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Friday, March 4, 2011

EDITORIAL 04.03.11

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month march 04, edition 000770, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





























  2. MAD MEN




  6. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY  




































With the Supreme Court striking down the appointment of Mr PJ Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner on account of criminal charges pending against him, the UPA Government, more so the person who heads it, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, stands exposed for trying to foist a tainted bureaucrat on the agency which is supposed to fight corruption at high level. There is no percentage in pretending, as the Prime Minister's publicists would want, that Mr Thomas was appointed by a three-member committee and hence Mr Singh owes neither responsibility nor accountability for the shameful choice. The committee that 'selected' Mr Thomas comprises the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha. Ms Sushma Swaraj had made her objection to shortlisting Mr Thomas for the job abundantly clear; she recorded her dissent in writing. Hence, she cannot be faulted for what was a patently flawed decision. As for the Home Minister, he could not have disagreed with the Prime Minister who was personally keen that the job should go to Mr Thomas — indeed, Mr Singh was insistent. Therefore, the political responsibility for the huge embarrassment that has been caused to the Government which has come out of this particular episode bruised and battered devolves upon Mr Singh and nobody else. Mr Thomas has been evicted from the exalted office he least deserved to hold; he should now stand trial for being allegedly involved in the palmolein import scam which happened when he was Food Secretary in the Government of Kerala. Further comment on a contemptible bureaucrat known for consistently misusing his authority and denuded of all scruples and lacking in sense of dignity is really not necessary. But it is necessary to raise the larger question: Why did the Prime Minister opt for a bureaucrat accused of corruption? This question can only be answered by Mr Singh and, no matter how discomfiting it might be for him and his party, he must not be allowed to get away with maintaining silence over an issue that has outraged the entire nation and appalled even his colleagues in the Congress. Nor will a statement proclaiming his ignorance of facts, and hence innocence, suffice.

The Department of Personnel and Training, popularly known as DoPT, tracks the service record of every civil servant and reports to the Prime Minister. It is inconceivable that the DoPT did not mention the fact that Mr Thomas faces criminal charges in the palmolein import scam while putting up the file containing the list of possible candidates for the CVC's job to the Prime Minister. If, for any inexplicable reason, the DoPT did not do so, it is for Mr Singh to explain why a department over which he presides failed so abjectly in fulfilling its basic responsibility. That apart, Mr Singh had the opportunity to amend his decision, which he had already taken before the selection committee met, when Ms Swaraj raised the issue of Mr Thomas's involvement in the palmolein import scam. Strangely, or perhaps not so, Mr Singh elected to ignore her objection and persisted with his decision. He must now tell the nation why he did so. Was it an error of judgement? Or was it a judgement clouded by factors that raise serious issues of probity and integrity in the highest office of the Government of India?







The Union Government's belated decision to establish an audit mechanism for projects undertaken under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme has been motivated by a number of complaints regarding irregularities in the implementation of the programme. The Government should have taken the step much earlier, in fact soon after the scheme was introduced with much fanfare as the ruling United Progressive Alliance's flagship social sector project. But at the time, the Government — and more so the Congress, as its dominant partner — was less concerned about accountability. It was busy touting its 'commitment' to the common man in rural India. As a result, the MGNREGS has been badly managed, hitting not just the public exchequer which made the funds available, but even the targetted beneficiaries who received lesser than what they deserved. From time to time, experts have pointed out the anomalies in the execution of the scheme and even the courts have intervened with their concerns about the issue. Recently the Supreme Court expressed worry about the lack of accountability in the implementation of the ambitious programme. But since no effective system existed to ensure accountability, little could be done to tackle the problem. This is despite the fact that Section 17 of the National Rural Employment Guarantee Act — the specially created Act of Parliament under which the mammoth scheme was implemented — clearly mentions the need for a social audit. Therefore, there is really no justification for this delay. With a huge outlay of Rs 40,000 crore, the MGNREGS cannot be run like a personal fiefdom where there is no public accountability. The scheme itself is vast; it is supposed to touch more than 88 million households across 625 districts in rural India. If it is run effectively, it has the potential to drastically reduce unemployment and empower entire families living in villages.

According to some estimates, MGNREGS could bring down poverty levels by as much as 16 to18 per cent in the chronically poor States that are referred to as BIMARU — Bihar, Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh. Others like Jharkhand, Odisha and Chhattisgarh also stand to gain enormously if the scheme is executed with a sense of accountability. An audit mechanism will ensure that the funds are not squandered or diverted to undeserving pockets and also make certain that the real beneficiaries get their due that will hopefully enable them to escape the vicious cycle of poverty. Additionally, now that the Government has decided to link wages to the Consumer Price Index, workers should be getting paid at least Rs 100 per day. That is unlikely to happen if effective audits are not undertaken. It is here that the role of the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India, which will train people for audits and participate in the deliberations, is crucial.









Muammar Gaddafi used money to buy influence with the British establishment whose leading members stand compromised.

It never rains but it pours as the convulsions in north Africa and West Asia surely become the epitaph of Anglo-American statecraft in the Arab world. What began as a 'little local difficulty' in Tunisia is now a raging firestorm. Having swept away Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, the autocratic ruler of Tunisia, and the Hosni Mubarak regime in Egypt, it threatens the fragile stability of the Bedouin encampment of Saudi Arabia and haunts the Persian Gulf sheikhs and Jordan's besieged Hashemite dynasty. Libya occupies centre stage.

Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's desert kingdom is seven times the size of the United Kingdom and is twelfth in the table of oil-producing states, the bulk of its exports destined for Europe. The country's current plight is deepening anxiety in London and Washington, DC, not the least because the reduced volume of Libyan oil has led to an exponential rise in oil prices on the world market. If unchecked, this spike in oil prices could set back American economic recovery most of all.

The US and the UK are contemplating a 'No Fly Zone' over Libya on the lines of that imposed on Saddam Hussain's Iraq after the first Gulf War. Could this be first step to a wider Anglo-American war on Libya? Those whom the gods wish to destroy they first make mad.

Col Gaddafi, a narcissist tyrant, has been in power for 41 years. Sitting atop a largely tribal society, he has played off the tribes in time-honoured fashion. There has been no visible political or economic progress in Libya, merely an accumulation of petro dollars, principally for personal and family use and the distribution of patronage. But all good things come to their appointed end.

The violence and scale of the Libyan insurrection has surprised most pundits. The Libyan opposition has disarmed significant numbers of the loyalist Gaddafi forces and administers large swathes of territory. The Colonel, holed up in the capital city of Tripoli, rants and raves, his incoherence pointing to diminishing sanity. Arab Nero or Caligula? You can take your pick.

Col Gaddafi has been out in the cold for decades because of his propensity to fund and arm insurgencies against the West, which also included acts of terrorism. The most infamous was the bombing of an American passenger aircraft over the Scottish town of Lockerbie with the loss of 279 lives on board. He rethought his position following the US occupation of Iraq and the capture and execution of Saddam Hussein.

The Libyan leader sundered plans to produce weapons of mass destruction to America's satisfaction. His rehabilitation as a 'moderate' was promptly set in motion. Oil deals were struck and high profile Western visitors came calling, British Prime Minister Tony Blair prominent among them. This chapter is a tale in itself but space demands that primacy be given to the more titillating script doing the rounds for the delectation of the British public.

The story involves Col Gaddafi's heir apparent, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, who was admitted as a PhD student in 2005 by the famed London School of Economics. The prior visit to Libya of the then LSE director, Professor Anthony Giddens, a Blair mentor as it happens, and his praise of the country and its mercurial supremo, smoothed Gaddafi junior's flawed rite of passage. Lord Megnad Desai, currently deep in the enjoyment of Goa's hotpots, oversaw the transaction and was an external examiner of the doctoral dissertation which, it is claimed by London broadsheets and tabloids, his lordship hadn't read with the care required, assuming he had read it at all.

Saif Gaddafi's English, judging by his brief television performances, would get him through a shopping expedition to a Tesco supermarket, it would be an insuperable obstacle to a doctoral degree. BBC television's Newsnight programme sent an expert reporter to ferret out the truth. He discovered that the Gaddafi clan had hired a London consultancy firm called Monitor to promote the dear leader and his works through articles in the Press; also by arranging visits to Libya by the great and good adept at spinning a tidy yarn without breaking sweat.

It was suggested that the self-same Monitor arranged for parts of the Gaddafi thesis to be penned by another hand. Saif Gaddafi was duly awarded his doctorate in 2008, with the LSE enriched by a Gaddafi-sponsored Libyan bequest of £1.5 million. The LSE is to set up an inquiry into the sorry affair. Prof Desai's ermine robes, already soiled by his support of General Pervez Musharraf, may soon be on their way for thorough washing in public.

The deeper concern is the penetration of Arab and Muslim money into the bowers of British academe. A Tory MP, Mr Rob Halfon, has charged that Liverpool's John Moores University as well as the London School of Economics had been "prostituting themselves" to the regime behind the Lockerbie massacre. The House of Commons Library, which has compiled a list of West Asian donors to British universities, referred to a report by the Centre for Social Cohesion estimating that £75 million had been donated to the Oxford Centre for Islamic Studies by 12 Muslim countries, including Malaysia, Turkey, Yemen, the United Arab Emirates and Brunei. Other large gifts included £8 million by a Saudi prince for an Islamic centre at the University of Edinburgh.

Mr Anthony Glees, the director of the Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies at Buckingham University, said: "There needs to be a proper inquiry into the funding of British higher education by Arab and Islamic states whose records on human rights are appalling. Our universities have sacrificed their basic ethical values in the pursuit of money."

Why blame British universities when the British establishment as a whole is at fault? Establishment — the word first used by Anthony Sampson in his 1962 work Anatomy of Britain — denotes the seamless robe of influence and power and patronage and its extension to every layer of a dominant authority, whether it be in Whitehall, the Palace of Westminster, the theatre, the arts, the universities (MI5 and MI6 recruit the most promising Oxbridge graduates with the close co-operation of the heads of colleges), or the media and other exploitable points on the compass. It is a mutation of the corporate state at work.

The caricature of Muammar Gaddafi that appears with this article is courtesy Sharrock's Blog.







Pranab Mukherjee has presented a Budget that is stunningly silent on the looming food crisis and the inevitable spike in prices. Every country is preparing to meet the impending shortage in supply of foodgrains and the consequent food inflation. But the Government of India is blissfully asleep

At a time when not just India but the entire world is grappling with the issue of food shortage and escalating food prices — especially owing to the drought that has hit China affecting eight major wheat-growing provinces which account for around 80 per cent of the country's total wheat output — and when black money and corruption have become major concerns, the least that was expected of Union Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherjee was a few bold steps to arrest both issues.

To tackle the impending food crisis, most Governments across the world are planning and drafting policies to deal with the anticipated shortage and the consequent price hike. West Asian countries are stocking up grains while some like Iraq have already placed orders for 4,00,000 tonne of wheat from the US. Following the trend, Jordan, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia are importing grains and Russia has even announced a complete ban on foodgrain exports.

In this light, whatever our Finance Minister announced in his Union Budget 2011-12 had no meat with respect to restoration of foodgrain stock. Neither was any attempt made to address the expected inflation that may creep in within the next few months. Let alone announcing new plans to enhance food production and modernising the dilapidated godowns, Mr Mukherjee didn't even announce any concrete plans for speedy implementation of other agricultural development initiatives which were announced in the previous Budget.

What he did instead was to pray to Lord Indra to shower his blessing to ensure that agricultural productivity is not hampered due to inadequate rainfall. Of course, other than praying to Lord Indra, he has also committed a few hundred crores towards pulses, milk, eggs, vegetables and other agri-commodities, but then he has provided no support system to boost their productivity and irrigation.

It is not unknown to him that China has dramatically improved its irrigation systems over the last couple of decades and is investing $2 billion annually to upkeep the standard. This year, the Chinese Government is planning to invest an additional 20 billion yuan ($293 million) for improving water irrigation and safety projects. And all this when around 50 per cent of China's arable land is now irrigated — in comparison to just 30 per cent of total arable land in India. No wonder, our gross agricultural production is still a mere 40 per cent of that of China. That apart, in the Budget, there was not a single occasion where our Minister for Finance announced any concrete plans to usher another Green Revolution, an issue that has almost become a national imperative now.

Apart from agriculture, the other issue that has been haunting the country throughout the last year is that of corruption. It requires no statistical analysis to establish that corruption and scams can only be addressed by a strong judiciary and judicial reforms. However, in this Budget, `1,500 crore has been allocated for the judiciary, which includes setting up of rural courts and e-courts. No announcements were made to provide courts with special powers or creating special courts to hasten the judicial process.

Same goes for black money. To address the issue of black money, Mr Mukherjee has announced a five-fold strategy, but no strategy to bring back the money already stashed abroad. For the record, it is primarily due to corruption and a perforated judicial system that Indian citizens have managed to stash away $ 1.4 trillion in various tax havens. In fact, a glance through the Budget speech would show that Mr Mukherjee spoke six paragraphs on black money but did not draft a single para on how to contain its generation or bring back the black money from tax havens.

Amid the half-baked and gloomy policy announcements, what came as a silver lining was the proposal of direct cash subsidy. Disbursing subsidy in the form of cash will not only reduce leakages in the chain but the subsidy will reach the beneficiaries. This should act as a strong foundation for arresting pilferage in future.

The next announcement that brought in some relief was the access of `1 lakh crore credit facilities to farmers at just four per cent interest. But then there is a high probability that this gain will get cornered by the rich and big farmers while the poor farmers will remain marginalised — as it happened with the previous farm loan waiver scheme. The fact is that a poor farmer pays 12 per cent or above for his loan, whereas in cities, people get car loans at eight to nine per cent.

Finally, what came as a shocker was Mr Mukherjee's announcement of the creation of a new 'very-senior citizen' category and provide them tax exemption and concessions. In reality, very few Indians live till the age of 80. We have around 17 per cent of people who die before the age of 45 while the average life expectancy of Indians is 64 years. Since majority in India belongs to the working class which retires at the age of 60 with hardly any scope for further income, such concessions would only benefit the rich who manage to live longer and have wealth and income that come under the tax bracket.

In a Budget where the Finance Minister allocated less than 0.5 per cent of the Budget to health, how can he expect people to live till the age of 80 to avail of promised benefits?

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







Government has closed its eyes to the plight of Hindus in Pakistan

After being carved out of the Indian sub-continen t, Pakistan is just 63-year old. Its raison d'etre is to act as an Islamic counter-force to a predominantly Hindu India, which encompasses all variations of religious beliefs, including the Islamic, within a secular framework. Religious freedom is the fulcrum of our secular ideal. It is quite the opposite in Pakistan, created as the land of the pure by politicos, fundamentalists and a vengeful colonial power on its last legs. But even after the partition and the exchange of peoples between India and Pakistan, a large number of Muslims opted to stay back because India as a secular democracy seemed a safer option, while a much smaller number of Hindus chose to brave it out in the Islamic republic.

As a result, India today has the third largest Muslim population of over 100 million, after Indonesia and Pakistan. Hindus in Pakistan are about 3.9 million. Judging by current reports of Hindus' persecution in Pakistan, with some of their important places of worship being forcibly turned into hotels and tourist spots, and with no possibility of justice, they may well be ruing their decision to stay back in their ancestral homes. The Congress-led ruling coalition's indifference to their plight compounds the problem. Its hostility to the Allahabad High Court judgement, which allotted two-thirds of the disputed Ram Janmabhoomi site in Ayodhya to Hindu litigants and one-third to the Sunni Waqf Board, is in sharp contrast to the Pakistan authorities complicity in the seizure of Hindu shrines and pilgrimages for commercial purposes.

To cite an instance, the 700-year-old Kali Bari in Dera Ismail Khan's Khyber Pakhtunkhwa Province is reported to have been taken over by a business group and turned into a hotel. Sources reveal that the operators pay the Government a small amount of money in exchange. Some idols have disappeared from the shrine. They point out that the historic site could attract Hindus from all over the world. This would generate more revenue. However, despite local Hindus having brought the violation to the attention of the Governor in April 2009, he failed to initiate any remedial action. One just needs to compare this with the earnest assurances given by Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dixit and Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav to an incensed group of Muslims at Jangpura, who gathered to protest against the demolition of an unauthorised mosque some weeks ago. The matter is being heard by Delhi High Court.

In another shocking violation, the sacred Raam Kunday Mandir in Islamabad, Pakistan's capital, is reported to have been converted into a picnic spot. It is preposterous even to imagine a heritage mosque being turned into a recreation hub in India's capital. Not just politicos, who nurture minority vote-banks, but the supposedly secular brigade, consisting of the literati and glitterati, would go into over-drive to abort such a possibility. It is, of course, a different matter altogether when Hindus demand restoration of important pilgrimages in India, usurped by Islamic adventurers some centuries ago. The secular brigade then trashes Hindu concerns as a prime example of religious bigotry and revivalism. It has also consistently ignored seizure and desecration of temples in Pakistan and Bangladesh, as well as atrocities committed against individuals. True votaries of the secular ideal would be non-partisan in their actions. Their fervent advocacy of sectarian Muslim concerns in particular — the community's right to follow its personal law based on sharia, and retain control of usurped shrines, as symbols of the dominion of Islam — actually serves to negate the secular ideal and render it irrelevant. But they remain blind to this fact, just like an ostrich that chooses to shut out reality by hiding its head in the sand.

Examples of misuse of shrines in Pakistan abound. Araya Mandir in Abbotabad has been appropriated for running a school. Several dilapidated old temples in Eminabad in Gujranwala are being used as stables for horses, donkeys and the like. Hindu's demand for restoring to them the Kali temple in Peshawar, which has been taken over by local traders, has been ignored by the authorities. The Hanuman mandir in Chakwal has become the office of salt mines workers while the Sheeranwali Mandir in Punjab's Bakkar town hosts a madarsa for clerics. The deplorable neglect of Jogi Tala Jhelum, sacred both for Sikhs and Hindus, and Laho Maharaj Mandir, situated on the Badshahi Masjid premises, are also sore points.

There are an estimated 360 sites, revered by Hindus, in Pakistan. Many are under the control of the Evacuee Trust Property Board, which also reportedly controls 1,35,000 acres of land that belongs to Hindu farmers. But all persuasion to hand over the pilgrimages and land to the lawful claimants has failed despite the Preamble to the Constitution of Pakistan assuring that "adequate provision shall be made for the minorities to freely profess and practise their religions and develop their cultures" and "to safeguard the legitimate interests of the minorities and backward and depressed classes". Indian Muslims need to honestly answer whether they have got a raw deal, as professed by some, when their condition is compared to that of victimised Hindus and other minorities in Pakistan.







The Congress cannot put off a decision on the demand for a separate State of Telangana that has once again gathered momentum with the agitation being revived. Indecision will damage the party politically

Things are not looking good for the Union Government or the Andhra Pradesh Government as the struggle for the separate Telangana State has intensified at the local level. The Union Government will be caught napping if it does not realise the seriousness of the situation at the ground level. The problem is compounded with a novice Chief Minister at the helm of affairs in the State.

Parliament had a glimpse of what is in store when President Pratibha Patil addressed the joint session. Even before Vice President Hamid Ansari could read the English version of the President's speech, the Congress MPs from Telangana got up with placards in their hands and demanded a separate Telangana.

The MPs from all parties led by Telangana Rashtra Samithi president K Chandrasekhara Rao interrupted proceedings for two days. Although the Prime Minister intervened and bought peace with the Congress MPs, the problem at the ground level has not been tackled. The Congress initially indulged its MPs to address its domestic compulsions but when the BJP asked the Government to bring a Bill for creation of Telangana the Government was in a spot. The presence of TRS chief K Chandrasekhara Rao, who has the backing of the BJP, made the situation worse for the Congress.

At present the real concern is the functioning of the State Government. Since the pro-Telangana activists in the State Government are in a non-cooperation mood, payment of salaries to Government servants is at stake and there is total chaos at the secretariat level.

Another worrying feature is the recent decision of the Telangana Joint Action Committee and the Telangana Rashtra Samithi to launch a 'Chalo Hyderabad' agitation. There are grand plans, which include organising a pro-Telangana march which will culminate into a siege of the city of Hyderabad. They believe the siege of the State Capital will bring not only Hyderabad but the entire State to a halt and force the Centre to take a call on Telangana. However, the Congress has tried to control the situation through back channel negotiations as the event has been postponed for now.

The TRS and the TJAC are doing their best to mobilise the student community for the cause. There is plan to mobilise at least one lakh students from the Osmania University to fuel protests. The lawyers and teachers are also being roped in. With the annual examinations scheduled in March this could spell trouble for students. The leaders of both parties have revealed that talks are on to convince the legislators and parliamentarians of the Congress and the TDP to join the protest to give the issue the desired momentum.

The Congress leadership has tried to shut up its MPs but it is not going to work for long. Union Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherjee has only sought time till he presents the Budget, which means soon it will be free for all. After meeting Mr Mukherjee, the MPs claimed that he had assured them that Telangana "was not a closed chapter".

Now the Congress MPs are targeting Union Minister for Home Affairs P Chidambaram and the State Governor ESL Narasimhan. They have already submitted a letter to the Prime Minister seeking the removal of the Governor. They want him to be replaced by a neutral person, arguing that he is misleading the Union Government about the actual state of affairs in the State. Their real worry is that if President's rule is imposed in the State then the Governor will have a significant role to play in guiding the Union Government. Naturally, Mr Chidambaram is being blamed for failing to call the all-party meeting on the Srikrishna Committee report despite postponing it from January-end to second week of February.

What should be of concern to the Congress is that the main Opposition, Telugu Desam Party, is likely to change its earlier stand on the Telangana issue as it wants to shed its anti-Telangana tag. During the Budget session of the Andhra Pradesh Assembly, the TDP would like the State Government to adopt a resolution demanding that the Union Government introduces a Telangana Bill in Parliament. It is not clear as to why the TDP has changed its stance: Is it because a bifurcation is inevitable or it is confident that the UPA will not carve a separate State. But what appears certain is that the TDP intends to derive political mileage by taking an aggressive stand.

The Congress has to tackle the situation with great sensitivity. After all, the State has seen two bloody agitations — the Andhra agitation and the Telangana agitation in the early 70s. The Congress MPs from both the Telangana and Seema-Andhra regions are anxiously watching. The problem is that the Congress leadership is faced with the Hobson's choice. How long it can prolong taking a decision on the issue is anybody's guess. But the sooner it finalises the better as the patience of the MPs and the MLAs is running out.







The abduction of functionaries of the state or the killing of security personnel or the boastful declaration of the liberated Red Corridor may garner enough publicity for gun-wielding Maoists but such strategies will definitely not help in achieving their goal of social transformation.

The society has changed a lot since the first Maoist uprising took place at Naxalbari in West Bengal in mid 1960s. New social challenges have emerged in the country over the last 50 years. The Maoist leadership has failed to demystify the complex and contradictory dialectics of social reality because leaders of the Maoist movement — be it Kanu Sanyal and Charu Majumdar during mid-1960s or Kishenji of today — have kept themselves away from the theory and praxis of Karl Marx.

Since Maoists in India do not really follow the philosophy of Karl Max, they have neither analysed nor understood the inherent flaws that characterised the Telangana People's Armed Struggle led by the Communist Party of India just after India got independence. The Communist Party of India abandoned the path of armed struggle because it realised after the withdrawal of peasants' struggle in Telangana that armed revolutionary struggles are completely counterproductive, even redundant, in India because people have accepted the politics of ballot.

Indians, since they actively participate in the electoral process, believe that democratically elected leaders will bring about social changes in the country. Maoists, on the other hand, have failed to understand that the level of social consciousness of the people, including the deprived, have undergone a sea change because of the ongoing democratic process.

Unlike Maoist leaders who prefer to fight guerilla wars, leaders of the Communist Party of India and the Communist Party of India (Marxists) have joined the mainstream politics, got democratically elected, formed Governments in West Bengal, Tripura and Kerala and have impacted national politics by their presence in Parliament.

The Governments ruled by Communist parties have successfully undertaken land reforms and restructuring of agrarian class relations. The Communist movement in India has brought together the peasantry, the urban working class and the lower middle-class intelligentsia on the same platform and have successfully launched struggles for better service conditions of workers and progressive legislation on social security.

This underscores the fact that Indian democracy provides enough political space for launching struggles for the rights of different social groups, including the proletariat. Therefore, the basic failure of Maoist leadership lies in the fact that they have completely misread the implications of democracy.

Further, Maoists are wrong in believing that struggles for the rights of tribals can be successful without a broad social platform. This is particularly true in a democracy like India, which is socially, politically and culturally diverse and where forming alliances with multiple social groups to achieve common goals is the norm. Precisely, this is the reason why Maosists lack any broad mass support.

Since Maoists do not Follow Karl Marx, they have not learnt the basic tenet of revolution — that lessons have to be learnt from every failed social struggle. Karl Marx declared in 1848 that the spectre of communism haunts Europe. But after its failure, he critically re-examined his theory on revolution.

Further, Maoists in India must realise that following Mao Tse-tung's ideology will not help because a Long March, the central event in the Chinese revolution, is not possible in India as the Indian society and state are fundamentally different from that of Mao's China. Left parties in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Philippines, Burma and other countries, who are influenced by the Maoist ideology, have failed to achieve any success because they wanted to replicate Mao's revolution without understanding a simple fact that revolutions cannot be copied. Same holds true for Maoists in India.

In India, political leaders, since they are elected by the people, can claim legitimately that they represent the people and work for them. A competitive democratic politics provides an opportunity for political alternatives to contest against one another by mobilising social constituencies. Alterative levels of social consciousness can emerge and have emerged through democratic social struggles. But Indian Maoists are adopting short cuts to revolution because launching democratic struggle for people's rights requires a very sustained and patient political activity.

That Maoists in India are victims of serious limitations of their own theory was exposed during the recent 'hostage crisis' in the State of Odisha. The gun-wielding Maoists have witnessed how the poor tribals in Malkangiri turned hostile because of their deep sense of anger against the abduction of a popular district Collector. Maoists have to accept the serious limitations of politics of gun, in a functioning democracy like India. In fact, because of their slogan that 'revolution flows from the barrel of a gun', majority of landless agricultural labourers, marginal farmers, millions of deprived in rural and urban India have kept themselves away from Maoists ideology.









Adrenalin has been injected into the ongoing ICC cricket World Cup by two matches in particular. The India-England high-scoring tied game last Sunday - only the fourth tie in World Cup history - had cricket lovers on the edge of their seats. And then minnows Ireland pulled off an incredible victory over England in what was the highest successful run-chase since the inception of the tournament - England had scored a formidable 327 batting first. Both games have been great advertisements for the 50-over format.

With the advent of T20, many had predicted a slow death for ODIs. However, the cricket that has been on display at the World Cup provides evidence to the contrary. The relevance of ODIs, positioned nicely between T20 and Test cricket, can no longer be denied. As opposed to hammering the ball at any cost within a limited lifespan that T20 favours, ODIs emphasise classical cricketing skills and permit the sophistication and nuance that lovers of the game enjoy. And they don't stretch into five days, which can be unduly demanding of the attention span of the average sports fan today.

This is precisely the reason that the decision of the ICC to make the next World Cup in 2015 a 10-nation tournament needs to be reconsidered. The move effectively locks out the associate member nations from cricket's marquee event. According to cricket's apex administrative body the 50-over format is more suited to top teams while the minnows can try their hand at T20 - the ICC has added four extra spots to the T20 World Cup as compensation. Such a hierarchical approach will hamper cricket's development. Denying associate member nations the chance to play against the best teams and at the highest level will destroy whatever little progress that has been made in spreading cricket to new markets. It also discounts the potential of current associate nations.

The minnows of today could easily be the giants of cricket tomorrow. Ireland's triumph over England in this World Cup and its victory over Pakistan in the last edition suggest a sound foundation for Irish cricket. This needs to be encouraged. Similarly, Bangladesh's journey to Test status and its commendable performance in the last World Cup - which included a win over India - must be promoted. Sri Lanka too were once considered minnows - they didn't win a single match in the 1987 World Cup. But the 1996 World Cup winners are a cricketing powerhouse today. The joyous uncertainties of cricket are too great to build oligarchies. The ICC must pursue policies to expand the game and include greater international participation.







Freedom movements across the Arab world indicate that people in Arab countries are finally freeing themselves from fear. But Pakistan is travelling in the opposite direction, with a pall of fear spreading over the nation following the murder of politicians standing up for free speech and the rights of minorities.

The assassination of federal minister of minority affairs Shahbaz Bhatti comes just a little more than a month after Salman Taseer, governor of Pakistan's Punjab province, was killed by his own bodyguard. Two conclusions can be drawn from the murders of two of the staunchest opponents of the draconian blasphemy laws in effect in Pakistan.

First, it's a chilling message from extremists to liberals, democrats and minorities that dissent from the prevailing dispensation will not be tolerated. And the second is that the civilian administration lacks either the will or the means - or both - to stop the extremists.

That the government could not ensure the safety of one of its own ministers in the national capital is a testament to its vulnerability. Concessions to radical groups for political reasons have created a situation wherein those groups now orchestrate the public mood, narrowing the administration's options.

A large part of the blame for this must go to the Pakistani military. If the government had the army's backing, it would still have the strength to control the situation. But General Ashfaq Kayani seems to be more inclined to persist with the military and ISI's long-standing policy of fostering and utilising faith-driven radicalism for their own purposes.

If they do not reverse course, and swiftly, they may learn the same lesson that the civilian administration already has. After a point, it is no longer possible to use such forces; they use you.








In 2005, world leaders unanimously and solemnly declared that where governments were manifestly failing in their sovereign duty, the international community, acting through the United Nations, would take "timely and decisive" action to honour the collective responsibility to protect people against atrocity crimes. Libya today is the place and time to redeem that pledge.

The UN's record on the Arab world is no less patchy than the West's. Having degenerated into internal security states backed by the US national security state, one after another Arab regimes were politically exhausted and morally bankrupt. It was the UN that, almost a decade ago, provided the moral compass and intellectual leadership with the Arab Human Development Report, written mainly by Arabs themselves. Yet Libya was also elected to the UN's main human rights watchdog.

Even more shameful was the UN's inaction, led by the most powerful countries of the world, in the Rwanda genocide and the Srebrenica massacre. Both happened on Kofi Annan's watch as the top UN official for peacekeeping. When he became secretary-general, his instinctive humanitarianism was stiffened by the memory of these two searing experiences and he pushed for a doctrine to take effective action. With the help of Canada, an international commission formulated the innovative principle of the responsibility to protect, commonly known as R2P. (Full disclosure: i was a commissioner and one of the principal authors of the 2001 report.)

Annan later described R2P as one of his most precious achievements. He used its preventive pillar as a prism through which to mediate the post-election crisis of violence in
Kenya in 2008: our only successful R2P marker to date. Fortunately, Ban Ki-moon has put his full weight behind R2P as well.

The language of R2P refers to state inability or unwillingness to discharge its responsibility to protect as the catalyst to the collective international responsibility being activated. Because it would have been impolitic, we did not explicitly say that the most critical and offensive situation is when the state itself is the perpetrator of atrocity crimes, when the security forces, meant to protect their people, are instead let loose in a killing spree by predatory rulers.

That is the situation we face in Libya. Not satisfied with 42 years of autocratic rule, the erratic Colonel Muammar Gaddafi is using deadly violence to crush and kill his people in open revolt against his brutal regime. He has vowed to fight to the last drop of his blood. The UN should grant him his wish.

R2P provides the normative tool of choice and political cover to deal robustly, promptly and effectively with the threat that Gaddafi poses to his people. Doing so will also help both the UN and the West to cleanse their conscience of the stain of being passive spectators in Rwanda and Srebrenica, and of complicity in privileging stability over freedoms for the Arabs, in effect declaring all of the Arab world as a democracy- and human rights-free zone.

R2P is narrow - it applies only to the four crimes of ethnic cleansing, genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes - but deep: there are no limits to what can be done in responding to these atrocity crimes. In a matching symmetry, support for R2P so far has been broad but shallow. Libya is the perfect opportunity to convert the noble sentiments and words of R2P into meaningful action through deeds.

