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Monday, February 28, 2011

EDITORIAL 28.02.11

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 media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month february 28, edition 000766, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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












  2. FOOD FUTURE 2050























































As the floundering President of Libya, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, continues his ruthless crackdown on protesters, it is time the international community realise that enough is enough. The weekend witnessed continued clashes between the protesters and Col Gaddafi's army of mercenaries, which has reportedly been firing indiscriminately at civilians. Several pro-Gaddafi supporters took to the streets after the embattled leader called on his loyalists to "prepare to defend Libya" in his second nationally televised speech since the uprising, in which he also simultaneously threatened to "burn all of Libya" if the protests did not stop. And then he added, "Libyan people love me" — a bizarre afterthought, it was clearly a desperate attempt by the autocrat to cling on to power that, after being unchallenged for 41 years, was now fast slipping out of his hands. Already, Col Gaddafi has lost control over the eastern part of the country. Major cities such as Benghazi have fallen into the hands of protesters who, emboldened by their success, defied the President's orders and renewed anti-Government marches in the capital, only to be faced with heavy gunfire from pro-Gaddafi militiamen. Col Gaddafi continues to control Tripoli but his power is significantly weakened. In a desperate bid to hold on to the capital, Col Gaddafi made the terrifying announcement that he would open Libya's weapons depot to civilian supporters, who may then arm themselves and let the country become "red with fire". As he continues to set an unacceptable precedent for other despots in the region, and there are several of them — countries have begun evacuating their citizens: On Saturday, India sent out two airplanes and four ships to bring home some18,000 Indians trapped in that country. while others have also made similar arrangements.

The humanitarian crisis that has engulfed Libya and the political crisis that is to follow suit as the country plunges into civil war apart, there is also another crisis that is brewing. Libya produces 1.6 million barrels of crude which forms roughly two per cent of the global oil supply and at least 50 per cent of all of Europe's supply. After protests erupted, the global market has lost 1.2 million barrels of Libyan oil everyday as energy plants and ports have been shut down. This has predictably led to a sharp spike in oil prices which have shot from $75 a barrel to more than $100 a barrel and is now threatening to further weaken an already anaemic global economy. Most countries, including economic powerhouses such as China, simply cannot afford to buy oil at higher prices in the current financial situation but a fall in oil supply would have a directly inverse effect on growth rates worldwide. This would further hurt the global economy which is still recovering from the financial crisis of 2007-2009. Clearly, it is to no one's benefit that oil prices skyrocket and this explains Saudi Arabia's decision to pump in more oil into the global pool to make up for the Libyan shortfall. Predictably, oil prices rapidly fell back after the announcement but interestingly, they have shot back again. This mysterious price rise is not entirely the effect of any popular uprising, Libyan or otherwise. Indeed, it is the result of predatory practices by oil speculators who simply wish to capitalise on other's misery. And this is where collective international action is called for to prevent a spike in oil prices through manufactured instability.







While the Economic Survey for 2010-11 projects a robust 9 per cent growth for the next year, there are disturbing trends that could spoil the dream. According to recent reports Foreign Direct Investments recorded a major 22 per cent decline. Although in absolute terms the FDI figure was still at an impressive $21 billion, the drop is worrisome because it comes at a time when there is even a greater need for foreign funds, especially in the infrastructure sector that is crucial to ensure that the country sustains the growth trajectory. Incidentally, FDI had dropped in 2009-10 as well; it fell to $25.88 billion from $27.33 billion in 2008-09. Since, according to some estimates, Foreign Institutional Investments have remained more or less steady, the FDI fall can be attributed to the tapering off of private equity funds and venture capital. The Union Government has indicated that it requires at least $1 trillion for roads, ports and other utilities over the next five years to match the growth of China, which has emerged as the world's second largest economy, displacing Japan. To that end, the Reserve Bank of India's move to study the causes for the FDI drop is welcome. Although we need not second guess the reasons, some of them are apparent. While the economy has opened up over the decades, foreign investors still feel hemmed in due to the various caps that exist on investment, such as in the retail and insurance businesses. As yet FDI is not permitted in multi-brand retail outlets, for instance. And in the insurance sector, foreign investments are capped at 26 per cent. Since these are among the fastest growing service industries, the limitations are more stifling. The Economic Survey has done well to underscore the need for removing the bottlenecks for foreign investment in retail, allowing the likes of Wal-Mart to directly sell to the end consumer. Besides this retail giant, there are others like Tesco and Carrefour that have queued up.

It remains to be seen whether the Government accepts the imperative, because the issue here is not just economics but politics too. The Government has all along baulked at the idea because it believes the move would adversely impact millions of small shopkeepers and traders who form an important vote back across the country. That is why the Economic Survey suggests a tentative approach: Open a few multi-brand retail outlets with FDI in select cities to begin with before proceeding further. The idea is worth considering. The other reason for the FDI drop is the tortuous and largely opaque procedure to gain clearances, despite the reforms over the last two decades. We have had instances of foreign investors coming in and then struggling to perform because they were faced with conditions and circumstances they were not informed of earlier. While a certain level of uncertainty is an inherent aspect of any business, nobody wants to encounter endless red tape and deal with limitless corruption.









The Congress may have numbers on its side in Parliament but it has begun to rapidly lose the confidence of the people.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has in all humility declared in Parliament "the basic premise of a functioning democracy". According to him, "We are a functioning democracy and must strive to resolve our differences in a spirit of accommodation, not confrontation. This, I hope, will renew our confidence in India's forward march. I am, therefore, requesting the Hon'ble Speaker to proceed with the formation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee." In view of what is happening in democracies elsewhere — for instance, Belgium does not have a formal Government even after more than 200 days of negotiations — Mr Singh's declaration in Parliament last Tuesday deserves to be applauded.

However, it is worthwhile to recall who exactly wanted the 'confrontation'. The same Prime Minister had earlier refused to accept the Opposition's demand for an inquiry into the 2G Spectrum allocation scandal by a Joint Parliamentary Committee. He has been forced to change his stand for two reasons: First, he failed to break the Opposition's unity on the demand. Second, he is left with little choice but to accept the demand after the CBI investigation into the 2G Spectrum loottook a serious turn with the arrest of former Telecom Minister A Raja.

The details of the 2G Spectrum scandal in which thousands of crores of rupees have changed hands are astounding. A Raja, it has been found, manipulated procedures to favour firms with no prior experience in the telecom sector. One firm overnight raised its capital from a paltry `1 lakh to `1,000 crore. Another leading corporate player lined up half-a-dozen companies with strange names abroad and transferred money from one to another. Further, companies connected to the DMK's ruling family suddenly obtained huge investments. Given these details, the Opposition's demand for a free and fair inquiry, was entirely justified. That inquiry can only be conducted by a joint parliamentary committee as it has the power to question anyone, including Ministers and even the Prime Minister.

Who will believe that other Ministers of the Union Government were completely unaware of money changing hands in the Telecom Ministry for almost two years (2007-08) as 2G licences were being awarded? Who will believe that the changing of rules, the advancing of the cut-off date for applications and the process of awarding licences to ineligible firms were mere coincidences? Was the free hand given to A Raja just a result of what Mr Singh had earlier described as constraints of a coalition Government?

Leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley has correctly said that the Government is afflicted not just with "governance deficit" but also with "trust deficit", "leadership deficit" and "competence deficit". All that was needed was a one-line letter from the Prime Minister to A Raja, telling him that his decision to exclude eligible companies and award 2G licences to his favourite corporate houses would not be acceptable as the entire Government would be tainted. That would have stopped the Telecom Minister in his tracks.

At least such a letter would have saved Mr Singh from the embarrassment he has faced ever since the 2G scam was exposed and it became impossible to protect A Raja any longer. Mr Singh had received complaints from Members of Parliament warning him about the manner in which A Raja was conducting business in the Telecom Ministry. However, he kept dragging his feet on these complaints. It is this inaction which has been described by Mr Jaitley as both "incompetence" and "trust deficit".

The larger responsibility of ensuring a democracy functions as it is supposed to lies with the Government. The multiple deficits that Mr Jaitley has listed arise from the fact that in the Congress, which leads the coalition Government, the leader of the Government is neither the leader of the party nor does he wield political authority. The diarchy under which this Government functions makes it easy for individual Ministers to get away with anything. The Opposition has been able to expose this fundamental weakness by sticking to its demand for a JPC inquiry. However, only the Congress can correct the situation by ending this diarchy.

When a Government becomes a pawn in the internal power play of the ruling party, it cannot provide leadership either to Parliament or to the country. That is where the need for a purposeful Government arises. The washout of the Winter session of Parliament could have been avoided if the Prime Minister had the political foresight and authority to concede the demand for a JPC inquiry soon after it was raised. He agreed to it only after events overtook him and it became evident that his Government had fallen from grace in popular opinion.


The Congress has entered a phase of eclipse as public confidence in its integrity has seen much erosion. A Congress Chief Minister, Mr Ashok Chavan, had to go after the media exposed his complicity in the Adarsh Cooperative Housing Society scam. The periodic assurance the Congress gives about getting back the black money salted abroad sounds hollow because this Government only responds when it finds it too difficult to wriggle out of a tricky situation. President Pratibha Patil reiterated this assurance during her address to Parliament but did not spell out the steps contemplated by the Government. She did not mention anything about an institutional mechanism to arrest corruption or the flight of money from this country.

Just as in the case of the JPC, a relentless pursuit of the demand to bring back the black money stashed abroad has forced the Government to take some steps, however negligible they may be. The Supreme Court has also mounted pressure on the Government on the issues of 2G Spectrum scam, Adarsh Housing scandal and black money. The discomfort of the Government's counsels while answering the Supreme Court's questions is obvious to all.

What is interesting to note is that never before has India witnessed such a convergence of opinion — the main Opposition party's assessment of the Government matches with the Supreme Court's concern over the quality of governance. And that is the real indictment of this Government although it may have the numbers in its favour in Parliament. What it should remember is that democracy is not merely a game of numbers in the House. The final judgement always rests with the people.







Mohammed ElBaradei is unlikely to emerge as the new President, but if he does it will mean power to the Islamists. The other contender for power, Amr Moussa, represents radical Arab nationalism

I must be tolerably sure, before I venture to congratulate men on a blessing, that they have really received one..." Burke

The main issue is not whether Egypt will be either a happy democratic country or an Islamist state but rather what sections of the old regime will survive and whether radical nationalism or Islamism plays the dominant role in a post-Hosni Mubarak Egypt.

What's critical for the military is that no one touches the Army's privileges, money, and business enterprises plus doesn't go after the rich establishment. Who needs to repress people if they aren't causing you any trouble?

Thus, the military will allow constitutional changes and then free elections for President and then Parliament. As of now, the two main candidates for President seem to be Mohammed ElBaradei and Mr Amr Moussa. Polls show that Mr Moussa has a big advantage.

Why does Mr ElBaradei enjoy so little popularity, despite his being the Western media's favourite Egyptian? Because he is an unknown quantity, having been out of the country for 30 years and is in their eyes too close to the Americans. He also has no political experience at all. But most of all he is the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate and that is enough to taint him in the eyes of many people. It isn't that the Brotherhood lacks supporters but it doesn't have enough to elect a President who has almost nothing else going for him.

The most likely alternative at present seems to be Mr Moussa, Arab League Secretary-General and former Egyptian Foreign Minister. He often worked closely with former President Hosni Mubarak but this doesn't seem to hurt him. If Mr ElBaradei is dangerous because of his connection with the Muslim Brotherhood, radical impulses, and lack of experience, Mr Moussa is dangerous because of his mercurial personality and very radical views.

There are a number of possibilities for parties and political blocs that will be contending for Parliament. These include:

'Establishment' Reformers: Mr ElBaradei has been practically coronated by foreign observers as Egypt's next leader but his appeal is untested and his organisation almost non-existent. He is heavily dependent on the Brotherhood. That's precisely why he has flourished. But once the Muslim Brotherhood organises its own parliamentary party, despite supporting Mr ElBaradei for President, he is unlikely to be a powerful force in the legislature.

The idealistic democracy advocates of the April 6 Movement are unlikely as major contenders since their numbers are so small. They are, despite their success with the revolution, rather distant from the masses, and have no clear programme.

The Islamist Party: The Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to take power and Egypt will not become an Islamist state overnight. But the Brotherhood is patient and is not stupid. While wealthy, secularised, urban Egyptians may look at them as a peasant rabble — just as the equivalent Iranians viewed their Islamists and such Lebanese saw Hizbullah — this group has manoeuvered very skillfully in the past.

The Brotherhood may have made a mistake by backing the wrong man for President. Nevertheless, it will be a very important factor in any future Parliament and is already organising its own party and media. The Brotherhood can expect at least 15 per cent in a divided Parliament and perhaps might attain double that amount. They will be a player and a force to be courted by anyone who would want to rule, meaning concessions to its demands. And with Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi as a charismatic preacher, the Brotherhood's support can grow further, especially in Egyptian villages.

There will also apparently be a small Islamic moderate party, al-Wasat, of people who left the Brotherhood because they found it too extremist. This will be an interesting phenomenon to watch but not a contender for power.

An Establishment Party: The ruling NDP, even if it changes its name or appears in a totally new guise, might get no support at all, tainted as it is by association with the old regime. But there will doubtless be a new party of the establishment. Enjoying backing from existing institutions and wealthier segments of society, this party could win if it finds the right candidate. Will there be a serious 'conservative' party? This is one of the main mysteries for the future of Egyptian politics.

The Left: Quasi-Marxists and extreme nationalists who may form one or several parties. They could never take power in their own right but could be important in a coalition with nationalists or the Brotherhood. Don't assume such a partnership couldn't happen.

The nationalists: Ironically, despite the apparent repudiation of the regime, these are people who want a return to the regime, not of Mr Mubarak but of a romanticised Nasserist era, which most of the population is too young to remember. Of course, this would be different from the historic Arab nationalism, a blend of Arabism, Egyptian patriotism, with anti-American and anti-Israel flavourings.

This is the kind of thing Mr Moussa represents. He's more popular than Mr ElBaradei, knows how to be a demagogue, is familiar to Egyptians, and seems more of a known quantity, and is anti-Israel and anti-American enough to galvanize the masses.

The problem is that both outcomes are bad: With Mr ElBaradei you get the possibility of growing Islamism; with Mr Moussa there is an updated form of radical nationalism. The idea of some idealistic, good government reformer winning seems slim at best, partly because it is hard to find someone like that and it is hard for someone like that to appeal to the masses.

Egypt is going to move from a 'pro-US' to a 'neutralist' stance in regional issues. That means it will not be of any help in combatting Iranian influence (except possibly in the Gaza Strip) or working against Iran getting nuclear weapons, or on promoting the peace-process or on any other regional issue. An area to watch especially will be what happens with Egypt-Syria relations.

What about the regional situation? Is Egypt likely to be a democratic light unto other Arabic-speaking societies? The likelihood is that the radical regimes — Iran, Syria, Hizbullah and its allies in Lebanon, and Hamas in the Gaza Strip — are not going to politely fold up. Their armies and security forces are willing to shoot to kill. There may be demonstrations but there won't be revolutions.

The wave of popular upheavals is more likely to destabilise more moderate regimes that aren't hostile to Israel than radical ones that are. In the end, though, probably no Governments will fall. But they — and especially Jordan and the Palestinian Authority — will be intimidated. They know that any compromises with Israel or friendly relations with it will not sit well with the masses and those who would agitate them into anger and action.

-- The writer is director of the GLORIA Center, Tel Aviv, and editor of the MERIA Journal. We will be tracking developments in the Arab world every Monday on this page.







After nearly four years of Hamas rule, the Gaza Strip's small secular community is in tatters, decimated by the militant group's campaign to impose its strict version of Islam in the coastal territory.

Hamas has bullied men and women to dress modestly, tried to keep the sexes from mingling in public and sparked a flight of secular university students and educated professionals. Most recently, it has confiscated novels it deems offensive to Islam from a bookshop and banned Gaza's handful of male hairdressers from styling women's hair.

The Hamas push towards religious fundamentalism is especially striking at a time of great change in West Asia. With the Iranian-backed group firmly entrenched in power, Gaza seems unlikely to experience the type of pro-democracy unrest that has swept through much of the region.

In Gaza, defence of human rights and democracy has traditionally been the role of people whose world view is not shaped solely by Islam. Their shrinking influence could undermine those values. Some argue that the case of Gaza could also be a warning sign for those pushing for quick democratic reforms in the region. Hamas rose to power in part by winning internationally-backed parliamentary elections held in 2006.

Hamas officials say claims that they are trying to Islamise Gaza are meant to help deter the international community from recognising their rule. "This isn't true," said Mr Yousef Rizka, senior Hamas Government official. "We respect freedom."

Gaza, a tiny sliver of land squeezed between Egypt and Israel, always had a significant Islamic flavour, but once tolerated bars and cinemas, especially during Egyptian rule from 1948 to 1967. A conservative religious movement began to take hold in the 1980s, as part of a larger, region-wide religious awakening and because of intensifying conflict with Israel, which occupied the territory from 1967 to 2005.

The trend accelerated with the first Palestinian uprising against Israeli occupation in 1987, which coincided with the founding of Hamas. In June 2007, Hamas seized control of Gaza after ousting forces loyal to Western-backed Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas. In Gaza, whose 1.5 million people are overwhelmingly devout Muslims, 'liberal' and 'secular' are loose, interchangeable terms. Because the terms are used loosely, it's hard to know how many Gazans are actually secular. They dominate Gaza's human rights organisations, art collectives and youth groups. Since the Hamas takeover, their numbers appear to have shrunk. There are no firm statistics, but their public profile has certainly diminished.

Many left to study abroad and never returned. Others obtained refugee visas in Europe or found work in the Gulf. "In the end, the people who think differently are leaving," said Rami, a 32-year-old activist in one of Gaza's few secular groups. He refused to give his last name, fearing retribution. The Gallery Cafe, one of Gaza's last secular spots, is a freeze-frame of their lonely fortunes.

About a dozen chain-smoking men and three women swigged nonalcoholic beer and sugary mint tea on a recent night as they debated the protests sweeping the Arab world. They huddled on plastic chairs under a marquee, pummeled by chilly wind. The trend towards religious fundamentalism preceded the Hamas takeover. In recent years, hardliners have burned down the cinemas. Their charred remains are still visible in Gaza City.

Militants blew up the last bar in 2005. Gaza women, whose attire once varied from Western pants and skirts to colorful traditional embroidered robes, began donning ankle-length loose robes. Women with face veils, once rarely seen in Gaza, are now a common sight.

After winning the 2006 election, Hamas vowed it wouldn't impose Islamic law. But within two years, bureaucrats began ordering changes that targetted secular Gaza residents.

During the summer of 2009, plainclothes Interior Ministry officials on beach patrols ordered men to wear shirts. Today, plainclothes officers sometimes halt couples in the streets, demanding to see marriage licences. Last year, the Interior Ministry banned women from smoking water pipes in public. Islamic faith does not ban women from smoking, but it is considered taboo in Gaza society.

In November, officials shuttered the UN-funded Sharek Youth Forum, Gaza's largest youth organisation and a popular hangout for secular youth. Sharek employees say they were interrogated over pornography found on some staff computers. They said it was the personal material of some employees and offered to punish them for inappropriate behaviour.

In January, the Culture Ministry confiscated two novels from Gaza City's dusty Ibn Khaldoun bookshop. They said residents complained the books offended Islamic values.

One described the lives of Egyptian immigrants in the US and has been criticised for portraying a romantically involved unmarried couple. The other, an 18-year-old book by Syrian writer Haidar Haidar, called A Banquet for Seaweed, was deemed blasphemous in parts of the Muslim world because it contains phrases describing god as a "failed artist" and the Prophet as a womaniser. Pockets of dissent remain. Gaza human rights groups frequently and publicly denounce Hamas campaigns.

One group of Gaza youth issued a call for support on Facebook, raging against their Hamas rulers, the UN, and Israel. Most people who joined the effort live abroad. Mr Jamal Sharif, an English-language lecturer, said many Gazans live two lives: They submit to Hamas rules on the streets, but keep their own, more secular, ideas alive at home through the Internet and satellite TV. "That's where we learn to be cultured," Mr Sharif said.









With each passing day, it becomes more certain that Libya's revolution will not be resolved as swiftly and bloodlessly as Tunisia's and Egypt's did. The Gaddafi clan does not mean to go quietly, and with a section of the military backing them to the hilt, the country is teetering on the brink of civil war. Meanwhile, the Gulf states watch anxiously while scrambling to use a mixture of palliative measures and heavy-handedness to pacify their own restive populaces. The UN continues to condemn the Libyan regime. Iran is subject to democracy pressures itself but jostles for advantage in West Asia and North Africa.

It's a difficult situation for New Delhi. When the people's push for democracy had momentum as it did in Tunisia and Egypt, deciding on a policy was relatively easier. But in the far murkier waters of Libya and the Gulf where the tussle could be a protracted one, calibrating a response becomes far more difficult. Consider the stakes for New Delhi. The UAE overtook the US in 2008-09 to become India's largest trading partner, a position it continues to hold today. India's energy security calculus revolves around the region as well. Currently, it is the sixth largest net importer of oil in the world - it's expected to be the fourth largest by 2025 - and imports 70% of its oil needs. Of those imports, 70% comes from the Middle East. Factor in the massive Indian diasporas in the Gulf countries and the complexity of the problem becomes clear.

New Delhi's policy of non-interference in the internal affairs of other states has stood it in good stead in the past, and there is no need to abandon it in case of the turmoil roiling the Arab world. However, it does present an opportunity to project New Delhi's soft power, which is considerable in the region. It presents a working democratic model in a sociocultural environment far closer to the Gulf's than western democracies are - and with none of the political baggage of the latter.

Leveraging this soft power will require a multi-pronged effort. A start could be made by helping set up the electoral process in Egypt as the US has already requested, to the extent called for by the Egyptians. Participating in diplomatic, humanitarian and democracy-building initiatives in the region whenever asked for, while deepening civil society engagement - are all options. It will not be an easy process. But it is in New Delhi's interests to start such an engagement and seize the opportunities that open up.







While current inflation levels certainly need to be brought down, this year's Economic Survey has a radical suggestion - inflation may be here to stay with us if we want a high-growth economy. Using crude instruments to bring down inflation could have unpalatable consequences - such as loss of output and jobs, factories closing down and farms becoming less productive. If that is the case, rather than curbing inflation radically, an alternate course would be to work out ways of shielding the poor from the effects of inflation. Since the bulk of the poor's income is consumed by food, it's food inflation that any insurance policy should seek to cover. Here, the Survey notes that the public distribution system haemorrhages between 40% and 55% of essential commodities that pass through it. It needs to be reformed drastically, or better still bypassed with a system of food coupons or cash transfers.

If we were to move to food coupons or cash transfers, besides cutting wastage an additional advantage would be that they could be indexed easily to the prevailing inflation rate. Similarly, the Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Act needs to be revoked. Having degenerated into a cartel, farmers are paid poorly while middlemen make disproportionate profits by selling dearly. Opening up to organised retail could create a replacement for the APMC by allowing farmers to sell direct to shops. Interlinked with these is the Aadhaar identity card project because it eliminates the need for a PDS. Aadhaar would also permit the poor to directly access the formal banking system. Combined, these measures would help government keep overall inflation to a bearable 5% to 7% while also permitting the poor to improve their living standards.









Premchand's classic description about a hundred years back of a petty government official having a salary which, like the full moon, progressively shrinks to finally disappear as the days pass, supplemented by the real 'other' income which is like a flowing stream and takes care of needs as they arise, comes to mind as corruption has dominated public attention in recent months. A slightly longer historical perspective is useful at times!

The legacy of the Raj has been so strong that for ordinary citizens, the sense that government is ours and will do what we want is still to become sufficiently widespread, though progress has been remarkable. The decades of faith in the efficacy of bureaucratic micromanagement of the economy and increasing state intervention led to a rapid increase in 'rent seeking behaviour', a euphemism for corruption. The prevailing environment of extreme scarcity heightened these tendencies. As individuals sought material advancement in an economic environment which offered few real opportunities, a strange contradiction emerged between the formal discourse of the 'public good' and the informal one centred on 'private profit'.

As political participation became more inclusive across parties - and as merit-based recruitment for government positions with reservations to further social justice grew - there occurred the process of what can be best described as the democratisation of corruption. New political cadre and new government employees from hitherto unrepresented social strata could all benefit from corruption. Corruption began to acquire a constituency. As using political power for the larger public good was difficult, why not also use it for private profit which was easier. In any case, there was the compulsion of raising resources for political activity in a poor developing economy. Aggressive identity politics could provide electoral stability even with unabashed private rent seeking behaviour. If all are corrupt, why single out any one.

Every now and then, there would be a popular backlash against corruption both at the central level and in the states. Opposition parties would use the issue to the maximum. There would be changes in government following elections where corruption would be the major issue. High-profile cases would be registered and some dramatic arrests would be made. Then, the dust would settle and it would be back to business as usual.

Is it going to be the same this time or has something really changed which should warrant optimism? In democracies, changes are slow and incremental but at some stage an inflexion point is reached and a qualitative transformation begins which over time has a revolutionary impact. One such inflexion point was reached with the licence permit raj approach to the economy.

Since then, liberalisation has increased and become irreversible. As state monopolies have ended and scarcity has given way to competition, ordinary people have not only benefited but have also seen the withering away of corruption in these areas. Increasing entrepreneurial freedom has transformed India and given hope that with sustained 8% to 10% growth, the battle against poverty could finally be won.

Sustained economic growth of over 8% for almost 10 years, political inclusiveness, the information revolution, the confidence of the young in their right and ability to make a better future have all brought India to another inflexion point. The ordinary people have seen the limits of identity politics and are getting increasingly angry at the price they are paying for pervasive corruption.


A free, competitive and vibrant media, the impact of the RTI, and dedicated NGOs have acquired a critical mass. These forces will only gain in strength. Political cadre and government servants will find it increasingly difficult to escape scrutiny. Even the higher judiciary is finding itself being called to account for the first time. The pressure is to liberate India from corruption. Political leaders would find it to their advantage to be on the right side of this historical transformation as can be seen from the public response to even the perception of not acting quickly enough against corruption.

Progress in the struggle against corruption will need simultaneous policy effort at both the macro and micro levels. The core strategy for both has already been evolved and seen to have worked. At the macro level, liberalisation has greatly narrowed the scope of corruption. While further liberalisation would help, the government may still be required to take decisions with large implications for economic players. A consensus on the right and fair way forward through transparent stakeholder consultation in such situations would be invaluable.

At the micro level, IT has already worked wonders for, say, railway reservations. The rollout of e-governance with independent oversight and audit mechanisms would make a huge dent in petty corruption. Political parties also need to seriously address the issue of political funding. Political activity is a public good and needs transparent funding mechanisms which are fair and equitable. Practices elsewhere need to be studied and discussed.

The experiences of other democracies have shown the arrival of similar inflexion points of qualitative transformation with regard to corruption. India is on the verge of one. The challenge is to move forward speedily with bipartisan consensus and to generate confidence and optimism. The process would then be irreversible.

The writer is a former secretary of industries .








With FDI slipping and scandals galore, is UK business shying away from India?

There's a lot of UK investment though some doesn't appear to be British. Vodafone is British but entered India through a Dutch route. Given the magnitude of UK investment and the time it takes - sometimes decades - to realise a return, what business is most concerned about is transparency and predictability. The UK is here for the long haul but the commercial relationship would work better if the regulatory and fiscal environment were more predictable. Following standard international protocols on tax and other matters engenders investor confidence. Naturally, there's risk in entering new markets. But it's more difficult to evaluate risk if companies are faced with a tax or regulatory situation that has no precedent. This dissuades others from making an initial investment. This would be bad for India and for us because British business wants to enter India.

Where are the areas for economic cooperation and can it unleash new synergies?

There's major potential for cooperation. We can contribute in financial services, defence and retail but the Indian marketplace needs to be opened. That would transform India's productive capacities by infusing new processes and technologies to help unleash India's latent potential. Our interests are closest to India's across the spectrum. Both of us are to a large extent service economies. Being an island nation we believe in open markets, as does India. On climate change, we agree the environment must be protected in a way that safeguards economic development and that tackling this can't be put off. There's terrorism, where unfortunately, we both have considerable experience. The threat you've faced for sometime now is a danger to us. We are interested in learning from your experience in dealing with this. In short, the scope for cooperation is vast. Coming back to the commercial point, India has to decide to take the leap and help international investment release the talent here.

Why do you visit the northeast and how do you perceive Bhutan's relations with the UK and India?

I've been to the northeast thrice for historical reasons, to commemorate WW II soldiers and because New Delhi wants to develop the region. Recently 10 UK companies visited to look at infrastructure projects. We're alert to New Delhi's political sensitivities there. Burma, China and Bangladesh are close by. We're keen to understand India's evolving approach to socio-political and governance issues. We have an interest in India's success, not least because you're a model for democracy.

As for UK-Bhutan relations, these are an interesting exception to the diplomatic norm. Bhutan has no formal diplomatic relations with us, or with the other permanent members of the UN Security Council. But the ruling family has strong personal ties with the UK. The diplomatic norm is a formal bilateral relationship with minimal people-to-people links but for Bhutan and the UK, the opposite is true.

Your son volunteered in Kolkata. What's the future of volunteering and on a larger scale, aid to India?

The younger generation needs to find out about other countries and understanding India is likely to be a particular asset in the future. In our family, we believe that volunteering is a great way to do this. As for aid, the UK is committed to the Millennium Development Goals as is India. We've left the old stereotypes of aid behind. Now it's about partnerships between us to support Indian initiatives. The UK has projects underway in four states providing teacher training and ensuring girls go to school amongst other things.







'What's your number?' is a common question at business schools. Before anyone has any illicit thoughts, the number refers to how much money you need to retire. The question, rephrased, being: how long does one have to slog at a consultancy, hedge fund, private equity or investment bank before retiring.

Depending on the person, the answer ranges. Some will say 10 crore and a house. The 10 crore provide 50 lakh a year in interest to pay for living expenses. That would allow good food, a nice car, some help and education for the children. For others, 10 crore will be too little; they need 50 crore and two houses, the second being a summer house in Goa or the hills. Spending per year would be more along the lines of two crore. This would lead to nice business-class travel to foreign locales, shopping, meals at Michelin star restaurants and education for the children at the best schools. Of course, there are the super extravagant needing 100 crore. That gets a supersize lifestyle with all the fixtures.

It's a fun, late-night conversation that happens over beer. Pankaj Mishra and Arundhati Roy would be aghast, but the business school students mean no harm. They're just daydreaming. The question, though, is how these conversations go in Parliament or state legislatures. Do MPs, MLAs or ministers sit back and discuss their "number" to retire?

Is it 100 crore, 200 crore or 500 crore? How much money does one need, not to lead just a good life in India, but an extravagant one? Take 50 crore for a magnificent mansion. Add two lakh for food each month (the price of onions has gone up), five lakh for travel (petrol is getting dearer), two lakh for help (must treat the people right), one lakh for electronics (ironically, telecom prices are going up), another two lakh for education (you have to care for your future) and another four lakh for miscellaneous expenses. That adds up to 16 lakh a month or two crore a year. Take a normal lifespan of another 50 years and you get a 100 crore. Add another 100 crore for inflation. That's 250 crore: $60 million.

Let's nearly double that to $100 million. Is that a number that would satisfy politicians? It seems not. The numbers from the 2G scam, the land scams, the defence scams, the Isro scam, the sports scams etc, all suggest that our politicians don't have a number. There seems to be no limit to their appetite. And that makes no sense.

The average Indian will earn less than a lakh this year. One lakh. To earn 100 crore will take 10,000 years or 100 lifetimes. An average Indian would have been able to discuss Manu's laws with the man himself, sit under the banyan tree with Buddha, marvel at the making of the Asoka pillar, contemplate God at the Sun Temple as it was made, dine with Akbar, serve as a scribe to Tulsidas, fight the British in 1857, mourn the martyrs of Jallianwala Bagh, march with Gandhi, hear
Nehru's Tryst with Destiny speech, shake a leg with Amitabh Bachchan, and witness India's World Cup victory in 1983 and 2011 (about to happen). Yet, the average Indian, earning an average Indian salary, would not be able to earn as much as some netas have earned in a single deal in 2010.

There has to be one politician who is full up, who has had his full share of cash and said enough: "Now, dear countrymen, i am full. I want to put all my efforts into helping the people without recompense." There has to be a number that politicians reach where they say this. Maybe those MBA students can help us figure out what that number is?








There is little else Indians love than holding a rousing rally. And this is the season of rallies. So it is quite a common sight in our cities to see rallies snaking along main thoroughfares expressing resentment of everything from onion prices to corruption to land scams. This, many may justifiably argue, is our right as citizens of a vibrant democracy. But, the problem arises when one person's right to complain publicly about the price of onions impedes another's right to get to work. Or worse still, to get to hospital in time.

Over the years, rallies have become so commonplace that many have either got inured to the disruptions they cause or have got incensed by these. With the proliferation of parties and the growth of coalition politics, rallies have also become shows of strength aimed at rattling opponents. In the city of those past masters of rallies, hartals, bandhs and other forms of protest, Kolkata, many productive days are lost by people taking to the streets. A petition is pending in the Kolkata High Court seeking an end to these often meaningless protests. The Kerala High Court had earlier banned public rallies on roadsides, a decision which the Supreme Court upheld. It is no one's contention that legitimate forms of protest should not be allowed or that the courts should be dragged into this. But, it is quite possible that not everyone's idea of protest is to hold up traffic and prevent the movement of people who might prefer other forms of expressing their dissatisfaction.

Since rallies are not going to vanish overnight, city administrations could review the practice of allowing rallies at all times of the day with the police merely concerning itself with maintaining the peace. Rallies are clearly held at times when they are thought to make the most impact on the public. But when the public begins to consider them a nuisance, their utility value diminishes. It would be better if it became incumbent on rally organisers to give advance notice and for authorities to be able to regulate the time and location where it could be held. If we had a Hyde Park where protestors go and rail agai-nst Queen and country, we wouldn't have such a problem. But we don't so we have to best examine how to accommodate the interests of all concerned. Otherwise, the courts will intervene as in Kerala and shut off what should be a legitimate avenue of protest. It would be also in the interest of habitual rallyists to use this weapon judiciously so as to maximise its efficacy. As we all know, the best things come in small doses.





The day of the arrival of the financial Magi has come and we are aquiver to see what is in store when they open their gifts. But we are even more anxious to listen to the quotations which punctuate the budget speech, hoping against all hope that it won't be from the usual suspects, Tagore who will definitely feature, Thiruvalluvar or even Keynes. No, given that our fortunes are likely to go downhill after the euphoric rush when taxes are cut by a fraction, we wish that the speech could at least bring us more joy than past ones have.

Why should budget speeches be surrounded by gravity much in the manner of the Pope addressing the faithful? Let's hear it from George W Bush who said, "It's clearly a budget. It's got a lot of numbers in it." Now, of course, our finance ministers are not quite as simplistic as Dubya. But surely we can ask as in the words of Spike Milligan, "All I ask is the chance to prove that money can't make me happy." While finance ministers in the past have asked us to spend, spend, spend, they have not meant that we should go out and go overboard. Clearly, they could have taken a lesson from Oscar Wilde who said, "Anyone who lives within their means suffers from a lack of imagination." And that is something we don't lack even though we barely have the means to stay alive. But that does not mean that we don't hanker after reconciling our gross habits with our net income to mangle a saying by Errol Flynn. So it is clear that we can only look heavenwards for some good news on the fiscal front if the finance minister has no goodies for us.

If only Woody Allen's exhortation asking God for a sign like making a huge deposit in our names in a Swiss bank were to come true, our faith in budgets would be restored. For days now we will be grappling with figuring out the figures. And, on a tight budget at that.






It is no wonder that the DVD I picked up this week to watch was Frost/Nixon. So much that is current and playing on one's mind these days is about despots, political admissions or the lack of, and the general miasma of that age-old issue: abuse of power. Only recently we watched a bloated Muammar al-Gaddafi ranting about how he has no 'place' to resign from and all he has is his gun. That piece of un-statesmanlike posturing forced even his traditional Western allies to give press briefings about how dangerous it's all suddenly become in Libya when just last year Senator Clinton was sending Gaddafi missives about how much regard the Obama government had for him and his country.

Frost/Nixon is a powerful yet curious film. Powerful because of the riveting performances and cracking screenplay, which make the audience believe they are present in the Smith house during that event some 35 years ago which redefined political corruption and its exposé, or as one of the protagonists describes it, "… a lasting legacy that every political scam after this event would have the suffix 'gate' attached to it". It's curious as it seems to be set in an age of innocence. A conservative, tough, man's man of a president abuses/misuses his power, gets caught out, resigns, but remains smug and confident in his public posturing as the long-suffering, right-man-at-the-wrong-time patriarch. Like the mythical Goliath, he buckles however, when he meets his David in the ring, which almost makes the 'good' guys worry that his bluster will prevail.

The makings of a true Hollywood epic, and it took a Ron Howard, better known for his less than extraordinary film version of Da Vinci Code, to see the potential of this epoch-making interview in cinematic terms three decades after the event. I haven't seen the original interview, and I don't even want to. I want to stay with the belief that what the film showed could actually happen. That it wasn't a staged symphonic progression from the allegro of the first couple of questions which Nixon dodged with ease, to the adagio of his responses to questions on Russia, China and his family, to the escalated, deafening presto of the Watergate section of the interview, down to the silence which preceded and followed the words a defeated Nixon finally uttered, "I let the American people down." I want to believe in the confessional that the collarless Frost provided Nixon with. I want to believe that Nixon too wanted to tell the truth. I want to believe in the drama of it, which gives it its cinematic raison d'être.

It is the desperate sort of belief one had in those early days of private Indian news channels, that one of these days one of our own 'white knights' on the TV screen could manage the same, say, with a Narendra Modi in a moment of 'cascading candour', as Frost describes it to waiting reporters. But things are different now. Unlike Nixon, who was uncomfortable with the new medium of TV when he sparred with Frost, or even Modi who got annoyed with Rajdeep Sardesai in the interview during the Gujarat riots, political notables more recently implicated in cases of corruption or other criminal circumstances have learnt how to 'work' the media. These are the days of the well-established nexus between the politician and the news anchor; no longer is the latter a white knight or the former in a confessional.

So what is that medium that could get an admission of guilt out of our political criminals, one that doesn't intimidate or put one on the defensive, but seduces us with a sense of community while making us feel anonymous, precisely what the TV might have been to Nixon in the days when tough-talking political analysts wrote only for newspapers. I'd wager that it would have to be social media networking, a medium little understood by the political community barring the younger lot. Despite this lack of a sense of how to use it advantageously, there is a growing feeling that it ought to be harnessed for political mileage. Shashi Tharoor tried his hand at it; look where it landed him. Gone are the days of interviews and inquisitions.

It's increasingly possible to imagine a scene where a Modi, Kalmadi, Mayawati or Raja were to sit in the privacy and security of his/her own turf, in an armchair with a glass of the preferred beverage by the side, log on, and, in an epiphany, tweet a confession. Of course, they could always click the Undo Tweet button immediately afterwards, but why go there anyway!

Arpita Das is Publisher, Yoda Press The views expressed by the author are personal





The Union budget may provide the UPA government one last chance to redeem itself. It is also perhaps the biggest challenge before the most-experienced finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, and one of the top economists, Manmohan Singh, to prove that they are capable of living up to expectations without using too much financial jargon.

It is common belief that the plight of the central government would not have been so bad if it had been able to control rising prices. The government failed to explain through its political constituents the reasons for the high prices of essential commodities and took far too long to hold a Cabinet meeting on this issue.

This showed a lack of seriousness on the part of the UPA. Instead of addressing the issue, some elements in the Congress started shifting the blame to senior minister Sharad Pawar as if he alone was responsible for the mess. It was forgotten that it is the collective responsibility of the Cabinet to resolve such issues. If Pawar was so inefficient, why was he not shifted from or dropped from the ministry? It could have been the "compulsions of coalition politics''. But in this case Pawar was willing to give up some responsibilities after he became head of the International Cricket Council (ICC).

The Economic Survey, released on Friday, projected a near double-digit growth rate for the coming financial year. While taking note of inflation it hopes that the government will be able to come to grips with the ground reality. The government must understand that growth rate and Sensex figures are all very fine but the common man won't be satisfied until he gets his essential items at a reasonable price.

The state governments also have a role to play so far as the public distribution system (PDS) goes. The PDS is in a shambles in most states. In other words, even the best schemes of the government can't be implemented in both letter and spirit if the benefit does not reach the common man.

The Congress and its allies had come to power on the strength of standing up for the aam aadmi. However, what has happened is that not only is the disparity between the rich and poor increasing but affordability is also becoming a major problem. From the poor to fixed income groups, everyone is finding it difficult to make ends meet.

The silver lining is that the current finance minister, Pranab Mukherjee, is from the Indira Gandhi era when 'garibi hatao' was the thrust. He had presented budgets in the early 80s during difficult days. He is also the most seasoned politician in Parliament. So expectations of him are high. Even Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had steered the country's economic situation during trying times when we had reached bankruptcy and mortgaged our gold reserves to bail ourselves out. He may be an amateur in politics but he is very sound on finance.

Between the two, they have to figure out how to pull India out of its present price rise crisis. If they succeed, many other issues that have tarnished the image of this government will recede into the background. Essential items must be made available at reasonable rates. This is the least one expects. Otherwise Iqbal's famous couplet may serve a warning: "Jis khet se dahkan to mayassar na ho roti (rozi) us khet ke har khoshaye gandum ko jalado, utho meri duniya ke garibon ko jaga do'' (What is the use of a field which cannot feed those who plough it? It is better to burn every inch of such a crop. Wake up the poor who live in my world).

The government must make sure that such a scenario does not come to pass. Between us.






Delhi's Jamia Millia Islamia university being granted a 'minority status' has been celebrated by many, including newspapers, as happy news and one which gives Muslims 'due justice'. Some of Jamia's teachers and staff even distributed sweets to mark the announcement, which will allow the university to reserve 50% seats for Muslims. As someone who's lived all his life near the university and studied there, I don't support this minority tag, despite the fact that the lobby supporting it is far stronger than I could imagine. If the aim of the minority status is to uplift the community from its backwardness, I think it's only going to push the Muslims into a deeper ghetto. Inclusive growth is possible only with an eclectic diversity of students and staff. Jamia already has enough 'Muslim' character, and it does not need any legal status to ensure it.

Those seeking the minority status argue that leaders like Mohammad Ali Jauhar and Hakim Ajmal Khan established Jamia in 1920, as "they wanted Muslims to keep their education in their own hands, free from governmental interference." But why do we forget that 1920 was the British period and Jamia was established as a reaction to British interference in Aligarh's Muhammedan Anglo-Oriental College (MAO) started by Sir Sayyad Ahmed Khan? Why should we apply the same to the present democratic government, which gives aid to the university? Leaders like Jauhar, Ajmal Khan and others, who we invoke today, were not against non-Muslims taking part in Jamia's development. Their secular ideals and actions were far greater than what we can aspire to. At one time in Jamia's history, the lack of funds forced the staff to get one piece of bread a day as salary! Can any staff member or student think of emulating such ideals today? Times have changed and so have the Muslim community and Jamia. If we invoke the name of Ajmal Khan and Jauhar today, we're only 'using' them for selfish gains.

The example of St Stephen's College in Delhi is often used to justify Jamia's minority character, as the former already has the status of a Christian institution. I think Jamia's case can't be compared with that of St Stephen's for several reasons. Both institutions have very different histories and objectives. Jamia had a direct involvement with India's freedom struggle, whereas St Stephen's was established — according to its prospectus — as a "religious foundation drawing inspiration from the life and teachings of Jesus Christ" by a Christian mission from Westcott House, Cambridge.

Second, the quality of education in both institutions is very different — today, St Stephen's is considered one of the top Delhi colleges whereas, sadly, Jamia (with the exception of some departments) does not feature high in students' preference lists. But St Stephen's high standards have nothing to do with its minority status. It is a part of a long tradition of quality education that convent institutions have diligently held up. Its minority status, while setting precedence for others, was not implemented to uplift the economic condition of Christians but preserve their culture and values.

If the aim of Jamia is to preserve its 'Muslimness', then there has never been any compromise on that. According to the present vice-chancellor, Jamia already has 51% Muslim students, and applying the minority status would have no particular effect. For a religious character, Jamia campus and its surroundings have several mosques, Jamia's staff can take off from work for prayer, can work for lesser hours during Ramazan, school students are taught Urdu and Islamic theology and girl students can wear a veil, besides many other advantages they never get in any 'mainstream' institution. Jamia recognises degrees from Islamic madrasas as qualification for admissions into its courses like BA and MA, allowing thousands of madrasa students to get secular education and professional training. Jamia has departments of Urdu, Arabic, Persian and Islamic Studies. The university's name itself has 'Islamia' in it. All this to ensure that 'Islamic' culture is upheld even without the minority character.

I think Muslims fear that while being victimised elsewhere in the country with communal biases and violence, their institutions will also get filled with non-Muslims, which would usurp the already shrunk spaces. But won't accepting mostly Muslim teachers and students in Jamia prevent the entry of bright students and teachers from other communities, whose presence could create a progressive and competitive atmosphere? Interacting with a wide diversity of people is good not only for students' careers but also to reduce communal prejudices and perceptions of victimisation. The minority tag has outlived its use and needs to be discarded.

Yousuf Saeed is a Delhi-based independent filmmaker and researcher. The views expressed by the author are personal





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






As Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee presents the Union budget today, he will be held to promises from previous budget statements that remain unfulfilled. Among those, the most important one that stands out as having been postponed year after year is the Goods and Services Tax (GST). The implementation of the GST requires setting up of a goods and services network and mapping out the way from a pilot to a steady state. The Technology

Advisory Group for Unique Projects headed by Nandan Nilekani has already submitted its report on the steps that need to be taken on the implementation of this complex project.

Earlier budget promises include setting up of the Debt Management Office (DMO), or the

National Treasury Management Agency. While the UPA government announced the NTMA and set up a middle office for the DMO, very little progress has been made. The finance ministry's internal working group on debt management provided detailed steps for incubating the project, setting up IT systems, creating databases on debts and contingent liabilities and transferring the functions from RBI to NTMA. But it has been two years and this has not been implemented. The NTMA can be critical in bringing down the cost of government borrowing, very crucial at a time like this when the fiscal deficit is high and rising.

An Expenditure Information Network that can track government expenditure better is still pending. The existing system of government expenditure has enormous limitations. For example, measurement of plan implementation is on the basis of outlay rather than outcome. As the government follows hierarchical and multiple patterns for allocation and release of funds to the implementing agencies and beneficiaries, it is impossible to track the flow of funds to actual beneficiaries. It is equally difficult to evaluate the performance of agencies based on spending and project

implementation. The pension bill too is pending. The New Pension System suffers from many other problems as well. The finance ministry must not postpone steps towards convergence of all pension and provident fund streams, rationalisation of tax treatment of NPS to provide an even treatment with other retirement products and providers and creating awareness among subscribers.






The day after the revolution is euphoric but always messy. The old order has crumbled, the dictator has been deposed, but the orderliness of the longed-for democracy is nowhere in sight. Egypt, after its glorious 18-day revolution, is in that inevitable but often unenviable state of uncertainty. And ordinary Egyptians are impatient to get their country in order. Even as internally Egypt is setting the pace of reforms — an army-appointed panel has proposed a set of constitutional reforms that will eventually be put to a public referendum — the international community has to step up in facilitating, as Cairo seems fit, its peaceful transition to democracy.

It is in this context that it was suggested, first by US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a telephone conversation with External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna and subsequently in her talks with Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao, that India assist Egypt in conducting free and fair polls. While this is a nod to New Delhi's experience and expertise in conducting elections, it prudently responded to Clinton that it would wait for a request from the Egyptians themselves. Now sources say Egypt's main opposition party has welcomed such an assistance. India should be cooperative but also cautious. It should use its democratic credentials for the political transformation of a people whose memory of free and fair elections is rather distant. India's experience in Afghanistan, helping build its democratic institutions, training its parliament staff and election officials, should stand it in good stead too. But New Delhi should move into the politically volatile Egypt to bolster its ballots only when the call comes from a greater representation of Egyptians, who themselves are just working out the way out of a 30-year-long dictatorship, who are barely rolling out the blueprint of their future.

And when that happens, India should lend a hand to build Egypt's second republic.






The ministry of civil aviation not only wants a spanking new office for the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) but it also wants to turn the DGCA's current address, in the heart of central Delhi, into a residential complex for its staff. After the finance ministry and the ministry of urban development shot down the plan, and the change in land use, the ministry seems to have retreated. Meanwhile, the army has demanded another 109 acres of land in Dwarka to make room for defence personnel.

But this is typical of the way the state and its appendages have made themselves comfortable in all of Lutyens' Delhi and its neighbourhoods. The government squats on the entire area, even as the rest of the city struggles and hustles, trying to accommodate the growing demands of industry and commerce, and the sheer press of its population. This bubble of privilege (still referred to as the Delhi Imperial Zone, or DIZ, in municipal terminology) is shaded with splendid old trees, lavished with infrastructural attention — its greenery sustains the whole city, though it houses the fewest people. Meanwhile, the rest of Delhi has intense demands placed on it, from a combination of trade, service and industries. There is no question that we need to radically review our land-use patterns. Changing Lutyens' Delhi from a place where the powerful can ignore the real city, into a more diverse, mixed-use space is not only more seemly in a democracy, it would also ensure more efficient use of space.

Our absurd zoning laws mean that the best parts of town are taken over by PSUs and government departments, commissions and authorities with their squat, charmless buildings. There have been some moves towards changing this and easing the stress on central Delhi, including the idea that no new government offices should come up in the area and that existing structures be augmented for optimum usage. But for now, it doesn't look like the government intends to cede space anytime soon.







The political backdrop against which Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee will unveil his annual budget statement today is quite critical. The budget comes at a time when the Congress party itself is undergoing a catharsis of sorts. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's nationally televised statement last week that the UPA government was totally committed to the next phase of economic and political reform came as the first real indication that the Congress was standing firmly behind him. Until a few months ago the dominant theme was the growing disconnect between the party and the government leadership on a host of issues, causing a drift in governance. This disruptive phase seems to be giving way to a new realisation that a strong dose of political economy reforms is needed to create confidence in the minds of the people at large.

The budget will try to lay the framework for some of these. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has taken the first crucial step by meeting senior opposition leaders and agreeing to a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) inquiry into the 2G scam.

More critically, Mukherjee will need the opposition's cooperation to implement the single biggest reform of India's political economy — the Goods and Services Tax (GST). It is not for nothing that the PM stated the importance of the GST in his recent press conference. Pranab Mukherjee is a seasoned politician, and is possibly the most qualified person in the Congress to work with the opposition to create a consensus on implementing the GST, which could transform the way India's economy is organised.

A single GST to be shared by the Centre and states will do away with the current, chaotic structure of cascading local taxes at the state level by collapsing them into a simplified single tax rate on goods and services.

GST is politically sensitive because it tries to reorganise the way taxes are to be collected by the states and the Centre without impinging on the federal powers of a state to levy taxes in areas under its jurisdiction. It is a delicate exercise, and needs someone like Pranab Mukherjee to pull it off. GST was promised by UPA 1 and its implementation was to kick off from April 2011. But under the new time schedule it is to start from April 2012.

So the forthcoming budget will have to lay down the timeframe for achieving various implementation milestones over the next six to nine months. A lot of the UPA's political capital and energy will be expended on working with the opposition to make GST a reality.

Why is GST so important, you may ask? GST is a bit like a magic bullet which has the potential to solve several long-term problems at one go. It is anti-inflationary, as it considerably reduces indirect taxes at the Central and state levels. Such an anti-inflationary move would be most welcome at a time when inflation is seen as a big political issue. The total incidence of indirect taxes at the Central and state levels is about 24 per cent at present. Under the proposed GST this will go down to 16 per cent by 2014. Goods and services will be that much cheaper. There can't be a bigger anti-inflationary roadmap. GST will attack black money in a big way, especially in the real-estate sector, which generates the maximum unaccounted wealth. BJP leader L.K. Advani talks about bringing back $500 billion worth of money stashed away by Indians abroad. But, by properly implementing GST, real-estate transactions worth nearly $200 billion annually can be brought under the indirect tax net. Once these become part of the formal economy, income from these activities will be taxed separately. Currently, the government loses both indirect tax as well as income tax from those who benefit from the $200 billion worth of transactions in the real-estate sector.

Today 40 per cent of all revenues earned by the states are from stamp duty levied on real-estate transactions. But the problem is that stamp duty revenue is only a fraction of what the states would actually earn if an extra $200 billion worth of real estate transactions are brought into the tax net every year.

The political significance of this should not be lost on anyone. Once real estate comes into the tax net, the nexus between politics and slush money from real estate can be exposed. So bringing real-estate transactions under GST is the surest way of cleansing Indian politics from its current ills.

In pure budgetary terms, the biggest upside that will come from implementing GST is a sustained boom in revenues over the medium to long term. This is the surest way to not only achieve long-term fiscal consolidation as per the new FRBM roadmap, but also pay for all the new social-sector programmes being devised by the UPA at present.

A review of the Indian economy by the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council released last week says that "the implementation of GST can bring about significant improvement in revenue productivity. The hope of meeting additional resource requirements for food security, increased allocation to education and healthcare will critically depend on the implementation of GST and it therefore is important for both the Central and state governments."

Therefore, it is evident that the UPA is depending on the GST reform as the prime vehicle driving both fiscal consolidation and its social-sector spending programmes. There can't be a better win-win solution.

Just to get an idea of how GST would result in an explosion of revenue productivity, one needs to look at just one figure provided by a finance ministry task force which studied the upside the GST reform provides. The task force puts the potential value of transactions on which the Centre and states can collect GST at over Rs 35 lakh crore. At present, probably only 60 per cent of this transaction value is being taxed. The remaining 40 per cent represents a fresh source of revenue as these transactions are outside the tax net. India could really shine when all this black turns white.

The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'








Around January every year, a chirpy fellow who mans a tiny kiosk in my neighbourhood becomes my best friend. We'll call him P, and you'll know in a moment why I'm being so discreet.

Because what P does is illegal. He's a bootlegger, not of the stuff you quaff out of glasses, but of movies that have no chance of ever arriving in our theatres, or arrive too late to be of use to man or beast, or arrive mauled

beyond recognition or redemption by our censors.

There are now perfectly above-board ways to obtain fine French or Argentinian or Chilean or Australian wine. Try doing that with movies, even award-winning ones from these countries, and I'll show you a parched movie-goer.

I know what P does is questionable. I also know by giving him my custom, I am complicit. Every time he sends over his rider with a goodie-bag, I'm being party to something that I have, in the past, written about and condemned. Piracy kills the movie business like nothing else; if I have access to a film for a tenth of the price I will pay in the theatre, why would I ever buy a ticket?

Ah, but here's the rub. If a P didn't do what he does, with great efficiency and speed, I would be bereft of the films I absolutely have to watch. My job demands that I need to have seen all the films that I possibly can, especially those that win laurels at major global festivals, as soon as they start coming out.

Many of those films will never be released here, for various reasons. Sometimes the subject matter is an inhibiting factor (Hollywood studio reps learn very soon to tell you that only "creature features" work in India, or mega-budget "actioners"; and that rom-coms have only a niche within the niche). At other times, it is "excessive nudity or violence", though I've always wondered on what basis that "excess" is decided.

A couple of recent examples show up huge confusion amongst those who decide what we can see, and what we can't: Alejandro Inarritu's Biutiful was hacked mercilessly; whereas No Strings Attached had a whole series of vigorous romps between the pretty Portman and the hunky Kutcher, and dialogue that had steam clouding the theatre. How is one okay and not the other?

I've become much less of a hardliner on the subject now that I have learnt to love technology, and those that use it to keep ahead of the movie curve. I get films through the kindness of geek friends. I'm learning, very quickly for an old-time film critic, to say these words out loud: "downloads" and "rips". I've begun using them with great flourish now, and I'm not even looking guiltily around to see who is watching, or is within earshot. A friend talked of "piracy being the greatest form of democracy" just before he mailed me the first instalment of a terrific Swedish crime thriller in three parts, you know which one. I'm not sure I agreed completely with his airy description — but did I come all over huffy and refuse? Ha.

