

Rahul Roushan thinks he can make some sense through nonsense. He attempts the same through his news satire website

 

www.fakingnews.com

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

LAND GRABBING MENACE

 

The Government has woken up, albeit very late, to land grabbing menace in Jammu and Kashmir regions. Accepting that there exists nexus among the revenue officials, police, politicians the land grabbing mafia, the question is how then did the scam get leaked? Evidently, some insider, party to the nexus, has received a rough deal and, out of vengeance, leaked out the story to the media. This is the general characteristics of leaked out scams. We are in the midst of mega scams on national level, and in its second phase accountability has now begun to stretch its fangs. State Vigilance Organizations, too, will have to move in fast and with all seriousness to unearth the activities of land grabbing mafia. The public will be seriously interested in knowing where the investigation leads the case to. For quite sometime rumours have been making rounds that Government land is being grabbed by powerful politicians who usually commit such illegal acts with impunity. Vast stretches of Government land, particularly the lands belonging to the forest department, have been reportedly grabbed by unscrupulous persons with strong political connections. People have grabbed lands made available by deforestation or the kahcharai meaning grassland left fallow for grazing the cattle, or the river and nullah beds where water has changed its normal course of flow. Encroachment of parks, unused patches of land, roads and paths has been made on a large scale. Revenue and police departments have turned blind eye to these land grabs. The Revenue Minister seems to have woken up to this menace and claims he has ordered probe into the illegal occupation of Government land. There are doubts whether the Government will be really serious in recovering the illegally occupied land. The reason is that many politicians wielding power and influence are involved in the scam. They are the beneficiaries of this illegal activity. As such it may be difficult to make hem give up their claim to the land under the occupation of those who are close to them and crucial to their constituency. It has also come to the notice that some revenue officials have gone a step further and distorted or mutilated revenue records as they are party to the scam. How will that record be verified and set right is a difficult question to answer. The Revenue Department shall have to open a cell which will be entrusted with the task of identifying the lands illegally occupied. It is presumed that much more land has been grabbed than what is ordinarily reported by concerned quarters.
A more recent example of land grabbing came to light only a couple of days back when the Northern Railway authorities dismantled some structure which they thought was illegally raised on the railway land. Assistant Divisional Engineer Northern Railway, Jammu, said, "This prefabricated structure was constructed on the railway land and we cleared it of the encroachment, though the residents and leaders of some political parties raised a hue and cry". Political leaders are found closing their eye to land grabbing incidents in their respective constituencies just because they have to keep the voters in good humour. This reflects total disregard of national interests and is unacceptable. It has also been noted that under compulsions of developing residential colonies, there is ever increasing demand for more land. As a result agricultural land is being acquired and converted into residential areas. This is leading to ecological imbalance and is shrinking agricultural production. Unauthorized colonies have been raised on illegally occupied land, and these new mini-townships lack normal sanitary requirements. The Government is supposed to take full view of this menace and its ramifications, and devise a strategy that will block all underhand means of grabbing the land. The Government should not succumb to the pressures of influential politicians. At the same time, the Government has to address the pressing need of developing more residential colonies especially in the peripheries of two capital cities. In fact what is needed is twin-city plan for both the summer and the winter capital in the State. It is particularly advisable for Srinagar which doesn't have the semblance of being recognized as a tourist city. Same is true of Jammu as well.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

AN HISTORICAL ACCOMPLISHMENT

 

Seconds after the clock struck 2 pm on Wednesday, the first Airport Metro train steamed out of the New Delhi Railway Station. Excited passengers broke into applause, thrilled to be part of the historic first ride that brought Indira Gandhi International Airport within blinking distance of the city centre. With this connectivity Delhi became one of the few capitals of the world whose centrals are directly connected by metro with their main international airports. A distance which taxi cabs ordinarily would take more than an hour to cover together with braving the snarls of traffic jam enroute to the city centre will now be covered in just 18 minutes and without hassles. In view of growing tourist industry and increasing number of foreign tourists to India, opening of the Airport Metro is a landmark achievement that will immensely boost tourism industry. With metro network expanding fast, Delhi presents a changed look. Gone are the days when rickety lorries and primitive buses, noisy tempos and diminutive three-wheelers trudged the roadway to the Indira Gandhi Airport or the Palam Airport. Gone are the days when monstrous blue line buses monopolized by a handful of transport czars spread terror among the peddlers. But this is not the end of the mission. The Third and fourth phases of Delhi metro are yet to come by in next two years or so. When that happens, connectivity wise Delhi will be one of the top cities in the world. It is a matter of pride that our own engineers with indigenous technology could make this gigantic achievement that is bound to change the destiny of the nation. The country is on the march to progress and Delhi is the heart of the country.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PAKISTAN JUDICIARY

MEN, MATTERS & MEMORIES

BY M L KOTRU

 

Why is the Pakistan judiciary in such a great rush to have former military ruler of the country Gen. Pervez Musharraf in its hands. In one week the court hearing the Benazir assassination case has issued two non-bailable warrants against Musharraf, currently living in self-exile in Britain. I know how much Musharraf hated the guts of Pakistani politicians, including Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto.
Eight years after he captured power, toppling Nawaz Sharif, when the first murmurs of discontent began to be heard forcing him to declare an election, Musharraf began to pay heed to peace overtures from Benazir and her discredited husband Asif Ali Zardari. Nawaz Sharif, in exile in Saudi Arabia too started pulling strings through his Saudi host, the King of the Arab Kingdom. And you can't question Riyadh's clout in the Pakistani ruling elite.
Even as Musharraf had decided to go ahead with the elections he had earlier made the fatal mistake of sacking the Chief Justice of Pakistan Supreme Court Iftikhar Chaudhry. What followed is unheard of in the history of Pakistan: mass protests by lawyers all over the land, later joined by the civil society. Musharraf had in the meantime hurriedly offered pardon to Benazir and her husband hoping that their presence in the elections would carry some credibility. Nawaz Sharif too was finally allowed to return home after being sent back once from the Islamabad airport.
Both the People's Party of the Bhuttos and Muslim League of Nawaz Sharif did participate in the election. I remember a reluctant Musharraf advising Benazir Bhutto not to set foot on Pakistani soil for some time yet. There was an ominous ring to it. He felt the extremists might end her dream.
The adamant Benazir, paying little heed, got a foretaste of what followed when her cavalcade was passing through the streets of Karachi. Nobody knows who was responsible for the near-fatal attack on her. Arrogance and overconfidence, the two Bhutto hallmarks, then drew her to Rawalpindi, the headquarters of the Army. She obviously didn't care for the threats to her conveyed by many including Musharraf. And she was finally slain at the very spot where Pakistan's first Prime Minister Liquat Ali had been shot dead in 1953. Many funny things happened at the scene of the heinous crime. For instance the entire road was washed clean by powerful fire brigade and police water hoses even before the cops would have started picking up bits and pieces of evidence.
Benazir, always the arch populist like her father, was accused of having virtually invited the killer by popping her headout of the hatch of her vehicle, waving at the multitude but unaware of the killer lurking yards away. Such a ghastly act would not have been possible without the approval of the military, its ISI and the civil police. Fingers began to be pointed at Musharraf who in any case knew his game was over.
Asif Zardari, Benazir's husband, demanded an international inquiry; a UN commission finally held the Security forces responsible for the act. And the two notices served on Musharraf these past few days are the consequence. Only God and Musharraf know who actually was responsible for the crime but courts it appears already knew - Musharraf!
The revocation of Musharraf's order dismissing Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry was obviously the last nail in his coffin. Judge Iftikhar in the event has shown himself to be more vindictive than the worst of dictators. His vendetta against Musharraf is, of course an ongoing process. What is surprising is that Iftikhar Chaudhry's reinstatement, which was considered by many as a triumph for the democratic instincts of the Pakistani people, spent long months trying to get Swiss officials to reopen a corruption case against Zardari. After that failed the Chief Justice took up another case against the President, accusing Zardari of holding an office of profit namely as the head of the Pakistan People's Party.
Recently when an American diplomat shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore, the mother of one of the victims protested that she would get justice only from Justice Chaudhry. The Judges as a consequence of his post-restoration arrogance have tented to become self-publicists, like when a Lahore High Court Judge promptly held that no matter if the American had diplomatic immunity or even if the Pakistan government accepted it to be the American diplomat would be allowed leave Pakistan. In the surcharged, terror infested atmosphere in the country such decisions are always acclaimed by men like the Lashkar-e-
Toiba Chief, Saeed Hafez. Only the day, before I write, Saeed spewed fire and brimstone when he asked the government not to yield to pressure. Add to this the impunity with which the Lahore High Court barred the country's President from granting pardon to anyone held guilty in lower courts under the blasphemy law.
Addressing the Judges meet in India (Hyderabad) on February 6 the Pak Chief Justice lashed out at the IMF for hurting poor countries. This, to obstruct the Pakistani government's efforts to widen the tax net from the present miserably low two percent of the population. Iftikhar talks of his commitment to core values of democracy - a man who in the first place accepted his appointment by Gen. Musharraf in 2005.
Judicial independence is welcome but not of the kind that smacks of sheer vindictiveness. According to well-placed Pakistani sources the Chief Justice is now out to settle scores with nine senior judges accused of contempt of court for accepting office under Gen. Musharraf. What makes Chaudhry's stance ominous is the reported reluctance of Mian Nawaz Sharif to bring down the Zardari government. His preference at the moment is to mark time.
Who is he more afraid of, the Judges or the Army? As for Zardari, Nawaz knows it only too well that the President is getting more and more isolated. There is another interpretation available for the picking. The judges, led by Iftikhar Chaudhry, are "getting too big for their wigs"(the description given by the London Economist). May be they are helping create conditions in which the men in uniform are encouraging him and his colleagues to create conditions for them to step in as the saviours. There is a precedent for this kind of coup: in Bangladesh in 2007.
Kayani may not want to step in just now but given the current state of Pakistan with the judiciary pushing the Executive to the brink, he has every chance of being given a rousing welcome should he intervene. Remember the celebratory mood of Pakistanis, civil society included, when Musharraf toppled Nawaz Sharif. So far as Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry is concerned he may not have the pleasure of seeing Gen. Pervez Musharraf in the dock. He is unlikely to be turned over to Islamabad by the British. And then Musharraf has the other option: of going to the US where part of his family is already settled.
In conclusion, we Indians as neighbours of Pakistan have nothing to rejoice over the ongoing developments there whether it is the governmental instability or a judiciary on the rampage. A stable Pakistan with stable democratic institutions in places is what we need. And it is only with a country like that we can hope to have a friendly relationship. An aside: I asked one of the participants in the Hyderabad meeting of the Judges about the impression Justice Chaudhry had left on him; he confessed he hadn't had much interaction with the Pakistan Chief Justice but the visiting judge was pleased as much that India had allowed his flight from Pakistan to head direct to Hyderabad instead of being asked to take the Delhi rout. That carries a little message with it !

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

PROTECTING STATE FORESTS

BY HARJINDER SINGH


The formulation of Forest Policy by the Govt of J&K, though belated but is a commendable step. Now it is to be seen whether its implementation will be in the same spirit and in a strictly time bound manner. Rapidly increasing population, human greed and wrong policies have already caused a huge loss to this invaluable life supporting nature's bounty. Much hue and cry has been raised to save this treasure from further destruction but steps to protect and conserve it were never taken with the required zest and zeal. Some suggestions have been put forth in this regard: such as utilization of timber on modern and scientific lines as is being done in many advanced countries where the full use of technology is being made right from felling, transportation and conversion into end products with minimal wastage. The working in tandem with other concerned departments with focus on conservation and growth of forest cover and raising of new plantation with stress on indigenous species are other sound proposals. But all these talks of development of forests will be purposeful only when we strive to get to the root of the problem.


Despite importing timber from outside the country there has always been a shortage to meet the actual requirement and thus a huge pressure on the remaining dwindling forest crop. So there is dire need to find ways and means to arrest further devastation of this green gold. Though a moratorium is there for green felling and trees from forest areas yet other routine measures are not sufficient to check this extremely distressing scenario. The time demands that we adopt other drastic measures to arrest this menace.


The prime suggestion in this regard can be to initially restrict and finally ban the use of timber for construction works. This may be done in a phased manner starting with the urban areas where alternate construction material is already finding its use in Govt, corporate and to some extent private buildings. In these times of technological advancement it is not impossible to develope such material which is equally durable and effective as the wood is. New forest policy should focus on such research oriented activities for evental total replacement of wood in making doors and windows of the buildings.


In remote hilly areas it has been observed that an average sized tree is used as a single beam to support the roof. If used judiciously the timber used in a single house can suffice the requirement of three to four houses. This should be the endeavour of the Forest department to design doors and windows and structure of the houses in these areas, depending upon the climatic conditions with the sole aim of minimising timber consumption. The future working of the department has to be more in a holistic way wherein both protection as well as needs of the dwellers in and around forest areas are given due importance. This can be done in collaboration with Design Directorate Deptt of the State.


Another aspect worth consideration is the need to review the working of the department viz a viz forest based industries. Extraction of resin, katha and kuth have not only damaged the trees and shrubs but precious soil also in and around forests. We should not worry about closure of forest based industries. Extraction of herbs and other medicinal plants, however, needs to be strictly regulated on scientific lines. We have reached a stage where forests should no more be considered as a source of revenue. If at all revenue is expected it should be from tourism forestry. The large underutilized work force of State Forest Corporation can be utilized for this purpose.


Forest fires take a huge toll of forest crop year after year and despite this outery there is lame duck approach to save forests from fire hazards. Under new forest policy concrete steps need to be taken to arrest this phenomenon. Uncontrolled and unregulated grazing have also resulted into disastrous effects. Human and cattle pressure badly trample the seedlings before they can see the light of the day. Our forests have still the capacity to regenerate provided these are left undisturbed and without much human interference.


Another point needs to be discussed here is that in all cases of development in hilly as well as in some plain areas forests are the first casualty. Let us take a single case of laying of railway line from Udhampur to Banihal in Jammu Province. Though diversion of forest for non-forestry purposes is done strictly under the provisions of Soil Conservation Act, which envisages the recovery of cost, compensation and planting in double the area in lieu of handed over area. But the question arises from where this area is going to come. Natural forests can't be grown in the far off available desert like area. Even if you are able to raise something this is not going to compensate disturbed rather jolted eco-system. Further during the felling of trees along the proposed alignment not only the enumerated trees but the vegetation down below gets badly damaged. For want of proper dumping site and impact assessment the actual loss is much more than that accounted for. But this construction, mining and damming etc. can't be avoided in view of economic development and poverty alleviation. Thus the interest of those engaged and interested in development will always clash with that of a conservationist. We have recently witnessed the plight of our Union Minister for Environment and Forest, who despite showing resistance initially had to buckle under huge pressure to accord permission to projects like Posco and other coal minings etc. For an harmonious relationship between conservation and development, great public awakening is the need of the hour.


Lastly I would like to give a suggestion regarding implementation of various projects under different schemes mainly conserving plantation and allied works. For the successful implementation of such scheme, accountability factor has been mostly ignored. Dedicated and development (here plantation) orient minded staff only need to be posted for the entire period of a particular scheme. Only then they can be made answerable for the final results otherwise their attitude is bound to be non-challant and callous. This demands a transparent transfer policy.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

LESSONS FROM MIDDLE EAST

BY ARUN NEHRU

 

Libya is in flames and the violence generated has resulted in 600 killed and thousands wounded and President Gaddafi threatens his own people with death and destruction as they fight for freedom and the panic is visible as every government is taking immediate steps to evacuate their citizens. A million Egyptians work in the country and there are over 30,000 Chinese and 18,000 Indians and desperate measures are deployed as the Nation implodes and the situation worsens by the hour! The King of Bahrain is in Saudi Arabia and on the streets hundreds of thousands assemble and refuse to negotiate with the Crown Prince and the freedom revolution in the Middle East and North Africa gathers momentum and besides Yemen, Libya and Bahrain there are protests in Algiera, Jordan and Morocco and few can predict the turn of events on a daily basis. Saudi Arabia distributes billions in benefits to its own citizens and takes protective action as do many others while the internal war in Iraq continues with suicide bomb attacks and the situation is no better both in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The price of crude oil escalates in the last two days and the panic is now visible with the growing awareness that the current crisis is beyond the control of the Absolute regimes in the Middle East and the transition to change from one system to another will be painful and can upset many political alignments in the Middle East and North Africa which have existed for decades. Libya is very different from either Tunisia and Egypt and will the global society restrict itself to statements from the Security Council or will we see 'action' to prevent genocide?
Events overtake decisions and the crisis gives little time for reflection on the economic pain this will produce in the global society and this may revive a crisis situation in many parts of Europe and the increased level of oil prices can create short term chaos in a global society facing increased inflation on food prices and in a market economy there are few checks and balances in the system. The crisis is very real and will test the political system in every country and the symptoms visible are common factors in every country as a youthful demographic population look for greater participation in the affairs of their country and in the Middle East they battle for political freedom from a variety of Absolute regimes based on archaic feudal values and this will be followed by a battle for greater economic rights and a better distribution of resources between the rich and the poor. Change has arrived and is being spurred by events and we all live in denial in various forms as things take time to settle in and we should not confuse change with chaos.


We are not a banana republic and we have a vibrant political system and we can expect our political battles to intensify in the immediate future as there are several electoral contests on the way but I would focus on issues of Internal security and we have two issues before us and we can use these to strengthen our system for the future. The Godhra issue besides the human tragedy has been marred by majority and minority vote interests and we cannot live in denial on this issue. We have to deal with complex issues and sometimes a simple step by step approach is necessary and in this case we should focus attention on the 63 'innocents' who were jailed for nine years and before we play the blame game let us cutting across party lines give them cash compensation of 1 crore each and it would be a good thing if CM Gujarat took the initiative in this matter. The UK Government has in recent months have compensated five of their citizens falsely jailed and tortured in Guatanamo Bay in 'millions' and this is what we should do in this case and secondly we should seriously consider if retired Supreme Court judges should be used by the Central or the State governments to deal with complex situations and has the retired judge UC Banerjee and his Committee appointed by the Railway Minister Lalu Yadav done any good but created additional confusion by terming the fire as a accident ? We all believe in the rule of law and if we have a complex issue then should we not leave the choice of the 'retired' judge to the Supreme Court and the last we should do is to put our Judiciary under a shadow of doubt. Gujarat under Narender Modi is our best run State and this is reflected in the electoral verdicts in three Assembly elections and while very little can compensate for the loss of a decade of freedom it would be a good start for the future if the State Government paid the compensation.

The Maoists released the junior engineer Pabitra Majhi and our thoughts are with the dedicated DM R Vineel Krishna who has worked tirelessly for the poor tribals in the area and on a positive note I hope that this episode will be converted into an opportunity to start a dialogue between the Maoists and the governments both at the Centre and in the States. There is little future in violence and death and we will discuss the issue in detail across several states and the media penetration in these remote areas will determine a great deal of positive thinking on both sides. Conflict resolution is never easy but the issue cannot be wished away any longer. The crisis in the Middle East is giving us important lessons for the present and the future and it is time that those in governance realize that political longevity can no longer be taken for granted and increased standards of accountability have already come into place in the public mind.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

RED SIGNAL AHEAD

LACK OF VISION MAY DERAIL RAILWAYS

 

As expected, Mamata Banerjee presented a populist Railway Budget on Friday ahead of elections in some states. Her bias towards West Bengal provoked a protest in the Lok Sabha. She brushed it aside, saying "I am proud of my state". The budget reflects the minister's flawed concept of "social viability" as against the experts' preference for economic viability in running the world's second largest rail network. The budget may please the travelling public since there is no hike in the fares and the industry too may feel relieved as freight has not been touched. There are concessions for women senior citizens, students and media persons. The Prime Minister has patted Mamata for not hiking fares and freight as "it will help weaken the cost push element of inflation".

 

But there is need to look beneath the surface. The Railways is in the red. Ten of the 16 zones make losses. There was a 97 per cent increase in expenditure due to the staff pay hike. The Railways' growth rate is just 5 per cent while the economy is growing at close to 9 per cent. The rising cost of road travel drives people to opt for trains but lack of expansion of rail infrastructure has led to crowding, increased jostling for space and pressure on amenities. Trains and railway stations stink. Train travel is unsafe. Women hesitate to travel at night. Trains cannot run faster due to creaky tracks.

 

A socialist, people-friendly approach is welcome when there is enough cash in hand but not if it spells ruin. A commercial venture is being sacrificed for populism. The public-private partnership model, which has worked wonderfully for roads, has not taken off. New trains and projects are announced but delayed endlessly, leading to cost overruns. Instead of focussing on its core business of transporting passengers and goods, the Railways is setting up malls, medical colleges, bottling and water plants, power plants, eco-parks, sports academies and even museums. There is lack of focus and vision. In short, due to a poor leadership the Railways has failed to emerge as a world-class service meeting rising aspirations of a fast-growing nation — unlike its counterpart in China.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ECONOMY IS LOOKING UP

BUT PRICES, FARM SECTOR DEMAND URGENT ATTENTION

 

The Economic Survey for 2010-11 tabled by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in Parliament on Friday reflects a moderate improvement in agricultural growth which has helped prop up overall economic growth to a comfortable 8.6 per cent for the current fiscal. The 5.4 per cent farm growth projected for this year is, however, little to gloat about since it is attributable to a good monsoon. That in 2009-10 when there was a severe drought farm growth was a measly 0.4 per cent goes to show that we have not been able to shake off the dependence on the vagaries of weather. The Finance Minister's call for a second Green Revolution is, therefore, apt but unless it is backed by a specific blueprint for action it can have little meaning. The impending budget would show whether there is a clear direction in mind to energise the agricultural sector by pumping in investment in the right areas.

 

Commendably, there are honest admissions in the survey of the daunting tasks ahead. With food inflation in high gear and global commodity markets continuing to be volatile, especially in regard to oil prices, Mr Mukherjee has stressed on fiscal consolidation and stronger reserves. He has also underlined the need for improving the delivery mechanisms and addressing corruption. These are, however, pious intentions voiced from time to time but the real proof of the pudding would lie in its eating. The fact is that no amount of growth in national income or per capita income can provide people succour if inflation continues to neutralise them.

 

There is doubtlessly something to cheer in terms of the continuing growth in the services sector, the perceptible revival in exports, the impressive rate of savings and investment and the performance of the manufacturing sector in the overall industrial growth. But it would be wrong to get complacent when certain key sectors deserve to show better revival. These indeed are challenging times for the country's economy. Control of inflation, especially in regard to food, and more robust agricultural growth cannot but be key concerns.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

BEYOND THE EUPHORIA

NEED FOR A NATIONAL POLICY ON ABDUCTIONS

 

The nation heaved a sigh of relief on Thursday evening after the Naxalites released Malkangiri District Collector R. Vineel Krishna from captivity. While the people of Orissa were shocked throughout his nine-day abduction, administration was virtually in a limbo. Schools and colleges in the district were closed and government offices wore a deserted look. The tumultuous ovation extended to the Collector after his release proves his immense popularity, especially among the tribals, for the various welfare projects he had launched. Amid the euphoria and jubilation, however, one cannot lose sight of the fact that the state government has willy-nilly projected itself as a soft state and this is bound to undermine its tough posture against the increasing Naxalite menace in the state.

 

True, in the current episode, the government's first priority was to secure the safe release of both Mr Krishna and Mr Pabitra Majhi, a junior engineer. However, things went out of control on Wednesday when, to the surprise of the interlocutors, the state government and the people, the Naxalites released Mr Majhi but came out with fresh demands for Mr Krishna's release. While Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik and his top bureaucrats are silent on the new demands, there is no credible and authentic information on what finally clinched the issue and enabled Mr Krishna to walk free. The 14 demands purportedly made by the Naxalites are in public domain, some of which including the release of top Naxalite leaders like Ganti Prasadam and Sriramulu are being implemented by the government in accordance with the law. But all this sends a wrong message to the nation: the government buckling under pressure. It won't be a surprise if tomorrow the Naxalites repeat their act.

 

To check abductions of the kind witnessed in Orissa, Chhattisgarh, Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal, there is need for a national policy on the issue. The Prime Minister would do well to convene a Chief Ministers' conference to examine the modalities and contours of such a policy. The Naxalites have not only unleashed a reign of terror but are also acting as a state within a state, undermining the due authority and constitutional legitimacy of popularly-elected governments. This disturbing trend needs to be checked. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

REGIONAL GRIEVANCES IN J&K

NO NEED FOR FRESH CORRECTIVE EXERCISE

BY BALRAJ PURI

 

The Government of India has appointed two Task Forces, one for Jammu and the other for Ladakh, to examine their development needs and to remove their regional grievances. Each is headed by a member of the Planning Commission and includes qualified academicians. Perhaps the need for such Task Forces was felt to neutralise the reaction in these regions to the increased attention the Valley has received of late by the Government of India and the interlocutors appointed by it, delegations of members of Parliament, Human Rights Organisations, and national and international media in general.

 

But far more important for the people and leaders of Jammu and Ladakh is the question of regional discrimination they perceive to have suffered. But how can the issue of regional discrimination be studied or resolved unless the development of these regions is compared with the Kashmir region by a similar Task Force for it. Moreover, Kashmir feels aggrieved that no Task Force has been appointed for the region to examine its development needs.

 

Earlier, the state government had appointed a Finance Commission to study the question of regional discrimination. After four years of labour, it recently submitted its report which aggravated regional tensions. Its members from Jammu and Ladakh quoted figures, drawn from official sources, to make a point that these regions had been ignored in the development process. The member from Kashmir and the chairman arrived at contrary conclusions, adding to regional tensions.

 

Moreover, development is no substitute for political aspirations as experience in the Kashmir region has clearly shown. As for the last over 63 years, the Chief Minister has always belonged to Kashmir except for two and a half years when this post was occupied by Mr Ghulam Nabi Azad of Jammu. The other two regions perceive that Kashmir has dominated them and they have been denied their share in power. Recently a Jammu Congress leader demanded that chief ministership should rotate between the two regions. Another Congress minister demanded a separate Jammu State and Union Territory status for Ladakh as a way out of what he described as discrimination against these regions.

 

Ladakh has an additional grievance that it is not recognised as a region in the constitution of the state, and, unlike Jammu and Kashmir, it is controlled by the Srinagar-based administration from which it remains cut off for more than half a year. Thus, the Task Force for Jammu includes its Divisional Commissioner whereas that for Ladakh includes the Divisional Commissioner of Kashmir. The frustration among the people of Ladakh has led to the demand for Union Territory status, mainly raised by the Buddhists of Leh. Though the Muslims of Kargil are opposed to this demand, they equally complain against discrimination by Kashmiri leaders. As Ladakh lacks a common regional identity and it has been divided in two districts of Buddhist-majority Leh and Muslim-majority Kargil, the common regional and ethnic identity has been replaced by religious identities, giving rise to communal tensions.

 

No fresh exercise is, in fact, needed to satisfy regional aspirations. As far back as in 1952, the Delhi Agreement between Nehru and Sheikh Abdullah provided for autonomy of the state within India and autonomy for the regions within the state.

 

Again, when the Sheikh was leading the Plebiscite Front, the J&K State People's Conference, convened by him and attended by all separatist groups of Kashmir, including the present Mirwaiz's father, Farooq, the pro-Pakistan People's Conference headed by G.N. Karra and the Jamaat-e-Islami, unanimously approved of my draft for internal constitution of the state – whatever be its final status. It provided for regional autonomy and devolution of power to districts, blocks and panchayats.

 

Neither the National Conference nor any separatist party should have any objection to this internal constitutional set-up for the state. Regional autonomy was also an unwritten part of the Indira-Abdullah Agreement of 1975. Sheikh Abdullah at a conference of representatives of Jammu and Ladakh reiterated his commitment to implement regional autonomy. It was also included in the National Conference manifesto called "New Kashmir". Unless harmony is restored between the three regions and sub-regions, any move to decide the external status of the state can divide it, which will have its own implications.

 

The Regional Autonomy Committee, appointed by the state government and headed by this writer, submitted to the government in 1998 an elaborated proposal for constitutional, political, cultural and economic aspects of the concept, after consulting the best available experts in the country. The committee recommended delegation of legislative and administrative powers to the elected regional councils on some specific subjects and further devolution of power to the bodies at district, block and panchayat levels. But even if the elections are held for these bodies at the district, block and panchayat levels, the present Panchayati Raj Act makes them merely instruments of regimentation and centralisation rather than of decentralisation as they are supposed to be.

 

The ministers of the state and leaders of the coalition government declare at every available occasion that all regions and sub-regions will get equitable treatment in the development process. But what is the criteria of equitable treatment?

 

The Regional Autonomy Committee had suggested in 1998 an eight-point objective and equitable formula for the allocation of funds which included population, area, road connectivity in proportion to the the area, a share in state services and admissions to higher and technical institutions in proportion to population, infant mortality, female literacy in each area and its contribution to the state exchequer.

 

The formula or its modified form, after public discussion, can be computed to determine the share of funds at every level instead of deciding it, as at present, on political and subjective considerations. After the funds are thus allocated, the priorities for development and other things should be decided by the elected authorities at the state, regional and district levels on the subject.n

 

The writer is Director, Institute of Jammu and Kashmir Affairs, Jammu

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

STRIKING IT RICH

 BY S. RAGHUNATH

 

I was sitting glued to the TV intently watching the dapper Prannoy Roy shepherding his flock of experts through the intricacies of the Union Budget when the telephone rang. It was my accountant and tax consultant calling. By accountant, I mean he occasionally totes up my IOUs and the sundry monies I owe to petty creditors and as my tax consultant, he sometimes goes down to the city corporation offices, sits down with a daily-rated case worker in the revenue section and haggles endlessly over a disputed dog licence fee and demanding that the matter be referred to tripartite adjudication.

 

"You're on the verge of coming into a colossal fortune," he cried. "The Finance Minister is presenting a pro-people budget and he has announced a series of reliefs and concessions to the salaried middle class. He has raised the standard rate of deduction of income tax from Rs 40,000 to Rs 40,005. I've been doing some quick calculations and I find that you're entitled to an immediate refund of 25 paise. Congratulations "

 

I stifled a bored yawn. Coming into a stupendous legacy of 25 paise made me feel rather 'deja vu' but we plutocrats have to wear the mask. It was going to be business as usual for me. I called in my 23-year-old son. "I know that you've set your heart on buying that 1909-model Rolls Royce-Bentley vintage car. Now that the IT people will be sending me a refund cheque for 25 paise, you can contact your dealer friend in London and close the deal, but mind you, don't go bidding beyond Rs 10 crore. I know you spoiled sons of multibillionaires!

 

I then talked to my wife. "Weren't you telling me that you were rather keen to buy Elizabeth Taylor's diamond-studded tiara and her entire jewellery collection? Now that the Finance Minister has presented a soft budget and I stand to gain a whopping 25 paise, I shall be delighted to buy them for you. You can cable Taylor's agent in Geneva and find out if she's interested to sell her jewellery collection, but keep an eye on the bottom line. I know something happens to you women when you go buying jewellery!"

 

I also sent a hotline fax to a Dalal Street broker: "Buy controlling 51 per cent stake in Reliance Industries, Aditya Birla Group and Larsen and Toubro, I'll pay for my stock purchases in cash."

 

The telephone rang again and it was my accountant and tax  consultant. "A news flash has just come in   on the ticker," he said "and the Finance Minister has announced more reliefs and concessions and I find that you're actually entitled to a refund of 30 paise". Oh, in that case I think I'll place a firm order for a business jet and put in a bid for the Sultan of Brunei's luxury yacht.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

SONIA'S DISTRESS, ADVANI'S REGRET

BJP LEADER L.K. ADVANI'S LETTER OF REGRET TO UPA CHAIRPERSON SONIA GANDHI ON THE INCLUSION OF HER FAMILY IN THE BJP TASK FORCE REPORT ON BLACK MONEY HAS KICKED OFF A CONTROVERSY IN THE PARTY. S. GURUMURTHY OF THE BJP AND ABHISHEK SINGHVI OF THE CONGRESS JOIN THE DEBATE.

S. GURUMURTHY

 

That leaks make news is well known. More sensitive leaks make more shocking news. The alleged 'apology' of L.K. Advani to Sonia Gandhi for the BJP Task Force on black money abroad saying that she held secret Swiss bank accounts was indeed a stunner. The leak shocked the BJP to grief, surprised the Congress to joy, and bewildered the media to splits. A plain reading of Advani's letter shows that he has not regretted for the Task Force Report mentioning Sonia's name at all. Yet, thanks to the media spin, the whole country believes he has.

 

Here is the story of the 'regret'. The Task Force of the BJP consisting of four specialists — Ajit Doval, as security expert, Prof Vaidyanathan as financial expert, Mahesh Jethmalani, as senior lawyer and myself as experienced chartered accountant — had submitted a 100-page report on the black money stashed away abroad. Citing two unbiased sources, the report had said that Sonia Gandhi family reportedly held huge funds in Swiss banks. This should have made big national news, but it did not. Why?

 

The Delhi media in strength had attended the release of the report by the BJP and NDA leaders on February 1, but it hardly reported either news or the report. That the Task Force had mentioned Sonia Gandhi's name was presumed to be the reason for the self-censorship by the Delhi media. But, ironically, what the release of the report could not achieve, the 'apology' letter's leak seems to be achieving. The clever leak of Advani's letter, intended to abort any discussion on Sonia Gandhi family's alleged Swiss bank accounts, has inevitably drawn her into it. Because, as the Delhi media discusses what the 'apology' is for, it is forced to refer to the Swiss accounts of Sonia Gandhi family mentioned in the report.

 

The report cited two independent, credible sources for the alleged secret Swiss accounts and other secret funds of the Sonia Gandhi family. The first was an exposure in the most popular news magazine of Switzerland, Schweizer Illustrierte (November 11, 1991). It had alleged that some 14 leaders of third world countries had stashed away their bribes in Swiss banks; the late Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi with $2.2 billion in secret accounts was one of them. The next was a research book, based on the declassified KGB documents, written by Dr Yuvegina Albats, a Russian journalist. The KGB documents cited by Dr Albats said that, in 1985, when Rajiv Gandhi was the Prime Minister, he had expressed gratefulness to the KGB for financial favours shown to the Gandhi family.

 

The report had also pointed out that A.G. Noorani first wrote about these exposes in The Statesman in 1988. Later, Dr Subramanian Swamy put out the photo copies of the Swiss magazine and the extracts of Dr Albats book in the Janata Party website in and from 2001. Subsequently, Rajinder Puri wrote about Dr Albats' expose in 2005. I wrote about it in 2009 and again in January this year in the New Indian Express. Finally, Ram Jethmalani wrote on it in India Today.

 

The Task Force pointed out that the Gandhi family did not contest nor dare sue any of the writers or publishers in or outside India. It had also contrasted their silence with how Morarji Desai, when he was 87, filed a $50-million damages suit in the US when Seymour Hersh wrote in his book that Desai was a CIA agent, disproved the charge and saved his and the nation's honour. It asked why the Gandhi family did not emulate Desai to establish the honour of Rajiv Gandhi and the nation. It had also pointed out that to make matters worse, when an advertisement containing the alleged Swiss accounts in Sonia familiy name was issued in the New York Times by some NRIs at the time of Sonia Gandhi's visit to the US in 2008, the Indian National Overseas Congress sued for $100 million in damages to defend the honour of Sonia Gandhi but did not contest the allegation about Swiss money as also withdrew the suit!

 

After the report was released on February 15, 2011, Sonia Gandhi wrote a secret, not open, letter to Advani expressing her disappointment at a person of his stature releasing the report endorsing what she called as "scurrilous allegations" against her family, which she had treated with "contempt". The exposes in Schweizer Illustrierte and by Dr Albats are scurrilous. On February 16, 2011, expressing happiness at her denial of the allegations, Advani said that had she denied it earlier the Task Force would have factored it in its report. He concluded, "Even so, I deeply regret the distress caused to you", which made the Congress to gloat over. Explicitly, it is no regret for the report mentioning her family's alleged Swiss accounts. A dignified regret for the personal distress has been turned into a political apology.

 

The Task Force has asserted that it is the author of the report. The BJP or the NDA could accept or reject its report. But they considered the report, accepted and released it. Its members have reiterated that they stand by every word of their report including about the alleged secret funds of the Sonia Gandhi family based on the sources cited. It is an independent body of domain specialists. It has castigated all political parties and all political leaders as lacking in credibility, thus not sparing the BJP, which had sought its views. The leak has only helped to confirm the Task Force's independence. And more, it has also helped to lift the self-censorship of the Delhi media and open the alleged Sonia Gandhi family Swiss accounts for public debate.

 

The writer, a noted Chartered Accountant, is a member of the BJP Task Force on Black Money

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

NEED TO BALANCE EMOTION WITH HARD FACTS

ABHISHEK SINGHVI

 

Black money is a national scourge though there has been so much of it with us for so long that many think of it as an inevitable Indian institutional reality! Sustained, balanced, comprehensive and well thought-out action, consistently taken over a period of time and involving a holistic and multi-pronged approach can alone start eroding the base of this mammoth disease. Knee-jerk reactions, emotive breast-beating, a temporary, expedient or political approach or media harangues will yield nothing but sensationalism and continue the status quo indefinitely.

 

I wish L.K. Advani or any member of the BJP task force had shown any initiative of any kind on this vital subject between 1998 and 2004, since they feel so excited and agitated about it now. I wish Gurumurthy had berated the political masters of that period for masterful inactivity for over six years — not even a single letter to any country on this subject.

 

The UPA's initiatives have been comprehensive and diverse and owe their genesis to the international consensus on this subject at the G20 meet in 2009. This international consensus was a significant milestone since effective action on black money abroad can happen only by international agreements, be they new Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAAs), information exchange agreements or special treaties. Coercion or harangue is futile.

 

That UPA means business is evident in that in the past 18 months alone it has completed negotiations on 10 new tax information agreements (of which nine have been initialed) with well known tax havens. Active negotiations are on, several nearing completion, with 65 other nations to widen the information exchange platform. Additionally, an amendment to the tax treaty has been signed with Switzerland, allowing access to hitherto confidential bank information.

 

It is such solid legal frameworks which alone will have an impact on this scourge and stand the test of time and of court challenge, not the rhetorical flourishes of the political opposition nor the emotive idealism of the media. It makes me laugh when I hear these two sectors seeking guaranteed information sharing with, for, example, Switzerland. They should know that that country has not shared information with any other country, that even after updating their DTAAs, no clause allows exchange of past banking information (i.e. applies only to the future) and that information available to India under such DTAAs simply cannot be disclosed since all such agreements have a confidentiality clause. Internationally known standards would render India a pariah for breaching this clause and no country has done so. India would then be classified as a non cooperative jurisdiction.

 

Most vitally — and this is irresponsibly ignored by the Opposition — such unilateralism will inevitably make it impossible for India to get similar information from other countries in the future. That will amount to securing a short term, partial sensationalism while ensuring long term failure.

 

Our detractors have frequently tried to confuse and confound by recourse to misleading statements. The US got nothing by way of information exchange from Switzerland by exerting pressure as misleadingly stated by the Opposition and media. In the course of prosecution by the US of an employee of the UBS bank, the bank reached a purely private settlement whereby that bank alone agreed to share information available with that bank with US. That prosecution was possible since the US was able to catch some employees of the Bank selling fraudulent tax schemes in the US. There is no other agreement between the US and Switzerland, or for that matter with any other country, allowing general disclosure.

 

Since the major reason for illicit outflow of funds is mispricing, accounting for about 78 per cent of all illicit outflows, its strict policing has resulted in doubling the detection of mispricing in the last 18 months (to Rs 33,784 crore) as opposed to Rs 14,655 crore detected over the previous six financial years. In the case of the LGT bank information released by Germany, total assessed income by the Indian authorities in 18 cases of illegal account holders has been adjudicated as Rs 39 crore and demands for tax and interest have been raised totalling Rs 24.26 crore.

 

One could go on regarding the technical realities, the minutiae and several other initiatives taken in respect of black money over the last couple of years. But the real point is that large segments of society are disinterested in the boring details which alone can create a system which will bring back black money from abroad. They want quick fixes, curt one-liners, magical phrases and a show of aggression, howsoever misplaced and counter productive it might be. They also ignore the diverse measures needed to stem the rising generation of black money within the country, many of which are being diligently created and implemented by the government.

 

The new proposed Direct Taxes Code Bill, taxable assets have been defined to include deposits in banks located outside India, reporting requirements require obligatory returns regarding interests in entities outside India, the money laundering legislation stands amended to increase the list of scheduled offended and so on.

 

No doubt, much more needs to be done but that requires constructive cooperation from all quarters of civil and political society and not mere carping criticism, cavil, quarrel and nitpicking.

 

The writer is MP and National Spokesperson, Congress

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

AMUL ADORNS THE FLYING DUTCH

INDIA'S ECONOMIC DOMINANCE IN CRICKET WORLD IS EXEMPLIFIED BY THE MILK PRODUCERS' SPONSORSHIP OF THE ORANGE TEAM

 

For the moment, let's forget inflation, fiscal deficit and the Union Budget. This is the time to wallow in the glorious game of unlimited uncertainties. It is our national passtime, and it is sacred. It's cricket, and the season is upon us. We first have the ICC 2011 World Cup tournament which started on February 19 and will go on till April 2.

 

This tournament of 50 over games was played first in India in 1987, and then in 1996, and returns after a gap of fifteen years. There are fourteen teams in this competition. The ICC Cup will be followed by season 4 of Indian Premier League which kicks off on April 8 and ends on May 28. This T20 tournament has 8 teams, or is it 9, or 10?. Never mind, it will be full of colour and adrenaline. With such a concentrated dose of cricket, you might actually forget to go on your summer vacation.

 

The centre of gravity for cricket has shifted to India. The viewers, the fan base, the sponsors, the big spenders, the big earners, and hopefully the winning teams are all here. This has been a spectacular shift since that barmy day at Lords in June 1983, etched firmly on every Indian cricket fan's mind. The world has already seen a steady shift of economic weight shifting eastward. The twenty first century will be marked by the rise of India and China, and this has become the received wisdom. These two economies together will constitute 40 per cent of world income by 2050.