On February 22, the Security Council issued a press statement calling on Libya "to meet its responsibility to protect its population". The UN Human Rights Council did the same on the 25th while suspending Libya's membership. Ban and his special advisers on genocide prevention and R2P have issued statements warning of egregious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law as well as reminding Libya of its R2P obligations.

On the 26th, the Security Council voted unanimously (Resolution 1970) to impose sanctions on Libya, forbidding the sale of arms and freezing the assets of its leaders. It also referred Gaddafi to the
International Criminal Court (ICC) for breaches of human rights and international humanitarian laws. Trouble is, those who reject the ICC but refer others to it - China, India, Russia, the US - violate natural justice and are guilty of gross hypocrisy.

The crisis in Libya has escalated to beyond the point of return. Calls for restraint are no longer enough. When Gaddafi says that the protesters deserve to die and his son - he who has cultivated an international image of moderation - warns of a river of blood, the world must meet the challenge, not duck it yet again.

Helped by so many Libyan diplomats defecting en masse and joining calls for international intervention, the Security Council must forthwith implement R2P and declare and enforce a no-fly zone - if Libyan officers fly, they die.

For Gaddafi's trial at the ICC to be morally credible, it must be backed by criminal investigations of the foreign banks that have parked his ill-gotten gains in violation of global anti-corruption agreements, and public shaming of Africans who elected Libya to the Human Rights Council and westerners who armed his thugs.

The writer is professor of political science, University of Waterloo, Canada.







Amjad Islam Amjad, 66, is a renowned Urdu poet and dramatist from Pakistan. The former director general of Pakistan's Urdu Science Board, who's also the author of over 40 books, was in New Delhi to participate in celebrations for the Ghalib centenary. He spoke to Meenakshi Sinha on the state of Urdu language in the subcontinent and more:

What is the state of Urdu poetry and mushaira in Pakistan today?

Compared to India, Urdu poetry is very good in Pakistan. That's because Urdu is the first language. Also the continuity of the language right from Deccan to United Province, Central Province and then Punjab has been very good. In the last 100 years Urdu language, culture, drama, poetry and novel have done very well in Pakistan. Just like in India in the 19th century, when Urdu was at its peak in Lucknow, Agra and Delhi, these regions became the cultural centres in Pakistan.

However, the tradition of mushaira is not as strong in Pakistan as it is in India. But i feel the mushairas in India have done more wrong to Urdu shayari because of the tendency of playing to the gallery. Poets in India write as per audience's choice. I know that 90% of the Indian audience cannot even read the Urdu script. They are living off oral traditions of merely listening to Urdu. The pattern of Persian and Arabic forming the base of Urdu has continued in Pakistan, but not in India. In India, the influence of Hindi has changed Urdu from its original form.

So are you saying that Hindi corrupted Urdu?

No. I'm trying to say that in India, Urdu has continued in a different form than in Pakistan. That's because people in India do not know Urdu in its script form. In Pakistan, the language is taught compulsorily till 10th standard. In India, it's not the case.

In India, the Urdu script is in grave danger as it's not taught as much as Devanagari. Any language thrives in its script and if the script of a language is not known or taught enough, then that language loses its life. In Pakistan too children who study in English-medium schools face similar problems as those in India.

But the situation in Pakistan is much better because at least in Pakistani homes - be they Punjabi, Pashto or Baluchi, Urdu is the favoured language of communication.

Do writers touch upon the turmoil in Pakistan and its strained relations with India?

Yes, we do write on such topics. Terrorism too has been a topic for us. Terror is an international phenomenon. But we need to take collective steps to stop this problem rather than blame each other. Else these terrorists will continue to strengthen their resolve.

As for strains between India and Pakistan, there is a very prominent idea amongst intellectuals in Pakistan that the strains between the two countries have their origins somewhere else and not in India and Pakistan.

Today, these two countries are the pawns of the American war industry in a unipolar world. If there will be peace in this region then how would the US run its war industry? Result is that certain sore points between India and Pakistan are given wind by this war industry and one such issue is Kashmir.

If we are left on our own to handle our situation and if the governments of both India and Pakistan including their people meet, then the ideal dreamt by Qaid-e-Azam in 1946 can be achieved and that was wanting to see India and Pakistan to live just like US and Canada, as brotherly neighbours.








The other morning i picked up my copy of the TOI and the National Capital Region (NCR) telephone directory fell on my toes. At least in weight and bulk as it landed on my bedroom-slippered feet it felt like the NCR telephone directory.


This puzzled me. Had the TOI overnight decided to go out of the newspaper business (who reads newspaper now when it's so much simpler and easier to doze on the sofa while a news anchor shouts at you on the TV?) and go into the telephone directory business instead?

But on closer inspection what had squashed my toes was not the NCR telephone directory. Nor indeed was it a telephone directory for anywhere else. What i'd mistaken for a telephone directory was in fact a Property Supplement.

OWN YOUR DREAM HOME! 2,3,4, BHK+SQ Flats, Villas, Deluxe Penthouses, 24x7 Power Back-up. CCTV Security, Club House, Swimming Pool, Jacuzzi, Gym. All Genuine Italian Marble Fittings. Nine-hole designer Golf Course attached. Avail of Hungama Discount offer! HURRY TILL STOCKS LAST!! Somewhere in between the exclamation points was the fine print which revealed that this particular 2,3,4 BHK+SQ DREAM HOME was located in a proposed complex called Whispering Woods, on the Outer Yamuna Expressway in eastern UP.

And the Property Supplement contained hundreds of other such DREAM HOMES. They weren't all called Whispering Woods. Some were called Murmuring Meadows. Others were called Peaceful Pines. But they all had names associated with tranquil, pollution-free Nature. Preferably Nature located not in smelly, dirty old India, but in California, or Florida, or Timbuctoo, or some such exotic locale, whose desirability as a residential address is in direct proportion to its remoteness from the daily desi reality of stray cows and dogs and garbage heaps and potholes and noise and dust and power cuts and dry water taps.

And it's not just TOI that has Property Supplements. All Indian newspapers - or at least all Indian newspapers worth their adspend - have them. And in case you don't buy newspapers (preferring to doze on your sofa while being shouted at by a TV person), not to worry. Property Supplements will still come to you by way of text messages on your mobile phone. BLOOMING BLOSSOMS 2,3,4 BHK. NOIDA XPWY. Rush to BOOK NOW!

It's not just the National Capital Region which is sprouting Dream Homes as though they were magic mushrooms. Dream Homes seem to be cropping up all over the country. And doing so at such a rate that pretty soon there'll be no more country left, just one big huge continuous Dream Home (2,3,4 BHK+SQ) called India (Golf Course attached.)

Attached Golf Courses are the latest indispensable feature of Indian Dream Homes. The average Indian family mightn't be able to afford to buy onions. But no average Indian Dream Home can call itself a Dream Home unless it has a Golf Course attached.

Is it all part of a secret strategy devised by our ministry of defence to thwart the designs of China and Pakistan who, respectively, want to take over Arunachal Pradesh and Kashmir. Pretty silly the Chinese and Pakis will look when they discover that not just Kashmir but Kanyakumari as well, and not only Arunachal but Aksai Chin too has been turned into a Dream Home the Hungama Discount Offer on which lapsed when stocks ran out.

But when the whole country turns into a Dream Home, where will the people go who once lived in what was the country? Simple. They'll move into a Dream Home. I saw such a family today. They'd found their Dream Home on a Gurgaon pavement, where mom, dad and two kids were living with a discarded Property Supplement as their roof. I hoped they'd got the one which featured the Deluxe Penthouse Villa. Golf Course attached, of course.







On the face of it, the Supreme Court's verdict on Thursday against the appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) PJ Thomas may look relatively tame compared to the other recent knocks that the government has been taking incessantly on its chin. After all, unlike the cases of corruption involving former Union minister A Raja in the 2G scam or Congressman Suresh Kalmadi in the Commonwealth Games scam, there is no criminal charge that the court has upheld or prodded the authorities to investigate into. However, precisely because it is not an individual but the government that has been brought to the dock this time, the matter is far more serious and damaging for a government that has been battling serious hygiene issues already.

The Supreme Court has pronounced the government's choice of Mr Thomas and the manner in which he was appointed as illegal. Responding to a public interest litigation questioning the appointment, the court has clearly stated that the institutional and personal integrity of the CVC is vital. In this context, the appointment of Mr Thomas should never have been considered in the first place. With a pending case against him and official recommendations for action to be taken against him, the now departed CVC was neither spotless nor was he given a clean chit. The dissent from the BJP's Sushma Swaraj, who along with the prime minister's office and the home ministry formed the high-powered committee that nominated the CVC, was  not considered. Now the apex court has backed the dissenting voice, adding the decisive point that the committee failed to consider 'relevant material' recommending action against Mr Thomas.

For a government aware of the need to fill the 'ethical deficit' in governance, the larger issue of institutional integrity of the office of the CVC was brushed aside. This is not about harbouring a rotten apple but actually appointing one. The firefighting that has already started could have been avoided. But now, with the horse having already bolted, it is for the government to convince not only the Opposition but also the nation at large whether it chose to ignore the blots on Mr Thomas's CV, or was misled into appointing him in this crucial position. Either way, it has a tough job at hand. The court's verdict could deliver a moral — if not a political — knock-out blow for a government fighting almost every day to look clean.





No, it wasn't just the luck of the Irish that kicked in at the Chinnaswamy Stadium in Bengaluru on Wednesday evening. It was the grit and thwak of Kevin O'Brien, helped generously by teammate John Mooney and the cheers of a post-colonial crowd, that brought about the first real 'upset' in the 2011 Cricket World Cup.

Barring England supporters — and not all English could be clubbed into that category as Wednesday night progressed — everyone was rooting for the men in green (and purple-coloured hair). Coming a World Cup after Ireland beat the Pakistanis in the 2007 tournament in the West Indies, the team from the land of that great cricket enthusiast (with a batting average of 8.75 in first class cricket) Samuel Beckett may be quickly losing its 'minnows' tag.

O'Brien (never to be confused with Pietersen) literally made the pitch a level-playing field as he scored the quickest century ever in a World Cup match with his 113 off 63 balls, eclipsing Australian Matthew Hayden's 101 off 68 in 2007. Ireland is where Sri Lanka was in 1979 when the latter, not yet decorated with Test-playing status, beat India by 47 runs in Manchester.

Wednesday's gargantuan victory against England also leaves a special aftertaste, with all that history between the two countries. Cricket is a forward-looking game, but history is a loud spectator when a turnaround comes. So at the cost of being Irish with an unflagging memory, each of the six sixes that O'Brien struck reminded us of what that Anglo-American gent Winston Churchill had said, "The choice was clearly open: crush them with vain and unstinted force, or try to give them what they want.... Here indeed was the Irish spectre — horrid and inexorcisable."

We think that over a Guinness or two or three or four (Vijay Mallya town closes the bar at the ungodly hour of 11 pm), the Irish may have chuckled over that one.

In the meantime, as India gets ready to meet Ireland on Sunday, all we can suggest is that someone makes a last minute bid for Kevin O'Brien for the IPL. The Irish economy could certainly do with the help from its Indian friends who may have just discovered that the Irish have more than just luck on their side.






The first fashion show I ever went to was John Galliano for Dior in 2002. The spectacle was so extreme, so ridiculous, and the models such genetic freaks that I wrote: "… In wondering why these people [Galliano and his models] are rewarded with great wealth while a tube train driver is not, I consider that perhaps it's a good thing that fashion has found them. Anywhere but here they would be the kind of people you would feel sorry for."

Galliano's drunken anti-semitic outburst, captured on a phone camera, his declared love for Hitler, and his gloating over the supposed gassing of the grandparents of the woman he was berating, has baffled and upset the fashion business. This afternoon Dior announced that he had been sacked and condemned his comments.

Now people are sorry for him, the fashion industry is sending him its love and support and its hope he will find some help. For Galliano, it is generally agreed, is a genius — a creator of extreme beauty. How can this visionary come out with such crude, ignorant, ugly, racist thoughts? One designer told me he assumed he was having a mental breakdown caused by the stress of being at the top for so long.

Galliano will not be the first genius to be an anti-semite: both Ezra Pound and TS Eliot embedded such thoughts in their poetry. But Galliano lives and works in a business in which many of his clients and associates are Jewish. How could he not know better? Perhaps the answer lies in the essence of Galliano's design, and indeed much of fashion itself in the last decade.

His collections have always been about transgression, busting taboos, and he has taken other designers along with him, so you sit in a show and are no longer bothered by the fact that what you are seeing is unwearable. According to fashion journalist Melanie Rickey, for years the industry has pushed Galliano to extremes: And once you are set on a path to break taboos, it is almost impossible to find new ideas.

If you are breaker of taboos, then anti-semitism is only another taboo, no different from any other. It's the saying of the unsayable. It has become the last frontier for those demanding freedom of speech, for whom everything, even the Holocaust, is fair game. Is Galliano an actual antisemite who hates Jews? Who knows what passes through his mind, but by invoking the name of Hitler and gloating about the gas chambers, he is only doing what others have always paid him to do: shock.

Fashion's obsession with transgression, its demand that Galliano shock us even more each season, has played its own part in the drunken bar rant. It has lost sight of women, of our desire to dress well and to be beautiful. It has given us the increasingly desperate and exhausted tactic of taboo-busting instead of our wish to cover our imperfect bodies as pleasingly as we can.





Environment minister Jairam Ramesh doesn't think it should come up in the present location of a densely populated residential area. The Asian Development Bank's Asian Pacific Carbon Fund has dropped it from its aid portfolio.

Also, the residents of 15 south Delhi colonies (numbering nearly 500,000 people) are dead against it. Yet, for some unfathomable reasons, the Delhi government is pushing the Rs 200-crore Timarpur-Okhla waste-to-energy project that is coming up on a 15-acre Municipal Corporation of Delhi plot, a few hundred metres from south Delhi colonies like Sukhdev Vihar, Maharani Bagh and New Friends Colony, near three premier hospitals (Holy Family, Fortis-Escorts and Apollo Indraprastha) and an old age home.

It is being built on land that was seen as a green buffer between the residential areas and a biomedical waste plant set up years ago.

Like many other projects in India, this too began with a public hearing — an eyewash, really — in 2006 when the DMK's A Raja was the Union environment minister.

The Delhi government claims that it had given a newspaper notice for the public hearing (a legal requirement for projects of this size) on December 17, 2006, but no resident of the area attended the meeting. Residents, however, tell a different story. They allege that the public notice was drafted in a manner as to conceal the fact that 2,050 tonnes of municipal solid waste would be burnt everyday to generate 16 MW of electricity.

Later a Right to Information (RTI) petition found that only a few people attended the hearing: an engineer from the project proponents, the Delhi Pollution Control Committee, and a department clerk.

Alarmingly, the Environment Impact Assessment Report of the project, which formed the basis of the clearance, has since gone missing. Today, the case is in the Delhi High Court and will come up for hearing on March 14.

Interestingly, there's a Supreme Court ban on such waste-to-energy plants and the court has allowed only five pilot projects to test their viability. The one under construction in south Delhi, a private-public partnership between the Delhi government and Jindal Ecopolis, is not one of those pilot plants.

Yet, at the Delhi High Court, the state  government touted this project as one. But replying to an RTI question, the Union ministry for renewable energy replied that it's not one of the five pilot projects okayed by the apex court.

While the government and the company say that there are no health hazards from the project, it is well known that all municipal waste combustors, regardless of what technology they use, release a number of pollutants including cadmium, lead, dioxin, sulfur dioxide, hydrogen chloride and nitrogen dioxide.

Dioxin and furans are toxic and they tend to persist in the environment for generations. Studies of human populations living near incinerators and of compounds released indicate that incinerators are associated with numerous health problems, especially in children and other vulnerable populations. These health problems include nerve damage, delayed development, birth defects, brain damage, respiratory and cardiovascular ailments, and cancer.

Then there's the issue of plastics: the residents feel that complete elimination of plastics is impossible and they would be burnt as part of fuel to attain the desirable calorific value for the project during operations. This, they feel, will directly expose the communities to highly toxic pollutants. In fact, the Municipal Solid Waste Rules, 2000, rules say it's illegal to incinerate chlorinated plastics (like PVC) and wastes chemically treated with any chlorinated disinfectant.

Cleverly, the government has used the climate change shield as a cover for the project and termed it as a renewable project. But annexure A of the Kyoto Protocol says that waste incineration is a greenhouse gas-emitter!

These are some of the serious questions that need to be answered. But as things stand now, the government refuses to remove its earplugs as residents run pillar to post for a fair hearing.




Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and home minister Palaniappan Chidambaram could have saved themselves considerable embarrassment if they had not hastily appointed Polayil Joseph Thomas, one of the seniormost officers of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS), as the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) on September 7. They would have saved the UPA government the ignominy of having the Supreme Court quashing Thomas' appointment to an important and sensitive constitutional post on the ground that it was "illegal".

To say that the government was unaware of the allegations pending against Thomas (irrespective of their veracity) is an admission of negligence and worse. To claim that there is nothing wrong in appointing a person to the post of CVC against whom criminal charges have been levelled on the plea that one out of four MPs have similar charges against them (as Thomas' lawyer KK Venugopal argued in court) is besides the point. Almost equally irrelevant is the claim made by the outgoing CVC that the corruption case relating to imports of palmolein pending against him in a Kerala court was a result of political rivalry between the state's former chief minister

K Karunakaran and its current chief minister VS Achuthanandan.

What is worse is that by riding roughshod over the dissenting view expressed by the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, in a three-member committee, the majority (Singh and Chidambaram) may have believed they were adhering to the letter of the law. But they certainly did not adhere to its spirit. Given the fact that there was no unanimity in the panel to select the CVC — even if one assumes that Thomas was not guilty of any wrongdoing — the government could have easily avoided the unseemly controversy by selecting one of the two other IAS officers shortlisted, namely, Bijoy Chatterjee, former secretary, department of chemicals and petrochemicals or S Krishnan, who retired as secretary, fertilisers, as had been suggested by Swaraj.

A Supreme Court bench headed by Chief Justice SH Kapadia rejected the government's contention that vigilance clearance granted in 2008 was the basis for empanelment of Thomas. More importantly, the apex court pointed out that the government had not focused on the "larger issue" of the institutional integrity of the office of the CVC and not just the "personal integrity" of an individual. The problem in this case was that the government was not perceived to be above board. Even if Thomas was not the top bureaucrat in the department of telecommunications (DoT) when the alleged spectrum scam occurred, the point simply is his appointment raised a number of doubts about the government's intentions.

The office of the CVC was conceived as the apex vigilance institution in the government that is supposed to be free of control from any executive authority. The CVC is meant to monitor all anti-corruption activities relating to government bodies and it is also supposed to advise various authorities on "planning, executing, reviewing and reforming" all activities related to anti-corruption vigilance. After the Central Vigilance Commission Act was passed in 2003, the following year, the government passed a resolution on "public interest disclosure and protection of informers" by making the CVC the "designated agency to receive written complaints for disclosure on any allegation of corruption or misuse of office and recommend appropriate action".

In 1993, the Supreme Court directed the government to ensure that the selection of the CVC should be made by a three-member committee comprising the prime minister, the home minister and the leader of the Opposition. It stated that the selection of the CVC should be made from a panel of "outstanding civil servants and others with impeccable integrity". The Central Vigilance Commission Ordinance of 1998 — and the bill introduced in Parliament later — confined the selection of the CVC to a "panel of civil servants" alone while the phrases "outstanding" and "impeccable integrity" were not included.

The government's intentions were questioned because Thomas was appointed as the CVC at a time when the UPA appeared reluctant to expedite the inquiries into the spectrum scam and ask the then communications minister A Raja to put in his papers (which he was subsequently forced to). The Opposition had alleged that Thomas was chosen because he "secured" a note from the law ministry while he was DoT secretary that argues that the allocation of spectrum was part of official "policy" that cannot be questioned either by the CVC or the Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India.

The response of the law ministry to the DoT's queries, quoting various Supreme Court rulings, contended that the CVC, the CAG and "other watchdogs no doubt play a very significant role in any democracy, but they being constitutional/statutory functionaries cannot exceed the role assigned to them under the Constitution or law". The response added: "Even the courts refrain from questioning the wisdom of the government in policy matters, unless the policy decision is patently arbitrary, discriminatory or mala fide."

The DoT note to the law ministry on the spectrum allocation issue moved with remarkable alacrity last year between August 10 and 12 from official to official before the signatures of Raja and Thomas were appended. Within a day, on August 13, the law ministry responded to the DoT's queries. Such expeditiousness is hardly the hallmark of the Indian bureaucracy.

Be that as it may, in appointing Thomas as the head of this important anti-corruption body, the government goofed up badly and is now having to repent.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is a journalist, educator and commentator.

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






The Supreme Court on Thursday struck a blow for Indian democracy. It quashed the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, and thereby returned institutional integrity to the office. Thomas's appointment had been controversial from the very beginning. In fact, apart from the 1992 palmolein imports case that has compelled this reversal, Thomas, as a former telecom secretary, had already offered to recuse himself from investigations into the 2G spectrum allocation, possibly the biggest case that would have been overseen by the Central Vigilance Commission on his watch. It is, therefore, arguable how long the UPA government could have managed to defend his continuance in office. Nonetheless, the manner in which it sought the facts of the case and now the clarity with which it explained the judgment, the SC has reversed the corroding effect of the Thomas controversy on the office. It has, more importantly, demonstrated our democratic capacity for self-correction, with institutions making up for, or checking, the lapses of the others.

A certain arrogance coloured the executive's refusal to reckon with how indefensible Thomas's appointment was. That is perhaps why the government continued to portray the controversy as one born of politics, not of an institutional error. Now, the SC has confirmed that a consensus on who to recommend for the CVC's office is not mandatory in the high-power committee of the prime minister, the home minister and the leader of the opposition. Otherwise, it pointed out, the requirement would amount to giving any one person a veto. By doing so, the court cleared the question before it of political overtones and addressed the legality of the appointment. The recommendation for Thomas's appointment made by the committee, it said, did not consider the relevant material (the palmolein case) and so "does not exist in law".

There has been enough controversy over whether or how that relevant material was considered by the committee, and the court's strictures must yield a clear account from the government about how Thomas's fact-sheet before the committee may have been so sparse — and how a committee with the prime minister could be so insufficiently informed. It cannot be business as usual when the executive invites this ringing stricture from the court: "No government authority focused on the larger issue of institutional integrity of the office of the CVC while recommending the name of Thomas." This should be a humbling moment for the Centrl government, but in the blame-calling let's not miss it for what it is too: an assertion of our democratic resilience.






There is, regrettably, no surprise that Gustav Baldauf chose to resign as Air India's chief operating officer. A zealousness to micro-manage the "national carrier" is too much a part of the Central government. Indeed, by issuing a show-cause notice to Baldauf for stating just that — that the government played "too prominent a role in the airline" — Air India's management proved just that. When Baldauf, an Austrian national, was inducted into the airline, it was seen as a faint signal by some that perhaps this time the government was thinking out of the box and was committed to reviving the airline's fortunes. The reason for his exit should extinguish any lingering optimism. The development, however, does frame the issue as it is: is it worth this country's finances to keep pouring good money for the uncertain benefits of having a "national carrier"? After the frivolousness of this latest crisis, can we finally acknowledge that incremental steps of new hires and periodic bailouts will not restore the leaking flagship to any semblance of financial health?

Those questions are validated by the allocation, in the Union budget announced this week, of Rs 1,200 crore to Air India. That's Rs 800 crore short of demand made to the Central government. Indeed, in Civil Aviation Minister Vayalar Ravi's estimate, it needs Rs 10,000 crore more. But for a country that is now looking to adopt different mechanisms to ensure adequate outcomes and efficiently targeted subsidies, such allocation and such future estimates should strike anyone as unduly wasteful. That there is doubtful benefit to the public by these regular infusions of cash was brought out recently when the Directorate General of Civil Aviation released data for domestic air traffic in January. Air India's domestic wing had slipped to fourth place. Jet, Kingfisher and IndiGo each flew more passengers than Air India, that too by a large margin. The DGCA's figures also showed that Air India reported low occupancy and the lowest on-time figures. If this were any other company, its shareholders would have seriously reconsidered their investment.

But, of course, Air India is not any other airline. An anachronistic pride in a "national carrier" — a notion exploited by unions and the ministry — has meant that any movement on a sensible disinvestment plan has been averted. The notion has also, all too wastefully, nourished political support for reviving the airline without demanding of the management a rational case for more funds. The market clearly is not in awe of a "national carrier". It is time we politically junked the idea too, and thereby created the conditions for a realistic appraisal of what to do with a problem called Air India.






The political play over Telangana displays certain odd, disturbing tendencies. The situation that compelled the setting up of the Srikrishna Committee — tactical as well as violent aggression on the streets of Andhra to put pressure on the Centre — is now slowly returning to the state, almost two months after the panel had made its recommendations on the feasibility of a separate state of Telangana. It should now be clear that the Centre cannot allow the situation to drift. Having given the appearance of caving in to the TRS's passive-aggressive tactics in December 2009, and thereby provoking anxiety in other parts of the state, it has to now reclaim the middle ground by using the committee's very useful blueprint for negotiations with different strands of opinion.

The committee has laid out six available options, including the status quo, a united Andhra with an empowered Telangana council and a separate state of Telangana. It does not presume to decisively privilege one option over the others, and provides a wealth of detail in investigating different scenarios. Moving forward — towards a new administrative set-up, a new state, or simply restoring normalcy within the status quo — is a political project. The Telangana movement has a long history, and its political nature has changed over time. The Congress, which has a majority in the Andhra Pradesh assembly and which also has a majority of the MPs in Lok Sabha from the state, is obviously wary of doing anything that could precipitate a divide within its legislature party. But given the adjournments forced by its MPs in Lok Sabha last week on the subject, which seemed to take party leaders by surprise, inaction too cannot be an option.

It is crucial to establish order and stability and not let parts of the state descend into yet another cycle of violence. The Centre had said that it would look into the issue after the Union budget was presented. Home Minister P. Chidambaram has also stated that the government is studying the Srikrishna panel's report and will convene a meeting of parties from Andhra Pradesh on the Telangana issue only when all of them are ready to give their views. The process should begin at the earliest. All the stakeholders should show a maturity to resolve the issue and in the meantime refrain from holding the state hostage to political blackmail.







When Steve Jobs, dressed as ever in a black turtleneck, appeared on stage at the release of Apple's new iPad2, the fevered techies in the audience responded with the ecstasy of millenarian cultists witnessing a visitation from their prophet. Partly because this was, indeed, something of a second coming from a man who specialises in them: Jobs was on medical leave, and a fortnight ago an American tabloid had declared, based on a couple of photographs, that he had six weeks to live. But partly it was because the metaphor is a little too real; Apple does indeed inspire cultish fanaticism, and Jobs cultivates a prophet-like mystique.

There is much truth, these chosen gadgeteers will tell us, to the Apple legend. Are not their devices radically imaginative? Is not their style coolly original, their corporation warm and soulful, their standing in the tech and business world well-earned and, indeed, divinely ordained? Are they not hipster outsiders, their virtue encapsulated in the first Mac ad from 1984, where a blonde runner sprints through a room of drab PC clones?

The answer to all these questions is: No. In fact, I will go further; in my estimation, Apple is evil.

Partly this is merely a distaste for their fabled aesthetic. You see the stripped-down glossy curves of an iThing and sigh with desire. I look at it and see black-and-brushed-titanium fascism. Sensible people can differ about this, although in this case you may not be being sensible, desire does that to people.

Yet there is more to the company's design sensibility than meets the eye. Their sleek, uniform hardware, from which everything they have deemed inessential has been ruthlessly excised, runs software which reflects a similar customisation-is-for-dummies approach. Hardware and software alike are control-freakish, requiring you to do everything through iTunes, making it impossible to bypass Apple's control of every programme without hacking into the system, refusing to give you an

extra button on your mouse — that right-button that every PC user, whether Windows or Linux, knows can double your productivity. There's a good chance that this reflects Jobs' own sensibilities; he has a near-obsessive fear and loathing of buttons among other things. (Better known to all of us by its medical name, koumpounophobia.) This plays into how Apple does things in surprising ways — lifts in most Apple stores don't have buttons, stopping automatically at all floors, for example. And, of course, it explains why Jobs is always in a black turtleneck.

For some reason, it isn't obvious to everyone how this totally upends the Apple-is-cool marketing strategy. It's hardly cool and grown-up to trust your phone and your books and your online life to a bunch of programmes and devices that control-freakishly treat you like a kid. (Even those iPhone icons, cutesey and big and colourful, look like things you can distract babies with.)

For Apple, while the nanny-state act might be born of their corporate culture, it is sustained because paternalism makes cold business sense. Not just in any touchy-feely way, in that we wind up trusting Apple to ensure we never install anything that crashes our Mac or our iPad. Though there's something of that, too, the main reason is because if Apple controls the hardware and the operating system, they control your online behaviour. If they control your online behaviour, they control what you buy — and if they control what you buy, they can name the cut they'll take.

The buzzword for this that you need to know is "ecosystem". What every tech company wants — Microsoft, Amazon, Google, Nokia, even BlackBerry makers RIM — is a system where everything plugs into everything. Their operating systems only work with tailor-made applications. Users want more applications. So developers have to write for their operating system to get money from users — and thus users have to buy their devices. Apple, however, takes it to another level as compared to the others, especially poor old don't-be-evil Google, which tries to keep as much as possible open-source and accessible, and whose Android ecosystem is thus hopelessly muddled. Apple ensures that the prices that you pay for content have to be paid through them, which means that a company that makes the hardware winds up profiting off those who create the content.

In the lead-up to the iPad2 launch, this strategy was again made explicit. On February 15, Apple announced that Apple would take 30 per cent of the subscription fee if you subscribe to anything on the iPhone, iPod or iPad — newspapers, for example, or TV shows. Bad enough — except that the company made it worse, typically, by adding that if any developer or content provider sold, on his own website, a cheaper alternative subscription, their iWhatever access would be withdrawn. Ouch. Nor can you try anything before you buy it — Jobs doesn't do "shareware". Unsurprisingly, newspapers and publishers are whimpering, terrified that in Jobs' brave new world, whatever profits Western content creators have been able to retain in the digital age will vanish into Apple's capacious balance sheet.

They are right to fear. After all, that balance sheet is bloated, already, at the expense of the music industry. A report from European trade unions last year predicted a million creative jobs would vanish in the music industry in five years, thanks to the digital music-iPod era, in which once you fork out an enormous amount for an iPod, you feel you never have to pay for music again. (Unless it's off iTunes, where a big chunk of the profit goes to Apple anyway.) And the rest of us should worry, too: a system in which only hardware-makers profit off creative content is simply not sustainable.

Which is why I find it easy to resist the lures of an iWhatsit, no matter how enticingly the bitten-into

Apple logo glows at me. If I take another bite off the Apple, I'm just asking for eternal damnation.

Yes, they're evil. But it isn't that which will end their reign of shiny terror. No, what will is this: popularity. For a brand which is driven on an image of cooler-than-thou snobbery, Jobs took totally the wrong tack at the iPad2 launch, stressing its dominance of the segment. Dude: one day Bill Gates will remake your "1984" ad, but this time with a bunch of hypnotised apple-eyed people in a big room staring at a screen which features you releasing another

self-congratulatory marginal update. Twenty-six years on, Apple is the big turtlenecked gorilla, all the others are plucky outsiders. And, unless you're Roger Federer, you can't be cool when you're number one.









Five states are set to elect new assemblies by the middle of May. And many politicians assume that the UPA alliances have an edge in West Bengal, Kerala and Assam. Either way, the verdict in these three states is unlikely to impact the government in Delhi.

