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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

EDITORIAL 02.03.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 02, edition 000768, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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



































































While handing down the death sentence to 11 of the 31 people convicted of being involved with setting fire to coach S-6 of Sabarmati Express at Godhra on February 27, 2002, the Special Court in Gujarat which conducted the trial under the Supreme Court's supervision, has sent across a stern message to those who believe they can get away by pretending to be 'innocent victims' of communal bias. Fifty-nine kar sevaks died in the Godhra carnage which, the court has held, was a premeditated crime. In view of the fact that the court has found the heinous act to be "rarest of rare" whose perpetrators deserve to be sent to the gallows, the Left-liberal commentariat and jholawallahs, who have till now passionately defended the killers of Godhra, insisting the fire that consumed coach S 6 was not an act of arson and hence could not have been the result of a conspiracy, will hopefully desist from trying to make heroes out of loathsome criminals. When the court gave its verdict in the case last week, a concerted effort was made to paint it as an 'unfair' judgement. The criticism was premised on three issues. First, it was pointed out that the charge of premeditated arson cannot be conclusively proved as there are 'divergent' views on what happened on that fateful day. This is balderdash. The 'divergent' views are no more than concoctions of the perverted minds of those who are untouched by the gravity of the crime committed at Godhra. The sly attempt by Justice UC Banerjee to give legitimacy to the 'accidental fire' theory was spotted immediately by the courts which declared the very constitution of that committee by Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav as illegitimate. Second, just because a large number of accused have been acquitted does not suggest the prosecution's case is either weak or unfounded. Acquittal does not necessarily mean innocence; it merely means the court was not fully satisfied with the evidence presented before it. That the SIT has decided to appeal against the acquittal of more than 60 accused indicates the prosecution's conviction that they are not free of guilt. Third, the delay in arriving at a verdict is not on account of a lethargic State Government; the trial was held up because self-appointed rights activists kept on petitioning the Supreme Court which, in turn, sat on the issue for nearly seven years. The actual trial was conducted in a couple of years.

The verdict and quantum of punishment have nothing to do with the religious identity of those held guilty of burning alive innocent men, women and children. The fact that the mob which set coach S 6 ablaze comprised Muslims has played no role in determining the guilt of the perpetrators or the punishment they deserve. Facts, not faith, are looked at by courts, contrary to the propaganda of those who would like to see the criminals walk free. It is equally absurd, if not downright mischievous, to suggest that the entire Muslim community is being targeted by sending 11 men to the gallows and 20 others to gaol. The community did not hatch a conspiracy and carry it through on February 27, 2002, a handful of criminals did — and, they did so fully aware of the consequences of their misdeed and its likely fallout. For, it is indisputable that had the Godhra carnage not happened, there would have been no subsequent violence in Gujarat, resulting in the death of Muslims and Hindus. It is time we acknowledged this simple truth to move towards a closure.







Calls by anti-Government demonstrators to undertake token forms of protest, such as a casual stroll outside the local McDonald's in Beijing, may have met with little public support but it has surely scared the living daylights out of the Chinese Administration which has responded in full force, literally. Thousands of policemen and members of the People's Armed Police, an Army division, were out on the streets of Wangfujing, the city's central shopping district, to thwart any attempts of a mass uprising but only a few hundred civilians had turned up, most of who were seemingly unaware of the protests. Inspired by recent events in West Asia, activists in China have also taken to the streets and to the Internet to launch their version of the 'Jasmine Revolution', the name given to the popular anti-Government protest that ousted the long-time autocratic rulers of Tunisia and sparked similar movements in Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Bahrain and, most recently, Oman. The Chinese protests began on February 20 and a repeat demonstration was staged on February 27. The initial call for anti-Government street protests was made by anonymous activists through the Website,, which is run by Chinese dissidents in the United States and later, through the popular micro-blogging site, Twitter. Activists called for demonstrations in 13 cities, including Beijing and Shanghai, and urged people to come out on the streets every week to keep up the momentum. Perhaps because both Websites are currently blocked in the country, where the Communist regime exercises a high level of Internet censorship, or perhaps because the common man still fears a Tiananmen Square-like response from the Government, the turnout at these protests has been low. Only two out of 13 cities responded to the February 20 call for protests and only a handful wandered around the McDonald's in Wangfujing on Sunday. But even loitering in the area was enough to incur the wrath of the security forces that used water trucks to flood the sidewalks and then instructed cleaners to sweep the water towards journalists!

Clearly, China's Communist regime considers the popular uprisings in West Asia to be a direct threat to its own position and has instinctively responded with its time-tested tools for suppressing dissent. The administration has already stepped up Internet censorship, as searches for words such as 'Jasmine' and 'Wangfujing' are blocked while popular networking sites such as Linkedin have been intermittently inaccessible. Additionally, foreign journalists have been threatened and their work permits severely restricted. Human rights activists have also been detained and at least five of them have been charged with serious crimes that can put them behind bars for decades. Overall, the Government has put up an intimidating show of strength and for now, it seems like it is working in its favour.









The Supreme Court's recent reminder to the Union Government about inaction on moving towards a common civil code for all communities has reopened a debate that began soon after independent India declared itself to be a secular republic. Article 44 of the Constitution says the state shall move towards adopting a uniform civil code. The state, sadly, has lacked the courage to do so

What Jawaharlal Nehru told Parliament on the need for a uniform civil code way back in 1956 is still Government policy: "I should like a civil code which applies to everybody but 'wisdom hinders'. If anybody else brings forward a Civil Code Bill, it will have my extreme sympathy." This is apropos of the Supreme Court's reminder to the Government on February 8 this year.

Nehru's comment reflected more a lack of courage than the call of wisdom. In all the 47 years since Nehru's death no one else has had the courage either. Goa, Daman and Diu continue to follow common family laws as listed in the two volumes on the subject authored by MS Usgaocar. The common civil code was enacted in 1867 by the Portuguese regime. It followed the Code Napoleon, as in Portugal.

In 1979, a widely attended conference was inaugurated by Chief Justice YB Chandrachud. It was unanimously resolved that the same family law should continue to uniformly apply to all communities of the Union Territory of Goa, Daman and Diu. In his foreword to volume II, Justice GF Couto of the Bombay High Court proudly stated that the Union Territory had the privilege of already having a uniform civil code recommended by Article 44 of the Constitution. The UCC was conducive as well as decisive for national integration, the judge went on to write.

If the Muslims of Goa, Daman and Diu find a uniform civil code acceptable, why not the community in the entire country? Is this not an indication that our politicians are unaware of the needs and aspirations of the citizens and are driven by their desire to appease maulanas? Another concrete example of the disconnect between Muslims and the Supreme Court was a recent judgement on Haj subsidy. The Ministry for Minority Affairs stated in September 2010 that the subsidy was un-Islamic. The All-India Mushawarat also believes that it should be gradually abolished. But the court stated that the subsidy was necessary to preserve the 'secular state' that Jawaharlal Nehru founded.

In his book, Impact of Secularism on Life and Law, 1973, Chief Justice MU Beg wrote that questions on personal law, such as marriage and succession, are not matters of religion. It would be against reason to urge that a rule of succession which is just for a Hindu or a Sikh family could be unjust in another family because it professes a different religion. Does this not imply that the preservation of sharia'h only for personal law and opposition to a uniform civil code are for ulterior reasons? In practice very few Muslims have more than one wife. Polygamy, however, hangs as a Damocles sword on the wife. Backed by triple talaaq, the freedom to almost instantly marry another woman must keep the wife under constant fear if she were to displease her husband. Justice MC Chagla regarded polygamy as an insult to womanhood and a discrimination between Hindu and Muslim women. Iran, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Syria, Tunisia and even Pakistan have abolished polygamy. In her work Resurgence of Indian Woman, Aruna Asaf Ali wrote that political parties have come to treat the minorities as vote-banks to be wooed through their priestly class. This class, she continued, has vested interest in keeping its flock backward. Triple talaaq, according to her, was disapproved by the Prophet.

Yet, Professor Tahir Mahmood, a former chairman of the National Minorities Commission, rejects the call of Article 44 of the Constitution for a uniform civil code for several reasons of his own. As quoted by MP Raju in his book Uniform Civil Code — A mirage, one reason was that it would be an imposition on unwilling Muslims of a wholly un-Islamic legal culture. Another reason was that the uniform civil code was being demanded by those prejudiced against Muslims. Yet another reason was that the mythology of a majority cannot be accepted as national history. Prof Mahmood has conveniently overlooked the fact that the law in India is mostly British given and not based on what he calls 'Hindu mythology'.


Even if we were to accept his contention, then why does he happily accept the IPC and CrPC? Why does he not want the hands of a Muslim thief cut off? Usury is haraam according to the Quran, but neither the Kabuli money lenders nor the Turkadas of south Gujarat are expelled from Islam. Moreover, Prof Mahmood appears not to consider women to be Muslim. Surely, many, if not most, of them resent the triple talaaq or the possibility of being one of several wives? Or else, why should Shabana Azmi prefer a uniform civil code as the only way to free Muslim women from the clutches of these injustices?

This view was expressed over a century ago by eminent scholar of Islam. Prof Khuda Bakhsh, in whose name the famous library of Patna was established, wrote that there can be no two opinions as to the undesirability of polygamy. He was no less clear on the pernicious problem of Islamic divorce. He joined hands with poet Mohammed Iqbal in demanding a radical change in the treatment of women in this respect. He declared that in eastern Bengal divorce was the order of the day and wives were put away as we cast off our old clothes. No judicial inquiry, no positive proof, not a tittle of evidence of any sort was needed. Iqbal went on to assert that the only way in which a woman could get rid of a scapegrace of a husband was by becoming an apostate. (Quoted from Indian Islam by Murray T Titus.)







By saying that the implementation of the telecom policy has been faulty, the Prime minister implicates himself for the Cabinet he heads executes it. Instead of indulging in illogical analogies, the Government must try to stem the rot

It beats reason why the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should continue to defend a telecom policy that has reduced his Government to shame and ridicule. If the idea is to constantly remind the people that the policy is the creation of the NDA regime, and therefore, the NDA is to blame for all the subsequent ills, it has not worked. The policy was framed in 2001 when market conditions were substantially different from those of today. Corporate houses had then to be cajoled into providing services whose financial viability was yet to be tested. Today, with the market expanding and the demand for Law mobile phone services growing at a blistering pace there is a scramble for securing licences, with operators willing to pay huge sums as fees to get them. Surely, the policy ought to have been tweaked to exploit the situation and gain the maximum revenues for the public exchequer.

That apart, let us understand what the Prime Minister said in Parliament recently. He stated that the implementation of the policy had been faulty. In doing so, he has further implicated himself, because then Mr Singh presided over a Government which wrongly executed the telecom policy — even assuming for argument's sake here that the policy was appropriate for the moment. What did he do about it? He cannot say that he acted immediately after the matter came to light. The Pioneer was the first to report on the shady dealings in December 2008, and it went on unravel layer after layer of the scam in a series of reports thereafter all through 2009 and 2010. That in turn triggered a flurry of activity, with the Comptroller and Auditor General, Central Vigilance Commission, the Central Bureau of Investigation and the courts turning the heat on the Government. A Raja, who presided over the scam as Telecom Minister had to depart and was eventually arrested.

But, at least a year before The Pioneer launched its scathing expose the matter had come to Mr Singh's notice. Besides the official correspondences involving the Union Ministry of Telecom, Union Ministry of Law, Union Ministry of Finance and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India in late 2007, that showed how the then Minister was manipulating the policy to favour a select few, the Prime Minister too had written to A Raja asking him to implement the policy in a fair and transparent manner. All of this is in the public domain now, as is the fact that Mr Singh took no action over the defective implementation. For the Prime Minister to now regret that the policy execution was faulty is meaningless, unless he squarely takes the responsibility for that.

Mr Singh also said that the Government's aim was to provide quality service to the largest number of people and not to maximise revenue. Interestingly, this is in keeping with the now discredited A Raja's contention that his decisions had empowered the common man by making 2G services accessible at affordable rates. The argument is supposed to provide legitimacy to the decision of not auctioning the licences but distributing it at discretion. It goes like this: Had the Government auctioned the licences, the service providers would have had to pay a heavier price for getting them, and thus would have charged the consumer more for the services they would provide. Why has the Government then auctioned the 3G Spectrum licences? Interestingly, despite having paid market price for 3G Spectrum in competitive bidding, the service providers have rolled out the service at rates that are in some cases even lower than those of the 2G service providers.

The absence of bidding leads to — as it did in the 2G issue — the cartelisation of service providers, and that, the Prime Minister will agree, is not in the long-term interests of the consumer. Nor is such a development healthy for the country's corporate sector, already beset by deep rivalries. In such a situation, the Government's intent also comes into question, because it is seen as favouring a select group of business houses at the cost of others. In the old times of licence-quota-permit system Governments used to employ such tactics to extend their patronage to those they favoured and harm the ones they considered as 'hostile'. Several high profile business clashes that hit the ordinary shareholders, besides creating obstacles in the country's economic growth, had their genesis in this sort of discretionary system.

Let us now return to the telecom policy itself, a policy that the Union Government has defended not so much because it likes it but because it wants to grill into the Opposition that the policy is the NDA's creation. Union Minister for Telecom Kapil Sibal said in Parliament, with a smirk on the face, that the Government had merely implemented the first-come first-served provision of that policy.

There are two basic differences in the approach of the NDA Government and that of the present one on the policy. During the NDA regime, the first-come-first-served provision was implemented in letter and in spirit. Secondly, every major decision was vetted and cleared by the Cabinet. But in the UPA's case, A Raja handpicked applicants and helped them jump the queue by various means such as arbitrarily advancing the cut-off date for submitting applications along with the necessary fee, which ran into several crores of rupees. Caught off guard, several legitimate applicants were stranded for time and cash, and thus eliminated. Messrs Singh and Sibal must, therefore, stop indulging in illogical analogies and concentrate on stemming the rot.







AK Antony should issue an operational directive for the defence forces to prepare and equip for a two-and-a-half front war.

Recently one of the television channels reported that Defence Minister AK Antony had asked the armed forces to be prepared for a two-front war. Lately he has cautioned on China's Defence Budget, PLA modernisation and burgeoning infrastructure in Tibet, but at the same time he has noted that all this is not a worry. This kind of ambiguous talk on China has become the style and substance of this Government when Chinese assertiveness in respect of India is getting conspicuously sharp.

Of the many stories about Chinese arrogance, two are pointed. The ruling CPC's official magazine has warned countries on China's periphery, including India, that it is prepared to go to war to safeguard national interest. The more entertaining story is of a Chinese seminarist who, while in Washington, DC, said that "India was an indisciplined country where plague and leprosy still exist. How a big and dirty country like that could rise so quickly has amazed us." Taken together, they reflect the astonishing decline in India-China relations when our diplomats who were posted in that country continue to paint a rosy picture.

The operational directive to the services has not come a day too soon and was well timed to coincide with Monday's Defence Budget which has made no additional provisions for operational enhancement on the China front. In December 2009, the previous Army Chief, Gen Deepak Kapoor, at a seminar had said that the Army has to be ready to fight on two fronts — Pakistan and China. This created ripples in Pakistan followed by China, both all-weather allies whose strategic collusion is historic. Officers joining the Army were told that while Pakistan is the immediate threat, China is the long term challenge. This threat perception has survived for six decades. One scenario envisioning a joint or simultaneous offensive called 'Operation Brass Board' was to have been war-gamed in the late-1980s but its author, Gen K Sundarji, left office before it could be tried out.

During the 1965 India-Pakistan war, the Chinese were expected to keep Indian forces engaged to prevent switching of assets from east to west. A secret cable A-37, sent on October 13, 1966 by US Consul-General William K Hitchcock to the US State Department reported that he had had a conversation with Lt Gen Sam Manekshaw, GoC-in-C Eastern Command, on a flight from New Delhi to Calcutta. He noted that Gen Manekshaw was convinced that the Chinese would not move but the Army Chief, Gen JN Chaudhuri, was not sure. Gen Manekshaw wanted the war to go on for two to three months more (so that forces could be switched). But regrettably India allowed China, through a few "menacing sounds", to pin down more than 3,00,000 troops.

In the 1971 war, Gen Manekshaw was the Army Chief. India had signed a Treaty of Peace and Friendship with the USSR and operations were launched only when the northern passes were closed. Yet there were apprehensions the Chinese would intervene once hostilities broke out to prevent troop withdrawal from the border. The same Gen Manekshaw who was keen to move troops in 1965 was excessively cautious in 1971 but allowed three Brigades to be withdrawn from the Chinese front. In both wars with Pakistan, China was a constraining factor.

If India-China relations are at the lowest today, China-Pakistan relations have climbed to new heights and there will be more than menacing sounds in the event of conflict. The speed of Chinese defence modernisation is in sharp contrast to India's lethargic response. The PLA's first aircraft carrier, Shi Lang, will take to sea four years ahead of schedule at the end of the year and five more will follow in a decade. China's submarine fleet will reach 100 vessels in the next three to five years and its stealth fighter has been tested. A new anti-ship missile is also reported operational. Technology and fire power at the disposal of the PLA have grown fast and thanks to the Chinese economic miracle, the Defence Budget has been boosted five-fold in the last decade, touching nearly $90 billion though the actual figure could be as high as $150 billion. China has sent a general warning to keep off South China Sea, Taiwan and Tibet.


China has settled land borders with all 14 countries except India. The road and rail infrastructure in Tibet has developed phenomenally with the railway to be extended to Shigatse from Lhasa by 2014 and thence venturing into the Chumbi valley. One third of China's nuclear and missile arsenal is deployed in Tibet and India is the only country not covered by Beijing's nuclear 'No First Use' policy. China has refused to engage India in nuclear conversations as it does not recognise India's nuclear weapon power status.

The PLA's capacity for a military build-up against India has increased five-fold in the last 20 years. Chinese think-tanks have warned India "not to forget 1962" and talked about the difficulty in the bilateral relationship which our diplomats describe as "complex".

India is no walkover, the PLA knows. That still does not bridge the military capability and infrastructure gap with China. India has been so pre-occupied with Pakistan that Mr Antony put a figure on the decline in modernisation to lagging behind by 15 years. In the late-1980s the Defence Perspective Plan 2000 had recommended narrowing the capacity gap with China, especially on infrastructure. What we do now will be too little, too late.

The Indian Army's study on 'Transformation', which should have been a tri-service defence capability review, has done some useful work. Among other things, it has recommended the formation of a strike command, including an offensive corps for Tibet. Such a capability ought to have been created a decade ago, instead of mollycoddling the Chinese.

The Army Chief, Gen VK Singh, said recently that we are prepared for all contingencies. The 'Transformation' idea, which is being examined by an Experts' Group, aims to shift from adversary-specific to capability-based forces, dovetailed into the concept of theatrisation with adequate strike forces. But pause to ponder. India has specific adversaries.

Unless done, Mr Antony must issue an operational directive to the Chairman of the Chiefs of Staff Committee and individual Service Chiefs to prepare and equip for a two-and-a-half front war which will include a full-blown insurgency. It's time to prepare and stop hedging the China threat.







When the Arabs start overthrowing their rulers in non-violent revolutions that are just about democracy, not about Islam or Israel, there is astonishment and disbelief. It's time we deconstructed the conventional image of Arabs

One of the incidental pleasures of the past few weeks has been watching the western media struggling to come to terms with the notion of Arab democracy.

The Arabs themselves seem clear enough on the concept of a democratic revolution, but elsewhere there is much hand-wringing about whether Arabs can really build democratic states. After all, they have no previous experience of democracy, and it's basically a Western invention, isn't it? The Arabs don't even have Athens and the Roman republic up their family tree.

Sure the revolutions are brave, and they're exhilarating to watch from afar, but in the end the military will take over, or the Islamists will take over, or they'll mess it up some other way. This is the assumption — sometimes implied, sometimes flatly stated — that still underpins much of the outside comment and analysis on the Arab revolutions.

The current rationale for this arrogant and ignorant assumption is the "clash of civilisations" tripe that Sam Huntington and his pals have been peddling around the official circuit in Washington for almost two decades now. The Arabs just belong to the wrong civilisation, and so they can't get it right.

If this sounds vaguely familiar, that's because it's really the centuries-old justification for European imperial rule over the rest of the planet, re-cycled for modern use. Europe once ruled the lesser breeds with a firm hand, but it can no longer do that directly. Instead it backs tough local rulers who promise to provide "stability" —

and coincidentally protect the West's interests in the area.

So when the Arabs start overthrowing their rulers in non-violent revolutions that are just about democracy, not about Islam or Israel, there is astonishment and disbelief in the western media. Time for a little deconstruction.

What makes the Arabs suitable candidates for democracy is their heritage as human beings, not their specific cultural or historical antecedents. Democracy didn't need to be invented; just resurrected.

The default mode for human beings is equality. Every pre-civilised society we know about operated on the assumption that its members were equals. Nobody had the right to give orders to anybody else.

What drove this was not idealism but pragmatism. In hunting-and-gathering groups, nobody can own more than they can carry, so there is no way to accumulate wealth. If you want meat, then you'll have to cooperate in the hunt. These were societies where nobody could control anybody else, and so they had to make their decisions democratically.

They were all very little societies: Rarely more than 50 adults (who had all known one another all their lives). On the rare occasions when they had to make a major decision, they would actually sit around and debate it until they reached a consensus. Direct democracy, if you like.

People have been running their affairs that way ever since we developed language, which was almost certainly before we were even anatomically modern human beings. So 99.9 per cent of our history, say. That is who we are, and how we prefer to behave unless some enormous obstacle gets in our way.

The enormous obstacle was civilisation. All hunting-and-gathering societies were essentially egalitarian. The mass societies that we call civilisations arose less than ten thousand years ago, thanks to the invention of agriculture. Until very recently all of them, without exception, were tyrannies, pyramids of power and privilege in which the few decided and the many obeyed. What happened?

A mass society, thousands, then millions strong, confers immense advantages on its members. Within a few thousand the little hunting-and-gathering groups were pushed out of the good lands everywhere. By the time the first anthropologists appeared to study them, they were on their last legs, and none now survive in their original form. But we know why the societies that replaced them were all tyrannies.

The mass societies had many more decisions to make, and no way of making them in the old, egalitarian way. Their huge numbers made any attempt at discussing the question as equals impossible, so the only ones that survived and flourished were the ones that became brutal hierarchies. Tyranny was the solution to what was essentially a communications problem.

Fast forward ten thousand years, and give these societies mass communications. You don't have to wait for Facebook; just invent the printing press. Wait a couple of hundred years while literacy spreads, and presto! We can all talk to one another again, after a fashion, and the democratic revolutions begin. We didn't invent the principle of equality among human beings; we just reclaimed it.

Modern democracy first appeared in the West only because the West was the first part of the world to develop mass communications. It was a technological advantage, not a cultural one — and as literacy and the technology of mass communications have spread around the world, all the other mass societies have begun to reclaim their heritage too.

The Arabs need no instruction in democracy from anybody else. They own it too.

-- Gwynne Dyer is a London-based independent journalist.









Markets have rallied because the Budget didn't deliver too many sharp knocks, and thanks to its projection of a manageable fiscal deficit. The target was pegged at 4.6% of GDP for 2011-12, against 4.8% estimated earlier. Plus, government's debt-to-GDP ratio was just 44.2%, against the 13th Finance Commission's estimated 52.5%. Public borrowings weren't to inflate to levels squeezing bank lending for private players. Is it really as good as it looks? One-time spectrum auction funds and disinvestment proceeds, not wise spending, props up the happy arithmetic on the fiscal deficit. Without them, we'd be looking at 6.3% this year. Also, the oil subsidy burden, the Budget said, is headed for sizeable reduction. But the details are missing.

The government evidently banks on high growth to bring in bigger revenues. With industry rebounding from the slowdown and agriculture reviving, the hope is understandable. But growth needs a facilitating hand to be generated consistently. A strategy of hope alone won't ensure it, given persisting inability to tame inflation by removing supply-side bottlenecks, systemic weaknesses and inefficiencies, institutionalised corruption and the still-uncertain global situation, exacerbated by Middle East events raising concerns on energy supplies.

Should India, then, rest content with reforms by stealth or kept on a slow burner as with tax rationalisation? Take the planned national manufacturing policy to help push the sector's share of GDP to 25% from a near-stagnant 16% now. While driving growth, manufacturing's expansion can also reduce poverty, as
China has amply demonstrated. To realise inclusive growth, India needs more than NREG; it needs mass-scale industrial jobs. But without labour reform, can we actually boost factory-building and the growth of organised labour? The Budget also offered treats to farmers like easy loans and interest subventions. Yet it was silent on retail reform that can fatten farm incomes rather than debt while funding agriculture's infrastructural, logistical and technological upgrade.

On disinvestment, the Budget harps on retaining at least 51% government stake in PSUs. Can this policy be set in stone? Coal India's IPO was a success, but government monopolies should really be dismantled. Hobbling power generation, underperforming coalmines need privatising. Likewise state-run airlines. The funds raised should be used to create social and physical infrastructure. India's subsidy culture, which breeds corruption and waste, should give way to empowerment via expanded healthcare, education and amenities. Making private investment fuel growth should be top priority. The Budget invites FIIs into the corporate debt market. But let's focus more on FDI, by opening up sectors like insurance, education and retail, fast-tracking infrastructure project execution and having clear-cut land acquisition and environmental rules. India's growth story is no longer in doubt. But it'll help if policy makers don't take it for granted.







With the disproportionate assets investigation against K G Balakrishnan's relatives gaining ground, the former chief justice of India's current position as the chief of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) has become untenable. Income tax authorities have found Balakrishnan's kin - two sons-in-law and brother - to possess unaccounted assets. The probe relates to the accusation that Balakrishnan and his family had amassed wealth disproportionate to known sources of income while the former was the head of the judiciary from January 2007 to May 2010. It will be recalled that the former CJI had expressed reluctance to declaration of assets of Supreme Court judges. This was even after the Delhi high court had ruled that the office of the CJI indeed fell within the ambit of the RTI Act.

Recently, Balakrishnan asked the I-T department not to reveal his income tax returns in response to an RTI application. As a vital pillar of democracy, it is imperative that the judiciary maintains the utmost probity and transparency. True, one must protect judges from harassment. But a cloistered judicial culture is detrimental to the very idea of a fair justice system. The credibility of the judiciary rests on the faith of the common man in the institution. It is precisely for this reason that the assets of judges should be subject to mandatory declaration. Propriety demands that Balakrishnan step down from the post of NHRC chairman and facilitate a fair probe into the allegations against him, which many of his illustrious peers such as former CJI J S Verma, former Supreme Court judge V R Krishna Iyer and noted jurist Fali Nariman have called for. Transparency is the watchword to guard against judicial corruption.








Each of Sunday night's four Oscar Awards for The King's Speech now unites in cinematic glory those who stammer - estimated to be one-sixth of the planet - and those who do not, in a way that could hardly have been imagined before. Much of the harmony revolves around a key question: How many members of the 2011 Academy Awards jury secretly suffer, previously suffered, know or knew someone afflicted with a problem that is more common than commonly realised? And what of the award-winning film's seemingly fluent but "moved" audiences across the globe? It may be shrewd to suspect a wide and deep, profound, if unexpressed sympathy with the film's nervous and stuttering King George VI. For, even in the 21st century, it is stammering, not sexuality, that dare not speak its name. Till now.

Consider this. Till now, stammering has only ever drawn censure and ridicule, if not outright mockery. Till now, the most famous screen portrayal of the stutter was 22 years old. That was Michael Palin in A Fish Called Wanda but his role as a robber with a bad stammer was merely considered fair game for laughs. Before then, it was Henry Higgins forcing pebbles into the mouth of Eliza Doolittle in Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion, only to see her (laughably) swallow one of them.

It has taken this long - much after political correctness changed the concept of examination failure to "deferred success", short people into "vertically challenged" and the elderly into the "chronologically advantaged" - for stammering to become socially acceptable. Right till 2008, Tim Waller, the first actor who auditioned for the role of the stuttering British monarch, confessed his "doubts as to the dramatic potential of the story". Waller said he wondered if a "man with such a pronounced stammer (could) hold the attention of an audience over two hours - even if he was a King?"

So what changed for the Oscars jury and presumably fluent audiences everywhere? Why are people from quasi-republican Australia to avowedly anti-imperialist America, confessing to being "moved" by this relatively low-budget, unfashionably monarchical, typically English, Age of Empire story about cauterising a royal stammer?

Tongue-twisting statistics, say stutterers - and their therapists - around the world. At least 65 million people are thought to suffer acutely from the affliction that goes by the seemingly innocent Latin name alalia syllabaris or alalia literalis. Many more people are so-called "hidden stutterers", appearing to speak fluently but only because they constantly labour to substitute words for those that might leave them unmasked, undone and stammering. In essence, the stutter - with all its traditional connotations of idiocy - is Everyman's darkest fear; a gross imperfection that must be thoroughly hidden.

Few are able to be a Demosthenes, the Athenian orator who rose to the challenge and launched his career as the greatest public speaker of the ancient Greek world, despite being inarticulate and stammering as a boy. It was the 4th century BC and his self-help cure was to fill his mouth with pebbles and force his words to overcome the impediment. Or so the story goes.

It is in the context of continuing fascination with Demosthenes' apocryphal cure that The King's Speech and its multiple Oscars must be seen. Few could have imagined the effect of dragging a long-shameful affliction out of the closet and on to the big screen. Till now, hardly any practising, high-profile politician anywhere in the world has ever been able to confess to being a stammerer. And stayed in the trade. But just as the Oscars went to the royal stutterer, Britain's shadow chancellor stood up to be counted. Ed Balls, a Labour bruiser and heavyweight policy wonk from the days of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, said the film's "significant victory (was)'s open discussion of stammering", adding that it was "profoundly liberating for the thousands of children and adults, like myself, across Britain who have to deal with it every day".

Confessing that his lengthy pauses while answering parliamentary questions were an attempt to hide his affliction, Balls added, "The fact that the condition is portrayed so accurately and sensitively is a relief to everyone with a stammer who has seen it mocked on screen for laughs or used as a scriptwriter's cipher for weakness."

Ed Balls may be just the start of a revolution for the orally challenged. Now, America's Stuttering Foundation is able proudly to declare in a new, full-page advertisement in the US edition of Time magazine: "Stuttering gets the Royal Treatment". And Roberta Williams, expert in stammering and senior lecturer in language and communication science at London's City University, records that the film has wrought dramatic change by "helping break down the stereotypes". The film's septuagenarian screenplay writer, who stammered till he was 16, has already told the Oscar audience that stutterers all over are finally being heard.

But this may be a bit more than a social message in a silver screen wrapper. It is a triumph that goes beyond big cinematic prizes, red carpet glamour, handsome actors and royal bloodlines. It turns on its head Alfred Hitchcock's comfortable, if cynical, recipe for a good film - "not a slice of life, but a piece of cake." It reminds a world tuned in to the white noise of internet that a mass medium like cinema can be gripping - and do-gooding too. As one famous French director put it, "Photography is truth. (So) cinema is truth twenty-four times per second."



Q & A



By putting off rapid deficit reduction, is this Budget overly reliant on the 'demographic dividend'?

In 2010-11, GDP expanded unexpectedly well. Therefore, the fiscal deficit was lower than expected. All sectors contributed. Even agriculture broke through its historical ceiling of 4% by growing at 5.4%. Tax collection was, therefore, good and Plan expenditures were met. In this rosy context, more could have been done for fiscal consolidation. The finance minister is relying on the growing economy for 2011-12 to reduce fiscal deficit to 4.6%. He could have taken active measures to reduce the deficit further. That's important because fiscal deficits add up to the public debt and the numbers are pretty high in terms of GDP! The counter-argument is that public debt is accrued to create infrastructure and the demographic dividend will pay for it. We're postponing paying to future generations. The problem is that we're still quite poor. So can you - today's youth - pay for it? We don't know. There's got to be much more analysis of youth composition, skills and ability to pay today's mounting public debt.

Evidently reforms and FDI are interlinked. Will this Budget enhance FDI?

If reform means reducing some embedded distortions in the economy to improve economic choices, then overall yes. Looking ahead in structural policy terms, GST and DTC remain major challenges. It's better to take time than water them down because our global integration will decide the flow of FDI. Following international norms in tax structures makes international investors surer about us and rationalising tax collection processes also improves FDI. We can't whittle away tax bases. For instance, GST requires information through the supply chain whereas there's talk about excluding petroleum products. That's neither good for business nor for information needed for GST because a huge chunk of the economy would be taken out of GST calculations.

The finance minister dwelt on black money. Do black money amnesties help?

Tax amnesties aren't helpful because they don't improve taxpayer behaviour. Indeed, they may encourage tax reticence because people look forward to amnesties! If an amnesty is granted nevertheless, then there's got to be in-depth analysis. What is the potential exchequer benefit versus the cost in terms of long-term behaviour? What sources of information have been used to achieve a comprehensive revenue response?

It sounds like our economic analysis and the policy debate are rather elementary?

The debate here is rudimentary because we are still autarkic with little interest in global reform. We talk about catching up with China but it's rapidly incorporating global practices in most fields. That's why it continues growing - after three decades - at the rates it is. We're overly reliant on the notion that we will grow. But on what basis? That's the question. I think the notion is falsifiable. If we don't integrate globally, growth will peter out. What is required are administrative reforms. We have to incorporate the talent that can do the kind of detailed analysis required for sound policy and further integration. There has to be policy analysis. The UK parliament receives an 'impact assessment' on every budget measure, on compliance costs of taxpayers, revenue that the measure generates and protects, and the reason why that particular measure was selected over others. This, in turn, advances political and intellectual debate.








Death, thou shalt die, said the Metaphysical poet John Donne almost 400 years ago. Today, that prophecy seems eerily close to becoming a reality: the death of death itself is being projected as a scientific possibility. A crackpot theory? Perhaps. But a recent edition of Time magazine has made it its cover story. The theme of the article is the growing credence given by the scientific community - spanning computerology and artificial intelligence to genetics and biotechnology - to what is called Singularity: the moment in the foreseeable future (some put the date as 2045) when human beings, with the aid of supra-human machines, will have the power to banish death forever and make themselves immortal.


Two of the leading proponents of Singularity are Raymond Kurzweil, a 62-year-old American computer scientist described by Bill Gates as "the best person i know at predicting the future of artificial intelligence", and British biologist Aubrey de Grey who believes that with the advances made in biotechnology it will soon be possible to rewrite our genetic code so as to reverse the ageing process. 

Their core argument is that advances in science, particularly computer science, take place not incrementally but exponentially. Which means that science and technology are not only growing faster and faster, but the rate of acceleration is itself increasing the rate of acceleration: according to one estimate, in 2011 more breakthroughs in scientific research are being made in one hour than in 100 years a century ago. 

The first important milestone in the journey to Singularity is the creation of what are called strong artificial intelligence, or AI, machines capable of thinking. Supercomputers like Deep Blue, have been programmed to beat international grandmasters in chess. But no computer, as yet, can replicate the complexity of human consciousness, which includes that infinite hall of infinitely reflecting mirrors that we call consciousness of the self, consciousness of consciousness itself. It is this capacity of human thought to know itself as thought that separates us from the domain of animals. And of machines. 

But people like Kurzweil are confident that in a few short years - by 2023, by one estimate - strong artificial intelligence, or super-supercomputers will overtake the human capacity for thought, in not just mathematics but in everything, including the creative arts. When that happens, the super-supercomputers will endlessly replicate themselves in an ever-swifter spiral of evolution. 

So, will these super-smart machines become our masters? Or will they, by helping us conquer disease and age, eventually make us immortal by enabling us to transfer our consciousness - our memories, our sense of 'self', our soul, if you like - onto an imperishable hard disk that cocks a snook at death? 

Singularity raises a lot of questions. Can already overcrowded Planet Earth endure the burden of an ever-increasing, deathless human population? Is immortal super-humankind destined to colonise the cosmos and, in effect, become God? 

But perhaps the most haunting of all questions is whether, along with our mortality, we will also lose our humanness. It is the knowledge of human transience that makes us human: capable of love and sacrifice, joy and sorrow, of responding to the beauty of a sunset or a line of poetry. It is the inevitability of death that makes life taste sweet, nectar in a sieve, as novelist Kamala Markandaya said. Mortality is the price we pay for our humanness. Take away mortality, subtract death, and what do we have? A robot God? A ghost in a deathless machine? According to Singularitists, the choice is ours. Or maybe it isn't. Because the choice has already been made for us by the impending Singularity. 







In the 2010-11 budget speech, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee had made grand observations about how the budget belonged to the aam aadmi. But a year later — standing at the same place and in front of the same audience — he steered clear of any such grandstanding.

Given this and the fact that the 2011-12 budget has not had any big-ticket outlay for the social sector, many feel that the common man has been given a short shrift and the budget is, at best, a bagful of half measures.

Yet, in Mr Mukherjee's defence, there have been some significant increases: the proposed allocation of Rs 1,60,887 crore for the social sector in the budget has seen an increase of a nifty 17% over the current year. This, the finance minister reminded the House, amounts to 36.4% cent of the total plan allocation.

But a scrutiny of the proposals show that  there are several half-measures. While the belated increase in the remuneration of anganwadi workers, the last mile link between the Integrated Child Development Services programme and its beneficiaries, is a welcome move, there has been no mention of adding to the number of centres we now have.

The present shortfall is around 1.75 lakh centres. Similarly the health sector should have been given a bigger boost considering that flash expenses on health pushes families back into the poverty trap. The 12% increase in allocations to the health ministry is "grossly inadequate" since the primary health centres and community health centres need to be beefed up with health workers, medicines and equipment.

According to one estimate, the government needs to invest Rs 3,000 crore to upgrade existing facilities. In education, a key sector that will produce the workforce required to sustain India's economic progress, the government has not gone the whole hog.

For 2011-12, the finance minister has allocated Rs 21,000 crore which is 40% higher than the Rs 15,000 crore allocated in 2010-11. Though the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act wages, the UPA's flagship programme, will be linked to the Consumer Price Index for Agricultural Labour, the allocation has seen a slight dip.

When the states are sitting on a neat pile of money, the government feels, there's no need to budget.

So is the government is diluting the aam aadmi focus? In the present political scenario, this is unlikely. But, Mr Mukherjee, it seems, took this budget to pause and reassess the leaky delivery system before spreading more money round.





It could be a new profession, the 'basker-in-reflected-glory'. And India seems to be churning them out by the dozen. Now the baskers are curious creatures.

They tend to hibernate during the winter of publicity events, coming out only when the spotlight is shining bright. So, it is no surprise that the baskers are to be found at high wattage events like the Cannes film festival and the uber show on earth, the Oscars, apart from minor award ceremonies here and there.

It is here that the basker comes into her own. The modus operandi involves wangling an invite to the red carpet, strategically placing yourself in the line of vision of the paparazzi behind an A-list star and then promptly tweeting that the said stellar personage is your new best friend.

We are glad to report that we have produced a person who has raised this practice to a fine art. Yes, we refer to none other than Mallika Sherawat who picks up famous friends with the ease that urchins pick up pebbles on the sea shore.

So last year at Cannes, she become a close buddy of the smouldering Salma Hayek, this year's Oscars saw the glacial Nicole Kidman complimenting our lass on her gorgeous looks even as she shared a few laughs with Sandra Bullock.

And mind you, she is not the only one. Our slumgirl millionaire Frieda Pinto regularly informs us of how virtually all of Hollywood's directors are panting to work with her, Steven Spielberg, we hope you are listening in case you want the mover advantage.

Others like the icy Aishwarya have already 'arrived' in Hollywood so James Cameron can take his business elsewhere. It won't be long before the baskers acquire their own baskers, creating a new celebrity food chain. This gives us ideas.

We'd like it to be known that we are quite willing to allow a few eligible baskers into our incandescent presence. And if you think that we are getting above ourselves, well, you are condemned to stay in the shade.






Our Republic will drown if corruption gains control of State power and lucre purchases that most important wing of the State: the judiciary. In these days of graft seeping into every corner of the nation, the risk of the poor perishing and the rich grabbing the nation's resources is serious.

To regain 'self-rule', it is not enough to mouth platitudes; a new do-or-die movement must be launched where all rogues, rascals and freeloaders are eliminated.

But in such a time of crisis, the former Chief Justice of India (CJI), KG Balakrishnan, has been accused of horrendous corruption. The charges of him using his high office to accumulate black money in the name of his brother, sons-in-law and other members of his family are a disgrace to the institution of the judiciary.

Even more disgraceful is his refusal to step down as chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC).

But for all purposes, he must resign from the NHRC. Especially since suspicion is the upas tree under whose shade reason fails and justice dies.

I believe Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to be an astute statesman. If the CJI declines to resign from the statutory position, it is the prime minister's job to show him the door without delay. Otherwise, even a person of Singh's stature and his power will be tainted by default.

Inaction is guilt where action as a trustee is a command to act. Singh should act now. Otherwise, irreversible damage not only to the credibility of the present government, but also to the reputation of this nation will be done.

(VR Krishna Iyer is a former Supreme Court judge)

(The views expressed by the authors are personal)





Returning to Bangalore after a fortnight on the road, I discovered that while I was away my chief minister had acquired a new wardrobe. I knew BS Yeddyurappa to dress always in white trousers and white shirts, but now, on hoardings that peppered the highway from the airport into town, I saw him clad in a grey suit with pink tie, advertising his government's achievements (real and imagined) in economic and social development.

The transformation was more than sartorial. Where posters a few months ago had only his face, with those of national BJP leaders (say Vajpayee, Advani, Gadkari) alongside, the pictures now featured him alone, confidently striding towards the viewer.

I had flown into Bangalore from Ahmedabad, but had I come in from elsewhere in the country I would have reached the same conclusion — namely, that Yeddyurappa had taken Narendra Modi as his role model.

That man had also lately exchanged his kurta for a business suit; more substantively, that man sought to present himself as the face of Gujarat, indeed, as Gujarat itself. Having domesticated the challenge of the Reddy brothers, having waited out the press revelations of his own land dealings, Yeddyurappa was now in a position to represent himself as, so to say, Karnataka personified.

Modi's example is obvious, but Yeddyurappa may also have been influenced, at one remove, by the self-positioning of two other CMs of his party: Shivraj Singh Chauhan in Madhya Pradesh and Raman Singh in Chhattisgarh. Like Modi, they too don't currently face any serious challenge within their party or outside it.

They control the administration completely and shape the public debate within their state in a manner of their choosing.

These four BJP CMs seek to be authoritative. So too do some CMs from other parties, such as Mayawati in Uttar Pradesh, Nitish Kumar in Bihar, and Pawan Chamling in Sikkim. Remarkably, there is not a single CM from India's greatest and oldest party who can be thought of in these terms, as being, without question, the unchallenged leader of his or her state.

Why is this so? And what are its consequences?

The answer to the first question is evident — it's because the high command in Delhi decides who shall be its leader (or, more accurately perhaps, its follower) in the different states of the Union.

As for the consequences, these are manifest in the steady decline of the Congress in parts of India where it once was the natural party of rule.

Who, 20 years ago, could have thought that the Congress would be in such a pathetic state in Karnataka? Or in Gujarat? Or, perhaps especially, in Madhya Pradesh?

To be sure, the BJP leaders I mentioned have each led deeply flawed administrations. Yeddyurappa's government has perhaps been the most corrupt ever seen in Karnataka. Modi can't escape the stigma of having failed to stop, and arguably even encouraged, the riots of 2002. Raman Singh has promoted a vigilante group that has destroyed an entire district and consolidated the Naxalites.

Shivraj Singh Chauhan has, under the influence of the RSS, interfered with school and college curricula, introducing poisonous ideas that are antithetical to the pluralism enshrined in the Constitution.

There is also a thin line between being authoritative and being authoritarian, a line that both Mayawati and Narendra Modi (to name no others) have crossed from time to time.

Still, there is no gainsaying the fact that the absence of vigorous, credible, state-level leaders has damaged the Congress in very many states of the Union. Whereas the BJP and other parties clearly project their chief ministerial candidate before an election, the Congress waits for the results to come in before making its choice clear.

Its recent reverses in Karnataka, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and other states suggest that this strategy is leading to a widespread disenchantment with the party.

Things were once otherwise. In Jawaharlal Nehru's time, the Congress had strong, capable, and focused CMs — among them S Nijalingappa in Karnataka (then known as Mysore), K Kamaraj in Tamil Nadu (then Madras), BC Roy in West Bengal, and YB Chavan in Maharashtra. They successfully won elections and ran governments.

Now, in states like Karnataka, Maharashtra, and Madhya Pradesh, there is no one, identifiable, Congress leader. Five or six senior men jostle for position, their precedence varying from month to month depending on the winks and nods of the high command. In other states the situation is even more dire.

There is thus not a single Congress leader of substance in Bihar, UP, Tamil Nadu or West Bengal, not a single leader who can be relied upon even to safely and regularly win his or her own seat, still less to canvass successfully for other Congress candidates.

The personal charisma of the Nehru-Gandhi family is itself fading; in any case, it can't compensate for the decline of substantive leadership at the provincial level. In the aftermath of the military victory of 1971, Indira Gandhi could win state elections across India and then anoint CMs of her choice.

Between 1998 and 2006, when she was perceived as a selfless woman who had come out of seclusion to revive the party and serve her country, Sonia Gandhi could also influenced the outcome of state elections in her party's favour. Those times are now past. A federal polity demands that parties be so structured that state-level leaders emerge from below, rather than be imposed from above.

(Ramachandra Guha is the author of Makers of Modern India )

(The views expressed by the author are personal)






Mention Primitive Tribes, Denotified Tribes or Nomadic tribes at a dinner conversation and you would get either a blank look or descriptions of an exotic species arrayed in extraordinary ethnic attire, dancing to tribal drums at Independence Day celebrations.

The reality is not so cheerful. These are people who once lived in dignity and at peace with their surroundings. They depended on nature — hunting, cultivating and gathering forest food.

But thanks to skewed government policies, misplaced notions of wildlife conservation and the rapacious extraction of mineral and forest wealth from the tribal areas, they have been pushed into abject poverty, starvation and malnutrition.

Displaced and pushed out of their millennia-old forest homelands to make way for tigers, dams and mining, they invariably end up as either bonded labourers in lands that were once their own or, worse, child labourers in middle class urban homes.

In an innovative move, the Planning Commission has set out to correct this historic wrong in the run-up to the 12th Five Year Plan (FYP). It has invited grassroots workers, academics and people with expertise on these groups to suggest ways to redress the legitimate grievances and lacunae, which has characterised earlier policy, programmes and their failed implementation.

While the commission has held consultations on Scheduled Tribes in general, it is now looking at Primitive Tribal Groups (PTG) in general and Denotified and Nomadic Tribes (DNT/NT) in particular.

The government, in 1975, recognised that there were certain communities within the STs that were at a much lower level of development, and that the major share of funding went to more assertive adivasi groups. So in 1975-76, the "poorest of poor amongst the STs" were identified and called PTGs.

These communities are particularly vulnerable and outside traders, moneylenders or migrants exploit them and cheat them of their land, grain and forest produce.

DNTs are those who were criminalised by the British before 1947. They were the adivasis who fought independent freedom struggles, refusing to be subjugated. The British did not know how to deal with them, so they demonised them. After Independence, ironically, instead of being treated as heroes, these tribes were officially denotified as criminals.

But they retain the taint of being dangerous and remain on the periphery of society. Krishna and Anuja of Econet, Pune, who have been working on issues related to these tribes for almost a decade, point out some of the problems that the DNT groups face: they are generally left out of the Census enumeration and don't enjoy any constitutional protection.

The lack of any demographic analysis results in their exclusion from the Five Year Plans.

The NTs are seriously hampered in their movements by legislation and by the civil society. Both NTs and DNTs face harassment from both society and the police. Often, the police conduct arbitrary raids on their hamlets leading to false arrests, illegal detention, custodial deaths, rape, molestation and sexual harassment.

For over a century, the violation of human rights has been the norm rather than the exception for them. The goods that many of them carry to sell from place to place are regularly seized and confiscated on the assumption that since they belong to the NT, DNT groups, the goods are stolen property.

It's indeed a grim scenario. These are citizens of our country. The Constitution guarantees them the same rights as it does to any other Indian. But they are condemned to live on the fringe of our society.

As the nation makes its ambitious plans for the next five years, let's hope that the 12th FYP brings them the justice they so urgently need.

(Mari Marcel Thekaekara is the founder of Accord, an NGO working on tribal issues in the Nilgiris )

(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






Union Budget 2011 has many positive elements, is low on bad ideas and pushes the reform agenda ahead. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee focused on implementing the many promises made by the UPA in previous years. This bodes well as the pending reforms on the government's wish list will take plenty of time and effort if they are to be seriously implemented. There is an attempt at fiscal consolidation and controlling expenditure, though there remains the risk that oil prices may make these calculations go haywire. The changes to direct taxes are welcome. The exemption limit needed to be raised to take account of inflation, and the corporate surcharge had to come down. On indirect taxes, the minister did not propose a GST but has taken steps toward the implementation of a GST in 2012. The government will also remain on track on the disinvestment agenda.

What characterised the budget speech, on this 20th anniversary of reform, was the announcement that the unfinished reform agenda would, on many fronts, be completed. To enable the GST, the finance minister said he proposed to introduce a Constitution Amendment Bill in this session of Parliament. He also announced a pilot project with 11 states, using the IT system that is being set up, during this year. Similarly, a large number of financial sector bills are pending. The minister announced that he would move bills such as the Insurance Amendment Bill, the LIC Bill, the revised PFRDA Bill, the Banking Laws Amendment Bill (to allow the Reserve Bank to grant banking licences to private-sector players), the SARFAESI Bill, etc. He proposed to introduce the Public Debt Management Agency of India Bill this year, which would enable the setting up of a Debt Management Office. This has been on the agenda for nearly two years but not much progress has been made beyond setting up a middle office.

The subsidy bill of the government was a budgeted Rs 1 lakh crore for 2010-11. However, the revised estimate shows that the subsidy bill crossed Rs 1.5 lakh crore. The largest element of the subsidy bill that went beyond the budget was the petroleum subsidy. It rose from a budget estimate of Rs 3,108 crore to a revised estimate of Rs 38,386 crore. The food subsidy bill rose from an estimate of Rs 55,578 crore to a revised estimate of Rs 60,599 crore. The fertiliser subsidy bill was estimated to be Rs 49,980 crore, but turned out to be Rs 54,976 crore. The three put together accounted for an increase of nearly Rs 50,000 crore beyond estimates. The risk for the coming year, 2011-12, when oil prices could rise, is large. This could push government expenses beyond budget estimates. One of the most important announcements that could have significant long-run impact is the announcement of the direct transfer of cash subsidies for kerosene and fertilisers to those below the poverty line. As has become apparent, the kerosene subsidy is used to adulterate diesel, and fails to reach its intended beneficiaries. Instead of selling kerosene cheap, if it is sold at market price and the subsidy is given as cash to the targeted group, the poor will benefit, the subsidy bill will come down and the oil mafia could be sidelined. The budget proposes the first step towards a direct transfer of cash subsidy. Once the mechanisms for such cash transfers are put in place, the template can be used for food subsidy.

The budget for 2011-12 has moved ahead on opening up India's capital account. While no announcement has been made on foreign direct investment, the FM announced that discussions are under way to further liberalise the FDI policy. However, on foreign portfolio investment, important announcements have been made. The recommendations of the finance ministry's working group on foreign investment, headed by U.K. Sinha, have been implemented. These include opening up the rupee-denominated corporate debt market to FIIs. The limit on purchase of bonds of infrastructure companies has been increased from $5 billion to $25 billion. This means that the limit for FII investment in corporate bonds has suddenly jumped from $20 billion to $40 billion. A doubling of FII investment in corporate bonds will help both the development of the corporate bond market, and India's infrastructure funding needs. Foreign investors have also been permitted to invest in Indian mutual funds. While currently FIIs and sub-accounts are allowed to invest, the FM announced that other foreign investors who meet Know Your Client norms will also be allowed to invest. These are significant steps towards greater capital-account openness, and will attract long-term capital into the country. And given the legislative support needed for the FM to keep his promises, the budget can be as ambitious as the budget session of Parliament allows itself to be. The UPA's floor managers have their work cut out.






A Union budget reflects one year's priorities and spending. But there are longer-term trends to the 2011 Budget statement too, that need to be flagged. There are definite indications of the way in which India is changing and developing as a country and as a polity. Consider this: the allocation for education has been increased by 24 per cent. Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, of course, is to be expanded. with 40 per cent more. Yes, there are problems with the mechanism of the Right to Education, but there is a larger point to be seen here, too. A point that becomes plainer when we look at the health sector: Plan allocations for health have gone up by 20 per cent, with a corresponding jump in non-plan expenditure, too.

Is India is becoming the sort of country it hoped it could become? According to the ministry of finance, the allocation for the social sector in this budget is Rs 1,60,887 crore. As a bit of perspective, the defence budget is Rs 1,64,415 crore. (Almost Rs 70,000 crore is capital expenditure, and even if a large proportion of that is committed liabilities, that still leaves wiggle room for expenditure.) Defence is not up in real terms, since it has increased by 11 per cent, not that much below the sum of inflation and real growth — and, in any case, what was holding back defence was not the allocation but an unwillingness to buy.

There is little doubt that a changing, growing, maturing India is reflected in these numbers. Perhaps even an expanding conception of where the country stands in the world and what it owes to itself. In a very real sense, the entire trajectory of India's development has shifted. Of course, the delivery mechanism is a work in progress. But the larger point, that India is becoming the kind of country that takes on the concerns about its own people that major countries should, is worth flagging.






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.







For the first six years of its tenure, the UPA government has confidently been in populist tax-and-spend mode. It assumed that it won in May 2004 because the poor were not being helped by the NDA; and that it won in May 2009 because it went on a spending spree to help the poor. Then came the Bihar election of November 2010. I believe that that election will be remembered as a watershed in Indian economics, and politics.

And it already has had an effect on the budget.

Before the budget, there was a lot of discussion as to how much social expenditures will go up and therefore destroy any attempt at fiscal consolidation. No one expected much from this classic tax-and-spend government. And the UPA has had more than six years at practice; each year, surprised by the GDP growth and tax revenues, the UPA government increased social expenditures to such a level that allocations were not being spent!

Until the Bihar elections, and high unsustainable inflation for the last three years. After averaging close to 4.5 per cent per annum for the long period 1996 to 2007, inflation has registered above 7 per cent for each of the last three fiscal years. RBI Governor D. Subbarao more than broadly hinted that there were precious few tools left in the monetary cupboard to attack this inflation; and that a necessary condition for inflation to be brought under control was that the fiscal situation improve.

Now there are two ways by which the fisc can be brought under control. The first method is to increase taxation; the second is to decrease the rate of growth of expenditure. There is a golden third method, one rarely chosen by Indian politicians, especially those belonging to the spend-loving Congress party. It is to not increase taxation, and only reduce expenditure growth.

To everyone's surprise, and certainly mine, the finance minister has chosen this third option. It is such a surprise that in informal discussions with experts, the common refrain is — it can't be so, that the government in effect is lying. That is the depths to which the credibility of this government has reached.

My belief is that the government is not lying. And not because I think that nobility is at the core of this government. It is that from Libya to Lucknow and from Cairo to Calcutta, governments have no place to hide, or lie, anymore. Before, there was no policeman for the government sector, no authority that could expose governments. Today, technology and civil society and media are the new "police". If you lie through documents like the Union budget, you will be exposed and lose elections faster than you can say Raja. It is okay to be cynical, but not to be naively so.

Let us look at some hard numbers on expenditure in India. In 2009-10, the government had budgeted a total expenditure level of Rs 11,09,000 crore for 2010-11. What actually happened? The spending level was actually about 10 per cent higher, at Rs 12,16,000 crore. Revenue growth in excess of budgeted estimates was also 10 per cent higher, so the excess expenditure growth was not felt on the fisc.

For 2011-12, the government has budgeted the following. First, nominal GDP growth of 14.1 per cent — and, though the break-up is not given, it should roughly be in the zone of 8.5 per cent GDP growth and 5.6 per cent inflation. The numbers are consistent and seem broadly accurate. Tax revenue growth is budgeted at 18 per cent, which, given a nominal GDP growth of 14 per cent, is also realisable. The reduction in effective tax rates via exemption-slab expansion should help compliance and tax buoyancy. But, and this is the key point, total expenditure growth is budgeted to increase by only 3.3 per cent!

A perspective on this expenditure growth is that if realised, this will be the second slowest expenditure growth in Indian history since 1970-71. The lowest realised growth: 1.5 per cent, in 2005-06. In that year, the UPA government was committed to sensible macro policies, before the rot set in. The lesson from Bihar is unmistakeable: good politics is good economics. With its back to the wall, more than any government since 1991 (or before), the UPA government is doing what is absolutely necessary for its survival.

This is not a workmanlike budget; this is not a conventional budget. It is radical. It smells of good economics. Expenditures on infrastructure and education have increased. Capital flows have been eased, and investment encouraged. Taxes have not increased. And there is a commitment to and planning for further disinvestment. It is likely that this budget is a major turning point in India's fiscal history. In short, a brilliant budget, one exceeding all expectations.

For that, the finance minister and the budget-makers need to be congratulated.

The writer is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm








India has had five finance ministers since 1991 — Manmohan Singh (1991-96), P Chidambaram (1996-98, 2004-08), Yashwant Sinha (1998-2002), Jaswant Singh (2002-04) and Pranab Mukherjee (2009 onwards). The brief inter-regnum between December 2008 and January 2009, when PM also held finance portfolio, doesn't count. It has been 20 years since reforms. The code used for July 1991 was "hop, skip and jump", better known as triple jump.