 

A recent report also predicted that India will be the world's largest economy by 2050. But much before that India has achieved the distinction of becoming the cricketing HQ to the world. If you think cricket is a parochial game played by a handful of nations, think again. It may not yet have the popularity of football globally, but the ICC now has 105 member nations. That's half as big as the membership of the United Nations, and a bigger share by population. Cricket stars get paid salaries on par with the biggies in other sports.

 

A small but telling illustration of India's prowess is the story of the sponsors of the Netherlands team. The Dutch wearing orange are supposed to be underdogs, along with Kenya and Ireland. But they gave a real scare to heavyweight England in their game on 24 February in Nagpur. They scored almost 300 runs like champions, and England were lucky to have scraped with a win. But did you see who were the sponsors of the Dutch? It was Amul, India's superbrand milk producer. Amul is the brand of Gujarat Cooperatives Milk Marketing Federation (GCMMF) with daily milk production of about 10 million litres from 3 million farmers. Amul represents India's success in what is called the "White Revolution" whose father is Verghese Kurien, who will be 90 years old this November. India's annual production of milk today is around 120 million tonnes. Not too long ago India became the world's largest producer, when it overtook another country in milk production. That country was Netherlands! Dutch cows might still be more productive, but collectively they have handed the baton to Indian cows.

 

Amul is not only about economic ascendance, but also the success of the cooperative movement blessed by the likes of Gandhiji and Vinoba Bhave. Most of the profits go to small farmers and not middlemen. Amul is India's largest food brand and the world's larges pouched milk brand.

The coming days has great cricket drama, as underdogs take on big former masters. Don't forget to savour Amul ice cream as you admire the Amul logo on the Dutch sleeves.

 

AJIT RANADE ON THE WHEELS THAT MAKE MUMBAI RUN – MONEY AND ECONOMY

 

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

COLUMN

OFF-BALANCE SHEET

THE ENRON SCANDAL IN THE US WAS FACILITATED BY OFF-BALANCE SHEET ITEMS. THE QUESTION IS WHETHER THE SAME THING HAS BEEN HAPPENING IN INDIA

T N NINAN

The Enron scandal in the US was facilitated by off-balance sheet items — transactions and entities that were not disclosed to shareholders. The build-up to the US financial collapse of 2008 also saw banks taking large transactions and risks off the publicly reported books, and tucking them away in unreported corners where regulators and shareholders could not get a peep. Many similar scams have been possible only because companies created entities and accounts that were used to indulge in unreported transactions, and to create hidden assets and liabilities. The question is whether the same thing has been happening in India.

 

Consider the disclosures now tumbling out, about how some of Mr Raja's favoured telecom companies (Swan, Loop, Datacom, etc) were indulging in transactions that were hidden from view because they used or were used by unlisted intermediaries, subsidiaries and associate firms — and also related parties. Shares in the companies that got Mr Raja's licences were held by even existing telecom firms through intermediaries of different kinds. The money trail has led to strange places (including the inevitable Mauritius) and obscure firms about whom little or nothing is known.

While some or all of these may not technically come under the banner of "off-balance sheet" items, they are all hidden from scrutiny and therefore, from the point of view of public disclosure to the shareholders, boards and auditors of listed firms, completely opaque. Ramalinga Raju at Satyam has provided an object lesson in how this was done; money from the listed entity went into firms controlled by family members. Anil Ambani's campaign against his brother Mukesh's activities in the undivided Reliance group was that large transactions were taken off the books of the listed company and routed through unlisted investment companies and dummy firms — a practice that, he contended at the time, militated against corporate transparency and accountability.

There are legitimate reasons why such investment firms exist. Businessmen hold shares through them in order to limit personal liability. Corporate intermediaries are also used for reasons of tax efficiency, bringing in partners for individual businesses, raising finances for specific projects and so on. Policy itself sometimes encourages the formation of dummy firms; nationwide telecom licences worth thousands of crores of rupees were available to companies with share capital of no more than Rs 10 crore!

It should be obvious that the proliferation of such corporate intermediaries means reduced transparency. In a well-known case in the 1980s, the income tax people alleged tax evasion by Sarabhai enterprises through some 1,300 investment subsidiaries and trusts. In a share-switching case involving Reliance in the 1990s, investigations revealed the use of scores of intermediary companies that were used for share transactions. While the use of such intermediaries and investment firms cannot and need not be done away with, is there any way by which the law can prevent a parallel set of shadow activities going on through such companies, activities that should be reported and transparent?

One method would be to extend disclosure of such transactions to the boards, auditors and shareholders of the ultimate parent company that is listed, in cases where transactions are above a certain size, or which exceed a stipulated percentage of share capital or net worth. Such approvals are required already, but stop short. A second hole to plug would be the use of related party transactions (as in loop); the solution might be to prevent interested parties from voting when the subject goes to shareholders for approval. In the absence of proper corporate governance norms, such stipulations can never be foolproof. Still, it is clear that today's rules are hopelessly inadequate, and need to be tightened.

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

OUTGROWING INFANCY

COMPETITION IN THE INDIAN AUTOMOBILE SECTOR SHOULD BE ENCOURAGED FOR THE WIDEST EFFICIENCY GAINS

SHUBHASHIS GANGOPADHYAY

There are two news items about the current negotiations going on about the proposed India-Europe free trade agreement that deserve some reflection on everyone's part. One is about the possible impact of the agreement on luxury, or higher-end car prices in India; the other was a case filed against the European Commission, by the Corporate Europe Observatory (COEb), a lobby watchdog. Let us consider them one at a time.

It appears that the currently high 40 per cent duties on luxury cars may be agreed down. If duties on luxury cars are reduced, and the automakers pass on the tax cuts to consumers fully, then prices of imported luxury cars will come down quite a bit. For example, the Volkswagen Beetle will come down from Rs 21 lakh to Rs 13 lakh, while a BMW 7 series will come down from Rs 84 lakh to Rs 52 lakh. This, of course, will make these cars affordable to many more Indians and, in the process, create a problem for Indian manufacturers such as the Tata who recently launched their crossover Aria, or the Mahindra who is all set to launch its World SUV W201 this year. Many who were thinking about buying these cars may now decide to buy an imported car even if it costs a little more. Not surprisingly, therefore, the Society of Indian Automobile Manufacturers has opposed such a move. Interestingly, even the Japanese automobile manufacturers in India have made noises about how it will affect the Indian automobile sector. Both have raised the spectre of reduced growth in employment in a country frantically trying to create productive jobs for its fast expanding labour force.

 

 I am immediately reminded of two events that everybody in, and around, my generation has experienced. One was the advent of the Maruti car and the other was the entry of small car manufacturers such as Daewoo (now out of production) and Hyundai into the Indian market. For many, many decades, the Ambassador and Premier Padmini continued with producing the same model with little or no change in their design or accessories. People waited for months to get delivery of their cars and the car manufacturers made no investments in new models or in expanding capacity. They said they were doing all this to keep prices low. And, they also made us believe that they were not making enough profits at these low prices to make any new investments for technological upgrades to their car. Then Maruti 800 came on the scene. Suddenly, Hindustan Motors, instead of making losses at the advent of competition, started making changes to the more than 40-year-old Ambassador to make it more attractive.

And, let us not forget the Japanese either. All the way till almost the end of the nineties they continued selling the Maruti 800, which, in the late nineties, was at least two decades old. Once Daewoo and Hyundai came in, they immediately introduced newer models and since then they suddenly found an attractive and growing market that justified newer models.

Both these experiences are worth recalling now. In the first case, India was still a highly controlled economy; in the second India had already undergone major reforms for close to a decade. In other words, producers, regardless of whether they are Indian or foreign, are exactly the same — they want governments to support them whenever possible so that they can maintain their profits. Opening up to competition is something that new entrants like; it is also something that incumbent companies hate. Of course, the incumbents will make all the right noises about employment and growth in a poor country but consumers should be extremely sceptical about the real motives behind such arguments.

In the second instance referred to in the opening paragraph of this piece, the COEb has charged the European Commission of being less than transparent to its own citizens. In particular, they have charged that while European corporate establishments and their associations — both financial and non-financial — are being consulted and privy to all the negotiations, non-corporate establishments have, however, been kept away from being fully informed. In fact, civil societies in both countries have complained about this quite bitterly. In Europe, the COEb has an institutional process that they can use and they have done just that. They have sued the Commission in the European Court.

In India, we know that industry associations are being consulted. Of course, we are not surprised since, thanks to the Nira Radia tapes, we are now aware that without the explicit or implicit connivance of Indian corporate groups even ministers cannot be sure of their ministerial berths. But, our acceptance and subsequent neglect of this fact is a bit surprising. As this piece has suggested already, businesses (whether Indian or foreign) do not necessarily have the best interests of the poor customers at heart. Moreover, any free trade agreement with Europe should have an impact on India's farmers who are more numerous and poorer than our big businesses. It is only fair that the latter are given more say in what affects them; instead, we give more rights to the businesses to participate in the negotiations!

It is important to emphasise that this is not the fault of democracy or the free market. Instead, it is the fault of the government and the intellectuals in the world's largest democratic free market. They are giving democracy and free markets a bad name because they have forgotten what either actually means. First, we must learn from our own experiences. Second, we, who are so quick to refer to other countries for doing whatever we do, should learn from what COEb has done to the European Commission.

The author is research director, India Development Foundation

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BUSINESS STANDARD

 

THE INDIA-BHARAT BLINKERS

INDIA IS HURTLING TOWARDS PHYSICAL MODERNITY WITHOUT DUE MENTAL PREPARATION

SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY

A boy was battered to death the other day because his sister was a divorcee. When hoodlums harassed another girl, the neighbours said she invited trouble by coming home late. A third girl is the target of wolf whistles and derisory comments because she wears jeans and tops.

 

Ironically, all three instances are from Bengal where Rammohun Roy and Ishwar Chandra Vidyasagar strove to educate people and raise the status of women. But worse abuses are reported from other states as well. Not everyone can easily accept manifestations of the transformation India is undergoing.

I am not talking of the extreme rich or the extreme poor. One reads of the shackled quarry worker in Karnataka whose employer charges him to have the iron fetters round his ankles welded over, and of top people shivering in flurries of artificial snow in the cool room of a 27-storey architectural fantasy. They are exotic exceptions. It's the broad middle classes, whose numbers are constantly expanding because of the intake from below, that are being convulsed by new ideas and new ways of living. Social stability depends on the guidance they receive in managing change.

Some will scream, dredging up evidence of female infanticide, that the three incidents reflect traditional persecution of women. Others will thunder that all abuses and all the distinguishing marks of social hierarchy – education, class and lifestyle – flow from financial disparity.

There is truth in both claims. But men who defy the conventions of their milieu also arouse bewildered antagonism though, being male, they are better able to defend themselves. Nor is money an absolute determinant. I once watched a well-dressed member of an august club squirt a jet of red liquid into the bathroom basin and walk away. More glaring cases of primitive thinking at the top (like honour killings) reinforce the conviction that different countries though they may be, India and Bharat are not geographically separate. They overlap.

Fashionable hostesses glittering in diamonds and chattering about their card winnings are murdered by servants whose Bharat is not some idyllic Vrindavana where Krishna's flute charms cows and gopis but the festering slum round the corner with overflowing drains instead of running water or legal electricity. Masters and servants are separated by wealth but may also share certain traditional prejudices.

It's an alarming thought that India is hurtling towards physical modernity without the necessary mental preparation. Development (if that be the right word) is too patchy for social equilibrium. The three incidents reflect the compulsions of an age when girls work late in call centres, find sarees expensive and inconvenient for long working hours and crowded public transport, and when enhanced economic and sexual freedom means that unhappy marriages no longer have to be suffered as a binding sacrament.

Glancing at the society gossip in our newspapers, one fears that the journey that began in 19th century Bengal with barristers and civil servants reinventing themselves in England's image may be in danger of going astray. Those social pioneers were meticulous about the bridge they built joining two societies. They lived at home exactly as they did outside so there was no dissonance between private and public life. Civilised minds matched acquired sartorial elegance so that the man in a three-piece suit and sola topee read Dickens and quoted Johnson without forgetting Bengali and Sanskrit.

Today – indicator of the limitations that underlie social tension – a young person dressed in the height of European fashion may speak only Hinglish.

Indira Gandhi once claimed that Kamalapati Tripathi was a modern man. Noting my surprised look, she added, "Don't be taken in by those marks on his forehead. His mind is modern!" I had no occasion to put her claim to the test but it's self-evident that modernity need not mean Western clothes or English speech. But there's a dangerous imbalance when the outer and inner selves are sharply at variance.

The prejudice that killed the boy with a divorced sister is not confined to the uneducated lower classes. Two senior civil servants – both smart whiskey-swilling, English-speaking IAS men – whom I asked about a female colleague's current posting didn't reply to my question but sniggered instead that she was a divorcee. Their mental blinkers are their business. But what kind of direction can society expect from such stunted thinking? Education and enlightenment to bridge the gulf of centuries will not come from administrators who are stuck in the mindset of the dark ages despite their party glibness and academic and professional achievements.

sunandadr@yahoo.co.in  

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

DESTROYING THE GLOBAL COMMONS

SUBIR ROY

From as early as I can remember, neighbours from around our ancestral home in south Kolkata came to get their drinking water from a hand pump in our backyard. What brought them to our doorsteps was that the water from that hand pump tasted so good.

My grandparents and after them my father and uncles did not dream of restricting access. After all, they did not own the water; they were at best custodians of what nature had put underground. In fact, they were proud that we should have been chosen by providence as guardians of something that all could share.

 

Over time that hand pump went dry. My father considered reboring but the expert advice was, you don't know how far down you will have to go and how much that will cost. What is more, you don't know what the quality of water from the new aquifer will be. It was then that we switched to drinking tap water, the stuff that came from the iconic pumping station at Tala in the northern outskirts of the city, where it came from further up the Ganga.

This water tasted, well not as good, but certainly almost as good, as the earlier hand pump water. It passed with flying colours a great quality benchmark: how good tastes the tea made out of it. Later in life I realised there was one other benchmark too: how good does a drink taste with it?

When I journeyed to Delhi in the early seventies with my first job, water out of the tap there was just like that in Kolkata. In fact, it was more. The Yamuna water gave you a fabulous appetite, hardly the right situation to be in when you are on your first job with little in your pocket to do anything and without a clue about how to cook the humblest of khana.

Be it in Kolkata or Delhi, we never dreamed of boiling the water. That will spoil the taste, my mother declared. When my wife came into our household in the eighties, she was aghast that we drank water without boiling it. Thereafter, the water in our household has been divided into two streams — boiled and as nature passed it on.

When we came to Bangalore, I found to my good fortune that the Cauvery water that came out of the tap tasted quite good but on the advice of all and sundry, I succumbed to what I had resisted so long — agreed to have all the drinking water boiled. But soon the two-stream approach revived. I was happy to have the tap water that passed through the purifier.

That was what it was for. But the wife, ignoring all my jokes, boiled the water out of the purifier before imbibing it.

But the final destruction of life came when we moved into our new apartment in east Kolkata. It is not served by the Ganga water as older parts of the city are. The water there, extracted from out of the ground by a deep tubewell, tastes foul. Despite a special attachment fixed to the attachment that is supposed to purify the stuff, there is more iron in the water than is good for anybody. What is most depressing is that a drink with this water is positively inferior.

I see all this primarily as an ill omen, a sign of the hard times that humankind has brought upon itself in the name of progress by misusing and disrespecting the good water that the good earth dispensed freely till not so long ago. Then in the rich countries they went in for bottled water even when their tap water was more than fit to drink. In the poor countries, without safeguarding the water that was fit to drink, the same false god of bottled water began to be worshipped. Now, even the water to put into the bottle is running out. 

The biggest casualty in all this is losing sight of the timeless paradigm that it is bountiful nature that gives water for all to share and enjoy according to their needs. Insatiable and harmful technologies are both creating a shortage and polluting what was earlier as good as nature itself. In the process have begun fights over what was everybody's to share and use.

The land from where my grandparents and parents came had more water than they knew what to do with. I have grown up on stories of how when my father went home to Faridpur (now in Bangladesh) for the pujas from Kolkata where he would come during college term; he would have to do the last leg of the journey by boat. The monsoon waters would not have subsided till then.

That land is a lot different today. A relative who visited Dhaka recently came back with this story. The rickshawalla was as friendly as he was simple. In his own way and within his means he extended all the good grace and hospitality that any visitor from the other part of Bengal is received with. Then when they got to talking he posed a question that was as simple as it was elemental. "Didi," he said, "it is Allah who gives pani. So why does India not give us that pani?"

There was no point explaining to him what were the Farakka Barrage, river water agreements and the rights of riparian regions all the way upstream. All he knew was that his riverine land was seeing its rivers dry up. My grandmother, who never dreamed of excluding neighbours from our hand pump, would have been as perplexed as the rickshawalla was.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

WHAT'S GONE WRONG IN THE ARAB WORLD?

V V

Has the Arab world reached its "tipping point", the moment when a trend flips into irreversible change because it lends the power of apparent inevitability to almost any argument? From the speed of events unfolding across the Crescent of North Africa and the Gulf, it seems we have reached the point of no return because it is impossible to damn an idea whose time has come.

The question is: Why this sudden awakening? Constraints imposed by political correctness will never tell us why the world of Islam that was for many centuries in the forefront of human achievement — in military, economic power, the arts and sciences of civilisation — slipped so far behind by the 19th century. Why had West Asia failed to modernise economically as the West (and the rest of non-Islamic world) surged ahead? It isn't enough to say that the Arab world got saddled by strong men who beat down dissent with the help of armed forces. Or for that matter, that democracy was incompatible with the basic tenets of Islam? The time has come to ask many questions as Professor Timur Kuran of Duke University does in his book, The Long Divergence: How Islamic Law Held Back the Middle East (Princeton University Press, $29.95).

 

Kuran who had earlier written Islam and Mammon: The Economic Predicaments of Islamism first dispenses with the pat answer that it was "western flexibility with Muslim rigidity" that accounted for the gap between the West and Islam.

Though this charge is substantially correct, there were social and legal structures that kept West Asia behind in terms of per capita production and consumption. While the West adopted modern economic institutions, the Arab world remained wedded to commercial and financial institutions characteristic of the Middle Ages. In the economically powerful countries of the 19th century, production and commerce involved the pooling of resources with units far larger and far more complex than was possible in the Arab world. An Industrial revolution that led to mass production of goods could not have occurred in the Arab world because of its antiquated approach.

The pre-modern economic institutions of West Asia, which served identifiable economic ends, were grounded on the dominant law of the region, Islamic law. This law need not have been a static constant but it was interpreted as such by the clergy that were, and still are, the leading interpreters of Islamic law.

The Long Divergence is a comparative study between western economic development and the Arab world. Some critics would find this approach to be lopsided because the same conditions would not be found in both places owing to historical factors such as natural resources.

To uncover why certain features of classical Islamic law turned into economic handicaps, Kuran divided his study into four parts apart from the introduction. These are: Organisational stagnation with six chapters: The persistent simplicity of Islamic partnerships; drawbacks of Islamic inheritance system; the absence of the corporation in Islamic law; barriers to the emergence of a Middle eastern business corporation; and credit markets without banks. Part three deals with the makings of underdevelopment with chapters on the Islamisation of non-Muslim economic life; the ascent of the Middle East's religious minorities and origins and fiscal impact of the capitulations. These are rounded off with the conclusions, did Islam inhibit economic development?

A common theme running through all these chapters is: Islam was left behind because it was a closed shop that didn't allow any winds of change to run through its space because of the mistaken belief that it had all the answers to all the questions on nation-building. Inherent in this belief was the conviction that it was superior to western "civ", a belief that was based on early Islamic advances in the sciences and mathematics. But while the West was caught up with the foundations of scientific knowledge provided by the Arabs, the Islamic world stagnated because they failed to question further.

In explaining why the Islamic world entered the 19th century as an underdeveloped region, Kuran has rightly focused on institutions that contributed to critical deficiencies. The economic infrastructure became dysfunctional "frozen waqf assets, atomistic financial markets, courts unsuited to impersonal exchange that became mutually reinforcing and blocked transformations essential for growth". If business law didn't help, making apostasy a religious offense, punishable by death compelled the individual to fall in line with Islamic law.

The message is clear: it will take a long time for the Arab world to get out of the hole they have dug themselves in.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

 

THE LULL AFTER THE STORM

DEVANGSHU DATTA

 

There are supposedly a hundred Arabic synonyms for "storm". Simoom, haboob and aasifat ramliyya are some I can recall. Those words have been tossed around like confetti on twitter feeds in the past few weeks.

 

 If 1848 was the year of revolution, 2011 is the year of aasifat ramliyya. It has been one unending storm for pan-Arabia, since a Tunisian fruit seller committed self-immolation in Sidi Bouzid. (Military historians footnote it as the opening action in the Battle of Kasserine Pass, 1943).

Two despots who ruled unchallenged for decades have been forced out of their territory in the past two months. A third is fighting a civil war. Every "beloved leader" in pan-Arabia is wondering if he's going to join the queue. In distant Zimbabwe, which is not an Arab nation, the boss is terrified. Robert Mugabe has banned any mention of Egypt/Tunisia/Libya as "treasonous".

With over a dozen potential targets in the vicinity, there's no telling how far this could go. Game theorists can concoct scenarios involving multiple actors, stances, salience, clout, interactions, alliances, etc, and solve for multiple outcomes. Geopoitical think tanks must be running such simulations, as I write.

In Egypt, the Pharaoh is gone, but he's replaced by a junta. That could be a "sticky" regime. Or it may give rise to a new strongman. Or it may morph into a Mullah-dominated regime ala Iran. Or, it may even result in some form of democracy. Ditto Tunisia.

Libya's possible futures are even more wide-open. Given its oil exporter profile, the temptation to dabble must be higher. On humanitarian grounds, one could make a case for UN intervention to extract the Colonel from his Labyrinth along with all those Ukrainian nurses. But anybody making that argument is also likely to have large stakes in the energy markets and may, therefore, suffer from a credibility gap.

The impact of uncertainty on the energy markets is, of course, the big reason why the other nine-tenths of the world is on tenterhooks. Crude prices have shot up. New record highs, maybe a breach of $150/barrel, could occur if the trouble continues and spreads.

Who eventually takes over, where, is also important. Regime changes could lead to random crude supply fluctuations. In the long run, this may be a good thing. It will focus attention and funnel investment into alternative energy. But that's long-gestation.

In the short run, a cynical analyst would see the region as an energy souk. It's easier to shop when there's one chap setting prices and ordering around a disciplined army of flunkies. Hence, the temptation to shore up dictatorships and ensure "stability", rather than navigate the chaos of democracy with its pushes and pulls.

Conversely, the most idealistic way to see things would be to assume regime change will make a lot of people happier and they will show collective good sense. This may indeed happen. But they may also end up worse off if new strongmen, or extremist mullahs, (or an alliance of the two) take over.

Even if democracies do bloom in the desert, there is little chance they will fit dictionary definitions of being secular, gender-equal, or even democracies. What the impact will be in the war on terror is also impossible to estimate. How they will deal with Tel-Aviv is also imponderable.

The Neo-con thesis of regime change that prompted the 2003 invasion of Iraq will now be tested. This maybe the biggest geopolitical upheaval since the Soviet Union went bust in 1991. Apart from following twitter, the only constructive action I can think of, is to take speculative calendar spreads in energy contracts: Buy near-month crude futures and sell the far months. That gives some time for the storm to blow itself out. Inshallah, the world will be a better place when it ends.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

OFF-TRACK, MAMATADI

POPULISM WAS EXPECTED, BUT NOT THE STEEP DETERIORATION IN RAILWAY FINANCES


Mamata Banerjee's budget reveals a short-term commitment to the Railways. No reform to boost the sagging finances of the Railways, only new lines and trains for the poll-bound states of West Bengal, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. The heavily subsidised passenger fares have not been hiked and the budget breaks no new ground in freight. Worse, the Railways have drawn down heavily from the depreciation reserve fund (DRF), created to replace old assets, to boost its balance-sheet this fiscal year. Else, the financial performance, reflected in the operating ratio of 92.1%, would have slipped even further. However,this is a bad practice and could compromise rail safety. The minister has also lowered the freight target but retained earnings projection. The operating ratio is expected to improve only marginally to 91.1% in 2011-12. That depends on gross traffic receipts rising by 12% — with passenger earnings growing by 16% and freight by 9.8% during the year — and limiting the expenditure increase to 10.6%. Volatile crude could upset that calculation, with two rounds of hikes already in diesel prices. The good news is the steep increase in Plan support to . 57,630 crore. However, over a third of the annual plan will be financed through borrowings including tax-free bonds. The Railways must augment future earnings to service these loans. Ideally, Ms Banerjee should have directed investments to strengthen railway infrastructure to carry more freight. Unfortunately, the bulk of the increased plan allocation has gone not to track renewal, doubling of key routes and electrification, but to new lines.
Unlike freight, passenger revenues have been robust with more passengers travelling over longer distances. However, the practice of freight and upper class passengers subsiding lower class passengers should end. And, keeping the freight rates unchanged alone won't fetch the Railways a larger share in goods movement. Freight volumes have actually come down at a time when India is growing at 8.6%. Yet, there is no meaningful effort to involve the private sector to augment investment in the Railways and increase freight volume and revenue. Indian Rail needs leadership, not a cheerleader for populism.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE WAY FORWARD

THE ECONOMIC SURVEY CHARTS A WELCOME NEW COURSE OF INFORMED DISCUSSION


The 2010-11 edition of the Economic Survey gives up the document's normal pretence of offering an insight into prospective government policy. It plumps for a discussion of the economy's problems and possible policy options. And this it does with intellectual élan and refreshing rigour. The introduction of one more new chapter this year, on services, in addition to the one on microfoundations of macroecnomic development started last year, enriches the Survey further. Three things about the Survey stand out. One is the elaborate enumeration of assorted ills of the Indian economy, some structural — deficient supply of urban land, paucity of infrastructure in general, food supplies trailing demand — some contingent on the recent crisis — less than robust fixed capital formation, a fragile global environment. Yet, the economy would grow 9% next year, on top of 8.6% in the present one. The second feature is integration of globalisation into the analysis of the domestic economy, instead of consigning it to the section on the external sector. The process of growing out of poverty in a globalised context can lead to prices converging with those of developed countries, adding an extra layer to inflationary froth. Central bank action in developed countries can boost money supply domestically through capital inflows. The G20 process of economic coordination, the Survey tells us, is as fundamental to stable growth as domestic fiscal consolidation. The third remarkable feature is the clearheaded insistence that it is possible to design markets to serve the goals of poverty removal and inclusive growth. Yes, these goals call for conscious government intervention. But this does not mean that markets have no place in this process. Subsidies in the Centre's Budget have ballooned in the UPA's time and these are mostly being wasted, diverted to the non-poor and worse, underwriting ills such as adulteration of fuels.


The sensible option is to transfer cash subsidies to the intended beneficiaries while leaving product prices and delivery to a competitive market. The structure and design of markets get the attention they have missed so far.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SHORT AND SWEET

MORE POLITICAL PLAYERS SHOULD FOLLOW THE CPM, USE THE SMS FOR THEIR INTERLOCUTIONS


That the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has used such a capitalist tool as the short messaging service (SMS) to sound out its arch tormentor in West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee, is welcome news. So far politicians have taken to tweeting as a medium of instant opinion, albeit with mixed success. The move to actually initiate policy and strategy issues on SMS marks a significant leap forward. Given the cross connections and miscommunications that have dogged political discourse in that state and the parlous condition of the national postal and landbased telecommunications services in general, the instant 'message delivered' notice that the average cellphone service comes loaded with, is a boon. No excuse can be made of messengers going astray with their precious billets or letters landing on the wrong desk. Best of all, if the otherwise spartanly attired and frugal D i d ihas invested in a certain cellphone that has a proprietary (and so far impenetrable) messaging service, such communications with her rivals can also remain totally confidential — as long as either party so desires, naturally. That also means that the source of any future 'leaks' of such communications can also be identified , without resorting to unseemly court battles.


It is hoped that many more shakers and movers of governments will be converted to this speedy mode of interaction. More so because by its very nature, the SMS also imbues all exchanges with a quality rarely found in political discourse: brevity. Given the tedium of tapping out words on minuscule keyboards — even if executed by flunkies — the chances are that the interactions will be succinct and words kept to the bare minimum. And best of all, thanks to India's cheap telecom rates, governments have the potential to make huge savings, too.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

STOPPING RAIL RANI IN HER TRACKS

THE PRIME MINISTER SHOULD NOT LET THE RAILWAYS BE HIJACKED YET AGAIN FOR SOMEBODY'S POLITICAL GAIN

RAGHU DAYAL FORMER CMD, CONCOR


The rail budget presented yesterday by Mamata Banerjee follows the familiar pattern of essentially populist pronouncements sans any longrange agenda. She relished introducing new trains, sanctioning new projects, doling out largesses and concessions. It mortgages the system's tomorrow for her today. The Parliament lso relishes a list of benedictions showered on different regions, instead of demanding to be apprised of the broad contours of IR's strategies to cope with onerous challenges of a buoyant economy and rising aspirations of a vibrant nation.


The rail budget 2011-12 has indeed been cleverly packaged. On face of it, it prudently balances the 2010-11 accounts with a projected operating ratio of 92.1%, notwithstanding unanticipated increase in expenses of . 5,700 crore for rise in fuel rates and higher wage bill. It is achieved essentially on "higher yield per NTKM". In spite of the deficit of as much as 20 million tonnes of freight, it claims to have achieved the budget level of earnings. Again, the surplus shown at . 4,105 crore would evidently leave little for the Capital Fund and Development Fund. The same holds good for the excess projected at . 5,258 crore for fiscal 2011-12, which, no doubt, is but a paltry amount for essential capital expenditure as well as improvement and augmentation of facilities.


The railway minister would need to ask herself how Indian Railways (IR) can accomplish the "imperative" of faster than 8-9% growth with no strategy spelt out to exponentially enhance capacity on its saturated corridors and at terminals. A litany of new passenger services in the present context would only erode its freight carrying capacity. Freight trains which trail fastrunning passenger trains get less and less room to run. More and more passenger trains only exacerbate capacity constraints on the already clogged inter-megacity rail corridors as well as the terminal and maintenance infrastructure. Infrastructure is indeed the Achilles' heel of the economy. The grave deficiencies can be redressed not merely by policy platitudes, grandiose declarations of intent, daily flagging off new passenger trains or laying foundation stones for ambitious projects. It is no secret that IR has been teetering and faltering with competition outside and complacency within. IR's share for freight, where substantial last-mile road transport is required, is insignificant. This is because of uncertainty in quality of service (e.g., time taken to deliver), the lack of end-to-end service provisioning (3 PL and 4PL) and high freight tariffs. A sardonic myth constantly reiterated for providing 'inclusive growth' by executing 'socially desirable projects' for backward areas being brought into the mainstream through hugely unremunerative railway lines and services only saddles the system with huge avoidable liability. Instead, there is a need to streamline the apparatus, shed the flab, make it nimble and trim, and drastically prune the number of yards, sheds, depots, offices and activities. There is little rationale for as many as half-amillion IR manpower being unskilled in the face of state-ofthe-art equipment and technologies invested and installed at huge cost. A clear imperative is that IR generates substantial investible surpluses through dynamic pricing, increased volumes and lower unit cost operations.


Long-range planning deals not with future decisions, but with the future of present decisions. Didi will do well to realise that keeping promises is the real test, not just making new promises: shouldn't she seriously ponder how the "several business-oriented" policy initiatives which she catalogued have elicited little effective response?

 

 Why her assurances of expenditious disposal of PPP projects have yielded no result and why, what she termed only last year, "our PM's dream project", the "diamond rail corridors" for freight remains stuck in masterly inactivity? Why not even one among the 24 stations selected years ago for transformation into "world-class" terminals has made any headway, when the costs thereon were indeed expected to be no small change? Why the "golden rail corridors" for high-speed trains, as she herself called them, are not yet in any reckoning, and now it appears to imply nominal increase in speeds on some existing routes? Why logistics parks and myriad other developmental projects and schemes have remained non-starters?


The imperatives of energy, environment and land conservation impose a far higher responsibility on railways worldwide. It is essential for IR to be a Gulliver unbound, to be able to carry at least 50% of nation's freight and 25% of passenger traffic. That would signify a great challenge. Two cardinal requirements will be to raise revenues from freight and passenger businesses consistent with the cost of their operation, and cut costs across the system ruthlessly and relentlessly. Maintaining the passenger fares, as the minister has regrettably chosen to do, is wholly untenable.


To keep increasing the freight tariffs , as IR has made it a habit to do, is inimical to the national interest. It is essential also to know why IR remains obsessed with an urge to invest in a whole range of "rail-related industries" either by itself or by way of joint ventures. While the government has wisely made known its plans to actively, though selectively, divest in PSUs, IR has chosen to wrest administrative control of some of the manufacturing units in West Bengal. Permit raj may be largely over, but the permissive raj appears to have set in. An impression abides that it is now free for all, whether one is a Raja or a Rani. What happened to the principle of collective responsibility enshrined in the Westminster model of parliamentary democracy? The Prime Minister have to step in and stop the Rail Rani in her tracks.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

ET INTERACTIVE

'LACK OF BIOTECH FOOD SAFETY IS A MYTH'

PRABHA JAGANNATHAN


He's known for shooting from the hip to open up virgin frontiers for applying agri biotech in one of the oldest profession in the world, farming. Shanthu Shantaram, executive director of the Association of Biotech Led Enterprises (ABLE) India, is, by his own admission, a scientist who believes in calling a genetic marker, a genetic marker. On the first anniversary of the environment ministry's moratorium on Bt brinjal cultivation due to concerns about possible health hazards from the country's first food biotech crop, he is seeing red in the colour aubergine. The man, who was virtually the world's first agri biotech regulator with the USDA some two decades ago, now runs his own consultancy firm, Biologistics International. An advocate of GM crops in India, Shantaram is known for not pulling any punches on the bureaucratic red tape and political roadblocks that made the sector move at a snail's pace. Sample these reported quotes over the years: "Biotech democratised? It's been mobocratised!" Or, in 2004, to GMWatch website: "All we have (to show for agri biotech progress so far) is one stupid Bt cotton…" Writing on the same website that year, he asserted: "Market forces are the only ones that decide the fate of any product or technology." Again, "it is a bogey of the anti-GM lobby to keep harping that Indian farmers will become slaves to MNCs for seeds and inputs if they adopt biotech crops. This is a paternalistic attitude of die-hard leftists and socialists of the country." At this point, the India experience appears to have taught him very little in terms of an environment-friendly lexicon or perspective, although he views biotech progress in this country having strategic importance for the rest of the developing, hungry world.
"The crux of the problem (why commercialisation of Bt brinjal is stuck in India) is the politicisation of technology and agriculture itself. There are too many emotionally-charged voices in the agriculture debate. Politics of all sorts block the progress of biotechnology. But most of these people do not have a clue on the subject. It is a cacophony of the ignoramus. Acute food shortage led us to adopt the chemical fertiliserintensive Green Revolution. It made hybrids acceptable, although they're also born of biotechnology. But some environmental activists still argue that all chemical-intensive agriculture is exploitative. They should understand that all agriculture is exploitative."


And therein he hangs what he considers the top-billing agri biotech lore. Of how, long ago in modern times, scientists in the US created a cholera-resistant biotech rice seed and tested it somewhere in Peru's dysentry-dominated villages. But they had to withdraw the technology and stop all tests after the US press illogically attacked the choice of ampi-theatre for the tests, though no part of the US could have actually put the efficacy of the seed to the test. Lore 2: The fodder shortage problem and high milk prices could end if only RR (Monsanto's Roundup Ready) Alfa Alfa forage crop had been cleared in India, especially since the world's largest milk producing country has no policy for planned cultivation of fodder.


Biotech food safety, Shantaram contends, is an urban myth that doesn't know when or where to draw the line. He says all the tests conducted were in line with the recommendations by Codex Alimentarius and followed the generally regarded as safe (GRAS) standards. "Six years of testing through the best possible international standards, two expert committees, including an 18-member technical panel that mostly cleared it, and overwhelming scientific evidence in favour of Bt brinjal are more than sufficient. If science alone is used to take decisions on biotechnology, then the ministry's own expert panel, the Genetic Engineering Approval (now Appraisal) Committee, or GEAC, has made that decision."


On queries raised by two members of the GEAC itself over Bt brinjal's safety, he dismisses them as 'technical questions' that have been since answered. "The decibel level against agri-technology is so high that no politician wants to take a timely decision. But there's no 'opportune' time."


Yet, he adds, "The government needs to clear urgently the agri biotech roadmap to feed one-billion-plus people. The FAO has said that food inflation and high food prices are here to stay. As long as there is a strong political undercurrent to all policy decisions in the sector, the food economy will drag down India's growth."
The agri biotech lobby now knows, he asserts, "the nature of the beast". Hopefully, he says, there will be a solution at the end of it all, especially since "all other Bt food crops will come under heavy artillery as long as the Bt brinjal issue is not cleared. We scientists are part of the solution, not the problem. We want to show the government our toolkits and be consistent partners with it in finding solutions to hunger and food shortages."

 

SHANTHU SHANTHARAM

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, ABLE INDIA

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

INDIA AND THE ARAB TRANSITION

CP BHAMBHRI


Political parties and foreign/security policymakers of the government have yet to wake up from slumber and grapple with the significance of events which have completely shaken the foundations of authoritarian regimes in countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Algeria, Yemen, Bahrain and Iran. The grand transition in these countries is being led by the common people who are marching for the overthrow of autocracies and for the establishment of constitutional democratic state systems.


It must be remembered that it is not the first time that Arabs have kicked out autocratic regimes but, unfortunately, the people's desires for democracy remained elusive. Mohammed Mossadegh, the Prime Minister of Iran from 1951 to 1953 had come to power on the basis of a democratic struggle, but the imperialist countries engineered his overthrow and brought back the Shah. Then, how can it be forgotten that Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalised the Suez Canal in the early 1960s and his dream of Arab socialism could never be achieved because of the conspiracies of the imperialists?


Not only this, the second Iranian anti-Shah revolution in 1979 has led to the establishment of the worst kind of authoritarian theocracy and Iranians are again on the streets to achieve their goal of democracy. The chapter in Egypt too is not still closed because the autocratic rule of Hosni Mubarak has collapsed, but the future has yet to become clear because the military council may not deliver the baby of democracy. It is clear that the ongoing struggle for democracy in these Islamic societies needs to be protected and defended against subversion either from domestic anti-democratic theocratic groups or from the new imperialists who will not easily abandon the Arab nations to democratic regimes. Hence, the first obligation of the government of India is to play its historic role as champion of emerging democracies in Arab societies. India has a bitter experience of tin-pot dictators from this region who always took pro-Pakistan and anti-India positions in the meetings of the Organisation of Islamic Countries.


India enjoys a lot of goodwill with the peoples of Arab countries, but an important segment of Indian educated classes is apprehensive of the growth of Islamic fundamentalist forces in the new situation. The presence of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt has lead many to suspect that Egyptians may be cheated just as the post-revolution Iranians of 1979 were betrayed, and one autocracy may be replaced by another.


But much water has flown down the Nile and it is best left to the new democratic forces to fight against their own religious bigots — like Indians involved in the struggle against Hindu Rashtravadis of the Sangh Parivar. The positive side of the ongoing struggles for democracy is that they are all home-grown, and any domestic upheaval against autocracy has great potential to fight against other enemies whether they are outsiders or insiders. Mohamed Elbaredi, the Nobel prize-winning opposition leader in Egypt, has observed that 'if we get Egypt right, it could be the best medicine to get rid of radicalism'. The government of India and every major political party should clearly understand that people are making their own history and India is expected to actively support the movement for democracy in the Arab world and not miss this opportunity, like in Myanmar where democrats were left alone to fight for themselves. The government and its foreign policymakers, in the name of the vulgar 'Realist Theory of International Relations' have followed a policy of engaging with any government of any country, even if that government is antipeople. This approach based on passivity has to be abandoned because India cannot afford to lose a great opportunity of engaging with the new leadership which would emerge after the dust has been settled. Further, India's foreign relations with new democratic state systems should be guided strictly on the basis of an independent non-aligned approach.
India now has a tendency to toe the line of US imperialists while dealing with Arab countries without realising that American interests in that region are absolutely different from India's. Our approach towards the new democratic wave of Arab societies has to be fundamentally different from that of the western countries. India should be prepared to respond to the Palestinian-Israeli dispute, which is going to become very hot after the tinpot dictators have been kicked out. The Manmohan Singh government should follow the Nehru-Indira Gandhi approach of an independent nonalignment policy while dealing with the changed situation in these societies.


The new emerging Arab societies will not take it kindly if India either acts as a camp follower of the US or sits on the fence while history is in the making. Is the Manmohan Singh government prepared to actively engage with new, emerging democratic forces in this key region?

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

POPULIST MAMATA A LITTLE CIRCUMSPECT?

When the Trinamul Congress leader, Ms Mamata Banerjee, presented her first Railway Budget last year, her heart lay in Kolkata, the "Mahanagar" she had set her sights on wooing in order to accomplish her primary objective of becoming the presiding deity at Writers' Buildings. Accordingly, a single state — West Bengal — figured high in the railways' scheme of things. Ms Banerjee's stewardship attracted criticism all round. The project to woo the electorate in her home state impacted the railways' performance. The state of its finances showed that the minister's frequent absences from the nation's capital affected high-level supervision in one of the country's key infrastructure areas. Key sources of revenue generation were sacrificed on the altar of populism. Basically, the vision for the future of the railways — a vital key to the nation's economic life — at a time of acceleration of India's economic growth cried out for exposition. In the 2011-12 Railway Budget that she presented to Parliament on Friday, Ms Banerjee was circumspect about being openly solicitous of the West Bengal electorate. But if she does succeed in her ambition of becoming the state's next chief minister this summer, this would have been her last chance at dispensing largesse courtesy the railways. It is evident she has not forgotten this. That much is evident from her ideas about metropolitan projects, the integrated suburban railway networks, or the "cultural activities" of the ministry under her charge. On the whole, the politician in Ms Banerjee has once again clearly trumped the manager of the nation's high-value assets. This time round the `57,630-crore investment outlay is more ambitious than last year. Even more interesting is the announcement about setting up of factories that would make coaches, tracking machines, diesel locomotives and bridges, and even a 700 mgw gas-based power plant in Maharashtra. Sceptics will be forgiven if they think that many of these are mere announcements, because the implementation of the promises made in the last Railway Budget appears to have got derailed. Indeed, the minister may have done well to have given a list of projects that have been completed. None of the public-private partnership projects, for instance, is said to have come up because of problems over land acquisition. Besides, there is the concern for the poor, social sector projects and the usual sops to senior citizens, students and women. Being political creatures, all ministers try to earn popular goodwill in this manner. But the far-sighted among them should also be concerned about the railways' role in strengthening the nation's economy. This can only happen if rolling stock of the right quality and specifications are created, economically viable freight corridors are established rather than just talked about, internal resources are generated by raising fares alongside improving passenger amenities, and rates for freight are skilfully upped while bypassing inflationary implications.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

VIVE LA DIFFERENCE

BY FARRUKH DHONDY

 "Let Baigans be Baigans..."