Before I chanced upon P, and my network of pirate pals, I had, on my speed-dial, another resourceful rogue who has a shop in the Capital's seedy underground market. Let's call him S. Having been introduced to him by a colleague who'd been going to him for years, I was to be trusted: when I first met S, he demanded a visiting card, which he promptly placed alongside all the others he had. I knew most of the people who were on S's regular roster. His reasoning was simple: if all these "journalist-type" people were frequenting him, he was famous.

And he was. Several people I shepherded towards him knew of his existence, or had been to his outlet which kept the regular stuff on the ground floor, and stacked all the "festival" movies in a makeshift mezzanine you climbed to, via a twisty staircase. (You could also, if you wished, get access to some hardcore X-rated stuff, but then S knew his customers, sizing you up in one swift up-and-down glance: "aapko woh festival-waali films chahiye, na?") It was all very Dickensian and sooty: S reaching behind him, getting out piles and piles of CDs and DVDs of all the cinematic greats you could think of. If he didn't have it, he promised he would get it. And what's more, if the disc didn't work, he would cheerfully take it back, and give you another.

S is now my Plan C. My friends see to it that I am well-supplied; the slack is taken up by P, who acts miffed every time I pass by without picking up something. But the main thing is that I've, yes, seen That Film. Or All Those Films. So sue me.







As we enter the new financial year, one of the most pressing and involving debates for Bihar at the moment is the need to minimise the number of Centrally sponsored schemes, and giving the states more latitude to plan their welfare schemes. Under 300-odd Central schemes, we get "tied funds" — tied, because a state government is bound to pool in a fixed percentage as the state's share to avail these Central schemes. Second, a state government is bound by several guidelines and riders.

Just sample these figures: Bihar had to earmark Rs 1,300 crore as its 35 per cent share under the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan (SSA) in 2010-11. Now with the Right to Education Act, the Centre has asked states to bear 25 per cent share, which would simply mean that Bihar will have to spare, rather manage, Rs 7,500 crore. We have urged the Centre to accept a 90:10 Centre-state formula for successful RTE implementation. Health and education alone make Bihar set apart funds in excess of Rs 2,500 crore every year, more than 12-13 per cent of our annual plan size. I wonder why the Central government cannot give more space to states in preparing need-based schemes. A state should be given the freedom to know its entitlement, to optimise development funds. A consolidated fund from the Centre is all that we have been asking for. In any case, a state government will give compliance to the Centre on how and where the fund was used.

I, along with finance ministers of several states in 2009, put forward a joint memorandum before the 13th Finance Commission, which, in turn, had duly recommended that the Union government minimise Centrally sponsored schemes. There has been precedence, with the Atal Bihari Vajpayee-led NDA government curtailing Centre-sponsored schemes during its tenure. The then-Union agriculture minister and now Bihar chief minister, Nitish Kumar had made an integrated scheme, merging 39 schemes. Addressing a National Development Council meeting on July 24, 2010, Nitish Kumar said: "The 13th Finance Commission had also recommended that initiative should be taken to reduce the number of one-size-fits-all Centrally sponsored schemes." The CM further added that "these schemes often have no provision for the implementation machinery and the state's existing staff have to execute these programmes in addition to their already heavy workload". Untied funds are, all the more, the need of the hour as the gross budgetary support allocation to a state has come down from 34 to 23 per cent while it has gone up from 66 to 77 per cent for the Central sector.

It is not a matter of political parties, ideologies or state governments. During a meeting of finance ministers from several states with the Union finance minister in 2009, there had been a uniform demand for this. We believe the Centre has taken note of our cumulative concern.

A consolidated fund from the Centre can be best utilised in core areas of development — health, education, energy, roads and the social sector. There is a Central scheme that gives Rs 2 crore for starting a model school in every block but it comes with a big rider — the state must allocate five acres of land for each such school. If this rider is waived, a state government can build two or three schools with that Rs 2 crore, following most criteria of a model school.

This is where Centrally sponsored schemes have become deterrents rather than a true means of change. Another scheme, called the Accelerated Irrigation Benefit Scheme, is sanctioned afresh only after completion of the first scheme. Can a state government wait for three years to get a second scheme? It is about too many guidelines and riders obfuscating the real motto — development. Untied schemes are best suited for a state's progress. Chief Minister Nitish Kumar has taken it up at National Development Council meetings and various others. It is time the UPA government changed the rules of the game. They may well choose key sectors to mandate a Centrally sponsored scheme, but having 300-odd schemes is leading us nowhere. We do not have any reservations against MNREGA, guided by an act of Parliament, but let there be a select few of such schemes. Besides, uniform guidelines for all Indian states may not work. Bihar's needs could be different from Tamil Nadu or Kerala, and vice versa.

We have been stressing on direct cash transfer to beneficiaries to stop leakage in the public distribution system. Can the Centre not start it on pilot basis? We also demand that the Centre bring in the right to shelter act, to ensure houses for families below the poverty line.

— As told to Santosh Singh

Sushil Kumar Modi is deputy chief minister and finance minister of Bihar








There is no way the inextricably intertwined story of the Suez War, ('East of Suez', IE, January 24) and Soviet repression of the popular revolt in Hungary, ('The art of intervention', IE, February 14), the two events of tremendous importance in their time, can be completed without a brief account of Jawaharlal Nehru's detailed talks on the subject with President Dwight Eisenhower of the United States and Chinese Prime Minister Zhou Enlai. These parleys contributed to a solution of the Suez issue and the stabilisation of the situation in Hungary, though under a government installed by Moscow.

Shortly after the ceasefire came into force along the nationalised Suez Canal in early December 1956, Nehru travelled to the US in response to a standing invitation from Washington and held long talks with Eisenhower at the latter's farm at Gettysburg. Even more prolonged were the talks between Nehru and Zhou. Since the visiting dignitary wanted to see the Bhakra Nangal Dam in Punjab, they first met there on the last day of 1956, and then continued their dialogue during the rail journey back to Delhi. With only two interpreters present, their conversation lasted till the wee hours of the morning, interrupted only by a short ceremony to welcome the New Year.

Briefing Zhou on his discussions in the US, Nehru disclosed that Eisenhower had suggested that the clearance of the Suez Canal, a decision on its future, and Israel's right to use it must be settled at the same time. But Nehru told him — and the US president eventually agreed — that the canal's clearance and an amicable settlement on its future should have the first priority, and the Israel issue taken up when passions had subsided. "Israel," Nehru had said, "could not disappear from the map and, at the same time the very existence of Israel infuriated the Arabs." Therefore, it was better to wait for a "more reasonable atmosphere" to take up the ticklish problem.

Highly significant was Ike's statement on the Anglo-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt, as summed up by Nehru: The invasion had come as a "great shock" to him (Eisenhower) and he had "insisted on disapproving it — even though his advisers had "tried to restrain him" because they were "afraid this might affect the Jewish vote in the (forthcoming US) elections". One might add, parenthetically, that more than half a century later, in the midst of the "Arab spring" this factor remains a major diving force in American politics and policy.

On Hungary, Eisenhower said to Nehru that while Britain and France had accepted the UN resolution and withdrawn their forces from Egypt, the Soviet army had not withdrawn from Hungary, and in the presence of foreign troops no solution was possible. More notably, Ike repeatedly expressed his apprehension about the Soviet Union and the Communist bloc "creeping in and filling the vacuum in the Middle East created by the ending of the British and French influence and thus get a grip on the Middle East". He was unconvinced by Nehru's comment that this was not feasible under the existing circumstances because "the Soviet government had been hurt so much by the Hungarian rising that it was not at all likely to invite further trouble". He also pointed out to Eisenhower that in Russia, the "basic fear was that of a re-armed Germany".

Zhou Enlai's elaborate response to Nehru's presentation was remarkable for revealing that differences between him and his host were much greater than those between the US president and India's prime minister. On Suez and the Middle East he agreed almost completely with Nehru's stand. But he had no time for Nehru's estimate that the US, and President Eisenhower in particular, was opposed to the Anglo-French-Israeli aggression and had taken steps to halt it. Zhou contended that while deploring the invasion of Egypt publicly, the US had "encouraged it secretly". On Hungary, disagreement between the two prime ministers was almost complete.

In Nehru's words, Zhou "stuck to the Soviet line on Hungary throughout". The Hungarian question and the Egyptian question, the Chinese premier said, were different in character. "Our view is that the Soviet army's going to Hungary cannot be compared with British and French invasion in [sic] Egypt." Zhou went on arguing, "Western powers were carrying out subversive activities designed to overthrow socialist governments and (dragging) these countries into the Western camp." It was for this reason that the Hungarian government

had asked the USSR to come in under the Warsaw Treaty.

Nehru replied that while there were "some external subversive elements, they formed only a small part of the trouble. It was mainly a national uprising (whose) object was not so much to change the internal regime as to get rid of foreign domination, namely, that of Soviet Union ... Our information is that originally the movement was not directed against the USSR but turned anti-Soviet when workers and youth were shot. That 20,000 Hungarians are reported to be dead and in a city like Budapest 1,000 tanks were required shows the extent of the uprising".

There was a lot else of great importance in Nehru's talk with both Ike and Zhou — ranging from Tibet to the Baghdad Pact to Sino-US relations — but none of these is relevant to the twin issues of Suez and Hungary. Nehru's overall verdict is, however, eminently worth quoting: "Recent events in Egypt have shown that world opinion is strong enough to prevail against aggression of stronger powers against weaker nations. The events in Hungary have revealed that communism could not succeed in a country unless it was allied to nationalism." Privately, Nehru also told several of his confidants that one of the results of the Suez misadventure had been that its main instigator, British Prime Minister Anthony Eden, was thrown out. Harold Macmillan was named his successor — "to the surprise of everyone except himself", according to British historians.

Perhaps the most devastating comment on Suez and Hungary came from Thanu of

The Indian Express who drew a brilliant cartoon that depicted Khrushchev and Bulganin, with blood dripping from their sleeves, saying to each other: "Let's go and wash our hands in the canal".

The writer is a Delhi-based political commentator






Imaging the body has become so easy. When I was an intern some 30 years ago, about three million CT scans were performed annually in the US; now the number is more like 80 million. Imaging tests are now responsible for half of the overall radiation Americans are exposed to, compared with about 15 per cent in 1980.

With that radiation exposure comes increasing risk for cancer, but what worries me even more is that this ease of ordering a scan has caused doctors' most basic skills in examining the body to atrophy. This loss is palpable when American medical trainees go to hospitals and clinics abroad with few resources: it can be quite humbling to see doctors in Africa and South America detect fluid around patients' lungs not with X-rays but by percussing the chest with their fingers and listening with their stethoscopes.

Of course, we still teach medical students how to properly examine the body. In dedicated physical diagnosis courses, students learn how to do a complete exam of the body's systems. But all that training can be undone the moment the students hit their clinical years. Then, they discover that the currency on the ward seems to be getting tests ordered and getting results, having procedures like colonoscopies done expeditiously, calling in specialists, arranging discharge.

The consequence of losing both faith and skill in examining the body is that we miss simple things, and we order more tests and subject people to the dangers of radiation unnecessarily. Just a few weeks ago, I heard of a patient who arrived in an E.R. in extremis with seizures and breathing difficulties. After being stabilised and put on a breathing machine, she was taken for a CT scan of the chest, to rule out blood clots to the lung; but when the radiologist looked at the results, she turned out to have tumours in both breasts, along with the secondary spread of cancer all over the body.

In retrospect, her cancer should have been discovered long before the radiologist found it; before the emergency, the patient had been seen several times and at different places, for symptoms that were probably related to the cancer. I got to see the CT scan: the tumour masses were visible to the naked eye — and certainly to the hand. Yet they had never been noted.

Too frequently, I hear of (and in a study we are conducting, I am collecting) stories like that from all across the country. They represent a type of error that stems from not making use of basic bedside skills, not asking the patient to fully disrobe. It is a more subtle kind of error than operating on the wrong limb; indeed, this sort of mistake is not always recognised, and yet the consequences can be grave.

In my experience, being skilled at examining the body has a salutary effect beyond finding important clues that lead to an early diagnosis. It is a ritual that remains important to the patient. Recently my ward team admitted an elderly woman who had been transferred from her nursing home in the night because of a change in her mental status. A CT of the head and all other tests were determined to be normal; the problem had been dehydration, and she was better, ready to go back. But the patient's lawyer daughter was unhappy with the plan to return her mother to the nursing home, and was waiting impatiently to see me and contest the transfer.

After introducing myself to the patient and to her daughter, I did a thorough but quick neurologic exam. I put the patient through her paces: mental status, cranial nerves, motor and sensory function, used my reflex hammer and pointed out interesting things along the way to my interns and students. I then said to the daughter that her mother seemed back to normal. To our surprise, the daughter seemed comforted, and now had no objection to her mother's return to the nursing home. We all felt that the daughter witnessing the examination of the patient, that ritual, was the key to earning both their trusts.

I find that patients from almost any culture have deep expectations of a ritual when a doctor sees them, and they are quick to perceive when he or she gives those procedures short shrift and wrapping up in 30 seconds. Rituals are about transformation, the crossing of a threshold, and in the case of the bedside exam, the transformation is the cementing of the doctor-patient relationship, a way of saying: "I will see you though this illness. I will be with you through thick and thin." It is paramount that doctors not forget the importance of this ritual.






Perhaps this Arab Revolution of 2011 had a scent for the geography of grief and cruelty. It erupted in Tunisia, made its way to Egypt, Yemen and Bahrain, then doubled back to Libya. In Tunisia and Egypt, political freedom seems to have prevailed, with relative ease, amid popular joy. Back in Libya, the counter-revolution made its stand, and a despot bereft of mercy declared war against his own people. There is no middle ground here, no splitting of the difference.

Over the decades, Arabs took the dictators' bait, chanted their names and believed their promises. They averted their gazes from the great crimes. Out of malice or bigotry, that old "Arab street" had nothing to say about the terror inflicted on Shiites and Kurds in Iraq, for Saddam Hussein was beloved by the crowds, a pan-Arab hero, an enforcer of Sunni interests. Nor did many Arabs take notice in 1978 when Imam Musa al-Sadr, the leader of the Shiites of Lebanon, disappeared while on a visit to Libya. Colonel Gaddafi had money to throw around, and the scribes sang his praise.

The tumult in Arab politics began in the 1950s and 1960s, when rulers rose and fell with regularity. They were struck down by assassins or defied by political forces that had their own sources of strength and belief. New men, from more humble social classes, rose to power through the military and radical political parties. By the 1980s, give or take a few years, in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Algeria and Yemen, a new political creature had taken hold: repressive "national security states" with awesome means of control and terror. The new men were pitiless, they reordered the political world, they killed with abandon; a world of cruelty had settled upon the Arabs. In the public space, there was now the cult of the rulers, the unbounded power of Saddam Hussein and Muammar Gaddafi and Hafez al-Assad in Syria and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia. The traditional restraints on power had been swept away and no new social contract between ruler and ruled had emerged.

Fear was now the glue of politics, and in the more prosperous states the ruler's purse did its share in the consolidation of state terror. A huge Arab prison had been constructed, and a once-proud people had been reduced to submission. Yet, as they aged, the coup-makers and political plotters of the yesteryears sprouted rapacious dynasties; they became "country owners," as a distinguished liberal Egyptian scholar and diplomat once put it to me. Shame — a great, disciplining force in the Arab life of old — quit Arab lands. Today's rebellions are animated, above all, by a desire to be cleansed of the stain and guilt of having given in to the despots for so long. Elias Canetti gave this phenomenon its timeless treatment in his 1960 book Crowds and Power. A crowd comes together, he reminded us, to expiate its guilt, to be done, in the presence of others, with old sins and failures.

There is no marker, no dividing line, that establishes with precision when and why the Arab people grew weary of dictators. To the extent that such tremendous ruptures can be pinned down, this rebellion was an inevitable response to the stagnation of the Arab economies. The so-called youth bulge made for a combustible background; a new generation with knowledge of the world beyond came into its own. Then, too, the legends of Arab nationalism that had sustained two generations had expired. Younger men and women had wearied of the old obsession with Palestine. The revolution was waiting to happen, and one deed of despair in Tunisia, a street vendor who out of frustration set himself on fire, pushed the old order over the brink.

There is no overstating the importance of the fact that these Arab revolutions are the works of the Arabs themselves. No foreign gunboats were coming to the rescue, the cause of their emancipation would stand or fall on its own. Intuitively, these protesters understood the rulers had been sly, they had convinced Western democracies that it was either the tyrants' writ or the prospect of mayhem and chaos.

Massimo d'Azeglio, a Piedmontese aristocrat who wrote, what for me are the most arresting words about liberty's promise and its perils: "The gift of liberty is like that of a horse, handsome, strong and high-spirited. In some it arouses a wish to ride; in many others, on the contrary, it increases the urge to walk." For decades, Arabs walked and cowered in fear. Now they seem eager to take freedom's ride. Wisely, they are paying no heed to those who wish to speak to them of liberty's risks. Fouad Ajami








Whatever the government announces in the Budget a few hours from now, the reaction of investors will largely depend upon how the government addresses three major non-NAC concerns of theirs—the National Advisory Council's food bill, among other proposals, is of course a serious concern as our main column today argues. The first is the fact that interest rates are hardening quite rapidly—coupled with the increased attractiveness of the US as an investment destination for portfolio investors, that will mean animal spirits will take a while longer to return. While IDFC, Power Finance Corporation and L&T Infrastructure have been offering 7.5-8% interest rates on tax-saving infrastructure bonds, retail investors haven't really lapped them up—SBI, on the other hand, has got a good response to its bonds that are offering 9.75% for 10 years and 9.95% for 15 years. This is bad news for infrastructure as well as for general investments. How the government tackles this will be interesting.

Two, the government's intent on tackling subsidies will be judged not by what it does in the budget, but what it does afterwards, on increasing prices of petroleum products. Oil PSUs are likely to bear a burden of around Rs 80,000 crore in the current year, and that's a number that doesn't get included in the budget numbers—even before the trouble on Arab Street erupted, global oil prices were projected to remain over $100, so the oil PSUs are certain to lose a lot more money in 2011-12. Some lowering of customs duties is likely, but leaves the problem largely untouched—the oil subsidies the PSUs bear are almost equal to the rest of the subsidies, around Rs 1,00,000 crore or so per year.

Three, the government's attitude towards Cairn-Vedanta. Vedanta's purchase of Cairn has been held up due to the previous minister's refusal to allow ONGC to continue to pay royalties on Cairn's oil production. He wanted Cairn to start paying its royalty share, but Cairn has refused to do so on the grounds that ONGC is contractually obligated to do this—when foreign investors were in short supply, the government wooed them by saying the royalties would be paid by ONGC. And ONGC got a 30% equity stake for doing so. Since the oil ministry doesn't want to take a decision that appears to be hurting an oil PSU, it has lobbed the decision to the Cabinet—it meets on March 3 to decide. Today's Budget, and the signals it sends, are important, but investors are looking to more than just words in a Budget speech.






In explaining away persistent food inflation, the government has repeatedly cited climate and global factors as culprits. Critics have been equally persistent in arguing that home-grown policies ranging across agriculture, FDI, infrastructure, logistics and retailing could have acted as strong counterpoints to food inflation if only they had been implemented. As we await whether the budget will signal that the government is moving into appropriate gear to do this now, the latest issue of The Economist, with a special report on "feeding the world"—underlining that neither climate nor global market factors will be providing a respite any time soon—tots up additional imperatives for the same. Population projections suggest that the planet will bear the equivalent of two extra Indias by 2050. That's the future. In the present, we know that food prices have played some role in fomenting the political unrest gripping the Middle East and North Africa (also remember the food riots of 2008). We know that the heat waves that spread across the former USSR last summer sharply cut down the world's grain supply. If rains don't go right in China this year, as is being feared, this will severely aggravate the grain shortfalls. La Niña-linked phenomena have caused floods in Australia too, again affecting supply. If the unpredictability of weather has become predictable, how often can our government use it to excuse supply disruptions?

Worse, International Food Policy Research Institute studies show that yields in 2050 will likely be lower than they were in 2000, in a business as usual scenario. Rising fertiliser prices (which track oil prices) and falling water tables aren't helping. Not much virgin land remains out there. Biological advances that engendered the first Green Revolution look like they are reaching their limit, making it harder and harder to deliver a second one. All in all, the yield challenge means that increasing food supplies by 70% in the next 40 years, as would be needed by the two extra Indias, may prove harder than it was to raise them by 150% in the previous 40. Better technology provides the strongest beacon of hope, whether this means narrowing the gap between the worst and best producers (where India obviously has a lot of potential) or widening the prevalence of GM crops (which the magazine calls the most promising source of food growth). Imagine the legume roots ability to convert soil nitrogen into ammonia, the feedstock of nitrogen fertiliser, being genetically transferred to wheat! And then imagine short-term, populist sloganeering being able to give Indian long-term food security.





Jairam Ramesh and A Raja. By and large, the two have been seen as the biggest spoilers of the India story. Collectively, they are believed to have ensured India's FDI levels plummeted, from a projected $50 bn by the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council (PMEAC) for 2010-11 to a likely $27.5 bn. While Jairam gave big investors like Posco and Vedanta a hard time (ably assisted by Murli Deora in the latter case!), Raja's rapaciousness ensured the best-functioning sector in the economy became the worst performer.

But one is in jail on corruption charges, and the other seems to have had a rapid change of heart, given the way he is now clearing projects he would have earlier summarily dismissed as environmental disasters. Parliament is functioning again, the Prime Minister seems more confident and is using the G word (growth, not Gandhi) a lot more often, saying it will not be sacrificed at even the altar of inflation, the holiest of holy cows in the country … Has the UPA got back its mojo? That fits in with the new narrative doing the rounds, that the Congress always performs best under pressure (the 1991 reforms would never have happened if we didn't have to ship our gold to the IMF), the party has now firmly thrown its lot behind the PM. Notice how there's not a murmur from the finance ministry on the PM's statement that the ministry agreed with Raja on the price to be charged from the new entrants. The finance ministry's letters, annexed to the Justice Patil report, the finance ministry's statements to the CAG last year, and even the then finance secretary's statements to the Public Accounts Committee make it abundantly clear the ministry didn't agree with Raja, but the ministry and the then minister P Chidambaram are maintaining a stony silence.

So will the markets move later in the day as the government talks reforms, even if it can't immediately deliver on them? This could include, for instance, a government commitment to look at state funding of elections (mostly seen as the reason why there's so much corruption today), a promise to look at more direct cash transfers once the results of the Nilekani pilot project come in, higher disinvestment targets, a timeline for implementing GST, including the announcement of setting up of an IT-backbone for it. Indeed, some good political management, completely missing so far, could see various legislative agenda on insurance, pension, banking and perhaps even coal mining go through.

Ordinarily, this should be more than good enough. But after so many years of not just zero reform, but anti-reform, the government has to battle that much more to convince investors it means well. So a Murli Deora is succeeded by a Jaipal Reddy, who looks even less likely to clear the Cairn-Vedanta deal; while the government talks of freeing up educational institutions, a number of B-schools want to take it to court and private schools are up in arms over the havoc the newly-minted Right to Education is wreaking (hopefully, the universalisation plan for secondary education won't lead to an RTE+); while the battle between the National Advisory Council and the PMEAC continues on the contours of the proposed food security Bill, the Prime Minister told Parliament he was committed to the Bill; the proposed 26% equity share for tribals in the mining Bill continues to make investors shudder and we've seen how the Forest Rights Act was abused to deny permission to the Posco project.

To be fair, the Prime Minister is doing his best to delay or water down the really bad proposals. The reason why the PMEAC locked horns with the NAC on the proposed food security Bill was precisely because the Prime Minister wanted to ensure the scheme didn't become one big boondoggle; reliable sources say Murli Deora's 2% CSR cess will, in all likelihood, get shelved. The pressures, however, are tremendous, and they won't go away till Sonia Gandhi changes her view on the social agenda the government has to fulfil. An analysis of the 2007-08 round of the NSS by Surjit Bhalla (carried in FE on February 24) showed the government spent Rs 10,800 crore in 2007-08 to deliver Rs 3,833 crore of NREGA wages, that's an efficiency level of just around a third. And now the government is under pressure to increase the funding for the NREGA. How many self-goals can the Prime Minister possibly block?

Telecom is a good example. Getting rid of A Raja, it seems, was the easy bit. You'd have thought this would have freed up precious spectrum for the existing telcos to use, especially since the government's own Justice Patil committee has said the Raja licences were illegal, but the government seems in no hurry to cancel the licences—indeed, it filed an affidavit explaining why cancelling some licences was a bad idea (

news/fe-editorial-its-just-a-law-guys/ 753893/). The regulator has come up with a recommendation that will further hit the older players while continuing to give the players Raja favoured an easy ride (

And since the government is committed to defending the Raja policy, this is causing more problems. The defence is curious since when the PM says the policy was right but Raja distorted its implementation, he's saying there would have been no loss to the exchequer had the licences been given to another set of 122 firms!—even non-economists can see the argument is self-serving and bereft of logic. Apart from being ridiculous, the government's stand is also heightening the tension between the UPA and the BJP (on whom the PM tried to pin the blame for even the Antrix deal, apart from the 2G mess!). At a time when the government needs the BJP's help to get critical legislation through (the GST is clearly going nowhere if the BJP opposes it as it has to be passed by state legislatures as well), such a strident attack serves little purpose. The wisdom or the lack of it, however, will get clear only as the Budget session progresses.





Is Asia getting caught in the 'middle income' trap? Unnoticed by many, some countries of Asia, which began their economic march with great promise, have reached points from where they are showing little signs of moving ahead. These economies include several from Southeast Asia. Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand and Indonesia are four economies, which, in the not-too-distant past, had been labelled as vibrant Asian cubs ready to join the ranks of regional tigers like Japan, Hong Kong, South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore. The hopes, however, have remained unfulfilled.

Among the countries that were middle income in the 1960s, except for those in Western Europe and the Asian tigers mentioned above, the rest have not been able to rise to the high-income category. Around 75% of the middle-income countries of the 1960s continue to remain so. The World Bank classifies lower middle-income and upper middle-income economies at income brackets of $976-3,855 and $3,856-11,905, respectively. Movement among developing countries from the lower to the upper brackets has been noticeably low in the last few decades.

The 'middle income' trap is a situation where countries having progressed from low to middle income levels get stuck at that level. Despite having made good progress on several fronts, the problem that the trapped countries face is raising and maintaining their growth rates at levels that remain well above the growth rates of their populations. It is not enough to place the growth rate of the economy in a trajectory well above that of the population; economic growth must continue to remain in the high trajectory for a good number of years to ensure that per capita incomes continue to rise. This is what the current high-income countries have been able to do and what the middle-income countries are unable to do.

But why do countries get stuck at middle income? It is argued that it is much easier to rise from low income to middle income than from middle income to high income. In the early stages, there are several drivers that lead to high growth. Cheap labour is surely one of these. The Southeast Asian economic saga is an excellent example of how low wages coupled with aggressive policies make nations competitive in labour-intensive manufacturing. The flying geese had fanned out from Japan to Korea, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore, and then further to Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and the Philippines for taking advantage of low wages. But unfortunately wages do not remain sticky for decades altogether. Once they begin rising, production methods need to change. Manufacturers need to climb up the value chain to higher-end operations. But that requires indigenous R&D and innovation more than anything else. This is where several economies falter. This is where South Korea and Taiwan have scored, while Malaysia and Thailand have not been able to.

Several middle-income countries, particularly those in Asia, have not paid as much importance to innovations and technological leaps as they should have. One of the major factors separating high-income economies from the rest is their technological capacity. Technological capacity includes technology infrastructure, innovative capabilities and availability of technically skilled manpower. These attributes are unevenly distributed among middle-income countries. For Southeast Asian economies like Thailand and Malaysia, who are used to assembling products designed elsewhere with abundant help of imported technology, innovation has been a relatively neglected aspect. As a result, they have been stuck in assembling operations. While their overall technological infrastructures may not be poor in terms of mobile and computer penetrations, they have lagged behind in R&D and innovation. At the same time, slow growth in technological maturity has stunted skills of the domestic workforce, whose technical capacities have remained limited.

What are the drivers of innovation? R&D most certainly, but by whom? Multinationals invest significantly in R&D and are drivers of some of the most important research in global industrial development. But this does not mean that the state does not have a role. Middle-income countries appear to miss out on the virtuous nexus between government, industry, technical institutions and universities that has been a highly successful driver of innovations in high-income countries. Indeed, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and Japan are clear examples of this virtuous interface. Unfortunately, the other promising Asian economies have not been able to work out the network to their advantage.

As middle-income-trap experts argue, it is easier to climb from low to middle, rather than racing from middle to high. The second involves extracting much greater productivity gains from an already structured economy. Structuring from scratch is simpler than restructuring an existing framework. The latter requires being creative and constructive. That certainly is not everybody's cup of tea, as the Asian experience shows.

The author is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South Asian Studies in the National University of Singapore. These are his personal views







The Economic Survey 2010-11 is positive on the macroeconomy without glossing over the challenges. The economy's resilience is seen in its ability to withstand two shocks in quick succession. The ripple effects of the global economic crisis (2007-09) that devastated world growth, trade, and finances have persisted in the form of the European fiscal crisis. On the domestic front, the farm sector that saw a negative growth in 2008-09 was further hit by erratic monsoons, severe drought, and unseasonal rains in two successive years. Despite this, the economy is poised to grow at rates seen during the pre-crisis period. On top of an estimated 8.6 per cent growth during the current year, the economy is projected to grow at 9 per cent during 2011-12. The optimistic forecasts as well as the downside risks are in line with the assessment of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council. The services sector, for long "the power house of the economy", with a more than 57 per cent share of the GDP in 2009-10, has started gaining momentum. That should augur well for the medium term growth prospects. Another favourable feature is that India's demographic dividend is yet to peak. The growing trend in savings and investment rates should benefit from the gradual withdrawal of stimulus measures by the government. In a message that could be a pointer to the strategy in the Budget, the Survey notes that once the economy operates around full capacity, it is not the savings and investment rates that will drive growth but skills development and innovation.

The major downside risks to growth are weather, a disproportionate spike in petroleum prices, and a slowdown in the advanced economies. Inflation and a large current account deficit are major concerns. The Survey cautions that higher growth and a faster monetisation of the economy, through financial inclusion, may mean increased money supply and hence more inflationary pressures. It has recommended a phased entry of foreign direct investment in multi-brand retail, apparently in response to the concerns of farmers and consumers. That should also add to stable capital flows. Given its upbeat tone on growth, the Finance Minister is expected to meet the fiscal targets. As part of its reform agenda, the Survey calls for a streamlining of land acquisition and environment clearance procedures, using smart cards to target subsidy payments and issuance of basic banking licences. There should be an unrelenting thrust on infrastructure development. None of these is new or visionary but the Survey has stressed the doable and underlined the priorities in a way that demonstrates pragmatism.





The Plastic Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2011 notified by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, should be viewed by State governments and municipal authorities as a good blueprint for a much-needed civic clean-up. The Central Pollution Control Board estimates the consumption of plastic products in India to be of the order of eight million tonnes a year. This ranges from shopping bags to household and industrial material. The volume of plastic waste is approximately 15,300 tonnes a day. It is welcome, therefore, that the new rules take into account the significant growth in waste generation, predominantly in the form of carry bags and multi-layered packaging, and call for a paradigm shift in the way it is collected, sorted, and disposed of. What is perhaps most significant is the formal recognition given to waste pickers in the management chain. As Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh has suggested, these labourers, now largely in the informal sector, must be constructively engaged by municipal authorities. Other laudable aspects of the rules include the stipulation of benchmarked Indian Standards for recycling facilities, mandatory pricing of consumer carry bags given by retailers, a labelling scheme, and introduction of extended producer responsibility for manufacturers to fund the creation of collection centres. The importance given to compostable plastics — defined as material that can be degraded through biological processes yielding carbon dioxide, water, inorganic compounds and biomass residue — can potentially reduce the use of traditional plastics.

Municipal authorities and State pollution control boards must use the momentum provided by the new rules to move away from business as usual on waste management. It is apparent that urban India has been a laggard in implementing the Municipal Solid Waste (Management and Handling) Rules, 2000, defeating the objective of the Environment (Protection) Act under which they were made. The new rules on plastics can help solve a major part of the national garbage crisis. Municipal corporations and other local bodies are obligated to ensure that the waste is properly segregated and recycled. They have little to fear by way of financial burden, as the cost of plastics use is to be borne by the producers and consumers. Implementing the provisions will have a salutary effect on the ecology of cities and towns where uncollected plastic waste clogs stormwater drains, rivers, and lakes. Moreover, the revised technical specifications for carry bags should make them attractive to recyclers as they will be thicker at 40 microns, up from 20 microns. Resolute action must follow.








The political survival of Muammar Qadhafi, Libya's strongman for 42 years, is under serious threat. Much of this has to do with the transformation of the opposition, now closing in on the capital Tripoli. It had started an unarmed campaign for change but, in the face of excessive State violence, has transformed itself dramatically into an armed revolutionary movement.

With the uprising raging, and eastern Libya already under opposition control, the regime's survival is now almost out of the equation. Mr. Qadhafi no longer has influential friends within and outside Libya who can bail him out. The question now is how will he go, and what will replace him? Will the regime collapse suddenly, the end brought about by a coup, or will it disappear after a brief civil war, when the debilitating ranks of Mr. Qadhafi's loyal forces, make their last stand to defend Tripoli? Alternatively, could there be an unlikely sting in the tail, which might reveal itself in a war of attrition, between Qadhafi-loyalists, whose numbers and commitment the world has underestimated, and the opposition forces, now rapidly advancing along Libya's eastern Mediterranean coastline towards Tripoli?

Mr. Qadhafi's problems have become insurmountable because he has a very thin support base left. For decades he has not been critically challenged because his regime has adopted a combination of selective tribal patronage and co-option, made possible on account of a windfall in oil revenues, and the fear that police states can instill in their citizens. In the initial years, after the 1969 coup that brought him to power, Mr. Qadhafi's firm commitment, in the footsteps of Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, to revolutionary Arab nationalism, did earn him accolades at home. But when the cost of raising legions to enforce Arab unity from Sudan to Palestine became prohibitively high, and hefty oil revenues did not lead to more food on the table, Mr. Qadhafi's social contract with fellow-Libyans began to fray.

The slow accumulation of woes over the last four decades, finally appear to have exploded, leading to his undoing. Some of the resentment has come from the state of the economy. Despite Libya's status as a leading oil exporter, large sections of Libyans live on an income of less than two dollars a day.

Then, there are the forces of sub-nationalism, which refuse to go, partly because Mr. Qadhafi's personality cult, a lack of pluralistic institutions, and a denial of civil liberties that has disallowed Libyan nationalism to flower.

For long, Libya's east, which was a part of the traditional Cyrenaica, as well as the ruling power centre under the regime of King Idris, toppled by Mr. Qadhafi in the 1969 coup, has felt discriminated against. Under Mr. Qadhafi, Tripoli, a part of the old Tripolitania, became the new power centre, and members of the Qadhadfa tribe, to which the leader belongs, and who are dominant in this area, were among the chief beneficiaries of the new regime. It is therefore not surprising that the revolt, on February 15, and reflecting old animosities, began in Benghazi, Libya's capital, pre-1969.

There are also human rights issues and political demands as well, which have been brewing. The rebellion in Libya was sparked by the detention, on February 15, of Fathi Terbil, the 39-year-old human rights lawyer, based in Benghazi. Mr. Terbil represents the families of around 1,000 inmates, who were killed in 1996 by the regime in Tripoli's Abu Slim prison. His detention preceded a planned protest on February 17, in which the families of these inmates were to have participated. The revolt was also preceded by a peaceful two-year campaign for a new constitution, and demands for rule of law by a lawyers' syndicate, based in Benghazi.

Aspirations for economic justice, the rule of law, civil liberties and regional equality, seemed to have all coalesced when the uprisings, led by youth, in neighbouring Tunisia and Egypt, had successfully brought down entrenched dictatorships. As in other parts of West Asia and North Africa, these movements have transformed mindsets in Libya, imparting a powerful sense of self-belief, especially among the youth, who have realised that with careful preparation, fundamental political changes are indeed achievable.

Information is still sketchy about the role of the youth in using the internet as a tool for political mobilisation in Libya. "We will hear more about that in the days to come as the haze over the uprising settles. The only thing that I can say with certainty is that cyber-space was hyper-active ahead of the revolt," says Tarik M. Yousef, a Libyan-American, who is currently the Dean of the Dubai School of Government in the United Arab Emirates. However, it is now emerging that unlike Facebook and Twitter, that Egyptian and Tunisian youth used effectively, some among the Libyan youth, preferred — perhaps to escape the regime's scrutiny — to use a popular football website to plan and organise the protests.

Mr. Qadhafi's slide towards isolation, driven by a combination of deep seated insecurity, and megalomania, began soon after the popular September 1969 coup. Deciding to monopolise power, Mr. Qadhafi, trusting his formidable charismatic powers, ensured that his potential political rivals have remained marginalised. He towered over the Revolutionary Command Council (RCC) comprising several military officers, where power was concentrated after the coup. A failed attempt, by Major Umar Mihayshi, a RCC member and 30 army officers, to topple him in 1975, led Mr. Qadhafi to further tighten his grip on power. In the periodic purges that have followed, several hundred people were allegedly killed, in the wake of an unsuccessful army revolt, in 1980, in Tobruk. It is, not surprisingly, one of the flashpoints of the on-going uprising.

Acutely aware of the danger that the armed forces could pose to his survival, the Libyan leader has systematically undermined the power of the conventional army. He has promoted the Revolutionary Guard Corps (RGC), an ultra-loyal well equipped force of around 3,000 men, drawn mainly from the Qadhadfa tribal groups surrounding Surt, the leader's hometown. Also called the Jamahiriya Guard, the RGC, formed mainly in the 1980s, was tied to the powerful Revolutionary Committees, another contraption of the regime embedded in work places and communities. The Revolutionary Committee buildings, a prominent regime symbol, were fiercely targeted during the current uprising in Benghazi, before protesters established their control over the city by February 20. Troops sent in to quell the revolt also turned around to join the dissidents. They are now taking the lead in military preparations to counter Mr. Qadhafi's loyalists, as they head towards Tripoli, the leader's stronghold.

In its future confrontations with the regime, the opposition is likely to encounter the Khamis brigade — a highly potent force, which has been assigned the Pretorian guard role in the defence of the regime. It could also encounter legions of mercenaries drawn out of Africa, that Mr. Qadhafi has cultivated for long to fulfill his utopian pan-Arab dreams.

Mr. Qadhafi's emergence as a target of hate-filled vendetta can also be attributed to the offensive doctrine of physical liquidation that his regime has adopted toward its opponents abroad. Some among the Libyan expatriates, who are mostly educated but left the country in droves in the early 1980s, have been lethally targeted for their anti-regime activism abroad. The regime's agents have assassinated many of them, especially those who moved to Western Europe, where they began to raise opposition groups. Given their animosity towards the regime, the expatriates are playing a significant role in fuelling the revolt. Apart from the youth, they have been making active use of the internet to help create the critical mass required for the success of the uprising.

In his aggressive campaign to deepen the "revolution," Mr. Qadhafi has further alienated the Libyan clergy, now an important element in the revolt. His contention that his " Green Book," a self-acclaimed philosophical guide to chart Libya's future, is compatible with Islam and his nationalisation of properties belonging to Islamic endowments had already driven a wedge. The clergy has now formalised its break with the regime. In a statement, the newly formed Network of Free Ulema, which includes 50 prominent Libyan clerics and scholars, on February 22, condemned the use of State-violence against the protesters.

As the momentum gathers against the regime, the participation by ever-larger numbers of tribes has begun to make a critical difference to the regime's survival. In the city of Az-Zintan, 150 kilometres west of Tripoli, the powerful Warfala tribe has turned against Mr. Qadhafi. The Az-Zintan tribe, on its part, is trying to facilitate the entry of youth into Tripoli to challenge the regime. Significantly, around one-third of Tripoli's residents belong to the Tarhun tribe, which is disassociating itself from the government. Cracks are also appearing in the Qadhadfa tribe.

In the end, Mr. Qadhafi is staring at defeat, not necessarily on account of his stated ideals of Arab unity and economic equity, but because of his methods, which have revolved around authoritarianism, a personality cult and the use of brute force. As many among the Egyptian youth have recently shown, soaring idealism has a better chance of realisation when it is premised, not on force, but on principles of transparency, grassroots organisation and a political culture, which readily allows dissent and animated debate.







After a raging debate, the government finally decided to hike the chemical fertilizer subsidy, to catch up with spiralling fertilizer prices in the global market. Also, there is talk about bringing urea under the Nutrient Based Subsidy (NBS) system and decontrolling its prices. Obviously, the fertilizer industry is happy. But there is hardly any discussion on what is good for the farmer and the farm. What is the state of the soil in the country? And is this chemical fertilizer-based food production system sustainable?

The past debate and NBS

The government has been spending a huge amount of money to support chemical fertilizer production and its usage. It has touched almost a lakh crore in 2008-2009. This investment has always been under criticism as it was promoting an overuse of chemical fertilizers and thereby catalysing soil degradation. As a result, agricultural production in the bread baskets of the country has stagnated and even started to decline, posing a threat to the food security of the country. The drylands have never received the benefits of the crores of money being given out as fertilizer subsidy, as most farmers in these regions are, by default, organic as they cannot use chemical fertilizers; water being the limiting factor.

There have been concerns raised by several policy experts and others that the fertilizer policy of the country is only helping to move out the Indian tax payers' money to foreign petroleum companies and fertilizer producers. It is to be noted here that fertilizer production is highly dependent on fossil fuels, and that most fertilizers are imported.

In 2009, Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee gave us a glimmer of hope when he announced a fertilizer subsidy reform and introduced the NBS system with a promise that the subsidy amount would be disbursed directly to farmers. In 2010, this policy was made effective, but there was no transfer of money to farmers. One year down the line, the NBS is proving to be a complete failure. Media reports point to the fact that after the introduction of the NBS, urea usage has gone up leading to a further degradation of the soil. Now, with the government increasing the fertilizer subsidy, it is also clear that the NBS has also failed to reduce the burden on the exchequer. It is neither helping the farmer nor the Government.

Soil degradation: farmers' view

In the mad rush to balance the chemical fertilizer kitty with global prices, policy makers are forgetting a huge problem that is staring us in the face — the deteriorating soil in the country and the resultant threat to food security. However farmers are aware of the crisis, but are helpless in the absence of support systems from the government. A recent Greenpeace India report, "Of Soils, Subsidies and Survival," based on social audits conducted in five Indian States, has revealed that 96 per cent out of the 1,000 farmers surveyed were of the opinion that the use of chemical fertilisers led to soil degradation but they continue to use them as there was no other option. Ninety-four per cent of the surveyed farmers believed that only organic fertilisers can maintain soil health. However, only one per cent of the farmers received any kind of support for production and the use of organic fertilisers. Ninety-eight per cent of the surveyed farmers were ready to use organic fertilisers if they are subsidised and made easily available.

Further, only 34 per cent of them knew that chemical fertilisers are subsidised. Of those who knew, only seven per cent knew that a new subsidy system (NBS) was introduced by the government for chemical fertilizers. Even at the subsidised rate, 94 per cent of them thought that chemical fertilisers are unaffordable and not economical.

These are some of the eye-opening revelations that the government should look into. Whenever a fertilizer sop is announced, it is lauded as a farmer-friendly measure. But farmers are not even aware. They are more worried about the soil, a resource on which their livelihood is dependent. But the government tends to ignore this.

Support for alternatives

It is a well-accepted scientific fact that organic matter is the lifeline of the soil which is critical to maintain the health of this ecosystem. Measures have to be taken to promote the generation of sufficient biomass in a field to be added to the soil. Ecological fertilization offers a range of ways to nourish the soil, with no damage to the ecosystem, be it in irrigated or rainfed regions. Indian farmers were once aware of these practices. However with the mad promotion of chemical intensive agriculture in the country, invaluable, traditional knowledge has faded away. From a knowledge driven system, agriculture production in the country has become an external input–driven system. This is when the crisis started to emerge.

The agriculture research system in the country has always neglected an eco-friendly means of soil nutrition and never approached it in a holistic way. It has always revolved around a chemical intensive agricultural model. There is an impending need to refocus scientific research to identify the value of the traditional knowledge available with a farmer. Scientific research should go hand in hand with farmers' wisdom to help the country tide over the crisis.

The government should think about how long we can depend on a volatile fossil fuel-based agriculture system. How long can we be dependent on fertilizer imports? How long can we ignore the state of the soil in the country? And how long can we ignore a farmers' plight?

Now is the time for the government to start building an alternative support system which is both farmer and farm friendly. This can open up a lot of rural employment opportunities and contribute to the livelihood security of a farmer. This will also bring prosperity to rural India.

( The writer is Member of Parliament and former Union Minister of Rural Development.)








The life sentence imposed on Binayak Sen on a charge of sedition has provoked much vocal, even militant and hostile, public opinion. The judicial verdict is seen widely as being unjust, contrary to the people's conscience, and as an act of violence to public justice. It has invited severe mass criticism as an outrage.

It is nobody's case that Dr. Sen can be above the law or that the courts can ignore the evidence on record and rely merely on rumour or reputation or other arbitrary irrelevance. Nobody challenges the obligation and the duty of the court to act only on the evidence before it, but that does not apply to mercy power or privilege beyond the record. There is a clemency jurisdiction that can act on other benign considerations and show compassion beyond the technical ambit of the law in order to do justice. Mercy is nobler than law and it can have priority over law. This is a finer function of public conscience that does not destroy the conviction but deals only with the sentencing. The law remains; so too any guilt.

The court's decision based on the letter of the law is not undone, but a larger vision and certain sublime considerations prevail. Good things done with admirable motivation ought to be given recognition in giving a fair deal to an accused. Mercy is more than law or narrow judicial justice. This clemency factor is a dialectical operation that not the courts but members of the highest executive, like a President or a Governor, alone can exercise. This special jurisdiction is particularly relevant in Dr. Sen's case at this stage.

Extraordinary charge

Dr. Sen has been found guilty of sedition. This charge is an extraordinary one and is based, according to newspaper reports, on his association with certain Maoists. Dr. Sen has worked extensively in the rural areas, providing medical assistance to the poor. He has a reputation for having sacrificed much of his time and his skills for the poor. This should be an important factor in considering the sentencing dimension of his guilt.

Similarly, the Maoists have received medical aid, which is expensive; doctors often charge heavy fees. Dr. Sen's services are commendable and the general public feeling is that he deserves praise for his commitment to those who suffer from disease. To serve the public is not sedition. I would regard this as an alleviating consideration in the sentence that has been given to him. When a government provides hardly any medical facilities to the poor, service-minded doctors are not guilty of sedition even if their words go against the government's. Otherwise all opposition will turn out to be sedition.

Philanthropy is not fascism and public commitment critical of the state administration should not be confused with a traitor operation. I therefore view Dr. Sen as eligible for tribute, not to be condemned for sedition. Was Gandhiji or other critics of the state that hardly cared to wipe the tears of the poor, guilty of sedition? There is often grave confusion between criticism of a government demanding its overthrow — not by violence but by positive service and commitment to the people. Operation patriotism is not sedition.

Every confident motion, every instance of strong criticism that seeks to expose a government's operation against the people and their liberties, is not meant to overthrow the government and its bad politics. This is not sedition but a patriotic mission on account of public commitment. When you go to the villages and serve the people by providing them medical aid, where the state has failed to do so, that is patriotism, not sedition. Because the government does nothing to serve the people's right to live it is not sedition; otherwise every writ petition filed against a government or one of its agencies could be considered as seditious. Every activity in support of public causes that are meant to counter the government's grievous failure is the fulfilment of a democratic duty, not sedition.

Judges cannot miss a glorious vision of great sacrifice for the common people for fear of being imputed with sedition. The rule of law must support the rule of life and not scare away integrity, fraternity, fellowship and compassion and national commitment for fear of misconstruction by justices. Justices who miss the majesty of swaraj, which means wiping every tear from every eye, do not deserve their robes. To describe service done to the poor as sedition will be an outrage of the mandate of the Mahatma.

Binayak Sen should be released. To put him behind bars is a grave violation of social justice.





This year the spring offensive by the Taliban and other insurgent groups has a new and terrifying face: the insurgents are using suicide bombers who create high casualties to sow terror and are planning an assassination campaign as well, Afghan and American military analysts say.

The insurgents' deadly bet is that fear will trump anger and that Afghans will lose any faith they had in their government's security forces and eventually turn to the Taliban.

"You have to ask yourself, 'If you were the Taliban now, what would you do?' " said Gen. Jack Keane, who retired from the Army in 2003 and is now a consultant to Gen. David H. Petraeus, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) commander for Afghanistan.

Given the massing of NATO forces in the south, the answer appears to be attack the urban, civilian population, creating widespread insecurity in an effort to reinforce the existing resentment of foreign troops and doubts about President Hamid Karzai's government.

In less than four weeks, 116 Afghans have died in seven suicide attacks, most recently in Faryab Province on February 26. Two of the attacks, one in Jalalabad on February 19 and another in Kandahar on February 12, involved multiple assailants and were carefully choreographed and skillfully timed to obtain a high death toll and maximum media coverage. In at least one case, the mission was carefully rehearsed.

This is a striking change from Afghan suicide bombings of just six months ago, in which the bombers exacted few casualties.

These new tactics highlight the challenge of an adaptive insurgency with a reservoir of potential fighters, many of them madrasa students in Pakistan's tribal areas. They show too the increasingly integrated network of insurgent groups that lend their expertise to one another as well as the difficulties the Afghan government has had in rallying its own people to fight them.

President Karzai has compounded the problem, some Afghan analysts say, by insisting that the Taliban are not to blame for the violence and that they are "upset brothers" rather than mortal enemies.

Underlying the latest attacks are the region's geopolitics. Both Pakistan and Iran are known to be supporting the Taliban and play out their antagonism to the United States on Afghan soil. "You have to see these attacks in the broader strategic context," said Haseeb Humayoon, the director of a risk consulting firm here.

A period of relative calm last year in Afghan cities coincided with an easing of tensions between the Afghans and Pakistan over negotiations with the Taliban. Now the Afghans appear to be trying to negotiate with the Taliban on their own, and there is talk of permanent American bases here, which Pakistan and Iran see as a potential loss of their influence.

The Taliban in the past have been careful not to single out civilians, although civilians are often killed in attacks. American and Afghan officials now believe that Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), the group that planned the attacks in Mumbai, India, in 2008, has been working with the Haqqani network, which is based in North Waziristan. Lashkar-e-Taiba specialises in planning complex suicide attacks.

"The suicide bombings are, we believe, predominantly requested and funded by Haqqani but facilitated by LeT and AQ," said a senior American military official, referring to Lashkar-e-Taiba and Al Qaeda. "The latter groups provide bombers and material in exchange for money. Haqqani chooses targets."

And in bad news for Afghanistan, a little-noticed peace deal took place late last year between the Haqqani network and Shiite tribes in the Kurram Agency in Pakistan, which opened up a new route for Haqqani agents to enter Afghanistan, American and Afghan intelligence officials said. A number of fighters have been observed crossing the border over the past several weeks, American intelligence officials said.

The situation is strikingly reminiscent of Iraq in 2005, when that country's cities were gripped by violence, the government was unable to keep the people safe and fighters flowed in from other countries. It took four years to stem that violence. — © New York Times News Service




How an exciting international project of rebuilding a great ancient Indian university, which was destroyed 800 years ago, could not inspire the Indian news media to any great extent is a matter of surprise and concern.

Nobel Laureate Amartya Sen's keynote address at the 98th Indian Science Congress in Chennai on January 4 was devoted to the theme of 'Nalanda and the pursuit of science.' The full text of this interesting speech was published in The Hindu


Professor Sen chairs the governing body of new Nalanda, which is scheduled to start functioning near the old site in 2013. Professor Gopa Sabharwal has been appointed the first Vice-Chancellor of the post-graduate university, which will start with seven schools, primarily in the humanities. The courses on offer will include Buddha studies besides international relations, peace studies, and the information sciences and technology.

"We are talking about the oldest university in the world by a long margin," Professor Sen, who has taught at Oxford — where, according to the university's website, 'teaching existed…in some form in 1096 and developed rapidly from 1167' — reminded his audience, "that is, if we do not insist on continuous existence…Nalanda was an old centre of learning that attracted students from many countries in the world, particularly China and Tibet, Korea and Japan, and the rest of Asia, but a few also from as far in the west as Turkey…a residential university, [it] had at its peak 10,000 students, studying various subjects… while Nalanda was very special, it was still a part of a larger tradition of organised higher education that developed in that period in India — in Bihar in particular…[it belonged to] a larger social culture."

Raising the question of what a religious institution had to do with science, Professor Sen argued that while the central focus of Nalanda as a Buddhist foundation was the study of Buddhist philosophy and practice, "it nevertheless pursued general intellectual and scientific studies, the products of which were of great interest also to people who were not religious, or did not share the religion of the foundations involved." He highlighted the fact that "the faculty and the students in Nalanda loved to argue, and very often held argumentative encounters." One reason, he suggested, for its keenness to accept students from abroad was its "passion for propagating knowledge and understanding." The author of The Argumentative Indian added: "If the seeking of evidence and vindication by critical arguments is part of the tradition of science, so is the commitment to move knowledge and understanding beyond locality. Science has to fight parochialism, and Nalanda was firmly committed to just that."

Professor Sen laid before the Science Congress his hope that "the pursuit of science in old Nalanda…[would] inspire and guide our long-run efforts in new Nalanda" — in the science faculties as well as the humanities and the social sciences.

A lot of hard work, especially in the matter of attracting a world-class faculty at a site that will be considered remote and not easy to access today, will need to be done before this project takes off. But when it does, it will be the fulfilment of a cherished ambition of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. It was President Kalam who, addressing a joint session of the Bihar Legislature in March 2006, pleaded for the revival of the ancient seat of learning in Nalanda. Excited by the idea, Chief Minister Nitish Kumar moved quickly to get legislative approval for the scheme and also offered land for it.

Around the same time, the Singapore Government came out with a "Nalanda Proposal," which would facilitate the founding of a 21st century educational institution that could link South and East Asia. This gave a new dimension to the proposal. At the 16-nation East Asia Summit held in Thailand in 2007, the leaders endorsed the Nalanda University project, with opportunities opening up for closer ties among the member-countries and the overall development of the region. Following up, the Government of India in August 2010 got the National University Bill, 2010 adopted by both Houses of Parliament.

It is unfortunate that a progressive international effort to revive a great tradition is sought to be trivialised by a section of the politically active media. The debate that preceded the passage of the Bill provided a clue to the lukewarm interest in, if not negative attitude, to the project demonstrated by a section of the polity. Is China's participation, along with 15 other nations, a sore point? Or is the importance that will be given to Buddhist studies in keeping with the tradition of old Nalanda unwelcome to the communal Right and to sections of the news media sympathetic to it?

This criticism is not meant of course to pre-empt the historical debate over what exactly was the character of old Nalanda and its long-term role in the pursuit of science. There can be legitimate historical criticism that there has been a trend of romanticising the tradition — considering that Nalanda was predominantly and pre-eminently a centre of Buddhist philosophy and studies, and that other fields of knowledge followed from this central feature.

But these questions cannot take away from the enduring significance and great value of the Nalanda tradition at its best.

Readers suggest

The response from readers of the last column ("What media can do for education"), which focused on the dismal conditions in schools and student hostels catering to the needs of extremely disadvantaged students in Tamil Nadu, was substantial, interesting, and borne out by their own experience.

Particularly valuable was this set of suggestions coming from A. Padmanabhan, former Chief Secretary of Tamil Nadu and former Governor of Mizoram, to rectify defects and mismanagement in educational institutions: the Minister, Secretary, and Commissioner for Adi Dravidar Welfare should take effective action to set right the pathetic conditions in Adi Dravidar hostels and schools in a time-bound manner; teachers, particularly in primary schools, should be given proper orientation training in dealing with students; district and State educational officers and district collectors should make surprise visits to schools and hostels, pull up errant teachers and ensure proper maintenance; parent-teacher meetings should be regular and fruitful; and, finally, it is time the Chief Minister himself called a meeting to discuss and sort out the problems before they get out of hand.