In Tamil Nadu, however, a negative vote for the UPA could portend a shift in alliances at the Centre. And, as of now, the outcome in Tamil Nadu is anyone's guess. To the rest of the country it might appear that the DMK, bruised by daily reports of the 2G spectrum scam, with former telecom minister A. Raja cooling his heels in jail and a squabbling and dysfunctional first family, is at a major disadvantage. But the ruling party of Tamil Nadu, despite its idiosyncrasies, has a lot going for it as well. The DMK's numerous populist measures and welfare schemes, from free bicycles for families, bread and eggs for schoolgirls, TV sets for every family and a fairly effectively administered NREGA have won it goodwill, especially amongst rural voters.

Conventional political wisdom in Tamil Nadu was that victory depended largely on which side put together a more effective alliance. The poll arithmetic worked on the assumption that both the AIADMK and the DMK have somewhere between 25 and 30 per cent of the vote to begin with. It is the additional votes from allies which determine the outcome. Usually, the Dravidian party which allied with the Congress had the edge. Despite being reduced to an also-ran party in Tamil Nadu politics, the Congress, nevertheless, still retains some 10 per cent of the total vote.

The DMK has joined forces not just with the Congress, but also the PMK, which has a loyal following among Vanniyars. The PMK periodically switches camps between the DMK and the AIADMK and was considered an accurate electoral weathervane until it sullied its record in the 2009 parliamentary poll by teaming up with the AIADMK and drawing a blank.

But traditional poll calculations do not take into account a new phenomenon this time. Matinee idol Vijayakanth has been drawing huge crowds, and his DMDK party will cut into the votes of all others. Many feel Vijayakanth could be a game-changer in a state tired of the same old political faces. In the 2006 assembly polls, if Jayalalithaa and Vijayakanth had gone together, their vote share would have been more than the DMK-Congress combine in 65 constituencies.

Jayalalithaa and Vijayakanth together could prove a formidable combination. The autocratic Jayalalithaa, who once ruled the state single-handedly, has had a long spell in the wilderness, and knows that this is her last chance for a comeback. Vaiko's MDMK, an unabashed supporter of Tamil Eelam, is once again with the AIADMK. In the coastal belt with some 40 assembly seats, the DMK may have to pay a high price for the general perception that it did not do much to protect Tamil interests in Sri Lanka. The CPI and CPM are also with Jayalalithaa, as is Sharath Kumar, who has a sizeable following in the Nadar community.

Jaya TV has gone to town on the 2G spectrum scam, with debates and profiles of the colourful key players, from Niira Radia and A. Raja to Kanimozhi, and with background explainers on the controversial companies which gained from Raja's largesse. Corruption as an issue is gaining momentum in the towns, if not in the countryside.

But more than corruption, what could work against the DMK and the Congress is the deep divide within the parties. M. Karunanidhi is 86, and the members of his family are weighing their options in a post-Karunanidhi era. Elder brother M.K. Alagiri is deeply resentful that his father has appointed younger brother M.K. Stalin as heir-apparent. Alagiri has the control of the organisation in southern Tamil Nadu, the DMK stronghold. Jayalalithaa's clout is greater in northern Tamil Nadu. Step-sister Kanimozhi has gotten a cold shoulder from both Stalin and Alagiri, who feel she landed the party in a soup by aligning with Raja. Sophisticated cousins Dayanidhi and Kalanidhi Maran have come to own a formidable business empire, and are accused of being more comfortable in the company of the Congress than the DMK that built them up in the first place.

The Congress, too, is faction-ridden. Leaders like G.K. Vasan, P. Chidambaram, K.V. Thangabalu and Jayanthi Natarajan have separate camps and each tries to undercut the others.

Seat-sharing between the DMK and Congress has yet to be finalised despite three rounds of discussions. The Congress, which for years resented Karunanidhi ignoring them in power-sharing, now wants its pound of flesh, using the 2G scam as a lever. Perhaps, more than corruption, a strong anti-incumbency sentiment and the deep divisions within the two main allies could prove to be the undoing of the UPA in Tamil Nadu.







The office of the Central Vigilance Commissioner is most important, in its task of overseeing the functioning of people in public office and tackling corruption wherever it is found. It is the crucial body entrusted with combating corruption. In that context, this turn of events — the Supreme Court having to strike down P.J. Thomas's appointment — is indeed tragic.

The person for the job must possess impeccable integrity, and be utterly beyond suspicion. There is no dearth of such people in our country, who can answer to all these requirements.

The hawala judgment was significant in its spelling out the ways in which probity in public life should be enforced. The office of the CVC was taken note of, as was that of the director of the CBI. The requirements for these posts were clearly indicated, chief among them being that they should be insulated from external influence. This means that they should have no past to hide, and no future temptation to look forward to, that might cast a shadow of impropriety on their work. It was hoped that these principles would be kept in mind as a lodestar and guide by the appointing authorities.

I do not want to get into the specifics of the P.J. Thomas appointment, but only wish to point out the principles at stake. Anyone who has been named as an accused in a criminal case, where the offence is that of corruption, is not fit to take up the CVC's office. Surely, he was not the only person who could be chosen, there are many candidates with spotless records who fulfil all the eligibility criteria. Personally, I would like to assume that Thomas is innocent, but that is not enough. The presumption of innocence until proven guilty is applicable to a criminal trial, but that logic cannot be employed in selecting someone to fill an office where impeccable integrity is one of the prime requirements, and where there should not even be an iota of suspicion. Thomas has been charged in a case of corruption, and the trial has not ended in an acquittal. The public interest always outweighs private interest, no one is entitled to a job or a promotion. This kind of scrutiny and standards should be applied for selection to offices far smaller than that of the CVC.

It is entirely the judiciary's function to have struck down the appointment, as it is meant to examine any appointment that is challenged, whether it is valid or not. I had no doubt that the court would strike it down. The court's function is to assess whether the candidate satisfies eligibility criteria, and in this case, the relevant factor was "impeccable integrity". I would consider it a necessary qualification for the post. The writ of quo warranto is clear. An appointment to public office has been challenged on the grounds that an essential qualification has not been satisfied. As the hawala judgment clarified, impeccable integrity is a must — and who can confidently assert that a person facing these charges is then qualified for the

office? Unless he is cleared and honourably acquitted, he does not qualify. And it is entirely the court's function to ensure that — if it hadn't done so, it would have been abdicating its responsibility. This is an executive act that has been judicially reviewed.

I was, in fact, surprised at the untenable defence put forth that simply facing a chargesheet does not erode the criterion of impeccable integrity. There are enough people in this nation who are entirely fit to be appointed, why choose someone whose reputation is under a cloud? When the court finds these allegations to be untrue, and the charges are disposed of, then it is a possibility. But as long as the case is pending, the appointment would have left a taint on this extremely significant office. The CVC's office is only one more high office that has been devalued in recent times, and this makes me very sad. The appointment of Thomas as CVC was, therefore, void ab initio; and the Supreme Court has merely made this declaration. The "rule of law" has been upheld and implemented by the Supreme Court, which is its function.

As told to Amulya Gopalakrishnan

The writer is a former Chief Justice of India and was instrumental in the enactment of the CVC Act







I write this open letter after considerable hesitation, not being in the habit of writing such letters to the prime minister. However, recent events have pushed me to do so, to "telling truth to power".

I have been greatly dismayed at the unfair tarnishing of the ISRO image following the media-created controversy on the Devas-Antrix/ISRO agreement. I know that many former colleagues from ISRO — and, doubtless, thousands of its present staff — feel as upset as I do. While the latter cannot speak up publicly, very few of the former (just one or two brave souls) have chosen to do so; others probably want to avoid getting into a controversy.

ISRO, as you well know, has done outstanding work. Its track record of actual achievements is unmatched by any foreign space agency or by other government entities in India. Starting from Vikram Sarabhai's days, it has stayed focused on delivering applications that are relevant to India and developing strategic and other technologies required for these. It is this, rather than the glamour of space, that attracted many of us to ISRO in the first place and kept us motivated through the decades. Much of the country's television broadcasting, telecommunication, weather forecasting and a whole host of remote-sensing applications are powered by ISRO satellites, most of which have been launched by ISRO launch-vehicles. It has contributed greatly to science and brought much pride to the nation through its successes, including missions like Chandrayan. All this has been achieved amidst technology denials, "sanctions" and constraints, within a government system, through teams of highly motivated people of the highest integrity.

It is, therefore, a matter of concern and shame that such an organisation is being given a bad name on the basis of allegations and innuendo. The agreement with Devas, which has triggered this, is a continuation of a long history of ISRO-industry partnerships. It is such engagement with industry that has resulted in tremendous economic benefits from space programme in countries like the US. In the case of Devas, the company came up with the proposal for a new and unique service, which did not exist in India. More importantly, it brought to the table not only technical, market and managerial expertise to implement this, but risk capital. Thus, in many ways, it was a true embodiment of an ideal private-public partnership.

In terms of processes, as far as I know, this agreement went meticulously through every step: a technical assessment by Antrix/ISRO experts, approval by the Antrix board, followed by Space Commission approval. If cabinet approval was not sought for the deal (as reported in the media), the question is whether it was at all required and whether past transponder deals with private parties has gone through any such specific cabinet approvals. The method — of leasing transponders at a fixed price — was no different from that followed for the many TV channels that had earlier sought capacity for broadcasting. There has never been a history of auctions by ISRO (nor, as far as I know, by any global space agency). Satellite spectrum has always been treated differently from that on the ground, and the comparison is not just a case of apples and oranges, but two altogether different species.

Safeguarding India's orbital slots and spectrum allocations in an internationally competitive context, and using the unique capabilities of satellite-delivered services (particularly to remote and rural areas) were important elements underlying the Devas-ISRO project. Breaking new ground technologically and creating new applications of space technology for rural areas and possibly for strategic needs were envisaged as integral parts of this effort. Little understanding or discussion of these aspects has been seen in all the mud-slinging that has taken place.

The media has gone to town with fanciful projections of presumed loss to the government (latching on to the word "spectrum" and exhibiting complete — or wilful ignorance — of the vast differences in satellite and terrestrial uses of spectrum). Apparently, the CAG, with little understanding of the differences, was the cause of much of this. Based on the fact that some of those involved in Devas were former ISRO employees, the media has made insinuations about a "sweetheart deal" — as if ISRO management and its processes are so fragile and malleable as to be swayed by such considerations; or as if experts in space technology can be hired from a municipal corporation. As a matter of fact it was (and, presumably, yet is) ISRO policy to encourage competent experts to become entrepreneurs; in many cases, they have become suppliers to ISRO. Organisations around the world do this, so as to "industrialise" R&D.

It is unfortunate that media now cry "corruption" at every deal, and sadder that the atmosphere in the country is such that most people do believe it to be so. It is reprehensible that media should, with no evidence or even inkling of any specific wrongdoing, imply that there has been corruption in a deal that is completely above board. Apart from implicating ISRO — presumed guilty by the media, and now with the onus on it to prove innocence — innuendos implicitly point the finger to past senior management of ISRO. This is sad and unfair: with weak laws on defamation, there is no real scope for remedy.

In this situation, I feel it was for ISRO authorities and others in government (particularly the latter, given that ISRO would be considered an "interested party") to speak up and make clear that there was no indication whatsoever of corruption and no wrongdoing at any stage, that all procedures had been properly followed and that the agreement had gone through all the due processes. The situation called for an unambiguous statement, based on facts, which could have been verified in quick time. Instead, we had a long delay in responding to media allegations, ambiguous statements at a press conference by the chairman of ISRO (which overshadowed the corrective efforts made by Dr K. Kasturirangan), and then the knee-jerk reaction of immediate announcement of cancellation which — to most people, and certainly to the media — was tantamount to an implicit admission of guilt/corruption.

The deal itself is completely defensible, as is its monetary value. ISRO voluntarily (?) gave up some spectrum in this band, in favour of terrestrial users, some time ago, but yet has a majority of the remaining spectrum (beyond that which would have been used by Devas). Incidentally, there have been no takers over all these years for this (though terrestrial operators — and, therefore, DoT — continue to eye it); nor was there a queue outside ISRO's doors for this space spectrum when Devas made its proposal. As it stands, a cancellation — without any proven wrongdoing — is sending out a negative message to investors. The ostensible reason (strategic needs and societal applications) is unlikely to find any takers amongst professionals who understand the issue.

At a more macro level, apart from the unease such sudden and unilateral action — with no discussion, no attempt at any possible corrective action like re-negotiation — will evoke amongst prospective investors, the whole concept of a public-private partnership will take a beating. Who, now, will come to the government with innovative ideas — which, by definition, cannot go through a bidding/auction process — for a partnership? Who will bring in risk capital for such new ideas? Which official will now be so foolhardy as to approve an agreement for a partnership? Who, in ISRO, will now dare to go to — leave alone seek out — industry partners to implement new applications or develop new technologies?

It is unfortunate that Devas and its professionals, too, have been most unfairly given a bad name in the process. However, I am more deeply concerned about ISRO and how its standing has taken a beating, thanks to a witch-hunting media which sees a crook behind every door (legitimised by the fact that there is a crook behind most doors), politicians who are willing to destroy painstakingly-built institutions to score political points, and a government that seems unwilling to stand up and defend the upright.

I would urge you, not only as prime minister, but equally as one of the most respected persons in the country, to defend and restore the reputation and image of ISRO. I would request you to persuade politicians across party lines (including ministers from your own party) to stop making baseless allegations that demean ISRO and its past leaders. There is little that you can directly do about the media, but the right words from you can correct the falsehoods that are being propagated. The committee that has been set up will, I am sure, determine if there was any "scam" at all, and hopefully end the vague and damaging generalisations that sully and demoralise a vital national organisation. If everything was above board, it will be interesting to know what interests — who and why — triggered this and with what intent.

My sincere apologies for inflicting this long letter on you: I would probably not have done so had it been an individual view-point. However, I am reflecting the collective angst of many who are proud to have worked in ISRO or been associated with it in some way, and so have taken it on myself to be the messenger.

In closing, let me add a formal disclosure: I was an independent member of the Devas board for about two years, up to February 9, 2011, and worked in ISRO for over 20 years, up to 1991.

The writer is former president, NASSCOM







As things transpired, it wasn't a Black Sunday but a grey one as India allowed England's shadow to fall between victory and defeat on what had started out as a sunny Bangalore holiday. Moody Monday saw our fortunes fluctuate as Pranab Mukherjee alternately raised and sank our expectations with his budget. Uncle Oscar did likewise to nominees at the Academy Awards. Is it any wonder, then, that Tuesday's TV talkies were all about what had been gained and lost over the previous two days?

Talking about Sunday's match, which we won, then lost, then won and lost again before finally managing to tie, precipitates severe palpitation. So let's discuss Navjot Singh Sidhu instead, who was clearly on the losing side of Cricket Extra (ESPN) after the encounter. When Harsha Bhogle teased him about his predictions, he said, "Who would have given England a hellcat's chance to win?" Certainly not him. Unaccustomed to eating humble pie, he employed his obscure way with words to dig himself out of a hole as, he said, did England during the game: "(They) were in a dark, deep tunnel — and then (they) jumped out of the tunnel." Rather like a hellcat? Apparently, they kept their momentum going by strapping on "skating shoes" to give their team "a boundary in every over". Hmmm.

Sidhu fell into a dark, deep tunnel himself, after he said he would have given Ian Bell out after the LBW referral. Fellow panellists Dermot Reeve and Ian Chappell piled on to him. It became so contentious that Bhogle thought he was a news anchor hosting a discussion — which says as much about news TV as it did about Cricket Extra.

For those viewers who want to enjoy a life without cricket, how about Life Bina Wife (Star Plus)? You will witness an entirely different set of men win or lose the battle against elimination. All they have to do successfully is to rear their children, alone. You feel for the guys who struggle with household chores, kids' tantrums and fancy costumes. On second thoughts, maybe cricket is more fun to watch.

Then there's Pyaar Mein Twist (Star Plus). Average Anmole is married to rich Rekha and that's the problem. Her mother is visiting and wants a bathtub. Bathtub arrives. To Anmole's friends, it looks bigger than the bathroom but to Rekha's brother, it is "smaller than the commode in my house". The sitcom depends on slapstick, but maybe it is better than watching India's bowling attack being smacked around?

Try Chhaje Chhaje Ka Pyar (Sony). It's got several things going for it, not least its setting — Delhi. The capital is a popular Bollywood destination and now it is on the television map. Be it films or soaps, it seems to be a good city to see on two wheels — Rang De Basanti, Do Dooni Chaar, Band Baaja Baaraat and now Chhaje Chhaje Ka Pyar where hero Dhruv is on a mobike. The plot involves two families who live as landlord and tenant on the best of terms and share a terrace. It is up there that tomboyish Ginni and roadside Romeo Dhruv, best friends, fall in love. All resemblance to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai is entirely intended: on Jhalak Dikhla Ja, where efforts to promote Sony's shows see the protagonists dance, Dhruv and Ginni performed to 'Yeh ladka' from Kuch Kuch Hota Hai. So far, the romance is still to bloom, so the serial is lively and amusing. Welcome back, comedy, to mainstream entertainment channels The challenge will be not to take love too seriously, which is what usually happens.

Meanwhile, it's Thursday and if some Dutch courage can help Holland reconquer their former (partial) colony of South Africa, then it will be a special Sunday for India.







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 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 his presidency has been lifted from its troubles by the 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 said 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 Mideast policy then veered this way and that. He struggled to find a consistent tone on Israel. 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 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, 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 its Israel-dictated scepticism.

This is an uprising of Arabs, by Arabs, for Arabs. 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, he restrained the violent initial instincts of the ruling family in Bahrain, and now he is pressing hard to oust Libya's Muammar Gaddafi. If this is the overdue collapse of a rotten American-backed order in the Middle East, it is also one that suggests the postmortems on American power are premature.

I believe 2011, in its passage from Arab rage to Arab responsibility, can be the true antidote to 2001. How can the West help forge the new regional safe house of emergent Arab democracies? Obama must bring the best minds to bear on that question and a related one: How to coax Israel into seizing this moment to seek peace? I am 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.

The New York Times









There's this story of a king who gives a thief a choice of 50 lashes or eating 50 onions. The thief chooses the onions as the less painful option, eats five, feels sick and opts for the lashes instead, gets five lashes and thinks the onions may be less painful … eventually he ends up eating 50 onions and getting 50 lashes. This, in a nutshell, is the story of how the government botched up its handling of the A Raja scam. It arrested Raja but got a bad name since it kept defending him; it looked guilty by opposing a JPC but finally agreed to one; it not just failed to get CVC PJ Thomas to resign, it even defended him. By saying his processing of the file telling the CAG it had no locus standi to examine the Raja scam was merely "processing of a file in a normal routine manner", the government opened itself to the charge it was covering up the Raja scam. It looked even more ridiculous when the Attorney General told the Supreme Court the selection committee (which had the PM, the home minister and the leader of the Opposition) that cleared Thomas for CVC didn't know of the palmolein case against him and Sushma Swaraj threatened to file an affidavit on the matter saying she had brought up the case in the meeting. The ironic part is that while the Congress party was quick to blame Raja for keeping it in the dark while he perpetuated his scam, it has no such defence in the CVC's appointment since the Department of Personnel and Training, which is in charge of the paperwork for the appointment, was under the Prime Minister.

The CVC case also casts a huge shadow over the entire recruitment process since the docket given to the committee had just 3 CVs with nothing in them on how each candidate had done in his previous assignments, leading you to conclude such selection committees are really a sham—Thomas's CV, for instance, was not just quiet on the palmolein case, it never spoke of his role as the telecom secretary. The fact that the judiciary has been allowed to come in and examine executive appointments only because of the government's brazen behaviour in the Thomas case has to be a matter of serious concern.

For Thomas, the future looks cloudy as, apart from the palmolein case, the CBI is now sure to question him on his role as telecom secretary—why did he process the original paperwork to keep the CAG from investigating the scam and why didn't he impose penalties and recommend cancelling of those licences that did not roll out their networks as per the licence? Now that the JPC has been constituted and Thomas is out of the way, hopefully the government won't commit more hara-kiri.





As the din over the goings-on in high-profile financial institutions like Citi and Goldman Sachs and prosecuting the biggest corporate ponzi scheme in history fades, the SEC has another big name lined up. Ironically (or not), the ultimate insider, Rajat Gupta—the first non-American to run McKinsey, former board member of Goldman Sachs and P&G, and the only person to chair the Gates Foundation's panel on global development who has not led a country or at least worked directly for its administration—has been charged with insider trading. These charges are in connection with the high-profile Galleon fund insider trading case, involving Gupta's former business partner Raj Rajaratnam, due to be heard next week. Phone tap records, the SEC says, show that Gupta called Raj Rajaratnam within minutes of the conclusion of several Goldman Sachs and other board meetings, based on which Galleon made trades which resulted in it making millions of dollars in profits or loss avoidance. Gupta's place in the global business hall of fame, so to speak, is undeniable, with a stellar 40-year career, which makes his motivations for such behaviour all the more puzzling, assuming the SEC is able to prove its case, a charge that Gupta denies.

The International School of Business, Hyderabad, has stood by its cofounder through the inquiry and has issued a statement about their belief that Gupta will be exonerated of all charges. This isn't the first time that people connected to the institution—among the top 15 B-schools in the world—have found themselves in the dock over unethical business practices. Anil Kumar, cofounder of ISB, has pleaded guilty on insider trading in the Galleon case. ISB's Dean, M Rammohan Rao who was a board member at Satyam, resigned after the huge fraud in it came to light—Rao also resigned his post at ISB, while claiming he had no knowledge of the scam. Another Satyam board member, Krishna Palepu, also resigned following the scam—Palepu, a renowned management consultant, incidentally teaches corporate governance and ethics at Harvard Business School, Gupta's alma mater. A violation of Reg FD (fair disclosure) has occurred, the media trial is under way and the jury's still out on what constitutes insider trading in this instance. While Gupta's lawyers work at polishing his now tarnished reputation, he might do ISB, already in the midst of a big land acquisition controversy, a big favour by stepping down from his position as chairman of the board, at least until he is cleared of the charges against him.





The Budget makers in Pranab Mukherjee's team have shifted so many goal posts between now and the last fiscal year to arrive at the figures for 2011-12, the most charitable description for the changes is to call them innovation.

They are consistent with the story the finance minister wants to tell the world, which is one of reconciling the impossible demand of meeting a hugely challenging expenditure target with the urgent need to restore fiscal discipline in the government budget.

The aim of the whole exercise was to keep the borrowing plan of the government tied to a level that does not crowd out private investment. Lower borrowing by the government means an easier time for the private sector as it can borrow at lower rates of interest. So, the bond markets were pleased on Monday, when the finance minister set a Rs 3,43,000-crore borrowing target for 2011-12. What has got short shrift is the reliability of many of those numbers and, therefore, the signals for the rate of interest in the rest of the economy.

To achieve the lower scale of borrowing from the market in 2011-12, the finance ministry has instead shifted its actual borrowing plan under a larger umbrella. As the chart shows, in 2010-11, it had planned to borrow 90% of its fiscal deficit from the market, but in the new fiscal year that will be 83%.

Of the new sources the government budget managers have brought into play, the use of T-bills is an innovation that has been introduced this year. The impact of the dicey practice is already visible as it has hardened rates in the shorter end of the market. Going ahead, the larger borrowing will impact even more, while ostensibly keeping the overall market borrowing under a tight leash. In this fiscal, the government mostly used the 91-day T-bills to finance its Rs 10,000 crore of short-term borrowing and next year it will use the longer 364-day T-bills to give a longer time to roll over. The use of short-term papers to finance long-term asset build up is an obvious no-no for any debt plan, the obvious hardening of rates.

But leaving even this aside, the more questionable practice is the impact of the large cash balances in the government system, in a year when the economy was desperately short of liquidity. RBI had to twice resort to open market operations to ease shortage of liquidity in the financial system and keep interest rates down. It is no secret that in the second supplementary demand for grants this year, the government sanctioned itself an enormous Rs 19,812 crore (first supplementary Rs 54,588.63 crore) through Parliament. The sum has obviously not been spent and, as the statement under FRBM laid with the Budget papers in Parliament says, will be used to smoothen the expenditure requirements in early next year. So, the damage to the interest rates from the cash balance is quite evident.

The other innovation introduced by the ministry is the strange practice of sequestering a ways and means advance of a massive Rs 10,000 crore to Food Corporation of India (FCI) for 2011-12. Put in simple language, it means the sum does not show up in the food subsidy bill of about Rs 60,000 crore of the government in the fiscal, as it is repaid in the course of the year. But as it is a borrowing from RBI, the government does pay an interest cost on it.

The basic idea of a transparent borrowing mechanism is to provide a clear signal to the market and, therefore to the economy, of how government finances are being managed. The introduction of lemmas like the FCI ways and means advance only serves to hide the enormous scale of the food subsidy and the need to cut it down.

Incidentally, the government has also estimated, as part of its capital receipts, a Rs 6,000-crore rise in recovery of loans from states and public sector units to Rs 15,020 crore, again for 2011-12. The higher estimated receipt is supposed to be primarily on account of recovery of short-term loans given to FCI for its procurement operations. The statement on the FRBM Act has justified the practice of providing such working capital loan "at market linked rates" as an assistance to FCI that has "helped in reducing (its) reliance on high cost funds". Justifying it as having reduced its interest cost for providing food security, the statement says "this practice will be continued in the coming years".

Since public sector banks in any case have to give directed food credit to FCI at cheaper rates, the government measure has opened up a competition with them that does not get reflected in the market borrowing programme and, to that extent, under-reports the Centre's drag on the sector.

The final piece of the peculiar system of expenditure management tried on by the government, of late, has to be that of petroleum subsidy. Even before the Nandan Nilekani-led panel has given its preliminary report, the FRBM statement explains that the "government has firmly established the practice of providing petroleum and fertiliser subsidy in cash".

For fiscal 2011-12, the government has clearly said it expects the current international prices of crude and other commodities to continue at the current levels. As a result, the total cash subsidy the government will provide to oil companies for the year will be Rs 20,000 crore only, the remaining Rs 3,640 crore going towards related heads.

And we are not even talking about the quite arbitrary division of revenue expenditure into a capital component. It is like a doctor taking upon himself the decision of whether a new born is a boy or girl. The finance controllers can decide the percentage for the year and then work backwards across the numbers—quite elegant.





The French and German governments may be criticised for a lot of things, such as a lack of tact or diplomacy, but in presenting the recent package on measures designed to improve Europe's competitiveness, they cannot be criticised for their sense of economic realism. Europe, after all, is not an island unto itself.

That is why the recent move by Germany and France to provide a sober assessment of specific changes that are required on the road to economic reform ought to have been welcomed widely. That fact that it wasn't says a lot about the games being played by European leaders.

Of course, it might have been more palatable if the Merkel/Sarkozy proposal had been prepared by a group of countries including, say, the Netherlands, Sweden, Poland and others. But should concerns over what ultimately boils down to political cosmetics really matter that much? Would the package have been different in substance?

It was only quite recently that charges were levelled at the German and French governments that they had lost not just the ability, but also the will to move Europe ahead. Their passivity was alternatively interpreted as a consequence of friction between the two governments or as a result of their mutual inability to deal with the tough stuff.

Items such as raising the pension age, having effective public debt limits and sensible wage policies are precisely what needs to be done. None of these are popular measures. But haven't governments been called upon to treat voters as adults and to stop trying to demagogue them with sweet-sounding platitudes?

Against that backdrop, it is hard to fathom that suggestions to raise the pension age, for example, represent an invasion of a country's sovereignty. Setting the correct retirement age ought to be strictly a matter of calculating a nation's own financial resources correctly ­ without resorting to claims that "the Germans (and the French) made us do it."

And yet, we need to remember that the essence of progress on structural economic reform in the EU, to the extent that it has been accomplished, has often been rooted in a variation of the "my neighbour made me do it" argument. In other words, national politicians prefer to present arguments in favour of painful reforms as a function of some European integration process, in whose path they had tried to stand valiantly, but no longer could, unless one's neighbouring country was destined to pass one by.

Other critics have argued that the Franco-German package does not address the root causes of the financial crisis. While they do have a point in this regard, it is at the same time implausible to argue that broadening the package further would have made it more palatable, when the proposal in its current, more limited form is already said to represent a diktat from Paris and Berlin.

Next, how about the claim that the package is an effort to remake Europe in the German image or style? Well, far beyond just Germans, plenty of Dutch, Swedes, Danes, Finns, Poles and others, given the high level of integration of their economies globally, share the sense of economic realism and connectedness to global economic circumstances that is vital to Europe's future.

The British government, for one, hardly suspect of kowtowing to Germany, would appear to support many, if not all of the features of the proposed package in terms of sharpening Europe's competitive edges.

Our business leaders constantly receive signals from other competitors around the world. Receiving those signals on prices, technology trends, etc, we have two choices: we can either ignore them or we can use them to adjust, optimise and refine the way we operate.

If we choose the former path, we ultimately opt for a deindustrialisation strategy. We may feel happy as a lark until it's too late. Opting for the latter path gives us a fighting chance to preserve employment, innovate and maintain, or even advance, our standard of living.

Reducing this fundamental choice to a matter of "Germanising" Europe is regrettable. It ought to be dismissed out of hand if it weren't such a powerful reminder of the lingering attractiveness of playing on stereotypes in order to prevent reforms from getting done.

If we Europeans were more honest with each other, we would find that many European nations already operate in what is labelled the "German" style. The Germans, indeed, would be the first to admit that there is nothing very German about how they operate. It boils down to a simple rule: observe, reflect and adjust, including if and when prodded by your neighbours.

Ultimately, the German economic formula can be boiled down to this: Nothing so much stimulates progress as reflecting about the sources of strength of others. That, however, is a universal insight, there is nothing German about it.

This also makes plain one final point: Whatever shortfalls there may be to the concept of competitiveness, it is a politically effective call on a people to have the courage to do better and try harder than in the past.

The author is director, Institute for the Study of Labor (IZA), Bonn, Germany







By quashing the appointment of P.J. Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner, the Supreme Court has brought to a dignified end a shameful episode that highlighted the United Progressive Alliance government's lack of respect for institutional integrity. The verdict is a serious indictment of the government at the highest level because the selection of Mr. Thomas was made by a panel that included the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister. Adding further force to the severity of the blow is the fact that these two members had overruled what, in the final analysis, turned out to be a valid objection by the third member, the Leader of the Opposition. From the beginning of this litigation, it was clear to everyone but the Manmohan Singh regime that it was defending the indefensible, and that Mr. Thomas, who has been charge sheeted in a corruption case, could not have been made the country's premier watchdog against corruption. Moreover, he had been Telecommunications Secretary just prior to his appointment as CVC. This raised doubt about the impartiality of his supervisory role over the Central Bureau of Investigation, which is investigating the 2G spectrum allocation scam. Yet, with a chutzpah that has now become a hallmark of this ruling coalition — a quality displayed brazenly until judicial intervention jolts it back to its legal senses — the appointment was sought to be justified before the court. The government compounded the amorality of its position by resorting to the legally untenable contention that even the absence of "the full facts" concerning Mr. Thomas before the High Powered Committee did not vitiate the appointment.

By declaring the appointment non est in law, the highest court in the land has served a reminder to the executive that it is not enough to have an institutional mechanism for high appointments but that it should be allowed to function in a credible manner. Mr. Thomas has maintained all along that the conspiracy charge against him in a corruption case — dating back to the 1990s and relating to the import of palmolein by a Congress-led government in Kerala — was a by-product of political rivalry. It is a fact that the proceedings in the trial court were stayed for years by the Supreme Court and revived only recently, following the death of former Chief Minister K. Karunakaran, a co-accused who had obtained the stay. Mr. Thomas will get the benefit of due process and nothing connected with the unsavoury circumstances of his appointment as CVC can be allowed to weaken his defence in the case. However, there is little doubt that he leaves his office with the taint of having clung on to his chair in the face of grave doubts about his suitability, embarrassing questions from the judiciary, and damage to the institution of CVC.