From The Brinjalnama by Bachchoo

In my youth my father constantly told me that I wouldn't realise it then, but as I matured, experience and the world would bear upon me and I would turn away from the Left-wing, socialistic, even communistic views I held and spouted. This happened, he said, to everyone.

"I wonder how old Mao Zedong is?" would be my reply.
"You think you are so damned smart, don't you..." would be the line of his dismissal.
I admit now that there was something in what he said — but not in the political field. I may have digested the fact that there is precious little I can do to translate conviction into political action; that those who have purported to put Left-wing and communistic views into practice have been not only mistaken but have been some of the worst tyrants, despots and murderers of the last century.

Who would want to identify with Pol Pot? Was the Cultural Revolution of China really an admirable phase in human history? Are the Indian Communists in power free of the corrupt practices and goonda-gardi of other Indian political parties? Very many apples in the barrel are contaminated and rotten but that doesn't invalidate "appleness" properly applied. Jai Karl Marx!

What does change as one grows is taste. I can still listen to Elvis, Bob Dylan or Bob Marley on my CD player (No, I haven't got an iPod!) but have moved on to very different sort of music and it doesn't include the very popular BBC's Radio 1 which is "DJed" by jocks with annoying voices and jokes who play music that the juveniles of Britain adore and I can't seem to find the tunes in.

While driving or at home, wanting to listen to the news, I turn on BBC's Radio 4. "Turn on" is right because all the radios I use are tuned to the station anyway. Radio 4 has a distinctly upmarket flavour. It doesn't play music, it's a talk station and the talk, apart from the news, is comment on current affairs with my favourite programme of the genre being Question Time in which a self-selected cross-sectional audience puts questions to a panel representing all shades of political opinion plus one maverick (Yes, I've been invited onto the programme a few times!).

It also reviews the arts every day and runs the extremely enlightening and often challenging Woman's Hour. It has book extracts and studio contests, comedy and drama.

From this, albeit selective, description you may have gathered that Radio 4 is not the sort of station that would appeal to all ages, classes and levels of engagement.

Now David Liddiment, a member of the BBC Trustees' Board, urges Radio 4 to become what he sees as more representative, to widen its appeal to include people of a different class and even of the different "races" or cultures that inhabit these islands.

On the face of it this is a solid democratic proposal but actually an absurd and unnecessary one. Radio in the digital age has evolved in a fragmented way. There are hundreds of radio stations in Britain and probably thousands if not millions in the world. The availability of frequencies has spawned a welcome diversity. BBC Radio 1 does pop music. BBC Radio 2 does slightly more middlebrow pop music and might appeal to an older age range. Radio 3 is classical and its programming is often challenging in that it doesn't give you a limited diet of Tchaikovsky and the pop romantics, but delves into more recondite archive and features experimental and innovative modern stuff. Radio 5 Live does a lot of sport and discussion.

There was a BBC Asian network which has now, through the vaunted need for austerity, been axed. It used to feature among interesting interviews and forums for business chat and political discussion, Bollywood songs, news, reviews and interviews. It also sponsored concerts by South Asian stars such as Rahat Fateh Ali Khan.

None of this list of programmes and categories would sit easily in the schedule of Radio 4. The station would confuse and perhaps even lose its core audience which would be quite bewildered by a review of a Bollywood film following Woman's Hour or the weekly dramatic episode of The Archers, Radio 4's long running soap about country folk.

I absolutely understand David Liddiment's plea for broadening the spectrum. It is the politically correct idea that the man in Dewsbury, who arrived 30 years ago from Mirpur and still speaks no English, because he never needs to, can share the same radio station with the 50-year-old feminist in Bristol, the 70-year-old retired judge who lives in rural Shropshire and the 15-year-old black rap-addict gang-member from Brixton who can speak colloquial English but prefers to spout pseudo-Jamaican. Can't be done, boss. They each have their own radio stations.

One may go further. Our Dewsbury man will never tune in to "Radio Desidews" (made up name) which plays non-stop Bollywood hits and exchanges anonymous, parent-dodging Valentine's messages on its public-phone-in hour. The Bristol feminist may be inclined to listen to Radio 3 if she is classically minded, but will probably never listen to "Radio Fantasyjihad" (another fictitious name to protect the innocent) which features religious speeches about women having and knowing their "special" divinely-allocated place in society. The 15-year-old black gang member from Brixton has 300 London pirate stations to choose from. A critical appraisal of the lyrics of "Jhooky Badman" (another made up name) by Solomon Rushperson (err… yet another made up name) wouldn't induce him to tune in to Radio 4.

As for our retired judge, he probably finds Radio 4 disgustingly infiltrated by Communists and anarchists and can't handle the technology of the digital radio his grandson bought him anyway.

Very recently Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron delivered a speech which was reported as saying, as Nietzsche had done with God, that multiculturalism was dead. Reading his speech, what he and his multiculturally-naive speechwriters actually want to say is that the government shouldn't fund jihadi groups and individuals who preach hatred against Britain and British values. That's okay, fine, dandy. Take away my taxpayer money from the namak harams!

If he was indeed saying that multiculturalism was dead, he was grievously mistaken. In evidence, Your Honour, I submit Exhibit A: The thousand radio stations in Britain that have very select audiences. Vive la difference!

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

DEJECTION AFTER A CELEBRATION

Mr Kotla Jaya Suryaprakash Reddy's jubilation at being offered the post of chairman of the parliamentary standing committee soon turned sour when he thought out the implications of the offer. A few days ago, the Kurnool MP received a communication from the Centre naming him as the chairman of the PSC on water resources. Mr Suryaprakash Reddy's elated followers felicitated him and he graciously attended the meetings they had arranged at several places in Kurnool. Subsequently, Mr Reddy found out a little more about his new assignment and came to the conclusion that if he accepted the chairman's post, he may not get the Central Cabinet berth he has been angling for. Mr Reddy then changed his mind and said he was not interested in the assignment. The ones feeling let down are his followers and Congress workers who so enthusiastically felicitated him at considerable expense.

A GOOD LESSON FOR ALL BUREAUCRATS IN THE STATE

Bureaucrats live in a small world. They have a tendency to curry favour with those in power and snub those outside the hallowed circle. But this can hurt their own interests since things may change in the political world rather quickly. Some babus in the state are now learning this the hard way. The Chief Minister, Mr N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, was apparently snubbed by some big and mighty officials of the state when he was an 'ordinary' MLA. Now that Mr Kiran Reddy is holding the reins of the state, he has reportedly reopened an inquiry against one of these officials. A probe had been taken out against this babu over a private complaint but the government is now doubtful of the veracity of the inquiry and wants to conduct a new one. This episode holds a lesson for the babus. It is better to be nice to all politicians, big and small, since you never know who will become what and when.

URBAN MINISTER WITHOUT A ROOF

He heads a ministry whose function is providing shelter to the needy in urban areas, but the municipal administration minister, Mr Maheedhar Reddy, is deprived of a shelter himself! Even three months after being sworn in as minister in Mr Kiran Kumar Reddy's Cabinet, Mr M. Reddy has not been able to move into his ministerial quarters. He was allotted the house in which the non-functioning state financial adviser, Mr D.A. Somayajulu (who managed to get Cabinet rank and therefore the official quarters), is staying. But unlike another adviser, Dr K.V.P. Ramachandra Rao, who immediately packed his bags and vacated his office in the Secretariat when the new dispensation wanted to get rid of 'advisers', Mr Somayajulu is in no mood to forego either his salary or his official residence. The hunt is therefore now on to find another roof to shelter the municipal administration mantriji.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

SETTING: IN INDIA, IT'S A VERB

BY SHOBHAA DE

Late one afternoon, my car drew up next to a police van, and my firebrand driver Choudhary (yes, Raj Thackeray, he's from Bihar, and I'll never sack him!) pointed to a couple of Nigerians in the van. "Nothing will happen to these charsees", he said laconically, "Sab setting ho gaya hai". He went on to narrate a longish story about his friend, a taxi driver (of course, he's from Bihar too), who had similar looking drug dealers as passengers recently, and saw an exchange of money (Thappas of Rs 500 notes) between these burly men, a couple of cops and a local supplier. "Poora setting tha", repeated Choudhary, his tone almost respectful.

Well… as we know, without "poora setting" nothing works in this country. As I watched Opposition leader Arun Jaitley's incisive, cutting and brilliant address in Parliament on February 22, I wondered about the assorted settings that must have culminated in this outspoken attack on the Prime Minister (who sat stone-faced through the broadside, like Mr Jaitley was giving a lecture on the breeding habits of flamingos). Next came Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj's "Pranab-Da" broadside that really rattled our Bengali babu. She taunted. He fumed.

Where was this moral outrage earlier? How come everything is coming apart all of a sudden? In one dramatic week, several silenced voices rediscovered the larynx and tongue. Even though, in Mumbai, the Kasab verdict was met by an indifferent, thanda response (largely because of the "settings" factor — people believe he'll go scot-free eventually).

The next morning, India woke up to the Godhra ruling (a few shockers, but otherwise, pretty predictable). Then came the Kalmadi bomb (Uska setting khatam!). And Sheila ki badnaami. Plus, the joint parliamentary committee decision, where again, cynics believe nothing will emerge, given the sensitive nature of the matters under scrutiny. Sandwiched in between all these dramatic disclosures, was the fate of a young collector and a junior engineer kidnapped by Maoists in Orissa, besides the endangered lives of Indians trapped in Tripoli.

So many settings to put into place, that too, in such a short time!

For those unfamiliar with Bambaiyya (the street-speak of Mumbai), "setting" refers to an arrangement or a deal between two parties. Someone has to broker this informal but pucca understanding. That "someone" plays a key role. There are several revered corporate honchos whose sole job is to organise key settings. These men make it to the boards of mighty corporations and, in return for a fat fee, they promise complete co-operation while undertaking mega settings. It's deal making at its sharpest. Mr Kalmadi was once known as the King of Setting (his mentor had trained him well!). He could not have pulled off the Commonwealth Games (CWG) without such skills. But what invariably happens when our local satraps try and adopt the desi model to foreign conditions is that they trip over themselves and get caught.

Greed catches up, and someone or the other in the long food chain snitches on the boss. Besides, people like Mr Kalmadi misjudge (or underestimate) the settings undertaken by their foreign counterparts.

Every country has its fixers, and every country creates its own settings. Mr Kalmadi and his cronies obviously lacked the sophistication needed to pull off an international scam of this scale and ended up in the doghouse.

Imagine, even the sweet-old Queen of England got to know about their evil deeds at some point! Like an A. Raja, Mr Kalmadi was not operating on his own. Which is another reason why Delhiwallahs believe, Mr Kalmadi's personal settings with his ultimate bosses, will see him through this crisis. It is being speculated he has agreed to take the rap for other, high-profile culprits, in return for several concessions that the public will never know about. By agreeing to become the face and villain of the CWG scam, Mr Kalmadi may, in fact, have saved his own scalp.

From our stock markets to the World Cup and beyond, we accept corruption in all spheres. We express shock and grief when matters go completely out of hand (Godhra, 26/11), but at the back of our mind we acknowledge our helplessness and agree "That's how it is in India".

While talking to an international hotelier of Indian-origin recently, I wasn't all that surprised when he expressed his desire to meet the "right" people in order to get his ambitious projects off the ground. The man was candid enough to admit that marketing a top-end, very exclusive resort experience was one thing (and he's probably the best in his field at that), but getting around bureaucratic road blocks and traps in India, required skills he did not possess. He'll learn! They all do eventually.

Once people like him get over the unorthodox methods of conducting business in India (a practice that has been cultivated and encouraged by successive governments), they promptly forget their ethics and moral principles as they scout around frantically for touts to move those files.

Settings takes place at each and every level. Try hiring domestic help on your own, without the intervention of a local supplier who takes a fat commission — well, at least, in Mumbai that is virtually impossible these days. For whatever reason, housemaids come from Jharkhand or Chhattisgarh. Drivers from Bihar and people who do "top work" (such a comical term!) from Karnataka. The cornering of lowly municipal jobs is also complete, with each state having its own quota.

Not that anybody is complaining. As long as the job gets done, it doesn't matter who the person is or where the person comes from. It's the same logic that protects those Nigerian drug dealers (who speak fluent Hindi). The story remains identical. They do it because they know they can. Simple.

Settings are everything, yaar. As India will discover once the JPC charade gets under way.

Mr Jaitley and Ms Swaraj should have saved their breaths. But what the hell… it was good television.

— Readers can send feedback to www.shobhaade.blogspot.com [1]

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

JPC TAKES OFF

WHERE WILL IT 'LAND' PARLIAMENT?


SO, eventually, a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the 2G Spectrum allocation is a reality, though some more than mere formalities remain. A "so what?" reaction to its formation may not be overly cynical. Sure Opposition egos have been flattered, the proverbial pound of flesh secured. Yet representatives of the parties that have screamed themselves hoarse these past few months will now have to bring "blood, sweat, toil and tears" into play if the JPC is to deliver what they claimed it could. On paper parliamentary committees do not function on party lines, but given the extreme acrimony that persisted even when the Lok Sabha was processing its formation, it is difficult to believe that the differences will dissipate when the panel gets down to work ~ regardless of the efforts of whoever is its head. The stance taken by both the Prime Minister and his prime political trouble-shooter that a JPC was "conceded" only to re-rail the apex legislature could serve as the script for UPA members who comprise the majority of the panel. Even if skewed was the government's previous contention that there was no difference between a JPC and the Public Accounts Committee there is bound to be some rivalry, and the ambitious and smug head of the PAC is unlikely to accept playing a secondary role. The political factors that led to a 30-member JPC could militate against its functioning, it might be too unwieldy to retain specific focus.


Political factors apart, the officials the JPC will examine are unlikely to be very cooperative, they serve a government that has already taken a negative posture on the panel. That apart, they would be harried at having to respond to another round of queries after being quizzed by the CBI, PAC, and the "command performance" of the Shivraj Patil exercise. It is mystifying why former judges accept assignments not covered by the Commissions of Inquiry Act. Although, theoretically, the inquiries do not overlap there would be much public interest in what a JPC could bring to the table after political pressure caused the exit of the former telecom minister and the Supreme Court-monitored CBI inquiry has seen him lodged (perhaps only temporarily) behind bars. All that raises an issue critical to the interests of the "system". Previous JPCs have had only marginal impact, if this one comes up with little that is substantial another instrument of the legislature will have been enfeebled ~ Parliament reduced to a pernicious political "sock-exchange".


ORISSA ABDUCTIONS

LESSONS FOR A BELEAGUERED GOVT

THE nerve-wracking abduction drama in Orissa has come to a merciful end. The Collector of Malkangiri has been released by the Maoists 48 hours after a junior engineer was. The eleventh-hour demand that the two interlocutors be present at the time of the discharge was trivial at best and a delaying tactic at worst, one that served only to heighten tension. Overall, the Maoists have had their way before setting the two officials free. However, any criticism of the Orissa government that it went out of its way to concede the extremist demands might be less than fair. Truth to tell, the Naveen Patnaik administration had no option but to relent in the manner of the Andhra Pradesh and Bihar governments when faced with similar cases of abduction. Refusal to relent might well have led to the killing of the hostages, R Vineel Krishna (IAS) and Pabitra Majhi. As a face-saver, the Chief  Minister has drawn a fine distinction between "bowing to anybody's demand" and "agreeing to certain commitments". Equally, the administration must acknowledge that it deviated from its standard tactic of wait-and-watch in the face of abduction of policemen, a policy that has never really led to demands being conceded. This time, the state's response has been driven by administrative exigence and the relief  must be collective ~ of the kidnapped, of their families and of the government. Having granted concessions to the extent that Orissa did, the need to strengthen the state's defence mechanism is now ever more compelling, most importantly in the area that straddles the Orissa-Andhra border, the hotbed of the Maoist movement. Chiefly, the administration in Bhubaneswar has agreed to release and review the cases against certain Maoist leaders, advanced the assurance against coercion in course of Operation Greenhunt, compensate farmers whose land has been submerged by the Balimela reservoir and rehabilitate those displaced by the Nalco project in Damanjodi. Ergo, the negotiations were not confined merely to the release of Maoists; they covered broader issues, notably water distribution, mining and tribal land rights. There are clearly two facets to the demands that have been conceded. They relate in the main to Orissa's counter-strategy against the Maoists and the socio-economic issues that have been highlighted by the Left radicals along the Red Corridor. Well may the Maoist view the quid pro quo as a shot in the arm. Equally, must the state ensure that it isn't caught with all defences down. Of course, it has effected a delicate balancing act, and there is little doubt that the administration has taken a grave risk. A disaster has been averted, the hostages are free; but a revamped fortification of the barricades is direly imperative. Recurrence will signify that the government did buckle. This is the prime lesson to be drawn from the Maoist abduction in Malkangiri.

 

'FORM OF EXTORTION'

WHEN THE UNIONS COME TOGETHER

Unionisation of the police has been deleterious enough. It is a measure of such activity permeating the prison administration that the West Bengal government has been compelled to issue a circular against such irresponsible expressions of perceived democratic rights. Unions, significantly cutting across party lines, are up in arms against the notification that seeks to prevent warders from collecting subscriptions from other jail employees. This "form of extortion" by the prison staff  ~ to use the words of the authorities ~ illustrates the extent to which jail administration has been corrupted over time. And the victims, as reported in this newspaper, are the rest of the staff. To defend the subscription drive as a "fundamental right to freedom of association'' makes a travesty of the trade union movement, let alone the general mood of defiance towards the official circular. The inmates as much as the staff have trashed the term "correctional homes" to a misnomer. No less than the inmates, it is the staff that needs to be corrected.  The authorities sound pretty much helpless as the warders collect the "subscription" to the detriment of security in and around the cells. As political rivalries sharpen before the Assembly elections, there has been a mushrooming of unions not merely at Writers' Buildings and Lalbazar, but in the jails as well. Where the CPI-M union was supreme, a Trinamul outfit has now set up shop. And it turns out to be an all-party initiative if discipline has to be flouted. The work ethic in a cross-section of vital government establishments has reached a pathetic pass. And it shan't be easy for the next dispensation to restore even a semblance of discipline. Administration has reached a stage in which the terms of disciplinary engagement are dictated by the offending unions. As much is clear from their defiant reaction to the circular. West Bengal's jails bear witness to this spurious solidarity of the Left and the Trinamul. The malaise could well permeate to Writers' and Lalbazar as well.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

HAJ SUBSIDY & SECULARISM

THE INCREASING INFLUENCE OF RELIGION

FAIZAN MUSTAFA


A HISTORIC verdict was pronounced recently by Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra of the Supreme Court, upholding the constitutionality of the Haj subsidy. The decision is a major setback to the extreme Right and one hopes that the petitioner, Prafull Goradia, will at least spare the apex court and not accuse it of appeasement of Muslims. But the decision, which has been delivered in the best traditions of legal interpretation and secularism, does raise larger issues about the future of secularism.


It is distressing that the modern, democratic and secular Indian state and its elected leaders are trying to revive the old traditions of State-temple/mosque relationship. As a result, the secular state is fast becoming a true defender of faiths.


Secularism is at the core of modernity. It records a history of progress and gradual emancipation from religion through the exercise of reason. The doctrine of secularism was institutionalised with the historic separation of Church and State in the 19th century; it eventually became globalized through colonialism. Justice Katju is right when he stresses the need for tolerance to preserve the nation's rich diversity. In the wake of Partition in the name of religion and the unfortunate conversion of Jinnah's Pakistan into an Islamic state, India's decision to be secular was indeed a historic one. In fact, if we are a world power today and Pakistan is a failed state, the reason lies in our decision to opt for modernity.


Jawaharlal Nehru led from the front in buttressing secularism. He wrote in his  autobiography that "organised religion" filled him "with horror... almost always it seemed to stand for a blind belief and reaction, dogma and bigotry, superstition and exploitation."


He did not need religion to succeed in politics. On both counts, his successors differed with him. With every passing year after the Nehruvian era,  we are becoming less and less secular.


The Supreme Court's ruling involved the interpretation of Article 27 of the Constitution which explicitly stipulates that no person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appropriated in the payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination. The judges have rightly quoted the ruling in the Keshavand Bharti case that the object of this Article is to promote secularism. Demonstrating his expertise in constitutional interpretation at its best, Justice Katju observed that Article 27 would be affected only if a substantial part of the entire income-tax collected or a major portion of the entire central excise or the customs duties or sales tax or a substantial part of any other tax were to be used for the promotion of any particular religion. Since the petitioner in this case did not contend that a substantial part of any tax collected in India is utilized for the purpose of Haj, the granting of Haj subsidy is perfectly constitutional.


The judges did not examine the issue that the obligation to go for Haj is only on rich Muslims. Or that in case the government withdraws this subsidy and permits open competition amongst airlines, Muslim pilgrims would get much better facilities on much lower prices.


The decision will have major implications  on the secular character of our country. Secularism in post-partition India has been packaged as an assurance to minorities that the state will protect their freedom of religion. But in the process, the two-sword theory was the worst casualty. The failure to separate religion and state was the cardinal blunder of our Republic.


Serious concern has been expressed over the revival of religion in the nation's public space. The failure of our experiment with secularism will be the greatest tragedy of the 21st century. The economic prosperity is bringing in its wake what may be described as the "rush hour of Gods". We are helplessly observing the proliferation of new expressions of religiosity. This over-emphasis on religion is rooted in the socio-psychological needs created by liberalization and globalization of the economy. According to one empirical research, 30 per cent of the respondents have become more religious over the past few years. Hence the unprecedented increase in pilgrimage, which now accounts for more than 50 per cent of all package tours. On the contrary leisure tour packages account for only 28 per cent. Religion is not only good for business, but also the best business.
The resurgence is taking place not against the grain of secularism but because of our secularism. The Indian state has completely forgotten the true meaning of secularism and wants to have a very close alliance with religions. Indeed, religion plays a central role in our bodypolitic. No precise figures are available as to the amount of funds allocated every year by the various states of secular India. The BJP government of Rajasthan gave Rs 260 million for temple renovation and training of Hindu priests. In Andhra Pradesh, the Congress government allocated Rs 600 million for the welfare of priests. DMK's Tamil Nadu government enhanced temple renovation grants from Rs 5 million to Rs 30 million. In Narendra Modi's Gujarat, Hindu priests are on the payroll of the government, which pays a monthly salary of Rs 1200 to every priest working in the 354 temples. The shrines are officially under the state's department of temple management.


The Hindu religion is not the only beneficiary of the secular state's generosity. Muslims have also received substantial financial support from the government. The Congress government under PV Narasimha Rao gave a similar salary package to Muslim Imams. The  BJP government in Madhya Pradesh is also paying the salaries of Imams of mosques and priests of temples. This is the flip side of  Indian secularism.


Justice Katju did not see anything wrong if a small amount is spent by the government on providing subsidies to Muslims who intend to go on the annual pilgrimage to Mecca. But  it is shocking to note that the government is today spending a huge amount on pilgrimage. The Centre spent about Rs 100 million for the development of infrastructure before the Amaranath yatra. Himachal Pradesh, Uttaranchal, Punjab, and Jammu and Kashmir are setting up new "pilgrimage circuits." Certain festivals and rituals are being popularised as never before, as for instance Makar Sankranti and Navratri in Gujarat. Overall, there is scant regard for the scientific temper and a spirit of enquiry.


It is imperative to revive Nehruvian secularism and free the Indian state from the influence of religion. Secularism is based on the concept that religion and worldly affairs are different.  Central to modernity is the distinction between the "public" and "private" domains. Religion is a personal and private affair. Ideally, this clear-cut differentiation should lead to eventual emancipation and, therefore, the decline of the influence of religion.


The writer is Vice-Chancellor of National Law University, Orissa

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

'WE WANT TO TRY FOR PEACE TO END THE CONFLICT'

The United Liberation Front of Assam's (Ulfa) bespectacled vice-chairman Pradip Gogoi was arrested by West Bengal police in Kolkata's New Market in 1998 on a tip-off from the Army. He was behind bars for 12 years and released only on 19 February last year as part of the government's efforts to facilitate peace talks with the banned outfit. A soft-spoken man, Gogoi was a founding member of Ulfa in 1979 and reportedly did not have any interaction with his family till mid-2010.

Gogoi was charged under Tada and booked for many other offences in Guwahati and Sibsagar. He was in New Delhi recently as part of a delegation of the outlawed outfit for formal talks with the Government of India. NIRENDRA DEV caught up with him.

Why did you agree to talks at this juncture? They are said to be aimed at indirectly supporting the Congress through the backdoor during the forthcoming Assembly elections in Assam?

That is an unfounded campaign. A section in Assam as also outside the state is out to sabotage the peace process. We have criticised all Congress leaders, including Jawaharlal Nehru's handling of sensitivities in Assam during the Chinese aggression. We view the Illegal Migration Determination by Tribunal (IMDT) Act as a foreign nationals-friendly legislation. Everyone knows Congress is responsible for these. The people of Assam want peace; but we have said we want it with honour and dignity. Ulfa has agreed to unconditional talks, but don't forget we also want honourable dialogue. It will be wrong to presume that Ulfa agreed to initiate formal negotiations just to help Congress in the election.

 What about your agenda? Why has Ulfa not come out with an agenda so far?

Our leaders have answered this question already. Shasha Choudhury  (Ulfa foreign secretary) has answered this at the Delhi Press Club. We have left it to Sanmilita Jatiya Abhibartan (SJA), a citizens' group. Once the agenda is prepared, we will have the talking points.

 After your release last year in Sibsagar, you strongly called for the release of all Ulfa top leaders for talks.
What else could I have said? Ulfa cannot agree to talks with its hands tied. We have met Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh and home minister Mr P Chidambaram and both have promised to resolve the conflict with sincerity.
 
Going back in history, why did Ulfa seek independence as its goal? Do you think that was a misguided mission? The Assamese are a patriotic people.

I would not say much on this. The first betrayal of the Indo-Assamese friendship occurred when independence seekers from India sought to sacrifice Assam to Pakistan. This was not acceptable to the Assamese people.
 
Why has then Ulfa decided to give up its demand for sovereignty demand now and agreed to unconditional talks? Is it not a major climbdown?

We have agreed to talks because the Assamese people want it. We have bowed to the wishes of the people and the decision of the Ulfa general council. We will honour that decision. I stated this last year as well. We have agreed to unconditional talks. We are glad that on the first day of talks itself, home secretary Mr GK Pillai as also Mr Chidambaram  said they wanted to resolve the conflict through negotiations and political means with honour and dignity.

What about the foreign nationals issue? How do you reconcile to the fact that Ulfa opposes foreign nationals, especially those from Bangladesh, but you all took shelter in that country?

(Smiles) You must remember that Ulfa did not go to the jungle by choice. We were compelled to. We were not safe, our family members who have nothing to do with our movement and are completely innocent were also not safe and were targeted by police and Army. So, we were compelled to go to the neighbouring countries. I can only say that.

Your general secretary Anup Chetia is still in Bangladesh. What is the government saying about bringing him to India for talks?

Yes, this came up recently. The government has asked us to ensure that Chetia withdraws his political asylum application sent to the UN. This is a technical point and is being looked into.


What about the Paresh Barua factor? He has rejected the peace talks. Will it hamper the peace process or is his rebellion only a planned Ulfa strategy?

(Smiles) There is no strategy. He has opposed the talks. But we are in touch with him and are trying to bring him on board as we have agreed to negotiations based on the decision of the general council of Ulfa. And this is what the people of Assam want.  

How much harm can the Paresh Barua group do to the talks? What kind of strength does his faction have?
It would not have any significant impact. As I said, we are in touch with him and he is still the commander-in-chief. We are given to understand that he still has 80 to 100 foot soldiers,. But Ulfa is sincere about the talks.

Why are you all against making the Assam Accord a basis for talks?

The Assam Accord signed by the Rajiv Gandhi government is a farce. We have said so in a Press statement. This is not my personal opinion, it's the view of the Ulfa's general council. The IMDT Act has rendered the Assam Accord redundant. The Act was struck down by the Supreme Court in 2003 but has been revived. We understand all this.

 Your chairman Arabinda Rajkhowa has expressed optimism about the proposed Constitutional amendments? How do you think it will help you?

We have said we propose to evaluate various facets of the Constitution of India and to explore the viability of protection and enrichment of the sovereignty of the people of Assam. We want to ensure it in all its dimensions ~ political, social, economic and cultural within the scope proposed by the Prime Minister in his Hyderabad declaration. The government of India has said the Constitution is flexible and would accommodate all views. So we want to try for peace to end the conflict.

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

INDIA'S ROAD TO EGYPT?

RAJINDER PURI


There are many young Indians on Twitter and more so in private conversation who yearn for an Egyptian-style revolution in India. Are they indulging merely in wishful thinking? Not necessarily. It should happen. It could happen. God willing, it will happen. But if it does happen it will happen very differently from what happened in Egypt although bringing about change no less profound. This is why and how it could happen.
 Following the debates in Parliament has become irrelevant. Listening to the politicians in Parliament it would appear that they are convinced that the fate of the nation rests only in the hands of those elected to that august body. Apart from scoring debating points against each other not one leader either in government or in opposition has risen above generalised platitudes to outline specific measures to introduce reform. Politicians seem out of touch with reality.


  A revolutionary change cannot be sparked by the words or deeds of our worthy leaders who adorn Parliament. The change can be ignited only by giant exposures that might rock the nation. Is there hope of any such exposure erupting? Indeed there exists a faint hope. To see if it is realised, focus attention on just one man. And that man is Mr Suresh Kalmadi. He is India's best hope for clearing the path to Egypt.


  Recent events indicate that Mr Kalmadi's arrest may be imminent. His close junior colleagues have already been arrested. As the threat of impending arrest approaches, there is a subtle change in Mr Kalmadi's public utterances. Earlier, he stressed that he was entirely innocent. He averred that if even Re 1 of bribery could be traced to him he would resign from Parliament. Now his tune has changed. Mr Kalmadi has not accepted any wrongdoing of course. But his emphasis has changed. He now asks why only officials of the Organising Committee (OC) of the Commonwealth Games (CWG) should be targeted when its budget was only a fraction of what was spent by the Union and the Delhi governments?


  Mr Kalmadi has demanded a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe the CWG scam. Mr Ajay Maken, the current sports minister, retorted that a JPC was not justified when CBI was already probing the CWG defalcation. It was a pathetically weak response. The CAG, PAC and CBI are all probing the 2G scam. That did not prevent the government from acceding to a JPC to probe the 2G scam. Why not the CWG as well when the main suspect himself is demanding a JPC for a thorough probe against all involved in the scam? Logic is on the side of Mr Kalmadi and not on the side of the government.


  Lest there be any doubt about his innuendos, Mr Kalmadi went on to demand that Delhi chief minister Mrs Sheila Dikshit and Union ministers Mr MS Gill and Mr Jaipal Reddy should also be questioned. These are not the leaders who have the power to prevent Mr Kalmadi's arrest. By naming the leaders he has given warning and notice to those leaders who do indeed have the power to prevent his arrest. According to the grapevine, Mr Kalmadi, in private conversation, has named VVIPs of the UPA as the ultimate victims of his exposure if he is arrested. Is this empty bravado or an ominous reality? Only events and time will clarify that.


  The question is whether Mr Kalmadi's arrest is really imminent. The CBI officer in charge of probing the CWG scam has suddenly sought voluntary retirement! He will move to greener pastures to probe corruption in cricket after being recruited by the ICC headed by Mr Sharad Pawar ~ widely regarded as Mr Kalmadi's political mentor. So one must wait and watch how wheels move within wheels.


  Meanwhile, if an exposure to rock the nation does emanate from Mr Kalmadi, the aftermath will be quite different from what occurred in Egypt. It could lead to the fall of the government, the discrediting of the entire political elite, a massive realignment of political forces and a mid-term poll that might introduce new forces and a new political culture to govern India. So watch Mr Kalmadi, our last faint hope. At the very end, he might surprise us by emerging as the one least blameworthy in the prevalent den of thieves!          

    
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

THE FOLLY OF A FAUSTIAN BARGAIN

 

The price of oil is surging. The price of a barrel of crude touched $120 this week ~ its highest level since 2008. The commodities trading markets are telling the world something it should have grasped long ago: that the global economy is disastrously over-reliant on energy from the most unstable of regions.


The violent chaos in Libya is the proximate cause of the market jitters. The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt did not alarm oil traders, but Libya is a significant oil exporter. As Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime has imploded, the pumps have stopped. Output has fallen by three-quarters. And when the supply of any commodity suddenly falls, its price generally rises.


The markets are also casting wary eyes in the direction of Saudi Arabia, the world's biggest oil exporter. This week, King Abdullah promised a £22b financial relief package for his subjects. This is plainly an attempt to pre-empt the outbreak of popular protests occurring in his country of the sort that have been witnessed across the region. The Saudi Arabian oil minister is also suggesting that his country could increase production to make up for the shortfall from Libya.


But the situation is not under the Saudi regime's control. A month ago, Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi in Libya looked entirely secure. Now the first has been forced to resign and the sun has almost set on the regime of the second (although there is no telling how much damage Gaddafi could do on the way out). Anyone who asserts that the same could not happen in Saudi Arabia has few grounds for their confidence. King Abdullah certainly has more resources with which to buy off discontent, but it is impossible to say how effective this will be. When people have the scent of freedom in their nostrils, they can be impossible to deter.

 

The markets certainly understand this.


The knock-on effects of a spike in oil prices threaten to be painful. The sudden jump in energy costs could derail the recovery from the economic crash of three years ago.


The world is reaping the consequences of bad geopolitical decisions going back decades. After the Second World War, the West entered into a Faustian bargain with autocratic West Asian regimes. We would buy their oil exports and turn a blind eye to the repression of their populations. In return, they would buy Western-manufactured weapons and luxury goods. China has made a similar bargain with repressive regimes more recently. But the Arab revolutions are upsetting those deals.


There is little that we can do in the immediate term to mitigate the effects. But in the medium term, this underscores the imperative of weaning our economies off oil and gas. We need to do so for environmental reasons, for if we carry on burning fossil fuels at the present rate, we will get runaway climate change. We need to do so for humanitarian reasons because buying oil from autocracies facilitates the abuse of human rights.


And, as this latest shock shows, we need to do so for the most basic economic reasons. If our energy supplies are insecure, so is our prosperity. Our leaders have long paid lip service to the need to switch from fossil fuels.

 

Perhaps now the Arab revolutions have brought them face to face with the perils of our oil addiction, we will finally get some action.

the independent

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THE TELEGRAPH

TRAIN WRECK

The English writer, G.K. Chesterton, said that the only way of catching a train that he discovered was to miss the train before. The railways minister, Mamata Banerjee, missed the railway budget train last year and this year; in all likelihood, she will miss next year's as well, if she becomes West Bengal's chief minister later this year, or loses her current job for bad performance. On Friday, her budget presentation to Parliament was full of ambitious new projects, trains and concessions, but very little on how she was going the fix the various problems the Indian Railways needs to deal with, and the looming crisis in its finances. Her speech was remarkably silent on the progress of the projects she announced on last year's budget.

After having made a remarkable turnaround in fortunes from 2005, the Indian Railways seems to have gone into reverse: the operating ratio — the amount of money it spends for every Rs 100 it earns — has deteriorated from about Rs 75 in the financial year 2007-08 to over Rs 100 this year (the budgeted target was Rs 94.50). In the first nine months of FY11, most zones, large and small, spent much more than they earned. The operating ratio for the Northeast Frontier Railway, where Ms Banerjee proposed to locate a coach factory, was over Rs 200; for the Eastern and Southern Railway zones, it was Rs 187.60 and Rs 145 respectively.

Second, the implementation of announced projects has been miserable. Of the five private-public partner- ships announced in 2006, only Rae Bareli has made some progress; the others have not even taken off; but the railways minister proudly announced that she had received 85 new proposals. She was candid in admitting that the target of adding 1,000 kilometres in new railway lines had to be scaled down to 700 km (the average over the last few years has been 180 km); but if the target laid in the Vision 2020 document is to be realized, the railways will have to add over 2,500 km each year for the rest of the decade.

Her ideas cost tons of money, and Ms Banerjee's budget depends heavily on the largesse of the finance minister, who presents his budget on Monday. Perhaps it is time to dispense with a separate rail budget, and make it more efficient by merging it into the finance minister's; the Railways' share in the gross domestic product is no longer that significant. Members of parliament were clearly not amused by her generosity towards her home state, for which she presented a slew of projects and proposals, making this budget a political, rather than an economic, exercise with an eye on the upcoming West Bengal elections. This year, the Railways will miss both its revenue and freight targets — revenues at end-December were just over Rs 60,000 crore against the year's target of Rs 97,000 crore, and freight carried in FY11 will fall short of the targeted 944 million tonnes by about 200 million tonnes. If there is a light at the end of the tunnel, it is that of the oncoming train.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

DREAM TEAMS

A FANTASY MATCH BETWEEN PLAYERS PRESENT AND PAST POLITICS AND PLAY: RAMACHANDRA GUHA

With the World Cup in mind, I sat down with the journalist and cricket nut, Rajdeep Sardesai, to choose an all-time Indian One-Day Eleven. We excluded from our consideration those players whose careers had ended before India began playing this form of cricket at the international level. With this restriction, we arrived at the following team, in batting order: 1. Sourav Ganguly 2. Sachin Tendulkar 3. Virender Sehwag 4. Mohammed Azharuddin 5. Yuvraj Singh 6. Mahendra Singh Dhoni 7. Kapil Dev 8. Harbhajan Singh 9. Anil Kumble 10. Javagal Srinath 11. Zaheer Khan.

No one will question the inclusion of Tendulkar, Ganguly, Kapil, Kumble, and Dhoni. However, nostalgia for the 1983 World Cup victory might lead to claims being advanced on behalf of the strokemaker, Krishnamachari Srikkanth, and the seam-bowling all-rounders, Mohinder Amarnath and Roger Binny. Those who remember our more emphatic win in the 1985 World Championship of Cricket (played in Australia) would press the names of two of that tournament's heroes, Ravi Shastri and Laxman Sivaramakrishnan. A case can also be made for Rahul Dravid to replace Azhar, and for Manoj Prabhakar to be chosen instead of Srinath.

Choosing mythical elevens is always contentious, but let me say no more about this team and instead go about picking an eleven composed of those Indians whose own careers ended before the era of one-day internationals. For earlier generations had also produced attacking batsmen, wicket-taking or restrictive bowlers, and fine fieldsmen. What then might a Dream Team of Golden Oldies look like?

The first name I shall pencil in is that of Syed Mushtaq Ali, who was as inventive and effective a strokemaker as Virender Sehwag, as useful a change bowler, and incomparably the better fielder. His partner at the top of the order shall be Budhi Kunderan, who likewise scored at the rate of knots (ask the England bowlers of the 1960s), and would in this team handily keep wickets too. At one drop, we have Mansur Ali Khan Pataudi, who had the misfortune to lose one eye in a car accident shortly after he began his first-class career. With two good eyes he might have matched Bradman, but even with the handicap he remained a fine forcing batsman, and a brilliant outfielder. At the pivotal position of number four we have Polly Umrigar, who, like other Bombay batsmen before and after, could play in different gears, consolidating the innings or dominating the bowling as the situation demanded. Polly was another outstanding fieldsman, and a decent off-spinner as well.

Number five would be C.K. Nayudu, who was without question the most charismatic cricketer ever to wear Indian colours. C.K. could clear the boundary as easily as Yuvraj Singh, and he had a far wider range of strokes, among them the leg glide and the late cut. While principally a batsman, Nayudu took many wickets with his off-cutters, and, in the field, was not known ever to let down other bowlers. At six would come the peerless Vinoo Mankad. In his pomp, Mankad was the finest spin bowler in international cricket, and also good enough with the bat to score two Test double hundreds and share, with Pankaj Roy, the world record for an opening partnership.

Four, five and six are all variously gifted, and so too the three who shall follow them. At seven we have Lala Amarnath, an attacking batsman, restrictive medium-pace bowler, and, also, a Test-quality wicketkeeper (a skill that may come in handy if Kunderan has an off day, as he sometimes did). At eight is the tall left-handed all-rounder R.G. (Bapu) Nadkarni, a Test centurion like six of the seven batsmen who preceded him, and, more importantly, the most miserly of bowlers, who once sent down twenty-seven (yes, twenty-seven) successive maiden overs against an England side. At nine would come L. Amar Singh, who was, so to say, the Kapil Dev of his day as a hitter of fours and sixes, a decent fielder, and, above all, a magnificent swing bowler.

Ten and jack are bowlers pure and simple. These are the superb legbreak-and-googly bowler, Subhas Gupte, and the speedster, Mohammed Nissar, who probably bowled faster than any other Indian and was known for an especially deadly yorker.

This eleven, like the more contemporary team which we chose before it, would also be open to (some) criticism. The all-rounders, Salim Durrani and Dattu Phadkar, would have their supporters, as also the batsman, Vijay Hazare. Mumbaikars might argue for the inclusion of N.S. Tamhane, perhaps the finest wicketkeeper India has produced, and whose case here is made stronger by the fact that he knew the wares of Gupte and Mankad especially well.