Mr. Padmanabhan recalled that in the 1950s and 1960s education administrators such as Director of Public Instruction N.D. Sundaravadivelu and District Education Officer K. Venkatasubramanian (later Vice Chancellor of the Central University in Puducherry) made surprise personal visits to schools and hostels and helped rectify the defects.

Incidentally, it was Mr. Sundaravadivelu who successfully implemented a mid-day meal scheme — launched by Chief Minister K. Kamaraj on a small scale before Chief Minister M.G. Ramachandran made it a breakthrough social entitlement programme for the whole State and eventually a model for the whole of India — with a view to bringing in children to schools and minimising the drop-out rates.

Arumugam Ponnusamy (Salem) e-mailed his concern over handing out corporal punishment to schoolchildren. He also suggested the introduction of "examination with textbooks" on a trial basis. Criticising corporal punishment, P.S. Sundaram (Chennai) said in his e-mail that teachers should seriously be sensitised about it. He suggested psychology-tests on teachers, many of whom, he said, were under-qualified.

B.R. Kumar (Chennai) recognised that All India Radio and Doordarshan continued to broadcast educational and informative programmes. Several other television channels and FM radio stations were also doing so. But he noted sadly that most viewers and listeners were only interested in soap operas and film-oriented programmes.

Some readers called to remind us of the fine work done by the news media in the 1980s when the literacy movement and adult education programmes were making rapid strides. Some Tamil dailies distributed free study material printed in bold letters and opened a couple of pages in their newspapers for the benefit of learners.







It is just as well that India went along with the UN Security Council's decision late Saturday night to impose fairly stringent sanctions on Libya. This is the first major international crisis that the UNSC has been forced to deal with on an emergency basis since India joined the Council as a non-permanent member on January 1 this

year. Some might have expected New Delhi to take a somewhat noncommittal stand in line with its traditional disposition to waver when faced with tricky situations involving so-called "nonaligned" countries. That it did not do so is to be welcomed. The vote in the 15-member body was unanimous. The sanctions are essentially targeted against that country's brutal dictator, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who ordered the shooting of his own people, as well as some of his closest advisers. An arms embargo has also been imposed to prevent the regime getting weapons illegally, which could be placed in the hands of international mercenaries for use against the thousands protesting in the streets. There were reportedly some doubts that the UNSC seeking a war crimes investigation into "widespread and systematic attacks" against Libyan citizens, and referring the Gaddafi government to the International Criminal Court for prosecution, might be scuppered by China, a permanent member of the UNSC, wielding a veto. However, with the Libyan delegation at the UN defecting to the Opposition and calling the Gaddafi regime "fascist", the Chinese probably had second thoughts if indeed they had contemplated opposing the ICC referral. It is not entirely clear that this country was uncomfortable with the idea of the referral. Perhaps more on the subject will be known in due course. For now, it is good to know that the Indian stance has been to oppose the Gaddafi regime on account of its military attacks against its own protesting citizens.

The political situation in Libya is evolving and the time may come for the UN to assume the responsibility to protect its people from the regime. In that event too, New Delhi would do well to go along with the idea, which is consistent with stopping Col. Gaddafi in his bloodied tracks. The issue of an outright civil war in Libya and the division of the country are still in the realm of speculation and will call for deliberations based on the facts of the situation as it emerges. Nevertheless, as a UNSC member, New Delhi needs to keep a close watch on Libyan developments based on its own reporting, rather than rely wholly on the information channels of others.
Despatching Indian warships to Libya to bring back our citizens stranded there and flying out hundreds of Indians from that North African country on an immediate basis shows that we acted with despatch. Indian ships of war do not have a history of venturing out other than to tackle piracy in the Horn of Africa under international aegis, or for the purposes of naval diplomacy. The last time they left their anchorage of their own accord to enter foreign waters was to help neighbours in the Indian Ocean deal with the aftereffects of the 2004 tsunami. This brought India much international attention and acclaim. The sending of warships to Libya to evacuate Indians can act as a demonstration that we have the capability to deploy well beyond our shores when that becomes necessary in the national interest. Libya is a country with which we have had traditional friendly ties. We also source petroleum from there. Long-term instability in Libya and the prospect of disruption of oil supplies hurts Indian interests. In the event, it will be within the definition of responsible behaviour if New Delhi can begin to engage the various political elements in Libya, even if they appear amorphous at this stage.






The Union Budget 2011 will be presented in Parliament today. Naturally an important day for every citizen of our country, whose life will be directly impacted by the schemes and taxes and proposals in the Budget. There can be no doubt, however, that the most severely impacted in every section of society, notwithstanding class,

creed and income, will be women. It has been calculated — and this is stark reality — that until now, per capita allocation for women's schemes is 6.1 per cent of the total Budget, which works out to `1,200 per woman, per annum, which, according to a striking account, is not even enough to feed one woman for one month, leave alone feed her or sustain her for 12 months.

The gender budgeting statement (GBS) analysis has been released by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) and according to this analysis the per capita allocation for women increased from `410 in 2007-2008 to `1,000 in 2009-2010 and to `1,200 in 2011. This data, of course, relates only to wholly women-oriented schemes and does not take into account other general schemes where women benefit directly as citizens, not as women per se.

CBGA has also raised some very important issues, the most striking of which is the proposition that the discussion in regard to gender budgeting should move on from the standard demand for more funds and allocation to a holistic consideration of how gender responsive all schemes are. After all, if the concept of a social security net and economic inclusion of women is to be translated into reality, the government's primary consideration in this regard should be to assess the gender impact of all schemes and reshape implementation accordingly. To quote Subrat Das: "To assume that the cost of bringing and retaining a girl child in school is the same as for a boy child is being gender blind."

The above statement is in a sense at the heart of the issue. The girl child in our country is no ordinary person. In every rural and many urban homes, she assumes great responsibility at a very young age and begins to cook, clean and take care of her younger siblings, while her mother goes out to the fields to work. When she is a little older, she goes out to work along with her mother, whether in the fields or as domestic labour or in a garment factory, while her brother is probably being sent to school. All this is done by custom and nobody thinks that anything is at all remarkable in this, but the fact of the matter is that young girls in our country are being deprived arbitrarily of their childhood, their right to education and their right to a secure future by social customs and a hierarchy that is unashamedly patriarchal in nature. Any attempt to change the hierarchy is naturally met with great resistance by village elders who do not ever want to disturb a domestic balance of power where women and young girls function as captive labour by the diktat of a male-oriented society and by social fiat are deprived of their most basic constitutional rights.

Obviously, therefore, the economic cost of getting a girl to school will be far greater and very different from the cost of getting a boy into school and the government will have to factor this into calculations, if the Right to Education is to be implemented without gender bias.

The saga of constitutionally-guaranteed liberties and laws in favour of women, which gather dust on the shelf, are too well known to be repeated here. The Budget is a crucial time when women as a group have to be adequately provided for, if we are to call ourselves a gender sensitive society.

It is a matter of great satisfaction to all of us that it was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which first introduced the practice of including a GBS along with the main Budget document. This statement shows the total allocation for both women specific schemes as well as the allocation for general schemes, which have a 30 per cent women component plan.

In 2005-06, 10 ministries of the government prepared gender budget statements and the total allocation for women amounted to 2.8 per cent of government expenditure. In 2006-07, 18 ministries released gender budget statements and allocations increased to 5.1 per cent of the total expenditure. Today, the amount stagnates at 5.3 per cent of the total. It is to be sincerely hoped that the finance minister will take very seriously the representations made by women all over the country and increase allocation made for women specific schemes. Further the funds allocated for children should not be shown as allocation for women. Children are the concern of the entire nation and it would be unfair to both children and women to always put them in a category with expenditure incurred on schemes for women.

It is an axiomatic reality that the bedrock of good governance lies in gender mainstreaming and gender responsive Budgets and welfare schemes. It is equally true that this cannot possibly be achieved, unless government collates very seriously gender specific, disaggregated data so that information regarding how much money allocated to women actually reaches the beneficiaries it is intended for. Therefore, if gender budgeting is to be sincerely implemented, the most important requirement is the collection of gender-specific and disaggregated data. It should also be mandatory for every single ministry of the Government of India to prepare and release its gender budget statement along with the general budget.

Women groups have made very specific and urgent requests to the finance minister for this year's Budget. First that there should be adequate allocation to provide infrastructure to implement the Protection Of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Second, that a high-level task force should be appointed to review the working of micro-finance institutions and women self-help groups, which have run into stormy waters in recent times. Third, that there should be allocation to set up a national taskforce to provide for relief and rehabilitation for women in conflict zones, and also there should be allocation of funds to set up fast track courts to decide cases relating to rape and other atrocities against women.

The UPA, under president Sonia Gandhi, remains firmly committed to the empowerment of women. The women of this country look forward to good news in the Budget.

Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.








I have been on the highway for the last seventy-two hours. A friend and I drove into the horizon one afternoon. We were heading to a temple town amidst a cluster of hills; thereafter a seaside city and in between we would cut through vast plains and plateaus shadowed by gigantic rock formations. Each moment was filled with a wealth of sensations. Each moment that demanded it be mulled over and savoured with great deliberation. And what better place than the bed to do so?


And so each night as I crawled into bed, I would plan to dwell over the day's drive and all that I saw. But as soon as my head touched the pillow, I would pass out. It was a purely magical moment of letting go; all the muscles relaxing, the nerves stretching; the day's cares and worries, joys and triumphs all curling into a little impenetrable ball to be tucked into a little corner of the mind. Only to be brought out and bounced the next waking day. But the next morning when I woke up, it would be to a new day demanding new stimulation. And hence the previous day would have passed into the realm of memory.


I know so many who lie in bed wide-eyed going back and forth over the happenings of their day and others. I know how reluctantly sleep come to some. I know of how it can be to hear every tick of the clock as the night crawls towards day. Of being unable to sleep while all around everyone else is fast asleep. It must be one of the loneliest places to be….


In our prayers, we ask for our daily bread and for worries to be erased from our brow. No prayer seeks the blessing of sleep. If only…. the world would then be a better place. After a good night's sleep, everything seems less bleak, less hard to deal with, less tedious… It seems to me that the power of sleep is an unsung virtue.


Anita Nair's new novel is Lessons in Forgetting







It was a traffic-laden day. I had ventured into those parts of Bangalore that I normally avoid. Appu had a weekly class to attend and even his normally cheerful self was agitated at the forty-five minute wait we had on the NGEF road. Traffic crawled and tempers rose. I looked out the window and told my son to relax and listen to music.


That is when I saw the woman with a small boy at her hip. She was skinny with a woollen scarf of some sort tied around her head. Another woman accompanied her. They were approaching a tiny shop — the kind that sells bananas and gutkha packets. The recent spate of construction in that area had left behind the inevitable debris which was no one's job to dispose of. Off to the side of the shop was a small patch of sandy ground.


The lady took a small baby bottle from the recesses of her grimy sari. She got some water in it from the shop-keeper and then handed over the baby to her companion. She then took the bottle and squatted on the ground to the side of the shop. The top of the bottle was laid on the ground nipple-side down and she proceeded to hold the bottle in her left hand while rubbing her finger in the sand. I was curious as to what the woman was doing and continued to observe her. The traffic had not moved an inch so it was like watching a movie unfold.


To my horror she commenced cleaning her teeth with the muddy sand. The vigorous rubbing was interspersed with more dipping into the sand. A sip from the little bottle of water was used to rinse out her mouth and just when she was done, a third lady joined her with a bag of congealed curried rice of some sort. Without even washing off the sand, she gobbled down the rice. Meanwhile the other lady took the baby and went around to the immobile cars and started begging in a very lackadaisical way. She looked numb and did not even make an effort — it was almost as if she were beyond caring and was just going through the motions.


I had no idea that there were people in this city surviving on about a cup of water a day for sanitation. There was something beyond mere sadness that swamped me while contemplating the number of such helpless women on the streets — for it is always women who go around with babies and end up even in their abject poverty as victims of lust.


Visions such as these are fairly common but for some reason the people who run the city seem blind to the plight of the desperately poor. While this entire scene played out on my right, a glance to my left showed an impressive structure surrounded by high walls embedded with polished granite slabs announcing proudly for the world to see "Namma Metro". Two sides of a coin indeed.









In his address to the Parliament on Motion of Thanks, the Prime Minister made a short but meaningful comment about Jammu and Kashmir. He believes situation in the Valley has improved in recent months but could not anticipate what it would be during the coming summer. In this context he said that he sat with "fingers crossed." Intelligence reports gathered from various sources do not paint a bright picture of normalcy and peace in the valley in coming summer. Maybe the Prime Minister's guarded comment emanates from the bulk of available intelligence reports. Kashmir watchers think that turmoil in the Middle East can have its impact on Kashmir where separatists and secessionists have been stoking flames of unrest and turmoil since a long time. The chief of the opposition party lost no time in invoking the spirit of Cairo mobs to guide and inspire hooligans in Kashmir. Ever since the inflammable events in Tahrir Square happened, PDP has been doling out covert threats of mass mobilization in Kashmir. It excludes Jammu and Ladakh regions. It has given a call for Friday rally. Reports are that authorities are mindful of any unprovoked but sudden turmoil shaping in the valley as a result of anti-Indian elements using the example of Middle East situation. If the Prime Minister sits with "crossed fingers" on this count, he needs to re-think his reaction. A mass rally of whatever contours, is nothing new in Kashmir. For groups like stone throwers of summer 2010, it is a hobby or a profession. They live by this pastime. People have to be told that autocrats, despots and tyrants against whom their masses have revolted in the Middle East were glued to power without people's mandate. They did not come through democratic process and, therefore, did not enjoy the legitimacy of ruling over their people. The uprisings in Arab world are for granting political, civil and human rights of the masses of people. These are not for replacing the existing arrangement by theocratic one. What justification will the rallies in Kashmir have when their sponsors were very much in power; they had come to power through democratic process? Now that they are out of power, they are dreaming for Cairo-like mass mobilization. Is it not opportunism? Is it not betrayal of trust which their constituencies placed in them? Voters did not vote them to foment turmoil, incite people and drag Kashmir to the brink of disaster. It is against like of these elements that entire Arab world has woken up and is in turmoil. Look how the tyrants ruling over them have brought out tanks, gun ships, machine guns, rocket and other lethal weapons to decimate the people struggling for democracy. And the pro-Gaddafi troops that have unleashed brute force on masses are manned by Pakistani Army contingents whom Islamabad has lent to the tyrant for his personal protection just as to some more despots in the Arab world and the Gulf. It is amusing that a political party that previously came to power through democratic arrangement is now attacking the same arrangement just because it was not returned to power after elections. There is no need for the Prime Minister to cross fingers. The Government has successfully dealt with such exigencies in the past and it can manage more in future if need arises. Who have been adversely affected by the summer-long strike and shut down agenda of the Hurriyat in 2010? It is the ordinary labourer, petty shop-keeper, school and college student, a taxi diver, a houseboat keeper and a small scale contractor. These are all categories of poor and economically weaker sections of society. A repetition of this syndrome means bringing untold suffering to millions of members of weaker sections of society. For more than forty long years the people of the State carried out a struggle against autocratic rule. This struggle was for ushering in the rule of the people. The leaders of that movement succeeded in their mission only when they received support form the masses of people. When autocracy has been ousted, people's constitution framed and implemented, democratic process allowed to flow freely, elections held at scheduled intervals and legal governments formed, when people's representatives debate and pass laws by which the state is to be ruled, when press is free and judiciary is functioning independently, what rationale is there for any party to call for protest rallies and anti-government movement? What rationale is there to invoke Cairo-type mass mobilization? Kashmir politicians who are covertly inciting people to stage protests like those in Egypt or Tunisia or Yemen or now Libya should ask the protestors there what the objective of their movement is. Their answer will open their eyes. The Prime Minister has no need to be pusillanimous; he is expressing his misplaced diffidence by saying he sits crossed fingers. It is a sign of weakness. Mr. Prime Minister, you are much more powerful than you imagine because you are functioning through the force of world's most humane constitution.







It is the 97th day of trained but unemployed physiotherapists of the State that they are agitating for employment. The Government has turned a deaf ear to their problem. It has refused to talk to them and understand their problem or tell them its compulsions. Instead of handling the problem from humanistic standpoint the Government has adopted not only a hostile but actually a vengeful attitude. Lathi charge and brutal handling of the agitating physiotherapists is blatant violation of human rights, it is inexcusable. The Government has to find avenues and opportunities to absorb the trained unemployed therapists. This problem has to be tackled and use of force is not the way it can be solved. Theirs is not the first example of unemployed trained and educated youth demanding employment. Those agitators were not lathi-charged and brutalized. Why this unbecoming treatment of these agitators. There are many NGOs in Jammu who claim to be protecting human rights. None of them has come forward to plead the case of human rights violation of these agitators. We hope the Government will give up the path of confrontation and reconcile to the fact that unemployed youth have to be provided with means of subsistence.







Ant matter before the Finance Minister in this budget is that of foreign investment. Foreign investment comes in two ways. Foreign companies often establish factories in India. They remit monies for this purpose. This is called Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) because the investment is made directly by the principal. Control over the Indian factory rests with the foreign principal. The foreign principal decides what goods will be produced, at what price they will be sold, whether the manager will be an Indian or an expatriate, whether the profits will be reinvested or repatriated to the foreign headquarters, etc. The other way in which foreign investment comes is through Indian share markets. These investors are called Foreign Institutional Investors (FII). They earn by buying and selling shares when the prices are low and high respectively. They also earn some monies by the way of dividends. The control over the company in which money is invested remains with the Indian owners.
The inflow of FDI was large previously. An amount of $164 billion has been invested in India in the 10 years ending at March 2010. FII inflows were less in comparison. Only $70 billion FII had been received in that same period. The situation has changed dramatically since April 2010. FDI of only $15 billion has been received till October last year. FII inflows were nearly three times at $51 billion. This indicates that foreign investors preferred FDI previously and have now shifted their preference to FII.
Analysts are expressing concern on this change. The main apprehension is that FII money can reverse suddenly and cause a collapse in our share markets and devaluation of our currency as has happened in 2008. But it is necessary to understand the overall advantages and disadvantages of the two types of investments in order to take a position on this matter.
First issue is regarding efficiency of production. FDI comes with advanced technologies. Foreign companies start making advanced products in the country. As a result domestic manufacturers are forced to upgrade their technologies. For example, only Ambassador and Fiat cars were manufactured in the country till the eighties. These cars gave an average of 12-13 kilometers per litre. Production of Maruti-Suzuki cars started in the country in 1985. This car gave an average of 18-19 km. This forced Indian manufacturers to make fuel efficient engines. Today the 'made in India' Indica is giving an average of 22-23 km. The entire domestic automobile industry has been forced to technologically upgrade because of the coming of FDI. A similar technological upgradation would have taken place from opening of imports, however. FDI has not come in a big way in many industries like paper, textile and sugar yet these industries have attained global competitiveness. Reason is that imports have been opened. Indian industries were forced to upgrade in order to compete with cheap imported goods. FII also helps in technological upgradation of Indian companies. They get easy access to capital and are able to establish modern factories. Thus FDI, foreign trade and FII-all help in technological upgradation.
It must be admitted that certain technologies are patented by foreign companies. These technologies can be available to us only through FDI. But such technologies are limited in number hence FDI may be preferred only in those selected industries.
The impact of FDI and FII on employment is also similar. Employment is generated in same measure whether foreign principal establishes a factory in India or an Indian businessman establishes the same factory with capital received from FIIs.
There is a difference in the impact of FDI and FII in other aspects. First difference is in the depth of integration with the Indian economy. Foreign investors have a spontaneous tendency to employ foreign managers and engineers and also use imported components and raw materials. Maruti Suzuki, for example, imported many components from Japan for nearly two decades. Car parts dealers tell that often 'duplicate' Indian made parts are of better quality than original imported ones. The tendency of Indian businessmen, on the other hand, is more towards using Indian personnel and components as being done by Tata Motors in the manufacture of Indica and Nano cars. Thus, FDI is more like oil on water while FII has a deeper impact on the Indian economy.
Second difference is in profit repatriation. The objective of both-FDI as well as FII-is to remit profits to their foreign headquarters. This remittance is made of dividends and capital gains. Both FDI and FII remit dividends. Difference is that FII remittance simultaneously leads to increased payment of dividends to domestic shareholders. Say a FII bought shares of Tata Motors. The Company was able to establish a new factory with this money and pay higher dividends. The domestic investors who bought shares of Tata Motors also benefitted from this higher payout. FII, therefore, leads to greater spread of income in the country.
FII has one major disadvantage. FIIs can quickly sell their shareholdings and cause a collapse of our share markets as happened in 2008 when the Sensex was driven down from nearly 21k to 8k. The consequent remittances of proceeds also lead to a collapse of our currency. The rupee declined from 40 to 50 in the wake of this exit. The collapse of the share markets should not worry us much. Such losses are in the nature of speculation and speculators should be ready to bear consequences of the same. The decline of our currency can be managed. The Reserve Bank of India should build greater foreign exchange reserves to meet such a situation. The money remitted by exiting FIIs can be made up by bringing back part of these reserves. There is no reason to fear FII for this reason.
Increase in FII and decrease in FDI is welcome because it signals the strength of Indian businesses. We should take the precautionary measure of building suitable foreign exchange reserves to prevent a collapse of our currency in the event of FII selloff. Let us see what the Finance Minister thinks of the matter.








Asked to comment on as to why India has lacked behind the so called developed nations in cracking inventions and discoveries, Nobel Laureate Sir. C.V. Raman remarked, "I would like to tell the young men and women before me not to lose hope and courage. Success can only come to you by courageous devotion to the task lying in front of you and there is nothing worth in this world that can come without the sweat of our brow. I can assert without fear of contradiction that the quality of the Indian mind is equal to the quality of any Teutonic, Nordic or Anglo-Saxon mind. What we lack is perhaps courage, what we lack is perhaps driving force which takes one anywhere. We have, I think, developed an inferiority complex. I think what is needed in India today is the destruction of that defeatist spirit. We need a spirit of victory, a spirit that will carry us to our rightful place under the sun, a spirit which will recognize that we, as inheritors of a proud civilization, are entitled to a rightful place on this planet. If that indomitable spirit were to arise, nothing can hold us from achieving our rightful destiny".
These wisdom words of Sir C.V. Raman hold its relevance even today, when the country is celebrating 26th National Science Day on February 28 to mark the path breaking discovery of Raman Effect. The event commemorated in honour of Sir C.V. Raman for his legacy and discovery of Raman effect on February 28, 1928, has persistently been debating for cultivating scientific temper amongst youth.
It was on February 28, 1928, through his experiments on the scattering of light, that the great Indian Physicist Sir C.V. Raman discovered the 'Raman Effect', while working in the laboratory of the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science at Kolkatta. It was instantly clear that this discovery was important one, as it gave further proof of the quantum nature of light. Raman spectroscopy came to be based on this phenomenon, and Ernest Rutherford referred to it in his presidential address to the Royal Society in 1929. Raman Effect therefore confirmed that the light is made up of particles known as 'photons'. This discovery greatly helped in the study of the molecular and crystal structure of different substances. The application and significance of the Raman Effect becomes clear from the number of papers published within a period of one-and-half years after discovery. By August 1929, a bibliography of over 150 papers was there on various aspects of it.
THE RAMAN EFFECT: Raman received the Nobel Prize in 1930 for his work on diffusion of light. The most simple explanation of this phenomenon is in the observance of Rainbow. We are delighted by the rainbow. We see in it the shades of red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet (VIBGYOR). The white ray of the sun includes all these colours. When a beam of sunlight is passed through a glass prism a patch of these colour brands are seen. This is called spectrum. Spectral lines in it are characteristic of the light passing through the prism. A beam that causes a single spectral line is said to be monochromatic. When a beam of light passes through a transparent substance the beam is scattered. Raman spent a long time in the study of scattered light. On Februray 28, 1928 he observed two low-intensity spectral lines corresponding to the incident mono-chromatic light. Years of his labour bore fruit and Raman was able to discover what was lying hidden in nature. On 16th March, 1928, Raman announced the new phenomenon discovered by him to the world. It attracted the attention of researchers all over the world and it became famous as the 'Raman Effect'.
On the increasing relevance of Raman Effect Former President of India Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam and country's missile man, asserted that Raman Effect has impacted every field of science. Its role in spectroscopy, medical diagnostics and material characterization had been phenomenal.
RAMAN AND CAREER: Born to R. Chadrasekhara Iyer and Parvati Ammal in 1888 at Thriuvanaikaval, near Tiruchirappalli, Madras Presidency, Venkata Raman was the second of their eight children. His father was a lecturer in Mathematics and Physics, so he grew up in an academic atmosphere. Raman entered Presidency College, Chennai in 1902. In 1904, he gained his B.Sc. winning the first place and gold medal in physics. In 1907, he gained his M.Sc., obtained the highest distinctions and joined the Indian Finance Department as an Assistant Accountant General. In 1917, Raman resigned from his government service and continued doing research at the Indian Association for the Cultivation of Science, Kolkatta. It is worth noting here for the youth of today, Raman when he discovered in 1928 the Effect bearing his name, his formal education was only a M.Sc. in physics.
NATIONAL SCIENCE DAY: A DELAYED INITIATIVE : In 1986 the National Council for Science and Technology Communication (NCSTC- also known as Rashtriya Vigyan Evam Prodoyogiki Sanchar Parishad) asked the Government of India to designate February 28 as National Science Day, an event which is now celebrated all over the country in schools, colleges, universities and other academic and research institutions. The objectives mooted for commemorating the event is to provide an opportunity to bring issues of science on to centre stage, besides highlighting the contributions of science to human kind in domains of disease eradication, energy production, space exploration, environmental issues, information technology, et al.
Merely christening February 28 as National Science Day cannot be a tribute to the Bharat Ratna C.V. Raman (1954) for 'It is through Science that we prove, but through intuition that we discover'. Perhaps, the great German Physicist Max Born was apt that 'Science is not formal logic-it needs the free play of the mind in as great a degree as any other creative art. It is true that this is a gift which can hardly be taught, but its growth can be encouraged in those who already posses it' It is in this direction that the National Science Day must yearn for!







In India, tourism has experienced sustained growth and diversification to become one of the fastest growing economic sectors over the decades, thus contributing to a large extent to the National Income and generating huge employment opportunities.
India is famous for its generous treatment to all visitors, its visitor-friendly traditions, diverse life styles, cultural legacy, architectural heritage and colorful fairs and festivals hold abiding attractions for the tourists. The other attractions include beautiful beaches, forests, wild life and landscapes for eco-tourism; snow, river and mountain peaks for adventure tourism; technological parks and science museums for science tourism; centers of pilgrimage for spiritual tourism; heritage, trains and hotels for heritage tourism. Yoga, Ayurveda and natural health resorts and hill stations also attract tourists. The Indian handicrafts particularly jewellery, carpets, leather goods, ivory and brass work are the main shopping items of foreign tourists.
In the state of J&K which has sprawling mountains, stretches of valleys, lakes, pilgrimage sites, handicraft etc. a lot of initiatives have been taken by the Government to boost tourism.
On one hand tourism helps preserve several places which are of historical importance by declaring them as heritage sites, conserving the natural habitats of many endangered species, creating various means of transports, health care facilities, sports centers, in addition to the hotels and high-end restaurants that cater to the needs of visitors. In addition, tourism industry can also help promote peace and stability in developing country like India by providing jobs, generating income, diversifying the economy, protecting the environment and promoting cross-cultural awareness.
On the other hand, the tourism industry lays some serious adverse effects on the environment. Increased transport and construction activities lead to large scale deforestation and destabilization of natural landforms, whereas better tourist flow leads to increase in solid waste dumping as well as depletion of water and fuel resources. Surge of tourists to ecologically sensitive areas results in destruction of rare and endangered species mostly due to trampling, killing and disturbance of breeding habitats. Noise pollution from vehicles and public address systems, water pollution, vehicular emissions, untreated sewage, etc. also have direct effects on bio-diversity, environment and general contour of tourist spots.
In mountain areas of the Himalayas and Darjeeling, the trekking tourists produce a huge quantity of waste. Tourists on expedition leave behind their trash, oxygen cylinders and even camping equipment. Such practices degrade the environment mainly in remote areas because they have few garbage collection or disposal facilities. Erection of hotels, recreation and other facilities often leads to increased sewage pollution. Wastewater has polluted seas and lakes surrounding tourist attractions thus causing a great deal of damage to flora and fauna.
The most important example that can be cited here is of the greatest impact on the sensitive mountain environment in the Karakoram Mountains between India and Pakistan in Kashmir where the result of the ongoing military conflict has led to human waste and trash accumulation on the glaciers. Such garbage does not degrade in cold and frozen places. Abandoned military equipment and fuel spills also contribute to the problem.
Some steps that must be taken to protect mountain ecosystems, particularly the Himalayas like trash should be separated into material that can be destroyed by fire, bio-degradable materials that can be buried such as vegetable and fruit waste, and materials that must be transported out of the mountains to an appropriate site for disposal such as metal cans and glass. Human waste can be properly disposed of in an earthen pit of adequate depth, but this is a problem on glaciers. Tourists would not want to visit areas that have been heavily impacted by improper disposal of trash and human waste. Deforestation leads to soil erosion which can be quite severe given the steep topography of these areas.
The solution to the problem lies in promoting ecotourism. Ecotourism plainly means tourism tied with the idea of protecting the environment. It promotes traveling to natural spots rather than commercial attractions, using cleaner means of sightseeing such as bicycles and walking, and doing activities that have negligible impact on the environment. Ecotourism aims at reducing the need to assert land and develop infrastructure for tourists. It focuses on exploiting what is already present to draw tourists in.
India is a beautiful and exotic country with colorful traditions and centuries of history. However, the country can be difficult to maneuver for a tourist visiting India. A great deal of India's infrastructure has not been restructured since the British left in 1947, so transportation and facilities, while accessible, have yet to be modernized. If India wants to establish itself as an unyielding travel destination and augment tourism, government and big business companies should take steps to make the country more cordial to foreign travelers. Public restroom facilities, even if existing, are inadequately maintained. Often the only sanitary services available are at big luxury hotels. India needs to improve its public services and promote basic hygiene if it wants to appeal to the foreign tourist.
Though India also has widespread railway coordination, however, due to overcrowding and poor maintenance, trains are often so crowded that people sit on the roofs of moving trains or hang out the windows. We should be aware of the different types of tourists that may want to visit India like ecotourists, historians or those seeking meditative retreats. India should take advantage of the inquisitiveness of foreign tourists with Indian culture, including yoga, Ayurvedic medicine, Hinduism and meditation, and market itself accordingly.
Tourism can sometimes lead to tension, hostility, and distrust between the tourists and the local communities when there is no respect and appreciation for each other's culture and way of life. This further leads to violence and other crimes committed against the tourists. Our Government is trying hard to curb this menace, but it requires an effort on part of every individual.
Moreover, since tourism is a multi-dimensional industry, it would be essential that all sections of the Central and State governments, private sector and voluntary organizations become active partners in the endeavor to accomplish sustainable growth in tourism if our country is to become a world player in the tourism industry.
Atithi Devo Bhava!









In his very first reaction to the eruption of anti-dictatorship protests in different parts of Libya, its ruler, Col Moammar Gaddafi, tried to mislead the world by blaming Al-Qaida and Islamic fundamentalists for what had happened. The same ruse was given by Egyptian strongman Hosni Mubarak, too. The world, particularly the West, for a while appeared to believe that the powerful pro-democracy movement that had shaken most Arab regimes by their very foundations might be hijacked by Islamic extremists to implement their own agenda. That is why one could notice little support in the beginning for those seeking regime change in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere in the Middle East. Thankfully, however, the situation changed for the better soon.


Yet, in the case of Libya the world has reacted too slowly and only when people have suffered considerably. The Libyan dictator actually began to be openly condemned after he used brute force to silence the unarmed protesters. He and his sons are doing all they can to turn the situation in their favour. They have killed hundreds of peaceful protesters, but in vain. The Gaddafi regime has lost control over many Libyan towns. It could have lost the capital city of Tripoli too to the protesters had it not used its armed forces and mercenaries to mow down those who took to the streets shouting slogans after the Friday prayers.


The Libyan dictator deserves no sympathy. Though a little late, the US, the UN Security Council, the European Union, the UK and others have done well to start tightening the noose around the Gaddafi regime. They should go whole hog with the protesting people, who will not settle for anything less than a democratic set-up in Libya now. Desertions by many Libyan diplomats, resignations by a number of top functionaries of the government, refusal by military pilots to bomb civilians and other such developments have failed to force Colonel Gaddafi and his coterie to flee. But the regime appears to be on its last legs. That is why any kind of international sanctions like those related to food supplies that can add to the people's difficulties should be avoided. 









While Ms Mamata Banerjee is being criticised for presenting a populist budget with an underlying bias in favour of West Bengal and for not raising freight and passenger fares, the Railway Budget presented by her actually indicates maturing of a politician, who till recently had been known only as a rabble rouser. In her budget speech she made the disarming confession that "Indian Railways is passing through a very difficult phase", a candid admission indeed. Implementation of the sixth pay panel's recommendation, increase in fuel prices and decline in revenue due to disruptions have pushed the Railways' operating ratio beyond acceptable limits. By not increasing fares for the eighth consecutive year, she may have added to the financial mess of the behemoth; but she may well argue that if she had, her critics would surely have pounced upon her for adding to inflationary pressures and the burden of the common man.


The pioneering incentive to states which allow disruption-free movement of trains in the next financial year has received scant attention. The Budget promises to each of such states two new trains and two new projects. Her decision to locate various projects at trouble spots, from Jammu & Kashmir to Darjeeling, Singur and Nandigarm, also indicates a resolve to fight extremism with development. The Railway Budget addresses the needs of poll-bound states and announced new trains and projects for Assam, Tamil Nadu, Puducherry and of course West Bengal. But if 25 new trains will travel through or terminate in West Bengal, she has also delivered 14 new trains to Maharashtra and 10 to Bihar, where elections are over.


Not too long ago, the lady claimed that she had "a vision, a mission and the brain to implement it" and it would seem there is indeed some method in the madness. The party she founded 12 years ago, Trinamool Congress, can boast of not calling a single state-wide bandh during the last two years, despite being in the opposition. Mamata herself has maintained the reputation of being both austere and 'incorruptible'. While the Railway Budget may not have pleased all, it still held out the promise that West Bengal's "Chief Minister in-waiting" has come of age.









One of the most innovative schemes for schoolchildren has been the mid-day meal programme. The National Programme of Nutritional Support to Primary Education (NP-NSPE), as this scheme is now formally known as, had its origin in Tamil Nadu, but the Central Government adopted it and now the programme runs all over India. NP-NSPE has been successful in improving the nutritional status of children; encouraging poor children belonging to disadvantaged sections to attend school more regularly; and even in providing nutritional support to children of primary stage in drought-affected areas during summer vacations.


Schools in Punjab have been operating under various handicaps, including lack of teachers, insufficient infrastructure, absentee teachers, and now, this additional issue has come to light. Punjab receives food grains from the Centre under the National Nutritional Programme for the mid-day meal scheme. Less than required food grains have been allocated to government or aided schools because, according to some officials, they failed to provide the required data regarding students. On the other hand, school managements blame delay in disbursal of payments for the problem. No matter what the issue, it is the school students who are suffering. Immediate steps must be taken to sort out the issue and provide good nutritional food to them under the mid-day meal scheme. The success of the programme depends on its implementation, and it is here that various kinds of bureaucratic and practical hurdles rob schoolchildren of their right.


At a broader level, the mid-day mess is just another indication of low priority that education, especially school education, has in Punjab. Unfortunately, a vital sector like education receives short shrift at the hands of politicians, with disastrous results. The major share of responsibility of preparing young children to be productive citizens of our country falls on government schools. It is, indeed, a matter of concern that even this basic facility meant for the welfare of students does not reach them.


















Today in terms of GDP growth, India seems to be doing better than most other countries and the government expects around 9 per cent growth in the next one year. But is this growth translating itself into rural jobs? Is it benefiting the common man? The story of "trickle down" did happen to a great extent in rural India and boosted rural incomes. Indeed, rural demand has boosted industrial demand in recent years, but there is a scarcity of jobs in the rural areas. And with 54 per cent of the population living in our villages, there is a huge pressure on land, creating an adverse land-man ratio, which means there is not enough work for young people in the farms.


This lack of adequate work has created much restlessness among the youth in the villages who do not want to work in the fields and are lured by the news of the outside world through mobile phones, the satellite TV and Internet. Rural youth is aware of what is going on in the rest of India, especially the lavish lifestyles of people living in towns. It makes them want to migrate to towns and even undertake travel for hours in order to get paid jobs. The recent incident in which 18 disappointed young job-seekers died while travelling on the rooftop of a train, which was taking them back to their villages from the small town of Bareilly (Uttar Pradesh), is a glaring example of the kind of desperation the young people are facing. Even for menial jobs like cleaners, washermen, barbers and water-carriers in the Indo- Tibetan Border Police force, there were 100,000 applicants when there were only 416 jobs available. The remuneration was only Rs 5200 per month.


This incident shows not only the desperation of the village youth to get jobs in towns but also their willingness to accept even the most menial jobs. Most of the applicants were semi-literate and school-dropouts, but they now consider themselves as literate and want jobs which would give them some wage-income and job security (that made public sector jobs like those in the Indo-Tibetan Border Police all the more alluring). Another revealing fact is the utter recklessness of the rejected youth because while travelling back they flouted all rules of the railways. Since sitting on top of the train would save them the train fare, hundreds climbed on the top which is dangerous under any circumstances. But in this case, they were also not warned sufficiently in advance by the railway authorities of the low bridges ahead. Even if they had been warned, would they have listened? The complete lack of implementation of any safety laws is also highlighted by this incident. What is scary is the paucity of jobs to absorb the rural youth in India's 638,000 villages and thus it is difficult to hazard a guess about their future.


India will continue to have a youthful population of 500 million in the next 15 years as compared to other emerging economies. But this can turn the situation into a nightmare in which semi-skilled and semi-literate young population may not find a place in the job market as manufacturing and service sector jobs are growing very slowly.


There are also not enough food processing factories to employ the young people locally. The slowdown in manufacturing since December 2010 to 2.5 per cent is an indicator of the possible further slackness of industrial growth.


This is because all input prices have risen in the last few months. The rising oil prices will affect industry's fuel cost. There have also been several hikes in the interest rates to combat inflation in the past one year which makes industrial expansion difficult to finance. Only with more factories in the rural areas can the unemployed youth coming out of the villages be absorbed in gainful employment. The situation is volatile today because food inflation has been running at a double-digit level for nearly two years and is enough to drive out people from rural areas to seek jobs in towns.


The unemployment rate is now around 10.1 per cent in the rural areas and 9.4 per cent across the nation, and

this means that around 40 to 50 million youth are without jobs. Unless they are given proper training, and higher education, they will not be fit to join the service sector or the manufacturing sector. According to the Labour Bureau, most of the job growth in the manufacturing sector in the recent past has been slow and public sector jobs have not grown at all. Often to retain flexibility, companies have opted for high-tech which is also required to retain the competitive edge. Unless more labour-intensive industries are set up or labour-intensive processes are encouraged by government policy, the future will see very slow job expansion.


So, what will the young job-seekers in their twenties and thirties do when rural jobs are not available and what if they are turned down for the few openings as was seen in Bareilly recently? It will become a big problem in a few years unless they are engaged in studies and are given vocational training that will enable them to find jobs.


This task of educating and training the young entrants to the labour force cannot be left to the private sector alone and, therefore, the major task of the state governments would be to launch skill training programmes and ensure that all boys and girls finish at least their secondary education. It is perhaps not enough to have universal primary education as a goal because to implement it, there will have to be better schools with proper teaching facilities by teachers in classes so as to ensure that the dropout rate is low.


There is a big danger that the unemployed and disgruntled youth may join the Maoist movement or some other type of anti-social activity in the states that are poor and underdeveloped. To keep the youth gainfully employed in the villages, students should be encouraged to complete their education and training. There should be better implementation of Centrally-sponsored training programmes for rural youth, and for rural jobs labour-intensive factories in food processing could be set up. The youth can be trained to start their own small enterprises that can supply parts to factories in nearby towns. Making loans available from banks to youth for starting their business is also important.


Unless serious thought is given to the question of providing employment to the youth in the villages, widespread joblessness will remain like a bomb ticking away in our villages that may explode anytime.








Birthdays, Father's Day, Valentine's Day, Mother's Day, anniversaries, festivals, breakups, makeups or plain simple love, the tradition of greeting cards has diversified, evolved, boomed and ebbed  in the last four decades. But just like hand-written letters, this charming practice is on the decline giving way to e-cards, sms-es, Facebook messages, twitter and other technological leaps and developments in the methods and forms of communication.


I am firmly in favour of paperless communication because after all it is the thought that counts and God knows we need to protect the environment. But even with these compelling reasons one would miss holding a card which is more tangible and personal than an e-mail just like the Kindle is convenient but the reading experience, as romantics and puritans would agree, is not consummate until you can hold and, most importantly, smell the book.  Having said that, one must never lose sight of what is practical and has long-term benefits.


This brings me to the government machinery, a little untouched by technology, which has a different attitude for treating the 'card protocol'. In terms of occasions, New Year wishes have continued to top charts in the card-giving space. Not only is it a time to wish people close to you but in the official sphere it is one of the biggest public relations exercises. Fearing an astronomical expense in case all the cogs in the wheel were officially sanctioned a budget to send out cards to contacts, the government, as the New Year approaches promptly issues instructions to adhere to austerity measures and only a handful of officers, ministers and dignitaries are permitted to send out cards.


I must admit that this select group strictly adheres to the austerity measures and a judicious number of cards is sent out by each. But what the government does not factor into this exercise is the responsibility of courtesy to respond to thousands of greeting cards received by the various officers, especially the Governor, Chief Minister, Ministers, Judges and other high-ranking officers. This is a valid and justifiable practice and expenditure on the exchequer. All cards received from colleagues and the common man are neatly preserved by the personal assistants, listed and uniformly replied to with a standard letter which is printed out on official letterheads, placed in envelopes, stamped and mailed at the government expense.


The heads of the government may even get a huge number of cards printed to respond to the people. This is a necessary exercise to build a responsive image of the government and a relationship of trust and respect. But in its hurry to curb expenses, the government has totally overlooked the hidden costs.


As someone who has been following the New Year wishes tradition for the last four decades at his own expense, I strongly feel that wishes whether sent through a traditional card or e-mail should convey heartfelt sentiments of an individual.


It may be a paperless exercise, which of course is the need of the hour but definitely not a robotic exercise that automated routine responses reduce it to. New Year signifies a new beginning, a new start to make the current year better than the one before and this is the feeling that needs to be embraced and passed on rather than staying caught up in archaic practices that do no good and serve no purpose.










India's phenomenal economic growth and rising profile has led to its enhanced strategic relevance. It is fast emerging as an important factor in the global strategic calculus. Most western economies, unlike that of Asia, have not performed well in recent years. They are thus compelled to seek and engage the fast growing Asian economies in search of better prospects. This is resulting in a gradual shift of power from the west to the east. Can India like some other emerging powers rise to the occasion in this new scenario?


We are surrounded by neighbours who are not necessarily friendly. Some are out right hostile. Historically, some of the states in the region are not only unstable but tend to remain under the control of the military that wields unprecedented power and spends millions on re-armament. The Pakistani army is always in control of national affairs, whether overtly in power or otherwise, The People's Liberation Army of China too has emerged rather hawkish in matters of territorial and maritime claims vis-à-vis its neighbours.


The rate at which China is modernising its armed forces is a cause for serious concern. China has been increasing its defence budget by more than ten percent annually. Reforms introduced by China in the 1990s are now manifested by enhancing its military capabilities and also the prowess of its military-industrial complex that is producing a wide range of advance weapon systems.


The Chinese are currently in the process of launching their 12th five- year plan (2011-2015). Reforms visualised in this plan will further boost China's indigenous and the technological capabilities, besides integrating civil and defence enterprises. The pace and scope of China's modernisation are alarming indeed. This will "increase China's options for using military force to gain diplomatic advantage or resolve disputes in their favour."


This is a clear message for India and the reason why the dilly-dallying Chinese do not allow resolution of the border disputes, despite having met fourteen times at the political level. India must take note of this in dealing with China and try to resolve disputes expeditiously. Chinese proclivity of dragging its feet and raising new issues without resolving the pending ones is a part of their strategy. Dams across the Brahmaputra, military presence in POK, changing stance on Kashmir and the visa issue are all pressure tactics to keep India on tenterhooks


In contrast, India is still in the process of talking about reforms in the defence sector. The defence minister has recently unveiled future plans in regard to procurements, indigenous production and deeper and transparent involvement of the private sector in various areas of defence production. The Army Chief too has spoken about these reforms within the army itself.


On our western borders, the Pakistani army, which had lost its primacy to some extent in the 90s, has once again managed to create political space for itself. Under Gen Ashfaq Kayani, it has emerged as the dominant force in Pakistan and behind the civilian façade, exercises full control over national policies and ensures a lion's share of the national budget for itself. Last year, it increased its defence spending by as much as 17 per cent. Large chunk of US aid also continues to be siphoned off towards building the Pakistani military.


The security situation in India's near as well as distant neighbourhood has rarely been comfortable. Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal and even Sri Lanka too keep India under pressure one way or the other. They tend to leverage the China card in their dealings with India. That's how China invests heavily in these countries. With an economy growing at 10 per cent, China can afford to aid these developing countries. Pakistan, in particular, occupies a special place in the Chinese calculus of arming South Asia. Politico-military succour available to Pakistan is in keeping with the Chinese strategy of tying India down perpetually in a proxy war and preventing its rise.


India has little or no military-industrial capability to invest similarly in its neighbourhood. India has to go in for comprehensive defence production capability that would not only take care of indigenous requirements but also help service the needs of South Asian neighbours. Induction of private sector will go a long way in this endeavour. The only way to dilute Chinese influence in the neighbourhood is to compete with it.


Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, have all embarked upon re-arming themselves. Obviously, the

China factor is behind this. Malaysia has recently acquired new submarines worth $1 billion to safeguard its waters claimed by others. Indonesia has acquired a large number of fighter aircraft. Two blatantly hostile neighbours in the north and the west and progressively arming immediate and the distant neighbourhood does not auger well for India. India finds itself presently in an unprecedented security quagmire. Its claim to a rising power status rings hollow when viewed in terms of its indigenous capabilities.


President Obama's exaggerated rhetoric during his address to the Indian Parliament that "India is not the rising power but a risen power and an indispensable strategic partner of the US", however sweet to the Indian ears, is indeed far from reality. Similar statements made by other leaders visiting India do not make India a great power. Obama, Sarkozy, Medvedev, Cameron and Wen all came not because India was a comprehensive and a great power but because they were looking for jobs, economic and trade benefits. They were all competing with each other for the lucrative $12 billion aircraft deal that India is in the process of negotiating. According to recent reports, India will be spending around $100 billion on defence purchases over the ensuing decade.


The deteriorating security environment in and around India requires it to continuously modernise and upgrade its armed forces. Unable to meet the target indigenously, it is driven to meet the needs of the armed forces from foreign vendors. The Air Chief was blunt enough to concede openly that half of the weapon systems used by the IAF were either obsolete or obsolescent. The army too feels that it would take years to achieve full operational capability. The navy has also been harping on its progressively declining power. With the ever increasing strategic importance of the Indian Ocean, it has an added responsibility. Sixty years after Independence, we still import almost everything that our armed forces need. Studies done by numerous committees only gather dust in the archives of the bureaucracy. One such study of which this writer was a member along with the three services vice chiefs and former DRDO head, Dr Abdul Kalam as its chairman, submitted a ten-year plan for indigenisation in 1992. Nearly two decades later, we are no better.


Our indigenous component continues to be no more than 25 to 30 percent, with core components being imported. The Light Combat Aircraft's engine, fly-by-wire control system and radar are procured from abroad. The story about the army's Arjun MBT and other weapon systems is no different. India's inability to produce weapons and total dependence on foreign vendors only reflects its hollowness as a major power. The vendors can withhold spares and supplies at any time and bring the nation to a grinding halt at critical junctures. India can hardly afford to forget the way the western powers applied sanctions against it after 1998 nuclear tests. Our strategic autonomy remains at risk even today.


Really speaking, it's sound economy coupled with indigenous defence technology and production capabilities that make a power. When Pakistani terrorists attacked the Indian Parliament and later carried out attacks in Mumbai, India failed to respond. A resurgent economy notwithstanding, we did not have the requisite military prowess. These incidents were strong enough reasons for military options. No wonder, Pakistan continues with its nefarious designs with impunity against its much larger neighbour. It's because we are unable to impose any cost on our adversary. Under the circumstances, indigenous military-industrial complex is as vital a strategic imperative as the national economy.


The writer is former Director General, Defence Planning Staff








Iam a child of Amar Chitra Katha. Poring over the comics was one of the greatest delights of my childhood and Ananth Pai, who died last week, gave millions of us who grew up in the 1980s our first imaginaries of the past, our first mental maps of history and mythology.


Despite the disdain of many a professional historian, the comic books he created have come to occupy an iconic place in Indian popular culture and what Sunil Khilnani calls the 'great Amar Chitra Katha of our national imagination'.


You can quibble on detail but you can't question the social place of a series that has sold over 90 million copies in 11 Indian languages, with translations into French, Spanish, German, Swahili, Fijian, Bahasa Indonesia and even Serbo-Croat.


 Much has been written about the foundational moment when Pai in 1967 saw a TV broadcast at Delhi's Maharaj Lal and Sons of a quiz contest where Delhi college students were correctly answering questions on the Greek gods of Olympus but were clueless when asked the name of Ram's mother. As he told me five years ago, that memory still stung him. "Our children are getting alienated from their roots and culture," he said.

 So what made Amar Chitra Katha special? Television was still in its infancy at the time, with less than a 100 TV sets in all of Delhi but that chance broadcast provided the kernel for an Indian series, with Indian stories for Indian children. Amar Chitra Katha's first 10 titles were merely reprints of the American 'Classics Illustrated' but its first Indian title, 'Krishna', became so successful that the series moved entirely into Indian themes.

 Part of the legend of Uncle Pai is the explicit marketing of the series as a modern-day family elder, aiming "to fill the lacuna left by grandparents in the smaller nuclear families in urban areas." What is less well known is the sophisticated marketing effort and the support of the state that sustained this.


The comic book historian John A Lent says that Amar Chitra Katha's rapid success in the 1970s was linked to a vigorous promotion effort targeted directly at schools, including quiz and fancy dress competitions, debates and the formation of Amar Chitra Katha/Tinkle clubs.


The series gained the state's approval from the late-1970s. The central government's interest followed from a survey carried out at Pai's behest in 31 Delhi schools, which showed that children learnt better through comics than books.


 This was crucial and an Amar Chitra Katha-organized seminar, "The Role of Chitra Katha in School Education" in 1978 won it the seal of approval from the education ministry, NCERT and the Kendriya Vidyalaya Sangathan. Since then, literary support programmes with the libraries of government-aided schools have always been an important part of the series' commercial success.


 This turned Amar Chitra Katha into a quasi-public institution. As a vehicle of popular culture, each issue negotiated a complex minefield: the simplicity required for children versus the complexity of history and its many versions; sales versus educational imperatives; accuracy versus political interests.


For example, when Amar Chitra Katha's portrayal of Valmiki as a thief before he wrote the Ramayana led to protests by a Dalit group in Punjab, Pai removed the issue from circulation, travelled to Jalandhar and Patiala to meet the protesters, and tried to enlist the services of the Congress' senior Dalit leader Jagjivan Ram as a negotiator with the groups concerned. He waited a long while before coming out with another issue that involved the question of untouchability.


 Staff were reportedly instructed to be sensitive towards lower caste readership and when 'Chokamela' – a title on the 14th century Dalit bhakti poet – came out in 1983, its launch was presided over by then Union Home Minister Buta Singh, also a Dalit leader from Punjab.


Similarly, when Amar Chitra Katha came out with its series on the 10 Sikh Gurus during the Khalistan insurgency, it took care to get the script for each issue approved by the Shiromani Sikh Gurudwara Prabandhak Committee – and this was explicitly printed on the inside cover page. A few years ago, when the Aamir Khan film Mangal Pandey got engulfed in a bitter debate about historical authenticity, Pai emphatically told me in an interview that "the movie is certainly not real history…our Amar Chitra Katha version is based on authenticity".


It was a revealing comment, this effort to project authenticity, at least his kind of it.


Of course, Amar Chitra Katha has always projected a certain kind of popular history and historians have long turned their noses at it, but what mattered was that people – and parents – believed this version of the story. Tellingly, Pai once told an interviewer that he first realized the impact of his series when he overheard two government servants resolve an argument on a point about the Ramayana by referring to his comic book.


 For over 40 years, Amar Chitra Katha has been the nation's comic: encompassing in its pages debates that have constituted the modern Indian nation. Its future hinges on how it adapts to the changing market but its past is undeniable. This is the legacy of Uncle Pai.



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



The Union finance ministry's Economic Survey 2010-11 offers an upbeat view of the state of the Indian economy and its prospects in the foreseeable future. While the document does raise concerns about potential spoilers like inflation, high levels of fiscal and current account deficits, declining levels of foreign direct investment, global economic conditions, including a spike in oil prices, it tends to portray them as transitory. It would be dangerous to minimise the potential ramifications of these downsides to growth and to that extent the Survey seems a bit too sanguine for comfort. To be sure, India has a lot to celebrate about its recent economic performance. It has been among the few countries to have emerged from the global economic downturn relatively unscathed. Annual economic growth fell below 7 per cent just once in 2008-09, the darkest year of the crisis. The speedy recovery to 8 and 8.6 per cent in the two subsequent years is a tribute to both the resilience of the Indian economy and astute fiscal and monetary policy. It is heartening that savings and investment rates, while lower than the heady pre-crisis levels never fell below 32 per cent of GDP and are now inching their way back to former highs.

 The downsides to growth are nonetheless daunting. Inflation remains the biggest concern, especially with global commodity prices rising again. The Survey offers a masterly overview of the problem and puts forward some interesting hypotheses. Inflation in India is still largely supply driven, particularly with respect to food articles. While a decent rabi and kharif harvest may boost production and lower prices, supply chain bottlenecks and unclear procurement policies could still prevent the full benefit of a bountiful harvest from being realised. The RBI which has positioned itself as a 'first line of defence' against inflation would be forced to hike interest rates only to lower inflationary expectations, thereby setting off a chain of undesirable outcomes, notably a fall in private sector investment. Indeed as highlighted in this space, much of the new 'investment' is infrastructure driven---private sector capacity expansion has been ominously low over the past two years.

The gross fiscal deficit even at 4.8 per cent of GDP is worrisome and already hurting. Fiscal consolidation is an imperative. The 3G & Broadband auctions along with a few successful divestment programs (particularly in Coal India Limited) provided a one-time bonanza in FY 2010-11, but the government will hereafter have to rely on tax revenues, while cutting down on unwanted expenditures to keep the fiscal deficit within bounds. The way forward is through another round of comprehensive reforms. These would include sustained investment in agriculture, tax reform mainly in getting the GST in place, removing administrative hurdles to FDI, and reducing transactions costs that stifle domestic enterprise. Complacency could derail hard earned progress and further weaken the political resolve for tough minded fiscal and economic reform that India needs to sustain and stabilise its growth story.








On the face of it, the railway budget points to an improvement in the operating performance of the organisation in the current year (2010-11), compared to the previous year, with the operating ratio improving by over three percentage points to 92.1. This is still below what was achieved under her predecessor Lalu Prasad, but a slight turnaround nevertheless. However, even this has been wrought at a long term cost to the organisation. Appropriation to the depreciation reserve fund, from which track renewal takes place to secure the safety of rail traffic, has been cut by a fourth in the revised estimates compared to budgetary estimates. Disastrous as last year's results were, they would have been even poorer if the balances in the various railway funds were not run down by over Rs 10,000 crore. What is worse is that in the current year they have been run down further by another Rs 2,000 crore and what must mark a nadir is that in the budget estimates for the next year (2011-12) they are planned to be drawn down even further by another Rs 1,700 crore. Thus the improvement in the operating ratio depicted over the two-year period 2010-12 is quite hollow.