A generation that enjoyed the value of paisa coins will feel a tinge of nostalgia as they shed their hoard of small change over the next four months. The call-in of coins with a face value of 25 paise and less and their planned demonetisation with effect from July 1, 2011 only reflects the changed currency use pattern across all sections of society today. With rupee losing its purchasing power, commerce was already beginning to cold-shoulder the paisa; for the government, the cost-benefit factors involved in minting and keeping them in circulation were strong enough to push for their demonetisation. It is unclear how many of the coins are still actually around. According to the Reserve Bank of India's books, at the end of March 2010, there were 54,738 million "small coins" (which, by definition, include the 50 paisa), adding up to Rs.1,455 crore. The demonetisation of what is virtually "dead money" will enable the RBI to issue currency notes or coins for an equivalent amount as replacement in the monetary system. Should a significant amount of the coins tumble out of jars and piggy banks, the handling of the mountain of small change will turn out to be a challenge for the banking system. But how much of it will surface is a moot question.

There has been concern over whether the consequent rounding off of bills to 50 paise or a rupee at the till would add to inflationary pressures. It will, but its effect can only be marginal. It is for the first time since India shifted to the decimal system in 1957 that coins are being demonetised on such a scale. In the past decades, the worth of the metal content in coins has often surpassed their face value, encouraging their melting for other uses. The ferritic stainless steel coinage of contemporary issue and the aluminium-magnesium coinage introduced in 1964, in place of the nickel and cupro-nickel 'naya paisa' series introduced in 1957, faced the same risk eventually. The minting of 1, 2, 3 and 5 paise coins was phased out in the 1970s, and they have virtually disappeared from currency — even as 10, 20 and 25 paisa coins have become scarce. And rupee coins of 1, 2, 5 and 10 denominations have come since the 1990s in growing numbers. So, time is finally running out for small change. Only four months are left for people to rustle up their coins and take them to the bank for exchange. It is possible that the exercise will excite more interest among coin collectors than the general public.








Less than four per cent Indian Muslim children go to madrasas. So logically, it should make no difference whether Maulana Ghulam Mohammed Vastanvi stays on at Darul Uloom Deoband or is sacked. Yet there is something about the current mohtamim (Vice-Chancellor) that has got the country talking — that has got the country's Muslims talking. The VC's troubled presence at the Islamic seminary has triggered a "tradition versus modern" debate that some have audaciously compared to the exploding Arab unrest. The suggestion is that Indian Muslim society is in aspirational churn and Mr. Vastanvi is a surface symptom.

Consider the questions: Why has the Maulana become a hate figure for some in his community and a sign of hope and uplift for countless others? Why has a Facebook fan club, "Fans of Mo. Ghulam Vastanvi," sprung up for this cleric, when going by his recent record, he ought to have no Muslim supporters, much less an entire fan club? Indeed, what explains the Muslim crowds that gathered to receive this alleged Narendra Modi supporter when he touched down at the Ahmedabad airport recently?

Up until two months ago, not many knew or recognised the Maulana from Gujarat who ran colleges and institutions in the border areas between Maharashtra and Gujarat. Mr. Vastanvi was certainly not among the who's who in New Delhi. In the Capital's theatre of competitive Muslim politics, where a leader's worth was measured by the VIP attendance at his iftaars, the rousing statements he issued, the photo-ops he managed and the crowds he mustered at his rallies, Mr. Vastanvi simply did not count.

Yet the Maulana hit the national stage like a storm. Barely did one digest the information that the new Vice-Chancellor at possibly the world's most influential Islamic seminary was a forward-looking educator and MBA degree-holder, when he turned into a veritable disaster, chased by controversies, hounded by opponents, and forced into a situation where the end seemed imminent. On January 10, 2011, Mr. Vastanvi won the post of rector defeating his nearest rival Arshad Madani, theologist, leader of one faction of the Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, and a member of the powerful Madani clan whose history of association with the Darul Uloom Deoband was part of folklore. The import of the election was not lost on observers: Mr. Vastanvi had, in effect, challenged the entrenched forces at the seminary. Would he survive the backlash?

Less than two months later, on February 23, the same Majlis-e-Shura (the seminary's governing council), which had declared Mr. Vastanvi elected, reconvened to decide his fate. Would the wise men of the council judge him guilty as charged? Or would the embattled VC convince them that the institution stood damaged — not by anything he was perceived to have done but by the wily machinations and politics of his opponents? The Shura put him on hold — the verdict would come from a three-member committee appointed to probe the disturbances that had followed his appointment.

Vicious commentaries

Many sins had been laid at the door of the Maulana, among them his perceived tilt towards Mr. Modi. For the head priest of the uber-orthodox Darul Uloom Deoband to take the wildly unpopular position that Gujarat's Muslims were not badly off, was incredible in itself. If nothing else, Mr. Vastanvi ought to have known that the wounds of the 2002 anti-Muslim pogrom ran deep. The VC subsequently clarified that he could never have condoned the pogrom; he also issued an unconditional apology in the event the perception remained.

But important sections of the Urdu press were not so easily cajoled. They skewered him: stinging editorials, vicious commentaries and full-page advertisements filled up the newspaper pages even as reporters dug up more dirt: At an October 2010 Eid Milan function in Beed in Maharashtra, Mr. Vastanvi had presented a Radha-Krishna figure to a Hindu Minister. Idolatory was sacrilege in Islam and the papers called for statements and fatwas to be issued against the rector. Chain e-mails transmitted the Radha-Krishna image to millions of Muslims across the world.

Just as the drum beats reached a crescendo, Mr. Vastanvi, quite unexpectedly, began to get support — three Urdu newspapers, Hindustan Express, Jadid Khabar and Nai Duniya dissented. The Hindustan Express systematically uncovered the plot against the Maulana. News Editor Shahidul Islam argued that Islam did not permit flogging a controversy when an apology had been offered. He also showed that the alleged Radha-Krishna image was a small, insignificant picture. In the hands of Mr. Vastanvi's opponents, it had morphed into a life-size deity. The English newspapers picked up the cue, and the theme slowly changed from the indiscretions of Mr. Vastanvi to the gang-up against him.

Support for Vastanvi

But the bigger surprise was still to come. At a gathering at Delhi's Ghalib Academy on February 21, some 300 Muslim clerics, skull cap, flowing beards and all, lined up behind Mr. Vastanvi. They were mainly from western Uttar Pradesh, some among them from Deoband, the cradle of conservative Muslim thought. But here they were, defying the stereotype of the obscurantist Mullah and raising their collective voice against rudiwadi soch (regressive thinking). Nai Duniya editor Shahid Siddiqui used the occasion for some inspired oratory: "This is a revolution not unlike what is happening on the Arab streets," he thundered to background chants of Allah-ho-Akbar. Mr. Vastanvi derived his significance from being able to bridge the gap between "deen" (religion) and "duniya" (worldly affairs), Mr. Siddiqui said, adding, "Let not people say, there goes the Maulvi who is a terrorist. Let them say, there goes the Maulvi, who is a doctor, who is heart-surgeon." Later, Maqsood ul Hasan Qasmi, president of the Imam Council of India and the organiser of the meet, would tell me: "As a graduate from Darul Uloom Deoband, I know that students there are thirsting for democracy, reform and modern education. Vastanvi is their hope, and if he is removed, it will send out a bad signal." None of the speakers gave any credence to the Modi controversy.

This was puzzling. A few years ago, no Muslim, much less a Maulana schooled in Deoband or an Imam offering prayers at a masjid, could have and would have dared publicly defend a person seen as Mr. Modi's friend — whether or not the charge was true, whether or not an apology had been offered. Mr. Vastanvi himself would have been summarily sacked. Obviously, some of the clues for this change were to be found in Deoband.

On the day of the February 23 Shura meet at Darul Uloom, all eyes were on the Mehman Khana (guest house), where Mr. Vastanvi was being grilled. But away from the glare, and in a packed room in a nearby building, a group of Muslim citizens, among them politicians, Deoband scholars, and a sprinkling of Muslim reporters, were in a heated discussion over the place of education in Islam.

When expelled Samajwadi Party leader Naseem Usmani argued that modern education had no place in Darul Uloom, he was roundly rebuffed by the rest: "Do you even know that ilm [knowledge] is the third most recurring word in the Koran? Find us the passage in the holy book that tells Muslims not to broaden their horizon." I raised the Modi issue and was instantly put down: "We are not saying that Muslims should forgive Modi or forget 2002. But all of you in the secular media want the Gujarati Muslim never to get out of his grieving. Hindu or Muslim, the Gujarati is a businessperson, and that is what Vastanvi was trying to say."

The words stung but they were true. The Congress and the secular media wanted the Gujarati Muslim forever to fight Mr. Modi but neither was there to protect him. In any case, unbeknown to most of us, the debate seemed to have progressed beyond the rights and wrongs of supporting Mr. Modi. I had a long chat with young Shahnawaz, a student at the Deoband seminary.

Mr. Shahnawaz worshipped the new mohtamim, who even without announcing major reforms, had shown that some things could easily be done, such as building a dining room for the talaba (students). Plate in hand, and waiting in serpentine lines, they currently made a pathetic picture. A brand new filtering system would provide clean drinking water. In time, and given the space he needs, Mr. Vastanvi would also introduce vocational courses.

There are some student firebrands who make a lot of noise, but "most of us have tired of the jalsa-jaloos [procession-protest] politics of the Muslim leadership," Mr. Shahnawaz said. He was awfully proud of his cousin Saba Karim, who was training to be a pilot in Patna — the first to do so in two decades. "There is no disputing that deeni taleem [religious education] is the foundation of Darul Uloom. But being computer illiterate or not knowing English is not the solution. Right now we cannot even fill up a form," said the young man, who made a stunning parting remark: "Do you know the Islamic revelation started with the word, iqra, which means to read?"

Muslims have long given up on government. On the plus side, the terrorism label has started to come off, and the sense of siege over identity and security has given way to aspirational hopes and dreams. Naturally there is anger with the old Muslim leadership and its crass opportunistic politics. Time will tell whether Mr. Vastanvi is just another political player or a reformer. For now, an unlikely mohtamim seems to have become a metaphor for change.






I was extremely intrigued by the comments of Mr. N. Ram published on the 28th of February in The Hindu regarding critics and musicians during a recent function in Chennai. While he has been quite scathing in his criticism of musicians, saying that we are thin-skinned and want only favourable reviews, it is quite sad to note that there has been absolutely no self-introspection in his speech about the quality of critics in The Hindu. Barring a few critics, I can say as a student of this art form that the knowledge of the critics today is abysmal. It is not about understanding very complex technicalities, even at a very necessary level it is lacking. I can back this with numerous reviews published in The Hindu itself.

The situation during the music season is even funnier. Suddenly a dozen people who don't write through the year appear and start writing reviews. Often the reviews are only reports and any semblance of criticism is very mediocre. Let me even say that many reviews of even mine, which have been lavish in praise, have been extremely poor in content and quality.

Therefore it is not about only negative reviews; even positive reviews are bad. Some critics find it necessary to display their knowledge of music by trying to quote some technical aspects like derivatives of the raga etc while the real lack of musical acumen is very evident. Therefore while there are musicians who have not accepted harsh criticism there is also that the fact that The Hindu can no longer believe that its reviewers are of a quality to be respected. Comparing this with the detail and knowledge expressed in a review in, say, The New York Times is totally wrong.

Let me add that Mr. S.V.K. [S.V. Krishnamurthy, The Hindu's chief music critic], for whom this function was held, is a very rare breed. I have myself received both positive and negative reviews from him but never has this affected our relationship. There are people who have completely disagreed with him but we all know that his opinions are based on his personal perspective backed by knowledge of music.

While I will be the first to accept that we musicians are not an easy lot and do find it difficult to accept criticism I think there is also an urgent need for The Hindu to introspect on what the qualities of a critic should be and how they select the same.

No amount of guidelines will help unless the right people are found. I completely agree that robust criticism is very necessary but it can be robust only when people are chosen very carefully and at the same time I do agree that musicians need to understand the role of critics. But one is not going to happen without the other.

T.M. Krishna

Carnatic classical musician

N. Ram, Editor-in-Chief,

The Hindu, comments:

T.M. Krishna is a very fine musician with a deep knowledge of Carnatic music. We have had interesting and useful interactions with him on various subjects. But evaluating music criticism is not his strong suit — judging from the condescending tone of this polemical response and his sweeping dismissal of the competence of our music critics. He enters some caveats in his polemic but his attitude is like that of a successful Test cricketer dismissing reportage and critical assessments by cricket writers by asking: 'What does he know about playing in the middle? Has he played first division, let alone first class cricket, not to mention Test cricket?'

We and tens of thousands of our readers, knowledgeable as well as lay (like me), think highly of our critics, most of whom are well schooled in Carnatic music or are experts. The majority of them, in fact, are not staff journalists.

Mr. Krishna's forthcomingness is useful because it illustrates the very point I made at the felicitation function mentioned above and have been making generally over the music season — because it is a long-observed problem that needs to be faced squarely and resolved. If his sweeping and dismissive opinion of our music critics as a group can be said to be representative of the opinion and attitude of professional musicians (and sabhas) to music critics as a fraternity, it is certainly a problem of being either condescending or thin-skinned or both.

My critical observation, which "extremely intrigued" Mr. Krishna, drew explicitly from "What The Hindu expects from its music critics: Some guidelines" — guidelines we adopted some years ago in consultation with our music critics, which have been continually revised. The document can be read at

Para 10 of the Guidelines reads: "Finally, the critic is an individual expert rasika, and writer on music. We know that many musicians and sabhas are extremely thin-skinned. They are not used to the robust and, at times, fierce criticism musicians in western countries get all the time (whether they like it or not). Our musicians and sabhas want only favourable reviews but that is decidedly not The Hindu's expectation. We choose our critics and respect their musical knowledge, their integrity, their independence of judgment, and their writing style. It is your review and we know a subjective element forms part of this. It does not matter if you are alone in your musical judgment — as long as you make clear to readers the basis of this judgment, write insightfully, fairly, and interestingly, and comply with our deadline and word length requirements."

While thanking Mr. Krishna for taking the trouble to respond to this criticism, we leave the matter for readers to judge.







For 41 years Muammar Qadhafi has ruled Libya with only one real governing partner or potential counterweight: a council of Libya's powerful tribes.

With his government teetering, those tribes may now play a decisive role in deciding whether it survives or, under a set of demands circulated by the rebels challenging Mr. Qadhafi, gives way to an interim government.

Experts say longstanding tribal allegiances and animosities contributed to the revolt from the very beginning. The eastern region where the uprising began, known as Cyrenaica, is the heartland of the Senussi tribe, which produced King Idris I, the monarch who ruled Libya after it emerged from Italian colonial rule and achieved full independence in 1951.

It was Mr. Qadhafi's tribe, the Qadhadfa, which hails from western Libya, and two others, the Maghraha and the Warfalla, that overthrew the king in 1969. Easterners say that Mr. Qadhafi has starved their region of money and equipment ever since, aggravating the resentments left after the ouster of the Senussi king and leaving it in a more or less constant state of rebellion.

The Warfalla tribe is now wavering, with its leaders supporting the opposition but its lower ranks split. The two other tribes "still seem loyal so far to the regime, in which they have vested interests," said George Joffe, a scholar of North Africa at Cambridge.

Other tribes in the western regions of Fezzan and Tripolitania are "watching and waiting," Mr. Joffe said.

Another source of potential opposition might be the old Free Officers Movement, he added, an Arab nationalist group that carried out the 1969 coup but was subsequently marginalised by the Qadhafi government.

The Army, too, is a threat to the government.

"It's quite clear that the army, some 45,000 strong, has split, but in exactly what proportions we don't know," Mr. Joffe said.

Mr. Qadhafi always mistrusted the Army and monitored its behaviour carefully. He paid particular attention to the units in the rebellious east, depriving them of the best equipment and training, which went to the more loyal tribes and paramilitary units, said Shashank Joshi, an associate fellow at the Royal United Services Institute in London, which specialises in the military.

Mr. Qadhafi himself hails from Surt, where his tribe remains strong.

— New York Times News Service






The ferment sweeping the Muslim world is the first test of British foreign policy under Prime Minister David Cameron's Conservative-led government and already there are fears that, judging from what analysts have variously dubbed his "martial" and "belligerent" rhetoric" especially over Libya, he risks plunging Britain into a Blair-like military adventure.

Is there a danger, then, that Libya could end up as "Cameron's Iraq?"

This is the question being asked after he told MPs on Monday that his government was exploring military option to "isolate" the Qadhafi regime and prevent it from using force against its own people. In remarks that had echoes of Mr. Blair's warnings to Saddam Hussein in the weeks leading up to the Iraq invasion, Mr. Cameron threatened the "use of military assets" to force out Libyan ruler Muammar Qadhafi if he did not leave on his own.

"My message to Colonel Gaddafi is simple: go now. We do not in any way rule out the use of military assets, we must not tolerate this regime using military force against its own people," he said in the Commons.

The Prime Minister said he had already ordered his defence chiefs to prepare plans for a military "no-fly zone" over Libya prompting speculation that a military option might involve deploying ground troops, though Downing Street denied this.

Mr. Cameron also suggested that Britain could consider supplying arms to the Libyan opposition groups saying it "is certainly something we should be considering".

With memories of Iraq and Mr. Blair's controversial doctrine of "liberal interventionism" (widely seen as a code for "western imperialism") still fresh, Mr. Cameron's remarks sent alarm bells ringing in world capitals. Most European countries were quick to distance themselves from the plan. His tone caused surprise even in the normally gung-ho Washington with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton suggesting that outside military intervention could backfire. Testifying before the House foreign affairs committee, she said the Libyans were opposed to "outside intervention" and keen to be seen "as doing this by themselves".

"We respect that," she said.

Defence Secretary Robert Gates also made clear his reservations saying there was "no unanimity within NATO for the use of armed force".

"And the kinds of options that have been talked about in the press and elsewhere also have their own consequences and… so they need to be considered very carefully," he said while a senior White House official described talk of military intervention as "premature".

In Moscow, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called the idea of a no-fly zone "superfluous" and Turkey dismissed NATO military intervention as "unthinkable".

Mr. Cameron also appeared isolated at home with senior military officials warning that it could drag Britain into another long-drawn out and potentially dangerous adventure even as British forces were still bogged down in Afghanistan. Experts questioned the legality of any foreign intervention in Libya without the approval of the U.N. Security Council.

With no takers for the plan, Downing Street initially appeared to row back arguing that it was only "contingency planning". But soon Mr. Cameron returned to his old theme telling the Commons that he stood by his proposal despite the lukewarm response of other countries.

Mr. Cameron's macho stance has caused surprise. This is the man, critics point out, who until recently revelled in deriding his Labour predecessor's internationalism and vowed, instead, to put bilateralism — especially bilateral trade — at the heart of his foreign policy. In fact, his emphasis on trade diplomacy spawned jokes that he had a "mercantilist view" that saw the world as "a giant Tesco branch", in the words of Telegraph's Mary Riddell.

In the Financial Times, Philip Stephens noted that Mr. Cameron's "journey from innocence to experience" had been "brutally short" while the Guardian's Jonathan Freedland described Mr. Cameron's transformation as "dizzying".

So, what changed?

His supporters claim that he has been a victim of bad advice. Another view is that it is a case of "rush of blood" having the better of a young and inexperienced Prime Minister seemingly in a hurry to make his presence felt on the world stage — another British Prime Minister (an heir to Mr. Blair, if you like) seized by an evangelical urge to sort out the world. Others have called it calculated "posturing" to grab headlines and distract attention from his domestic difficulties as anti-recessionary cuts in public spending start to bite amid signs of a public backlash.

Whatever his motivation, critics say there is a basic hypocrisy at the heart of the British position. For the fact, they argue, is that over the past decade the British establishment has been the "best mates" with Mr. Qadhafi who was hailed as the biggest success story of the West's "civilising" mission in Africa and the Muslim world. The man now being described as a "murderous tyrant" was held up as a model for countries such as Iran to follow if they wanted western legitimacy.

In recent years, British businesses — and not just oil companies — have thrived on lucrative deals with Libya; British armed forces have trained Libyan soldiers now being used to terrorise the people; and Britain's cash-strapped academic institutions have fallen over each other to attract Libyan funding. The venerable London School of Economics is among several British universities that have benefited from the Qadhafi family's generosity. It accepted a £1.5-million donation from the Qadhafi's International Charity and Development Foundation. It came courtesy Mr. Qadhafi's son Saif al Qadhafi, who spent three years at LSE producing a Ph.D. which, it is now being alleged, was partly ghost-written.

LSE director Howard Davies admits he feels "embarrassed" by the university's links with the Qadhafis and that the decision to accept the funding had "backfired".

The Qadhafi regime shamelessly used oil, cash and contacts in high places to promote its interests and the Labour government under Tony Blair, who became a personal friend of the Libyan dictator, ensured that Tripoli got a resounding bang for every buck it spent. Of course, now, Mr. Blair says he is horrified by what his old friend is up to (" I am as appalled as anyone else about what has been happening," he told The Times) and he has been on phone to the "colonel" urging him to quit — a plea that, predictably, has fallen on deaf ears in Tripoli.

Meanwhile, as for Mr. Cameron, the widespread perception is that he has fluffed his first big foreign policy test with many in his own party questioning his handling of the Libyan crisis. Observers say there appears to be a "distinct" lack of strategic direction in Downing Street giving the impression that it has simply picked up where Mr Blair left — not a great advertisement for a party that came to power promising to "draw a marker under Blair's wars", as a seasoned Whitehall watcher noted.

One Tory MP accused him of making "policy on the hoof."





Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao spoke to The Hindu on why and how India cast its first major vote after joining the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a non-permanent member. In an interview with Sandeep Dikshit, she revealed an initial hesitation among developing countries to support Libya's referral to the International Criminal Court and the events that swung the consensus towards such a move. Ms. Rao denied that evacuation from Libya was slow and pointed out that by Friday morning, 7,200 Indians would have been evacuated. Excerpts:

How does India view the western proposals for a no-fly-zone over Libya and the use of force to end the civil war?

We are very concerned about the talk of enforcing a no-fly-zone in Libya. First of all there is the issue of people in Libya whom we would like to see evacuated out of Libya. Then there is the larger question of the situation that is going to result from that move and how it is going to affect the ordinary people and the ensuing disturbance and turbulence that come out with this. As of now we are not in favour of a no-fly-zone. We are opposed to use of force. When it was discussed, a number of us opposed this and a new language was found as suggested by Russia.

I know a number of developing countries, our partners and the governments we interact with have reservations about the imposition of a no-fly-zone. Among BRIC countries, questions have been raised and reservations expressed. We are certainly not for the imposition of a no-fly-zone.

And the use of force?

Obviously we are not in favour…we need to be governed by the position and stand taken by Arab nations and the African Union who are Libya's neighbours and on whom this will impact when this decision is taken. I don't think this is a laboratory situation.

Will India abstain or vote against if these proposals come up before the UNSC?

It hasn't come to that but we will consult with other like-minded countries. We don't want a situation which will be even more turbulent than it is today and which will endanger the lives of people. We have to take extraordinary care, we have to act judiciously and make a determination about the direction the situation is taking in Libya.

Was India late with its evacuation efforts?

We started to work on this about a week ago. By Friday our logistics were in place and evacuation was ready to begin. We have definitely moved quickly with a sense of determination and direction to ensure the safety of our people. By morning [Friday], 7,200 would have been evacuated and [we] hope to complete this in a week. I think there has been very good coordination. Given the numbers involved, we had to make solid, foolproof arrangements. We have no reason to be defensive about our record.

There are comparisons with China. That is has got 29,000 citizens out of Libya while India has been a slow starter. How do you view this?

There is this unfortunate comparison game with China. China has not released figures officially. The China Daily says 20,000 have been evacuated. Chinese Ambassador in Tripoli said there are still a couple of thousands to be evacuated from Seba and Tripoli. Unfortunately this number of 29,000 has been picked up as a sacrosanct figure and we are benchmarked against that. I think that is most unfortunate. I don't think that is the way to look at the genuine effort that has gone into place in putting in place a massive evacuation effort for people who are spread all over Libya ... one has to look into the context of what India's needs are, how India has gone about it and whether the arrangements are working satisfactorily. These are the benchmarks we should judge the evacuation operation.

Eyebrows have been raised over India supporting the UNSC proposal to refer Qadhafi's case to the International Criminal Court (ICC).

We are not members of ICC. When the resolution was being discussed we had pointed this out and expressed our reservations. Then when the Libyan Permanent Representative spoke, I think consensus was built around that particular statement which created certain empathy among the people. This does not means our position on ICC has changed. China, Brazil, Portugal, Nigeria, India and South Africa did not want this referral to ICC and our position would have carried the day but for the communication sent by Libyan PR asking for ICC referral. We still said we were not satisfied by the referral but would join in the consensus.

In fact we were also not in favour of supporting the use of force. And in backdoor negotiations, we had opposed Article 42 of Chapter VII. Therefore a new language was found and that was Article 41, not involving the use of force.

Why did India support sanctions on Libya when it is generally opposed to resorting to this step?

Both the Arab League and the African Union said there were serious human rights violations. It was then that the UNSC decided to refer the situation to the prosecutor of ICC and targeted sanctions, as opposed to general sanctions, were imposed. Our delegation was very clear on this. It had been delivered very clear instructions to oppose general sanctions. This is not a textbook situation. It concerns people on the ground. Because the situation is so fluid, the UNSC resolution has left some options open.

How does India assess the attack on an Indian store in Oman? Are there any evacuation plans for Yemen or some other country in the region?

At the moment the Oman situation certainly does not warrant any intervention. It was a stray incident and was not followed by any large-scale disturbances. The situation there is under good control. But there have been some disturbances in Yemen where we have 14,000 Indians. We have asked our Ambassador to assess the situation there and take steps based on what that assessment is.

But the situation is different. In Libya our nationals were spread all over the country. In Yemen they are mainly in Sana'a and Aden from where civilian access is easy. As of now we have not taken a decision to evacuate people out of Yemen. But if they want to come out voluntarily, that is a decision they have to take.






The quashing of the September 2010 appointment of Mr P.J. Thomas as central vigilance commissioner by a three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia strikes a blow for the notion of probity in administration. It is shocking that the high-powered committee that had cleared the appointment included the Prime minister and Union home minister, men whose integrity and distinction few would question. Yet these two summarily dismissed the reservations of the third member of that body, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, assigning no reasons. This is an aspect of the matter on which the court was drawn to make an observation. It is to be hoped that when Dr Manmohan Singh makes a statement in Parliament on the subject, he will seek to offer a comprehensive explanation of why Ms Swaraj's viewpoint was ignored out of hand without any reason given. The court has called Mr Thomas' appointment arbitrary. Looking at the story how it came about, it does appear that the process that leads up to the consideration of candidates by the high-powered committee is also not wholly cogent. All facets of a contender's public service are not given due consideration. In this particular case, the Prime Minister and home minister glossed over the crucial consideration that Mr Thomas had a criminal case pending against him in Kerala from the time he was food secretary in the state. Was this matter placed on the files that the committee perused? On the basis of what has appeared in the public domain, the answer is hazy. It will be interesting to see what the Prime Minister as well as the Leader for the Opposition have to say about this in Parliament.

It is conceivable that a person of integrity may have a criminal case foisted on him owing to adverse circumstances. The Supreme Court has duly noted that it did not wish to "discount" Mr Thomas' personal integrity. It nevertheless underlined the question of "institutional integrity". This quite simply means that even if a man of integrity has a criminal case against him, he should not be appointed, especially as head of a sensitive authority such as the Vigilance Commission. The court has asked the apposite question: Can such a person discharge his duties effectively? This issue had been raised by none other than the Chief Justice himself in the course of the hearings on the CVC's appointment, which resulted from a public interest litigation. There was no clear answer from the government, which sought to make its case based on narrow technicalities. It is a pity that a person of Dr Singh's integrity went along with this shoddy procedure. Instead of grasping the essence of the matter, he persuaded himself to be impressed with a legalistic defence of the government's decision to go ahead with Mr Thomas' appointment in the face of Ms Swaraj's objection.

The Chief Justice of India has rightly called the office of the CVC an "integrity institution". Especially in such a case a candidate with criminal proceedings pending against his name should have been kept out of consideration. This would be common sense to most people in everyday life. And yet the government was blind to such obvious logic. This suggests nothing less than hubris — the arrogance of power, and a throwback to feudal and colonial times. As the democratic space expands, governments must learn to be more circumspect and more transparent in their actions. When the present government is under so much pressure on the issue of corruption, the Supreme Court in the CVC case has certainly put it on the backfoot. It can retrieve some ground only by moving purposively in all high-profile corruption cases that are in the public eye. Firm institutional steps are needed, not piecemeal announcements.






With the soon-to-be-resumed dialogue with Pakistan looming, a spate of negativism has assailed many sections of our commentariat. It is said that the government has given in despite having received no assurances of better behaviour from Pakistan, and that our willingness to talk to an uncooperative adversary merely suggests that we have run out of ideas — or at least that New Delhi has no good options, between a counterproductive military attack and a stagnant silence. In this reading, India has in effect surrendered to Pakistani intransigence, by agreeing to resume a process it had rightly suspended after the horrific Mumbai attacks of 26/11, even though there has been no significant progress in Pakistan bringing the perpetrators to book. The new wide-ranging and comprehensive talks, the critics point out, are the old "composite dialogue" under another label, the very dialogue we had righteously called off since there was no point talking to people whose territory and institutions are being used to attack and kill Indians.

It is a credible case, strongly held and passionately argued by many I respect. And yet I believe these critics are wrong. First, it is clear that we are doing the right thing; and second, it is time the critics also understood that we do have other options.

We are doing the right thing, because "not talking" is not much of a policy. We can deny our history but cannot change our geography. Pakistan is next door and can no more be ignored than a thorn pierced into our side. The refusal to talk worked for a while as a source of pressure on Pakistan; it contributed, together with Western (especially American) diplomatic efforts, to some of Islamabad's initial cooperation, including the arrest of LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and six of his co-conspirators. But it has long passed its use-by date. The refusal to resume dialogue has not just stopped producing any fresh results; the only argument that justifies it — that it is a source of leverage — risks giving us the illusion of influence over events that we do not in fact possess. Instead, it is we who seem intransigent and unaccommodative, whereas the transcendent reality of life on our subcontinent is that it has always been India that wishes to live in peace. We are, at bottom, a status quo power that would like to be left alone to concentrate on our economic development; Pakistan is the troublesome rebel, needling and bleeding us in an effort to change the power balance and wrest control of a part of our territory. Refusing to talk doesn't change any of that, but it brings us no rewards and in fact imposes a cost. When Pakistan is allowed to sound reasonable and conciliatory while we seem truculent and unreasonable, our international image as a constructive force for peace takes a beating.

Besides, talking can achieve constructive results. It can identify and narrow the differences between our two countries on those issues that can be dealt with (not all the issues that divide us can be resolved, but specific problems like trade, Siachen, Sir Creek or the Wullar Barrage, and many points of detail, are certainly amenable to resolution through dialogue). It can make clear what our bottomlines are and the minimal standards of civilised conduct we expect from our terrorism-fomenting neighbour. And should it prove necessary, it can also be used to send a few tough signals.

For the fact is that, on Pakistan's reluctance to take decisive action against the terrorism operating on its soil, we do have some credible options. The most significant of these lies in the United Nations, whose Security Council resolutions against terror were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and are binding on all member states, including Pakistan. These resolutions require compliance from all states on controlling the activities of terrorists. Member states are required under Resolution 1373 to report regularly to the Counter-Terrorism Committee about their actions to bring their national legislation into conformity with international requirements, to monitor the movements of suspected terrorists, arms transfers and financial flows to terrorist organisations. Resolution 1624 obliges states to pass laws forbidding incitement to commit acts of terror and to report such incitement to the committee. As it happens, effective last January 1, it is India that chairs the Counter-Terrorism Committee.