If the eleven outlined at the beginning of this column was a Dream Team, in so far as they actually never played together in real time, this one might be considered a Fantasy Eleven, since none of its members in fact played formal or official one-day cricket. Who would captain this side? The eleven picked by Rajdeep Sardesai and myself had six former captains. We eliminated Tendulkar and Azhar on the grounds that they were poor tacticians, and the other three because they had the burdens of being the side's wicket-keeper (Dhoni), leading pace bowler (Kapil), and main spinner (Kumble) respectively. So we picked Ganguly as captain, a choice which, we thought, would please the cricket-loving people of Bengal while embarrassing the cricket-illiterate promoters of the Kolkata Knight Riders.

The choice here is easier to make. Mankad, Umrigar, Amarnath, and Pataudi, former India captains all, would voluntarily waive their claims in favour of C.K. Nayudu, India's first captain, who shall lead this team with character and with authority.

We now have two elevens, and hence, a match. Here is how they line up:

ONE-DAY INDIAN DREAM TEAM // ONE-DAY INDIAN FANTASY ELEVEN

1. Sourav Ganguly// 1. S. Mushtaq Ali

2. Sachin Tendulkar // 2. Budhi Kunderan

3. Virender Sehwag// 3. M.A.K. Pataudi

4. Mohammed Azharuddin // 4. Polly Umrigar

5. Yuvraj Singh// 5. C.K. Nayudu

6. Mahendra Singh Dhoni// 6. Vinoo Mankad

7. Kapil Dev // 7. Lala Amarnath

8. Harbhajan Singh // 8. R.G. Nadkarni

9. Anil Kumble // 9. L. Amar Singh

10. Javagal Srinath //10. Subhas Gupte

11. Zaheer Khan //11. Mohammed Nissar

Were I a betting man, I would place my money on the latter eleven, speaking not as a historian prone to nostalgia but as a hard-headed student of cricket. The fielding is much better — contrast the lumbering legs of Dada, Sachin, Viru, Bhajji, Jumbo, Sri and Zak with the lithe athleticism of Mushtaq, Polly, C. K., Tiger, Amar Singh and company. The bowling is also immeasurably superior — if the new ball pairs are evenly matched, give me Gupte, Mankad and Nadkarni over Kumble and Harbhajan any day. Our oldies also have the edge in change or relief bowlers, for Nayudu, Polly and Mushtaq were real, wicket-taking bowlers, not hopeful trundlers of the Yuvraj or Sourav kind.

As for the batting, the first three of the moderns are clearly superior, but the middle order of the oldies seems more solid and convincing. At any rate, if Nissar yorks Ganguly (as well he might) and Gupte does Sehwag in the flight (as he so easily could) the moderns would be on the back foot in the first power play itself. Sachin would bravely carry on, but, frustrated by the superb fielding of Tiger and co., and the tardy progress of his partners, hole out in the middle orders to Mankad or Nadkarni. The tail might crawl their way to 200, a target comfortably within reach of a side where Umrigar bats at four, Mankad at six, and Amar Singh at nine.

ramachandraguha@yahoo.in

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

EDITORIAL

LACKING IN VISION

''MAMATA HAD AN EYE ON THE COMING ELECTIONS.''


Quite apart from the populist measures announced by her, railway minister Mamata Banerjee has firmly posed a cause for concern in her budget speech saying, "Indian Railways (IR) is passing through a very difficult phase" and that "testing time for IR continued in 2010-11." Thus, the minister has confirmed fears that all is not well in the world's single largest employer and fourth largest in terms of network. As passenger fares and freight charges remain untouched, there is a question mark over how the IR will raise funds for a host of new projects announced in the new budget. Also, at 92.1 per cent, operating ratio does not leave much funds to take up new projects. Operating ratio is a key indicator for the railways' finance and would impact unfavourably on profitability. The minister has blamed implementation of the sixth pay commission which increased the expenditure on staff and pension by an unprecedented 97 per cent or Rs 73,000 crore during the Ninth Plan period. Obviously, such a high spending on salary, etc would impact on internal generation for plan investment.

Income from freight has been a bread-winner for IR for a long time but an issue of grave concern for those manning the Rail Bhavan, headquarters of the IR, is the admission of the minister that the loading target had to be reduced by 20 million tonne to 924 mt. The IR has been cross subsidising passenger fares with freight fares leading to a decline in the freight traffic over the years. That this is the eighth successive year when the fares have not been increased tells a lot about the IR's dependability on cross-subsidy; never mind the fact that at Rs 57,630 crore this is the highest-ever outlay for IR. As for as raising resources, the minister has hoped for a gross budgetary support of Rs 20,000 crore, besides other means such as internal resources (Rs 14,219 crore), market borrowings (Rs 20,594 crore), tax free bonds (Rs 10,000 crore) and public-private-partnership (Rs 1,776 crore).

However, while measures like reduction in age for senior citizens (women) is welcome, Banerjee's budget is no doubt populist with a string of projects which she has gifted to many states. If one sees through the 47-page budget speech of the minister, it is obvious that the focus is on West Bengal and Kerala, the two states which are heading for elections this April-May.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

DEADLY TREMOR

''IT LIES IN THE EARTHQUAKE-PRONE RING OF FIRE.''


An earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale has struck Christchurch in New Zealand. Around 113 people have been killed and several hundreds are still missing. Rescue workers are working round the clock to save lives but hopes are fading. The destruction has been extensive. Tuesday's earthquake is the deadliest to hit New Zealand since 1931 when a tremor killed 236 people. It was less intense than the one which hit Christchurch six months ago. The September 2010 earthquake measured 7 on the Richter scale but no lives were lost. That seismic event had its epicentre 40 ku west of the town. The epicentre of the latest tremor was just 10 ku outside the city. Scores of buildings which were perhaps weakened in the earthquake last year were reduced to dust when hit by another one. Seismologists say that the latest earthquake has caused serious destruction because it was very shallow — only 5 ku underground unlike the one in September which was much deeper inside the earth. The death toll is expected to rise and many fear that casualties could surpass those in the 1931 quake.


New Zealand lies in the volcano and earthquake prone Ring of Fire, an area circling virtually the entire Pacific Rim where about 90 per cent of the world's earthquakes and 80 per cent of the largest earthquakes occur. New Zealand experiences around 14,000 tremors each year; most of them are minor and not felt. New Zealanders are therefore no strangers to earthquakes and generally take them in their stride. This was not the case on Tuesday as the tremor jolted their lives like never before.


Earthquakes are impossible to predict. But their devastation can be limited. New Zealand has put in place building codes to minimise damage when tremors happen. It has some of the strongest building codes in the world and these are respected by its citizens.


Devastation would have been far greater when the ground moved on Tuesday had the country not strengthened its buildings. Compare this to the situation in India where preparedness even for disasters that can be predicted is poor. Cyclones hit India's coast annually and their advance is predicted. But local communities are never prepared for disaster. More often than not, they have not even recovered from the previous disaster when another strikes. The efficiency with which New Zealand authorities are responding to the disaster should serve as a model for other countries.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

PM'S IMAGE AT STAKE

 RAMAKRISHNA UPADHYA

 

The prime minister did nothing for nearly two years as Raja disregarded his advice and made arbitrary allocation of 2G spectrum.


Now that the joint parliamentary committee to probe into the 2G spectrum allocation is finally in place and the CBI is also investigating into the Rs 1.76 lakh crore scam under the direct supervision of the supreme court, it is the responsibility of the UPA government to fully cooperate with the investigations and prove its bona fides before the people of the country.


If the Manmohan Singh government had accepted the opposition's legitimate demand for a JPC during the winter session of parliament itself, considering the weight of evidence that has already come out, it would have been saved the embarrassment it has gone through in the last few months.


The prime minister's statement in parliament on Thursday that his government is "committed to cleansing the public life" will be put to severe test in the days to come as its conduct so far has failed to inspire any such confidence. On the contrary, the Congress and government spokespersons have taken a stand that there was nothing wrong in 2G allocations and they even berated the Comptroller and Auditor General of India for 'exaggerating' the losses.

 

Manmohan Singh was rather blase about the allegations of corruption swirling around his government. It was only after the S-band spectrum scam in the Department of Space, presided over by him, hit the headlines, that a worried prime minister decided to address a "controlled media interaction" to clear some of the 'misconceptions.'

But his comments and defence were so pathetic, bizarre and sometimes even outrageous that he came across as a complete hypocrite and a leader without backbone.

 

He sought to distance himself from the 2G scam in the telecom sector, claiming that the arbitrary allocation of spectrum to handpicked bidders at a throwaway price was "never discussed with me." Apparently, the prime minister wrote a letter to then telecom minister A Raja as early as May 2009 — following complaints from companies kept out of bidding — that the minister should keep the transaction transparent. That letter is now public knowledge.

But the prime minister did nothing for nearly two years as Raja disregarded his advice and made arbitrary allocation of spectrum. He did not utter a word until CAG blew the lid off the scam. And yet, Manmohan Singh blandly told the media last week that "I was not in a position to make up my mind that anything was seriously wrong."

Later, speaking in the Lok Sabha on Thursday, the prime minister changed his stance slightly, saying, "while the policy was sound, the way it was implemented, I think, gave rise to problems." Clearly, he is still not ready to accept that there is a scam, though he assured the House that his government would cooperate with all investigating agencies and ensure that the truth comes out and "the guilty are punished." We have to wait and watch his government's actions.


The legacy factor

Presiding over India's destiny for the past seven years and having already become the country's third-longest serving prime minister, Manmohan Singh is acutely conscious of the legacy he is going to leave behind. He became prime minister when he least expected it and now has virtually become indispensable for the UPA coalition.

For someone with very little political background, the prime minister performed reasonably well in his first term, though he might have felt hamstrung by the Left parties, whose support was crucial for the survival of his government. When he could not have his way on the nuclear treaty with the US, he boldly jettisoned the Left parties, managed support from other disparate groups and kept the government afloat.


Manmohan Singh was the automatic choice for UPA-II which returned to power with a bigger mandate. But the performance of his government over the last two years has nosedived spectacularly as corruption cases against his ministers have tumbled out one by one, and on the economic front, the common man has been hit hard by rising inflation. His failure in political management would perhaps have been condoned, had the economist in him made determined efforts to control the prices.


Manmohan Singh's biggest asset was that he was considered an honest and sincere man. But the rising tide of scams around him, running into astronomical sums of money, has dented his image considerably. Increasingly, he appears a 'weak prime minister' who is prepared to turn a blind eye to unprecedented looting under his very nose.

The prime minister now has an opportunity to repair his dented image by treating the JPC as a non-partisan fact-finding body. His government should make a clean breast of the administrative lacunae which allowed Raja to treat the telecom ministry as his private fiefdom and ensure that the committee comes up with concrete suggestions to plug the loopholes.


Secondly, whether it is the 2G spectrum or the Commonwealth Games scam, the government should expeditiously initiate criminal action against the culprits and take necessary steps to recover as much of the loot as possible.


Thirdly, the laws should be suitably amended to confiscate the ill-gotten wealth from corrupt bureaucrats and politicians. It will go a long way in disincentivising corrupt practices.


The institutions of the Central Bureau of Investigation, the Central Vigilance Commission and the Lokayuktas at the state level should be made autonomous and given suo motu powers to deal with corruption at all levels.


The onus is entirely on the prime minister to prove that his promise of cleansing public life is not an empty one.

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

PROFITABLE BUSINESS

KHUSHWANT SINGH

 

I have discovered that throwing birthday parties can be very profitable business. A couple of weeks ago I invited around 20 friends to drinks on my official passport birthday.


From the morning, bouquets of flowers started arriving, many from people I did not know. At tea time arrived N P Thareja of Mianwali which is close to my village of birth Hadali.


He prospered in Delhi and set up Human Care Charitable Trust. I had not invited him but he got to know about it. He came loaded with gifts — a table clock, a torch and packets of Indian sweets. He is a great draw at any party as he reads peoples' palms — all my lady guests want their fortunes to be told. I don't believe in palmistry, horoscopy, astrology or any form of forecasting the fortune. But this time I was alone. So Thareja simply took my right hand, measured my life-line and pronounced "102". I replied: "I don't think so."

Before my guests arrived, came a birthday cake and lots of canapes gifted by Mrs Charanjit Singh, owner of the Le Meridien. Then my other guests streamed in. I had put out two bottles of vintage Scotch, soda and mineral water bottles for them. A little over one bottle was consumed. In return I got three bottles of Scotch, an expensive Bhutanese silken shawl, three coffee tablers each worth over Rs 2,000, many boxes of chocolates. I had good reasons to celebrate.


I have another birthday closer to what might have been the real one of which only my grandmother had a rough idea. It is in mid-August. I have to take care that I do not invite any I did on February 2.


With love from Bangladesh

The following news item appeared in 'New Age' of Dhaka last December: "The deceased man has been identified as Yunus Bapari," a police spokesman told reporters in Faridpur, "a 46-year-old rickshaw driver from Mulalidaha. It seems that at about 11 am on Monday, Yunus went to a village fair at Brahmankana, accompanied by his two wives. At the fair, he was accosted by a woman who claimed to be his wife, an event which triggered a heated family discussion, because his first two wives did not know that he had a third wife, and his third wife did not know about the first two.


"There was a massive argument, during which the third wife revealed that he also had a fourth wife in the village of Kabirpur. This was another wife of whom the first two wives knew nothing, so the three women took him to the village and located the residence of the fourth wife. Another heated argument ensued, which ended with all four wives joining forces and mercilessly beating Yunus up. He was admitted to Faridpur Medical College Hospital in a critical condition at 5.40 am and died shortly afterwards. Under Shariah law, Yunus was entitled to have four wives, but only with the consent of his existing wives, which in this case it appears he did not have. An unnatural death case has been filed with Kotwali police station."


Where did I get it from? From 'Private Eye' of London.


RIP Manjunath


There used to be in Lakhanpur Kheri, UP, a Manjunath
Who richly deserved the oil mafia's wrath
For preventing them from committing robbery
Continually and openly;
And what else could that mafia do
If Manmad additional district collector too
Into a fit of rage flies
And obstructs their honest
enterprise,
Except set him aflame
Because that's the rule of the game!
And why should one per cent of the bureaucracy
Be a black sheep to its
fraternity
And question the integrity
Of the mining mafia,
blackmarketeer and the
adulterator!
How can anybody be a whistle blower
And escape murder!
(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Generation gap

My neighbour's 12-year-old skinny, lanky son needed a new shirt. He and his wife took him to a shopping mall and the search began. In the boys' size in one hand and the smallest men's size in the other, his wife gave him a long look. "Son," she said at last, "do you realise you are now in the generation gap?"
(Contributed by Reeten Ganguly, Tezpur)

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

LESSONS FROM MARVIN DOROTHY VICTOR
AS I PATTED HIM, HE SPRANG TO HIS FEET WITH BARKS IMPLORING ME TO STAY.

You can love him, or you can hate him; but you just can't ignore him. He is all over the place; in our roads and in our homes. Interestingly, for most people the world over, he is in their hearts. This is precisely what I learnt during my one week's stay at my sister's place last summer. Among the family members was their pet 'Marvin,' a two-year old Labrador.

For someone like me, not particularly a lover of pets, he was initially a menace. However, I dared not voice my opinion, as I understood from day one that he was the blue-eyed boy of all at home. He was well-fed, nurtured, cared for and thoroughly pampered. Such was his blissful life that once a friend visiting my sister jokingly remarked that he would love to be born as Marvin in his next birth!

As we laughed, I contemplated the truth behind the reality. It dawned on me that all this affection and attention that Marvin received did not come to him on a platter. Rather, I was convinced that he earned every bit it. His show of affection for my sister's family was beyond any human comparison. First thing every morning, he would greet us with a spontaneous wagging of his elegantly long tail. He was very protective of the house and its members. Whenever he spotted an unfamiliar face at the door, he would hasten to warn us. Every waking hour his energy was spent in displaying his affection, even as he made the people around him the centre of his life. Watching him helped me comprehend why dogs are the greatest winner of friends the world has ever known.

At the end of one week it was time for me to leave. I said goodbyes with the same trepidation that such partings bring. I bid farewell to all, including dear Marvin. As I patted him, he sprang to his feet with barks imploring me to stay. All too soon, I realised why Marvin was a true member of the family.

That summer I learnt these from Marvin — how to love children, how to be robust, how to take delight in games, how to be a friend, how to express pleasure when treated well, how to guard faithfully the interests of those who care for you and lastly how to express loyalty through small gestures. Kudos to man's best friend!

 

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

EDITORIAL

THE WAR ON WOMEN

Republicans in the House of Representatives are mounting an assault on women's health and freedom that would deny millions of women access to affordable contraception and life-saving cancer screenings and cut nutritional support for millions of newborn babies in struggling families. And this is just the beginning.

The budget bill pushed through the House last Saturday included the defunding of Planned Parenthood and myriad other cuts detrimental to women. It's not likely to pass unchanged, but the urge to compromise may take a toll on these programs. And once the current skirmishing is over, House Republicans are likely to use any legislative vehicle at hand to continue the attack.

The egregious cuts in the House resolution include the elimination of support for Title X, the federal family planning program for low-income women that provides birth control, breast and cervical cancer screenings, and testing for H.I.V. and other sexually transmitted diseases. In the absence of Title X's preventive care, some women would die. The Guttmacher Institute, a leading authority on reproductive health, says a rise in unintended pregnancies would result in some 400,000 more abortions a year.

An amendment offered by Representative Mike Pence, Republican of Indiana, would bar any financing of Planned Parenthood. A recent sting operation by an anti-abortion group uncovered an errant employee, who was promptly fired. That hardly warrants taking aim at an irreplaceable network of clinics, which uses no federal dollars in providing needed abortion care. It serves one in five American women at some point in her lifetime.

The House resolution would slash support for international family planning and reproductive health care. And it would reimpose the odious global "gag" rule, which forbids giving federal money to any group that even talks about abortions. That rule badly hampered family planning groups working abroad to prevent infant and maternal deaths before President Obama lifted it.

(Mr. Obama has tried to act responsibly. He has rescinded President George W. Bush's wildly overreaching decision to grant new protections to health providers who not only will not perform abortions, but also will not offer emergency contraception to rape victims or fill routine prescriptions for contraceptives.)

In negotiations over the health care bill last year, Democrats agreed to a scheme intended to stop insurance companies from offering plans that cover abortions. Two bills in the Republican House would go even further in denying coverage to the 30 percent or so of women who have an abortion during child-bearing years.

One of the bills, offered by Representative Joe Pitts of Pennsylvania, has a provision that would allow hospitals receiving federal funds to refuse to terminate a pregnancy even when necessary to save a woman's life.

Beyond the familiar terrain of abortion or even contraception, House Republicans would inflict harm on low-income women trying to have children or who are already mothers.

Their continuing resolution would cut by 10 percent the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children, better known as WIC, which serves 9.6 million low-income women, new mothers, and infants each month, and has been linked in studies to higher birth weight and lower infant mortality.

The G.O.P. bill also slices $50 million from the block grant supporting programs providing prenatal health care to 2.5 million low-income women and health care to 31 million children annually. President Obama's budget plan for next year calls for a much more modest cut.

These are treacherous times for women's reproductive rights and access to essential health care. House Republicans mistakenly believe they have a mandate to drastically scale back both even as abortion warfare is accelerating in the states. To stop them, President Obama's firm leadership will be crucial. So will the rising voices of alarmed Americans.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

3 TO 2 FOR HEALTH CARE REFORM

Enormous attention has been focused on rulings by two federal district judges who found the new health care reform law unconstitutional. Less attention has been paid to rulings by three judges who upheld the law's constitutionality.

The latest ruling, by Judge Gladys Kessler of the Federal District Court for the District of Columbia, provides a reasoned analysis of why appellate courts and ultimately the Supreme Court ought to uphold the law.

The crucial issue is whether a requirement that almost everyone obtain health insurance in 2014 or pay a penalty can be imposed by Congress under the powers granted to it by the Constitution, especially the power to regulate interstate commerce.

The two judges who found the law unconstitutional concluded that Congress cannot regulate "inactivity" — the failure to purchase health insurance — as if it were an "economic activity" that affects interstate commerce. But Judge Kessler rightly noted that when people without insurance become sick and seek care, the costs are usually shifted to other participants in the health markets, to federal and state governments, and to taxpayers.

She called it "pure semantics" to argue that people who choose to forgo health insurance are not "acting," especially given the economic impact on others. "Making a choice is an affirmative action, whether one decides to do something or not do something," she added.

However, in a blow to supporters of the reform law, Judge Kessler sided with all of the judges who have considered the issue and ruled that Congress could not rely on its power to raise taxes for the general welfare to justify requiring people to buy insurance or pay a penalty. She argued from the bill's legislative history that Congress did not intend for the penalty to operate as a tax.

Fierce politics and ideology have driven the debate over health care reform in Washington. And it is unfortunately playing out that way in the courts as well. The two judges who have ruled against reform were both appointed by Republican presidents. The three who have ruled in favor were appointed by President Bill Clinton. Despite that, we firmly believe that the law and the Constitution are clearly on the side of reform.

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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

Look at the Science

Every winter, some of Yellowstone National Park's more than 3,000 bison wander out of the park seeking better grazing. When they do, they are either shot, hazed back into the park or corralled for possible slaughter, all in accordance with a plan developed by the Interior and Agriculture Departments and the State of Montana. It is time to change that plan, which was based on bad science and has now been rendered obsolete by new regulations from the U.S.D.A.

The longstanding fear is that bison will infect cattle with brucellosis, which causes miscarriages. Draconian U.S.D.A. rules further reinforced that fear. A single case of brucellosis meant a rancher had to destroy an entire cattle herd, and the state risked losing its brucellosis-free status, making it much harder to ship cattle out of state.

Brucellosis has never been transmitted from bison to cattle in the wild. Among cattle, it is now being treated as a normal, containable disease. Scientists have demonstrated that ultraviolet radiation — sunlight — destroys the bacteria, meaning the risk of transmission is vanishingly small from bison, who move out of the park in winter, and cattle, which reach those areas in midsummer.

The Agriculture Department has sensibly revised its rules on cattle. Now only an infected animal is destroyed, and states no longer risk losing their brucellosis-free status if a small number of cattle are infected. But the policy of slaughtering or hazing bison continues.

At present, some 500 bison are penned up near Gardiner, Mont., awaiting testing and slaughter. A federal judge has authorized the slaughter, but Montana's governor, Brian Schweitzer, has blocked it — not to rescue the animals but because he fears that transporting them might lead somehow to contact between bison and cattle.

These penned bison should be tested and all but the infected ones released. And the ranching community, the Interior Department and Montana need to acknowledge that bison leaving Yellowstone is not a serious problem.

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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

JUPITER'S EL SOL

BY LAWRENCE DOWNES

The seaside town of Jupiter, Fla., has lots of immigrant day laborers, which makes it scarcely different from hundreds of towns across the country. Men started showing up on street corners there a few years ago, taking manual jobs in construction, landscaping and carpentry. It was — in the boom years, anyway — a good match of labor demand and supply.

The changes brought consternation, too, as groups of men turned quiet sidewalks into traffic-snarling hiring bazaars. Residents complained and anti-immigrant anger grew. It's an old script, but here is where Jupiter gets extraordinary. In 2006, workers and residents banded together, with the town's help, to create a hiring site. It brought both order to the streets and immigrant families into the community.

The site, run by nonprofit groups in a building leased from the town, offers job referrals. But it also offers job training, counseling, language and sewing classes, health services and a food pantry. Eighteen workers recently volunteered to build a playground outside the police department in West Palm Beach. They call the center El Sol, not just for the sun, but for the man who helped create it, Sol Silverman.

Jupiter has now also set up a sister-city relationship with Jacaltenango, Guatemala, the little Mayan village where so many of its newest residents were born.

Hiring sites like Jupiter's are not going to fix America's ramshackle immigration system. A recent documentary about Jupiter and Jacaltenango, "Brother Towns," shows the pain and damage of a labor market fueled by desperation — the perils of the desert crossing, the women whose husbands return home in coffins, the children who grow up recognizing their fathers only as a photo and a voice over the phone.

But it would be foolish to think immigrant labor can be wished or persecuted away. It is the wise community that resolves to do what it can to help day laborers — and itself — instead of waiting for the great solution that hasn't arrived.

Nobody has the one big immigration answer. But Jupiter has an answer, one that supplies more order, lawfulness and compassion than all the screaming in so many other cities across the country. 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

PRESIDENTIAL PRIMARY BOOK CLUB

BY GAIL COLLINS

One of a journalist's most important duties is to seek out information in places the readers wouldn't go themselves, like following troops into combat or covering charter revision commission hearings. In that spirit, I have been reading all the books written by likely candidates for the Republican presidential nomination.

Almost all. Some. It's one thing to tackle the oeuvre of Tim Pawlenty, which is one book. But our author today, Mike Huckabee, has written nearly a dozen, including "Living Beyond Your Lifetime," "Can't Wait Till Christmas" and "Quit Digging Your Grave With a Knife and Fork." We are just going to stick to his I-want-to-be-president efforts.

I know you would rather hear about Christmas and dieting. But be serious. We have a campaign to prepare for.

Huckabee, you will remember, ran for president in 2008 and was regarded as the most likable guy in the Republican debates. This was not actually all that heavy a lift and he has an excellent chance of continuing the tradition, if the rest of the field is Mitt Romney, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum.

His political intentions are still a little hazy, but personally, I hope he runs. I am looking forward to having more opportunities to discuss his revelation during the last campaign that when he was in college, he used to fry squirrels in a popcorn popper in the dorm room.

Also, it will be interesting to see exactly which Huckabee shows up. The guy who wrote his early books does not much resemble his most recent literary incarnation. Both authors dislike big government, but I believe it is only the new Huckabee who hates government-subsidized school breakfasts. ("Our pioneer forebears — who grew the wheat for their toast and the apples for their juice, who raised the cow for their milk — would be appalled at how pathetic many of us have become.")

Huckabee's new book, which he will be signing in Iowa this weekend, is called "A Simple Government: Twelve Things We Really Need From Washington (And a Trillion That We Don't!)" This guy has a real thing about the number 12. Witness "A Simple Christmas: Twelve Stories That Celebrate the True Holiday Spirit."

And then there's my favorite, "From Hope to Higher Ground," which was written by the rather sweet-natured 2007 Mike Huckabee. It has 12 chapters with titles like "STOP Robbing the Taxpayers" and "STOP Abusing Our Planet." Each chapter ends with 12 "action steps" that you, the reader, can take to accomplish the goal. By the end you have a 144-item to-do list, ranging from "Buy Girl Scout cookies" to "Run for office!"

Some of the action steps are extremely practical ("Keep receipts for tax-deductible items") and some are unarguable. ("Always say 'Thank you.' ") However, I'm not sure that I'm prepared to stop people I see taking their kids shopping and say: "It just does my heart good to see a parent spend time with his/her child!"

That old Mike Huckabee spent his defining years as a minister and had sympathy for the most ostracized of the downtrodden, like illegal immigrants. "It hardly seems Americans should truly feel threatened by people who pluck chickens, pick tomatoes, make beds, wash dishes or mow lawns," he wrote in "From Hope to Higher Ground."

The best solution to the problem, he said, was to allow people who are here illegally to "pay a reasonable fine" and then put them on a path to legal citizenship. (The to-do list recommended: "Attend a naturalization ceremony.")

The new book, however, is by a Huckabee whose defining life experience seems to have been hanging out at the Fox studios. Perhaps he contracted some sort of personality-changing virus. Or maybe visitors from another planet swooped down and switched his brain with Glenn Beck's.

In "A Simple Government," Huckabee laces into Democrats for suggesting that illegals "pay a fine and back taxes" and then be put on a path to legal citizenship. That's "amnesty!" Mike 2.0 hates it!

The new book is basically one long howl about the Obama White House, whose occupants Huckabee compares to "the kid in school who waves his A test score in front of the entire class but never gets picked to play baseball. He's an arrogant nerd, and no matter how smart he is, he can't hit, he can't throw and he can't run."

This is after he warns, in the introduction, that "if you've come here looking for a personal attack on President Obama and those in Washington, you should head to another shelf in the bookstore." That's on Page 1. The brain-switching space alien arrived somewhere around Page 6.

His current book tour may take him to your hometown any day. If it does, ask him about the illegal immigrants. Also, whether the squirrels were dead before they got popped.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

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THE G.O.P.'S ABANDONED BABIES

BY CHARLES M. BLOW

Republicans need to figure out where they stand on children's welfare. They can't be "pro-life" when the "child" is in the womb but indifferent when it's in the world. Allow me to illustrate just how schizophrenic their position has become through the prism of premature babies.

Of the 33 countries that the International Monetary Fund describes as "advanced economies," the United States now has the highest infant mortality rate according to data from the World Bank. It took us decades to arrive at this dubious distinction. In 1960, we were 15th. In 1980, we were 13th. And, in 2000, we were 2nd.

Part of the reason for our poor ranking is that declines in our rates stalled after premature births — a leading cause of infant mortality as well as long-term developmental disabilities — began to rise in the 1990s.

The good news is that last year the National Center for Health Statistics reported that the rate of premature births fell in 2008, representing the first two-year decline in the last 30 years.

Dr. Jennifer L. Howse, the president of the March of Dimes, which in 2003 started a multimillion-dollar premature birth campaign focusing on awareness and education, has said of the decline: "The policy changes and programs to prevent preterm birth that our volunteers and staff have worked so hard to bring about are starting to pay off."

The bad news is that, according to the March of Dimes, the Republican budget passed in the House this month could do great damage to this progress. The budget proposes:

• $50 million in cuts to the Maternal and Child Health Block Grant that "supports state-based prenatal care programs and services for children with special needs."

• $1 billion in cuts to programs at the National Institutes of Health that support "lifesaving biomedical research aimed at finding the causes and developing strategies for preventing preterm birth."

• Nearly $1 billion in cuts to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its preventive health programs, including to its preterm birth studies.

This is the same budget in which House Republicans voted to strip all federal financing for Planned Parenthood.

It is savagely immoral and profoundly inconsistent to insist that women endure unwanted — and in some cases dangerous — pregnancies for the sake of "unborn children," then eliminate financing designed to prevent those children from being delivered prematurely, rendering them the most fragile and vulnerable of newborns. How is this humane?

And it doesn't even make economic sense. A 2006 study by the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies estimated that premature births cost the country at least $26 billion a year. At that rate, reducing the number of premature births by just 10 percent would save thousands of babies and $2.6 billion — more than the proposed cuts to the programs listed, programs that also provide a wide variety of other services.

This type of budgetary policy is penny-wise and pound-foolish — and ultimately deadly. Think about that the next time you hear Republican representatives tout their "pro-life" bona fides. Think about that the next time someone uses the heinous term "baby killer."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

ABSORBING THE PAIN

BY BOB HERBERT

Philadelphia

Lynda Hiller teared up. "We're struggling real bad," she said, "and it's getting harder every day."

A handful of people were sitting around a dining room table in a row house in North Philadelphia on Wednesday, talking about the problems facing working people in America. The setting outside the house on West Harold Street was grim. The remnants of a snowstorm lined the curbs and a number of people, obviously down on their luck, were moving about the struggling neighborhood. Some were panhandling.

The small gathering had been arranged by a group called Working America, which is affiliated with the A.F.L.-C.I.O., but the people at the meeting did not belong to unions. They were just there to talk in an atmosphere of mutual support.

What struck me about the conversation was the way people talked in normal tones about the equivalent of a hurricane ripping through their lives, leaving little but destruction in its wake.

Ms. Hiller had come in from Allentown. She's 63 years old and still undergoing treatment for breast cancer. Her husband, Howard, who was not at the meeting, had been a long-distance truck driver for 35 years before losing his job in 2007, the same year Ms. Hiller received her diagnosis. Mr. Hiller thought at the time that with all of his experience he would find another job pretty quickly. He was mistaken.

"He looked for two years," Ms. Hiller said. "He applied every place he could, sometimes four or five times at the same company. He went everywhere, to every job fair you can think of, to every place where there was even a mention of an opening. But for every job that came available, there were 20 people or more who showed up for it."

Last fall, Mr. Hiller took a part-time job as a dishwasher at a Red Lobster restaurant. "It's a job," Ms. Hiller said. "It's not fancy. It's not truck driving."

And it was not enough for them to keep their home. Ms. Hiller lost her job at a bank when she became ill. With both paychecks gone, meeting the mortgage became impossible. The Hillers lost their home and are now living day to day. "If my husband can get 30 hours of work in a week, then maybe we can pay some bills," Ms. Hiller said. "If he can't, we can't. We've downsized our lives so much."

The meeting was in the home of Elizabeth Lassiter, a certified nursing assistant whose job is in Hatfield, Pa., about 45 minutes north of Philadelphia. She doesn't earn a lot or get benefits, but it's a big step up from last year when she was working part time in Warminster and for a while had to sleep in her car.

"Back then I was working for a nursing agency and they kept saying they didn't have full-time work," she said. Until she could raise enough money for an apartment, the car was her only option. "I needed someplace to lay my head," she said. "It was very hard."

These are the kinds of stories you might expect from a country staggering through a depression, not the richest and supposedly most advanced society on earth. If these were exceptional stories, there would be less reason for concern. But they are in no way extraordinary. Similar stories abound throughout the United States.

Among the many heartening things about the workers fighting back in Wisconsin, Ohio and elsewhere is the spotlight that is being thrown on the contemptuous attitude of the corporate elite and their handmaidens in government toward ordinary working Americans: police officers and firefighters, teachers, truck drivers, janitors, health care aides, and so on. These are the people who do the daily grunt work of America. How dare we treat them with contempt.

It would be a mistake to think that this fight is solely about the right of public employees to collectively bargain. As important as that issue is, it's just one skirmish in what's shaping up as a long, bitter campaign to keep ordinary workers, whether union members or not, from being completely overwhelmed by the forces of unrestrained greed in this society.

The predators at the top, billionaires and millionaires, are pitting ordinary workers against one another. So we're left with the bizarre situation of unionized workers with a pension being resented by nonunion workers without one. The swells are in the background, having a good laugh.

I asked Lynda Hiller if she felt generally optimistic or pessimistic. She was quiet for a moment, then said: "I don't think things are going to get any better. I think we're going to hit rock bottom. The big shots are in charge, and they just don't give a darn about the little person."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

PAYING FOR OLD AGE

BY HENRY T. C. HU AND TERRANCE ODEAN

LIFE expectancy at birth for Americans is about 78. But many Americans will die well before then, while others, like Eunice Sanborn, who died in Texas last month, will live to be 114.

Anyone planning for retirement must answer an impossible question: How long will I live? If you overestimate your longevity, you might scrimp unnecessarily. If you underestimate, you might outlive your savings.

This is hardly a new problem — and yet not a single financial product offers a satisfactory solution to this risk.

We believe that a new product — a federally issued, inflation-adjusted annuity — would make it possible for people to deal with this problem, with the bonus of contributing to the public coffers. By doing good for individuals, the federal government could actually do well for itself.

The insurance industry sells an inflation-adjusted annuity that goes part of the way toward helping people cope with the possibility of outliving their savings. During your working years or at the time of retirement, you can pay a premium to an insurance company in exchange for the promise that the company will pay you a fixed annual income, adjusted for inflation, until you die.

But in a world in which A.I.G. had an excellent rating only days before it became a ward of the state, how can someone — particularly a young person — know for sure which insurance companies will be solvent half a century from now? Annuities aren't federally guaranteed. The only backstops are state-based systems, and the current protection ceilings are sometimes modest. If an insurance company goes under, the retiree may end up with nothing close to what was promised.

The federal government can offer a product that solves that problem. Individuals would face no more risk of default than that associated with Treasury bills and other obligations backed by the United States.

Here's how it would work. Initially, people who wanted to buy this insurance would enroll through one of the qualified retirement savings plans already offered to the public, like a 401(k) plan, and could choose this annuity option instead of, or in addition to, investments in stocks, bonds or mutual funds.

How much the payouts would be could be based on a variety of factors, including interest rates on government bonds; mortality tables that, among other things, take into account that healthier people are more likely to buy annuities; and administrative costs. This new product wouldn't cost the government a penny. In fact, the Treasury would benefit. It is only an incremental move beyond issuing inflation-adjusted bonds, which the Treasury already does. By allowing the government to tap a new class of investors, the cost of government borrowing over all would probably drop.

Moreover, by expanding the government's base of domestic investors, the plan would help address overreliance on foreign lenders, who now own close to half of all outstanding federal debt — nearly 10 times the proportion in 1970. True, the government would be on the hook if a technological breakthrough caused an unanticipated increase in life expectancy. But that's a risk that the government is already bearing implicitly: that is, a drastic enough increase could threaten the solvency of private issuers of annuities as well as the many retirees who don't have annuities, creating pressure for government bailouts of insurers or individuals. Taking on the risk explicitly and pricing the fair cost of this risk into the annuities is a far preferable route.

There is also the concern that government-issued annuities would crowd out private annuity sales. To the contrary: they could spur growth in private annuities. Since the inflation-adjusted monthly payments on such risk-free government annuities would be low, many retirees may choose to supplement them with riskier, higher-paying annuities.

Furthermore, insurance companies could be allowed to package the government-issued annuities with their own products, creating appealing combinations that mix safety and the potential for higher returns.

Our proposal is a winner for everyone. The Treasury could lower borrowing costs and diversify its investor base while acknowledging and budgeting for risk that it already bears. Individuals could eliminate the risk of living too long. By looking at the promised rate of return on the annuities, individuals will have a better sense of how much they need to save. The Eunice Sanborns of the world, as well as all taxpayers, would rest a little easier at night.

Henry T. C. Hu is a professor at the University of Texas School of Law. Terrance Odean is a finance professor at the University of California at Berkeley.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

 

MIDEAST TROUBLE AND OUR MONEY

How many times, over several decades, have we Americans reacted to high world oil prices and supply disruptions by resolving to become "oil independent"?

We increase the miles per gallon our cars get, and we spend lots of tax dollars to promote "alternative fuels" — some of which cause their own problems — to become less dependent on other nations. But when pressures ease, our determination to act eases, too. And we even put vast domestic oil supplies off limits for shaky environmental reasons.

Well, here we are again. Thousands of miles separate the United States from the wildly troubled Middle East — but serious unrest in the Middle East is separating Americans from a lot of the dollars in our pocketbooks.

That's because we Americans are big users of gasoline. And the Middle East and North Africa produce 29 percent of the world's oil. The trouble is, many of the nations in that area are autocratic or unstable. And while Europe is most heavily dependent upon oil from that region, supply there affects prices throughout the world.

Of course, there is, and should be, intense concern for the people of Libya in particular, as many have been gunned down by their government for demanding greater liberty. But in the midst of America's economic crisis, it is not inappropriate to point out that skyrocketing fuel prices are harming millions of people who are unemployed or who are otherwise struggling to make ends meet.

Disruptions in Libya alone are cutting world oil supplies by three-quarters of a million barrels a day. And oil prices in recent days have fluctuated from just above $97 to more than $103 for a 42-gallon barrel. Watch the signs at our local gas stations and you will see prices above $3 per gallon — and rising fast.

So when you fill up your car's gas tank next time — and fork over more money — consider what you believe we should do to avoid price and supply problems in the future.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

REMARKABLE CANDOR

Many politicians don't talk much about reforming huge entitlements such as Social Security and Medicare because it's too easy for opponents to paint economizers — falsely — as wanting to "hurt senior citizens." Elected officials just don't consider it worth the political risk, even though the entitlement programs are headed toward bankruptcy.

So it was refreshing when the no-nonsense Republican governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, stated in stark terms exactly what is on the minds of many people. Speaking at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, he said it is time to stop the "dangerous" Washington game of avoiding the issue.

Then he made these electrifying, candid remarks:

"We need to say these things, and we need to say them out loud. When we say we're cutting spending, when we say everything is on the table, when we say we mean entitlement programs, we should be specific.

"And let me tell you what is the truth. What's the truth that nobody's talking about? Here is the truth that nobody's talking about: You're going to have to raise the retirement age for Social Security. Oh, I just said it and I'm still standing here! I did not vaporize into the carpeting and I said it!

"We have to reform Medicare because it costs too much and it is going to bankrupt us. Once again, lightning did not come through the windows and strike me dead. And we have to fix Medicaid because it's not only bankrupting the federal government, it's bankrupting every state government.

"There you go. If we're not honest about these things, on the state level about pensions and benefits and on the federal level about Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, we are on the path to ruin."

Exactly! But how much evidence do you see that Congress and President Barack Obama are being "honest" about the need to reform our unsound entitlement programs?

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

OOMING 'HOT-LANTA'!

 

We Chattanoogans rejoice that we have a wonderful, growing community, with Volkswagen and other companies promising several thousand more jobs and much economic progress. But we still marvel at predictions that "Hot-lanta," 125 miles south of us, soon will be booming.

Atlanta's 20-county metro region is expected to add 3 million people and 1.5 million jobs — and have a population of 8.3 million — by 2040.

There'll be problems, of course — water demands, clogged freeways and more. But watch out. Atlanta is economically "hot"!

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

UNION GROWTH VS. AIRLINE SECURITY

BECAUSE GOVERNMENT WORKERS SERVE THE PUBLIC AND ARE PAID WITH TAXPAYER DOLLARS, IT IS NOT APPROPRIATE FOR THEM TO BE UNIONIZED.

Nevertheless, in the United States today there are actually more unionized government workers than unionized private-sector workers. That puts a huge tax burden on the American people, because unionized government workers — especially at the federal level — enjoy much more generous compensation packages than comparable private-sector employees.

Now, the Obama administration is unwisely granting collective-bargaining rights to 40,000 airport screeners — who are federal employees. The screeners have the job of preventing bombs, guns, knives or other weapons from getting onto planes, where they could be used for hijackings similar to those that killed thousands of Americans on Sept. 11, 2001.

Unfortunately, the effectiveness of those security protocols has been called into question. Not long ago, ABC News reported that there was almost a 70 percent failure rate at some major airports in security tests conducted by undercover federal officials. Bomb parts, firearms, knives and such got past the screeners.

It was wrong several years ago when the screeners were made federal employees to begin with. That failed to make them suddenly more effective than private screeners, but it added big costs.