It is also difficult to take the revised figures with certainty in view of what happened last year (2009-10) when the actual gross traffic receipts fell short of the revised figures by a good Rs 1400 crore. Even if 'actuals' do not let 'revised' down, the topline growth has little to recommend itself. Total receipts are set to go up by 9 per cent in a year when nominal GDP is set to go up by 16 per cent. What is more, since the transport sector grows faster than GDP, by 1.25 times, railway revenue should have gone up faster than nominal GDP. As the railways offer concessional rates to bulk and essential commodities, tonnage carried (net tonne km) instead of revenue can be considered. Even by that measure, the growth in the first ten months of the current year is a paltry under 4 per cent when real GDP is set to grow in the whole year by 8.6 per cent. Clearly, the railways are continuing to lose market share.

At a time when the infrastructure deficit of the economy is being highlighted by one and all, running down the railways' physical assets by neglecting adequate replenishment, instead of building them up, needs condemning in the strongest possible terms. Under four different heads of repairs and maintenance, the actual amount spent in the current year (revised estimates) is down from the actual amounts spent in the previous year. This is reflected in physical targets and achievements. In terms of two vital physical parameters — route kilometers electrified and length of tracks renewed —the revised target or achievement is lower than the actual achievement in the previous year. Only construction of new lines is far in excess of what was achieved in the previous year. This underlines the political agenda of railway minister Mamata Banerjee: distribute goodies to all and sundry, including West Bengal where she faces a key election, without safeguarding the long term health of the railways. But should West Bengal worry about Ms Banerjee's administrative abilities? Will she revive the fortunes of this hapless state, or derail them further, like the railways?








Just when most economic analysts were beginning to question the utility of wasting so much paper on an annual official Economic Survey, when so much of the data is now regularly published and comprehensively analysed by so many from quarter to quarter, the Union government's chief economic advisor (CEA) Kaushik Basu has injected new life into an otherwise dull document.


 Last year, when Dr Basu returned from a two-decade hibernation in the groves of an American ivy league institution, to take up his very first assignment in the government, many of New Delhi's number-crunching policy wonks poked fun, asking the game theorist and developmental economist whether he could reel off numbers like fiscal deficit and tax/GDP ratio from memory! A chief economic advisor must not only be au fait with numbers, was their point, but must have his feet on the ground with a grasp of the real world, and forget the cerebral world of theorems and theories.

More than an year into his job, economist Kaushik Basu has had the last laugh. Not only has he demonstrated his fine grasp of the new India that he has returned to analyse and shape, but he has converted a dull book full of numbers and boring facts into an intellectually provocative and exciting document. The finance ministry may not be a master of all that it surveys, but Dr Basu has proved to be a master of his survey of India.

The Survey's first two chapters and the several boxes, reporting results of research both within the ministry and outside, offer a glimpse of the kind of ideas that are shaping policy within the Union finance ministry and, indeed, the higher echelons of the Union government.

Last year, Dr Basu offered us a new way of looking at the problem of subsidies and showed how the strategy of "inclusive growth" can be made fiscally sustainable. This year, Dr Basu offers us a new perspective on inflation and a new index of India's global standing. These two ideas apart, there are several boxes that offer new perspectives on how policy makers may be looking at issues like subsidies, infrastructure policy, management of the balance of payments and social sector programmes.

In his highly readable style, Dr Basu puts forward a credible argument in support of the Survey's view that the economy is back on the "pre-crisis track" of 9.0 per cent growth. It is not just the savings and investment rate, but the learning-by-doing effects of human development and human capital formation, and their impact on labour and capital productivity, along with the underlying favourable demographic transition underway that are driving the India growth story.

The Survey lists three facts that are setting in motion a 'virtuous cycle of growth', and three problems challenging it. On the positive side, first, the new momentum in services sector growth; second, the recovery of savings and investment rates; third, signs of fiscal consolidation. On the downside, first inflation, second, deceleration in industrial growth and, third, rising oil prices.

As ideas go the explanation of the 'learning-by-doing' effects of growth in general, and services sector growth in particular, provide a new perspective on India's growth potential. Reassuringly, Dr Basu tells us, "fortunately, there is awareness of this in India and efforts are afoot in terms of budgetary allocation and actual initiatives to boost the development of skill and human capital."

Two new ideas that stand out are the one on globally induced inflation and the other on India's global standing. Building on existing theories of externally induced inflation, Dr Basu shows the limits of monetary policy in an increasingly globally integrated world where central banks are unable to prevent imported inflation. While India's long term inflation rate in the period 1950 to 1990 was 8.0 per cent, in the decade 1995-2005 it had come down to around 4.0 per cent. For a variety of both domestic and external reasons, that the Survey lists, India may have entered a phase of marginally higher inflation, with the average likely to be around 5.0 per cent in the medium term.

Finally, given my own interests in geo-economics and strategy, I found the Survey's new index of, what it calls, government economic power (IGEP) appealing. It is not clear if the authors of the working paper are familiar with the early work of historian Niall Ferguson (The Cash Nexus: Money and Power in the Modern World, 1700-2000), on defining government power, or of Chinese estimates of comprehensive national power (CNP) and its Indian variant (Index of National Security), but the Survey's new index implicitly draws on all these ideas, and provides a valuable framework for policymaking in the finance ministry.

The core of the argument underlying this index of economic power will be found in the chapter on "Economic Security" in the first ever Strategic Defence Review (SDR) prepared for the Indian government in 2000 by the then National Security Advisory Board. As members of the NSAB, Rakesh Mohan and I wrote that chapter outlining the logic of using economic indicators such as fiscal and external balances, human development indicators, energy and food balances and defence expenditure as indicators of national power.

It is, therefore, heartening to see the finance ministry take the initiative to construct this new index, which is in fact not just an index of 'government' economic power, but of 'national economic power' and, therefore, ought to be renamed as INEP, rather than IGEP.

Every member of Parliament and government must understand the policy implications of this and why India needs a sustainable model of inclusive growth and a globally competitive economy to facilitate its re-emergence as the world's second largest economy. If the finance minister has read his CEA's Survey, we should expect a forward looking budgetary strategy.








As you read this article, the finance minister would be about to release the Union Budget 2011. The press is busy reflecting the views of business and industry lobbies, as they quibble over duty exemptions, insist on financial stimulus and other incentives, and cry for big-ticket reform — foreign direct investment in retail and insurance.

But remember, this Budget is coming at a time when the world food prices are spiralling, this time because of unusual and variable weather events. Oil prices, too, are rising again, triggering fears of a full-blown crisis in West Asia. In this age, it is clear that fiscal prudence must take new forms of balancing books that are not cooked. The Budget must react to this uncertain future. How?

First, it must get serious about agricultural growth. Indian agriculture has suffered because of lack of investment. We talk about infrastructure for industrial growth, but how many times have Budget pundits stopped to check how farmers irrigate their land. If they do, they would find that the bulk of irrigation facilities in the country have been created through private investment — dugwells and tubewells provide water to over 60 per cent of irrigated crops. Farmers have invested money; begged and borrowed from financial institutions and paid hefty interests because of their high risks and lack of benefactors in high places (unlike many industries, where loan default is astoundingly high). The Budget must reflect the need to invest big time into building agricultural security. This is about fiscal prudence, be clear.

Second, let's get serious about paying the real price of growing food, particularly in times of weather uncertainty. The government expenditure increases as the cost of food increases, particularly because of high procurement of food for distribution. In the past, governments have balanced Budgets by squeezing profit margins of food growers so that government or consumers pay less for food. But this policy must change, particularly in times when growing food itself is becoming risky because of erratic weather. One instance of extreme cold, heat, rain or drought can wipe out crops, impoverish people and push them deeper into debt and despair. We need strategies to keep up with these changes.

This will require doing much more and much differently. Farmers must be paid higher price for food. The minimum support price must be raised to the maximum. This price must reflect the ecological cost of food. In other words, crops that use less water must be paid more and included in government's food procurement basket. It also requires investment into ecological regeneration — building soil, forest and water assets — for coping with adverse weather. Ecological prudence must be part of the fiscal responsibility package.

Thirdly, the Budget must build the foundations of social security so that people can cope with uncertainty. This means investment in health, public services and education. We desperately need higher spending on public services. No questions or cuts here.

Fourthly, governance of public-sector spending must also improve; merely spending is not enough. But how can services be efficiently delivered to the people? Impression is created that all will be well once we can identify people who need the service and give them unique, secure passkeys for identification. This may well be important. But in my view it is equally important to fix the broken systems of governance and delivery in the country. The budget must emphasize this and demand accountability.

Fifthly, it is equally important that spending and subsidy are targeted at the poor, and the rich do not siphon them off. Take diesel. Its price is kept low for the poor even in times of high oil prices. But it is being used to drive the vehicles of the rich and powerful. Government's own estimate is that more diesel is used in private passenger vehicles (15 per cent) than in agriculture (12 per cent). This, when we know that there is huge under-recovery in the price of every litre of diesel sold in the country. We also know that the growing and deliberate price differential between petrol and diesel is tempting more Indians to drive fuel-guzzling SUVs. The use of diesel in private automobiles was never mandated.

Instead most in government today will accept that this use is wrong and must not be allowed. But they will do nothing. The "reformers" will talk about withdrawing subsidy on all fuels, while well aware of the fact that a large number of people in India cannot even afford the cheap and subsidized kerosene. The poor need access to subsidised fuel; its diversion to cars is leakage. So target its use and ban its misuse. Budget 2011 can fix this by putting a massive and crippling tax on private vehicles running on subsidized fuel.

Clearly, budget 2011 must do more than what's easy and ordinary. This is the age of uncertainty. Small changes will not do.









 The Budget proposals for fiscal 2011-12 to be announced later today may throw some light on the policy-level thinking about the eternal debate on the relative emphasis between growth and social spending, between the politics of production and the politics of distribution. Jagdish Bhagwati in his Hiren Mukherjee Memorial Parliamentary Lecture in December 2010 emphasised economic growth as the principal means to reduce poverty. On the other hand, Amartya Sen has characterised as "stupid" the aspiration "to double-digit economic growth without addressing the chronic undernourishment of tens of millions of Indians" (Financial Times, December 22, 2010). The prime minister has added his own weighty voice to the debate by saying that, while inflation needs to be curbed, this should not be at the cost of affecting growth. He, along with the Cabinet, has also opposed several proposals from the National Advisory Council for an extension of food security and the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. Though one is in full sympathy with the idealism of the proponents of distributive justice, they need to take into account two points. 


 One, the resources for increased outlays on social programmes can come only through rapid economic growth (while on the point, it seems the prime minister has succeeded in curbing the licence permit raj, re-birthed under the environment ministry). 

Two, and even more crucial, the administrative/managerial resources of the government are nowhere near what are needed to deliver even the existing programmes with a minimum acceptable degree of efficiency and honesty. Larger outlays are unlikely to yield any better outcomes. In fact, reports suggest that in several segments, even the existing allocations in the Budget are not being used. 

Last Monday, I had listed a large number of factors that can lead to major social unrest, as several countries in West Asia have witnessed in recent weeks, and which are equally present in India. Is there any specific factor in the Indian macro economy that could trigger a major problem? To my mind, there is — and it is not minor either. It is the external account of the economy, a point on which I have commented on in my previous columns. In recent weeks, concerns on the subject are being voiced by several weighty policy makers. 

In its report on the economy released last Monday, the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council emphasised the need to stabilise the current account deficit "at a lower level of around 2 to 2.5 per cent of GDP". 

In a speech at the Special Governor's Meet in Japan (Business Standard, February 1), the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) Governor said, "Our reserves comprise essentially borrowed resources, and we are, therefore, more vulnerable to sudden stops and reversals as compared with countries with current account surpluses." 

The RBI's Financial Stability Report (December 2010) cautioned that, "A potentially worrying feature of capital flows to India has been the dominance of portfolio flows and debt flows as compared to the more stable investment flows on a gross basis. Such flows require watchful management as they are prone to sudden stops and reversals ... the ratio of short-term external debt to foreign exchange reserves and of total external debt to foreign exchange reserves having risen to their highest level since the foreign exchange crisis during the early 1990s." 

One is apprehensive that the "potentially worrying feature" may become an actuality in 2011-12, particularly if the crisis in West Asia extends to more oil-producing countries, and the price shoots up. Even otherwise, the merchandise trade deficit is unlikely to be less than 7 to 8 per cent of GDP (it was less than 1 per cent in 2004-05). Remittances could also be adversely affected by the situation in the Gulf countries, and net invisibles actually fell in the first half of the current fiscal year as compared to the corresponding period last year. (In this connection, the export jump in December and January has puzzled me and I am still pondering on the implications.) 

On the capital account, the position is far from reassuring. Foreign direct investment is falling, and the propensity to unilaterally alter or re-interpret contracts invoking "sovereign rights" will not improve the position. A recent JP Morgan research report suggests that the prospects of emerging markets getting larger portfolio inflows in the current year are not very good. And, a Bank of America-Merrill Lynch survey of global investors has found India as the least favoured economy in the Asia-Pacific region. 

It is high time Delhi gave up its complacency on the external front, looking merely at the level of reserves. Financial markets are prone to function in "feedback loops" which tend to exaggerate price movements in either direction. Policy makers also need to be reminded that like the current account, savings and investment in an economy are not independent of the exchange rate; that the deficit also implies loss of huge potential output and jobs. I expect to revert to the issue in the context of the strange pronouncement on exchange rates at the recent G20 Finance Ministers' meeting in Paris.








Settlement Commission which decides on tax dues for individuals who voluntarily disclose large unreported incomes, and the once-in-a-lifetime amnesty from prosecution under section 273(1) of the Income Tax Act. Is the reason overcrowding and uncertainty or, in the case of section 273(1), continuing large financial costs?

Second, how will the government credibly commit to tougher enforcement? To do this effectively the government will need to accelerate the process of international tax and financial reform. In particular renegotiation of, for example, the India-Mauritius tax treaty to reduce round-tripping is incomplete, Mauritius followed by Singapore being the leading sources of "foreign" direct investment in India. It may also consider setting up an International Tax Enforcement unit within the Income Tax Department. In tandem, it could consider removing section 273(1) and the equivalent section in the Direct Taxes Code (DTC) Bill. Further, the Settlement Commission could be refashioned as a forum to settle complicated tax cases as the Wanchoo Committee suggested in 1971.

The third issue, not dealt with here, is the amnesty facilitating foreign financing of terrorism and laundering of profits from activities like drug smuggling and prostitution.

On the design of the amnesty, arguments presented here suggest that a concessional tax rate is unnecessary and that the amnesty can succeed even if the amnesty tax rate is above 30 per cent. This will mitigate discrimination against honest taxpayers. Further, though the amnesty should target illegal foreign funds, it should also allow laundering of domestic black money.

Unfortunately, the finance ministry has tipped its hand prematurely by announcing that it is considering an amnesty. The amnesty will now be anticipated by black wealth holders. Incomplete reforms now or the anticipation effect later will reduce revenue from an amnesty whether it is declared immediately or after further international financial reform.

The writer is Senior Professor and Head, Centre for Economic Research, Goa Institute of Management







The Economic Survey tucks away a little, dirty secret of India's political economy in a box on power sector reform. The losses of state electricity boards, says the Survey, are now about 1% of GDP, which would translate to about . 78,700 crore this year. The government stopped publishing a table on this vital parameter a couple of years ago but the problem has only continued to grow in shade of secrecy. This problem cannot be fixed by the technical fixes endorsed by the Survey: independent regulation, competition in bulk supply along with distribution reform and upward revision of retail tariffs. The problem is not with the power sector understood as electricity. Rather, the problem lies with power, as in politics. Patronage of power theft is still widely perceived as legitimate politics, leaving 35% of all power generated unpaid for. A few states like Gujarat and West Bengal have taken explicit political decisions to stamp out power theft and have reaped rich dividends. Others, including a Congress-ruled state like Delhi, drag their feet in the matter. Political courage has to be found not just to increase tariffs where required, but also to end patronage of all theft of power. Often, industrial units steal power not so much because they cannot pay for it as because they do not want to start off an audit trail that could lead to demands for excise duty payments on whatever is produced using the power consumed, and for tax, subsequently, on the income generated from such production. This makes patronage of power theft subversion not just of the power sector, but of governance in general. The other challenge for the power sector arising from politics is a paucity of coal, even for pit-head plants. Nationalisation of coal is an idea whose time went off into the sunset a long while ago, but lives on to haunt the power sector through avoidable shortage of coal.

The power sector needs yet more political action, in the form of an amendment to the Electricity Act 2003 to create a mechanism to hold state level regulators to account for their errors of omission and commission. At present, if a regulator takes arbitrary decisions that damage power sector reform, there is virtually no redress.








 The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has done well to make the minutes of its Technical Advisory Committee (TAC) on Monetary Policy public. The move, a first for the Bank, provides a small flavour of the complexities that go into framing monetary policy, even if does not dispel any of the mystery. On the contrary, the minutes are couched in such generalities that they give no inkling of the views of the members of the committee. Take, for example, the following: 'The committee expressed concerns about rising inflationary pressures, especially in emerging market economies (EMEs). Rising food prices in the international market, in particular, was a source of worry. Rising food and energy prices could emerge as a major problem in 2011.' What is any reader to make of that? To be sure the TAC, quite unlike the Monetary Policy Committee (MPC) in the Bank of England, has only an advisory role. The governor is free to disregard it. As the former governor of the RBI, Dr Y V Reddy was fond of pointing out, in the Indian context, the buck stops with the governor.

That said, it is not the case that the TAC's voice does not carry weight. All the more reason why the minutes should be more specific and better still, reveal the members' preferences for or against a hike in interest rates, even if there is no formal system of voting as in the UK's MPC. Since the minutes are released with a lag of a month, such disclosure is unlikely to do harm but would bring greater transparency and accountability. It would also strengthen the RBI when it finds itself at odds with the government over monetary policy. Conflicts are inevitable in elected democracies where governments have a much shorter time-frame (usually till the next elections!) than central banks. It is, therefore, important to build institutional mechanisms to ring-fence monetary policy formulation from excessive political influence. Publication of the minutes of the meeting of experts on monetary policy is one such mechanism. The next stage would be to place a more detailed report in the public domain and finally, give the committee some teeth.







The arrest of a PSU boss, his wife and a couple of go-betweens last week and the recovery of 10 solid gold bricks from their bank lockers is, no doubt, further evidence of the malaise called corruption. Taken literally, this endeavour by the wily couple to build their own El Dorado is an ill-advised one given the current climate against such constructions. The lure of gilt-edged securities in times of high inflation is undeniable, but as legality hinges on the interpretations of 'gold bricks', the need to be careful is paramount. There is, to be sure, that age-old Indian habit of hoarding as much gold as possible. But perhaps people also need to be reminded that the term 'goldbricking' has its roots in an apocryphal tale of a con trick in which gilded metal bricks were passed off as solid gold. The pitfalls are obvious.

That syntactical manipulation can also take the offence out of the prosecutable, if not persecutable, ambit these days. As an unsanctioned activity, goldbricking probably has a greater spread than what that couple and their ilk indulge in; it is also on the rise in the workplace thanks to the avenues afforded by technology. Office managements have been wondering how to nip this in the bud, but preventing staffers from slacking off and using internet access for non-work related issues may be counterproductive given evidence that such de-stressing facilities actually improve productivity. So, it cannot be likened to preventing recalcitrant public servants from skimming off public assets and depositing them in b e n a m i bank lockers. While the money allegedly stashed away by Indians in numbered offshore accounts is rumoured to run into mind-boggling billions, goldbricking, the notional billions in systems costs for employers may be money better spent than on guilt-edged bricks.






The GoM to determine the norms for coalmine clearance in reserve forests, largely in tribal areas, and the parallel exercise to give back forest lands to tribals is not about the environment, but about forest policy. The divergence of interests between national use of forests, ecological balance and needs of local people should be recognised. However, the tribal affairs ministry is responsible for the Forest Rights Act and the coal ministry has sought almost mandatory forest clearance to coal blocks it allocates. This approach ignores the conflict of interest inherent in determining forest policy and seeks solutions to the symptoms rather than to the causes of the environmental problem.

The lack of clarity in forest policy is recent. The first national forest policy, in 1894, stipulated that "the claims of agriculture are stronger than the claims of forest preservation". The forest policy of 1952 ensured that the "country as a whole is not deprived of a national asset by the mere accident of a village being situated close to a forest".

The forest policy of 1988 declared environmental stability as the primary goal and also did away with the functional classification of village forests that secured local needs. The debate over how best to manage a common property resource was resolved by the colonial administration through remaining equally responsive to forests as a source of raw material for economic growth and as a source of livelihood for local people. For example, the Forest Settlement of 1917, which reserved large tracts of community forests in Kumaon following widespread protests, led to the Kumaon Forest Grievances Committee in 1922. It recommended reclassification of non-commercial forests and establishment of forest panchayats.

Even at that time, the chief conservator of forests opposed the reclassification, stating that it would hamper conservation of forests. The subsequent government notification ordered that "from a purely forest point of view these remarks are no doubt justified; but the government is convinced that the people of Kumaon would have been satisfied with nothing less".

Working plans prepared by the forest department in 1956 testify that many panchayats were better managed than reserve forests. The government's decision in 1976 to put half of the community forests under the control of the forest department provoked the Chipko Movement in what is now Uttarakhand. A committee of experts was appointed to study conservation of natural resources. The government later stopped felling above 1,000 metres and on slopes steeper than 30 degrees.

We face a similar situation today with the director-general of forests opposing the handing back of community rights of forest resources to tribals, based on the recommendation of an expert committee that this would lead to degradation of forests. This assertion ignores historical evidence that the loss of community ownership breaks the link between the villager and the forest. The superintendent of the Doon noticed the changed attitudes as early as 1897: "Not altogether without reason the villagers believe any self-denial or trouble they may exercise in preserving and improving the village forests will end in appropriation of the forests by the department as soon as they become commercially viable." The first issue for the GoM should be to reclassify reserve forests into community forests and vest their management in the hands of villagers. There should be unrestricted rights for bona fide domestic use and export of timber should not be permitted. Having secured local needs, the forest policy can then seek a balance between environment and development by stipulating how mining should be carried out so that environmental damage to forested areas is minimised. Just as there are standards for point sources of air and water pollution from industry, measurable norms needs to be developed for mining. This is the way it is in all countries, and that is the way it was done here in the past.

 Apolitical initiative is needed because the status report on implementation of the Forest Rights Act for the period ending December 2010 makes dismal reading. For example, in West Bengal, Chhattisgarh and Karnataka, out of 7,805, 4,042, 2,773 claims filed respectively for titles for community rights, only 89, 250 and one tile, respectively, have so far been distributed. If the forest policy is not redefined to reconcile the divergent objectives of the Forest Rights Act and the Forest Conservation Act, problems will arise in implementation. In the face of this inaction, the government is pushing through relocation of forestdwellers from critical wildlife habitats, extending over some 600 national parks, to carve out 'rights free' reserve forests, making an offer of . 10 lakh to vacate the land. Implementation of the forest policy in a manner that ignores local needs will only lead to more discontent and exacerbate the impact of the shift made in 1988 that has assumed an internal security threat and caused the 'Maoist' problem.

The lack of clarity is leading to inconsistency in policy implementation. For example, in the Posco case, non-implementation of the Forest Rights Act was cited as the major reason for not according clearance. Later, the environment ministry cleared the project, stating that it would be satisfied with a certificate from the state government that the Act has been implemented, ignoring the key role of the gram sabha in the process.
Environmental clearance must be transparent and rulebased. The best way forward would be to define sustainability in terms of sustainable human well-being, hand back the forests to tribals to ensure local needs, ban export of timber to secure and develop rules for ecologically balanced mining in these areas.










Visa restrictions and immigration caps are short-term emotions to preserving jobs, but in the long and even medium term, countries will have to promote immigration to fill shortage of people and skills, says Ben Noteboom, CEO and chairman of the world's second largest human resource services firm, Randstad Holding NV, since 2003.

Between now and 2020, he expects huge changes as a large number of baby-boomers retire in the next five years. "It is nothing but emotion; it will disappear fast. Indian immigrants are one of the most productive on an economic value-added basis. Borders of countries will become more fluid, but there will be criteria. It will be good for skilled people," he says. A study done by Randstad with the University of Amsterdam estimates the European Union alone will face a shortage of 32 million people across industries in 2050. This shortage will be purely from quantitative perspective in terms of number of people needed. Qualitatively, the shortage will be much higher, manifesting gradually as economies grow and jobs get more complex.

In this context, cultural sensitivity will not be the major issue. "Cultural adaption should not be much of a problem as long as the workers are skilled. If I am ill, I need someone to take care of me, I don't care for social integration," Noteboom points out. These shortages will have significant consequences for India and China, which will see continued outsourcing, in addition to people immigrating. "We have always seen people moving to work but the work moving to people is 100 times bigger," says Noteboom.

In instances where the work cannot move — such as healthcare-related work — people will move. There are already signs of immigration barriers being relaxed — people from the eastern part of Europe have free entry into Germany. "This will have a big impact, especially on Poland because people don't have to move house but will have 10 times their salary," he says.

But with eastern Europe having one of the worst demographics, migration from eastern Europe will be shortlived, he adds. Similarly, migration from middle and south America will absorb the future needs in the US. Noteboom is responsible for human resources and management development, business concept development, social and general affairs and corporate communications and branding for Randstad in the US, Canada and the UK. There will also be more number of temporary workers because of the flexibility it gives firms, Noteboom says. From being non-existent 10 years ago, there are about 6,00,000 temporary staff in India today. The IT industry, which used have an 80:20 mix of permanent to temporary staff, is now closer to 70:30, reckons Balaji E, president, MaFoi Randstad, Randstad's arm in India. India is the biggest market for Randstad in terms of number of hours invoiced but less than 2% in terms of revenue. On wage inflation witnessed in the Indian IT industry, Noteboom says it is partly because of the rising living cost, apart from scarcity of talent. "In the West and rest of the world, inflation has been exceptionally low for a decade, and as a general trend salaries in IT and finance have increased more than the cost of living."

Randstad's survey shows salaries in India will see an average increase of 9-13%, and in the rest of the world 1-3%. For IT in India, salary increases are likely to be muted with the hikes in high single digits or at best 10%.
One of the reasons for this is that as firms hire in large numbers, even a half percent hike on a large employee base can make big difference to their costs.

Noteboom says that while people expect jobs to pick-up immediately after a recession ends, there is usually a lag between the two. Firms have excess capacity from the recession, which they first utilise before starting to hire from outside.

"We see growth in all the segments in the US, blue-collared, professionals, everywhere. Going by past trends, it is a solid recovery," says Noteboom, who believes there will be no double-dip recession unless there is another country-level failure. Europe is following the US in recovery and Randstad has seen an uptick in bluecollar hiring, which precedes hiring in the professional category.

What does this mean for hiring in India and outsourcing? "The impact is the same as it has always been. Many people talk about economic growth as if it is a competition. If the economies do well, we'll have more work everywhere — in the US, the UK, India, China, Vietnam..." Noteboom sees outsourcing from India evolving from low-end to high value-added work much in the same way that Japan evolved from making cheap cars to high-value, quality products.










 Three ostensibly disparate recent events have left me pondering about a lurking common thread among them: the Egypt uprising, PM's appointment of a Cabinet-rank advisor for skills development and the fifth anniversary of the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS). What could be common among unrest in the Arab world, a seemingly inconspicuous government appointment and a fifth anniversary of a social welfare programme? The answer is youth, employment and employability. Let me explain.
First, the unrest in Egypt. As I watched hundreds of thousands of people protesting against incumbency and demanding change, the inescapable observation was that a large percentage of these protestors are youth. More than the outcome of the rebellion, I was intrigued by the causes that led to the Tahrir Square demonstration and it is evident that changing demographics of Egypt with its large youth population played a crucial role in the timing of this unrest.

On February 1, the Prime Minister appointed S Ramadorai, former chief of Tata Consultancy Services, as his advisor on skills development. As our country continues to expand its share of youth population with an expected average age of 29 years by the year 2020, it becomes imperative that we create a fertile environment with productive jobs for the youth. In this context, the Prime Minister's appointment of a person of the calibre of Ramadorai to focus on skills development is heartening.

The unilateral success of MGNREGS lies in the fact that it has provided the much-needed cushion to withstand wagerelated shocks to the poor majority of our country. With the MGNREGS providing the basic protection, the next challenge that beckons us is to provide industry-employable skills to these large MGNREGS beneficiaries that will boost their income levels. As the Chinese saying goes, "to give a man a fish is to feed him for a day, to teach him how to fish is to feed him for life".

The impetus provided by our 7%+ GDP growth over the past few years in job creation is commendable. However, I am reminded constantly by corporate India that we do not have an unemployment problem but an unemployability problem, i.e., a lot of our workforce is unemployable in industry due to lack of skills. And I witness this first-hand almost on a daily basis in my constituency — the rising number of both jobs and people looking for jobs. This gap between the demand for skilled labour and the available supply is already large and rising further. This gap needs to be bridged hastily. Based on my experience in running youth employability initiatives in my South Mumbai constituency, I see three main issues that need to be addressed for us to bridge this skills gap in the country: training capacity, funding for training and urban migration.

If we have to provide employable skills in such large numbers and within a timeframe before the population ages, it is evident that there needs to be a manifold increase in training capacity, much beyond the nearly 2,000 industrial training institutes (ITIs) and the nearly 5,000 industrial training centers across the country. This increase in capacity can be contributed by both the private sector as well as the government. The biggest bottleneck seems to be one of funding. Most highquality training programmes require students to be in class fulltime for two-three months and this becomes unaffordable for the vast majority of the poor both in terms of opportunity costs of time as well as the fees required by the private sector training institutes. Here, the solution could be for the government to act as financiers for the needy and provide training vouchers or its equivalent that can be encashed at any of the training institutes. The third issue is one of urban migration since a significant percentage of the jobs generated still tend to be in urban, tier-1 and 2 towns. If the government and the private sector come together to solve the first two issues and create large pools of skilled and trained workers, I implore the private sector to go to non-urban towns to set up businesses and provide local jobs, thereby easing the pressures of urban migration.

The finance minister, in his Budget speech of 2008-09, had announced the formation of the National Skills Development Corporation as a unique public-private partnership model with a mandate to provide skills training to 50 crore people by the year 2022. Now, with the appointment of a person from the corporate world to oversee skills development, there is great hope and enthusiasm in achieving this target.

I certainly do not allude to a risk of an Egypt-style uprising in our country, given the inherent strengths of our democracy and strong institutions that foster participative democracy at multiple levels. And I share the hopes of the millions of this country that we will overcome this daunting unemployability challenge and provide productive jobs to hundreds of millions of youth in the years to come.

(The author is a member of Parliament. The article is written with inputs from Praveen Chakravarty of Unique Identity Authority of India)




                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



It is just as well that India went along with the UN Security Council's decision late Saturday night to impose fairly stringent sanctions on Libya. This is the first major international crisis that the UNSC has been forced to deal with on an emergency basis since India joined the Council as a non-permanent member on January 1 this year. Some might have expected New Delhi to take a somewhat noncommittal stand in line with its traditional disposition to waver when faced with tricky situations involving so-called "nonaligned" countries. That it did not do so is to be welcomed. The vote in the 15-member body was unanimous. The sanctions are essentially targeted against that country's brutal dictator, Col. Muammar Gaddafi, who ordered the shooting of his own people, as well as some of his closest advisers. An arms embargo has also been imposed to prevent the regime getting weapons illegally, which could be placed in the hands of international mercenaries for use against the thousands protesting in the streets. There were reportedly some doubts that the UNSC seeking a war crimes investigation into "widespread and systematic attacks" against Libyan citizens, and referring the Gaddafi government to the International Criminal Court for prosecution, might be scuppered by China, a permanent member of the UNSC, wielding a veto. However, with the Libyan delegation at the UN defecting to the Opposition and calling the Gaddafi regime "fascist", the Chinese probably had second thoughts if indeed they had contemplated opposing the ICC referral. It is not entirely clear that this country was uncomfortable with the idea of the referral. Perhaps more on the subject will be known in due course. For now, it is good to know that the Indian stance has been to oppose the Gaddafi regime on account of its military attacks against its own protesting citizens. The political situation in Libya is evolving and the time may come for the UN to assume the responsibility to protect its people from the regime. In that event too, New Delhi would do well to go along with the idea, which is consistent with stopping Col. Gaddafi in his bloodied tracks. The issue of an outright civil war in Libya and the division of the country are still in the realm of speculation and will call for deliberations based on the facts of the situation as it emerges. Nevertheless, as a UNSC member, New Delhi needs to keep a close watch on Libyan developments based on its own reporting, rather than rely wholly on the information channels of others. Despatching Indian warships to Libya to bring back our citizens stranded there and flying out hundreds of Indians from that North African country on an immediate basis shows that we acted with despatch. Indian ships of war do not have a history of venturing out other than to tackle piracy in the Horn of Africa under international aegis, or for the purposes of naval diplomacy. The last time they left their anchorage to enter foreign waters was to help neighbours in the Indian Ocean deal with the aftereffects of the 2004 tsunami.






The Union Budget 2011 will be presented in Parliament today. Naturally an important day for every citizen of our country, whose life will be directly impacted by the schemes and taxes and proposals in the Budget. There can be no doubt, however, that the most severely impacted in every section of society, notwithstanding class, creed and income, will be women.

It has been calculated — and this is stark reality — that until now, per capita allocation for women's schemes is 6.1 per cent of the total Budget, which works out to `1,200 per woman, per annum, which, according to a striking account, is not even enough to feed one woman for one month, leave alone feed her or sustain her for 12 months.

The gender budgeting statement (GBS) analysis has been released by the Centre for Budget and Governance Accountability (CBGA) and according to this analysis the per capita allocation for women increased from `410 in 2007-2008 to `1,000 in 2009-2010 and to `1,200 in 2011. This data, of course, relates only to wholly women-oriented schemes and does not take into account other general schemes where women benefit directly as citizens, not as women per se.

CBGA has also raised some very important issues, the most striking of which is the proposition that the discussion in regard to gender budgeting should move on from the standard demand for more funds and allocation to a holistic consideration of how gender responsive all schemes are.

After all, if the concept of a social security net and economic inclusion of women is to be translated into reality, the government's primary consideration in this regard should be to assess the gender impact of all schemes and reshape implementation accordingly. To quote Subrat Das: "To assume that the cost of bringing and retaining a girl child in school is the same as for a boy child is being gender blind."

The above statement is in a sense at the heart of the issue. The girl child in our country is no ordinary person. In every rural and many urban homes, she assumes great responsibility at a very young age and begins to cook, clean and take care of her younger siblings, while her mother goes out to the fields to work. When she is a little older, she goes out to work along with her mother, whether in the fields or as domestic labour or in a garment factory, while her brother is probably being sent to school. All this is done by custom and nobody thinks that anything is at all remarkable in this, but the fact of the matter is that young girls in our country are being deprived arbitrarily of their childhood, their right to education and their right to a secure future by social customs and a hierarchy that is unashamedly patriarchal in nature.

Any attempt to change the hierarchy is naturally met with great resistance by village elders who do not ever want to disturb a domestic balance of power where women and young girls function as captive labour by the diktat of a male-oriented society and by social fiat are deprived of their most basic constitutional rights.

Obviously, therefore, the economic cost of getting a girl to school will be far greater and very different from the cost of getting a boy into school and the government will have to factor this into calculations, if the Right to Education is to be implemented without gender bias.

The saga of constitutionally-guaranteed liberties and laws in favour of women, which gather dust on the shelf, are too well known to be repeated here. The Budget is a crucial time when women as a group have to be adequately provided for, if we are to call ourselves a gender sensitive society.

It is a matter of great satisfaction to all of us that it was the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which first introduced the practice of including a GBS along with the main Budget document. This statement shows the total allocation for both women specific schemes as well as the allocation for general schemes, which have a 30 per cent women component plan.

In 2005-06, 10 ministries of the government prepared gender budget statements and the total allocation for women amounted to 2.8 per cent of government expenditure. In 2006-07, 18 ministries released gender budget statements and allocations increased to 5.1 per cent of the total expenditure. Today, the amount stagnates at 5.3 per cent of the total. It is to be sincerely hoped that the finance minister will take very seriously the representations made by women all over the country and increase allocation made for women specific schemes. Further the funds allocated for children should not be shown as allocation for women. Children are the concern of the entire nation and it would be unfair to both children and women to always put them in a category with expenditure incurred on schemes for women.

It is an axiomatic reality that the bedrock of good governance lies in gender mainstreaming and gender responsive Budgets and welfare schemes. It is equally true that this cannot possibly be achieved, unless government collates very seriously gender specific, disaggregated data so that information regarding how much money allocated to women actually reaches the beneficiaries it is intended for.

Therefore, if gender budgeting is to be sincerely implemented, the most important requirement is the collection of gender-specific and disaggregated data. It should also be mandatory for every single ministry of the Government of India to prepare and release its gender budget statement along with the general budget.

Women groups have made very specific and urgent requests to the finance minister for this year's Budget. First that there should be adequate allocation to provide infrastructure to implement the Protection Of Women from Domestic Violence Act. Second, that a high-level task force should be appointed to review the working of micro-finance institutions and women self-help groups, which have run into stormy waters in recent times.

Third, that there should be allocation to set up a national task force to provide for relief and rehabilitation for women in conflict zones, and also there should be allocation of funds to set up fast track courts to decide cases relating to rape and other atrocities against women.

The UPA, under president Sonia Gandhi, remains firmly committed to the empowerment of women. The women of this country look forward to good news in the Budget.

* Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson.
The views expressed in thiscolumn are her own.






One could not help but agree with the Italian government when it formally requested that Brazil extradite Cesare Battisti, a onetime member of the Armed Proletarians for Communism who was convicted in 1993 of four counts of murder committed in the 1970s. And I think this support should hold even for those who may believe that Battisti was the victim of a miscarriage of justice.

Because it is not up to the Brazilian government to decide whether there was a miscarriage of justice — unless it wants to declare publicly and formally that Italy at the time of Battisti's conviction was, and still is, a dictatorial apparatus that rides roughshod over the political and civil rights of its citizens. The extradition request is decidedly valid, because we can assume that Battisti's conviction represented the exercise of justice on the part of a democratic state and an independent judiciary. What's more — for anyone who may have reasons to distrust Silvio Berlusconi's administration — the judiciary made its ruling at a time when Berlusconi was still a private citizen.

Hence asking for Battisti's extradition signifies a defence of the Italian judiciary's integrity, in which case every citizen of Italy ought to agree with the government's decision.

"Well done, Mr Berlusconi", we might be tempted to say. "Your conduct in this matter is impeccable." But when the judiciary initiated criminal proceedings against that very same Prime Minister Berlusconi — not by handing down two life sentences in prison, as with Battisti, but in merely summoning him to defend himself against an accusation that may prove groundless, while protecting him with all due legal guarantees — why did Berlusconi not only refuse to appear before the judges but go so far as to challenge their right to even hear his case?

Is he suddenly trying to show solidarity with Battisti in the common task of delegitimising the Italian judiciary? Is he perhaps preparing to emigrate to Brazil to request the same protection that has been afforded to Battisti, against the alleged illegitimacy of Italy's judicial system? Or, if Berlusconi believes that the judges who convicted Battisti were indeed honourable in their decision, and that their dignity should be defended in order to preserve Italy's honour, does he believe that the judge hearing his own particular case, Ilda Boccassini, is not an honourable person — thus applying a double standard? Can it be that the system is honourable and upright when it convicts Battisti, but dishonourable and unprincipled when its members make inquiries into Ruby Rubacuori, a would-be starlet who was allegedly a minor when she attended parties at one of Berlusconi's homes?

Berlusconi's defenders will say that Battisti is wrong to evade Italian justice, because in his heart he knows he is guilty, while Berlusconi has every right to do the same, because in his heart he believes himself to be innocent. Just how much water does this argument hold?

Those making that argument seem not to have considered a certain text with which anyone who attended high school — including Berlusconi — ought to be familiar: Plato's Crito. For the benefit of any readers who may have forgotten the book, this is the premise: Socrates has been condemned to death (unjustly, as Socrates and the reader both know), and he is in prison awaiting his cup of poison hemlock. He receives a visit from his pupil Crito, who tells him that everything is ready for Socrates' escape. The young man uses every possible argument to persuade the philosopher that he has not only a right but also a duty to avoid an unjust death.

But Socrates reminds Crito of a simple truth — one that ought to be the stance of any decent man facing the majesty of the laws: By living in Athens and enjoying all the rights of a citizen there, Socrates has implicitly recognised the worth of those laws, and if he dared to denounce them once they began to act against his interests, he would be contributing to their delegitimisation and destruction. We cannot take advantage of the law only when it works in our interests, and then reject it when it dictates a decision we don't like; we have made a pact with the law, and that pact cannot be violated on a whim.

Note that Socrates was not a man of government; if he had been, he would have had to say even more — namely that, if he felt he had the right to simply disregard the laws he did not like, then as a man of government he could no longer reasonably expect anyone else to obey the laws that they did not like, whether that meant running red lights, refusing to pay taxes, robbing banks or abusing minors.

Socrates did not make that last argument, of course, but his larger point remains nonetheless noble, sublime, granitic.

* Umberto Eco's most recent book is On Ugliness. He is also the author of international bestsellers Baudolino, The Name of the Rose and Foucault's Pendulum, among others.

By arrangement with the New YorkTimes






Banking on Bhagat Singh

More than 80 years after he was martyred, Shaheed Bhagat Singh seems to be inspiring all hues of Punjabi politicians preparing for the Assembly polls early next year. Akali rebel Manpreet Badal, for one, has rediscovered patriotism with the great martyr as his posthumous mentor in his campaign to jagao (reawaken) Punjab.

His estranged cousin and deputy chief minister, Sukhbir Badal, has also clambered onto the new Bhagat Singh bandwagon by rechristening the state games as the "Shaheed-e-azam Bhagat Singh Punjab Games", and including traditional rural sports like kabaddi, dangal (wrestling) and tug-of-war. Also, reinventing the martyr as a truly desi youth icon, Capt. Amarinder Singh and the Punjab Congress are working hard to stage their biggest ever show at Khatkar Kalan — Bhagat Singh's birthplace — this March 23, which will be the 80th anniversary of his martyrdom.

Whether all these will pay any electoral dividends is yet to be seen.

High-fliers anonymous

Many have got free rides in state government-owned aircraft and helicopters, but Madhya Pradesh chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan refuses to divulge their names. In a reply to a question in the Assembly, Mr Chouhan said he has the discretionary power to grant permission for a free ride to any dignitary "in the public interest". The reply also states that no record is maintained of persons accompanying the chief minister in these aircraft.

The officiating Leader of the Opposition, Choudhary Rakesh Singh Chaturvedi, quipped that Mr Chouhan should at least reveal the names of his co-passengers so that citizen could know the names of the high-fliers associated with the CM. In a rather acerbic comment, he also said recording of names is also important to identify passengers in the event of a crash. Surely Mr Chouhan was not amused.

Durbar extraordinaire

Press meets conducted by an additional director-general of police of Mumbai can easily be compared to the Deewan-e-aam and Deewan-e-khaas darbars of Emperor Akbar sans the grandeur. While dope on topical news stories is given to a battery of reporters, the Deewan-e-aam, the juicy tidbits are only savoured by a chosen few at the Deewan-e-khaas. Notwithstanding the crowd, enterprising reporters have invented their own ways of extracting confirmations or denials for their stories from the officer. While a few go close and whisper their query in his ear, others write them on chits and the ADGP without any kind of expression scribbles his answer.

This makes the hoi polloi among the reporters wring their hands in frustration.

Showing the way

Maharashtra home minister R.R. Patil has complained recently that courts as well as the administrative tribunal were reinstating corrupt police officers who are being shunted out of the department. "If action is taken against any officer, that officer goes to MAT and brings a stay order", he said, shaking his head in desperation. "In short, officers misuse the law. Therefore there is a need to change the law that protects them."

One wag said Mr Patil needs to be reminded that two years ago, he was also shunted out from the post of home minister for his faux pas in the wake of the 26/11 terror attack.
However, he was reinstated as home minister within a year without facing any inquiry. Perhaps cops are inspired by this.

Almanac and ambitions
The 28th edition of the Assamese almanac Kalpurush Purnanga Panjika has created a stir in the Congress by predicting that chief minister Tarun Gogoi, will retire from politics in the Assamese New Year, which starts on April 14. Many Congress leaders are now angling for the top post and admit privately that they were "inspired" by the predictions of the almanac.

However, things may not be so easy for them as the almanac also predicts that political life in the state would be filled with upheavals and that many stalwarts are going to lose in the coming Assembly elections. So the CM hopefuls are desperately calling up the fortune-tellers and astrologers associated with almanacs to check if they would lose the polls.

Very hot welcome

Rajasthan health minister Rajkumar Sharma had a "chilling" experience when he visited his constituency of Navalgarh in Jhunjhunu district. A group of people came towards him pretending to greet him and all of sudden, one of them threw chilli powder in his eyes. No need to say that it was shocking and painful for Mr Sharma.

The local police has identified a sarpanch and his supporters as being behind the attack on the minister. The assailant was dressed as a woman. Mr Sharma won on a BSP ticket and subsequently joined the ruling Congress. This annoyed the BSP leaders much and they are now openly lauding the attackers. "He threw sand into the eyes of the public and they threw chilli powder into his eyes", said a BSP leader.

Poll-eve battles

Two Congress MPs in Uttar Pradesh — P.L. Punia and Beni Prasad Varma — are now fighting a shadow war. Last week Mr Punia, who heads the National Commission for Scheduled Castes, inaugurated an auditorium in Gonda, the constituency of Mr Varma.

Mr Varma, now the minister of state for steel with independent charge, was irked by this "intrusion" on his home turf and got his supporters to remove the plaque. Mr Punia promptly retaliated by organising a dalit adalat in Gonda.

While Mr Varma commands considerable clout among Kurmis, a powerful OBC caste group in UP, Mr Punia is emerging as the dalit face of the party. The Congress, obviously, cannot ignore either of these groups. All it can do is pray that the rivalry fizzles out before the polls.






In the orient, the feet with extremely opposite interpretations present a powerful and invincible culture. On the one hand, they are looked down upon and on the other, paradise lies at feet of the mother, where touching the feet is like according the highest respect to another. They are not to be pointed at people you respect or extended towards a sacred place. For example, you don't sleep with them turned in the direction of Kaaba.

Being barefoot signifies shedding your ego, your defences, being receptive, being in a state of utmost respect and submission. All healing of the mind, body and soul comes from the feet in the orient, which the occident is slowly discovering for itself. The body has a complex network of invisible energy channels through which Chi, the vital energy of life travels. Every thing is energy. Life is receiving and directing energy. Energy becomes anything. From aura to product. From power to wealth. Energy manages human beings and resources. Energy takes you into a virtual world. You become someone you are not. You bring people to life.

On the spiritual plane energy is ethereal and invisible. It is born out of surrender and submission. It charges you beyond human conception and comprehension. It is the only form of energy that is accessible to all. Like air and water it comes free of cost. It comes from a deep inner peace.

The concept of physical cleanliness and physiological wellness to manifest itself in a spiritual way has never come together so strongly as in being barefoot. Any space which is considered sacred where human beings congregate to receive a charge or a blessing has to be visited barefoot. Homes in every evolved Indian culture from Kerala to Kashmir are all barefoot areas. All mandirs, mosques and dargahs are barefoot zones.

There has to be a religious and spiritual significance to it. Human beings relate differently to each other if they meet each other without shoes. They surrender to each other unconditionally. They relate to each other without the baggage of their egos.

The equation of respect and reverence subconsciously steps in between the host and the guest. These time-tested socially-designed norms created the culture of co-existence. No eastern classical dance is performed with shoes, no song is sung with shoes on. It needs a spiritual connect with the soil on which it is going to be performed, form which energy is going to pour forth. It needs to have the triangular connect with the performer, the Divine and the audience.

The foot has a point for every organ and every single function in the human system. The Western culture, with its shoes on that symbolise status, and purpose make it impossible to take them out even when they visit a church. They feel they have been stripped of their identity if they are to do so. Even people of the orient styled in Western attire begin to feel the same way and particularly in high heels with even Indian attire like a sari. Your will to live is the cause of all cures. Only positive thinking conquers all adversity. Conquest of your mind is the conquest of all metabolic processes going on in your system. And all this comes from the continuity of cultures, a way of living, control of your energy meridians, traditions of healing in which everything begins and ends with your feet.

— Muzaffar Ali is a filmmaker and painter. He is the Executive Director and Secretary of the Rumi Foundation. He can be contacted at [1]








ON the final day of its final session before dissolution and election, the Kerala Assembly on Thursday unanimously passed the trail-blazing Plachimada Coca-Cola Victims Relief and Compensation Bill, 2011, enabling victims of the Coca-Cola bottling plant at Plachimada in Palakkad district of Kerala to be adequately compensated for the ecological damage caused by it.  Based on the "polluter pays principle," the high-level, three-member expert committee headed by Additional Chief Secretary, K Jayakumar. held the beverage unit liable to pay Rs 216.16 crore for damages caused.  The committee found "compelling evidence to conclude that Hindustan Coca-Cola Beverages Private Limited (a subsidiary of Atlanta, USA, based Coca-Cola Company) has caused serious depletion of Plachimada's water resources and has severely contaminated the water and soil." The committee concluded the company was responsible for these damages and it was obligatory that it compensate the affected people for agricultural losses, health problems, loss of wages, loss of educational opportunities, and to the pollution caused to the water resources. This last legislation of the Left Democratic Front government led by VS Achuthanandan of the CPI-M was the result of a prolonged people's struggle which saw the closure of the bottling plant in March 2004, and an almost three-year-long exercise to quantify the damages caused.  The new law provides for the constitution of a three-member tribunal to be chaired by a person in the rank of a district judge, an expert member and an administrative member. While passing any award or order, the tribunal shall apply the principle of sustainable development, precautionary principle and the polluter pays principle.  Once the compensation is awarded, the company shall deposit the entire amount with the tribunal.

Although Hindustan Coca-Cola said the Kerala legislation was "devoid of facts and scientific data," it should serve as a powerful reminder to multinational corporations across the country that there are severe repercussions for reckless exploitation of natural resources and causing irreparable damage to environment. The Kerala government's action has come as a morale booster to the community-led campaign against the company's bottling units in Kala Dera in Rajasthan and Mehdiganj in Uttar Pradesh.  The Plachimada Coca-Cola plant was set up in an area of 34 acres of land classified as arable. Extraction of more than five lakh litres of groundwater daily had upset the natural balance and adversely affected water supply to people in the surrounding villages who were predominantly agricultural workers. Metals like cadmium, chromium and lead were effluents from the factory and caused skin as well as respiratory problems to several people in the area. Unlike the Manmohan Singh government in Delhi, which allowed massive environmental degradation and displacement of poor people, mostly tribal, from their traditional habitat in the name of industrial development, the LDF government in Kerala must be applauded for its policy of sustainable development and taking on the mighty Coca-Cola Corporation for damages.



WHETHER a letter from the minister for environment and forest to two states equates with reading the Riot Act is a matter of argument. What cannot be disputed, however, is the "murder" of the Yamuna by both Haryana and Delhi although "slow poisoning" might be a more accurate description of what has been taking place over the past couple of decades. The putrid condition of the river as it flows ~ a filthy trickle at the best of times ~ through the Capital has long been an "issue." Countless have been the photo-ops Sheila Dikshit has offered, but the clean-up effort comes to a halt moments after the chief minister and TV crew depart. What causes some surprise is that Jairam Ramesh got into the act only after the enhanced ammonia levels in the water Delhi "received" from Haryana forced a shutdown of two treatment plants in the Capital and caused many a tap to run dry, including those in Parliament House. Industrial effluent entering the river in Haryana and the same along with massive quantities of untreated sewage in the Capital have made a lethal cocktail of what passes as the sacred waters of the Yamuna.


So the blame-game that followed the shutdown of the waterworks last December and a few days ago is pointless. The authorities in both states were aware of what was developing, indeed they contributed to it. All the fuss the Delhi government made over what it received at the Wazirabad and Chandrawal plants would be rendered ridiculous by the quality of water as the river re-enters Haryana. Will Jairam Ramesh's "concern" accelerate processes that have been on paper for years, in Delhi anyway? He will find no alibi in "politics": both states are Congress-ruled, indeed his leadership quality and persuasive powers are on test. With a little luck he might even make a "hero" of himself should the Yamuna revive. Luck, however, is what Sheila Dikshit enjoyed. The deluge during the monsoon facilitated her performing a salvage mission at the CWG village, the flood also averted the true state of the Yamuna adding to other factors that made a joke of her "world class city" bragging. But as the impact of the 2010 monsoon literally becomes "water under the bridge" one of the greatest of her failures comes into prominence again. The Yamuna will call her bluff.



TWO important departments of the West Bengal government cut a sorry figure during last Thursday's public discourse on maternal mortality rates. The short point, which itself mirrors the ineptitude of the health and backward classes departments, is that the government has not updated data for the past ten years. It was only too obvious that neither the doctor-turned health minister, Surjya Kanta Mishra, nor SK Nurul Haque, principal secretary of the backward classes department, had bothered to engage in the minimum of spadework before addressing the convention. In the net, the audience at Science City auditorium was treated to a public spat on an issue that concerns women and child development, a critical index of welfare. The bureaucrat need not have advanced dated data; if the scenario in 2001 was dismal, it is far worse today. And the minister, visibly embarrassed as he was with the figures, could have stopped short of trashing "statistical data as useless and often manipulated".  What precisely is "useful", may we ask? The perception of the government and the party?  While maternal mortality rates have gone up in rural Bengal, the "institutional delivery" has registered a sharp decline, one that the secretary has attributed to poor transport, absence of 24-hour emergency services and no less crucially, the lack of political will. Altogether, the convention turned out to be a rare instance of a minister and important party functionary being caught on the wrong foot by a bureaucrat. Hopefully, the loyalist tactic of thoughtlessly echoing the political master is nearing its end. Altogether again, it reflects the sloth that plagues public health services in the rural areas... of a kind that explains the department's failure to update vital data. The crisis can only deepen with the government giving up its plan to open hospitals in Malda, Murshidabad and North 24-Parganas as doctors have refused to serve in the districts. To put it bluntly, as we must, the attitude of Dr Mishra's health department has been wimpish in the extreme.








THE hike in petrol prices by oil companies has hit the common man hard. The masses, reeling under hyper-inflation, are feeling helpless. The consumption of petroleum products cannot be compared with that of any other commodity. An increase in fuel prices raises the cost of transport, both freight and passenger, the running cost of industries, and the overall energy bill. Clearly, any rise in the prices of raw materials for industry will result in an increase in the prices of goods and services produced by the same.

Petro companies have for the time being spared diesel and LPG prices, but this relief is temporary. It implies that sooner or later freight and passenger fares will also  increase. The rise in the cost of living because of higher expenditure on transport and the cost of operating industries may aggravate the inflationary pressures.
The increase in fuel prices is not a new phenomenon. The new feature is that previously petro prices were administered by the government; but since June 2010 the price level is determined by the companies. This calibration is called 'determined prices'. These companies had  effected a 5.6 per cent hike in the price of petrol in December 2010. Within a month, they announced an increase by another 5 per cent, resulting in an effective increase by nearly Rs 6 per litre in just one month. However, the price of diesel has not been changed, but these companies have signalled that the cost of diesel and LPG will also go up in due course of time.

Prior to June 2010, the government used to administer petroleum prices, which would be revised once or twice every year. But the hike was never so frequent and so substantial in a particular year. And there were instances when petroleum prices were even reduced with the fall in crude prices in the international market. More important is the fact that the Central government never provided a huge government subsidy in its endeavour to keep petro-prices under check. Petroleum companies were told to issue oil bonds to compensate their losses in the event of high crude prices internationally. Everybody knows that oil prices do not remain static in the international market. Last year, oil prices rallied between $64 and $90. If we take the past two years into account, the highest price of crude in the international market was recorded at $147; it touched a low price of $34.57. This means that by selling at a loss at one point in time, when international crude prices are higher and compensating the loss by issuing oil bonds, does not mean loss in the long run. The oil companies could redeem these bonds as and when they had a surplus when international crude prices plummeted.
On the whole these companies were earning a profit, though their profits were not very huge under the administered price regime. But they were also not a liability on the public exchequer.