New Delhi should make it plain to Islamabad that, unless there is genuine and sustained cooperation on bringing the 26/11 plotters to book, we will not hesitate to use the international mechanisms available to us to ask Pakistan awkward questions, and to bring the weight of the international community to bear on the issue of Pakistan's failure to meet its international obligations. There are fair questions to be asked about the prosecution of suspected terrorists under custody and the lack of efforts to apprehend their remaining comrades; the failure to take any steps whatsoever to trace the handlers of the 26/11 killers, especially the chilling voice recorded on tape that exhorted the terrorists to kill their hostages; the open incitement to terror preached by the likes of Hafiz Sayeed in open defiance of Resolution 1624; and the survival, indeed flourishing, on Pakistani soil of proscribed organisations like the Jamaat ud Dawa, with burgeoning bank accounts receiving and disbursing funds. Should the answers not prove satisfactory, the next step to consider would be whether to hold Pakistan in non-compliance with the relevant Security Council resolutions, which in turn would lay the ground for selective sanctions — for example on the foreign travel of specific military leaders — in a bid to exact compliance.

Of course, exercising such an option will not be easy. It will require the cooperation of other countries, many of whom have shown a propensity to look the other way as Pakistan has misbehaved on terrorism, and it will require us to expend a great deal of diplomatic energy to assemble the necessary majority on the Counter-Terrorism Committee. But the option exists; and if we do not wish to allow Pakistan to believe it can get away with whatever it wishes, and to act as if it can shrug off its complicity in the 26/11 attacks with impunity, we need to remind them that the option exists. A truly comprehensive dialogue is one place where we can make that message clear.

So yes, by all means, let us talk to Pakistan. It is what we say when we talk that will make all the difference.

Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency






All people everywhere live within the borders of nation states. The web of life, however, knows no such frontiers. Mountain ranges, rivers and glaciers span such man-made lines on the map. Animals, fish and birds walk, swim or fly over them, as the case may be.

Yet, the human impulse to label certain animals or lands as distinctive to a culture is powerful, often irresistible. Some animals are specific to one remnant of their habitat, making this common place.
But what happens when borders shift and the custodianship of a population of a species with powerful cultural imagery changes hands? The forest of Bialoweiza straddles the frontier of Poland and Russia. Over the centuries that border has shifted, sometimes to the west and other times to the east.

Victory or defeat on the field of battle spelt a new master for the forest. This became of ecological import as species once found over large swathes of Europe died out elsewhere. The European bison, made its last stand in this great forest.

The herds came to an inglorious end in 1918, when German soldiers shot for the pot. Lots of bison steak meant no more bison were left. A casualty of the First World War, which contemporaries called the Great War, the species was snuffed out of existence in this, its last home in the boreal forests of Europe.

They had been known as the European bison or the wisent, with a history going back to Julius Caesar's hunts. The great Roman conqueror knew very well the difference between the bearded bison and the humped wild cattle, the auroch. The latter had vanished by the 17th century.

Bison were now rechristened as distinctively Polish beasts. Simon Schama in his epic Landscape and Memory traces the rebirth of the wild bison herd to the re-birth of the Polish nation after 1918. Poland was reborn as a child of the post-war Treaty of Versailles, the bison experiment a result of new concerns in an Age of Extinction.
Bison were still available in collections scattered across the world and these were re-assembled. Polish military dictator Marshall Pilsudski had fought against the Russians, and the bison, a huge wild vertebrate, seemed to symbolise best the will of the Polish people.

Its muscle and brawn were nature's version of a small but proud country. For 200 years, Poland had been a large, powerful country and the bison was a major quarry of its rulers. Its aristocrats had estimated of how many bison lived in the woods, and had trackers to protect them from poachers.

Of course, there was a dark side to the story, for Poland's military rulers were deeply anti-Semitic. They persecuted citizens who were not Polish enough. In the Second World War, when the country was occupied by the armies of the Reich, Marshal Goering hunted bison in the Bialowieza.

That as not all. With the help and cooperation of anti-Jewish Poles, the Jewish foresters whose families had tended the forest were sent off to the gas chambers.

The idea of nature being integral to a nation could unify as well as divide people. The Nazis took over the hunt but purged the forest of people not seen as native to Europe. Earlier, Polish nationalists had restocked the forest with zoo-bred bison to reclaim their sense of a country with a history rooted in nature.
As Schama writes, "A certain idea of landscape, a myth, a vision establishes itself in an actual places",

becoming "part of the scenery". Animals can embody more than their forest or mountain home, being imbued with all too human features. They could be symbols that appealed to some but left others out.
This is graphically brought out in western India in the wild boar preserves of local princes. In Ghatiyali, the Sawar Raj still evoked memories among peasants and herders of being a time of "pleasure mingled with pain". Ann Grodzins Gold, the Syracuse University anthropologist and her co-author Bhoju Ram Gujjar, have records of a difficult and not so distant past.

Villagers were subject to many taxes, including forced labour. But none was more dreaded that the ban on self-defence against the great sounders of wild boar that could cause havoc in their fields. The boars lived in open scrub, a place of berries and fruits, a source of wood for the hearth and fodder for goats.
But the pleasure of the open lands could not be seen apart for the suffering and pain the princes' boars inflicted on the crops and those who lived on them. No wonder the boars and the open lands mostly vanished soon after the accession in 1947.

Can nature and nation combine in more wholesome and just ways than in Poland of the past or the Ghatiyali of the princes? It matters and not just to the bison and boars. To give nature a future, we need to overcome the ghosts of our own pasts.

Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian and co-editor of The Environmental History of India (Permanent Black, In Press).









While it is hard to rationalise, Nitish Kumar and N Chandrababu Naidu are being placed ahead of Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley and Narendra Modi as PM probables for 2014 if the Congress sinks.


Conventionally, the president calls the single-largest party to form the government. This could be the Congress or the BJP. Its past constitutional improprieties (especially in destabilising opposition state governments) suggest that the Congress could try to bamboozle its nominated president Pratibha Patil to get a first invite despite a BJP win, but it won't succeed.


The BJP's real trouble is an absent AB Vajpayee-II (LK Advani most likely won't count in 2014) to create an NDA government. Sushma Swaraj has the smarts, Lok Sabha and Union-cabinet experience, and gender sympathy but not Vajpayee's pan-India personality. Nobody has that bar the Gandhis and they are going down.


In that respect, Jaitley does better than Sushma. Nitish, the Badals, BS Yeddyurappa and of course Modi owe part of their victories/rise to Jaitley's strategising. He is familiar and respected in their states beyond his Delhi/upper-India parish.


But whether they will back him against Sushma is unknown, although Sushma-Modi/Sushma-Yeddyurappa tensions (at least in the past) are well-chronicled. Not to forget that Nitish and Modi (a darling of corporates) nurse strong and rival PM ambitions.


Notwithstanding his strengths, Jaitley's biggest handicap is never having fought and won Lok Sabha elections. Exclusively/pre-dominantly Rajya Sabha stints didn't stop PV Narasimha Rao and Manmohan Singh. But circumstances with them were different. And Jaitley wouldn't like comparisons with Manmohan Singh.


All this theoretically would make Nitish Kumar's accession to the top easy. He has a doughty electoral record. He has turned around Bihar, handsomely won a second term with the BJP, and decimated the opposition, including the Congress, which has been left shell-shocked.


If perception were reality, he would be PM in 2014.


But the reality is that his JD-U won't be the top two Lok Sabha parties. He cannot go with the Congress without destroying his alliance in Bihar with the BJP and losing the state altogether, the basis of his rising identity today. Nor will Sushma and Jaitley (for all his friendship) gladly step aside for Nitish. And Modi will oppose him.


The biggest imponderable is the RSS. Like it or not, it saved the BJP after the 2009 defeat by bringing in the "outsider", Nitin Gadkari, to end party factionalism and "retire" Advani. It had got little handle in Vajpayee's six years and won't "squander" a BJP victory (if it's that) for Nitish as PM. Chandrababu Nadu is a still more distant possibility, despite his looming triumph in Andhra Pradesh, because he had blamed the BJP for his fall.


In the worst case, Sushma and Jaitley may prefer Nitish to stop one another. But the RSS may contain their competition by threatening an "outsider" PM (why not Gadkari?) while offering Sushma a one-term prime ministership and making Jaitley her deputy and designated successor.


The RSS's job will be easier if the BJP inches close to its own majority and harder if a wide gap needs several alliance partners to fill, whereupon Nitish's stock rises. The assumption is that the Congress on current trends will do badly, but it may not. All the same, even internal Congress assessments are no longer sanguine about returning in 2014.


In conclusion, the game is very open for Nitish/Sushma/Jaitley if the opposition wins with all its complexities. The Left, which is closest in the last 10 years to the BJP although it may not readily be apparent, will likely also play a role in the choice of PM. All this may seem messy compared to the smoother Congress selection process.


But who needs a PM servicing one family?







Consider this: she is 102 years and two months, is a mother of four and grandmother of six and has witnessed events we learned about in history books. The 'oldest living resident' in the tiny Goan village of Camurlim, Lourdes Conceicao Lobo is affectionately referred to as Mummy, Mae, Tia Lourdes or Man Lourdes. To me, she is just Mae, my grandmother.


My earliest association with Mae began when I was a baby. Although I do not remember it, I am told that I never left her side, bawling away if anyone tried to carry me.


Religious to a fault, Mae was the one who taught us our Konkani prayers. I remember gathering at 12 in the afternoon and at 7 in the evening in our balcony to say the Angelus. The family rosary too was made a daily practice. Mae had her special chair, in one corner of our oratory. And she was and still is the first person we take blessings from. Everyone who comes over, (some come just for that) has to take her blessings before leaving the house. She has the utmost regards for all priests, reverently kissing their hands when she meets them.


Mae is very active and although she is losing her hearing and eyesight, she still stuns us with her sharp comments. For example: telling a neighbour that her daughter will not find a husband as she is too tall; firing my father for allowing me to roam around in spaghetti straps; discussing her new 'hairstyle', shouting at my aunt for becoming too fat, and of course telling all visitors how she is an antique piece. For the record, all the clothes that I wear for mass (especially celebrations like Christmas, Easter and feasts) have to be approved by her.


Unfortunately diagnosed with diabetes from a young age, that doesn't stop Mae from gorging on sweets. Ice-cream is her weakness and we love indulging her with it. She is always ready for a second helping - even going to the extent of saying 'I have not been served yet'!


I love Mae for many reasons, primary being the way she never fails to ask me on the phone, 'When are you coming down'? Be good, is her common request to me and my brothers. I also love her for her fascination with pure gold ornaments, the way she sings hymns in Portuguese and Latin when alone, how she tends to eat more when there's company, the way she removes her glasses for photos, the way she plays with our very stubborn cat and so on.


At the risk of spouting a cliché, I love Mae for just being herself- no pretences attached.


On a recent visit home, it was a shock to see her moving about on a wheelchair. But her spirit remains the same, to the point of asking me if I was happy with my work and telling me not to keep too many friends.


Mae, I hope you get better soon.









Some major reforms in our educational system are under consideration of the Central Government. If and when these are accepted formally and implemented, it could be a major deviation from the educational system we have inherited from the British colonial rule. Reformation of system is necessitated by a sea change in the scope of knowledge and variety of branches of knowledge that have been newly discovered. With a strong posse of technocrats available in the country, it is important to maintain the competitive level of our educational standards. A major input in this pursuit is that of optionalising CBSE examination. Proceeding with care and caution not to infuriate public sentiment, the HRD Ministry and Central Board of School Education have shown wisdom in taking parents into confidence by giving students the option whether they appear in Class X examination of the CBSE or not, they would be accepted for next stage. This may be on experimental basis as of now but the Central Board of Secondary Education has resolved to scrap Class X examination and let it be conducted and decided by the schools. Once the new approach becomes acceptable without confusion and hassles, it will pave the way for uniform standard on national level and universalize the reformed procedure. The shift means doing away with age old practice and may not be easily accepted by tradition-ridden mindset. This has been very much in the mind of the pioneers of educational reform. Board authorities have acknowledged that the transition is a difficult one, and the Board has chosen to go about the process in a gradual, phased manner, rather than imposing the system on people. Passing Matriculation has been a traditional achievement and a matter of pride in Indian educational history. In an assessment exercise, the feedback reported that sixty-nine per cent students chose not to appear for the Board examination. Many of those who opted for the Board examination are beginning to feel there was really no need to do so. CBSE is trying to ensure students who opt out of Board face no problem during admission by changing city or applying to any other Board after school. The marks sheet for both those who appear for Board examination, as well as those who don't will be identical. This indicates that the Board is determined to scrap Class X for all times to come and let the schools concerned conduct this examination in routine. The certificate will be issued by the school concerned perhaps with the countersignature of Board authority. However various nuances of the reformation are still under discussion and a final document is yet to be produced. Along with this reform, there are other areas as well in entire educational system that will be reviewed for reforms. These reforms are meant to ensure that our students are at par with any advanced country in their educational standards. It has to be said that even in western countries there are educationists who believe that India has a sound base for education of acceptable standards and there are others who would like to emulate it. The rapidity with which India has been able to build vast scientific and technological generation is amazing. Therefore in a mad rush for educational reform, we should not get swept away from the basics. That will not be something healthy. Lastly, we need to speed up our effort of eradicating illiteracy among our rural and backward segments. We are still struggling hard to achieve zero illiteracy mark but it still remains elusive if we do not bring about reforms speedily. The finance minister did well to make a hefty allocation for education in the budget. Our adult education scheme has not shown the needed progress. The Anganbari scheme is a healthy scheme in principle but there are loopholes in its implementation part. We have an extending network of schools in vast rural areas and more and more villages are coming into the educational fold. This augurs well but it has to be result oriented. Amelioration of teachers at primary and secondary levels is of importance and that has to be a component of the entire package of educational reforms.






Shahbaz Bhatti, the only Christian and minority member in Pakistan cabinet has been shot dead by Pakistan Taliban terrorists while he was traveling in an unescorted car. After the assassination of Punjab Governor Salman Taseer last month, Bhatti is the second prominent person in Pakistan who has been done to death for supporting a Christian mother of four children accused of blasphemy. Bhatti had received several messages after the gunning down of Salman Taseer that he would be meted out same treatment if he continued to support the Christian woman culprit. Obviously Pakistan Government paid no serious attention to these threats. The Pope has called it totally unacceptable. This and its connected events show that leaving aside treating minorities in accordance with minority rights, the fact is that a rogue state has no control on terrorist organizations that rule the roost. No other proof is needed to show that Pakistan is a failed state. We wonder why the UN Security Council does not declare it a failed state and why the US does not freeze all aid, civilian and military, to it. It is travesty of rights protection that for political interests the US turns blind eye to most heinous crime against humanity and a fundamental human right meaning the right to life. The US is tormented by the sense of guilt for having armed Pakistani religious extremists indirectly during 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan. It is time that both White House and the Pentagon revisit their policy towards this terror and religious extremism-ridden country. It is their money and support that keeps this power engine of world terror and religious extremism functional. World nations will one day think of asking the SC to impose sanctions on the US for abetting and supporting world terrorist engine in Pakistan.








Electoral reforms have engaged the country's attention ever since the first election was held, and some changes have been made in the laws and the way elections are held. The intention has been to make the elections most free and fair but unfortunately the results have not been satisfactory. India is not alone among democracies that are trying to improve the electoral system and not all of them have succeeded too. But the world's biggest parliamentary democracy has a bigger challenge than many others, partly because the electoral system has been steadily deteriorating.


Though we claim that our democracy has matured and stabilised, the methods to misrepresent or even subvert the people's will are being increasingly refined.


Most of the electoral reform proposals rightly aim to free the elections of the influence of money and muscle power. Some recent suggestions also point in that direction. Union law minister Veerappa Moily has said that the spending limits of candidates for Lok Sabha should be Rs. 40 lakh instead of Rs. 25 at present, and for state assembly from Rs. 10 lakh to Rs. 25 lakh.


But rules on spending limits do not make much sense when they are applicable only to candidates. Parties are exempt from any regulation about expenditure. They spend huge money on elections and the sources of these funds are not always clean. This is a major source of black money and corruption in the country and creates a nexus between politics and business. Proposals for state funding of elections have not moved forward. Now there is a view that even this may not help. Political donations are eligible for tax deduction since 2003 and there is a rule that donations above Rs. 20,000 should be disclosed. But parties always understate their income and it is anybody's guess whether the Election Commission's directive to them to maintain audited accounts which should be produced within six months of the closing of the year will be followed.


A proposal which has been made to discourage candidates and their supporters from offering inducements to voters is to disallow personal canvassing on the last two days before voting. This can be tried but it is debatable whether inducements can be completely stopped. Elections are not freer in Mizoram where there is no campaigning in the last two days. There are other proposals too which deserve consideration. But many well-intentioned suggestions made by the Election Commission have been rejected by the Government and political parties.

Indian democracy is funded by corruption. Politicians take money out of the exchequer, sell patronage and extort money, all in the name of mobilising funds for political activity. They pocket a large part of the collection and pass on the rest to the party and the workers they employ. Since civil servants must collude for misuse of state power, this method of mobilising political funds suborns the bureaucracy and procedural hurdles proliferate as rent seeking opportunities. All the scams rocking the country have this common root.
Finding a new source of political funding away from corruption will not guarantee an automatic end to corruption - that is not the argument. But that will enable non-corrupt politicians and civil servants to fight corruption.

All democracies make this traverse from very corrupt to less corrupt ways of conducting public life. The time, it would appear, has come for India to clean up its act on political funding. But precisely how do we go about this? State funding of elections is not the answer.

Politics is not just elections. A political party has to keep functioning in between elections, its leaders keep travelling, its offices run, its full-time workers have to be paid, its meetings, conventions, etc cost money. All this cannot be funded by the state. For the state to try and fund even a portion of the election expenses of recognised political parties would discriminate against new entrants and restrict competition.
Parties can mobilise funds from patrons and well wishers, but should make that information public. When Sarojini Naidu famously said that it cost the party (the Congress) a fortune to keep Gandhi in poverty, she was setting up a case study on political funding.

Everyone knows that industrialists like G. D. Birla funded the Congress and the national movement. But it is not clear that they received proper receipts for the money they gave and that the Congress maintained detailed accounts of how precisely they spent the money. This tradition continued after Independence, of industrialists funnelling money to political parties without formal acknowledgement and of parties spending the money without detailed accounting. The difference is that if the purpose was, earlier, to keep one Gandhi in poverty, the money is now used to keep an entire tribe in obscene luxury and insatiable greed.
Unrecorded contributions can still be spent on unrecorded activity, of course, but competitive politics should bring to light all such activity, forcing parties to reveal its financing as well. This will raise the cost of collecting money initially, but the benefit would far outweigh the cost.

The present ridiculous ceilings on campaign expenditure must be scrapped, not raised. With transparency achieved, public suspicion of excessive money power would cap campaign expenditure where it should be. A central monitoring authority, an expanded and empowered Election Commission, for example, could monitor such claims of expenditure and income, scrutiny, challenge and defence, and reach legally binding conclusions.
For this, we need a new law to regulate political parties. We do have laws to regulate trade unions, voluntary organisations, etc but not for political parties. The law should ensure internal elections, audit of accounts, etc. Industry must realise that it is in its collective interest to clean up political funding and make all contributions by cheque. The finance minister can, perhaps, double the deduction allowed for tax purposes, from the present 100 per cent of the contribution. Company accounts are audited, for the common good. So must political party accounts. This is entirely doable, with some political will. (INAV)









Let me begin with a confession. I have tried over the years to listen to the Finance Minister make his Budget speech and each and every time I have found myself so confused by most of what he says that this is an exercise I have given up. So last week I did not listen to Pranab-da, as he is so affectionately called, give us his account of the housekeeping he plans to do for us in the coming year. Nor did I listen to the experts and economists who expressed their views on those endless Budget programmes because to tell you the truth I find their analysis almost as confusing as the Finance Minister's Budget speech. Instead, I settled myself down in my most comfortable chair in my study and re-read the chapter called 'Lakshmi' in Patrick French's excellent new book, 'India: an intimate biography of 1.2 billion people.' In this chapter French analyses why the direction that the Indian economy took went so wrong that as we approach our 64th year of independence we still face the shaming reality that we have the largest population of desperately poor people in the world and nearly half our children (45%) are malnourished.

At the beginning of 'Lakshmi' French reminds us that when India became an independent country Britain was indebted in sterling to India to the tune of 1.3 billion pounds. This was mostly due to money borrowed from the Government of India to fund troop movement and build military infrastructure during World War II. Britain itself was broke after the war so it was agreed that the debt would be paid over a period of time. 'Although it was not the full shilling,' French writes, 'this gave India a useful advantage in the years immediately following independence and partition, an asset which would need to be carefully husbanded. By 1958, when Jawaharlal Nehru's government implemented its second Five Year Plan to create an industrial economy, the money had all been used up. Without this surplus, the gap had from now on to be filled by deficit financing and foreign aid. In the words of the governor of the Reserve Bank of India, C.D. Deshmukh, the new government had run through the sterling balances "as if there was no tomorrow".'

So what did we spend all this money on? How did we reach a situation in 1990, when Chandrashekhar was prime minister, when we nearly had to mortgage our gold reserves to fund our fuel imports? By this time we had barely enough foreign exchange left to pay for two weeks worth of fuel imports and if Dr. Manmohan Singh in his earlier incarnation as P.V. Narasimha Rao's Finance Minister was forced to end the license-quota-permit raj it was because he had no choice. India was broke and ready to default on her loans.
The main reason why India was nearly bankrupt was because according to the tenets of Nehruvian socialism we spent most of our money on building those 'temples of modern India' that he was so inordinately proud of. Huge public sector undertakings that never made any profit because they were so inefficiently managed and because they made products that were so sub-standard that Indians, till not very long ago, revered all things foreign. I can remember that, right up to ten years ago, every major Indian city had special markets where smuggled foreign goods were available and anyone who could afford to buy foreign goods went to these bazaars to buy them. No sooner were foreign consumer goods allowed legally into the country than the smuggled goods bazaars slowly faded away.

India has changed unrecognizably since the economic reforms began in 1991 but one of the few things that have not changed is the amount of money we continue to waste on the government's useless commercial enterprises. Huge public sector companies, like Air India, continue to cost Indian taxpayers unaffordable and unacceptable amounts of money every year and it is time for us to recognize this. When Atal Behari Vajpayee was prime minister there was a serious attempt at privatization but because we remain so socialist in our mindset it was called disinvestment. Ironically, after Dr. Manmohan Singh became prime minister all attempts at privatizing wasteful public sector companies has come to a halt. Why?

If this were not bad enough we have the additional problem that his government has been spending our money recklessly on schemes that our supposedly meant for the public good like MGNREGA but that leak like sieves. Even Sonia Gandhi's advisors in her National Advisory Council, who invented this huge and expensive scheme, admit that corruption is a big problem. According to experts, of the Rs 40,000 crores that we spend on this scheme every year nearly half is eaten up by corruption and from all accounts it has done almost nothing to reduce poverty in rural India. It cannot because even if someone living below the poverty line manages to get the hundred days of work that he is allotted every year he makes barely Rs 10,000. If this is the only work he gets then he makes less than Rs 35 a day which would barely pay for one meagre meal a day for his family. The Finance Minister has cut Rs 100 crores from the allotment for MGNREGA in this year's Budget but this will make very little difference to his housekeeping. These huge welfare schemes have to be stopped altogether and decentralized for them to be effective.

The other disappointment for me personally is that despite the Prime Minister having promised administrative reforms in 2004, when he first took the job, there has so far been not the slightest attempt to bring them about. To wander around Delhi's government 'bhawans' is a truly depressing exercise because in every office you go into you will see five people doing a job that could easily be done by one person. Not only is there no sign that the government has cut back on recruitment but there is not even a sign that it has improved methods of governance to make them less wasteful. Every interface between the government and ordinary citizens is tied up in so much red tape that it continues to reflect that India remains a Third World country in its approach to governance. When these things change and when we get a Finance Minister one day in the distant future who can explain what he plans to do in a short, simple speech I will start listening. Until then there really is no point.








A big push to human resources development and education is one of the keys to India's overall progress and this is evident from the 24 per cent increase in budgetary allocations. The Right to Education Act plans to provide education for all Indians and seeks to jumpstart not just literacy and learning, but improve skills at all levels so that the nation would reap the youth dividend. India may be overpopulated with close to 1.2 billion people within its shores, but advanced countries with declining populations face a major deficit of human beings.

The Budget or government policies do not project export of labour even though freer global movement is part of international debate, but looking at it differently, India is a good destination for nations falling short of manpower. By the way Indians and the government see the national ethos: India does not project itself as the world's factory—a place already occupied by China. But by developing centres of excellence rapidly and taking a lead in information technology and communications, exploration of the universe and space, the policies evident in the fine print of the Budget, India sets out in new directions and superb human endeavour to offer the world the best of services at cost effective levels, though with rising costs, nothing is likely to come cheap and the real world does not respect low costs, but is at times willing to pay for incompatible quality. Indians overseas have clearly shown their mettle as educators, businessmen, industrialists, financial wizards and their children are increasingly being recognized as wiz- kids. A free and more enterprising environment could replicate that trend within India within the foreseeable future. Time is indeed running out, but work to that destination has begun, hopefully at breakneck speed.

The current financial year provided Rs. 15,000 crores for Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan and Rs.6,000 crores more has been given in the coming year. Even during the year, the allocation was increased by Rs. 4,000 crores for speedier education and the trend is expected to continue mid-course from September onwards. Elementary education gets Rs.29,000 crores, just an increase of Rs.3,000 crores over the running year. Experts say this is adjustment of inflation, but budgetary provisions are amenable to review provided the States play their part in setting up more and more schools and appointing teachers, as Bihar is known to be doing in reaching out to the most backward and poorest of the poor. Mr. Nitish Kumar, Chief Minister of Bihar, should possibly prove to be a good example for other States to improve on their record.

Education is an area not confined to the Human Resources Development Ministry, but extends to large sectors of the government. The private sector and non-governmental organisations are expected to step into the void and create not only new institutions of excellence at all levels, from school onwards right up to university level and special identified and unidentified skills. Setting up an educational institution is not just corporate social responsibility, but with fees levels touching new highs, education has already become a profitable arena, besides offering considerable influence and clout to promoters, whether they are just do-gooders or hard-headed entrepreneurs.

The Government itself imposes a 2 per cent education cess on a variety of services, including telephones and electricity. The fund is growing all the time and it does not lapse. The midday meal scheme has been given in excess of Rs.10,000 crores and there is no reason why there should be more money for it from local bodies and the Centre itself if the implementation is honest and attracts more and more parents to send their children to school. Pre-matric scholarship for Scheduled Castes and Tribes has been in the works and the Finance Minister has now made a welcome start in this area to take small but sure steps towards social equality.

Education is an area embracing vast swathes of Indian spectrum. There are more than 80 agricultural universities all over the country and they have done pioneering work in raising farm production, with the result that from 30 million tons a year, India now produces about 240 million tons of foodgrains every year, give and take a few million tons in view of climatic or natural disasters like floods or drought. Indiscriminate use of genetically modified seeds, especially in drylands of Vidarbha or Andhra has been curbed to ensure that there are no or fewer farmer suicides because of total loss of crops. Greed of GM seed marketers and producers is being sought to be stopped.

There are more than 40 specialized research institutions with huge campuses run by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research and a fairly large number by Defence Department, leave alone the Railways to develop excellent skills. The Indian Institutes of Technology are being expanded with new departments all the time and their number is being increased as well. These are steps in high skills development. Colleges with great academic record are becoming independent universities. India plans to build more than one thousand universities in a couple of decades from about 100 or 150 to 1,500 overall. The number of medical colleges is growing all the time, with new specializations being added step by step. Expansion of all institutions is quite the norm at present, with projected increase in the number of seats by 25 per cent to accommodate disadvantaged social groups. A proposal before the government is to consider starting foundation engineering courses in higher secondary schools so that the four-year engineering course on a campus can be reduced by six months to a year and create new space for additional admissions, but there are reservations on the part of administrators and teaching academy whether this is indeed feasible or not, but a way out may be found if teachers for the foundation courses in schools could be identified. Manpower shortage is a key hurdle. (NPA)










The Supreme Court judgment quashing the appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas was not entirely unexpected, given the questionable manner in which the High-Powered Committee (HPC) had selected him. A Bench comprising Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia, Justice K.S. Panicker Radhakrishnan and Justice Swatanter Kumar has ruled that the appointment was null and void because Mr Thomas was tainted by dint of being an accused in the palmolein import case in Kerala and the HPC had failed to consider relevant material. It found merit in the two petitions filed under Article 32 of the Constitution giving rise to a substantial question of law and of public importance and said that while adjudicating the case, it had to consider the difference between legality and merit as also between judicial review and merit review. Specifically, the Bench has ruled that the HPC did not peruse the six notings of the Department of Personnel and Training between June 26, 2000 and November 2, 2004, which had recommended initiation of penalty proceedings against Mr Thomas. Despite these notings, how was vigilance clearance given to Mr Thomas, it questioned.


Taking due note of the Leader of Opposition's dissent to Mr Thomas' selection (the Prime Minister and the Union Home Minister were the HPC's two other members), the Bench ruled that since the legality of the choice or selection was open to judicial review, the CVC's selection by the HPC must be transparent, based on rational criteria and be above suspicion. This alone would help maintain the integrity of the decision-making process, it ruled.


Significantly, the apex court observed that the CVC fell within the category of "integrity institutions" as in countries like the US, the UK, Canada, Australia and Hong Kong. While not questioning Mr Thomas' "personal integrity", the Bench made it clear that it was more concerned about the CVC's institutional integrity, competence and functioning. Referring to its ruling in the Vineet Narain case, it observed that the CVC's independence and impartiality had to be maintained and preserved to uphold the rule of law.


There is no denying that the Supreme Court ruling is a major blow to the UPA government at the Centre and strikes at the root of the credibility of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh which has been his strongest asset. When the apex court questioned Mr Thomas' eligibility to be CVC in the course of the hearings, asking how he could be impartial in regard to the 2G spectrum allocation scam both because he was a former telecom secretary and also because a probe was pending against him in the palmolein case, the writing was on the wall. An embarrassed government then directed Mr Thomas to "recuse" himself from inquiring into the spectrum scam. Even at that stage the government should have realised that the moral authority of Mr Thomas stood eroded and he could hardly be expected to function as an effective CVC, but it chose to persist with him.


The apex court ruling in the Thomas case refocuses attention on the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary. In a veiled reference to the separation of powers and perception on judicial activism, the apex court observed that though the Centre was not accountable to courts for the selection of persons to important constitutional posts, it was accountable to courts with regard to the legality of the decisions when examined under the judicial review jurisdiction.


In the light of the controversy over the CVC's selection, the court's guidelines are instructive which the Centre will hopefully factor in while making such appointments in future. In line with the letter and spirit of the 2003 Act, it has suggested that while selecting the CVC, the zone of consideration should not necessarily be restricted only to civil servants. Since the legality of selection is open to judicial review, the selection panel can impart fairness to the process by explicitly giving reasons for and against the selection, if any. It has reiterated that while all those empanelled must be persons of impeccable integrity, such empanelment should be carried out on the basis of rational criteria duly recorded in notings. While the court has fixed criteria for the selection of persons to constitutional posts, this may impinge upon the executive's prerogative and go beyond its power of judicial review.


The political ripples from the Thomas case judgment are bound to leave the government bruised. It is crucial that the Manmohan Singh government draws the right lessons from it and puts systems in place to ensure that key constitutional appointments are made with due application of mind.









The gun culture in Pakistan has claimed the life of another well-known public figure — Minister for Minorities Shahbaz Bhatti. The cold-blooded killing of Bhatti, the only Christian minister in Pakistan, was perpetrated in less than two months after Pakistani Punjab's Governor Salman Taseer fell to his own bodyguard's bullets in Islamabad. Both were vociferous critics of the controversial blasphemy law, formulated during Gen Zia-ul-Haq's regime. Both openly sympathised with the incarceration of poor Aasia Bibi on a charge of having violated the dreaded law. They, like many others, wanted the law to be amended so that it could not be misused to punish innocent individuals. The only difference between these two and the others who subscribe to their viewpoint is that they put across their opinion forcefully, little bothering about the threats to their lives from extremists and terrorists. They have lost their lives, yet they are not losers. After all, they have sacrificed their lives for championing a cause dear to them and many others.