It is even worse to give the screeners collective-bargaining rights. There should be absolutely no concern on the part of the flying public that security will be jeopardized by work slowdowns by unionized screeners. Nor should the Transportation Security Administration be hamstrung by cumbersome union rules in its attempt to protect airline passengers. The TSA needs to be flexible and nimble in carrying out its duties and in hiring and firing employees to respond to changing security needs. That is not possible when stifling union rules are in place, which is why certain other sensitive federal positions are denied collective-bargaining rights.

"The FBI, the CIA and the Secret Service do not have collective-bargaining rights for good reason," said U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker, R-Miss., in opposing granting union rights to airport screeners.

While we do not believe government workers should be unionized at all, that is especially true of those who guard public safety. The question that should be asked is whether unionizing those employees will enhance our security. Since there is no indication that it will, airport screeners should not be granted collective-bargaining rights.

President Barack Obama depends on Big Labor for campaign support, but in this case, the risk of compromising public safety is too high a price to pay to support his union allies.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

BANKRUPTCY OF THE EU'S MEDITERRANEAN POLICY

GİLA BENMAYOR

Since the breakout of the upheaval in Libya, I've been glued before the TV set.

Happenings in Moammar Gadhafi's country, compared to those in Egypt and Tunisia, are like a horror movie.

We've known all along how crazy, megalomaniac and eccentric Gadhafi, who viciously keeps firing against his own people, is.

However, the most educated son of Gadhafi, Saif al-Islam Gadhafi, with whom I had a chance to meet at the World Economic Forum in the Swiss town of Davos a few years ago, seems to follow the footsteps of his father.

On the second or third day of the uprising in Libya, Saif al-Islam appeared on TV and made a threat of civil war.

And now he says: "Under no circumstances will we leave our country. We will die here."

As we met in Davos, however, he painted in glowing colors how Libya would be modernized, how involved they were in economic reforms. Saif al-Islam talked about economic reforms in length, but when we journalists asked about political reforms, he had said at a lower pitch, "Libyan people have no such demand."

By looking at the bloodshed and unbelievable chaos in Libya, where 30,000 mercenary soldiers spread terror, I remember Saif al-Islam's remarks, "I have a vision of a modern country having a competitive economy and people who have reached Western standards."

Europe-Mediterranean dialogue

I think Libya would be the only country on earth to achieve having a competitive economy without democracy.

Incidents in Libya, rather than those in Tunisia and Egypt, seem to have the European Union in a panic.

Honestly, I am curious about how the EU leaders feel, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in particular, for they have received Gadhafi with open arm in recent years.

Of course, policies that have been supporting the formation of authoritarian regimes and overlooking demands of peoples way before Berlusconi and Sarkozy – since the 1960s – should be questioned as well.

As you may remember, Europe launched the Barcelona Process in 1995 in order to create an atmosphere of dialogue with peoples of the poor countries beyond the Mediterranean.

The main reason for the launch of this process was to elevate the prosperity level of poor southern countries and therefore prevent waves of migration to rich countries.

I, as a member of the Mediterranean Woman Journalists, which emerged with the Barcelona Process, have followed this "Europe-Mediterranean" dialogue for years.

As the Barcelona Process more or less worked, the EU wanted to help democracy to sprout in the region by establishing contacts with non-governmental organizations and by earmarking considerable amount of funds for the region.

Sarkozy's initiative unsuccessful, too

A sermon to the converted.

Due to not volunteering to review the relations with authoritarian regimes, the policy didn't work.

Some have seen Sarkozy's Union for the Mediterranean initiative, which he introduced a few years ago, as the continuation of the Barcelona Process.

We have not seen the fruits of the initiative yet, though Sarkozy made a swift entry.

In the end, I believe the Barcelona Process of the EU, starting with the Mediterranean policies, has already been bankrupted.

At the beginning of the week the European Investment Bank, or EIB, as the block's financial body, announced the allocation of 6 billion euros credit for the Mediterranean countries in the 2011-2013 period.

The amount is twice the EIB's previous commitment for the same period.

The bank has stressed that loans would be provided to countries such as Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco, Jordan and Syria for an easier "transition period to democracy."

I wouldn't know how 6 billion euros would help after all.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

A BIRD'S EYE VIEW - EURO! WHAT EURO?

ADVENA AVIS

While all the so-called heads of state or government of the European Union are constantly meeting in Brussels in order to save the euro or to tell Arab leaders that they must listen to the will of their people, some of the European people are independently planning for the post-euro era of Europe. 

In eight EU countries (Austria, Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary and Italy), there exist associations or organizations that are using alternative currencies and local exchange systems. With their local currency, which is not the euro, they proceed to carry out transactions of all kinds. The membership in these organizations is from 60,000 people maximum to seven minimum. And some of them have been functioning since 1995. However most of them have developed in the last three to four years.

Let us see now what their objectives are, and we quote: "revitalizing the local market, the protection of the environment, shaping a new social architecture, enhancing the quality of the life of its members, the development of micro-enterprise, community development, social integration, the creation of a society of solidarity, contributing toward a sustainable society and benefits for youth."

These are noble objectives which seem to have been achieved since there are no politicians involved. And if the economy of the country in which these organizations function collapses, these organizations, being independent from the general economy of the country, will continue functioning as they function now. They can also devalue their currency if necessary to make their products more competitive.

So EU politicians should stop threatening each other by shouting that if the euro collapses, it will be the end of everything. It will not be the end of everything. It might be the end of the present generation of politicians. But the European people are already preparing the basis for the post-euro era of Europe. For more information on the complementary currencies, head to www.complementarycurrency.org/

We have chirped many times in the past about the lack of communication between you humans. You speak and no one listens to you and you do not listen to anyone. Now it seems that you do not pay attention even when you read a speech. A few weeks ago a minister from India the speech of his Portuguese colleague at the General Assembly of the U.N. read for three minutes before understanding his gaffe. This proves our point. For three minutes the Indian minister did not know what he was saying. And when he did he apologized. So these are the communication problems that you humans face. If you solve them then you may even do away with war. 

Ponder our thoughts, dear humans, for your benefit.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

MERYEM'S OUTCRY

EYÜP CAN

Meryem İlayda Atlas is a female student who wears a headscarf and is enrolled in a master's program at Istanbul's Boğaziçi University. She sent a long letter the other day.

I stress that she wears a headscarf because she, through a pious woman's eyes, sincerely criticizes the male-dominant understanding that has captured the conservative community. So, I've decided to leave my column to her letter. Enjoy it! Especially you, Orhan Bey (the academic from Konya's Selçuk University who said women with low-cut dresses provoke sexual harassment).

* * *

"When I was 9, I was going to Teravih Prayers, a special praying session held during Ramadan only, with my mom at a big Kadıköy mosque. I liked the mosque but not listening to sermons by the religious cleric. In his speech each evening beginning with "Dear Muslims," he always found a way to talk about sins of women and how pitiful are women who wear miniskirts and low-cut dresses. Women in the mosque, most of whom were over 50, were kind of getting the creeps. Although none wore low-cut dresses, it always seemed odd to me, even as a child, why all the sermons were about low-cuts.

But after I heard Professor Orhan Çeker, who as an Islamic scholar, say, "A woman wearing a low-cut dress contributes to sexual harassment half-and-half," during a statement concerning a legal regulation on rape cases, I must say that I now think the religious cleric from my childhood was quiet innocent in comparison.

I wear a headscarf. Probably, I fit into Professor Çeker's "acceptable" and "dignified" description of a woman. But I am petrified when I hear that women wearing miniskirts and low-cuts contribute to sexual harassment.

Needless to say, you don't need to wear miniskirts or low-cuts to be a victim of sexual harassment! How strange it is that a harasser cannot make such a distinction but a professor does.

No 'advice' to harassers!

"Our master," as a theologian and ethicist, does not give advice to harassers. He doesn't say, "You, harasser! Hold your horses. Stay away from sins and control yourself. Don't commit a crime!" in the way of the sermons from my childhood or as a matter of fact, all other sermons we have been listening to for years.

The advice again is addressed to the women: If you do so, this is what happens!

On top of that, the aggrieved is being associated with the crime of the villain. Sin in Islam doesn't change according to gender. However, there are some attenuating circumstances applied for men, such as "part of male nature," in our society as far as sins are concerned.

These are the justifications that have been normalized throughout the centuries, mingled with patriarchal tendencies, reinforced by customs and traditions, which for example will advise women to ignore a man's disloyalty for the sake of safeguarding family.

 I, as a Muslim woman, don't understand. People constantly talk about what men can do and what women cannot do. It's a mindset that, in contrast to the very narrow zone specifically determined for women, see men as "humans who commit sin" and can show flexibility toward men committing sins by saying, "It happens."

What is the purpose of the things I frequently heard as a child such as "Girls don't play ball, don't laugh and should not ride bicycles." What is the purpose for all this? Is it to develop the sense of propriety (or decency) as advised to all Muslims by Islam? Or is it to control women and to exploit religion to control women and build a male-dominant world?

If the widespread view expressed by the professor was, "Adab Ya Hu!" (Behave well for the pleasure of Allah!), first of all he would've had a few words to say to the harasser.

No harassment in the family!

Somehow all warnings of religious clerics are for women in our country where women struggle against all sorts of injustice.

As the professor says to the harasser in a way to find excuses, "You are not that much guilty. Not even half of the crime is on you," what could he think about tourists coming from different cultures and moral understandings for instance? If this saddening logical error while determining the guilty one is done by an Islamic scholar, what will we say to those who claim Islam wants to keep women under house arrest?

Let's not overlook such logic because it provides a practical solution: If we keep women at home and hide them inside, there wouldn't be any sexual harassment and we can say to them, "They are precious like gems and that's why they are kept away." Women who go out are half guilty anyway!

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

THE CORRIDOR - IN SEARCH OF AN ELECTION COALITION

GÖKSEL BOZKURT

A member of the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, gave me a forecast of Turkey's post-election map this week that looks remarkably like the present legislature. He said the AKP would be the top party, the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, would be number two, the Nationalist Movement Party, or MHP, would be number three, and the pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, might be elected as independents before forming a group inside.

Opinion polls reveal similar results, too. Furious bargaining is taking place behind closed doors in Ankara to change this forecast as political parties not currently represented in Parliament that are unlikely to overcome the 10 percent election threshold are seeking to make an election coalition. Winks and nudges, implicit messages and meetings through second and third people are continuing.

Which parties could surpass the 10 percent barrier if they entered into an election coalition? Topping the list must surely be "veteran politician" and Felicity Party, or SP, leader Necmettin Erbakan.

By applying his past experiences, Erbakan is working in his sickbed on a formula to get over the threshold in the elections. As he was the leader of the Welfare Party, or RP, before the 1991 elections, he made a similar election coalition with late MHP Chairman Alparslan Türkeş and Nation Party, or MP, leader Aykut Edibali. No one thought success would be likely, but the three-party coalition overcame the 10 percent threshold and managed to send 62 deputies to Parliament. Today, Erbakan wants to do the same again.

According to opinion polls, Erbakan's party would win 2-3 percent at most but some think they could surpass the threshold by creating synergy that includes the center-right. The Democratic Party, or DP, which is hovering around 1 percent, is considered the number one candidate in a possible election coalition. The SP won 2.5 percent and the DP won 5.5 percent in the 2007 polls.

The newly elected chairman of the DP, Namık Kemal Zeybek, tells his close circles that "if it is necessary to join together with other parties to overcome the threshold, we will do it." Zeybek is open to party groupings and says it without hesitation. It is also known that Zeybek talked to Erbakan during a visit.

It's been whispered that Erbakan has hinted at a coalition and implied that contacts could be made with other parties if needed. Following his meeting with Erbakan, Zeybek told his friends: "I am not against coalition. We will pass the threshold one way or another." Such comments only increase the likelihood of a coalition.

Which party could be the third partner in this coalition?

One can name many but the most likely person Erbakan would be able to work together with seems to be Turkey Party, or TP, Chairman Abdüllatif Şener.

Şener is Erbakan's old student. Şener was once a deputy prime minister of the AKP, but he burned his bridges with the ruling party and embarked upon a new path. These factors please Erbakan, and it is also known that Şener respects Erbakan.

Şener's party has not yet participated in an election and its voting potential, according to opinion polls, is around 1 percent at most.

The parties' combined numbers, however, are still well-short of 10 percent, so how would such a coalition overcome the threshold? Erbakan and his friends must believe the synergy they will create will be successful.

And perhaps a fourth party can be added to this structure.

While it doesn't seem possible that Numan Kurtulmuş of the People's Voice Party, or HAS, who split earlier from the SP, could work together with Erbakan's team, it is said that the Great Unity Party, or BBP, could join the group.

Between the BBP and the AKP, however, there are moves afoot as well. It's been suggested behind the scenes that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan might carry a few names from the BBP into Parliament under the AKP banner in honor of late BBP Chairman Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu.

There remain then two alternatives for Erbakan and his team: The Homeland Party, or YP, and the Rights and Equality Party, or HEPAR. The YP chairman is Sadettin Tantan, while the HEPAR chairman is Osman Pamukoğlu, a former member of the military. Given this conjuncture, it is likely that the Erbakan team would get along better with Tantan.

The BDP's star candidates

The pro-Kurdish Peace and Democracy Party, or BDP, has announced that it is to join the race with independent candidates.

An influential figure in the party has said civil society organizations are asking for a number of star candidates to run, and the list could include neurologist Dr. Gençay Gürsoy, movie director Sırrı Süreyya Önder, intellectual Ertuğrul Kürkçü, Labor Party, or EMEP, leader Levent Tüzel, Socialist Democracy Party, or SDP, Chairman Rıdvan Turan, Armenian-Turkish journalist Hayko Bağdat, and Rakel Dink, the widow of slain Armenian-Turkish journalist Hrant Dink.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

BUTTERFLY EFFECT OR 'DOMINO THEORY'

YUSUF KANLI

Why, all of a sudden, did the Middle East start to explode? Do we have a "domino theory" in work, or are the events in the region going through a result of the "butterfly effect" of the Russian fires last summer that devastated the wheat and corn produce, pushing global food prices up considerably?

It, of course, depends on how the unfolding "popular revolutions" throughout the Middle East are being read.

Are they the product of "systematic" thinking? Is there a brain somewhere calculating which buttons in which society should be pressed so that the people in that country pour onto the streets in an "unarmed" revolution, putting full stop to some governments, leaders and ushering in some new players, still very much in tune with the "global setup?" To put it perhaps in even plainer words, is Washington involved in all the events the Middle East has been going through?

Washington, as is perfectly known by anyone following international relations and security policy issues, was the "creator" of the so-called domino theory during the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower. The theory constituted one of the main pillars of the Cold War mentality. As President Eisenhower put the theory into words in 1954: "Finally, you have broader considerations that might follow what you would call the 'falling domino' principle. You have a row of dominoes set up, you knock over the first one, and what will happen to the last one is the certainty that it will go over very quickly. So you could have a beginning of a disintegration that would have the most profound influences." According to the theory, if one country in a region came under the influence of the enemy (it was communism of course between the 1950s and 1980s), then the surrounding countries would follow in a domino effect.

Do we have that theory in business in the Middle East? Was Tunisia the first domino that, when kicked down, triggered the anticipated domino effect and ignited the process which as it appears will continue for some time? Though which country will be the next domino to be kicked down so far still remains a puzzle, it is clear for now that Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi may or may not have a day or two in power and from Yemen to Saudi Arabia to the Gulf states and Iran, there are many oppressive governments that this tide might – hopefully – send down the drain as it progresses further.

But, do we indeed have a domino theory put into action?

Many people who believe in conspiracy theories, of course, have been expecting – ever since the Greater Middle East or Greater Middle East and North Africa Plan of the former George W. Bush administration – to see some sort of a comprehensive revolutionary swing throughout this region which would not only domesticate the "rough" leaders but also produce some marked changes in national borders – as was explained by then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

Are we indeed living through the implementation of the Greater Middle East and North Africa Plan of the U.S. neo-conservatives? If so, was not the imam of Turkey one of the "co-chairmen" of that initiative? It is complicated indeed. But, what was that that appeared on the semi-party-organ TV channel last night in front of the three monkeys but the prime minister, steering the conversation toward that end and making fun of the conspiracy theories in trying to explain the popular uprisings on the Arab street as part of the Greater Middle East initiative.

The "butterfly effect" on the other hand – I am referring to the term not to the 2004 American psychological thriller film – is a popular metaphor for the principle in chaos theory that in any dynamic system, small initial differences may over time lead to large unforeseen consequences. According to this theory, a small change at one place in a complex system can have large effects elsewhere.

Now, can we indeed explain what has been unfolding in the Middle East for the past many weeks from last year's Russian forest fires or some other distant developments? Why not? If the Russian fires caused food prices to explode in the Middle East and if governments continued to disregard the need for a more just distribution of wealth over time, like any pressure pot placed on fire, any society would explode at one point.

But, do we really have that in the Middle East?

I tend to believe that after Iraq and Afghanistan, in which producing domesticated governments and taking control of resources came at the cost of direct involvement, why should the global industry and its governments not try to achieve their aims through remote control and social engineering projects?

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

IF YOU DIE IN TURKEY…

SADETTİN ORHAN

In my previous article, I spoke about Mark J. O'Hara's question. He said, in summary:

"Dear Sir,

My wife and I come to Adana every winter for exactly 90 days, she is a Turkish citizen and I am from the U.S. We have been married for nearly 43 years. My wife keeps asking me to obtain a residency permit so that we may stay beyond 90 days if we so desire. 

Your article has been most helpful toward that goal and I appreciate your article very much. Just yesterday I told my wife that if I died in Turkey she should just bury me here rather than sending my body back to the U.S. for burial. Is it permissible for foreigners to be buried in Turkey, either with or without a residency permit? 

Any assistance you may be able to provide on this subject will be greatly appreciated.

Sincerely, Mark."

After Mark's question, many readers have asked the same question. For instance, Carl asks a similar question:

"Dear Orhan,

Are there any provisions for burial of non-Muslim, non-residents who die in Turkey and wish to have their remains buried here? I am a Christian; what provisions should I make to prepare for my demise and burial in Turkey? I am very much interested in your reply to Mr. Mark J. O'Hara's query. Can I be informed when you post this in your column? I look forward to reading all your comments and don't want to miss this one. Sincerely yours, Carl."

Dear Mark and Carl: First, even if you are a foreigner, you can be buried in Turkey. However, a burial license, or defin ruhsatnamesi, is required for this procedure. The burial license is provided by official doctors, or hükümet tabibi. A residency permit is not required to be buried in Turkey. Additionally, you do not need to be a Muslim.

Residence permit termination

The second question is from Yvonne. She asks;

"Dear Orhan, I have been a resident with a long-term residence permit in Turkey [Istanbul] since May 2005, and have left the country on a sabbatical for one year in October 2010. As I will not return to Turkey after the sabbatical, I would prefer to voluntarily terminate my residence permit registration. The residence permit will expire in July 2011, but I no longer have a physical address in Istanbul, and hence it would be better to report this. Please note that I live in Greece this year and I will have to arrange for this from outside Turkey. Please advise. Best regards, Yvonne."

Dear Yvonne, if the residence permit expiring in July 2011, you do not need any action. It will be canceled automatically at the end of the specified period.

For your questions: sadettin.orhan@hdn.com.tr

www.sadettinorhan.net

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

'IN PEOPLE POWER, THERE IS HOPE YET FOR THE MIDDLE EAST'

FETHI MANSOURI

For the first time since post-colonial independence, a genuine popular revolution has succeeded in bringing down two dictatorships in the Arab world and in such a spectacular manner that it has caught most governments in the region by surprise. That this popular uprising has now spread across the region shows that it is not simply a product of specific local conditions. Indeed, the nature of the state system in the Arab world, which endured for the last four decades, is no longer sustainable and is showing all the signs of decay and self destruction that are bringing it down from inside. The revolutionary current that is now blowing across the region was ignited by a desperate act of self immolation in Tunisia on Dec. 17, which sparked the popular uprising.

I was in Egypt in December and also in Tunisia, my place of birth, during the first week of the revolution when the protests in the central province of Sidi Bouzid had just started and I must admit I did not expect that two weeks later these protests would become fully fledged revolutions that would oust the Ben Ali and Mubarak regimes.

What happened in Tunisia and Egypt is nothing short of a seismic change in the political landscape of the region and the local political dynamics. These historical events refute once and for all the well-rehearsed Western argument that the Arab people are incapable of achieving genuine political change through peaceful revolutionary means. Civil revolutions, we were told, are unlikely to occur in the Arab world because the political culture there was not conducive to the emergence of vibrant civil societies as argued by Max Weber. Therefore, any political change was only possible through either foreign interventions, military coups or radical religious movements.

Until the events of January, the dominant discourse that prevailed in the West when discussing the Arab world's many failures at the social and political fronts was that the U.S. and its allies did not overtly encourage genuine democracy in the region because it was feared that this may result in the emergence of radical religious groups with anti-Western agendas seizing power as the case with the Iranian revolution of 1979.

Thus, the policy options were conveniently reduced to a stark choice between pro-Western dictatorships with varying degrees of corruption and authoritarianism or anti-Western religious radical groups whose socio-political outlook is anything but democratic and modernist.

The scenario of Tunisia and Egypt has shown an alternative road map to change that is conceived and delivered largely through authentic local civil movements. This road map is now spreading to many other Arab countries. Of course, the manifestations of change in each country will play out differently as there are context-specific realities that might engender particular courses of actions and political outcomes for each country. But as the rapid escalation in Libya shows, no regime is immune from the revolutionary "bug," not even those trying desperately to offer concessions before they face their own version of this irresistible political tsunami.

The West has a real stake in what is unfolding in Tunisia and Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and beyond. But above all the West must not fall into the same mistake yet again of misreading the situation and divorcing it from its socio-political context.

As I write this piece, the Libyan regime, in a final desperate attempt to stay in power, is subjecting its people to unprecedented levels of violence bordering on genocide and crimes against humanity. This should never be tolerated nor should it go unpunished and the recent U.N. Security Council condemning the bloody crackdown is a step in the right direction, though it falls short of setting a practical course of action.

Yet the overall picture in the region, with the early successes of the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, is providing unequivocal evidence that the Arab people's hunger for the universal values of dignity, justice and freedom is no less potent than that of the Eastern European or South American people. There is hope yet for the Middle East.

* Fethi Mansouri is director of the Centre for Citizenship and Globalization in Deakin University, Australia. This piece was provided by Global Experts at www.theglobalexperts.org, a project of the United Nations Alliance of Civilizations.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

SARKOZY FOR 300 MINUTES

CENGİZ AKTAR

French President Nicolas Sarkozy was in the Turkish capital Ankara for an unofficial 300-minute visit Friday.

As the G-8 and G-20 term president, the French leader shared views with Turkey on the state of the world's economy. In reality, term presidents are not obliged to visit all member countries at the highest level.

In the past, Sarkozy had rolled up his sleeves behind doors to remove six countries, including Turkey, from the G-20 but hit the buffers during the Pittsburgh Summit of the group.

To be honest, the visit was nothing but an excuse to patch-up French-Turkish relations that have suffered primarily because of Sarkozy's attitude. As fresh proof, let me note that several French newspapers extensively recalled how the president was and still is against Turkey's EU membership when they were covering the visit. Who is fooling whom in the end?  

Indeed, bilateral relations are far from balmy. This is so despite the remarkable efforts of outgoing French Ambassador Bernard Emié, who will head to London for his new appointment within days.

Sarkozy assumed his anti-Turkey approach long before he was elected president in place of President Jacques Chirac, who had a positive attitude toward Turkey's EU bid. Sarkozy maintained his position during his presidential tenure and officially announced already in 2007 his intention to unilaterally veto five negotiation chapters with the EU because they are directly linked to full membership.

He has used Turkey's EU bid as an election gimmick every time and has always kept combining hostility toward Turkey with hostility toward Islam. When he said last week that there should be no call to prayer in a secularist country, someone asked whether there could be any church bells. No answer was given.

Sarkozy always refrained from visiting Turkey. Although his mother's side comes from Ottoman Salonica, the French leader has always hated voicing this. Last April, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan made a statement to French daily Le Figaro in which he said he would invite Sarkozy to visit contemporary Turkey, adding that if that happened, Sarkozy would see how much Turkey had developed in some areas compared to many EU countries.

The prime minister was right but it seems some French statesmen are not ready to abandon the old clichés about Turkey. The last official visit from a French leader was by François Mitterrand toward the end of his tenure – 19 years ago. Two previous official visits by top representatives were by Charles de Gaulle in 1968 and Empress Eugénie in 1869! I think there is no other country that France looks so down upon.

Sarkozy, Arab politics and Turkey

While anti-Islam is used as election gimmick in France, we have observed French policies toward the Maghreb countries – which are based on the fear of Islam – failing one by one. Developments in Tunisia, France's backyard, and possible similar events in Morocco show that policies based on sheer political and economic interests as arranged with authoritarian regimes are close to the end. From now on, instead of these authoritarian-yet-passive regimes, new actors will emerge and take the stage in the Middle East. And they should receive their due.

These new kinds of actors first made an entrance in Turkey and are rapidly increasing in the neighborhood. Sarkozy's France hasn't been able to perceive the development just by looking at Turkey. On the contrary, it continued to look at Turkey through an Orientalist worldview, failing to grasp that Turkey could become an equal partner. If it had, it wouldn't have acted as it does today on Turkey's EU bid. Even the brand-new search for "how Turks could set a model for Arabs" is, in the final analysis, the way to express uneasiness with what is happening there, not a new policy line. Because the bottom line consists of an incurable perception of the "other," which takes the shape of Arabophobia, Islamophobia, Persophobia, and Turcophobia.

Although there are more "beautiful days" ahead of the anti-Islam discourse in France, as well as elsewhere in Europe, it is not difficult to spot that the obsession and ignorance vis-à-vis Islam is a sign of ethical decline. The hopeless search for the so-called pure French or European identity, which doesn't mean anything in reality (just like pure Turkish identity), is the best example of such decline. May God help them; what else we can say!

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

WHERE HAVE ALL THE ISLAMISTS GONE?

MUSTAFA AKYOL

The Arab Spring, which began in Tunis and continued with Egypt, is spreading in a perfect domino effect. Of course, every Arab country has its own conditions, and its unique form of dictatorship. Some dictators are more rational, even reasonable, whereas some, such Libya's Col. Gadhafi, are absolute lunatics. That's one reason, along with the lack of strong political organizations and civil society in Libya, which has made the revolt in this country very chaotic and bloody.

My hope is that Gadhafi will be taken down as soon as possible, before launching a genocidal attack on his own people and a scorched earth policy against his own country.

The post-Islamist generation

Meanwhile, what is quite interesting in these three cases — Tunis, Egypt and Libya — is the lack of the Islamist bogeymen that most Arab dictators have used to justify their grip on power. "If I go, Islamists will establish a much worse dictatorship," was the line that they were whispering to Western ears for decades, showing the Islamic Revolution in Iran as a case study.

Yet those scary Islamists seem to surface only in Gadhafi's delusional speeches these days, in which he blames the uprising to his rule to be directed by both al-Qaeda and "drug addicts." (How those seemingly not-so-compatible groups have merged so successfully is something you should not ask.) On the ground, however, neither the successful revolts in Tunis and Egypt turned out to be Islamic revolutions, and nor the Libyan case hints that way.

This doesn't mean that parties that represent "political Islam" — a loaded term to which I will come back — are absent. No, they are right there. The NAHDA in Tunis and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt were among the forces who helped overthrow the dictators of their countries. But they claim neither ownership of the revolution nor an autocratic "Islamic state" for the future. They rather emphasize that they are a part of the democratic game.

That's why French scholar Olivier Roy, one of the world's foremost experts on political Islam, speaks of a "post-Islamist generation" in the Middle East. "This is not to say that the demonstrators are secular," Roy notes in his excellent piece in the New Statesman. "But they are operating in a secular political space, and they do not see in Islam an ideology capable of creating a better world."

This is the general mood, whereas the Islamists, such as the Muslim brotherhood, seem to offer Islam as a set of values and principles to be advanced within the democratic system — rather than an alternative "Islamic system," which will, in practice, offer nothing other than the tyranny of the Islamists.

There are several reasons for this change. First, many, including the Islamists themselves, took lessons from the failures of Islamist regimes, in Iran or Sudan, which showed that the slogan "Islam is the solution" doesn't really solve much.

Secondly, there is the helpful effect of free-market capitalism, which, in the words of Roy, led to "the embourgeoisement of the Islamists." As a result, they abandoned the collectivist rhetoric of the 1980s, by which they "called for state ownership of the economy and redistribution of wealth." Now the Muslim Brotherhood is "conservative with regard to morality and liberal on the economy."

If this sounds familiar to you, recalling Turkey's incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, then you have the right senses.

For the AKP cadre has gone through the same transformation — from Islamism to post-Islamist "conservative democracy" — about a decade ago. They, too, became conservative on morality, liberal on the economy. And their subsequent success has been a source of inspiration for the more open-minded elements among Arab Islamists. Many among the latter have said this openly in the previous years, and especially previous weeks.

Political Islam revisited

But how you see all this change is question which very much depends on your pre-suppositions.

If you are a die-hard secularist (or an Islamo-sceptic) who believes that any influence by Islam on politics will inevitably lead to tyranny, all this is bad news for you. You will conclude that Islamists have just become more cunning, and more dangerous, by learning the means to penetrate into democracy, which they will ultimately overthrow.

You will, in other words, see the Islamists as Senator McCarthy saw the communists in the 1950s: agents who only conspire and transform, but never get transformed. I beg to differ, and believe that a political party inspired and informed by Islam can become, and remain, a part of the democratic game.

That type of "political Islam" should not be condemned and banned, but tolerated and even welcomed. It is certainly a work in progress, which needs a lot of further progress. But it is also a must, if we really want to achieve a free and democratic Middle East. 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

INTERCULTURAL BRAND MANAGEMENT

ZAFER PARLAR

When brands seek advice to enter the Turkish market, the first question I always ask is, "What does this brand mean in Turkey?" despite its international popularity. Headquarters usually believe in the importance of homogeneity and tend to absorb cultural variations. This approach protects the brand unity and makes life easier while managing cross borders. However a brand can be as successful in a different culture for a different reason. In emerging markets where you have big socioeconomic inequalities, there are major cultural differences in consumption patterns. 

A sportswear brand can be purchased for better performance in sports in the U.S. or Germany. The same brand can be purchased as a status-symbol street wear choice in Greece or Turkey, where sports participation accounts only for 20 percent of the total sales. I have seen ultra-light, special design running shoes worn in this way. Another good example is the luxury segment. The meaning of these brands in Asia is totally different than Europe. Obviously brands cannot change their value propositions per market, but if they are aware of these perceptions, they can manage them in their favor. 

Purchasing power parity is another misleading area. People do not realize how an admin can afford to buy a luxurious bag in Istanbul. The answer is very cultural. Male or female, until you get married, you stay with your parents at no cost in Turkey. In all southern countries, outwear and accessories are very important status symbols. That's why mobile phone penetration is also quite high in these markets despite lower income per capita. The device carries more meanings, rather than just a communication device, in some other cultures. Emerging market populations are much younger than others. Therefore their common decision-making criteria are also quite different. Being aware of the combination of these three facts can open many doors for brands which are willing to understand the new environment rather than just responding to it.

People do pay almost everything in installments in emerging markets. It starts with three months and goes up to a year in some cases. In South Africa if you buy a pair of sneakers with 12 installments, the owner gives you either the left or the right shoe – based on your preference – once you complete six months of payments. Putting a kind of mortgage on future disposable income is the most common way of doing business. If you do not stay away from it because of its depreciating effect on your brand, you can lose business. However there are always local solutions for local problems. Advanced banking in Turkey provides great services to keep your chin up and still sell in installments. They reflect the future payments as an attribute of their credit cards. It is so common that no one attaches this to any purchased brand.

The list can go on with merchandising, pricing, visual merchandising, store concepts, communications and location preferences. If you pay attention to cultural dynamics and established systems, you can create an optimum balance between your core values and high, sustainable sales. In other words you can provide both shoes of the pair at the moment of purchase, create brand loyalty and collect the payment at the same time.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TURKEY'S NEW A LA CARTE NERVE

SONER ÇAĞAPTAY

Have doubts that Turkey has changed since the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, assumed power in 2002? A look at what arouses popular anger in Turkey today reveals a society in flux – one rapidly adopting new and risky political sensitivities. 

In the past, actions considered offensive to Turkish national identity, such as support for outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, terror attacks, would have been a virtual casus belli for the Turks. Not anymore. Recent WikiLeaks reports have disclosed that Russia has been helping arm the PKK, producing barely a raised eyebrow from the Turkish public – a far cry from the angry protests that would have been expected in years past. 

Today's Turks are focused on taking issue with people and ideas they consider offensive to Muslims.  While a negative reaction to perceived anti-Muslim sentiments is understandable from the Turkish people's perspective, this new morality is based on a la carte morals and selective outrage: Turks take issue with perceived offensive behavior by Westerners against Muslims, but they give carte blanche to similar behavior by Muslims against Westerners or even against fellow Muslims. 

The roots of this new selective morality lie in the transformation of the Turkish identity under the AKP. In decades past, the Turks considered themselves both Muslim and Western simultaneously, for they saw no conflict between these identities. Now, however, many Turks view the two identities as being mutually exclusive. Increasingly, many are siding with a politically defined "Muslim world" as opposed to the West. 

Accordingly, contemporary Turkish society is outraged by Westerners whom they consider offensive, but can turn a blind eye to Muslims who transgress others' rights, even including those of fellow Muslims.

Take for instance recent Turkish reactions to a visit by acclaimed film director Emir Kusturica and Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir. The former, a Bosnian who stood with the Yugoslav National Army as it slaughtered Bosnians in the 1990s, was driven out of Turkey in October by AKP government-led protests, resulting in threats against his life. The latter Sudanese leader, who was indicted for genocide by the International Criminal Court in July, was gracefully hosted by the AKP government in Istanbul. While Kusturica's views are hardly laudable, the actions of the Turkish government and the non-reaction of the Turkish public to Bashir's visit are indicative of the unfortunate moral double standard that has taken hold in Turkey.

This trend underlines the new Turkish outrage that takes issue with Westerners and non-Muslims whose views are considered offensive. Another similar case was the treatment of Nobel laureate V.S. Naipaul, who was invited to a writers' conference that was held in November in Istanbul. However, as the date approached, pro-government media began a public character assassination campaign, targeting Naipaul as a "Muslim hater." The proof: Naipaul's Nobel Prize-winning novels! In the end, the conference committee uninvited Naipaul to the Istanbul event.

As the Naipaul case shows, Turkey's new moral sensitivities target not just individuals but also ideas considered offensive to Muslims. Perhaps it is only a passing phenomenon; but if long lasting, this is an alarming trend for it points to a new and irate Turkish attitude toward the West and its ideas.

Part of the explanation for this phenomenon lies in the nature of Turkish society. In general, there are three ways contemporary societies relate to the outside world. First, there are "open societies with open minds," i.e. technologically and politically connected societies that are open to new ideas coming from the outside even if such ideas might be unorthodox. Second, there are "closed societies with closed minds," ― as hypothetical as this prototype might be ― such as dictatorships that block outside influence and create closed-circuit epistemological environments. Finally, there are "open societies with closed minds," such as Turkey ― these societies, though functionally integrated into a globalized world, are unwelcoming to people and ideas coming from the outside. 

Add to this mixture Turkey's new activist foreign policy that stimulates solidarity with a politically defined "Muslim world," and you arrive at the current state of Turkey's societal relationship with Western values.

When the AKP launched its foreign policy soon after 2002, with efforts to increase Turkish involvement in Middle East conflicts, many saw it as a positive development. This initiative was predicted to serve as an important bridge between the West and the Muslim world, and the AKP could finally realize its merit as a regional leader and its ability to enrich both Turkey's Western and Muslim identities.

Unfortunately these predictions proved premature. The last decade has shown that the AKP's policies do not envision a Turkey that guides Muslim nations into the West. Rather, the party has shown that its goal is to frequently rally Muslim nations and causes against the West.  This has led to a chasm between Turkey's two identities, with most Turks taking issue with the West. Coupled with the closed-circuit nature of Turkish society, this attitude is rapidly restructuring the Turks' relationship with the West, as well as stimulating anti-Western tendencies.

Barring a radical change, a singular focus on anti-Muslim sentiment will continue to be a defining characteristic of Turkish public discourse for the foreseeable future, much to the detriment of Turkish society as a whole.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

THE TIMES CHANGE

 

In an eloquent speech, marking the decision after a meeting of top party leaders, to finally part ways with the PPP and oust its ministers in Punjab, the PML-N Chief, Mian Nawaz Sharif, has narrated how, since 2008, he has repeatedly been deceived by President Zardari and his team. He has spoken of agreements being violated, well-meaning offers being scoffed at, courts being used to oust him and Mian Shahbaz and the late Punjab governor being used against his government. The description of events highlights many years of patience – but it is clear this has now run out. He has also spoken of mismanagement and dishonesty leading to many of the crises we face now. The failure to implement the 10-point agenda came up too, as did failure to implement even a single aspect of it.

 

Uncertainty over the future of Punjab is over; the hurricane that has raged on for weeks refusing to let things settle down or for anyone to find a firm footing has finally petered out. Many will be relieved. Soon after Nawaz Sharif conducted a key meeting in Lahore to discuss plans to push PPP ministers out of cabinet slots in the province, Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani had met with a high-powered PML-N delegation led by Shahbaz Sharif to try and settle matters. But it was clearly too late by then; the mood within the PML- N has been angry for weeks. At his residence, Nawaz Sharif, while meeting groups of workers from various parts of the country, made no bones about the fact that he felt he had been let down. Clearly, he is unwilling to take any more chances and has also stated that, in his opinion, the PML-N will be able to lead the country out of its condition of crisis more successfully than the PPP. We certainly hope this will be the case. The key to the whole matter is of course held by that 47- member group of PML-Q MPAs calling itself the unification group. An alliance with it would allow the PML-N to secure government in Punjab. The PPP response is awaited. Punjab Senior Minister, Raja Riaz, has threatened to take the matter of separate seats for the unification bloc to court. People are, for obvious reasons, tired of watching the game of to-and-fro that has been going on for so many months. Those in Punjab, like their counterparts elsewhere in the country, have, for months, been desperate for change. They seek an end to the merciless price-hike and the general sense of disorder. It is not known if change in the province will bring this their way, but it may give hope of the possibility of change that has so far proved elusive amidst continuous chaos. People seek good governance. The PML-N must now deliver it or risk disappointing its many supporters in Punjab and elsewhere.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

KASHMIRI RIPPLES

 

A report carried by this newspaper says that Indian state intelligence agencies are concerned about the possible knock-on effects of the turmoil in the Arab world. They are, perhaps, right to be worried. Events of the last eight weeks have shown, and shown beyond doubt, that oppressed and repressed peoples who live in states which make their lives a misery – have the power to change their own destinies. The people who took to the streets first in Tunisia, and then in Egypt, and now in Libya, did so unarmed and with nothing more than banners and their voices to challenge the regimes that had dominated them for decades. It is the fear that people's power may surface that has got the Indians worried, because if it does, it is going to be considerably harder to suppress and beat down than groups of stone throwers and small groups of armed fighters. It appears that the concerns have their origin in a survey in January which sought to establish whether those who were stone-throwers might be persuaded to pick up the gun instead, but that was before Tahrir Square in Cairo was taken over by peaceful protesters, and the game changed.


Militancy as a military problem is both easy to identify and relatively easy to target. By contrast, the prospect of perhaps 50,000 moderates turning out to protest at their occupation and denial of their human rights is rather more problematic. Although it is speculative, it is not beyond the bounds of possibility. In the summer of last year, a group of moderate Kashmiri separatists had called for a mass peaceful protest, a Dharna, but they were overruled by hardliners who thought the idea impractical. It may have been impractical last summer, but it is looking far less impractical today. The flames that killed a Tunisian man who set himself afire in protest at the government set a brushfire that eventually became the inferno that brought down the regime. Could the death of a young person throwing stones at Indian troops spark a similar response in Kashmir? The concern is that the death of a stone-thrower may just be the spark that sets off mass protest, and turning your guns on a crowd of unarmed men, women and children is a step down the road that the Delhi government is unlikely to want to take, particularly as it would do so under the beady eye of the world's media which is much-alerted these days to the ability of mass movements to reshape geopolitics. A political solution to the Kashmir problem looks as far away as it ever was. The militants are never going to be able to defeat an Indian army of occupation. Could the people of Kashmir follow the example of the peoples of the Arab world and retake control of their own destinies? This is no longer a hypothetical question.

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

CONGRESS IN CRISIS, BJP NO ANSWER

PRAFUL BIDWAI

 

In his interaction with television journalists on February 16, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh came across not as a statesman-like leader with a vision, but as a wily, run-of-the-mill politician, adept at deflecting criticism. Singh did what no Indian Prime Minister has done: plead helplessness in the face of corporate loot of public money, erosion of institutions, inflation, and failure to bring about inclusive growth.


The burden of Singh's song was this: I'm working under constraints, such as coalition politics, so I can't be blamed for my government's failures. I'm squeaky-clean, you can't doubt my integrity. Second, I sacked telecom minister A Raja for the 2G telecom scam. Third, the UPA government is doing OK: there's 8.5 per cent GDP growth. Our policies don't need to be revised.


Singh deplorably invoked "coalition dharma", a sordidly unethical term invented by the Bharatiya Janata Party to rationalise opportunist alliances with ideologically-opposed parties. What "dharma" allows Congress allies to milk ministries? And why did Singh promote Vilasrao Deshmukh, indicted by the Supreme Court for protecting loan-sharks, to rural development, a cash cow for venal politicians? Deshmukh belongs to Singh's own Congress party.


The issue isn't Singh's integrity, but his leadership; in particular, his failure to prevent corruption and abuse of power. Raja was sacked only after the Central Bureau of Investigation probed the 2G scam under the Supreme Court's supervision. Raja's removal doesn't resolve the flaws in the telecom policy framework within which he worked. Singh can't plead helplessness on the appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner PJ Thomas. He personally signed the papers, violating the norm that the opposition must consent to the appointment.