In triple jump, as one progresses from hop to jump, distances covered increase. In 20 Budgets (ignoring interim) since 1991, FMs have sometimes hopped, sometimes in the same place. Rarely have they skipped, and jumps are rarer still. There have been two clear jumpers. The first has to be Manmohan Singh, though Yashwant Sinha claims he would have been the original reformer, given a chance.

But Manmohan Singh will be remembered as the original reformer and we will continue to associate lower import duties, opening up to foreign investments, end of industrial licensing, rupee convertibility and beginnings of service sector taxation with him. That was a big bang, at least till 1993, and it was an idea whose time had come. The second jumper was Yashwant Sinha and he never quite got his due as FM. He wasn't a jumper because he moved Budget presentation from 5 PM to 11 AM, but because he cleaned up excise duties. What Manmohan Singh did for import duties, Yashwant Sinha did for domestic indirect taxes, paving the way for VAT and an eventual GST. There was FRBM too.

Jaswant Singh was a hopper and left no clear legacy, barring reduction in interest rates that triggered higher GDP growth from 2002. P Chidambaram was a mixed bag. There was the dream Budget during United Front. It lowered direct tax rates. However, there were three reasons why P Chidambaram hopped backwards. First, he also cluttered up direct taxation, by taxing items that weren't income. Second, in both his stints, he was associated with increased expenditure and widening deficits. Third, he resorted to sleight of hand in reporting deficit figures.

Where does Pranab Mukherjee fit into the hop-skip-jump category? Before that, Mukherjee is pre-1991 vintage, as FMs go. He was FM from 1982 to 1984, and according to Euromoney, was voted best FM in 1984. Nor is the style flashy. Manmohan Singh's style isn't flashy either, but opportunity to flash presented itself in 1991. What has Pranab Mukherjee done so far? His reporting of Budget numbers is more honest. The offensive FBT and CTT (legacies of P Chidambaram) have gone. What do we expect India's next jumping FM to do? First, we want tax exemptions to go.

We want tax rates to be standardised and unified. That's a pending agenda in DTC and GST. We want that jumping FM to stand up and say that this will be the last Budget, because tax rates won't change from year to year.

Pranab Mukherjee hasn't done that so far (not even on 28 February 2011) and let's not pretend this is because there is lack of consensus on DTC and GST and both have been effectively postponed till 1 April 2012. There's more to it than that. Both on DTC and GST, removal of exemption clauses have been diluted.

There is yet another thing we can expect a jumping FM to do, since Budgets are about Central government's annual receipts and expenditure. We can expect a focus on improving efficiency of public expenditure. Both P Chidambaram and Pranab Mukherjee, during UPA-I and UPA-II have presided over increases in public expenditure. Chidambaram talked about an outlay-outcome exercise that vanished like the smile of the Cheshire cat.

It was a bad exercise to start off with, because social sector outlays-outcomes are determined at level of states, and even lower down in government delivery machinery. Until a FM has guts and political support to stand up and say that Central ministries and/or departments will be abolished, Central schemes scrapped and funds directly transferred to ULBs/PRIs, we won't get far on that. Then the artificial distinction between Plan/Non-Plan and Revenue/Capital will also cease, without having to refer it to C Rangarajan.

But in the Budget for 2011-12, that didn't happen. It's premature.

Yet a nagging question remains. Is present FM far more astute than one gives him credit for? Is it about more than flashiness in style and pre-1991 vintage? Surely, FM knows perfectly well that such speeches, without clear focus and agenda, don't convey any significant message. In a speech that lasted 1 hour and 45 minutes, we got down to nitty-gritty of the Budget in last 20 minutes, not earlier. Before that, there was a plethora of schemes, with token sums allocated. A few small-ticket reforms were thrown in, but without any highlighting and interspersed with irrelevant trivia.

Admittedly, big bang reforms should occur outside Budget speeches, though since 1991, one often looks for these in Budget speeches. Barring Jaswant Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, all the other three FMs had big bang policy announcements that didn't materialise later. Present FM seems to be conscious with two agenda items. First, make Budget irrelevant by shaving off big bang reforms from it. Second, satisfy everyone with a plethora of schemes, so that no one remembers a focus. You make no one happy, but you don't make anyone particularly unhappy either.

While the world concentrates on what it gains on direct taxes, it doesn't notice what it loses on indirect taxes. That's a stealthy way of making Budget irrelevant. It is perhaps hopping of a different kind. But it isn't a legacy that will be remembered. For jumpers a la Manmohan Singh or Yashwant Sinha, we will have to wait for a new generation of FMs.

Manmohan Singh was 58 in 1991. Remember that the definition of senior citizen has now been lowered from 65 to 60. We won't have the jumper until a non-senior citizen presents a Budget.

1 hour 45 minutes
The total time taken by the FM to deliver the Budget speech. However, only the last 20 minutes had any substance

Since 1991
One often looks for big bang reforms in Budget speeches. Barring Jaswant Singh and Pranab Mukherjee, three FMs, from 1991 till now, had big bang announcements that didn't materialise







How many Oscars will the finance minister's speech win? At best, it will win a prize for best adapted screenplay for social sector (and network) focus. If one was looking for a big bang, such as FDI in multi-brand retail, there isn't one. Budget 2011-12 is a spillover of Budget 2010-11.

The Economic Survey talked about real GDP growth of 9 per cent (within a 0.25 per cent margin) and the speech repeats this, with an assertion that the economy has returned to pre-crisis levels of growth. Growth of 8.6 per cent in 2010-11 may flatter to deceive, since growth in the first half of 2010-11 was 8.9 per cent. The budget projects 14 per cent nominal GDP growth in 2011-12. That's lower than the almost standard 14.5 per cent. If growth is going to be 9 per cent, a figure also endorsed by the PM's Economic Advisory Council, GDP deflator-based inflation is 5 per cent. That's too low. Inflation is no longer a food price issue. It extends to manufacturing and petroleum products too. Thus, a GDP deflator-based inflation of 6.5 per cent is more likely and the budget probably tacitly accepts slowdown in growth to 8 per cent, if not 7.5 per cent. In other words, a switch from public consumption to private investment and private consumption is not guaranteed.

In this, and in deficit numbers, there is disconnect between the budget and the survey. The survey provided a fiscal deficit/GDP of 4.8 per cent in 2010-11. The budget says 5.1 per cent. Where did the missing 0.3 per cent go? Had fiscal deficit/GDP been 4.8 per cent in 2010-11, budget estimates for 2011-12 would have had fiscal deficit/GDP of 4.3 per cent in 2011-12, unlike 4.6 per cent mentioned.

Therefore, the budget probably provides slack for some fiscal slippage, because of three reasons. First, 2010-11 benefited from high nominal GDP growth that boosted the denominator, a phenomenon that might not continue in 2011-12. Second, food security has not been budgeted for. Third, notwithstanding the disinvestment target of Rs 40,000 crore, it is possibly recognised that non-tax revenue might be lower in 2011-12 than in 2010-11.

Having said this, the budget is fundamentally not about big bang, but about taxes and expenditure. Big-bang policy changes are necessary to correct an impression of permanent policy paralysis (PPP) characterising UPA II, but that is best done outside the budget. This is India's 80th budget. To use this year's budget's nomenclature, it has become a very senior citizen (VSC). Notwithstanding increases in life expectancy, budgets (and hype over them) must die out. The budget must become irrelevant. Taxes and expenditure must both become predictable and standardised, with no yearly variations. Once that happens, budgets can become public documents, debated in public before the Finance Bill is passed. That's what happens in many developed countries. Unlike transient vagaries of Indra, we then rely on a more permanent Lakshmi. But for that to occur, FMs must let go and eliminate discretion.

So one test of a budget is whether we are headed that way. Take direct taxes. Exemption limits attract attention, but are irrelevant from the big picture point of view. We will have the Direct Tax Code from 2011-12. Because of increasing demand for public expenditure, tax/GDP ratio must increase to around 22 per cent. That can only happen through removal of exemptions. If we are convinced that we will be able to get rid of exemptions, why do we have MAT (minimum alternate tax)? Markets are delighted, because they expected MAT to increase to more than 18.5 per cent and had also factored in increases in excise and service sector taxation rates. But the point is different. With MAT, we are making it more difficult to remove exemptions from April 1, 2012. It would have been better to reduce MAT and not lower corporate tax surcharges.

In a similar vein, if filing of income tax returns is going to become easy and compliance costs reduced, why are we excluding some categories of salaried tax-payers from this requirement? Is it because we don't quite believe compliance costs will actually be reduced?

Let's take customs duty as another example. The speech tells us the peak will be 10 per cent and there will be unification at 2.5 per cent, with three rates of 10 per cent, 5 per cent and 2.5 per cent. There have been welcome reductions and some standardisation. But is that invariably the case? Not quite.

There is reluctance to let go of discretion and this is true of expenditure too. Expenditure needs to be decentralised, Central sector and centrally sponsored schemes must be scrapped, artificial distinctions between Plan/ Non-Plan and Revenue/ Capital must go. The budget has effectively passed the buck to C. Rangarajan and Nandan Nilekani. (On the latter, Aadhaar is clearly going to become mandatory and we will get nowhere on this until we have licked the BPL conundrum.) But since budget talks about direct cash transfers for kerosene, LPG and fertilisers, it might as well have announced a negative income tax. Stated differently, a big bang was possible, not for visible items like pensions, insurance, labour market and retail, but for smaller items that fit UPA II's purview. Instead of doing that, why do we have these large number of schemes, with token amounts of expenditure?

Not only are we reluctant to let go of discretion in taxation, we are reluctant to let go on expenditure too. The public expenditure efficiency case would have been far more convincing had there been a ZBB (zero-based budgeting) of schemes and ministries/ departments and if we had been told what was found when 62 government departments undertook the Programme Monitoring and Evaluation System. Does the Centre need to decide salaries of Anganwadi workers, regardless of location?

It's not that there are no trees in this budget — there is self-certification for customs, there are infrastructure debt funds, amendment to the Stamp Act, FII investment in mutual funds and budgetary reporting for SC and tribal sub-plans. There are 13,889 words in the budget speech. It meanders and loses focus. It is not clear what the big picture is. The wood is so large, sprawling and extensive that one tends to miss the trees. But perhaps that is what was intended.

The writer is a Delhi-based economist







You can't get more ambitious than this. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee expects that the total expenditure will grow by a meagre 3.38 per cent, or just Rs 41,153 crore in absolute terms, in 2011-12 compared with what the government spent in 2010-11. In real terms — even if one accepts the minister's estimate that average annual inflation rate for the next year will be 5 per cent or so — then the government's expenditure is actually shrinking. If Mukherjee manages to control government expenditure in such a brilliant fashion, he certainly deserves kudos. But I'll wait till he presents his supplementary demand for grants during the year.

For the record, the government is spending Rs 1,92,089 crore more in 2010-11 than the previous financial year. In fact, Mukherjee overshot his budget estimate of total expenditure for the current financial year by Rs 1,07,827 crore. Subsidies, pensions and loans to PSUs — which are not really productive expenditure — account for a bulk of the increase. They add up to Rs 64,000 crore, or almost 60 per cent of the increase. Much of these additional expenses are not related to the fiscal stimulus the government was providing to the economy over the past two years. These are spends that reflect on poor management of finances.

Going ahead, given the rise in global crude oil prices due to a volatile and still simmering political milieu in West Asia, there is little to suggest that subsidies on petroleum products or fertilisers would be any less in the coming financial year. The current trend in global food prices also do not provide any room for cuts on food subsidy. On the contrary, enactment of a law on food security — which Mukherjee has promised in the budget — may only increase the subsidy burden of the government.

Next fiscal, he hopes to cut non-Plan expenditure by Rs 5,370 crore but projects Plan spends to increase by Rs 46,523 crore. Mind it, items like subsidies and pensions are part of non-Plan expenditure. This raises doubts about Mukherjee's ability to keep a tight leash on expenditure. A buoyant economy, estimated to grow by over 14 per cent in nominal terms, has helped him project an almost 25 per cent rise in gross tax receipts. So, the finance minister has boldly projected that the fiscal deficit will be 4.6 per cent of GDP in the next financial year.

Any finance ministry will take umbrage if anyone suggests the numbers are dressed up. But what Mukherjee has done deserves appreciation. Given the robust economic growth rate of 8.6 per cent expected this year (18-19 per cent nominal growth rate), he could have easily projected a fiscal deficit of 4.8 per cent of GDP in 2010-11. He seems to have consciously chosen to peg it at 5.1 per cent, clearly building a cushion for himself. In absolute terms, this translates into extra resources of almost Rs 27,000 crore. Moreover, inflation, almost certainly, is unlikely to average at 5 per cent as estimated. So, a higher nominal GDP growth rate will bring him more revenues. The buoyancy in tax receipts, for sure, will be more than the 24.9 per cent he mentioned in his speech.

In a nutshell, Mukherjee has presented an expenditure budget for 2011-12. His tax proposals don't bring him any extra money. There is an upside on the revenue front, but a sharper downside on the expenditure front.







V.S. Naipaul's "million mutinies" play out ever so often on the India stage, exposing its much vaunted democracy as a work in painful progress and, as he put it, a maelstrom of "disruptive lesser loyalties". We are seemingly headed there now, as "lesser loyalties" create political, social and economic disruptions across the country. It is the kind of moment when the question of what really unifies this country acquires prominence in conversation and thought. Well, here's a thought: it is cricket. There is no other adhesive that compacts the Indian identity into some semblance of uniformity; not language, religion, customs, food, dress or economic and social equality. Cricket — not sport, mind you — is the only common denominator, the one single issue that the man from Kanyakumari and his counterpart from Kashmir will have in common. Whatever the cultural differences, cricket fans have their own code of communication that transcends language.

Even Bollywood doesn't rate as a common cultural touchstone. Down south, cinema occupies another dimension and has a different cultural underpinning. Classical music and dance could come closest to a common cultural identity but it does not arouse any fierce passion or sense of patriotism. They also lack the necessary commercial accompaniment, so vital in an age when success and money are conjoined twins. Cricket has become a repository of the national ego, our place on the world stage celebrated with greater national pride than the possession of a nuclear arsenal, A.R. Rahman at the Oscars or 9 per cent GDP growth. Sport everywhere is undoubtedly a major carrier of national identity but in India, our embrace of cricket is much more; it transcends into a national obsession that often crosses the boundary into jingoism when an international tournament gets under way.

That's understandable if it is an India-Pakistan encounter. The intensity of that sporting rivalry devolves as much from the common cricket culture that unites the two countries as from the history that divides them. However, the hype and hysteria surrounding the

Indian team and the ongoing World Cup has an aggressive intent that is almost akin to going to war, or war minus the shooting, as George Orwell once put it in reference to sport at the international level. In his essay, "The Sporting Spirit", he blamed it on the attitude of the spectators and even countries who seriously believe, for that moment, that sporting contests like the

Olympics or football World Cup, are "a test of national virtue". In our case, the war is led by TV channels and World Cup-related advertising that have raised the anticipation of an Indian victory to such a pitch that anything less will count as much of a failure as UPA's second innings. Here's how historian-novelist Mukul Kesavan views our obsession with the game. "The terrifying thought is that if cricket loses its credibility people will still watch it — not the sport but the spectacle. The one-day game may have revived cricket but the result is that we live with cretinous spectators who demand constant thrills."

More serious, support for Team India in the World Cup is almost being equated with patriotism which, unlike the Tebbit test suggested for England's immigrants, puts huge and unfair pressure on not just the Indian team but anyone who doesn't paint their face in Tricolour, wear the India blues and gyrate like Prabhu Deva each time an Indian player scores a boundary. It was never like this. Earlier World Cups carried the hope of a nation but minus the hype. In his book The States of Indian Cricket, Ramachandra Guha brings back fond recollections of an era when cricket was a peripheral pastime and not the 24/7 soap opera it has become, a national obsession and a hyper-aggressive, sexed-up arm of the TV industry. He writes of a time when cricketers were rarely seen or heard outside the cricket field, and even rarer to find them displayed on the front pages of newspapers and in prime-time headlines. Another cricket authority Mike Marqusee had this to say about Indian cricket: "I saw cricket installed at the heart of a burgeoning popular culture, subjected to all the pressures that come with that status. And over the years I've seen cricket unfold its wonderfully pointless essence in the myriad forms that only a society as vast and diverse as India can generate."

Today, nothing brings us together with as much passion as cricket. There is also so much money riding on the game and its practitioners that its commercial value only adds to the hoopla. There is also the fact that India now rightly claims to be cricket's global epicentre, boasting its largest commercial potential and widest social base. Yet, as Marqusee once commented: "For years, Indian cricket's brain has been befuddled by an indigestible cocktail of parochial pettiness and delusions of global grandeur." That has, unfortunately, given it an exaggerated status that is out of sync with its potential as a symbol of national unity. That, sadly, is ultimately a reflection of the limited issues that really unite us as a country. The increasing divisiveness of today's politics is merely a reflection of the growing divide in Indian society in general. The assertion of an Indian identity, cultural nationalism and emotional commonality are all rooted in cricket, to the exclusion of anything else.

Here's another thought. The jingoistic drum-beating we are currently witness to would not exist if it wasn't for that surprise World Cup win in 1983. Everyone knew it was a victory gained against all odds but that is conveniently forgotten in the rush for TRPs and sponsors and advertisers seeking to tap into the perceived national mood by endless repeats of that historic feat. The result is that the macho aggressiveness on display has taken India's chances of winning the 2011 World Cup to unreal heights, ignoring form and competition and the weight of history.







The finance minister rose to present the budget against a backdrop of "a deficit in governance and lack of public accountability". He also added that there were structural supply-side constraints that were holding back growth in agriculture and which needed to be addressed if the country was to get back on to a more sustainable growth path. In addition, the major macroeconomic issues facing the country have been high inflation, particularly in food, and now high interest rates.

However, the budget he presented did nothing to fundamentally address these issues. At a macro level, GDP is expected to grow by 9 per cent next year after 8.4 per cent this year, but it is not entirely clear where that will come from; agriculture has already benefited from a good monsoon and the base effect this year. Industrial growth and services will really have to ramp up, against a backdrop of mounting inflationary expectations and increasingly high interest rates. While the savings rate may support this assumption, whether we can maintain our capital productivity in light of the heightened friction in the economy is highly questionable.

Distressingly, the fiscal numbers achieved for the current year, despite the 3G auction revenue are 5.1 per cent. Take out the auction benefits and it is clear that the target would have been underachieved. In addition, the target for the next financial year is 4.6 per cent, leaving a net borrowing target of Rs 3,43,000 crore, or roughly $85 billion. While this is less than last year, given the already constrained liquidity in the system on the back of RBI monetary actions to curb inflation, this could be a challenge and will definitely lead to the crowding out of private-sector resources. The finance minister has sought to address this issue by encouraging the flow of foreign funds into the corporate debt market by increasing the limit from $5 billion to $25 billion. The finance minister has also sought to encourage the flow of foreign institutional money into mutual funds. But other than this, and raising the limit for the issuance of tax-free bonds, there is little for infrastructure as a sector. Housing, power, roads, communication, urban infrastructure do not find any real incentives.

The finance minister spent considerable time on the introduction of the Direct Tax Code (DTC) and the Goods and Services Tax (GST) and a host of other financial legislations. While all this is critically important for industry and the country as a whole, it did not really add anything new to the debate about what can be done to structurally reduce inflation and interest rates. On the direct tax front, the marginal increase in the exemption limit will add a small amount to the taxpayers' pocket but there were no other real goodies. At the aggregate level, the finance minister decreased direct tax revenues by Rs 11,000 crore while increasing indirect taxes by Rs 7,000 crore and widened the service tax net to garner another Rs 4,000 crore. Net net, therefore, there is no real accretion to the government on account of tax receipts. The FM has budgeted a divestment target of Rs 40,000 crore against last year's achievement of Rs 22,000 crore. This looks ambitious, given the current state of the capital markets and given that we have seen net FII outflows since January. Remember we only achieved Rs 22,000 crore when we had FII inflows to the tune of $29 billion.

From a capital markets standpoint, again the good news was that there was no bad news. Given the political scenario, markets had been sensitised to expect a sharp rise in welfare spending and a higher deficit and borrowing number. When that did not materialise, markets reacted with a brief relief rally.

Unfortunately, on the micro-reforms front, which is ultimately what contributes to the macro numbers, there were no helpful steps. On control of inflation, the finance minister did speak about mega food parks and encouraging some supply-chain activities such as increasing storage of foodgrains but left out an overhaul of the Agriculture Produce Marketing Act or steps in that regard, as it is a state subject. The likely mention of openness to foreign capital in the sector was left out. In fact, FDI did not find mention really anywhere in the budget — whether in the area of insurance, retail, defence, media or education. Presumably, the finance minister believes that foreign portfolio flows are more suitable or less politically contentious than longer-term funds.

The area that disappointed was the social sector. There is a 17 per cent increase in allocations to all welfare schemes but given that nominal GDP growth is at the same level, there is no real increase in allocations. While education received an increase of 24 per cent, healthcare got an increase of 17 per cent.

In all of this, the finance minister stayed true to his conservative image. There was nothing path-breaking in this budget — no visionary or bold strokes with which to excite, and certainly nothing specific to deal with the big issues of the day — most importantly inflation, which will gnaw away at the vitals of our growth aspirations. It is also not entirely clear how the finance minister will stay true to the 4.6 per cent fiscal deficit target given the overshoot of last year, in which the 20 per cent increase in nominal GDP worked so much in his favour. An invocation to Indra certainly will not do the trick.

The writer is chairman of SaVant Advisers, Mumbai









Early in his Budget speech, finance minister Pranab Mukherjee spoke of praying to Lord Indra for a bountiful monsoon and to the Goddess Lakshmi as it was a good strategy to diversify risk. To that list of deities he needs to add, more so since he said 3 was a lucky number, Sonia Gandhi's National Advisory Council (NAC) since his amazing expenditure compression (restricting growth to just 3.3% over 18.8% in 2010-11) will go for a toss if the NAC doesn't roll over and die. It's an impossible call even if that happens since the 3.3% growth is lower than even the 5% inflation the Budget assumes for 2011-12! Mukherjee spoke of introducing the Food Bill the NAC has been adamant about, but has made no allowance for this—indeed, his food subsidy Bill is projected to fall marginally to R60,573 crore as compared to the R80,000 crore estimate for the Food Bill by the NAC and the PM's Economic Advisory Council's more realistic R92,000 crore. Which means that Mukherjee either plans to unleash a whole set of delivery reforms—he says the Nandan Nilekani UID-led cash transfers will be in place only by March 2012—or the Budget is in serious danger of going offtrack, much like Ms Banerjee's last Friday.

Though the Budget has many reforms, the deficit is really the key as the first thing that got the markets all excited on Monday was the R3.4 lakh crore government borrowing target. The target is understated as it doesn't include R15,000 crore of advances from RBI and R15,000 crore of recoveries from states, but the real determinant is the deficit—the higher it is, the higher the borrowings, and the greater the pre-emption of funds by the government. One of the keys to a lower fiscal deficit in 2010-11 (5.1% of GDP as compared to the budgeted 5.5%) was one-off events—the 3G auction fetched R70,000 crore more than budgeted for (that's 0.6% of GDP) and revising the GDP from R69,34,700 crore to R78,77,950 crore alone reduced the deficit from 5.5% of GDP to 4.8%—so, Mukherjee's real fiscal deficit, sans the extra 3G revenues, is 5.7% as compared to the 4.8% it should have been. Neither event will re-occur this year.

None of this is to say the Budget doesn't have major positives. Corporate tax levels, as Mahesh Vyas points out, have fallen from 35.9% when the UPA first came to power to 32.1% today and limits for FIIs investing in India Inc's bonds have gone up substantially; the dates for issuing banking licences have been brought forward; allowing foreigners to invest in mutual funds directly is a great opportunity; infrastructure has got a much-needed boost by allowing money to be raised through SPVs, and lowering withholding taxes among others. Greater sops for housing will energise the real estate sector, a major determinant on GDP growth.

That the finance minister has not even given a new time-table for the introduction of GST is disappointing, though he plans to introduce the constitutional amendment Bill in the current session and says the differences with states have been narrowed down considerably. A whole set of reforms are on hold, to be worked out through committees and groups of ministers, though the timeline is not spelt out. This includes one on expenditure reform, on cash transfers, on innovation—a Group of Ministers on environment should please industry no end as it means there will be a larger group looking at their concerns instead of just Jairam Ramesh deciding. Various financial sector Bills are to be introduced, on insurance and pensions for instance, and it does look as if they'll get passed this time around. Again, a big positive for reforms.

The way the markets reacted to the Budget in a sense tells the story best. As the finance minister spoke of his borrowing targets, of his expenditure reduction and the various market-friendly measures, the Sensex rose by 484 points. Later, as the impossibility of some of the targets became obvious, the markets retreated, ending the day up 122 points. The markets found it difficult to believe that, in a government so focused on the aam aadmi, the Budget would be allowed to reduce subsidies by 13%, or that petroleum subsidies could fall 40% from R38,386 crore in 2010-11 to R23,640 crore in 2011-12 at a time when oil prices are expected to soar in the near future (even if the finance minister doesn't include the R1 lakh crore the oil PSUs will shell out on his behalf in 2010-11 and more in 2011-12, the lower figure does look curious).

Whether markets continue to rise over the next few weeks, as the finance minister hopes they will given the plethora of market-friendly measures, will depend of whether they are focused on the Budget's maths or whether they're convinced a fresh burst of reform is in the offing. Watch this space.





For the first six years of its tenure, the UPA government has confidently been in a populist tax-and-spend mode. It assumed that it won in May 2004 because the poor were not being helped by the NDA—and that it won in May 2009 because it went on a spending spree to help the poor. Then came the Bihar election of November 2010. I believe that that election will be remembered as a watershed in Indian economics, and politics.

And it already has had an effect on the Budget.

Before the Budget, there was a lot of discussion as to how much social expenditures will go up and therefore destroy any attempt at fiscal consolidation. No one expected much from this classic tax-and-spend government. And the UPA has had more than six years at practice; each year, surprised by the GDP growth and tax revenues, the UPA government increased social expenditures to such a level that allocations were not being spent!

Until the Bihar elections and high unsustainable inflation for the last three years. After averaging close to 4.5% per annum for the long period 1996 to 2007, inflation has registered above 7% for each of the last three fiscal years. Governor Subbarao more than broadly hinted that there were precious few tools left in the monetary cupboard to attack this inflation; and that a necessary condition for inflation to be brought under control was that the fiscal situation improve.

Now there are two ways by which the fisc can be brought under control. The first method is to increase taxation; the second is to decrease the rate of growth of expenditure. There is a golden third method, one rarely chosen by Indian politicians, especially those belonging to the spend-loving Congress party. It is to not increase taxation, and only reduce expenditure growth. To everyone's surprise, and certainly mine, the finance minister has chosen this third option. It is such a surprise that in informal discussions with experts, the common refrain is—it can't be so, that the government in effect is lying. That is the depths to which the credibility of this government has reached.

My belief is that the government is not lying. And not because I think that nobility is at the core of this government. It is that from Libya to Lucknow and from Cairo to Calcutta, governments have no place to hide, or lie, any more. Before, there was no policeman for the government sector, no authority that could expose governments. Today, technology and civil society and media are the new "police". If you lie through documents like the Union Budget, you will be exposed and lose elections faster than you can say Raja. It is okay to be cynical, but not to be naïvely so.

Let us look at some hard numbers on expenditure in India. In 2009-10, the government had budgeted a total expenditure level of R1,109 thousand crore for 2010-11. What actually happened—the spending level was actually about 10% higher, at R1,216 thousand crore. Revenue growth in excess of budgeted estimates was also 10% higher, so the excess expenditure growth was not felt on the fisc.

For 2011-12, the government has budgeted the following. First, nominal GDP growth of 14.1%, and though the break-up is not given, it should roughly be in the zone of 8.5% GDP growth and 5.6% inflation. The numbers are consistent and seem broadly accurate. Tax revenue growth is budgeted at 18%, which, given a GDP growth of 14%, is also realisable. The reduction in effective tax rates via exemption slab expansion should help compliance and tax buoyancy. But, and this is the key point, total expenditure growth is budgeted to increase by only 3.3%!

A perspective on this expenditure growth is that if realised, this will be the second slowest expenditure growth in Indian history (since 1970-71). The lowest realised growth: 1.5% in 2005-06. In that year, the UPA government was committed to sensible macro policies before the rot set in. The lesson from

Bihar is unmistakeable—good politics is good economics. With their backs to the wall more than any government since 1991 (or before), the UPA government is doing what is absolutely necessary for its survival.

This is not a workmanlike Budget; this is not a conventional Budget. It is radical. It smells of good economics. Expenditures on infrastructure and education have increased. Capital flows have been eased, and investment encouraged. And taxes not increased and a commitment and planning for further disinvestment. It is likely that this Budget is a major turning point in India's fiscal history. In short, a brilliant Budget and one exceeding all expectations. For that, the finance minister and the Budget makers need to be congratulated.

The author is chairman of Oxus Investments, an emerging market advisory and fund management firm





Corporate India has been optimistic on India's growth prospects. A recent pre-Budget survey of 127 CEOs/CFOs conducted for Bloomberg UTV showed that 74% of them are more confident this year than in the previous year, 61% will expand capacities, 68% will hire more this year and more than 80% will invest this year.

CMIE's CapEx survey shows that the investment juggernaut that began in 2004 continues to roll. New investment proposals continue to be made even as the stock of outstanding proposals mount. CapEx shows the value of new capacities that will get created in 2011-12 will be over twice the capacities created in 2010-11.

The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council and the finance ministry's Survey have both been very sanguine about the economic outlook—as have been most private agencies.

This was the comfortable backdrop against which India Inc prepared to hear Pranab Mukherjee's Budget proposals for 2011-12. And, the grand old master did nothing to spoil the party, or to exaggerate the possibility of India actually reaching an over 10% growth in the near future.

Nobody really expected a fall in corporate tax rates. But, the FM shaved off 2.5 percentage points (ppt) from the surcharge to 5%. This is the second consecutive year of a 2.5 ppt fall in the surcharge. Between 2009-10 and 2001-12, the total direct corporate tax rate has thus fallen from 33% to 31.5%. When UPA-1 came to power, the corresponding rate was 35.875%. Thus, over its eight-year tenure, the UPA has cut the corporate tax rate quite substantially.

The effective corporate tax incidence, as observed from the annual reports of companies, is always lower than the corporate tax rate, even if we exclude loss-making companies from the computations because of various exemptions companies avail of.

Interestingly, the effective corporate tax incidence has increased even as the tax rate has declined in recent years. According to the Prowess database, in 2009-10, the corporate tax incidence at 25.3% was higher than its level in 2008-09 when it was 24.7%, or in 2007-08 when it was 23.2%. Tax rates have come down from 38.5% in 2000-01 to 33% in 2009-10. During this period, tax incidence has risen from 22% to 25%. Apparently, the impact of the removal of the several exemptions that corporates enjoyed has been greater than the fall in the tax rates.

It is very likely that the corporate tax incidence will continue to rise in spite of the fall in the surcharge in the past two years. The FM has not announced an extension of the tax benefit available to software companies. Most IT companies avail of tax exemption on their export revenue from Software Technology Parks (STPI) or from SEZs. The STPI units are currently paying MAT on their export revenue and are exempt from normal tax. However, the tax incentives available under the STPI scheme are only till March 2011. And the Union Budget 2011-12 has proposed to increase the minimum alternate tax (MAT) rate from 18% to 18.5% of book profits. Further, the government has proposed to levy MAT on the software units operating in the SEZs, which are currently getting exemption under section 10AA of the Income Tax Act.

The impact of these is likely to be significant. The government has been using MAT aggressively. MAT was 7.5% of book profits till 2005-06. It rose to 10%, then 15% and 18% in 2006-07, 2009-10 and 2011-12, respectively. This year, while the increase in the tax rate has been marginal, the removal (or non-continuation) of the exemptions to STPI implies a substantial effective increase in the direct tax rate on corporates.

The FM has not rolled back, any further, the indirect tax reductions introduced in the wake of the 2008 global financial crisis. The lower excise duty, though, has been raised by a percentage point. The service tax remains unchanged. But, its application has been extended to newer services.

Historically, the share of indirect taxes in total sales of companies has been reducing. Again, using the Prowess database, we find that in 2000-01, indirect taxes accounted for 8% of sales of non-finance companies. This ratio dropped to 4.9% in 2009-10.

It is unlikely that this ratio would change much following the Budget announcements.

The FM's speech seems to reveal a preference for the manufacturing sector, whose share in the GDP he wishes to raise from 16% to 25% in 10 years. The government's spending on infrastructure is projected to grow by 23% in 2011-12.

Given that a significant portion of the current investment projects in the country are in the infrastructure and manufacturing sectors, this stance of the Budget is likely to compliment the current confidence of India Inc referred to earlier. Union Budget 2011-12 has not made any great policy announcements or any populist announcements. Instead, it has revealed a preference to complete some of the good work that has been in the workings for some time now. It has built confidence in stating that Bills related to the Goods and Services Tax, the Direct Taxes Code and the Companies Bill will be placed before Parliament soon—two of them in this Budget session. In a sense, this is Budget with a focus on business as usual, and that is a good thing.

The author is MD& CEO, CMIE





Dear God

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee said he was praying to Lord Indra for a bountiful monsoon and the Goddess Lakshmi for wealth. Since he said 3 was a lucky number for him, he needed to add a third God, in this case, the National Advisory Council to Sonia Gandhi. That's the only way he can stick to his expenditure budget, coincidentally also projected to rise by around 3%.

Popularity is a blessing

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is known for his temper as well political acumen, but his Budget speech was delivered in remarkably good humour. The secret of that lay in the fact that as soon as Mukherjee entered Parliament, the treasury benches gave him a resounding round of applause by thumping their desks. After adhering to the party line in the Budget, this applause by his colleagues was perhaps a sign of things to come?

Old age should be the same

Sections in the BJP have dubbed this Budget as the LK Advani Budget since it creates a special category of super senior citizens, that is, those above the age of 80, for whom exemption of personal income tax is up to R5,00,000 per annum. To which another section said that it was basically a conspiracy yet again to keep Murli Manohar Joshi out of the loop, since he was yet to hit 80. Mukherjee was quick to add, while announcing the change, that he had many years to go before he turned 80.

For both ladies and gents

The change in the age for being considered senior citizens has also been tweaked. For men it is 60 years, for women it is 58. This prompted leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, to say that while he was yet to be considered a senior citizen, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, fell in that category.

Didi doodled

Trinamool Congress chief and railway minister, after having presented her own Railway Budget to rapt attention by Pranab Mukherjee, did not bother to return the favour. Throughout Mukherjee's speech she was seen doodling on a writing pad. Mamtadi fancies herself an artist, and was seen showing off her sketches to environment minister Jairam Ramesh.

But kids were keyed up

Pranab Mukherjee's elder son Abhijit Mukherjee was the cynosure of all eyes in Parliament as he turned up along with his sister Sharmistha to watch his father present his sixth Budget as finance minister. Abhijit will be contesting assembly polls in West Bengal this time round, explaining the attention he was getting from all.

And 3 was lucky

Pranab Mukherjee explained away his predilection for granting R300 crore for several programmes as a fondness for the number 3. This prompted one Opposition leader to claim that "finally Mukherjee has realised his place in the government, he is number 3, after Sonia Gandhi and Manmohan Singh."







The rumble of discontent near ticket counters at cricketing venues across India has reached a tipping point during this World Cup. The unseemly incident at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium where the police were forced to intervene after a restless crowd broke through the barricades wasn't surprising: with just 7,500 tickets (in a stadium with a capacity of 38,000) open to the public, it was only natural that fans would feel short-changed. Not that this feeling of discontent is likely to register any time soon with the controllers of cricket. For long, India's cricket administrators have been insensitive to the common fan, whose passion has fuelled the game's astonishing growth. The point made by an apologetic Javagal Srinath, secretary of the Karnataka State Cricket Association, that the system hasn't changed is at once truthful and dispiriting. The hyper-commercialisation of cricket, while benefiting those who run and play it, has disenfranchised the paying public. With gate collections bringing in an insignificant fraction of the money that telecast rights do, the game has been taken away from the people.

To be fair, every host association has its commitments: it has to allocate a share of its tickets to the game's governing bodies and associates ranging from the BCCI to sponsors. This apart, the five-star style hospitality boxes, while bringing in big revenue to the host association, have resulted in a loss of seating capacity. What is more, politicians, bureaucrats, police, and civic agencies partake of the shrinking pie. In global events such as the World Cup, the shortage is aggravated by the fact that the ICC has the 'right of first refusal' for a percentage of the tickets. The Bangalore episode may have also had something to do with the pre-booking of tickets — the match between India and England was originally scheduled to be held at Kolkata. While it is true that the demand for tickets will far outstrip the supply for matches involving India, the game's administrators can't use it as an excuse to exclude the common fan. Reform is needed — and a start must be made by improving the viewing experience of those who do make it through the turnstiles. For all the enhancement of stadia across the country, watching a match remains an ordeal in many centres. The limitations on bringing food and drink to the ground are draconian — no one deserves to be subjected to standing in long queues for overpriced, mediocre refreshments. The hygiene and accessibility of restrooms need remedying as well. Fans who come to watch the game live are stakeholders who must be treated decently. Cricket cannot be allowed to become just a television game.





To no one's surprise, The King's Speech swept the major categories at the 83rd Annual Academy Awards. Crafted with a faultless restraint, the emotionally compelling story about the battle of Prince Albert (later King George VI) to overcome a nervous stammer bagged Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor (Colin Firth), Best Director (Tom Hooper), and Original Screenplay (David Seidler). The only major category the film did not win was the one for which it was not nominated — Best Actress. As the Duchess of York, Helena Bonham Carter plays at best a supporting turn. The other major acting role is played by Geoffrey Rush who, as the maverick speech therapist practising in Harley Street, strikes up an unlikely friendship with his royal patient as progress is made to control and eventually overcome the stammering. Rush failed to win the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor but his loopy, eccentric ways brings out the best in Colin Firth who, apart from maintaining a convincing stammer, expertly captures the inner turmoil of a man whose royalty imposes a suffocating weight of expectancy and decorum on a natural and tumultuous rage.

That the The King's Speech was the runaway favourite to sweep the Oscars was a tribute to a charming feel-good period drama supported by some truly fine acting. But it also reflects the Academy's continued preference for emotionally resonant stories over other genres. Did not Slumdog Millionaire sweep the 2009 Academy Awards, trumping The Reader in a contest perceived by some critics to be between populism and serious art? Oscar history is littered with such instances. In 1976, the conventional boxing feature Rocky won over Roman Polanski's Taxi Driver, a film which all but redefined urban noir. Much earlier, the feel-good mining-town tearjerker How Green Was My Valley overcame Citizen Kane, which shaped cinematography as we know it today. This year's nominations for Best Picture had some serious challengers. There was The Social Network, the hip and emotionally detached biopic of the founder of Facebook. And there was the fabulous Black Swan, an edgy psychological thriller about a retiring ballerina — performed with extraordinary intensity by Natalie Portman (Best Actress) — who is haunted by hallucination and who rages at her repression. Edgy and challenging works of art rarely trump feel-good films at the Oscars. The King's Speech was by no means an undeserving winner. It's just that the Oscars may have been unkind to other deserving nominees, something that is perhaps unavoidable in a competition of this kind. Almost certainly, time will be kind — in fact, much kinder — to them.








Even as India voted in New York for the tough United Nations Security Council resolution on Libya, closer home in Kabul, the Afghan government released the findings of an investigation that 65 civilians, including 40 children, were killed in the latest brutal assault by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) forces in the eastern Kunar province 10 days ago. The children, aged 13 and under, couldn't even comprehend the idea of death. It was a war crime. The report is a stark reminder that the "international community" masquerading as a champion of non-violence in Libya has blood on its hands as much as Colonel Muammar Qadhafi has. Lest we forget, hundreds of thousands of Iraqis have been slaughtered since the U.S. invasion in 2003. And no one cared to refer the "case file" to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

Yet, the ludicrous spin given in New Delhi is that India voted for the resolution on Libya since it was pointedly targeted against Mr. Qadhafi and his associates. Even as the resolution was adopted, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made the proposition that Washington is "reaching out" to the Libyan opposition and is "ready and prepared to offer any type of assistance." A full 72 hours before the Security Council actually passed the resolution, President Barack Obama had gone on record that he was considering the "full range of options" on Libya, which implied that he wouldn't rule out military action. The day after he spoke, on Tuesday, he already began consulting the U.S.'s western allies for coordinated action. The NATO's Defence Ministers accordingly held a meeting on the outskirts of Budapest on Thursday. Simultaneously, the European Commission began ascertaining from member-countries the military resources they could spare. Meanwhile, three German warships moved to the Libyan coast — although all German nationals were already evacuated from the country. According to Debka File, the news website linked to Israeli security agencies, U.S., British and French military advisers and intelligence officers landed in the eastern breakaway province of Cyrenaica in Libya on Thursday to prepare the logistics of a possible military operation. The New York Times reported on Monday that the U.S. had begun moving warships to Libya.

Republican Senator John McCain and Independent Democrat Joseph Lieberman made a call on Friday from Tel Aviv for Washington to supply Libyan rebels with arms, among other steps, including establishing a "no-fly zone" over the country. Anne-Marie Slaughter, until last month the influential director of the State Department's Policy Planning office, cited the U.S.-NATO Kosovo campaign as a possible precedent. To be sure, a mountainload of such revealing details is available in the open media. Common sense suggests that Washington pushed the harshly worded Security Council resolution as a pre-requisite for a possible NATO intervention in the coming weeks. Coincidence or not, a fortnight ago, NATO Secretary-General Anders Rasmussen visited Israel, where he suggested that the alliance could take over responsibility as a peacekeeper in Palestine.

Grand U.S. strategy

In short, there is a grand U.S. strategy toward Libya that needs to be clinically delinked from Mr. Qadhafi's horrific crimes. Aside from western companies' extensive interests, Libya happens to be a major supplier of oil to Europe, especially Italy, which is already facing economic difficulty. Any disruption in Libyan supplies can imperil Europe's economic recovery. Besides, NATO deployment reassures Israel, which increasingly faces regional isolation. Indeed, NATO has been raring to go to West Asia.

It stands to reason that our government has taken a deliberate, considered decision at the highest level to vote for the U.S.- sponsored Security Council resolution. A precedent of grave proportions for international security is taking shape, which is what the western move on Libya is all about, and New Delhi seems unwilling to explain its role in it. This opaqueness or dissimulation is shocking, to say the least. Why not openly and categorically affirm that having voted for the U.S.-led resolution, India doesn't intend to be associated in any way further with any "humanitarian intervention" or what not? It is a rather straightforward thing to say. If the western intervention in Afghanistan and Iraq holds any moral it is that these modern-day crusades in Muslim countries by western armies can only bring grief and lead to unspeakable tragedies. And India should stay worlds away from these blood-soaked enterprises. On Mr. Qadhafi's crackdown, India has not minced words and, in fact, has used harsh language, which is the right thing to do.

The well-known Russian academician and former Prime Minister Evgeniy Primakov has warned that foreign military intervention in Libya will be counter-productive. "Nobody should be getting involved in these events. It is important to understand the mentality of the Arab people and the history of the Arab countries … foreign military intervention [in the region] is often counter-productive." The great Arabist added the sanctions imposed on Libya by the Security Council would constitute a "sufficient" response to the crisis. In effect, the Qadhafi regime has been "de-legitimised" and it will be increasingly difficult for the dictator to hold on to power with a fast-dwindling popular base.

On the other hand, there are inherent dangers if the western countries intervene in the Libyan uprising, given that country's complex tribal structure. Indeed, not everyone in the West seems convinced of a western intervention, either. "Should NATO get involved in a civil war to the south of the Mediterranean? It is a question that merits at least some reflection before being launched," French Prime Minister Francois Fillion reportedly observed. Egypt's Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit said his country would not endorse foreign intervention in Libya. The Iranian Foreign Ministry warned the West against any military intervention, saying the U.S. shouldn't take advantage of the popular movement in Libya to turn the country into a military base. Russia and China also seem to disfavour foreign intervention.

Emerging pattern

However, what is most disconcerting is that the Indian government has begun echoing the Obama administration's rhetoric. A pattern is emerging: New Delhi's mood changes, its pauses of silence and its cadence of articulation on the Arab revolt bear an uncanny resemblance to the twists and turns, ambivalences and ambiguities and the agony and ecstasy of Mr. Obama's rhetoric. It took our thoughtful External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna no time to repudiate Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's position that we are not in the business of teaching others the ABC of democracy. Who overruled Dr. Singh? Who encouraged Mr. Krishna?

Therefore, the decision to dispatch two warships to the Mediterranean merits watch. (Now it transpires that the Navy's fleet replenishment tanker also has been sent.) Pray, if evacuation of Indian nationals is an urgent priority, why not charter more aircraft or commercial ships that constantly ply the Mediterranean? That was what China did. As of Monday, the Chinese Foreign Ministry said it evacuated to safety 29,000 nationals from Libya. That is 11,000 more than the entire Indian community in Libya. What is happening? We're "twittering" and twiddling our thumbs waiting for our two warships and the fleet replenishment tanker in tow to reach Libya's coast, hopefully by mid-March. Let us hope Mr. Qadhafi will somehow cling on to power until then so that our warships can do some "rescue" act.

It seems Mr. Qadhafi's bestiality provided on a platter a great opportunity to test the "interoperability" of our warships with NATO. Such an enterprise fits into the U.S.-Indian strategic narrative on the security of the "global commons." Coincidence or not, the western alliance has mentioned partnership with India as one of its three key global priorities in 2011. The U.S. has all along been encouraging India to develop a partnership programme with NATO. Indeed, NATO has kept up subsoil contacts with the Indian defence and foreign policy establishments in the recent years, but these were low-key, given India's traditional aversion to any entanglements with military alliances. The Libyan situation offers the pretext for displaying and stimulating the NATO-Indian partnership. An operation with NATO is precisely the sort of "leap of faith" the U.S. has been demanding from India. Without doubt, this complex shadow play becomes part of India's baptism in order to push its bid for permanent membership of the Security Council. The Indian leadership owes some decent explanation to the public before jettisoning lock, stock and barrel the cornerstones of this country's post-independent foreign policy.

The irony is that non-violence in Libya becomes the rubric for militarisation of foreign policy. After referring Mr. Qadhafi to the ICC, shouldn't India sign the Rome Statute and become an ICC member-country? Ideally, we should also persuade Mr. Obama, who admires Gandhiji, to revoke his predecessor's decision to pull the U.S. out of the ICC. The 65 dead souls in Kunar deserve to get justice, too.

(The writer is a former diplomat.)







"I have spent more, yet, I have brought down the fiscal deficit for 2010-11 from 5.5 per cent to 5.1 per cent," claims Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee. The amount of fiscal deficit has actually gone up by Rs.20,000 crore. How then could the percentage of fiscal deficit have come down? It defies the logic of numbers. Yet, none of the commentators in awe of his miracle have asked Mr. Mukherjee how he achieved the miracle. It is not his feat. Runaway inflation did the trick, not the Finance Minister. Surprised? Read on.

In his budget speech for 2010-11, the Finance Minister had fixed the fiscal deficit of Rs.3.81 lakh crore at 5.5 per cent of the GDP of Rs.69.35 lakh crore estimated by the CSP at current prices for 2010-11. But thanks to hyperinflation that hit the people of India, the GDP at current prices — also called nominal GDP — rose from the estimated Rs.69.35 lakh crore to Rs.78.78 lakh crore in 2010-11. The rise of Rs.9.57 lakh crore is pure inflation. As a percentage of the new, inflated nominal GDP figure of Rs.78.78 lakh crore, the fiscal deficit of Rs.4 lakh crore came down to 5.1 per cent. Had inflation not escalated, the estimated GDP of Rs.69.35 lakh crore, the fiscal deficit would risen to 5.8 per cent, not fallen from 5.5 per cent. The Medium Term Fiscal Policy Statement annexed to the budget obliquely admits this fact. It says that "higher nominal growth in GDP" — which is just inflation — has helped in reducing the fiscal deficit

The gap between real and nominal GDP is inflation. Year after year, from 2005-6, this inflationary gap between the real and nominal GDP has been incrementally enlarging. In 2005-06 the gap was 9.4 per cent; in 2006-07, it rose to 16.9 per cent; in 2007-08, it enlarged to 21.8 per cent; in 2008-09 it topped 31.3 per cent; and in 2010-11, the gap became an all time high at 38 per cent, equal to Rs.30 lakh crore. Imagine, had the gap between the real and nominal GDP for 2010-11 not risen over the percentage of the gap in 2005-06, the fiscal deficit for 2010-11 would have been as high as 21 per cent! And had it been the same as in 2009-10, the fiscal deficit for 2010-11 would have been 7.5 per cent. When inflation is high the GDP-fiscal deficit ratio becomes almost meaningless. So much for the reduction in fiscal deficit acclaimed as "fiscal consolidation," "safe play," "cutting spend."

Curiously, inflation escalated the nominal GDP year after year from 2005-06, but surprisingly, not particularly the indirect tax revenues proportionately. This makes the comparison of nominal GDP with fiscal deficit misleading. It also takes us to the confession of the Finance Minister that he has not mobilised revenue in this budget. The media has eulogised him for sparing corporates from a higher dose of tax, and still managing the deficit. The truth is that the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has altogether stopped taxing corporates and others who are tax worthy. The excise revenue as a percentage of the real GDP is now almost half of what it was in 2005-06; in terms of nominal GDP it is even less. According to the Economic Survey 2010-11, the ratio of excise revenue to GDP has come down from 3 per cent in 2005-06 to 1.7 per cent in 2010-11 and customs from 1.8 per cent to 1.5 per cent. On the basis of the excise-customs to GDP ratio of 2005-06, the government has under-levied excise by Rs.1,00,000 crore and customs duty by Rs.43,000 crore in 2010-11, totalling Rs.1,43,000 crore. The under levy of excise started in 2006-07 at Rs.13,000 crore, rose to Rs.63,000 crore in 2008-09 when stimulus was introduced, and to Rs.81,000 crore in 2009-10. Even if the fiscal stimulus — calculated with 2007-08 as the base — of Rs.59,000 crore in excise and in customs of Rs.41,000 crore are deducted, the under levy is still Rs.43,000 crore. It means that the UPA government has simply refused to levy the legitimate tax. But, despite huge tax cuts, inflation is hitting the roof. Yet on the fear and threat that withdrawal of stimulus would intensify inflation, the stimulus continues. Is it justified? Read more.

It is not that corporates are in distress; in fact, they never were. An analysis of the profits of corporates given in the statements of revenue foregone attached to annual budgets shows that corporates have been making huge profits. The companies surveyed posted a profit before tax of Rs.4.08 lakh crore in 2005-06; Rs.7.11 lakh crore in 2007-08; Rs.6.68 lakh crore in 2008-09 [global meltdown year] and Rs.8.24 lakh crore in 2009-10. Most of the super profits in 2009-10 — a rise of 23.35 per cent in just one year — is clearly the stimulus cuts not passed on to the public. The super profits make the continuance of stimulus unjust. The story doesn't end here. Thanks to exemptions, corporates have paid far less than the statutory rates of excise, customs and income taxes. Taxes thus foregone by the government have been rising from year to year from 2005-06 – from 50 per cent of the tax collected in that year to 72 per cent of the tax collected in 2010-11. For the year 2010-11, the tax giveaways, including excise-customs waivers of Rs.3.62 lakh crore, totalled Rs.5.12 lakh crore. The stimulus cut of Rs.1 lakh crore, and an under-levy of Rs.43000 crore are on top of the tax foregone. Moreover, the big corporates manage to pay less than the small ones. If they pay as much, the extra tax realised for 2010-11 could have been Rs.14,470 crore.

Contrast the giveaways of several lakh of crores with the admission in the Economic Survey that capital formation in the agricultural sector, which employs 58 per cent of Indian people, has, from 2005-06, stagnated around 7.5 per cent of the total capital formed in the economy. The survey says that a huge investment is needed to make agriculture viable and sustainable. A fraction of the giveaways to corporates could save Indian agriculture from stress. No seer is needed to say that the budget could not be more unjust, inequitable, and morally wrong. And yet this budget is branded as an aam aadmi budget.

The Finance Minister could not have trivialised the issue of black money abroad more. In his budget speech, he has just repeated what he told the media on January 25, 2011. He has pontificated on corruption. His written brief on the implementation of programmes he had announced in the previous budget shows that out of 66 programmes, only 25 have been completed, many of them paper work. Yet the media discourse has hardly noticed these critical issues.

There are positives, but the hidden vices in the budget make them cosmetic. Anyway the positives have been highlighted so disproportionately that it is a waste of media space to repeat them here. On a lighter note to end: the entry of 'onion' in the budget speech has raised its importance to that of infrastructure!








In late 2009 the Obama administration was leaning on Col. Muammar el-Qadhafi and his son, Seif, to allow the removal from Libya of the remnants of the country's nuclear weapons programme: casks of highly enriched uranium.

Meeting with the American Ambassador, Gene A. Kretz, the younger Qadhafi complained that the United States had retained "an embargo on the purchase of lethal equipment" even though Libya had turned over more than $100 million in bomb-making technology in 2003. Libya was "fed up," he told Mr. Kretz, at Washington's slowness in doling out rewards for Libya's cooperation, according to cables released by WikiLeaks.

Today, with father and son preparing for a siege of Tripoli, the success of a joint American-British effort to eliminate Libya's capability to make nuclear and chemical weapons has never, in retrospect, looked more important.

Trump card

Senior administration officials and Pentagon planners, as they discuss sanctions and a possible no-fly zone to neutralise the Libyan air force, say that the 2003 deal removed Colonel Qadhafi's biggest trump card: the threat of using a nuclear weapon, or even just selling nuclear material or technology, if he believed it was the only way to save his 42-year rule. While Colonel Qadhafi retains a stockpile of mustard gas, it is not clear he has any effective way to deploy it.

"Imagine the possible nightmare if we had failed to remove the Libyan nuclear weapons programme and their longer range missile force," said Robert Joseph, who played a central role in organising the effort in 2003, in the months just after the invasion of Iraq.

"You can't know for sure how far the Libyan programme would have progressed in the last eight years," said Mr. Joseph, who left the Bush administration a few years after the Libya events, partly because he believed it had gone soft on nuclear rogue states. But given Colonel Qadhafi's recent threats, he said on February 28, "there is no question he would have used whatever he felt necessary to stay in power."

Whether he would have is, of course, unknowable.

But Colonel Qadhafi appeared to sense that loss of leverage over the last two years. The cables indicate a last-minute effort to hold on to the remnants of the programme, less to assure his regime's survival than to have some bargaining chips to get the weapons and aid that Colonel. Qadhafi and his son insisted they were promised.

Centrifuges, blueprints

The cache of nuclear technology that Libya turned over to the United States, Britain and international nuclear inspectors in early 2004 was large — far larger than American intelligence experts had expected. There were more than 4,000 centrifuges for producing enriched uranium. There were blueprints for how to build a nuclear bomb — missing some critical components but good enough to get the work started.

The whole package of goods came from a deal the Qadhafis struck with Abdul Qadeer Khan, one of the architects of Pakistan's nuclear weapons programme, who built the world's largest black-market network in nuclear technology. The $100 million to $200 million that the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) later estimated that Libya spent on the nuclear project has never been recovered. For their part, the Libyans could never get the system working; many of the large centrifuges were still in their wooden packing crates when they were turned over.

The haul was so large that President George W. Bush, with photographers in tow, flew to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee to celebrate a rare victory against nuclear proliferation. He briefly noted the success in his recent memoir, "Decision Points," saying that with the surrender of the weapons Libya "resumed normal relations with the world." Mr. Bush lifted restrictions on doing business with Libya and praised Colonel Qadhafi, saying his action have "made our country and our world safer."


In Libya, the story was told very differently. In an interview with The New York Times and the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation for a documentary, "Nuclear Jihad," Seif Qadhafi complained that the West never followed through on many of its promises.

By 2009, when the Qadhafis were refusing to turn over the remaining highly enriched uranium, he said the decision to give up the weapons had been "contingent on 'compensation' from the U.S. including the purchase of conventional weapons and non-conventional military equipment," a cable in late 2009 reported to the Obama administration.

Colonel Qadhafi, his son said, was unhappy that the centrifuges ended up in the United States, which he called a "big insult to the Leader," compounded by the fact that little compensation followed.

Today Obama administration officials say that whether or not the Bush administration carried through on its promises, the deal deprived Mr. Qadhafi of far more fearsome weapons that he might have reached for as he attempts to stay in office.

While it is unclear whether he might have ultimately succeeded in building nuclear weapons, as part of the deal he gave up thousands of shells filled with chemical weapons.

"They were bulldozed," William Tobey, a former senior official in the Energy Department under Mr. Bush recalled on February 28. While Mr. Qadhafi has many tons of mustard gas left, he said, "it's very difficult to handle and I'm not sure it's useful" to the Libyan leader.

But the message of the Libyan experience to other countries under pressure to give up their arsenals may not be the one Washington intends.

Iran and North Korea, who have often been urged by the West to follow Libya's example, may conclude that Mr. Qadhafi made a fatal error.

While South Korea is dropping leaflets in North Korea alerting its population to the uprisings in the Middle East, senior South Korean officials acknowledged in interviews last week that should North Korea face a similar uprising, it could use the threat to unleash its arsenal — which includes six to a dozen nuclear weapons by most estimates — in an effort to keep neighbouring countries from encouraging the regime's ouster.