In an attempt to justify its earlier decision to allow companies to fix petro-prices, the government claims that because of state control and the effort to keep the price of diesel, petrol and LPG under check, petroleum companies were incurring huge losses and the government was not in a position to compensate them. In the government's reckoning, these companies may still incur losses because they will charge lower prices for diesel and kerosene. The government claims that as crude oil prices continue to rise and consumption of petro-products is ever so high, the losses of these petro-companies may rise further.  The only way, therefore, to save these companies from losses is to allow them to determine the cost plus prices.

But the arguments of the government do not hold much water. These companies have been making huge profits in the past. For instance, in the year 2008-09, ONGC earned a net profit of Rs 16,041 crore, GAIL Rs 2814 crore and Indian Oil  Rs 2570 crore.  This was incidentally the year in which the highest-ever crude prices were recorded in the international market.  There is little logic in the government's argument that the new  arrangement has been put in place to save petro companies from huge losses. On the contrary, because of the increasing demand of these petro products, the government has always gained significantly by way of taxes. These taxes are in the form of excise duty, VAT and so on. These companies also provide dividend to the government from their profits in proportion to the Centre's shareholding.  According to the provisional estimates of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, the contribution of the oil sector to the Central and state exchequer has been a booming Rs 183,861 crore in 2009-10. Therefore, the government ought not to be reluctant if it has to occasionally compensate for the losses of petro-companies.

The government's argument that it was providing a huge subsidy to keep petro-prices low is not correct. During 2009-10, when high crude prices were recorded, the Central government's subsidy was only Rs 14954 crore, whereas a provision of only Rs 3108 crore has been kept for 2010-11. This subsidy is mainly for kerosene, diesel and LPG. The government has promised to continue the subsidy on these commodities. Therefore, the burden on the exchequer will persist.

If we examine the loans raised by oil companies by way of bonds, we can ascertain that the total value of the loans raised by them was only Rs 10306 crore, as per the revised estimates for 2009-10. Therefore, the story of a burden on the exchequer to the tune of Rs 70,000 due to low administered prices seems to be exaggerated.
The policy of administered prices is not causing any major problem for the oil companies or the government. As regards the public sector oil companies,  they can obviously be expected to forego a part of their profits to ensure the 'public good', namely, keeping petro-prices low. The government can also be expected to shell out a part of its  revenue from this source to compensate occasional losses suffered by the oil companies. Yes, private petro companies are definitely benefiting from the new policy. It is imperative for the government to reflect on its  petro-price policy and re-introduce the earlier system of administered prices to save the common man from a fresh spurt of inflation.

The writer is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi







THE hike in petrol prices by oil companies has hit the common man hard. The masses, reeling under hyper-inflation, are feeling helpless. The consumption of petroleum products cannot be compared with that of any other commodity. An increase in fuel prices raises the cost of transport, both freight and passenger, the running cost of industries, and the overall energy bill. Clearly, any rise in the prices of raw materials for industry will result in an increase in the prices of goods and services produced by the same.

Petro companies have for the time being spared diesel and LPG prices, but this relief is temporary. It implies that sooner or later freight and passenger fares will also  increase. The rise in the cost of living because of higher expenditure on transport and the cost of operating industries may aggravate the inflationary pressures.
The increase in fuel prices is not a new phenomenon. The new feature is that previously petro prices were administered by the government; but since June 2010 the price level is determined by the companies. This calibration is called 'determined prices'. These companies had  effected a 5.6 per cent hike in the price of petrol in December 2010. Within a month, they announced an increase by another 5 per cent, resulting in an effective increase by nearly Rs 6 per litre in just one month. However, the price of diesel has not been changed, but these companies have signalled that the cost of diesel and LPG will also go up in due course of time.
Prior to June 2010, the government used to administer petroleum prices, which would be revised once or twice every year. But the hike was never so frequent and so substantial in a particular year. And there were instances when petroleum prices were even reduced with the fall in crude prices in the international market. More important is the fact that the Central government never provided a huge government subsidy in its endeavour to keep petro-prices under check. Petroleum companies were told to issue oil bonds to compensate their losses in the event of high crude prices internationally. Everybody knows that oil prices do not remain static in the international market. Last year, oil prices rallied between $64 and $90. If we take the past two years into account, the highest price of crude in the international market was recorded at $147; it touched a low price of $34.57. This means that by selling at a loss at one point in time, when international crude prices are higher and compensating the loss by issuing oil bonds, does not mean loss in the long run. The oil companies could redeem these bonds as and when they had a surplus when international crude prices plummeted.
On the whole these companies were earning a profit, though their profits were not very huge under the administered price regime. But they were also not a liability on the public exchequer.

In an attempt to justify its earlier decision to allow companies to fix petro-prices, the government claims that because of state control and the effort to keep the price of diesel, petrol and LPG under check, petroleum companies were incurring huge losses and the government was not in a position to compensate them. In the government's reckoning, these companies may still incur losses because they will charge lower prices for diesel and kerosene. The government claims that as crude oil prices continue to rise and consumption of petro-products is ever so high, the losses of these petro-companies may rise further.  The only way, therefore, to save these companies from losses is to allow them to determine the cost plus prices.

But the arguments of the government do not hold much water. These companies have been making huge profits in the past. For instance, in the year 2008-09, ONGC earned a net profit of Rs 16,041 crore, GAIL Rs 2814 crore and Indian Oil  Rs 2570 crore.  This was incidentally the year in which the highest-ever crude prices were recorded in the international market.  There is little logic in the government's argument that the new  arrangement has been put in place to save petro companies from huge losses. On the contrary, because of the increasing demand of these petro products, the government has always gained significantly by way of taxes. These taxes are in the form of excise duty, VAT and so on. These companies also provide dividend to the government from their profits in proportion to the Centre's shareholding.  According to the provisional estimates of the Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas, the contribution of the oil sector to the Central and state exchequer has been a booming Rs 183,861 crore in 2009-10. Therefore, the government ought not to be reluctant if it has to occasionally compensate for the losses of petro-companies.

The government's argument that it was providing a huge subsidy to keep petro-prices low is not correct. During 2009-10, when high crude prices were recorded, the Central government's subsidy was only Rs 14954 crore, whereas a provision of only Rs 3108 crore has been kept for 2010-11. This subsidy is mainly for kerosene, diesel and LPG. The government has promised to continue the subsidy on these commodities. Therefore, the burden on the exchequer will persist.

If we examine the loans raised by oil companies by way of bonds, we can ascertain that the total value of the loans raised by them was only Rs 10306 crore, as per the revised estimates for 2009-10. Therefore, the story of a burden on the exchequer to the tune of Rs 70,000 due to low administered prices seems to be exaggerated.
The policy of administered prices is not causing any major problem for the oil companies or the government. As regards the public sector oil companies,  they can obviously be expected to forego a part of their profits to ensure the 'public good', namely, keeping petro-prices low. The government can also be expected to shell out a part of its  revenue from this source to compensate occasional losses suffered by the oil companies. Yes, private petro companies are definitely benefiting from the new policy. It is imperative for the government to reflect on its  petro-price policy and re-introduce the earlier system of administered prices to save the common man from a fresh spurt of inflation.

The writer is Associate Professor, PGDAV College, University of Delhi






The Economic Survey is a mongrel document. It takes in everything from the Dedicated Freight Corridor to Policyholders' Grievance Redressal, it is written in many styles, from the went-up, came-down formula to high theory, and it justifies everything the government does, from the public distribution system to the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act. But it is not as completely mindless as its self-defensive posture requires. This year's Survey even hints that its authors are not entirely learned and impervious to wisdom; it cites scholarly papers that required intelligent reading. It has dropped the assumption that India is the best country in the world, and compared it with other countries in a number of dimensions. One of the dimensions is gross domestic product at purchasing power parity — put more simply, compared after valuing at the same prices.

The World Bank was long fond of making such comparisons, but went off them when suspicions surfaced that the comparisons had grossly overestimated the national incomes of India and China. Undaunted, the Survey posits that India's income per head will get closer to that of richer countries as time goes; it is bound to happen as long as India grows faster than they do. It asks what that will do to prices. Prices tend to be higher in richer countries when converted at current exchange rates. If that condition persists over time, it must follow that prices in poor countries like India will rise as they get less poor. The Survey draws the implication that just the process of becoming less poor will bring some inflation to India; it estimates such imported inflation to be 2 per cent a year on the average.

But inflation is not the only way Indian prices can come closer to those in richer countries; they can rise relatively even if the Indian rupee appreciates in terms of their currencies. If this possibility is admitted, any rate of domestic inflation or deflation is consistent with getting richer. The Survey admits this possibility, but gives a truncated table of experiences of other countries, virtually none of which experienced currency appreciation as they grew richer. But this is just a correlation without any causal significance. Inflation is an almost universal experience because it is highly profitable for governments; it enables them to issue more currency, and currency is borrowings which the government never has to repay and on which it has to pay no interest. A country can combine a modicum of inflation with a stable exchange rate for some time if it has some strong export industries; but generally speaking, balancing payments in the presence of inflation will require currency depreciation. India can avoid depreciation if it subdues inflation. The rupee has tended to appreciate in recent years as foreign capital came flooding in. India should make a policy out of appreciation; let foreign goods become ever cheaper.






West Bengal is quite comfortable with violence. It does not have to be political aggression or personal vendetta; it can just be a part of routine activity, such as examinations. People in West Bengal evidently regard it as the only way of executing their purposes, and firmly believe that they can get away with it. Nothing else can explain the aggression, brick-throwing, obstruction, and so on not just by young friends of Madhyamik examinees at schools in Birbhum and North Dinajpur, but also by their guardians. This is not really a throwback to the time when cheating at examinations was widespread, when novel ways of carrying answers into examination halls were evolved every day. These incidents appear to have erupted when guardians and friends found their efforts to help the candidates frustrated by teachers and security personnel. It is the presence and participation of the guardians that is different. It speaks of a changed culture, maybe from bad to worse.

There are, of course, other possibilities. In one school at least, the protesters have said that they were objecting to the fact that the candidates were being harassed in the name of security. Whatever the truth of the matter in each case, it is the uniformity of the outcome that is striking. Everything ends in an overall disruption of schedule. It is as if the people have forgotten to express themselves normally. There is always a simmering anger, with an impatience and a directionless hostility that erupt at the slightest provocation, even if that is the inability to help young people cheat their way through examinations. It seems more useful to disrupt the examination than to ensure that the candidate is able to complete it. This inversion of logic and destruction of good sense seem to have been born of the lawlessness and attendant hopelessness that afflict Bengal today.






The frenzy is switched on. The World Cup gala sponsored by the International Cricket Council is taking place on subcontinental soil. The hype over the event will for a while subdue other themes, including the thuggery in high places. An additional factor for excitement in the country reaching fever pitch is the fair possibility of the Indian team lifting the Cup this time after a gap of 28 years. Should that happen, there could be yet another development. Already, one or two members of Team India have dropped the remark that they want to win the Cup not so much for the country as for the sake of their seniormost colleague, Sachin Tendulkar; it would be the crowning glory of Tendulkar's extraordinary cricketing career.

This cricketing genius has broken practically all international batting records. His achievements, many believe, surpass even those of Don Bradman. He is naturally the object of much public adulation, almost amounting to idolatry, and in constant focus of the media. No question a part of the awe and admiration he evokes is also on account of the fabulous wealth he has acquired by virtue of his cricketing genius. A powerful lobby has emerged with a single-point agenda: since Tendulkar has brought so much glory to the nation, the nation must reciprocate by according him appropriate honours; he, it is being suggested, should be invested with nothing less than the Bharat Ratna, the highest national award. Should the World Cup be annexed this year, the proposal is bound to gather further momentum. Lobbyists know their job, they know where to apply pressure and how. The authorities would sooner or later, sooner rather than later, come under intense siege. The campaign could in due course attain the force of a gale, with slogans renting the air: give Sachin the Bharat Ratna, or give us death. In some parts of the country, a number of young people might attempt to immolate themselves to clinch the matter, newspapers would write stentorian editorial articles endorsing the demand, television anchors would get busy arranging discussion sessions where a cross-section of the citizenry would discuss ponderously the worthiness of the demand. Politicians, always quick on the uptake, would join in and lighten the burden of the campaigners. The government, always keen to be on the right side of bourgeois opinion, could not but be sorely tempted to give in; it would perhaps only be held back by the doubt whether some other sections of the electorate might not appreciate the idea of the cricketer sharing space on the same pedestal with the likes of Jawaharlal Nehru and Chakravarti Rajagopalachari.

Suppose the authorities get rid of that mental reservation and, with an eye on the prospective net positive impact on the electorate, decide to confer the nation's highest honour on the Mumbai cricketer. They would be grossly mistaken to assume that thereby they were buying permanent peace. Their trouble would only begin. The range of creativity lobbyists are capable of traversing is truly amazing. It might so happen that a tennis maestro would suddenly arrive on the national scene and, what do you know, win five or six so-called Grand Slams in quick succession, in the process climbing to the top of international ranking. A band of tennis enthusiasts could immediately raise the banner of agitation: why should not tennis, they would enquire, be treated on par with cricket? If that renowned cricketer could be honoured with a Bharat Ratna, why should it be denied to the tennis wizard either? The lobby would gather force with the media merrily going along. The authorities might for some time try to stonewall the proposal. But, within a few weeks, it would be a case of an irresistible force meeting a supposedly immovable object. The circumstances being what they would be, the irresistible force would win the day, the tennis celebrity too would have his Bharat Ratna.

That still could hardly be the end of history. We have Article 14 etched in the Constitution: all are equal in the eye of the law and, it follows, before the government. It needs only a slight stretching of the imagination to envisage that, in the next round, it would be the turn of a weightlifter or a wrestler or a long-distance runner to lay a claim to the nation's highest honour. Since the media create the message, even a champion kabaddi player could be promoted to the level of a national hero and a lobby would spring to propagate the legitimacy of the demand to confer the Bharat Ratna on him too. Very soon India, that is Bharat, would be choc-a-bloc with Bharat Ratnas — a Bharat Ratna to the right of us, a Bharat Ratna to the left of us, one in front of us, yet another in our backyard.

In a milieu where lobbyists, punters and politicians are in league, public passion can be easily aroused on any stray issue. Such passion has also electoral implications in a multi-party democracy. Besides, with sleaze as the order of the day, there is the distinct possibility of national honours being reduced to a matter of private auction. We might therefore have to prepare ourselves for a state of affairs where the likes of Nehru and Rajagopalachari are made to jostle on the same rostrum with a pugilist or a rifle shooter. Where values are determined by media pressure and the latter is a purchasable commodity in the marketplace, what was once considered absurd and outrageous would get accepted as eminently normal.

The problem has actually ancient roots. In instituting the practice of a national honours list on the eve of Republic Day, our leaders were, consciously or otherwise, copying a ritual set up during the raj. The British masters introduced the tradition of doling out, on the occasion of the king's or queen's birthday, a flurry of awards such as knighthood, the Order of the British Empire, Rai Bahadur, Rai Saheb, Khan Bahadur, Khan Saheb, et al. The awards were assumed to be in recognition of outstanding achievements and distinguished service to the country. The underlying emphasis, however, rapidly shifted to crass patronage. Loyalty to the alien rulers emerged as the major criterion for receiving the awards. The message was loud and clear: if you are faithful to the raj, serve its cause to your last breath, you will be favoured with a confetti of honours. Not that there were no exceptions, but the royal birthday list was mostly a roll-call of lackeys who would serve the raj come hell or high water. The colonial hang-over is for ever; it would have been surprising if it were otherwise given the mute but deep admiration nurtured by the top echelons of the Indian National Congress for British custom and institutions. Individuals who unflinchingly defend and help to extend the influence of the ruling set have come to have prior claim on national honours here too. Adherence to the colonial pattern was bound to have other consequences as well. For example, it is now accepted practice in the United Kingdom to earn a baronetcy or buy a seat in the House of Lords by making heavy donations to the ruling party; why should we, the question will be posted with great earnestness, deviate from the British model?

Lobbyists and moneybags are increasingly crowding the scene. The Republic Day list is now a clumsy heterogeneity, featured by fulsome representation of cronies as well as elements with suspect credentials. With pressure steadily mounting from different quarters; the authorities would, it is conceivable, be induced to throw in the towel and agree to admit in the roll of Bharat Ratnas sports personalities or film stars. For if Sachin Tendulkar makes the grade, why should Shah Rukh Khan be far behind — or, for the matter, a chastened and rehabilitated Tiger Woods? Amitabh Bachchan could for the present be ruled out in view of his strained relations with you-know-who.

It is a predicament the authorities could face any day now: to decide whether to weigh on the same scale the great nation-builders at one end and the hugely successful, hugely rich professional persons at the other. Should the value system ruling the free market be embraced wholesale, it would be impossible to avoid dilemmas of this nature. The only way out is to abandon altogether the Republic Day awards. Those presiding over the system can easily find alternative ways to swell party coffers or keep happy never-say-die lackeys.






Watching the extraordinarily rambling and repetitive speech by Muammar Gaddafi's son, Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, on Libyan television, I couldn't help being struck by how ignorant the man is. According to Seif, the protests in Libya are the work of drunks, criminals and foreigners who had been paid to destabilize the Libyan State. If everybody does not rally around the regime, there will be a terrible civil war. The country will break into a dozen separate emirates, all foreign investors will leave, and the oil will cease to flow. Bereft of its oil income, Libya will have to close its hospitals and schools. Everybody will fall into a poverty so deep that it will take 40 years to climb back out. The Americans and the British will take over the country. There will be a great plague, and it will rain frogs and spiders.

I made up that last bit, but he really said the rest of it. How can he imagine that Libyans will simply swallow this stuff? The regime doesn't let them travel and state censorship is fierce, but Libyans are literate people. They are not fools. Seif's threats will not persuade them — and neither will his promises.

He offered the concessions that are typical at this stage in the collapse of an Arab regime. There will be a great public consultation to discuss the country's future, including a new constitution. Salaries of government employees will be doubled. If the people will just stop protesting, everything can change — except, of course, the regime itself.

Gaddafi's son's speech sounded just like the final television speeches made by Egypt's former president Hosni Mubarak and Tunisia's ex-president Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali before they fled their respective capitals, so it probably won't be long now. The Gaddafi regime has already lost control of the eastern part of the country, and on Sunday the street protests spread west of Tripoli.

Halfway house

Prince Salman bin Hamad al-Khalifa, heir to the throne of Bahrain, is playing a very different game. It was he who ordered the army to leave Pearl Square in Manama, the capital, on Sunday, two days after four protesters were killed and 231 wounded in a military night attack to clear the square. He understands that the survival of the monarchy now depends on persuading the majority of Bahrainis that the promise of fundamental reform is real.

The great difference between Gaddafi in Libya and the ruling families of all the other oil-rich Arab states is that the latter have the option of retreating into constitutional monarchy. Gaddafi can rule or flee, but the al-Khalifas can make a deal. The opposition parties have agreed to open talks with Prince Salman if he meets their demands: the current government must resign, political prisoners must be released, and the killing of protesters must be investigated. All these things will happen, and then the haggling will begin.

The protesters do not want more killing and they certainly don't want to damage the tiny country's wealth. But they do want an end to the disadvantages suffered by the 70 per cent Shia majority in a state ruled by a Sunni royal family. They also want a real democracy, not the current halfway house.

Such a regime would be a frightening anomaly in a region otherwise ruled by absolute monarchies, but retaining Bahrain's royal family would mollify the neighbours greatly. In Bahrain there is unlikely to be any further bloodshed, and the outcome will probably be a constitutional compromise.

In Libya, there might be more blood and no compromise. As Seif warned in his epic rant: "The army... will support Gaddafi to the last minute .... We will fight to the last man and woman and bullet." Alternatively, the regular army may force Gaddafi's praetorian guard to surrender in Tripoli, as it has apparently done in Benghazi. It could be over in Libya soon, as the old Arab order continues to unravel.



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




The economic survey for 2010-11, tabled by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee in parliament ,  strikes a confident note about the growing strengths of the economy, measured by various criteria, but recognises the risks and challenges it may have to face in the near future.   It sees an 8.6 per cent growth in GDP  and a 5.4 per cent growth in agriculture in the current year and predicts  over 9 per cent growth in the coming years.  While the GDP growth prospects may not be unrealistic, sustaining the farm growth rate may not be easy.  This year's performance was a result of good monsoons and  not of any special efforts by  the government.  The finance  minister has called for a second green revolution,  but the budget will show if he is serious about the call.

The survey's overview of the economy has thrown the light on a number of positive factors like the high savings and investment rates and the demographic dividend which will ensure high  labour productivity in the country.  It is not worried on the fiscal front as there is likelihood of a moderation in current account deficit with imports decelerating and exports growing faster.  A commitment the government has made in a related context is that it will ensure the availability of cooking  fuels for the common man at affordable prices . This will give comfort to most households which have been hit by persistent inflation.

The most important part of the survey is perhaps its analysis of inflation. There is a sincere admission that inflationary pressures   are likely to continue in the coming years.   It is rationalised  with the argument that inflation is inevitable when productivity and prices try to catch up with those in developed countries and when economic growth is uneven. There are some  fresh insights into the relationship between growth and inflation. The idea that greater inclusiveness in the economy, with increasing monetisation and with more people their keeping their money in bank accounts, will fuel inflation  is interesting.  But as the survey itself admits, this is no argument against spending on social sector schemes.  The concern over inflation shows that the government and its policy advisors will be rightly preoccupied with it in the months to come.  The theoretical studies that the survey puts out, as it has done on the ''micro-foundations'' of development, can  spur productive debates on a vital issue.







Discovery, the world's oldest space shuttle, has headed into orbit on its last mission. The centrepiece of the US' space programme, Discovery defined an era of space travel. It is the world's most-travelled space shuttle and looked upon as its most-reliable. When it returns to earth in around 11 days, this old warhorse will have travelled a cumulative distance of 230 million km in its 30-year-long career. It will then be decommissioned. Its younger siblings, Atlantis and Endeavour, will over the next few months make their last voyages into space. Discovery's last outing marks the beginning of the end of the shuttle era in space travel. Its last launch was repeatedly delayed over the past several months, held back on account of one technical problem or another.

NASA's shuttle programme has many successes to its credit. It has played an important role in building the International Space Station. Shuttles helped in the delivery of modules and supplies for ISS. Discovery deployed the Hubble Space Telescope, which has given scientists their clearest view of deep space objects and provided us with better insights into the mysteries of space.  Space shuttles were conceived as a cheaper option to rockets. Unlike the latter, they could make multiple trips. However, they proved less reliable and more costly than originally envisaged. Doubts about their safety emerged in 1986 when the Challenger exploded and mounted in 2003 when Columbia disintegrated during re-entry to Earth's atmosphere. Safety concerns and big budget cuts have forced NASA to retire its space shuttles.

The end of the shuttle era will usher in huge changes in US space travel. Until perhaps the middle of this decade, US astronauts will have to hitch rides with Russian spacecraft. NASA's long-term plans involve private companies providing launch services on a range of new vehicles. Thus Discovery's last voyage marks more than the beginning of the end of the shuttle era. It clears the way for greater private-government partnership in American space travel. Discovery's last lift off was accompanied by much pageantry. On its return to earth in less than a fortnight from now, it will be given a warm send-off as it heads off to retirement at the Smithsonian museum. That will leave billions across the earth with lumps in their throats. It will be an end of a glorious innings.








''We did not know whether to laugh or cry when Gaddafi compared himself to Queen Elizabeth.''

If I had to shortlist the best journals of the English-speaking universe, the 'Economist' would certainly be at the top of a short and thin pyramid. Insight, interpretation, information and the quality of writing make it a perfect companion; even the British tendency to surrender before the pun ('The buys from Brazil', 'The Middle Blingdom'...) is more endearing than irritating. But even the most thoughtful commentators of the present can find the future beyond their vision. The February 19 issue of the magazine has a cover story on the Arab awakening. On page 71 is a house-ad for the Democracy Index prepared by its Economist Intelligence Unit for 2010. It concludes that democracy is in worldwide retreat. Even the most perceptive observers can miss a tsunami. After all, the great wave travels under the surface.

It is not entirely foolish to suggest that 2010 is separated from 2011 by a decade or more. Time does not always travel at the same pace. The anger that has lit the Arab streets has been burning below the skin and inside the mind for at least a decade and in many cases far longer. In fact, the length of the fuse is evidence of the time that the despots had to take corrective action, but did nothing since they were lost in their own greed, conceit and that ultimate sin of madmen, a sense of indispensability.

Muammar Gaddafi sounds genuinely hurt at the thought that Libyans want him and the lurid pests that constitute his family out of their lives. The rest of us did not know whether to laugh or cry when Gaddafi compared himself to Queen Elizabeth, but he was genuinely puzzled. He was no longer a 28-year-old army officer who had rid Libya of a monarchy; he had become the founder of a dynasty for which every Libyan had to be eternally grateful. His mirror told him that he was on his way to martyrdom; he could not recognise the hell he had created for his people. He must believe, therefore, that his murderous mercenaries are fighting some sort of holy war in his defence. He always lived a few steps outside reality. He has now stepped into the comfort zone of lunacy. Neither his region nor the world can afford his survival in office.


An interesting pattern has emerged in the Arab turmoil. Monarchs are proving more durable than dictators. This cannot be only a consequence of personality; nor is blue-blood impervious to the temptation of venality. Kings are rediscovering the power of tradition; unlike a Hosni Mubarak or a Ben Ali or a Gaddafi, they represent something much older than themselves. It is possible for a king to reconcile himself to the republican spirit; and if Arab dynasts understand that they have the option of peaceful transition to popular rule, they can still squeeze some shelf life out of the demands of historical change. Europe is flush with royalty in designer clothes because both princes and their people have learnt to appreciate the value of a constitutional monarchy. A sensible monarch understands the tactile strength of soft hands. Royals, exceptions apart, take far more care about popular sensibilities than civilian dictators; they have had power for so long that they know that the easiest way to lose it is by letting it go to their heads. The price of such folly is, of course, losing your royal head.

It was ever thus. Britain welcomed the coup by Oliver Cromwell, and the fall of Charles II's head. But when Cromwell decided that his son could become his successor, he learnt that there were limits to British tolerance. Britain cheered the restoration of royalty, but rejected the imposition of a false line on a virtual throne. The rage on the street should persuade Arab monarchs to understand both their peril and their opportunity. There is one serious potential obstacle, however; the advice of a too-clever-by-half courtier who will suggest that the palace can buy time by throwing meaningless tidbits to the people. That option is over. The people have changed, many far beyond their wildest expectations. Armies and bureaucracies have changed. The Arab world has changed. The past is dead. Its memory can be included in the mosaic that is being constructed, step by step, to fashion a new future; but it cannot be revived. The palace can still co-exist with parliament, but its primacy has been smashed. It can cooperate in nation-building but cannot control it. Its word can serve as suggestion; it cannot be law. The law must shift to the legislature, as in any system that is of the people, by the people and for the people.

All of us missed the horizon last year. That horizon is now amidst us. We must open our eyes to the next horizon, taking shape before us.







Gaddafi's killing is not yet on the scale of Assad's Hama massacre of 1982 but it's up there.
Watching Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi do his Caligula thing in the ruins of the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya, and reading about his son's St Barts fests with Beyoncé, I confess that disgust yielded to nausea: enough is enough.

There are as many versions of current events in Libya as there are transliterations of the Colonel's name but it's already clear this is the Ceausescu chapter of the Arab spring. Gaddafi's killing is not yet on the scale of Assad's Hama massacre of 1982 or Saddam's slaughter of the Shiites in 1991, but it's up there.

There are moments when the argument for capital punishment becomes persuasive to me. This is one.

I don't know what the nascent Benghazi-Tobruk Libyan Republic with its new-old flag stands for, apart from ending Gaddafi's 42-year rule, and I'm not sure anyone does. I do know Arabs have had it with despots who treat their nations as personal fiefdoms and oil revenue as pocket money for their dynasties. This is about enfranchisement. It's not about Islam, or pan-Arabism, or socialism. It's about acquiring rights grounded in institutions and law.

I've been thinking about the last time I saw Libyans in exile, in a mosque in Oklahoma City where local Muslims had gathered for Friday prayers.


This was late last year after Oklahoma, in the grips of a strange wave of Islamophobia orchestrated by prominent Republicans, had approved a 'Save our State' amendment banning Shariah law. Its supporters told me the amendment was a 'preemptive strike' against Muslim takeover.

Imad Enchassi, the imam of the mosque, was talking to his congregation about these troubles and said this: "Many of you may have been harassed or threatened at work. I don't expect you to love those that hate but understand one thing: Many of you came to America from states of oppression. Here we can sue the government. In the countries where you come from, if you sue the government you disappear." Or you get shot by hired mercenaries before you ever get to your lawyer.

One Oklahoma Muslim, Muneer Awad, 27, did just that. He sued the state of Oklahoma over the Shariah ban and secured a preliminary federal injunction blocking the amendment.

Awad, an attorney, is a Palestinian-American; his parents came to the US from the West Bank. His father started with a small store. He acquired real estate and gave his children good education.


That's the way the American Dream is supposed to work. Often, these days, it's no more than a mirage. But Awad's story is a reminder that America is still a reinvention machine.

Enchassi, the imam, had invited the local head of the FBI, special agent James Finch, to speak. As he placed the microphone on Finch, he joked: "This is something you've not seen before — an imam wiring the FBI!"

Finch, an African-American, stood in front of the congregation and declared: "I've come here today to tell you that the FBI stands ready to investigate any violation of the civil rights of our citizens in the state of Oklahoma, irrespective of ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. We are very aggressive in prosecuting civil rights violations, hate crimes, including religious discrimination and defacement or damage to any religious property. All persons in the United States have the freedom to practice their religions without fear of violent acts. If you are threatened in any way, call the FBI."

There was an approving murmur through the mosque — a modest building. As I watched this scene — a black cop telling Muslim Americans about their civil rights and what the FBI and the attorney general would do to enforce them — I could only think of the long journey travelled by the US from its 'original sin' of slavery, through the civil war and Jim Crow, on through the long civil rights campaign and the King assassination, to the once unthinkable thing: the election of an African American to the nation's highest office.

It takes a long time — centuries — to establish that all men really are created equal; and that 'certain unalienable rights' belong to all citizens rather than to all citizens except those of a certain colour. Even then bigotry rears its head — as it had in Oklahoma.

Finch, flanked by Sandy Coats, a US attorney for Oklahoma, finished with these words: "I love this country and have to uphold its laws. The buck stops with me. I am the face of the FBI. Hold me accountable if something is not investigated because I am passionate about ensuring people's rights are upheld."

The Arab world has embarked on a very long road to enfranchisement. It will be tempestuous but the direction taken is irreversible.







Despite bad audio quality, we used to record some songs on cassettes.

For those of us who cut our musical teeth in the '70s, the radio was most often our single source of music. At home, the Philips transistor would be lovingly wiped clean and given the pride of place. Every evening, Mom and Dad depended on Vijay Daniels, Varun Haldar or Latika Ratnam to announce the news on AIR, while we kids waited impatiently for Force's Request or Saturday Date at a quarter to 10 or 10 o'clock.

Crowding round the set, we would predict the next number and try to catch the lyrics of the songs. The Mumbai rains didn't help and often we despaired at the static just when our favourite song played. Despite the bad audio quality, we even recorded some songs on cassettes and replayed them endlessly. Those precious cassettes accompanied us from city to city and house to house. And so we found that certain groups like ABBA, the Carpenters and Cliff Richards had a huge following. The era of rock and roll was still phasing itself out and a Beatles', an Elvis or a Connie Francis was not uncommon as were country and western singers.

One band that had a select but fiercely dedicated following was a Dutch group with German musicians and Polish singers. With a rather juvenile name of 'Pussycat', they shot to popularity with a song 'Mississippi' that won the Eurovision award but didn't retain or regain the No 1 position. And yet, the gap-toothed, blonde Tonny Kowalczyk's husky, accented voice — not quite a Lulu (remember 'To Sir, with love'?) and not really the Annifrid of ABBA — endured and endeared. Whether she sang to Georgie or Joe, about Mexicali lane or Amsterdam, her voice literally called you to listen to her.

When I arrived in Bangalore, I found the local music aficionados were not impressed with Tonny Kowalczyk. Any enquiry was met with a vague 'Oh yeah…' — aficionados cannot profess ignorance — or even a surprised "You really listen to that music?" One tiny store on Brigade Road had just one cassette with some of the popular numbers recorded on one side. By the time I returned to claim the cassette, it had been sold. And so until a few years ago, I had only the good old recorded cassette. It was now in Bangalore, carefully transported by parents who carried their offspring's belongings for the old memories, long after they had flown the nest.

A few days ago, thanks to the internet, I listened to the old favourites on YouTube. Deciding that it was high time that I possessed those tracks, I searched and downloaded all the numbers. Perhaps I can now put away our 'Broken souvenir' with a 'Smile'!


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



With only four days left to head off a crippling government shutdown, Senate Democrats have been receptive to a new proposal from House Republicans to keep the government going with only a modest round of cuts from President Obama's own reduction plan.

The offer sounds as if it contains the germ of a good compromise, except for one big problem: it only extends government funding for two weeks.

In a matter of days, the two chambers would be right back where they are now, with House leaders demanding ruinous cuts and threatening to close the government's doors if they did not get their way. Rather than take this deal, the Senate should build on the idea of advancing some of President Obama's cuts but in exchange for paying for the government's functions through the fiscal year that ends on Sept. 30.

The threat of a shutdown is a serious one. Once the stopgap measure now supplying money to the federal government expires, hundreds of thousands of workers would be furloughed, halting vital services like veterans' health care and passport processing, and possibly slowing the distribution of benefit checks. Essential services would continue, but the impact on a fragile recovery could be devastating.

None of that has in the slightest deterred House Republicans — the fire-breathing freshmen and the older members who are afraid of them — from pursuing their single-minded goal of disemboweling the government.

They took advantage of the Democrats' failure to pass a budget last year and approved a bill that makes nearly $62 billion in cuts just over the next seven months. Much of the effort pursued longstanding partisan goals like eliminating programs for disadvantaged minorities, rather than real deficit reduction.

The impact of these reckless, largely ideologically targeted cuts could be even more devastating for the recovery than a brief government shutdown. Hundreds of thousands of people would lose their jobs, and not just for a few days or weeks. Those at the bottom of the economic ladder would be hurt the most.

No one would have paid much attention if the stopgap spending resolution from last year did not run out on March 4. The House Republicans have exploited that leverage to the fullest, saying they won't even consider a temporary spending resolution from the Senate that does not contain substantial cuts.

The latest offer from the House, drawing on an idea that has been discussed in the Senate, would buy two weeks of government operations in exchange for $4 billion in cuts. To make the offer palatable, the House is willing to make about $2.7 billion of those cuts from earmarks, and the rest from programs that the president has already proposed cutting in next year's budget, including highway and education spending.

The House is essentially asking the Democrats to agree to all the easy cuts up front, while continuing to dangle a sword over the process that could drop again as early as March 18. The war of words would quickly begin again, as would the Republicans' demands for their more damaging cuts. That would create ever more uncertainty in the markets and in the lives of many thousands of people who could be affected by a shutdown.

Repeatedly negotiating under threat is no way to run a government. The real battle should be over next year's budget. Accelerating some 2012 cuts to get through this year makes sense, but only in exchange for a resolution that carries the government through Sept. 30. Democrats should insist on it, and if Republicans instead choose to close the government's doors, at least the public will know the full price of their extremism.






"I'm totally confused now," wrote a government official in one of thousands of internal e-mails released last week on the subject of Secure Communities, the federal program enlisting state and local police in the crackdown on illegal immigrants.

The confusion was over a simple question: Could a state or city choose not to participate in Secure Communities? That is, could it decide to preserve that bright line separating local policing from federal immigration enforcement, so as not to discourage immigrants from reporting crimes?

The e-mails show that the Department of Homeland Security didn't know how to answer the question — even two years into the program, which sends the fingerprints of everyone arrested by participating state and local agencies to federal databases for an immigration check.

The answer was important, because while the Obama administration has made Secure Communities a centerpiece of its immigration-enforcement strategy, many state and local agencies have wanted nothing to do with it. They know it has been used to deport tens of thousands of people with no criminal records, even though it was supposed to focus strictly on dangerous criminals.

They have seen how some politicized and unscrupulous police departments have used it as an excuse for racial profiling. They worry that participation will strain their resources and make community policing harder.

Though the e-mails, obtained through the Freedom of Information Act by immigrant-rights advocates, show the agency at its most confused, top administration officials had no doubt: Secure Communities doesn't allow states and localities to opt out. As The Times reported, the administration even "developed a plan to isolate and pressure communities that did not want to participate."

There is a place for local law enforcement in immigration matters, but it must be strictly limited and cautiously drawn. It must place the highest priority on catching and removing dangerous criminals, while letting alone those without criminal records — the vast proportion of the undocumented population.

President Obama has repeatedly promised that he will work to change the immigration laws so undocumented immigrants who work hard can earn legal status. The Secure Communities program goes against that vow. It is also bad for public safety. States, cities and towns should be able to opt out.





The number of kidneys available for transplants falls far short of the need, so there is no choice but to ration them. An emotionally difficult proposal to change the first-come-first-served transplant system makes good sense.

There are nearly 90,000 people on waiting lists to receive kidney transplants, and in 2009 there were only some 10,400 kidneys from dead donors to give them. And about 6,300 kidneys were transplanted from living people who donated one of their two kidneys and usually specified the recipient.

Currently the kidneys from dead donors are provided, through an organ procurement and transplantation network, to people who have been waiting the longest. That may seem fair since many transplant candidates wait for years, and some die while waiting.

But the system has serious shortcomings. Some elderly recipients get kidneys that could function far longer than they will live and that could have done more good for a younger recipient. Some younger recipients get kidneys that will fail and will need to be replaced, using up another scarce kidney.

These problems could be eased through a proposal under consideration at the transplant network to better match the likely longevity of the patient with the likely functional life of the kidney.

The patients and kidneys would each be graded separately. About 20 percent of the kidneys predicted to have the longest functional lives would be provided to the youngest and healthiest patients. The other 80 percent of kidneys would go to patients who are no more than 15 years older or younger than the donor.

The approach seems likely to make it harder for elderly people to get a kidney. But when kidneys are already scarce — and apt to get scarcer as much of the population ages and sickens — it is a rational choice.






The edges of historical eras tend to be fuzzy. It would be nice to think that someone awoke in Florence, Italy, one day in the late 1300s — perhaps as spring started— and said, "Today the Renaissance begins!" We can be sure no one did, if only because historians discern such eras only in retrospect. The same is true of geological epochs. Humans existed when the Pleistocene ended and the Holocene began, 11,500 years ago. The geologic time scale, which defines geological periods, began to take its modern form only in the 19th century.

Among scientists, there is now serious talk that the Holocene has ended and a new era has begun, called the Anthropocene, a term first used in 2000 by Paul Crutzen, who shared a Nobel Prize for his work on the chemical mechanisms that affect the ozone layer.

The Royal Society has devoted a recent issue of its Philosophical Transactions to the Anthropocene. According to one of the papers, the name is "a vivid expression of the degree of environmental change on planet Earth." It means that human activity has left a "stratigraphic signal" detectable thousands of years from now in ice cores and sedimentary rocks.

Those of us alive today may well be able to say we were present when the Anthropocene epoch was formally adopted. But we will not be able to say we were present at the start of the Anthropocene. There is a strong case that the Anthropocene begins with the Industrial Revolution, around 1800, when we began to exert our most profound impact on the world, especially by altering the carbon content of the atmosphere.

Other species are embedded in the fossil record of the epochs they belong to. Some species, like ammonites and brachiopods, even serve as guides — or index fossils — to the age of the rocks they're embedded in. But we are the only species to have defined a geological period by our activity — something usually performed by major glaciations, mass extinction and the colossal impact of objects from outer space, like the one that defines the upper boundary of the Cretaceous.

Humans were inevitably going to be part of the fossil record. But the true meaning of the Anthropocene is that we have affected nearly every aspect of our environment — from a warming atmosphere to the bottom of an acidifying ocean.






Will 2011 be the year of fiscal austerity? At the federal level, it's still not clear: Republicans are demanding draconian spending cuts, but we don't yet know how far they're willing to go in a showdown with President Obama. At the state and local level, however, there's no doubt about it: big spending cuts are coming.

And who will bear the brunt of these cuts? America's children.

Now, politicians — and especially, in my experience, conservative politicians — always claim to be deeply concerned about the nation's children. Back during the 2000 campaign, then-candidate George W. Bush, touting the "Texas miracle" of dramatically lower dropout rates, declared that he wanted to be the "education president." Today, advocates of big spending cuts often claim that their greatest concern is the burden of debt our children will face.

In practice, however, when advocates of lower spending get a chance to put their ideas into practice, the burden always seems to fall disproportionately on those very children they claim to hold so dear.

Consider, as a case in point, what's happening in Texas, which more and more seems to be where America's political future happens first.

Texas likes to portray itself as a model of small government, and indeed it is. Taxes are low, at least if you're in the upper part of the income distribution (taxes on the bottom 40 percent of the population are actually above the national average). Government spending is also low. And to be fair, low taxes may be one reason for the state's rapid population growth, although low housing prices are surely much more important.

But here's the thing: While low spending may sound good in the abstract, what it amounts to in practice is low spending on children, who account directly or indirectly for a large part of government outlays at the state and local level.

And in low-tax, low-spending Texas, the kids are not all right. The high school graduation rate, at just 61.3 percent, puts Texas 43rd out of 50 in state rankings. Nationally, the state ranks fifth in child poverty; it leads in the percentage of children without health insurance. And only 78 percent of Texas children are in excellent or very good health, significantly below the national average.

But wait — how can graduation rates be so low when Texas had that education miracle back when former President Bush was governor? Well, a couple of years into his presidency the truth about that miracle came out: Texas school administrators achieved low reported dropout rates the old-fashioned way — they, ahem, got the numbers wrong.

It's not a pretty picture; compassion aside, you have to wonder — and many business people in Texas do — how the state can prosper in the long run with a future work force blighted by childhood poverty, poor health and lack of education.

But things are about to get much worse.

A few months ago another Texas miracle went the way of that education miracle of the 1990s. For months, Gov. Rick Perry had boasted that his "tough conservative decisions" had kept the budget in surplus while allowing the state to weather the recession unscathed. But after Mr. Perry's re-election, reality intruded — funny how that happens — and the state is now scrambling to close a huge budget gap. (By the way, given the current efforts to blame public-sector unions for state fiscal problems, it's worth noting that the mess in Texas was achieved with an overwhelmingly nonunion work force.)

So how will that gap be closed? Given the already dire condition of Texas children, you might have expected the state's leaders to focus the pain elsewhere. In particular, you might have expected high-income Texans, who pay much less in state and local taxes than the national average, to be asked to bear at least some of the burden.

But you'd be wrong. Tax increases have been ruled out of consideration; the gap will be closed solely through spending cuts. Medicaid, a program that is crucial to many of the state's children, will take the biggest hit, with the Legislature proposing a funding cut of no less than 29 percent, including a reduction in the state's already low payments to providers — raising fears that doctors will start refusing to see Medicaid patients. And education will also face steep cuts, with school administrators talking about as many as 100,000 layoffs.

The really striking thing about all this isn't the cruelty — at this point you expect that — but the shortsightedness. What's supposed to happen when today's neglected children become tomorrow's work force?

Anyway, the next time some self-proclaimed deficit hawk tells you how much he worries about the debt we're leaving our children, remember what's happening in Texas, a state whose slogan right now might as well be "Lose the future."

Ross Douthat is off today.






I WAS born on the last day of February, the runt month of the year. I've always felt sorry for February, squeezed between the big months of January (named for the Roman god Janus, keeper of gateways and entrances) and March (after Mars, the god of war).

February, with only 28 days and no powerful gods to advocate for it, commemorates a pagan fertility and purification festival celebrated by flogging women with animal skins. The reason February is an abused month is found in its origins as the clean-up month that was shrunk or stretched so the calendar could keep pace with the sun's progress through the seasons.

The first Roman calendar, legend has it, had 10 months and no February. Beginning at the vernal equinox with March, it ended with December. In an agricultural society, winter was of little importance, and thus went undivided.

January and February were added about 700 B.C. by the second king of Rome, Numa Pompilius. He made all the months 29 or 31 days (the Romans were said to be suspicious of even numbers), but shorted February, the last month of the year, by giving it only 28.

By the time of Julius Caesar, the calendar was three months out of sync with the solar year. This prompted Caesar to announce a new calendar in 46 B.C. Although, as with many facts surrounding my birth month, there is some dispute — some historians say Caesar gave February 29 days — most believe his calendar preserved a 28-day February (with 29 days only in a leap year).

Next, it was the church's turn. In 1582 Pope Gregory XIII decreed a new calendar in a Europe divided by the Reformation. Many changes were made, but the pope passed up yet another chance to grant February equality with the other months.

The Protestant opposition at first refused to accept the Gregorian calendar, and by the time England finally adopted it in 1752, King George II had to throw out 11 days from September to catch up, causing consternation. According to some accounts, tenants rioted because their landlords charged a full month's rent. Commemorative dates were shifted. And in the American colonies, George Washington had his birthday changed from Feb. 11 to Feb. 22.

It's messy, even dangerous, changing how we measure time, but Pope Gregory was hardly the last one to try. The League of Nations received over 150 new calendar designs, and the United Nations has considered more proposals since. Just to name a few, there's the Sexagesimal Calendar, the Hermetic Lunar Week Calendar, the 30x11 Calendar (which supersizes December to 35 or 36 days) and the Kluznickian Calendar (which adds the month of Aten, after an Egyptian sun god, and renames Dec. 29 "Nicksday," after Mr. Kluznick). Each proposal involves a gimmick that supposedly modernizes the calendar.

But I have a simpler proposal that won't lead to chaos or rioting in the streets, and will correct the historical injustices against February: move the last day of January and the last day of March into February to make it a normal month with 30 days, and a respectable 31 on leap years.

This would not add or subtract a single day from the calendar year, and there would be no troublesome rejuggling of holidays. As an added benefit, making the first three months of the year each 30 days would bring them into closer alignment with the lunar cycle. Who could object to this?

I calculate that only 2 in 365 people, or about 0.5 percent of the population, were born on either Jan. 31 or March 31, the two days that would vanish from the calendar. They could choose to have their birthdays bumped either back one day or ahead to the first day of the next month. A few might even welcome the opportunity of switching to gain a prettier birthstone. No one would have to change his astrological sign. And I do not suppose we will hear anything but cheers from those birthday-impaired people born on Feb. 29. Of course, those born on the new leap day of Feb. 31 will bear the same burden, but they are not yet around to object.

It's a great idea. And unlike Julius and Augustus, I won't even demand a month named in my honor.

Philip S. Hill is a co-founder of a life insurance brokerage firm.






IN Ohio, Wisconsin and other states facing budget deficits, some elected officials assert that closing those gaps requires achieving labor savings and weakening labor unions. They are half-right.

Across the country, taxpayers are providing pensions, benefits and job security protections for public workers that almost no one in the private sector enjoys. Taxpayers simply cannot afford to continue paying these costs, which are growing at rates far outpacing inflation. Yes, public sector workers need a secure retirement. And yes, taxpayers need top-quality police officers, teachers and firefighters. It's the job of government to balance those competing needs. But for a variety of reasons, the scale has been increasingly tipping away from taxpayers.

Correcting this imbalance is not easy, but in a growing number of states, budget deficits are being used to justify efforts to scale back not only labor costs, but labor rights. The impulse is understandable; public sector unions all too often stand in the way of reform. But unions also play a vital role in protecting against abuses in the workplace, and in my experience they are integral to training, deploying and managing a professional work force.

Organizing around a common interest is a fundamental part of democracy. We should no more try to take away the right of individuals to collectively bargain than we should try to take away the right to a secret ballot. Instead, we should work to modernize government's relationship with unions — and union leaders should be farsighted enough to cooperate, because the only way to protect the long-term integrity of employee benefits is to ensure the public's long-term ability to fund them. In Wisconsin, efforts to rein in spending on labor contracts have included proposals to strip unions of their right to collectively bargain for pensions and health care benefits.

Yet the problem is not unions expressing those rights; it is governments failing to adapt to the times and act in a fiscally responsible manner. If contract terms or labor laws from years past no longer make sense, we the people should renegotiate — or legislate — changes. Benefits agreed to 35 years ago that now are unaffordable should be reduced. Similarly, work rules that made sense 70 years ago but are now antiquated should be changed.

In New York City, we share the same goal as cities and states across the nation — less spending and better services. We, too, are seeking to legislate changes to reduce pension and benefit costs and modernize our labor laws. But in some cases, we believe expanding collective bargaining would be more beneficial than trying to eliminate it.

For example, in New York, state government — not the city — has the authority to set pension benefits for city workers, but city taxpayers get stuck with the bill. The mayor cannot directly discuss pension benefits as part of contract negotiations with unions, even though pension benefits could be as much as 80 percent of an employee's overall compensation. In addition, members of the State Legislature pass pension "sweeteners" for municipal unions that help attract support for their re-election campaigns.

These are problems that mayors around the country also face. In New York City, taxpayers will be forced to pay $8.3 billion in pension costs this year, up from $1.5 billion 10 years ago. Our proposal to the state is simple: legislate lower costs this year and, going forward, give us the authority to negotiate fair pension savings ourselves.

Pensions are not the only area where we would like to expand our collective bargaining authority in order to modernize government. New York is one of only a dozen or so states with a law requiring layoffs of teachers based strictly on seniority — a policy that's known as "last in, first out." In New York City, we are preparing to lay off workers across city agencies, including 4,500 teachers. And the only thing worse than laying off teachers would be laying off the wrong teachers — some of our very best.

That's why we are asking the state to give us the legal authority to collectively bargain a layoff policy with the teachers' union — and in the meantime, to conduct layoffs based on common-sense factors like eliminating teachers who have been rated unsatisfactory, found guilty of criminal charges or failed to meet professional certification requirements.

To the extent that collective bargaining agreements or state laws are no longer serving the public, we should change them. That is what democracy is all about — and that is our responsibility. The job of labor leaders is to get the best deal for their members. The job of elected officials is to get the best deal for all citizens.

Rather than declare war on unions, we should demand a new deal with them — one that reflects today's economic realities and workplace conditions, not those of a century ago. If we fail to do that, the fault is not in our unions, or in our stars, but in ourselves.

Michael R. Bloomberg is the mayor of New York.






Scarcely anything is as important for our nation's long-term financial stability as getting unsustainable spending in check. Whether Washington is going to get serious about that remains an open question.

The U.S. House of Representatives, with its new Republican majority, recently sent to the Senate a $1.2 trillion bill that would fund federal agencies through Sept. 30. But the Democrat-run Senate and President Barack Obama refuse to accept the $61 billion in cuts that Republicans in the House included in the bill. They say the nation, already $14 trillion in debt, needs to have more so-called government "investments" in costly programs — by which they mean more spending of taxes and borrowed money.

It is almost impossible to believe that any responsible lawmaker would take such a position.

The federal government has been pouring countless billions of dollars into "stimulus" projects that don't stimulate much besides bigger government and "bailouts" that protect poorly performing companies from the free-market consequences of their actions. And the government has sent the bill for all that spending to taxpayers and the states.

Now it's time to pay the piper — or face calamitous tax hikes and cuts in major programs such as Medicare and Social Security a little further down the road. And yet the president and Democrats in Congress still have little sense of urgency about cutting spending.

So what, exactly, is going to happen with federal spending? We'll find out when the Senate takes up the spending cuts approved in the House.

House Republicans voted, among other things, to deny some federal dollars for the implementation of the ObamaCare socialized medicine law. That is appropriate, both because our nation cannot afford ObamaCare and because its requirement that Americans purchase Washington-approved medical insurance is unconstitutional. In fact, a majority of the states — which are being saddled with huge ObamaCare-related costs — have sued to block its implementation, and two federal judges have properly ruled ObamaCare unconstitutional.

But Democrats, who passed ObamaCare with zero GOP support, won't back down.

Republicans also voted to bar the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating "greenhouse gases." The regulation of those gases is based on highly debatable allegations that mankind's use of fossil fuels is catastrophically heating the planet. It is also based on the disputed idea that we can somehow clamp down on industry's emissions of greenhouse gases without causing economic disaster and destroying jobs — in a time when unemployment is already a painful 9 percent.

But there again, Democrats don't want to rein in government. They want the EPA to have the power to regulate those emissions, no matter the potential harm to our economy.

The Democrat-controlled Senate is unlikely, in short, to support the spending cuts and the curtailing of government power that were approved by the House. That is going to set up a showdown between the Republican-run House on one side and the Senate and the president on the other. The outcome of that battle has enormous implications for our nation's financial strength, and even for our solvency.

Democrats are striving to portray the proposed Republican cuts as unreasonable. But if anything, the cuts are too timid. The limited pain they would cause today is nothing compared with the economic disaster that is coming if we do not begin to cut spending now.





A recent headline in the Times Free Press read, "Low corn supply, ethanol usage to boost food bills."

The story told how the diversion of so much corn to ethanol production is diminishing U.S. corn supplies, meaning it will be more expensive to make corn-based foods. Also increasing will be the cost of meat from animals that are fed corn.

Why is corn being diverted to ethanol? Is ethanol especially efficient? Hardly. It reduces gas mileage in cars and damages small engines, such as those on lawnmowers. But in a giveaway to the farm lobby, Congress is requiring that higher and higher percentages of ethanol be used in our gasoline supply. And our taxes subsidize each gallon of ethanol.

So we get not only lower mileage, damaged engines and higher food prices, but bigger deficits.

Does that make any sense?





Congress enacted a law in 2010 that, among other things, limits penalties charged for making late credit card payments and bans credit card rate hikes on existing balances.

That's "consumer-friendly," right?

But Congress didn't think about the unintended effects of the law. To make up for revenue losses caused by the law, banks are dropping risky customers and imposing higher up-front rates and annual fees on customers with shaky credit histories.

Maybe the law did some good. But good or bad, it should remind us that Congress cannot pass laws in a vacuum. Causes have effects.






In the wake of the United Nations Security Council vote at the weekend to impose sanctions on Libya, we must agree with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who argued the futility of these steps.

"Any intervention will make the process even more difficult," Erdoğan said. "It will harm not the administration but the Libyan people."

An arms embargo against the government, a travel ban and asset freeze against Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi and his family members add up to a fool's errand. Sanctions have a pitiful record, failing against Libya before. With stakes now dire, with a volunteer army of defectors readying to march on Tripoli and regime defenders striking back at protesters from armed ambulances, sanctions will do little more than assuage Western television viewers that their governments are trying.

We have also defended Erdoğan against criticism of a double standard, that he was quick to call for democratic change in Egypt but far less resolute to condemn Gadhafi. Amid the largest humanitarian boat and air evacuation of its citizenry in Turkish history, the logic of a cautious tone made sense to us.

But any logic to defend this minimalist tone by the government is fast fading. Turks in the most immediate danger are now home safely. The perception that the government is acting to protect a regime that has webs of contracts with companies connected to the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is growing. When a few foreign journalists were invited to a hastily arranged Potemkin's Circus in Tripoli on Saturday, we would have rested easier had the press conference not been at a hotel owned by one of Erdoğan's most important allies.

It is time for Erdoğan and his government to desist from declaring what the world should not do in the face of growing humanitarian tragedy in Libya. It is time for Erdoğan to use his considerable political capital in the Arab world to declare what the world should do.

We share concern about the spotty track record of U.N.-backed "humanitarian interventions" that have often covered other goals of major powers. But there is the relatively new doctrine of international legality, the "responsibility to protect." This was accepted by the U.N. General Assembly in 2005.

In short, in addition to the debate of Libya's violation of international law, there is now an emerging but concrete legal obligation of the world to respond in the face of such state terror. We should see Turkey leading this urgent international discussion toward meaningful steps: a no-fly zone over Libya, an urgent demand from the U.N. for action from the International Criminal Court (in place of the currently lame "referral") are some moves that might well have real teeth. Or better alternatives?

The world should hear of them immediately from Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu.