The Singh government's failures are attributable to elitist policies, systemic corruption, pampering of big business, and inattention to inflation, which arises from the blind faith that the market will automatically correct distortions. There's also the reluctance to intervene in the market to bring down prices. It's illegitimate for Singh to blame the Congress or its partners for this.


The UPA's single greatest failure – absence of inclusive, pro-poor growth – is directly attributable to Singh's mindlessly pro-rich, pro-corporate neoliberal policies. Yet, neoliberalism is the only thing on which he spoke passionately, while underscoring his determination to persist with investor-friendly politics.


Singh minimised corruption and growing inequalities by likening the losses from telecom scams to government expenditure on food subsidies. Such subsidies are not losses; they represent a social gain – correcting structural social-economic perversities which perpetuate hunger and malnutrition. Adequate food is a fundamental right of the people; providing it is the duty of the government. Governments that cannot do this are dysfunctional and illegitimate.

Singh's government seems inclined to exploit today's high food prices to promote foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail trade. The plea, that this would improve food distribution and stabilise prices, is spurious and speaks of the utmost cynicism.


The opposition parties now have a good chance to confront the UPA with alternative agendas. Alas, they are preoccupied with assembly elections – the Left with make-or-break polls in West Bengal and Kerala, and the Bahujan Samaj Party and Samajwadi Party in Uttar Pradesh. That leaves the BJP. But it cannot mount a serious political attack on the UPA and weaken it before the next general election, for at least five reasons.


First, the BJP leadership is divided and confused. Recent scandals have suddenly electrified the 83-year-old LK Advani into leadership assertion. The "Loh Purush" was to have retired – under RSS dictates, no less – from active politics and made way for acolytes Arun Jaitly and Sushma Swaraj. But he probably sees a chance to fulfil his life's prime ambition – to become prime minister. His hyperactivism has upset the BJP's leadership equations, further weakened party president Nitin Gadkari (never an able candidate for the post), and embarrassed Advani's own groupies.


Second, Advani made an extraordinarily irresponsible public statement accusing Sonia Gandhi of controlling a $2.2 billion Swiss Bank account, based on a wild allegation in a Swiss tabloid – without verifying it. He had to apologise abjectly to her. This has temporarily taken the wind out of the BJP's political sails.


Third, the National Intelligence Agency and Military Intelligence have discovered clinching evidence linking present and former RSS office-bearers such as Indresh Kumar and Swami Aseemanand to the Malegaon, Hyderabad and Ajmer blasts at Muslim places of worship, and to the Samjhauta Express bombings. The attacks were systematically planned at Aseemanand's Shabari Kumbh in the Dangs in Gujarat in 2006.


The RSS leadership has reacted contradictorily to the allegations, beginning with "Sadhvi" Pragya Thakur. It first rushed to her defence and claimed she was falsely implicated. It then said Hindutva terrorism is a contradiction in terms and it doesn't believe in violence – although there's compelling evidence that it does and was the ideological inspiration behind Gandhiji's assassination.


Now, the RSS has changed its tune and is suing for peace. It has written to Singh offering "cooperation" in investigating the extremist organisations involved in the recent bombings at mosques and dargahs.

Fearing a ban on itself, the RSS has tried to distance itself from such organisations and individuals. This is completely unconvincing. These groups were inspired by and were members of the RSS; some like Indresh Kumar, continue to be its office-bearers.


A ban on the RSS as a "terrorist" organisation would further shrink its membership, stem its inflow of legal foreign funds and alienate many middle-class people. This is becoming a big liability for the BJP and will severely limit its freedom of action.


Fourth, the BJP seriously lacks a distinctive vision or coherent policies to counter the UPA. It is even more tied to corporate interests and neoliberal policies, and a pro-Western foreign and security policy. Its claim to be "a party with a difference" has lost what little credibility it ever had. The BJP in Karnataka has taken corruption to new heights, and its defector-based government has become predatory on the people.


BJP governments in some states may not be much inferior to Congress-led ones in implementing central programmes, including the Rural Employment Guarantee and universal primary education. But that doesn't add up to a vision based on a distinct worldview and coherent policies.


So, the BJP sounds particularly shrill and unbalanced when it criticises the Congress/UPA, especially when similar scandals occurred during its own rule at the centre. Money-laundering and spiriting away funds abroad aren't new. The BJP never curbed such practices. Now that the UPA has agreed to set up a Joint Parliamentary Committee on the 2G-scam, the BJP stands robbed of a strong issue on which to confront the UPA.

Finally, the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance remains anaemic. It has failed to expand beyond the Janata Dal (United), Akali Dal, Indian National Lok Dal, and Shiv Sena. Its much-touted anti-corruption campaign never really took off. No other party joined it. Even Bihar Chief Minister Nitish Kumar kept away. Meanwhile, the Left parties have recruited the Telugu Desam and AIADMK into another front.


So, the BJP's prospect of emerging as an alternative pole to the UPA is bleak. It can at best hope to gain from its opponents' mistakes. Thanks to its communal sectarianism, it still remains Indian politics' Odd Man Out.

The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1@yahoo.co.in

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

CHANTS OF LIBERTY SHAKE THE WORLD

DR QAISAR RASHID

 

Perhaps, the first major impact Wikileaks produced on the world was the Tunisian upheaval – a disorder to give birth to an order. In that way, the Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali was the first victim of Wikileaks revelations. The wave of liberty, as if it were contagious, is still unabated. It has the whole region astir. Monarchy after monarchy is falling before it. The attendant events, though violent in nature, betoken the kind of days coming ahead.


Wikileaks made public the way Ben Ali arrogated wealth to himself. In its wake, the act of self-immolation performed by a young Tunisian fruit and vegetable vendor, Mohammad Bouazizi, who was protesting against police oppression and unemployment actuated the demand of liberty in Tunisia and challenged Ben Ali's hold on power. Consequently, Ben Ali had to abdicate the throne and flee from Tunisia to save his life.


The Tunisian turmoil was not adventitious but overdue as monarchy is considered an anachronism in present day society. Moreover, the upheaval revealed deep-seated animus of the Tunisian masses against the system rooted in antiquated pattern of governance.


The Tunisian upheaval has conveyed several messages to the world in general and the Arab world in particular. First, the rulers sticking to autocracy (or monarchy) under the garb of democracy are prone to be hit by the Tunisian sort of cataclysm. It is now difficult to silence the masses and keep them deprived of their due social, political and economic rights. Voices against political repression are getting louder in the world as the desire for liberty is universal.


Secondly, in the citizen-state relationship, the masses are clamouring to find their exact status vis-à-vis the state. In the Tunisian case, it was not only that the masses had grown intolerant of fiscal corruption but also that the masses had become aware of the role of the state: the state must consider them citizens and not subjects; the state should take care of them and stop oppressing them.


Thirdly, the masses have become aware of the importance of fair distribution of economic resources. In Tunisia, the uprising was not ideological but economic in nature. The revolt was pregnant with the aim of introducing a political system (or a mode of governance) guaranteeing economic equilibrium in society. Through the language of mayhem, the Tunisians demanded an equitable distribution of wealth between the ruling class and citizens.

Fourthly, a wave of democracy has swept the Arab world. The Tunisian upheaval heralded an era of democracy in the Arab world. In Tunisia, the surge of democracy was from the lower to upper echelons of society and not vice versa. Nevertheless, the true character of democracy – western or local – that the people of the region will introduce as an alternative system to monarchy has yet to unfold.


The picture of Tunisia has analogous implications for other Arab countries including Yemen whose monarchy has fallen prey to the public demand for liberty. In Libya, the masses are bristling with anger and indignation at the harsh treatment meted out by Colonel Muammar Qaddafi. Nevertheless, the case of Egypt is a bit different. Attached to Egypt is the (perceived) future of the Palestinian-Israel conflict.


Under former president, Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was instrumental in influencing Palestinians to promote the PLO (ruling the West Bank) and not Hamas (ruling the Gaza strip). Mubarak made the case in western capitals that if they didn't support him, the right-wing religious party, the Muslim Brotherhood, would come to power. The west, in turn, remained scared of the phantom projected by Mubarak who stayed in power for 31 years. With the change of both system and regime in Egypt, Egypt's new stance towards the Palestine-Israel issue is yet to be known. The chants of liberty are signaling a warning to those Arab rulers who are still obsessed with the Cold War mentality that siding with one bloc will ensure their survival at the helm of the affairs. And the rest of the world is bracing itself for the repercussions of the happenings in the Arab world. The delight of the west (including the US) at the waves of liberty ravaging the Arab world is alloyed by its concern for the nature of relationship expected to be fostered with the new Arab regimes. Presently, the west bears certain apprehensions about what next is going to happen in the Arab world. For instance, whether the 'newly liberated' Arab countries adopt Iran's theocratic model or carve out a way to introduce a Turkish-style democracy, if not a western-style democracy.


Secondly, what will be the place of Islamic parties in the future political set up? Thirdly, will the status-quo on the Palestine-Israel peace process (as was being endorsed by Mubarak of Egypt) be respected? Fourthly, what will be the future of Al-Qaeda in the Arab world?


Prices of oil and its products are getting buoyed up thereby sending ripples of anxiety to the economies of western countries. The US is already beset by economic problems that ensued in the aftermath of Afghanistan and Iraq wars. Whether the US can maintain ascendancy over future Arab regimes or not must be the country's immediate concern.


In short, guessing the end of this beginning is not easy despite the fact that the beginning has been welcomed by all.

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

BEYOND THE DAVIS AFFAIR

TAJ M KHATTAK

 

Otto Hunerwadel, around whom the narrative of the 1958 novel The Ugly American revolves, was also a technician of sorts. Just like Raymond Allen Davis, the technical consultant who worked under cover for the CIA as a defence contractor. The US media had most probably known all along that Davis is a CIA operative, but it is only now that started to admit the fact.


The Ugly American is set in an imaginary nation, Sarkhan, which could be identified with Burma or Thailand. It describes the United States' losing struggle in neighbouring Vietnam, because of innate US arrogance and Americans' failure to understand local sentiments and culture.


Substitute Pakistan and Afghanistan for Burma and Thailand and some clarity starts to emerge in the Davis affair, which has plunged Pakistan-US relations into deep crisis. But for the strong public reaction in sympathy with the two people gunned down by Davis in Lahore on Jan 27 and the third run over by a US consulate vehicle he had called for assistance, US arm-twisting against Pakistan could have been as successful as that against "Burma and Thailand" and Davis would have flown to safety long ago. Former foreign minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi's ouster from the cabinet and Kerry's reported offer of his reinstatement would amply support this view.


However, it is the following observation of a journalist belonging to that country in novel which hits you in the face. "For some reason, the (American) people I meet in my country are not the same as the ones I knew in the United States. A mysterious change seems to come over Americans when they go to a foreign land. They isolate themselves socially. They live pretentiously. They're loud and ostentatious." "Ultimately, the phrase 'Ugly Americans' comes to be applied to Americans behaving in this manner, while their many positive contributions to the world at large are forgotten."


It is uncertain what the US gained, in real terms and over the long haul, from its covert CIA operations in countries such as far apart as Chile under Salvador Allende in the early 1970s and Iran under Mohammad Mossadegh in the early '50s. But there is no doubt that the behaviour and modus operandi of those sent abroad by Washington back then have not changed a bit since those lines were first written over half-a-century ago. Davis is someone who gives an ugly image to Americans, an otherwise wonderful people.


Amid the intense pressure from the US and the public in Pakistan, Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani has finally admitted there is a wide gap between the US and Pakistani positions in this matter. He has conveniently pointed out that the matter is sub judice and that the government will respect the verdict of the Supreme Court, even though the government's respect for the court's verdicts in cases against individuals belonging to the hierarchy in Islamabad is well known.


President Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani are a passing phenomenon, here today gone tomorrow, unlike the people of Pakistan. It would greatly help the long-term interests of the two countries if the US showed greater sensitivity to the ordinary Pakistani. What sort of "strategic relationship" do we have with each other if America has let loose a horde of CIA operators in this country and is working towards its destabilisation.

The US position is that international conventions cannot be subservient to the laws of a signatory country. The Vienna Convention on Consular Relations was intended to specify the privileges of a mission to enable its diplomats to perform their function without fear of coercion or harassment by the host country. It is ironic that in the Davis case this convention has been turned on its head against the host country, for use as a legal cover to protect an American who committed first-degree murder.


Davis possesses combat skills of the feared Task Force 373 black operations units currently operating in the Afghan war theatre and the Pakistani tribal areas. The force consists of soldiers belonging to US Special Forces, CIA spies and freelance mercenaries, all in search of their former colleague Tim Osman (a.k.a. Osama bin Laden).

The Pakistani government has been caving in to US pressures on the visa issue. The Davis affair, at the very least, warrants a complete review of the visa regime including any authority resting with the Pakistani embassy in Washington.


The ministry of foreign affairs needs a revamp to improve its working. Needed clarifications should be obtained from missions within a certain timeframe. A note verbale, where required, should not be delayed for more than six months.


President Obama had raised hopes in support of global legality soon after his inauguration. But not only did he fail to discipline CIA operators, he is reported to have promoted them in numbers never seen before.


In Davis's case, the US president would do well to back off from supporting him. Among other things, if he plucks a man with blood on his hands to safety, he puts innocent US citizens in harm's way. There is no dearth of jerks like Mumtaz Qadris in today's charged atmosphere in Pakistan.


Is it a coincidence that the US administration has voiced concerns about increased threat to the United States from Al-Qaeda? With whom exactly was Davis in contact in Waziristan and within the defunct militant groups? There are reports of the US reverting to activities of the kind of the proposed "Operation Northwoods" during the Cuban missile crisis.


Under the series of false flag operations planned by the US government in 1962, acts of terrorism would have been carried out by CIA operatives in American cities to create public support for military action against Cuba.

The Central Intelligence Agency has hundreds of its operatives stationed in Pakistan. On the eve of talks for a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), is the CIA going to carry out false-flag operations here to bring Pakistan under more intense pressure? The US administration, which is strongly opposed to Pakistani-Chinese civilian nuclear reactors, has already threatened to block $3 billions of aid to Pakistan if Davis is not freed.

It is never easy to predict what will trigger broad-based public agitation across the length and breadth of a country. But with the masses in Islamic countries on the roll, neither the US nor Pakistani authorities should stretch their luck too far.


More so since Zardari did arrive in the Presidency on the strength of his leadership qualities, but as a result of some extraordinary tragic circumstances. His over-dressed officer on deck in prime ministerial mode is not taken seriously by anyone. Can the captain steer the ship of state out of these stormy waters?

Those below decks wait with anxiety and trepidation.


The writer is a retired vice-admiral and former vice-chief of the naval staff. Email: tajkhattak@ymail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

QUEST FOR KNOWLEDGE

 MIR ADNAN AZIZ

 

Socrates thought they were the voice of conscience. Iroquois Indians saw them as commands to be followed. Voltaire said they resulted from overeating. Freud defined them as repressed thoughts. James Allen called dreamers saviours of the world. This is how dreams have been described over time.


Dreams, essentially a phenomenon affiliated with sleep, are an idea, a vision when one is awake. Throughout history, the most advanced nations earned their status by harnessing the intellectual capital and creative potential of the populace. They always advanced on the wings of knowledge, imagination and innovation.

Knowledge and ideas are the building blocks of spiritual, social, economic and political reality. The quality of life in a society manifests prevailing ideas. British author H G Wells asserted that "human history is in essence the history of ideas." We can trace a line of ideas from antiquity to present-day civilisation.


Every invention and advancement, from penicillin to the microchip, sprung from an idea. That is why Archimedes rushed out of his bath tub yelling Eureka and an apple falling on Newton's head gave us the law of motion. The Wright brothers flew, Henry Ford's dream of a car for the multitudes changed automobile history and Martin Luther King's "I have a dream" profoundly transformed American class stratification. In many ways, thus, dreams and ideas have and will continue to shape the world.


Scholar and historian William Montgomery Watt writes in his book The Glory that Was Islam: "When Christian Europe began to show an interest in the discoveries of its Saracen enemies in 1100 AD, Arab science and philosophy was at its zenith. Europe had to learn everything that was to be learned from the Arabs, without whom European science and philosophy would never have been able to develop as they did." Tragically, the same Muslim world, once the guiding light of all civilisation, is bereft of knowledge and dreams today.


Muslim contributions, amongst numerous other disciplines, were in such varied fields as literature, calligraphy, architecture, astronomy, mathematics, medicine, astrophysics, chemistry and philosophy. Apart from many ground-breaking inventions and theories, these contributions had a profound dimension. The golden age of Muslim science and philosophy, unlike today, was one of contacts and exchanges between cultures. Knowledge was welcomed from every quarter. It was an era of spontaneous borrowings and two-way influence.


Muslim advancement and forays in navigation, from the astrolabe and compass to the fast sailing ship known as the caravel, facilitated and made possible the arrival of Europeans in the New World. For 700 years the Arabs ruled Spain and Portugal, the powers that held a virtual monopoly on exploration in the New World. In the ninth century, the Abbey of St Gall library was the largest in Europe. It boasted 400 volumes and codices. That of Cordoba contained over 500,000! Going through the Dictionary of Technical Terms for Aerospace one concludes that sixty percent of the known star names are derived from Arabic.


The Muslim world's political mismanagement failed to sustain the intellectual zenith, ultimately leading to downfall. Islam emphasises a balance between spiritualism and worldly knowledge. In forsaking knowledge we defied the teachings and spirit of Islam. This in turn led to retrogression in our religious beliefs, intellectual productivity and societal values. Excelling in science and knowledge was once a boon for Muslims; skepticism and a total lack in these fields has become a bane.


Today we have given the world to understand that Islam frowns on scientific achievement and enquiry. On the contrary it emphasises the quest for knowledge, never being at conflict with the same. The Quran repeatedly encourages us to contemplate and investigate the world around us.


"Read in the name of your Lord who created, created man from a clot. Read, for your Lord is most generous, Who teaches by means of the pen, teaches man what he does not know." (Al-Alaq). These were the first five verses revealed to the Holy Prophet (pbuh), the first word being "read." Out of a total of 6,326 verses in the Holy Quran the word `ilm (knowledge) and its derivatives are used more than 780 times, the concept of reasoning 49 times. Allah says: "We fashioned man according to the best way." (At-Tin: 95:4). This supremacy was only awarded to Adam over angels because of his being endowed with the capacity to learn and comprehend.

However, the present status of Muslims is mirrored in this verse: "They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not. They are like cattle—nay, more misguided, for they are heedless (of warning)." (Al-A`raf: 179). Here, understand not, see not and hear not mean unaware, astray, neglectful and, above all—ignorant.


Islam was once applied in a way to support creativity and tolerance along with diversity of positive thought and behaviour, both in societal and individual lives. Mamun-ur-Rasheed summed it up aptly when he said: "Reason and faith can be the same. By fully opening the mind and unleashing human creativity, many wonders, including peace, are possible."


Today, we are content in eulogising past glories while lamenting our present predicaments. It is time to craft solutions to the issues that confront us; to do that we need to understand the true spirit, message and history of Islam. The ways and means for a better and brighter tomorrow are only for those who seek knowledge, dream and strive to see them come true.


The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: miradnanaziz@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

FROZEN MINDSETS

BABAR SATTAR

 

In calling a CIA contractor of the Blackwater/Xe variety discharging no diplomatic duties and responsible for killing two Pakistani citizens pointblank, "our diplomat in Pakistan," the US President was certainly disingenuous, if not deceitful. Even more shameful has been the unionised agreement of mainstream US media not to disclose the truth about Davis, while being aware of it, at the Obama administration's request. Do the New York Times and the Washington Post owe it to the US administration to manipulate facts and give effect to the official US national security doctrine, or do they primarily owe allegiance to the truth?

The Raymond Davis affair, and the response it has elicited from the US and Pakistani governments as well as the media, exposes the frozen mindsets our states and societies remain mired in. What we are witnessing is megalomania dressed as patriotism. Through its handling of the Davis case, the US has reiterated its selective adherence to rule of law and the concept of sovereign equality that backs the doctrine of diplomatic immunity. Starting with the US president and secretary of state, US officials have made no bones about their willingness to use all other means fair or foul – from threats and manipulation of facts to financial incentives – to get their way on the Davis issue.


The trappings of power are incredibly intoxicating, even more so in the Third World where the ordinary Joe seems awed by authority. The paramount incentive to acquire power, for the neighborhood ruffian as well as those in the highest echelons, is to possess the ability to flout law and due process. And the inability of the powerful to get their way, whether right or wrong, makes them mad. In Pakistan, we understand this sentiment well. While we hate those who can flout their muscle and rise above the law, we secretly wish for similar preferential treatment so long as anyone else is getting it. We want rule of law. But till we get it in an unadulterated form, we want to be part of the crowd that can flout it. But such duplicity doesn't make us comfortable with the powerful rubbing the noses of lesser humans in dirt. It makes us angry.


We are angry at our own elites putting the rest of us down, but interestingly, even more so at western powers treating our elites as poodles. We forget to attribute responsibility to our own who are willingly auctioning their souls to the devil. Our sense of disempowerment convinces us that our elites, when in power, have no option but to sell out. There is a sense that none of us are free agents with a will to make choices, but pigmies who don't even possess the ability to comprehend our own manipulation at the hands of others. Feeble self-esteem coupled with an unshaken belief in the omnipotence attributed to the US disables us from apportioning blame proportionately and judiciously when it comes to Pakistani elites working hand-in-glove with US administrations to promote their self-interest and US state agenda. Many of us then call such lack of objectivity nationalism.

Being a CIA agent doesn't disable Davis from claiming diplomatic immunity. The law on the issue is clear. The primary question that needs to be answered is whether, as a US representative, Davis was covered under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations or the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations. The former provides immunity to members of the diplomatic mission, including administrative and technical staff, against criminal prosecution. The latter provides general immunity, but not "in the case of a grave crime pursuant to a decision by the competent judicial authority". The legal status of Davis as a member of the US diplomatic mission in Pakistan or a Consulate-General rests on what was stated in the notification issued by the US to Pakistan's foreign office in regard to Davis prior to the shootings in Lahore.


Both conventions rely on this notification. Whether Davis' passport is a diplomatic or a regular one or whether his Pakistani visa reads official or business are ancillary details. A foreign official is clothed with immunity at the time that the sending state issues a notification that the receiving state accepts without objection. The US cannot confer immunity on Davis by notifying him as a member of the diplomatic mission ex post facto. And Pakistan cannot denude him of immunity that he otherwise enjoyed in accordance with any notification issued by the US regarding his status prior to the shootings. The outcome of the immunity debate thus rests on facts and will have to be determined by the courts in Pakistan. But the judiciousness of such outcome will depend on the ability of the Pakistani state to present unadulterated facts to the court.


Johan Galtung posited the structural theory of imperialism almost half a century back to explain the tremendous inequality within and between nations. At the risk of simplifying (with apologies to Galtung), he saw the world as well as each nation divided into a center and a periphery with the center comprising elites and ordinary people forming the periphery. He argued that imperialism is a structural relationship whereby the center in the dominating nation works in concert with the center in the dominated nation for the mutual benefit of the both. This creates a vertical relationship between the dominating nation and the dominated nation together with a conflict of interest between the center and the periphery of the dominated nation.


In other words, structured domination rests on the alliance between elites or power wielders in the Third World with elites or power wielders of a superpower to serve the interests of both elites and the interests of the superpower at the expense of ordinary people in the Third World. The theory helps explain the historically cozy relationship between the Pakistani political and military elites and successive US administrations on the one hand and growing anti-American sentiment on the streets of Pakistan on the other. Does the Raymond Davis case suggest that Galtung's world is now changing with multiple centers of power and elites emerging within the dominated states like Pakistan – such as an independent media and a reformist judiciary – not amenable to be wooed into a relationship of structural dependence by global powers?


Or is the Raymond Davis case a mere aberration – a consequence of a temporary turf war between the elites in the center and the periphery (the ISI and the CIA in this case)? What if Raymond Davis had the exact same legal status and had killed the two Pakistanis just the way he did, but the CIA had kept the ISI informed about his real identity and scope of work? Would he still be arrested and tried for murder? Would the federal government have dithered in granting immunity if the ISI and the Khakis weren't breathing down its neck? Is this really about rule of law and the value of Pakistani life or a nasty ego feud between faceless elites in the US and Pakistan?


One fears it is the latter because the US still illegally controls airstrips in Pakistan and conducts predator strikes that claim Pakistani lives more indiscriminately than the Lahore shooting. And while parliament cries hoarse over drone attacks, there is no parliamentary or judicial inquiry into who authorises them or why they continue. Now that the failure of the US and Pakistani elites to preserve their harmony of interest on the Davis affair has flagged the issue, we need to ask ourselves critical questions about the nature of the relationship between the US and Pakistani elites and insist on revisiting our concepts of national security, patriotism and strategic partnership such that they serve the interests of the ordinary Pakistani squeezed into the periphery.

The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad. Email:
sattar@post.harvard.edu

 

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

GUT REACTION

MINUTES TICKING

 

The Raymond Davis affair is at the moment the top priority of the Pakistani media and leaders, and rightly so. However, there are five Pakistanis whose lives dangle by a thread: the deadline given by their captors ends today, Feb 26. Unfortunately, there is little media coverage of this, and no headway is being made to recover them. The families of these five Pakistanis wait for the government to do something immediately to recover their loved ones, as they nervously watch the minutes pass by.


The five Pakistanis are part of the 23-member crew of a cargo ship bound for Kenyan port of Mombassa from the UAE some six months ago. Their ship was hijacked by Somali pirates whose deadline equally applies to the governments of the other 33 nations besides Pakistan to which the hostages belong.


According to a local television channel, the families of the crew have been in constant contact with their loved ones. They said these men are being mistreated, to the point of being starved at times. There have been lukewarm statements by Pakistani officials who say they are in contact with the other governments whose nationals are affected by the hostage drama for coordinated efforts for the rescue of these men from the pirates. The pirates' threat should be taken seriously. Only this week they murdered four Americans after hijacking their yacht.

It is another matter that measures taken by the other countries involved are not working either. In view of this, Pakistani authorities needed to have adopted more effective and quicker means than working via the governments of the other countries involved, such as getting in touch with these pirates directly.


The scant interest of the Pakistani authorities in the hostage drama, despite the creeping deadline, goes to show how little the lives of Pakistani citizens mean to their "leaders." Didn't this become quite apparent after the killing of three Pakistanis by the Americans in Lahore? Why must it take media frenzy to wake the government leaders to their responsibilities, including that of protection of their citizens?


Piracy is a huge problem which needs a concerted global effort. One wonders what use are international laws, courts and conventions when the laws are not implemented and pirates freely roam the seas and take people hostage in broad daylight.


According to Reuters Africa, from December 25, 2009, and last month, Somali pirates hijacked at least 33 vessels and about seven hundred crewmembers. Other media reports say that only since the beginning of January the pirates hijacked 12 ships and took 228 crew hostage.


Apart from other measures to deal with the piracy menace, efforts need to be made to improve the situation inside poverty-stricken Somalia, which is one of the most violent places in the world today and long dubbed as a failed state. Among the other grave social crises it is facing is rising unemployment in every field. The pirates who are a constant peril to shipping off the coast of the Horn of Africa are not only members of criminal gangs engaged in coordinated operations but in many cases also out-of-work Somali fishermen. There is a need to improve the economic situation in the country, providing some means of sustenance to the majority so that they don't have to resort to such crimes for their survival.


Coming back to the Pakistanis held hostage, the government should have redoubled its efforts for the five men's rescue after the wave of protests in North Africa and the Middle East. If tragedy befalls the five, the people of Pakistan, hungry, angry and frustrated as they are, may not give much time to leaders before they topple the setup.

The writer is a staff member.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

FOREIGN NETWORK OF SUICIDE BOMBERS

 

AN investigative report, prepared by a correspondent of this newspaper after in-depth interaction and background interviews and access to relevant evidence, reveals the extent of gross interference by secret agencies of some foreign States that are engaged in crude activities to destabilize Pakistan. The well-documented report indicates that a number of foreign networks and elements have been using misguided youth from Central Asian Republics to carry out series of suicide bombing inside Pakistan particularly against security forces.

It provides alarming details as to how thousands of orphans and poor youth from Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Tataristan and Russian Federation have been motivated for the task and being trained in Afghanistan under the very nose of heavy concentration of American and NATO troops as well as Afghan National Army. The way they move with ease across Pakistan-Afghan border and get training in Afghanistan is a clear testimony to the fact that all this happening is in full knowledge rather complicity of the occupation forces. The report is corroborated by what even the Western media has divulged about real identity and mission of American killer Raymond Davis, who had been maintaining frequent contacts with militants fighting Pakistani forces. The report exposes real intentions and ambitions of the United States, which has been blaming Pakistan for lack of commitment to fight those factions of militants that are allegedly providing support to Afghan Taliban. Under pressure from the United States, our forces have been focusing their entire energies on mitigating threats for occupation forces in Afghanistan while foreign mercenaries trained and funded by several countries to advance their own regional agenda are targeting with ease the lives of our security personnel, military installations and religious places. These elements are also used in Karachi to fan sectarian tension whereas it is an open secret that foreign hand is behind violence and terrorism in Balochistan. Foreign agents, active in Balochistan, are also harbouring acts of terrorism in neighbouring Iran in a clear bid to create bad blood between the two brotherly countries. The report is not any figment of imagination as it gives names of the terrorist organizations raised by these foreign countries and even published photographs of foreign nationals found involved in bomb blasts and suicide bombings in Pakistan during the last few months. Time has, therefore, come for the Pakistani authorities to call a spade a spade and focus attention towards countering conspiracies to destabilize the country.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

NEED TO MODERNISE PN

 

PAKISTAN Navy is to lead 39-nation "Aman 11" exercise in the Arabian Sea from March 8 that would help it make assessment of its preparations to tackle challenges in the region. This is important because multi-dimensional maritime threats in the Arabian Sea, where most of world's oil supply passes, has become a focus point for world power and littoral States and the event would provide an opportunity to PN to have deeper understanding of these challenges and what role it can play to address them.


Though during meeting of Naval Chief Admiral Noman Bashir with Prime Minister on Thursday, Syed Yusuf Raza Gilani held out an assurance that the Government would not be found lacking in equipping armed forces with the latest technology and equipment but situation on the ground speaks otherwise and it is more so in the case of Pakistan Navy. The viability of Pakistan's foreign trade largely depends on secure sea-lanes and frequent threats by India to carry out blockade of Karachi provide adequate justification for expansion and modernization of Pakistan Navy but unfortunately the successive governments ignored this aspect to the criminal extent. As against this, since 1965, when the Pakistan Navy bombarded Dwarka, 200 miles South East of Karachi, and the Indian Navy was caught napping in various harbours, India has embarked on a programme of its Navy's expansion. After the 1971 War this growth received greater fillip and till 1995 the annual development budget for the Indian Navy was higher than that for the Indian Army or the Indian Air Force. Way back in 1956, Pakistan Navy's first Commander-in-Chief Admiral H.M.S. Chaudhry recommended to the Government the construction of another port at Ormara and its linking with Sonmiani but it was only in 1992 that approval for its establishment was given. This shows the lack of vision and commitment to boost naval defence of the country that is so vital for maritime security and safeguard commercial interests of the country. Under the emerging scenario, Pakistan must not rely merely on foreign resources to modernize the Navy but also undertake comprehensive research and development to ensure local manufacturing of required equipment and weapons. Such projects can be undertaken through collaboration with affluent Muslim States on mutually beneficial terms.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

PLIGHT OF POWER CONSUMERS

 

IN the backdrop of a report that formula for fixation of power tariff was highly discriminative and flawed and makes the consumers pay for inefficiency of the companies, the rates have been hiked by 33 paisa per unit on the pretext of fuel adjustment surcharge. The new tariff will be implemented from the current month and the consumers would be in for more trouble as there is likelihood that prices of petroleum products would be adjusted upward from March and as a consequence the fuel adjustment surcharge would also go up significantly from next month.


No doubt, the Government is facing worst kind of financial crunch and it is not possible for it to bear the burden of subsidies anymore and the cost has to be recovered from the consumer. But we have been pointing out in these columns that solution of the problems afflicting the power sector is not frequent increases in power tariff, which retards our economic growth besides making life of the citizens economically miserable. There are alarming thefts and line losses, defaults and corruption and if these issues are addressed there would not be any need to raise the tariff every now and then. According to the written information provided by the Government to Parliament, there are about three hundred thousand kundas in Karachi alone while there are no dependable estimates available of the theft being carried out through the connivance of WAPDA and KESC officials. There are countless instances where factories and commercial enterprises consuming electricity worth millions of rupees are paying just a few thousand rupees by palm-greasing the staff. Then there are huge losses because of outdated distribution system, which the organization has not cared to replace, upgrade or modernize with the passage of time. One way-out is to lessen dependence on thermal power by focusing on hydel and alternative energy resources but progress towards that end is also dismal. For how long people would wait for improvement in the situation and continue to pay more for poor service?

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

AVOIDING WATER WARS

NEWS & VIEWS

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

The US Senate report released the other day warned that the Indus Water Treaty may fail to avert water wars between India and Pakistan, acknowledging that dams India is building in occupied Kashmir will limit supply of water to Pakistan at crucial moments. "This report highlights how water security is vital in achieving our foreign policy and national security goals and provides recommendations to foster regional cooperation and long-term stability," said Senator John Kerry, chairman of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee, while releasing the report. India is constructing 33 dams that are at various stages of completions, and cumulative effect of storing water would limit the supply to Pakistan at crucial moments in the growing season, the report added. Currently, the most controversial dam project is the proposed 330-megawatt dam on the Kishenganga River, a tributary of the Indus. The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee should have come out with the solution to the problem instead of giving an impression that Indus Water Treaty has become redundant. In fact, it is the responsibility of the international community to urge India to honour its commitment under the treaty. And this is the only way to avoid war.


With the climate change and as a consequence shrinking water availability across the Middle East, Asia and sub-Saharan Africa, violent conflict between states is increasingly likely. This matter was on the agenda of annul World Water Week forum in Stockholm held in 2006, but it could not answer the question raised in the meeting whether we are heading for an era of "hydrological warfare" in which rivers, lakes and aquifers become national security assets to be fought over, or controlled through proxy armies and client states? Or can water act as a force for peace and cooperation? It has been estimated by the experts that by 2025, more than two billion people are expected to live in countries that find it difficult or impossible to mobilize the water resources needed to meet the needs of agriculture, industry and households. Population growth, urbanization and the rapid development of manufacturing industries are relentlessly increasing demand for finite water resources. Symptoms of the resulting water stress are increasingly visible. In northern China, rivers now run dry in their lower reaches for much of the year. In parts of Pakistan and India, groundwater levels are falling so rapidly that from 10 percent to 20 percent of agricultural production is under threat.


In the past, there have been wars between the countries over religions, usurpation of territories and control of resources including oil, but in view of acute shortages of water in Africa, Middle East, Asia and elsewhere, the future wars could be fought over water.


In addition to Kashmir dispute, the Indus River Basin has been an area of conflict between India and Pakistan for about four decades. Spanning 1,800 miles, the river and its tributaries together make up one of the largest irrigation canals in the world. Dams and canals built in order to provide hydropower and irrigation have dried up stretches of the Indus River. The division of the river basin water has created friction among the countries of South Asia, and among their states and provinces. Accusations of overdrawing of share of water made by each province have resulted in the lack of water supplies to coastal regions of Pakistan. India and Bangladesh have also dispute over Ganges River water and India is resorting to water theft there as well. Nepal and Bangladesh are also victims of India's water thievery. India had dispute with Bangladesh over Farrakha Barrage, with Nepal over Mahakali River and with Pakistan over 1960 Indus Water Treaty.


India is busy building dams on all rivers flowing into Pakistan from occupied Kashmir to regain control of water of western rivers in violation of Indus Water Treaty. This is being done under well thought-out strategy to render Pakistan's link-canal system redundant, destroy agriculture of Pakistan which is its mainstay, and turn Pakistan into a desert. India has plans to construct 62 dams/hydro-electric units on Rivers Chenab and Jhelum; thus enabling it to render these rivers dry by 2014. Using its clout in Afghanistan, India has succeeded in convincing Karzai regime to build a dam on River Kabul and set up Kama Hydroelectric Project using 0.5MAF of Pakistan water. It has offered technical assistance for the proposed project, which will have serious repercussions on the water flow in River Indus. Pakistan, indeed, needs large reservoirs to meet the growing food requirements of ever-increasing population. Today, agricultural sector contributes 24 per cent to the Gross Domestic Product (GDP); two-third of population living in rural areas depends on it; absorbs more than 50 per cent of the labour force and provides the base for 75 per cent of exports in the form of raw materials and value-added products.


There is realization in all the provinces that water shortages can lead to food shortages and also rifts between the provinces. But the issue had been politicized for the last thirty years and genuine efforts were not made by the governments and leaders to resolve the contradictions by showing sense of accommodation and understanding of one another's problems. However, consensus has been reached on Bhasha Dam, though belatedly; and now every effort should be made to expedite construction of this project. One does not have to be an agricultural scientist to know that water is indispensable to agriculture. It is a critical input into agriculture of a country especially when it is situated in an arid or semi-arid zone. Loss of storage capacity due to sedimentation in Tarbela and Mangla Dams is causing serious drop even for existing agricultural production. Food shortages and energy shortfall has already blighted Pakistan with the result that industry in all the provinces has also been adversely impacted. The present government and opposition parties seem to be too preoccupied with their power-sharing or power-grabbing plans, and do not have time to effectively pursue the matter with India or take up the matter of India's violations of IWT with International Court of Justice.

Pakistan is facing acute shortage of water due to India's river water diversion plan, which has adversely impacted the farmers and made it difficult for them to keep their body and soul together. Last year, Pakistan Muttahida Kisan Mahaz (MKM) has criticised the government's silence over Chenab River water 'piracy' by India. The Mahaz president said: "Under the Indus Water Basin Treaty, India is required to release 16,000 cusec Chenab water to Pakistan whereas water flow at Head Marala has been reduced to only 5,000 cusec as a result of construction of Baglihar Dam Occupied Kashmir. Drastic fall in Chenab water flow had resulted in closure of Marala Ravi Link, Upper Chenab and BRB canals which met 75 per cent canal water requirement of Punjab". The closure of three canals had created an acute shortage of water for Rabi crop, and wheat production had shown a decline last year in Punjab. According to the treaty, India could not use Chenab water, as it could affect the quantity or flow of the river. And it goes without saying that by making the reservoir, the flow of water will definitely be affected. Let the US Foreign Relations Committee hold another session to address the concerns of riparian states like Pakistan.


—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

WHO ISSUED BULK VISAS TO THE AMERICANS?

DR RAJA MUHAMMAD KHAN

After the hectic campaign for the attainment of diplomatic immunity for its national, Raymond Davis, United States has finally confessed that, he was a CIA operative, on the spying mission. He is a former member of Special Forces and now works for Xe, commonly known as the Blackwater. This security company works for the CIA all over the globe as well in Pakistan. Upon the arrest of Ramond Davis, the murderer of two persons, some of the non-standard diplomatic items like; a Glock, a telescope, more than 80 bullets, face masks, GPS and pictures of sensitive installations were recovered from his possession. As per the so far confirmed record, he is on this spying mission in Pakistan from early 2010 and since then has been tripping between Pakistan and US quite frequently. Should a diplomat be carrying all items as mentioned above during his diplomatic assignments, is a big question mark. Raymond Davis has incidentally got exposed once he murdered two innocent Pakistani youth, but there are hundreds of his brothers, whose assignments and exact location may be known to only few even in US.


Apart from the fact, whether, Raymond has the diplomatic immunity or otherwise, every Pakistani is inquisitive to know as to why hundreds of thousands of the US nationals, mostly the men of special forces working for various US intelligence agencies, particularly CIA were given Pakistani visas and who is to be held responsible for that. Pakistani media has been quite informative and vocal, in indicating the influxes' of the so-called US diplomats on various occasions. As established now, there was immense US pressure on Pakistani authorities for the issuance of the visas to US national and particularly to its spying agents in the garb of diplomats without any prior security clearance and on the short notices. This practice has been more frequent during year 2009/10. Pakistani Embassy in the US has made a record issue of the visas during this tenure. As per rules of the business, issuance of visas in such an enormous number would have called for the formal approval of the Federal Cabinet. Nevertheless, there has been one man show or maximum the decision of the few in the Government, allowing this heavy influx of the US nationals, against the national interest of Pakistan, for promotion of the personal relationship.


Like Raymond Davis, almost all US spies, were issued diplomatic passport and later visas issued by Pakistani authorities accordingly. These people were disguised mostly as the US officials, embassy staffers, diplomats, journalists and media men. Unfortunately, the authorities in Pakistan never questioned the US, as to why such a huge force is being inducted in Pakistan and for what special assignments. DynCorp and Blackwater (Xe), private security companies of the USA, were issued hundreds of visas. These companies have been found involved in spying activities in Pakistan. Despite the reservations from the intelligence agencies of Pakistan, DynCorp was issued exclusive visas for over 50 personnel in 2010.


It is learnt that, Pakistani Embassy in Washington was empowered to issue any number of visas to US nationals for a period of one year, without making a reference to the intelligence agencies of Pakistan. Upon this undesired flexibility, Pakistani Embassy issued 400 visas to US nationals in first two days, including a holiday. It is noteworthy that, in a period of six months; January 2010 to July 2010, Pakistani Embassy in Washington, issued 1895, officials and diplomatic visas. From July 14, 2010, to 30 August, 2010, US embassy issued another 1445 visas to US citizens, mostly in the garb of diplomats. Following the special power given to Pakistani Ambassador in Washington, for the issuance of visas, it is estimated that "approximately 3000 visas had been issued to US officials and diplomats by Pak Embassy in Washington. Though the spokesperson of the US Embassy in Islamabad has not issued any data of US national in Pakistan, however, as per Pakistani in Washington, "approximately 3,555 U.S. diplomats, military officials and employees of allied agencies were issued visas in 2010."