"When the North collapses — and one day it will, of course — we're going to face a problem that we've been spared in Libya," one senior South Korean official said on February 25 in Seoul, declining to speak on the record about most sensitive contingency planning involving South Korean and American officials. "You have to bet that the leadership is going to threaten to use its weapons to stay in power. Even if they are bluffing, it's going to change the entire strategy."— © New York Times News Service




The New Zealand earthquake has exposed potentially historic documents hidden inside a 19th century statue that toppled in the disaster.

Christchurch Major Bob Parker said on March 1 that a handwritten parchment in a bottle and a sealed copper cylinder believed to contain documents were discovered inside the statue of the city's founder. The statue is in the city's main square near its historic cathedral. It fell during the February 22 earthquake that killed at least 155 people.

Museum experts were examining the items. They appeared to contain a message from the city's founders expressing their vision for it. Parker said, "It seems almost providential that they have come to light now to provide the inspiration we need in this most difficult time."— AP






Mikhail Gorbachev, the last Soviet leader lauded in the West for pulling down the Iron Curtain and reviled at home for presiding over the fall of the Soviet Union, turns 80 on March 2.

In a symbolic reflection of these contrasting perceptions in his country and abroad, Mr. Gorbachev will mark his jubilee outside Russia, in London, with a gala charity concert in the Royal Albert Hall on March 30 that will feature political and showbiz celebrities from all over the world. In Russia, it will be limited to a modest photo exhibition arranged by his family.

After ascending to power in 1985, Mr. Gorbachev launched pro-democracy perestroika reforms and buried the nuclear hatchet in relations with the United States. His idea of eliminating nuclear weapons took then U.S. President Ronald Reagan by surprise, but was readily embraced by India's Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. In November 1986, Mr. Gorbachev visited India to sign with Mr. Gandhi the historic Delhi Declaration, which called for the complete destruction of nuclear arsenal before the end of the century, and asserted the importance of solving problems in a non-violent way.

Peace Nobel, disdain

Mr. Gorbachev's foreign policy earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1990. However, he failed to control the processes of disintegration that had gathered momentum in the multi-ethnic Soviet Union after he abolished the monopoly of the Communist Party on power. In August 1991, Communist hardliners in the government staged an aborted coup to roll back Mr. Gorbachev's reforms, but only succeeded in clearing the road to the Kremlin for his opportunistic arch-rival Boris Yeltsin, then President of Russia, one of the 15 Soviet republics. Desperate to pull the rug from under Mr. Gorbachev, Mr. Yeltsin conspired with the leaders of two other Soviet republics, Ukraine and Belarus, to "dissolve" the Soviet Union.

Ironically, it is Mr. Gorbachev who is primarily blamed in Russia for the collapse of the Soviet empire, "the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century," as Prime Minister and former President Vladimir Putin described it. After his resignation Mr. Gorbachev was repeatedly and publicly humiliated by Mr. Yeltsin and his court, and is still ostracised by Russia's ruling elite. Articulating their views, Parliamentarian Vladimir Pekhtin, a top functionary in Mr. Putin's United Russia Party, has denounced Mr. Gorbachev as a "demagogue and traitor." As Mr. Gorbachev revealed, the Kremlin's chief ideologue Vladislav Surkov a few years ago blatantly told him to drop the idea setting up his own political party because "we're not going to register your party."

By contrast Mr. Yeltsin, who died four years ago, was extolled by the Kremlin on his 80th birthday last month as "the architect of new democratic Russia."

However, Mr. Gorbachev has recently levelled harsh criticism against the Putin-Medvedev power tandem accusing it of creating "imitation democracy" and a "bad copy of the Soviet Communist Party."

Mr. Gorbachev has learned to live with the popular loathing and official disdain. Nine years after losing power, Mr. Gorbachev suffered a still more severe blow, when his beloved wife, Raisa, died of leukaemia. But he has recovered, surrounded by a loving daughter and granddaughter and engrossed in the activities of the Gorbachev Foundation think tank and the ecological Green Cross International, both of which he founded.

"At 80 I feel like a man who has lived several lives, full of great moments and heavy losses," he said in a recent interview. "At all times I tried to avoid doing harm to people; I've always tried to make them happy."

Mr. Gorbachev wants to be remembered as a man who has striven to make the world a better place to live in.

At the March 30 gala concert in London's Albert Hall, he will present awards to people who have "changed our world for the better."




Ivory Coast's government is banning residents from filling jerrycans with petrol as fears of a shortage grow amid the deepening political crisis.

Motorists in Abidjan, on March 1, rushed to fill up their tanks, then went home to siphon the petrol into jerrycans, in an effort to stockpile.


The announcement of the ban on February 28 night on State TV comes as the West African nation girds itself for shortages and an economic slowdown after sanctions were slapped on the country's incumbent leader, Laurent Gbagbo, who is refusing to step down.

The European Union has banned ships from docking at Abidjan's port and petrol stations are seeing their fuel supplies dwindle. Several petrol stations have already closed.— AP









The Union Budget is in the final analysis a political statement, one that is used to win over different sections of the electorate in a democracy. Around a month ago, when the Centre found itself before the bar of public opinion on the issue of a series of corruption-related scandals as these tumbled out of the cupboard, and the Opposition parties were in full cry, there was an expectation that the 2011-12 Budget would be put to judicious use by the government to win over popular sympathy. The anticipation to this effect was said to be high in Congress circles. But a calculation of this nature had not factored in the Assembly polls just around the corner. Conceivably, if there were no elections, the plan to use the instrument of the Budget to dull the impact of corruption cases might not have been wholly unrealistic. But with the ballot season looming, that argument is hard to sustain in the natural course. Indeed, precisely because the government's opponents would not want it to run away with an advantage, they may be expected to tailor their parliamentary strategy to give the treasury benches a harder time than they might otherwise have done in the Budget Session, which more or less coincides with the run-up to the elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and the Union territory of Puducherry. On Tuesday the chief election commissioner announced the dates for the polls in each of the states. With that, we might expect battleground Parliament to be in the eye of the storm.

There is arguably enough to please the rural sector in the Budget exposition made by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee on Monday, and also particular benefits for the states heading for Assembly elections in April-May. But how much can the ruling side make this count? The Opposition parties may be expected to milk the inflation and unemployment issues for all they are worth. Perfectly sedate arguments — that employment will follow since the investment climate has been made conducive, and that inflation is a consequence of several international factors outside the control of the Indian government — may appear persuasive on paper, but not on the stump. In campaign speeches, it is the here and now that counts, not promises for the future. We may, therefore, expect more drama, walkouts, and in general shrill denunciation of the government in Parliament to catch the ear of the poll-bound electorate. The plain reason is that a lot could be riding on the results. If the Congress performs below par in states in which it is expected to do well, the joint parliamentary committee probe into the 2G affair will have another ring. If the opposite turns out to be the case, there is a likelihood that the course of the JPC inquiry and its findings will lack bite, in general or specific terms. The BJP, in particular, was especially enthused when the government was made to eat humble pie and concede the demand for a JPC probe against its best instincts. This party is not likely to be too closely involved in the Assembly polls, except in Assam. As such it would have much more of a free run in Parliament, where it can be expected to hang out in strength during the campaign period to make it tough for the government. The Left will be differently placed, of course, given its high stakes in West Bengal and Kerala. The Congress leadership, and many of its senior figures in Parliament, may be expected to be fully distracted by the election process. The party is committed in a major way in all the states where elections are due. If it does not strategise well, it could find itself at the receiving end throughout the Budget Session of Parliament, and beyond.






Pranab Mukherjee is the most seasoned politician in the present government. He was finance minister more than a quarter-century ago when Manmohan Singh was the governor of the Reserve Bank of India. He has seen economic policy in the country change over the decades. In this year's Budget, he has conveyed an impression that he is trying to walk the proverbial tightrope by seeking to please everyone and his brother. That's not an easy task in the best of times. The chances that he will fail are quite high.

Mr Mukherjee has not just attempted to please his two bosses, the Prime Minister and the United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, he has also tried to keep happy disparate sections, from the gung-ho economic liberaliser to the socialist in the Congress Party, from the aam aadmi to the khaas aadmi — which is over-ambitious, to say the least, and which is why he will not succeed.

He left no one in doubt when he stated right upfront: "Certain events in the past few months may have created an impression of a drift in governance and a gap in public accountability… such an impression is misplaced".
Whether this Budget will help refurbish the battered image of the government is far from certain, but Mr Mukherjee has tried hard to reconcile the interest of the market-friendly faction in the ruling party even as he has showered homilies ostensibly aimed at establishing the government's pro-people credentials.
Here are a few instances of politically-correct statements made by him. We have been told that the government has to "reconcile ecological concerns with development aspirations". Further, the Budget is aimed at "sustaining a high growth trajectory, making development more inclusive and improving our institutions, public delivery and governance practices". That's not all.

Our Bengali babu has assured us that "corruption is a problem which we have to fight collectively". But he has not revealed any specific measure that would tackle the issue of money-laundering through tax havens like Mauritius (the clutch of small islands that is the source of more than 40 per cent of the country's inflows of foreign direct investment). Nor has he answered charges of crony capitalism levelled against the ruling regime.
We have to wait for a group of ministers (GoM) to come up with its report on putting together a "competitive system for exploiting natural resources", including, presumably, telecommunications spectrum. And this particular GoM — headed by, you guessed right! — will also look into state funding of elections, speedy processing of corruption cases against public servants, transparency in public procurement and contracts, and discretionary powers of Union ministers. That's quite a handful.

Mr Mukherjee has made a few excessively optimistic assumptions in his Budget calculations which have raised doubts and caused consternation about the viability of the exercise. First, he has assumed that the average rate of inflation during the coming fiscal year starting April 1 would be contained at five per cent. This appears clearly unrealistic especially since he has also proposed a cut in the government's subsidy outgo by `20,000 crores, three-fourths of which would be on subsidies on petroleum products such as cooking gas, kerosene and diesel.

Given the fact that world oil prices have been boiling since the political crises in North Africa and West Asia and that India imports 80 per cent of the country's requirement of crude oil, a set of hikes in prices of petroleum products has clearly been factored into the Budget calculations. How then would inflation be kept at five per cent, especially since the government has not proposed any cut in customs or excise duties on crude oil or petroleum products?

The second optimistic assumption made by Mr Mukherjee is that while there would be a revenue loss of `11,500 crores on account of direct tax concessions, indirect tax collections would rise by `11,300 crores (although tax rates have not been changed) on account of better compliance and industrial growth in a buoyant economy.

The third optimistic assumption he has made is that the Central government's expenditure will go up by just three per cent during the next fiscal year against an expected 30-odd per cent in the current year. Then, even as the minimum wages given to beneficiaries of the government's much-touted "world's largest social security scheme", namely, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), have been increased since these have now been linked to the Consumer Price Index, the Budget has kept unchanged the total outlay on MGNREGS at `40,000 crores.

A section of the middle classes is happy with the concessions given to personal income taxpayers. But one should not forget the fact that barely three per cent of India's 1.2 billion-strong population pays income tax and of this proportion two per cent do not have much of a choice since salaried employees receive their wages after taxes have been deducted at source.

Budgets in India are much more than statements of financial accounts of the country. Important pronouncements on the political economy are also made on the occasion. Mr Mukherjee took a leaf out of railway minister Mamata Banerjee's book when he named a few educational institutions in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala (where elections are scheduled in April-May) that would receive grants of relatively small amounts, varying between `10 crores and `200 crores, in his Budget speech where the numbers are often measured in hundreds of thousands of crore rupees.

Like the farmer in the field, Mr Mukherjee continues to pray to Lord Indra and Goddess Lakshmi. He certainly needs their blessings. For it is indeed difficult to please everybody. In fact, the problem with spreading happiness thinly is that one may end up pleasing nobody. That is the real and present danger in his Budget.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator






The reaction of almost all Opposition parties to the meeting which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had with TV editors in New Delhi on February 16 to discuss the 2G allocation was on predictable lines — all described it as an "exercise in cover-up". However, the impression which most impartial observers got was that though they could not agree with many things that Dr Singh had said at the meeting, he had tried to be candid and frank and didn't try to hide anything.

While trying to be frank and fair Dr Singh referred to the concept of "coalition dharma", which had guided him in his various acts of commission and omission in the 2G spectrum affair. In fact, if anything was wrong in the stand taken by the Prime Minister on this matter, it was when there were departures from the "coalition dharma" by those wielding power at the Centre, including Dr Singh. But, in all fairness to Dr Singh, he was not using the excuse of "coalition dharma" to justify his role in this affair, but it was an honest belief on his part that he was conforming to what he believed was "coalition dharma".

As regards the practice which Dr Singh had followed in allowing the leaders of the coalition partners to have their choice of persons in the council of ministers, Dr Singh had done what has become the accepted convention in all countries having coalition governments. It is true that the Constitution of India unambiguously states in Article 75 that the ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister, but it has become an accepted practice of all Prime Ministers to go by the wishes of the leaders of the coalescing partners, and what Dr Singh did was not in violation of this well established convention.

If the leaders of the coalescing parties seek more seats and better portfolios it is their "political right" do so and therefore the leaders of parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam cannot be faulted. But while it is the political right of the coalescing party to ask for better portfolios, it is the dharma of the Prime Minister to go by his own judgment as to what should be the number of ministers from each coalescing party and the portfolios they get.

While "coalition dharma" requires that there be equity and fairness in the allocation of portfolios, this is not strictly followed by coalition governments in India. For example, in today's Cabinet, led by the Congress Party, all the four important portfolios — home, external affairs, finance and defence — are held by Congressmen. "Coalition dharma" demands that the allocation of portfolios be done strictly on merit basis, which includes the standing of the individual in the party and the country, experience as an administrator, reputation for integrity and other such considerations. The Prime Minister has to also bear in mind the crucial importance some portfolios have acquired in recent years because of technological innovations. Telecommunication is one such portfolio. The Prime Minister was conceding far too much than was intended by the concept of coalition dharma when he told the editors that "in a coalition government you can suggest your preferences but you have to go by what the leader of a particular coalition party ultimately insists". In the case of former telecom minister A. Raja, the Prime Minister has said that he had "complaints coming from all sides", yet he entrusted this highly sensitive portfolio to Mr Raja in an unsustainable interpretation of coalition dharma.

What then is coalition dharma? The first and foremost ingredient of coalition dharma is accountability of ministers not only to their own parties but also to the legislature as a whole for their individual acts in the ministry entrusted to them. Also, there should be collective responsibility of the ministers as members of the Council of Ministers. Collective responsibility means that every member of the Council of Ministers is responsible to the people through the legislature whether or not he agrees with a particular decision taken by the Cabinet. That is why in a Cabinet system of government all important decisions by the Central government are discussed in the Cabinet and the Prime Ministers take a leading role in evolving a consensus. The Prime Minister does not have to be requested by any minister to place a particular subject before the Cabinet; on the other hand this decision is taken by the Prime Minister.

In the allocation of 2G spectrum, on which Dr Singh himself had conveyed his views to the telecom minister, he admitted at the interaction with TV editors that actual allotment of licence was never discussed with him and that "licence was not a matter which got referred to him or to the Cabinet". Dr Singh said that once the finance ministry and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India concurred with the views of the telecommunication ministry, he did not feel "that he was in a position to insist that auctions must be insisted on". This might have been the honest conviction of Dr Singh but to term it as acting in conformity with "coalition dharma" would not be correct.

An equally important ingredient of "coalition dharma" is the primacy of Dr Singh in taking all the important decisions in the government. When the Cabinet system of government started in Britain, the Prime Minister's position was considered as one among equals, and, later, as first among equals. But very soon the office of Prime Minister grew out of these very narrow limits and the British Cabinet system of government evolved into Prime Ministerial government. It must be noted that Britain had not shown much faith in coalition arrangements. However, in India, people have shown no inclination to tolerate minority governments and, therefore, there is always the fear about fall of governments and the need for frequent elections. Unfortunately this excessive fear about the likely fall of a government has prompted Prime Ministers in India to make compromises with "coalition dharma".

An obvious danger if the Prime Minister is seen yielding to the insistence of a minister in asserting what the minister thinks right is that this will lead to the erosion of the primacy of not only the Prime Minister but chief ministers in states as well. And this will eventually lead to the weakening of the Cabinet system of democracy.

P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra






Lord Curzon, at the turn of the 20th century, aptly described Afghanistan as "a piece on the chess board on which is being played out the game for domination of the world". At that time, the Great Game was being played between Czarist Russia and Imperialist Britain. In the last century, the contestants were the USSR and the US. The latter chose the dangerous weapon of religious fundamentalism in conjunction with Pakistan and promoted Taliban. At one time the Pashtuns under Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were secular and non-violent, but now they have become most radical Islamists. With generous funding from the US and support from Pakistan, they forced the then Soviet Union to quit Afghanistan. The Nineties saw oppressive Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Pakistan supported it and the US turned a Nelson's eye to Taliban misdeeds. The Bamiyan statues, a world heritage, were subjected to bombardment for days and destroyed without any reaction or intervention by the lone superpower. No cruise missiles were fired into Afghanistan, as was done later when a US embassy and a US ship were attacked. The genie had come out of the bottle. The monster struck its benefactor hard on 9/11. Pakistan was forced to join the war against terror under threat of being bombed back to the Stone Age. The US offensive of 2001 in Afghanistan, Enduring Freedom, was a success. Afghanistan was liberated from Taliban misrule. Thousands of Taliban and Pakistan Army personnel in civilian clothes were encircled in Kunduz. The US organised a massive airlift for them, evacuating them to Pakistan. Therein lay the genesis of the present trouble facing the US, accentuated by the misconceived US diversion to Iraq. Those evacuated in 2001 became the hard core now operating from havens in Pakistan against the US and its allies in Afghanistan. American aid of billions to Pakistan is being used to fund the Taliban and build Pakistan's military strength for operations against India. This has led to an absurd situation. US funds are being utilised to kill US soldiers in Afghanistan. The Chinese presence in Gilgit-Baltistan and their interest in the rich mineral resources of Afghanistan have further complicated matters.

Pakistan has been playing a double game, attacking selective terrorist outfits that affect its security and simultaneously covertly supporting the Taliban in their havens in Pakistan. US logistics convoys enroute to Afghanistan from Karachi have been repeatedly attacked in Pakistan. Yet the US continues to give billions as aid to Pakistan.

Last year there was much talk of "good" and "bad" Taliban. The US tried to strike a deal with the "good Taliban" before quitting Afghanistan. Pakistan's role was crucial. Several rounds of talks were held for months with Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, a senior Taliban commander. He was even brought to Kabul in Nato aircraft from Quetta and had meetings with Afghan President Hamid Karzai and top US commanders and was given sizeable sums of money. It was later discovered that he was an impostor — a shopkeeper in Quetta. Mullah Omar, the top Taliban leader sheltered in Pakistan, issued a statement denying any talks at any level with the US. After this fiasco there is now no talk of "good Taliban"

General Sir Peter Wall, the British Army Chief, was invited by the United Services Institution to give a talk on Afghanistan. I was presiding over the function and introduced the topic, giving the background described in the earlier paragraphs. Gen. Wall gave a good military exposition of the operations being conducted in Afghanistan by the International Security Assistance Force. Military operations are achieving results but improvised explosive devices pose a major problem. The Afghan National Army has been expanded from 2,000 to 100,000 and will be 400,000 strong by 2014. It is being increasingly employed to fight the militants with the international force operating in its support. Eventually they should be capable to operate on their own, allowing the international force to pull out. Concurrently, massive economic development and improvements in quality of governance are being carried out. He projected an optimistic picture. Without mentioning the K word, he stated it was necessary to resolve regional problems in South Asia for success in Afghanistan.
The aim of building an economically developed Afghanistan, one with good governance and capable of ensuring its own security, is indeed laudable. However, there are certain aspects that have to be kept in mind. Corruption undermines both development and governance. Despite all aid from the US, Chiang Kai-shek's forces were thrown out of mainland China due to rampant corruption. Apart from professional competence, the Afghan National Army's loyalty and discipline must not be allowed to be subverted by the Taliban's ideology. No doubt economic development is a battle-winning factor in counter-insurgency. However, its effectiveness gets greatly diluted by religious fundamentalism. Per capita Central aid to Kashmir has been 10 to 11 times more than other states in India. Thus, people below the poverty line in Kashmir constitute 3.7 per cent against the national average of 26 per cent, and in some states as high as 36 per cent. Yet, this has hardly had any effect on anti-India feelings among separatists in the Valley.

In view of Gen. Wall's veiled reference to Kashmir, I was prompted to compare the situation in Afghanistan with Kashmir. The population in both at one time believed in liberal Islam — Khudai Khidmatgars in one case and deep-rooted Sufism in the other. Religious fundamentalism has now brought about a metamorphosis. They both face cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, which itself is reeling under extremist violence.
Both Afghanistan and Kashmir have multi-ethnic populations, Kashmir being also multi-religious. Violence in Kashmir has been largely contained but the same cannot be said of Afghanistan. The insurgency in both cases is confined primarily to one ethnic group — Pashtuns in Afghanistan and the Valley Muslims in Kashmir. Though they are the largest ethnic group in their respective states, they do not constitute a majority. The insurgency in Afghanistan is directed against foreign powers. In Kashmir it is against a country with which Kashmir has had cultural, civilisational and political links for thousands of years and of which it is an integral part. The victory of insurgency in Afghanistan or in Kashmir will be a shot in the arm for those who espouse international jihad. It will undermine all liberal values, including those of Islam. Islamists and Islam are different from each other. The recent assassination of governor Salman Taseer in Pakistan and what followed show the grave danger humanity faces from Islamists. The US is a prime target of Al Qaeda. Minaret and burqa controversies have erupted in Europe. Fears of "Eurabia" haunt the world. Pakistan is imploding under the weight of extremism. India is engaged in Kashmir to uphold secular values and her national integrity. In so doing, she is also serving an international cause. Countries that advocate India coming to terms with religious fundamentalism in Kashmir are harming their own long-term interests and those of the international community.

The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir








Today is Mahashivratri and I'm grabbing the opportunity to underline what I adore about Lord Shiva. Yes, he's the Destroyer, but he is also revered as a God easily pleased - and I love that he's known by his empathy for animals. Cobras twine benignly round his neck, his stead is the valiant Nandi. In fact, Mohenjodaro's legendary Pashupati seal depicts him surrounded by our furry friends. The message: life in harmony with nature and other creatures.


Would it be so difficult for environment and forests minister Jairam Ramesh to set an example, attempt to emulate this perspective? If reports over the last week are anything to go by, efforts may well be on. Firstly, Ramesh's Rs46,000 crore 10-year afforestation plan, 'Green India Mission', has apparently got the PM's okay. The government will therefore apparently increase spend on forestry by 55% from the current Rs8,500 crore a year.


The environment ministry has also asked governments to identify and propose eco-sensitive areas around national parks and wildlife sanctuaries, to the delight of conservationists, who stress the importance of such buffer zones along ecological corridors.


In the light of a recent survey that pegs a frightening 16 lakh tonnes of carbon dioxide as being emitted by vehicles annually in Mumbai alone, there is a desperate need for the life breath of green cover.


The land mafia is anyway depleting green zones with alarming regularity, if PILs filed in city are to be believed.


Then, for our furry friends: Ramesh has proposed to amend the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act to check unregulated pet trade in India. Something long overdue.


In any case, our relationship with animals around us is best described as uneasy. We'd like to see them in the aquarium or zoo, but should any transgress our ever-shifting geographical boundaries (leopards and the like in suburban colonies), we panic. I say 'ever-shifting' because both in Maharashtra and other states, the constant intrusion of man into jungle areas is a conservationist's nightmare.


In Gir, I witnessed first-hand, villagers attempting to scare off a lioness and her brethren who'd entered fields bordering the jungle. The villagers were at reach-out-and-touch distance, and the animals did not look amused. Local papers at the time spoke of lion attacks. But what do you expect? The jungle is not the villagers' territory, it's the lions'. Farmlands are increasingly infiltrating that space. Put yourself in the lions' place - who's the intruder?


In Mumbai last year, the elephant Laxmi at the zoo killed a man who apparently stole into her enclosure late at night. What would you do, if someone stole into your space, late night, in the same manner?


Both the aquarium and the zoo, in any case, leave much to be desired in animal upkeep. Last time I visited the city aquarium with my mom and toddler daughter, all three of us cried - my daughter because she didn't want to leave, my mom and I because the fish tanks looked unbelievably dirty and much too small for the bigger creatures.


The zoo, meanwhile, is caught in the quagmire of political dillydallying. Reports a few months ago, noted how

the ancient rhino, incidentally called Shiva, was intensely frustrated, still to find a mate because authorities

could not decide whether to let him travel or whether to borrow a mate from another state.


In so dismal a scenario, where animals are dependant on our interest in their welfare, Ramesh's proposal on their behalf can be viewed as a welcome and necessary step. Hopefully, there will be more such to follow.


As for the afforestation bid, better late than never — 2011 has already been declared the International Year of

Forests by the UN. And then, they say that Shiva has always been a God, easily pleased.








Chief Minister's address to the Joint District Development Boards has to be more than mere routine; its underlying idea is to update the knowledge and administrative application of new initiatives for development. This has been a recurring practice, and, by and large, old rhetoric is repeated tirelessly. The District Development Commissioners are repeatedly exhorted to ensure completion of projects within stipulated time, utilize funds efficiently for the projects approved and evaluate and report the goals achieved. Despite all these gratifying persuasions, most of our rural public is seen deprived of basic necessaries of life. Year after year along with new demands of development and improvement of the standard of living, incompletion of projects in hand is brought to the notice of the authorities. Equitable development has remained elusive and disparities among various sections of people are glaring. The government has established norms of equitable distribution of funds among the regions and sub-regions. A variety of factors constitute the norms; these are the topography, demography, connectivity, resource richness or paucity, artisan manpower and many other things. On these counts no two districts of any one of the three regions can be expected to be treated within the strict norm of equality. It is logical, and has to be accepted as a reality. But we have found that some regions and sub-regions have been complaining for long against discrimination and step-motherly treatment. At times passions are raised high on true or false sense of discrimination. It can vitiate the atmosphere of harmony and coexistence among various sections of people. Transparency in allocation of developmental funds, identifying developmental projects, ensuring time- bound completion of approved projects and induction of dependable technology in constructional projects, and finally ensuring time-bound completion of projects in hand are all vital in neutralizing the sense of discrimination. In a multi-ethnic, multi-linguistic and multi-cultural society like ours in J&K State, maintaining equitable development is more crucial to harmonious relationship among the people. For example the kandi areas of Jammu region need access to water resources because that is of vital importance to the survival of people in these areas. In the same way more avenues of employment for the unemployed in Ladakh and Kargil areas are of vital importance because of non-existence of such industries as could have the capacity of absorbing work force. Again take the example of connectivity in the Valley. Laying new roads and extending connectivity to unconnected villages in Kashmir valley is easier than in the kandi areas of Jammu. This explains why strictly equitable distribution of funds cannot be a reality despite the facts that we all want it. But equitable development is different from equal development, and the Chief Minister has been right in making distinction between the two. The most crucial factor in ensuring equitable development is of accountability. Not only the District Development Commissioners but also the entire state developmental apparatus is individually as well as collectively responsible for the improvement and development of their respective districts. At the moment there exists no foolproof mechanism to ensure accountability. The Government's duty is to ask why and how of a project that could not be brought to completion within the stipulated time. It is not only by way of reprimanding the concerned authority but more for awareness of Government agencies about what are the obstructions and how these can be overcome. Development is a continuing process, and with each stage covered, new stages appear on the horizon. Once the fundamental philosophy of equitable distribution of developmental funds is understood and adhered to, complaints of discrimination will fade away sooner than later. Development Commissioners will be accountable and answerable to the Chief Minister only when the Chief Minister is accountable to the people.






There appears a change of heart in Islamic Brotherhood, Egypt's Islamic party that was banned by the deposed President Hosni Mubarak for fear of its role in fueling Islamic movement in Egypt and elsewhere. The Brotherhood has approached Indian ambassador in Cairo that India help holding free and fair elections in Egypt for installing a democratic government when time comes. It is an indirect tribute to India, the world's largest democracy, for her experience and conviction in consolidating the power of the people. Even the US Minister of State, Hilary Clinton is reported to have talked to the Indian foreign minister in this behalf. India will naturally take the request in its stride knowing that relations with Egypt during Hosni regime were not that cordial. If New Delhi accepts to play a role when time comes, it should be only to prove its conviction in establishing democracy in the Arab State and not claim it a point over its adversary. The Brotherhood is trying to give a proof of its desire of bringing a democratic government in Egypt, which could be a precursor to similar role in other Arab states now on the verge of shifting from despotism to dictatorship. India must give a good account of her in this important area and play a role in democratizing entire Muslim world to the great benefit of their masses. India has a stake in democratic Arab world where no fewer than four million Indians are working at the moment. The entire gamut of Indo-Arab relationship has to be bought on a new philosophy and approach. Even the United States would become a backbench supporter to the process. This role will be far more useful and result-oriented than the non-alignment with which India got stuck up for too long a time and with little gain.








Budget presented by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee is generally in the right direction. Its limitations are mainly due to the Congress ideology.

Relief has been provided to income tax payers. Basic exemption has been raised from Rs 1,60,000 to Rs 1,80,000. Surcharge payable by companies on corporation tax has been reduced. This reduction in income taxes will leave more money in the hands of the people. Part of this saving will go into investments. The Finance Minister has simultaneously increased excise and customs duties. Excise duty is paid by domestic manufacturers while customs duty is paid by importers. These duties are added to the sale price of the goods and ultimately paid by the consumer. The combined effect of these measures is that people will save in income tax and pay more for the goods consumed. Those who earn more but consume less will gain. Those who earn less and consume more will lose. This is giving a message that people should earn more and consume less. This policy is in the right direction.

The Finance Minister has reduced excise- and customs duties on selected environment-friendly goods. Import of hydrogen-fuelled cars will attract lower customs duty. Import of equipment used in the manufacture of hybrid cars has been made easier. These cars store the energy lost during application of brake and use the same later. Excise duty has been reduced on CFL lamps. These measures indicate that the Finance Minister is concerned about the environment. This is good. But there is need to go further. We must examine why the environment is deteriorating. Thermal power companies and ore exporters are destroying forests. Hydro power companies are destroying our rivers. Everywhere we can see the environment sacrificed on the high pedestal of economic growth. The Finance Minister has done nothing to stop this mad pursuit of growth. He has only tried to cover up this madness by making small gestures towards preservation of the environment like providing relief to CFL lamps. This will not do. It was necessary to impose and 'environment tax.' Every manufacturing industry should be subjected to an environment audit and the environment damage perpetrated by it should be calculated in money terms. This amount should be collected from the industries. Such an environment tax will spontaneously goad the companies into adopting environment-friendly technologies. This will bring the environment discourse in the mainstream economic activity. Instead of taking such a bold measure the Finance Minister has satisfied himself with minor tinkering.

The Finance Minister has provided encouragement to inflow of foreign capital in our share markets. Domestic Mutual Funds have been allowed to receive investments from Foreign Institutional Investors. Limits on sale of bonds by Indian companies to Foreign Investors have also been raised. These measures will help attract more foreign capital into our share markets. Our companies can use this money to compete with Multinationals. They will be able to face competition from imported goods. This is welcome. Also noteworthy is the absence of any encouragement to Foreign Direct Investment. FDI directly competes with our companies and attempts to kill them while FII helps them rise. The Finance Minister's encouragement to FII is welcome.

The Finance Minister had announced in the last budget that the Government will move towards providing fertilizer subsidy in cash directly to the farmers. If I recollect correctly, there was talk of starting a pilot project. The Finance Minister has remained strangely silent on this in the present budget. However, he has made a similar announcement that cash transfers in lieu of kerosene subsidy will be considered. I doubt if the Finance Minister will be able to implement this. The bureaucracy is wholly against cash transfers because the Government employees will lose their goodies. The welfare state has become a welfare mafia. Subsidies in education, health, child welfare, etc. are being used to create and pamper a huge bureaucracy that provided substandard service, if any service is provided at all. The purpose of the government is to create a façade of welfare while pushing the interests of government employees who have become the mainstay of the state. Need was to provide cash subsidies in lieu of all welfare expenditures such as fertilizer, food, kerosene, education, health, anganwadi, mid-day meals, etc. My calculations show that an amount of Rs 2,000 per month can be paid to all households in the country-including BPL and APL households-from the money presently being spent on these welfare schemes. Giving this cash subsidy to all households will remove the incentive to remain in BPL category. Unfortunately the bureaucracy is not willing to give cash subsidy because it will lose its goodies. The Finance Minister will have to take a hard decision and force the bureaucracy to implement this.

Negative points of the budget are inherent in the Congress ideology. Game plan is to first give freedom to big businesses and make monies in the process. This is followed by obtaining blessings of countries like the United States whose multinational corporations are itching to enter the country. The people lose their jobs and the environment is destroyed in the process. The trick is to cover this up by providing small reliefs like in Employment Guarantee Programme and excise duty reduction on CFL lamps. The people believe that the government is taking good care of them while actually they are being bled. The ideology is to create huge government machinery that is loyal to the state and willing to suppress the people who oppose this bleeding of their incomes and environment. This bureaucracy is used to suppress people's movements. Various superficial welfare programmes like increase in salaries of anganwadi workers and old age pension have been made under this game plan. The Finance Minister said in his opening paras of the budget that challenge is to successfully implement the welfare programmes. He said that there is a need to evaluate the outcomes of the programmes. But there is no follow-up on this in the budget. Similar statements have routinely been made in previous budgets. I believe that most welfare programmes will be proven to be waste if a true study is made. It was desirable to close down all the welfare programmes and provide the monies to the beneficiaries in cash.
The Finance Minister has provided higher amount of loans at concessional rates of interest to microfinance institutions, self-help groups and farmers. This appears good at first sight. The reality is different, however. Lower interest rates lead to a reduction in cost of production. This is soon followed by a reduction in the market price of the produce. The consumer gets goods at lower price while the producer is left with burden of loan repayment with no benefit. The correct approach was to implement policies that led to increase in price of goods produced by the poor. The budget is wholly silent on this because the Congress ideology has no place for real relief to the poor. Leaving these ideological issues aside, the budget makes slow progress in the right direction.







Overall, the budget announce by the Finance Minister is a very low key budget that has not given great cheer to any particular sector except for Agriculture and Infrastructure. But to give credit to the FM, this focus on these two most critical sectors will only mean that in the longer term all of us get to benefit from better Food stability and Better infrastructure.

The main impetus of the budget is to improve the growth rate and get it to 9 percent in the near term and to a double digit rate in the medium to longer term. The other two areas of focus are Infrastructure development especially in Rural India and Improving Governance by shoring up Systems and bringing stricter control on institutions.

Key points of the budget:

The government is very keen on ensuring that inflation is curbed and food security is ensured for all citizens.
In regard to food items since inefficient distribution has been found to be the culprit for the sky rocketing of food prices, the FM has proposed to focus on reducing Production and Distributions bottlenecks. Hopefully Food, vegetables, Meat etc will show an easing of prices in the medium term future.

Education has received special treatment. A higher allotment of funds in the form of over 24% hike as compared to last year for the Education Sector. This promises vast expansion of education vertically as well as horizontally.

More modernization of the taxation system is being mooted. A new form called "SUGAM" will make it easier for small tax payers to file their returns. This is to boost tax receipts without many hassles.
A miniscule hike of Rs 20000 in the exemption limit for tax payers has been introduced.

The older citizens can feel happy as the FM has decreased the income tax "senior citizen" definition from age 65 to age 60 thus giving a big benefit to those born between 1946-1951. And for those who survive all the hardships of life and live to be over 80 they get a higher limit.

Deduction of Rs 20000 for infrastructure bonds has been retained.

The direct taxes code has been proposed to be implemented from Aril 1, 2012. This has been in the offing for quite some time and is expected to make taxation simpler. The wait continues.

Direct transfer of Cash subsidy will be given to people below poverty line so that delivery of Kerosene, LPG and fertilizers happen in a more efficient and accountable manner
Selling off PSU's: Continuing the focus on divesting government stakes in Public Sector Undertakings the FM has proposed to look at raising Rs 40000 Crores from divestment in 11-12
Foreign Investment: The business environment is set to improve for Foreign companies as the government is looking at further liberalizing the FDI policy. More Foreign Direct Investment can only be good for the economy. Way to go...

Investment in infrastructure will go up since FII investment in corporate bonds has been raised. Better roads,

Bridges are on their way.

Housing Loan: Loan limit has been enhanced to Rs 25 Lakh for housing under priority sector lending. Interest subsidy (subvention) of 1% on housing loan has been liberalized. People in the lower financial spectrum to get benefit from Mortgage Risk Guarantee Fund.

Agriculture: Higher allotment under Rashtriya Krishi Vikas Yojana of Rs 7860 Crores could see more support for the agriculture sector. Special focus is on vegetables in the form of Rs 300 crore for vegetable initiative. Agriculture credit too raised to Rs 475, 000/- crores. Happier farmers could mean lower prices for the common man. Focus on Cold Chains and Storage could also lead to efficiency and in return reduction in prices and better quality vegetables reaching our kitchens.

Rs 214000 Crores has been allotted for infrastructure for 2011-12 which is an increase of over 23% over the last year. We can see better highways and transport systems in the near future which could lead to reduction in inflation in the longer term.

There was a big row on whether the government will take concrete steps to bring back the enormous black money from foreign banks. As expected the FM has taken note of the hue and cry over Black Money. Many new initiatives have been mooted to bring back black money in circulation.
Air travel and Medical aid to cost more: Service tax on air travel has been hiked. Hospitals with over 25 beds will have to pay tax on all services. So those posh hospitals could be giving you higher bills in the coming year.








Many countries of the Middle-East are currently rocked by the people's protests demanding regime change and political reforms. The awakened public now wants the autocrats, dictators and despots to step down. The "intelligent" rulers of Egypt and Tunisia timely left the thrones in exchange for their lives. But the strange Libyan dictator Col. Muammar Qaddafi has refused to step down until his last breath. For fulfilling this ambition, he is even ready to destroy the nation. And this is the reason that even in the last moments of his rule, Qaddafi has appealed to his numbered supporters to attack the protesters and crush them like "cockroaches". One can imagine if Qaddafi can do such things at a time when his days are numbered, what he could have done with the opponents and dissidents when he used to rule the roost in Libya.

However, this call of aggression by Qaddafi has little effect on people, though some of them became victims of the violence unleashed by his police, army and hired mercenaries. But since Qaddafi has now crossed all limits of morality, his supporters are gradually dumping him. Libya's Home Minister has left Qaddafi. Many other ministers are following suit. A major part of the army is also against Qaddafi. Near a dozen Libyan ambassadors and diplomats have resigned in protest against Qaddafi. Indifference of the State, widespread public outcry and Qaddafi's stubbornness to remain stuck to the chair has created the environment of a potential civil war in Libya. If any large scale violence breaks out in such circumstances, only Qaddafi would be responsible for that. The international community is deeply concerned by the turmoil in Libya. Moreover, the prices of crude oil have skyrocketed due to the ongoing disturbance in the Middle-East.

The spate of people's demands for regime change is presently limited only to the Muslim populous countries. This wave of change is being looked at in different perspectives. While in some countries the majority Shia community is demanding removal of a minority Sunni dictator, in other places people are against the puppet ruler of America. While people of some countries are fed up by the inefficient and corrupt despots, at some places they are trying to dethrone the monarchs and establish democracy. It can be said that people in every country of the Middle-East have their share of problems. A misconception promoted since centuries has been that democracy is incompatible with the Islam and the followers of Islam only love monarchy or dictatorship. This revolution has also shut the mouths of such propagandist fundamentalists. This revolution has proved that by and large the Muslim society is not only democratic but also non-violent.

Amidst this people's revolution in the Middle-East, many political analysts are guessing whether such kind of situation can arise in India? The reason behind this thinking is that even after 64 years of freedom, India is struggling with the problems of poverty, hunger, unemployment, illiteracy, corruption and scams. Maoism or Naxalism is deepening its roots very fast. For this too, poverty, hunger, unemployment, ignorance and injustice are responsible. There is no doubt that the common man in India is unhappy with the prevailing administrative system. Every minute a debt ridden farmer commits suicide. More than half of our children are malnourished. Officers of the elite Civil Service, Indian Administrative Service, are either shot dead or burnt alive by the mafias, or kidnapped by the Maoists. In the name of corruption, opposition parties are not letting the Parliament to function. Inflation is at an all time high.

People are losing faith in political parties, leaders and the system. Common man can be heard saying that the laws are only for poor while the rich and influential easily manage to escape the law. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself has admitted this fact. The former President APJ Abdul Kalam also expressed this concern that instead of smile, there is sadness on the faces of the people. Nothing strange if some analysts are worried of potential outburst by the people, influenced by the change in the Middle-East. Notwithstanding that India is the world's largest democracy; people are equally worried about the future of their family and children as their Middle-Eastern counterparts.

But thanks to our founding fathers and constitution makers, they have woven such a political system, as a result of which the people of India are divided into hundreds of political parties, ideologies, classes, regions etc. Indian Army is constituted on similar lines- disciplined and segmented, so that our politicians can concentrate on their power. On the other hand, by hiding the ground realities, our politicians repeatedly pat their own backs by telling the world that we are the world's biggest and the most successful ideal democracy. But they should not be indifferent to the reality that people have a threshold for everything. Awakened society can't tolerate for long the fear, poverty, hunger and uncertainty about the future of their children. If India wants to maintain the tag of being the world's largest democracy, it will have to deal with the basic needs and problems of the people as soon as possible. Otherwise, the winds of change start blowing anywhere anytime.










Helping the poor makes for good politics even if it may not please those used to calculating cash returns on capital. After the NDA's "India Shining" slogan backfired in the 2004 general election the UPA has been focussing on inclusive growth. Its budgets have allocated liberal funds for schemes to help the rural poor. However, the 2011-12 Union Budget has cut spending on some social sector schemes and earmarked less for subsidies to show fiscal deficit within the manageable limit of 4.6 per cent of the GDP in the next fiscal. Social sector spending, subsidies and interest payments account for about 45.5 per cent of the total budgetary outlay.


Pranab Mukherjee's three priorities are: agriculture, education and health. No one can question this. The grouse, if any, is that the Finance Minister has not done enough. Agriculture employs 60 per cent of the population and it has got 2.6 per cent higher allocation over last year. Though education has got 24 per cent more funds, the need is to encourage private sector participation since the government alone cannot meet the needs of a fast-growing young population. Despite a 20 per cent hike for health, the spending is woefully inadequate: about 1 per cent of the GDP. This should be raised at least three times.


What Pranab Mukherjee has provided is not enough to implement in the right spirit the right to national food security, the right to education and access to affordable healthcare. The allocation to a major initiative of the UPA — the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act – has been reduced by Rs 100 crore this year. The outlay for the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna has been cut to Rs 280 crore from Rs 446 crore in the 2010-11 budget. Experts point to an under-provisioning for the food, oil and fertilizer subsidies. The budget has provided Rs 20,000 crore less for the three subsidies than what was available in the current year. Given the uncertainty on the oil front, any hike in its global price could unsettle the Finance Minister's calculations. Making funds available is one part of the job. The other more difficult part is to deliver what is proposed.









Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee made a reference to goddess Laxmi before tabling the Budget 2011-12 on Monday. And then he forgot about the centrality of women to a dynamic economic activity. By not offering special tax concessions to women, he seemed to have recognised the equal status earned by a small community of women who pay income- tax. At the same time, he ignored a large community that requires special impetus to achieve economic independence in a male-dominated economy.


To begin with, the assessment of the gender budgeting statement brought out by the government shows that the total allocations earmarked for women, as a proportion of the total Union Budget outlay has gone up marginally from 6.1 per cent in 2010-11 to 6.2 per cent in 2011-12. This, by no means, can be considered adequate for women who constitute half the population and emerge a strong political force. No new interventions have been introduced for women from the most marginalized sections; the tribal and the minority. Schemes meant for working women; like hostels, training and employment programmes such as women's ITIs, Swadhar and Priyadarshini have all registered a decline in allocations from last year, despite the fact that 70 per cent funds were utilised by Swadhar. Last year, it was announced that fund allocation for Rashtriya Mahila Kosh, the prime government body that offers micro- credit to women, will be raised from Rs 100 crore to Rs. 500 crore. This year, too, it was announced that the corpus will be raised to Rs 500 crore.


The silver-lining appears for aanganwadi workers whose salaries have been doubled. About 29 lakh credit-linked women self- help groups that depend on micro-finance institutions (MFIs) got some relief as the Finance Minister announced an equity-linked fund of Rs 100 crore for MFIs. Though, how it is going to work is to be seen in the wake of absence of any regulatory body for MFIs. The worst hit by the rising inflation, the housewife, received no relief from this budget. Adding to her woes, travel and eating-out will cost more.









Many Punjabi girls have gone missing and the state government has failed in its duty to trace them and help them. It took an RTI query filed by a concerned citizen from Patiala to bring to light some shocking statistics that reveal that the police has registered cases that show that 781 girls have been missing in the past decade. Contrary to what would be expected, the police seem to have made no special efforts to trace the missing girls, and the lack of coordination between various jurisdictions and forces, is as evident as it is unfortunate.


Women are often treated as second-class citizens, in homes, as well in society at large. Girl children face discrimination before they are born, often after their birth. The region has the dubious history of killing unborn daughters though sex-selective abortion. Over the years, the ratio of females to 1,000 male children has been plummeting, and has sounded alarm bells not only within the nation, but internationally too. In case, they manage to come into the world, its still tough going for the girl child. Discrimination persists. It is a fact that many girls are not allowed to go to attend schools where their brothers go. Even if they do, household chores are given to them, leading to their dropping out. It is this attitude that seems to have reflected even in cases where concerned parties have filed reports of missing women.


The state government has shown a dismal degree of apathy in making proper efforts to trace these missing women. What is wrong must be set right. It is time that the state government takes notice of this serious problem and gives responsibility to a senior officer to take charge and consolidate and coordinate the effort of the police force in finding the missing girls.










When the Raymond Davis story first broke, many observers instinctively predicted that the inglorious incident would be brushed aside. And it was not unreasonable to presume that events would return to an even keel. It is now well known that American and Pakistani high officials have been operating under a tacit and cozy arrangement that has enabled US security and intelligence personnel to undertake reconnaissance and surveillance missions across Pakistan and to execute targeted assassinations against irredentist Islamists and insurgents in the borderlands between Afghanistan and Pakistan. The apparent deniability around the drone strikes programme on Pakistan's western frontiers had always allowed the Pakistani state and elite to proclaim the rhetoric of sovereignty, but which has really been a fiction all along.


The extraordinary upsurge in Pakistani nationalist sentiment over the Davis double-murder issue is an expression of a people's feelings and the elite struggling to come to terms with a highly asymmetric arrangement with its principal benefactor.


Arguably, three reasons make the Davis case unique, thus meriting further attention. First, normally, such a virulent reaction is reserved for India-centric issues, where Pakistan's rulers ratchet up an issue to buttress their sovereignty by rallying street opinion around an anti-India image. Second, what makes this case interesting is that the public backlash occurred despite all initial attempts by both governments to suppress the incident. This is quite unlike the manufactured and token resistance that the Pakistani regime usually invokes to extract more favourable quid pro quos from Washington.


Third, this issue has little to do with ideology or Islamisation either in society or in the Pakistani state apparatus gaining the upper hand. The issue at its heart is a nationalistic the backlash by a people who have been kept excluded from the elite arrangement between the US and Pakistan in the war on terror and who have disproportionately borne the collateral damage from that covert war. Pakistan's civilian and military rulers, who had become adept at embellishing the quasi-sovereign reality of the post-9/11 Pakistan, have been finally confronted with collateral damage from the Davis affair, which has left a taint that is proving difficult to wipe clean.


It is logical to pose the question whether US-Pakistani relations have reached an inflexion point?


The commentary emanating from India has been predictable. The reaction here is a combination of schadenfreude — the pleasure derived from finding the Pakistani regime in an embarrassing soup — to a fixation with the maze of espionage enterprises in Pakistan. A minority might have expressed its empathy for the plight of the common Pakistani who is caught between an imperious sponsor and its incompetent and diabolical proxy, but such sentiment remains confined largely to the private sphere.


While it is rarely articulated in such precise terms, the psychology of the Pakistani feudal and military elite and its inherent ideological prejudice against the secular Indian nation state implied that a faustian bargain with America has always been preferable to forging a modus vivendi or even an entente with India. The relationship with Washington is perceived to supply an invaluable lifeline to the Pakistani elite that has persuaded itself to continue with its absurd and self-destructive ambition to seek parity with India. And the severity of the inequality in US-Pakistan relations and the attendant costs that accompany it are deemed justified to serve that end.


The relationship with Washington has also been the only recourse to preserving the distorted political economy and power structure of Pakistan that has enabled so few to rule so many via an enduring feudal-military compact sustained and nourished by Washington. Not unlike the sponsored and now tottering regimes of the Middle East and North Africa.


The Davis issue has brought the people — the common Pakistani — back into the foreground as an important variable of political life in the subcontinent. It is perhaps an indication of how authoritarian and elitist, and, perhaps, even cynical the mainstream discourse around South Asian politics has become that something as obvious as the relevance of the people's voice requires emphasis. The Pakistani elite has discovered this the hard way.


Is there any cue that India might take from the Davis imbroglio to further its interests in the region? There are two ways that India might react. It can either decide to remain wedded to a stale narrative that focuses on a superficial indictment of Pakistan without actually following that up with a strategy to influence the calculus of the incumbent actors, or it can explore a path never treaded — where people, rather than elites, become the object of India's attention.


India must seriously introspect on what it truly seeks within Pakistan. Does it desire a perpetuation of a farcical democratic status quo with the feudal-military superstructure at its apex even if this configuration of power produces a managed equilibrium in India-Pakistan relations with the occasional recourse to Washington's good offices? Or does India seek a sincere democratisation in a federal multi-ethnic structure of power even if that alters the decades' old logic of the US-Pakistan relationship, and indeed the India-Pakistan equation? It might surprise some that India has for the past decade been pursuing the former path.


To be sure, it would be foolish and even dangerous to think that India can transform Pakistan. That extraordinary feat must be accomplished by the Pakistanis themselves. But India can, as the country most affected by today's and tomorrow's Pakistan, surely begin to contemplate a structure of power within Pakistan that actually involves accommodating the diversity of its people, and, giving that a nuanced policy expression. A tactical fascination with "process" and "engagement" and a dubious narrative that goes something like "beyond the present Pakistani power structure lies an abyss far more tumultuous and dangerous to India and thus requires shoring up the status quo" has ensured that India has missed the wood for the trees.


The Davis issue might exemplify the beginning of the end of an era, whether that emerges in a year or a decade. Irrespective of that, one hopes that if an Indian debate occurs it does not remain an elite endeavour.


The writer is a research fellow at the Centre for Policy Alternatives, New Delhi.









Some years back, public duty took me away from home. From Chandigarh to Cochin. And more than once, purely as a part of the protocol, I was asked to be at the airport to receive the President of India. On one of the occasions, the President was arriving at a time when I was to be on the job. So, a note of regrets and a request to call on His Excellency during lunch was sent. The appointment was fixed. I reached Hotel Taj punctually.


The ADC escorted me to a room. Dr Kalam arrived soon after. During the 20 minutes that I spent with the President, I was face to face with an inquisitive man. A curious mind.


There was a volley of questions. He wanted to know all about the courts, cases and the causes for delay in decisions. Why can't the criminal be convicted promptly within a fixed time? Why does it take years? Why should the courts be making posthumous awards? And on hearing my response, he asked, "Why can we not have more courts? Why do we continue to follow the archaic laws, which are a legacy from the days of the English rule? Why do we not simplify our laws? Why should there be more than one appeal in every case?"


The reactions were quick. Despite the fact that he had never delved in law, each observation was pertinent. Actually, a razor sharp mind.  With the precision of an aerospace engineer. More than that, it was clear that he was always wanting to know more. Willing to change the old rules when required and move forward. People's progress was the dominant desire.


It was evident that the constitutional office of the Head of State — the Governor or the President — is not merely ornamental. Nor is it meant to reward the faithful only. Men of merit matter. They make a difference. If such offices are held by men with ability and integrity, they can lend light even to those on whose aid and advice they are expected to act.


And fortunately, there is no dearth of such men of ability in the country. Man to man, most of us can hold their own against the best in the world.


Yet, we often opt for mediocrity. Merit is invariably sacrificed. Even in matters of appointment to the constitutional offices, irrelevant considerations of caste and creed are seen to creep in. Sadly, we prefer the pliable to the able. When we do that the individual gains but the "office" and the "institution" suffer.


Is that the reason why we are where we are? One of the most corrupt nations of the world.









It was 2 am in the morning on 19 February 2011, the day of the first World Cup match between India and Bangladesh. No fewer than 30,000 people were still celebrating the arrival of the Cup on home soil just outside the Sher-e-Bangla stadium in Mirpur.

It was a sight to soak in, understand what sport can do to a country, its people and its culture. With only a handful of the 30,000 having tickets, the only thing in store for them was a view of the flood lit stadium and the realisation that the World Cup had finally come to Bangladesh. Waving passionately at every car passing by and pushing and shoving their way to plead with every video journalist present to record their actions, this crowd was evidence what cricket means to people across the border.


As I made my way through the crowd in trying to do an ethnography of sorts, not one in the mass of humanity asked for a ticket. For them it was a carnival. The biggest event to have come to Bangladesh had to be celebrated and they were doing so in style. Cricket, it was evident, had cut across all boundaries, socio-cultural and economic.


While passion was at a premium in Bangladesh, cricket business continues to thrive in India. Leading Indian corporates were all present in Bangladesh to leverage their brands and it was evident why the ICC is so overwhelmingly dependant on the Indian market for the game's well being. More than bulk of the in-stadia hoardings were from Indian companies, the Pepsi cheering squad promoting the brand's World Cup campaign had traveled from India and business around the Cup, it was evident, was being led by Indian companies. Much to their satisfaction, India's performance in Dhaka has given the World Cup economy a welcome fillip, borne out by the delight on the face of Hero Honda Chief Pawan Munjal in Dhaka.


Munjal, one of the key partners of the ICC, was slightly apprehensive to start with as India was asked to bat by Shakib-al-Hasan. However, once the Indian openers got going the apprehension gave way to confidence. When asked what the total score could be like, Munjal said in zest, "With Yusuf still to come, anything can happen." Having spent millions in backing the World Cup, he had every reason to feel satisfied. World Cup 2007, after all, is still raw in the minds of the corporate and they are fully aware that return on investment is directly proportional to India's on field performance.


And this is what brings me to the central difference between the World Cup and the Commonwealth Games. While both are mega events of unprecedented proportion, the World Cup, it must be acknowledged, is a pan-Indian event while the Delhi Commonwealth Games, despite being bigger in scale and many times more costlier, was centred around Delhi and the NCR region. India and Indians across the country had not embraced the Commonwealth Games in totality and there was a disconnect between what was happening in Delhi and what was happening in the rest of India.


For an average Indian in Mumbai or Kolkata, a trip to Delhi to watch the CWG was not an option. The World Cup is different. But several thousand fans from Kolkata had travelled to Dhaka to watch the action.


With India doing well in cricket, Olympic sports will find it extremely difficult to compete for the same pots of money. It will either be the World Cup or rather the IPL or even a bilateral series but not certainly hockey or athletics for the sponsors. This point is also driven home by a cursory glance at the list of sponsors for the World Cup and the Delhi Games.


While the World Cup has Pepsi, Hero Honda, Reliance and other private sector giants spending millions, the entire sponsorship garnered by the CWG OC was from public sector units. Central Bank, Indian Railways, NTPC, Air India and others had little option but to come forward and bail out the country at a time when it was hosting the biggest ever sporting extravaganza on Indian soil.


This anomaly between cricket and Olympic sports extends to the stars as well. Barring Leander Paes, Mahesh Bhupathi, Saina Nehwal, Sania Mirza, Vijender Singh, Abhinav Bindra, Gagan Narang and Vishwanathan Anand, no other Olympic sporting great is a draw with the sponsors. And none of them command the kind of money paid to Sachin Tendulkar or MS Dhoni.


In fact, a Piyush Chawla, still finding his feet in the Indian team, makes more money than Anand or Leander, men who will go down in history as two of the best India has ever produced. It is this that explains the interest in the Cup across the country and the lukewarm response to the 2010 Delhi Commonwealth Games.


Two points of caution, however, need to be introduced here. The first is that the size of the Indian cricket market has not grown in proportion to the game itself. Sponsors now have many more options than earlier, making it difficult for cricket, as a phenomenon, to thrive all the time. This explains why the BCCI failed to find a sponsor for India's under 19 team and also India's women's team. It also explains why many of the IPL teams are struggling to rake in money with many leading brands queuing up for the World Cup or other fancier IPL teams.


With the Indian national team playing for more than 150 days in the year and IPL occupying another 50 days of the calendar, cricket for its own sake, needs to reconcile itself with the threat of saturation. Overall then it must be acknowledged that Indian cricket is passing through one of its most important phases ever. A successful World Cup and cricket's position as the nation's de-facto national sport will have been cemented for at least a decade. Anything to the contrary and things may well be radically different.


This restlessness, a sign of new age India, has indeed turned cricket into a fascinating social lens to understand contemporary Indian society, a complex interplay of nationalist passion and commercial considerations.