Bhatti, who had been receiving threats to his life for a long time, perhaps, believed that even his security guards would not be able to save him when the end were to come. That is why he did not ask his security men to accompany him when he left his house in Islamabad on the fateful Wednesday morning to attend a Cabinet meeting, which he could not. But by sacrificing his life he has given added strength to the movement for amending the blasphemy law. Now the government in Islamabad, which had chosen to keep quiet on the controversial law after Taseer's assassination, cannot remain unmoved. It has to move forward if Pakistan is to remain a part of the civilized world.


Mere condemnation of Bhatti's killing will not do. The forces of extremism and terrorism must be told clearly and forcefully that the gun cannot be allowed to decide the fate of a debate or a discussion. The Pakistani Taliban, who have claimed responsibility for Bhatti's assassination, and the supporters of its extremist ideology must be dealt with ruthlessly so that they cannot gather courage in future to say that "those proposing amendments to the blasphemy law will meet the same fate".










IN the midst of region-wide mass upsurge in West Asia and North Africa for change — already successful in Tunisia and Egypt — attention is now focused on Libya whose tyrannical, ruthless and megalomaniac ruler, Muammar Gaddafi, has already turned it into an inferno. The writing on the wall is clear: Gaddafi has got to go. But the longest lasting dictator who has ruled his country for four decades, together with his sons, is determined to stay put and fight apparently because, in a tribal milieu devoid of any pluralist element, he seems confident of the total loyalty of his own Gaddafa tribe. Evidently the man is also delusional. For, he had the temerity to tell the BBC in Tripoli: "No street protests in Libya have taken place. There had been only foreign attempts to colonise the country." He added that since all Libyans "loved" him, there was no question of his quitting.


Yet the stark realities are totally opposite of Gaddafi's hallucinations. The eastern part of the country is wholly out of his control. Benghazi, the Libyan capital until the 1969 coup by Gaddafi himself, is now the bastion of the forces arrayed against him. Ironically, the soldiers he sent to Benghazi to teach the protesters a lesson turned their guns on him. More importantly, the protesters are more numerous and more confident today than before. They are fearlessly on the march to Tripoli, the dictator's last bastion. A strategic town to the west of Tripoli is also under the control of the protestors. Those arrayed against the hated Gaddafi regime have formed a coordination committee and have had the good sense to declare that it is not Libya's interim government. The plight of the migrant workers fleeing the country while being plundered and even roughed up by Gaddafi's police and thugs advertises what kind of government he has been running. The world's main worry now is how many more people he would kill before bowing to the inevitable.


Against this brutal backdrop, it is no surprise that the world opinion is enraged and the relevant institutions have started taking necessary action against Gaddafi's monstrous ways. The UN Security Council has unanimously condemned him, declared an arms embargo on him, and threatened to drag him and his equally bellicose sons to the International Criminal Court for their crimes. The 27-nation European Union has frozen the bank accounts and assets of the Gaddafi family and deprived them of their diplomatic immunity. In the United States, there is even talk of "military intervention", but official sources are trying to discourage it. However, two American warships have already been deployed in the Mediterranean close to Libya.


The international community hasn't yet taken the obvious step of enforcing a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent continued use of warplanes to bomb innocent people. For this there are two reasons. The first and the obvious one is that many countries need to send their aircraft to evacuate their stranded and tormented nationals. Secondly, and no less importantly, all concerned are pondering what might have to be done should the reckless ruler isolated in Tripoli defy the no-fly restrictions.


Oil and geopolitics have sometimes driven western nations to making shabby compromises with Gaddafi. They did so, for instance, even after he had sent his terrorists to blow up a PanAm aircraft over Lockerbi in Scotland and bomb a nightclub in Berlin. They pampered Gaddafi even more after he gave up his nuclear weapons programme and spilled the beans on the Pakistan-based nuclear Walmart, run by A. Q. Khan. Such grubby deals are no longer possible, whatever Gaddafi's expectations.


A major difference between the situation in Egypt and Tunisia on the one hand and Libya on the other is that in the latter there is no steadying hand of the army. After attempted coups by army officers in 1975 and 1980, Gaddafi saw to it that the army was undermined and hollowed, like all other institutions that could possibly be a threat to him. He has organised instead a militia fiercely loyal to him personally. It is well trained and well equipped. He also has a large contingent of mercenaries and thugs recruited from Africa. Together they would be his last line of defence, and though their strength should not be underestimated, their capacity to withstand the popular surge should not be exaggerated either.


At the Security Council, India voted along with all other members, and Indian Ambassador Hardeep Puri explained this country's position well.


Hopefully, this would continue to be the Indian stand. For, in the case of the Jasmine revolution in Egypt, New Delhi remained silent for a long time before saying the right things. Policymaking can and should be better than that.  


So much for Libya, but what about the rest of the region that is in the midst of turmoil to seek reform and change? The era when it was generally accepted that Muslims of the Arab world were not interested in democracy, and that dictators of the various countries in the region were the necessary guarantee against Islamic radicalism is over. Given the volatility of the situation, it is difficult to forecast the likely scenario in each country with certainty. But some trends are evident.


In Tunisia, for instance, the apparently unwanted Prime Minister in the interim government has resigned. Even more importantly, in Egypt, the pacesetter in the Arab world, things seem to be moving in the right direction. The army, which had been wise enough to stay neutral during the uprising, seems to be keeping its word. It is working out amendments to the constitution in consultation with all concerned. Unless the entire army leadership has taken leave of its senses, it must know that it cannot entrench itself in power with a civilian façade. The status quo ante just cannot be maintained.


It is perhaps accurate to say that monarchs of the region have a better chance of survival than military-backed dictators, provided they try to do so with reform, not repression. Even so, the nervousness of the Saudi royal family is manifest. At first King Abdullah, back from the United States after medical treatment, distributed billions of dollars to the population. But the turmoil in Bahrain — where a 30 per cent Sunni minority has been governing the 70 per cent Shia majority — is worrying the Saudis. For, there is a substantial Shia majority in the oil-bearing Saudi areas. It is no exaggeration to say that the sectarian divide could have a major impact on the Gulf area.







It was just another regular sunny day. All the men in my area were ready for their work, all the ladies were running against time to "pack" and "pack well" for their husbands and kids, and not so happily the kids were pushing themselves to their schools. It was just the way I start my day looking at this race for life. I was out of my bed and even before my morning tea, I wanted to see it once, to hear its sound, to touch it so as to feel alive, but this time there was something unusual about its behaviour. It was not responding in the bright and contrasting manner like earlier.

I was scared if my black and white nightmare of "losing a friend" was going to come true again this time.


For once I wanted my sixth sense to be wrong, wanted the love-hate relationship that I have with luck to be by my side. But like always everything that I feared came true and my life came to a standstill again. I didn't know what to do, and felt so helpless when my best buddy stopped showing. Suddenly my best friend left me in the lurch and vanished. For me the road to life had no "right turn" and I felt shattered when the only "livewire", the only hope, the ultimate crazy thing ever happened to me. My "laptop", my dearest possession, crashed and believe it or not I didn't know how to move on in life without its support.


Strange as it may sound to several others, but in times like today when everything is so "Chinese", when "trust" in relationships is fading away and when everyone seems to be humming the same song "Everything I do, I do it for me", I lost the only reliable thing I could count upon anytime, anywhere both in my highs and lows.


The most trendy, workable, best package and practical love I could ever imagine was my "lappie" and trust me my life "rocked" with my notebook and Internet together. Life was more like an open facebook. Sitting in front of the "Google guru", the world was my oyster and made me confident of knowing almost everything. After a long time impossible for me was "I-Am-Possible", but damn "Yeh zindagi" just when something good happens and exactly when you start thinking that you are living in a "perfect world", the darkness clouds your happiness. Now, I feel life was a lot better when it was simple and not so high-tech, relationships were more real and honesty did pay back. At least, there was some "whiteness" in those black days!










A challenging new chapter in my life had begun! At this stage, it would be apt to quote Winston Churchill: 'It seems I have spent a whole life to prepare for this moment.' Though not directly seeking the top post, I assumed the office of Prime Minister of India on 21 April 1997 at 10 a.m. when the president, Dr Shankar Dayal Sharma, swore me in as the 'First Servant of the Nation' in the magnificent Ashoka Hall at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in the presence of a vast array of dignitaries.


Physically, the entire procedure was strenuous. I had hardly slept for the past two nights, caught up as I was in tying up so many loose ends. The president had summoned me to Rashtrapati Bhavan at 9 p.m. on 20 April to hand over the formal letter of appointment as the Prime Minister of India. He informed that the swearing-in ceremony had been fixed for the very next day at 10 a.m. Earlier in the afternoon, the leaders of the constituent parties of the UF had met the president to endorse my name as the Prime Ministerial nominee.


I drove from Rashtrapati Bhavan to Andhra Bhavan where the aforementioned leaders joined me. In our prolonged meeting, it was all smooth sailing, except for Mulayam and Lalu, who created obstacles. Mulayam wanted to be named as the deputy Prime Minister, but Naidu was able to persuade him to put off his demand for a while. On the other hand, Lalu was too hard a nut to crack. Till 4 a.m. (22 April) he insisted that I drop Union ministers Devendra Yadav, Srikant Jena, C. M. Ibrahim and Ram Vilas Paswan for no other reason except for his personal feuds with them. Ultimately, at 4.30 a.m., I succeeded in persuading him to relent and replace only Devendra Yadav. Then I had to rush back to Rashtrapati Bhavan, where I asked the cabinet secretary to notify the entire Council of Ministers under Deve Gowda, except Devendra Yadav, that they had been retained. Eventually, on 22 April 1997, at 10 a.m., the new cabinet was sworn in.


The Business Advisory Committee of the Lok Sabha decided that I should seek, on 22 April, a vote of confidence that the president had mandated.


After a brief post-lunch nap at home, I made my debut as Prime Minister by addressing the Confederation of Indian Industry's (CII) annual conference. In my speech, I assured the audience that additional economic reforms, which the industry so keenly awaited, would be brought about. The event was reported favourably by both the electronic and the print media and the stock market also responded positively.


My second day in office (22 April) was mostly devoted to a long and gruelling debate in the Lok Sabha prior to seeking a vote of confidence for the new government (as stipulated by the president). The debate, began at 11 a.m. and concluded at 9 p.m. I made two speeches: the first at the beginning and the second at the end. Mulayam Singh had suggested – and rightly, I felt – that since my first speech as Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha was being telecast live, it must be in Hindi. The concluding one, of course, was in English.


On both occasions, I refrained from going into the nitty-gritty of policy matters and governance and, in my own way, tried to rise above party politics and concentrated instead on our legacy of the freedom struggle and its relevance to the contemporary era as the country was just a few months away from celebrating its fiftieth anniversary of independence (on 15 August 1997). I talked about the Gandhian principles that had spelt out our social agenda and about the Nehruvian 'tryst with destiny'. I pointed out that many crucial tasks still remained unfulfilled: more specifically, they pertained to delivering social justice to the poor, ensuring employment for all sections of society (especially the downtrodden) and providing food and shelter for the destitute. I finally highlighted a wide range of issues including the status of women, the need for uplifting the Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes (SC/ST) and the significance of cooperative federalism (in other words, cordial Centre–state relations).


The motion of confidence was passed in our favour by a voice vote a little after 9 p.m. Only the BJP members registered their 'nays'. Thereafter, I went over to the Rashtrapati Bhavan and presented to the president the decision of Parliament. It was 12.15 a.m. (on 23 April) when I completed this formality.


I began 24 April by meeting a large number of people: both at home and also those who had gathered at the Prime Minister's official residence on Race Course Road. There, I spent an hour or so with Deve Gowda, who had not yet moved out. (He had sent a message a day earlier that he wanted to meet me.) I found him struggling to come to terms with himself after his fall from the lofty office. The main target of his wrath was Lalu Prasad Yadav. Though not unjustified, he was turning the matter into a bitter feud. The former Prime Minister was keen that I avoid getting close to Sita Ram Kesri, the Congress president, who was primarily responsible for toppling his government. He was insistent that I should refuse to attend any meeting with the All India Congress Committee (AICC) leaders, even if I were invited, which I found to be a rather odd demand, particularly given the inescapable reality that the government I headed depended heavily on cooperation and support from the Congress. Deve Gowda had a long list of unaccomplished tasks, in which I was not particularly interested; I had my own priorities. I wanted to strengthen the institutions created by Jawaharlal Nehru, which had lost their lustre over a period of time.


Relations between the United Front and the Congress had improved substantially after my becoming Prime Minister. Sita Ram Kesri sought a meeting with me. As per the mutually agreed-to formula, 'the PM and the Congress president would meet periodically for summit-level coordination'. Consequently, I invited him (on 24 April 1997) for lunch at Hyderabad House (a palatial mansion situated near India Gate). He apprised me of his two meetings with G. K. Moopanar, who, along with P. Chidambaram and a few others, had broken away from the Congress to form his own party: the Tamil Maanila Congress (TMC). (As mentioned earlier, Moopanar was not willing to join the UF Government, but did offer outside support.) In these meetings, Kesri had asked him to join the government for a 'more intimate participation in governance'. For running the government efficiently, I needed the services of Chidambaram – who had held the vital finance portfolio in the Deva Gowda Government.


Kesri told me that he had noticed that the relationship between Chidambaram and Moopanar was no longer close or intimate. Hence, Moopnaar had not encouraged Chidambaram to participate in his meetings with Kesri. The growing rift between the two leaders had been brought to my notice the previous day by Jayanthi Natarajan, a former Congresswoman who too had joined the TMC. She blamed Moopanar for this development.


Kesri tried to sell me the idea of setting up a five-member composite committee consisting of representatives from the UF and the Congress. (Both Kesri and I would be members.) Such a proposal had been earlier rejected by the UF (during the Deva Gowda regime) since it would catapult Kesri into a position of parity with the Prime Minister as chairman of such a committee. I too rejected this idea though Kesri was fully convinced about its efficacy. He wanted to discuss this topic once again with me after a 'talk with the Congress Working Committee'.


Ever since I had taken over as Prime Minister, I had not been able to devote the needed amount of time to the nitty-gritty of administration because I just could not avoid a seemingly unending series of meetings with people from all walks of life. But I was determined to make up for lost time.


The attorney general of India, Ashok Desai, and the Union law minister, Ramakant Khalap, apprised me of the various pending cases in different courts against high-profile politicians. They also underlined the government's helplessness in the face of recent judicial activism. The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) had been thinking of appealing in the Supreme Court against the Delhi High Court's verdict (in the third week of April 1997) in favour of former Union ministers, including L. K. Advani, V. C. Shukla, Madhavrao Scindia and Kamal Nath, in what came to be known as the 'Hawala scam'. This was a Catch-22 situation. Either way, I stood to lose politically.


The situation regarding a case against Prabhakar Rao, son of the former Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, was similar. Prabhakar was alleged to have been involved in a massive urea scam. He was then out on anticipatory bail and the CBI was planning to appeal against it.


I was also apprised of the case against media baron Ashok Jain who headed the Times of India group of publications. This case was started at the behest of C. M. Ibrahim during the Deve Gowda regime to show him (Ashok Jain) his place. According to N. K. Singh, the then revenue secretary, the case was based more on vendetta on the part of the Enforcement Directorate rather than any substantive evidence. The judiciary had ordered the secretary to report directly to the court, which meant bypassing the political hierarchy. I decided that the best course for me would be one of total non-interference and allowing the law to take its own course, despite the political pressures mounting from all directions.


Meanwhile, the Moopanar-led component of the UF finally decided that four of its members would rejoin the government. The return of the finance minister, P. Chidambaram, was of particular importance at that stage because the Left parties were objecting to some features of his previous budget. As soon as Moopanar conveyed this news to me over the telephone (while the cabinet meeting was going on), I asked the cabinet secretary (T. S. R. Subramaniam) to request the president to swear in the new incumbents on 30 April 1997. I had also decided to induct Jaipal Reddy, a reliable ally, from Andhra Pradesh as the minister of information and broadcasting after getting the support of Naidu, since Reddy was not a Member of Parliament. (He eventually became a Rajya Sabha MP.) The swearing-in could not take place on 30 April because Chidambaram requested me for a postponement till 1 May since the chosen day was not auspicious. Though his request sounded a bit bizarre to me, I complied with it.


Mulayam Singh Yadav, the new defence minister, called on me on 1 May 1997 soon after the swearing-in of the new cabinet and assured me of his complete loyalty and support. As he put it in Hindi: 'Aapki buddhi aur mera sangharsh mil kar chale, to bahut kuch ho jayega.' (Your intelligence and my efforts together can achieve a lot.) He told me that though his name had been sponsored for the office of Prime Minister, he had himself withdrawn it since he was keen to ensure that I occupy the post, particularly because of my grasp of diplomacy. As he was secular in his outlook, he wanted to take on the BJP (known for its pro-Hindu stance), for which he sought my support. Mulayam Singh then came up with some 'requests'. He wanted Romesh Bhandari, a former foreign secretary and a Congress appointee, to be retained as the governor of Uttar Pradesh (his home state), basically to keep the state government (headed by his archrival Mayawati of the Bahujan Samaj Party) in check. He also wanted a gubernatorial berth for a party colleague and a seat for another in the Rajya Sabha from the nominated quota.

Deve Gowda too met me that evening and once again spewed venom against Lalu. He was keen to end Lalu's influence over the Janata Dal, for which he wanted my cooperation, as he wanted to take over the reins of the party by proxy by making me the party president. I did not oblige him. The next morning (2 May), J. H. Patel, who had succeeded Deve Gowda as the chief minister of Karnataka, called on me and openly denigrated his predecessor as he evidently wanted to distance himself from Gowda!


Excerpted, with permission, from Matters of Discretion: An Autobiography, by I K Gujral, published by Hay House, New Delhi








Titus Andronicus is the most gruesome of Shakespeare's plays. The Shakespearean scholar Clark Hulse reckons that it averages five atrocities per act. Perhaps the worst is the gang-rape and mutilation of Lavinia, Titus's daughter. In Julie Taymor's 1999 film adaptation of the play, this horrifying scene shows Lavinia, after her rape, seated on a tree-stump in a devastated landscape, her tongue cut out, her hands chopped off.

In 1988, Jodie Foster won an Oscar for The Accused, based on the true story of Cheryl Araujo's gang rape in a pool bar in New Bedford, Massachusetts, in the presence of onlookers. Rape and gangrape feature prominently, too, in Anthony Burgess's A Clockwork Orange as they do even in fictionalized historical accounts (Ross Leckie's Hannibal) when it was possible, perhaps, to exclude them.


But reality seems always to exceed art. In Araujo's case, the onlookers were acquitted, their release feted and the victim run out of town. In December 2009, a 15-year-old schoolgirl in Richmond, California was gang-raped and beaten while others watched, cheered and filmed it on their cellphones. In his book of essays, Vermeer in Bosnia, Lawrence Weschler describes meeting the president of the Yugoslav War Crimes Tribunal. The judge recounts the horror stories he has to encounter every day: a famous Muslim soccer star whose legs were smashed and who was made to watch his wife and two daughters being repeatedly raped before their throats were slit.


If there is one thing that's clear from any recounting of a rape story is that it is almost always about power and subjugation. The lives of figures like Phoolan Devi, subjected to repeated rape as a means of social dominance, are well known. The tribulations of Bhanwari Devi, an extraordinary woman, began after she was gang-raped by five men of an upper caste. As the recent arrest of an NCP legislator accused of rape shows, we are in many ways still entirely feudal and men in power believe that their position renders them inviolate in their violations. (Of course, the moment they're caught they all promptly complain of "chest pain"). Our news makes grimmer reading than anything in fiction.


But it is not only about power. Rape is the worst thing one human can do to another: its consequences can be as horrific as the act. A living death, it is made worse by the social stigmas which penalise the victim and by our outdated laws. The infamous Mathura case led to criminal law amendments and longer prison terms, but it is still legally impossible for a husband to rape his wife unless she's under 15 (and the punishment is less if she's between 12 and 15); and the law only sees penile/vaginal penetration as rape, ignoring mankind's infinite capacity for depravity. What should be done with a convicted rapist? Few would suggest that it is enough if he pays compensation to the victim.


The Supreme Court's 22 February 2011 decision in Baldev Singh v State of Punjab is, therefore, extremely disquieting. It is a very short judgement, no more than three pages. Three men gang-raped a woman early one morning. They were sentenced to 10 years rigorous imprisonment. Before the Supreme Court, they said that they had 'entered into a compromise' with the victim: the men had been in jail for over three years, all were now married, as was the victim (though "not to each other", as the judgement helpfully tells us) and since the case was over 14 years old, and since the parties had apparently "compromised", the court felt justice would be served by allowing each of the three accused to pay Rs.50,000 to the victim. It reduced the sentence to the time already served.


S.376 of the Penal Code allows the court to impose a lesser sentence "for adequate and special reasons". The passage of time as a case grinds its way through the creaky machinery of our legal system is neither adequate nor special. It is no reason at all. Is compensation instead of a sentence even permissible? S.376 is a "non-compoundable" offence: it cannot be compromised. In this case, an affidavit was filed before the Supreme Court, presumably recording the victim's consent. But in another case a court might have no way of knowing if the victim was coerced or if her 'consent' was fraudulently got.


Substituting compensation for imprisonment in rape cases and doing so on the ground of the law's delays sets an extremely dangerous precedent. It raises unanswerable questions: what compensation is appropriate? Against what length of time served? Why only Rs 50,000? Just as there is no tariff for murder, there cannot be a going rate for rape.


For another version of this article, with notes and references, visit 



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The Union budget marks a watershed in the life of the Indian information technology services industry, akin to a family's coming of age rites of passage! The end of support to a growing youngster is implicit in two measures that signal the end of special treatment. One is the sunset of the software technology parks of India (STPI) and sections 10A/10B via which tax sops were given to the IT-BPO sector in its growing years. The other is the general measure that extends the minimum alternate tax (MAT) to units in special economic zones (SEZ). When the impending sunset of STPIs and the tax concessions that when with the scheme appeared on the horizon, large IT-BPO operations made a beeline for SEZs in order to continue to receive tax benefits. Simultaneously, the industry association NASSCOM appealed for the continuation of the STPI scheme at least till the introduction of the new direct tax code, so as to enable small and medium firms, which could not migrate to SEZs to continue to enjoy the tax benefits. Now the entire industry — small, medium and large units — will have to live with the virtual end of tax concessions.

At such moments it is impossible not to feel nostalgic. The STPI was one of the finest and most innovative measures ever undertaken by the government of India to cut through, in one stroke, all the red tape that had bedeviled Indian business. It was a symbol of the new economic policies that came in the early nineties and enables the government to share some of the credit for India's success in IT services. But there is a sunset to all living things and the mood that must now take over is the excitement that comes with being treated as a grown up, and asked to share the burden of not just running the household, but playing a role in promoting future prosperity. The budget speech lists a whole set of projects and measures that will go a long way in not just e-enabling government but also providing the IT backbone for new regulatory initiatives. These range from the by now well known UID mission to providing an adequate IT backbone to the tax administration to linking 1,500 centres of higher learning in a fibre optic network as part of the National Knowledge Network.


Properly executed, these projects should impart a quantum jump to the efficiency of the whole economic structure and bring in their wake significant productivity gains. This will enable India to journey the new century on a firm footing, leaving behind the bureaucratic shortcomings symbolised by the mountains of files and endless paperwork that went with government offices. Along with giving a boost to the economy as a whole, the projects will also create a substantial domestic demand for the IT industry itself so that it no longer has to be heavily dependent on export demand. Thus, from helping IT services grow, we are now into the mode of IT services helping the Indian economy to grow.






Union finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has been able to convey the impression that the agricultural sector was a key area of policy focus for his budget, but just about. He has chosen some good policies and programmes to boost agricultural development, but has done so in a half-hearted manner. Whether the agricultural sector actually benefits from his attention remains to be seen given that he has been niggardly in the allocation of financial resources. Most programmes have been allocated paltry sums of around Rs 300 crore each. These include integrated development of 60,000 pulse villages, promotion of oil palm, setting up of vegetable clusters, popularisation of millets, augmentation of fodder resources and national mission for protein supplements through development of livestock, dairy, piggery, goat rearing and fisheries. What impact a measly Rs 300 crore has on the livelihood of targeted beneficiaries numbering in millions can well be imagined. While the move to extend rice-based green revolution to the eastern region is laudable, the allocation of a mere Rs 400 crore for the effort is surprising. Considering the natural endowments of this tract — deep and fertile soil, copious water resources and plentiful sunlight — the region surely has the potential to steer the country towards the second green revolution, much the way the north-western region did earlier. But the proposed funding is inadequate, given that this sum is to be shared between as many as six eastern states, including big ones like West Bengal and Bihar.

For every good idea that the finance minister had, he seems to have had one bad idea as well. Thus, while he very correctly said that regulated mandis prevent retailers from integrating their enterprises with farmers for the benefit of both producers and consumers, he fell short of announcing either an incentive scheme for promotion of organised retail chains or allowing foreign direct investment in multi-brand retailing, nor did he propose some incentives scheme that would encourage state governments to pursue the reform of agricultural produce marketing Acts.

Similarly, while he took some helpful steps to enhance the flow of credit to agriculture, with the agricultural credit target raised by a whopping Rs 1 lakh crore to be pitched in at Rs 4,75,000 crore for next fiscal, he offered interest rates subvention, bringing down the effective rate of interest on agricultural credit to 4 per cent for those who repay loans on time. This is not a particularly good idea because it would encourage banks to lend more to the same group of non-defaulter farmers, generally large land holders, rather than roping in new borrowers, who may, actually, be in greater need of such credit.

In fertilisers too, the budget doles out sops such as infrastructure status and tax concessions for fresh capital investment, but these are unlikely to yield any result unless critical reforms, pending for long, are also carried out to inspire confidence among prospective investors about returns to investment in agriculture. The most important positive for agriculture in the budget is the emphasis placed on rural infrastructure building. Thankfully, Mr Mukherjee has helped re-focus public attention on Bharat Nirman — the rural infrastructure initiative of the United Progressive Alliance government — rather than just on the rural employment guarantee programme. Bharat Nirman ought to be the real foundation for rural development







India is moving out of the teens this year. We complete twenty years of liberalisation. The 25-year-old today grew in the era of economic liberalisation — the 1990s. The 25-year-old in five years time would have been born into the era. This demographic shift could have serious implications for marketers and provide them with opportunity to change gears. It's worthwhile to see what some of the changes are that could happen in terms of both — profile of consumers being marketed to and their outlook to marketing communications. It's known that India will continue to be young unlike our European and Japanese counterparts. And the technology boom will continue and extend beyond the large towns into the interiors making new media clearly an optional channel of communication for marketers and brands. So, what will the consumer of the next decade look like and what's the implication for branding?

First, a new version of two Indias will emerge. If the past two decades saw the emergence of urban and rural India — one media rich, the other media deficient; one driven by indulgence and the other by constraints — in the next decade, north and south India could become two distinct markets. This could be beyond the cultural divide already recognised by marketers and marketing mixes. The double hump of new India will be defined by ages. According to Nandan Nilekani: "by 2025, north India's population will be very young with a median age of just twenty six; but the median age in south India would be 34 — similar to Europe's in the late 1980s". This could mean marketing to distinct mindsets. The mid-twenties is a period of independence, confidence and experimentation; the mid-thirties is an age of responsibility, reality and more set behaviours. As marketing moves from penetration to consumption, the implications of this age divide could mean distinct strategies for the two Indias — much the same as marketers have adopted to address the urban rural divide in the past — just that it's going to happen in similar urban markets.


The second change would be the emergence of a smaller size household. Between 1987 and 2007, the number of "single member" and "couples without children" households has grown from 2 and 5 per cent respectively in 1987 to 5 and 11 per cent in 2007. Migration and urbanisation is going to continue to grow these numbers; and with men and women marrying late and having children even later, the profile of the "moneyed consumption" class is going to see a new significant segment. The past two decades has seen the shift from joint families to extended nuclear families but these small households (included joint singles — singles living together with a set of shared products and another set of private products) could provide marketers a new opportunity to provide relevant SKUs and brand platforms.

The third change would be the growth of English. It could be tempting to extend the internet into local languages to reach the small town audiences. However, one needs to recognise the proliferation of English in small town India. There is already a groundswell for English in small town India — nearly one-third of all rural school children are now enrolled in private schools and close to 50 percent of these schools are English medium. The penetration of English internet will ride on the craze for learning English and the connected growth in English schools. English communication would become mass! This could then see an opportunity of a counter trend — the return to roots and hence a re-emergence of value in local language.

The fourth change to consider is the new generation's comfort with participation, engagement and interaction. A recent American study shows that the growth of mobile and the internet has not equivalently reduced the consumer's involvement with traditional media. The generation has just become better multi-taskers consuming two or three media simultaneously comfortably. We already see this around us — viewers smsing through mobile with TV programmes. This provides marketing communication to move into engaging people with their stories in traditional media. If the 1980s and early 1990s were about information and imagery; and the late 1990s and the first decade of 2000 one of entertainment and imagery — then the next frontier would be of engagement and participation.

The fifth opportunity is just a contradiction to the fourth. The time-crunched, short-attention span audience would perhaps have less and less time for brands and their messages. This is also a generation that is getting more and more visual in communication — pictures, emoticons, etc. The mobile would be the screen the generation is most exposed to. Its basic size makes visual the strongest way to communicate. "A picture says more than a thousand words"would be true to this audience. How to tell a brand story with just visuals would be the next challenge for marketing communicators. This could spell the ascent of the visualiser over the copywriter!

The sixth opportunity is again linked to the fourth and fifth. Markets are going to be crowded and quality is going to be commoditised. Need satisfaction, especially for the urban consumer, is going to be taken for granted. Hence, the next frontier for brands is going to be about inspiring consumers rather than providing just functional and emotional satisfaction. Given the rise of social consciousness, the emergence of conflicts between materialism and traditional values, "inspiration" would be the next hunting space for brand positioning.

Finally a wild card: As modern trade grows and the man continues to play a greater role at home — lending either a helping hand in daily chores or taking on some of the roles traditionally the woman's including shopping (the modern trade making it easy), the man could become the decisionmaker for some of the household products, traditionally seen as women's domain. He could be making the brand choice for himself and his children, and in a world where homes are becoming multi-brand in many categories, this could be significant. We could see target audiences defined as male, 35-45 year old — a far cry from the female, 25-year-old — the norm of the last two decades!

These are just some of the changes around the corner. India in the next decade is not the same as what it was in the last two. The more we ponder about it, the more we will be prepared to change gears.

Views expressed are personal.







Plaudits — with a Bengali accent — to our finance minister, who has shown that the UPA government, whatever its failings (and they are many), has a clear and focused approach to financial management. The Budget speech hit all the touch-points - with the exception of FDI in multi-brand retail - and provides a highly credible picture of strong growth ahead

Of course, the devil, as always, is in the details. To contain the deficit at 4.6 per cent, as he plans to do in 2011-12, the finance minister is counting on an increase in tax revenues of nearly 25 per cent. With forecast real growth of 9 per cent and inflation targeted at no more than 6 per cent, this translates to an increase of around 10 per cent in receipts as a result of improved compliance and a widening of the tax net. This does appear a tad optimistic.

However, the economy is certainly on a roll and, assuming the crisis in the West Asia doesn't roil world markets for too much longer, I would bet that we will end up with better than 9 per cent growth.

Inflation, of course, will remain a major issue probably over the next few years. However, as explained in the Economic Survey, inclusive growth and globalisation — both things we want and need — are inflationary in themselves. As our economy becomes more inclusive — by the end of 2011-12, all the 73,000 habitations will be linked into the banking system — the otherwise static savings of poor people will enter the financial market and acquire greater mobility. This will push up money supply generating more inflation. So, too, as the economy continues to globalise, the price of a basket of tradable goods in India will edge closer to the price in richer countries — while some of this will adjust in the exchange rate, some of it will be forced into domestic prices.