Nevertheless, the exact data of the US nationals, who are stationed in Pakistan, is still not known. In most of the cases, once security forces tried to be strict on the checking of the US nationals, entering into Pakistan, higher authorities in the Government would stop the checking procedures for these US nationals, issued with special visas. The question arises, as to why such a heavy number of US nationals were given visas without security clearance. Why US needs to raise the level of its manpower to such an extent. Since almost a year, U.S is expanding its mission in Islamabad through a fortified embassy compound by spending over a $1 billion on its construction. This expanded compound would be sufficient to house hundreds of new employees. Besides, U.S is strengthening its consulates in Karachi, Peshawar and Lahore. The former Ambassador, Peterson, had also visited Quetta and met many Baloch nationalists there in 2010. Unfortunately, there have been no worthwhile voices on these expansionist designs of US in Pakistan from various circles. Although, it is already too late, yet, the people in the hierarchal order of Pakistan must question US for over a brigade size force in Pakistan. After all, "There are huge sensitivities. This is not Iraq or Afghanistan. We are not under occupation." Furthermore, as if this was not enough, on the request of the US authorities, Pakistani Ministry of Interior Affairs, issued licenses of the prohibited bore arms to the private security companies like Inter-Risk, working for the DynCorp and others working for Xe. Through a letter the former US Ambassador, Anne W Patterson, sought the licenses for the weapon of prohibited bore from Interior Minister Rehman Malik in March, 2009. She specially mentioned about the Washington's security contract with "DynCorp International and their Pakistani sub-contractors Inter-Risk (Pvt) Ltd, and Speed Flo Filter Industries." The Ambassador also used her influence in getting the weapons of prohibited bore for US security companies and Inter-Risk, working for these US companies. It is worth mentioned that, "US Embassy in Islamabad had ordered the import of around 140 AK-47 rifles and other prohibited weapons in the name of Inter-Risk."


Now, after the unfortunate incident of the Raymond Davis, Government of Pakistan has started repairing the losses. The Government has decided to shrink the special power given to the Pakistani Ambassador in Washington and imposition of other security checks, necessary to be taken in the national interest. There has been mystifying revelations that, Interior Ministry does not have the updated record of the US nationals serving

in Pakistan in various capacities.


Let there be end to the era of special protocol for US spying network in Pakistan. The Government of Pakistan must investigate all those responsible for the flaws in the visa issuance process and reprimand them on their act. The broad criterion should be that, our personal relations and personal gains should not govern the national interests of Pakistan. The sovereignty, integrity and national pride of Pakistan should be kept in the forefront, while developing our relationship across the national frontiers.


—The writer is an analyst of international relations.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

BALOCHISTAN THE LAND OF OPPORTUNITIES

ABID LATIF SINDHU

Strange optics is built around truths or sometimes half truths. Pakistan is a unique country; it has a highest level of resilience on one hand and the most fragile economy on the other, what a contrast. It is also a country which has the highest ratio of philanthropist contributions by individuals towards the downtrodden. Why then every pocket has a hole? Despite all other plus or minuses, the biggest endowment is the geography, especially the diversity of it. Balochistan is the 40% of the land mass and therefore is the most important factor in the new arithmetic of regional geo-economics. The emerging new Middle East is just at the doorsteps of Balochistan. It is also the El Dorado as far as the wealth of natural minerals and valuable deposits are concerned. A recent image was quite promising in which General Ashfaq Kaayni inaugurated a marble mine in Balochistan. Is the military face really required in every economic activity of this province? Army is naturally a factor in this part of Pakistan, because almost 60% of Balochistan is the "B Area", which is almost ungovernable by normal mechanics of the governmental dispensation.

 

Here with police and civil armed forces army itself figures out well. Before looking in to the problems of increasing ethnicity in Balochistan the wholesome view is to be taken. Recent trends in ethnic reverberations have historic and social currents. The Nawab of Kalat by his own sweat will, signed the documents of accession with Pakistan, the fillip was of course the immense popularity of idea of Pakistan in neighboring NWFP. Everything went well till late sixties when few tribal elders with extreme rightist tendencies stoked the fires of insurgency. The result was the obvious dying down of these flames, albeit with lot of price in terms of sowing the seeds of discontent and alienation. This time there is no plausible reason for any unrest but still the same is being created with artificial reasons and dubious rhymes. Who is going to miss the beat – the flute player, the drumbeater or the pied piper? Keeping the present situation of the province in view a strange phenomenon is at work. The leftist tendencies are being provoked by the most rightist of the people, the feudal and tribal elders. They are not going to deliver to the poor people of Balochistan as they themselves are anti change. Rhetoric against the government is a mere political plank without any people friendly outlook.


Change in terms of improvement in social indicators is the real key to counter any centrifugal tendencies. Do we require Harvard qualified anthropologists or ethnographers to identify these problems? It is not only the ethnic counter which has to be reversed; rather it is the complete time clock which has to be reset. Development initiatives are the best measures which can bring change. People of Balochistan are to be engaged with trust building efforts. As per all the modern writers trust is the mortar which binds the nation together. Francis Fukoyama's world known thesis vindicates the same. The Government of Pakistan should undertake the development projects on war footing as it is going to be the snowball to the winter of discontent. The army having boots on ground and fairly heavy footprint in the area can be tasked to undertake civil affairs' operation under the auspices of federal government. The mineral exploration is one area which even after becoming controversial, is still going to be the major employment giving sector. New roads will have the same effect as that of historic trans European train or the eighteenth century English channel steamships. These will not only open up new vistas, but also will open up the Clauso tropic society.


One indicator of divided society is the lack of intermingling at trans-cultural level. In Pakistan the factor is minimum between Punjabis and Pathans due to inter marriages and of course the sharing of the Abaseen (Indus). Unfortunately this did not happen between Balochis or Brohis and other ethnic groups. Who is to be blamed – state, politician or the people?


There is no time left for this blame game. Balochistan requires immediate attention and response from all the players. Youth of the province is waiting for gestures of paternal magnanimity from the state. People in general are not in habit of queuing up for fulfillment of their basic needs being the tribal and feudal society. The ostrich like approach by anyone who matters is going to be the harbinger of a sandstorm which might change the landscape when the whistle blowing wind stops. So wake up or go for a long slumber, the ostrich way.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

FREEDOM IN WRONG HANDS

FRIENDLY FIRE

KHALID SALEEM

 

Former United States Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld is reported to have made some interesting observations regarding the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Barack Obama. Among other things, Mr. Rumsfeld expressed the view that Obama was awarded the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize "on hope" instead of his accomplishments. To quote, "Well he had not accomplished a thing when he got the Nobel Prize. It was given to him in hope. Had to have been, because there wasn't anything that he had done". For good measure, Rumsfeld added that he did not think that Obama had 'turned international favor back towards the United States' and that 'he has made a practice of trying to apologize for America".


Coming from a person who enjoys the dubious reputation of being the architect of as well as a leading apologist for the American military adventure in Iraq, some allowance needs to be made for the utterances of Mr. Rumsfeld . Nonetheless, his remarks are a bit too near reality to be dismissed as being merely subjective. One needs to look at the matter dispassionately and, in particular take stock of the situation on the ground. Look at it in any way you like, the fact remains that President Obama's track record in relation to world peace since his becoming a Nobel laureate has been less than inspiring.


The award of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize to US President Barack Obama had, in many ways, represented a "triumph of hope over experience"(to quote the inimitable Dr. Johnson). Though the venerable doctor had used the observation in an entirely different context but it would appear not entirely inappropriate in the present frame of reference as well. The moot point is whether or not the analyses of Mr. Rumsfeld hits the bulls eye. A dispassionate observer would tend to agree, the credentials of the gentleman in question notwithstanding. He would argue whether or not the world is a safer place to live in as a direct result of President Obama's efforts. Let us look back a bit. It must be said that, going by his campaign utterances, Barack Obama did hold out the promise of turning out to be a 'President for peace'. Whether or not he has lived up to the promise after assuming office is now the moot point. There are not an inconsiderable number of people who would aver, with reason, that there is discernable a wide gulf between the utterances of candidate Obama and subsequent actions of President Obama.


President Obama's utterances during his visit to Asia – and India in particular – had served the purpose of a touchstone to test his quest for peace in this world. Pakistan as a declared strategic partner of the United States had hoped that the President of the sole super power would use his power of persuasion to press for an environment of a just and honourable peace in this part of the world. This did not materialize, though. As it turned out, there was very little to choose between the rhetoric of Nobel Laureate Obama and that of his predecessor.

Talking of Obama's predecessor, not all that long ago the international media had splashed the news of 'bushfires' in Australia's southeastern Victoria state that had caused widespread destruction. President Obama was faced by another genre of 'bushfires' – the fires around the world lit by former President George W. Bush of the United States. The latter, by the way, opted to say goodbye to his exalted office not only unrepentant but also advocating more of the same. The onus then passed on to President Obama, who was called upon to decide whether to accept the 'advice' of his predecessor or to do something to douse the flames lit by these 'Bushfires'.

The choice could hardly be classed as overly complex. In his campaign promises, President Obama had opted for 'change'. It would be logical to assume therefore, that quest for change be the controlling force in his actions as President. One may be excused for being so bold as to suggest that his first objective should have been to restore the credibility of the United States of America – credibility that was dealt a body blow by his predecessor due to his less than well-conceived military forays. Nearer home, one had hoped and prayed that President Obama would have a serious rethink about his predecessor's 'war on terror' policy. Obama's early observations relating to his interest in the settlement of the Jammu and Kashmir dispute had raised high hopes. People here had hoped that he had not lost sight of his quest for bringing peace to this region by removing this festering flash point. His interest in giving depth to America's economic ties with India is understandable but this should not preclude assuming his responsibility to foster an atmosphere of peace and respect for human rights in the region.


With President Obama assuming the mantle of Nobel laureate, it was to be expected that he would live up to the ideals of the honour bestowed upon him. Given that as president of the sole superpower he is answerable to the American establishment that understandably has its own set of priorities. As an honoured recipient of the Nobel Prize for Peace, though, he was expected to at least make a plausible gesture to live up to the ideals attached to it.

Whether or not he has done so is the moot point. There are several, much like Donald Rumsfeld, who look askance at what he has done and in particular at what he could have accomplished but did not. President Obama may wish to spare a thought for some other American Nobel laureates in the same boat. It may sound a bit on the presumptuous side, but perhaps President Obama may be advised to take a leaf out of the book of another American Nobel laureate President Jimmy Carter, who has, against all odds, made a gallant effort to live up to its ideals. If Jimmy Carter can do it, why not Barack Obama?

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

HELPING MATES ACROSS THE DITCH

IN THE MIDDLE OF A DISMALLY EMPTY STADIUM IN NAGPUR, INDIA, THE AUSTRALIAN AND NEW ZEALAND CRICKET TEAMS CAME TOGETHER YESTERDAY IN MOVING AND DIGNIFIED MOMENT OF GRIEF AND RESPECT FOR VICTIMS OF THE CHRISTCHURCH EARTHQUAKE.

Their black arm bands, the minute's silence and the Australians' support for their shell-shocked Kiwi mates bore out Ricky Ponting's words: "We are neighbours and we treat each other as brothers and we will make sure we can do something for them." Then, as always, the best of friends became fierce rivals in the battle of bat and ball.

Half a world away, as the death toll climbed sharply and hopes of finding large numbers of survivors faded, a battalion of Australian search and rescue experts, engineers, police, firefighters and medical staff laboured alongside local crews and those from across the Asia-Pacific in heavy rain. The brutal reality of tonnes of concrete, brick and steel crashing down on human flesh hit home with accounts of an Australian doctor who amputated the legs of a man trapped in rubble in order to save his life. Next will come the battles against disease, the hardships of being without sanitation and water and the sadness of burying the dead.

This weekend, the 2000km between Christchurch and eastern Australia -- which is slightly less than the distance from Melbourne to Townsville -- has never felt smaller. The Tasman Sea seems more like the nickname often used by Aussies and Kiwis when referring to those "over the ditch". The response by Australians to the earthquake that destroyed much of the CBD of New Zealand's second-largest city in the middle of the working day on Tuesday has reinforced the strength of our nations' bilateral bond.

We have much more in common than the English language, a shared heritage and the remarkably similar flags that looked splendid side by side at the World Cup yesterday. The most vital quality that unites us is a gritty determination to dig deep and do our best at times of crisis. Our instinct is to look after our mates, take care of the underdogs and persevere until the hard work is done -- in a nutshell, the Anzac spirit. ABC radio listeners who understand that the Anzac spirit's enduring values stretch far beyond the wars in which it has been forged over 96 years were stunned this week to hear a journalist complaining about Julia Gillard invoking the term Anzac in discussing the earthquake. Obviously Christchurch is not a war zone, but for most New Zealanders this catastrophe is more painful than any war in living memory.

It is also appropriate that Australia's support for Christchurch extend beyond the emergency rescue and clean-up phases of the earthquake's aftermath to the rebuilding phase. In a generous gesture yesterday, the Prime Minister urged Australians to consider holidaying in New Zealand once the worst is over. The World Cup will be a strong incentive for rugby fans to travel, but we hope they also find time to relax in north Queensland as the cyclone-ravaged tourism industry there struggles back to its feet.

Australia's summer of floods, cyclones and bushfires has reinforced the value of communities working together in the face of disaster. The same will quickly become apparent in New Zealand, which faces a rebuilding process beyond anything Australia has experienced. That is why we need to be beside them through the painful journey to come.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

THE PROMISES OF YESTERDAY ARE THE TAXES OF TODAY

WHETHER BY DESIGN OR HAPPY COINCIDENCE, TWO OF THE KEY POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS OF LABOR'S POST-ELECTION NATIONAL REVIEW HAVE ALREADY BEEN ACTED UPON BY THE GILLARD GOVERNMENT.

The imperatives of appealing to Greens voters and migrant groups are reflected in the national debates we're now having about multiculturalism and carbon pricing. If the recommendations, revealed by The Australian, are to be followed, a push for gay marriage could be be next. But perhaps one of the most important lessons for Labor is missing, the need to dispense with its short-term focus.

National government must operate beyond the cycles of 24-hour news coverage and fortnightly Newspolls. The ALP has been shaped over more than a century by important cultural, economic and demographic changes, so it needs to evolve with those shifts rather than jump this way and that in order to maintain its relevance.

Just two decades ago, manufacturing was the largest employment sector in the country and it provided Labor with a core constituency of unionised, working-class, loyal voters. Now manufacturing is the fourth-largest employment group, with all the jobs growth in health, retail and professional consultancy. Many in Labor expected that as working families progressed into the service industries, they might take on the values of the tertiary-educated, public-sector elite, Labor's other mainstay. Instead, trends show that the outlook on life that informs political beliefs is more sturdy than that, and aspiration does not mean abandonment of core values. At the same time, the expanding numbers of inner-city elites that Labor once relied on are drifting to the Greens and preferencing Labor. There are challenges in this for both sides of politics, but for now the pressing issue for Labor is how to prevent its urban elite voters from abandoning it for the Greens, without alienating the workers and aspirational Australians that have formed its base.

Labor's calling card in the inner city has come to include compassion on immigration and border protection, action on climate change and a nod to gay marriage. Yet, appealing to working families in election campaigns, it rejects gay marriage, opposes a "big" Australia and talks tough on borders. Labor is stuck talking from both sides of the mouth and it gives the impression of a government chasing its tail. This is the contemporary manifestation of the famous observation from Kim Beazley Sr that Labor was once run by the "cream of the working class" but now consists of "the dregs of the middle class". The ALP now must do some soul-searching and instead of viewing this as a social divide, find ways to bridge the demographic continuum.

This unresolved dilemma has hit home with the broken promise on a carbon tax because Julia Gillard ruled it out before the election to appeal to the mainstream and now is adopting it, in an effort to court the green Left. Apart from confusing the public, this has dealt a body blow to the Prime Minister's personal credibility. Labor must understand that for all the change around us, some values remain quite consistent in mainstream Australia. One of those is a fundamental belief in honesty. Voters who teach their children, expect their partners and strive themselves to be honest do not appreciate being played for suckers by their political leaders. Forget the political semantics, to most Australians, no carbon tax means no carbon tax.

The Australian made the point yesterday that while we see the proposed carbon pricing model as sensible policy, there are clear issues about mandates and honesty for Ms Gillard to confront. When she appeared on top-rating commercial talkback radio and encountered visceral anger, she needed to understand that Alan Jones and Neil Mitchell do not attract such large and loyal audiences without understanding something about public moods and values. It is no good blaming interviewers or the opposition; the government is responsible for its own promises and actions.

Tony Abbott lost some political skin himself when, as health minister, he made promises about the Medicare safety net that were overturned by cabinet after the 2004 election. The Coalition also paid a high price for its overreach on WorkChoices, a policy it did not propose in 2004 but suddenly found it could implement.

However, Ms Gillard's broken carbon tax promise is in a league of its own. The correct way to conduct such a backflip would have been to do as John Howard did with the GST, that is, propose it before seeking an electoral mandate.

Still, Labor must take note of other perennial strands that run through mainstream Australia. Strong border protection, for instance, has been part of a largely unspoken compact that has underpinned the community's broad support for high immigration levels. The importance of family, even given the increasing diversity of family arrangements, remains paramount. The aspiration for a job, reward for effort and home ownership remain strong. Labor will find, as the Coalition seems to understand, that most of these values flow through, in some shape or form, from working families to the upwardly mobile semi-professionals.

Inconsistent and sudden policy changes are fraught with danger for Labor. The answer is not to commission a report and quickly change political tactics but to to focus on core values, decide what it stands for and devise a consistent policy direction.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

LABOR'S POLL OMISSION SPARKS MPS' EMISSIONS

OUR ECONOMY IS CRAVING CERTAINTY ON CARBON PRICING.

Impasse over climate change policy has been the one constant in federal politics for the past four years. Yesterday the issue triggered loud and profuse emissions of carbon dioxide from the lungs of our MPs into the parliament. These are the emissions we have to have because this crucial policy debate has been forestalled too long.

Julia Gillard faces intense political difficulty explaining why Labor retreated on a carbon trading scheme, refused to take it to a double dissolution and then promised, before the last election, not to impose a carbon tax. Her announcement yesterday amounts, initially, to a carbon tax, so she will be made to squirm and voters will make up their own minds about issues of mandates, promises and trust. But on the policy itself The Australian believes Ms Gillard and her Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, are on their way to striking a sensible balance.

It is worth reminding ourselves that both sides of politics continue to support reductions in carbon emissions. There has been bipartisan support for renewable energy targets and medium-term emission reduction targets. Unfortunately, the renewable energy schemes deliver power at a very high price, as studies such as the one released this week by the Australian Industry Group show. AIG believes the cost to consumers of these programs, which subsidise small-scale generation like home solar panels, could be more than a billion dollars a year. Further, uncertainty about carbon pricing is stalling vital investment in electricity infrastructure, compounding price pressures. These impacts, it can be argued, mean we are already paying a de facto carbon price on our electricity.

Given both sides of politics agree to a minimum 5 per cent reduction of emissions (from 2000 levels) by 2020, the debate is not about the outcome but how to achieve it. The government's compromise plan to fix a carbon price in July next year before moving to a trading scheme three to five years later makes sense. It provides an initial price signal to encourage and guide investment, while allowing business and industry to adjust to this major reform. An economic transformation on this scale will throw up unexpected quandaries and complications, so a staged introduction is pragmatic. Australia can switch to a trading market when it is satisfied there has been sufficient international progress.

Since the Shergold report to the Howard government in 2007, there has been a consistent line of considered advice to government that we will best protect our economic future by making this transition sufficiently early to help shape and adapt to the international marketplace. And the sooner we do this the sooner investment dollars will have an incentive to find the cheapest clean energy, ending the waste of the current renewable schemes.

Broken promise or not, Ms Gillard is finally underway on a major reform. She has much detail to bed down, particularly on the issue of compensation, which is crucial for business and for Labor's constituents, and which the Greens will resist. The political fight will be intense, as the Coalition opposes the tax, yet promises to meet the same targets by spending tax dollars. Four years on, very little is predictable about the politics or the outcome, but it is clear the Australian economy craves certainty.

 

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

NO WALKING AWAY ON CLIMATE AGAIN

JULIA GILLARD'S announcement on Thursday that the government would legislate this year to fix a price on carbon came as a bolt from the blue. It follows years of botched attempts, fruitless political brawls and phoney wars over giving Australia a serious mechanism for tackling climate change. Much of Gillard's latest plan still needs to be explained. Nonetheless, this time there must be no going back.

The case cannot be sustained for Australia's delaying any longer a scheme designed to cut emissions of gases that cause global warming. Since coal was first mined at Newcastle in 1797 we have enjoyed cheap energy from this dirty source of carbon dioxide, a chief driver of global warming. Coal now provides about 80 per cent of our electricity. We have become the world's highest greenhouse emitter per person.

Some experts reckon Australia's recent tally of natural disasters is linked to changing climate patterns: Victoria's bushfires and Sydney's dust storms in 2009; floods devastating three states and cyclones hitting northern Australia this year. True or not, such phenomena are becoming frequent enough for the impact of human activity on climate to be quizzed. The Bureau of Meteorology cites the decade to 2009 as Australia's hottest on record. The federal multi-party climate change committee, whose report triggered Gillard's announcement, talks of unmitigated climate change ''threatening our economy, our natural heritage and our way of life''.

The committee comprises independent, Labor and Green parliamentarians, the Coalition having refused an invitation by Gillard and Greg Combet, the Minister for Climate Change, to join it. So far the model's details are more sketchy than the one the Rudd government tried and failed to get through Parliament three times, thanks largely to an unholy alliance between the Coalition and the Greens in the Senate. The new plan would start with polluters being obliged from July 2012 to pay a fixed price (yet to be determined) on each tonne of carbon they emit. After three to five years there would be a ''clear intent'' to evolve to a cap-and-trade system, a market in which polluters could buy permits to produce carbon dioxide and sell them to others if they cut their own emissions.

These costs would be passed on to consumers of electricity and other services produced from high emissions. The the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has brandished electricity price rises of $300 a year, apparently drawn from an Australian Industry Group postulation of a $26-a-tonne carbon price. But figures on both counts are still unknown. Anyway, some power price rises cannot be all bad: the scheme's whole point is to encourage lower emissions long-term. An initial fixed carbon price has potential advantages, too. It will give the sort of certainty about change that some in the business world have been demanding, as they plan investment decisions. It will encourage serious investment in solar, wind and other renewable energy sources. And it will allow Australians to adapt to a new world order, in which the market would eventually find an equilibrium between emissions and prices.

For Gillard the political stakes in seeing this plan through are high. She has had to break a somewhat foolish pre-election promise not to introduce a carbon tax because of the reality in which she later found herself, leading a minority government depending on Greens and independents for survival. She is hardly covered in glory, either, from her part in urging Rudd to take the inexplicable decision to drop his climate policy, a commitment that had helped to sweep Labor to power in 2007. She must learn from those mistakes, and fulfil her pledge to win the political debate that lies ahead.

The debate will be nasty. Abbott's provocative response, with talk of a ''people's revolt'' against a carbon price, is sheer political opportunism. He will try to scare people on this, as he has tried to do on asylum seekers. But even Abbott's political mentor, John Howard, finally accepted a carbon-price policy after it became clear the Liberal Party had fallen behind public opinion on climate change. Abbott wrecked that bipartisanship after he took over as opposition leader 14 months ago. His coarse approach must not prevail this time.

Australia has little choice about building a carbon price into economic reform. With their acceptance of the GST and water-use restrictions, perhaps grumpily at first, Australians have shown a willingness to adapt to economic and environmental change. Handled properly, and sold convincingly, there is every reason they would adapt to a carbon price, too.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

IF OFFERED OLD BLYTON, JUST SAY 'SHAN'T'

CAN you keep a secret? They've found an unpublished Enid Blyton novel. Isn't that super? Apparently it has a magic caravan in it, and characters called Huffin and Puffin or something and a dog, and they fly away somewhere or other - because you see the caravan is magic, and can fly, and doesn't have to hog the road for mile after mile holding other cars up. And when they arrive at wherever it is, the characters have adventures and save a princess from a dragon. Caravanners have such interesting lives, don't they? Mind you, Uncle Roger, who is looking after us for the hols, says some people who live in caravans are pretty queer. Whenever he'd stayed in a caravan park, he said, lots of the princesses there had to be rescued from dragons that emerged from their lair each night after closing time. He laughed uproariously at this, but we don't understand what he meant. He can be a bit queer himself at times. He also said there are quite enough Enid Blyton books already, and if anyone offers us an unpublished novel, not to buy it. He made us practise saying ''Shan't'' just in case. So we have been all morning. You should, too.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

GILLARD MUST HOLD THE LINE ON CARBON

JULIA Gillard's announcement of a carbon-pricing policy has set her government a challenge that it failed under Kevin Rudd and which probably cost him his job. The political stakes are high, but are nothing compared to the risks of climate change. Public awareness of this helped propel Labor into office, only for its promise of carbon emissions trading to be thwarted in Parliament. Ms Gillard has shown a welcome resolve to try again with a policy compromise that starts with a fixed carbon price leading to market-based trading.

Detail is minimal and dates are rubbery, but the thrust of the policy is right. This time, the government must show the courage of its convictions. As Ms Gillard says, it must win this debate. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott, who was installed specifically to block emissions trading, won't compromise. His declared aim is to wreck any move towards a carbon-pricing mechanism. His specific dollar-figure claims for increases in power bills and fuel prices are misleading; such calculations are baseless until the carbon price and other key details are known. In any case, the carbon "tax" is explicitly budget-neutral, with revenue to help households and businesses with bills and costs. Mr Abbott also says Ms Gillard has betrayed Australians by breaking her 2010 election promise not to introduce a carbon tax (his past disregard for Labor and Coalition promises of emissions trading apparently counts for nothing). Ms Gillard must wear the political cost if people who voted for her government feel betrayed, but her leadership may also benefit from taking a stand on a critical point of policy difference.

The emergence of a hung parliament necessitated a compromise of the sort agreed in principle by the cross-party climate change committee. The plan accords with the view of the government's key climate adviser, Ross Garnaut, on how best to advance from policy uncertainty, which has its own great costs. Ms Gillard put the case against inaction: "I do not believe that Australia needs to lead the world on climate change, but I also don't believe that we can afford to be left behind."

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Representatives at the government's business round table on climate change — including heavily affected companies such as BHP and Qantas — all agree a carbon price is needed. With only the starting date of July 1, 2012, decided, consultation is essential on any such broad economic and industrial transition. This should not be confused with pandering to rent seekers and alarmists. Australia need not do anything exotic or rely on yet-to-be-developed technology to achieve emission cuts in the range of 5-25 per cent by 2020. Amid global policy uncertainty, Australia should start with steps that ought to be taken anyway to cut the costs of wasteful use of increasingly precious energy and fuel resources, while boosting productivity. Governments should aim to fix urban transport, improve building design and raise efficiency standards for industrial processes and domestic appliances (energy efficiency alone has the potential to achieve a third of required emission cuts). This will also help build an industrial and manufacturing base that can be competitive and sustain jobs through the 21st century.

The returns on many of these measures will outweigh initial costs. Energy-efficient carbon pricing offers positives, which can be contrasted with the negative campaign against it. Having drawn the line on climate policy, this time the Gillard government must hold it.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

BAILLIEU SHOULD THINK AGAIN ON TARGET 155

ON THE day he became Premier, Ted Baillieu made a brave promise. His government would be different from its predecessor, he declared, because there would be "no hidden agenda, no spin, no secrecy". This is an admirable template for government, but the Coalition is making some misjudgments as it seeks to differentiate itself from the Bracks-Brumby era.

A particularly regrettable case in point is the decision to dump the "Target 155" water conservation campaign introduced by John Brumby in late 2008. Mr Baillieu's Water Minister, Peter Walsh, describes the campaign to encourage Victorian households to limit their daily water use to 155 litres a person as little more than a political slogan and says the decision to scrap it is part of the government's promise to operate "without all the spin and political hype" associated with the Labor administration.

Yet in the same interview with The Age, Mr Walsh said he expected consumption to increase as a consequence of the decision. That is an implicit acknowledgement that Target 155 was working. The statistics reinforce the point: before the campaign began, Melburnians on average used 164 litres a day; that figure fell to 153 litres over the first year of the campaign and in 2010 it fell further to 144 litres.

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Target 155 was neither compulsory nor punitive, but it was effective and necessary. The need to conserve water has not been obviated by a wet summer; the CSIRO and the Bureau of Meteorology confirm the long-term trend to hotter, drier conditions in south-eastern Australia. In the absence of the campaign, what guidance will households now receive about how much water they should be using?

Victoria has a proud history of government-led campaigns that have changed public behaviour for the common good. Lives have been saved as a result of campaigns on drink-driving, seatbelts and smoking in public spaces, for example. It is not spin to say Target 155 was a modest but worthwhile contribution in that tradition.

N THE day he became Premier, Ted Baillieu made a brave promise. His government would be different from its predecessor, he declared, because there would be "no hidden agenda, no spin, no secrecy". These are admirable sentiments, but the Coalition is making some misjudgements as it seeks to differentiate itself from the Bracks/Brumby era.

A case in point is the decision to dump the "Target 155" water conservation campaign introduced by premier John Brumby in late 2008. Mr Baillieu's Water Minister, Peter Walsh, says the campaign to encourage Victorian households to limit their water use to 155 litres per person per day was little more than a political slogan and the decision to scrap it was part of the new government's promise to operate "without all the spin and political hype" associated with the Labor administration.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

LIBYA: LIMITED OPTIONS

The use of force has a tendency to backfire, so the most effective measures are likely to be those that go with the grain

US Marines spearheading a small army of Arab and Berber soldiers attacked Darnah in Cyrenaica early in the afternoon, after American warships had bombarded the town's defences. By four o'clock the city had fallen, the American flag flew over its ramparts, and the force was preparing to march on Tripoli.

This was of, course, in April 1804, not in March 2011, but there is no doubt that the means exist today to repeat that victory – the first ever land engagement of United States troops outside the American continent – and on a much larger scale.

American and other western forces in the Mediterranean area, working with military units from Arab countries, could probably destroy the Gaddafi family's ramshackle legions in about the same amount of time it took over 150 years ago. When sniper fire rakes crowds outside mosques and when ill-armed fighters face machine guns, the temptation to reach out for a quick military solution is strong. Yet even in 1804 it was not so simple. America's quarrel with the rulers of what was to become Libya was in the end settled diplomatically and Hassan Bey, the enemy in 1804, continued to rule in Tripoli. The use of force in north Africa in those years was hampered by diplomacy, complicated by the presence of nationals who were real or potential hostages of local rulers, and inclined to backfire in unexpected ways.

These are the factors which constrain organisations like Nato and the UN, both meeting yesterday to consider measures designed to persuade or coerce the dying regime in Libya to give up before it does any more damage. First, we haven't got all our civilians out yet. Second, international agreement on the use of force, even in the limited form of a no fly zone, is notoriously difficult to achieve.

Third, it would be better if Libyans won their battle with the regime on their own: even Arab, let alone American, help could be problematic. These considerations might in time fall away, and it is right to make the technical preparations. Meanwhile, the most effective measures are likely to be those that go with the grain of what is already happening in Libya. Economic sanctions, asset freezes and the like are gesture politics. They matter only as signals. The encouragement of defections and the threat of punishment to come for those who use deadly force seem, as William Hague stresses, the best instruments. Fragmentary reports on the state of mind of officers in the Gaddafi enclave suggest a tipping point is not far off. As for mercenaries, they are said to worry most about two things, whether they will get killed and whether they will get paid. They have ample reason now to be concerned about both.

 

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

UNTHINKABLE? SIMPLER SPELLING

A poll finds most people are irritated by misspelled words. This is a mystery - it is our language and we can spell it how we want

The absurdities of English spelling are familiar enough. Or shud that be enuff? Most of us admit we are embarrassed when we spell it embarassed and know that we are pompous about acommodating other people's erors. A poll for the English spelling society, which would like the rules relaxed at least to admit alternatives, found most people were irritated to read misspelled words, even in the informality of the internet. This is a mystery. It is our language and we can spell it how we want. Texters happily use abbreviations and phonetics. In the 19th century the admirable American lexicographer Noah Webster just rewrote the rules. He said he wanted to rescue the native tongue from the clamour of pedantry (he blamed the English aristocracy) which is why plough is plow, centre is center and colour became color. Irregular spelling, it is claimed, contributes to the high level of illiteracy in the UK, while phonetic languages like Italian and, apparently, Finnish not only have no problem with dyslexia, they don't even have a word for it. In Cloud Atlas, David Mitchell develops an entirely plausible form of spelling some future version of English. The critics claim that it would mean different spellings in Newcastle and Bristol. But go to India or Africa and it is clear the Anglophone world is already divided not only by pronunciation but by usage. In an increasingly homogenous world, the moment has come to step back where we can from uniformity and let in variety and simplicity.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

BIG SOCIETY: BREACH OF CONTRACT

A GENEROUS READING OF DAVID CAMERON'S IDEA HAS BEEN RENDERED LESS CREDIBLE BY PLANS TO SQUEEZE OUT-SOURCED WORKERS

The Guardian's voice is not one of those that rises in reflexive rage against David Cameron's idea of the "big society". While bemoaning the vagueness, we have maintained that there could be something interesting here. Voluntaryism, localism, and indeed solidarity are important values, with potentially important application. Insofar as Mr Cameron has been restoring the place they enjoyed in the pre-Thatcherite Tory tradition, we have wished him well. So it is regrettable to observe that the past week will have encouraged those who wish to dismiss the big society as a big con.

Election rhetoric about back-office cuts, which all three parties indulged, is now making inevitable way for grim realities – redundancy notices, cancelled operations and worsening services. If there is a moment for Mr Cameron to bring his big idea into play, then this is surely it. But in an article penned for Tuesday's Telegraph, he explained for the first time that the big society's core proposition is a new presumption that the work of all public servants, save for judges and spies, should be put out to tender. That idea will hold little appeal to anyone who has been on the wrong end of contracted-out hospital cleaning or housing benefit administration. But if one were being very generous, the prime minster might have been read less as advocating crude privatisation, and read more as advancing an infusion of outside managers, including from charities, to gee up state employees to provide services in more imaginative ways.

Sadly, however, that generous reading has been rendered less credible by a second development this week. The day after the Times ran an editorial calling for an axe to be swung at the protections afforded to out-sourced workers, the same newspaper revealed to the world that the Treasury agreed. If the report was right, Mr Cameron's proposed universal right for corporations to contract for every public service will come together with an invitation for tenders that undercut current costs by means no more imaginative than an assault on staff terms. To despair at this is not to deny that some conditions, particularly pensions, must be part of the painful discussion over cuts. No one is pretending that every perk can remain sacrosanct; the objection is merely to conditions being worsened by reason of a transfer alone.

That, after all, is the only protection provided by the so-called Tupe law and associated agreements. A contracting company remains free to renegotiate pensions, pay or anything else in response to evolving commercial demands. The current arrangements were built on top of the fairly minimal requirements of European law because of bitter experience with the first great wave of contracting out. Town halls were obliged to invite a race to the bottom on costs, and that is exactly what they got. It was not merely council staff who suffered, though suffer they undoubtedly did. Employers were landed with messy industrial relations, which they frequently found could only be resolved through a costly buy-out of current terms. Services from refuse collection to school dinners suffered on account of a demoralised workforce. In the end, the bidding process was refined to give some regard to overall value as opposed to mere price, while outsourced workers steadily secured the entitlement to a "broadly comparable" pension to that of state employees.

That right was always heavily qualified, with the law allowing out-sourcing firms to meet their formal obligations with a money purchase arrangement, as opposed to a final salary scheme. The government therefore has plenty of scope to squeeze out-sourced workers even without the help of the kite it is flying. As with the attack on the unions in Wisconsin, the argument from fiscal necessity is pretty spurious. The aim is to create strident mood music. As the volume rises, the big society risks looking small-minded, not to mention mean.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

A TROUBLING TREND ON ROADS

Although the annual traffic fatality rate has dropped from a peak of 16,765 in 1970 to 4,863 in 2010, the number of fatalities involving people aged 65 and over has been rising. In 2010, 2,450 people in this age category were killed in traffic accidents, accounting for 50.4 percent of all traffic accident deaths that year.

Since records began being kept in 1966, the fatality percentage for elderly drivers ranged between 30 percent and 40 percent through 2002, then exceeded 40 percent in 2003. 2010 marked the first year in which the figure surpassed 50 percent.

In an effort to help reverse this troubling trend, the National Police Department in 1997 introduced three measures: Drivers aged 75 or over were encouraged to place maple leaf stickers on their cars to let other drivers know they were elderly; were made to attend special driving lectures; and were encouraged to turn in their driver's licenses if they felt they could no longer drive safely.

In 2008, the NPA made the display of the stickers obligatory and provided a provision for punishment for those who failed to do so. Many elderly drivers protested this policy change. Some felt that the measures constituted "bullying," while others criticized the sticker design, saying it resembled a dead leaf.

From Feb. 1, the NPA introduced changes to the Road Traffic Law. It debuted a new four-leaf clover sticker that incorporates the letter "S" for senior, and called on drivers aged 70 years old and over to place the stickers on their vehicles if they feel that their age affects their driving. In addition, drivers who operate their vehicles in a manner that endangers vehicles displaying the clover stickers will be fined up to ¥50,000.

It is hoped that the clover sticker reminds all drivers, regardless of their age, to drive carefully. For its part, the public sector should continue to work to improve traffic safety for both elderly drivers and pedestrians.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

TOLL SYSTEM IS SERIOUSLY FLAWED

Under a system introduced by the former Liberal Democrat Party-Komeito coalition government, set to expire at the end of March, vehicles using the Electronic Toll Collection (ETC) system enjoy a variety of expressway toll discounts, including a ¥1,000 ceiling on weekends and holidays.

From April 1, however, the Democratic Party of Japan government will implement a new system that sets the ceiling for expressway tolls at ¥2,000 and ¥1,000 every day of the week for ordinary cars and mini-cars, respectively, whether they use ETC or not. The current ¥1,000 weekend and holiday cap will remain in place for ETC users. Making the expressways toll-free was one of the DPJ's main election pledges in its manifesto for the 2009 Lower House election, which brought the party to power. This new system, however, is seriously flawed. Not only will it cost the financially strapped government large sums of money, it will also lead to increased congestion and add to greenhouse gas emissions.

Using some ¥2 trillion in funds that the LDP-Komeito government had secured for its toll policy, the DPJ will be able to continue the new policy through fiscal 2013 on most of the nation's expressways, but it has no idea of how to secure new funds once the ¥2 trillion is gone. This is utterly irresponsible.

The current system provides an incentive for drivers to buy vehicles with ETC devices, which greatly reduce traffic jams at toll gates. But because the new system extends hefty discounts to non-ETC drivers as well, many more people will be encouraged to take to the road, especially on weekends, and the resulting traffic jams will be much bigger than the large ones that now plague us.

The new toll system is also more complex than the existing one, so it will likely cause confusion. For example, eco-friendly cars with ETC will qualify for a daily ¥1,000 toll cap, but drivers must register to get the discount. And in 2012, the Shuto and Hanshin Expressways will change from a flat rate to a distance-based system.

Finally, the new system's expansion of expressway toll discounts will take more business away from public transport firms that operate trains, buses and ferries. They are already suffering under the current system.

The Kan government should go back to the drawing board and devise a reasonable toll system that is fiscally responsible and takes traffic conditions and the environment into greater account.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

OPED

CONSCRIPTED PRISONERS OF THE RUSSIAN ARMY

BY SERGEI GURIEV AND ALEH TSYVINSKI

MOSCOW — Some of the most interesting artifacts of the Soviet Union in Russia are the holidays that continue to be celebrated, almost two decades after the fall of communism. On Feb. 23, Russians celebrated the "Day of the Defender of the Fatherland," a rough equivalent of Father's Day but with a militaristic flavor. On this day, daughters, wives, and girlfriends give presents to Russian men and lavish them with attention. (In fairness, there is also "Women's Day" — March 8 — and a newly popular Valentine's Day.)

During Soviet times, Feb. 23 was called the "Day of the Soviet Army and Navy," and celebrated the creation of the Red Army. The holiday received its current name in 2006, and, according to a recent survey by the Russian pollster FOM, 59 percent of Russians consider it to be special or significant (32 percent do not).

Unfortunately, Feb. 23 is not the only remaining relic of the Red Army. Another Soviet military legacy is the system of obligatory conscription. While all other large European countries abolished military conscription in recent decades, Russia continues with a system in which all physically-fit male citizens aged 18 to 27 must serve for 12 months. Exemptions are based on medical conditions, and are given to university students and employees of certain organizations (for example, the police). About 500,000 young men are conscripted every year.

The system is unfair, inefficient and unpopular. According to FOM, 51 percent of Russians support abolishing conscription, and 67 percent are against extending the age of eligibility for the draft. The Russian military estimates the total number of draft dodgers to be close to 200,000. According to the Moscow Bureau for Human Rights, the current rate for bribes to avoid conscription is as high as $5,000 (for comparison, a typical lieutenant's monthly salary is about $500).

A recent study by Michael Lokshin and Ruslan Yemtsov from the World Bank, "Who Bears the Cost of the Russian Military Draft," indicates that the burden of conscription falls disproportionately on poor, low-educated and rural households. The probability of being drafted is significantly lower for residents of cities with populations of more than 100,000 people.

A young man from Moscow or St. Petersburg is six times less likely to be drafted than a young man from (much poorer) a rural area. Among the richest households, the probability of being drafted is only 3 percent; among the poorest, it is 20 percent.

Moreover, having a son in the military is a significant blow to a family's income — about 15 percent according to Lokshin and Yemtsov. Yet even this estimate probably understates the true costs, as it does not take into account the decrease in lifetime wages from delayed investment in human capital and shorter work experience. Estimates from other countries indicate that these additional costs may total 5 percent of lifetime wages. In other words, conscription operates as a large in-kind tax on the poorest households, thereby sustaining and increasing Russia's already high inequality.

Obligatory military service is inefficient, because "free" conscript labor is much cheaper for the Russian military than hiring civilians as, for example, cooks and cleaning personnel. Moreover, the military has no incentive to value conscripts' lives and well-being. According to FOM, most Russians (79 percent) perceive serious hazing and abuse of draftees as being widespread. Five of six respondents who served in the military since the 1990s were subject to abuse as soldiers. Since 2005, according to official statistics, 2,051 servicemen have committed suicide.