The writer is Senior Research Fellow, University of Central Lancashire and General Editor, Sport in the Global Society, Contemporary Perspectives (Routledge)








India is the land of silk and money for international cricketers today, but it was not always so, writes Gulu Ezekiel


The World Cup returning to India for the third time in the span of a quarter of a century cements the position at the top of world cricket's financial pecking order for the Board of Control for Cricket in India.


Estimates vary but it would be fair to say that approximately 70 per cent of cricket's worldwide finances are sourced from the massive Indian market.


This position has been strengthened even further with the advent of the cash-rich Indian Premier League which was launched in 2008.


From the 1960s, cricketers from around the world, particularly, India, Pakistan and the West Indies, flocked to England for county contracts. Today India has become the land of silk and money for the world's top players.


But the picture was not always so rosy.


Kapil Dev and his unheralded team turned things upside down on a glorious summer's day at Lord's in June 1983 in the final of the third Prudential World Cup and that set the ball rolling.


Having fulfilled their task of getting the then-BCCI president (and Union Minister) NKP Salve tipsy on champagne, it was left to captain Kapil Dev and senior statesman Sunil Gavaskar to press home their demands.


Over and above the Rs. 5 lakhs the Board had already promised the team as a whole, they also persuaded Salve to part with a further Rs. one lakh for each team member and the manager, that too tax free.


Today the BCCI is one of the richest sporting bodies in the world, its net worth crossing the $1 billion mark. But back then it did not have enough in its coffers for Salve to fulfil his promise. The problem was solved when Lata Mangeshkar agreed to stage a concert in New Delhi with all the gate-money and royalties from the album going to the players.


That victory led to the World Cup being staged outside of England for the first time when in 1987 it was jointly hosted by India and Pakistan. The money on offer to the participating teams from the hosts was simply irresistible.


By 1996 the die was cast when India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka jointly hosted the Wills World Cup, followed a year later by the ascension of Jagmohan Dalmiya to the International Cricket Council presidency.


Now money, of which the BCCI has truckloads, does not always translate into vision or common sense. This has been proven time and again in relation to the BCCI, with the current World Cup ticketing fiasco and the Eden Gardens scandal only giving ammunition to India's detractors.


So it was that the Indian board came close to boycotting the tournament—opposed as it was then to the whole concept of Twenty-20 cricket-which their team would go on to win. And out of that triumph, a year later, sprang the IPL, bringing in a permanent change in power equations.


India now has the financial clout to repeatedly override the feeble ICC and lord over its member nations, most of whom are happy to feed on the scraps thrown to them?


When Dalmiya took over the ICC presidency in 1997, the world body had about 16,000 Pounds Sterling in its kitty. By the time his term expired five years later, that had grown to $50 million which today has expanded manifold.


And the key to these riches lay in TV rights. With Rupert Murdoch's STAR TV network invading the Indian airwaves in 1992, the monopoly enjoyed by the state broadcaster Doordarshan finally came to an end.


It also gave Dalmiya (at the time BCCI president) and his then comrade-in-arms and board secretary Inderjit Singh Bindra their moment of glory.


That same year Mark McCormack's London-based TV production company Transworld International made an offer the Indian board could not refuse and the pair fought a bitter and ultimately victorious battle against the Indian government to free cricket coverage from the state's clutches. The game has never been the same again.


Today the 10-year telecast deals for the IPL and its offshoot, the Champions League run into billions of dollars. The IPL is already expanding after just three years and the current World Cup promises to be the most lucrative of all. All this wealth has made the BCCI the de facto rulers of world cricket. But its critics allege, power has gone to the heads of the officials who run what is virtually a state within a state


Even as the BCCI takes the paying public for granted, with numbers on its side, there appears to be no looking back. And as far as they are concerned, the rest of the cricket world can either like it or lump it.


The writer is a senior sports journalist and author based in New Delhi.










The one thing you can't say about James Franco – and there is, especially now, an awful lot that can be said about the 32-year-old who does everything – is that he is unintelligent. For outside of being a highly regarded actor, he is also a writer, a student pursuing several degrees, a painter, an installation artist and is all set to hold the directorial megaphone as well.


Time Magazine called Franco the coolest man of 2010, and this might be well because of his maddeningly great range as an actor – just last year he writhed from under a rock in 127 Hours, made out with Julia Roberts in Eat Pray Love, and magnificently played Beat poet Allan Ginsberg in Howl. Then again, this may also be because while taking breaks on the set of uproarious stoner comedy Pineapple Express, where he played a giggly pot dealer, Franco would often be found reading Ulysses and The Iliad. (I'd assume this was more towards his ongoing PhD in Literature at Yale rather than any sort of misplaced elitism.)


In a fascinating feature in New York Magazine (go look it up, do), Sam Anderson described Franco's life as a piece of performance art, using as evidence the fact that this A-list top-rung Hollywood phenomenon currently also appears on one of America's longest running daytime soap operas, General Hospital – where he plays an artist called Franco, one almost as multimedia as himself (Last summer, the fictional Franco held an exhibit in LA; the real Franco, meanwhile, held an exhibit about the fictional one. At the same gallery).


So then before we write off his disastrous turn at The Oscars – various online commentators have justifiably

called Franco apathetic, dead-eyed, disinterested, sloshed or high as a tuxedoed kite – the pertinent question, more than just how unforgivable his performance was (Very, by the way), might be just how intentional it was.

 As James Franco became the only host to live-tweet while he was on stage – he was seen fidgeting with his phone while next to co-host Anne Hathaway, standing by the microphone; a particularly surreal video he posted titled 'in my pocket' is an all-black clip where we can hear Franco applaud and introduce the next presenters – it looked increasingly apparent that he was trying to do a horrible job. Awkward smiles, bad comic timing, slurred words… all while he tweeted inane videos and occasionally tossed a guilty 'oops' chuckle at the camera.

Now I'd call that a performance, one where a tired actor – exhausted of the sudden, intense glare of the spotlight, of cults and groupies, of pressure and nearconstant misinterpretation – decided to pull the plug on his persona. Bombing catastrophically at Hollywood's biggest night would ensure some of the veneration around the Franco halo to dim, and he could go back to directing his William Faulkner adaptation in peace, without being hailed as some sort of mainstream messiah. It's like a rockstar staging his own death.

Think I'm wrong? That maybe he just isn't host material? Watch both his hosting stints on Saturday Night Live. Legendary.

 If, on the other hand, I am right, then this becomes a cautionary tale, one that shows we all need to look at just how far we've taken our obsession with famous people, at how much of a myth we create around them, and at how brutally they can get trapped in their own image.

   Then again, maybe Franco's copy of Finnegan's Wake has all sorts of nakedgirl doodles across the pages. Who's to know? Question is: Should we even want to?



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





Calibrated globalisation used to be the Bharatiya Janata Party's buzz word for doing it differently. Accusing the Congress Party of opening up too fast to external flows, of goods and capital, echoing the worries of the now forgotten "Bombay Club" and mindful of the internal critics like the Swadeshi Jagran Manch, the BJP used to claim that its own model was one of opening up step by step. It is an art that the Congress Party and the government led by it has perfected. This year's budget takes several steps in the direction of external liberalisation. These must be viewed against the background of renewed concerns about external vulnerabilities, beginning with the trans-Atlantic financial crisis and since enhanced by trends in commodity prices and foreign trade. Nursing a ballooning trade deficit and a slightly uncomfortable current account deficit, with renewed concerns about a slowing down of foreign direct investment, the Union budget has opened up on the capital account to facilitate foreign funds inflow. The decision to allow mutual funds registered with the Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) to accept subscriptions into equity schemes from foreign investors who meet the 'know-your-customer' (KYC) norms is an important step towards further infusion of foreign funds into the Indian capital market. It is equally important towards capital account converitibility. Another announcement that also seeks to attract foreign funds into India is the decision to enhance investment limits for foreign institutional investors (FIIs) investing in corporate bonds issued in the infrastructure sector.

The globalisation of the Indian economy is no longer a one-way street. The lowering of the rate of tax on dividends received by an Indian company from its foreign subsidiary to 15 per cent, bringing this in line with global levels, is an important signal to India Inc that the government does not view the outflow of capital from India in a negative light. Rather, it takes a strategic view of such investments and is willing to treat Indian "multinationals" on par with global firms. There has been some caution on the tariff front, with peak rate of customs duty held at the current level. This is not necessarily a product of protectionist timidity, given that India is negotiating free trade agreements even with developed economies like Japan and the European Union. It is more a gesture to Indian business at a time when India's trade deficit is on the rise. That this is so is demonstrated by the decision to reduce basic customs duty on various times aimed at encouraging domestic value addition vis-à-vis imports and remove duty inversion and anomalies that had distorted the tariff structure in manufacturing. Further, the increase in export duty on iron ore is also an industrial policy move rather than a purely trade policy intervention.


 While all this is welcome, the continuation of various industry specific and commodity specific exemptions and imposts suggests that politicians still like to play God and be viewed as dispensers of munificence rather than upholders of good governance. That, unfortunately, is the downside of the theory of 'calibrated globalisation'. It empowers the calibrator! Hence, over time the margin for discretion should be reduced, without necessarily taking away the government's ability to deal with external shocks. That kind of calibration is universal.







In the pre-budget Economic Survey 2010-11, the Union finance ministry made a strong pitch for the pro-growth impact of investment in human capital adding, "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." Given this leading comment, it was only natural that Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee laid special emphasis on the 24 per cent hike in the budgetary allocations for education as a whole and the 40 per cent hike in allocations for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, with total spending of Rs 21,000 crore. Total spending on education in the current fiscal is targeted at Rs 57,660 crore, split between "general education" (Rs 52,000 crore) and "technical education" (Rs 5,660 crore). "school education and literacy" directed towards primary and secondary education has been sanctioned three fourths of the General Education Budget (Rs 38,957 crore) while the rest goes to "higher education" (Rs 13, 100 crore). The decision to target primary and secondary education comes not a day too early. Indian education policy since independence has been justifiably criticised for favouring higher education to the detriment of primary and secondary education. Considerations of equity aside, the neglect of secondary education has had tangible ramifications, most notably impeding the growth of a robust manufacturing sector. It is equally heartening that programmes like the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, launched to universalise education and the Mid-Day Meal Scheme have boosted enrollments and lowered dropout rates in primary schools. The Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (RMSA) launched in response to the increased demand for secondary education indicates an increase in school life (the number of years of education an average student receives).

The 36 per cent increase for technical education is impressive and will clearly have to be persisted with. India lags far behind China in the number of technical training institutes, where imparting technical education was an important element of development strategy. However, it is important to focus on improving the quality of education imparted in technical institutes. Studies across the board have pointed to serious shortcomings in the nature of training, which forces employers to spend considerable resources in retraining fresh hires. The government must avail of offers by the private sector to participate in training, by way of curriculum design, internships and other mentoring programmes so that graduates hit the ground running.


 Both for reasons of economic growth and social mobility and equity, investment in education is vital. Even India's official literacy rate of 70 per cent compares unfavourably with its BRIC peers. While Russia has universal literacy, the corresponding figure for Brazil and China is slightly over 90 per cent. The picture is even less flattering when the absolute number of people without basic literacy is considered. Current expenditures on education at 5 per cent of GDP are comparable in India, China and Brazil, while Russia invests close to 8 per cent of its GDP on education. No modern industrial nation has less than 80 per cent literacy. Thankfully, this Budget fills a bit of the resources gap.








The morning after is bleary eyed. Many might have missed some fine print. Some documents are not available. The server is busy, downloads are all clogged up, and the Finance Ministry has not finished its press briefings. By the next day, the vision is clearer. And most analysts, investors and even economists have had a sound sleep.

So, the response of the financial markets on the second day may be said to be more reliable, and on this the Finance Minister has scored big time. The Sensex has given a twenty one gun salute, and hopefully enough animal spirits have been unleashed to deliver the growth that he hopes for. Or maybe, it is simply the "foreign hand" of the FII's, who are jubilant about the increased access to India's bond and stock markets.



 As is the case with Union Budgets of recent times, the burden of expectations was rather heavy on the shoulders of the finance minister. Specifically, the Budget 2011-12 was expected to address three issues: (a) to provide a strong anti-inflationary stance; (b) to continue to support growth impulses and (c) to take giant steps towards fiscal consolidation.

The budget managed to deliver on all three accounts to varying degrees. The budget anti-inflationary stance has already been applauded on these pages. The main signal was restricting the growth of the size of the Budget deficit to merely 3.4 per cent when national income itself is likely to go up by 15 per cent rupee terms. Secondly, the cost push inflation of an increase in excise tax was avoided. (The Coal Ministry might have taken cues earlier too. Just before the Budget, Coal India announced massive price hikes that will contribute to cost push.)

This reluctance of the FM to roll back the stimulus and restore excise tax rate to 12 per cent from the current 10 per cent was the most surprising silent part of his speech. It was like the dog of Sherlock Holmes, that did not bark. How was it possible to achieve a fiscal deficit sharply down to 4.6 per cent without resorting to the legitimate rate hike in excise? It turns out that this silent bark contains many heroic assumptions regarding revenue and expenditure growth. For instance, fertiliser and oil subsidies are assumed to grow only modestly and tax revenue are assumed to grow at a healthy rate of 18 per cent.

But this is not the place to quibble about these assumptions. For after all the budget is a place to make ambitious plans and stretch targets.

While there was a visible attempt at expenditure control, the treatment of food inflation was not satisfactory. The FM too mentioned in his speech that food inflation is being caused by more incomes of poor people. This is a line being oft repeated. President Bush started it. Our Prime Minister too said that food inflation posed a serious threat to India's growth, and that it was "driven by an increase in the prices of vegetables, fruits, milk, meat, eggs and fish". He said that rising prices are "partly attributable to rising income levels".

The changing patterns of consumption are causing the poor to switch from carbohydrates to more vegetables and proteins. The Reserve Bank of India too calls this the "protein problem" of food prices. The FM said that inefficiencies in the food supply chain were causing a wide disparity in prices received by the farmer, and those paid by the urban consumer.

We need a big shift in the way we manage our production, storage, distribution — indeed the entire supply chain. At this stage many TV viewers sat up, and expected the FM to utter the magic words about FDI in retail. Not that FDI is a magic wand. But it would have been a huge paradigmatic shift.

An unleashing of more animal spirits, to tackle the protein, nay food supply chain problem. But there was no announcement of FDI in retail. We need a very strong supply-side strategy to ensure food security and protein sufficiency, for example, India is already the world's largest milk producer but the yields of our cattle are much lower than of the Dutch. Similarly, while we have remarkable growth in soya production, much of it is going as cattle feed and not into human beings. The same can be said about poultry and egg production. The prospects of overseas corporate farming for pulses, soya and corn need to be fully exploited. India's large coastline and water bodies are hardly contributing to fish form protein. The stigma of import dependence for food protein needs to be abolished forever. One also has to be careful about such assertions because it puts the burden on the demand side. Even the Club of Rome was wrong in its diagnosis of dire world food shortages. In fact, in the early 1970s not only did world food production go up significantly, but food prices were also low and remained stable well upto 2000.

The FM, however, announced Rs 1,500 crore worth of programmes under the national protein supplement mission.To increase milk output, an "Accelerated Fodder Development Programme" aims to improve cattle nutrition. The Budget also has a palm-oil scheme for 60,000 hectares and a plan to build vegetable clusters around major cities. A fifth scheme, continuing from last year, aims at boosting pulses output.

The problem of food inflation, therefore, is not a small, temporary one, but born of a structural shift. It needs an equally large restructuring in response.

Look at onions to understand the challenge. Over the past decade, India has grown three times as many onions, from under five million tonnes to nearing 14 million. Productivity has gone up by almost 60 per cent. But prices, in the same decade, have gone up fivefold, on the back of rampaging demand.

Vibrant growth is essential to make a lasting dent on the problem of inflation. This growth can come only by unleashing animal spirits.








Is Google making us dumb?" About two years ago Nicholas Carr had asked this question in an Atlantic Monthly essay. It struck such a chord that I immediately quoted it to my class of students at Mudra Institute of Communication (MICA). The idea was to push them to research harder and look for sources of information beyond the usual aggregators such as Google.

There is now a huge body of work by various Western scholars and experts on how consuming information and entertainment on new media devices, chips away at the ability to "read, concentrate and reflect", to quote Carr. While actual empirical evidence — research studies for instance — are piling up, the anecdotal evidence, even in nascent markets such as India is overwhelming.


 How many times have you felt tempted to check your cellphone during a meeting? I know of reasonably polite guys who constantly interrupt an intense discussion or interview to send off a message or turn around. In how many meetings, cinema halls and restaurants have you encountered this scenario — a mobile phone rings loudly, someone takes the call, says "I will call you later," and keeps the phone. What always foxes me is, why bother to take the call? Why not keep it on silent and just return it after you have finished whatever you are doing?

This is not just about mobile manners. It is about our inability to apply intellectual thought to our work and lives. The ability to sit through a 30-minute meeting and focus on that alone, to read a piece or watch a film and enjoy it or absorb it completely. Are we losing the ability to do that? And what therefore does this mean for content creators and media marketers?

Carr reckons that more than 15 years of the internet has changed the way we read. That doing a deep dive and losing ourselves in a book or a piece of writing is almost impossible even for the most dedicated readers. We tend to consume information in bits and pieces, skim through, speed read or power browse, again to quote him.

Take a look at India; double digit growth, competition, heterogeneity, volumes and complexities are a given; multitasking is a way of life for most of us. Now add a potent variable to this — youth. An overwhelming proportion of Indians are young, many brought up post-liberalisation, on the internet and mobile phone. And their ability to focus is pathetic.

In most classrooms that I am part of, students find it impossible to read a couple of pages continuously. Their friendships run on digital fuel and need very little physical attention. So, social skills are a huge issue, something that almost all research throws up. Therefore dark, narcissistic, inward-looking kind of films such as Dev D or shows such as Emotional Atyachar on UTV Bindass, go down well with this generation.

For advertisers, the nightmare is figuring out how to reach these perpetually shifting eyeballs. Stickiness or time spent was a robust measure of involvement earlier. It no longer is. How do you measure the time spent watching a show on UTV Bindass for instance, when the same person was surfing online, listening to music, chatting or messaging friends while the show was on.

The question many of these changes present is, what has this consumer, consumed. And how will you price his time?

Very poorly for now. An online reader of a newspaper in the US commands less than 14 times the ad rates that an offline one does. YouTube for all its buzz struggles to make money on the same content that TV stations sell for millions of dollars. It doesn't matter if the same number of people saw Frasier on TV last night, also saw it online. The online audience will attract only a fraction of the ad rates the one on television gets.

So, the market still attaches a premium to our ability to concentrate, absorb and take in what it has to offer. However, as the audience loses that ability, advertisers will stop offering the premium. How then will media companies, new or old, make money is the trillion dollar question.









One of the cardinal principles of the Constitution is that a person should not be prosecuted a second time once he is convicted or acquitted for the same offence. However, when it is applied to specific instances with overlapping facts, civil liberty questions arise which divide society and even the judges. High-profile trials and movies have highlighted this issue. Last week, the Supreme Court judges were split on this question in a case of foreign exchange violation. Last month, in a cheque bouncing case, they faced the same dilemma.


 In the foreign exchange case, Radheshyam Kejriwal vs State of West Bengal, the majority and minority judges made strong arguments for their contrary viewpoints, often citing the same Constitution bench precedents. In the event, the majority ruled that the accused person could not be tried twice on the same facts.

Several economic laws, like the Income Tax Act and the Customs Act, provide for two stages of proceedings in cases where regulations are violated. The first one is akin to adjudication by a special officer of the department concerned. The offence can also be filed as a regular case in a criminal court. In this case, the adjudicating authority categorically held that the charges against the accused person could not be sustained. The authorities did not leave it at that. They pursued the matter before a criminal court. He challenged the prosecution before the magistrate. But the Calcutta High Court rejected his petition and asked him to stand trial. He appealed to the Supreme Court and succeeded in quashing the trial.

The judges could not agree whether the first proceeding could be called prosecution. If it is prosecution, then the second one would amount to re-prosecution, with the prospect of multiple trial punishment. The majority judges ruled that "it would be unjust and an abuse of process of the court to permit the Enforcement Directorate to continue with the criminal prosecution". They laid down a yardstick in such cases: if the allegations in both proceedings are identical and the accused is exonerated on merits on the same set of facts in one proceeding, he cannot be asked to stand a second trial.

The dissenting judge emphasised that in a law relating to economic offences the provisions should be read liberally to avoid revenue loss to the government. In this case under the (now repealed) Foreign Exchange Regulation Act, the two proceedings are independent of each other. The legislative intention was to augment the revenue and develop the economy. Interpreting the provisions in that light, the criminal case can be sustained because the adjudication by the authorities and the criminal prosecution were "distinct and separate".

In the second case, which raised a similar issue, the Supreme Court ruled that a person who was convicted for issuing a cheque that was dishonoured for want of sufficient balance could not be prosecuted again on the charge of cheating regarding the same cheque. He was convicted under Section 138 of the Negotiable Instruments Act. Then he was tried to be prosecuted for cheating under Section 420 of the Indian Penal Code. In this case, Kolla Veera vs Gorantla Rao, the convict argued that he was found guilty in the first case, so he could not be punished a second time for issuing the cheque as a case of cheating. Accepting his contention, the court stated that under Section 300 (1) of the Criminal Procedure Code, no one can be tried and convicted for the same offence or even a different offence on the same facts. Article 20 of the Constitution also protects such an offender from "double jeopardy". The Andhra Pradesh High Court judgment to the contrary was set aside.

Protection from double jeopardy is as ancient as the Greek and Roman jurisprudence. Demosthenes declared that law forbid the same person to be tried twice on the same issue. The Romans codified the concept in the Digest of Justinian. The Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution and Article 20 of the Indian Constitution sanctify the doctrine. There are strong reasons for doing so. It prevents the government from exercising its power to wear down and convict innocent people. Citizens are protected from the financial, emotional and social consequences of successive prosecutions. The principle also gives finality to criminal proceedings.

The clarification of the court on the double trouble facing people accused of economic offences is timely and significant — the Law Commission, in its 47th report, had recommended that "in more and more cases, prosecution should also be launched apart from adjudication so as to have a deterrent effect". Moreover, recent Supreme Court cases have shown that the amounts of foreign exchange sunk in tax havens are as unreadable as the Union Budget figures.







As the debate on the future of microfinance continues, it is worth examining the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI's) own discourse from 1998 onwards. This is particularly relevant after the Economic Survey tabled on February 26 and the Budget speech both make positive references to microfinance as being an important part of the inclusion agenda.

Contrary to what we are led to believe – that microcredit grew on its own and RBI stepped in at this stage to take note of the current practices – RBI played a crucial and catalytic role in the development of microcredit by encouraging and prodding banks to lend to micro-finance institutions (MFIs).


 In 1998, MFIs had made early forays and the practitioners had asked for a policy framework. In response, the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (Nabard) set up a task force on Supportive Policy and Regulatory Framework for Microfinance in the late 1998. This task force found microfinance an emerging activity to be nurtured. It was ahead of its times in calling for registration, and regulation through a self-regulatory organisation (SRO). Pending an SRO, the task force recommended that RBI should put an interim regulatory framework. At the same time, Sa-Dhan, the association representing diverse non-governmental and private sector players in microfinance, was established. Sa-Dhan was expected to evolve as the voice of the industry and an SRO.

This task force had a profound and simultaneous impact on policy making. In April 1999, the word microcredit was used for the first time in the credit policy, months after the task force was set up, but ahead of its report (October 1999). The statement said, "Micro-credit Institutions … are important vehicles for delivery of credit to self-employed persons, particularly women in rural and semi-urban areas."And further: "A special cell … is being set up in RBI in order to liaise with Nabard and microcredit institutions for augmenting the flow of credit to this sector. The time frame for the cell … will be one year and its proposals will be given the highest attention."

The credit policy (and a notification in April 1999) drew a distinction between small loans given by banks (with a ceiling on interest rates) and the loans given to MFIs for on-lending (without a ceiling). This notification created a two-way incentive for the commercial banks:

  • to abdicate (to the extent possible) their own work of reaching out to the poor;
  • to advance bulk loans to MFIs with no ceilings.

The banks did not have a level playing field, but were possibly happy to outsource small credit to MFIs. This opened bank finance to the MFIs, who were largely dependent on donor money.

The task force submitted its report in time for the mid-term review of the credit policy. RBI showed remarkable alacrity in acknowledging the recommendations. The review said, "The recommendations made by the Task Force are being 'processed' by Nabard in consultation with RBI and Government as appropriate." The recommendations of the task force were already creeping into the policy much before "processing", which was unlike the usual policy-making protocol of putting the report in the public domain, encouraging deliberations and incorporating feedback to convert recommendations into actions.

The mid-term review reiterated the importance of MFIs and asked banks to include microcredit in their corporate strategy to be reviewed on a quarterly basis. A detailed notification of February 2000 made six significant points:

  • No interest cap on loans to MFIs and their loans to clients.
  • Freedom to banks to formulate their own model/conduit/intermediary for extending microcredit.
  • No criteria for selecting MFIs.
  • Banks to formulate their own lending norms.
  • Banks to formulate a simple system, minimum procedures and documentation for augmenting flow of credit by removing all operational irritants.
  • Banks to include microcredit at the branch, block, district and state credit plans with quarterly progress to be reported to RBI.

The fact is that RBI gave policy support without an appropriate regulatory framework. The notification defining microcredit is stark: "The provision of thrift, credit and other financial services and products of very small amount to the poor in rural, semi-urban and urban areas for enabling them to raise their income levels and improve living standards. Micro Credit institutions are those which provide these facilities."

We do not know if it was a deliberate attempt to keep this vague by leaving out amounts or incomes. However, the regulatory discourse was just about opening up another channel of financial services.

Even as the somewhat regressive Malegam committee report is being discussed, RBI, on February 14, released a master circular on microcredit which refers to its historical circulars, with little addition: "A joint fact-finding mission looked at the issues plaguing the microcredit sector and ends with saying that findings were brought to the notice of the banks to enable them to take necessary corrective action where required."

In the current circumstances, the finance minister has made a bold and affirmative statement in the recent Budget. He has also thrown in some money for an India Microfinance Equity Fund. This augurs well for the MFI sector — showing policy continuity rather than policy turnaround based on Malegam's recommendations. Otherwise we would only be able to say microcredit had a bright future behind it, not ahead of it.










One day after the Budget, it has become conventional wisdom with the commentariat that finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has luck to thank for the amazing picture of fiscal rectitude he has been able to present the nation with. Indeed, the central government's public debt comes in at only 44.2% of GDP, more than eight percentage points lower than what the Thirteenth Finance Commission had thought fit at this point of the aggregate public debt's necessary march towards a stable value as a share of aggregate economic output. It would be correct to say that this is not on account of deliberate prudence in the management of public finances. But it would be equally erroneous to attribute this to luck. Rather, the credit should go to India's sustained high growth, the success of the telecom revolution that has built up a robust communication network across the country, the tax information network (TIN) formulated in the last years of the NDA government and rolled out and systematised further under UPA-1. However, the fact is that even after growing at a compound rate of 16.5% over the last five years, the Centre's tax/GDP ratio barely touched 10% for 2010-11. This is significantly lower than the 11.9% achieved in 2007-08, before the crisis broke out and the government slashed taxes in a bid to bolster production. Clearly, barring yet more crises, there is only one direction for the tax/GDP ratio to go: up. Along with the states, India's aggregate tax/GDP ratio would be around 16%, while functional governments around the world collect at least half as much more as taxes in relation to GDP. Ongoing tax reform will push up this ratio further, allowing greater state profligacy without risking fiscal health. This is modernity, not magic.
The share of direct taxes in gross tax collections has progressively gone up from 19% before the economic reforms were kicked off, to close to 60% today. This serves the cause of equity, much to the chagrin of economic reform's critics, who always carp about economic reform being inequitous in every which way possible. However, reform and growth have been good for fiscal health and in an equitable fashion as well.









There are very few things as contentious in India as the price of fuels, and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee knows that well. Which is why in the Budget, he kept mum on anything to do with oil. For 2011-12, the FM has cut oil subsidies by all of 38%. That's odd, considering that the political turbulence in the oil producing Arab lands has taken the price of oil to near-$100 per barrel levels. With crude prices hardening, the finance minister could have cut the import duty of crude, now at 5% and on fuels, at 7.5%, to protect consumers from rising oil prices. He did neither, probably in the cause of fiscal consolidation. Mukherjee would also have contended with the fact that petrol prices have been recently deregulated and oil companies can hike these prices. By and large, this will only impact users of petrolfuelled cars, who count among India's most affluent people. Recent numbers show that less than 9% of oil consumed in India is petrol and aviation fuel. Another 7% of total consumption is kerosene, touted as the poor man's fuel, but routinely pilfered to adulterate other fuels. India's fuel of choice is diesel, massively used in trucks, buses, tractors, farm pumpsets and even passenger cars, making up more than 41% of total oil consumption.

Even 'deregulated' kerosene prices go up under political supervision. Diesel prices are supposed to be deregulated, but the government has not found the courage, so far, to do that in practice. Will the finance minister's decision to hold on to oil taxes while cutting the subsidy mean that the government is bracing for diesel price decontrol? In the short term, this seems unlikely. Elections are due in four key states through April and May. In Kerala, the Congress-led coalition could displace the communist one; in Assam the ruling Congress has a very good chance of winning a third consecutive term and in Bengal a Congress alliance stands a good chance of overthrowing a 34-year communist regime. If diesel prices have to go up, they can go up only after the polls are over. But the question is, will the government then muster the courage to do what it knows only too well has to be done?







Whether it's the presumptively-estimated . 1,76,000-crore 2G-scam or the physically-felt la t h i-charge on cricket fans in Bangalore, the reaction of the authorities remains the same. Instead of saying "Sorry, it will not happen again", the authorities invariably wash their hands of what happened with a glibness which would have put Pontius Pilate to shame and then claim that the present problem was rooted in past policy which was framed when they were not around and that they are, therefore, not to blame. The only difference is that while Manmohan Singh talked about compromises having to be made in the name of coalition d h a r m a, the Karnataka State Cricket Association (KSCA) president Anil Kumble stated that it had just been a few months since he had taken over and that he had not had time to change the policy on distribution of matchtickets, with the bulk of them going to VIPs!

In Japan, when things go wrong, officials appear on national television to express their apologies. In India, the KSCA officebearers made a public appearance to state that such incidents had happened in the past and would recur in the future. And KSCA secretary Javagal Srinath stated that he had stood in queues for match-tickets in his formative years and never behaved like the fans of today. When asked about the televised images going all over the globe of ticket-seeking fans being la t h icharged on the eve of a World Cup match, Bangalore police commissioner Shankar Bidari said that the cops had to do what they did to pre-empt worse things like stampedes. The only thing Messrs Kumble, Srinath and Bidri did not say was that a periodic la t h i-charge not only improved the fitness of the cops but also that of the fans who had to move quickly to avoid being struck!





Malcolm Muggeridge once said that every time an Indian tried to speak English, he realised that the days of the white man's burden were not over. We have created entire panoply of words called Hinglish (a hybrid of Hindi and English). We have also given totally new meanings to standard English words. For instance, "my tight friend" in India means not "my drunken friend" but "my close friend".

In ordinary English, a budget lays down what you earn and spend. A government budget determines how much money each department gets, with a clear understanding that nothing more will be given save in exceptional circumstances. Budget discipline for each department is supposed to ensure that the government overall does not overspend, and that spending priorities are not distorted by excessive demands from this department or that. Departments with lowered allocations are supposed to sack consultants and even staff if salaries cannot be financed from their allocations.

In India, however, budgetary allocations have long ceased to be sacrosanct. Cynics say that the Budget is now simply the starting point for finance ministry negotiations with every department for additional funding. Supplementary demands for grants grow year after year. This year's Budget sets a new benchmark in allocations that defy credibility. In one area after another, spending in 20011-12 is budgeted to be less or only marginally more than actual spending in 2010-11. Sonia Gandhi is a dedicated populist who swears by subsidies, and her National Advisory Council constantly produces new ideas for evermore subsidies. Yet the Budget says subsidies will fall from . 1,64,153 crore this year to . 1,43,570 crore next year.
The oil subsidy looks like ballooning after the recent surge prices in global prices, yet is projected to fall from .38,386 crore to .23,640 crore. Global fertiliser prices are skyrocketing, yet the fertiliser subsidy is projected to fall from .54,977 crore this year to .49,998 crore next year. Non-Plan capital outlays (excluding defence) are to be more than halved, from .27,696 crore to .13,212 crore. The food subsidy is to remain virtually unchanged at around .60,000 crore, although procurement prices have gone up and carrying costs for the huge government food stock are high. Something as innocent sounding as "other non-Plan expenditure" is to be slashed from .1,45,884 crore to .1,28,859 crore. Pranab Mukherjee claims in his Budget speech that social spending will rise 17%. Yet the Budget papers show non-Plan expenditure on social services plummeting from .35,085 crore this year to .20,862 crore next year. A small part of this may be explained by the reclassification of some revenue spending as capital spending. Yet look at the bottom line, which is total government spending. This is budgeted to rise just a smidgeon from .12,16,576 crore to .12,57,729 crore. Is this possible at a time of high inflation and raging political populism?

Optimists like economist Surjit Bhalla interpret the Budget figures as Mukherjee's determination to get spending under control. Cynics like me will say the spending targets are no more than the start of negotiations with each department on how much more it will get. Optimists may think Mukherjee is going to be the toughest finance minister in history, wielding a fearsome budgetary axe. Cynics like me see this Budget as simply the preface to the real spending figures that will show up in supplementary demands for grants in autumn.
Having said that, let me add that the recent era of highly elastic Budget estimates has not been a fiscal disaster. On the contrary, Mukherjee was able to say with pride in his Budget speech that the ratio of central government debt-to-GDP for 2011-12 is now estimated at just 44.2 % of GDP, against the Finance Commission's recommendation of 52.5%. This looks very impressive at a time when the same ratio looks like crossing 100% in the US and 200% in Japan. We need to add state government debt of around 24% of GDP, but the resultant consolidated government debt of around 69% of GDP does not look unreasonably high.

    The credit goes not to budgetary stringency, but to two other factors: revision of GDP data and buoyant revenue. Based on new GDP deflators, it turns out that we have understated GDP for years, which in turn means we have overstated our fiscal problems for years. Besides, revenue buoyancy has consistently surprised us on the upside, and is doing so again this year. Revenues look like rising 25% this year against the budgeted 19%. Conclusion: populism in India has not wrecked government finances, as widely feared. India does not require a painful fiscal squeeze that would be politically difficult. Fairly modest steps in the direction of fiscal virtue are enough.

The revenue gains of rapid growth have consistently been underestimated by financial analysts. Fiscal prudence is the last thing on the minds of our venal politicians, who are always looking for ways to buy off voters disgusted by political venality. Yet, without intending it, the populist giveaways of politicians have been well within the limits of fiscal prudence.

This is called serendipity. The word is derived from an Arabian tale of Three Princes of Serendip (a mispronunciation of Swarna-dwip or Ceylon), who had the happy ability to constantly make fruitful and productive discoveries without intending to. Our politicians too have discovered without intending to that they can boast of fiscal virtue even while indulging in farm loan waivers, enormous oil and food subsidies, and other giveaways. Their aim is to buy popularity, not stimulate GDP, but they have achieved both through serendipity.
This may not continue forever. But as of now, India looks in surprisingly decent fiscal shape. This is not because of good governance but in spite of terrible governance. So, even slightly improved governance — like waste reduction by using cash transfers instead of subsidies — can improve fiscal fundamentals faster than venal politicians can erode them.









On the face of it, Budget 2011 appears broadly tax neutral inasmuch as what the finance minister has given away in direct tax proposals (roughly . 11,000 crore), he hopes to recover through indirect tax proposals. Reading further, however, it is clear that the FM is banking upon a continued trend of tax buoyancy by projecting an overall 18.5% growth in tax revenues in 2011-12 over the revised estimate of 2010-11. This means that without any incremental tax revenue measures, the FM hopes to increase tax revenues on the back of a widening tax base or simply incremental growth of income in the hands of existing taxpayers. Here is an analysis of some of the measures that may justify this belief and also the challenges which will be faced by both the tax administration and taxpayers alike on the journey to meeting the Budget estimates of 2011-12.
The minimum alternate tax dividend distribution tax (DDT) in case of special economic zones (SEZs) is a retrograde step from a point of view of "promissory estoppels". This is because businesses would have made their business plan and return over investment calculations without taking into account these levies. It appears that the government hopes to incrementally collect some revenues in this sector though not specifically mentioned in the Budget documents. Linked with the non-renewal of the tax exemption to companies in software technology parks, especially the medium sector technology companies, may see their effective tax rates rising in 2011-12, thus boosting some tax revenues. However,the introduction of a tool box of counter measures for transactions with "tainted jurisdictions" is an important provision in the light of the prevailing controversies around the alleged flight of unaccounted funds from India. These provisions have been introduced in some EU countries as well after the G20 drive to penalise noncooperative tax jurisdictions. This provision seeks to make doing business with such jurisdictions tax inefficient inasmuch as deduction of expenditure will be denied and payments made to such jurisdictions will suffer a higher rate of 30% withholding tax. The government, thus, hopes to make most countries fall in line to sign the tax information exchange agreement failing which they run the risk of being notified under this provision. These provisions would arm the tax administration with the much-needed ammunition to go after such unaccounted income and hopefully increase the tax base and contribute to the tax buoyancy which the FM is hoping to achieve.

The taxation of dividends from foreign companies at concessional rate is a welcome provision. The dividend on income received from foreign subsidiaries will be taxed at a base rate of 15% rather than the higher normal base rate of 30%. This move seems to be patterned in the US Jobs Act that was introduced in 2005 to encourage US parents to repatriate earnings from foreign subsidiaries and reinvest them in the US. Considering the fact that controlled foreign companies (CFC) rules will come into force beginning April 1, 2012, this may be an attractive oneyear opportunity for Indian multinationals to get accumulated profits repatriated from their foreign subsidiaries at concessional rates. It will, of course, also help to shore up the government's tax kitty on such repatriated profits.

An important incentive in the infrastructure sector has been introduced by way of a proposal to set up dedicated infrastructure debt funds that shall be exempt from tax. The interest received by foreign investors from such funds shall be taxable at a concessional rate of 5%. Given the financial capital required in the broad infrastructure sector, this should provide an impetus for foreign investors, especially institutional investors who are exempt from tax in their home countries (like pension fund, endowment fund, etc.). This is because the withholding tax in the country of investment is a sunk cost for these tax-exempt entities not being creditable in their home country. This, therefore, should result in attracting a fresh set of investors in the infrastructure sector, resulting in higher fund flows into the country.

Finally, if the growth story holds good and tax buoyancy as projected comes true, corporate India will heave a sigh of relief. However, if there are dark clouds visible during the course of the next fiscal year and tax administration gets pressurised to meet the ambitious revenue targets on the back of tax neutral provisions, the possibility of aggressive tax audits and unreasonable expectation of tax revenues from the existing taxpayers are bound to materialise. This will be an unfortunate situation as, given the global competitiveness increasingly faced by Indian businesses, the least they would expect is not to be hassled by unreasonable tax demands stemming from the pressure on tax administration to meet Budget estimates. So, will there be taxing times ahead? Only time, and India's growth story, will tell.

(The author is tax markets leader at Ernst & Young. Views are personal)





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The Union Budget is in the final analysis a political statement, one that is used to win over different sections of the electorate in a democracy. Around a month ago, when the Centre found itself before the bar of public opinion on the issue of a series of corruption-related scandals as these tumbled out of the cupboard, and the Opposition parties were in full cry, there was an expectation that the 2011-12 Budget would be put to judicious use by the government to win over popular sympathy. The anticipation to this effect was said to be high in Congress circles. But a calculation of this nature had not factored in the Assembly polls just around the corner. Conceivably, if there were no elections, the plan to use the instrument of the Budget to dull the impact of corruption cases might not have been wholly unrealistic. But with the ballot season looming, that argument is hard to sustain in the natural course. Indeed, precisely because the government's opponents would not want it to run away with an advantage, they may be expected to tailor their parliamentary strategy to give the treasury benches a harder time than they might otherwise have done in the Budget Session, which more or less coincides with the run-up to the elections in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and the Union territory of Puducherry. On Tuesday the chief election commissioner announced the dates for the polls in each of the states. With that, we might expect battleground Parliament to be in the eye of the storm. There is arguably enough to please the rural sector in the Budget exposition made by the finance minister, Mr Pranab Mukherjee, on Monday, and also particular benefits for the states heading for Assembly elections in April-May. But how much can the ruling side make this count? The Opposition parties may be expected to milk the inflation and unemployment issues for all they are worth. Perfectly sedate arguments — that employment will follow since the investment climate has been made conducive, and that inflation is a consequence of several international factors outside the control of the Indian government — may appear persuasive on paper, but not on the stump. In campaign speeches, it is the here and now that counts, not promises for the future. We may, therefore, expect more drama, walkouts, and in general shrill denunciation of the government in Parliament to catch the ear of the poll-bound electorate. The plain reason is that a lot could be riding on the results. If the Congress performs below par in states in which it is expected to do well, the joint parliamentary committee probe into the 2G affair will have another ring. If the opposite turns out to be the case, the course of the JPC inquiry and its findings may lack bite, in general or specific terms.






Pranab Mukherjee is the most seasoned politician in the present government. He was finance minister more than a quarter-century ago when Manmohan Singh was the governor of the Reserve Bank of India. He has seen economic policy in the country change over the decades. In this year's Budget, he has conveyed an impression that he is trying to walk the proverbial tightrope by seeking to please everyone and his brother. That's not an easy task in the best of times. The chances that he will fail are quite high.

Mr Mukherjee has not just attempted to please his two bosses, the Prime Minister and the United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi, he has also tried to keep happy disparate sections, from the gung-ho economic liberaliser to the socialist in the Congress Party, from the aam aadmi to the khaas aadmi — which is over-ambitious, to say the least, and which is why he will not succeed.

He left no one in doubt when he stated right upfront: "Certain events in the past few months may have created an impression of a drift in governance and a gap in public accountability… such an impression is misplaced".

Whether this Budget will help refurbish the battered image of the government is far from certain, but Mr Mukherjee has tried hard to reconcile the interest of the market-friendly faction in the ruling party even as he has showered homilies ostensibly aimed at establishing the government's pro-people credentials.

Here are a few instances of politically-correct statements made by him. We have been told that the government has to "reconcile ecological concerns with development aspirations". Further, the Budget is aimed at "sustaining a high growth trajectory, making development more inclusive and improving our institutions, public delivery and governance practices". That's not all.

Our Bengali babu has assured us that "corruption is a problem which we have to fight collectively". But he has not revealed any specific measure that would tackle the issue of money-laundering through tax havens like Mauritius (the clutch of small islands that is the source of more than 40 per cent of the country's inflows of foreign direct investment). Nor has he answered charges of crony capitalism levelled against the ruling regime.

We have to wait for a group of ministers (GoM) to come up with its report on putting together a "competitive system for exploiting natural resources", including, presumably, telecommunications spectrum. And this particular GoM — headed by, you guessed right! — will also look into state funding of elections, speedy processing of corruption cases against public servants, transparency in public procurement and contracts, and discretionary powers of Union ministers. That's quite a handful.

Mr Mukherjee has made a few excessively optimistic assumptions in his Budget calculations which have raised doubts and caused consternation about the viability of the exercise. First, he has assumed that the average rate of inflation during the coming fiscal year starting April 1 would be contained at five per cent. This appears clearly unrealistic especially since he has also proposed a cut in the government's subsidy outgo by Rs 20,000 crores, three-fourths of which would be on subsidies on petroleum products such as cooking gas, kerosene and diesel.

Given the fact that world oil prices have been boiling since the political crises in North Africa and West Asia and that India imports 80 per cent of the country's requirement of crude oil, a set of hikes in prices of petroleum products has clearly been factored into the Budget calculations. How then would inflation be kept at five per cent, especially since the government has not proposed any cut in customs or excise duties on crude oil or petroleum products?

The second optimistic assumption made by Mr Mukherjee is that while there would be a revenue loss of Rs 11,500 crores on account of direct tax concessions, indirect tax collections would rise by Rs 11,300 crores (although tax rates have not been changed) on account of better compliance and industrial growth in a buoyant economy.

The third optimistic assumption he has made is that the Central government's expenditure will go up by just three per cent during the next fiscal year against an expected 30-odd per cent in the current year. Then, even as the minimum wages given to beneficiaries of the government's much-touted "world's largest social security scheme", namely, the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), have been increased since these have now been linked to the Consumer Price Index, the Budget has kept unchanged the total outlay on MGNREGS at Rs 40,000 crores.

A section of the middle classes is happy with the concessions given to personal income taxpayers. But one should not forget the fact that barely three per cent of India's 1.2 billion-strong population pays income tax and of this proportion two per cent do not have much of a choice since salaried employees receive their wages after taxes have been deducted at source.

Budgets in India are much more than statements of financial accounts of the country. Important pronouncements on the political economy are also made on the occasion. Mr Mukherjee took a leaf out of railway minister Mamata Banerjee's book when he named a few educational institutions in Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Kerala (where elections are scheduled in April-May) that would receive grants of relatively small amounts, varying between `10 crores and Rs 200 crores, in his Budget speech where the numbers are often measured in hundreds of thousands of crore rupees.

Like the farmer in the field, Mr Mukherjee continues to pray to Lord Indra and Goddess Lakshmi. He certainly needs their blessings. For it is indeed difficult to please everybody. In fact, the problem with spreading happiness thinly is that one may end up pleasing nobody. That is the real and present danger in his Budget.

* Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator






When an officer was commended to his attention, Napoleon is reported to have inquired: "Is he lucky?" Luck is half the game. It's no good having it and being incapable of using it. On the other hand, great striving may come to naught without luck. My sense is that US President Barack Obama is a lucky man.

His early political breakthroughs in Chicago, and then in his campaign for the Senate, were helped by the implosion of his opponents, often in sex scandals. His election to the nation's highest office became inevitable when his Republican rival went on walkabout as the economy collapsed. And now, quite suddenly, his presidency has been lifted from its troubles by the liberating Arab revolutions of 2011.

For a politician nothing matters quite as much as being able to move the spirit. Years may go by, history appear to stand still. Then, in the space of weeks, history accelerates, great events cascade upon each other, and the leader able to embody, define and propel them forward becomes forever identified with this transformative tide of hope.

In June 2009, Obama declared in Cairo: "I do have an unyielding belief that all people yearn for certain things: the ability to speak your mind and have a say in how you are governed; confidence in the rule of law and the equal administration of justice; government that is transparent and doesn't steal from people; the freedom to live as you choose".

Obama's West Asia policy then veered this way and that. He struggled to find a consistent tone on Israel — and still does. He struggled to convince Muslims of the sincerity of his outreach.

So it's hard to trace any direct strategic line between the Cairo speech and the revolutionary events that led to his wonderful 2/11 summation of the fall of Egypt's despot, Hosni Mubarak: "We saw mothers and fathers carrying their children on their shoulders to show them what true freedom might look like".

And yet, and yet! It has to be said that Obama intuited something, or so it now appears. He got lucky.

When, in celebrating the Egyptian people's peaceful triumph, he quoted Martin Luther King on this great awakening of Arab peoples determined to assert their dignity and gain their freedom, he looked a President in full, a man ensconced on the right side of history.

By contrast, the American Right has found itself tied up in knots, wondering how to disentangle the words "freedom" and "Arab", the first demanding its hard-wired allegiance, the second demanding its Israel-dictated scepticism. Pity the poor Republican newbies, once so full of certainties, confronted by a nuanced world!

This is an uprising of Arabs, by Arabs, for Arabs. It started with a tiff over a fruit cart in a small Tunisian town to which no American policymaker has ever paid a minute of attention. Much of its historic importance lies precisely in its indigenous nature, now a wellspring of Arab pride.

Obama has managed to seize this moment without stealing it. Yes, there were wobbles. But he was fast to hail Tunisians fighting for their rights, he pushed the Egyptian transition through influence over the Army, he restrained the violent initial instincts of the ruling al-Khalifa family in Bahrain, and now he is pressing hard to oust Libya's lunatic tyrant, Muammar el-Gaddafi.

If this is the overdue collapse of a rotten American-backed order in West Asia, it is also one that suggests the post-mortems on American power are once again premature.

The Arab spring continues to unfurl at great speed. There are big risks. One is a Libyan vacuum. But there are also immense possibilities now that Arabs can gather, organise and direct their lives, rather than blame others for their powerlessness. I believe 2011, in its passage from Arab rage to Arab responsibility, can be the true antidote to 2001.

For that to happen, Obama will have to keep harvesting fortune, being at his best when the pressure is greatest. European nations that freed themselves from Communist tyranny in 1989 had the safehouse of the European Union to aspire to. How can the West help forge the new regional safehouse of emergent Arab democracies? Obama must bring the best minds to bear on that question and a related one: How to coax Israel from its paralysing siege mentality into seizing this moment to seek peace?

Obamaism is taking form. Its themes are non-violence, youth-driven social media as engines of change and limiters of autocratic brutality, and the universality of those rights listed in Cairo.

I am feeling more hopeful about the world than at any time since 2001. The authoritarian decade, led by China and Russia, has run its course. And the most powerful man in the world happens to be a lucky man.

Machiavelli wrote: "I believe it is probably true that fortune is the arbiter of half the things we do, leaving the other half or so to be controlled by ourselves". Obama has "controlled" his luck — and I suspect he will ride it now to a second term.







The reaction of almost all Opposition parties to the meeting which the Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, had with TV editors in New Delhi on February 16 to discuss the 2G allocation was on predictable lines — all described it as an "exercise in cover-up". However, the impression which most impartial observers got was that though they could not agree with many things that Dr Singh had said at the meeting, he had tried to be candid and frank and didn't try to hide anything.

While trying to be frank and fair Dr Singh referred to the concept of "coalition dharma", which had guided him in his various acts of commission and omission in the 2G spectrum affair. In fact, if anything was wrong in the stand taken by the Prime Minister on this matter, it was when there were departures from the "coalition dharma" by those wielding power at the Centre, including Dr Singh. But, in all fairness to Dr Singh, he was not using the excuse of "coalition dharma" to justify his role in this affair, but it was an honest belief on his part that he was conforming to what he believed was "coalition dharma".

As regards the practice which Dr Singh had followed in allowing the leaders of the coalition partners to have their choice of persons in the council of ministers, Dr Singh had done what has become the accepted convention in all countries having coalition governments.

It is true that the Constitution of India unambiguously states in Article 75 that the ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister, but it has become an accepted practice of all Prime Ministers to go by the wishes of the leaders of the coalescing partners, and what Dr Singh did was not in violation of this well established convention.

If the leaders of the coalescing parties seek more seats and better portfolios it is their "political right" do so and therefore the leaders of parties like the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam cannot be faulted. But while it is the political right of the coalescing party to ask for better portfolios, it is the dharma of the Prime Minister to go by his own judgment as to what should be the number of ministers from each coalescing party and the portfolios they get.

While "coalition dharma" requires that there be equity and fairness in the allocation of portfolios, this is not strictly followed by coalition governments in India. For example, in today's Cabinet, led by the Congress Party, all the four important portfolios — home, external affairs, finance and defence — are held by Congressmen.

"Coalition dharma" demands that the allocation of portfolios be done strictly on merit basis, which includes the standing of the individual in the party and the country, experience as an administrator, reputation for integrity and other such considerations. The Prime Minister has to also bear in mind the crucial importance some portfolios have acquired in recent years because of technological innovations.

Telecommunication is one such portfolio. The Prime Minister was conceding far too much than was intended by the concept of coalition dharma when he told the editors that "in a coalition government you can suggest your preferences but you have to go by what the leader of a particular coalition party ultimately insists". In the case of former telecom minister A. Raja, the Prime Minister has said that he had "complaints coming from all sides", yet he entrusted this highly sensitive portfolio to Mr Raja in an unsustainable interpretation of coalition dharma.

What then is coalition dharma? The first and foremost ingredient of coalition dharma is accountability of ministers not only to their own parties but also to the legislature as a whole for their individual acts in the ministry entrusted to them. Also, there should be collective responsibility of the ministers as members of the Council of Ministers.

Collective responsibility means that every member of the Council of Ministers is responsible to the people through the legislature whether or not he agrees with a particular decision taken by the Cabinet. That is why in a Cabinet system of government all important decisions by the Central government are discussed in the Cabinet and the Prime Ministers take a leading role in evolving a consensus. The Prime Minister does not have to be requested by any minister to place a particular subject before the Cabinet; on the other hand this decision is taken by the Prime Minister.

In the allocation of 2G spectrum, on which Dr Singh himself had conveyed his views to the telecom minister, he admitted at the interaction with TV editors that actual allotment of licence was never discussed with him and that "licence was not a matter which got referred to him or to the Cabinet".

Dr Singh said that once the finance ministry and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India concurred with the views of the telecommunication ministry, he did not feel "that he was in a position to insist that auctions must be insisted on". This might have been the honest conviction of Dr Singh but to term it as acting in conformity with "coalition dharma" would not be correct.

An equally important ingredient of "coalition dharma" is the primacy of Dr Singh in taking all the important decisions in the government. When the Cabinet system of government started in Britain, the Prime Minister's position was considered as one among equals, and, later, as first among equals. But very soon the office of Prime Minister grew out of these very narrow limits and the British Cabinet system of government evolved into Prime Ministerial government.

It must be noted that Britain had not shown much faith in coalition arrangements. However, in India, people have shown no inclination to tolerate minority governments and, therefore, there is always the fear about fall of governments and the need for frequent elections. Unfortunately this excessive fear about the likely fall of a government has prompted Prime Ministers in India to make compromises with "coalition dharma".

An obvious danger if the Prime Minister is seen yielding to the insistence of a minister in asserting what the minister thinks right is that this will lead to the erosion of the primacy of not only the Prime Minister but chief ministers in states as well. And this will eventually lead to the weakening of the Cabinet system of democracy.

* P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra






In the Indian culture, at one time, there used to be 365 festivals in a year. In other words, the people of India just needed an excuse to celebrate each day of the year. For every event of significance there is a festival. But Sivaratri has a different significance.

The 14th day of every lunar month or the day before the new moon is known as Sivaratri. Among all the 12 Sivaratris that occur in a calendar year, Mahasivaratri — the one that occurs in March — is of most spiritual significance.

On this night, the northern hemisphere of the planet is positioned in such a way that there is a natural upsurge of energy in human beings.

This is a day when nature is pushing us towards our spiritual peak. That is why we celebrate the festival for the entire night. One of the fundamentals of this night-long festival is to ensure that this natural upsurge of energies can find their way into our body and soul.

Mahasivaratri is very significant for people who want to take the spiritual path.

— Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a prominent

spiritual leader, is a visionary, humanitarian, an author, poet and internationally-renowned speaker. He can be contacted [1]






Lord Curzon, at the turn of the 20th century, aptly described Afghanistan as "a piece on the chess board on which is being played out the game for domination of the world". At that time, the Great Game was being played between Czarist Russia and Imperialist Britain. In the last century, the contestants were the USSR and the US.

The latter chose the dangerous weapon of religious fundamentalism in conjunction with Pakistan and promoted Taliban. At one time the Pashtuns under Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan were secular and non-violent, but now they have become most radical Islamists.

With generous funding from the US and support from Pakistan, they forced the then Soviet Union to quit Afghanistan. The Nineties saw oppressive Taliban rule in Afghanistan. Pakistan supported it and the US turned a Nelson's eye to Taliban misdeeds. The Bamiyan statues, a world heritage, were subjected to bombardment for days and destroyed without any reaction or intervention by the lone superpower. The US offensive of 2001 in Afghanistan, Enduring Freedom, was a success. Afghanistan was liberated from Taliban misrule. Thousands of Taliban and Pakistan Army personnel in civilian clothes were encircled in Kunduz.

The US organised a massive airlift for them, evacuating them to Pakistan. Therein lay the genesis of the present trouble facing the US, accentuated by the misconceived US diversion to Iraq. Those evacuated in 2001 became the hard core now operating from havens in Pakistan against the US and its allies in Afghanistan.

Pakistan has been playing a double game, attacking selective terrorist outfits that affect its security and simultaneously covertly supporting the Taliban in their havens in Pakistan.

Last year there was much talk of "good" and "bad" Taliban. The US tried to strike a deal with the "good Taliban" before quitting Afghanistan. Pakistan's role was crucial. Several rounds of talks were held for months with Mullah Akhtar Muhammad Mansur, a senior Taliban commander.

Mullah Omar, the top Taliban leader sheltered in Pakistan, issued a statement denying any talks at any level with the US. After this fiasco there is now no talk of "good Taliban".

General Sir Peter Wall, the British Army Chief, was invited by the United Services Institution to give a talk on Afghanistan. I was presiding over the function and introduced the topic, giving the background described in the earlier paragraphs. Gen. Wall gave a good military exposition of the operations being conducted in Afghanistan by the International Security Assistance Force. Military operations are achieving results but improvised explosive devices pose a major problem. The Afghan National Army has been expanded from 2,000 to 100,000 and will be 400,000 strong by 2014. Concurrently, massive economic development and improvements in quality of governance are being carried out. He projected an optimistic picture. Without mentioning the K word, he stated it was necessary to resolve regional problems in South Asia for success in Afghanistan.