These are realities we can't hide from. The good news is that rather than going for easy (populist) fixes, such as cutting customs duties on fuel, the FM has instead chosen to keep building a solid structural response to inflation, from investing in rural education and health and agricultural infrastructure to delivering subsidies directly through coupons or cash payouts. The dramatic progress made by the UID project — the FM announced that from 1 October, 2011, there will be 10 lakh Aadhaar numbers released every day — confirms that the government's commitment to clean up the huge waste (and corruption) in our current subsidy scheme is real and happening.

Again, the much talked-about GST (unified goods and service tax), while still delayed by political wrangling, does appear to be getting close to reality. If, as he expects to, the FM is able to push this through during 2011-12 — he is already talking about the IT infrastructure — it will eliminate any number of inefficiencies in inter-state business and provide, over time, a boost to both growth and inflation control.

The FM also brought long-dormant financial sector reforms to the forefront. Perhaps most loudly, he announced that RBI would be issuing guidelines for new banking licenses before the end of this financial year. This is a crucial reform since growth is ultimately limited by the amount of investment capital that supports it. Since the government plans to continue to hold a majority stake in the PSU banks, fresh banking capital can only come from new banks.

Another chestnut that has been in the fire for a long time is the setting up the Public Debt Management Agency in the Ministry of Finance; this will free up RBI to focus more singularly on monetary policy, which will definitively improve inflation management, clearly a critical need.

Liberalising FDI policy, increasing substantially the limits for FII investment in infrastructure bonds, and permitting non-residents to invest directly in our domestic equity markets are all important pieces in increasing our degree of openness to capital flows. All of these will certainly impact volatility of both our forex and equity markets, but the good news is that the FM recognises — and acknowledges by these changes — that India is now largely a grown-up economy, with most entities, at this level, well able to take care of themselves.

All in all, an excellent budget.

The only gaps to me were, as I mentioned before, holding off on FDI in multi-brand retail and, more critically, no mention whatsoever of the funding of political parties, which is the root cause of India's corruption. While the FM did announce the setting up of a group of ministers to "consider measures for tackling corruption", a much more effective expedient would be to require the accounts of all political parties to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor General of India.

I guess that may have been too much to ask.








Gustav Baldauf's resignation as Air India's Chief Operating Officer was on expected lines. But the frivolity of the national carrier's latest crisis was surprising even after discounting the sheer incompetence of successive managements and the way the civil aviation ministry has been handling Air India's affairs.


Anyway, Baldauf's days were numbered since two of his high-profile appointees had already been shown the door. The Austrian national only hastened the process by publicly criticising the Indian government for playing "too prominent a role in the airline". Forget Air India; no CEO can survive if he criticises the "promoter" in his public or private conversation.

What seemed a joke, however, was the way the appointments were made in the first place. Even basic management books will tell you that no company should appoint four outsiders with fancy salaries when you are being forced to defer employees' salaries. Air India did just that. Baldauf & co were appointed at salaries of over Rs 3 crore each at a time when Air India was losing Rs 20 crore a day and the employees of the debt-laden airline got delayed salaries for the seventh month in a row. That's a sure recipe for an HR disaster — the "outsiders" were isolated from day one, with employees resenting their appointments and the owner (the government) expecting a turnaround magic from them "with cooperation of all concerned".

A management consultant says it reminded him of a large company that once announced a shift of operations to a much smaller place in the suburbs owing to financial difficulties. That's alright. But the announcement came on the day the MD arrived at the office in a new luxury sedan he was given as retention bonus!

The role of the board, which empowered Baldauf to make at least two hugely controversial senior appointments, is even more curious and raises questions about the entire recruitment process.

Here are the facts. Baldauf had recommended the hiring of Capt Pawan Arora as Chief Operating Officer of Air India Express and Stephen Sukumar as Chief Training Officer. Arora was a former executive of IndiGo, while Sukumar had come from Deutsche Lufthansa. Eyebrows were raised at their hiring, especially among the unions that demanded their ouster from day one in view of the company's financial condition.

Although Air India says Chairman and Managing Director Arvind Jadhav went by Baldauf's recommendation, the fact is that he and the board should have done some basic due diligence before giving such appointments the go-ahead. What makes the entire situation even more untenable is the subsequent revelation that the appointments were cleared despite objections raised by some board members.

In a decision that speaks volumes about its hazy role, the board sacked Arora only after it "learnt" that he had been removed from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in which he had been seconded as Flight Operations Inspector from IndiGo. The DGCA's decision was prompted by the findings that Arora was not qualified for the post. In fact, the DGCA had asked its Chief Flight Operations Inspector to explain the circumstances under which Arora was appointed a Flight Operations Inspector.

Even if one accepts the argument that Baldauf had a vested interest in recommending Arora, it's strange how the airline's CMD and the board, which comprises civil ministry officials, didn't have the basic information about DGCA's reservations.

Even in Sukumar's (he has also resigned) case, the post of Chief Training Officer was not advertised by Air India.

Baldauf's detractors say he deserved to be sacked since he was not able to do anything to turn the airline around even after almost a year in his job. To support this argument, they cite the DGCA data for domestic air traffic in January. Air India's domestic wing had slipped to the fourth place. Jet, Kingfisher and IndiGo each flew more passengers than Air India, that too by a large margin. The DGCA's figures also showed that Air India reported low occupancy and the lowest on-time figures.

But that's a juvenile argument since it's unrealistic to expect an external person to work his magic in just 10 months in an organisation that has been on its deathbed for long with a Rs 40,000 crore debt. Its promoters never allowed it to function as a commercial airline and as a public sector undertaking; it had to follow the regulations and writ of watchdog bodies that have failed to serve any fruitful purpose.

If Air India's experiment with outside talent has proved to be short-lived (even some independent directors appointed recently want to quit), it's clearly the fault of the aviation ministry and the board.

It was a circus all the way — right from the selection process to the way things were handled subsequently.







The negotiations for liberalising trade in environmental goods at the World Trade Organisation (WTO) seem to be generating some intense debate among member countries. Countries such as India, China and Brazil are of the opinion that these negotiations should not become a market access tool for pushing products of interest for some developed countries. However, the developed world feels there is a need to push these negotiations to meet the Doha Round's objective of "enhancing the mutual supportiveness of trade and environment". Mexico is suggesting the middle path through a "hybrid approach".

The debate to "reduce or, as appropriate, eliminate tariffs and non-tariff barriers" on environmental goods and services has generated heat over the years with developing countries forming a view that these negotiations lead to "super sectoral market access negotiations".


 Reports by the Geneva-based International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development suggest that the Brazilian Ambassador to WTO, Roberto Azevedo, was of the view last week that these negotiations for quick openings in the trade in environmental goods will risk destroying infant green technology industries in developing countries without benefiting the environment.

Interestingly, he argued that the goods that will form part of the list of products for tariff liberalisation should also include agricultural products. The definition of what constitutes an environmental product has been under debate for long. Many countries have adopted a list approach and 153 products have been added to the list for tariff reduction or elimination.

Indian industry and analysts, however, have been of the view that there is a need for a clear definition of what can be clearly defined as an environmental product. The list approach, it has been felt, will not help the process of helping the environment as has been envisaged by the WTO member countries.

The list approach has been questioned for two reasons. The first is the fact that many products on the list could have a dual use and the second is that focusing on technologically superior products would only help the developed countries.

Beijing has recently concluded a tariff reduction simulation of the products on this list and has found that the average cut in tariffs by the developed world on these products would be much smaller when compared with the sharp cuts by countries such as China, India or Brazil. This, it has been pointed out, also goes against the principle of "less than full reciprocity", which is central to the Doha Development Round.

In a bid to find a solution, Mexico has suggested a hybrid approach under which countries would self-select products that they consider should be on the list and then use the model of request-offer approach to arrive at the final list of products. This may not provide the right results since negotiations will then have to move towards a bilateral discussion mode. Some other countries, too, are said to have supported the request-offer approach. These include Singapore, Hong Kong, Australia and Norway.

The negotiations on environmental goods have been linked to the discussions on sectorals under the tariff liberalisation negotiations for industrial goods by industry in the developing world for many years. Indian industry has been opposed to the negotiations on sectorals as it seeks to eliminate tariffs on some sensitive products since they are largely manufactured by the small and medium sector in the country. These include products like auto components and toys besides chemicals.

The linkage of environment to trade has not been a welcome move for industry in developing countries and they have made a strong attempt to link trade negotiations with environmental concerns. However, industry in the developed world has been keen on taking the paragraph on trade and environment in the Doha declaration to push its agenda of market access in products of interest to them.

Interestingly, much like in the case of negotiations on industrial goods, in environmental goods, too, discussions have mainly focused on the issue of tariff liberalisation and not on identification and elimination of non-tariff barriers as envisaged in the Doha declaration.

The next round of discussions on environmental goods is slated for this month and it will be important for industry to keep a close watch on the progress. Concern for the environment is essential but it must not cloak an objective of market access for products from developed countries to enter developing country markets.

The author is principal adviser, APJ-SLG Law Offices  









Mr P J Thomas has finally had the court quash his appointment as the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC), something he should have voluntarily given up once it became a matter of controversy. As the Supreme Court itself observed, this does not necessarily reflect upon his personal integrity. What the court has held uppermost is the integrity of the institution of the CVC, which cannot, in the court's opinion, be occupied by a person with a criminal case proceeding against him. In ruling that, of course, the court has deemed that the post of the CVC calls for higher standards of integrity than the posts of members of Parliament and of ministers, not to speak of the posts of mere secretaries to the government, all of which can be occupied by people being prosecuted for various crimes. If this makes us squirm, blame it on the dysfunctional judicial system over which the same Supreme Court presides. Cases span decades, people waste their lives as undertrials before being pronounced innocent, a lucky few accumulate power and glory over the decades it takes for the law to take its course, before being pronounced guilty. Irony could well add on to injury, if the original palm oil import case that dates back to 1992 for imports that took place in 1991, now reaches a final resolution and finds him not guilty — a likely eventuality.

The Opposition is perfectly entitled to crow over the court's verdict. Once the leader of the Opposition had raised objections to Mr Thomas' candidature, the government should have dropped it. Consensus should attend on institutions like the CVC and the Election Commission. Yes, the government has been rapped on the knuckles. It should accept it and move on, focusing on the job of governance. For the government, the most sensible response would be to roll out a plan to revamp our judicial system to create a situation where no case takes more than 18 months to be settled beyond the final appeal. Then, neither tainted babu nor criminal neta would slither their way into positions of responsibility. If the government moves seriously on this front, that would more than make up for the slip up on Mr Thomas.








The contagion sweeping north Africa has also obviously had its effects elsewhere. If the 'jasmine revolutions' have left many a nation heady with freedom, the irrepressible perorations of the unrepentant leader of the Libyan Arab Jamahirya seems to have had a strange knock-on effect on several western personalities. Intriguingly, the virus of Muammar Gaddafi's unguarded eloquence seems to have spread on its own — without the benefit of pecuniary prodding as seems to have been the case in London School of Economics awarding his son Seif a doctorate. Similarities have been gauged between the tenor of the dictator's delusional pronouncements and the American actor Charlie Sheen's self-obsessed twittering upsurge. Since the latter has reportedly gained a million followers in 24 hours for his rants, there may be some reason to deduce that the world does indeed love mad men, even those who are not in the eponymous TV serial set in the sexist 1960s.
Then there is the curious story of the fallen fashion icon John Galliano, whose anti-Jewish outburst has cost him his career at Dior, and cost Dior a near no-show on the Oscar red carpet last weekend. With best actress awardee Natalie Portman calling his act 'disgusting' and a cellphone video surfacing of a previous Galliano outburst in a similar vein at the same café, there is presumably no point in the British designer declaring his misdemeanour to be the result of a Charlie Sheenesque addiction to a drug called himself. Nor can he confess to a sudden liking for the Gaddafi School of Self-Destructive Ravings at this stage of Libya's strife. In another time, though, the designer known for his often outlandish creations may have perhaps confessed to admiring the eclectic personal style of the Libyan leader.







There is something seriously wrong in the role our central and state governments play in the pricing of higher education. The pricing is such that it handicaps all engineering institutions vis-à-vis all management institutions and all private engineering colleges vis-à-vis the state-owned engineering colleges at a time when the quality of our technical education leaves much to be desired. Consider this. On one extreme, the fees at the National Institutes of Technology (NITs) and Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) set up by state governments and central government respectively are pegged around . 40,000-50,000 per annum. At these levels, as we shall see shortly, the fee does not even cover the operating cost of the institutions, leave alone the huge capital investment made into them by the government. Some estimates put the true cost of education per student to the exchequer in NITs and IITs at around . 2,00,000-3,00,000 per annum. On the other extreme, we have government-owned management schools that are allowed to charge fees of the order of . 6.5 lakh per annum for their flagship post-graduate programme — for instance, IIM-Ahmedabad — and nearly 2.5 times that for executive education. With incremental capital investment limited only to capacity expansion, at these fee levels, these schools need little ongoing government support. Also, most private business schools charge fees in the same street. The underlying assumption here seems to be to let the market decide on the quality-fee parity of these business schools.

For some strange reason, this logic is not supposed to apply to engineering colleges — at least not to the private ones. The fee in the private engineering colleges is jealously regulated by the state government and pegged more or less around the same level as NITs and IITs, give or take a few thousand. In Andhra Pradesh, for example, the state government has set a fee of . 30,800 per annum for the counselling seats (70% of the total seats) and . 90,000 for the management seats (30%) in the private engineering colleges, or a weighted average of about . 48,000 per annum.

Now, whether private or government, engineering or management, all the institutions of higher education are expected to pay their faculty salary and allowances more or less in accordance with the 6th Pay Commission. And yet, the fee levels across them vary between a few thousand to a few lakh rupees per annum.

But it is not just a question of simple disparity. While it is a government's choice to subsidise (like in IITs) or not to subsidise (like in IIMs in recent times) higher education, the private engineering colleges have no such choice. They are private only notionally, when all aspects of their operations are totally state-controlled, allowing them no degrees of freedom for viability.

Consider this: AICTE requires all accredited engineering colleges to maintain a facultyto-student ratio of 1:15, and to ensure a professor : associate professor : assistant professor ratio of 1:2:4. Now, any primary school student can do the arithmetic involved and tell us that if an engineering college in, say, Andhra Pradesh were to pay the 6th Pay Commission to its entire teaching staff at median level of the scales, while maintaining the above faculty ratios, at the prescribed average fee level of . 48,000 per annum when the college had all its seats full, its total fee revenue would exactly equal the salary paid to faculty alone!

So, how is a private engineering college supposed to pay its administrative staff? Stack its library? Equip its labs? Run the campus and meet its overheads? On top of it all, the dearness allowance keeps increasing; the gratuity limit is up from . 3.5 lakh to . 10 lakh, and inflation reigns near double digits. So, how are engineering colleges expected to remain scrupulously honest and make both ends meet, leave alone excel and compete with the IITs some day? And why is it all right for management schools to charge market fees but not for engineering colleges?

AICTE now expects private colleges to own their land and building — no sir, a 30-year lease will not do — even to apply for accreditation. How are non-government-funded colleges expected to be viable?
In fact, the viability of these colleges is getting from bad to worse. Last year, as the private engineering colleges appealed to a state government to raise the fee following the near-60% hike in the 6th Pay Commission, the state government set up a committee that, after visiting some of the colleges, found these them quite viable; so a . 800 annual increase was thought adequate! This incidentally is typical of most states, and not just Andhra Pradesh.

Apparently, the committee did not waste time wondering how these colleges could be viable if they were fully complying with the norms. Perhaps it escaped their attention that even to start with, a majority of colleges are in real-estate business and not education; or that there are institutions that ask faculty to sign on amount X, but actually pay sum Y; or that a lot of them hardly meet the faculty-student ratio, what with well-known professionals lending their names to faculty count to more than one college at a time; or the many who barely meet the norms of library, laboratories and computers, making do with borrowed books, equipment and computers on the day of regulatory inspection; and of course that elephant in the room, the capitation fee, even if no prudent college ever includes that in its books of accounts. Does the government imply that these colleges may continue their questionable practices, which makes them viable?

The problem is that this kind of fee structure drives even the honest colleges looking for shortcuts, so that on paper, the distinction between good and bad colleges begins to run thin, while quality suffers all around. And in all this analysis, we are not even factoring in the extent of corruption in our academic regulation, which once again favours the corrupt while penalising honest institutions. Nor are we comparing our fee levels with international levels. It is time we took to controlling quality, and not price of technical education.









Three times in my life — so far — I have concluded that my understanding of the world was substantially wrong. The first time was after the passage in 1994 of the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta), when the flow of finance to Mexico to build factories to export to the largest consumer market in the world was overwhelmed by the flow of capital headed to the US in search of a friendlier investment climate. The result was the Mexican peso crisis of later that year (which I, as US assistant secretary of the Treasury, had to help contain).

My second epiphany came in the fall and winter of 2008, when it became clear that large banks had no control over either their leverage or their derivatives books, and that the world's central banks had neither the power nor the will to maintain aggregate demand in the face of a large financial crisis.

The third moment is now. Today, we face a nominal demand shortfall of 8% relative to the pre-recession trend, no signs of gathering inflation and unemployment rates in the North Atlantic region that are at least three percentage points higher than any credible estimate of the sustainable rate.

And yet, even though politicians who fail to safeguard economic growth and high employment tend to lose the next election, leaders in Europe and the US are clamouring to enact policies that would reduce output and employment in the short run.

Am I missing something here? I had thought that the fundamental issues in macroeconomics were settled in 1829. Back then, even Jean-Baptiste Say no longer believed in Say's Law of businesscycle frequencies. He knew very well that a financial panic and excessive demand for financial assets could produce deficient demand for currently-produced commodities and for labour, and that while such a short-run breakdown of Say's Law might be temporary, it was nonetheless highly destructive.

Armed with that insight, the disease of the business cycle should be addressed in one or more of three ways.

• Don't go there in the first place. Avoid whatever it is — whether an external drain under the gold standard or a collapse of long-term wealth as with the collapse of the dotcom bubble or a panicked flight to safety as in 2007-08 — that creates a shortage of, and excess demand for, financial assets.

• If you fail to avoid the problem, then have the government step in and spend on currently produced goods and services in order to keep employment at its normal levels to offset private-sector spending cuts.

• If you fail to avoid the problem, then have the government create and provide the financial assets that the private sector wants to hold in order to get the private sector to resume its spending on currently produced goods and services.

There are a great many subtleties to how a government should attempt to pursue each of these policy options. Attempts to carry out one of the three may exclude or interfere with attempts to carry out the others. And, if inflationary expectations become embedded in an economy, it may be impossible for any of the three cures to work. But that is not our situation today. Likewise, if the perceived creditworthiness of the government is shaken, then intervention from some outside lender of last resort might be essential for either the second or third cure to work. But that, too, is not the situation today in the core economies of the North Atlantic.
Yet, somehow, all three of these cures are now off the table. There is no likelihood of reforms of Wall Street and Canary Wharf aimed at diminishing the likelihood and severity of any future financial panic, and no likelihood of government intervention to restore the normal flow of risky finance through the banking system.
Nor is there any political pressure to expand or even extend the anaemic government stimulus measures that have been undertaken.

Meanwhile, the European Central Bank is looking for ways to shrink the supply of financial assets that it provides to the private sector, and the US Federal Reserve is under pressure to do the same. In both cases, it is claimed that further expansionary asset-provision policies run the risk of igniting inflation.

Yet, no likelihood of inflation can be seen when tracking price indices or financialmarket readings of forecast expectations. And no approaching government debt crisis in the core economies can be seen when tracking government interest rates. Nevertheless, when you listen to the speeches of policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic, you hear presidents and prime ministers say things like, "Just as families and companies have had to be cautious about spending, government must tighten its belt as well."

And here we reach the limits of my mental horizons as a neoliberal, as a technocrat and as a mainstream neoclassical economist. Right now, the global economy is suffering a grand mal seizure of slack demand and high unemployment. We know the cures. Yet, we seem determined to inflict further suffering on the patient.

(J Bradford DeLong is professor of Economics at the University of California at Berkeley)
© Project Syndicate, 2011








This columnist was seated in her favourite restaurant enjoying every little delectable morsel of lemon cheesecake. Everyone seemed to be in a cheerful mood, even the otherwise-surly man at the cash counter was smiling. But peace was soon shattered! In stomped Zenobia Aunty, notebook in hand and pounced on her niece, for having neglected to take dictation last month, which resulted in a column missed.

Let us say: hell hath no fury like an Aunty scorned. The lemon cheesecake suddenly seemed unappetising. Perhaps this columnist redeemed herself a bit by letting Spot gobble the uneaten slice. "Right ho, then," remarked Zenobia Aunty, thrusting notepad and pen at her niece and commencing her dictation post-haste.
"So Pranabda wants to eat his slice of the cheesecake and perhaps much more," began Zenobia Aunty. "It is one thing to put down things on paper, another thing to ensure that these are implemented in the right spirit," she went on. Zenobia Aunty was referring to the information disclosure required from liaison offices in India. The recently-tabled Finance Bill has made it mandatory for filing of annual information within 60 days from the end of the financial year. This proposal will take effect a few months down the line from June 1, this year.
In the initial stages, where India is being explored as a potential market, foreign enterprises prefer to set up an LO. Later, once they know for certain they want to carry on business operations in the country, they may set up a subsidiary here. As LOs cannot carry out an incomegenerating business activity in the country and fund their expenses through remittances from overseas, they typically do not file a tax return. A debate that often arises is whether an LO can constitute a permanent establishment (PE) of its foreign parent company in India. Only if the answer is positive can profits be attributed to the PE and, consequently, the foreign enterprise can be subject to tax in India.

Under most of India's tax treaties, a fixed place through which a business of a foreign enterprise is wholly or partly carried would result in a PE of that enterprise in India. This could typically be the case where a foreign enterprise sets up a branch office for carrying on commercial or core business activities. However, having regard to the limited operational profile that an LO is subject to under exchange control regulations and also on account of the fact that most tax treaties exclude from the definition of PE a fixed place whose purpose restricted to that of purely preparatory of auxiliary for the enterprise, a question often arises as to whether an LO can create a PE for the foreign enterprise and, if so, under what circumstances. Over the last few years, the above question has come up on several occasions before the judiciary. As acknowledged by the OECD Commentary, it is often difficult to distinguish between the activities that have a 'preparatory or auxiliary' character and those that do not. Thus, each case needs to be examined on its own merits. At present, as prescribed by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI), LOs have to file an Annual Activity Certificate (AAC) obtained from the auditors, as at the end of March 31, along with the audited balance-sheet on or before September 30 of that year, stating that the LO has undertaken only those activities permitted by the RBI. This has to be filed with an authorised bank that, in turn, intimates the RBI in case of an impermissible activity has been carried out. In case the annual accounts of the LO are finalised with reference to a date other than March 31, the AAC along with the audited balance-sheet may be submitted within six months from the due date of the balance-sheet.
Thus, the annual filing of information, albeit in a form prescribed by the ministry of finance appears to be just another procedural addition for LOs. Perhaps, this new form (not yet prescribed) will better enable the tax authorities to understand the nature of activities carried out by a foreign enterprise in the country through its LO and also whether any revenue has been generated in India, the source of funding of Indian expenses and what have you. This may perhaps equip the tax department to decipher whether such activities in the country are business activities that can be subjected to Indian taxes. It is vital that the country does not lose its justified share of tax revenues. However, LOs must not be subjected to any additional uncalled-for hassles. Else, like many unresolved issues choking our tribunals and courts, litigation on this front will be a never-ending dilemma, forcing many a foreign enterprise to turn away from its India dreams, in turn denting a largely FDIfriendly image of the Indian economy. After all, an LO set up is the 'first taste of India', sums up Zenobia Aunty, biting into a chocolate mud pie.





                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



The quashing of the September 2010 appointment of Mr P.J. Thomas as central vigilance commissioner by a three-member bench of the Supreme Court headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia strikes a blow for the notion of probity in administration. It is shocking that the high-powered committee that had cleared the appointment included the Prime minister and Union home minister, men whose integrity and distinction few would question. Yet these two summarily dismissed the reservations of the third member of that body, Leader of the Opposition Sushma Swaraj, assigning no reasons. This is an aspect of the matter on which the court was drawn to make an observation. It is to be hoped that when Dr Manmohan Singh makes a statement in Parliament on the subject, he will seek to offer a comprehensive explanation of why Ms Swaraj's viewpoint was ignored out of hand without any reason given. The court has called Mr Thomas' appointment arbitrary. Looking at the story how it came about, it does appear that the process that leads up to the consideration of candidates by the high-powered committee is also not wholly cogent. All facets of a contender's public service are not given due consideration. In this particular case, the Prime Minister and home minister glossed over the crucial consideration that Mr Thomas had a criminal case pending against him in Kerala from the time he was food secretary in the state. Was this matter placed on the files that the committee perused? On the basis of what has appeared in the public domain, the answer is hazy. It will be interesting to see what the Prime Minister as well as the Leader for the Opposition have to say about this in Parliament. It is conceivable that a person of integrity may have a criminal case foisted on him owing to adverse circumstances. The SC has duly noted that it did not wish to "discount" Mr Thomas' personal integrity. It nevertheless underlined the question of "institutional integrity". This quite simply means that even if a man of integrity has a criminal case against him, he should not be appointed. The court has asked the apposite question: Can such a person discharge his duties effectively? This issue had been raised by none other than the Chief Justice himself. There was no clear answer from the government, which sought to make its case based on narrow technicalities. It is a pity that a person of Dr Singh's integrity went along with this shoddy procedure. Instead of grasping the essence of the matter, he persuaded himself to be impressed with a legalistic defence of the government's decision to go ahead with Mr Thomas' appointment in the face of Ms Swaraj's objection. The CJI has rightly called the office of the CVC an "integrity institution". Especially in such a case a candidate with criminal proceedings pending against his name should have been kept out of consideration. This would be common sense to most people in everyday life. And yet the government was blind to such obvious logic.






With the soon-to-be-resumed dialogue with Pakistan looming, a spate of negativism has assailed many sections of our commentariat. It is said that the government has given in despite having received no assurances of better behaviour from Pakistan, and that our willingness to talk to an uncooperative adversary merely suggests that we have run out of ideas — or at least that New Delhi has no good options, between a counterproductive military attack and a stagnant silence.

In this reading, India has in effect surrendered to Pakistani intransigence, by agreeing to resume a process it had rightly suspended after the horrific Mumbai attacks of 26/11, even though there has been no significant progress in Pakistan bringing the perpetrators to book. The new wide-ranging and comprehensive talks, the critics point out, are the old "composite dialogue" under another label, the very dialogue we had righteously called off since there was no point talking to people whose territory and institutions are being used to attack and kill Indians.

It is a credible case, strongly held and passionately argued by many I respect. And yet I believe these critics are wrong. First, it is clear that we are doing the right thing; and second, it is time the critics also understood that we do have other options.

We are doing the right thing, because "not talking" is not much of a policy. We can deny our history but cannot change our geography. Pakistan is next door and can no more be ignored than a thorn pierced into our side. The refusal to talk worked for a while as a source of pressure on Pakistan; it contributed, together with Western (especially American) diplomatic efforts, to some of Islamabad's initial cooperation, including the arrest of LeT commander Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi and six of his co-conspirators. But it has long passed its use-by date. The refusal to resume dialogue has not just stopped producing any fresh results; the only argument that justifies it — that it is a source of leverage — risks giving us the illusion of influence over events that we do not in fact possess. Instead, it is we who seem intransigent and unaccommodative, whereas the transcendent reality of life on our subcontinent is that it has always been India that wishes to live in peace. We are, at bottom, a status quo power that would like to be left alone to concentrate on our economic development; Pakistan is the troublesome rebel, needling and bleeding us in an effort to change the power balance and wrest control of a part of our territory. Refusing to talk doesn't change any of that, but it brings us no rewards and in fact imposes a cost. When Pakistan is allowed to sound reasonable and conciliatory while we seem truculent and unreasonable, our international image as a constructive force for peace takes a beating.

Besides, talking can achieve constructive results. It can identify and narrow the differences between our two countries on those issues that can be dealt with (not all the issues that divide us can be resolved, but specific problems like trade, Siachen, Sir Creek or the Wullar Barrage, and many points of detail, are certainly amenable to resolution through dialogue). It can make clear what our bottomlines are and the minimal standards of civilised conduct we expect from our terrorism-fomenting neighbour. And should it prove necessary, it can also be used to send a few tough signals.

For the fact is that, on Pakistan's reluctance to take decisive action against the terrorism operating on its soil, we do have some credible options. The most significant of these lies in the United Nations, whose Security Council resolutions against terror were adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter and are binding on all member states, including Pakistan. These resolutions require compliance from all states on controlling the activities of terrorists. Member states are required under Resolution 1373 to report regularly to the Counter-Terrorism Committee about their actions to bring their national legislation into conformity with international requirements, to monitor the movements of suspected terrorists, arms transfers and financial flows to terrorist organisations. Resolution 1624 obliges states to pass laws forbidding incitement to commit acts of terror and to report such incitement to the committee. As it happens, effective last January 1, it is India that chairs the Counter-Terrorism Committee.

New Delhi should make it plain to Islamabad that, unless there is genuine and sustained cooperation on bringing the 26/11 plotters to book, we will not hesitate to use the international mechanisms available to us to ask Pakistan awkward questions, and to bring the weight of the international community to bear on the issue of Pakistan's failure to meet its international obligations. There are fair questions to be asked about the prosecution of suspected terrorists under custody and the lack of efforts to apprehend their remaining comrades; the failure to take any steps whatsoever to trace the handlers of the 26/11 killers, especially the chilling voice recorded on tape that exhorted the terrorists to kill their hostages; the open incitement to terror preached by the likes of Hafiz Sayeed in open defiance of Resolution 1624; and the survival, indeed flourishing, on Pakistani soil of proscribed organisations like the Jamaat ud Dawa, with burgeoning bank accounts receiving and disbursing funds. Should the answers not prove satisfactory, the next step to consider would be whether to hold Pakistan in non-compliance with the relevant Security Council resolutions, which in turn would lay the ground for selective sanctions — for example on the foreign travel of specific military leaders — in a bid to exact compliance.

Of course, exercising such an option will not be easy. It will require the cooperation of other countries, many of whom have shown a propensity to look the other way as Pakistan has misbehaved on terrorism, and it will require us to expend a great deal of diplomatic energy to assemble the necessary majority on the Counter-Terrorism Committee. But the option exists; and if we do not wish to allow Pakistan to believe it can get away with whatever it wishes, and to act as if it can shrug off its complicity in the 26/11 attacks with impunity, we need to remind them that the option exists. A truly comprehensive dialogue is one place where we can make that message clear.

So yes, by all means, let us talk to Pakistan. It is what we say when we talk that will make all the difference.

* Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram






In 1986, Colonel Muammar el-Gaddafi gave an interview to a group of female foreign journalists. Then he invited them, one by one, into a room furnished with just a bed and television and propositioned them.

They rebuffed him, and after three successive rejections he got the message and gave up. But the incident reflects something important about Col. Gaddafi that is worth remembering today: He's nuts.

The Libyan "king of kings" blends delusion, menace, pomposity, a penchant for risk-taking — and possession of tonnes of mustard gas. That's why it's crucial that world powers, working with neighbouring countries like Egypt and Tunisia, steadily increase the pressure while Col. Gaddafi is wobbling so that he leaves the scene as swiftly as possible.

Unfortunately, Col. Gaddafi has gained a bit of ground in the last few days, at least in the capital of Tripoli. He has used mercenaries to terrorise people and even drag injured protesters out of hospitals, so a sullen calm has returned to Tripoli for now.

Is there anything that America and other countries can do? Yes, absolutely. But, first, a word about what we can't do.