The system's defenders argue that Russia cannot afford an all-volunteer army. But this is not true.

Suppose that draftees are paid a salary that is sufficient to make military service attractive for young men. A back-of-the-envelope calculation suggests that paying 500,000 soldiers the current average Russian monthly wage of $700 would cost about $5.6 billion a year (including all taxes and pension contributions). This estimate is an upper bound: once soldiers are no longer free, generals would most likely use them more effectively and hire fewer of them. Also, given that 18-year-olds are less skilled than average Russian workers, the military would attract better-trained and more productive soldiers, resulting in further savings.

Even the full $5.6 billion represents only 0.4 percent of Russian GDP — and one-sixth of the annual defense budget, at a time when Russia is adopting an unprecedentedly ambitious arms program costing $700 billion over 10 years. By spending just 8 percent of this amount, the Russian Army could match its expensive new weapons with soldiers who are able and willing to handle them well. This would make Feb. 23 a holiday truly worth celebrating.

Sergei Guriev is rector of the New Economic School, Moscow. Aleh Tsyvinski is a professor of economics at Yale University. © 2011 Project Syndicate

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

OPED

THE BATTLE FOR BAHRAIN

BY BARAK BARFI

MANAMA — The fervor for change that inspired revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt is now rocking Bahrain. But the uprising in Manama differs from the mass protests that turned out longtime rulers in North Africa. Indeed, sectarian fault lines, together with the security forces' complete fealty to the monarchy, seriously diminish the likelihood of peaceful regime change.

Whereas Tunisia and Egypt are relatively homogeneous countries — Sunni Muslims constitute more than 90 percent of their inhabitants — Bahrain's Sunnis, including the royal family and the country's political and economic elite, comprise only about one-third of the population. The rest are Shiite. Each of these groups is making different, if not contradictory, demands.

The Shiite focus on political reforms that would reflect their majority status. Aggrieved Sunnis, however, want socioeconomic changes, such as affordable housing. And, whereas Egyptian protesters of all types found common ground in insisting that President Hosni Mubarak resign, Bahrainis will find it almost impossible to agree on a rallying cry.

The ruling al-Khalifa family will not relinquish its power willingly. To preserve itself, the regime relies on imported security forces that are beholden only to the royal family. Drawn from Jordan, Pakistan and Yemen, they are not reluctant to beat and kill protesters, for they know that any change at the top would mean defeat not only for the al-Khalifas, but for themselves as well.

Indeed, Bahraini security forces have been ruthless in their attacks against demonstrators, killing six. Given this alignment of forces, and the bloodshed that has already occurred in Manama's Pearl Square, the scenes from Cairo of protesters arm-in-arm with soldiers and hugging tank crews are unlikely to be replayed here.

Moreover, whereas in Egypt, historically a stable country, 18 days of chaos were enough to convince the military to restore order by ousting Mubarak, Bahrainis have greater experience with social unrest than Egyptians or Tunisians do. Political instability is a way of life in Bahrain. From the turmoil in the 1920s, following administrative reforms, to labor protests in the 1950s, the country is accustomed to agitation. As a result, factional strife is unlikely to panic the rulers and is even less likely to persuade them that the king must abdicate to save the country.

The legislature's role and influence in these three countries also vary. In Tunisia and Egypt, authoritarian regimes allowed no political space for dissenting voices. When Mubarak felt his power was slipping and reached out to his adversaries, he found disorganized opposition parties with little political experience and no support in society. They could not formulate coherent positions and practical demands. Instead, they clung to hardline positions, leaving Mubarak unable to find a solution to the impasse.

But here in Bahrain, the situation is different. Opposition parties have been active for almost a decade, and have significant representation in the legislature. The leading opposition group, al-Wifaq, has 18 seats in the 40-member Parliament. In talks with the opposition, the monarchy will find seasoned politicians ready to bargain over long-held demands. And, with widespread support among its constituents, al-Wifaq can do much to reduce tensions.

King Hamad has a number of other options available to him. Because citizens have so many grievances, he can do much to placate them. He can address Shiite claims of discrimination by offering them more jobs in government ministries. He can promise to invest state funds in their run-down communities. He can mollify both Shiite and Sunnis by granting them affordable housing. He can appease both factions by ending a naturalization policy that confers citizenship on foreign-born Sunnis, eroding the Shiite majority. And he can dismiss the prime minister, Khalifa bin Salman al-Khalifa, who has exhausted many on both sides of the sectarian divide during his 40 years in power.

In short, Bahrain's rulers have many cards to play — and the international response to the uprising seems likely to strengthen the regime further. Bahrain is, after all, a key American ally, hosting the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet, which patrols the Persian Gulf and keeps Iran in check. While the United States has urged the Bahraini government to rein in its security forces, it is evidently unwilling to press for regime change. Keeping its naval bases will be a top U.S. priority — one that will ultimately shape its response to the situation in Bahrain.

Saudi Arabia, too, can be expected to do everything in its power to prevent the al-Khalifas' fall. Bahrain is the Kingdom's most loyal ally in the region, and the Saudis fear that sectarian unrest could spread to the country's eastern region, where a Shiite-minority nurses long-held grievances. For years, the Saudis have propped up the Bahraini regime by providing free oil and funding its budget. When unrest erupted, Saudi Arabia reportedly dispatched military units to bolster Bahrain's paltry armed forces.

Change may be coming to much of the Middle East. But, with Bahrain's social fault lines too wide to bridge, the regime willing to resort to brutal violence to crush any uprising, and the international community prepared to look the other way, the protesters in Manama should be prepared for defeat.

Barak Barfi is a research fellow with the New America Foundation. © 2011 Project Syndicate

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

PROTECTING THE WEAK

Retail businesses in the capital have grown beyond expectation as evidenced by the mushrooming mini-markets and their adverse impacts on vendors in traditional markets and small shops operating in the neighborhoods.  

The number of mini-markets has ironically jumped to 1,115 now, more than double the November 2006 number of 525 when then Governor Sutiyoso issued an instruction on a moratorium for mini-market development in Jakarta.  

The data, recently revealed by the city secretary assistant for economic affairs Hasan Basri Saleh, is evidence of the ineffectiveness of the gubernatorial instruction, which is aimed at protecting small-scale traders. More than that, it demonstrates blatant violations of the regulation, which occurred on purpose or at least by omission.

For more than four years small and micro-business players in the capital have been deprived of the protection they legitimately deserve merely because of the government's failure to enforce the regulation.

Governor Fauzi Bowo, who was Sutiyoso's deputy when the instruction was enacted, has reacted angrily to the speedy growth of the "illegal" mini-markets. He also threatened to close down the mini-markets, but the tough measure could trigger protracted legal disputes as investors of the mini-markets may have obtained their business licenses in accordance with the rules.  

Fauzi's response is too late and should beg the question as to where he had been when his subordinates were processing and validating the license for the mini-markets over the last four years.

As the then deputy governor and the current governor, Fauzi should be aware of the regulation and has no excuse for failing to enforce it.

It is simply too naïve to assume the city administration has overlooked the fast growing mini-markets that dot the roadsides and neighborhoods across the capital. The city government is ubiquitous as its span of command reaches the sub-district level, so there is no way that it had failed to monitor the development of minimarkets.   

To make matters worse, the establishment of the new mini-markets after the enactment of the 2006 gubernatorial instruction turns out to go against City Bylaw No. 2/2002 on city markets.  

According to the bylaw, mini-markets measuring between 100 to 200 square meters could only be located at least 500 meters away from traditional markets and operate from between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. The ordinance, however, has been widely violated as Jakartans can easily find minimarkets operating near traditional markets open 24 hours a day.

We believe that small and micro-traders deserve protection, as happens even in the most liberal economies, mostly because they are weak, both financially and managerially. Many of them run such businesses as a last resort to survive after losing jobs following the impacts of the global financial crises in the late 1990s and 2008.

Therefore, it is surely unfair for small and micro-entrepreneurs to have to compete with retailers who are supported by strong financial resources and better management. It is high time for Governor Fauzi to show his empathy for the weak. History has shown the small and micro-enterprises survived the economic turbulence and helped the country's economy regain its footing.   

Moves are underway for amendment of the existing regulation on mini-markets, as stated by City Secretary Padjar Pandjaitan, which if materialized would pave the way for adjustments to legalize the "illegal" mini-markets at the expense of small traders.

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THE JAKARTA POST

CYPRUS AND RI: OLD FRIENDS WITH NEW RESPONSIBILITIES, POSSIBILITIES

NICOS PANAYI

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Republic of Cyprus, Markos Kyprianou will officially visit the Republic of Indonesia from March 1-2, 2011, for talks with his Indonesian counterpart, Marty Natalegawa. His visit aims to further strengthen the close and friendly relations that exist between Cyprus and Indonesia dating back to the 1950s.

Both countries went through a turbulent colonial past. Cyprus throughout its history has been a crossroads of civilizations and a bridge between East and West. Even before its independence in 1960, Archbishop Makarios, the first President of the Republic, attended the Bandung Conference in 1955 which established the Non Aligned Movement.

Interesting and challenging times indeed marking the era of decolonization and the determination of the developing world to raise a strong and appealing voice for peace and prosperity amid the political uncertainties of the cold war. Archbishop Makarios' presence at Bandung left a historical imprint on our bilateral relationship.

On Oct. 1, 2010, we celebrated the 50th anniversary of the independence of the Republic of Cyprus. Today, the people of Cyprus are rightfully proud of their achievements; a modern state, member of the European Union and an active member of the international community.

The progress and achievements since independence are all the more important to recall since Cyprus is still suffering the tragic consequences of an anachronistic division and continuing violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.

 This division is the direct result of the continuing illegal Turkish military occupation of over 37 percent of the territory of the Republic of Cyprus since the 1974 invasion.

Despite the suffering and hardships, the Government of the Republic of Cyprus is determined in its efforts to seek a solution to the Cyprus problem on the basis of the UN Security Council Resolutions and international law, and in accordance with the values and principles of the European Union.

We deeply appreciate the valuable support of the Indonesian government and its people to our efforts to find a just, viable and functional solution that will reunify the island and its people in a bizonal, bicommunal federation and where human rights and fundamental freedoms will be enjoyed by all Cypriots – Greek-Cypriot and Turkish-Cypriot alike.

Throughout the years we have been following with admiration and interest the increasing involvement of Indonesia in regional and world affairs. Today, Indonesia is a prominent member of ASEAN. It is viewed as one of the 20 most important economies globally and a frontrunner in the fight against climate change.

We are indeed pleased that our bilateral relations with Indonesia are both enduring, built on solid ground and based on common values and interests. The people of Cyprus have stood by the people of Indonesia in times of difficulty.

We offered assistance to the victims of the devastating tsunami in 2004, and more recently, we had been involved in a project to assist women in Indonesia who suffered due to the impact of the horrible earthquake that hit West Sumatra in 2009.

On his visit to Jakarta, Foreign Minister Kyprianou will hand over to the Government of Indonesia a financial contribution from the Republic of Cyprus for the victims of the tsunami that hit the Mentawai islands last year and for those who have been suffering following the eruption of the Merapi volcano.

The two Ministers of Foreign Affairs will discuss the prospects for advancing the overall relations of Cyprus and Indonesia in the years ahead.

Apart from strengthening the bilateral political dialogue, there is indeed great potential to be tapped in areas such as tourism and merchant shipping, as well as in the field of inter-faith dialogue.

In the economic area, Cyprus' strategic location between Europe, the Middle East and Northern Africa certainly makes our country a valuable asset for consideration by the Indonesian business community.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Cyprus' location has allowed it to develop close and friendly relations with the countries of the immediate region and beyond. Today, Cyprus stands as the European Union's lighthouse in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Cyprus and Indonesia are both members of ASEM, a forum linking Europe with Asia. Cyprus is committed to strengthening this bi-regional cooperation. Together with Indonesia we can explore initiatives in the framework of ASEM, aiming to consolidate the people-to people contacts in a productive way.

As close friends bound by mutual respect, we look together to the future with a sense of optimism and with strong determination to contribute to the cause of peace and prosperity.

The visit of the Foreign Minister of the Republic of Cyprus, Markos Kyprianou, to the Republic of Indonesia will chart a new course in the relations between two old friends with new responsibilities and possibilities.

The writer is the Ambassador of the Republic of Cyprus to the Republic of Indonesia.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

IS MOVING THE CAPITAL A SOLUTION?

DEVISARI TUNAS

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has stated that the prospect of moving the Indonesian capital out of Jakarta should be considered seriously.

If realized, it would be the second in this country's history that the capital has been moved away from Jakarta, but unlike the first time in 1949, this time the reason would be more pragmatic than symbolical.

Urban experts have been voicing their concerns about the unsustainability of Jakarta's urban development. Problems such as overcrowding, dysfunctional and overburdened physical infrastructures and uneven regional developments are among the classic subjects of discussion. With all those less than flattering qualities, Jakarta is no longer able to play the central administrative role of this country.

Another goal of the move would be to stimulate more balanced regional urban development in Indonesia.

There is a discourse about relocating the capital to Kalimantan, or Borneo. Strictly speaking, this would be moving the capital from the densest to the least-populated island in this country country.

Problems would range from infrastructure insufficiencies to threats to Indonesia's and one of the world's largest and richest areas of rainforest.

There are many aspects yet to be examined to investigate the feasibility of the plan, such as the impacts of the move on the Jakarta region and Java Island, and as well as on Borneo.

There are a lot of articles written concerning this issue. However it seems that they do not touch on the real problem. Many of them discuss the possible impact of the plan on Jakarta's infrastructure problems — suggesting that it would help ease its infrastructural burdens.

What would happen to Jakarta once the capital is relocated? As the main business and trading center, and the biggest port in this country, the city would most likely maintain its economic importance.

Although businesses and corporations would probably move their headquarters to the new capital — on the assumption that the new capital could offer state-of-the-art infrastructure — in order to keep close to the center of administration and decision makers, it is less likely they would abandon Jakarta all at once.

The reason for this is that Jakarta's infrastructure and connectivity is arguably the best in the country, and would remain so in the coming future. The city also still hosts the most importance shipping routes; this is another reason why it is difficult to dismiss the city's economic importance.

Its cultural significance is also less likely to fade. With the long social and cultural history attached to Jakarta, and a long list of cultural institutions, its cultural supremacy is less likely to be contested by others. With all these qualities, Jakarta will maintain its political importance.

Furthermore, being stripped off its role as an administrative center, the most logical strategy is to maintain Jakarta's competitiveness by promoting its role as the business and cultural capital — the roles it has been playing at its best in the last few decades.

With all these important functions and roles to sustain, the intensity of activities and mobility and thus infrastructural burdens would not decrease in Jakarta.

An increasing flow of people to the new capital would be unavoidable, but the chances are it would not be so drastic as to match the colossal effort required to move the capital to Kalimantan.

We could expect to see the relocation of more than 75,000 public servants from the diverse range of institutions and ministries, plus 125,000 of their family members.

Taking this amount of people out of this city would not ease its infrastructural burden, as this is insignificant compared to Jakarta's overall population. The impact, therefore, would be somewhat negligible.

However this would be a drastic change for Kalimantan. The change Jakarta sees would be no where near as significant as the changes seen in Kalimantan. With 11 million people and a landmass five-times larger than Java (Java is home to nearly 130 million people, more than a half of Indonesia's population), Kalimantan is relatively sparsely populated. Could the island host a capital city that could grow into a metropolis?

The building of a new capital would lead to massive urban and infrastructural developments involving not only substantial land clearance but also environmental changes.

Moving the capital to Kalimantan would mean moving the administration activities further away from more than half of Indonesia's population.

Kalimantan is a two-to-four-hour flight away from Java, and sea transportation is less than efficient.

Imagine, therefore, the amount of travel required to get things done in a new capital? This would cost extra time, money and fuel. It certainly would not make the administrative process smoother, as hoped.

So would it be worth the whole circus?

Many would argue that the proposed capital relocation would boost the development of the region by encouraging people to move to Kalimantan, thus redistributing the population and wealth. But this could also be achieved through different strategies, such as by developing the region as a new centre for science and education. Such an agenda should be separate from the capital relocation plan, as it would serve these different goals more effectively.

The way forward now is to conduct a more careful investigation into the possible implications of this plan. While it is unavoidable to separate the implementation from political agendas, politicians should avoid making big statements without rational grounds.

The writer works for Megacities Foundation and is a partner at Urban4.

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

LIBERALISM IS ALIVE IN THE ARAB WORLD, FOR NOW

ENDY M. BAYUNI

Liberalism may not have created modernity, but liberalism is the answer for which modernity is the question
— Alan Wolfe in the Future of Liberalism

 
One common theme in the uprisings that is rapidly changing the Middle East/North Africa map is the desire of the people to have freedom, justice, democracy, governance and prosperity.

These are values academicians normally associate with classical liberalism. Although conventional thinking makes the "L" word anathema to the Islam world, the message coming from these revolutions is that this is exactly what they want.

Those taking to the streets or occupying the public squares in the major cities are telling their despot leaders that they can take it no more after decades of leading suppressed lives.

They want a change, and for most, this means that the dictators and their regime must go before any meaningful transformation toward freedom and democracy can take place.

At the start of 2011, no one would have thought this possible in predominantly Muslim societies. The events seen in the streets of Tunis, Cairo, Tehran and other capital cities defy the widely held notion that Muslims, because of their religion, do not embrace the kind of values and principles that have been seen as exclusively Western.

Instead, Islam is regarded as a self-contained religion with ideological and philosophical underpinnings of its own. Freedom and democracy are not part of the package, or at least are not seen as important or dear to Muslims as they are to people in the West.

They had been wrong, with serious policy consequences.

The United States, the world's champion of democracy, has put security and stability ahead of democracy, freedom and human rights in its Arab policy, obviously to serve its strategic interests in the Middle East and also in the belief that these were not something that the Arab people needed.

Far from pushing its freedom agenda, Washington has been the biggest supporter of longtime dictators and absolute monarchies, turning a blind eye to the undemocratic and violent practices of its allies.

This policy has strengthened in the past decade under the pretext of the global war on terror, as these Arab regimes were widely regarded as bedrocks for stability and best safeguards against the rise of Islamism.
May be it is just as well that this was the case, because the slightest hint of Washington support for the uprisings today would quickly be portrayed by the desperately embattled regimes as American meddling, which would undermine the revolution itself.


"Those taking to the streets or occupying the public squares in the major cities are telling their despot leaders that they can take it no more."

The initiatives for change had come from the people with little or no outside prodding. The only claim the West has is in providing the technology, for the social media network has been an indispensable tool for the protesters to spread their message between themselves, across borders and into the world.

No one can accuse the United States of imposing its freedom agenda on the Arab world today. If we go by Iraq and Afghanistan, Washington actually has a very poor track record in the region when it comes to exporting freedom and democracy.

The success of the people power in bringing down president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia on Jan. 14 gave the inspiration to people in the region that no one but themselves can decide their fate.

All hell broke loose when president Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, the largest country in the region, quit on Feb. 11 after briefly putting up stiff and violent resistance. Most countries in the region have since experienced revolution of some kind: Iran, Bahrain, Yemen in the east and Libya and Algeria to the west.

Regimes in Jordan, Palestine and Saudi Arabia have quickly offered concessions to defuse the revolutionary fever. For good measure, the uprising has also inspired people in China to organize the "jasmine revolution".   

Obviously we have yet to see the end of the story. The turmoil across the Middle East and North Africa is far from settled. Each dictator or regime struggles to cling to power in their own way, and unfortunately, some like Moammar Qaddafi of Libya, are prepared to kill as many people as it takes to crush the revolution.

Tunisia and Egypt, meanwhile, are just sobering up to the reality that the real hard work of rebuilding their country has only just started. Removing the tyrant is only the first of many baby steps toward real freedom and democracy.

Those watching the changes in the Middle East and North Africa are now wondering whether democracy could take root among people who had no such tradition and whose religion, Islam, is widely considered to be incompatible with the values and principles of liberalism.

The region's recent history of what happened after the downfall of authoritarian regimes is discouraging: in Iran, it led to the takeover by Islamists that turned the country into a strict Islamic state.

Democracy in Afghanistan and Iraq has only led to worst chaos and anarchy. Some conventional thinking even suggests that democracy in Arab countries would mean "one man, one vote, one time" and Islamists will override others in the first election and will quickly put these countries back in control of a new and worse form of authoritarian government.

But Egypt, Tunisia and other countries that follow suit arrive at their revolution through a completely different path. Theirs is a path inspired by the principles and values of liberalism, from freedom of expression, human rights and constitutions to free and fair elections. They have destroyed the myth that these values are contradictory to Islam. Protesters in Cairo's Tahrir Square held mass Friday prayers during the "Day of Rage" and "the Day of Departure".

The threat of Islamism lurking to grab power has been widely exaggerated and certainly played up by the regimes to ensure continued support from the West. Supporters of the Islamist agenda were nowhere to be seen at the peak of the people movement in Egypt and Tunisia. And the protesters in these countries did not use religious symbols in pressing their demand for change.

Instead, protesters in Tunisia, Egypt, Iran, Bahrain, Yemen, Libya, Algiers and other countries are united by their common desire for freedom, democracy and justice. There is nothing contradictory in what they desire with what Islam teaches them, but it is interesting to see that no one had tried to cloak their revolution with Islamic slogans the way the Iranians did when they launched their Islamic Revolution in 1979.

While political Islam exists in these countries, it has not played a major role in any of the uprisings. Islam may be the dominant religion, but the Islamists parties will have to compete for support and votes in elections with other parties.

The Muslim Brotherhood may be the best organized political party in post-Mubarak Egypt, but it does not necessarily enjoy widespread support. This is something that only time will tell, when the country holds its first free elections.

Rather than looking at Iran, Afghanistan or Iraq, the experience of Indonesia and Turkey, two predominantly Muslim countries on the fringes of the Islamic world, provide some encouraging signs that democracy and Islam can coexist, and that while the Islamists have a role to play, they have to share the field with others, including groups founded upon liberalism, though not necessarily in name.
Those who espoused liberal values in Egypt and Tunisia – and they were the ones who braved the bullets and batons – have time to organize themselves into new political parties.

While they may not use the "L" world in their name or platform, they would do well to open the history of the French Revolution and the American Revolution, two events that were inspired by the liberalism teachings that completely redefined the Western world.


 
The writer, a visiting fellow at the East West Center in Washington, is former editor-in-chief of The Jakarta Post.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

OUR EDUCATIONAL SYSTEM HAS A MAFIA

MOCHAMAD SUBHAN ZEIN

The word mafia, according to some etymologists, comes from the Italian word mafioso, which refers to a bully who is arrogant but also fearless, enterprising and proud.

Closely linked with a criminal syndicate that emerged in the mid 19th century in Sicily, Italy, a mafia clan or cosca generally deals with arms trafficking, bid rigging, cigarette smuggling, counterfeiting, fraud, money laundering, rum running and even political corruption.

Recently in Indonesia, people were shocked to discover that there was a mafia involved in our judiciary system and others involving politicians and major businessmen. Despite their dodgy reputations, those syndicates are unfortunately not the only ones.

Surprisingly, mafia-like practices are rampant in our educational system. There are people who greedily suck up people's money that was originally intended to improve the quality of our education.

The heads of an educational board, a bureau or an educational body are normally the ones who are in charge of developing educational programs and proposing draft budgets. Unfortunately, in many cases they do not want to develop any programs that do not provide them with any financial benefits.

For example, a colleague of mine who is on an educational board in North Sulawesi told me that his boss did not want to establish a training program for primary school English teachers because it is considered a "dry" project ­— a project that does not offer those on the educational board a financial benefit. Simply put, if there is no money to be gained, then a project is not going to happen.

Word of mouth reports and even research has shown that the DIPA or annual budget allocated for running education in the country has largely been misused. This is possible because what is noted in the DIPA is not the same as what is actually spent.


"One of my colleagues said those who manage BOS funds worth billions of rupiah aren't stealing any of it. But, surely they do keep all the interest."

 For example, if it says that a program is going to cost Rp 350 million (US$39,550), the amount spent is actually less than Rp 300 million. The rest of the money goes in the coffers of the director and other parties involved in the design of the project.

This all works very easily. Fake receipts are signed and budget documents are counterfeited so that what they have done is covered up and no one gets into trouble when the audit team comes in.

A teacher at a junior high school in Jombang, East Java, told me that after completing a training program he was asked to sign a receipt that entitled him to Rp 1 million from the training. He received only half that amount. And he is just one of many.

The realm of our educational mafia also reaches the domain of school principal appointments. When my uncle was appointed a primary school principal six years ago he said he was lucky he did not have to bribe the chief of the education unit as other school principals had to pay at least Rp 30 million for the promotion. My uncle's story was later verified by other school principals I have met.

The fact that a huge amount of school operational funds (BOS) are kept by some scoundrels who work in the finance section in the educational agency is further evidence of an educational mafia.  

When I was working as a primary school English teacher in 2004 I got used to not being paid for several months. The reason was that my salary came from the BOS and apparently I did not receive anything, even if the fund had already been deposited in the bank for several months.

One of my colleagues said those who manage BOS funds worth billions of rupiah aren't stealing any of it. But, surely they do keep all the interest.

With the existence of an educational mafia, our educational system is undeniably very messy. Too many scoundrels are involved. However, in my view, the educational mafia can still be prevented.

First and foremost, it is essential that the Corruption Eradication Commission (KPK) puts an end to the educational mafia at all costs. Apparently the KPK has not really dealt much with issues related to the abuse of power by those who work in the educational system. After being very much high profile in judicial, business and political domains it is time for the KPK to reach into the educational domain.

The KPK must ensure that people can freely report any misuse or corruption happening in the educational system. However, this is not going to work if people are afraid to voice their concerns.

Educational practitioners or low-ranking staff in the educational system may not have the power to testify against school principals or bosses without safety assurances. Thus, their reports need to be completely anonymous and confidential so as to prevent them from unforeseen repercussions.

What is no less important is that a mechanism needs to be set up to ensure their testimonies are legally protected.

By the same token, the inspectorate general at the National Education Ministry needs to be improved and needs to work hand in hand with the KPK. The ministry clearly needs to allow both internal investigations and probes by the KPK if needed.

To stop the educational mafia each of us needs to do whatever we can to prevent it. Reporting their practices is a good start.



The writer is an English instructor at the University of Canberra's English Language Institute.

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

POLICY ON POLITICAL COALITIONS: JVP BACK TO SQUARE ONE

The Janatha Vimukthi Peramuna (JVP) has decided not to forge coalitions with other political parties in future, according to some reports which the party so far has not denied. This is the second important decision that the party has taken or announced within a week. The first one was on supporting federalism that is meant for unifying the country.  

The party that had twice revolted against the state has reportedly attributed the decision against political coalitions to the futility of such political alliances. Its contention seems to be that it is the other coalition partners that always get the advantage of its strength, especially its incomparable capacity in propaganda activities.

The JVP has revisited a long-drawn-out controversy that had been taking place among the leftist political parties, with many groups criticizing each other for coalescing with main parties while they themselves practising the same. One of the five lectures or "classes," as they are called, in the JVP's indoctrinating programme for the newcomers to the party, had been especially meant to expose the leftist parties that had compromised their professed socialist cause to perks through coalition politics.

The "class" had been named "The Leftist Movement" before the party's 1971 insurrection against the Government led by Mrs. Sirima Bandaranaike with whom two prominent leftist parties, Lanka Sama Samaja Party and the Communist Party of Sri Lanka had coalesced to form the ruling alliance "The United Front." However, the JVP leadership renamed the "class" as "The Menshevik Movement" during their ideological transformation while in prisons after the insurrection.

In a theoretical point of view, however, the JVP, before the 1971 insurrection, followed the Stalinist- Maoist ideology which approved the coalitions between "proletarian" parties and "bourgeois" or capitalist forces in the interest of the proletariat or that of the country as a whole. However, during the ideological transformation in prisons the party gave up "Stalinism" and drifted towards "Trotskyism," vehemently opposing 'united fronts," a synonym for alliances with other parties, especially with the two main parties.

For the very purpose of explaining this to the newcomers to the party JVP leaders, during he ideological transformation had formulated a fresh "class" titled "The role of the revolution" which totally ruled out "united fronts." But this did not deter parties from taking "united actions," meaning short term collective actions by political parties to overcome particular problems common to parties concerned.

Accordingly, the JVP took united actions with five leftist political parties against oppressive measures by the JR Jayewardene Government in 1979 and later with the Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) challenging the results of the 1982 referendum.

This had been the policy the party followed until the 1988 Presidential Election for which the JVP forged a coalition with the SLFP and six other political parties including the SLMC led by MHM Ashraff and ACTC led by Kumar Ponnambalam. The first coalition so formed, the "Democratic Peoples' Alliance" at a time when the JVP was frantically and desperately attempting to survive a second bloody crackdown this time by a UNP government was so short-lived that it collapsed even before the nominations for the election were tendered. Since the very UNP candidate won at the election the purposes that pushed the JVP towards a coalition too dashed.

The party somewhat successfully entered the electoral politicss after 1994 and with the dawn of the new millennium was ironically very close to the UNP under the rule of which the entire leadership of the JVP including its founder Rohana Wijeweera was killed. The two parties took "united actions" in bringing in an impeachment motion against the former Chief Justice and were close to bringing in a no-faith motion against the Chandrika Kumaratunga government.

The "Parivasa Government" with the PA in 2001 and the forming of the UPFA coalition in 2003 through which the institution of a new coalition government took place in 2004 were the only clear-cut occasions where the JVP entered into alliances. After all these, the party now seems to be sick of coalescing with other parties.

It does not seem to be frank on the part of the JVP to say that it did not benefited from teaming up with others. Though flawed due to the haste the "independent" commissions were a direct upshot of the "Parivasa government" and the common stand it took with the government headed by President Kumaratunge in 2005 paved the way for the dissolution of the UNF government and thereby for the end of the war. After all, JVP has proved it to be a force reckoned with in this process. However, when it comes to numbers game in elections, contesting alternately in coalition and on its own have been proved to be disastrous to the party.    

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

INDIA LOOKS TO BAN LAVISH WEDDINGS TO FEED POOR

India is considering adopting a policy from its impoverished and war-torn neighbour Afghanistan to help tackle a domestic food crisis: rein in lavish wedding parties of the rich.

The government is mulling a plan to feed the country's poor, by restricting extravagant feasts at the weddings and parties of Indias burgeoning middle class, Indias Mail Today newspaper reported on Tuesday. Indias economy has been growing at an average 8.5 percent over the last five years, helping to propel millions of people into what is often termed the great Indian middle class and making the South Asian giant a darling for overseas investors. But with steady growth has come high inflation, pushed up by soaring food prices that have hit Indias poor the hardest. Headline inflation in December was above 8.4 percent while food inflation hit a one-year high of 18.s3 percent the same month. 'We believe we can preserve foodgrains for the poor and needy of this country by restricting its use at such extravagant and luxurious social functions,' India's Food and Consumer Affairs Minister K. V. Thomas was quoted as saying in the Mail Today on Tuesday.

Nearly 15 percent of Indias foodgrains were wasted at these events, Thomas said, and the government was now looking at introducing a bill before parliament limiting the amount of food dished out to guests, the Mail Today reported. The proposed policy draws comparisons with a plan last month by the government of Afghanistan — a country with only a fraction of India's GDP and which is grappling with a stubborn insurgency — to ban abundant weddings to stop grooms going broke.

(Reuters)

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

THE CASE OF LABOUR RIGHTS AS HUMAN RIGHTS – BONDED LABOUR AND MODERN SLAVERY

BY JUSTICE SURESH CHANDRA

Much development has been seen in Sri Lanka with regard to the recognition of labour rights commencing from the 19th Century. Legislation has been enacted from time to time encompassing the core labour standards. In fact there is a wide range of legislative instruments which deal with different aspects of worker's rights.

Freedom of Association and the right to form Trade Unions is recognized by the Constitution and also by the Trade Unions Ordinance No.14 of 1935. There are many registered Trade Unions and the Trade Union Movement is fairly strong which have strived to safeguard the interests and welfare of workers. In certain sectors, such as the free Trade Zones, Employees Councils are seen to be operative which though not as strong as trade Union provide a form of recognizing freedom of association.

With the recognition of Trade Unions, the concept of Collective Bargaining too is recognized and the law specially the Industrial Disputes Act No.43 of 1950 provides for the entering of Collective Agreements between Employers and Trade Unions on various issues relating to employment. This Act also provides that the refusal to allow  Collective Bargaining as an instance of unfair labour practice. There are many Collective Agreements which are in operation which cover various aspects relating to the terms and conditions of employment.

The Industrial Disputes Act provides safeguards against unjust terminations of employment by establishing Labour Tribunals which are empowered to inquire into such terminations. The Labour Tribunals have the power of ordering reinstatement or granting compensation in lieu of reinstatement  in the course of making just and equitable orders thus ensuring security of employment.

Some of the other statutes which guards against arbitrary terminations is the Termination of Employment (Special Provisions) Act No.45 of 1971, both of which safeguard employment from the application of the concept of 'hire and fire', Wages Boards Ordinance No.27 of 1941, the Shop and Office Employees' Act No.19 of 1954 and the Workmens' Compensation Ordinance No.19 of 1934. The quantum of compensation has been varied from time to time .

The interests of women and children in employment have been safeguarded to a certain extent by the Employment of Women, Young Persons and Children Act No.47 of l956 which provides for the regulation working hours of women and young persons and children, prevention of their employment in conditions harmful to their health, mental condition and education. Child Labour is at a minimum and the reasons for this is the mandatory provision that all children above 5 years have to be sent to school, and the literary rate in Sri Lanka which is over 90% being one of the highest in the world, and also the fact the Child Protection Authority being very vigilant regarding child labour.

It is also significant that a Sri Lankan Company won the International Award for "Garments without Guilt" as Sri Lanka has been adopting very high Labour Standards in the garment factories. Also in the tea industry the Tea Sourcing Partnership comprising of the major tea buyers in London after carrying out a survey regarding the standards in tea estates and factories was satisfied with the labour standards adopted.

The Industrial Disputes Act referred to above also provides for the settlement of industrial disputes, reference to an arbitrator, reference to an industrial court, etc.

Thus it is seen that Labour Law has developed very much in Sri Lanka where the interests of the workers are safeguarded to a great extent. However, it must also be stated that although these different Statutes apply to the private sector, there is a noticeable division in the privateer sector of a 'formal' sector' and an 'informal' sector. The formal sector is where the business ventures are carried on in an organized which forms the majority of the corporate sector. On the other hand the informal sector is the sector where there are small time business ventures very often, sole proprietorships and small partnerships where there is no strict compliance with the various statutory provisions. This is an area which needs improvement to be brought in line with the formal sector as the employees in the informal sector do not have adequate protection under the various statutes.

BONDED LABOUR AND MODERN SLAVERY

Bonded labour is still said to exist in certain countries in the world. It is a form of forced labour tied up with the payment of debts. When people in poor circumstances borrow money and when they are unable to pay up become liable to work for the creditor which becomes a never ending process as the Creditor exploits them to the maximum. These certainly are violations of  human rights.

In ancient history dating down to the Greek and Roman times, slavery was rampant as they though being human were treated as chattels. In fact one's worth was sometimes assessed in terms of the number of slaves one owned. The powers of the master extended to the power of life and death and the slaves were at the mercy of their masters. However slavery came to be abolished in many countries and the scourge of slavery does not exist as it were in ancient times in the modern world.

In Sri Lanka, there has been evidence of slavery in the ancient King's regimes. The more significant type of bonded labour appears to have been in practice during such times in the caste system that was prevalent. Persons belonging to a particular caste had a particular task to perform and was thus a form of bonded labour. All born into such caste had to follow their parents and forefathers. The system of "Rajakariya" in ancient times was the doing of service to the King and different groups of people were assigned distinct types of tasks as performing services to the King. These practices fell into disuse with foreign domination of Sri Lanka firstly by the Portugese, then the Dutch and finally the British after which Independence was regained.

In the agricultural sector, vestiges of bonded labour were seen until recent times, where Landlords of paddy fields employed persons to cultivate their fields which later grew into a concept of Tenant cultivation. Tenant Cultivator would work the field and give the major share to the owner. Legislation has now been brought in to safeguard the interests of the Tenant Cultivator while maintaining the relationship between the two.

Migrants, both legal and illegal are sometimes heard to be the subject of inhuman treatment and constitute another area where there is bonded labour and forced slavery.

 Forms of bonded Labour have been guarded against by the Constitution itself. Article 27(7) provides that the State shall eliminate economic and social privilege and disparity and the exploitation of man by man or by the State.

Article 27(13) provides that the State shall promote with special care the interests of children and youth, so as to ensure their full development, physical, mental, moral, religious and social, and to protect them from exploitation and discrimination. These provisions ensure the freedom of exploitation in Sri Lankas Human rights environment.

The amendment to the Penal Code in 2006 also envisages the prevention of forced labour. S.358A (1) provides that any person who (a) subjects of clauses any person to be subjected to debt bondage or serfdom; (b) subjects or causes any person to be subjected to forced or compulsory labour; (c) subject or causes any person to be subjected to slavery; or (d) engages or recruits a child for use in armed conflict, shall be guilty of an offence.

The punishment for such an offence is by imprisonment for a period not exceeding twenty years and a fine and in relation to a child imprisonment for a period not exceeding thirty years and a fine. 

Sri Lanka has also adopted Conventions relating to abolition of Slavery, forced Labour and Child Labour. Eg. The UN slavery Convention of 1926; UN Supplementary Convention on the Abolition of Slavery , the Slave Trade and Institutions and Practices Similar to Slavery 1956; Abolition of Forced Labour Convention of ILO ; ILO Convention to eliminate the Worst Forms of Child Labour.

Thus it would be seen that Sri Lanka has taken meaningful steps to prevent forced labour, bonded labour and slavery which in turn is a recognition of labour rights as human rights.

 

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

 

 

 

INDIA'S COSMETIC EXERCISE AGAINST CORRUPTION

BY NEETA LAL

Flagging off the Budget Session on February 21, President Pratibha Devisingh Patil dwelt at length on the "measures" adopted by the ruling Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government to tackle corruption as its "foremost priority". Speaking against the volatile backdrop of the multibillion 2G Spectrum scam, India's first woman President underscored the legislative and administrative reforms that are on the anvil to detect graft at the highest levels.

Given the all-pervasiveness of corruption in India, such measures are clearly welcome. However, for the sake of good governance, it is vital that a more foolproof and sustainable mechanism of checks and balances be ingrained into the system. What can help get this system in place is a non-partisan and robust national debate on the subject. Unfortunately, the corruption debate in India so far has been totally skewed for political reasons, veering more towards individuals rather than the structural reasons for it.

Not long ago, embattled Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had reflected on the 'malaise of corruption' that is 'sapping our efforts to march ahead as a nation'. He spoke of the urgent need for tackling corruption immediately and effectively. Unfortunately, Singh's own government has done precious little towards that end. Despite a robust eight-plus per cent growth, and projections that at USD 85.97 trillion India will be the world's leading economy by 2050 surpassing both China and the US, worldwide surveys have consistently ranked India as one of the world's most corrupt nations. For 2010, India was ranked 87th of 178 countries in Transparency International's Corruption Perceptions Index (CPI), with a score of 3.3, which is a further worsening of its 2009 score of 3.4 (rank 84th).

In July 2008, The Washington Post reported that nearly a fourth of the 540 Indian Parliament members faced criminal charges, "including human trafficking, immigration rackets, embezzlement, rape and even murder". Sadly, one strong anti-corruption measure that almost all governments have been promising but not delivered on is the creation of the Lokpal, an Ombudsman which can be empowered to punish the infractions of legislators and MPs, both at the Centre and the states.

The proposed Jan Lokpal Bill – currently caught in a legislative logjam—aims to create a 'Lokpal' at the centre and 'Lokayukta' at the state level as independent entities. The institution will have the power to initiate investigations/prosecution against any officer/politician without needing prior permission. There will also be a fixed time limit for investigation and trial. However, the Bill—which can bring this reality to fruition – has long been in a limbo. The contentious piece of legislation has sparked off protests that the UPA government is pushing the legislation as nothing more than a 'gimmick' to convey its resolve of fighting corruption. Besides, the draft bill itself is riddled with loopholes. Firstly, the bill suggests that the Lokpal will not have an 'independent' investigative agency to probe complaints submitted to it. It can only make recommendations to other authorities. Moreover, experts point out, restricting the outfit to three judges is too narrow an ambit for it.  Technically, the draft Lokpal Bill 2010 provides for filing complaints even against the prime minister, ministers and MPs. However, the fine print suggests that the complaints "will have to be routed through the presiding officer of the house to which the MP belongs". It also proposes certain limitations on the Lokpal's jurisdiction over the prime minister.

Another criticism against the Bill is that the Lokpal will not have any power to either initiate action suo motu in any case or even receive complaints of corruption from general public. The public will make complaints to the Lok Sabha Speaker or Rajya Sabha chairperson. Only those complaints forwarded by them would be investigated by the Lokpal which will obviously restrict the functioning of the proposed Ombudsman.

Is the Lokpal then a mere cosmetic exercise? A ploy to silence critics who are baying for the UPA's blood in the wake of countless scams? In its current avatar, it certainly seems so. Already under siege to deal with charges of corruption, the UPA government recently set up a high-level committee to make the long pending Bill more robust. The panel headed by Cabinet secretary K.M. Chandrasekhar had met  to consider suggestions made by NGOs and private individuals to make the proposed legislation more effective.

The UPA government says it is keen to give a "final shape" to the bill so that it can be introduced in the current Budget session itself. A GoM, headed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is expected to put forth concrete suggestions on the bill any time now. Logistics aside, the beleaguered UPA would do well to realise that making the proposed legislation more vibrant will not only empower it with a tool for better governance but also convey its seriousness about cleansing the Indian polity of the cancer of corruption. Dilly dallying on the matter—or diluting the Lokpal's authority in an underhand manner—will further tatter the government's already fragile reputation.

Neeta Lal is a New Delhi-based senior journalist

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GULF DAILY NEWS