The aim of building an economically developed Afghanistan is indeed laudable. However, there are certain aspects that have to be kept in mind. Corruption undermines both development and governance. Despite all aid from the US, Chiang Kai-shek's forces were thrown out of mainland China due to rampant corruption. Apart from professional competence, the Afghan National Army's loyalty and discipline must not be allowed to be subverted by the Taliban's ideology. No doubt economic development is a battle-winning factor in counter-insurgency. However, its effectiveness gets greatly diluted by religious fundamentalism. Per capita Central aid to Kashmir has been 10 to 11 times more than other states in India. Thus, people below the poverty line in Kashmir constitute 3.7 per cent against the national average of 26 per cent, and in some states as high as 36 per cent. Yet, this has hardly had any effect on anti-India feelings among separatists.

In view of Gen. Wall's veiled reference to Kashmir, I was prompted to compare the situation in Afghanistan with Kashmir. The population in both at one time believed in liberal Islam — Khudai Khidmatgars in one case and deep-rooted Sufism in the other. Religious fundamentalism has now brought about a metamorphosis. They both face cross-border terrorism from Pakistan, which itself is reeling under extremist violence.

Both Afghanistan and Kashmir have multi-ethnic populations, Kashmir being also multi-religious. Violence in Kashmir has been largely contained but the same cannot be said of Afghanistan. The insurgency in both cases is confined primarily to one ethnic group — Pashtuns in Afghanistan and the Valley Muslims in Kashmir. Though they are the largest ethnic group in their respective states, they do not constitute a majority. The insurgency in Afghanistan is directed against foreign powers. In Kashmir it is against a country with which Kashmir has had cultural, civilisational and political links for thousands of years and of which it is an integral part. The victory of insurgency in Afghanistan or in Kashmir will be a shot in the arm for those who espouse international jihad.

The recent assassination of governor Salman Taseer in Pakistan and what followed show the grave danger humanity faces from Islamists. The US is a prime target of Al Qaeda. Minaret and burqa controversies have erupted in Europe. Fears of "Eurabia" haunt the world. Pakistan is imploding under the weight of extremism. India is engaged in Kashmir to uphold secular values and her national integrity. In so doing, she is also serving an international cause. Countries that advocate India coming to terms with religious fundamentalism in Kashmir are harming their own long-term interests and those of the international community.

* The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir








ON the face of it, the 24 per cent increase in the budgetary outlay on education covers a wide canvas ~ universalising the access to secondary education, a higher percentage of research scholars and a provision for skilled training. These are in the realm of fundamentals and the Finance minister only laboured the obvious on Monday with the statement advanced to justify the increased outlay. "Over 70 percentage of Indians will attain the working age by 2025." In terms of non-performance, the Centre has given itself a long enough rope ~ a 78-year time-frame after Independence. Sub-literacy and a disproportionate structure would not have been so palpable today had the parameters been fixed and executed over the past six decades. The realisation that a bloated superstructure rests on a brittle foundation has come so late in the day as to necessitate a parliamentary legislation on the Right to Education in 2010. And yet there has scarcely been a change in the praxis. The finance minister's allocation for school education and literacy (Rs 38,957 crore) is far less than HRD's projection of Rs 60,000 crore on this count alone. Most crucially, Sarva Siksha Abhiyan ~ the bedrock of the RTE Act ~ has been allotted barely a Rs 2,000-crore increase over last year's Rs 21,000 crore against the HRD ministry's requirement of Rs 34,000 crore.

Despite the hike in overall outlay, the truncated spending on elementary education is inexplicable. There is little doubt that increased spending on this segment would have resuscitated the almost literally tottering primary school structure, enabled the Centre and the states to spend suitably on trained teachers, correct the teacher-student ratio and ensure basic facilities such as drinking water, separate toilets and blackboards. The education budget ought to have been crafted with due regard to the recent findings of the National Institute of Education Planning and Implementation. Its report on elementary education is a disgraceful embarrassment. The budgetary contradiction is stark ~ while the overall outlay has gone up, the resources have been reduced for the fundamental segment. This will indubitably impede the spread of elementary legislation, indeed the raison d'etre of the RTE Act. At another remove, the prime-pumping of IIT, Kharagpur, and IIM, Calcutta, reaffirms that a further embellished superstructure shall continue to rest on a horribly neglected foundation. In terms of public policy, the disproportionate planning is bound to have a deleterious impact.




IF "pedestrian" is a common description of Budget 2011-12, it translates into "marking time" for the military. There is no reason to be taken in by the positive spin put on the 11.58 per cent outlay increase (it actually drops to 8.47 per cent when weighed against revised estimates for the current fiscal), nor the hike of Rs 8,366 crore in the capital provision. Inflation is running at 10 per cent and ensures that in real terms the increases are notional. The routine promise of "more if necessary" warrants ridicule. Military equipment is not available off-the-shelf, crash purchases during emergencies have ever meant sub-standard purchases at inflated rates ~ kickbacks too. That defence got low priority in Pranab Mukherjee's formulation was indicated when he skipped the traditional lauding of the soldier in his protracted presentation. Confirmation of that negative is available in the defence outlay having dropped to just 1.8 per cent of GDP when military experts insist that 3 per cent is desirable ~ though that must be qualified with an acceptance that the fauji wish-list is endless, funds are inelastic. One of the few seemingly positive figures revealed on Monday was that after some years the defence establishment utilised all the funds provided. However, a detailed explanation of why the Revised Estimates for 2010-11 exceed the Budget Estimates is awaited. If revenue expenditure accounted for much of that, it is not something to crow about. Budget figures can be juggled around to paint pretty pictures, particularly since payments for defence purchases are spread over years. So how much of the capital outlay of Rs 69,198 crore will be utilised for previous purchases? Will there be scope for going much beyond the acquisitions being negotiated presently? We wonder if the Lok Sabha will have a "defence debate" this year: for far too long has a major chunk of government spending ~ 11 paise of every rupee ~ received only cursory legislature scrutiny.

Going beyond immediate figures, what  continues to raise concerns is that revenue expenditure ~ in particular the wage, pensions and welfare bills ~ consume the lion's share of the overall outlay: limiting the money available for modernisation and re-equipment. There has been no movement from a 60-40 split to the desired 50-50. It is true that the Army's present levels of deployment militate against meaningful downsizing, it is equally true that the three services are most reluctant to trim their empires, eliminate overlapping activities, and seriously address slashing their "running costs". Like Pranab Babu's platoon, the brass appears content with getting a little more of the same.



Chowkidari system a breathless move

A government going through the wrap-up motions of its tenure appears to be in a tearing hurry to get the files moving, indeed to present a fait accompli to the next dispensation assuming that there is a change of guard this summer. In a bizarre expression of contrived promptness, no fewer than 800 files were cleared by the West Bengal government over  the past week if an Opposition leader's claim is any indication. And thus far there has been no denial by the Chief Secretary. This superfast conduct of paperwork is not associated with sarkari administration of any party. The electoral compulsion is only too apparent both in the ministry of railways and especially in Writers' Buildings. In the event, there is an attempt to turn the clock back in quite the most critical sector ~ the maintenance of law and order. And the time-machine is being readjusted as it were in the wake of the serial failures of the police. The Home department will take a call on the revival of the chowkidari system that predates the Left Front. It had served successive Congress regimes and to a lesser degree the United Front. The contours of the plan suggest that the chowkidars will be entrusted with the collection of information relating to criminal activities in rural Bengal. This is precisely why the Intelligence network exists. In the immediate aftermath of the killings at Netai and Barasat, the Home department must come upfront on whether the system has been found wanting. There was doubtless a party-driven Intelligence failure at Netai; at another remove, Barasat witnessed a colossal failure of the gun-toting watchdogs in uniform. Hence the state's recourse to a relatively antediluvian option. Thirty-four years constitute a long enough spell to reform the police in accord with the high-minded recommendations of the Police Commission, whose proposals have been docketed both by the Centre and the states.

The move to appoint chowkidars ~ a faceless adjunct entity ~ has a decidedly political connotation. The collection of sensitive data will be done by the chowkidars. The district police administration will be informed via panchayats that showcase a standing travesty of rural governance. It is one of the breathless and outlandish proposals floated before the model code of conduct comes into force. At least this file might as well be closed.









THE differences are evident. The preferences are clear. The Sangh Parivar is divided. The bulk of the central BJP leadership is moving in one direction. The RSS is looking in the opposite direction. A split between leaders of the RSS and BJP is considered unthinkable. But the rift between them is already visible. Let us see how.
The tension within the Sangh Parivar is a reflection of the sharp differences that have arisen within the Congress. On the available evidence this appears to be the emerging line-up. Home Minister P Chidambaram is perhaps Mrs Sonia Gandhi's most trusted cabinet minister. He was the one who took the rap for the mess created over Telangana by Mrs Gandhi herself. He is the one who sees Rajiv Gandhi whenever he closes his eyes and hears Rahul Gandhi speak. Poor Digvijay! He seems to be left far behind in the sycophancy race. And Chidambaram is the one who is taking on Mrs Gandhi's biggest current headache ~ Prime Minister Manmohan Singh himself.

Meanwhile, according to the grapevine the PM also is silently gaining strength from an unexpected source. Mrs Gandhi's common distrust of both the PM and Mr Pranab Mukherjee is driving them closer. The two have a long history of interaction with its ups and downs. Both are seasoned players who between them could clean up corruption if they summoned the will to do it. That is why the threat of exposure haunts their opponents.  
Chidambaram challenging the PM for asserting that he was in the loop with Raja on the spectrum scam decisions has attracted attention even in the usually cautious mainstream media. Mrs Gandhi's grouse with the PM could well be the latter's inability to guarantee that the money trail of the current scams would be derailed. The CBI is after all not under the Home Minister but under the Prime Minister's Office. Therefore within the Congress the division between the PM and Mrs Gandhi supported by Chidambaram and others is becoming clearer and sharper every day. Little wonder that sections of the mainstream media are compelled to notice the rift.

The division within the Congress is influencing perceptions within the Sangh Parivar. Mrs Gandhi might well prefer a BJP government headed by LK Advani, backed by the Congress from outside, to the current dispensation. Her concern above everything else would be to protect her family members from being tainted by any of the current scams. After Advani's public disavowal of Mrs Gandhi's alleged Swiss bank accounts, would he not be for Mrs Gandhi a safer proposition to ensure that than Dr Manmohan Singh? Could the Advani letter be the surety from the BJP that Mrs Gandhi might have sought that her family would be protected?
After the initial grumbling among the BJP leaders against Advani's letter the resentment seems to have subsided. The lure of getting back in government could be a unifying factor. Is that why every single BJP leader in parliament is slamming the PM and remaining mum about any wrongdoing by Mrs Gandhi? Why, even Arun Shourie defended Chidambaram and attacked the PM! It is certainly odd that the party which till the other day criticized the PM for being a helpless pawn of Mrs Gandhi is now attributing all responsibility to the PM and none to Mrs Gandhi.

It is in this context that the letter written on 11 February by the RSS to the PM should be viewed. For the first time in its history the RSS publicly wrote a letter to the PM. The letter stated: "We have reason to believe that in the last four to five years, there is a political conspiracy to destabilize the RSS and an independent inquiry should be instituted to look into it." The letter pointed out that Hindu terrorists like Srikant Purohit and Dayanand Pandey accused in the Malegaon and Samjhauta Express blasts "have been planning to kill RSS chief Mohan Rao Bhagwat and Sangh members like Indresh Kumar" of which there was "evidence with the Maharashtra ATS on that". The letter goes on to ask how the government can trust statements of those who were themselves threatening and working against the RSS and its top brass.  "How can these people be associated with the RSS if they were a threat to us?" RSS spokesman MM Vaidya asked the media. "There should be an independent probe on who are behind these people and also one on the threat to Bhagwat's life."
The media was quick to conclude from the letter being written that the RSS was worried about being implicated in terror and then being banned. The media missed the more significant aspect. If there is a conspiracy to destabilize the RSS as alleged in the letter the finger implicitly points at Mrs Sonia Gandhi's favourite hatchet man in the cabinet, Home Minister Chidambaram. Furthermore the letter clearly indicates that the RSS trusts the PM more than it does Chidambaram. As indicated above this is quite opposite to the direction in which the BJP top brass is moving. The differences between the RSS and the BJP, percolating down from the differences within the Congress, are therefore plainly visible. The BJP opposes the government by attacking the PM. The RSS opposes the Congress by isolating the Dynasty.

BJP MPs look for immediate gain. They want to get into the government. The removal of Dr Manmohan Singh from his post could conceivably create conditions to accomplish that. The RSS looks for long term gain. Isolating the Dynasty and making it politically irrelevant would accomplish that. Minus the Dynasty what would remain of the Congress? There is therefore a rationale behind the RSS-BJP differences. It remains to be seen whether these differences will widen. And if these do, where they will lead the nation.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







Going, going, gone! Sounds odd, to say the least, if it concerns countries which until only the other day had seemed rock solid. Imagine Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader on the run, successor to the charismatic pan-Arab leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser; Col. Muammar Gaddafi, the narcissistic Libyan leader whom Ronald Reagan had described more than two decades ago as "that mad dog"; the Tunisian strongman Ben Ali and the Yemenese President ~ all facing the predicament that they currently do. Imagine the Sheikh of Bahrain holding on desperately to his throne thanks to the unspoken support from a neighbouring Islamic republic which is itself worried about the stirrings of public protests. Imagine Kuwaiti and Omani royals getting jittery as well. The story goes on and on. Even the great People's Republic of China, never known for its tolerance for public dissent (remember Tiananmen Square?) put down a handful of demonstrations the other day with a heavy hand.
Thank God, we in India ~ divided, diverse and always saddled with bickering politicians and caste-driven bigots ~ seem to be living in comparative peace. Maybe our own cultural, linguistic, religious diversities offer us some kind of safety unlike the great monolithic religious states (with one or two exceptions where they have allowed a handful of Christians to stay on) which stay divided by tribal loyalties even when they share the same faith.
In the post-World War I and II years, the West did install kings in what they fondly called the Middle East and we insist on calling West Asia; Shiekhdoms were created almost at will. It is another matter the Kings and Sheikhs were among the first to go, victim to the armies they had empowered. Iraq and Egypt instantly come to mind. Endowed with the most profitable natural resource, oil, the Kings and Sheikhs considered God-given wealth their own. Iran got rid of its Shah only to be ruled for the past three decades by iron-fisted Mullahs who invoke the wrath of Allah at the first sound of dissent. They will not even heed the counsel of their Shi'ite colleagues. The Iranian ecclesiastical establishment considers itself no less than a divine dispensation. I had seen it coming in the winter of 1979 in Teheran when huge waves of demonstrators would march down the streets of the Iranian capital shouting "Allah-o-Akbar, Khomeini Rahbar!" ~ very nearly putting Ayatollah Khomeini on the same pedestal as God.

Around the same time, I had visited Afghanistan for a fortnight and frankly, my heart had gone out to the Mujahideen who were repulsing the Soviet invasion. Little did I realise then that the fight for freedom would transform itself into a jihad in no time. I remember the man driving us in semi-darkness from Kabul to Jalalabad in the wee hours of a chilly winter's day. He spoke a little Urdu and asked me to call him Malang. "Insha Allah, Russi (Russian) ko khatam karenge, phir tumhare muluk ayenge. Theek hai? (First we will finish off the Russians, then we will come to your country)?" "Insha Allah," I had intoned after him, little knowing that my next visit to Kabul would have me find Afghans beheading each other.

Around the same time, back home in Delhi, I was asked to go to Kashmir where Pakistan-backed separatists had begun to surface. In the first flush of their insurgence, the militants targeted the Kashmiri pandit they ran into, issuing threats and generally harassing them, causing most of them to flee the Valley. It broke my Kashmiri heart because I had always believed that Kashmiris ~  unlike Hindus and Muslims in the rest of the sub-continent ~ were just Kashmiris, and not "Bhattas" (Pandits) and "Musalmans".

Much blood has been spilled in that state in the intervening years, and sadly, there are few there who want peace and reconciliation. To my simple mind, there is some hope, though, seeing how things are going in the separatists' dreamland of Pakistan. With our neighbour persisting in its self-destructive ways, it may not be long before its nascent (three-year-old) democracy yields place to the country's army. Mr Nawaz Sharif's Muslim League, which had partnered with the Pakistan People's Party (PPP) in the last general election, has broken off its ties with the PPP in that country's most populous province ~ Punjab ~ which is ruled by Mr Sharif's brother. The Muslim League is restraining itself with difficulty from pulling the rug from under Mr Asif Ali Zardari's feet in Islamabad.

Mr Zardari may manage to hold on to power for a while but it's still a matter of considerable debate if Mr Sharif has gained the support of Muslim League (Q) ~ Chaudhry Shujaat's faction ~ which owed allegiance to Gen. Pervez Musharraf when he was in power. What seems to be working for the Zardari dispensation so far is Mr Sharif's reservations about causing the PPP-led government to fall because that might hand the army in a platter a pretext to take over. The word is that Mr Sharif will wait it out till the next election ~ which, from the looks of it ~ might take place in the not-so-distant future. Mr Zardari's foolhardiness has ensured that the PPP is now but a spectre of what it used to be in Zulfiquar Ali Butto or Benazir Bhutto's time.

This apart, the Pakistani Taliban appear to be in no mood to ease the pressure on the government: its campaign of suicide attacks in every part of the country shows no signs of relenting. Apart from the Pakistani Taliban, the government also has to contend with the Laskar-e-Taiyyaba of Hafeez Saeed and numerous other militant organisations. The jihadists go on calling the Zardari government an American stooge. The charge gained strength when former foreign minister Shah Mahmood Qureshi, after he was dropped from the Cabinet by the Prime Minister, claimed that he had been shown the door because he had insisted on action against an American who shot dead two Pakistani nationals in Lahore. The Americans argue that the murder suspect enjoys diplomatic immunity but Mr Zardari, his hands tied, is not willing to acknowledge that. In the meantime, another American has been held by the Pakistani authorities even as a whole fleet of petrol-laden tankers en route to Afghanistan was set ablaze by the Taliban in Pakistan.

It's really difficult to say for how long exactly the Pakistani government will remain in power. Internally, it is facing challenges not only from Mr Nawaz Sharif but most dangerously, from the Taliban/LeT and the army. Who knows, if in his desperation, Mr Zardari, Pakistan's army willing, is forced to heed Hafez Saeed's utterance a fortnight ago that time for action against Indians in Kashmir had come?

I am sure Kashmiris, even in the Valley, would not want to be subjected to a war-like situation. That would render futile the efforts of the Indian interlocutors and the Kashmiris' demand for withdrawal of the Army from civilian areas and scrapping of the Act that empowers the Army with special powers in the state. The mainstream People's Democratic Party (PDP) of Kashmir, led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has suddenly chosen to make common cause with the separatist Hurriyat. He says that since they both speak the same language (on the separatists'  demand), "we can evolve a consensus on the ground". I don't know how he links the demands of his party to that of the Hurriyat's ~ having refused to talk to the interlocutors and yet demanding a round table conference with the Prime Minister with the Hurriyat as a participant.

Does the Mufti go along with Syed Ali Shah Geelani's extremist Hurriyat when it speaks of accession to Pakistan or is he with Maulvi Farouk's Hurriyat which is currently trying to fish in the troubled India-China waters with a tottering Paskistani regime holding the fishing rod? If the PDP leadership knows what it really wants, why doesn't it make a clean breast of it and ask the Prime Minister to switch the Congress' support for the National Conference to the PDP for the Muftis to come to power again. After all, the Congress and the PDP had shared power in the state for six years once before. Or, is it that we are playing for higher stakes? Like, for instance, create instability in the Valley to prepare the ground for the likes of Hafeez Saeed and his Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba to step in?

The writer is a veteran journalist and former Resident Editor of The Statesman, Delhi






Daniel Bell (1919-2011) was one of the most influential sociologists in the post World War II period in the USA. A great quality which he had, which often eludes academics, is that he was a popular and often controversial writer and the academic community took seriously whatever he wrote. A prolific writer and a commentator, Bell's formative years was full of Leftist radicalism and for the first two decades of his adult life, he was a journalist. A man of the Left in his initial years, yet he was a severe critic of the US Marxist political parties, of C Wright Mills, the author of the Power Elite and the doctrine of the New Left with their narcissism. He would not excuse the excesses and the tyrannies carried out in the name of socialism and always emphasised on the welfare of the wage earners, who form the overwhelming majority in any society.

Bell's socialism always had a humane face which he never forgot while defining and realising a better order for tomorrow. His suspicion of total power and scepticism of unsubstantiated claim of a more harmonious larger whole led him to reject holistic frameworks of Marxism and in the contemporary American environment, functionalism. His essential formulation was that in the contemporary Western society, the three important realms of economy, politics and culture was motivated by three different principles of efficiency, equality and self fulfilment. If there is one total rejection in Bell's analyses, it was reductionism in social inquiry.
Bell came to prominence, in 1960, with his thesis on the end of ideology. He contended that the ideologies that had evolved in the 19th century and had played a crucial role in shaping global politics have become irrelevant in the mid 20th century. The clash of ideologies has been replaced by a new consensual basis of politics, based on democratic principles and welfare state liberalism. Thought the book analysed various aspects of contemporary society, the title essay made him famous. He based his arguments on analysis and not on polemics and declared "the problems which confront us at home and in the world are resistant to the old terms of ideological debate 'left' and 'right'".

The Coming of the Post Industrial Society (1973) sub-titled A Venture in Social Forecasting was a futuristic work with a portrayal of the important impact that the new technologies would have in moulding economics. The emergence of an "information economy" is predicted with the consequence of social stratification led by experts. Bell predicted something like the internet. He saw the global spread of economies based on services which would generate both capital and employment replacing the earlier period dominated by manufacturing and agriculture. In the Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism (1976) Bell resurrected the old puritan ethics of Max Weber based on thrift and a modest lifestyle and contrasts this original spirit of capitalism with the modern phase of mass consumption, acquisitiveness and widespread indebtedness.

Bell's revolt was against any reductionism in theory which did not allow fresh thinking and change for the better. In 1995, in a new edition of his first book, Marxian Socialism in the United States he stated "Socialism remains a moral ideal independent of a theory of history. The moral ideal is one of equality and opportunity for each of us to fulfil our self and use our talents ... I closed my book with Max Weber's injunction that he who seeks the salvation of souls should not seek it along with the avenue of politics. But what we have learned is that the need to provide resources to individuals who have been excluded from society, and who can participate fully as citizens only if they have the resources that give them self-esteem necessarily involves politics". This passage, in a nutshell, caught the spirit of Bell's world view that combined a moral view with the pragmatism to change for the better by the avenues of politics thus emerging as the finest proponents of social democracy. In his own assessment he correctly described himself as "a Marxist in economics, a liberal in politics and a conservative in culture".

It would be a mistake to think that this emphasis on culture was a consequence of the turbulence of the 1960s, which for Bell, was "an attack on reason itself". For him, the new culture was "an effort by a cultural mass to adopt and act out the lifestyle which hitherto has been the property of the small and talented elite". Even in the 1990s when the leftist journal Dissent was launched he remarked that "the problem of radicalism today is to reconsider the relationship of culture to society". Often Bell was classified as a neo-conservative. it was because he was the co-founder of the Public Interest, a quarterly, along with the architect of neo conservatism, Irving Kristol. He edited the journal with Kristol till 1973.

In 1984, Bell wrote about the aim of the Public Interest which "was to transcend ideology through reasoned public debate and te inquiry into knowledge". But this hope of Bell was belied as increasingly the voice of the journal became the voice of neo conservatism and the ideological differences with such a narrow perspective which was a departure from its initial promise and Bell disassociated from it. He belonged to a what has been described as "the New York intellectuals" consisting of such luminaries as Irving Howe, Nathan Glazer, Irving Krisol and Seymour Martin Lipset. It was largely a Jewish group and initially left leaning in their brilliance and arguments. Subsequently, Bell became one of its foremost figures.

It is no small credit for Bell that two of his books, The End of Ideology and The Cultural Contradictions of Capitalism were included by the Times Literary Supplement among the one hundred most influential books that was published in the post War World II period. Many of his phrases which he coined have become part of the common usage. In a recent issue of the Economist, Bell was quoted affirmatively for coining the phrase post  industrial society and reasoned that the arrival of this order, from the manufacture and male centric production process has led to the fact that the women are now 50 per cent of the workforce in the Anglo-Saxon world.
Bell's credit was that he could easily grasp the spirit of his age much before any comparable figure. Before him, Burnham spoke of the managerial revolution but it was Bell who could grasp the full impact of the technological revolution. Unlike Marcuse, who confined himself with an analysis of impact of technology essentially within the confines of advanced capitalism Bell was aware of its impact throughout the world. Prophesising the unstoppable march of technology inspired globalisation Bell remarked hat "the nation state is too big for small things and too small for big things emphasising the limits of the nation state.
Bell witnessed and captured the essence of great transformation that human kind was witnessing in recent past. In capturing this momentous change, Bell would always remain a reference point for understanding that the world of quick change. He never claimed to be a specialist and termed himself as a generalist and within that framework, his achievement are stupendous and unparalleled.

The author is Associate Professor in Political Science, Jesus and Mary College, New Delhi






The reply which Sir Lancelot Hare has given to the views expressed by the Dooars Planters regarding the liquor traffic will have been read with considerable amazement. The case put forward by the planting community is simple and convincing. The gardens are put to loss and inconvenience by the existence of Bhutanese liquor shops on the frontier, which entice their coolies. They ask that the Government of Eastern Bengal should take steps to have the shops removed. The sole object of these establishments is to carry on an illegitimate trade and the Government are entitled to demand their transference from the border line. The planters do not desire to coerce their coolies into becoming total abstainers. They recognise that the labourers, being recruited from aboriginal tribes accustomed to drink, must be allowed to satisfy their traditional habit, but they contend that this demand will be best met by giving the coolies all reasonable freedom in brewing pachwai, a comparatively harmless beer with which they are familiar. The Excise Department, on the other hand, propose to put restrictions on the supply of pachwai, not in the interests of temperance but in order to induce the coolies to drink distillery spirit and thus enhance the Government revenue. To this scheme the planters are opposed because spirits are a terrible temptation to the coolie and many a good worker has been ruined by over-indulgence. Sir Lancelot Hare admits that the border liquor shops ought to be removed, but he is apparently doubtful whether this reform can be achieved. If they cannot be transferred, the only alternative which Sir Lancelot Hare seems to perceive is competition by the Excise Department. It is true that he used these reassuring words:- "I do not say that I will ask any of you to approve a new shop being placed in a strategic position to cut off a foreign shop, and I certainly shall not ask you to approve a new shop for revenue purposes."







All coalition governments are marriages of convenience, but some of these are doomed from the start. Few in Kathmandu and elsewhere are surprised that Jhalanath Khanal's new government in Nepal remains a non-starter three weeks after it was formed. The new prime minister is unable to distribute important portfolios, thanks to the obduracy of the Unified Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist). When the Maoists, who have the largest number of seats in parliament, decided to give up their claim to the prime minister's job, it was obvious that they did so only to try and blackmail Mr Khanal. They have now threatened not to join the government if they are not given the home ministry. Mr Khanal's options are limited — he can either surrender to the threat and reduce himself to the Maoists' puppet or stand up and call their bluff. He also faces a possible revolt from his own party, the Communist Party of Nepal (Unified Marxist-Leninist), if he gives in to the Maoists' blackmail. The prime minister cannot let the Maoists use his government to sabotage not only its functioning but also Nepal's fledgling democracy. How he deals with this first Maoist attempt at blackmailing him will show if he can tackle other challenges that the country has been facing.

Staying in power is the least of Mr Khanal's challenges. His government's top priority has to be the completion of the peace process and meeting the deadline for the drafting of the new constitution. It is not just democracy which is on trial in Nepal. The new constitution is likely to suggest a federal system of governance for the country. It is almost certain that the new set-up will comprise a central government and many provincial ones. The country is undecided as to whether the provinces should be carved out only on ethnic lines. The Maoists want ethnic majority to be the basis of the provinces. But many in Nepal argue that such divisions of the country's political set-up will be a recipe more for ethnic and other discords than for political or cultural pluralism. However, Mr Khanal's immediate task is to build a consensus for completing the peace process. But the success of that initiative too will depend on how he handles the issue of integrating the former Maoist guerrillas into the Nepal Army or the police force. Whatever he does must have one clear objective — he cannot let Nepal fall into the Maoists' trap.






The forthcoming assembly elections in Tamil Nadu are no longer the tame affair they were expected to be even a month ago. The one development that has electrified the atmosphere is the pre-poll alliance between the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and the Desiya Murpokku Dravida Kazhagam. Till the final tally is out, it would be difficult to predict exactly which of the two parties has gained more from this bit of adventurism. But there is no doubt that the AIADMK starts with an initial advantage. For one, it is the bigger party of the two, with its cadre-base, historic association with the Dravidian movement and a prior claim to the legacy of M.G. Ramachandran. But a more substantive advantage lies in its chances of being able to prevent a division in the anti-Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam votes that were getting invariably split between the AIADMK and the DMDK, the two major parties in the Opposition. The DMDK has shown a steady increase in its vote share — from 8.38 per cent in the last assembly polls of 2006 to 10.08 per cent in the Lok Sabha elections. Those votes would now be in a single kitty. Of course, the ownership of that kitty could be a problem. Both J. Jayalalithaa and Vijayakanth are mercurial leaders, who are unlikely to allow themselves to be subsumed by compromises worked out in a hurry.

The threat quotient of this alliance, however, depends entirely on how well the ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam and its allies are equipped to deal with it. As things stand now, the DMK front seems to be in bad shape. It already has the Pattali Makkal Katchi and the Viduthalai Siruthaigal Katchi and a few other smaller parties, but the deal with the other crucial ally — the Congress —is yet to be sealed. Even before the 2G spectrum scandal broke, there was sufficient evidence that the Congress was unhappy in the marriage with the DMK, which left the former out of power in the state. With the Opposition strengthened, the Congress feels it can pressure the DMK to part with an equitable number of seats that would allow it to claim its part in the post-poll power structure. The DMK is holding out, but it knows that without the Congress, it would be left high and dry. The Congress knows it as well. Without the DMK, it too would be in an unenviable position, now that it is a trifle late to gatecrash into the other party.






Imagine this! A Pakistani diplomat attached to its consulate in the "Big Apple" kills two white Americans on a Manhattan street and is taken into custody by the New York police department. Pakistan's ambassador in Washington, Husain Haqqani, tries to get him released, claiming that he enjoys diplomatic immunity, and is brusquely told off. President Asif Ali Zardari then calls Hillary Clinton. Why Clinton? Doesn't protocol require that a president should be talking to his counterpart and, therefore, shouldn't Zardari be talking to Barack Obama?

No. Pakistan is a client state of the United States of America: so Zardari's calls are usually routed not to Obama, not even to the vice- president, Joe Biden, but two levels lower — to the secretary of state, Clinton. Zardari then tells Clinton in his usual bumbling style that the Pakistani in jail in New York cannot be tried in a US court because of his diplomatic immunity and must be set free forthwith. Clinton tells Zardari that Pakistan's president is lucky that he is calling from Islamabad. Had it been a local call, he would have been told to go jump into the freezing waters of the Potomac river flowing around Washington.

Such a glaring double standard, which Americans make no bones about, is partly the reason why shreds of what remains of Pakistan's self-respect in its dealings with the US cannot allow for the release of Raymond Davis, a Central Intelligence Agency contractor who shot dead two Pakistanis while he was working undercover in Lahore. A third Pakistani was run over and killed by a US diplomatic vehicle which went to rescue Davis.

An incident in New York on the lines of the preceding paragraphs does not have to occur for Pakistanis — or anyone else for that matter — to realize that there is one set of rules under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations for Americans who get into trouble abroad and a completely different set of rules for foreign diplomats who run into problems when they are posted in the US.

In January 1997, Gueorgui Makharadze, the deputy chief of mission at the Georgian embassy in the US, driving drunk, killed a 16-year-old girl in a five-car pileup in the heart of Washington. Nicholas Burns, a familiar name in India as the top diplomat who navigated the India-US nuclear deal through the American system, was spokesman of the state department then. Burns had this to say: "It is state department policy to request a waiver of diplomatic immunity if local prosecutors pursue criminal charges. The government of Georgia would have to give consent to lift diplomatic immunity if charges are brought." Mind the words, "Georgia would have to." And as another client state of the US, its president, Eduard Shevardnadze, meekly lifted the immunity of its second ranking diplomat in the US. Makharadze was jailed for up to 21 years.

Unlike in the case of the Georgian, the CIA contractor in Lahore was not entitled to diplomatic immunity under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations because he was not working at the US embassy in Islamabad. Let us assume for the sake of argument that he was a consular employee at the US diplomatic post in Lahore, which, in fact, he was not. Under the Vienna convention on consular relations, Davis would then have been entitled to immunity only in the discharge of an official act.

When he was arrested after the cold-blooded murders, photographs of sensitive Pakistani military establishments, a sophisticated camera, a long-range radio, a small telescope and a handgun, among other things, were recovered from the American. Driving around in a rented car with these highly suspicious objects did not constitute the discharge of any consular work, and so Davis was not entitled to immunity under the Vienna convention on consular relations.

The Americans, however, quickly realized this. So they changed their statement made on the first day that Davis was employed at the consulate in Lahore and insisted thereafter that he was posted at their embassy in Islamabad. Had that been the case, he would, of course, have been entitled to blanket immunity under the Vienna convention on diplomatic relations.

There is growing agreement that the two men whom Davis killed were, in fact, after him. The CIA's man may even be right in claiming that he acted in self-defence. But fewer and fewer people are buying into the claim by Davis that those two men were robbers trying to target the American. The world of spies is veering round to the view that the two Pakistanis who followed Davis were, in fact, agents of the Inter-Services Intelligence, who either wanted to eliminate him because he had found out too much or kidnap him in order to discover what he was really up to. And the difficulty in simply letting Davis go free now is that he actually killed two ISI men.

Under the circumstances, the present crisis in relations between the ISI and the CIA was inevitable. There is a consensus in the intelligence community that even if Davis had not precipitated this crisis by shooting dead two Pakistanis and causing the death of a third, it was long coming. That is because the CIA had become a state within the state of Pakistan, accountable to no one in authority in that country and engaged in operations which the ISI had no clue of.

Conservative estimates are that there were at least 50 undercover CIA agents like Davis at the time of his arrest. They were not even known to the ISI, a situation which no spy agency could have tolerated. But the American mistake was that when the Pakistanis attempted to have at least a semblance of accountability thrust on them, the reaction from Washington was one of arrogance and defiance.

About half of the clandestine CIA teams are said to have left Pakistan, maybe temporarily, in the wake of the Davis episode. The Pentagon is desperate to stop the slide in ties between the CIA and the ISI because conduct of the war in Afghanistan is fraught with uncertainties without cooperation from Pakistan.

Last week, Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff, flew to Muscat to meet General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani, Pakistan's chief of army staff, in a fresh effort to find a solution. Earlier, General David Petraeus, commander of international security assistance force in Afghanistan, made a secret trip to Rawalpindi to see Kayani, but the Pakistanis were so angry at that time that they let it be known that Petraeus had visited Pakistan in the hope of freeing Davis.

Yesterday, the Obama administration rejected an offer from Islamabad to exchange Davis for Aafia Siddiqui, a Pakistani neuroscientist educated at the prestigious Massachussetts Institute of Technology, now serving out a jail sentence of 86 years in the US on a charge of conspiring to shoot agents of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and military officers in Afghanistan three years ago. Such swap proposals are reminiscent of spy exchanges between the US and the former Soviet Union, and provide a measure of how severely US-Pakistan relations are presently under strain.






It's been five years since I launched this column. Forgive me if for once I forget the English language and look at England's life and landscape.

I'm doing so as I write, seated in my Sussex garden. It's 4 o'clock on a sunny late-February afternoon. To the north lies a wide valley, still green in the sunlight. Half-a-mile south rise the Sussex Downs, their face already in shadow.

These 'downs' are, in fact, ups, a range of low hills along much of Britain's south coast; the word began as the Dutch duinen, dunes, which may count as hills in that flat land.

Westward, toward the village and the parish church, stretches a field of young winter wheat. 'Winter'? British crops have just one harvest; the word simply means it was sown last autumn, the 'spring' corn is yet to be drilled. Rarely, a fox trots across. But the deer seem to have vanished; poached for sale, maybe.

On a hill nearby, the landowners wanted to build a handsome modern mansion. Even if they'd ever have got planning permission, no way do you spoil our hill, said the village. The chief critic was a neighbour of mine — whose house, long predating planners or villagers with a voice, is a handsome hillside mansion. No one pointed that out. The landowners gave way.

After a week of grey and rain, the sky is a pale, cloudless blue. Maybe 100-150 feet up, a pair of buzzards are soaring effortlessly, on the watch for prey. These are the commonest British hawks, along with the smaller kestrel. Its hunting style is very different. It hovers, maybe 30 feet up, above one spot, beating its wings like a slowed-down humming-bird.

At times, we see a red kite, the largest bird of prey in these parts. Shot to extinction by Victorian gamekeepers, it was reintroduced in the Chiltern hills, north-west of London, around 1990, and has flourished and spread. Its feature is the way it constantly adjusts its angled tail-feathers. So, I'm told, do India's vultures, though all I recall of the then-numerous ones of my Mumbai days was the way they bombed my balcony with bits of their meals. Hence the ghoulish old Parsi joke — no, let's be honest, I concocted it, being further then from death than I am now —that "You never know when one of your old friends will be dropping in."

I myself raid hedges in autumn, for blackberries. These go with my surplus apples into chutney, which I sell to aid our two churches; we have another serving one of the umpteen 'dissenting' sects born in the 17th-19th centuries. I attend neither church, but both, even now, are real parts of English life, and I value them as such. The cricket ground, another part, I do attend; and the village team, ranking low in the batting order, really is from the village, as many in these motorized days are not.

In sum, I'm a retired old buffer, content with a village life that still exists, however hugely changed. And more than content, besotted, with the beauty of England's countryside, its ever-changing weather, its woods, its humble hills, its fields far bigger than they were once, and some tended by giant satellite-guided machines, yet English fields still. And, not the least, its magnificent gardens, which private owners open to the public for a few days a year and which rushing tourists, herded from London to Stratford to Edinburgh, never set eyes on.

And here I return to my linguistic muttons. I've peppered these paragraphs with scenes and ideas and words that must mean little to many Londoners. What do they mean to anyone living in an Indian city? Or, indeed, anywhere in a land whose countryside, climate and customs, not to say languages, are so deeply different? The language shared by Britons and Indians was formed by a world that they do not share. Countless words must resonate differently for the two. I'm humbled to think how many Indians can use English better than most Britons can — and convinced that its two varieties will in time grow wider apart.




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




The rising prices of crude oil in the international market are posing a serious threat to the economies of all countries and taking the wind out of anti-inflation strategies of most governments and central banks. The slow recovery of world economy will be further hit by the oil price rise. India will suffer particularly because its growth has depended partly on the growth, though weak, of other major economies and more importantly because it imports about 80 per cent of its petroleum requirements. The crude prices are ruling at a 30-month high, crossing the psychological $100 mark, because of the disruption of production and supplies from Libya. Even if the unrest ends there it will take some time for the supplies to normalise. But there are chances of the situation aggravating and the trouble spreading to other oil-producing countries.

The Union budget does not offer a prescription to address the problem of rising oil prices. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's hope to bring down the fiscal deficit from 5.1 per cent of the GDP to 4.6 per cent is likely to be belied by, apart from other factors, the rise in crude prices. The government cannot obviously allow the market to determine the oil prices and transfer the burden to the people, making life much more difficult, and allowing inflation to soar to still higher levels. The Centre will have to reduce the duties on petroleum products and also persuade the state governments to forgo some part of the revenues they earn from local levies. But  both have been reluctant to do so. The Centre can further subsidise the under-recoveries of oil marketing companies. In fact the claims of under-recoveries are being questioned because the methodology to calculate them are not considered correct. The oil marketing companies should also increase their efficiencies and cut down costs. This is expected to make a difference to the pricing process. The common man should not be made to pay the price for government's failure to balance its books and for the inefficiencies of refining and marketing companies.

While these are immediate remedies, it has been pointed out that improving the transporting system of petroleum products can save a lot of money. There should be increased use of railways instead of roads. Coal-based power generation should receive greater attention. It will be politically and economically unwise for the government to increase the retail prices now.








Cricket's tryst with technology is an ongoing process aimed at providing the fairest, most correct decisions possible. It's a recognition of the fact that umpires are fallible, too, and prone to errors. The use of technology to overturn obvious mistakes has to be viewed as a welcome development. The revolution began in the early '90s, with the third umpire coming into play for line decisions, and has extended to the Decision Review System that allows each team two unsuccessful challenges per innings. The DRS has attracted positive reviews, India's continued misgivings notwithstanding. But the reluctance to use all the technology available for DRS needs to be addressed.

Initially restricted to Test matches, the DRS has now spilled over to the limited-overs arena too. It makes perfect sense to employ it in an event as high-profile as the World Cup, though it is questionable if the real-time beaming of images on the giant screen during the review process is the most prudent course of action. It's just as well that the Ian Bell incident during Sunday's gripping match between India and England didn't inflame passions. There is no gainsaying what the reactions from the spectators would have been had a similar situation transpired at a more excitable venue, or indeed during a more decisive phase of the match.


Few players on the field, let alone the fans in the stands, were aware of the 2.5-metre stricture that renders it impossible to overturn the original decision. Bell himself believed he was out after watching replays and started to walk; he, as well as the Indian team and the spectators, were truly astonished when he was adjudged not out for the second time by Billy Bowden. While it is commendable to want to ensure that fans at the ground have as much access to information and images as those watching at home on TV, authorities concerned must factor the potential for damage such incidents can trigger.

There have been incidences in the past, including at the Chinnaswamy stadium, when fans have reacted violently to what in their perception were wrong decisions against their heroes. Against this backdrop, it is imperative that the International Cricket Council revisits its ideas on allowing the fans in the ground a full, unedited and live view of the review process as it unfolds.






The reverberations of the unfolding struggle in Bahrain over political power and economic justice will be felt all over the Persian Gulf.

Travelling on the 24-km long King Fahd causeway connecting Saudi Arabia's Dammam with Bahrain may take anywhere up to 4 hours. Apart from the number of stops necessitated by the countless windows for immigration and customs procedures, there is such heavy traffic. For wealthy Saudis, Bahrain is the nearest waterhole they can't do without when the impulse gets strong for the furtive pleasures that human flesh is heir to.

The delay caused by the traffic jam last Monday evening would have been doubly exasperating. A column of 30 Saudi tanks crawled up the causeway choking traffic on a fateful mission that may rewrite the history of Persian Gulf region. It constituted Saudi Arabia's back-up force for the beleagured Bahrain regime of Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa who faces a rising curve of popular uprising through the past fortnight.

Bahrain is known for oil and pearls. But the unfolding struggle is over political power and economic justice, freedom and democratic empowerment and Shi'ite aspirations. Its reverberations will be felt all over the Persian Gulf region. Which explains the alacrity with which the notoriously ponderous Saudi regime bestirred itself into making an intervention in Bahrain.

Khalifa visited Riyadh last week for an audience with King Abdullah who just returned home after 3 month's absence abroad for medical treatment. The urgency of the meeting was palpable. Khalifa offered dialogue to his subjects but they won't settle for anything less than his abdication and representative rule. A showdown is nearing.

The Saudis' regime also faces a slow-motion crisis, which is inexorably gaining traction. Aside the political transition in Saudi Arabia amid the signs of a grim power struggle for succession within the royal family, Riyadh would estimate that Bahrain events can have a spill-over with profound consequences. If Bahrain's Shi'ites who account for 70 per cent of the population capture power, it will encourage the restive Shi'ite populations within the neighbouring countries in the region — especially Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Yemen. Moreover, there is also a class dimension to Shi'ite empowerment and therefore the future of the political and economic order in the region is in jeopardy.

Despite the current focus of the media attention on Col Muammar Gaddafi and Libya, what happens in Bahrain between now and the famous Ides of March will have a far greater impact on West Asian geopolitics. Persian Gulf holds the bulk of the world's known oil reserves, it is a region where United States and the western world's political and business stakes are high, petrodollar is integral to the sustenance of the prosperity of the western world, and of course, it is also the play-pen of Osama bin Laden. The mix, in short, is highly combustible even if one were to disregard that the region also includes Iran.

US base

The US' Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain and it is pivotal to the entire American security architecture in the vast region from the sands of Egypt to the steppes of Central Asia. The Fifth Fleet spies on Iran and dispatches supplies for the US troops in Afghanistan, it keeps an eagle's eye on the stability of Iraq and it scares away the ubiquitous Somali pirates and coordinates with Diego Garcia to secure the great sea lanes of Indian Ocean. In short, the spectre of the flood gates opening in the Persian Gulf haunts Washington. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff visited Bahrain and Saudi Arabia last week.

The US rhetoric over Gaddafi and Khalifa offers a study in contrast. But if blood spills on the Pearl Square in Bahrain, Barack Obama will be hard-pressed to take a 'Libyan-style' stance. The entire US and western strategy to intervene in Libya will otherwise lack credibility. Washington seems to acquiesce in the Saudi intervention but the danger is that a bloody confrontation in Bahrain may trigger what the US regards as the ultimate nightmare — widespread regional upheaval with unforeseen consequences.

Indeed, the big question is whether a crackdown on the reformists in Bahrain is even going to be sustainable. What is on display is the growing impotency of US' power and influence to stem the tide of history sweeping through the region.

Delhi's dilemma is no less acute than Obama's. When and how to make the course correction away from a policy predicated on the 'pro-west' Arab oligarchies and towards the emergent political elites is the Indian dilemma. So far Delhi's rhetoric closely imitated Obama's — its ups and downs, its ambivalences and ambiguities. But time is approaching for greater clarity of thinking, especially with regard to the urgency of repairing ties with Iran, which appears to be an oasis of stability in the region. Then, there are the overarching considerations of oil imports, our $120 billion trade with the region and the invisibles totalling over $15 billion by way of repatriation by the Indian expatriate community living and working in the region.

With regard to the turmoil in Bahrain there is the pressing question: how to secure the welfare of the Indians who account for half of the island's population with Malayalis accounting for the overwhelming majority? As the soothsayer told Julius Caesar, a dangerous period lies ahead between now and the Ides of March.

(The writer is a former diplomat)








The reverberations of the unfolding struggle in Bahrain over political power and economic justice will be felt all over the Persian Gulf.

Travelling on the 24-km long King Fahd causeway connecting Saudi Arabia's Dammam with Bahrain may take anywhere up to 4 hours. Apart from the number of stops necessitated by the countless windows for immigration and customs procedures, there is such heavy traffic. For wealthy Saudis, Bahrain is the nearest waterhole they can't do without when the impulse gets strong for the furtive pleasures that human flesh is heir to.

The delay caused by the traffic jam last Monday evening would have been doubly exasperating. A column of 30 Saudi tanks crawled up the causeway choking traffic on a fateful mission that may rewrite the history of Persian Gulf region. It constituted Saudi Arabia's back-up force for the beleagured Bahrain regime of Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa who faces a rising curve of popular uprising through the past fortnight.

Bahrain is known for oil and pearls. But the unfolding struggle is over political power and economic justice, freedom and democratic empowerment and Shi'ite aspirations. Its reverberations will be felt all over the Persian Gulf region. Which explains the alacrity with which the notoriously ponderous Saudi regime bestirred itself into making an intervention in Bahrain.

Khalifa visited Riyadh last week for an audience with King Abdullah who just returned home after 3 month's absence abroad for medical treatment. The urgency of the meeting was palpable. Khalifa offered dialogue to his subjects but they won't settle for anything less than his abdication and representative rule. A showdown is nearing.

The Saudis' regime also faces a slow-motion crisis, which is inexorably gaining traction. Aside the political transition in Saudi Arabia amid the signs of a grim power struggle for succession within the royal family, Riyadh would estimate that Bahrain events can have a spill-over with profound consequences. If Bahrain's Shi'ites who account for 70 per cent of the population capture power, it will encourage the restive Shi'ite populations within the neighbouring countries in the region — especially Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Yemen. Moreover, there is also a class dimension to Shi'ite empowerment and therefore the future of the political and economic order in the region is in jeopardy.

Despite the current focus of the media attention on Col Muammar Gaddafi and Libya, what happens in Bahrain between now and the famous Ides of March will have a far greater impact on West Asian geopolitics. Persian Gulf holds the bulk of the world's known oil reserves, it is a region where United States and the western world's political and business stakes are high, petrodollar is integral to the sustenance of the prosperity of the western world, and of course, it is also the play-pen of Osama bin Laden. The mix, in short, is highly combustible even if one were to disregard that the region also includes Iran.

US base

The US' Fifth Fleet is based in Bahrain and it is pivotal to the entire American security architecture in the vast region from the sands of Egypt to the steppes of Central Asia. The Fifth Fleet spies on Iran and dispatches supplies for the US troops in Afghanistan, it keeps an eagle's eye on the stability of Iraq and it scares away the ubiquitous Somali pirates and coordinates with Diego Garcia to secure the great sea lanes of Indian Ocean. In short, the spectre of the flood gates opening in the Persian Gulf haunts Washington. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US joint chiefs of staff visited Bahrain and Saudi Arabia last week.

The US rhetoric over Gaddafi and Khalifa offers a study in contrast. But if blood spills on the Pearl Square in Bahrain, Barack Obama will be hard-pressed to take a 'Libyan-style' stance. The entire US and western strategy to intervene in Libya will otherwise lack credibility. Washington seems to acquiesce in the Saudi intervention but the danger is that a bloody confrontation in Bahrain may trigger what the US regards as the ultimate nightmare — widespread regional upheaval with unforeseen consequences.

Indeed, the big question is whether a crackdown on the reformists in Bahrain is even going to be sustainable. What is on display is the growing impotency of US' power and influence to stem the tide of history sweeping through the region.

Delhi's dilemma is no less acute than Obama's. When and how to make the course correction away from a policy predicated on the 'pro-west' Arab oligarchies and towards the emergent political elites is the Indian dilemma. So far Delhi's rhetoric closely imitated Obama's — its ups and downs, its ambivalences and ambiguities. But time is approaching for greater clarity of thinking, especially with regard to the urgency of repairing ties with Iran, which appears to be an oasis of stability in the region. Then, there are the overarching considerations of oil imports, our $120 billion trade with the region and the invisibles totalling over $15 billion by way of repatriation by the Indian expatriate community living and working in the region.

With regard to the turmoil in Bahrain there is the pressing question: how to secure the welfare of the Indians who account for half of the island's population with Malayalis accounting for the overwhelming majority? As the soothsayer told Julius Caesar, a dangerous period lies ahead between now and the Ides of March.

(The writer is a former diplomat)






We learnt a lot of lessons from our experience of 'not cooking.'

Last week, all the womenfolk in my home were out travelling. The kitchen was sealed shut leaving behind two men who cannot cook — my son and me. I had never been inclined towards cooking although for a brief period immediately after our marriage, my wife and I would spend time in the kitchen. She was learning to cook and I was still learning to... well, learning to..., you get the idea, right? It never ended in cooking.

Meanwhile, my wife had quickly raced to the finish line to become a master chef — she could multi-task, host several guests and in addition to having mastered the traditional Kerala Iyer recipes, she could rustle up North Indian delicacies as well as some decent 'street food.'

Since unlike a new daughter-in-law, I had no pressure to prove myself, I ascended to more demanding skills such as reading newspapers and going for pleasant walks, which of course, I mastered in record time.

Not that I didn't get an opportunity to cook. In fact soon after marriage, I was posted to Bangkok on a four-month assignment. A good part of my luggage consisted of kitchen paraphernalia — a pressure cooker, vessels, a book of recipes, a liberal supply of spices and other South Indian culinary ingredients. Unfortunately, the office found a hotel that came with an all-expenses-paid frill instead of an apartment where my cooking would have come of age, thereby crushing my dreams to become a master chef. No wonder, I still hold my employer responsible for not being able to cook!

Although my wife was away for just a week, my son and I learnt a lot of lessons from our experience of 'not cooking.' One, there was renewed interest in work towards the late evening. The idea was to stay long enough at work and use that as an excuse to have dinner on the way home. My son found lots of friends towards the evenings, probably for a similar reason.

Two, we wore special smiles when we bumped into our neighbours. There was a lingering hope that a proud display of a few extra teeth while smiling could get us an invite. Sadly, it didn't work. Three, the instant noodles does not work three times a day. Four, cooked food kept in the fridge does not remain fresh forever. Five, several cups of tea consumed in quick succession does not constitute a meal.

Six, hunger can wake you up in sleep. Seven, one can lose weight in a week. Eight, cooking is easy… eating what is cooked is tough. Nine, always thank the women at home. Ten, always go on vacation as a complete family.


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



President Obama had a splendid idea this week. He challenged governors who oppose his health care reforms, most of whom are Republicans, to come up with a better alternative. He has agreed to move up the date at which states can offer their own solutions and thus opt out of requirements that they oppose, like the mandate that everyone buy health insurance and that most employers provide it.

Let as many states as possible test innovative approaches to determine which works best.

The president told the nation's governors on Monday that he supported a bipartisan bill — sponsored by Senators Ron Wyden, Democrat of Oregon, Scott Brown, Republican of Massachusetts, and Mary Landrieu, Democrat of Louisiana — that would allow states to fashion solutions right from the start of full-scale reform in 2014, rather than waiting until 2017, as the law requires.

The catch is that a state's plan must cover as many people as the federal law does, provide insurance that is as comprehensive and affordable, and not increase the deficit. That won't be easy for the governors to accomplish, and House Republicans seem unlikely to pass the bill to let them try. They would much rather repeal the reform law — or have it declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court — than join Mr. Obama in improving it.

The decision to set the date at 2017 was based on a desire to get the reform elements up and coverage greatly expanded before allowing states to start changing the law. There also were concerns that the early start would be more costly. That's because the states would be given money for alternatives equal to the cost of insuring their citizens under health care reform. Without three years of experience to get firm figures, those block grants would probably be set too high.

Neither rationale still seems compelling. It would be wasteful to require states to set up exchanges and other elements of the reform only to abandon them for an alternative system three years later. The pending bill would wisely allow states to submit proposals in the near future and, if approved, put them into effect in 2014.

Alternative approaches might include replacing the mandate to buy insurance with a system to automatically enroll people in health plans, reformulating tax credits for small businesses and low-income individuals to encourage near-universal coverage, adopting such liberal approaches as a single-payer plan or a public option, and even moving all or part of the enrollees in Medicaid into new health insurance exchanges. These would all have to be done without driving up the federal deficit or reducing benefits, affordability and coverage.

Reaction among Republican governors has been mixed. The vast majority are focused on their immediate need to reduce Medicaid spending to help close their budget gaps, not on fashioning alternatives for 2014. For the near-term budget problems, the administration is already advising states on ways to reduce Medicaid costs and the president asked the governor to form a bipartisan group to work on further cost-reduction.

The president's new olive branch is not apt to change the legal arguments over whether the mandate in the reform law is constitutional. But it can't hurt to bring forcefully to everyone's attention that there are alternatives to the mandate if states want to pursue them. Republicans ought to rise to the challenge.





Irish voters had every right to be angry at the catastrophic mismanagement of their economy. But the drubbing they administered to Fianna Fail, the longtime ruling party, by itself won't undo the damage that came from years of lax government oversight and disastrous policy choices.

The new government being put together under Enda Kenny and his center-right Fine Gael party must restore faith in government by fairly apportioning economic sacrifices, aggressively regulating lenders and ending cozy ties between politicians and bankers. Even then Ireland will have no chance unless it also gets more enlightened help from its European partners.

Mr. Kenny is rightly seeking to renegotiate the terms of last year's $112 billion bailout package. European Union leaders demanded deflationary tax increases and spending cuts that make it impossible for Ireland to grow its way out of debt and ruinous interest rates that will deepen those arrears. Funds that cost donors less than 3 percent must be paid back at close to 6 percent.

Ireland's "Celtic Tiger" boom of the late 1990s was no mirage. Today's problems began after Ireland started using the euro in 2002 and low interest rates and extremely lax bank regulation ignited a speculative housing bubble. When that burst in 2008, Ireland recklessly guaranteed the full liabilities of its six largest banks with public money. Those liabilities turned out to be far more than the government had or could raise, eventually forcing it into the European bailout. Now most of that borrowed money is going just to keep those banks afloat.

Meanwhile, Ireland's people have paid a terrible price. Unemployment, under 5 percent in 2007, is more than 13 percent and rising. As in the bad-old days Ireland thought it had left behind, growing numbers of young people are moving abroad in search of work.

On Friday, Mr. Kenny is scheduled to meet Germany's chancellor, Angela Merkel, and France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy. The next week, he attends a special euro-zone summit meeting, which will try to thrash out a grand bargain for restoring financial stability to the currency. That ambitious goal may not yet be in reach. Renegotiating Ireland's onerous bailout terms is. Irish voters have spoken clearly. European leaders should respond wisely. It is in no country's interest to lock Ireland into long-term economic ruin.






The New York City Council is about to vote on, and should pass, an important measure that addresses the problem of crisis pregnancy centers that masquerade as licensed medical facilities but are, in fact, fronts for anti-abortion groups that interfere with the ability of women to make timely, well-informed decisions about their reproductive health.

There are about a dozen such centers around the city. With examination rooms, and staff members dressed in medical attire collecting insurance information and administering pregnancy tests, ultrasound exams and sonograms, these centers create a phony impression that they are licensed medical facilities. They draw women in with advertising that appears to promise neutral abortion counseling.

In truth, they are not real medical clinics at all. Rather, they are operated by abortion opponents largely to talk women out of having one, often using inaccurate information, like the medically refuted assertion that abortions cause higher rates of breast cancer.