With winds of change blowing in the Middle East and North Africa, or MENA, the Turkish media has focused on the impact of the turmoil on the domestic economy.

With all attention on Libya, the magic number is $15 billion. That's the total value of the projects undertaken by Turkish companies in Libya during the last four years. Although the outstanding bills from these projects are not available, revenues from construction services abroad amounted to $1 billion last year.

Accounting for 15 percent of the revenues, Libya is in second place after Russia. All in all, MENA accounts for over a third of Turkey's construction income, but the substantial discrepancy between the size of the projects and revenues has led me to believe that most of the revenues of the Turkish construction companies' overseas businesses are retained abroad. Therefore, while some companies could face difficulties, the overall impact on the economy would be limited.

The same could be said of exports. Although just over one-fourth, or $30 billion, of Turkey's exports were directed at MENA last year, the countries currently in turmoil received less than 5 percent of the total. Similarly, foreign direct investment from the region is negligible. Of the $7.2 billion that has come from MENA since 2002, nearly one half is from one item, the sale of Türk Telekom.

The phantom menace to Turkey lies in higher oil prices. I should tell you outright that I will not attempt to predict this year's average oil prices. The forecasts out there go all the way from $100 to $220, and for every compelling analysis on why the oil shock is transitory, there is another one that argues it is permanent. One more guesstimate from a non-expert will not add much in this highly uncertain climate. Instead, I'll go over the effect of oil price increases on the Turkish economy.

First and foremost is the impact on the current account deficit. The rule of thumb every Turkey economist knows is that a $10 increase in the oil price raises the country's current account deficit by $4 billion. Working with percentages for a change, I found that the current account deficit would increase by 0.4 percent of GDP in response to a 10 percent rise in oil prices.

As for inflation, I am somewhat more pessimistic than the Central Bank: Although Gov. Durmuş Yılmaz recently noted that a $10 increase in oil prices would add 0.4 percent to inflation, I got the same number through a 10 percent rise.On the positive side, I found that the budget balance would improve by 0.4 percent of GDP as result of a 10 percent increase, mainly through import duties. When I integrated all these results into a growth equation, I surprisingly found a negligible effect. 

But my models, and others for that matter, are limited in two important ways: First, they ignore the impact on the rest of the world. For example, if higher oil prices increase global inflation or decrease global demand, Turkish inflation and growth are sure to be negatively affected as well.

Second, and more importantly, while these models can handle a reasonable rise in oil prices, they would break down completely in the case of a huge oil shock, as all of the statistical relationships would fail. Then, Turkey would import much fewer barrels of oil and contract substantially, as would the rest of the world. This is the stagflationary scenario feared by Pimco's Mohamed El-Erian, among others.

Otherwise, my basic predictions, all of which involve the number four, should be a good proxy for the impact of the MENA turmoil on the Turkish economy this year. In honor of the number of goals yielded by my beloved team in each of the last three games, I have decided to call this the "Beşiktaş rule."

Emre Deliveli is a freelance consultant and columnist for Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review and Forbes as well as a contributor to Roubini Global Economics. Read his economics blog at








"We wish to work in order to support the best scenario, but we are getting prepared for the worst," said Christos Papoutsis, the Greek minister of citizen protection, referring to the fast-changing situation on the shores of North Africa.

He was speaking at the EU Council of Interior and Justice Ministers, which took place last week in Brussels. Warning that the developments are moving at a rapid pace, he spoke of "an unforeseen outcome" and asked for the European Commission to be on alert while he pleaded for the solidarity of the member-states in order for "us to guarantee the security of European citizens and to enhance our cooperation on the land and sea borders of the Union."

He then asked for the close and permanent cooperation between the six EU states in the Mediterranean, i.e. Greece, Italy, Malta, France, Spain and Cyprus, with the help of Frontex, the EU border security task force agency, by setting up a network of continuous sea patrols.

Behind the words of the Greek minister one could easily detect the anxiety as the Papandreou government, already embattled with an unprecedented economic crisis and an increasing public discontent, is now poised for another likely major problem, a wave of refugees from North Africa. International media are putting the first numbers of an imminent influx of people escaping from Tunisia, Egypt and Libya at around 300,000.

Mr. Papoutsis is coming to Ankara tomorrow to meet his Turkish counterpart Besir Atalay but his task is expected to be particularly difficult as Ankara appears to be changing tactics towards Brussels.

It was during that same meeting last week when the Council of Interior and Justice Ministers decided not to take a decision over Turkey about an issue which, let alone its political significance, has special sensitivity for the Turkish citizens: their visa free entry to the EU. The ferocity in the wording of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is indicative of the anger in Ankara. According to the Turkish ministry, the decision of the Council to not take a specific stance on the matter "had not met the expectations" of Ankara.

The decision of Ankara not to limit itself to tough words but to go further did not come as the surprise. In fact, in the same statement the Turkish government openly links this issue with the expected signing of the Readmission Agreement which was concluded at the end of January "with the constructive approaches of Turkey and the EU Commission." But, after the inconclusive outcome of last week's Council meeting Ankara now says that "the conclusion and initialing of the Readmission Agreement should be carried in parallel to the initiation of the visa-dialogue process between Turkey and the EU Commission towards a visa-free regime…As long as this expectation is not met, the Readmission Agreement will not be signed, initialed or implemented."

The Turkish foreign minister was also quite open about what Ankara wants even if that may be regarded as "blackmail." "We just want a dialogue which aims at securing visa exemptions. We want equal treatment with other countries. Nothing more, nothing less," he told reporters in an Istanbul meeting with leaders of a peace initiative from Iraq's Tal Afar city.

Harsh statements by Recep Tayyip Erdogan against Angela Merkel for EU's "double standards" against Turkey as well as a cool short trip by French President Sarkozy to Ankara, where he repeated his opposition to Turkey's entry, completed the menu.

There is no doubt that Ankara has now adopted a tougher line towards Brussels. One could see that even in the unexpected demarche by Minister of Culture and Tourism Ertuğrul Günay, who told the Tagesspiegel daily in an interview that Germany should better return the prehistoric sphinx of Hattuşa – taken to Germany for restoration in 1915! – or else he would cancel the excavation license of the German Archaeological School for Hattuşa! Considering that Germany is the uncrowned king of the EU, one might have some reservations whether this sudden interest towards the repatriation of the sphinx came out of pure cultural considerations.

With a major refugee crisis about to knock the door of the EU as a result of the North African "revolutions" in Muslim countries, Turkey is enhancing its profile as powerful player in the region. At any rate the voices coming from this still-amorphous political mass tell us that they are seeing Turkey as a model for a Muslim secularist parliamentary democracy which has gone through the stages they are going through now; even if that finds almost half of the Turkish society in disagreement with these answers.

Against this fluid political and economic environment, 33 former ambassadors in Greece sent a letter last week to Papandreou suggesting to him that Greece, being in the midst of a serious economic crisis, should not sign any binding agreements with Turkey, and that it is not right for the exploratory talks with Turkey to continue under the status of a "casus belli" on behalf of Turkey. After all, they say, Turkey "has got a long history of breaching its signature."

All this makes Mr. Papoutsis' visit to Ankara harder. However, this may be an opportunity for the Turkish government to put out some clearer signs of its current intentions towards its next door neighbor.







Muammar Gadhafi's speeches grow ever more delusional: Last Thursday he accused al-Qaeda of putting hallucinogenic pills into the coffee of unsuspecting Libyan 17-year-olds in order to get them to attack the regime. But he also said something important. Defending his massacres of Libyan protesters, he pointed to the example of China, arguing that "the integrity of China was more important than [the people] on Tiananmen Square."

The Chinese regime will not be grateful to him for making that comparison, but it is quite accurate. Gadhafi, like the Chinese Communist Party, claims that there are only two choices: his own absolute power, or chaos, civil war and national disintegration. The "integrity of Libya" is allegedly at stake. Also like the Chinese ruling party, he is willing to kill hundreds or even thousands of his own fellow-citizens in order to maintain his rule.

Ruthlessness will not save Gadhafi now: He has already lost control of more than half the country and the oil revenues that enable him to reward his allies and pay mercenaries will soon dry up. But ruthlessness certainly did save the Chinese Communist regime in 1989, when the army slaughtered between 300 and 3,000 young pro-democracy protesters in Beijing's central square. Might it need to deploy such violence again in order to survive?

 So far the current wave of revolutions has been an entirely Arab phenomenon, apart from some faint echoes in Iran, but the example of successful non-violent revolution can cross national and even cultural frontiers. It won't matter that it's a very long way from the Arab world to China if large numbers of young Chinese conclude that the same techniques could also work against their own local autocracy.

 It is very unlikely that that sort of thing is brewing in China now. There were online calls for a "jasmine revolution" last week, but few people actually went out onto the streets of Chinese cities to protest, and those who did were swiftly overwhelmed by swarms of police. Even the word "jasmine" is now blocked in Internet searches in China, and tranquility has been restored.

But what if the Chinese economic miracle stalled? Then the situation could change very fast, for the regime is not loved; it is merely tolerated so long as living standards go on rising quickly. And what could cause it to stall? Well, the economic side-effects of the current wave of revolutions in the Middle East might do the trick.

 Sometimes, it really is all about oil. The last two times the world economy really took a nosedive, way beyond the normal, cyclical recessions, were both oil-related. In 1973, after the Arab-Israeli war of that year and the subsequent embargo on Arab oil exports, the oil price quadrupled. In 1979, when the Iranian revolution cut that country's oil exports, the impact was almost as severe. So could it happen again?

 Non-violent revolutions should not affect oil exports at all. Heavy fighting of the sort we are now seeing in Libya can damage oil-producing facilities and drive out foreign workers who are needed to run those facilities, but Libya is not a big enough producer to affect the global supply situation much by itself.

 What drove the oil price up to $120 a barrel at one point last week (it later fell back to $110) was not the loss of Libyan production, but the fear that, as the contagion of revolution spreads, one or more of the major Middle Eastern oil exporters may fall into the same chaos. Then, the oil pundits predict, the price could hit $180 or even $220.

 Never mind the direct impact of such an astronomical price on the Chinese economy (although China imports a lot of oil). Far worse for China would be the fact that the whole global economy would go into a period of hyper-inflation and steeply falling consumption, for China is now integrated into that economy.

 So the Chinese goose stops laying its golden eggs, and young Chinese start looking around for someone to blame. They would, of course, blame the regime – and at that point, the Middle Eastern example of successful non-violent revolution becomes highly relevant.






One of the greatest personalities of modern Turkish political history, the "spiritual leader" of the "national view" political movement, the oldest active political figure of Turkey, the first-ever Islamist prime minister of Turkey, Necmettin Erbakan has passed away Sunday… He was 84 years old.

The ever-stubborn politician was on the front pages and TV bulletins last week with a photograph showing him chairing an executive board meeting of the Felicity Party, or SP, which only a few months ago despite his frail health and advanced age elected him to the leadership in hopes of overcoming what might be described as the Numan Kurtulmuş thunderstorm in the latest party of the "national view" movement.

Without doubt Turkey will miss Erbakan, his political style, incredible wit and intellectual contributions.

Definitely, he was a mujahid. He would never ever accept defeat. He would never ever accept to compromise from his "national view" political doctrine. Even at the worse times when he was banished from politics, the parties he headed were closed down by the court or his "students" betrayed and parted ways with him, Erbakan managed to appear in front of the media with a smiling face and determination not to give up.

His physical passing away, of course, would not mean his spiritual passing away as well. Even though I might have nothing in common with the followers of Erbakan and subscribers to his "national view" political doctrine, I must underline my firm conviction that the death of Erbakan would not mean an end to the "national view" or the political movement he – physically or at times of political bans imposed on him from the backstage and often with the help of his confidant Recai Kutan – led for almost half a century.

Obviously Erbakan has made some great contributions to Turkey and Turkish politics. No one can ignore the role he played in the 1974 Cabinet led by late Bülent Ecevit. Even today many analysts argue that Prime Minister Ecevit was perhaps wrong in opposing the argument of Necmettin Hoca that if Turkey brought the entire island of Cyprus under its control, then the Cyprus problem would perhaps be long solved with the creation of a new partnership state between the Turkish and Greek peoples of the island on the basis of political equality – which to this day appears to be difficult for Greek Cypriots to accept and thus mars resolution efforts. Naturally, the past is past and such a hypothetical discussion might not serve any purpose. Yet, as someone who is a Turkish Cypriot and has been extensively writing on Cyprus peace efforts, I must stress that Cyprus peace efforts since the 1974 intervention have all failed because of Greek Cypriot refusal to share sovereignty and independence of Cyprus with Turkish Cypriot "co-founders" on the basis of "political equality." Perhaps Necmettin Hoca was correct in his assessment that liberating the entire island from expansionist designs and hegemonic aspirations of Greek Cypriots would help a resolution. But, I must say that I do still believe that partition and creation of two Cypriot states might help create a united federal Cyprus since two states would negotiate the federation on the basis of equality, an element missing in talks since they started in Lebanon in 1967.

Over the years, whenever Cyprus was on the agenda, Hoca was lamenting that Ecevit was wrong in making a "romantic" decision that limited the 1974 Turkish intervention in Cyprus with the northern third of the island even though the operation succeeded to stop the bloodbath on the island and helped Greece put an end to the colonels' junta and move on to democracy.

In 1997, though he knew very much how strongly I opposed political Islam, I received an invitation from Hoca to brief the party executive of the then Welfare Party, r RP, on Cyprus developments. I was shocked to see how well versed Hoca was on the Cyprus issue. Years later, during the height of the Annan Plan discussions in 2003, I received a request from Hoca once again to brief him and a group of senior party executives on the developments. Again, I realized that Hoca was aware of almost all minor details of the U.N. document.

Unlike the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, offspring, that for a long time abandoned nationalism and nationalist sensitivities in making politics but lately rediscovered the importance of nationalism, Necmettin Hoca was an Islamist devoted to nationalist ideals and interests.

Hoca was a peculiar personality who never tried to copy anyone. He was a heart beating for Turkey and the nation. He was for wider religious reforms and a more liberal interpretation of secularism, but always a committed republican.

Turkey has lost a great son, a great politician.

May Allah rest him in peace.

CORRECTION: In an earlier version of this story, Necmettin Erbakan was misidentified. The mistake was fixed on Feb. 28, 2011. The Daily News regrets the error.






EU interior ministers backed an agreement that requires Turkey to take back illegal immigrants originating from Turkey and gave the green light to a visa dialog with Ankara. Whereas the Commission wants to talk about visa liberalization, countries with a high immigration level of Turks are in favor of limited visa facilitations for certain groups of persons such as students, researchers and businessmen.

Alper explains the reason for his travel to the customs officer who critically eyes the visa in his passport. Other passengers rush to the exit. Alper hates arrivals at European airports.

The businessman from Ankara is in the textiles trade. He has waited more than one month for the visa approval. He had to report twice to the consulate because a document was lost. He therefore almost missed his meeting. "I have already tried it with video conferences, but it is not the same. You need to be face to face with your business partner."

Many businessmen from Turkey experience the same problems as Alper. A survey of the Turkish Foundation for Economic Development, or İKV, found, among 1,500 businessmen, academics and advocates, that two-thirds of the interviewees missed appointments in EU states due to long visa application procedures.

However, such problems could be over soon, because the Turkish government and the European Commission have recently reached an agreement which obliges Turkey to take back illegal immigrants of third countries who have used Turkey as a transit county on their way to the EU. These are several tens of thousands of persons every year. From the EU perspective, such a readmission agreement is an important step to coping with the migration flows to the EU. In exchange for this cooperation, the EU offers gradual visa facilitations, first for certain categories of persons and eventually all citizens are able to travel visa-free to the EU.

This was the case of the Balkan states. The EU implemented readmission agreements with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia in January 2008 – and simultaneously also visa facilitations. Thus, it became much easier, quicker and cheaper for the citizens of these states to obtain a visa for the Schengen area. Much more important than the visa facilitations was the dynamic which these agreements evoked: In December 2009, only two years after the visa facilitations, the EU abolished the visa obligations for Serbs, Macedonians and Montenegrins. One year later the visa waiver for Albania and Bosnia and Herzegovina was realized.

Turkey now insists on equal treatment: After the compromise on the readmission agreement, the way is open for talks on visa liberalization, Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu postulated as the Commission announced the finalization of the negotiations end of January. Turkey is not interested in talks about visa facilitations but – as in the case of the Balkan states – in talks about visa liberalization. In any case, Turkey feels unfairly treated: Whereas the EU is negotiating with Russia over the abolition of the visa obligation, talks with the EU candidate Turkey have not even started.

However, how realistic is the abolishment of the visa obligation for Turks? EU Commissioner Cecilia Malmström, responsible for visa issues, is optimistic. Addressing observations that there are difficult criteria to meet in order to achieve visa liberalization, she said: "Other countries could succeed in it. I don't see any reason for Turkey to fail to achieve it."

The biggest obstacles are the concerns of some member states that have to entitle the European Commission to start now a dialogue on visa liberalization. Countries with a high immigration level of Turks, such as Germany, fear that many Turks would use the new visa free travel opportunities in order to stay permanently in the country, and not only for the maximum of three months per 180 days, as the abolition of the visa obligation would imply. But the German government is also aware of the negative effects if it blocks the visa dialogue: Turkey would not implement the readmission agreement in practice.

This would be a great disadvantage for the EU because nowadays 90 percent of the new irregular immigrants in the EU have used Turkey as a transit country. They arrive from Afghanistan, Iran and Iraq, but also increasingly from Africa. They fly to Istanbul and then try to reach the Turkish-Greek border. The migration pressure has increased in such an extent that Greece recently announced the establishment of a 12 kilometer fence at the border region with Turkey, which has become the favorite route for illegal border crossings in recent years. Cooperation with Turkey in migration policy is a necessity for the EU. Most member states of the EU are therefore ready to start a visa dialogue with Turkey now.

A difficult situation for the German government: If Berlin rejects the visa dialogue, it will annoy a very important strategic partner and could also become isolated in the EU. In the worst case, Germany could be outvoted in the Council, because the member states no longer have a veto power in visa policies.

A staff member of EU Commissioner Malmström, who wants to stay anonymous, has rebutted the German concerns: "The visa free travel will not lead to an increase of illegal migration, because illegal immigrants could be sent back immediately," she postulated. In addition the visa obligation could be reintroduced if Turkey is not able to protect its borders and prevent illegal migration to the EU. According to an official of the German government, this estimation is unrealistic. But the official added that Germany would sooner or later be unable to reject the visa dialogue with Turkey. The official remembered how Germany, under the pressure of other EU states, grudgingly accepted the visa liberalization for Albania and Bosnia in autumn 2010.

However, even if the European Commission receives the green light to start a visa dialogue with Turkey, whether the talks can be accomplished as quickly as in the case of the Balkan states remains uncertain. Indeed, Turkey has already introduced biometric passports and has also started to modernize the border management according to EU demands – both of which are EU conditions for the abolition of the visa obligation. But the EU also demands a functioning asylum system. This could become a problem as Turkey only recognizes refugees from European countries. All other asylum seekers have to submit their application at the United Nations Refugee Agency in Turkey. If the U.N. institution acknowledges the applicant as a refugee, the person has to be resettled in a third country – staying permanently in Turkey is not possible. Until now Ankara is said to be ready to lift this limitation of the Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees only if EU membership for Turkey is in reach. However, accession talks are proceeding only slowly and some member states such as Germany or France prefer a privileged partnership instead of full membership.

That is why Alper does not believe there will be any quick progress in the visa issue. He does not want to wait any longer for the abolition of the visa obligation. He has started to shift his business activities to Syria.

*Alexander Bürgin is assistant professor from Germany at the Department of International Relations & the European Union at İzmir University of Economics.






Ever since Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981, Egypt has been ruled by Hosni Mubarak, who has been acting like a latter-day Pharaoh for the past 30 years. During his firm rule Mubarak brought "stability" to Egypt, primarily benefiting the ruling classes and not the man and woman on the street. Now, after "Eighteen Days That Shook the Middle East," to quote the Associated Press in a reference to John Reed's book on the Russian Revolution, Mubarak has left the scene in the wake of 300 dead Egyptians.

The army is in charge now, and has even vowed to lead the way to democratic elections in six months' time, suspending the constitution in the meantime. But, how did this wave of public dismay suddenly erupt across North Africa and the Middle East? Can it be true that the Internet and various social media have emboldened younger generations to such an extent that they have now literally taken to the streets? Or is there more than meets the eye?

The veteran critic of U.S. interventionism Tariq Ali, for instance, has called the events in Egypt a "genuine, popular upheaval," adding, "I think the mass movement in Egypt is a movement for national independence, [an] end to neo-colonialism and for democracy." Speaking on the Russian state-sponsored international broadcaster RT, he even compared the events in Egypt and the wider Middle East to the European revolutions of 1848.

Following the breakup of the Soviet Empire, the proliferation of color revolutions throughout former Communist countries also appeared spontaneous and driven by the popular will. In hindsight, however, it has come to light that their organization and planning was funded by the West. Rather than spontaneous and popular, nowadays these "revolutions" have often been called "orchestrated." The people of Ukraine, Georgia, and Kyrgyzstan were manipulated by U.S. intelligence agencies and NGOs like Freedom House and the Albert Einstein Institution to overthrow their pro-Russian leadership.

So, what about the recent events in Egypt? Is the Middle East now being remade in the shadow of Zbigniew Brzezinski's "arc of crisis"? In this context, Gene Sharp and the Albert Einstein Institution appear crucial. Sharp, also known as the "Machiavelli of nonviolence" or the "Clausewitz of nonviolent warfare," has written a great many books on "Civilian-Based Defense" and democracy that can serve as blueprints for popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes. On the institution's website many books, such as "From Dictatorship to Democracy," are available for free download in many languages, including Arabic. The protestors in Tahrir Square time and again stressed the peaceful nature of their actions, only to be violently disrupted by pro-Mubarak or "pro-stability" activists on horseback and mounted on camels one day, leading to significant casualties and fatalities.

But, quite apart from NGOs and their encouragements of non-violent protest in favor of regime-change more amenable to NATO and U.S. interests, WikiLeaks has revealed something altogether much more sinister. The broadcaster RT reports that the "U.S. government had been planning to topple the Egyptian president for the past three years – that's according to diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks. The files show Washington had been secretly backing leading figures behind the uprising."

A cable dated Dec. 30, 2008, indicates that a leader of the April 6 Youth Movement – a Facebook-driven opposition group – informed U.S. officials that opposition groups had come up with a plan to topple Hosni Mubarak before scheduled elections in September 2011. The cables also indicate that the U.S. authorities helped an April 6 leader to attend an "Alliance of Youth Movements" summit at Columbia University in New York on Dec. 3-5, 2008. In November 2008, the U.S. government promoted this event as an occasion bringing together "Facebook, Google, YouTube, MTV, Howcast, Columbia Law School and the U.S. Department of State . . . to Find Best Ways to Use Digital Media to Promote Freedom and Justice, Counter Violence, Extremism and Oppression."

The participating youth leaders were expected to "produce a field manual for youth empowerment," adding that this document "will stand in stark contrast to the al-Qaeda manual on the basics of terrorism, found by Coalition Forces in Iraq."

Matthew Waxman, a Columbia associate professor of law, said: "We at Columbia are excited about helping, designing, and studying innovative public-private partnerships that leverage new technologies to tackle some of the world's greatest challenges. This summit is a great opportunity to do this."

In this way, using fashionable buzzwords and jargon, Dr. Waxman tacitly provided academic credibility to this summit so clearly aimed at furthering America's cause across the world. The summit was also attended by such luminaries as Whoopi Goldberg, actress and host of ABC's "The View," Dustin Moskovitz, co-founder of Facebook and James K. Glassman, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs, U.S. Department of State.

On Jan. 27, the Egyptian authorities arrested Google's head of marketing for the Middle East and North Africa, Wael Ghonim. Ghonim is also a prominent member of the already-mentioned April 6 movement. He was released from jail on Monday, Feb. 7. While he was in prison, April 6 named him their official spokesman. As a result, it seems likely that Ghonim was the anonymous activist flown to New York two years ago. Far from being a spontaneous popular rising, the earlier groundwork behind the scenes allowed Egyptians to take to the streets in an organized and peaceful fashion. America's preparations have apparently come to fruition as the world was watching. Can it really be the case that a video message (or vlog) posted on a Facebook profile by a young Egyptian, Asmaa Mahfouz, was the impetus needed for the protests on Tahrir Square to explode? According to Asmaa's virtual friend Iyad El-Baghdadi, her vlog, recorded on Jan. 18 was "so powerful and so popular that it drove Egyptians by the thousands into Tahrir Square, and drove the Egyptian government to block Facebook."

What roles did Ghonim and Mahfouz really play in Egypt's Revolution? Did the U.S. State Department under George W. Bush play a part in promoting the Albert Einstein Institution's agenda of encouraging peaceful popular uprisings against authoritarian regimes by means of new media, social networks and viral marketing?

*Can Erimtan is an independent scholar residing in Istanbul, with a wide interest in the politics, history and culture of the Balkans and the wider Middle East. His publications include the book "Ottomans Looking West?" as well as numerous scholarly articles.







There is a sense of the inevitable about the announcement by the National Electric Power Authority that it has approved a rise of 0.33 paisa per unit by the power distribution companies. The increase is made as a result of the monthly fuel adjustment charges which are linked to international oil prices. The rise was necessitated by increased diesel fuel consumption in January, when most of the power was generated by diesel-fuelled stations. For years successive governments have used subsidies to cushion us from the cost of energy from all sources. Our donors and the IMF and the World Bank have pressured us to remove the subsidies, which the government has with been doing, but further pain awaits us in the near and medium term.

The price of oil is extremely volatile. Events in Egypt and Tunisia barely affected it, but Libya is an oil-producing nation and once instability hit it a fortnight ago oil started to climb. The benchmark Brent crude futures for April delivery hit a spike of $119.79 a barrel on the afternoon of Thursday last week before falling back to $114.55 – a rise of $3.30 on the day. Japanese analysts Nomura on last Friday were predicting that if the flow of Libyan oil was completely stopped, prices could hit $220 a barrel. It was reported on Friday night that Libya had ceased oil production — and the worst-case scenario begins to unfold. Oil may suddenly get very expensive indeed – and is going to cost all of us a lot more, and soon. This exacerbates the government's energy problems. On Thursday the finance minister presented two proposals relating to a rise in the price of petrol to President Zardari, which he declined and deferred a decision until next week citing 'political difficulties' in announcing any rise in fuel prices. The first proposal was an increase of domestic oil prices by 20 percent which would allow the government to recoup the cost of imported oil plus restoring the 'normal' level of petroleum products taxation. The second proposal was for an increase of 10 percent, close to the actual rise in international oil-price movement – but this would not claw back the revenue lost when the government was forced by public pressure to reduce taxes the last time around. This is a dangerous game which could feed through to yet another deterioration of the fiscal deficit which is currently being managed by the printing of money. Oil is slippery stuff, and the slick slope we live on has just steepened by several degrees.







And then there were two. The arrest of another American who just happens to be a US government security contractor has tightened the tension between us and the Americans by another notch. Mr DeHaven, who is now in custody, had a visa that expired last October, and even allowing for the inefficiency of our government departments it seems to have taken an unusually long time to process his application for an extension – even if he made such an application. The US embassy has said that he is 'not a direct employee of the US government' but declined to say any more until a consular official had seen him. Mr DeHaven is said to be married to a Pakistani woman and to run a business called Catalyst Services which has offices in Dubai and Afghanistan with a parent office in Charlotte, North Dakota. Catalyst Services are not in the fruit and vegetable business. They offer according to their website a menu of services which may include the provision of secure accommodation and it is staffed by retired military and defence personnel who have "played some role in major world events".

There is a wearying familiarity about all this. Once again we have an American who is working here, running his own business presumably with the knowledge and agreement of our own government, and that business is clearly in the greyest of grey areas – security. Our own intelligence agency the ISI has called for the Americans to 'come clean' and declare just how many covert operatives they have in-country. The likelihood of this happening is measured in a minus-number - unlike the number of American spooks we may be hosting which could be 'two or three score, or more'. We have to accept that there is going to be an interface between our own intelligence services and that of the Americans. It is inescapable given the nature of the conflict we are engaged in. By their very nature those contacts are going to be secret, and we understand the necessity for that. What we fail to understand is why there appears to be such laxity in terms of how far the American intelligence net is allowed to spread within our country, and why it has been allowed to proliferate as it has. Uncle Sam does not have the right to roam at will, and if he thinks he does he may find himself pondering his folly inside a jail cell.






A petitioner has moved the Sindh High Court, demanding a public investigation into the Airblue plane crash of July 2010 and for the findings to be shared with the families of the 156 victims who died as the plane crashed into the Margalla Hills. The petition is a reminder of the fact that some seven months after the biggest aviation disaster to take place on Pakistani soil, we still do not know what has been uncovered by the investigation. Media reports have spoken of pilot error, but we wonder if this has been confirmed and if there were underlying factors that led an experienced airman to make that fateful turn in the wrong direction, heading straight into the rocky planes of the hills. The black box, sent to France for deciphering, has presumably been un-coded by now. A period of several months had been cited, but we do not know what it recorded or if the contents give any further clue to events on that ill-fated plane and the reasons why it crashed.

It has become something of an unfortunate tradition in our country to neglect the task of getting to the bottom of major mishaps. In some cases, attempts to cover-up what went wrong may be involved, in other cases, nothing more than a lack of diligence or an organised system of work. But to avert future disasters, it is important that we get to the bottom of previous ones. Other uncertainties too persist with some doubts raised as to whether all the crew members who perished were paid the compensation owed to them. Perhaps, the case in court can help resolve these issues and also suggest steps that could help make air travel safer in the country.








A month after the killing of two Pakistanis by Raymond Davis on the streets of Lahore, the government is still prevaricating on the question whether he enjoys immunity from prosecution in our courts. It has also failed to take the necessary steps to compel the US authorities to cooperate in the investigation of the third killing by two others, as yet unidentified, Americans from their Lahore consulate. While the Pakistan Government continues to dither, the relentless US pressure on Pakistan to release Davis continues, despite the belated admission that he was working for the CIA.

In his "policy statement" in the National Assembly on 21 February, Gilani said only that there was a difference of opinion between Pakistan and the US on the interpretation and applicability of international and national laws. Gilani did not however reject the immunity claim and tried to pass the buck to the judiciary. If the issue of immunity arises, he said, that could be determined by the courts of law.

Partly in response to Gilani's statement, the US State Department gave a background briefing the same day focussing mainly on the legal aspects of the case. In claiming full immunity for Davis, a senior official of the State Department whom its spokesman described as "one of our foremost experts in international law" relied mainly on the fact that on 20 January 2010 the US embassy had notified him as a member of their administrative and technical staff. Once someone has been notified, the legal expert said, they assume the privileges and immunities given by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations and if the receiving state is unhappy for some reason, the only remedy they have is to declare the person "not acceptable" and ask him to leave.

A few Pakistani analysts have also taken more or less the same position. Former Foreign Secretary Najmuddin Shaikh wrote in an article printed in a local newspaper that the privileges given under the convention become available once the foreign ministry has been notified, unless the ministry states in writing that the person is unacceptable.

The issue turns essentially on the interpretation of Article 10 of the convention under which the foreign ministry has to be notified of the "appointment of members of the mission, their arrival and their final departure or the termination of their functions". The US legal expert was quite categorical: "Once we notify, end of story." But the story does not end there. Even if it is accepted, for the sake of argument, that Davis became entitled to immunity the moment he was notified, the question remains whether the omission of his name from the list of staff members which was sent by the embassy two days before the Lahore killings, is to be taken as a notification of termination of his functions at the embassy under Article 10 of the convention and therefore of the immunity the US claims for him.


The answer to this question must be that it does. If Davis' name was not on the staff list, it means that he was not a member of the embassy staff. It is as simple as that. The statement of the State Department spokesman on the day of the killing and the press release of the embassy the following day that he was a member of the consular staff also go to show he stood reassigned to the consulate when he carried out the shootings.

The US legal expert maintained that the status of a person who was originally notified under the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations is not affected when he moves around the country. But this principle does not apply to Davis, because he was not "moving around". He was living in Lahore, another proof that he had been reassigned to the consulate.

US has naturally sought to focus mainly on the notification of Davis as a member of the embassy staff. But equally important in this case - something which we should be emphasising - is that whatever special status he acquired through this notification had ended because the omission of his name from the list of embassy staff amounted to a notification of "termination of functions" under Article 10.

In his briefing on 27 and 31 January, the State Department spokesman had denied that Raymond Davis was his true identity. But since then, US officials have been silent on this issue and have been referring to him by this name. Obama also used this name. The reason is simple: a person with a fake identity cannot claim immunity even if he had been notified to the foreign ministry.

Najmuddin writes that even a duly notified member of the embassy staff enjoys immunity only for acts done in the "execution of his duties". This view is based on a misreading of Article 37 of the convention and is not correct. It is only with regard to civil and administrative jurisdiction that their immunity does not extend to acts performed outside the course of their duties.

The suggestion made by Najmuddin that Islamabad could ask Washington to waive Davis's "diplomatic immunity" and send him back to the US to stand trial is based on a misunderstanding of the concept of the waiver. No waiver is required for his prosecution in his own country. A waiver would only be needed for a trial in Pakistan if we were to concede "diplomatic immunity" to Davis.

Najmuddin also sees little chance of a fair trial for Davis in Pakistan in view of the ugly public mood in the country. This is a serious aspersion on the integrity of our judicial system. We know our courts are far from perfect but "public mood" is something which is more likely to be an obstacle to fair trial in a country like US which has a jury system. In any case, a US official has made it clear that even if there were evidence that Davis was guilty, bringing charges against Davis in the United States "would be almost impossible".

But let us take first things first. At this stage, the most urgent question is whether Davis enjoys immunity from prosecution in Pakistan. This issue turns on an interpretation of the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. The Optional Protocol on the Compulsory Settlement of Disputes under the convention provides the best way of resolving the issue. Both Pakistan and US are parties to the protocol. Its first article states that disputes on the interpretation or application of the convention may be brought before the International Court of Justice by any party. The US legal expert himself referred to this possibility in his briefing. Pakistan should follow up on this suggestion and take steps to initiate proceedings in the International Court, even if US does not. A reference to the ICJ would also be useful in warding off at least some of the pressure that US is exerting on Pakistan and in defusing tension in our bilateral relations over this issue.

But Pakistan must also ask the ICJ for a ruling on the obligation of the US to cooperate in the investigation of the death of the third Pakistani. According to US officials, there were two Americans in that car, the driver and a passenger, both of whom worked for the CIA. Pakistan should ask the ICJ for a ruling whether they may be prosecuted in Pakistan and, if so, whether US is obliged to return them to Pakistan to face trial.

A senior Pakistani intelligence official reportedly told AP that Pakistan had let the two men leave the country "as a concession to the US". If this is true, it implies complicity at the topmost political or intelligence level in helping two foreign nationals escape justice. It is therefore no wonder that the US consulate has not responded to repeated requests by the Punjab government to cooperate in the investigation. Those Pakistani officials who let the two Americans leave the country must be unmasked and given exemplary punishment.

The writer is a former member of the Pakistan Foreign Service. Email:







Those manning the ISI and those running the government are essentially from the same pod. And yet, while the former is considered among the best in the world, the latter is arguably the worst. All that changed the other day when a "senior intelligence official" in a rare bout of candour confessed that our spooks were clueless about Raymand Davis and CIA-contracted spies like him in Pakistan.

Being oblivious to scores of spies working for the CIA is inexcusable. Expecting the CIA to keep us informed of the identity and the nature of the work of its sleuths in Pakistan is delusional. It's like joining the navy to see the world and then complaining that all one really gets to see is the sea. The CIA's ability to fool friends and foes alike, including its own leaders, as the farce over the non-existent weapons of mass destruction in Iraq showed, is infinite. Good spies would have heeded Leon Trotsky's advice: "An ally has to be watched just like an enemy."

If we can be caught napping on CIA operatives, when it is clear how fussed the US is about our nukes, a bigger question arises: how much better are we when it comes to what India is up to, given that RAW is of even greater concern than the CIA?

Yet another question arises: how good are we really when it comes to what goes on along our western border, among our extremists and the Afghans?

These questions inexorably arise considering our ignorance of the presence of CIA operatives when our relationship with them, notwithstanding the use of the term "allies," has been expedient and unstable from the start.

It is, of course, good to know that we are mounting our own operations to gather intelligence on the CIA's counterterrorism operations. These should begin by keeping a close tab on the 851 "diplomats" that the US has stationed in Pakistan, and for whom it will no doubt claim diplomatic immunity whenever their dangerous antics stand exposed.

Notwithstanding the welcome candour of the "senior intelligence official" and the general impression of competence that the people have about the ISI, it may well be that this is not the case and that reform and overhaul is needed. For example, whether it has become too big and bloated to be professionally on top of its job, and whether, because of its role in politics, it can be as sharp and focused as it should be on its intelligence work. If that is the case, we had better start now, and with a sense of urgency. We live in a dangerous neighbourhood and the last thing that we want in such a situation is an intelligence agency that does not meet the highest professional standards of performance.

On occasions what the "senior intelligence official" had to say the other day sounded naive like, for example, when he seemed to be objecting to the fact that the CIA was using pressure tactics to free Davis. What did he expect? For the CIA to leave Davis to the tender mercies of the Punjab police? So great has been the CIA's eagerness to get Davis out and prevent his interrogation that even the hapless Obama was prevailed upon to lie about Davis being a diplomat. One wonders when Obama will finally get a grip on his military and the CIA. Thus far, he has been dragooned into endorsing Petraeus's failing "surge" strategy in Afghanistan, the intensification of the massively counterproductive drone operations in Pakistan, at least in the long run, and now the CIA's antics to get Davis released. Even the Cold War warrior-brothers Allen and John Dulles did not seem to have as much influence on Eisenhower as today's generals and sleuths have over Obama. Whatever the "change" that Obama campaigned for, it has been a change for the worse for our region.

But there is a silver lining to the controversy that has erupted. Our reaction to the CIA's duplicity will be a measured one. Ties will not be severed and collaboration against the greater enemy will continue. The point is to "read, mark, learn and inwardly digest" from the experience. We must learn from the public censure that has ensued, and rather than try and avoid, much less suppress it, devise better and more successful methods. This seems to be the spirit in which the "senior intelligence official" spoke, and it was a brave and novel manner of engaging with the public. It's also a welcome development because the opacity that had hitherto shrouded their views is lifting. This accords with the open society that Pakistan is becoming, to our lasting credit, because that is what we want and what democracy is all about.

Just when we were beginning to lose hope in the ability of civilians to manage their own affairs the confession by our brother in uniform showed that they are no better. Having sat in front of a retired general entrusted with running a public-sector cooperation (into the ground, as it happened) and be told—mind you, with a straight face—that he and his ilk are "a special breed," it's a relief to know that being "conned" or misled is not the monopoly of civilians. That said, there is every possibility that they will learn from their mistakes, which is more than can be said about our politicians.

The writer is a former ambassador. Email:








People power has triumphed once again, and hounded dictators in Tunisia and Egypt, in this case another military one. It was people power alone which toppled Zine El Abedine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, both American protégés. Now Muammar Qaddafi appears to be on the way out.

Flashback to June 2005, when Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state of President George W Bush, swept through the Middle East to urge democratic change in the region and improve America's image. In her keynote address at the American University in Cairo, she told 600 scholars and students: "We are supporting the democratic aspirations of all people." Told that since the United States supported dictatorships for 60 years in the Middle East, what is the guarantee it will now support democracy? "For 60 years the United States pursued stability at the expense of democracy in the Middle East—and we achieved neither," Secretary Rice responded. "Now we are taking a different course."

She declared that "millions of people are demanding freedom for themselves and democracies for their countries. To these courageous men and women, I say today: All free nations will stand with you as you secure the blessing of your own liberty." She went on to say: "There was a time, not long ago, after all, when liberty was threatened by slavery. There was a time, even more recently, when liberty was threatened by colonialism... Today liberty is threatened by undemocratic governments. Some believe this is a permanent fact of life. But there are others who know better. Throughout the Middle East, the fear of free choices can no longer justify the denial of liberties. It is time to abandon the excuses that are made to avoid the hard work of democracy."

"A hopeful future is within the reach of every citizen (in the Islamic world). The choice is yours to make. But you are not alone. All free nations are your allies." A more powerful case for democracy in the Islamic world could not have been made out. But her words sounded so hollow, so hypocritical, so devoid of meaning. No wonder her address left people cold.

Flash forward to January 2011. When the protests began in Egypt, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton described Mubarak's government as one "looking for ways to respond to the legitimate needs and interests of the Egyptian people." Then came special envoy Frank Wisner who called for Mubarak to stay in power, saying: "President Mubarak's continued leadership is critical."

Why does US policy seem to be that democracy is good for Americans, Israelis, Afghans and Iraqis, yet dangerous for Egyptians and other people in the Middle East/North Africa region? For too many people in the Islamic world, especially Egyptians, it is becoming quite clear that the United States is conspiring with the regime in Cairo in its efforts to push only cosmetic reforms, while keeping the basic structure in power.

When millions of young students gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo, President Obama jettisoned America's ideals and placed himself on the wrong side of history. He decided to side with the Pharaoh right to the end.

Many questions come to mind:

* Why did Obama react so slowly to the democratic revolution in Egypt?

* Why did he maintain support for Mubarak so long?

* Why did he move more cautiously in the present crisis than did President Reagan, who moved away from Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines?

* Why was President Obama so slow to embrace the young protestors in Cairo?

* Why President Obama didn't come out more strongly on their side?

President Obama never found the voice to clearly endorse the Tahrir Square Revolution until it was all over. The ambivalent, almost nervous, carefully calculated US reaction to the Egyptian revolution underscored the hypocrisy of the United States in often backing dictators over democracy. Almost till the end, the Obama administration seemed more confident with the regime than with people power. America was on the wrong side of history when youthful Muslims and Christians were at the barricades fighting for liberty, rule of law, human dignity and end to dictatorship. It is now abundantly clear that, despite the democratic rhetoric, America had all along been decidedly on the side of Mubarak.

People all over the world watched with horror how, with American acquiescence, Mubarak attacked pro-democracy young protestors with "made in USA" teargas shells. President Obama provided Mubarak time to recover from the shock, and to mobilise and arm his thugs and gangsters whom he used with deadly effect in Tahrir Square against peaceful, unarmed protestors.

Once we thought this one-of-a-kind American president would do great things. In his inaugural address President Obama focused more on "soft power" and told the Muslim world that he wants "a new way forward, based on mutual interest and mutual respect." All that seems to have changed. Obama appears to have forgotten America as an idea, as a source of optimism and as a beacon of liberty. For more than two centuries, America was the cradle of liberty, the destination point for those who seek to live in freedom, and the source of inspiration for those who want to make their own countries as free as America itself. No longer. These days nobody would think of appealing to the United States for support in the upholding of liberty—maybe to Canada, to Norway or to Sweden, but not to the United States.

"For a nation that honours democracy and freedom the United States has a nasty habit of embracing foreign dictators when they seem to serve US interests. It is one of the least appealing traits of US foreign policy," The New York Times wrote in an editorial back in 2002, under the title "Dancing with dictators."

So, what are the lessons we in Pakistan should take away from Tahrir Square?

* The days of corrupt rulers who loot and plunder the resources of their countries are over.

* The days of American lackeys, puppets and running dogs who sacrifice national interest to please their handlers are over.

* The days of fraudulent democracy Potemkin political institutions, rubberstamp parliaments and corrupt, spineless presidents and prime ministers are over.

The political momentum now rests entirely with the people. They can smell the march of their own power. At last, people have found their life mission, something to fight for, something to die for: fight dictatorship, military or civilian. They have also found the tool to achieve this mammoth task: street demonstrations. I have lived to see millions of my people indignant and resolute in the streets of Islamabad, demanding with an irresistible voice rule of law, independence of judiciary, ruthless accountability, and end to high-level corruption. It remains to be seen if that voice of liberty would prove to be durable. It is now or never. One thing is clear. Change is going to come sooner than you expect—if we work for it, if we fight for it, if we believe in it.

There is no other path for our country but the one Egyptians and Tunisians took, and now the Libyans are treading. Let us follow their example.








When the singer Rahat Fateh Ali Khan was held up by the authorities in India, the reaction back home was, how could an artiste of his stature be meted out such treatment. It was also alleged that what lay at the bottom of his detention was traditional Hindu antipathy towards Pakistanis and Muslims going back to the bifurcation of India more than six decades back, and beyond that.

Rahat, no doubt. is a singer par excellence, whose popularity transcends geographical boundaries. With the film industry of Pakistan in a hopeless condition and that of India booming, every Pakistani artiste—singer and performer—is panting for making his or her name in Bollywood. However, few of them have matched or even come closer to their countryman Rahat in the appreciation and following that he commands across the borders. That Rahat at the moment is the most sought0after male singer in Bollywood testifies not only to his tremendous talent but also to the fact that a good voice is appreciated, irrespective of its country of origin.

But great talent, whether in science or literature, sports or showbiz, is not bigger than the law of the land. Therefore, no one should break the law and get away with that on the flimsy ground that he or she is someone special. In a way, since the stars are a role model, they need to show greater respect for the law than the ordinary citizen.

Coming to the case of Rahat, every country places some restrictions on the movement of foreign exchange and a person who is leaving the country with forex in excess of the permitted amount has to make a declaration to that effect before the customs. India, of course, is no exception. Rahat did transgress his host country's laws while trying to leave the country without declaring that the dollars that he was carrying well exceeded the amount he was allowed.

The singer confessed to the transgression but maintained that he didn't do so intentionally. And there's hardly any reason one shouldn't agree with him. But wittingly or unwittingly, he did violate the law and was detained and fined for that. Rahat subsequently apologised to his Indian fans for what he called letting them down. It was a simple case in which the writ of the law was enforced irrespective of the status of the person on whom it was enforced. Reading any ulterior motive into that is unwarranted, uncalled-for.

That episode, however, was evidently rather amazing for us Pakistanis, who believe that one's exalted status in society entitles one to special treatment. Therefore, the reaction which Rahat's detention precipitated was quite normal and brings out a singular feature of our culture—that the rich and famous, the high and mighty, are bigger than the law.

Take an ordinary example. If someone runs the red light and is stopped by the traffic constable with the intention of handing down the penalty for the violation, the typical response is: You can't do this to me; don't you know I'm a politician, a parliamentarian, a councillor, a lawyer, a government officer, a serviceman, a journalist, a showbiz or sports star, or someone closely related to any of these so-called VIPs? In case the poor constable is brave enough to do his duty and insists that the errant driver pay the fine, all kinds of threats are hurled at him. The message is loud and clear that even if "I" have broken the law, because of my position or connections, "I" should be allowed to go scot-free.

This exactly happened sometime back when a silver-screen star, better known for her real-life anecdotes, got into an argument with a policeman who dared to stop her for driving a car with the blinds pulled on in violation of traffic rules. Instead of acknowledging her mistake and quietly paying the fine, the lady lashed out at the constable: how come she, a celebrity, was being treated like an ordinary citizen.

In our VIP culture, being powerful or influential means being above the law. If you are a VIP, you needn't pay a single penny in taxes or return bank loans, and of course you can stash away as many dollars, pounds, euros and francs as you want. Rest assured, neither tax nor customs nor bank officials would lay their hands on you. How little our millionaire politicians, business tycoons and leading sportspersons and entertainers, who always brag about their patriotism, pay in taxes is all too well-known to mention. The authorities wouldn't dare bring them into the tax net, because they are special persons and need to be given special treatment. Little wonder, then, that we have one of the lowest tax-GDP ratios and one of the highest loan defaults in the world and public revenue always lags well behind public spending.

The author is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi@








Friday's announcement by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif that the PML-N had decided to sever its links with the PPP in Punjab is yet another phase in the murky world of Pakistani politics. In the press conference the PML-N chief wore the mask of injured innocence and recapitulated the atrocious performance of the PPP-led federal government, though his own party has hardly fared any better in Punjab. The composition of the Punjab government will change with the bonding between the PML-N and the 47 members of the Unification Group from the PML-Q, but the formidable problems confronting the country will remain.

The swearing in of Yusuf Raza Gilani on March 25, 2008, as the 17th prime minister of Pakistan was the curtain-raiser to a tragicomedy enacted by a cast of artless political leaders. In the nearly three years since then, his government has reneged on its commitments or revised its policies on critical issues on no less than 15 occasions. It is almost as though the leadership of the country believes, as Oscar Wilde did, that "consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative."

In the process, the government has created a crisis of credibility for itself. What it does not realise is that credibility is like delicate porcelain which, if broken, is almost impossible to restore. No one takes the leadership of the country seriously anymore and this became apparent within months of the February 2008 elections. Thoughtless pronouncements are made at the highest level only to be proved false later.

For instance, on Nov 22, 2008, President Asif Ali Zardari took the world by storm when, during a videoconference organised by The Hindustan Times, he told his audience that Pakistan would "certainly not" be the first to use nuclear weapons. In one sweep Pakistan's security, underpinned by its nuclear doctrine, was rent asunder. The reaction of Indian strategic analysts, such as C Uday Bhaskar, was: "We have to wait till tomorrow to see how the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi responds to Mr Zardari's political initiative." Four days later the Mumbai attacks took place.

For the past one month, the attention of the Pakistani leadership and the media has been riveted on the Raymond Davis incident. It is almost as though there was nothing else of any consequence. Here again there have been contradictory statements galore, thereby again bringing the credibility of the federal government into question. The former PPP information secretary, Fauzia Wahab, told the media in Karachi that Davis had immunity under the 1961 Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations. Yet four hours later, presidential spokesman Farhatullah Babar declared that what Ms Wahab had said were her personal views and did not reflect the party's position. Qamar Zaman Kaira, who barely a week earlier had been ingloriously ousted from the federal cabinet, replaced Ms Wahab as the ruling party's information czar.

Former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Quraishi--who acquired the reputation of a diplomatic Bertie Wooster when he stated after the Zardari-Sarkozy talks at the Elysee Palace on May 15, 2009, that France had agreed to provide civilian nuclear technology to Pakistan--has also added to the confusion on the Davis affair. Peeved at reportedly being transferred to the water and power ministry in the recent cabinet downsizing, Quraishi decided to quit the government, but not the PPP, and is now posing as the fifth martyr of the Davis episode. In one histrionic outburst after another he has claimed that he was removed from the foreign ministry for not knuckling under US pressure to concede diplomatic immunity to Davis.

Far more serious than the storm generated by Davis was Interior Minister Rehman Malik's claim in the National Assembly on Jan 28 that he possessed evidence of a blueprint for the break-up of Pakistan. The first stage in this scheme was to stoke the unrest in Balochistan and raise it to the level of a province-wide insurgency. Without identifying the masterminds, the interior minister said the plot had been foiled because of timely intervention by the military. On Jan 25 he told media representatives that the government had captured terrorists in Karachi who had planned to assassinate leaders of the MQM, the PPP and the ANP, as well as journalists. Their objective was "to turn Karachi into Lebanon."

Both claims made by Rehman Malik have been received with skepticism because of the government's credibility problem. However, they cannot be brushed aside because Pakistan has had more than its share of high drama in the 63 years since its emergence. There have been wars, insurgencies, recurrent terrorist incidents, military coups and political assassinations. As if this were not enough, in 1971 Pakistan became the only country in history where the majority population seceded from the minority.

Those who do not learn from history are liable to commit the mistakes of the past. Since the birth of Pakistan in 1947, its people have been told that their country was in danger. This was probably true, and the threat persists, with the difference that it now mostly emanates from within the country. There has undeniably been external interference in Pakistan and this will remain so long as the government does not take drastic measures to address the near-collapse of the economy, which, in turn, spawns extremist violence and terrorism.

The continuing economic haemorrhage of the country can no longer be sustained. Pakistan is rapidly heading towards insolvency with the widening of the revenue-expenditure gap. There are only 2.5 million taxpayers out of an estimated adult population of 86 million. The major state-owned enterprises have totted up colossal losses that reached 245 billion rupees in 2009-10. According to UNICEF, malnourishment in Sindh is at more than 21 per cent of the population, and this not only surpasses the level prevailing in sub-Saharan Africa but is also way beyond the 15 per cent emergency threshold established by the World Health Organisation. The ingredients for political chaos, and even anarchy, are in place.

It is futile to expect the current political leadership, whether in government or in the opposition, to salvage the situation, because they are the cause of the problem. In his press conference Nawaz Sharif hinted at possible midterm elections. This is not the answer, because elections, whenever they are held, will only yield the same poisonous harvest of a corrupt leadership. There has to be immediate and radical change because the continuation of the economic meltdown and the political turmoil will be disastrous for the country.

Some analysts have suggested that a possible way out is the replacement of the federal and provincial governments by interim dispensations of technocrats mandated to carry out reforms, through a decision by the Supreme Court under the Roman law maxim of salus populi lex or "let the welfare of the people be the supreme law." They have no hesitation in admitting that this was precisely the justification advanced by the Dogar Supreme Court in validating Pervez Musharraf's proclamation of emergency, which was described as an "extra-constitutional step," rather than an "unconstitutional measure."

The writer is the publisher of the Criterion quarterly. Email:








As the Arabs busy themselves with throwing off repressive and despotic regimes I inevitably bump into friends and colleagues who express a desire for similar here in the Land of the Pure. They point to a crumbling economy and a state that seems to earn its international living these days by begging – bringing a whole new dimension to the phrase 'professional beggar'. They tick off the usual checkpoints: - terrorism and internal instability, a galloping demographic, a layer-cake of incompetence at every level of government, institutionalised corruption and dynastic political systems. Where, they wonder are the future leaders, the Jinnahs who may come to save us all from fundamentalism before it eats us up? With the educated middle class having abdicated the political role in favour of being a kaffee-klatch that pelts the Establishment with finely-tuned witticisms from the safety of its Facebook page – is not revolution the only route left to us? Despite appearances to the contrary ours is not a particularly despotic regime. It is a bumbling quasi-democracy held together by the military, and all beneath the democratic fig leaf of something vaguely resembling a parliament. There is mass participation in political activity and currently there is a cautious experiment around the idea of letting a government run its course. The politicians who are this day dancing the lobster gavotte in Punjab may be kidding themselves that they are pushing us towards a mid-term election, but it's all theatre and we will happily and passively watch a performance that has run for at least fifty years and seems to show no sign of flagging.

There are 'disappearances' and intimidation, there are concerted attempts to stifle the media from time to time and a regular butchery of innocent civilians by assorted groups who have no interest in anything beyond bombing us back to the stone age. Any signs of popular protest against any of this? Beyond a loyal band of brave souls who demonstrate outside press clubs, blog with the utmost earnestness and seem to number in the few thousands and not the millions that would be needed to bring real change - no. Honour killing is elevated to being a grisly national spectator sport ritually decried for the regulation two days and then put back on the shelf. We even have politicians of national stature defending it in parliament. Mass protests against honour killing? Child rape and murder? Lack of provision of schools and health services? Absolutely not. No sign of mass food riots either despite over 30% of the population being food insecure – which is a polite way of saying they are half-starved. You'd think a few million hungry people might be able to kick a bit of a revolution into life wouldn't you? Apparently not.


Our rulers can watch events elsewhere safe in the knowledge that their positions are secure and most unlikely to be challenged. And why might this be, Dear Reader? Because we are united in our dis-unitedness. Because you would never see a group of Christians linking arms around a group of praying Muslims to protect them as they did in Tahrir Square in Cairo. Nor all march under a single flag. Nor tolerate – nor even contemplate - a move across political, cultural and ethnic boundaries in such a way as to present a united front. Grumble and fulminate we may, but there is no unifying issue beyond blasphemy that is going to coalesce 'the masses' and provide a real and credible challenge to the status quo. So no revolt here, now or in the foreseeable future. Sorry to have disturbed you, you can go back to sleep now.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email:









AFTER the Lahore incident in which CIA operative Raymond Davis killed two Pakistani youths, the DG ISI Lt. Gen Ahmad Shuja Pasha has asked the CIA to provide details about its operatives in Pakistan. There had been several incidents in the past when Americans working under the garb of diplomats were later found to be CIA agents.