Sponsored by Councilwoman Jessica Lappin, a Democrat of Manhattan, and backed by Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg, the bill would provide a modest, though important, measure of consumer protection.

Crisis pregnancy centers masquerading as medical offices would be required to disclose in their ads and in signs posted in their waiting rooms whether they have a licensed medical provider supervising services and whether they provide or make referrals for prenatal care, abortion and emergency contraception.

All personal and health information they collect would be subject to confidentiality rules, with penalties imposed for unauthorized disclosures. A similar measure in Baltimore was recently struck down by a federal judge. But there's ample reason to question the judge's conclusion that its disclosure requirements interfered with First Amendment-protected speech. In any case, the bill now before the New York City Council differs in significant respects.

Approving the measure by a wide margin would aid women in New York City, and perhaps inspire other cities.







House Republicans voted to eliminate the Corporation for National and Community Service and the $1.4 billion in federal funds it would provide to programs that encourage Americans to serve in their communities and around the nation, including AmeriCorps, Habitat for Humanity, Teach for America, City Year, Foster Grandparents and others.

If the federal funds are snatched away, some of these programs will lose matching private contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations, as well as money from localities. Some may have to close down.

Habitat for Humanity would be hit hard. Last year, nearly 660 AmeriCorps members assigned to the group helped recruit and supervise 200,000 community volunteers to build 3,600 homes for low-income families. Shutting AmeriCorps means Habitat for Humanity will lose those AmeriCorps workers and find it harder to oversee projects and recruit volunteer builders. Fewer houses will be built. The savings to taxpayers for this folly? About $4 million.

Teach for America says losing its $11 million grant from AmeriCorps means it would be short of money to pay for recruiting, training and other operating costs. It says it would have to reduce by about 500 the 8,200-member corps of recent college graduates it dispatches to help raise achievement in low-income schools. The separate loss of the $5,000 educational stipend available to AmeriCorps participants at the end of their service would make their recruiting harder.

The House bill also eliminated $21 million in direct appropriations for Teach for America. If that goes through, the group says it will have to shrink its corps by another 500 teachers. President Obama's budget proposal for next year omitted that financing, too, but held out a possibility that some money could be made up in competitive grants from the Education Department.

Another worthwhile program, City Year, has 1,800 trained young people working with at-risk students in school districts with high dropout rates in 20 cities. Their living expenses are paid for almost entirely with the $21.5 million grant the group receives from AmeriCorps. Without that money, City Year would have to shrink dramatically, or even shut down.






Future historians will long puzzle over how the self-immolation of a Tunisian street vendor, Mohamed Bouazizi, in protest over the confiscation of his fruit stand, managed to trigger popular uprisings across the Arab/Muslim world. We know the big causes — tyranny, rising food prices, youth unemployment and social media. But since being in Egypt, I've been putting together my own back-of-the-envelope guess list of what I'd call the "not-so-obvious forces" that fed this mass revolt. Here it is:

THE OBAMA FACTOR Americans have never fully appreciated what a radical thing we did — in the eyes of the rest of the world — in electing an African-American with the middle name Hussein as president. I'm convinced that listening to Obama's 2009 Cairo speech — not the words, but the man — were more than a few young Arabs who were saying to themselves: "Hmmm, let's see. He's young. I'm young. He's dark-skinned. I'm dark-skinned. His middle name is Hussein. My name is Hussein. His grandfather is a Muslim. My grandfather is a Muslim. He is president of the United States. And I'm an unemployed young Arab with no vote and no voice in my future." I'd put that in my mix of forces fueling these revolts.

GOOGLE EARTH While Facebook has gotten all the face time in Egypt, Tunisia and Bahrain, don't forget Google Earth, which began roiling Bahraini politics in 2006. A big issue in Bahrain, particularly among Shiite men who want to get married and build homes, is the unequal distribution of land. On Nov. 27, 2006, on the eve of parliamentary elections in Bahrain, The Washington Post ran this report from there: "Mahmood, who lives in a house with his parents, four siblings and their children, said he became even more frustrated when he looked up Bahrain on Google Earth and saw vast tracts of empty land, while tens of thousands of mainly poor Shiites were squashed together in small, dense areas. 'We are 17 people crowded in one small house, like many people in the southern district,' he said. 'And you see on Google how many palaces there are and how the al-Khalifas [the Sunni ruling family] have the rest of the country to themselves.' Bahraini activists have encouraged people to take a look at the country on Google Earth, and they have set up a special user group whose members have access to more than 40 images of royal palaces."

ISRAEL The Arab TV network Al Jazeera has a big team covering Israel today. Here are some of the stories they have been beaming into the Arab world: Israel's previous prime minister, Ehud Olmert, had to resign because he was accused of illicitly taking envelopes stuffed with money from a Jewish-American backer. An Israeli court recently convicted Israel's former president Moshe Katsav on two counts of rape, based on accusations by former employees. And just a few weeks ago, Israel, at the last second, rescinded the appointment of Maj. Gen. Yoav Galant as the army's new chief of staff after Israeli environmentalists spurred a government investigation that concluded General Galant had seized public land near his home. (You can see his house on Google Maps!) This surely got a few laughs in Egypt where land sales to fat cats and cronies of the regime that have resulted in huge overnight profits have been the talk of Cairo this past year. When you live right next to a country that is bringing to justice its top leaders for corruption and you live in a country where many of the top leaders are corrupt, well, you notice.

THE BEIJING OLYMPICS China and Egypt were both great civilizations subjected to imperialism and were both dirt poor back in the 1950s, with China even poorer than Egypt, Edward Goldberg, who teaches business strategy, wrote in The Globalist. But, today, China has built the world's second-largest economy, and Egypt is still living on foreign aid. What do you think young Egyptians thought when they watched the dazzling opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing Olympics? China's Olympics were another wake-up call — "in a way that America or the West could never be" — telling young Egyptians that something was very wrong with their country, argued Goldberg.

THE FAYYAD FACTOR Palestinian Prime Minister Salam Fayyad introduced a new form of government in the Arab world in the last three years, something I've dubbed "Fayyadism." It said: judge me on my performance, on how I deliver government services and collect the garbage and create jobs — not simply on how I "resist" the West or Israel. Every Arab could relate to this. Chinese had to give up freedom but got economic growth and decent government in return. Arabs had to give up freedom and got the Arab-Israeli conflict and unemployment in return.

Add it all up and what does it say? It says you have a very powerful convergence of forces driving a broad movement for change. It says we're just at the start of something huge. And it says that if we don't have a more serious energy policy, the difference between a good day and bad day for America from here on will hinge on how the 86-year-old king of Saudi Arabia manages all this change.






Mark Bittman on food and all things related.

Agricultural subsidies have helped bring us high-fructose corn syrup, factory farming, fast food, a two-soda-a-day habit and its accompanying obesity, the near-demise of family farms, monoculture and a host of other ills.

Yet — like so many government programs — what subsidies need is not the ax, but reform that moves them forward. Imagine support designed to encourage a resurgence of small- and medium-size farms producing not corn syrup and animal-feed but food we can touch, see, buy and eat — like apples and carrots — while diminishing handouts to agribusiness and its political cronies.

Farm subsidies were created in an attempt to ameliorate the effects of the Great Depression, which makes it ironic that in an era when more Americans are suffering financially than at any time since, these subsidies are mostly going to those who need them least.

That wasn't the plan, of course. In the 1930s, prices were fixed on a variety of commodities, and some farmers were paid to reduce their crop yields. The program was supported by a tax on processors of food — now there's a precedent! — and was intended to be temporary. It worked, sort of: prices rose and more farmers survived. But land became concentrated in the hands of fewer farmers, and agribusiness was born, and along with it the sad joke that the government paid farmers for not growing crops.

The farm bill, up for renewal in 2012, includes an agricultural subsidy portion worth up to $30 billion, $5 billion of which is what you might call handouts, direct payments to farmers.

The subsidy-suckers don't grow the fresh fruits and vegetables that should be dominating our diet. Indeed, if all Americans decided to actually eat the five servings a day of fruits and vegetables that are recommended, they would discover that American agriculture isn't set up to meet that need. They grow what they're paid to grow: corn, soy, wheat, cotton and rice.

The first two of these are the pillars for the typical American diet — featuring an unnaturally large consumption of meat, never-before-seen junk food and a bizarre avoidance of plants — as well as the fortunes of Pepsi, Dunkin' Donuts, KFC and the others that have relied on cheap corn and soy to build their empires of unhealthful food. Over the years, prices of fresh produce have risen, while those of meat, poultry, sweets, fats and oils, and especially soda, have fallen. (Tom Philpott, writing in the environment and food Web site Grist and citing a Tufts University study, reckons that between 1997 and 2005 subsidies saved chicken, pork, beef and HFCS producers roughly $26.5 billion. In the short term, that saved consumers money too — prices for these foods are unjustifiably low — but at what cost to the environment, our food choices and our health?)

Eliminating the $5 billion in direct agricultural payments would level the playing field for farmers who grow non-subsidized crops, but just a bit — perhaps not even noticeably. There would probably be a decrease in the amount of HFCS in the market, in the 10 billion animals we "process" annually, in the ethanol used to fill gas-guzzlers and in the soy from which we chemically extract oil for frying potatoes and chicken. Those are all benefits, which we could compound by taking those billions and using them for things like high-speed rail, fulfilling our promises to public workers, maintaining Pell grants for low-income college students or any other number of worthy, forward-thinking causes.

But let's not kid ourselves. Although the rage for across-the-board spending cuts doesn't extend to the public — according to a recent Pew poll, most people want no cuts or even increased spending in major areas — once the $5 billion is gone, it's not coming back.

That the current system is a joke is barely arguable: wealthy growers are paid even in good years, and may receive drought aid when there's no drought. It's become so bizarre that some homeowners lucky enough to have bought land that once grew rice now have subsidized lawns. Fortunes have been paid to Fortune 500 companies and even gentlemen farmers like David Rockefeller.

Thus even House Speaker Boehner calls the bill a "slush fund"; the powerful Iowa Farm Bureau suggests that direct payments end; and Glenn Beck is on the bandwagon. (This last should make you suspicious.) Not surprisingly, many Tea Partiers happily accept subsidies, including Vicky Hartzler (R-MO, $775,000), Stephen Fincher (R-TN, $2.5 million) and Michele Bachmann (R-MN $250,000). No hypocrisy there.

Left and right can perhaps agree that these are payments we don't need to make. But suppose we use this money to steer our agriculture — and our health — in the right direction. A Gallup poll indicates that most Americans oppose cutting aid to farmers, and presumably they're not including David Rockefeller or Michele Bachmann in that protected group; we still think of farmers as stewards of the land, and the closer that sentiment is to reality the better off we'll be.

By making the program more sensible the money could benefit us all. For example, it could:

• Fund research and innovation in sustainable agriculture, so that in the long run we can get the system on track.

• Provide necessary incentives to attract the 100,000 new farmers Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack claims we need.

• Save more farmland from development.

• Provide support for farmers who grow currently unsubsidized fruits, vegetables and beans, while providing incentives for monoculture commodity farmers to convert some of their operations to these more desirable foods.

• Level the playing field so that medium-sized farms — big enough to supply local supermarkets but small enough to care what and how they grow — can become more competitive with agribusiness.

The point is that this money, which is already in the budget, could encourage the development of the kind of agriculture we need, one that prioritizes caring for the land, the people who work it and the people who need the real food that's grown on it.

We could, of course, finance or even augment the program with new monies, by taking a clue from the '30s, when the farm subsidy program began: Let the food giants that have profited so mightily and long from cheap corn and soy — that have not so far been asked to share the pain — pay for it.

Visit my blog, where you can find out more about my last column, or what I just cooked. You can also join me on Facebook or Twitter.

A shorter version of this column appeared in print on March 2, 2011.







IN the raging battle over union rights in Wisconsin, those seeking to curtail collective bargaining for state employees have advanced an argument that seems hard to resist: It will make it easier to reward those workers who perform the best. What could be fairer than that?

If only that were true. As anybody who has ever worked in any institution — private or public — knows, one of the primary ways employee effectiveness is judged is the performance review. And nothing could be less fair than that.

In my years studying such reviews, I've learned that they are subjective evaluations that measure how "comfortable" a boss is with an employee, not how much an employee contributes to overall results. They are an intimidating tool that makes employees too scared to speak their minds, lest their criticism come back to haunt them in their annual evaluations. They almost guarantee that the owners — whether they be taxpayers or shareholders — will get less bang for their buck.

In other words, there may be lots of reasons to restrict collective bargaining by state workers, but the idea that it will lead to a fairer system of rewarding employees, to the benefit of taxpayers, should not automatically be counted as one of them. Performance reviews corrupt the system by getting employees to focus on pleasing the boss, rather than on achieving desired results. And they make it difficult, if not impossible, for workers to speak truth to power. I've examined scores of empirical studies since the early 1980s and have no found convincing evidence that performance reviews are fair, accurate or consistent across managers, or that they improve organizational effectiveness.

Think about it. Performance reviews are held up as objective assessments by the boss, with the assumption that the boss has all the answers.

Now, maybe your boss is all-knowing. But I've never seen one that was. In a self-interested world, where imperfect people are judging other imperfect people, anybody reviewing somebody else's performance — whether as an actor, a writer, a spouse, a friend or a worker — is subjective. It's why when employees switch bosses, more often than not their evaluation changes as well.

Under such a system, in which one's livelihood can be destroyed by a self-serving boss trying to meet a budget or please the higher-ups, what employee would ever speak his mind? What employee would ever say that the boss is wrong, and offer an idea on how something might get done better?

Only an employee looking for trouble.

Is there a way out? I believe there is, and it works for both government and business. It's something I call the performance preview. Instead of top-down reviews, both boss and subordinate are held responsible for setting goals and achieving results. No longer will only the subordinate be held accountable for the often arbitrary metrics that the boss creates. Instead, bosses are taught how to truly manage, and learn that it's in their interest to listen to their subordinates to get the results the taxpayer is counting on.

Instead of the bosses merely handing out A's and C's, they work to make sure everyone can earn an A. And the word goes out: "No more after-the-fact disappointments. Tell me your problems as they happen; we're in it together and it's my job to ensure results."

In fact, the police department in Madison, Wis., has used such a program since the late 1980s with considerable effectiveness. It replaced traditional performance evaluations with a system that emphasized goal-setting and continuous improvement. It encouraged supervisors to act as coaches and mentors, and officers (who are unionized) to offer feedback on their superiors.

Employees are in fact eager for such collaboration. In Wisconsin, members of public-sector unions have been willing to give in on money (contributing more to their health care and pensions) but unwilling to give up their voice (the right to bargain collectively on work rules, not just wages). And public employees have a special relationship with the systems they serve. They are also taxpayers.

Unions in Wisconsin are justified in worrying that limiting collective bargaining would lead to capricious firing or demotions, whether for age, personality, salary or any other criterion you can think of. There doesn't have to be anything malicious about it (although there might be). It's the inevitable result of giving the boss the subjective power to define and judge another's performance.

Performance reviews aren't the only ways to measure effectiveness, to be sure. Workers whose output is tangible and measurable — how much garbage is picked up, how many streets are cleared of snow — are increasingly evaluated according to numerical goals. I'd argue these measurements are similarly flawed. Workers are almost always better at coming up with metrics that lead to systemwide gains than bosses alone are. The key to systemwide success (as opposed to individual success) is still employees working together under the leadership of good managers.

Of course, not every worker, public or private, will seize the opportunity to collaborate with managers and figure out ways to improve overall results. If they don't, there should be ways to get rid of them.

But understand that the performance review makes it nearly impossible to have the kind of trusting relationships in the workplace that make improvement possible. With previews, at least, workers have the opportunity to reverse course and say how they can be their best. Taxpayers can't ask for more than that.

Samuel A. Culbert, a professor in the Anderson School of Management at the University of California, Los Angeles, is the author of "Get Rid of the Performance Review! How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing — and Focus on What Really Matters."






Los Angeles

AS disturbing new reports of male rape in Congo made clear, wartime sexual violence isn't limited to women and girls. But in its ongoing effort to eradicate rape during conflict, the United Nations continues to overlook a significant imperative: ending wartime sexual assault of men and boys as well.

Sexual violence against men does occasionally make the news: the photographs of the sexual abuse and humiliation of Iraqi men at the Abu Ghraib prison, for example, stunned the world.

Yet there are thousands of similar cases, less well publicized but well documented by researchers, in places as varied as Chile, Greece and Iran. The United Nations reported that out of 5,000 male concentration camp detainees held near Sarajevo during the Bosnian conflict, 80 percent acknowledged having been abused sexually. In El Salvador, 76 percent of male political prisoners told researchers they had experienced sexual torture.

Rape has long been a way to humiliate, traumatize and silence the enemy. For many of the same reasons that combatants assault women and girls, they also rape men and boys.

Nevertheless, international legal documents routinely reflect the assumption that sexual violence happens only to women and girls. There are dozens of references to "violence against women" — defined to include sexual violence — in United Nations human rights resolutions, treaties and agreements, but most don't mention sexual violence against men.

Ignoring male rape has a number of consequences. For one, it not only neglects men and boys, it also harms women and girls by reinforcing a viewpoint that equates "female" with "victim," thus hampering our ability to see women as strong and empowered.

In the same way, silence about male victims reinforces unhealthy expectations about men and their supposed invulnerability. Such hyper-masculine ideals encourage aggressive behavior in men that is dangerous for the women and girls with whom they share their lives.

Sex-specific stereotypes also distort the international community's response. Women who have suffered rape in conflict have likely endured non-sexual trauma as well. But when they are treated as "rape victims," their other injuries get minimized.

Conversely, when men have experienced sexual abuse and are treated solely as "torture victims," we ignore the sexual component of their suffering. Indeed, doctors and emergency aid workers are rarely trained to recognize the physical signs of male rape or to provide counseling to its victims.

Our failure to acknowledge male rape leaves it in the shadows, compounding the humiliation that survivors experience. For instance, the majority of Tamil males in Sri Lanka who were sexually assaulted during that country's long civil war did not report it to the authorities at the time, later explaining that they were simply too ashamed.

The United Nations has attempted to take wartime rape seriously. In 2000 the Security Council passed Resolution 1325 which, among other things, promotes gender-sensitive training in peacekeeping, encourages hiring more women in peacekeeping roles and calls for better protection of women and girls in conflict zones. This is a crucial undertaking, but the agreement neglects to address sexual violence against men and boys.

At a ceremony last year marking the resolution's 10th anniversary, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced that the United States would develop a plan to accelerate the advancement of its goals, including $44 million for women's equality initiatives around the world.

This is an important commitment. But the American government should expand its efforts to include the many international programs working with men and boys to challenge entrenched ideas about manhood and to stop the cycle of violence.

The International Criminal Court, nearly all American states and many countries use a sex-neutral definition of sexual assault. The United Nations and the White House must likewise move beyond the shortcomings of Resolution 1325 and commit to ending wartime sexual violence against everyone.

Lara Stemple is the director of graduate studies and of the Health and Human Rights Law Project at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Law.








Chattanoogans will spend a long time telling "horror stories" of danger and destruction from the storm on Monday — and some people may still be without electricity today. Some may not get renewed electric service until later this week.


But many are giving thanks that, according to initial reports, deaths and serious injuries in this area were far fewer than they might have been. Tragically, one Polk County man died when a tree struck his home.


Meanwhile, some houses were flattened, and several cars were crushed by falling trees. Power was interrupted to as many as 37,000 homes. There is a terrible mess left to be cleaned up, and there is much damage to be overcome.


Unpredictable springlike weather, if not spring itself yet, has clearly not come in "like a lamb"!


There is no immediate way even to realistically estimate the property damage, not to mention the disruptions and inconveniences of many kinds to countless people.


The storm reminded us forcefully of the terrible power of nature, and the powerlessness of humans in the face of it.


We appreciate our police officers, firefighters, electric service workers and many other people who have lent helping hands, officially or personally, to serve us all.


This is certainly a time for volunteers to extend aid to many in need and for our fine local governments and admirable emergency and social welfare agencies to continue to alleviate both personal and public distress.


Much better weather is expected this week, but we are wary because of predictions that more storms of some degree may be coming Saturday.


It'll take a long time for some people to recover from the damage, for downed trees to be removed, for smashed homes and cars to be cleared or repaired, and for the high costs of the destruction to be paid.


It is during and after alarming occurrences such as Monday's storm that we are reminded afresh of the power of nature in its amazing manifestations.







For many years, our federal government has been taxing us too much — but spending too much more.


]That's why we have a national debt of more than $14 trillion.


Unfortunately, President Barack Obama and many in Congress are still insisting on spending more.


But on Friday, Congress will run out of borrowed, appropriated money for government functions.


If nothing is done to remedy the situation, there will be a forced government "shutdown" — although essential services will continue.


So, a "cut down" in spending has been proposed.


Under pressure, Obama has agreed with Republicans, in "general" terms, to make some immediate spending reductions to prevent a government shutdown. A Republican bill would cut spending $4 billion but keep the federal government funded through March 18. But Democrat House Leader Nancy Pelosi is criticizing even that.


There should, of course, not be a "short-term fix" but a "long-term solution" by responsible congressional action to eliminate much of the unnecessary federal spending and reduce some of the rest.


But because Obama and many in Congress refuse to face facts and act responsibly, they will assure us too-high taxes, too much spending, and growing national debt, which we will have to repay "someday," and on which we will have to pay hundreds of billions of dollars in annual interest in the meantime.


Is this responsible financial "leadership"?


Will we keep re-electing the spenders and let them "keep on keeping on" doing the wrong things, digging us deeper into debt, damaging our economy and dipping eagerly into our pockets?







They say you can't escape death or taxes. But Tennessee hopes to put a stop, at least, to tax refunds flowing improperly to inmates in prisons around the state.


An audit has revealed that more than 2,000 prisoners in Tennessee filed phony tax returns in 2009, collecting nearly $700,000 in bogus refunds.


They falsely claimed to have jobs when they filled out the forms, and they got Social Security numbers from other prisoners to use in seeking the refunds, to which they were not entitled, The Associated Press reported. Authorities think outsiders aided the fraud.


A spokeswoman for the Department of Corrections aptly labeled what the inmates are suspected of doing as "stealing thousands of dollars from taxpayers."


Officials plan to prosecute the suspects.


That's obviously appropriate, but we'll be curious to see how much of that nearly $700,000 is ever recovered for the taxpayers from whose pockets it was taken.







When we think of our wars — which have been many and terrible — we may immediately think of Afghanistan and Iraq, Vietnam, Korea and World War II.


But we rarely seem to consider World War I these days because is was "long ago."


And yet, nearly 5 million Americans joined U.S. military forces in 1917 and 1918 to fight the war.


Frank Buckles was among them. At age 16, he was "too young" for World War I. But he repeatedly tried to join the Army. He was rejected by several recruiters before he managed to be accepted by claiming he was older.


He was our last American World War I veteran when he died last Sunday on his farm in Charles Town, W.Va., at age 110.


He was one of the millions of Americans who have served our country patriotically and honorably in military uniform.





Layoffs are never easy. But sadly, sometimes they are necessary. When that is the case, isn't performance usually the most rational basis for deciding who keeps his job?

In Georgia, a reasonable bill has been proposed that would make performance — not seniority — the main factor in who stays and who goes when a school district lays off teachers.

That makes sense. Wages for government jobs are paid by taxpayers. As such, government has an obligation to taxpayers to give preference in hiring and firing decisions to the best-qualified employees.

Of course, in many cases, the best-qualified worker will also be the one who has been on the job the longest, and the proposed law in Georgia would not force out a highly qualified, experienced employee and keep a less qualified new employee.

But as Georgia Rep. Alisha Thomas Morgan, D-Austell, pointed out in introducing the bill, "[T]hose decisions should be based on what is best for our kids, and that means keeping our most effective teachers in the classroom."

As in the private sector, government employment decisions should focus on demonstrated qualifications, not on protection of poorly qualified workers.







Well and proudly known in Istanbul is the fact that "Tünel," essentially an incline railway running underground between Beyoğlu and Karaköy, was the second metro system to be constructed in Europe. (Actually it was the third, but challenging a much-cherished local narrative is not our goal today.) When it opened in 1874, its name was probably the longest ever for such a short rail line: "The Metropolitan Railway Of Constantinople From Galata to Pera"

Less known is that this was intended by the French engineer who inspired it, Henri Gavand, to be just the start of a far more ambitious metro system to rival that in Paris or London. It was to have above and belowground lines on both the European and Asian sides with a spoke running as far at the Black Sea village of Kilyos.

Less known is that assorted problems that attended the project, including the fickleness of sponsor Sultan Abdülaziz, caused the subsequent plans to be scrapped. Gavand reportedly died heartbroken that his dream was never realized.

Which invites us to engage in the business of "what if," in light of the weekend ceremony to celebrate the start of construction of another tunnel. This one will enable some 25 million cars a year to drive underground between Europe and Asia. To be fair, it will run parallel to a separate underground rail link.

But we still must wonder at Istanbul's preoccupation with the further enabling of car traffic in place of investment in the public transit infrastructure that the city so desperately needs. The fact that we reported yesterday another widening of Turkey's trade deficit, a chasm surely to be further widened by spiking prices for our No. 1 import, energy, underscores our point. 

New automobile tunnels are envisioned beneath Istanbul's Taksim Square and the length of the Büyükdere Boulevard that runs through the Levent neighborhood on another side of the city. A third bridge appears inevitable across the Bosphorus, in all certainty meaning the death of most of Istanbul's remaining forestland. 

Yet we still routinely queue for the foul and filthy dolmuş, or cobble together three or four modes of transportation to get from point A to point B, when with a little bit of foresight we could have the mobility of Parisians, Londoners or New Yorkers. There are at least 20 separate pieces of urban transport infrastructure. But virtually none of them are integrated. 

We will skip over the further irony that in the same week the culture minister readied to battle Germany for the return of a Hittite sphinx from a Berlin museum, his boss was dismissing finds delaying the new car tunnel as bothersome "archaeological stuff."

Alas, a great deal has changed in Istanbul since 1874. The lack of urban planning and a commitment to efficient and effective public transit is not among them.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.






Apparently, Israel's Deputy Foreign Minister Danny "Oh Danny boy" Ayalon left an undeletable mark on the art of diplomacy when he invented the "low chair" method to humiliate the Turkish ambassador last year. The very important Turks who had fiercely protested Mr. Ayalon's protest last year look highly inspired this year by the Israeli deputy minister's "low chair diplomacy." Furthering Mr. Ayalon's scientific technique, the Turks have invented the "chewing gum" and "lower step" diplomacies.

The mayor of Ankara, Melih Gökçek, said his gum chewing during his farewell to French President Nicolas Sarkozy was a tit-for-tat because Mr. Sarkozy was chewing a piece of gum as he descended the steps of his plane after landing in Ankara. Similarly, the Turks felt proud when a skillfully planned photo showed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan greeting his guest, President Sarkozy, while the Frenchman was a few steps below the prime minister.

All the same, the twin Turkish contributions to the "Ayalon diplomacy" may create a dangerous diplomatic jurisprudence – especially for the not-so-tall Turkish dignitaries. I don't want to think about the possibility of Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu being pictured halfway through the steps while Chancellor Angela Merkel, all smiles, greets him on top of the same steps in Berlin.

Obviously, the Turkish show was put on for domestic consumption ahead of the parliamentary elections in June. But it's a pity in the year 2011 if a photo showing a foreign head of state half the height of the Turkish prime minister can please the Turks. This is as ridiculous as the photo showing the Turkish ambassador to Tel Aviv seated on a low chair with the Israeli deputy minister, all smiles, looking (physically) down upon him. 

Fortunately, President Abdullah Gül did not join the "Ayalon Club" and secretly put salt in the sugar sachet for Mr. Sarkozy's coffee, or rose water into a bottle of pink champagne.

But as presidential sources have unofficially revealed, in the two presidents' tete-a-tete, there was "veiled commercial threat" (Mr. Gül: "I must say that the blockage of Turkey's EU negotiations by France shadows possible cooperation in many other areas"), and "ethnic reminders" (Mr. Gül: "Your granduncle was from Salonica, a Turkish city in his time. Knowing your family history, one would expect you to be closer to the idea of Turkey in Europe"). But that was better than salt in Mr. Sarkozy's cup of coffee, or rose water in his champagne glass (one wonders, though, does Mr. Gül's reasoning justify rejection of Turkey by European leaders whose granduncles were not from Ottoman cities?)

In any case, the EU diplomats dealing with Turkey may have to find new jobs after the elections in June. There is every reason to predict that the size of the European Commission representation in Ankara may gradually decline from its present 140 or so staff (the largest in the world) to half a dozen at the end of 2012. Parallel to that, the Secretariat General for EU Affairs in Ankara may gradually metamorphose into the Secretariat General for Middle Eastern Affairs. And that's bad news for anyone who favors the idea of Turkish membership.

But for Messrs. Erdoğan and Davutoğlu the EU is becoming increasingly passe. Their hearts and minds belong to where Mr. Sarkozy said Turkey belong. Remember, the new Turkish foreign policy last year launched efforts for what this columnist calls the "Middle East Coal and Steel Community."

First, a free trade zone between Turkey, Syria, Jordan and Lebanon; then a visa-less travel area a la Schengen; then an accord for cooperation in nuclear energy between Turkey and Jordan… The Community will certainly expand in quality and quantity as soon as the dust from the Arab spring settles. And this is what exactly Mr. Davutoğlu recently hinted at when he said, "Turkey's new foreign policy is about correcting the trajectory of history." 

But don't think for a moment all that is bad news for Mr. Sarkozy et al. Turkey-skeptics in the Old Continent may be privately smiling. Mr. Sarkozy was even joyfully laughing the moment he ran into the "punishing low steps diplomacy" in Ankara as he was forced to shake Mr. Erdoğan's welcoming hand from half a meter down the stairs.







"You're in the seat of the supreme spiritual guide of the Brotherhood," Dr. Essam el-Erian, member of the Muslim Brotherhood's Guidance council, told me, laughing.

I sprung out of my seat and apologized.

"Oh no, please, it's absolutely fine – besides, if a member of the Brotherhood sat there someone would assume that he wants to be a guide – but you're not one of us, so that's quite fine. Sit, please, I insist!" 

His good mood betrayed a confident, borderline pompous future outlook.

It's understandable though – why wouldn't he be confident? The Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's most organized opposition force so far, appears at first sight atop the winners list of the Jan. 25 revolution. It is being invited to meetings with the Armed Forces' supreme council in its capacity of head of state, it is on the way to establishing a political party, the "Freedom and Justice Party," for the first time in its history of more than 80 years, and one of its most famous sympathizing imams, Youssef el-Qaradawi, has returned to Egypt from exile and sent waves across society when he led a million-person Friday prayer in Tahrir last week.

When asked about future plans, Dr. el-Erian is confident. He speaks slowly, in detached words. "For the sake of preserving national cohesion, we will not be fielding a candidate for the presidential elections. We will not seek to be a majority in the parliament either. Probably target 35 or 40 percent; we'd like to see all parties represented. Remember when Hamas got a majority – they didn't want it." He tells me the Brotherhood won't be fielding candidates in all constituencies. I ask him whether he believed that, if they fielded candidates countrywide, the Brotherhood could indeed gain a parliamentary majority.

He smiles – an amused, confident smile. "I told you. We're simply not attempting to be the majority." 

But along with its apparent wins, the organization is being faced by a number of new challenges it is yet to decide how to best address; the months to come may be less smooth than it hopes and far from winning a potential majority, many believe that the Brotherhood is losing ground.

For one, the Brotherhood will enter a competitive, perhaps even harsh, public political arena, and will be viewed by the Egyptian public, especially its newly politicized youth, under the same light as other political parties – a new situation for the organization. From now on, the Brotherhood will officially be part of the political game, alongside a number of old and new actors. Its position as sole opposition, which had allowed it to win nearly one-fifth of the seats of the Parliament in 2005, will be diluted into a wider and more diverse political spectrum.

Second, in 2005, as in previous elections, the Brotherhood had fielded candidates as independents or through other parties – gaining the benefits of political participation without being held accountable as a party for its members' actions. This will no longer be an option. As it steps into the political arena, the Brotherhood will now be compelled to compromise and cut deals with its political opponents and partners, another first in the Brotherhood's political maturity process, after an 80-years-long adolescence.

A third point is that the Muslim Brotherhood is also conceding another staple in its rhetoric: its excuses. They had always relied on its "outcast" position and blaming the government for demonizing it and seeking to elbow them off the public opinion board – a valid accusation, but one that ran its course the day they were invited to the first post-Mubarak discussion panel with the army, as one of the country's legitimate political forces. The organization will now be fully accountable to the public.

Finally, the Jan. 25 revolution uncovered a new fault line within the Brotherhood, between the old establishment and the younger generation – the "Brotherhood Youth." Characterized by a greater openness toward other movements, the Brotherhood Youth were part of the nebulous coalition of youth groups that met and coordinated before and throughout the revolution.

It took the rest of the organization several days after Jan. 25 to realize that the movement on the street was irrevocable and decided to toe the line, at times stepping on the youth wing's feet. The public face of the organization remains that of the old guard, represented primarily in the guidance council, but the internal strife is far from being won, as the youth wing is bound to slowly gain in political stature and to attempt to exert its pressure within the organization. 

It is difficult to predict the influence of the Brotherhood in the phase to come, but with a compulsory period of political breaking in stemming from its new "legalized" status, the Brotherhood will need some time to find its bearings in a political scene becoming complex by the day.

 *Mohamed El Dahshan is an economist and writer based in Cairo, Egypt.







State sovereignty is not a license to kill. No state can abdicate the responsibility to protect its people from crimes against humanity, let alone justify perpetrating such crimes itself. When it manifestly fails in that protection, it is the responsibility of the international community to provide it, if necessary – should peaceful means be inadequate – by taking timely and decisive collective action through the United Nations Security Council.

This is the "responsibility to protect" principle embraced unanimously by the General Assembly in 2005. There is no clearer case for its application than the dire situation unfolding in Libya. Moammar Gadhafi's forces, on the ground and from the sky, have already massacred perhaps more than a thousand of his own people, protesting (initially peacefully) against the excesses of his regime. A bigger bloodbath seems inescapable if he does not step down. The need for timely and decisive action is overwhelming.

The Security Council, after moving with painful caution the first few days of the crisis, has over the weekend invoked the responsibility to protect principle and – in a historic first – agreed on a substantial package of measures to implement it: an arms embargo, asset freeze, travel bans and, importantly, reference of the situation to the International Criminal Court.

These measures are necessary and important, but they fall short of the threat or use of military force. Will they be enough to stop the killing? Or is it instead time to apply and enforce a no-fly zone, or to go further still and send in ground forces? This is a horribly difficult call, and not even the most passionate advocate of the responsibility to protect can pretend otherwise.

Declaring a no-fly zone is not the soft option it may seem: it must mean being prepared to shoot down jets and helicopter gunships that breach it, and that will mean a huge risk of hostage-taking or reprisal against any intervener's nationals still in the country. Any invasion force, assuming one could be mustered at short notice, would raise the stakes much higher still.

The importance of the U.N.'s embrace of the responsibility to protect is that it ended a decade of division over gut-wrenching mass atrocities in the 1990s, when the global north often supported humanitarian intervention, while the south cited immunity from interference in internal affairs.

Consensus was negligible, and the result was U.N.-authorized action that was too often erratic, incomplete or counter-productive – as in the debacle of Somalia in 1993, the catastrophe of the Rwandan genocide in 1994, and the almost unbelievable default in Srebrenica in 1995 – or unlawful because it was not U.N.-authorized as in Kosovo in 1999.

The new principle sought common ground by recasting the issue in terms of responsibility, rather than rights, and protection, rather than intervention, and making clear that coercive military intervention was not the only option, but a last resort.

And it found it. The global response to the unfolding horrors in Kenya in 2008 was in spectacular contrast to the indifference greeting the butchery in Rwanda. International condemnation of Mr. Gadhafi's atrocities has been swift and universal. No-one now talks about sovereignty conferring immunity. But now this must be translated into action.

The second great hope of advocates of responsibility to protect was that consensus in principle would make agreement much easier on what to do in practice. But that has proved harder, as experience in Darfur, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sri Lanka and elsewhere has unhappily demonstrated. But the lesson of these difficulties is not that the principle is irrelevant but that we have to do better in applying it in the future – and that future, with Libya, is now.

Sanctions, embargoes and the diplomatic isolation of Mr. Gadhafi are the inescapable minimum of what is now required. But if they do not bite immediately, and the carnage continues, there will be no option but to do more. Military options should always be a last resort, but they cannot be excluded in extreme cases. Libya is as extreme as it gets.

It will be desperately difficult to get agreement on foreign boots on the ground, quickly or at all. But a strongly enforced no-fly zone is a realistic option, easier to contemplate as the last vulnerable expatriates leave the country and likely to be just as effective in forcing Mr. Gadhafi's capitulation. Planning for it should start immediately. For all that it has done so far, the ball remains in the Security Council's court; not only the credibility of the responsibility to protect principle is at stake, but its own.

* Gareth Evans is former Australian foreign minister, president emeritus of the International Crisis Group and author of 'The Responsibility to Protect: Ending Mass Atrocity Crimes Once and for All.' This piece first appeared in the Financial Times and is reprinted with special permission.






Ninety years ago, Afghanistan and Turkey signed a treaty of friendship, on March 1, 1921. Two years before the establishment of the Republic of Turkey, the Ottoman officials and the representatives of the Afghan government signed the friendship treaty. Two years later in 1923, Afghanistan was one of the first countries to recognize the Republic of Turkey. With the establishment of the Turkish Republic, the cordial relations that existed between the two brotherly countries further strengthened and entered into a new phase of intense cooperation.

The two countries have always been very close friends. As a true friend, Turkey has always been ready to assist Afghanistan. Turkey's constructive involvement in Afghanistan is not a recent phenomenon. In the 1920s, when Afghanistan embarked on building a modern National Army, it sought Turkish assistance in building its military institution. The role played by the Turkish officers in building the Afghan Army will always remain as an important part of our history. Turkey's role, however, was not limited to building our military institutions. Health and education were the other important areas where Turkey played a crucial role.

Nine decades later, as Afghanistan emerges from decades of war and conflict, it once again finds Turkey standing by the Afghans and ready to help them in these challenging times. Today, Turkish soldiers, as part of the International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, are working with their Afghan counterparts to maintain peace and security and create an environment where Afghan citizens can go to work, send their children to schools and live in peace in their homes.

As in the past, the Turkish participation in Afghanistan is not limited to training our security personnel only. Today, the Turkish teachers, engineers and doctors are busy helping their Afghan brothers and sisters. Turkey is providing training to Afghan doctors, and stands ready to provide assistance to modernize some of the Afghan hospitals it built decades ago. Turkey is also providing scholarships to hundreds of Afghans students in order to pursue their higher education in Turkey.

Turkey's assistance in primary and secondary education is commendable. There are nine Turkish schools in different parts of Afghanistan, offering quality education to the Afghan children. Because of the high standard of education provided in these schools, they are very popular throughout the country. Students graduating from the Turkish schools are the most successful students who are easily accepted in some of the best national and international universities.

Afghans see Turkey as a trusted friend that could play an important role in the ongoing peace process in the country. Just last week a high-level delegation of the High Peace Council visited Turkey as part of its efforts to discuss this Afghan-led process with the Turkish leadership. Afghanistan attaches great importance to the Turkish role and appreciates Turkey's readiness in working with the Afghans to promote close cooperation with regional countries and the international community in order to ensure success of the peace process.

Let me conclude by saying that we see Turkey as a great friend that has always been there with us. We cherish our relations and are proud of our friendship with Turkey. 

* Salahuddin Rabbani is ambassador of Afghanistan to Turkey.






Among the most prevalent Western stereotypes about Muslim countries are those concerning Muslim women: doe-eyed, veiled, and submissive, exotically silent, gauzy inhabitants of imagined harems, closeted behind rigid gender roles. So where were these women in Tunisia and Egypt?

In both countries, women protesters were nothing like the Western stereotype: they were front and center, in news clips and on Facebook forums, and even in the leadership. In Egypt's Tahrir Square, women volunteers, some accompanied by children, worked steadily to support the protests – helping with security, communications, and shelter. Many commentators credited the great numbers of women and children with the remarkable overall peacefulness of the protesters in the face of grave provocations.

Other citizen reporters in Tahrir Square – and virtually anyone with a cell phone could become one – noted that the masses of women involved in the protests were demographically inclusive. Many wore headscarves and other signs of religious conservatism, while others reveled in the freedom to kiss a friend or smoke a cigarette in public.

But women were not serving only as support workers, the habitual role to which they are relegated in protest movements, from those of the 1960s to the recent student riots in the United Kingdom. Egyptian women also organized, strategized, and reported the events. Bloggers such as Leil Zahra Mortada took grave risks to keep the world informed daily about the scene in Tahrir Square and elsewhere.

The role of women in the great upheaval in the Middle East has been woefully under-analyzed. Women in Egypt did not just "join" the protests – they were a leading force behind the cultural evolution that made the protests inevitable. And what is true for Egypt is true, to a greater and lesser extent, throughout the Arab world. When women change, everything changes, and women in the Muslim world are changing radically.

The greatest shift is educational. Two generations ago, only a small minority of the daughters of the elite received a university education. Today, women account for more than half of the students at Egyptian universities. They are being trained to use power in ways that their grandmothers could scarcely have imagined: publishing newspapers (as Sanaa el Seif did, in defiance of a government order to cease operating); campaigning for student leadership posts; fundraising for student organizations; and running meetings.

Indeed, a substantial minority of young women in Egypt and other Arab countries have now spent their formative years thinking critically in mixed-gender environments and even publicly challenging male professors in the classroom. It is far easier to tyrannize a population when half are poorly educated and trained to be submissive. But, as Westerners should know from their own historical experience, once you educate women, democratic agitation is likely to accompany the massive cultural shift that follows.

The nature of social media, too, has helped turn women into protest leaders. Having taught leadership skills to women for more than a decade, I know how difficult it is to get them to stand up and speak out in a hierarchical organizational structure. Likewise, women tend to avoid the figurehead status that traditional protest has in the past imposed on certain activists – almost invariably a hotheaded young man with a megaphone.

In such contexts – with a stage, a spotlight, and a spokesperson – women often shy away from leadership roles. But social media, through the very nature of the technology, have changed what leadership looks and feels like today. Facebook mimics the way many women choose to experience social reality, with connections between people just as important as individual dominance or control, if not more so.

You can be a powerful leader on Facebook just by creating a really big "us." Or you can stay the same size, conceptually, as everyone else on your page – you don't have to assert your dominance or authority. The structure of Facebook's interface creates what brick-and-mortar institutions, despite 30 years of feminist pressure, have failed to provide: a context in which women's ability to forge a powerful "us" and engage in a leadership of service can advance the cause of freedom and justice worldwide.

Of course, Facebook cannot reduce the risks of protest. But, however violent the immediate future in the Middle East may be, the historical record of what happens when educated women participate in freedom movements suggests that those in the region who would like to maintain iron-fisted rule are finished.

Just when France began its rebellion in 1789, Mary Wollstonecraft, who had been caught up in witnessing it, wrote her manifesto for women's liberation. After educated women in America helped fight for the abolition of slavery, they put female suffrage on the agenda. After they were told in the 1960s that "the position of women in the movement is prone," they generated "second wave" feminism – a movement born of women's new skills and old frustrations.

Time and again, once women have fought the other battles for freedom of their day, they have moved on to advocate for their own rights. And, since feminism is simply a logical extension of democracy, the Middle East's despots are facing a situation in which it will be almost impossible to force these awakened women to stop their fight for freedom – their own and that of their communities.

* Naomi Wolf is a political activist and social critic whose most recent book is 'Give Me Liberty: A Handbook for American Revolutionaries.' This piece was provided by Project Syndicate, at






The neo-revolutionary former followers of the leader of the previous revolution have declared: "No country will accept you… Surrender… You will be tried with the laws you put into force…"

That is, the former comrades in arms who parted ways and became revolutionary once again have told their former leader, the absolute ruler of Libya until just a few days ago, that irrespective of how long he insists to fool himself that he is still in power, he controls only few square miles of Libya; that including his best friend Silvio Berlusconi of Italy, none of the former allies and friends are willing to embrace and offer him refuge and thus he cannot go anywhere to escape punishment; that he will not be tried with new laws at a special tribunal, but the laws he created to punish opponents would be applied on him.

Those laws clearly stipulate that people revolting against the government of Libya and opening fire on the people of Libya might be sentenced to death.

It is of course easy to make an analysis that Libyan society is a tribal one and what's happening there is indeed a struggle for power among tribes and Moammar Gadhafi, who apparently belongs to a relatively smaller tribe, was losing the struggle because bigger tribes want more power in the country's administration. Definitely such analysis has some degree of truth, but did Gadhafi change his tribe lately? Did he not belong to the same relatively smaller tribe when he led the revolution? Was he not a member of the same tribe over the past four decades he spent in power?

Tribal politics is of course a reality of Libya, but what's happening in Libya nowadays cannot be explained solely with a shift in allegiances of tribes.

Yesterday's leader of the revolution is the odd man out in today's real politics. He is not wanted in his home country. He is not wanted by any of his former allies and friends. He is shunned by the international society and declared an outcast. Not only he has but also his entire family has been stripped of the right to travel. Sanctions are imposed on whatever is left of his administration.

Deep throats have started whispering around the prospect of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization undertaking an operation in Libya in the same fashion it acted in Serbia with the aim and intention of putting an end to the bloodbath. The United States has already declared that the time has come for Gadhafi to pack up and step down while the U.S. naval fleet in the Mediterranean started positioning itself for any eventual operation in Libya.

Obviously seeing the sad closure of the Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mobarak chapters in Tunisia and Egypt, Gadhafi hopes to achieve a better exit from the Libyan scene. By provoking a Western military intervention he probably wants to become a martyr or at least a hero of Arab nationalism against imperialism.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has become the other odd man out of this geography by opposing sanctions on Libya, as well as a probable military intervention. Opponents might immediately draw their swords against Erdoğan, the absolute ruler in the making, but while he became the odd man out by opposing sanctions and intervention on Libya the Turkish premier indeed voiced concerns of a regional country who saw great impacts of such undertakings not only on the peoples of the countries subjected to such punitive actions but on Turkish interests as well. Iraq is there… Iran is there… Turkey's loses because of Iraq sanctions and the consequent war and occupation of course cannot be comparable with the loses and suffering of the Iraqi people but were immense. Iran sanctions have been hurting not only Iranian people but Turkish interests as well.

Turkey has great interests in Libyan tranquility. Sanctions on Libya or a military intervention on Libya will produce long-term instability and definitely would hurt Turkish interests as well. Successfully evacuating some 18,000 workers from Libya – what happened to the remaining Turks since the premier still insists that there were 30,000 Turkish workers there? – at the same time means billions of dollars lost in unfinished business or devastated or looted work places. Erdoğan wants to contain Turkey's Libya loses.

Well, such an attitude might contradict with his professed human rights and democracy championship that was awarded by Gadhafi last November. Well, yesterday's awarded champion of human rights has some other priorities today. The same priorities that Erdoğan has regarding Iran.

As is said, tell me about your friends and I'll tell you who you are!







How much more hardship can people take? How much longer will it be before frustrations stemming from the sheer injustice of life begin to spill over into the streets? The brief respite offered by the withdrawal several weeks ago of increases in the prices of petroleum products, as a result of acute pressure from opposition parties, is over. Prices have been raised by 9.9 percent with petrol going up by Rs 7.23 per litre. High-speed diesel, widely used in the country, goes up by Rs 7.76 per litre and kerosene – the fuel that lights the stoves of the poor – by Rs 7 per litre. The increase will unleash inflation on a still larger scale and even if people are able to burn stoves we wonder if they can afford to pay for anything to cook on them. How long, we must ask, will it be before motorcycles stop running and smaller cars pull-up by the roadsides? The government should not forget that inflation and corruption – amongst other factors – triggered the orgy of rage sweeping across the Arab world. Can it be confident such rage will not erupt at home?

We have already seen the first evidence of fury – as protesters in Karachi vented their rage against petrol pump owners who closed down their stations in anticipation of the price hike. Similar anger was visible at some places in Lahore as petrol ran short in the City. There is a real possibility it could expand. The patience of people has been running thin for some time. Their desperation is fanned by relentless inflation which makes it impossible to meet even the most basic needs such as that for food. And as transport prices rise, vegetables, pulses, rice and virtually every other item will also inevitably grow more expensive. It is no coincidence that the announcement from the government has been made as a new round of talks with the IMF begins. The increase in PoL prices is believed to be a means to lay the ground to seek additional favours from the donor team. But this is of little consequence to the ordinary citizen. The intricacies of the IMF deal are poorly understood. What people do know is that they need to commute to reach places of work, they need to bring food into homes, and they need to educate children. When even this essence of existence is pulled away, it leaves them with fewer and fewer options. We have seen hope fade before our eyes. Sadly, the government has failed to do anything at all to dispel the darkness – and this makes it an enemy in the eyes of people who badly need its help and support.







The Supreme Court yesterday ruled that only Geo has the right to broadcast the cricket world cup via cable. The Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has agreed to comply with the order and has undertaken to revoke the licences of any cable operator in breach of the Supreme Court ruling. This is a landmark legal decision which may impact across the massive black economy of piracy and theft of intellectual property rights. At issue is the right of a private company to have legal redress in the event of an exclusive contract being violated by a third party – in this case many third parties including the state TV station. The judgement of the court is clear enough, but as was made clear in Monday's hearing the superior bench has no doubt that its findings are being honoured in the breach rather than the observance.

Anybody having a cable connection – and that is many millions – will have seen that the Geo exclusivity was being violated by any number of channels, and that in some areas, the Geo signal quality was being degraded deliberately by cable operators under pressure from the government who wanted to maximise their own advertising revenues and minimise that of Geo. It is agreed that the state channel has the right to broadcast matches via antenna, but it cannot use satellite telecast rights which are contracted to Geo. The cable operators have hitherto chosen to ignore the law of the land as they do with very little by way of intervention by PEMRA, but the undertaking of compliance with the SC by PEMRA may change this cosy arrangement. By way of compromise, the contempt case brought against PEMRA by Geo has been held in abeyance pending PEMRA compliance in enforcement. If PEMRA fails to deliver on its undertaking, the contempt case will reactivate. It is of note that an Indian court has been hearing a similar case and that Indian judges have delivered a verdict very close to that of our own Supreme Court. The violation of intellectual property rights and copyright theft are a commonplace across the subcontinent. There are about 4000 cable TV operators across the country, and thus far 39 of them have been closed for making illegal broadcasts. If the law is implemented, in fact as well as spirit, then more could follow. The government cannot violate of itself the law of the land that it governs, and breach legally binding contracts – and encourage others to do the same – because of a feud with a media group that it finds difficult to give space to. The test now lies in compliance, and whether PEMRA has the guts to follow through on the SC ruling. We watch with interest.







Addressing party workers in Lahore, PML-N chief Mian Nawaz Sharif has spoken of another long march to protest the 'trillions' of rupees being lost to corruption and the country's growing reliance on foreign loans rather than its own resources. The words met with instant approval from youngsters in the crowd. More than any other section of society, they are perhaps worst affected by the conditions of life and the inadequacies of a government which appears completely incapable of handling a growing crisis. It has also failed to clamp down on corruption with ministers feared to be most heavily involved in the practice of stealing state money still based within their ministries.

There has, in other words, been no sign of change and, even from within Parliament, we hear little discussion on corruption or how to defeat it. Indeed, even issues such as taxing the rich more effectively do not figure in the assemblies despite our desperate need for resources. In such circumstances, many might welcome a long march. The government needs to be aware of this risk, and turn its attention to the key question of addressing the problems of people and offering them the governance they so badly need.








The word "inqilab" or "revolution" is on everybody's lips. A majority of Pakistani "have-nots" is hoping for it while a minority of the "haves" is fearful of it. One caller to my live TV show asked: "what is the use of making all these atom bombs if they can't be thrown on anyone," to which another angrily provided an answer: "throw them on the poor people of Pakistan so that poverty can be eradicated in one fell blow!"

Last month, Mr Altaf Hussain added his two bits worth by exhorting "patriotic generals" to launch a "bloody revolution". Now Mr Nawaz Sharif has decided to usurp popular sentiment and is thundering "Damadam Mast Qalandar" in his public gatherings.

So, is a "revolution" about to engulf Pakistan as in the Middle East? No, it isn't. The collapsing autocratic kleptocracies in the Middle East are being rocked by populist forces for democracy and freedom, much like absolutist Europe in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and Communist Eastern Europe in the late 1980s at the fag end of the Cold war. Each revolutionary wave was secular and each changed the global balance of power in the world.

But no such secular revolutionary movement for "liberty, equality and fraternity" is churning in the bowels of Pakistan. Indeed, Pakistan's history is littered with relatively successful but non-secular popular movements for democracy and liberation from dictatorships, even if none quite managed to live up to the promise.

The first student-led revolt in 1968 ousted the secular military government of Gen Ayub Khan. The second multi-party led agitation in 1977 chucked out the secular autocratic regime of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. The third popular revolt was only three years. Young lawyers backed by a free media swept the moderate government of General Pervez Musharraf from power.

That's why despite three decades of military rule and one decade of fascism under a civilian government, and unlike the states of the Middle East where non-Islamist (but not necessarily secular) democratic change is in the air, Pakistan has an established multi-party political system, regular and broadly acceptable general elections, a fairly consensual constitution, noisy federal and provincial parliaments, fiercely free media and an independent judiciary. So we have none of the political suffocation and repression that has characterised much of the Middle East.

Does this mean that Pakistan is immune to the winds of change blowing in the rest of the Muslim world? No, it doesn't mean that at all. There are some striking similarities with the Middle East. Over 60 percent of the population of Pakistan, like most Middle Eastern countries, is under 30 years. Most of it is unemployed, alienated and angry because the democratic system is not delivering. Like the ME, anti-Americanism is rife. And like the Middle East, there is outrage against the double standards of the west in supporting decadent, exploitative and oppressive ruling elites in the Third World while simultaneously exporting ideas of democracy, freedom, human rights and liberalism. This suggests that the idea of "revolution, people's power and radical change" is in the air even in Pakistan.

But the growing tragedy is that this sentiment is anti-democracy, anti-secularism, anti-liberalism and anti-pluralism because the system of political democracy a la Westminster has only served to sustain a game of musical chairs for corrupt politicians and grasping soldiers who have been living off economic rents and military handouts by the United States in pursuit of its foreign policy objectives in South and West Asia. Pakistani democracy is characterised by three Ds – dynastic, dysfunctional and discredited. So is Pakistan headed for an "Islamic revolution" like Iran under Ayatollah Khomeni in 1979? No, it isn't.

Iran lent itself to an Islamic revolution because it was uniquely different from other Muslim countries. It is ethnically united and religiously homogenous. Also, it had a class of religious scholars who were all united behind one leader. But Pakistan is not ripe for such an Islamist state. It is ethnically divided and intensely sectarian, with dozens of groups or parties constantly squabbling over religious and political issues. Strong regional sub-nationalisms and ethnic loyalties also cut into religious unity, as demonstrated by the secession of East Pakistan in 1981. In 2002, all the major religious parties formed an umbrella organisation (MMA) to contest the elections but still did not make any dent in the political system. In fact, the MMA lost badly in the 2008 elections and the religious parties are squabbling again.

Under the circumstances, what sort of change is possible in Pakistan? The obvious expectation is regime change via elections later this year. But if that merely serves to replace one dysfunctional coalition government with another, there will be more popular frustration with "democracy" and we will have merely postponed the day of reckoning.

Another option is for the military, judiciary and media to implicitly join hands against discredited politicians and political parties by propping up a civilian regime of technocrats to set things right. But keeping the PMLN and PPP out in the cold for any length of time and disqualifying their leaders won't work. Sooner than later, the media will switch sides and start criticizing the new regime and hankering for "accountable democracy" again.

MeanwhileThe various flash points in Pakistan will continue to undermine the economy and disrupt foreign polity. Unemployment, inflation and shortages will keep tempers on the boil. Increasing religiosity and anti-Americanism will keep foreign investors at bay. The mad scramble to stockpile nuclear weapons will continue to ring alarm bells in and outside the region. The proliferation of armed and organised jihadi and Taliban groups will pose severe problems for installing liberal democracy, building peace with India and doing business with the west, all of which are necessary for rejuvenating the state and society of Pakistan.

If a war with India is provoked or there is conflict with the US, then all bets will be off. Elements of a failing state are anarchy, civil strife, war, economic meltdown and secession. The only realistic option is for our political leaders to keep religious passion out of law and politics, anti-American outrage out of economic and foreign policy, and unaccountable corruption and inefficiency out of government. We must make democracy work so that Pakistan can survive and prosper as a nation-state.


The writer is Jang Group/Geo adviser on political affairs.








The Senate Standing Committee on Finance is reported to have raised an important legal point in one of its recent meetings about a mandatory requirement under Section 9B of the State Bank of Pakistan (SBP) Act. The requirement is that of holding a quarterly meeting of the Monetary and Fiscal Policy Coordination Board headed by the Federal Minister of Finance and including, among others, SBP governor as its member.

Noticing this violation of the SBP Act during the last several years, former deputy governor of the SBP Muhammad Ashraf Janjua, had written several articles in daily English newspapers drawing the attention of the Ministry of Finance and the SBP to this glaring violation of the SBP Act. Nobody paid any attention to his articles. It is encouraging to note that the Senate Standing Committee on Finance has taken notice of this violation and is likely to take up the matter again in its meeting to be held on March 3, 2011.

As I was mainly responsible, being governor of SBP at the time, for the drafting of section 9A and 9B of the SBP Act that was passed by the National Assembly first in 1993 and further in1997, I thought it will be useful to give a brief background and its modus operandi.

Until 1993, the SBP was both legally and practically totally subservient to the Ministry of Finance and monetary policy was completely subordinated to fiscal policy so that the government could borrow at will any amount from the SBP through the creation of ad hoc treasury bills and from commercial banks under any arrangement, including simple directives. This was playing havoc with the banking and monetary system of the country and fueling inflation.

Accordingly, in 1993 the Benazir government introduced amendments in the SBP Act to, inter alia, grant some autonomy to the SBP in the conduct of monetary policy. This was followed by further amendments in 1997 when the Nawaz Sharif government agreed to incorporate some changes in the above sections of the SBP Act for the dual purpose of giving more autonomy to the SBP in the formulation and implementation of monetary policy and simultaneously clarifying the mechanism for an effective coordination with the fiscal policy.

Section 9A of the SBP Act gave autonomy to the SBP to "determine and enforce, in addition to the overall expansion of liquidity, the limit of credit to be extended by the Bank to the federal Government, Provincial governments and other agencies of the federal and Provincial Governments for all purposes". Section 9B of the SBP Act set up the Monetary and Fiscal Policies Coordination Board for the "coordination of fiscal, monetary and exchange rate policies" through mandatory quarterly meetings.

Meetings of the Monetary and Fiscal Policies Coordination Bard were held regularly when I was governor of the SBP; the latter formulated and conducted an independent monetary policy and coordinated it with the fiscal policy through the mechanism of quarterly meetings of the board set up under the amended SBP Act.

Under these provisions of the law, proper sequencing for the formulation and implementation of monetary policy that was adopted after the above amendments, and was to be to be adhered to thereafter, was as follows:

•Much before the beginning of the fiscal year the Monetary and Fiscal Policies Coordination Board met and agreed on the targets of inflation, rate of economic growth and changes in net foreign assets in the forthcoming fiscal year.

•Based on its framework for economic analysis and demand for money function, the SBP determined the safe limit of monetary expansion for that year that was consistent with targets of growth, inflation and net foreign assets.

•The SBP estimated genuine credit requirements of the private sector in consultation with the representatives of the private sector and relevant officials of the government for that year

•Using its reserve money program, SBP estimated the scope of government borrowing from the SBP and of indicative amount of government borrowing from commercial banks that was consistent with inflation, growth and balance of payment targets.

•The above estimates were approved by the central board of the SBP and the approved overall credit program was forwarded to the Ministry of Finance which used it as an input for developing the financing scheme of the budget.

•The SBP implemented monetary policy and Ministry of Finance based its budget on bank financing emerging from the monetary policy targets.

•A review of developments was undertaken in quarterly meetings of the Monetary and Fiscal Policies Coordination Board to make any adjustments and to ensure consistency in fiscal and monetary policies.

It remains a mystery as to why and when the above legal framework was abandoned by the Ministry of Finance and the SBP after my retirement.

It may be added that the new amendments proposed in the SBP Act are paraded as if they will enhance SBP autonomy. In reality, it will make monetary policy again subservient to fiscal policy and to the Ministry of Finance. The responsibility for enforcement of new provisions, if enacted, will rest with the Ministry of Finance which has a poor track record in this regard. The Ministry of Finance may not honour its commitments in this regard as it hasn't done so with regard to the Fiscal Responsibility Act.

It is not more changes in the law but a sincere implementation of the existing provisions of section 9A and 9B of the SBP Act that would ensure relative monetary stability and also protect the private sector from paying the price in the form of higher interest rates and lower availability of credit because of excessive government borrowing from the SBP.

The writer is the former governor of State Bank Pakistan








"I never would have agreed to the formulation of the Central Intelligence Agency back in '47," Harry Truman said, "if I had known it would become the American Gestapo."

In 2010, the United States spent a whopping 80.1 billion dollars on intelligence- gathering. The spoils of this war were shared by, apart from the CIA, the Defence Intelligence Agency, which serves the Pentagon, the eavesdropping entity that is the National Security Agency and the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency which runs spy satellites. Yet this costly cloak-and-dagger, bullet-and-bomb stuff has done little to serve US intelligence objectives.

In his book Legacy of Ashes, Pulitzer prize-winning author Tim Weiner chronicles the numerous bunglings of the CIA, the United States' "premier" spy agency. The book draws on 50,000 documents from CIA archives going as far back as 1947. It also relies on more than 300 interviews with staff members, including ten former CIA directors. Weiner brands the agency a gross failure, concluding that "the most powerful nation in the history of Western civilisation has failed to create a first-rate spy service."

Narrating recorded facts, the book shows how since its inception the CIA has relied on low-level sources and ill-trained officers. It asserts that Allen Dulles, the agency's most celebrated leader, judged the importance of intelligence reports by their weight rather than contents.

Frank Wisner, the first CIA head of covert operations (1948-1958) was diagnosed with psychotic mania and committed to a mental hospital. In 1962, Wisner's files were reviewed by a successor, who destroyed them as "the ramblings of a madman." In 1965, Wisner committed suicide. His son, Frank Wisner Jr, a former State Department official, and ambassador to Egypt and India and a former Enron director, is Washington's special representative for the present Egypt crisis.

Declassified documents prove that the CIA "knowingly gave the White House and the Pentagon inside information on the Soviet Union from foreign agents it knew, or strongly suspected, were controlled by Moscow." These reports were given to Presidents Reagan, George H W Bush and Clinton. Aldrich Ames, CIA chief of counterintelligence for the Soviet-East Europe division, had been working since 1985 for the Soviet Union and then for Russia until he was discovered, and the convicted in 1994. In effect the whole US policy towards Russia was being shaped by the Kremlin.

Many CIA covert actions resulting in apparent short-term successes were long-term strategic blunders. The Iranian democratic government fell to CIA Operation Ajax in 1953, but the development eventually led to the revolution of 1979, and the United States came to be branded as "the Great Satan" by Iran. The CIA-backed Ba'ath Party coup in Iraq facilitated the advent of Saddam Hussein. The CIA was unable to predict the 1968 Tet offensive in Vietnam, the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia, the 1972 declarations of martial laws in the Philippines and South Korea, the 1973 Middle East war, the 1974 Cyprus crisis, and the coup in Portugal and the nuclear explosion by India the same year, and the 9/11 attacks.

The present upheavals in the Middle East are another product of CIA failures. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Robert Gates, the defence secretary in the Obama administration who then headed the CIA, was at a family picnic. Asked by a surprised friend about his presence there during the invasion, Gates responded: "What invasion?" The Tunisian and Egypt revolutions took the White House by surprise. President Obama reportedly told National Intelligence director James Clapper that he was "disappointed with the intelligence community" about its failure to predict the unrest that led to the ouster of Tunisian president Zine El Abedine Ben Ali. This failure also dominated a recent Senate Intelligence Committee hearing. The committee's chairperson, Dianne Feinstein, was confounded as to how ignorant the CIA was of the uprisings. "Was someone looking at what was going on on the Internet?" she quipped.

Inscribed on the CIA headquarters' lobby wall is the second half of a Bible verse: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." The first half conveniently left out is: "If ye abide in My word, [then] are ye truly my disciples..." The truth is that the CIA has been involved in drug trafficking in Burma, Bangkok, Thailand, Venezuela, Colombia, Afghanistan, Nicaragua, Mexico, Panama and Haiti. Active involvement in the drug trade was justified because they helped and financed their covert actions. It had also been actively involved in assassinations, kidnappings, renditions, torture and overthrow of governments. Even President Ford accused the CIA of involvement in assassination attempts against foreign leaders.

Over the years many congressional committees and panels have investigated a plethora of accusations against the agency. There has been the Rockefeller Commission, Church Committee and Pike Committee. Otis Pike, now a former member of the US House of Representatives, believed the CIA was an out of control "rogue elephant," Sen Church and historian Arthur Schlesinger Jr had the opinion. Angelo M Codevilla, a former senior staff member of the US Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, commented that "the United States would have been better off not having an intelligence service at all."

Defence analyst John Diamond encapsulates these fiascos in his book CIA and the Culture of Failure. He writes: "A steady stream of intelligence failures in the 1990s occurred in every facet of CIA activity, from intelligence collection to analysis to counterintelligence to covert action. These processes fed off and fuelled one another, leading to a fatal cycle of error, criticism, overcorrection, distraction, and politicisation." This fatal cycle continues unabated. Unfazed by repeated intelligence failures from the Walker ring, Aldrich Ames, 9/11 to Raymond Davis, the reckless blundering continues.

Two thousand years ago, a Roman senator suggested that all slaves wear white armbands for people to better identify them. "No," said a wiser senator, "if they see how many of them there are, they may revolt." These white armbands are becoming evident the world over as reality sinks in. Here, too, the recent Davis episode was the trigger for years of suffered unbridled American arrogance, intrusion and highhandedness zealously facilitated by well placed assets. A handful here profess the indispensability of the White House and Langley, a multitude wants the riddance of the paid few and their paymasters.


The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:








American military officials are telling their Pakistani counterparts they want to save the Pakistani-American relationship. The way to do this, they say, is to 'forgive and forget' the Raymond Davis debacle, one of the worst scandals to hit the Central Intelligence Agency in years. The notion of saving Pak-US ties is good. But the Pakistani government and military would do a disservice to the nation by sweeping a number of urgent issues under the carpet in the name of salvaging our ties with the United States. Instead of putting Pakistani military under pressure, our American friends need to help save these ties by correcting dangerous imbalances in the bilateral relationship. A fair and full trial for Mr Davis would be a good place to start.

It is also time for the Washington establishment to understand it can't secure its interests in Pakistan by simply relying on proxies inside Pakistani government or by invoking the Pakistani military. Their actions and policies should also pass the test of Pakistani public opinion.

The Pakistani and American military leaderships met at a resort in Oman last week, which is a couple of hours by plane from Karachi. Credible sources in Islamabad confirm that US military commanders who met General Kayani tried to push him to come down hard on ISI and portray the Davis terror scandal as an ISI attempt to harm Pak-US ties. Some of the American commanders tried to portray the public outrage in Pakistan over Davis and other CIA assets in the country as ISI-engineered. Others are trying to allege that this outrage is limited to religious parties. All of this indicates a dangerous American disregard for Pakistani opinion.

It is also hilarious. If the American assessment is correct, the Pakistani popular outrage is all ISI's fault. CIA's advocates have the audacity to accuse ISI of exploiting the media. Someone should draw our American friends' attention to five years of intense anti-Pakistan campaign in the US media, meant to destabilise Pakistan in every possible way.

A second mischaracterisation the Americans are peddling now is that Mr Davis was simply monitoring dangerous groups. The initial debriefings of the American prove he was not just a spy but a military intelligence operative whose assignment included mounting operations and not just collecting information. His contacts with anti-Pakistan terrorists strengthen earlier information about CIA elements helping terrorists targeting Chinese engineers and Pakistani interests in Balochistan. Information and piles of circumstantial evidence also show CIA elements abetting a range of anti-Pakistan insurgencies across western Pakistan, all of which emerged after our American friends firmly landed in Afghanistan in 2002.

CIA needs to be held accountable for all this. It must explain why its hired gun was in contact with the same terrorists who recently killed two retired ISI officers and who have mounted spectacular attacks in Lahore and Peshawar killing a maximum number of ordinary Pakistanis.

A third issue is the role of President Zardari, his interior minister and his Washington envoy in facilitating the entry of hundreds of US operatives into Pakistan over the past months. It is clear that the US government and CIA rely on proxies to further its agenda in Pakistan. This must come to an end. The personal interests of individuals in the Pakistani government must never trump national interest. The Oman meeting indicates the goal now is to sweep all these urgent issues under the carpet in the name of saving Pak-US relationship.

Contrary to the eloquent pronouncements of senior US officials, Washington is not interested in any long-term relations with Pakistan. The American focus is temporary and limited to its regional interests in Afghanistan, India and China. Only a few days ago the US mainstream media was awash with US official leaks threatening Pakistan of termination of relations. We should not kid ourselves about US intentions, the noise of the small pro-US lobby inside Pakistan notwithstanding.

Mr Davis must be tried and we must strike at the heart of the entire anti-Pakistan enterprise in the region which has been active for nine years. The opening provided by Mr Davis must not go to waste.

The writer works for Geo television. Email:







How can Pakistan become a consistently growing economy? At the white-hot core of the answer to that question burns the midnight oil of the entrepreneur. In a culture that has often celebrated the most dubious of distinctions, it is consistently amazing that Pakistan has little or no time to celebrate and recognise the people who contribute to every aspect of national life – from the taxes that keep the state machinery running, to the philanthropy that keeps religious charities alive, to the grants and off-shoot ventures that help finance art and culture.

Of course, the political discourse has little space or time for the entrepreneur. The feudal culture of Pakistani politics, where even urban middle class parties like the MQM eventually behave like feudal overlords is one possible reason for why there is such little discussion about how to promote and enable dhanda. There is, of course, a much more insidious reason why this could be true.

It could be that the emergence of an entrepreneurial class in Pakistan would serve to erode, perhaps even marginalise the feudal, ethnic, linguistic and religious basis for the politics of a large percentage of the country's politicians. Still, it's not entirely clear that entrepreneurs are not easily co-opted by the elite. The critical mass required for an entrepreneurial class to develop a political voice is not imminent. (Attributing to Nawaz Sharif, the voice of this entrepreneurial class is probably more than a rounding error).

There is hope however. The Pakistan Business Council (PBC) a high-power alliance of big Pakistani businesses, has been on an all-out policy offensive, chiming into the national discontent, and importantly, owning this growing sense of discontent, by announcing an agenda for economic reform. The agenda itself is not extraordinary, except for the fact that it represents the priorities of Pakistan's most successful entrepreneurs.

The PBC wants four things. An immediate redressal of the energy crisis, a solution to the government's constant fiscal crisis, an increased set of investments in social protection and social services – such as education and health, and improved trade within the South Asia region.

One thing that comes across clearly is that big business in Pakistan is surprisingly well-aligned with the rest of the country. It hardly matters whether you are rich or poor, jiyala or jamaati, liberal or conservative, the energy crisis matters to all. The fiscal crisis and government's constant printing of money, and the resulting inflation matter to all. Having a society in which there is inequality of access to social services, matters to all. And, the ability to have free and open trade with India, as a matter of the impact on the economy, matters to all.

The PBCs demands represent a reasonably robust statement of intent, above and beyond the slim population of successful entrepreneurs. A much more worrisome truth is buried beneath the substance of the PBC's demands. Can you see the common thread in what the PBC is asking for? Now, the captains of Pakistan's industry will not come out and say it openly (perhaps quite rightly), but every single one of its demands is linked directly to government.

Government is an obstacle and an impediment to the solution of each one of the crises that the PBC identifies – the energy crisis, the fiscal crisis, the social service delivery crisis and the trade crisis. All four of these crises are rooted in the action and/or inaction of government. Much of the status quo is not simply a product of stasis. It is a product of the deliberate and concerted gains available to individual and group actors within the state infrastructure. In plain English, things are the way they are, because there are people who profit from things being this way.

Corruption, impossibly difficult to prove at the micro-level of the individual is widely known to exist in the exchange, reward and allocation of rights to explore for, produce and distribute energy. Corruption is petty and hard to identify at the individual project level, but we know it exists at the overarching public sector development level, at the overarching military procurement level, and at the level of government employees not showing up to work. This has the dual impact of constantly rising fiscal needs, and a constantly declining set of social services that the state offers to its citizens.

This is why every day, more and more people opt for privately bottled water, privately delivered education, privately packaged healthcare, and as and when possible, private residential enclaves, private electric generators and private security guards. Corruption is what allows some companies some kinds of special privileges, and other companies, none at all. It is what produces deeply skewed trade patterns and manufacturing profiles. Again, we don't know for sure, who is doing it, and where, and how. But we know it is out there.

The reason that government exists at every level, in every way, every single step of the way is to create channels to allow for rents to be earned. The corruption is there because government is there. And government is there, structured in a manner, to enable that corruption. This is harsh, and will be seen as a betrayal of my record of supporting state effectiveness. But to have an honest discussion about making the state more effective, we have to have an honest discussion about the state. The state is structurally geared to extract non-productive rents, in a manner that minimises accountability.

This is not political science, or sociology. It is the economy, stupid.

The failure of Pakistan's economy to grow consistently and sustainably is deeply enmeshed in the architecture of the Pakistani state and the nature and depth of its involvement in day to day economic and social affairs. The fact that the current structures don't work is a problem of analysis. The current structures work very well, for the purpose they serve – the individual and group enrichment of those who play the system game. These are Pakistan's rent-seeking missiles. The petty corrupt, commissions, hissas, cuts, fees, bhattas, shares. This is what the system is designed to produce. This design was not commissioned by some dark, hidden conspiracy. The design is what occurs when things take shape while no one is watching.

Do you want to know why no one is watching the system of governance take shape? Because everyone is busy watching the non-stop Raymond Davis circus. This system is what is causing the problem of loadshedding, not solving it. It is what is causing the problem of inflation, not solving it. It is what is causing the problem of absentee teachers, not solving it. The economy is being strangulated by this system. This is not of the people, by the people, or for the people. It is the opposite.







The Arab world has been convulsed by people power that has as its vanguard a younger generation taking on regimes entrenched for three decades or more. In quick succession, Tunisia, Egypt, Bahrain and Libya have faced a transformational upsurge with Jordan, Algeria and Yemen registering seismic shocks that are being contained with instant reform packages.

The people of Pakistan watch this panoramic change with an emotional mélange of pain, amazement and, perhaps, envy. The conventional wisdom is that this revolutionary wave will peter out short of Pakistan's shore. This view is widely held despite the fact that many of the explosive ingredients that have rocked the Arab states are more abundantly present in Pakistan's body politic. Judged by the traditional drivers of revolutions such as poverty, disease and other manifestations of social marginalisation of vast segments of society, Pakistan should be a more likely candidate for a mass upsurge for change than many of the Arab states.

Since 1990s, alike under political governments and General Musharraf's dictatorship, resource-constrained Pakistan has been more exposed than most of the Arab states in turmoil today to the darker side of globalisation; the capacity of the state to intervene and reverse impoverisation of millions has visibly shrunk. It is unable to maintain law and order or, for that matter, deliver any kind of security. At the emotive level, the people share the ubiquitous Muslim outrage at injustice – an ingrained Islamic cultural attribute – and there is an extraordinary apprehension of betrayal by the political class. As amongst the Arabs, Pakistanis have a deep sense of humiliation at the hands of foreign powers with which their own government is aligned. Yet there is a sense of complacency that Pakistan is neither Tunisia nor Egypt.

What is the wellspring of this faith that the people of Pakistan will not look for Liberation Squares in their fast disintegrating cities? What are the building blocks of the breakwater that would roll back the revolutionary wave? The most cogent factor that the dominant political class cites for this optimism is that Pakistan has functioning safety valves such as democratic institutions and considerable freedom of speech. Then there is the collective memory of the people that the final outcome – the denouement – of past mass movements was very different from the one dreamt by the huge but poorly led marches because of forceful interventions by the "deep state" and the military. The Utopia of imagination just dissolved into the grim reality of dictatorship.

Where the rulers may be wrong is that many of the dykes have become vulnerable. Political challenges emerge unpredictably. The internet, the Facebook and the SMS provide alternative means of mobilisation; the minimum they do is to accentuate the disconnect between the younger generation and the ruling elite. New modes of communication, such as 24-hour TV, are driven by market forces to align themselves with popular sentiment rather than an unconvincing official narrative of stability and progress.

Above all, having denuded "reconciliation" of substance, the political class is returning to confrontation. This will impinge negatively on every factor from economic recovery to armed insurgencies.

The present scenario is, admittedly, not conducive to a quick liberating revolution; in fact, it portends something worse: descent into anarchy, drift and inane violence spreading from megacities like Karachi to small towns and even rural areas. Revolutions can have a creative dynamic; anarchy only breeds nihilism. Pakistan has not reached the proverbial tipping point as yet. It needs to radically rethink domestic and foreign policies and not retreat into facile optimism if it wants to protect democracy.

The writer is a former foreign secretary. Email: tanvir.a.khan@









BALOCHISTAN Government has declared emergency in Quetta following incessant rains and understandably both the Provincial and Federal governments would join hands in mitigating the sufferings of the people. But strategists and analysts warn that time is running out for resolution of the overall Balochistan issue that is complicating with the passage of every day because of inaction on the part of those at the helm of affairs.

Though abduction of two judges and some lawyers forced Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani to make a policy statement in the National Assembly on Monday yet his pronouncements were nothing but rhetoric that are unlikely to address the grave issues involved. There is a vivid impression that despite passage of three years the Government has not gone beyond announcing Aghaz Haqooq-e-Balochistan package and offering apology from people of Balochistan for past excesses. It is criminal negligence on the part of the authorities concerned not to have initiated the dialogue process with Baloch leader and on Monday again the Prime Minister made a vague offer, which is unlikely to yield any positive result. As situation in Balochistan is taking ugly turn due to lack of interest by rulers and excessive interference by some foreign forces, it would be in the fitness of things if leader of PML(N) Mian Muhammad Nawaz Sharif, who has good rapport with Baloch leadership, takes upon himself the mission of reconciliation in the Province. He certainly has a clout with different interest groups in Balochistan and political analysts are confident that he has the ability of bringing Baloch dissidents back to national mainstream. No doubt, PML(N) has parted ways with the ruling PPP because of differences on economic and political issues but Balochistan issue has assumed dangerous dimensions and, as national leader, it is the duty of Mian Nawaz Sharif to play his role in resolving the problem for the sake of national interests. Though things are pretty precarious, still there is a room for manoeuvring for leaders of the stature of MNS and he must not lose time in fulfilling his responsibilities in this regard.








AS the case of CIA agent Raymond Davis proceeds, more information is coming out about his acts and connections in Pakistan. Law enforcement agencies have arrested 45 individuals from Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar for remaining in constant touch with Raymond Davis and their interrogation would unfold the conspiracies he had been hatching against Pakistan.

In the meantime a court in Khyber Pakhtoonkhawa on Monday rejected the bail application of another American Aaron Mark De Haven, who was working for a private security company in Peshawar. One wonders how many more Davises and De Havens are active and implementing bigger agenda in Pakistan. We believe their number is not in hundreds but in thousands and the arrests made in the three main cities indicate that the Americans have hired the services of many Pakistanis for intelligence and subversive activities. In this scenario, it is essential that the cases of the two Americans must be analysed thoroughly and the people with whom they remained in touch should be interrogated to nab those still at large. Though details of activities of Raymond Davis and De Havens would not be made public yet we are confident that the security agencies would get valuable information and take appropriate measures to avoid formation of such networks in the future. We wonder why Rehman Malik, the boss of the Interior Ministry who in the past, in his usual fly buoyant style, addressed press conferences denying the existence of Blackwater and other security agencies, is silent on the activities of two Americans? All said and done a very dangerous phenomenon has emerged in Pakistan and it is the only sovereign country where every one is free to enter with or without visa. For God's sake, it is high time that the Interior Ministry and its agencies must wake up and start an operation on an urgent basis to check all the foreign nationals including the Afghan refugees and those with no valid documents must be arrested, tried and punished. The Government must pay attention to the wave of restructuring that has started in Afro-Arab region with Western backing and it is feared that in Pakistan too sooner than later this process of fragmentation may be unleashed.







AFTER maintaining forced freeze for four months, the Government, on Monday, announced a massive increase in the prices of POL products, which would undoubtedly trigger a fresh wave of hike price making life of the already inflation-ridden people more miserable. There has been about 10% increase in rates which translate into Rs 7.23 increase in the price of petrol, Rs 7.76 in diesel and Rs 7 in the price of poor man's kerosene but still the Government claims that it would only help partially recover the losses.

The country is facing worst ever economic crisis and it is understood the Government was left with no option to pass on the increase in oil prices in the international market to the domestic consumers. This is quite logical but contrasts sharply to the behaviour of the Government when prices fell dramatically and it refused to pass on the relief to the people of Pakistan on the pretext that it had to recover past losses. This is despite the fact that the Government was charging too much tax on POL products and during transitory periods when prices jump up in the international market due to strategic developments, it could slash down its taxes and profit margins to make life easier for the general public. We have been urging in these columns that the practice of revision of prices of POL products every fortnight or month should be discarded as unpredictability in countries like ours is suicidal. Increase in oil prices has a spiral effect but prices of products and services never revert back when the price of oil comes down due to poor enforcement mechanism and corruption. The Government also claimed that the point related to fixation of prices of POL products (out of ten point economic reforms agenda of PML-N) stood implemented but people are still unaware of what transpired between the two parties on this point. We would urge the Government that besides taking other measures it should also take initiative steps to minimize consumption of oil through introduction of efficient public transport system in collaboration with private sector. Introduction of metro services in big cities could be another option to release pressure on roads and bring down the rising oil consumption.








High-level strategic dialogue among the United States, Pakistan and Afghanistan set for scheduled for February 23-24 this year in Washington have been postponed. In this regard, US postponed the talks amid a growing crisis sparked by the arrest of an American, Raymond Davis who was accused of murdering two Pakistani nationals.

On February 15, 2011, like other US high officials, even President Barack Obama urged Pakistan to free Raymond as he has diplomatic immunity under the Geneva Convention. Meanwhile, recently, the visiting Chairman of the US Foreign Relations Committee, John Kerry in Lahore remarked that issue of "Davis has nothing to do with local courts as diplomats enjoy immunity…we cannot allow that one incident can break the strong relationship between the two countries."

Notably, legal experts in Pakistan are of the opinion that Raymond Davis is a murderer who has no diplomatic immunity. Many Pakistanis are suspicious about Davis, who was arrested with loaded weapons, a GPS satellite tracking device, photographs of Pakistan's defence installations and tribal areas, while American authorities are still silent about his role in Pakistan. In this connection, even western media and renowned newspapers such as The New York Times, Washington Post and the Guardian have also revealed that Davis Raymond is agent of American CIA. This fact shows a greater contradiction between the Obama Administration and their media.

As regards the strategic dialogue, State Department spokesman Philip Crowley said in a statement, "In light of the political changes in Pakistan and after discussions with Afghan and Pakistani officials in Washington, it was agreed to postpone the Trilateral Meeting…we look forward to convening a very productive Trilateral Meeting at the earliest opportunity." He further explained that Washington remains "committed to robust engagement between Afghanistan, Pakistan and the United States, as we share many issues of mutual concern and benefit from being at the same table."

Meanwhile in the recent days the US and Pakistani military chiefs had a day-long meeting in Oman, and Pakistan's Ambassador Husain Haqqani was invited to the State Department for a formal meeting with Marc Grossman, the new US Envoy for Afghanistan and Pakistan. Despite all of this, the suspension of talks — with no new date announced marked the latest blow to strained US ties with Pakistan, where Pakistan's police has rejected the American's self-defense claim and accused him of cold-blooded murder as a court extended his remand.

There is no doubt that a diplomatic crisis has boiled up between Washington and Islamabad over the detention of Raymond Davis, and the US has stepped up pressure on Pakistan to free him. And the Pakistani government is in a tough situation. The public wants Davis tried and convicted. On the other hand, the United States continues its efforts to free its imprisoned citizen and is now reportedly issuing veiled threats.

Besides the crisis over Raymond Davis, previous history of Pak-US ties proves that Washington has always pressurised Pakistan on a number of occasions. In this respect, it is mentionable that in the aftermath of the November 26 catastrophe of Mumbai, America, while tilting towards India had put diplomatic duress on Islamabad. Setting aside the ground realties that Pakistan, itself, has been the major victim of terrorism, which has been bearing multiple losses in combating this menace since 9/11, with the support of the US, Indian blame game against Islamabad, continued during exchange of information between the two neighbouring countries regarding Mumbai mayhem. While, rejecting Pakistan's stand that its government or any official agency was not involved in the Mumbai attacks, presenting one after another list of bogus evidence, New Delhi wanted to make Islamabad accept all other Indian demands since our rulers admitted on February 12, 2009 that Ajmal Kasab is Pakistani national and Mumbai terror-attacks were "partially planned in Pakistan."

In that context, India wanted to avail the Mumbai tragedy in increasing further pressure on Pakistan with the help of America in order to force Islamabad to confess that all the terrorists responsible for Mumbai attacks came from Pakistan. In that scenario, US former Secretary of State, Condoleeza Rice and British Foreign Secretary Milliband who had visited India and Pakistan stressed upon Islamabad to take actions against the banned Jamaatud Dawa and the already banned Lashkar-i-Tayba. Speaking in Indian tune, they had also said that the terrorists involved in the Mumbai events came from Pakistan. In the recent past, IMF decided to sanction loan to Pakistan after American green signal. Past experience proves that economic dependence on foreign countries always brings political dependence in its wake. While, at that critical juncture, our country had been facing precarious financial problem, US-led some western allies compelled Pakistan to accept some Indian false demands. Another instance of American pressure is that the US is emphasising Islamabad to take action against the militants of North Waziristan. It also continuous drone attacks on Pakistan's soil without bothering for the sovereignty of our country.

As a matter of fact, we are living in an unequal world order. The prevalent global system tends to give a greater political and economic leverage to the affluent developed countries which could protect their interests at the cost of the weaker countries. Whenever, any controversy arises on the controversial issues, the UN Security Council enforces the doctrine of collective security against the small states, while the five big powers protect their interests by using veto. This shows discrimination between the powerful and the weaker. In this context, it is notable that in 2001, UN had permitted the United States to attack Afghanistan under the cover of right of self-defence. In case of the Indian occupied Kashmir, the issue still remains unresolved as UN resolutions regarding the plebiscite were never implemented because Washington and some western powers support the illegitimate stand of India due to their collective interests. While elaborating shrewd diplomacy, renowned political philosophers, Hobbes, Machiavelli and Morgenthau agree that the powerful states can safeguard their interest by exerting psychological pressure on the less powerful states. In these terms, a renowned strategic thinker, Thomas Schelling remarks about the US, "coercion to be an effective tool of foreign policy." Kissinger also endorses politics of bargaining and pressure through threats, coercion and even violence as essential elements of the American diplomacy. Nevertheless, suspension of strategic talks among the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan are though part of American pressure on Islamabad, but the same will produce negative impact on both the countries, giving a greater setback to the US war on terror. In this regard, Americans should know that Pakistan is still a frontline country and a key state actor for American 'different war' in Afghanistan, while the US-led NATO forces cannot win over the Taliban militants without Islamabad's support. Non-cooperation or any misunderstanding among the US, Pakistan and Afghanistan will encourage India which is already manipulating US war in Afghanistan. In fact, since the US-led NATO forces occupied Afghanistan after 9/11, stiff resistance of the Taliban militants which created unending lawlessness in the country has made it a most conducive place for India to prepare conspiracies to fulfill its secret strategic designs against Pakistan, Iran and China.

Under the pretext of Talibinisation of Afghanistan and Pakistan, Indian secret agency, RAW with help of some foreign intelligence agencies has well-established its networks in Afghanistan. Particularly, India has been running secret operations against Pakistan from its consulates in Mazar-i-Sharif, Jalalabad, Kandhar and other sensitive parts of the Pak-Afghan border. It has spent millions of dollars in Afghanistan to strengthen its grip on the country. New Delhi has not only increased its military troops in the counry, but has also decided to set up cantonments. In this respect, India is using the Border Roads Organisation in constructing the ring roads by employing Indo-Tibeten police force for security.

Moreover, suspension of trilateral talks for a long time is likely to create misunderstanding among these three countries, encouraging the terrorists and especially thwarting American regaional and global interests at this critical juncture when Washington is already facing violent anti-American protests in the Middle East. And wave of resentment against the US is runnning high in Pakistan and other Arab countries. Nonetheless, importance of the Pak-US and Afghan dialogue can be judged from the fact that in these trilateral annual talks, ministers and other top officials of Islamabad, Washington and Kabul outline progress on issues such as the war in Afghanistan and the campaign against extremism. So these trilateral dialogue must continue and a new date must be announced in this regard very soon as coordination among these concerned states is very essential for eliminating militancy, US war against terrorism, and creating regional stability.







Pakistan is a country torn by terrorism, with its infrastructure lacking in many aspects. But the sector of education is the most affected in this regard. During the 63 years of independence, we have been able to educate only 54 percent of our population, according to UNDP report of 2009. While the yardstick to measure this percentage, starts from individuals who can read a newspaper and write a simple letter, in any language, which is shocking. The literacy rate in FATA, which is on the frontlines of the war on terror, is only 22 percent, with the female literacy rate only being 7.5%. To rub salt to the wound, only 2.3 percent of the GDP has been allocated to the education sector in this budget. This figure is lagging far behind the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) set by United Nations. With the foreign assistance flowing in from outside, less improvement is seen in this field, as most of it goes in to the pockets of corrupt officials. Policy makers in Pakistan still not realize (or are not serious about it), what importance disseminating education and creating awareness among the masses, holds in combating and defeating terrorism.

Terrorists have been targeting underdeveloped areas with lower literacy rate, as their recruiting hubs and bases of support. The lack of state's infrastructure and authority has provided a corridor for these outfits to flourish. People of these areas, lacking education and awareness of their religion, consider the Imam of the local mosque to be the final authority on every topic. It is due to no or less concentration on educational field which, has resulted in springing up of madrassas in the previous years. Most of these madrassas complete with their free boarding and lodging have been injecting poison, in the youth of this country. These seminaries mostly appeared during the first Afghan war, with the main objective of providing recruits for the conflict. The number of unregistered seminaries in 2002 was estimated to be 10,000 – 13,000 with estimated up to two million students. The figure has exceptionally risen and is commonly quoted to be 18000 – 22000, with correspondingly larger number of students. This unchecked spread of madrassas has not made situation easier to curtail the menace. These seminaries are not only characterized as being run by radicals or non-radicals, but are also divided on the basis of sects. Steps taken in previous years to register these seminaries and to bring them under an authority have not been very fruitful.


Families suffering from difficult economic condition and lacking education prefer to send their kids to these seminaries. The main reason being, that these seminaries charge no fees and provide the basic needs to these children, who are society's unfortunates. Many of these seminaries have no link to extremists, but still a large number of others are involved in these malicious activities. This all clearly points out to the failure and collapse of our educational system. About 65 percent of the Pakistani youth have access to government schools, while 35 percent are attending private schools. The governments over the years have proven incapable to cope with the difficulties in the education sector; this resulted in formation of private schools during the 80's. With private sector jumping in to aid the state machinery, situation should have gotten better. Instead, things got worse and there was disparity created in education. These were referred to as schools for elite, while the middle class or lower middle class could not afford such expense. More recently, the cut down of funds for Higher Education Commission and resultantly the universities, just goes on to show that we are still willing to sacrifice our already beleaguered educational system.

The terrorists have also been targeting educational institutions, being part of their terror agenda. Recently, in the last month on November 22, a girls' school in Landi Kotal was hit, previously on November 15 and November 11, militants blew up two government schools in Mohmand Agency. Two primary schools for girls in the same agency and a high school at Sulemankhel Budh Bher were blown up. A government girls' school was blown up in the settled district of Bannu on November 5, while two more girls' schools were blown up, again in Mohmand, a few days earlier. This is not a new phenomenon or a spike, as someone reading these figures would think. Actually this has been continuously going on since the war on terror has begun, as up to 209 schools have been blown up in FATA till October. Terrorists have been constantly targeting the educational institutions in these areas in order to keep the next generation away from learning and awareness. Obviously, they cannot brainwash and recruit someone who, is conscious of his rights and realizes the difference between right and wrong. Unfortunately our country, even after all this time has not been able to come up with a strategy to prevent the terrorists from damaging the educational infrastructure. Ironically the political agents in FATA recently, suspended and terminated up to 800 school workers, including more than a hundred female staff for failing to protect their schools. This is a horrific example of what strategy our state apparatus is adopting to counter this issue. It seems to be the least discussed and pondered upon topic by the intellect, media and the policy makers of this nation. The situation has gotten so much out of hand that, even the schools, colleges and universities in the federal capital (for security reasons) present the look of prisons rather than places of learning.

While the whole educational sector needs reforming and restructuring, but it is imperative that the country should address the issues facing the tribal region on priority basis. The first task in hand for the government especially in the militancy stricken areas, is to provide protection for the educational institutions still left standing. Instead of pressurizing the staff, they should also ask for local cooperation and take them into confidence in this issue. Unchecked growth of seminaries should be stopped and they should be registered and brought under an authority on urgent basis. These seminaries should then also be encouraged to concentrate on other areas of education and also to provide vocational training to their students. Establishment and re-building of schools and colleges in the tribal areas should be done with the support of private organizations and locals. Launching of awareness campaigns will also contribute to the realization of the importance of education, among the local population. Female education for these areas should be given special priority by all stakeholders. Measures should also be taken to provide proper religious education, in order to counter the propaganda disseminated by the extremists. Proper budget should be allocated to education especially for these troubled areas and steps should also be taken to prevent any corruption. The government, with the help of donors should provide scholarships to the bright and underprivileged students of these areas.

With proper steps taken in the right direction, in regards to the educational sector, the chances for our nation to root out militancy and extremism are extremely bright. The future of our children is dependent upon the steps we take both individually and collectively, to reform and restructure this field. The extremists have realized the importance of education as a hurdle to their agendas. We will have to take bold initiatives to use education and awareness as means, to root out intolerance and extremism from our society.








Not less than but President Obamma himself expressed his concerns about extended detention of Raymond Davis in Pakistan and categorically asked Pakistan to release him immediately, based on the argument of 1961 Vienna Convention clause 37, in which diplomats are accorded immunity. Later in the night, interestingly in the same time period i.e after 3 hours of President Obamma's speech in the US, Mr Kerry, the ex-US president candidate also reached Lahore, Pakistan and held an immediate press conference, where he made an articulated speech repeating the same American demand of releasing Raymond Davis. During his interaction with the press, Mr Kerry simply declined to respond any technical question regarding Raymond Davis immunity authenticity, trust in the Pakistani courts and American initial stance on the issue. Mr Kerry also forced upon that lets not make this single incident of Raymond to affect the long Pak-US strategic partnership. He at least thrice referred to the American assistance which it has been providing to Pakistan during the war on terror, education, infrastructure building and rehabilitation of the affected people due to flood and the internally displaced due to war on terror.

Right after the Kerry's press interaction, there was a hype of ante American opinion wherein, almost all the electronic media channels started criticizing the Kerry and yelled against any possible release of Raymond. Let's see the pro and cons of the difficult situation through which our leadership is passing. On one hand if they accept the American demand, the enraged people will throw them out of the government and if they do not accept the US demand, there all the likely chances of a massive diplomatic retaliation by the world community.

To my understanding, Pakistan must release Raymond Davis. Though, I know that no body in such a charged environment would like to even listen to my recommendation. I will request my countrymen to kindly be realistic and think the realities of the world politics. Its fact that we all are very sorry about the sad incident of two youngsters' death by the hands of Raymond, and feel the pain through which their relatives are passing through. However, we must also not forget that both of the slained youth were carrying the weapons and there are all the likely chances that Raymond felt threatened and took the law in his own hand, fearing his own murder being a white man amid current law and order situation in Pakistan.

My dear country men, lets be bold to face the realities of real world and real-politik. Pakistan can't exist in isolation among the world players having the game of inter-dependence being played in all walks of politics. Let me list the negative implications if Pakistan does not release Raymond in the face saving reasoning of diplomatic immunity, especially in the backdrop of submission by Mr Kerry's that he will be prosecuted as per the US rule of the land.

It's not the time to react impatiently and emotionally, instead try to be realistic and leave behind the utopian arguments of idealism. First of all, it's the same situation perhaps which the Afghanistan's Taliban Government faced back in 2001 when they declined to throw out Osama Bin Laden out of Afghanistan whom the US believed to be the mastermind of 9/11 incident. I agree that Pakistan might not land in the same kind of situation on not meeting the US demand, still why to apply breaks to our development pace. To my understanding, if the US side doesn't get its demand fulfilled, it's all likely that it may terminate its economic support to Pakistan. The indicator of the same is already there in the form of Mr Kerry presence himself in Pakistan to settle the issue who is believed to be the architect of Kerry-Lugar Bill aid of 7.5 billion US dollars. Any ante economic US action will collapse the already fragile economy of our beloved country, whose negative affects will be massive. The rehabilitation of the flood and war on terror affecters will come to a grinding halt, which shall further create uncontrollable public retaliation. Moreover, the un-employment graph will further escalate to all time high indexes. Gone are the days when people would blindly follow the hollow slogan of eating grass. World is too materialistic today and people's day to day requirements have been multiplied manifold. Any weakness of the government can also strengthen the militant organization who may infiltrate among the masses which will have no limits. If it happens so, the world community will then turn towards our security centre of gravity, i.e. nuclear program, yet another touchy point.

Perhaps it is high time, we should take sensible decisions at the national leadership level, For heaven sake this is not the time for political scoring but its really a true testing time for our country and patriotic people.








On February 8, 2011 the United States rolled out its new National Military Strategy. The document based on the 2010 National Security Strategy (NSS) is the first revision of the National Military Strategy since 2004. The strategy describes the aims and objectives and US national interests as: security, prosperity, values and international order. The Strategy also described the ways and actions US government intended to employ for materializing the above objectives, which included: nonproliferation strategies, significance of scientific research and strengthening of global alliances. In short the strategy is a blend of US security priorities, key strategic objectives and ways and means to retain and enhance US supremacy as the dominant military force in global politics.

Following the Soviet disintegration, the U.S. emerged as the sole world power. The dynamics of uni-polarity were articulated in the President Bush senior speech of September 11, 1990 predominantly illustrating the future paradigm of US military approach in the uni-polar world. Accordingly, the US military strategy in the post 9/11 period, with few modifications, is a continuation of achieving military objectives envisaged by the New Conservatives in post-Soviet era.

As illustrated by the (NSS), political leadership is stressed upon to put weight behind US military agenda as and when required. Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff had previously put across that US political leadership heavily relies on its Generals while formulating its foreign policy. This approach has been unequivocally expressed in this updated military strategy which states: "In support of our civilian-led foreign policy, this strategy acknowledges the need for military leadership that is redefined for an increasingly complex strategic environment. Our leadership will emphasize mutual responsibility and respect. Accomplishing this strategy will require a full spectrum of direct and indirect leadership approaches – facilitator, enabler, convener, and guarantor – sometimes simultaneously." It also claims a 'disciplined application of force' for the military leadership. It further states that "in this multi-nodal world, the military's contribution to American leadership must be about more than power – it must be about our approach to exercising power". The political leadership has capitulated to U.S. military adventurism in two major military campaigns in Afghanistan and Iraq. Further it requires 'Joint Force to support National approaches to counter anti-access and area-denial strategies', a multidimensional approach to prevent the cyberspace, maritime routes and space access to mainland USA.

Presently, the global strategic environment continues to be led by US as a world's preeminent power despite growing influence of number of state and non-state actors. Still US military strategists have apprehensions against China's growing political clout and ambitious militant outfits threatening US interests. The United States faces stiff challenge in the Asia-Pacific region from the rise of China and North Korea's nuclear program. China is ambitious to catch up with the latest military trends and visibly threatening US military supremacy in the Pacific.

US apprehensions have emerged in the wake of experimentation of advance military hardware by Chinese military. By testing the first stealth fighter J-20 flight into the skies during the visit of US Defence Secretary Robert Gates in Beijing, China has sent strong message to United States that its military ambitions are inexorable. US military strategists are wary of latest experiment of missile interceptors in January this year and had previously shown grave concerns on missile experiment destroying a space-based weather satellite in early 2007. Defence analysts in United States have consistently been exploring China's military ambitions and rate China among most threatening to its military supremacy. The National Military Strategy 2011 elaborates that, "Though it faces a number of domestic challenges, continuation of China's decades-long economic growth is expected to facilitate its continued military modernization and expansion of its interests within and beyond the region." This brings China amongst countries rated first threatening US dominance in its long protected sphere of influence in Middle East and elsewhere.

The strategy claims China for exhibiting influence in what has been described as 'Global Commons' including maritime sea routes, space and cyberspace where core US interests lies. US by no means could compromise jeopardizing these commercial routes and uninterrupted supply of crude oil is maintained by the presence of Joint Forces at all commercially important straits. As China's military modernization steadily advances, there are questions in Washington about Beijing's ability to project power abroad and deter US intervention in the Pacific—and whether that poses a threat to American interests. In this scenario, the continuation of US presence in the region is a likely prospect. But the situation is changing in the Western Pacific as China is gradually challenging America's ability to operate with impunity along China's periphery. Maintaining a sustainable and diversified presence and operational access in the region is a clearly stated objective for US, which it has been achieving through military security cooperation, exchanges and exercise in the name of addressing domestic and common foreign threats to respective countries.

On the other front the growing militancy has been the biggest US concerns vis-à-vis non-state actors. American big power status is at stake in Afghanistan where more than 1475 servicemen have lost their lives since the toppling of Taliban regime in 2001. Consequent to anti-Americanism al-Qaeda has found its facilitators across globe. Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Philippines. However, key focus would be given to Afghanistan in the counter-insurgency campaign.

According to the National Military Strategy (NMS) and 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) counter violent extremism is vital to US national interests and tops the national security agenda. As reiterated by President Obama in the Af-Pak Strategic Review of December 2010 and his State of Union Address in January 2011, the NSS states "The Nation's strategic objective in this campaign is to disrupt, dismantle, and defeat al Qaida and its affiliates in Afghanistan and Pakistan and prevent their return to either country. Success requires the Joint Force to closely work with NATO, our coalition partners, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. We will continue to erode Taliban influence, work with the Afghan government to facilitate reintegration and reconciliation of former insurgents, continue to strengthen the capacity of Afghan security forces, and enable Pakistan to ultimately defeat al Qaida and its extremist allies".

America views its campaign in Afghanistan and security cooperation with Pakistan as a defense against direct threats to its homeland. However, irrespective of active counter insurgency cooperation, alliance between Pakistan and US is complicated one and often carry difference on various issues. Pakistan considers US military cooperation imperative. However, Pakistan has serious reservations about the way US has shown insensitivities to Pakistan geopolitical and strategic requirements in South Asia and US aid package thus, would not lessen Pakistani skepticism by any means.

Given the stated objectives of NSS it can be inferred that the focus of U.S. security strategy will remain on strengthening alliances and safeguarding of US interests through military campaigns in future. This military bias is endorsed by the huge difference in U.S. military and development assistance spending is also exhibited by its military and economic assistance to individual countries, although to a lesser extent.







The end of the bonhomie between PML (N) and PPP formally announced by Nawaz Sharif on 25th July may not have triggered an immediate political storm in the country but it is undoubtedly a very ominous development as far as the future of democracy in this country is concerned. The parting of the ways between the two was on the cards for quite some time and the PML (N) has used its ten point agenda only as a red herring to formalize the separation. No body in his right mind could give credence to the view that the ten-point agenda was implementable in the time-frame given by the PML (N).

Some observers believe that the split was inevitable in view of the fact that both PPP and PML (N) being the major political forces with their own distinct political creeds could not act as props for each other indefinitely and had to go their own way at some point of time. But those privy to behind the scene developments repudiate this view vehemently and believe that there is more to it than meets the eye. And if the renowned journalist Shaheen Sehbai is to be believed, the move seems very much a part of the script written by the praetorian powers, in which among others, Nawaz Sharif is also one of the major actors.


To put things in their proper perspective, it would perhaps be pertinent to reproduce an excerpt from Sehbai's article that appeared in The News on 22nd of July 2009. This is what he revealed " if the past is any guide—as we know that all previous political upheavals were carried out according to the secret scripts written by key players of our omni-potent establishment— the latest developments tell us that the noose is tightening around our President. The scenario is evident because the script was written sometime back and its glimpses were also leaked to the parts of the media. There are now undeniable signs that the desired changes have started to surface in different shapes and forms. The key engine of change was to be the restored Supreme Court. Its level of activity is now touching a crescendo. It has already exonerated Nawaz Sharif of all the bogus charges and convictions forced by General Musharraf. It is all set to disqualify all the PCO judges who collaborated with Musharraf before and after November 3, 2007. The consequences of the coming events are too grave and obvious. If NRO is reopened and judged as bad law, all the relief given to PPP leaders will come to zero and a massive political exodus will begin leaving little chance for Mr. Zardari and his supporters to continue for long in their present positions. As part of the noose tightening Mian Nawaz Sharif has refused to cooperate or bail out Mr. Zardari any further. If Musharraf's actions of 2007 are declared null and void, it would be the ultimate signal that the Pakistan Army has stopped protecting the former President. That would also mean that all those who cut deals with Musharraf and derived huge political and other benefits will also be left on their own to find their own safe exits or safe havens".

What the article suggested was that the Army has scripted an exit strategy for Zardari and his government and the Supreme Court and Nawaz Sharif have been entrusted to implement the conspiracy. Surprisingly none of the actors mentioned in the article ever challenged the contents of the article. If we look back at the events since the appearance of this write-up, they have unfolded exactly the way it had been predicted. The SC has disqualified the PCO Judges, nullified Musharraf's actions of 3rd November, 2007, declared the NRO ultra vires and insisted on the re-opening of the Swiss cases against the President despite the fact that he enjoyed immunity under article 248 of the constitution. The hype created about the non-implementation of the SC decision on NRO despite the fact that out of 8034 cases 8032 had been reopened and PML(N)'s unqualified support to it are pointers to the same direction.

In view of the foregoing facts, perennial anti-PPP stance of the establishment and the unenviable past record of Nawaz Sharif, one perforce tends to agree with what was revealed by Mr.Sehbai. Mr.Nawaz Sharif is the one who instituted false cases against the PPP leadership at the behest of the establishment that led to prolonged incarceration of Mr.Zardari and going into exile of Ms. Benazir Bhutto, for which Musharraf had to issue NRO as part of rapprochement with her. Mr. Sharif himself and Senator Saif ur Rehman are on record to have admitted that they were under tremendous pressure to implicate the PPP leadership in the false cases of corruption. The theory of Nawaz Sharif doing the bidding of the establishment also gains currency due to the fact that Nawaz Sharif is a product of the establishment and he always has been their man except for a brief period when he tried to take on his mentors and consequently had to suffer the consequences. His relapse into his old groove and falling in line with the establishment— after the agony that he went through— is a very logical outcome.

Perceived in the backdrop of the foregoing facts, PML(N)'s signing of COD with PPP and its collaboration with it after the restoration of democracy seems a tactical move to bring the PML(N) back into the political mainstream after a decade long isolation as well as having the bar on becoming Prime Minister for the third time removed. PML (N) was fully aware of the fact that it could not achieve these objectives without the support of PPP. Now after having achieved its objective through the Eighteenth Amendment it feels free to go its own way. It is however encouraging to note that the PPP leadership has decided to stay unprovoked and play its constitutional role as an opposition in Punjab and not to make any move to destabilize the provincial government. It has also expressed the resolve to continue with the implementation of the ten-point agenda and also renewed its desire of remaining engaged with PML (N) in this regard. The portents, however, are not very encouraging. There are indications that PML (N) after winning the support of PML (Q) unification bloc in Punjab might also try to play the same game in the Centre to work up a simple majority in the parliament to win the right of forming a government in the Centre.









At Wonthaggi, southeast of Melbourne, a $5.7 billion water desalination plant being built to drought-proof the city suffered damage -- from flooding. And in Queensland the $1.2bn Tugun desalination plant, mothballed in December because more than enough water was in storage, was reactivated to supplement Brisbane's water supplies, which had been polluted temporarily -- again, because of flooding.

Expensive desalination plants, which use a great deal of electricity to convert sea water to drinking water, now dot our coastline close to each mainland capital. In all those capitals, except Perth, the breaking of the drought means there is now enough water in storage to last years.

As The Australian has reported, the costs to taxpayers and the economy of the desal projects will be extreme, with the minimum spend on the Wonthaggi plant hitting $20bn over three decades, even if no water is needed. As a result of these investment decisions, residential and business consumers in mainland capitals could pay hundreds of dollars extra in annual water rates.

In the past, governments proudly built dams to provide adequate storage, mitigate floods and, sometimes, provide hydro-electricity. They proved cost-effective, but then dams became unfashionable. From southeast Queensland's proposed Traveston dam, down the coast to the Hunter Valley, through Victoria and into the Adelaide Hills, the no-dam policy has been unchallenged. State governments were variously asleep at the wheel on sensible infrastructure planning or spineless in their dealings with the obligatory green and NIMBY protests. Desalination plants became the easy solution. Easy for governments, that is, because they can simply pass on the cost to taxpayers through rates.

The politics of climate change has fuelled this myopia. It might seem ludicrous now, but governments have been told dams will be useless because they won't fill. The man now appointed by the Gillard government as a Climate Change Commissioner, Tim Flannery, proselytised for desalination plants in 2007, saying Adelaide, Sydney and Brisbane would run out of water within 18 months. Professor Flannery wrote that water shortages would be the new norm, so Australians should "stop worrying about 'the drought' -- which is transient -- and start talking about the new climate".

The green hypocrisy on all this is stark: decrying carbon emissions yet opposing nuclear power; opposing dams and clean hydro-electricity yet favouring power-hungry desal plants. Of course, the politicians chose to listen, especially during the drought, so they must shoulder the blame. Crucial decisions on water infrastructure should be made on the basis of hard-headed, scientific advice, not the latest political fashion.

None of this should distract us from the reality that the severe drought of the past decade did strain water supplies in all our capitals, as it continues to do in Perth. While the rains arrived just in time (this time), the desalination plants provide insurance for the future. The question is whether they are the most appropriate and cost-effective insurance. Given they are so expensive even when idle, the answer would appear to be no.

All the capitals have different circumstances and it is perhaps only in Perth that desalination is the unavoidable solution. In the other states, viable dam options have been deliberately eschewed. The extensive opportunities of recycling, stormwater recharge, grey water re-use and other forms of water conservation have hardly begun. Governments also have resisted direct user-pays pricing reflecting true costs, the sure way to encourage water-wise behaviour. Unfortunately, because those difficult decisions have been avoided in the past, we'll now have costly desalination plants and expensive water for decades into the future -- rain, hail or shine.






This is the case with the disability insurance scheme that the Productivity Commission is recommending to the federal government. That the disabled are now front-of-mind in Canberra after decades when they were easy to ignore is an encouraging development for the thousands of disabled people, their parents and other carers struggling year in, year out to cope. An insurance scheme for the severely disabled is overdue. The Australian supports such a scheme and welcomes the commission's draft report.

A modern, prosperous country such as ours can not only afford to improve its treatment of its disabled citizens and their families, but it can scarcely afford -- either financially or socially -- not to do so. The notion that disability is a private rather than a public issue is difficult to sustain in a civilised society. But, beyond the fact that an insurance scheme is the right thing to do for the 360,000 Australians with a "significant" disability, it also makes sense financially. The present fragmented federal and state funding is wasteful and uneven. Streamlining the delivery of the existing $6.2 billion a year will ensure it is better targeted. Adding another $7bn , as recommended by the commission in its report released on Monday, would give the disabled and their families a far better quality of life and more options about the way they organise their lives. It is particularly important for ageing parents faced with the trauma of how to care for disabled dependents. Advocates argue the transformation of disabled funding from a welfare model to no-fault insurance will also yield economic dividends. Family members will be freed up from caring responsibilities and have the chance to rejoin the workforce, and more jobs will be created in the disabled sector.

With bipartisan support for an insurance scheme, the big issue facing our politicians is no longer whether taxpayers should help pay for the disabled, but how to pay for the scheme.

The commission had been expected to argue for an extension of the Medicare levy from the existing 1.5 per cent to 2.3 per cent. Instead, it has suggested an alternative -- that the money come from consolidated revenue, with the agreed funding formula enshrined in legislation. This would encourage fiscal discipline rather than simply enlarging the tax take and would avoid a debilitating debate over a "big new tax". The politics of a levy are complex, with voters potentially resistant to a specific tax to help a minority. The commission also argues the Henry tax review had found problems with the efficiency and equity of Medicare. But there are dangers in not fixing a levy: look no further than the ease with which Labor raided, for short-term ends, the nation-building funds that had been set up by former treasurer Peter Costello and the Rudd government. The funding mechanism must be locked behind tamper-proof legislation.

In the end, the test will be the delivery of insurance, not the funding model. Here the commission has made sensible recommendations. It wants the commonwealth to take over all funding for the disabled and suggests the National Disability Insurance Scheme be phased in gradually by 2018. It would fund long-term, high-quality care and support, including specialist therapy, aids and appliances, home and vehicle modifications and respite for carers. A separate and far smaller National Injury Insurance Scheme would cover those who suffer a catastrophic injury such as a loss of a limb or spinal cord damage. The potential for recipients to exercise some choice in how they

spend the money is welcome, given

the wide range of needs and family circumstances.

Such care does not come cheaply, but the bipartisan support for this profound reform augurs well. Last September, after she had formed government, we suggested to Julia Gillard that, rather than labelling Opposition Leader Tony Abbott a "wrecker" she should develop policy "so patently in the national interest that it wins the support of the Coalition". She is already at first base with disability insurance, thanks in no small part to the commitment of her ministerial colleague Bill Shorten.

Just two years ago, the insurance scheme seemed a pipe dream, with the disabled a 10th order political issue ignored by most Australians. It took Mr Shorten, as the parliamentary secretary for disabilities, to embrace the concept and champion it to the stage where it was referred to the commission for review. Mr Shorten has moved on, but he is arguably even better positioned now as Assistant Treasurer to advance the scheme with the urgency it demands. Finding an extra $7bn a year for the disabled will require political courage, but this is a scheme that deserves to be pursued.