In this background General Pasha very pertinently sought a complete list of all CIA operatives in Pakistan, their tasks and mandates. He very rightly told the CIA chief Leon Panetta that if they wanted to regain ISI trust, they must stop doing things behind their backs and ensure that there were no more Raymond Davis like incidents in the future. In our view it was necessary to confront the CIA head-on and told that it should not take Pakistan for granted. We are a sovereign country, a nuclear power and our cooperation in the war on terror should not be taken as our weakness. It was of paramount importance to tell the Americans that if they consider Pakistan as an ally, which they are never tired of repeating, they must not treat it as a satellite and do whatever they wish because the self-respecting Pakistani nation and its security establishment would in no way tolerate that. In fact General Pasha conveyed the sentiments of Pakistani nation to the CIA chief and we are sure that Mr Panetta might have realized the sensitivity of the situation and respond positively to the demand of the ISI Chief because the Americans have no alternative but to depend on cooperation from Pakistan's premier intelligence agency in their war in Afghanistan. The present law and order situation in Pakistan is the result of unhindered activities of CIA, western agencies and RAW as their operatives come here on diplomatic visas. Also many personnel deployed on apparently social welfare projects not only in cities but also in the far-flung areas are spies who have established their networks. We are sorry to point out that the focus of the present government is inward, restricted to politics and it pays scant attention to the security of the country. In fact some functionaries appear to be indirectly supporting the operations of the foreign agencies as visas are being issued without proper scrutiny. In this perspective time has come and as General Pasha has rightly decided, to have a detailed review of the huge presence of all sorts of foreign agencies operatives in Pakistan. It was only on Friday that Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Hina Rabbani Khar made the startling disclosure in the National Assembly that 851 US nationals are working in Pakistan and of them 554 enjoy diplomatic status while the remaining 297 are non diplomats. . Similarly UK has 170 nationals and India 117 in their embassies. It is known to every Pakistani that many of the officials in US Embassy in Islamabad and its Consulates in Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar are in fact CIA agents who have been given different tasks including spying on Pakistan's nuclear, military capabilities and to find out the hideouts of militants. These figures are in addition to Americans and others coming to Pakistan to work on dubious projects like Aaron Mark DeHaven, an American national, who has been arrested by Police for overstay in Pakistan. As it appears he too is an under cover agent of the American spy agency and doing business after marrying a Pakistani girl and claims to have embraced Islam. We have been repeatedly pointing out that these people are trying to soften Pakistan and their activities need to be strictly observed. General Pasha who earlier as Director General Military Operations and later as Commander of the premier intelligence agency is recognized world over as an outstanding professional and never minces words to express his opinion. In the prevailing situation, it was incumbent upon General Pasha to demand full details from his American counterpart about the number of CIA agents in Pakistan as this was expected by the people and was a requirement of our national security. It is the hall mark of the General to call a spade a spade and in 2009 he confronted the CIA chief with undeniable documentary evidences, to the shocking of Panetta, about Indian efforts in aiding terrorism in Balochistan and Waziristan through Afghanistan. General Pasha at that time too criticised the CIA's counter-terrorism strategy in Afghanistan and its failure to provide concrete actionable information to Pakistan in containing flow of aid to terror networks operating from Afghanistan to destabilize Pakistan. Now that General Pasha has raised the issue of undercover CIA operatives, it is time that the government, all political parties, media and the civil society should also play their role to get rid of all sorts of undercover operatives from Pakistani soil.








IN the perspective of notorious containers case, Chairman FBR has suspended twenty-two Customs officials and it is reported that more such suspensions are in the pipeline as investigations goes on. Unfortunately the premium revenue collection agency for the last many decades had been under criticism that some of its officials in collusion with business houses had been causing losses of billions of rupees every year to the national exchequer but no action was taken.

Mr Salman Siddique, having rich administrative experience and leadership qualities, who has been given the charge to head the FBR has launched a clean up operation and a number of cases of tax evasion have been unearthed and action taken against the corrupt officials. While testifying before the Senate Committee on Finance and Revenue he recently said that for every Rs100 collected by the Federal Board of Revenue in taxes, it misses another Rs79 due to tax evasion. The FBR estimated that the total revenue lost by the government as a result of tax evasion comes out to Rs1.27 trillion for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2011. This number is higher than the World Bank's most recent estimate of Rs796 billion and is equal to 8 per cent of the GDP, nearly equal to the worst case scenario for the projected fiscal deficit for the current year. With numbers as astounding as this, a wide-ranging crackdown against tax evaders and corrupt officials was essential. The Chairman is determined to generate maximum revenue by prosecuting tax evaders using indirect estimates of their income and lifestyle. We are confident that the Chairman is fully cognizant of the situation and his responsibilities and would clean the FBR from black sheep to generate maximum revenue to enable the country to stand on its own feet.






Contemporary world has witnessed new heights of coercive diplomacy. A public statement by President Obama declaring Raymond Davis a diplomat and asking Pakistan for his repatriation was overkill; indeed it was a diplomatic faux pas. American media was forbidden to mention the killer's connection to CIA; 'free and fair' media faithfully obliged the government, until British media spilled the beans. Washington suspended all high level contacts with Islamabad; called off a planned bilateral meeting between the foreign ministers on the sidelines of 'Munich Security Conference'; dropped Pakistan from the crucial trilateral talks of Pakistani, Afghan and the US foreign ministers; Pakistan was conveyed that Zardari's visit to Washington was uncertain and that Obama's planned visit to Pakistan might not go through.

Pakistan's ambassador was summoned and intimidated by the National Security Advisor that he will be kicked out if Davis is not handed over to the US. Threats of suspension of economic aid and future cooperation were given amid indications that the strategic alliance between the two countries was also at risk. Attitude of the American embassy was rather insensitive. No regrets were expressed over the brutal killings, no condolences were conveyed to the families of the deceased and little concern was shown for public sentiment. Though John Kerry visited Pakistan, offering belated condolences and expressing remorse at the loss of life; this was too little too late.

Apparently concerned that Davis's continued detention and interrogation might blow his cover and expose his dubious activities, the attitude of State Department became extremely arrogant, harsh and bullying. Probably Davis knows too much about the American campaign of special operations aimed at destabilizing Pakistan to justify its denuclearization by force. Moreover, his connections with fissile material and biological and chemical warfare materials' trafficking matters indicate that Davis was in the process of setting up something too big and too dangerous. There are speculations that Davis was a member of a 'Special Mission Unit', based in Pakistan's vicinity, with the objective of making plans and preparations to seize Pakistan's nukes, if and when necessary. His task was to develop intelligence, contacts and agents in furtherance of his unit's mission. May be the individuals he killed somehow knew too much about his plans and refused to fall in line with him; whereby Davis had no choice but to kill them irrespective of the cost. There are a number of theories circulating about the identity and credentials of the slain duo as well as Davis.

Two days before Davis went on killing spree, the US Embassy had forwarded its annual lists of diplomatic and non-diplomatic staff in Pakistan to the Pakistan's Foreign Office. Raymond Davis was not on the diplomatic list. The day after the incident, the US Embassy resubmitted a revised list adding killer's name to diplomatic list. When Pakistani police took Davis into custody, he had an ordinary American passport with a valid ordinary Pakistan visa, issued by the Pakistan Embassy in Washington. A day later, Pakistani police was approached by a Lahore Consulate staffer in a hush hush manner to exchange that passport with another one. The new passport was a diplomatic one with a valid diplomatic visa stamped by Pakistan's foreign office, sometime in 2009. However, police did not oblige.

Prosecutors have presented two letters from the US Embassy as evidence before the Lahore High Court. The first letter, dated January 27, reads: "Davis is an employee of the US Consulate General Lahore and holder of a diplomatic passport." The second, dated February 3rd, states that Davis is a member of the "administrative and technical staff of the US Embassy Islamabad!"

This sort of mysterious and indiscreet handling of the issue has diminished the chances of any alternative solutions to the impasse which could have been possible if the matter was handled by the American side discreetly and prudently. Unfortunately, pragmatism was the first causality right on the onset of crisis.

Under Pakistani law, there is provision for "Blood Money," i.e. that the next of kin can accept monetary remuneration and pardon the killer. Despite pressure, families of ill fated Zeeshan and Faheem have refused to accept Blood Money. In fact, anti America sentiment is running so high that local wealthy businessmen have publicly urged them to refuse, with the promise that they would match any sum offered to them by the US. Then rumours were floated that the US might reach an understanding with Pakistan for a swap over of Aafiya Siddique with Davis. However, Aafiya's family refused to accept such proposition, and spoke to media and the government to not to release Davis in exchange with Aafiya.

Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), known in the US media as the Pakistan Taliban, has issued a warning to the Pakistani government of dire consequences if Davis is released. This indicates that suicide attacks, murders and turmoil could follow his release; even the judges involved in such decision could be targeted. Pakistanis are reminded once again that Pak-American relations, like always, hang by a thread and Pakistan can be jettisoned any time if it refuses to fall in line. A recent survey by Gallup Pakistan has pointed out that 70% Pakistanis consider America as greatest threat to Pakistan's sovereignty. People in the street perceive America as an arrogant, war mongering super power which foments trouble and destroys countries. They are also angry with the US over drone attacks and have been demanding immediate end to these illegal attacks that have claimed hundreds of civilian lives.

Jeremy Scahill in his article "The Secret US War in Pakistan" states: "At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Black Water are at the centre of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan." Pakistani military had concluded a long time ago that the TTP was being aided by sort of free-wheeling "contractors" that Davis represents. Last year the US pressurised Pakistan to accept about 500 of "Davis types" without any background checks. Americans have yet once again shown poor understanding of Pakistan's ground realities. Currently there is an impasse. Public pressure leaves little room for any compromise. The US State Department, having mishandled the issue now needs to act more sensibly and back off to let the tempers cool down. More threats would further worsen an already bad situation.

Hillary Clinton was ill advised to pursue such a rasping policy in full public view. Pakistan has not buckled under intense US pressure; it is also not impressed by the American posturing. Majority of Pakistanis believe these to be empty threats. This cow boy style of handling the Davis issue is in line with "The Ugly American", a best seller of yester years, and a very successful movie. This profile is a sort of prefect encapsulation of the dysfunction at the heart of the US-Pakistan relationship, and the failure of American policymakers to recognize it.

—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.







Tripartite talks between Pakistan, US and Afghanistan, regarding the security and stability in Afghanistan, were primarily scheduled to be held in Washington, from 23-25 February, 2011. However, owing to the arrest of a US national Raymond Davis, who killed two Pakistani nationals, US decided not to invite Pakistan in the talks. Nevertheless, there are many underlying causes for avoiding Pakistani presence in the talks at this critical juncture of Afghanistan. These reasons have a linkage with the US future strategy in Afghanistan, in dealing with the Karazai administration as well as the Taliban and other warlords. Finally the talks were held between US and Afghanistan. However, despite absence of Pakistan from the talks, Afghan Defense Minister Rahim Wardak declared that, Pakistan and Afghanistan have better prospects for cooperation and referring his earlier meeting with Pakistani Army Chief, remarked that, "We are really hopeful for very good relations between our governments."

Since the central agenda of the talks was the security in Afghanistan, therefore, an assessment of the situation would reveal that, over all, there has been deterioration in the security and stability in Afghanistan. This was amply highlighted by the outgoing UN special representative, Robert Watkins, who recently stated that; "security is the worst in a decade and the world body is virtually shut out of two-fifths of the country." In the meanwhile, U.S has started withdrawing its troops from Pech Valley in Kunar province, to allow troops of Afghan National Army (ANA) to take over the responsibilities there, on trial basis. However, it seems difficult for the ANA to sustain the onslaught of the Taliban. Occupation of this Valley was once the dream of the US and its 103 soldiers lost their lives in the struggle to capture it and later to keep it under its occupation.

While welcoming the Afghan delegation, US Defence Secretary, Robert Gates, hoped that, "this would be the first of regular meetings to sustain a long-term military to military relationship" between Afghanistan and US. However, analysts feel that, any negotiations with respect to peace in Afghanistan without involving Pakistan are just like, "playing Hamlet without the Prince of Denmark." On a very individual incident, US should not have shelved the tripartite talks and instead undertaken the bilateral talks while relegating Pakistan. By doing so, it appeared as US is playing a double game in Afghanistan, which would be very dangerous for itself, until its complete drawdown in 2014, if at all, it is serious about that. On one side, its military head, Admiral Mike Mullen along with General Petraeus had a meeting with Pakistani Army Chief in Muscat, exploring "new ways to better coordinate military operations". On the other hand, it has tried to isolate Pakistan, for not bowing to its demands in the case of Raymond Davis.

Apart from this, the New Yorker magazine has recently disclosed that the United States is once again making direct contacts with the Afghan Taliban. As per Steve Coll, the writer and analyst of the New American Foundation, Washington, these talks are still in the exploratory stage, aiming to assess, as the real leadership of Taliban. Since 2008, the US made several attempts to persuade the Taliban to become a part of the Afghan government. In this regard, the US even divided them into good and the bad Taliban. Perhaps, the good were those Taliban who would have reconciled with US stay in Afghanistan, and bad ones were those who are fighting against the foreign occupation of their country by the US and NATO.


Now with the aim of winning the hearts and minds of Taliban, US is encouraging the Afghan Peace Council to send its delegation to Guantanamo Bay for working out some modalities of the release of the arrested Taliban? U.S sees this forward move in integrating the Taliban in the Afghan main stream. Steve Coll of the New American Foundation, Washington, while giving out the mindset of the Americans clearly says that, there is a commonality between US and Taliban regarding the future Pakistani role. Both desire that, Pakistan and its intelligence agencies should have no role in the political engagement between US and the Taliban.

On its part, Pakistan never pursued any role for its intelligence agencies or Government in Afghanistan. Pakistan only desire peace and stability in Afghanistan, as it feels that stability in Pakistan is directly linked with the stability in Afghanistan. Throughout the period of US invasion, Pakistan has been emphasizing it to negotiate with the Taliban and other warlords, controlling over 70 percent territory of Afghanistan. How far the US can go ahead with its agenda of the talks would be decided on the ground realities. The fact of the matter is that rather than getting local support, the US popularity graph in Afghanistan has drastically decreased in last two years. Resultantly, there has been an increase in the area of the influence of the Taliban and warlords.

Today, Taliban are hell bent on one pre-condition that, before any negotiations, NATO and US forces must pull out from the Afghan soil. However, the US strategy has been of the carrot and the stick. There have been occasions where Pakistan really assisted the United States, for getting into successful negotiations with the Taliban. However, in the realm of power politics, US perhaps thought that it can subdue the valiant sons of Afghanistan through the use of force. Even after fully recognising the need of negotiations, it used the force, just to give an impression that the US would negotiate from the stand point of domination, rather playing on the level field.

In the current attempt, if at all the US is serious in the dialogue process with the Taliban, than, it should not discriminate between the good and bad Taliban nor the hardliners and moderates. Taliban in Afghanistan is a reality to be reckoned with. Moreover, the US would have to abandon the military operations, which so far have resulted into enormous losses of innocent lives in Afghanistan. Another factor which the US needs to take into consideration is the ever increasing Indian role in Afghanistan. Majority of the Afghans have lot of reservations about the real agenda of India in this country of traditions and religious minded people.

As regards Pak-US relationship, the super power must understand that, "To sustain a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship, both sides need to resolve if not ignore passing irritants instead of allowing them to sour their relationship." Tension over the Raymond Davis, should not have been the sole cause for not inviting Pakistan for this tripartite talks. Exclusion of Pakistan from these talks has taken place at a time, once US has started talks with the Taliban and gave indications for the likely release of some Taliban leaders from Guantanamo Bay. US, perhaps never wanted any Pakistani role in this entire episode. On its part, Pakistan feels that, there is an immediate need of peace and stability in Afghanistan through negotiations. In all eventualities, peace and the stability in Afghanistan cannot be attained "without a goal-oriented unity of purpose between the four parties concerned; the Washington, Kabul, Islamabad and the Taliban leadership."

The writer is an international relations analyst.







The suicide attack in Khar, Bajaur Agency, on the 24th of December, 2010, killed at least 43 people, while injuring over a hundred. The suicide attack took place at a World Food Program distribution center, where people displaced from fighting and floods, had gathered to receive supplies. The attacker was identified as a women and Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) took responsibility of the incident. This is just one example of how the women in these conflict areas are being exploited by the terrorists, to forward their agenda. This may not be the first time or the last time these elements have used women, in this conflict. Reports have been surfacing from time to time, where various terrorist cells have been busted, consisting of female suicide bombers. Besides being exploited for such activities, the hardships faced by women residing in these conflict struck areas, are on a grand scale, as they live through constant fear of their lives and honor.

Pakistan is a society, which has been under male domination since centuries of cultural principles, developed on the sidelines of medieval customs. Women have been given a secondary position, in the society, where the birth of a girl in the family is accompanied with remorse by family members. This trend should have died away with the increase in education and exposure to outside world, but this perception is still present and even has taken a hold in the better sections of the society. Gender empowerment and equity is the most neglected subject in the Pakistani society. With the war on terrorism overwhelming all other issues, this has been pushed to the backburner. But it should be realized that, gender discrimination and exploitation of women, is part of this war on terror. The foremost target of these terrorists, are the women in these conflict areas. They implement Taliban styled restrictions over women and isolate them from the mainstream society.

The literacy rate in Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) is estimated at only 22 percent, with the female literacy rate only being 7.5 percent. According to official figures 447 of 638 schools have been destroyed in South Waziristan alone by the militants. As per Taliban styled rules and laws female education has been specifically targeted and restrictions have been placed on it. It is to be understood that a woman is an institution herself, for her children. If this institution is not groomed with proper education and guidance, the future generations will also suffer. The Swat chapter of Tehrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) has been especially infamous for its treatment of women. The flogging video of a woman became the turning point, when the brutalities committed by these outfits came into full view, for the whole nation. Since the liberation of Swat and other areas, which had remained under influence of TTP, numerous other women have approached the authorities and have narrated their stories of brutalities committed by Taliban. Besides this the Taliban have been involved in killing women, inside conflict areas. In January this year, Taliban stormed a lady constable Shashad Begum's house and killed her and her relatives in Hangu. Before in November 2008, Bakht Zeba a child rights activist and district council member was killed by militants at Mingora.

Female education has been the worst, which has suffered not only in conflict areas, but throughout the country. According to the Economic Survey of 2009-2010, literacy in rural areas remained at 48 percent; out of this percentage only 45 percent of women were literate. These figures are not at all encouraging and depict how women are being kept away from a basic right. While men are the bread earners, they have attained the upper hand in the society on this sole reason. The influence of women in these households is restricted and they are subjected to continuous harassment. The brutalities against women are not only isolated to the conflict areas of the country, but are widespread throughout.

The menace of women trafficking, honor killings and forcible marriages are incidents reported at a daily routine in the media. The customs of "Vani" or "Swara", where blood feuds are being settled among two groups by forcible marriages of women, has also taken a hold throughout the rural areas of Pakistan. The chilling incident in Baluchistan, of five women being buried alive in 2008, highlighted the plight of women in the country. As the law enforcement apparatus of the state i.e. the police has little or no influence in the rural area, the crimes against women are at an increase. The complications and loopholes in the legal system and its exploitation at the hands of culprits, has failed to provide the women of this country with the security for their lives and honour.






The revolt in Libya which began on February 15 is fast reaching its conclusion though the embattled President Muammar Gaddafi has vowed to stay in power at any cost. Government forces and mercenaries attacked protesters with live arms on Friday (Feb 25,2011) killing dozens in and around Tripoli. A pitched battle is raging in the Libyan capital which in the entire country seems to be the only place where Qaddafi's loyalist have some semblance of control. Qaddafi has said that he would not leave the country at any cost and would prefer to give his life in his own country and become a martyer.No body is sure about him becoming a martyr but his dream to die in his country may come true if the mutineers take control of Tripoli , the Libyan capital.

The opponents have already taken control of second largest city Benghazi and some small towns around the capital. The rebels are likely to form a governing council comprising civil and military defectors to govern the occupied cities and supervise the war strategy against the troops loyal to Qaddafi. Defectors, Mustafa Mohamed Abd al-Jalil, interior minister and a senior air force officers are likely to hold top positions in the council. Till Tripoli falls into the hands of opponents, Benghazi would be head quarter of the council.

Meanwhile in Tripoli bloody clashes are taking place and for the time being government troops and special militias with plenty of superior lethal weapons hold control in major localities of the city. The city is looking like a ghost town where Qaddafi's plainclothes police and security forces are hunting down the rebels. The rebels are in dire need of arms, food and water and looking for reinforcement of fighters from other regions which have so far fallen to them. According to media reports the government forces and mercenaries are perpetrating worst kind of violence and killing protesters in dozens in Tripoli and other places. A pitched battle is raging in the Libyan capital which in the entire country seems to be the only place where Qaddafi's loyalist have some semblance of control. Undaunted by atrocities committed by the government forces, a streak of defections is also continuing unabated weakening what ever is left of the government machinery .Qaddafi's support among the people has so much eroded that different segments of the society have left him .Much of the country comprises tribal society and ever since brutalities were unleashed on the people a number of tribes including majority of Qaddafi's own clan are calling for his ouster from power. They are infuriated at the blood shed of innocent people at the hands of what they call, 'mujnoon'(mad man).

At the international scene Libya which labored hard to have friends after the Lockerbie tragedy and handing over its nuclear assets to the USA in packed wooden crates ,now stands totally isolated. President Obama has called for abdication from power of Col Qaddafi as he has lost the confidence of the people of Libya. Obama said "when a leader's only means of staying in power is to use mass violence against his own people, he has lost the legitimacy to rule and needs to do what is right for his country by leaving now."

The United States has also unilaterally imposed sanctions on the Libyan government giving assurance to citizens protection of their assets and property. The UN Security Council in its meeting on Feb 26 voted unanimously to impose sanctions on Libya's leader, Qaddafi, and his inner circle of advisers, and called for an international war crimes investigation into "widespread and systemic attacks" against Libyan citizens who have protested against his government over the last two weeks. The resolution also imposes an arms embargo against Libya, an international travel ban on 16 Libyan leaders and freezes the assets of Colonel Qaddafi and members of his family, including seven of his sons and a daughter. Also included in the sanctions were measures against defense and intelligence officials who are believed to have played a role in the violence against civilians in Libya. Libya's own delegation to the United Nations, which has defected, sent a letter to the Security Council president, Ambassador Maria Luiza Ribeiro Viotti supporting the resolution on the situation in Libya. In view of grim situation in Libya, many countries are going to close their missions in Tripoli .So far Britain and France closed their embassies in Tripoli.Some experts believe that clamping of sanctions would only hurt the people of Libya who are now locked in a fight for their lives. The Prime minister of Turkey's Tayyab Erdogan has warned that sanctions would cause more harm to the Libyans than to Qaddafi.

The Amnesty International has said that over the last few days, hundreds of protesters have reportedly been killed in Libya in the midst of large scale anti-government protests. Libyan leader Mu'ammar al-Gaddafi and his government appear to be prepared to kill an unlimited number of people to stay in power. The world community should act urgently come to the help of people of Libya to liberate them from the tyrant who subjugated them since September 1969.

—The writer is a fomer diplomat.







Second anniversary of Pilkhana Massacre was be observed on 25 February 2011 in Bangladesh in calmness. The families of the brave victims of the said massacre kept on recalling their love ones and demanding the justice from their government. In this connection I received an "Email' of 12 years old Pinky (name of the kid has been changed because of anonymity) which really made my heart moan. Innocent Pinky is a hopeless daughter of 35 year old officer who have been shot dead in front of her eyes just two years back in a tragic and shocking incident of Bangladeshi history. In Email she narrated that; a day before of this tragedy her papa took me to the market along with my mom and younger brother. My papa ordered for the cake and also purchased some chocolates and sweets for us.

He bought a beautiful "Sari" for mom since February 25 was their marriage anniversary. On 25 February, mom got up early in the morning and wore that maroon Sari (which her father bought her a day prior) as start of that special day celebration. She asked papa to get out of bed and go to the bakery and bring already ordered cake. Pinky revealed further that her mother went to kitchen for cooking favourite dish (fish and rice) of my papa. I insisted to accompany him and left the home while waving hands to mom and my 3 years cute brother Ali. I could not have imagined that just after an hour or so my papa will be no more in this world and will leave all of us for ever. Mom could not have imagined that from now onwards her loving husband, Father of her daughter and son will never come back.

The cute loving daughter further described that her father was on leave for that day but on his way to market stopped by at the office for some work. We heard the sounds of firing once we were about to enter my papa's Unit. He got stunned for a second and than laughed out aloud and said that the sound of firing is probably coming from the firing range where soldiers are practicing for Unit competition. Anyhow he changed his mind and told me that we will first go to market and bring some sweets for my colleagues as he want to share this day happiness with his colleagues as well. He was turning his car when suddenly a jeep blocked our way. With in second lot of men holding weapon came down from the jeep and started dragging my papa out of the car while I was left there sitting in the car. They pulled my papa out of the car and started fired on him right in front of my eyes.

Then they came near my papa body and spitted on him. Two out of them started hitting his body with their feet. I saw my dying father with my open eyes right in front of me but could not do anything. The last word I heard before going unconscious was that one out of them was talking something on a telephone (wireless) in Hindi language. After two days, I found myself in the hospital with my mom bent on me. My body started shivering and all the memory flashed back. I started shouting "papa"; "papa" but there was no one to answer I had lost my papa and I don't know where to find him. I can't eat chocolates now, I can see and touch them only but really can't eat because it reminds my papa. Every thing seems to end for me. Even now after two years I can't help but to weep, while remain hidden from my mom. Pinky said that her mom starts crying on 24 February each year because she knows that next day would be the day which snatched her loving husband and mine and Ali's papa. She also said that I feel that nobody gave me the answers that why papa has been murdered, who loved his country and every bangali. Who shed his blood in border clash with India. She put an innocent question on me by asking that "uncle" tell me that whether my papa is not like the Prime Minister papa. She desires to hang those killers who murdered her father but why is not interested to even search those killers who murder my papa. In this connection I would ask Pinky to be patience and keep on doing best for her loving late Papa. Pinky I assure you that you and your late father are in my prayers. Anyhow, I have observed that present government is intentionally keeping it on the low key and even the BD Army have not done any special efforts in pursing the culprits. Despite that a large number of military officers are still feeling pain and express themselves in their independent ways (though covertly).

Pinky also attached few lines with her "email" which really forced me to write and made me heartrending. For readers' consumption I am attaching the same lines as send by her to me:- "The horrendous day of BDR massacre come and passed by, no eye wept, no soul cried, expect for those who have lost their loved ones. There was no national mourning day, no prayers in the mosques. No rallies by the elite of our country. It appeared as if, this was a day belonging to some thing that happened in unknown land and my people have got no time to waste on such insignificant events. My country fellows, the blood spilt on 24 and 25 February was as precious and sacred as it was in 1971. So let's not forget our heroes of Feb 2009.

In short every action of the sitting government of Bangladesh is seemed to be tilting towards India. Bangladesh Government is probably trying intentionally to tone down the concerns of Water issue, border clashes and the Myanmar water problem with India. The government clearly knows that the RAW was fully involved in mutiny of Bangladesh force but deliberately avoided arresting those officials who are sitting in the helm of affairs and running the business. According to the "", the RAW pumped in about Rs. 60 crore for the entire operation. About 15 foreign gunmen were hired for the execution of the army officers. The RAW operatives and their Bangladeshi assets responsible for handling finances met at the International Club in the Gulshan suburb of Dhaka early in January, soon after Sheikh Hasina became PM. In that meeting the younger brother of Sohel Taj, the Deputy Home Minister, was also present. Both the organisers and the providers of the hired killers, which included a number of Indians and a Russian under-world boss by the name of Lazar Shybazan, met at the Hotel Bab-Al-Shams in Dubai on or just before the 19th. There they finalised the operational plan for the hired killers and their payment arrangements. In the end I will ask Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajid that whether she is going to satisfy questions of the Bangladeshi's daughters or would through her tears mercilessly in the lap of RAW for her power and authority?

—The author is a defence analyst.








"Prime Minister," came the opening question, "on the eve of the last election, you said there'd be no carbon tax - were you wrong to say that and what's changed your mind?" In the circumstances, this was such a gentle question that the words wet lettuce spring to mind. That the national broadcaster should be so soft on Labor over such a substantial and clear breach of political faith is perhaps not as surprising as it is disappointing. But what must frustrate viewers all the more is that this occurs while the ABC's two leading political interviewers are silent on the sidelines. It is difficult to imagine Chris Uhlmann or Leigh Sales allowing the Prime Minister to glibly step around the breaking of a pre-election pledge. As reported in The Australian today, viewers have been waiting 80 days for the revamped 7.30 Report, while Queensland has been ravaged, the Middle East has erupted, parliament has returned and Christchurch has been flattened. Set construction, wardrobe selection and publicity campaigns aside, taxpayers expect that when momentous political events are unfolding, the ABC will use its leading political interviewers. Their overdue return will be welcomed by viewers, if not the politicians.







Climate Change Minister Greg Combet yesterday revealed the details of the compensation package would not be finalised for many months and that this meant legislation would not be presented to parliament until the second half of the year. Effectively, this takes the current Senate out of the equation, ensuring that the carbon tax package is to be negotiated with the post-July Senate, where the balance of power will be held exclusively by the Greens. On one level, this makes the government's task simpler, negating the need for negotiations with senators Steven Fielding and Nick Xenophon, so it can concentrate on a Labor-Greens compact. On the other hand, this is exactly the sort of Greens leverage that will concern many taxpayers, with Greens leader Bob Brown's influence over climate policy set to increase rather than diminish.

In just a few days since the policy was announced, we are starting to see a very public process of negotiation over the raft of decisions to be made about the implementation of the scheme and its compensation package. Greens senator Christine Milne has called for the inclusion of petrol, arguing that price signals are needed to change people's behaviour, yet her leader, Senator Brown, says motorists must be compensated to avoid any financial impact. It will be difficult enough for the government to negotiate these finer points with the Greens without the Greens disagreeing among themselves.

For their part, Julia Gillard and Mr Combet say it's too early to make a decision on petrol and it must be sobering for them to consider that a side-debate about petrol is just one of many political spotfires they will need to contend with as this debate proceeds. Tony Abbott will be licking his lips at the complications involved. While the government struggles with a public process of consultation, consideration and decision about the impacts and prospective compensation for each industry and subset of taxpayers, the Opposition Leader can counter, for now, with a simple message of rejection.

No matter what environmentally pure arguments the Greens proffer, the government must deliver adequate compensation for industry. The Prime Minister must stand firmly on the side of protecting jobs rather than defer to what are bound to be economically irresponsible demands from the Greens. The government should also rule out Senator Milne's proposal to use the proceeds of the tax to fund pet projects, such as very fast trains.

Early discussion about the household assistance plans has already raised the prospect of some consumers being better off as a result of the carbon tax. Neither Ms Gillard nor Mr Combet have done anything to quell this speculation, confirming that Labor is committed to generous compensation. Given the tax is an environmental initiative aimed at sending price signals to industry and consumers, the government must avoid political abuse of the compensation process. It must not overcompensate, using the carbon tax as a form of wealth redistribution by stealth. Nor should Labor use it to deliver a timely pre-election cash boost to working families.






None of this is a moment too soon. But much more needs to be done, and done without delay, if Libyans are to be saved from the sort of fate that befell the Kurds killed in Saddam Hussein's 1988 chemical attack on Halabja, and the Bosnians and Kosovars massacred by the Serbs in 1995.

Recent history is tragically replete with instances when the world has failed to act in time to halt bloodletting of the kind being seen in Libya. It will be a travesty if that happens again. Gaddafi has made it plain he will kill as many protesters as it takes to hang on to power. And it should never be forgotten that besides the diabolical brutality shown by his forces, he retains a formidable stockpile of mustard gas, among other chemical weapons.

All this while Libya has incredibly, until this weekend, been a member of what is touted to be the world's peak human rights body, the UN Human Rights Council, to which it was elected last year with the shameful connivance of, among others, 33 of the world's free countries -- countries that now, hopefully, will hang their collective heads in shame.

Since the slaughter started, the world has seemed to dither over what to do. While it is not difficult to understand the US President's caution in handling the minefield of the Middle East, his failure for four days to condemn the violence, and then not to mention Gaddafi by name, must be seen as an error. So, too, must be the absence from UN headquarters of his ambassador, Susan Rice, away in South Africa discussing carbon emissions. She returned on the weekend, but her absence did not inspire confidence that the Obama administration was seized by the Libyan issue.

The US and its allies, including Australia, must take forthright action. So must the UN Security Council, which in the past, as in the case of the Rwanda genocide in 1994, acted far too slowly and far too late. The bloodletting in Libya demands action now, and if that means overriding national sovereignty issues, something that worries other Arab states, it should be done. Obvious first steps would be the immediate imposition of a no-fly zone that would ground Gaddafi's air strike capacity. Forces fighting the dictator must be assured of tangible support, humanitarian and otherwise. Moves must begin at the International Criminal Court to bring Gaddafi to book. He must be left in no doubt that he must leave. Refuge awaits him in the embrace of fellow members of the dictators' club such as Zimbabwe's Robert Mugabe, Venezuela's Hugo Chavez or even Nicaragua's Daniel Ortega, who has phoned Gaddafi to express support. Mugabe's capital, Harare, is where that other murderous former African dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam of Ethiopia, lives in exile.

After the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, the international community has little appetite for similar interventions. But Gaddafi must be left in no doubt about the world's determination to make him stop killing his people. He must go, and go now. It's time for decisive action to muzzle the man Ronald Reagan once correctly labelled a mad dog.







There are many questionable aspects to Sweden's prosecution of the WikiLeaks founder, Julian Assange, for alleged offences under its highly elaborated law on sexual consent and assault. However Assange and his many supporters should now question themselves whether the dogged fight against extradition from Britain is warranted or productive. Shouldn't Assange face up to the consequences of his alleged conduct, if he wants governments to do the same?

His camp's rhetoric is starting to look excessive. Assange himself asserted that the British judge's decision approving the extradition request was the ''result of a European arrest warrant system run amok''. His mother said it amounted to ''political and legal gang rape'' of her son. In fact, it just looks like a system working routinely between countries that have so far seemed to have quite compatible legal codes and standards of human rights.

Judge Howard Riddle dismissed the argument that Assange's alleged actions would not qualify as rape in Britain and were therefore not extraditable. The allegation by one of the women involved, that Assange had sex with her without a condom while she was asleep, knowing that she would not have consented to unprotected sex, would amount to rape under British law. There was no evidence the Swedish prosecutor was a radical feminist with a bias against men. A closed court, the Swedish practice in sexual assault cases, was not denial of justice.

If the case does get to trial in Sweden, after appeals in Britain expected to take several months, the world will scrutinise proceedings very carefully, closed court or not. Sweden itself will be under trial.

Various other defenders, including the lawyer Geoffrey Robertson and the journalist John Pilger, have declared the sexual assault charges a charade anyway, to ease the further extradition to the United States for detention in Guantanamo Bay and a conviction under an antique espionage law that could bring the death penalty. But no evidence has emerged suggesting the Swedish case didn't arise spontaneously within its prosecutorial system, with or without a radical feminist agenda. Britain itself, like Australia, has been compliant with US extradition requests, including in financial and intellectual property cases where US law asserts extraterritorial jurisdiction. Would Sweden, with its long tradition of neutrality, be more or less likely to extradite on a US national security charge? In any case, no European country, Britain or Sweden, would extradite anyone to face a potential death penalty. This conspiratorial sideshow should perhaps be got over with, and attention diverted from Assange to the real alleged secrets-breaker, Private Bradley Manning.





The push by the Sydney lord mayor, Clover Moore, to civilise drinking habits in the city has received another blow. A study by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, has found, in essence, that the more pubs, clubs and bars there are in an area, the more assaults are likely to happen there. People are 25 times more likely to be assaulted within 20 metres of a place where alcohol is sold than they are at other random points in the city and inner suburbs. More tellingly for Moore's policy, the bureau calculates that each new liquor outlet per hectare will result in an average of between four and five extra assaults each year.

However all may not be lost. The study notes: "It should not be assumed that this effect is constant for all alcohol outlets. The effect of an additional alcohol outlet will depend on factors such as the quantity of alcohol sold, the level of adherence to responsible service guidelines, the type of licence, the trading hours, patron numbers, patron demographics, type of beverage consumed, environmental characteristics of the drinking setting and so forth." In other words, perhaps small bars and cafes where alcohol can be bought still have a chance at changing behaviour, which in the past has been formed by louder, noisier pubs with their more aggressive environment. Certainly the study had virtually no chance to study the effects of the legislation allowing small outlets. It covered assaults during 2008. The legislation came into force in July 2008 but the first such bar was not opened until November that year. There are now 35 of them.

Nonetheless Melbourne's experience - which Sydney had hoped to copy - does not offer firm ground for optimism. The city, once noted for its barren nightlife, blossomed after licensing laws were deregulated in 1998, but has also been plagued with increasing alcohol-related violence. Assaults have been becoming more frequent even as the incidence of other forms of crime has been falling.

Moore, it is true, has tried to ensure that those pubs and bars where assaults occurred most often, and which were clearly not observing responsible service rules, could not have their trading hours extended - but her efforts were blocked in a thoroughly retrograde step by the Planning Minister, Tony Kelly, much to the gratification of the hotel industry, and to the anguish of police, nurses and doctors in hospital casualty wards. It remains to be seen whether a Coalition government, if elected next month, will be any different.







IT IS six days since the earthquake measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale struck New Zealand's second largest city in the middle of a busy working day. As the death toll in Christchurch rises, and as more and more bodies continue to be eased out of the crumbled wreckage of what was once the grid-patterned streetscape of a proud and historic place, muted public despair has not yet had time to come to terms with the disaster. It could hardly be otherwise: with a population of under 350,000, Christchurch is more of a community than a city; the sort of place in which everybody knows everybody else, and where strangers are made to feel at home; the sort of place in which aftershocks are emotional as well as physical. In fact, the same could be said for the effect of the earthquake on New Zealand.

Christchurch mayor Bob Parker has said of the rising death toll, ''We need to ask people to steel themselves for that discovery and that pain.'' Certainly, such pain will not be assuaged for many months, perhaps years. But, as with many natural disasters, there comes a moment of emergence that indicates the beginnings of hope over the perils of despair. It happened in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires that swept through rural Victoria two years ago; it is happening in flood-devastated Queensland and Victoria. It is only natural that people affected by such cataclysms, whose homes or businesses are damaged or destroyed, want things set to rights, and their places rebuilt, so they can get on with their lives. In the short term, this is, of course, out of the question for Christchurch, whose cityscape remains in a treacherously fragile state, with many collapsed structures still containing the dead. The spirit of renewal will happen, as it should, but it is more important at the moment to regenerate public confidence, and that cannot be hurried.

Perhaps the ultimate symbol of Tuesday's catastrophe is the torso of the magnificent 1864 ChristChurch Cathedral, whose bell tower lies in ruins around its base. The cathedral's dean, Peter Beck, rightly says, ''The most important thing at the moment is not the building, it's the people.'' At the same time, there is a certain validity in suggestions that the cathedral be rebuilt, thereby salving trauma and restoring the city's geographical and spiritual focal point - a church described by Anthony Trollope as an ''honest, high-toned idea''. As one architectural commentator remarked last week, ''To the Victorians, a great building was more than the sum of its parts. It was a manifestation of human identity.''

The wider, more complex, matter of rebuilding the rest of Christchurch will take great sensitivity, planning and expense to achieve. In an earlier age, it might have been possible to reconstitute the city in a uniform way - as happened in the 1930s when the North Island town of Napier was destroyed by an earthquake and rebuilt largely in art deco style. But Christchurch is larger, more sophisticated, and with greater business and residential requirements, not to mention its intrinsic importance to New Zealand as a tourist attraction.

Although controlling the anger of the gods is not yet within the capacity of the human mind, there are always new ways to guard against the terrible effects of seismic upheaval. Certainly, 21st-century design and technology will have their parts to play in helping to establish a better, safer Christchurch. Indeed, the city has much to learn from other earthquake-prone cities - for example, Tokyo and San Francisco - which have had to rebuild in the face of devastation, and are sturdier because of it. There is the chance to create from the rubble a Christchurch that, while retaining its quintessentially English-inspired character, is environmentally sounder and less vulnerable to forces of nature.





On Friday, the first political cataclysm of the global financial crisis erupted on a small island off the coast of Europe. Fianna Fail, the party that has dominated Irish politics for most of the past 80 years, was hurled from office in elections for the lower house of Ireland's parliament, the Dail.

The party is expected to hold only 25 of the 77 seats it won in the previous elections in 2007, and in Dublin it was all but wiped out, retaining only one of the 13 seats it formerly held in the capital.

Fianna Fail's long-time rival, Fine Gael, which is on course to win at least 76 seats, is expected to form government in coalition with the Labour Party, which won 36, its best result ever.

In contrast, the result is Fianna Fail's worst since its foundation in 1932. Independents and minor parties won 15.5 per cent of the vote, pushing Fianna Fail into fourth place on 15.1 per cent.

The future of one of western Europe's most electorally successful parties is in doubt, raising the prospect of a historic realignment in Irish politics.

Fine Gael and Fianna Fail originally represented the antagonists of Ireland's 1920s civil war, but the war's legacy has been eclipsed by the politics of boom and bust.

In part, Fianna Fail's downfall stemmed from one of the ingredients of its former success: an adroitness in playing the game of patron and client.

In the past, that meant it was bedevilled by corruption scandals; under the financial crisis, however, its penchant for making dubious deals aggravated the high-risk banking practices that spawned the crisis. Irish and foreign banks were encouraged to lend to borrowers with little or no security, and the resulting property bubble left the banks overexposed.

The Fianna Fail's government decision to guarantee their liabilities bankrupted the Irish state, leading to an ignominious bailout by the European Union and the International Monetary Fund and an effective loss of sovereignty.

Ireland's taxpayers will be repaying the €85 billion bill for many years, and anger at that prospect sealed Fianna Fail's fate. The election outcome, however, cannot change the fiscal reality. Enda Kenny, the Fine Gael leader who will now become Ireland's Taioseach (prime minister), has vowed to seek a lower interest rate on repayments to the EU and IMF but, like his Fianna Fail predecessor Brian Cowen, will have to go cap in hand to his international paymasters.

The Celtic tiger roars no more.







Nearly 20 years ago in mid-Pacific, a container of "Friendly Floatees" washed off a ship travelling from Hong Kong to the US west coast. In little more than 24 hours the ocean was transformed into a mighty bathtub on which bobbed 28,800 plastic toys, including more than 7,000 yellow ducks. The migration of this vast flock bobbing on the currents of the Pacific has been monitored by environmentalists, meteorologists – and an English teacher from Manhattan. Donovan Hohn's tale of his trans-global pursuit of the ducks is published this week. It has had enthusiastic reviews in the US, but its lasting significance might be the attention it draws to the nightmarish amounts of non-biodegradable waste now polluting the world's seas, and the impact of "gyres", the circular currents which gather it all remorselessly together until great islands of garbage form in the vortex. The ducks' aquatic wanderings have been mapped to reveal all of this by Curtis Ebbesmeyer, a retired oceanographer who specialises in plotting the ocean's surface currents by tracking debris. Over the years, they turned up in ones and twos, bleached of colour, first on beaches along the Alaska coast. Then one was found in Maine. There was a frisson of excitement when it seemed they might even complete their circumnavigation by washing up on the beaches of Cornwall (they didn't). The moby duck has revealed the terrible extent and near immortality of plastic pollution, ground by the seas into tiny particles and now poisoning marine life.





The blanket ban on religious institutions hosting partnership ceremonies is an infringement of liberty and must be swept away

The heart sinks at the prospect of another battle between faith and the state, in which the churches wring their hands and find themselves sustaining discrimination against gay and lesbian couples. But such a dispute has begun with the government's confirmation that it plans to lift the total ban on holding civil partnership ceremonies in religious buildings. First, the Church of England warned of "unexplored impacts", "confusion" and "difficult and unintended consequences for churches". In sum, because the church can't make up its mind, everyone else ought to hold back. Now the Catholic church has joined the fray, railing against the proposal in even more strident terms.

Many religious institutions have a moral objection to homosexuality. This newspaper would argue that they are wrong about this and would hope they will change their minds in time. But the beliefs are there and sincerely held – they can not be legislated away. We have strongly supported all the laws which have established equality in public life, even in places such as the armed forces where it had once seemed so difficult. We have also argued against exemptions for religious bodies providing services that are not inherently religious, such as Catholic adoption agencies. A law that forced churches to alter their doctrinal activities, however, would be different and indeed problematic. By requiring clergymen to bless ceremonies they believed to be wrong, it would enforce hypocrisy.

But no such law is being proposed. Under the plans no church, chapel, synagogue or mosque will be compelled to host any ceremony. Nor would changing the law – and so implementing an amendment to the Equalities Act, which the Lords passed with all-party support last year – create any new "right" for gay couples, as some have wrongly reported. The plan is merely to allow religious bodies which support partnership ceremonies – such as the Quakers and some liberal synagogues – to hold them.

This is a proposal which the Church of England – whose own bishops split on the issue in the Lords last year – should find unexceptional. Equality, one bishop claimed in that debate, is not the same as making the laws for everyone the same. But nor should the principles of some faiths be imposed on others. The blanket ban on religious institutions hosting partnership ceremonies is a lawful infringement of their liberty. It must be swept away. Doing that will not eradicate every ancient prejudice or protect everybody from them, it will merely give progressive believers the right to do things in new ways. As such, it will strengthen and not compromise freedom of conscience. Claims to the contrary are illogical bluster.






Far, far worse than John Major's trouncing, the punishment voters have meted out on Fianna Fáil has one thing in common with it. The people have mastered the rules of the electoral game to redouble the force of their rejection. Just as Liberal Democrats and Labour people lent each other support in 1997, in line with the tactical requirements of ousting the Tories under first past the post, Ireland's voters made full use of the multiple preferences allowed under their system to shrink the representation of Micheál Martin's ruling party. Thus its losses exceed even what would have been expected after it mislaid a full two-thirds of its support.

Until this weekend, Fianna Fáil was Europe's most successful electoral force – in power for three years in every four since modern politics got going, and for around 90% of the last quarter century. It reliably attracted around 40% of the poll in every national election; its fall from grace now is sudden and abject. Nowhere in the country was the party of De Valera the most popular choice, and it was left with only one seat of the 47 Dublin Dáil seats; capital punishment indeed. In the scramble to find a collapse to compare with this, analysts have been forced back two decades and across the Atlantic to Canada, where Kim Campbell's Progressive Conservatives experienced a remarkably similar loss of support to that of Fianna Fáil in the 1993 federal election, but lacking the Irish buffer of proportional representation they were reduced to just two seats as compared to Mr Martin's parliamentary rump of around 20.

That example may cheer despondent Fianna Fáil hearts, particularly since the Canadian Tories have since regrouped and come back to power, albeit in a new form. Reading too much into it, however, would not be wise, thanks to the idiosyncrasies of Ireland's party system. There is no coherent Fianna Fáil ideology to regroup around, save for the anachronism of opposing the 1922 treaty. This is a network of parishes and patronage which has, until now, been animated by the reality or near prospect of power. Who can say how it will fare now that this magic ingredient has been taken away.

What Ireland has rejected is, however, much clearer than what Ireland wants. The big winners were Enda Kenny's Fine Gael, which scooped more seats than ever before, although they received only 36% of the vote, rather less than their strongest past showings. Despite a good campaign, the lack of universal enthusiasm for Fine Gael is not hard to understand. Economic questions are the only questions that count in a country where a fifth of national income has just disappeared in a baffling burst of smoke from the blazing banks. On these questions, the centre-right take of Fine Gael is hard to distinguish from that of its ousted adversaries. As the new Taoiseach, Mr Kenny would be wise to invite the resurgent Labour party into his government, as opposed to seeking to cobble together a majority out of a rag-bag of independents. A government with a strong centre-left leg, and with a clear majority of the voters behind it, will be much better placed to renegotiate the crippling terms of the £85bn IMF/EU bailout package, something Mr Kenny yesterday said he would make his priority.

That has to be right, and it is welcome that Mr Kenny seems inclined to erect a big tent. Reducing the burden of international interest may blunt the sharpest edges of the cuts, but neither that nor the promised inquiry into banking will bring the good times back.

Fianna Fáil has been deservedly eaten after the savage turn of the Celtic tiger that it rode for so long, but power has now passed to another party forged in the struggle for national sovereignty, which also has precious few plans for rescuing economic sovereignty today. The people who have said what they do not want have not been offered a clear alternative. It may not be long before they are once again scratching their heads, and asking – who elected the bankers?






A private advisory body for Justice Minister Satsuki Eda, headed by his predecessor Ms. Keiko Chiba, is now discussing ways to reform Japan's prosecution process. It is scheduled to make proposals by the end of March. Proposals should ensure that investigation by public prosecutors is done in a just way and that suspects' rights are fully protected.

In late December, the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office submitted to the panel its report containing proposals for reforming investigation procedures. But it failed to interview Ms. Atsuko Muraki, a former high-ranking health and welfare ministry official, whose acquittal in September in an official document fabrication case triggered the report. It also surfaced that a public prosecutor of the Osaka District Public Prosecutors Office who handled her case had tampered with evidence, a floppy disk.

Since her arrest in June 2009, Ms. Muraki has consistently denied her involvement. Speaking before the panel, she said a prosecutor told her that his job was to overturn her confessions. The Osaka District Court decided not to use as evidence most of the public prosecutors' records of oral statements made by witnesses, pointing to the use of leading questions and coercion. But 30 to 40 records showing her involvement did have consistency. In view of this, Ms. Muraki called for electronically recording the whole process of interrogation and allowing a lawyer's presence throughout.

In an arson case also investigated by the Osaka prosecution office, it became clear that a public prosecutor posed leading questions to a suspect with a mental disability when asking him to verify a record of his oral statement. There is the possibility that the prosecutor used leading questions when interrogating him.

Public prosecutors resist having to electronically record the entire interrogation process, arguing that they deal with too many cases. But what has surfaced, including other cases, underscores the importance of recording. They also should present all the evidence they have during pretrial sessions with defense lawyers.





A proposal by Gov. Yoshihiro Murai of Miyagi Prefecture to attach Global Positioning System devices to ex-convicts of sex crimes and people prone to committing domestic violence has given rise to renewed discussions of how to prevent sex-crime recidivism.

According to the Justice Ministry's white book on crimes for 2010, the recidivism rate for rape is "high" at 38.5 percent (compared with 39.1 percent for robbery, 26.1 percent for arson and 17.2 percent for murder).

In June 2005, a system was introduced in which the Justice Ministry provides police with information on planned release dates and future addresses of people who have just completed prison terms for sex crimes such as rape and indecent sexual assaults on children younger than 13 years old.

Through five years after the system started, 740 people were targeted. But the system lost track of 200, or 27 percent. It was also found that 167 of the same 740 became targets of new criminal investigations, and that 43 repeated sex crimes against children.

To rectify the situation, the police plan to start a system in April in which police officers will regularly interview some of those covered by the information provision system — those younger than 50 years old who have repeated sex crimes or have been known to stalk or approach possible victims. The problem is that ex-convicts may not agree to be interviewed.

The main feature of Gov. Murai's Jan. 22 proposal is the attachment of GPS devices to people who have completed prison terms for such crimes as rape and indecent sexual assaults as well as those whom courts ordered not to go near designated persons because of a history of domestic violence. But this could constitute double punishment of ex-convicts as well as cause human rights problems.

Exclusion of ex-convicts, however, may lead to their repeating crimes. Consideration should be given to helping them secure their own places in society. Local governments, communities and nongovernmental organizations should cooperate in helping to make sure that they are not isolated from society.






NEW YORK — Negative stereotypes and prejudices have been a constant source of friction and misunderstanding between Muslims and Jews. Can a level of understanding be reached between them that would make peaceful relations possible? I believe so. An almost forgotten episode during World War II could bring light to this issue.

During World War II, as Jews were being persecuted by the Nazis, they found refuge in northern Albania. More than 2,000 Jews were protected by the locals, who risked their lives. Although the Germans demanded that the Albanians provide them with lists of names of Jews in the country, the Albanians did not comply and instead sheltered them from the Nazis. According to the International School for Holocaust Studies, the Albanians didn't turn over a single Jew to the Germans.

This episode was again brought to light by Norman H. Gershman, an American photographer, who has included photos of those Albanians' descendants living in the country, in a book called "BESA: Muslims Who Saved Jews in World War II." According to Gershman, only two countries in Europe refused to cooperate with the Nazis: Denmark and Albania.

Besa is an Albanian cultural concept that means "to keep the promise" and "word of honor." The word has its origin in the Kanun of Leke Dukagjini, an assembly of customary codes and traditions compiled by the legendary 15th-century Albanian chieftain and transmitted verbally over succeeding generations.

Besa means also taking care of those in need, protecting them and being hospitable. Both Catholics and Muslims participated in this effort. Since 70 percent of Albanians are Muslims, it is safe to assume that it was they who were primary in aiding the Jews. Rather than hiding them in attics or in the woods, Albanians gave the Jews Muslim names, provided them with clothes and treated them as members of their families.

Gershman tells the story of an Albanian man called Ali Pashkaj, who was visited at his store by a group of German soldiers and 19 Albanian prisoners. Among the Albanians was a young Jew whom the Germans planned to assassinate.

Since Pashkaj spoke excellent German, he invited the soldiers into the store and gave them food and wine. While he was distracting the German soldiers, he gave the young Jew a melon containing a message instructing him to jump out of the truck at a certain location and run and hide in the woods. The young man followed the instruction and was able to escape.

The German soldiers were furious. They returned to the town and threatened to shoot the man and set the town on fire if the Albanians didn't return the young Jew. The Albanians refused and the Germans finally left town. Pashkaj went to the woods where he found the young man and brought him back to his house and protected him. The young man, whose name is Yasha Bayuhovio, later went to Mexico and became a dentist. In protecting him, Ali Pashkaj was practicing Besa.

As Gershman told the Jewish Chronicle: "Look, you are not talking to someone who is pro-Arab. It is really quite simply that there are good people in this world. I found Muslims who saved Jews. The perception of the religion of Islam as crazy is nonsense. I am a Jew to my core. I would lay down my life for Israel. However, we have objectified Muslims. They are just people.

"In this little people (Albanians) they have a message for the world. I defy anyone to look at them and say they are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers."

Cesar Chelala, M.D., is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award for an article on human rights.







LONDON — According to the most recent estimates by U.S. intelligence, Pakistan has doubled its nuclear stockpile over the past few years. The nation's arsenal now totals more than 100 deployed weapons.

Pakistan is now ahead of India in the production of uranium and plutonium for bombs and development of delivery weapons. It is now producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world. Pakistan will soon be the world's fourth-largest nuclear weapons state, ahead of France and Britain and behind only the United States, Russia and China.

Pakistan is investing heavily in plutonium-production capacity with work reportedly under way on a fourth plutonium-producing reactor at Khushab nuclear complex.

At a time when the U.S. has pushed the Pakistani military to shift its focus to the threat from extremist groups within its own borders, recent reports once again underscore the Pakistan military establishment's perception of an India-centric threat.

The danger is that this expansion is happening at a time of great internal turmoil in the country and the rise of religious extremism. The fears of proliferation and possible terrorist attempts to seize nuclear materials are real and cannot be brushed aside. Along with the defeat of al-Qaida, the Obama administration's "Afghan War Review" of last year has mentioned Pakistan's nuclear security as one of the two long-term strategy objectives in Af-Pak.

In U.S. State Department cables released by WikiLeaks last year, concerns about the vulnerability of Pakistan's nuclear material were evident.

As the Obama administration was starting to review its Af-Pak policy, an intelligence report suggested that while Pakistan's weapons were well secured, there was deep, continuing concern about "insider access," meaning elements of the military or intelligence services.

Then U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson wrote in a separate document that "our major concern is not having an Islamic militant steal an entire weapon but rather the chance someone working in GOP [government of Pakistan] facilities could gradually smuggle enough material out to eventually make a weapon."

It's surprising, then, that even as American officials were trying to persuade Pakistani officials to give up nuclear material, they were quietly trying to block Pakistan from trying to buy material that would help it produce tritium, a crucial ingredient needed to increase the power of nuclear weapons.

A December 2008 U.S. intelligence briefing to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization noted that "despite pending economic catastrophe, Pakistan is producing nuclear weapons at a faster rate than any other country in the world."

Yet, any attempt by the U.S. to force Pakistan's hand on the nuclear issue will only generate further suspicion that the U.S. favors India and wants to control Pakistan's nuclear weapons. This, despite the fact that throughout the Cold War years, Washington played a crucial role in giving a boost to Pakistan's nuclear program by turning a blind eye to nuclear developments in the country.

Today Pakistan accuses the West of a double standard and discrimination as pressure mounts on Islamabad to sign the Fissile Materials Cut-off Treaty (FMCT), aimed at banning all future production of weapons-grade uranium and plutonium.

A successful conclusion of FMCT by the end of this year is a critical element of the Obama administration's nonproliferation agenda. In 2009, the U.S. Congress passed a $6.5 billion aid package for Pakistan with the stipulation that the Obama administration provide regular assessments of whether any of the money "directly or indirectly aided the expansion of Pakistan's nuclear weapons program."

The U.S. has already spent more than $100 million helping Pakistan build fences, install sensor systems and train personnel to handle nuclear weapons.

Pakistan already has more than enough nuclear weapons for an effective deterrent against India. Some 110 nuclear weapons will not make Pakistan's nuclear deterrent any more effective than a deterrent based on 60-odd weapons. Nuclear deterrence doesn't work like that. The higher number will just be used by the military to enhance its prestige by claiming that Pakistan is ahead of India, at least in this realm.

For a long time, the U.S. and its allies have viewed nuclear weapons in South Asia with dread because of the possibility that a conventional war between India and Pakistan might escalate into a nuclear one.

Indian and Pakistani officials, on the other hand, have continued to argue that just as the risk of "mutual assured destruction" resulted in a "hot peace" between the U.S. and the former Soviet Union during the Cold War, nuclear weapons in South Asia will also have a stabilizing impact. They point out that despite several provocations, India and Pakistan have behaved "rationally" during various crises by limiting their conflicts and avoiding escalation.

But on Sept. 11, 2001, the nature of the problem for the West changed insofar as the threat is now more of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal being used against the West by radical Islamists if they can lay their hands on it.

There is little hope that the "rational actor" model on which classical nuclear deterrence theory is based would apply as much to militant Islamist groups as it would to the Pakistani government. The present turmoil in Pakistan has once again raised concerns about the safety, security and command and control systems for its nuclear stockpile. Command and control arrangements continue to be beset with fundamental vulnerabilities that underline the reluctance of the Pakistani military to cede control over the nation's nuclear assets to civilian leaders.

It is instructive to note that of all the major nuclear states in world, Pakistan is the only country where the nuclear button is in the hands of the military. Moreover, senior civilian and military officials responsible for these weapons have a problematic track record in maintaining close control over them.

This poses a serious challenge to the India's minimum credible deterrent nuclear posture. While India has little to worry about Pakistan's desire to have more than 100 nuclear warheads, the possibility of leakage from the state to nonstate actors is a serious threat as it will undermine India's ability to maintain peace in the region. A dangerous new nuclear matrix is emerging in the region.

Harsh V. Pant teaches at King's College London.








President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono last week expressed his frustration over the failure, and, sometimes even the refusal of regional leaders and lower-ranking officials to implement decisions or programs adopted at his Cabinet meetings.

The problems, we think, can be blamed partly on the excesses of regional autonomy, bureaucratic incompetence, negative inertia and Yudhoyono himself, who has been notorious for his weak leadership.

But the President also is well-advised to reflect on whether the development programs decided on by his Cabinet could be easily understood by regional administrations.

For example, many may have been confused by development concept jargons so often propagated by the government these days.

Try to digest these: Economic corridors, integrated economic development zones, special economic zones, free trade zones and industry clusters.

During the national working conference with his ministers and regional leaders in Bogor on Tuesday the President launched economic corridor programs which will develop industry clusters and business centers to support local economies along the coastlines of Java, Sumatra, Kalimantan, Sulawesi and Papua.

The corridors, he said, would serve as development highways to connect new growth centers on the five major islands.

One day later, on Wednesday Investment Coordinating Board chief Gita Wirjawan talked about another issue. He told a hearing with the House of Representatives that of the 14 integrated economic development zones launched on the five major islands in 2005, only three had been realized and able to attract private investors.

The other 11 have remained undeveloped and unable to attract private investments due to acute lack of infrastructure, licensing red tape, inadequate fiscal incentives and overlapping authorities.

As part of the action programs during the first 100 days of Yudhoyono's second-term, Coordinating Minister for the Economy Hatta Rajasa and several other economic ministers launched the development of clusters of resource-based industries in several provinces in January 2010.

In February last year, Hatta promoted another concept of special economic zones (SEZs) for development of three agriculture-based SEZs. Two SEZs in Medan (North Sumatra) and Dumai (Riau) would focus on palm oil-based industries while the third in Merauke (Papua) would focus on food crops, notably rice.

We find it difficult to understand why the government uses so many seemingly different and confusing concepts when what it really means is simply the development of SEZs based on the SEZ law enacted in September 2009.

SEZs essentially call for the development of special regions with streamlined procedures for business licensing and the hiring of expatriates, flexible labor regulations, tax breaks, customs duty exemptions and good infrastructure to woo investors in export-oriented industries.

In essence, the economic corridors, integrated economic development zones, industry clusters, free trade zones and export-processing zones are actually almost identical to the SEZ development concept that has been successfully implemented in China, India, Malaysia and Vietnam.

Natural resource-based industry clusters can generate localized economies arising from specialization and integration of manufacturing operations, reduce transportation costs and significantly improve supply chain management.

SEZs are also capable of enhancing development of economic corridors, which in turn will help form development highways through economic linkages between one SEZ to another.

But then, at the end of the day, whatever the name of the concept may be, nothing will happen without adequate infrastructure.





Failures pile upon failures but the euphorically-heroic love for the Indonesian national soccer team never fades. Amid the intense calls for Nurdin Halid to step down from his post as chairman of the Indonesian Football Association, or PSSI, for his legal cause and managerial flaws, soccer frenzies and fanatics here keep their faith in the country's capability to build a strong national team in the future.

The question is whether it's a "you'd better believe" case, like the slogan of the Indonesian Super League (ISL), the top-flight domestic competition run by PSSI, or a "change the game" one, sounded by Indonesian Premier League (IPL), the rival to ISL, which aims to reform not just matches but also the whole spirit of national soccer. It is apparent that the IPL, which, though initiated by businessman Arifin Panigoro, receives support from the government.

However, the two opposing camps do not really live up to the expectations of soccer lovers who demand the comprehensively-integrated answer. While they still pin a hope that someday the national team could end the country's title drought at international stages since winning the gold medal in Manila's 1991 SEA Games, it's a harsh reality to see that such political rifts have spilled over into national soccer.

To his critics and opponents, Nurdin frequently states he and all his men in the association have carried out their tasks and functions in accordance with statutes of FIFA and, therefore, the only governing body of world soccer still legally endorses the PSSI to handle all matters related to soccer in Indonesia.

That's the rule. Nurdin and his men gain the upper-hand over their opponents who try every way to oust them out of office. The PSSI men could argue their departure from the association must follow both the PSSI and FIFA statutes.

To this point, Nurdin is right. He holds the authority to fully control the association. To a certain extent, it is also understandable that the PSSI axed many clubs joining the IPL and national team head coach Alfred Riedl dropped the new soccer star, naturalized Irfan Bachdim, from the roster of the U23 squad for Olympic qualifying matches and the SEA Games later this year.

Life is full of choices and to live is to choose. Each choice carries its consequences. Bachdim displayed sportsmanship for continuing his contract with his club, Persema Malang, which decided to leave ISL for LPI along with Persibo Bojonegoro and PSM Makassar. Internationally acclaimed experiences made Riedl count any possible risks to field the player for national duties from any clubs involved in domestic competition not officially endorsed by FIFA.

Both the Dutch-born player and the Austrian coach know well how to react and to act with dignity and integrity without breaking rules they must obey. The important part of this, as the two have said, is they took a decision without pressure from any side or party. They possess not only the ball but also the spirit of fair play.

Despite their disappointment, soccer lovers here might still say "In Riedl we trust" though there is no more Bachdim in the national squad. Unless the PSSI and IPL officials sit together to settle down their dispute, the door still opens for another "Bachdim victimization" to any promising young talents from the IPL and the anger will mount on Nurdin and his men in PSSI. Holding on FIFA's endorsement makes them firmly stand but it will put the dream of building a strong national team at stake.

Should we believe in the IPL? The best thing we could do is change the way Indonesian soccer is managed. The IPL has to take a long road to prove not only its existence but also efficiency and effectiveness of its formula. It is a long process that begs more action.

The professional mechanism in handling not only IPL matches but also the know-how of the clubs' management will pose a real challenge to the way the PSSI deals with ISL club members.

But in what way could the IPL contribute to the development of national soccer if its bright talents have no chance to don the national colors?

Outside the legal actions to challenge Nurdin's bid to cling on to power for the third time in a row in the PSSI congress in March, national soccer now is in a state of danger and needs persons with real sportsmanship to run the soccer body. There is nothing wrong and no shame at all if the PSSI and IPL meet to discuss the best formula for national soccer development and work hand-in-hand to serve the interest of national soccer fans.

The soccer constituents are so hungry of laurels in international events. Let the best players in this country play, win and those in management take the credit.

The fans will put the blame on both PSSI and IPL if Indonesia fails to win any title, the most
realistic will be the SEA Games gold medal at home this year. Both sides will be accused of pursuing personal interests and a political agenda at the expense of national soccer development.

FIFA does not suggest non-partisans to hold posts in national soccer federations. What it strongly prohibits is to promote, let alone convey, a political agenda or interest in running the soccer organizations.

In his book How Soccer Explains the World (2004), Franklin Foer notes that any political principles, motives and agendas have frequently become basic platforms in forming soccer clubs around the world. The colors of politics in many clubs could still be explored nowadays but they can't run beyond the club level. Those colors must stop once clubs come to regional, national, continental and international competitions to defend not only their national pride but also human dignity.

Given the vital roles of national leagues in building a strong national team, surely we cannot tolerate the color of politics to prevail. Soccer for all will be just an empty claim and soccer fans will be sacrificed.

The writer is a freelance editor and media consultant.







While we generally agree that border disputes can endanger people's lives, I doubt that many people know that the popular teddy bear has something to do with a border dispute. The iconic toy is indeed closely related to a border dispute in the US. We may say that the teddy bear represents a not-so-bitter side of a border dispute.

The story goes back to 1902, when American president Theodore Roosevelt went on a trip to settle a border dispute between two US states, Mississippi and Louisiana. While being involved in lengthy negotiations, the president spent his leisure time hunting bears. The host took the president to the woods but no bear could be found. Feeling uneasy about the matter, the host then caught a bear cub, tied it to a tree and asked the president to shoot it so that the hunting exercise was not in vain. Deeming it poor sportsmanship, the president refused to shoot the defenseless cub.

This bear moment soon made headlines around the country. A political cartoonist, Clifford Berryman, published a cartoon depicting the president and the defenseless bear in the Washington Post on Nov. 6, 1902. It inspired a Russian American immigrant to produce bear toys that were subsequently named "teddy bears". Teddy was the president's nick name.

That is part of the history of the iconic teddy bear that is loved by millions of kids around the globe. Its origin is not so far from the border dispute. It was invented because of the American president's willingness to settle a boundary dispute between two states.

Recently, we heard a not-so-sweet story about a border dispute between Thailand and Cambodia. The two neighbors exchanged fire in a border clash close to an ancient temple, Preah Vihear. The Hindu temple was awarded to Cambodia in a UN court ruling in 1962 but a piece of land around the temple is still disputed and has been the source of a long-standing conflict between Thailand and Cambodia.

Earlier, a border incident between North and South Korea was also in the headlines for quite some time. An incident in the Yellow Sea that cost human lives once again confirmed that the two neighbors still have unfinished border issues.

A maritime area in the Yellow Sea was, in fact, divided between the two countries in 1953. The line, known as the Northern Limit Line, does not seem to be accepted as a final and binding maritime boundary by North Korea.

In contrast, South Korea apparently accepts it as the line dividing the maritime zones and jurisdiction between the two Koreas. This difference in view seems to be the source, among other things, of the conflict between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea.

Similar to Thailand and Cambodia, the Koreas seem to have a reasonably bitter story concerning border disputes. In addition to maritime boundary disputes, the two Koreas also have land boundary issues to deal with. Their land boundary is considered the most heavily guarded border in the world, where soldiers from each side are on standby 24/7.

Close to Thailand, Cambodia and the Koreas, Indonesia also has boundary issues to address. Being geographically located at the "crossroad", Indonesia has 10 neighbors to deal with. From the neighbors, Indonesia shares both land and maritime boundaries with three countries: Malaysia (Borneo), Timor Leste (Timor) and Papua New Guinea (Papua). While for seven others (India, Thailand, Singapore, Vietnam, the Philippines, Palau and Australia), only maritime boundaries needed to be settled.

While it is apparent that border issues between Indonesia and its neighbors are not as worrying as those of Thailand-Cambodia and the Koreas, Indonesia undoubtedly needs to remain vigilant. The Ambalat block case, the border crossing in the Malacca Strait and the apprehension of fishermen in the maritime area between Indonesia and Australia are three good examples that portray why some important border issues still need to be addressed in Indonesia.

Indonesia is now the chair of ASEAN and therefore ideally broadens its attention to serve regional interests. What can Indonesia do to address border issues facing ASEAN members? Marty Natalegawa, Indonesia's foreign minister, has taken good steps to demonstrate ASEAN's willingness to address the issue. He was also involved in a meeting with the United Nations to pave the way to solution.

Even though the solution seemingly remains distant, this initiative has indicated good intention, showing to the world that ASEAN, as a community and organization, is willing to do something to address its members' problems. Dewa Mangku (2009) in his thesis at Gadjah Mada University, for instance, is quite optimistic that ASEAN has opportunities to assist the two neighbors in settling their border dispute. However, what ASEAN can really do about border issues remains to be seen.

Some major sovereignty and border disputes among ASEAN members were solved through the International Court of Justice: e.g. the Sipadan-Ligitan case (Indonesia-Malaysia, 2002) and the Pedra Branca case (Malaysia-Singapore, 2008). Some opine that this is an indication that ASEAN members do not prefer ASEAN for dispute settlement.

This is debatable, but there is no doubt that ASEAN members, through its good chairmanship, should maximize its role in dealing with inter-member issues. As written by Rizal Sukma "what is ASEAN good for if it cannot use its own mechanism to address its own problems?" (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 10, 2011).

I am personally hoping that we can have sweet stories out of the current border disputes. We might not invent another toy like the teddy bear, but we may have heroes for their achievement in settling border disputes peacefully. The fences between countries need to be mended with goodwill for, as Robert Frost once said, "good fences make good neighbors".

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Geodetic Engineering, Gadjah Mada University. His research interest is in technical/geodetic and legal aspects of border establishment. The opinions expressed are those of the author alone.







The world is still a long way from a repeat of the devastating food commodity price inflation that it experienced in 2008.

Nonetheless, prices have once again been moving upwards. The international prices for most agricultural commodities have risen sharply since mid-2010.

The international price of rice so far has remained more stable and analysts expect a comfortable supply-demand balance through the first quarter due to ample supplies from Thailand and Vietnam and expected reduced demand from the Philippines.

Still, food security concerns might contribute to a spike in rice prices. Such concerns have driven India to continue its curbs on rice exports and Bangladesh to pay higher prices for import rice.

Once again, this raises the specter of a surge in the price of rice and the possibility that, if left unchecked, such a surge could trigger a poverty crisis given the huge number of people in East Asia who spend a large proportion of their income on this one commodity.

This is obviously of great relevance to Indonesia with regard to the vulnerability of its own poor and near-poor populations.  

In a study recently published by the World Bank in Indonesia, many lessons can be learned from the dramatic previous increase in the international rice price, which tripled in less than four months in 2008.

Such research is vitally important, as policymakers — not only in Indonesia but also in other Asian countries with populations vulnerable to rice price increases — need to understand the factors driving the increase and formulate policies to facilitate the pricking of future price bubbles.

Back in 2008, many observers attempted to explain the price surge in terms of factors that were widely recognized as driving a similar surge in the global price of wheat.

In particular, they attributed the hike to the weakness of the US dollar, increased energy prices
and an increased demand for biofuels.

Other observers tried to explain the increase in terms of production shortfalls due to crop failures
and increased demand, with some also pointing towards financial speculation in the agricultural futures market as a potential culprit.

World Bank researchers looked in detail at all of these claims and also analyzed the specific characteristics of the rice market to try to identify the key driver behind the 2008 surge in the rice price.

The bank's research showed that international rice markets were "thin" — less than 5 percent of global rice production was traded internationally — and, therefore, rice prices are vulnerable to very small changes in supply and demand.

Furthermore, the vast majority of rice produced for export comes from only three countries: Thailand, India and Vietnam.

Meanwhile, the impact of higher domestic rice prices on households places governments in Asia under heavy political pressure to control rice prices in order to protect their electorates. This makes the issue of rice prices an extremely sensitive political issue.

The most important finding of the World Bank's research, however, was that none of the factors cited by observers in 2008 was the primary reason for the huge surge in international rice prices.

According to the World Bank, sudden changes in the trade policies of the major rice-exporting countries, together with the urgent efforts of some rice-importing countries to secure supplies at
almost any price, led to hoarding and speculation.

The "thinness" of the global rice market also made it particularly vulnerable to such short-sighted trade policies.

Indeed, restrictions on rice exports had the opposite of the intended effect on the local markets of those countries implementing the measures: On the back of panic buying and hoarding, prices rose dramatically in India and Vietnam.

While each country implemented measures to safeguard domestic food security that appeared to make logical sense, the impact of several countries implementing similar measures independently had the opposite of the intended effect.

That ultimate effect was to close down international rice trading and create a price bubble that had the potential to exacerbate poverty in Asian countries, where rice is a major consumable staple food.

In fact, the precipitous 2008 surge was eventually tamed with the announcement in early June of that year that Japan would release 300,000 tons of rice from its stockpile onto the world's markets.

This public commitment played an important role in calming markets, and rice-market fundamentals almost immediately began to improve.

Shortly afterwards, Vietnam also lifted its export ban and, together with the resulting increased supply from Asian growers reacting to higher prices, demand for imports weakened significantly.

The good news that stems from this analysis is that in 2008 it would not have taken very much to
have avoided the rice crisis, and therefore this applies to potential rice price crises going forward.

Because the world rice market is so small, an increase in supply of as little as 1 million tons would have a major impact on prices.

Such vital increases in supplies during times of escalating rice prices could be achieved by a combination of the relaxation of rice export controls, particularly those by India, Vietnam and China, and the release of stockpiled rice by those with sizable stocks, currently Japan, China and Thailand.

In the longer term, policy responses need to be developed to facilitate the emergence of a healthier, and less restricted global rice market — one that is ultimately less "thin".

First, one clear moral to be learned from this story is that no one country can solve a global rice crisis alone.

While the measures above would have served to avoid the 2008 rice crisis, longer-term responses to prevent such disturbing surges in the rice price in the future could include greater regional coordination to address sudden food price increases and reduce trade distortions, particularly within an ASEAN+3 framework.

Second, the development of more effective ways of dealing with public tenders and price stabilization would also help to alleviate the problem.

Third, the development of measures to improve agricultural productivity and reduce rice import tariffs would also help to make the rice market function more efficiently.

The writer is a senior economist at the World Bank office in Jakarta.









The Throne Speech outlining the policies and plans of the new Sri Lanka Freedom Party (SLFP) Government of  Prime Minister Sirima Bandaranaike was delivered on August 12th 1960.

In a move that pleased the Ilankai Thamil Arasu Katchi (ITAK) known in English as the Federal Party (FP) a Tamil translation was read out  simultaneously . The tone and content of the Throne speech was a disappointment to the party as it did not make any reference to matters pertaining to the setting up of district councils  and implementation of Tamil language in the administrative and judicial spheres.

Apparently the SLFP treated the pre-polls understanding arrived at with the FP as non – binding in a situation where the Government  had a majority in Parliament and not dependent on the FP to rule.

Nevertheless the FP remained patient and refrained from rocking the boat. The party adopted a low profile during the debate  and abstained from voting. This was to prevent an open rupture with the SLFP and keep the doors open for further discussions.

The FP however found its efforts to open lines of communication with the government being spurned. The SLFP was in no mood for any  further meeting  with the FP. Letters sent to the PM and senior ministers were not answered. Even telephone calls were rebuffed.


On the other hand public statements made by members of the government  as well as media reports indicated that the new government  intended to implement the Bandaranaike (SWRD) policies in full. A key element in this was the total "Sinhalaisation" of the Administrative and Judicial spheres. The Tamil factor seemed to be of no consequence.

The SLFP that had been playing political footsy  with the FP in a pre-election scenario seemed to be regretting that in a post –election scenario. The virulent campaign conducted by the UNP on communal lines against the perceived SLFP-FP alignment had affected grass roots supporters of the party. Many suspected the charges to be true despite loyalty to the party.

Thus the SLFP leadership had to  now prove to the rank and file that there was no "deal" with the FP and that no concession would be granted to demands articulated by the party. It also had to demonstrate that the party had not lost its pro-Sinhala moorings.

Reinforcing this pro-Sinhala hard line thought was the return of many prodigals to the mother party. A large number of these were avowed Sinhala hawks. Their return added strength to the proponents of total Sinhalaisation in the party. Under these circumstances the SLFP now seemed "ashamed"of its pre-poll tie up with the FP and seemed keen on distancing itself from the Tamil party.

The corollary of this state of affairs was increasing insecurity among the Tamil people about their political future. There was much apprehension and fear that the Government  was going to implement "Sinhala Only" in a big way throughout the country.

Tamil trepidation in this respect was enhanced by two announcements by the Government . One was that Sinhala would be implemented as  the sole official language in all areas of administration with effect from January 1, 1961.

The second was the announcement that the Government  intended passing legislation making Sinhala as the Language of courts in all parts of the Island. Legislation to this effect had been introduced in 1959 but had lapsed after the proroguing of Parliament. Now the Government  wanted to resurrect it.

The FP was now under tremendous pressure from its Tamil constituency to do something in this regard. The FP had contested 21 seats in the July 1960, polled 218, 653 votes and obtained 16 seats. The party regarded itself as the legitimate representatives of the Tamil speaking people. The party therefore prepared a comprehensive memorandum incorporating the concerns of the Tamil people.


The memorandum  called for the full implementation of the Banda-Chelva pact and the provisions on Tamil language implementation agreed to by SWRD Bandaranaike. The FP wanted the Regional Councils to be set up and Tamil Language Special provisions act to be implemented.

The memorandum also requested the Governmemt  to recognize the Tamil language as a national language spoken by the Tamil and Muslim people. Tamil was to be an administrative and courts language in the North and East. The FP also wanted arrangements for Tamils and Muslims in the seven Sinhala majority provinces enabling them to transact official business in Tamil.

The memorandum also pointed out that making Sinhala the sole official language had created two categories among Tamil public servants. One was those who had been recruited before the Sinhala only bill and the other, those being recruited after it.

The first category called "old entrants" should be allowed to work in English or be allowed to retire with full benefits if they so desired. They should not be compulsorily retired or deprived of increments or promotions.

As for the second or "new entrants" category the FP did not object to the requirement of Sinhala proficiency. The party however did not want the Sinhala proficiency requirement to be used to deny or restrict employment opportunities for Tamils in Government  service.

A lengthy period of time should be given for Tamils to qualify in Sinhala. At the same time  certain types of employees required to serve in Tamil speaking regions should be exempted from having to acquire Sinhala proficiency.

The Memorandum signed by all 16 FP Parliamentarians was addressed to the PM Mrs. Bandaranaike and requested a meeting with her. The party received a terse note acknowledging receipt. Instead of waiting passively the FP now engaged in intensive  lobbying  for further action.

Party leaders used their personal relationship with SLFP stalwarts to canvass for a meeting with the premier. Chelvanayakam dropped in at Felix Dias Bandaranaike's residence. Other leaders met with ministers like C.P. de Silva, Maithripala Senanayake, T.B. Illangaratne, P.B.G. Kalugalle , Sam P.C. Fernando and Badi-ud–din Mahmood at their offices .


As a result of this collective effort the Government  relented and a meeting between the Prime Minister and a FP delegation was set up at Temple Trees on November 8th 1960. The Government  team led by Mrs.Bandaranaike comprised ministers  C.P. de Silva,Felix Dias Bandaranaike,T.B. Illangaratne,Sam P.C. Fernando,P.B.G. Kalugalle and Dr.Badi-ud – din Mahmood.

The FP delegation led by its leader and Kankesanthurai MP S.J.V Chelvanayakam included Parliamentarians  N.R. Rajavarothayam (Trincomalee)EMV Naganathan(Nallur), V.A. Kandiah(Kayts), S.M. Rasamanickam (Paddirupu), A. Amirthalingam (Vaddukkoddai) and non –Parliamentarians V.Navaratnam and S.M.M.  Mashoor Moulana.

The two hour long discussion was conducted cordially. Issues were discussed in detail. A second meeting was scheduled for November 23 ,1960 to follow up on matters.

The November 23, meeting with the PM was also at Temple Trees. While the FP delegation consisted of the same people as before there was a change in the Government  team.C.P de Silva,Mahmood and Kalugalle were absent. Instead two junior ministers were present. They were T.B. Tennekoon (Dambulla) and Mahanama Samaraweera (Matara).

The discussions went on for two hours like the previous occasion. At the end of it the FP was asked to prepare two documents for further discussion. One was a set of draft regulations regarding the Tamil Language (special Provisions) Act No 28 of 1958. The other was a draft bill to establish regional councils. No date was set for a third round of talks.

Whatever the optimism generated at these two rounds of talks it soon began evaporating as other events began overtaking. Media reports about the Government - FP talks caused a backlash among  hawkish Sinhala elements within  the SLFP. The Government  went on the defensive and "apologized" to the Sinhala people  for talking to the FP.

Felix Dias Bandaranaike  underplayed the meetings with the FP and told newspapers that the government  only listened to  representations made by the FP and did not discuss anything specifically. Mrs. Bandaranaike in another statement  said she met the FP because that party had sent her a memorandum requesting a meeting to discuss matters relating to the implementation of  Sinhala as an official language.


Even as these brief signs of SLFP-FP rapprochement began to fade away,  fresh clouds gathered on the political horizon. In a sudden move that took the FP by surprise the Justice Minister Sam P.C. Fernando introduced parliamentary  legislation relating to the language of courts. The draft Languages of the courts bill empowered the Justice Minister to direct that Sinhala language alone be used for pleadings, recording of proceedings and maintenance of records in any court in the Island.

This drastic move by the Government  made the FP feel betrayed. Tamils were upset and worried. Chelvanayakam pointed out that there was no provision in the bill for even courts in 100% Tamil areas to conduct affairs in Tamil. Lawyers in the North and East registered their protest by token boycotts of courts.

Despite Tamil opposition the Government  announced that it intended going ahead as planned. Felix Dias Bandaranaike rationalised the Government  stance by stating that the mandate upon which the SLFP was elected to office was that of total implementation of the Sinhala only policy of S.W.R.D. Bandaranaike.

The Federal Party's working committee met in Batticaloa on December 4, 1960 and resolved to discontinue the on-going dialogue with the Government  until the draft Language of the courts bill was altered to incorporate provisions for Tamil language also. The FP felt no useful purpose would be served by further discussion until this was done.

The Government  reacted harshly. It reiterated that it would go ahead as planned on the language of courts issue. Furthermore the Governmemt  emphasised that it would implement the Sinhala only act in full and stated that the administration of the entire country would only be in Sinhala with effect from January 1, 1961.

With the Government  flinging down the gauntlet the FP held an emergency meeting of its Parliamentary group on December 18, 1960. The party decided unanimously to observe a hartal or stoppage of work in the Northern and Eastern provinces on January 2, 1961. This was the first working day after the proposed switching to Sinhala. The FP asked all Tamil speaking people regardless of party affiliation to observe the hartal.

On December 26 the working committee of the FP met and endorsed the decision to stage a hartal on Jan 2 1961. A significant  event occurred at that meeting when a stalwart from Vavuniya  by the name of Sittampalam proposed that the FP abandon the demand for federalism and instead begin a campaign for a separate state. After hectic discussion this extremist proposal was rejected.

The aborted move was an indicator of the hardening of opinion among sections of the FP. In Sittampalam's case he was influenced greatly by Prof. C. Sundaralingam who had represented Vavuniya in Parliament from 1947 – 1960. Sundaralingam had formed the "Adanga Thamilar Otrumai Munnani" (Defiant Tamil united Front) and demanded a separate state which he spelled as "Eylom". Sundaralingam was defeated in both March and July 1960 elections.

The Government  went ahead with the Language of the courts bill despite Tamil protests. It was taken up for debate on December 30, 1960.Standing orders were suspended to enable Parliament to conclude the debate and vote on the same day.

The FP participated in the debate and moved amendments to the bill seeking to make Tamil the courts language in the North and East. These were rejected and defeated by voting. The courts language bill was debated throughout the night of December  30 and finally passed at 8 am on December 31.


Chelvanayakam issued a statement calling upon the Tamil speaking people to observe the January 2nd hartal in a non – violent manner. He further said that the Tamil speaking people were left with no alternative other than to offer non – violent resistance. Saying there was immense suffering in store for the Tamil speaking people,  Chelvanayakam  observed "Whatever the sacrifices may be the way is clear for us which is to resist whole-heartedly and engage with full force in a one hundred percent non – violent struggle".

Notwithstanding Chelvanayakam's appeal for non – violence the Government  was not taking any chances. Armed force contingents were sent to the North and East to beef up the security presence in those regions. Chelvanayakam lamented this and said "It is regretted that the government has sent armed forces to the north and east. We can only hope that those forces will not run riot"

The fears of the Govt about possible violence proved liars. The hartal was observed in all parts of the North and east without any mishap or violent incident. The security forces and Police simply remained alert without having to resort to action anywhere. The hartal was a big success and paralysed normal life for a day.

Elated by the hartal's success, the FP revived its dormant action committee. The FP had formed an action committee comprising selected leaders to plan, coordinate and implement non – violent protests on a mass scale. The action committee had earlier given notice of two "Direct action " campaigns in 1957 and 1958.

The campaigns did not take place. In 1957 it was abandoned because of the signing of the B-C pact. In 1958 it was not implemented because leaders of the FP were placed under house arrest after the 1958 anti-Tamil riots. The action committee had thereafter become inactive.

Now the party revived and reconstituted the action committee which met on January 8th 1961 . The action committee decided on two courses of action. The  first was to  conduct a widespread "satyagraha" campaign in the north and east before February 20  1961. The second was to  stage the seventh national party convention of the FP in Jaffna on January 21. 1961 and ratify the decision to stage a massive Satyagraha campaign.

Vaddukkoddai MP A. Amirthalingam a firebrand in his younger days was then the president of the FP youth Front. He requested and obtained approval to stage the youth convention  along with the national convention.

The stage was now being set for the launching of the Satyagraha campaign. The FP leader SJV Chelvanayakam was not convinced about the feasibility of a Satyagraha campaign. He was doubtful whether there would be public support for such a move because of  the threat of repressive action by the govt. He was also worried about the outbreak of violence and the potential harm to civilian participants.


Without Chelvanayakam's support there was little chance of the party endorsing a Satyagraha at the convention. The formidable task of persuading Chelvanayakam fell on the shoulders of former Kayts MP V. Navaratnam. Described as the "Thanga moolai (Golden brain) of the FP , Navaratnam was a shrewd planner with the reputation of getting things done. In 1957 the action committee had entrusted him with the responsibility of planning and executing the famous FP march to Trincomalee.

Now the action committee had delegated the responsibility of conducting the Satyagraha to V Navaratnam (different to Chavakachcheri's V.N. Navaratnam). Navaratnam met Chelvanayakam and outlined his proposed modus operandi for the Satyagraha. Chelvanayakam was half – convinced.

Chelvanayakam was finally converted to the cause of Satyagraha after an unofficial meeting  of party members held at the FP headquarters ( No 25, Second Cross Street,Jaffna). There Chelvanayakam invited V.Navaratnam to address the gathering and explain his blueprint for a Satyagraha.

Navaratnam then spoke . He said that batches of dedicated volunteers steeped in the tradition of non – violent protest would sit in front of the entrances to the Kachcheris or administrative secretariats of districts. They would prevent government  employees from working  by blocking them. If one batch was arrested another batch would replace it. The Satyagraha would continue on an on going basis.

Since the Kachcheris were the nerve centres of district administration  day to day governance would be paralysed. Once that happened the Satyagraha could be expanded to other Government  departments also. The campaign would commence in Jaffna. Thereafter it would be conducted in Batticaloa, Trincomalee, Mannar and Vavuniya. The ultimate objective was to paralyse civil administration in the North and East through non – violent action.

After Navaratnam's incisive explanation the audience was firmly convinced. Chelvanayakam a devout Christian then retired to a private room for prayer. After praying the FP leader decided to go ahead with the Satyagraha campaign.Thereafter Chelvanayakam was resolute in conducting the Satyagraha campaign
Once Chelvanayakam threw in his lot with the Satyagraha project party endorsement for the campaign was assured. When the FP convention took  place on January 21st the FP youth front also had its own session. 


The FP youth front passed a resolution calling for the picketing of Government  offices in the north and east,conducting a non – cooperation campaign against officials involved in implementing Sinhala as the official language  and adopting measures to prevent the teaching of Sinhala in Tamil schools.

Amirthalingam in his capacity as youth front leader also submitted an appeal to the FP national convention  calling upon the party to launch a civil disobedience campaign without delay.

Paddiruppu MP S.M. Rasamanickam was elected FP president at the convention. In his presidential address Rasamanickam  revealed details of the efforts made by the party to reach an understanding with the SLFP Government  and why they failed. He said the party had no choice other than to oppose the imposition of Sinhala by the Government .

Taking note of sentiments expressed by younger members of resorting to a violent struggle Rasamanickam vehemently condemned such thoughts. He said the FP was moulded by principles of Mahatma Gandhi."our leader Chelvanayakam's path is the Gandhian path. Ours is the Chelvanayakam path", he proclaimed.

Four resolutions were passed at the FP convention.They were on caste discrimination, economic development, citizenship and the prevailing political situation. The political resolution was proposed by Chelvanayakam and seconded by Dr. Naganathan.It was carried unanimously amidst thunderous cheers and applause.

The concluding part of the resolution stated – "This convention taking into consideration the history of repeated betrayals and the utter futility of the method of negotiation and parliamentary action in the present governmental set-up, resolves that the only course open to the Tamil speaking people to protect their national honour and win back their freedom is to resort to non – violent direct action and ratifies the course of action set out in the directive of the party's action committee".

The mood at the FP convention was volatile and aggressive. Passions were  running high against the actions of the SLFP government on the question of language. The ruling regime was  determined to go ahead with the "Sinhalaisation" agenda and was engaged in a number of measures adding  insult to injury as far as Tamils were concerned.


Parliament itself had passed a motion making Sinhala the language of the House of Representatives. Interpretation arrangements would be made for MP's who could not understand or speak Sinhala. Tamil speaking MP's felt deeply humiliated by this action.

Unlike the government of her enlightened husband, the government of Sirima Bandaranaike attempted to enforce the "Sinhala only"policy vigorously from January 1961 onwards without any compassion for the predicament of the Tamil speaking people.

All government departments and semi-govt boards and corporations were required to conduct official business in Sinhala only. All records and files were to be maintained in Sinhala alone. Communication with the public was also to be in the sole official language only.

Highly educated Tamils in respectable positions were rendered officially illiterate by government  fiat. Letters, notices and circulars were in the Sinhala language only. Tamil officers had to undergo the humiliating experience of relying on their Sinhala colleagues and subordinates to  make sense of these.

Tamil professionals and businessmen receiving official letters in Sinhala had to procure the help of their Sinhala neighbours and minor employees like drivers and peons to understand them. In the predominantly Tamil areas of the North and east the situation was even more problematic. Sinhala bakery owners and boutique keepers  were very much in demand there for translating.

Gazette notifications and newspaper  notices advertising vacancies or employment opportunities in the public sector stipulated a working knowledge of Sinhala as an essential requirement or pre-condition. Those  not proficient in Sinhala were automatically disqualified. Thus in practice  public sector employment was being restricted to Tamils ,Muslims and even Burghers.

Those already in government service were also affected by the rapid Sinhalaisation process of the Sirima Bandaranaike regime. All government  employees were required to acquire a stipulated degree of proficiency within a prescribed time frame. Until then all promotions, salary emoluments and pay increments would be withheld. Sinhala classes were started at government  departments . Attendance was mandatory.

In a counter move the FP had asked all Tamil government  employees to refrain from working in Sinhala. They were asked not to study Sinhala and to boycott Sinhala classes. Members of the Tamil public were asked not to transact official business in Sinhala.They were asked to refuse official correspondence in Sinhala and to write official letters in Tamil to government  offices.

While the FP appeal met with an overall affirmative response  there were many Tamil government  servants who did not oblige. For one thing they were of the old school type and believed in adhering obediently to  government  directives. Also many had put in years of service and did not want to risk losing employment suddenly.


There were however many young Tamil employees who defied the imposition of Sinhala as sole official language. Many refused to work  in Sinhala and lost their jobs. Others worked without acquiring Sinhala proficiency thereby losing  promotions and salary increases. Some Tamil employees challenged the government  diktat in courts and met with resounding success at the Privy council (Kodeeswaran case).

FP leaders sent numerous letters to ministers of the government  and the Premier about this disturbing state of affairs. Sadly most letters went unanswered. In a few instances routine notes of receipt were sent without any follow up action.

It could be seen therefore that the Tamil socio-political environment was rippling with tension. Even if unable to articulate their views publicly in a forthright manner almost every politically conscious Tamil was seething with hostility at government action. There were  however differences of opinion about dealing with the situation.

In an emotion charged atmosphere the FP national convention ratified the decision to launch a Satyagraha campaign in a phased out manner. The action committee was empowered to take necessary measures.

The FP action committee met on January 29 and decided to implement the preliminary phase of the direct action campaign. This was to issue  a direct appeal to all government  employees in the north and east to refrain from working in Sinhala after informing them of FP plans to paralyse civil administration through a Satyagraha campaign.

Accordingly on January 30 the FP leader Chelvanayakam led a group of volunteers to the Jaffna Kachcheri and issued leaflets. He also spoke with many government  servants and solicited their cooperation. Likewise Amirthalingam led a group to the Jaffna courts and issued leaflets with an appeal. He also addressed an impromptu gathering.

Other Federal party MP's and  senior leaders followed suit in the days that followed. They visited government offices in all parts of the Jaffna peninsula on a staggered basis. This action was replicated by FP activists in other districts of the North and East also.


The leaflet noted in its appeal that Tamil should be to the Tamil speaking people what Sinhala is to the Sinhala speaking people. It stated that the government  had rejected a unanimous request by the Tamil speaking people  for Tamil to be the administrative language in the north and east and was now trying to "force Sinhala down our throats".

It further noted that the "Tamil speaking people have no alternative but to resist this wicked policy of the government  " and that "we are engaged in a life and death struggle for our birthright".

The leaflet ended with a three –pronged appeal. The three requests were –

1.Please do not do any work in your office in Sinhala.

2.Please do not attend to any official communication in Sinhala.

3.Please do not sign or use an official frank in Sinhala.

In the aftermath of the leaflet campaign, Justice Minister Sam PC Fernando addressed the nation on Jan 29th over radio. He appealed to the Tamil speaking people not to be deceived and misled by Federal party mischief makers.

Fernando said he was prepared to discuss  difficulties faced by the Tamil people on the language front and make adjustments to remove inconveniences and irritants. He would also instruct government  departments to send Tamil translations with letters in Sinhala. He further said that the government t was ready to make adjustments without prejudice to the official languages act in instances where hardship was caused.

Chelvanayakam responded to the Justice Minister through the newspapers in the following manner . "Our party has arrived at this decision after giving a full trial to methods of negotiation. It produced no results from the government side.Even our letters were not acknowledged. The minister's statement comes nowhere near the mark. He does not understand our position or is underestimating our intelligence. We will as true Satyagrahis, always keep the door of negotiations open. But we cannot abandon the fundamental rights of our people".

The preliminary phase of the Satyagraha campaign  conducted throughout the north and east in stages concluded without any hitch. There was no violence anywhere. A certain amount of awareness had been created in the minds of government employees about the forthcoming direct action campaign.

The FP followed through by holding meetings and rallies in various parts of the north and east. The public at large was informed of the Satyagraha and asked to be ready. The FP also began registering volunteers for the Satyagraha and conducting classes on the basic tenets of non – violent  agitation.


When Freedom day dawned on February 4 the FP declared it a day of mourning for Tamils. Black flags were hoisted throughout the North – east. The highlight of the day of mourning was a procession staged by Tamil youths from Urumpirai to Jaffna.

A coffin with copies of the Sinhala only act and Language of the courts act was carried and set on fire after mock funeral rites were done by Kayts MP V.A. Kandiah. Amirthalingam stood on a parapet wall and addressed the crowd.

The FP's action committee went ahead with its plans for commencing the satyagraha on February 20. On February 19 the action committee formally approved the phased out plan for the campaign. Chelvanayakam issued a lengthy statement informing the public of the direct action campaign.

After  explaining the background  and specifying the reasons necessitating such a protest the statement concluded thus –

"The whole of the Tamil speaking nation revolts  against these measures; then the question is what must we do now? Should we stand by and witness the destruction of our race? Or should we act? In similar circumstances Mahatma Gandhi and the Indian national Congress resorted to action which was against the laws of the country but was characterised as moral and patriotic conduct.

Our party has decided likewise. We are prepared to face the consequences of our action which may be very serious. We have no misgiving about the strength and capacity of the government to resort to oppressive measures and oppress our people. One thing is certain. Our campaign cannot result in failure unless we or our actions are disowned by our people.

The measure of success depends on the extent to which our people get trained to resist the unjust measures of a government that rules them without their consent".


The lengthy statement issued by Chelvanayakam set out the parameters of the direct action campaign. D-day dawned on February 20th 1961.

The first batch of Satyagraha volunteers all from the Kankesanthurai electorate represented by S.J.V Chelvanayakam converged at the FP office at No 25 , 2nd Cross Street,Jaffna,

The non – violent contingent then started out in a procession towards the Jaffna Kachcheri situated along   the Jaffna – Kandy A-9 highway. The feeble and sickly Chelvanayagam dressed in "Verti and Salvai "was at the head of the group
Since Chelvanayakam known as "Thanthai Chelva" (father ) walked very slowly the volunteers also proceeded  at a very slow pace. Two poetic slogans were frequently chanted.

One was " Thamilar Selvathu Enthap Paathai? Thanthai Chelva Kaatum Paathai" (On which path are Tamils going on? The path shown by Father Selva).

The other was "mella,mella nadanthu sellum Methai Chelvanayakam, Sellukindra Vazhiyil sellvom Thamizh Thondarkal Naam" (Genius Chelvanayakam walks slowly, slowly. We Tamil disciples follow in the same path he goes )

Finally the Satyagrahis reached the Kachcheri premises and took up positions in front of the entrances to the Kachcheri. The time was 7.30 am (ENDS)







IMF-ILO warned of political upheavals in September last year

The fear of social and political upheaval haunting ruling circles around the world was graphically expressed at a joint conference of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) that reviewed the worsening global levels of unemployment and poverty, last year.

Laszlo Andor, the European commissioner for employment and social affairs, told the conference in Norway that 2010 had been an "annus horribilis" for unemployment. "But if we fail to act," he warned, "2011 may still turn out to be the annus horribilis for social cohesion". In other words, Andor's fear was that mass joblessness could bring a mass upsurge of class struggles and political crises—next year.

The figures presented to the conference speak for themselves. There are now over 210 million workers jobless globally—the highest level in recorded history—a 34 million rise in the past three years. Around 80 percent of the world's population has no social welfare of any kind. Approximately 1.2 billion people, or 40 percent of the world's labour force, do not earn enough to keep themselves or their families above the $2-a-day poverty level.

What particularly concerned Andor and other top officials was that much of the increased joblessness has been in the advanced economies of Europe and the US. In the US, the official number of unemployed has risen from 7.5 million to more than 15 million (half of these are long-term unemployed)—a level not seen since the Great Depression. Across Europe, there are now more than 23 million unemployed—a 36 percent increase since 2007.

IMF chief Dominique Strauss-Kahn told the gathering that the global financial crisis had left a "wasteland of unemployment". He said that having a job was "often a matter of life and death" and warned that rising unemployment could lead to violent conflict.

Featured speakers included Spanish Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou, whose governments have already confronted strikes and mass protests against their IMF-dictated austerity measures. Zapatero warned the audience that long periods of high unemployment could set off "a crisis of pessimism" and "lack of confidence" in governments across Europe.

The ruling classes in Europe and internationally are acutely conscious of the extreme social and political tensions being generated by sharply declining living standards. Hostility to established political parties has been expressed in recent elections in Britain, Australia and Sweden that resulted in hung parliaments. In the US, the Democratic Party is facing major losses in mid-term congressional elections in November.

Protests and strikes have not only erupted in Europe but have also emerged among the super-exploited in Asia—garment workers in Bangladesh and Cambodia, and car workers in China.

The conference document highlighted the potential for political radicalisation among young people who have been especially hard hit by job-shedding. In 2009 alone, the number of young people out of work globally rose by 6.6 million. Youth unemployment in Spain is officially 40 percent. In Italy, Sweden and France, it is currently around 25 percent and about 20 percent in the US and the UK.

The document warned: "Personal joblessness experience translates into negative opinions about the effectiveness of democracy and increases the desire for a rogue leader ... [This] extends to individuals who do not experience unemployment themselves, but live in a country and period with high unemployment. High and long-lasting unemployment therefore represents risks to the stability of existing democracies."

Millions of young people—whether jobless or not—are starting to see for themselves that parliamentary democracy and the established parties are nothing but a screen for the interests of the wealthy corporate and financial elites. That disaffection can be exploited by parties of the extreme right that rail against the banks. However, in speaking of "rogue leaders", what the ruling elites really fear is the rise of revolutionary sentiments among workers and youth, and genuine socialist parties committed to the abolition of the profit system.

The inability of capitalism or its political representatives to offer any solutions to working people was reflected in the poverty of the conference discussion. Of course, the delegates had to feign concern for the unemployed. But these are the very IMF officials, government leaders, corporate CEOs and trade union bureaucrats who are responsible for creating the jobless "wasteland" over the past two years.

As for proposals, the final conference statement promised to work on "employment-creating growth" and "a minimum social protection floor for people living in poverty"—right at the point where major corporations continue to downsize and governments are slashing budgets. It also called for more "social dialogue" and better "tripartite solutions"—that is, the even closer collaboration of the trade unions with governments and big business in imposing the agenda of austerity.

Two decades ago, amid the triumphalism in bourgeois circles that surrounded the collapse of the Stalinist regimes in Eastern Europe, commentators described 1989 as an "annus mirabilis"—an year of miracles that marked the death of socialism. The International Committee of the Fourth International (ICFI), the world Trotskyist movement, was alone in declaring that the collapse of Stalinism represented the end of all nationally-based programs and foreshadowed a profound crisis of world capitalism.

European Commissioner Andor's declaration that next year could be an "annus horribilis for social cohesion" is a call to arms to the capitalist classes. For all the talk at the ILO-IMF conference about the political dangers facing "democracy", the ruling elites will not hesitate to resort to their own methods of extra-parliamentary rule to impose pro-market policies and retain their grip on power.

The bourgeoisie and its representatives are extremely conscious of the political dangers posed to their interests by the worsening global economic crisis. The working class must begin to develop its own political counteroffensive on the basis of the perspective of the ICFI to abolish the profit system and establish a world planned socialist economy. Thanks /Richard Phillips/





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

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











This could be too obvious a topic today, albeit we cannot avoid pondering.

True to the tradition, we have lost the match again to venerable Pakistan on Saturday.  It was sad to see the crowds leaving in numbers with the 8th wicket down. Some close up shots of TV coverage showed a few fans on the verge of breaking down.

It was an electric sell-out game with 35,000 at the R. Premadasa stadium in Colombo to witness the much-anticipated Pakistan and 1996 champions, who both enjoyed convincing opening victories. Needless to say it was one of those nail biting entertainers.The lions must be licking their wounds and reflecting on it by now. There is no excuse for Sanga's men for losing the match here at Premadasa stadium with a huge ground support, home advantage.

Over confidence or under estimated opponents?

The middle order muddled. Still recovered well to lose by 11 runs as the run rate required was 8.32+ per over. Supporting the comment skipper Sangakkara also has said the loss of Mahela Jayawardene and opener Tillakaratne Dilshan at a crucial stage of the match was a key factor in his team's defeat.

But first of all it was bad luck for Sri Lankans... we lost the toss. In fact we had already lost the match when we lost the toss. It is a known fact that it was difficult to chase at Premadasa at night. Pitch gets slower and slower as the game progresses. If the visitors had batted second we would have won.

Adding to the difficulties is that Pakistan wanted to bat first. That meant all 11 players had to sweat in the unusually scorching sun while almost all the Pakistan players were at the pavilion. When the time to bat arrived we were sending in an exhausted set of players. This was very evident when their attempted hits landed well within the boundary and the resultant loss of wickets. The lacked power, couldn't hit hard enough to put the ball over to the boundary.

One notable attribute is that the players did not give up till the very last moment. It is the spirit and hats off to the batsmen.

Many cricket experts believe Sri Lanka would be one of the favourites.

We first won it in 1996 under Arjuna Ranatunga. That was more than 15 years and three more World Cups tournaments ago. 

These were the mantras that had been going around this time as reasons for Sri Lanka as the favourites.

Well, Pakistan still remain one of the favourites. Pakistan played the better game and proved their mettle. It is to be seen, being mercurial would they maintain this standard.

"World Cups are won in the semifinals and finals. It doesn't matter if Sri Lanka were at their best now, in order to win a world cup they need to be at their best in a month's time," one observer said. On the other hand with the home advantage, Sanga and his men should and we all pray will bring home the cup. With so many factors affecting, anything is possible in cricket, catches and matched they say.








Two concepts that most people would probably argue are pretty straightforward are money and democracy. We all assume that we know what both are - but in reality we do not.


Money may well be a means of exchange and to some extent a store of value, but it is a lot more than that.


Most money circulating in the world is just a piece of paper with no intrinsic value.


A Bank of England note may bear the words that the bank will pay the bearer on demand five pounds sterling.


But if you were to take the note to the bank for your five pounds sterling all you would get back is another note with the same meaningless motto on it.


And money in the form of banknotes makes up a very small proportion of the amount of money that circulates on any given day.


When you see the way that central banks and financial institutions can create money through just printing it or though creating it using complex debt instruments then I get the impression that the people who actually decide how much money there is in the world at any given time are a bunch of sorcerer's apprentices.


Democracy is a similar concept.


As Bahrain looks to extend its democratic government it is well worth questioning just what democracy is and how it works, if it indeed does.


For most of my adult life in the UK I have lived under a system of government called democracy that has by and large delivered a form of dictatorship that the majority of people did not want.


Both Margaret Thatcher and Tony Blair won landslide victories in elections I have voted in. But neither came even close to getting an outright majority of the votes cast.


So in the current British system the country tends to get run by a political party that has the support of a minority.


Most people's idea of democracy is that people get a say in how the country is governed. Nothing could be further from the truth.


In the UK they only get a choice in picking their representatives and realistically that limits them to just three political options.


And even members of the three parties in the UK have pretty well little or no say in creating the manifesto which they submit to the electorate.


More worrying is that we have a system in place now where, because of the power of patronage, the Prime Minister will receive the backing of his or her party to do just about anything once they are in power regardless if it was in their programme at the time of the election.


Tony Blair had no mandate from the British people to invade Iraq and was well aware that the majority of the electorate were opposed to such an action, even though they had been lied to by the government of the day about the need for the war.


As Britain has the quirky kind of democracy that has no constitution limiting the power of the executive, the Prime Minister can do whatever he wants and there is no comeback other than the courts.


That is not much of a comeback as in the UK the most senior members of the judiciary are appointed by the government.


But even with limits on what the executive can do, does democracy really give people a say in how the country is run.


In the US they have The Declaration of Independence, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, but do they really guarantee that the people have a say. Probably not.


They are marvellous documents and probably the oldest written democratic statements of intent still in use.


The US Constitution begins with the powerful statement "We the People".


The Declaration of Independence promises life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


I love the idea that you can go along to your elected representative and blame him if he or she fails to make you happy.


For most of the time that these historic documents have existed they have failed to produce a democracy that has lived up to their words.


Liberty and the pursuit of happiness were certainly not available to the vast majority of black people for not far off a century after the signing of the declaration and for most of that time, slave owners had the power of life and death over their workers.


We the people failed to include women until 1920 while most black people were denied rights promised in the Constitution until the passing of the Civil Rights Act as recently as 1968.


When I was a student I studied a subject espoused by political philosophers like John Locke, Rousseau and Montesquieu called social contractarianism.


It applies to any form of government and indeed the somewhat eccentric and brilliant Montesquieu argued that democracy would only work in temperate climates and that you needed dictatorship in very hot or cold climates.


His idea was that if temperatures are too extreme you will need to apply force to get people out of bed to do any work.


The key to social contractarianism is that in order to form any sort of civil society people have to surrender certain individual freedoms for the greater good of all.


It argues that there needs to be a system of rules that everyone understands and adheres to.


Put simply it means that for any society to be successful we have to have a bit of live and let live.


Unfortunately, in the real world today we do not seem to have a lot of live and let live, even in democracies.


Perhaps, while Bahrain decides where its young democracy is going, the people should be looking back to

philosophers of the 17th century to help develop their ideas about the future.


The problem with democracy is that it is meant to be fair.


It should promise us life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. It regularly fails to do so.


Democracy is not something you can pick off the shelf and introduce elsewhere as George W Bush has so ably proved in Iraq.


It is a system that has to evolve. Three hundred years ago only about one per cent of British people had a vote, 250 years ago no one in the US had a vote and in most countries in the world women have been enfranchised for less than a century.


Developing democracy takes time and I believe the country can learn from the US example, their Declaration of

Independence and their Constitution.


The Constitution does not begin with the phrase, we the majority or we the white Anglo Saxon Protestant males.


That may be what it has delivered for most of the time since it was written.


But we the people remains an ideal worth striving for.


Well versed...


Last Friday a poem about me appeared on the letters page by a friend of mine who goes by the nom de plume of John Casey in which he made reference to the time I spent working as a bus conductor with the old Dundee Corporation.


In this work of art he notes that I helped old ladies up the stairs and made each stop go with a ding.


Nothing could be further from the truth and, before I am exposed I would like to confess that I was the most evil anti-social fare collectors in the history of the corporation.


My driver, Kenny Semple, and I spent our entire time trying to avoid passengers at all costs.


Kenny's motto was that the only difference between driving a bus and driving a cleansing department wagon was that in our occupation the rubbish walked on itself.


Kenny was an expert in the bus drivers pastime of "Heeling" which involves getting as close to the bus in front of you as possible so there is no one to pick up.


But even when there were people at the bus stop we regularly just left them there.


Kenny always took the view that stopping for one or two passengers then starting off again was just wasting the corporation's petrol.


In Dundee in those days pensioners could travel on a penny ticket after 9am.


Now on an early shift you tended to finish in the town centre at around 9.15am and with a lot of crews coming off the road and heading to the canteen for breakfast it was important to finish fast and avoid the queue, a task made difficult if you are picking up old people for the last six stops.


So we didn't bother to stop unless someone wanted to leave the bus.


I can remember being taken before the inspectors committee after four pensioners had complained that we had shot past them when they were waiting at Dens Road.


Kenny's defence in these frequent occurrences was that it had been raining and they were probably hiding up a close so he could not have seen them.


The bus operation was effectively run by the union in those days so after being told to take more care in future we were off scot-free.


As we left I questioned why I had had to attend this hearing as I just collected fares.


Two of the old dears reported that the bus conductor was hanging off the platform at the back of the bus waving at them as the bus passed, he replied. - ARTHUR MACDONALD



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