The Cruze local production project was the largest recipient under the Green Car Innovation Fund, attracting $149 million in taxpayer support for the fuel-efficient, turbo-diesel vehicles, previously imported from South Korea. Given the inefficiencies and distortions inherent in this sort of industry assistance, we note with some relief that just weeks before delivering this first Cruze, the fund was abolished.

Much public money worldwide is being directed towards so-called green jobs, and no doubt -- by some researcher's measure -- the extra 265 jobs created at the GMH assembly plant will be counted as green. About the same time Ms Gillard was launching the Cruze, a major Climate Institute study of the potential for green jobs in regional Australia was launched in Canberra by the crucial rural independent MP, Tony Windsor, a member of the Prime Minister's multi-party committee on climate change. Despite selling his farm for coalmining last year, Mr Windsor apparently is gung ho for renewable energy and green jobs, especially in regional areas.

The report claims up to 34,000 jobs can be created over the next two decades and it is being used to support both a carbon price and government subsidies. The Australian would offer a word of caution.

It has become fashionable and sometimes politically popular for Western countries to invest in the green industry sector, particularly in the wake of the global financial crisis. Stimulus spending in renewable energy and green jobs has been promoted on the basis that, to varying degrees, it could produce multiple wins: rebooting the economy; reducing carbon emissions; increasing energy security; and encouraging innovation. But such unambiguous success is seldom, if ever, the case, with the reality usually falling somewhere between the manifest folly of Australia's pink batts disaster and the electricity price increases fuelled by wind farms and solar projects around the world. A study in Spain demonstrated its renewable electricity subsidies created green jobs at a cost of E570,000 each, whereas the general private sector created a job for every E260,000 invested. By not taxing and not subsidising, the government could create twice as many jobs. Little wonder it revised the programs.

Still, there are many other factors to consider, such as environmental benefits and, of course, other costs. Studies use differing definitions of green jobs and the lines can be absurd; Holden's Cruze assemblers might be classed as holding green jobs while their workmates making Commodores certainly won't. Importantly, most studies into potential green jobs fail to take into account the jobs that are lost. So the tradesmen employed constructing a wind farm are added but the lost jobs for the scrapped coal generation plant are not subtracted.

Then there is the market distortion that green job studies often ignore. Subsidies, mandatory targets and tax breaks push energy production to renewable but more expensive technologies, thereby increasing power prices. These increased costs are imposed on the entire economy, reducing investment and employment. A study last month for the Copenhagen Consensus Centre, by economist Gurcan Gulen from the University of Texas, found that for all these reasons, green job studies were unreliable. "In a sense," Dr Gulen concluded, "many studies are cost-benefit analyses without adequate cost considerations."

No doubt the Prime Minister pondered the future of manufacturing as she toured Holden's factory floor. Her carbon tax provides a crucial chance to eradicate other inefficient green measures. With taxpayers and industries awaiting details, Bluescope Steel chief executive Paul O'Malley has warned that the tax could spell the end of manufacturing in Australia. This comes as another independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, is demanding limits on compensation to industry. He needs to understand that allowing Bluescope and Holden to survive will keep thousands of people in work.






THE Productivity Commission has spared the federal government one problem at least: it has not suggested a special levy to fund a system of adequate lifetime support for the disabled. Levies have become problematic since the row over the Queensland flood levy. But funding specific programs with specific taxes or levies is fraught with danger. It is better, as the commission's draft report recommends, to pay for them from consolidated revenue.

Somewhat remarkably given its record elsewhere, the federal opposition appears not to have adopted its knee-jerk negativity here. It could have, given the likely cost - $6.3 billion a year in addition to the $6.2 billion the states and Canberra already pay for disability support. The mild reaction recognises the obvious: the case for a complete revamp of the system is unanswerable. The way things work now is haphazard, unfair and frankly in many cases simply inhumane for the disabled and their carers. Because of its inadequacies, an unreasonable burden is placed on family members - to the point, according to one psychiatrist the commission interviewed, where contemplating murder-suicide is not uncommon. As the Herald has reported in the past, otherwise loving and stable families can be forced to abandon their disabled children because the task of caring for them 24 hours a day without outside help has overwhelmed them, and in the absence of a crisis of this sort they will receive no government assistance. The reason for this routine and institutionalised cruelty is usually the same: an abiding lack of resources. Government programs where they exist are not funded well enough to meet existing needs. In a wealthy country such as Australia that is a scandal.

The state of disability support also raises, like several other issues, the distribution of responsibilities under the constitution. The report notes that state governments provide most support - $4.5 billion to the Commonwealth's $1.7 billion. Its suggested solution is to have the Commonwealth take over the whole operation, with the states giving up an equivalent amount of tax revenue. That may, of course, be difficult, but by implication it speaks eloquently about the effectiveness of the states in the field until now. As with health and education, the current problems in disability support show the constitution's division of powers does not match the division of financial resources between the states and Canberra. In several areas, the constitution is in effect being revised piecemeal and covertly so legal powers match financial resources. Would this reform not be better done in the open?





ALAS for the Irish. After throwing off the chains and hardship of centuries for a heady 20 years as the Celtic Tigers, they are back in harsh servitude. This time the masters are not the cardinals and priests, or the English landlords, but the bankers of Frankfurt, the home of the European Central Bank, intent on exacting deep public spending cuts and sharp rises in taxation over the next three years.

This is the price of the €85 billion ($115 million) bailout secured last year from the European Union and the International Monetary Fund, giving the country a respite from the battering that began with the global financial crisis in September 2008. But times are still tough. Economic output is still down 11 per cent from pre-crisis levels, housing values have plummeted, and unemployment has tripled to 13.5 per cent, even after a new wave of emigration.

Given the first chance to punish the government that led them blindly into this mess, Irish voters have done so. Fianna Fail, the former ruling party, has been reduced to a rump. Fine Gael, a centre-right party, has emerged with the biggest number of MPs but short of a majority. It will either have to rely on the Labour Party, which in a 1980s coalition opposed fiscal stringency, or wing it as a minority government getting support issue by issue. In the 166-seat parliament are a record number of independents - some impressive individuals as well as others known as ''gombeens'' (unprincipled wheeler-dealers) - and a strengthened Sinn Fein including the former Northern Ireland revolutionary Gerry Adams.

Fine Gael's leader and the new Prime Minister, Enda Kenny, says he sees ''room to manoeuvre'' in easing the terms of the bailout, in the interest rate on repayments and the strictures on Irish banks. Yet when he meets the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, and other European leaders this month, Kenny will get an unsympathetic ear. German voters think the Irish brought it on themselves by feckless borrowing; to give in to Dublin would produce similar demands from Athens, Lisbon, etc.

Yet Kenny has a powerful word to utter: default. That is not what he is proposing. Yet default might come, if Ireland does not quickly lift out of recession, and a second round of bad loans hits its banks, already given €53 billion in state bailouts, or 33 per cent of gross domestic product. Iceland, which did let its overblown banks collapse and has quickly recovered, is the contrary example. The prospect might persuade German and other bondholders - the counter-party to feckless loans - to take a share of the punishment.






THE superficial attractions of desalination are obvious. As the world warms and becomes ever more populous, the traditional reliance on rainfall-dependent water is rendered increasingly fraught. What better way to ensure adequate supplies than to utilise humankind's apparently limitless ingenuity and turn the globe's oceans into sources of drinking water? Certainly the process of extracting salt is expensive and energy intensive, but the technology has progressed considerably since former NSW premier Bob Carr labelled desalinated water ''bottled electricity''.

Notwithstanding the environmental concerns so colourfully put by Mr Carr, The Age accepts desalination may have a place in a suite of water policies for Victoria. It is all the more unfortunate, therefore, that the way the former Labor government introduced desalination to the state was a case study in how not to implement major infrastructure reform.

The new Coalition government has done Victorians a service by revealing more about the deal the former government struck with the private consortium AquaSure to build and operate the plant near Wonthaggi. What has been exposed this week, about price and secrecy, is appalling, but it would be detrimental to Victoria's long-term interests if the disclosures resulted only in further loss of public confidence in desalination itself.

After all, we have no reason to doubt Premier Ted Baillieu's assertion that Victoria is stuck with the Wonthaggi plant and the contractual arrangements that govern it. Rather than entertain futile thoughts about abandoning desalination, Victoria needs to learn the lessons from the project and apply them to the many future projects - not only in water but rail, road and power - that will be required as policymakers struggle to keep pace with a rapidly expanding population.

The problem with Victoria's move to desalination was that it was too long coming, and when it finally did come it was rushed and excessive.

Victoria was something of a latecomer to the march to desalination across the industrialised world. As recently as the 2006 state election campaign, conducted during what was to become the longest drought in the state's history, the issue remained a policy fault line between the major parties. When the Coalition proposed a small desalination plant to supplement Melbourne's water supplies, the Labor government railed against it. The then premier, Steve Bracks, echoed his NSW Labor counterpart Mr Carr. ''The energy consumption is enormous, the intrusion on the community is enormous and, of course, it's extraordinarily expensive,'' Mr Bracks said.

Yet, spooked by the prospect of Melbourne running out of water, Mr Bracks hastily announced the Wonthaggi project less than a year after being returned to office. Only this week, with the release of contract details by the Baillieu government, have Victorians learnt how generous the Labor government was with their money. Taxpayers will be up for more than $19 billion for construction and operation of the plant over the next 28 years - even if no water is bought from it. If the maximum amount of 150 billion litres a year is used, the price will rise to almost $24 billion. The previous government stands condemned for having kept this information secret.

When Mr Bracks announced the Wonthaggi plant, The Age expressed concern about its size. Labor boasted it would be the biggest in the world, as if that in itself was a recommendation. Our concern was that, by putting such overwhelming emphasis on desalination, the government was in effect closing off the most cost-effective and environmentally sustainable option for boosting supplies: the use of recycled water for drinking. In congratulating Mr Baillieu for being more open about this project, we now call on the new government to open its mind to recycling as a part of a broader and more balanced water policy regime for Victoria.





OSCAR winner Shaun Tan had a quip for the occasion. ''Our film is about a creature that nobody pays any attention to, so this is wonderfully ironic,'' he said after accepting this year's Academy Award for best short animation. To a first-time filmmaker who this week got to take home one of the cinema industry's most coveted statuettes, the experience may well have seemed ironic. Even, as Tan also said, surreal.

But his win is not entirely without context. The Perth-born writer and illustrator who now calls Melbourne home has distinguished Australian predecessors who have won Oscars in the same category, and who also have a Melbourne connection. In 1977 Age cartoonist Bruce Petty won for Leisure, and Adam Elliot won for Harvie Krumpet in 2004. Two years later, Anthony Lucas was nominated for The Mysterious Geographic Explorations of Jasper Morello. Tan's win for The Lost Thing, adapted from his book of the same title, is further evidence that Melbourne is a thriving centre of animation, even though the odds of 8 to 1 that bookmakers gave against the likelihood of a win by Tan and his English co-director Andrew Ruhemann suggest the rest of the world has yet to catch up with the fact.

Tan was not the only Australian or Australian resident to win an Academy Award this year. Oscars also went to Kirk Baxter, who shared the best editing award for The Social Network; to Dave Elsey, who shared the best makeup award for The Wolfman; and to Emile Sherman, a co-producer of The King's Speech, which won best film. Much better known than Tan or any of these, though not successful this year, were Nicole Kidman, nominated for best actress, Geoffrey Rush, nominated for best supporting actor, and Jacki Weaver, nominated for best supporting actress. But neither Kidman nor Rush, both previous Oscar winners, need another statuette to build their reputations, and as Weaver has said, the nomination alone has opened up career possibilities that previously did not exist for her.

This slew of Australian nominations and wins shows the need for continued government support of Australia's film industry: the critically acclaimed film for which Weaver was nominated, Animal Kingdom, would not have been made without subsidies from Screen Australia, Film Victoria and Screen NSW, as well as the pay television network Showtime Australia. It is also important that those who direct public funds to the industry nourish local strengths. Victoria's Arts Minister, Ted Baillieu, should take note of the record of success established by Shaun Tan, Adam Elliot and other Melbourne animators.









More people than usual probably got their CDs of The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan off the shelves last night. A few maybe dug out their surviving vinyl copies too. For the death of Suze Rotolo, the girlfriend in the green coat on Dylan's arm on the album cover, is one of those shared generational moments. The Freewheelin' was Dylan's breakthrough. Millions of today's bus pass generation got to know Blowin' in the Wind and Don't Think Twice It's All Right while gazing at Don Hunstein's iconic picture of Rotolo and Dylan walking along a snow-covered Jones Street in Greenwich Village in February 1963. The album fully deserves its fame. Yet Rotolo deserves honour in her own right too, and not just, as she put it, as "a string on his guitar". In her hugely readable memoir, A Freewheelin' Time – with another of Hunstein's 1963 pictures on its cover – Rotolo gave a candid and credible account of what it was like to be around Dylan in those years and of what it was like to grow up on the left in 1960s New York – where her parents were idealistic communists. Rotolo brought a lot of leftwing politics to her years with Dylan, and they left their mark. But it was her feminism, which Dylan – "a lying shit of a guy with women" – did not share, that caused her to walk away from the relationship. The book, not the album cover, is Rotolo's true epitaph, the book which ends with her resonant statement: "The new generation causing all the fuss was not driven by the market: we had something to say, not something to sell."






The international development secretary, Andrew Mitchell, spent much of his time yesterday addressing a national audience. Having used the commitment to spend 0.7% of our gross national income on aid by 2013 as a way of cleansing the Conservative brand in opposition, it is no surprise that the international aid budget became hostage to the party's backwoodsmen who argue that charity begins, and ends, at home. Mr Mitchell almost found himself re-arguing the case for international aid from first principles, and his statement was peppered with references with little meaning beyond our borders – that more children would be vaccinated against preventable disease than there are people in the whole of England, or more children would be educated at a fraction of the cost. Both reducing the number of countries that receive bilateral aid from 43 to 27 and using a tougher test of how that aid is allocated are insurance policies in this domestic debate, though some of the decisions announced yesterday to pull out of Russia and China had already been made by Labour.

Beyond our borders, though, the review that the development secretary announced keeps faith with the 0.7% commitment and ensures Britain's place at the forefront of the effective delivery of aid, although Harriet Harman was right to warn that the decision to freeze aid as a percentage of GNI for the next two years risks undermining that pledge. It was a right decision to substantially increase the aid budget in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, an aid orphan and one of the most widely neglected conflict zones. But it was regrettable that Niger, Burundi and Lesotho, all small budgets, were excluded. Why Cambodia was dropped, when its poverty rate is higher than those in many of the countries that avoided the cuts, is also a mystery. Focusing aid on fewer countries and fewer multinational institutions will only work if the bond between aid and need is kept, irrespective of where it is and who delivers it.

Mr Mitchell found himself fighting a rearguard action on maintaining aid of £280m a year to India. As India's economy grows at 8.5% a year, gives aid to Africa, spends £20bn a year on defence and £1.25bn on a space programme, the argument for continued aid will become progressively harder to make. The attitudes of India's wealthy elite to the poverty on their doorstep do not help. As most elites do, they inhabit a different universe. But if aid is about relieving poverty wherever it happens to be, UK aid to India, where a third of the world's poor live, and which has worse rates of malnutrition than sub-Saharan Africa, is wholly justified.

It is, however, an open question which agenda has come out of this review on top. Is it the need to promote the millennium development goal priorities such as health, education, sanitation and nutrition, or the need to channel money into nations deemed to be a higher security risk? There are several problems with the so-called securitisation agenda, which treats aid as a non-lethal weapon. The first is – as Michiel Hofman, the former Médecins Sans Frontières representative in Afghanistan, wrote – that aid can endanger lives in a situation where seeking help amounts to choosing sides in a war. As Oxfam argued persuasively in a recent paper, security and stability are promoted, not undermined, by impartial needs-based humanitarian aid. That impartiality is abandoned if it is delivered by a provincial reconstruction team. Too often stabilisation and state-building have been used as mantras to subsume humanitarian objectives into military and strategic ones. The second is that if we were to apply the same rigorous principles of outcome and sustainability to aid delivered by soldiers as we do to the aid delivered by civilians, the military would be seen as highly inefficient providers. This remains, in spite of this review, a battle that still has to be fought. It needs also to be won.






Compiling data to establish, for example, that black people had fewer car crashes or the Chinese more would seem a rather suspect use of time. Using such information to set race-specific prices would cause outrage. But sex discrimination is different, as deep traditions expect us to look out for, and even celebrate, gender differences. After the European court of justice ruled against separate insurance premiums for men and women yesterday, few voices were heard hailing a social advance. Instead pundits, even those ordinarily of a liberal bent, queued up to denounce the "breathtaking stupidity" of the judges for ignoring the indisputable facts about boy racers.

It was certainly a bad day for Sheilas' Wheels, but not for women in general. Extra motoring costs will be offset by gains in retirement. Starker than the pay gap, the pension gulf has been widened by sex-specific annuities that require retiring women to stump up more to get the same income, on the basis that old ladies generally soldier on for longer. The savings of the unfairer sex will be footed by retiring men, but then they will be quids-in on their cars. Levelling the position inevitably creates winners and losers in different scenarios, which sometimes cancel out. But even where they do not, this redistribution is not in itself a reason to continue with discrimination.

The insurance industry bleated about the burden of recalculating premiums, and collating extra information about customers in order to gauge their risk without relying on sex. But if such transition costs were an insurmountable obstacle, nothing would ever advance. The serious problem would arise only if insurers were always saddled with a flat-rate premium, which took no account of the chance of a payout. In that scenario, safe punters who did not expect to claim might decide to go without cover. The loss of the cheap-to-insure cases from the market would set in train a spiral of rising costs which could eventually make premiums so pricey that those in greatest need of cover would be unable to afford it.

This danger is all-important in theory, but not in the practice of the particular insurance markets in question. Car insurance is compulsory, so lower-risk women cannot simply decide to go without, unless they give up on driving completely. Likewise, the purchase of a pension is hardly an optional extra. More fundamentally, there are myriad factors other than gender which have much more of a bearing on risk. Some will correlate with it, but at least no one will any longer have to pay more simply because they happen to be a man or a woman. Such crude discrimination is just not needed, since there is more to life than sex.







LONDON — The revolution in Tunisia was set off by the self-immolation of a poor vendor persecuted by an autocratic and corrupt regime. The consequent toppling of the Tunisian dictator inspired revolts in Egypt, Bahrain and Libya and led to unrest in the Yemen, Algeria and Jordan. It also spurred the opposition in Iran. The ousting of President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt as a result of popular pressure was achieved because the Egyptian Army refused to slaughter Egyptian civilians. In Libya, Col. Moammar Gadhafi is trying to suppress dissent by brutal terror. In Bahrain the opposition has won concessions from the rulers.

It is too early to predict the final outcome in the Middle East and we need to be wary of too much wishful thinking about an "Arabian spring" and the spread of democracy throughout the region. The toppling of tyrants who have salted away the riches of their countries in personal bank accounts is welcome and the development of democratic institutions most desirable. But it will inevitably take time for radical changes to be implemented and there may well be steps back as well as forward in the process. The countries in which revolts have taken place are all different and there is no single unifying force or ideology behind the revolutions.

The absence of a democratic tradition is often cited as a reason for caution, but this did not prevent most East European communist regimes from developing democratic institutions and legal systems. Many did so quickly and sufficiently to enable their countries to become members of the European Union, which insists that all members adhere to democratic principles. There are important cultural and religious differences between Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but it would be wrong to argue from this that Arab countries are incapable of becoming democracies.

History teaches us to be cautious about the willingness of the armed forces, which have had a dominant and lucrative role in some countries, to cede power willingly to civilian governments that may try to curb their power and wealth. But Turkey is an example of a country where the army has launched coups and controlled the government for many years, but which now seems firmly under civilian control and is regarded as sufficiently democratic to justify application for membership of the EU. Armies and security forces, except where, as in Libya, foreign mercenaries have been used, are made up of conscripts or volunteers from the indigenous population and there are real limits on what action they can be ordered to take against heir brethren.

Some argue that Islam is antidemocratic and that an Islamic country cannot develop democratic institutions. Turkey again shows that this is not the case. The calls by ultra-conservative Islamic clerics and extremist elements for a new universal caliphate do not represent Islam as a whole.

In his recent tour of Middle Eastern states, British Prime Minister David Cameron warmly welcomed the development of democratic institutions. He was right to take a positive view and to emphasize that it was up to the peoples of Middle Eastern countries to choose their own path forward. We can help but interference would be counterproductive.

Hitherto the emphasis has tended, among conservative politicians at least, to be placed on stability as the main guarantor of peace and economic development in the region and as the best defense against Islamic fundamentalism. But if stability can only be achieved by suppression and infringement of human rights it is not worth achieving, and may result in even more violence and bloodshed in the future.

Ferment in the Arab world increases concerns about oil supplies. Recent rises in oil prices adds to inflationary pressures in importing countries, but it makes alternative sources of energy more competitive. Dependence on oil from the Middle East needs to be reduced because of global warming and the danger of interruptions of supply.

Trade with Arab countries is of growing importance. Too much of their resources have been spent on defense equipment. Arms should not be sold to autocratic regimes that may use these weapons against their own peoples. Trade in other goods will increase if democratic institutions lead as they should to better infrastructure, education and health care. Increased trade is the best form of aid.

Tourism has been an important source of foreign exchange for Egypt and Tunisia. The sooner the tourists return the better for their economies. But this will depend on the establishment of reliable police forces and the rule of law.

The moves toward democracy in Tunisia, Egypt and Bahrain should lead to increased pressures for democratic change both in and outside the Arab world. In Iran the theocracy-backed revolutionary guard seem ready to impose its will by force and terror, but for how long can this be maintained? Iran has a growing population of educated young people unable to find jobs. As in Egypt they will surely increasingly demand freedom and employment. The Saudi monarchy is not yet threatened, but Saudi Arabia also has a restless class of young and educated unemployed.

Friends of Gadhafi include the old and corrupt Robert Mugabe who is protected in Zimbabwe by his armed and pampered henchmen. The sooner he goes the better for the people of his exploited country. Another friend is said to be Hugo Chavez of Venezuela. Autocratic and anti-American, he would not be missed, but he is not in quite the same league of nastiness as Mugabe and Gadhafi.

The Chinese people have been largely denied news of the ferment in the Middle East. The Chinese Communist Party will do all it can to prevent another student protest developing and inspiring a wider public demonstration against corrupt one party rule.

There is sadly no sign yet that popular protests in Burma will force the regime to make more than token concessions. In North Korea none will have been permitted to hear anything that might suggest that even mild complaints should be allowed to surface.

Let us hope that the spring of 2011 will be the dawn of a new and more democratic era, at least in the Arab world.

Hugh Cortazzi, a former British career diplomat, served as ambassador to Japan from 1980 to 1984.







LONDON — Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi's speeches grow ever more delusional: last Thursday he accused al-Qaida 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 prodemocracy 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 nonviolent 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 tranquillity has been restored.

The reality is that few Chinese under the age of 30 know much about the savage repression of 1989. Moreover, despite a thousand petty grievances against the arbitrariness and sheer lawlessness of state power in China, they are just not in a revolutionary mood — and they will not be so long as the goose keeps laying the golden eggs.

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 nose dive, 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?

Nonviolent 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 hyperinflation 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 nonviolent revolution becomes highly relevant.

Which is not to say that nonviolent revolution is really possible in China. The CCP has always been willing to kill its opponents, and there is no proof that it has changed, even though another generation has passed since 1989 and none of the original killers is still in office.

But the current generation of Chinese young people barely remember 1989. They would not be deterred by the memory of what happened to their predecessors.

Gwynne Dyer's latest book, "Climate Wars," is distributed in most of the world by Oneworld.







HIROSHIMA — It has been long since hope for the future was lost, and a vague sense of anxiety is now prevailing among us. Yet this feeling of uneasiness should be the beginning of our thinking philosophically. We should rather take it as an unexpected blessing.

Philosophy is not a science. Therefore how far we can go at best may be to get some idea about an issue at hand and then set up a certain boundary beyond which we cannot know any more about the issue. Even so, philosophy can help people grasp the world from a broader and deeper perspective, and find a route that would help better understand problems confronting us. From such a point of view, I have considered some important issues that are causing me concern.

The first issue is China. Every now and then the idea of creating an East Asian Community is broached in China and Japan. Generally speaking, when a new regional community is talked about, the example should be the European Union. The spiritual bond holding EU members together is a respect for human rights. This is discernible from EU's Copenhagen accession criteria.

Then what would be the spiritual bond of an East Asia Community? At a recent reception attended by members of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Chinese scholars said that it is the Confucian ethic. According to them, the Confucian ethic despises egoism and regards individuals who devote themselves to their state, community and family as an ideal. If so, an individual in the Confucian sense is never an independent Western-style individual possessing his or her own human rights. Certainly there is such a way of thinking at the base of Chinese thought.

There are no signs that the Japanese government has thoroughly considered the significance and meaning of such a spiritual bond in Chinese culture. If we use a diagram showing East Asia stressing the importance of the "whole" and Europe emphasizing the rights of "individuals," it can be said that Japan has come closer to the latter in the past nearly 150 years while undergoing twists and turns. Of course, placing excessive emphasis on individuals causes problems. But China must internalize the European values and make them part of itself. As long as it fails to do so, its repression of human rights will not cease.

The existence of an environment in which problems related to human rights are freely discussed is a fundamental condition for creating an East Asia Community. Unless such an environment is realized, relations between Japan and China will end up merely being economic in nature, based on profits and losses. The history of philosophy shows that respect for human rights and an emphasis on individuals originate from the philosophy of the Enlightenment. Now we must consider anew the meaning of the Enlightenment.

The next issue for consideration is the death of Socrates. As everyone may know, Socrates accepted a death sentence at an Athenian court and died by taking poison in 339 B.C. After deep consideration, Socrates reasoned that it would be bad to break out of prison and escape death. He believed that the best way of living was to follow a conclusion obtained through reasoned examination.

Therefore Socrates followed an order from his soul when he accepted the death sentence. His death, as described by Plato, took place as if his soul had been set free from his body's fetters and made its way to reach a "good place."

What is important is that Socrates' way of life as portrayed by Plato became a model of "goodness." Thus the body's shuddering emotional cry of "I don't want to die" was rejected as evil. In contrast, the idea of going to a "good place" by following one's soul, even if it means death, was strongly upheld and such a way of living was praised as a sublime way of living. Thus the death of Socrates became the criterion for good and bad.

According to this way of thinking, the essential quality of humans lies in their capacity to reason. I always wonder why Socrates did not raise his voice and cry out, "I don't want to die." If he had spoken up and resisted his death sentence by making full use of the rhetorical means available to him in presenting a counterargument, the criterion for good and bad would have taken on much greater profoundness. If so, terrorism would have never been praised as a "good deed." In this world there is nothing worth staking one's own life on.

Thinking deeply and philosophically on the question of what is good and bad, and other questions such as whether human rights exist in the soul or in the body have strong relevance when we consider not only the problems of terrorism but also ethical problems related to advanced medical treatments and technologies.

The final issue for consideration is the problem of nuclear weapons. In Hiroshima, where I live, voices calling for the abolition of nuclear weapons are being raised widely. But the question arises as to whether it is achievable. We humans have discovered the knowledge to manufacture nuclear weapons. This knowledge will never vanish.

Can we forget the secrets of life we peeked at in our youth? No, we can't. Therefore the total elimination of nuclear weapons is impossible. Even if they disappear temporarily, the knowledge for their production will not go away and somebody living somewhere would make nuclear weapons in an attempt to obtain hegemony. Pandora's box has been opened.

Nevertheless we should do our best to strive for the abolition of nuclear weapons. An objective we humans cannot help pursuing although we can never attain it was given the name of a "transcendental ideal" by 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant. Humans are mysterious animals. They seek for what they cannot take possession of. This is a distinctive trait of humans. I believe that it is absolutely necessary for us to pursue the complete abolition of nuclear weapons as a transcendental ideal.

A sense of uneasiness is spreading in Japan. And the nation's immature politics are making the situation worse. Japanese voters must become wiser. Therefore I have presented the Enlightenment vis-a-vis the China problem, the death of Socrates vis-a-vis terrorism and advanced medical treatment and technologies and the concept of a transcendental ideal vis-a-vis the nuclear weapons issue as raw materials for thinking philosophically in one's everyday life.

Hirotaka Yamauchi is professor of philosophy at Hiroshima University. He specializes in environmental ethics and Hegelian philosophy.







STOCKHOLM — State-sponsored multiculturalism has failed. That proclamation by British Prime Minister David Cameron, following hard on the heels of similar renunciations of multiculturalism by German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, suggests that a page is being turned in European society. But is it?

Cameron's attack on multiculturalism minced no words. "Frankly," he said, "we need a lot less of the passive tolerance of recent years and a much more active, muscular liberalism."

He was not criticizing ethnic and cultural pluralism, but the idea of "state multiculturalism," which applies different moral standards to various social groups. In the future, Cameron declared, Muslim groups that do not, for example, endorse women's rights, defend freedom of expression, or promote integration would lose all government funding.

It is not just official multiculturalism that has failed in Europe, however; so has the multiculturalism endorsed by large parts of European civil society. Sweden, one of the most liberal countries in the world, but also one that has recently seen a surge in extremism, is a case in point.

Sweden has long been known for its lifestyle liberalism. Swedes are overwhelmingly secular and indifferent toward the Swedish church. Homosexuals have been able to register civil partnerships since 1995 and marry since 2009, and the country is one of the most radical in its understanding of women's rights — as WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange can attest. Moreover, Sweden's far-reaching freedom of expression is one reason why Assange located WikiLeaks' servers in the country.

But Sweden's freedom of expression was also one of the motives behind a grisly suicide attack in Stockholm in December of last year. According to a last testament left behind by the attacker, a Swedish citizen named Taimour Abdulwahab, Christmas shoppers in downtown Stockholm had to die in retaliation for "the Swedes' support" for Lars Vilks, an artist who stirred outrage in the country with drawings of the prophet Muhammad as a dog. Vilks argued that his work was a provocation aimed at revealing the selective liberalism within the Swedish intellectual establishment — its multiculturalism, one could say.

The Stockholm suicide bombing was not the first act of violence linked to Vilks. Two young men were recently sentenced to prison for trying to set fire to the artist's home. During a lecture at Uppsala University last summer, a mob attacked Vilks, a professor of art history, while crying "Allahu akbar." The then 64-year-old artist was head-butted, but escaped serious injury thanks to heavy police protection.

What is remarkable is not just the violence and threats against Vilks — anyone who doubts the determination of Islamist extremists in Sweden should watch the YouTube clip from that lecture — but also the reaction from the otherwise radically secular Swedish establishment. A number of influential Swedish intellectuals and politicians have directed their harshest criticism against Vilks, not against those who have called for censorship and even incited violence.

Only a few of the country's newspapers and political magazines published Vilks' drawings. Like murdered Dutch filmmaker Theo van Gogh and the British novelist Salman Rushdie before him, Vilks was criticized by liberals and the left for causing unrest with his art. In this respect, Vilks' work must be regarded as having succeeded in exposing moral double standards — no matter what one thinks of the drawing itself.

In Sweden, just as in similarly liberal Holland and Denmark, rightwing populists have profited from liberals' failure to stand up for their values. The Sweden Democrats (SD), a party with roots in the country's white-supremacist movement, entered Parliament for the first time in September 2010, with the support of 5.7 percent of the Swedish electorate. The SD has sought to position itself as the sole defender of gays and Jews in the face of intolerance stoked by large-scale Muslim immigration in the past two decades. Swedes who stand far from the SD's original platform are apparently willing to be represented by a party that until recently was full of neo-Nazis.

Thus, the lack of "muscular liberalism" in one of the world's most liberal countries has paved the way for both Islamists and rightwing populists. Europe's leading politicians have spoken out, and now it is time for European civil society — its newspapers, critics, curators, academics, and publishers — to declare the failure of multiculturalism and show some courage in defending the values they claim to embody.

Paulina Neuding is the editor in chief of Neo magazine.© 2011 Project Syndicate






Pakistani President Asif Ali Zardari visited Japan from Feb. 21 to Feb. 23, and he and Prime Minister Naoto Kan issued a joint statement on bilateral comprehensive partnership. In their meeting, Mr. Kan stressed that the role Pakistan is playing to stabilize Afghanistan is very important.

It is believed that many al-Qaida and Taliban elements exist on the Pakistan side of the border shared with Afghanistan. Stabilization of the security situation and building of a strong economic foundation in Pakistan is indispensable not only for Pakistan's sustainable economic development but also for stabilization of Afghanistan. Since Pakistan possesses nuclear weapons, its stabilization and peaceful development are essential in ensuring stabilization of the whole South Asia.

Japan has pushed a plan to provide up to $1 billion in two years from 2009 to Pakistan to help it strengthen its security measures and carry out economic reform. Mr. Kan told Mr. Zardari that Japan will also provide loans of some ¥15 billion to repair agricultural roads in Pakistan as part of its assistance to Pakistan's recovery efforts following last year's devastating floods. Mr. Zardari called for more Japanese investment in his country, saying that deepening of economic ties between the two countries will contribute to regional stabilization. He and Mr. Kan agreed to review measures to strengthen such ties.

Mr. Kan stated Japan's position on North Korea's nuclear programs, missile development and abduction of Japanese nationals. He especially expressed "grave concern" over the North's uranium enrichment program. Mr. Zardari supported the idea of a denuclearized Korean Peninsula. But at home Pakistan has doubled its nuclear arsenal in the past few years, according to U.S. intelligence estimates. Before visiting Japan, Mr. Zardari expressed hope that Japan will extend civilian nuclear assistance to his country as in the case of India. But such assistance seems unlikely unless Pakistan makes strong commitment to international nuclear-nonproliferation efforts and makes its control of its own nuclear weapons and technologies credible.





Somebody posted questions in Kyoto University's Feb. 25 and 26 entrance exams on an Internet site and third persons gave answers while the exam was going on. A similar thing also happened during the entrance exams of Doshisha, Rikkyo and Waseda universities. Cheating is suspected. What has happened undermines the fairness and reliability of entrance exams, as education minister Yoshiaki Takaki said. It is hoped that the police will solve the cases quickly.

In all the cases, the poster used the online moniker "aicezuki" and posted questions on Yahoo! Japan's "chiebukuro" (fount of wisdom) question-and-answer site. In the case of the Kyoto University exam, the poster started posting math questions — six in all — seven minutes after the start of the Feb. 25 exam, and answers for five of them appeared on the site during the exam and an answer for the remaining question after the exam. The poster started posting two English questions also seven minutes after the start of the Feb. 26 exam, and the first answer appeared about six minutes later.

It is very likely that a person who took the exam posted the questions by using a cell phone. One math question posted included a correction to the question written on blackboards in entrance exam rooms. The person may have photographed questions and transmitted them to another person outside who would post them on the site with necessary additions.

How could a person post questions while proctors were watching? A comment on the microblogging site Twitter said, "A Kyoto University proctor was not proctoring at all." A self-introductory sentence by the Twitter user was the same in content as the one on the social networking site mixi posted by "aicezuki." Universities must strengthen proctoring and may have to ban brining in of cell phones into entrance exam sites. How to enforce the ban will be a big problem.

Yahoo! Japan is set to disclose the Internet protocol address of the poster. This address identifies only the cell phone service and the connection times. The police still must go through more steps to determine the person(s) involved in the suspected cheating.








The hundreds of trucks stalled for almost five days last week in a line stretching up to 12 kilometers from the gateway to the Merak seaport on the western tip of Java was the kind of gridlock that could happen on other highways and other major seaports if Indonesia continues to suffer a huge transport infrastructure deficit.

We find it mind-boggling that the government is still talking seriously about plans to expand the economy by up to 8 percent a year when even annual growth of just over 6.5 percent could make the economy burst at the seams because of the acute shortage of basic infrastructure — notably roads, seaports, airports and electricity.

Since Sunday the gridlock has eased, after the addition of more ferries serving the Merak-Bakauheni (on the southernmost tip of Sumatra) sea lane across the Sunda Strait.

However, the episode left several big questions unanswered: How could 40 percent or 14 of the 33 ferries that normally serve the Merak-Bakauheni route suddenly go out of service at the same time last week?

If maintenance was the reason, a fundamental error was made by the management of state-owned PT Angkutan Sungai, Danau dan Penyeberangan (ASDP), which oversees and operates the ferry services.

A ferry, like all other transport vehicles or machinery, needs regular maintenance, but such downtime needs to be scheduled so as not to drastically reduce the capacity of the overall service.

Because of this need for periodical maintenance, the total carrying capacity of ASDP ferries should have been at least 20 percent greater than the peak season load.

In electricity, for example, the power supply is considered to be at a critical level or dangerously low if the total generation capacity is just enough to meet demand during the peak load period.

For this reason there should be a reserve capacity of at least 30 percent to guarantee a reliable supply during an emergency, caused either by the scheduled maintenance of one or more power stations, or coal or gas supply disruptions.

The acutely inadequate power generation capacity of PLN — the electricity monopoly — has been the main cause of the high frequency of power blackouts in various provinces over the past decade.

But the gridlock last week was not caused by a single factor alone. We suspect ASDP may have underestimated the growing numbers of trucks crossing the Sunda Strait every day. As a consequence, the total capacity of ferries assigned to serve that line may have been based on an incorrect assumption of the actual need.

Despite the fact that Indonesia is the largest archipelagic country in the world, its sea transport system is among the most inefficient in the region due either to a lack of freighters, cargo handling equipment and hauling trucks, or because of corrupt or technically incompetent customs services — or a combination of the two.

These factors, we think, have made the turnaround time for ferries serving such busy sea lanes as the Merak-Bakauheni route longer than those seen in other ASEAN countries.

Last week's gridlock near the Merak port should alert the government of the need to embark on crash programs for land and sea-transport infrastructure development. Otherwise our economy will continue to muddle below its potential growth of 7 to 8 percent.




The Libyans fighting to bring down long-time dictator Muammar Qaddafi are finding that the true cost of freedom is their lives.

Since the uprising began more than a week ago, hundreds of people have died at the hands of what must count as one of the most ruthless regimes in recent times. It looks like many more  will die before Libya wins its freedom.

Unlike presidents Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia, who succumbed to people power movements after putting up some resistance, Qaddafi really means it when he says he will fight until the last drop of his blood.

Qaddafi obviously has no scruples about killing his own people and deploying armed soldiers and mercenaries to confront the protesters. He continues to cling to power even as it is apparent that he is fast losing control of a large part of the country. Suicidal Qaddafi may be, but he is also committing crimes against humanity. If Qaddafi survives he should be tried in a world court of law.

We welcome the United Nations Security Council's resolution condemning Qaddafi's regime, calling for his resignation as well as the follow-up actions by countries in imposing an embargo and freezing Qaddafi's assets abroad.

Indonesia should move beyond supporting the UN Security Council and at the very least  speak out against a regime that is killing its own people.

As governments, including Indonesia, are trying to evacuate their citizens trapped inside Libya, they should consider extending humanitarian aid to areas that have fallen into rebel hands.  France appears to be leading the way.

This is ultimately a battle that Libyans alone must fight and finish. However as Indonesia learned in bringing down the Soeharto regime in 1998, every little bit of help from friends counts.

In the same vein, every bit of pressure and every bit of assistance from outside will help those Libyans who are fighting for freedom and justice. At the very least, they will know that the rest of the world is with them.






In his second term in office, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has unfortunately seen mounting disappointment raised by the public and even his coalition partners, as in the case of the recent abortive political move in the House of Representatives to launch an inquiry into alleged tax corruption.

For a leader who secured the people's mandate in a landslide victory, it begs the big question of why criticism has continuously been directed at SBY. Does the public at large not realize he was chosen by more than 60 percent of the voters?

The latest political drama in the House indicates that dissatisfaction with his leadership is deeply rooted within the coalition he heads, despite the presence of a joint secretariat originally set up to enhance communication among the coalition partners.

Earlier this year, a group of religious leaders openly lashed out at SBY's leadership. In a show of distrust, they accused the President of, among other things, releasing untrue statements and reports to the public. The President was said to promote his success, which contradicted reality, only to keep his good image intact.

The collective criticism, the first instance of its kind during the SBY administration, was conveyed perhaps because the religious leaders had observed a gap between SBY's statements and facts in the field and the government's mistakes in managing this big and rich country.

The flaws included the government's promises that remained unrealized, corruption which was still rampant and discriminatory law enforcement that let corrupt officials avoid justice and stay in power.

In the eyes of the informal leaders, the government's report of successful poverty alleviation was seen as political propaganda because so many people were still suffering or starving. Some people committed suicide as they could not go through the hard life any longer.

Meanwhile most government officials, including the President and House of Representatives members are enjoying high salaries and easy access to money from the state budget or ill-gotten wealth such as bribes and graft.

In short, President SBY and his ministers are seen as not only lacking seriousness in leading the nation, but also providing false information and data to the people.

The religious leaders carried a moral burden to warn the government, lest they be blamed for letting the people to fall victim to false rulers. The criticism was therefore an endeavor aimed at policy changing, which is a great contribution to good governance.

At the same time, the religious leaders' criticism of the SBY administration has encouraged many independent civil society groups such as NGOs and student groups in fighting bad governance practices which are seen as rampant among government officials.

These civil society groups have been showing their displeasure with President SBY by holding demonstrations and expressing their voices in "un-proper words" via either mass media or informal media, such as SMSs, and other unique ways to raise the public's awareness of the mistakes and lies of the SBY administration.

The declaration of the anti-judicial mafia movement (GERAM) by a group of activists, law practitioners and academics was, like it or not, stimulated by the inter-faith leaders' critical stance against SBY's leadership.

Government critics grouped under the Petisi 28 have now been more active and progressive in sharing their ideas and programs through text messages. Some other groups, such as former student activists who challenged the New Order regime in 1977-1978 and their networks are now re-consolidating themselves through discussions and strategic meetings to oppose SBY.

The relentless expressions of public distrust targeting the government contradict the fact that SBY won an outright majority in the 2009 election. The public acknowledge this fact, but unfortunately SBY has been performing badly, particularly during his second term. At least, many people are not satisfied with his leadership.

There are several indications to remind SBY of his mistakes.

First, he has been trapped by political accommodation. When appointing Cabinet members and other public officials, SBY ignored professional considerations but tended to only recruit political figures. While we all know that most politicians in Indonesia, if in power, work and dedicate themselves to their political party, group, and/or personal interests rather than those of the public and people. The maneuverings against SBY by politicians from coalition partners, to some extent, proves that the coalition does more harm than good.

Second, and related to the first point, SBY looks overly cautious or even afraid of really implementing reform among his Cabinet. It is perhaps because SBY is worried about political backlash if the reform, let alone Cabinet reshuffle, infringes on the interests of the coalition partners. Besides, the parties are well organized within the coalition to where SBY needs to maintain their groups' interests.

To be frank, SBY has been trapped by political interests just to maintain pseudo or limited political stability, which does not really answer the public's demands for and need of professional Cabinet members and government officials.

Third, SBY is so hesitant and slow in choosing the right people in the right places who the public need the most. It is may be his character, as many have suspected. In this regard, of course, no one but he can make changes.

Opportunities remain wide open in the remaining three-and-a-half years for SBY to prove his critics wrong.

The writer is deputy speaker of the Regional Representatives Council (DPD). The opinions expressed
are his own.







Who hasn't heard of the sultry Cleopatra (69 BC-30 BC), Egypt's most famous queen, and last pharaoh? In fact, she was Greek, the last of the Ptolemaic dynasty which ruled after Egypt's conquest by Alexander the Great. But she learned Egypt's language, embraced its religion, and even represented herself as the goddess Isis reincarnated.

And of course she was famous for using her seductive powers for political purposes, consummating liaisons with Julius Caesar and Marc Antony to keep her throne — for a while at least — till it all ended in military defeat and suicide. In any case, thanks to Cleo and her imperial predecessors Hatshepsut and Nerfertiti, the notion of powerful, liberated women in Egypt isn't that hard to accept.

"Cleopatra power" was visible again in Tahrir Square in the weeks preceding Freedom Friday on Feb. 11, as the women of Cairo joined the revolution alongside their men-folk. Equal numbers of men and women sparked the movement through online activism, and thousands of women organized supplies, medication, banners, marches, international contacts and general mobilization for the movement. Young and old, in jeans or in niqab, individually or in groups, with children, friends or families — all grouped together to struggle for a better future (see

It was a rare display of gender equality in a society where sexual harassment is rife, where 80 percent of men think it's OK to beat their wives for speaking to other men. Acid attacks and honor killings are commonplace, and one-third of men and women feel it's fine for a husband to resort to violence if his wife refuses sex. So, in a society where 83 percent of Egyptian women and 98 percent of foreign women have experienced sexual harassment, according to a 2008 survey of 1,010 women, the virtual absence of it in Tahrir Square was nothing short of revolutionary.

Azza Kamel, 50, a woman activist and writer who camped for 18 nights in Tahrir Square said the culture of fear that had pervaded Egypt for four decades was partly the reason for the endemic harassment of women. "An oppressed people look for someone else to bully and oppress," she said. "This is the first time in 40 years people have tasted freedom. Men are no longer touching women."

Unless, of course, you were Lara Logan, the CBS journalist who was sexually assaulted and beaten by a pack of Egyptian men in Tahrir Square. Her case reminds us that sexual harassment has been going on for so long that there's now a culture of human rights abuse in Egypt. Women won't win equality just because of 18 days of revolution, however euphoric.

After all, that's what happened in Indonesia when Soeharto fell. We women were out there in the streets demonstrating on Feb. 23, 1998, several months before the students — or any other men — came protesting in May. We had great hopes of improving the lot of women, long oppressed by a gender state ideology that I coined "State Ibuism". This reduced women to being mere appendages of their husbands, existing to serve the state, and it pervaded the entire bureaucracy, filtering down to the village level.

With the end of the New Order 1998, most of its structures were dismantled or reformed. Everything became "democratized" and decentralized, and that's when the trouble started again for the majority of women. I'm not talking about "the bold and the beautiful" who went into parliament or political parties (not that it's a bowl of cherries for the women there either).

I'm talking about women like Lilis from Tangerang, who in 2006 became a victim of a controversial anti-prostitution perda (regional ordinance), one of 154 perda targeting women. Wrongly accused of being a prostitute, she was tried, found "guilty", fined and jailed. The ensuing stress proved too much. She lost the baby she was carrying, and died in 2008, leaving behind her husband and only son, Robby. Lilis is just one example of the New Order-style "justice" that women still endure under Indonesia's Reform Era "democracy".

Mubarak's Egypt had its own version of State Ibuism, with plenty of people espousing the idea that women were second-class citizens. Suzanne Mubarak was one of them. She denied the endemic sexual harassment problem in Egypt, saying the media was blowing it out of proportion. I suppose it's understandable she'd say that, because for 30 years everything in Egypt was going her way — and that of her husband.

What now for Egyptian women? The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces is currently in charge and men in uniform have a way of making and breaking promises, so don't hold your breath waiting for them to go, girls.

Or will Egypt become a Sunni version of Iran's repressive theocracy? One thing's for sure, if the Muslim Brotherhood, the 83 year-old Islamist opposition take over, they won't be putting women's rights at the top of their "to do" list.

So was "Cleo power" in Tahrir Square just a flash in the pan? Women's inclusion in the shaping of Egypt's future during the 18 days in Tahrir Square surely embodied what democracy is all about.

Let's just hope it all doesn't end as badly for them as it did for Cleopatra!

The writer

is the author of Jihad Julia.








Sri Lankan cricket captain Kumar Sangakkara would have held back a few punches the other day when he was asked by a reporter how he felt to hear that his fans were put through a frustrating time in buying tickets for the World Cup. Saying he felt sorry for them was understandable although his fans would have cheered him more had he chosen to condemn the manner in which they were being treated in their quest for a place in history.

But what can one expect from a player who has his share of pitch worries when the very people who pontificate that they will give Sri Lankans a memorable World Cup, do little or nothing about it or are partners in crime.

The whole episode of fans roughed up, sent back empty handed and even bruising themselves as they were jostled, shoved and pushed and had to climb parapet walls in the scramble for tickets smacks of a sordid system in this country where the common man is at the receiving end while the privileged few get the best places.  If these common fans have one thing to cheer them up it is the fact that they are the real heroes who keep cricket alive in this country and do not need a World Cup to show their obsession with the sport or the fanatical support they have for the team. Yet they pay a heavy price when it comes to the big occasion while the "Maharajas" of cricket and the privileged few hold sway as they rush around in their flashy SUVs.

When ticket-issuing should have been of paramount importance to make a World Cup memorable, what these Sri Lankan king-makers have done is display another shady side to their character at a time the world keepers of the sport is at their very doorstep and seeing first hand the rot that is taking place.

How on earth can Sri Lanka claim to have hosted or co-hosted a World Cup when its people are treated like animals on a garbage dump each time they queued up for tickets when a public announcement was made. The government owes it to these people to conduct a full inquiry and investigate the circumstances or the people who are responsible for this chaotic situation.

With the media reporting that large scale cheating and black marketeering are taking place; an investigation will reveal the facts behind one of the biggest off-field scandals in the 2011 World Cup.

We can only imagine what it will be like if Sri Lanka wins the right to host the 2018 Commonwealth Games in which 72 nations take their place when a 14-nation showpiece co-hosted by three Asian nations produces a nightmare for its people.






The Tamil Diaspora must never be underestimated. Despite a successful military end to the LTTE; the separatist agenda that it upheld, nurtured and sold thousands of innocent lives for; continues unabated. Effective bans against the LTTE as a terror group have not discouraged the separatist agenda of some of these groups. Promotional campaigns by these groups to help fund their anti Sri Lanka efforts continue to flourish with no controls.

They have successfully intervened in denying certain serious trade concessions to the country, decreasing the number of foreign investors despite a very conducive atmosphere for investment and prevented President Rajapaksa from addressing the Oxford Union nearly two years after the LTTE was defeated. The power they wield in the West ensured that the British Foreign Secretary Liam Fox did not arrive in the country to deliver this year's Luxman Kadirgamar Memorial lecture. The scheduled lecture was postponed hours before it was to be held. A clear indicator of the clout they enjoy within the international community.

The legitimacy it has therefore gained for its separatist agenda within the western world cannot be underestimated.  The room such an agenda leaves for a resurgence of a military arm to the group is very much reality. To believe otherwise given the growing strength it is acquiring is certainly unwise. The continued activism of the Tamil Diasporas in certain key western destinations should warn us against the danger of the lukewarm attitude our own foreign service has allowed for.

There is needless to say a serious challenge in the hands of the government's representatives in these countries. They include removing the room for falsities and negative opinion making on Sri Lanka, creating a forum for increased investment in the country and dismantling the threat of the Tamil Diasporas that are linked to the LTTE. This is a difficult task no doubt. The lack of funding available for carrying out the kind of impressive promotional activities of the LTTE is one of the most difficult hurdles for the Foreign Ministry. But that is certainly not the only one.

Victim to changing political agendas of every successive government, the Foreign Service has suffered immensely due to the short-term political policies as opposed to one concrete national policy be it terrorism or otherwise. Our weak attempts at countering the false propaganda by these Diasporas have always remained one of the key stumbling blocks in gaining any kind of credible space in the international community's agenda. We failed to attract support or sympathy following the post 9/11 global war on terror for this reason. That we failed to credibly meet the charges of war crimes is another negative impact. The failure of our representatives to meet these charges with facts and an effective defensive mechanism has made the country's victory at the battle front to be questioned today. Sadly, to the immense benefit of the Tamil Diasporas.

Therefore, the absolute necessity to revamp our foreign service cannot be emphasized more.  Changing the imbalance caused by the string of political appointees to important western destinations instead of opting for seasoned officials from the service is key to such changes. We need necessarily to revisit the personal agendas of certain officials with these offices too and check the credentials of a significant number of others. Allegations against those who discredit the country's culture and national interests must be taken serious note of. The kind of allegations that are thrown against one Counsel General in the US whose actions of recent times has come under severe criticism.

The manner in which he had celebrated the Independence Day has been referred to as 'disgraceful' with one member of the Sri Lankan community intimating the facts to the President urging that he be recalled.  Famed for his ignorance of protocol and his lack of enthusiasm for Sri Lankan culture, it is reported that during initial planning discussions the Consul General 'had not been enthusiastic about Sri Lankan cultural items.' Finding them 'too slow and boring' he proposed spicing up the event with Latin American dancers! It defies all common sense to comprehend the rationale behind continuing to accommodate such persons at serious cost to the country.

It is imperative that the government appreciate the need for a bipartisan foreign policy. One; that is professional in its outlook and can attract the attention of the international community. More importantly win their respect. The longer we sit on our laurels and play local government politics with the country and its interests, the faster we lose the international war that the Tamil Diasporas are battling to gain legitimacy for a separate state in Sri Lanka. A militant struggle is not the only way such a state can be secured. International politics that is played in the Middle East right now must remain a reminder to the state how the west plays its games. Games, that the Tamil Diasporas have mastered globally while we play victors to one battle won back home.





The impact of climate change on the environment is now a well-established fact and one that has gained increased awareness worldwide.

  But more alarming than climate change is the detrimental fallout of human activity on the natural environment. As ecosystems suffer irreparable damages thanks to man's rampant abuse of the environment, the intricate balance that is integral to sustaining life on this planet is directly affected. Take for instance coral reefs. According to the findings of a recent study undertaken by the World Resources Institute, almost 75 per cent of the world's coral reefs are threatened.  Though climate change is also one of the contributors along with human activity, the fact remains that climate change has been spurred on by the irresponsible behaviour and growth of the global industry without adequate damage control measures being placed to check the deterioration.  In fact, if one analyses the reports' findings it is clearly the human actions that are the bigger culprit in driving the situation to the brink, in this case.

Over fishing and destructive fishing, marine-based pollution and coastal development pose a direct threat to 60 per cent of the world's coral reefs.  An additional threat comes from what experts call thermal stress as ocean temperatures rise annually in an environment that is heading towards a global climate meltdown.  Rising ocean temperatures lead to mass coral bleaching which in turn kills corals. This does translate into tangible alarm for many ocean states that depend on coral reef for livelihood both in terms of tourism and food supply. Besides, the coral reefs offer natural coastal protection and erosion of this eco-system if unchecked can actually pose an existential threat to many island states.  The socio-economic cost of this for many states is immense and needs immediate attention. Interestingly, Southeast Asia suffers the worst in terms of environmental damage to its coral reefs at a staggering 95 per cent, whereas Australia the home to the Great Barrier Reef has the lowest threat level at 14 per cent.

A growth of population and a corresponding increase in coastal development has been the principal influencing factor in this regard.

While this may sound dismal there is hope. Experts are optimistic of the indications that reefs have the ability to rebound from even 'extreme damage'. This is why the marine environmentalists are urging world leaders to concentrate efforts on formulating a cohesive and comprehensive strategy that incorporates steps aimed at preventing marine eco-system damage. The report notes a number of initiatives such as direct management intervention to deal with local threats alongside a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to combat the problem.

It is hoped that governments worldwide understand the seriousness of the situation and deal with it in a fitting manner. Not only should this be a cause of concern for coastal states but also for others that will be affected as marine food supplies and defensive marine barriers are threatened over time.








ONE of those simultaneously disturbing and reassuring technological moments happened to me as I was trying to pay for something over the Internet the other evening.


I had logged on to the relevant site with my name, code and password and had filled in the details needed to access the secure pages, where I had given my debit card number, expiry date, phone number, address to which bank statements were sent, security number on back of card and maternal grandmother's shoe size, which I expected to be followed by a page from the bank asking for the second, fifth and seventh digits of my code, or some similar random selection of three from eight.


Instead, a page came up telling me the payment could not be processed at this time.


So I tried again, with the same result.


I thought the problem must be due to a connection blip or a minor hitch with the bank's computers, so I waited a few minutes and tried again, once more without success.


So I rang the bank and asked what was causing the hold-up.


They asked for my card number, full name, address, registration code, my mother's birthday, the name of my first pet cat, my mother's first cat's blood group and the size of my overdraft facility.


I said I had no idea of the size of my overdraft facility as I didn't have an overdraft, so they asked me what was the name of the only novel by Charles Dickens that included the word 'kangaroo' and when I told them it was David Copperfield, they agreed that I must indeed be Comber of the GDN and told me that my transaction had been denied as it had not come from my usual IP address.


I explained that I was in a taxi and was using a NetBook which I take with me while on the move and that I do indeed usually use my home computer for financial transactions.


They then agreed to remove the block on my account and allow me to make the transaction.


So I went through it all again and this time it worked, leaving me on the one hand reassured that the bank was being so cautious with my money and on the other hand worried that they knew so much about what I was doing.


I can only speculate on what the future may hold:


The scene: Comber arrives home late after a good dinner. The front door of Comber Towers speaks: "Who goes there?"


"Comber. Let me in."


"Voice does not tally on voice recognition software. Entry refused."


"It's me. Let me in."


"No. Security check in progress. State the year you were born."




"State the square root of two correct to 10 decimal places."




"Your voice is slurred. You've been drinking, haven't you?"


"Only Laurent-Perrier Ultra Brut."


"How many glasses?"


"Unknown. They kept refilling it."


"Vintage or non-vintage?"


"Don't be silly. The L-P Ultra Brut is always non-vintage."


"Welcome home, Comber. Do come in." (The door swings open.)



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