It would be counterproductive for American and European troops to land on Libyan soil or to start bombing runs because that would play into Col. Gaddafi's narrative about imperialists trying to seize his country. The truth is that after Iraq, we just don't have a realistic option of invading another Arab country with oil.

But what we can do is continue to squeeze Col. Gaddafi, show resolve and make it clear that his departure is only a matter of time. That resolve won't change Col. Gaddafi's mind, but it can peel off more of the Libyan military. And some of those military officers already are wavering.

On Saturday, when I was in Egypt and it looked as if the Gaddafi government might collapse at any time, I had a call from Tripoli: A senior Libyan military officer who had been ordered to attack rebel-held towns was defecting to the rebels instead. The officer wanted me to report his defection — along with his call for other military officers to do the same — and he had already recorded a video of his defection that I could post immediately on the New York Times website.

I was delighted but asked what preparations he had made to protect his family from retribution. None, it turned out.

I urged the officer to hide his family to ensure that his wife and children weren't kidnapped or killed in retaliation. A bit later, I heard back that the officer would accept the risk to his family. I suggested that the officer think this through carefully one more time — and this time the officer actually consulted his wife, who was displeased. The officer sheepishly postponed the announcement of his defection temporarily.

In the days since then, with Col. Gaddafi having gained ground in Tripoli, the defection no longer seems to be on the table.

My sense is that many Libyan military officers are a bit like that one. They're uncomfortable attacking fellow Libyans, but they're also fearful that they or their families will be killed if they refuse. If the outside world signals resolutely that Col. Gaddafi's ouster is only a matter of time, there's much more chance that officers will find ways to avoid going down with their leader.

The dispatch of American naval vessels to the sea off Libya is a useful step to show resolve. So are sanctions. A no-fly zone would have only a small impact on the fighting, but it would be a powerful signal to the Libyan military to stand down. Amr Moussa, the secretary-general of the Arab League, said on March 2 that the Arab League and African Union might work together to impose a no-fly zone, and Western countries should cooperate closely with them on the idea. We could also try to disrupt Libya's military communications.

One possible solution to the crisis being discussed within Libya is for Col. Gaddafi, who isn't actually President or prime minister, to retire with his sons to his hometown of Sirte and relinquish power to his longtime friend, Mohamed al-Zwai, who is technically head of state. Mr Zwai, the former ambassador to Britain, has a reputation as a pragmatist and might then be able to bring in rival groups and tribes and stitch the country back together again in a more democratic way. It's a long shot but worth exploring — and it's feasible only if Col. Gaddafi and his friends believe that otherwise they are going down.

The more pressure we apply, the more chance of avoiding an apocalypse. A well-connected friend in Tripoli grimly said of Col. Gaddafi: "He believes that since he has nowhere to go, he'll take as many people with him as he can".







In April 2001, a Pakistani diplomat — the first secretary of the Pakistani embassy in Kathmandu, Nepal, as a matter of fact — was found by the Nepalese police to be stashing a large cache of sophisticated high explosives in his home. The secretary, Muhammad Arshad Cheema, invoked diplomatic immunity to avoid prosecution and, after a short interval, was sent home.

In October 1985, the cruise ship Achille Lauro was hijacked in the Mediterranean, an act of open piracy that culminated in the murder of a disabled 69-year-old man, Leon Klinghoffer. Afterward, the organiser of the "operation" was apprehended and taken into custody by the Italian police. But Abu Abbas was not inconvenienced for long. He was released when he was found to be carrying a diplomatic passport — an Iraqi diplomatic passport as it happened, though he was by nationality a Palestinian and had never been accredited to any overseas mission.

These cases were far more murky and gruesome, and involved much more serious breaches of local and international law, than the decision of Raymond A. Davis, the former US Special Forces operative jailed in Lahore, to use deadly force against men he believed to be his assailants in Lahore, Pakistan. Additional murk has resulted from interagency incompetence on the part of the US, which has given discrepant accounts of his no-doubt discrepant job description. But this does not in the least alter the main element of the case, which is that Davis is, in the US President's own words, "our diplomat", and that the Pakistanis have no right to put him on trial.

Even if he were accredited to a country like Portugal, it would make no difference if Davis was a member of the "special forces", a CIA agent, or a man working under contract. Even in the case of a deliberate breach of local law, he would be repatriated before it was decided whether or not, or how, to proceed against him. But Pakistan is not a normal country. It is a failed and rogue state, where Davis would have had to know that his assailants might very well be working for the forces of law and order. There would be no need for him to be carrying arms if it were not notorious that the Pakistani Army and police are the patrons of the Taliban.

A similar observation holds true when the grotesque idea of trying him in a Punjabi court is mooted. This is a country where senior lawyers offered their services, for free, to the boastful jihadist murderer who had just slain Salman Taseer in broad daylight, and where grinning police officers oversee hysterical demonstrations calling for Davis to be hanged. Prison conditions in Pakistan are of a kind to make Abu Ghraib look trivial: Sarcastic letters in the Pakistani newspapers mockingly stress the fact that a short stay in such a jail would be near enough to a death sentence anyway.

Not to mince words, then: Davis is a hostage. He is a hostage to the Pakistani authorities who dare not make an enemy either of the Islamist mobs or the uniformed para-state run by the intelligence services. He is also a hostage to the inability of the US to call things by their proper names. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton have made the correct noises about the relevant international statutes governing immunity, but they all talk as if Pakistan were a country of law, and they all talk as if Pakistan were not a client state. Its client status, indeed, is what leads so many Pakistanis to detest America, without whose largesse and indulgence it would long ago have faced collapse. Thus to the final irony: We are denied leverage by the fact of the very influence for which we are hated.

This sick relationship with Pakistan will probably have to be terminated at some point. But in the meantime, it will have to be made very clear to the rulers of that country that if they want to keep Davis in prison, they will have to manage without "our" subsidies. He may be a bad test of an important principle, but it is still the important principle that is being tested, and we have no more right to compromise on the principle of diplomatic immunity than the Pakistanis have to violate it.

* Christopher Hitchens, an internationally acclaimed author, journalist, political commentator and literary critic, recently wrote Hitch-22.






Spirituality is a term that is often mistaken for a life of asceticism, meant either for aged people or saints, or for people who have proved an utter failure in material life or the last resort of those who are fed up with the material world.

It is a paradox that preceptors are often faced by the question, at what age should one start spiritual life! The pity is that even learned people often associate this term with the "other phase" of a man's life. This is because of the wrong conception that the essence of spirituality is detachment from worldly relations.

The fact, however, is that spirituality and material life on earth are interwoven and complementary to each other. One treading on the spiritual path need not be religious. However, since all religions teach us higher values and a true follower of any religion is likely to possess some such values, spiritualism appears to be highly religious as well. There is nothing wrong if a spiritualist goes to a temple or worships a deity, so long as it adds to his conviction and promotes his piety, and that in turn makes him a more sympathetic, all-accommodating and a tolerant person capable of identifying himself as a spark of that divine spirit.

There is no age bar, sex or caste differences in embracing spiritualism. In some, it is inborn, whereas in others it emerges gradually.

— Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author
of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals.

He has also written books on the Vedas
and Upanishads. The author can be reached
at [1]








THESE are straitened times for West Bengal. The finance department, under an MIT-trained minister for probably another two months, scarcely enhances its credibility by assuring the Governor that the fiscal mess is a "temporary problem". This is disingenuous even as it is a convoluted exercise in self-deception. Mr MK Narayanan's assessment mirrors the truth, precisely that the situation is "turning grim with every passing day". His decision to advance a report to the Centre verily puts the state on notice regarding a situation that is distinctly beyond hope, beyond despair. The negative balance, as on Tuesday, was a whopping Rs 1450 crore.

It is this fiscal mess that needs to be explained to the electorate (aka tax-payer) more urgently than the flurry of announcements that marked every working day till the election dates were announced. Indeed, the CPI-M as much as the Trinamul Congress have been engaged in this competitive frenzy though the source of funding is different ~ one dependent on the Bengal exchequer and the other on the Railways. It is a measure of the dire fiscal straits that West Bengal has now been accorded a decidedly minor rating in terms of international finance. The flow of funds from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank has stopped. This lengthens the loop of setbacks after Britain's Department For International Development (DFID), now under a Con-LibDem dispensation, decided to skirt Bengal and assist Orissa instead. Whitehall may be against public spending as a matter of policy, but the exclusion of West Bengal is an expression against misutilisation and the overall mess.
The bitter irony is that recent announcements of new projects have backfired with the suspension of funding by the state itself. The parallel disconnect would have seemed ludicrous were it not for the grave implications. Funds have been withheld by the finance department after the government announced new schemes as electoral sops. The other contradiction is that having placed a clamp on funding, Dr Asim Dasgupta was in a tearing hurry on Tuesday evening ~ even after the poll dates were announced ~ to clear certain files with fiscal implications. The administration is teetering to the brink and not merely in terms political. Whatever the outcome on 13 May, it shall be a direly depleted inheritance for the next dispensation.




IT is in a sense a unique decision, one that decidedly benefits a community and takes care of the majority/general category no less. The National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions has accorded "minority status" to Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central university. A 15-year controversy has been settled with the university being allowed to reserve 50 per cent of its seats for Muslims. Equally ~ arguably still more crucially ~ the remaining half of the seats have been allotted to candidates in the general category... with no special quota for OBCs. Jamia Millia has apparently been exempted from the mandatory Central clause that 27 per cent of the seats must be reserved for OBCs. It will thus be the first university to offer reserved and unreserved seats in equal measure. The inevitable sharpening of competition at entry point will help to spur the advancement of learning. Even a section of the faculty has acknowledged that the quality of the campus ought to improve if 50 per cent of the general seats are filled on the basis of open competition. Jamia Millia has done away with reservation for a range of class groups and quotas within quotas ~ employees' wards, SCs, STs and OBCs. Over time, 78.5 per cent of the seats had come to be reserved.

The latest move is a decidedly rational arrangement, even if some may consider it a concession to communalism. Of course, it is an essay towards empowering the minority community. Of course, it has dispensed with the OBC construct. Simultaneously the allocation of more seats for the general category will facilitate the quest for learning. This is fairly in keeping with the character of Jamia, which became a Central university in 1988. It has never functioned as a university exclusively for Muslims, unlike Aligarh Muslim University. The transformation, critical as it is, will be effective only if the new admission format is speedily framed and executed. There isn't sufficient time considering the bureaucratic nitty-gritty. As with other aspects of academic administration, the HRD and law ministries and the Visitor of Jamia (the President) will of course take a call on the new rules of engagement. For all that, the authorities must go firm with the 2012-13 academic session as the target.



SWIMMING against the wave of emotion it might be, yet it is necessary to ask if the controversy over the Umpire Decision Review System for the ICC World Cup would have snowballed thus had the host nation not felt it was the victim ~ or if India had won that blockbuster in Bangalore? It is true that the Indian skipper has previously expressed doubts about "technology", it is no less true that MS Dhoni has exploited the domestic fans' passion which is fuelled by a media that refuses to accept that "you win some, you lose some" is integral to sport. Putting such things behind you is what sporting spirit is all about ~ sadly the money injected into cricket in the country has made the superstars forget they are sportsmen. While it may be legitimate to query some aspects of  technology, a couple of basics must be borne in mind: the benefit of the doubt always favours the batsman, and without quibbling over 2.5 or 2.4 metres LBW decisions are seldom given when a batsman has come down the track. What is unbecoming, if not illegitimate, is that the BCCI accepted the playing conditions, and is now crying foul. If it was in full agreement with the captain it would have rejected that regime ~ after all there have been other tournaments and series in which there was no players' review of umpiring decisions. The moaning reflects unelevated thinking. Even if there was an umpiring error there is no guarantee that Bell's wicket would have ensured an Indian win. And while on the subject of human error, were Dhoni and some of his mates not guilty of the same when not appealing after Strauss nicked one into the 'keeper's gloves early in what proved to be a classical knock. It is time to stop the whining that has taken some of the sheen off a truly great tie.

However, the ICC has some explaining to do. Why did it opt for UDRS when two of the critical technologies ~ "hot spot" and "snickometer" ~ were not available to enable the third umpire to take an informed decision? Maybe neither would have come into play in the decision that has evoked such fury ~ but the role of technology in the future is not to be determined by a single incident. The half-baked system used in the World Cup just does not ring true.









DEAR Mr Prime Minister, ~ Since it is neither possible nor feasible to meet you in person, one is writing through open forum. It gives one no pleasure to write at a time when you are facing intractable problems all of which may not be the making of the present incumbent, but at least some of them could have been easily tackled during the past seven years of the UPA regime. Let it be clear, however, that one is not writing at the behest of anybody and that it is an expression of one's acute agony and anguish embedded in the sordid happenings all around.

We, the people of India, saw you the other day on television. One liked the manner in which a gentleman in politics tried to present matters in his perspective. But one also disliked the way an utterly helpless Prime Minister of 1.2 billion people, at a loss to defend, justify and explain the wrongdoings. One at least expected a plan of action to deal with corruption which was referred to and identified as "corruption ~ the national neurosis of India", 50 years ago by Ronald Segal in his book Crisis of India. It was reportedly banned by the government on the charge that it was "seditious".

Mr Prime Minister, what threatens the unity, integrity and sovereignty of India today is only a one-word subject ~ corruption. And if Indians fail to curb, combat or confront the menace, there will be a rerun of the days of the East India Company. Either some western or eastern power will try to destabilise a large swathe of the country.
Being an honest man of proven track record, history is bound to judge you harshly, if you fail. One fails to understand what prevents you from taking action in the interest of the nation! Why is the Bhagvat Gita's advice to be "bold, brave and wise" eluding your erudition?

Mr Prime Minister, one earnestly feels that the present scenario of delightful high growth and a matching, yet painful, high inflation and price rise cannot be wished away. One expects "direct action" based on the collective wisdom of the hierarchy. It would have been better perhaps to have a 6 to 8 per cent growth rate with a reduced 4 to 5 per cent inflation to give the masses (and they certainly constitute at least 80 per cent of the population, if not more) some cushion in the form of savings. The economic boom implies luminous bulbs that provide no power to the majority. As the Prime Minister of 1.2 billion people, one also needs to face the continuing population boom. Hence, it is absolutely essential to look into the basic needs of  the populace.
Before President Obama left for India in November 2010, he had publicly declared that he wants to "pry open" the economy of India for the growth of American employment! Can any Indian Prime Minister or President ever utter such blunt words on the eve of an official US visit? One is not against foreign investment, foreign companies and foreign equity per se, but one needs to examine how this will benefit the masses.
In recent weeks, the most disconcerting piece of news is the three-year rigorous imprisonment awarded to a 65-year-old retired three-star General. He has been found guilty of "procuring sub-standard meat and other dry rations for troops deployed to Siachen mountains and other high altitude areas". Six out of nine charges framed against him have been established. Can one imagine the potential physical plight of soldiers above 9000 ft consuming wheat, rice, pulses and edible oil past their expiry date? Can one visualize how malicious, mean, dishonest and intellectually sterile a General could be, specifically to resort to such criminal activity, verging on treachery?

In this perspective, if one recounts the  foreign invasions over the centuries, one sincerely prays that at least 21st century India will resist the repetition of the sordid past that was marked by rampant corruption, weak leadership and lack of vision. If a General betrays his frontline soldiers for greed and money, can there be any victory in battle? Will the enemy be so unwise as to ignore the corruption chinks in India's armour? One recalls the words of Sun Tzu, the Chinese warrior-philosopher 2500 years ago, in his classic, The Art of War. "Supreme excellence consists in breaking the enemy's resistance without fighting". The point is loud and clear. If Indians can be bribed at every stage, no mission of the enemy will be impossible. Should corruption lead to the demise of the "modern Indian state"?

Even the western media has been carping, even sarcastic, in its reportage on corruption and governmental failure. The cover story of the January 7-13 issue of The Guardian Weekly (London) was titled "India's year of naked corruption". The Wall Street Journal of February 18-20 criticised India's Prime Minister in an editorial titled "Mr Singh's lament". I quote: "India's Congress-led government has been besieged by allegations of graft since the middle of 2010. But Prime Minister Singh tacitly suggests it's not fair to hold him responsible when he has little control over his own coalition government... It's no secret that Mr. Singh has been India's weakest Prime Minister the moment he took office."  The country's overall prestige, honour and respect was in tatters with the acerbic conclusion: "But it's more than embarrassing when the leader of the world's most populous democracy throws his hands up at the hi-jinks of his own ministers. Accountability is clearly breaking down. India cannot be taken seriously on the world stage when its Prime Minister doesn't have the power to speak on the country's behalf".

These are severely adverse comments. However, it was nice to hear that you will not resign or retire. But the time that has been  lost cannot be retrieved. Nevertheless, you can still shore up the battered image. Be bold, brave and wise; punish the guilty and praise the honest, Mr Prime Minister. You have nothing to lose. It is better to leave with a trail-blazing glory than be cursed, or forgotten for folly and ignominy. India and its PM can certainly do better.       

The writer is a practising advocate, alumnus of the National Defence College of India and a member of International Institute for Strategic Studies, London








The "human rights" approach to water runs counter to its "human need" stand. A right cannot be sold but a need may be fulfilled if the right price is paid. Last year, the United Nations proclaimed the right to water as a human right. However, strategies of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and the World Bank (WB) have so far been oriented towards the human need approach which the Government of India shares with them.
The right to life is a fundamental right as guaranteed by Article 21 of the Indian Constitution and its various interpretations have endorsed the right to pure water and the right to pure air. The right to water has not so far found a place on India's human rights agenda even though a large part of the population suffers from a scarcity of water. Despite this, the government favours the the need-based approach that involves the transaction of need in the context of market relations. This is evident from the growth of the bottled water and water purifier companies in a country where the worst sufferers of water crisis are the poor with pure and safe drinking water available only to those who can afford it. Secondly, since water crisis in India is not so much because of scarcity but because of mismanagement of the precious natural resource and since the government has failed to provide safe drinking water to the populace, prodded by the IMF and WB,  the Centre has taken to promoting public-private partnership (PPP) by awarding management contracts. Also, the government seems to be increasingly amenable to the WB's suggestions of privatising the country's water distribution system; this apart, it is encouraging private companies to take over the management and distribution of water.
With rapid urbanisation, the demand for water has been rising with expanding water-intensive lifestyles in the cities. Moreover, the pressure on water resources that the cities exert often fuel unrest when a particular area is compelled to endure shortages in order to quench the thirst of the conurbations. In Tamil Nadu farmers had started agitating when Chennai wanted to source its drinking water from the Veeranam Lake. In Gujarat the water needs of Rajkot sparked off a similar situation.

The drive for industrialisation since 1991 has accentuated the demand for water and whenever the government has tried to meet the industry's demand by curtailing the allotment for irrigation, it has fuelled conflict. Moreover, though the demand for food items is going up, agricultural production is not being able to keep pace. With pollution in rivers and severe depletion in groundwater resources, irrigation has taken a massive hit. At the same time, the bottled water industry in India is witnessing an unbridled growth. The Indian market for bottled water is estimated to be around Rs 1000 crore and is growing at an annual rate of 40 per cent. These companies extract and exhaust groundwater for free since the groundwater law in India is not attuned to the realities of modern-day market realities. The current law says that "the person who owns the land owns the groundwater beneath". This law breathes conflict between the community and the companies owning the land. Most of the foreign players in the bottled water segment pay a meagre amount to the government which allows them to exhaust groundwater and incur a negligible cost for bottling it.  Markets have sprung up in many parts of the world to mitigate the water crisis. In India too, one can find informal markets for irrigation water in some states and the government does little to intervene.

The water resource of the country is being depleted, polluted and wasted by a handful with diversified needs at the cost of letting a large segment of the population remain thirsty. Had the government been strategic in maintaining the balance between the competing demands for water by different sectors through countervailing measures, the situation would have been different. But it is abandoning its commitment to make safe water available to everyone by abdicating responsibility. Its silent approval of the entry of private and multinational companies in the field of water distribution and management indicates that the government is favouring a need-based, market-driven approach that would absolve it of its welfare-state role.

The non-availability of water for subsistence is considered one of the main causes of poverty. In a country like India, where a majority of the population lives in abysmal poverty and with persistent deprivation, the skewed reforms initiated by the government leaves the vulnerable section with little hope for survival. We have a long tradition of responding to the challenge of water crisis through a community-based approach. While the role of state has largely undermined the role of the community in post-colonial India, efforts at decentralisation are being made to save the day. What the government needs to do is empower the communities through a more concerted programme of decentralisation. In this regard, launching a human rights movement for water can be a successful step.

The writer is Associate Professor of Economics at Sreegopal Banerjee College







An extraordinary fatality has occurred at the Zoological Gardens at Alipore resulting in the death of a keeper named Budhu Chamar who was savagely attacked and mauled by a hippopotamus. It appears that three keepers were engaged in cleaning out the hippo's enclosure, the animal being then under water. Suddenly it emerged and made for the men. Two of them bolted and saved themselves. Buddu Chamar ~ who was supposed to be on good terms with the hippo, and was accustomed to be in the enclosure for cleaning work ~ endeavoured to drive it back by flourishing a broom in front of it. The hippopotamus, however, attacked the man savagely and hit him on the face, left shoulder blade, and left side of the body, causing fatal injuries. What caused the animal to make this attack is not clear. It has been said that the unfortunate keeper had irritated the hippo on a previous occasion by using his broom, but this is not certain. An inquiry was made into the case by Inspector Huey, of the Watgunge thana, resulting in making it clear that the fatality was of an accidental nature only and that no blame could be attached to anybody.


Election Of Office-Bearers

At a meeting of the Reception Committee of the next Session of the Congress held on Sunday, the 26th ultimo, the following office-bearers were elected: Chairman ~ Hon Babu Bhupendra Nath Bose.

Vice-Chairmen. ~ Mr J. Ghoshal, Rai Baikuntha Nath Sen Bahadur, Babu Ambica Charan Mazumdar, Mr A. Choudhuri and Lt. Col.-U.N. Mookerjee.

Secretaries ~ Mr J. Choudhuri, Dr Nilratan Sircar, Rai Radhacharan Pal Bahadur, Babu Prithuris Chandra Ray, Babu Hemendra Nath Sarkar, and Babu Satyananda Bose.

Treasurer ~ Babu Murulidhar Ray.

Assistant-Secretaries ~ Mr A.C. Bannerjee, Mr S.M. Bose, Moulavi Abul Kasem and Babu Lalit Mohan Dey. Members of the Executive Committee were also elected.








This year completes the centenary of Mahatma Gandhi's London publication of Hind Swaraj written soon after his sojourn in England to qualify as a Barrister. It is said that you become more patriotic when you stay abroad, particularly in the country of colonial masters. Vivekananda and Nehru had the same experience. Samuel  Huntington has written about the clash of civilisations between the West and the East, the former trying to inferiorise the latter. In this respect, Edward Said gave it the connotative name Orientalism. Of course, his country was Lebanon and not India.

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi experienced the same clash but in his response, what he wrote can be called Occidentalism, upholding every Indian as virtuous and Englishman as its opposite. He recalled the proud heritage of the Indian past without conceding prejudices. His thought shows his patriotic fervour as an exile fighting against injustice and racism. Modernity was to him the other name for upstartism. He railed against men at machines acting as robots and smothering human values.

Pitted against capitalism, he even extols the virtues of village life providing shelter and comfortable living. He glosses over the abject poverty brought about by the tentacles of feudalism. The virtues of capitalism as propounded by Adam Smith in his Wealth of Nations i.e. free labour, free capital and free thought are forgotten by both orthodox traditionalists and Marxists.

Where Gandhiji rings true is his contesting of colonialism. He champions nationalism more ardently than an outsider while honing his lawyer's skill and smarting under foreign tutelage. Blessings of British rule are well known   but freedom is sweeter. In free India, we still have a colonised mind. In Hind Swaraj, he sings the praise of self-rule. So he goes on to plead for Home Rule even before Annie Besant took it up. For Gandhi, Home Rule is complete freedom but for Besant, it is dominion status, and attempt to reconcile the irreconcilable. Hind Swaraj is one of Gandhi's best compositions before he became the Mahatma. It is a prelude to his autobiography.

The writer is Director, Institute of Historical Studies, Kolkata







The chilling message sent out by the murder of Salman Taseer, who was the governor of Punjab, two months ago has been resent by the equally brutal assassination of Pakistan's federal minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti. It is unlikely that Pakistan's public has an unusually short memory. So it is strange that people needed to be reminded again of the risks involved in deriding either Islam or the blasphemy laws of the country that protect the religion of the majority, unless the subtext of the message was thought to have gone unnoticed. The bullet-riddled body of the only Christian minister in the government leaves no scope of that happening. It reiterates that the civilian government in Pakistan is a dud. To the religious-minded, this would give greater justification for reposing their faith in the loyal soldiers of the Islamic cause, as the assassins are. To the liberal-minded, this would be more reason to go underground or shut up and allow the nation's psyche to be radically reshaped the way in which it is progressing. To the minorities, this would further bring home the bitter truth of their alienation and dispossession. A government that cannot defend its showpieces — be it glib-talking governors or crusading minority members as ministers — cannot defend them either.

Pakistan's government can do very little to prevent this damning indictment. Its spinelessness was proven when it backtracked on the proposed reforms of the blasphemy laws, leaving its outspoken critics such as Taseer, Bhatti and Sherry Rahman to face the mass frenzy whipped up by religious fundamentalists. (The pro-blasphemy law agitation has caused rapid amalgamation among a hitherto divided religious lobby.) The prime minister has since handed over the task of reforming the law to the clerics, but the supplication has neither saved the government's reputation nor the lives of his colleagues. The government is evidently being led by the passions of the street which hinders it from carrying out its normal functions. Thus captive to the mob, it can hardly be responsive to its people's fears or the country's needs. No wonder nothing has been done to prevent violent attacks on minorities. And now Pakistan's economy and international relations too seem to have fallen prey to this internal whirlwind. Pakistan may soon reach out for the only quieting influence that is available — an army takeover.






Systems and institutions of substance are more important than the people who create them. But not all those who build new institutions can always accept this simple truth. This often leads to a situation in which the institution is equated with the person who created it. Worse, the institution-builder comes to think of himself as one above the laws of the land. The pioneering work done by Muhammad Yunus in developing micro-credit as a powerful weapon in the battle against poverty in Bangladesh has been lauded at home and around the world. The institution he created has spread and diversified into other areas of Bangladesh's economic and social life over the past three decades. By all accounts, the Grameen Bank now has strong foundations that sustain it independent of Mr Yunus. If he thinks that the institution cannot do without him, he actually questions the strength and durability of his own idea and work. Mr Yunus seems to be suffering from a common delusion that individuals are more important than systems and institutions. Such delusions are not uncommon even among men of vision. A similar human frailty afflicted Verghese Kurien, the great pioneer of India's "white revolution". He too came to think of the co-operative dairy movement, better known for the Amul brand, more as a personal possession than as an institution.

It is possible, though, that the Bangladesh Bank's peremptory order to remove Mr Yunus as the managing director of the Grameen Bank is politically motivated. Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Bangladesh's prime minister, has little love lost for the man who tried to unsettle her political career four years ago. It is also possible that the Bangladesh Bank's order has legal loopholes. But there is a larger question that neither Mr Yunus nor the Bangladeshi society can afford to ignore. The Grameen Bank is legally bound to function under the laws of the land and the regulations of the country's central bank. Irrespective of the donations and borrowings that are a major part of the Grameen Bank's finances, it is primarily run as a registered commercial bank with the taxpayers' money. Whatever the merit of the case against him, Mr Yunus will do well to emulate the example of Ratan Tata, who announced his decision to retire next year as the head of the Tata group so that new leaders can carry on the good work.






Finance ministers are not astrologers. Nor for that matter are the economists whose inputs finance ministers bank on — although large numbers do well crafting beguiling econometric models that supposedly anticipate future trends. As such, Pranab Mukherjee was wise to seek the blessings of Indra and Lakshmi for a budget based on the gamble that India will witness a 9.5 per cent gross domestic product growth in 2011. If the gamble succeeds, all will be well. But if the Indian economy underperforms, this year's Union budget will come to be seen as a piece of wilful deception by a beleaguered United Progressive Alliance.

For Mukherjee and his economist prime minister it may not suffice to propitiate Indra and Lakshmi only. The Hindu pantheon is not short of deities for all occasions. Unfortunately, it has no god and goddess controlling the one thing that could make or break the budget and, indeed, the government: oil prices.

The Hindu faith being inherently non-dogmatic and eminently pragmatic, some theological improvisation is always possible to cater to contemporary exigencies —the ancient Romans revelled in additions to the pantheon — but the pran sthapana should have been a consideration the day Tahrir Square became the newest icon of the Arab world. Secular India, it would seem, needlessly delayed its divine obligations.

It is not that North Block was caught totally unawares by the creeping sense of alarm in the financial world. Last week, as the demented Colonel Muammar Gaddafi threatened his own people with gunfire and damnation, the price of oil touched $114 per barrel, a 64 per cent jump from May 2010. If, in addition to Libya and Bahrain, the Jasmine Revolution triggers upheavals and uncertainty in other countries of West Asia and even Iran, the price is expected to cross $120, sending the world economy into a tizzy. Even if regimes are not toppled, vulnerable sheikhs and ayatollahs may decide that raising oil prices is the easiest way of placating a restive citizenry with freebies, to compensate for the lack of personal and political freedoms.

The impact of a steep oil price hike on an oil-importing economy is potentially devastating. In a scary article in Financial Times last week, Martin Wolf summarized its potential consequences vividly: "It transfers income from consumers to producers; it lowers overall spending, as consumers normally cut their spending more quickly than producers increase theirs; it shifts spending away from other goods and services; …it raises the price level; it lowers real wages and the profitability of energy-using industries; and it reduces supply as capacity becomes uneconomic." Wolf also ominously noted that each of the past five global slowdowns had been preceded by sharp rises in oil prices.

On budget day, even those economists supportive of Mukherjee's attempt to control the fiscal deficit admitted that all calculations could go awry if oil prices crossed $120. Yet, putting his faith in the ultimate benevolence of the known gods, Mukherjee chose to ignore the distant thunder. Yet, the mere fact that he consciously departed from National Advisory Council-speak and stressed the importance of pending reforms suggests that saner minds in the government realize the need to bolster India's economic defences against the unexpected.

"The bomber," Stanley Baldwin used to admit fatalistically during the rearmament debates of the 1930s, "will always get through." By that same logic, India cannot entirely insulate itself from the dark forces. The government has admitted its helplessness against inflation — although the prime minister insists that all will be well, soon. It has decided that the EMI-paying classes with housing, car and education loans no longer need to be insulated from high interest rates. At the same time, it has banked on a spurt in manufacturing and services and the Laffer curve to generate the necessary wealth for the non-aam admi to pay for the sharp increases in the prices of food, healthcare, petrol and cooking gas. And it has reposed faith in the Adhar-led direct cash transfers to below-poverty-line families to tangibly demonstrate the munificence of a 'pro-poor' administration to the voting classes.

Politically speaking, Mukherjee has engaged in shrewd packaging. Buffeted by pressure from Corporate India for purposeful reforms and from the Sonia Gandhi-led NAC for even more generous welfare handouts, he has tried to show he has accommodated everyone. If there is a visible tilt, it is in favour of the wealth creators: the proposed expenditure on the non-audited Mahatma Gandhi national rural employment guarantee scheme has actually been lowered from Rs 40,100 crore to Rs 40,000 crore.

In the context of the State's move from occupying the commanding heights to becoming a gigantic welfare agency, this symbolic snub to a flagship programme created by Sonia Gandhi is telling. For the first time, the government (and particularly a Congress-led government) seems to be taking some interest in the quality and effectiveness of government expenditure on welfare. The Economic Survey endorsed a study which suggested that 18.2 per cent of rice and a staggering 67 per cent of wheat supplied to the public distribution scheme is diverted to the open market and sold at higher prices. The stylistically elegant and erudite Economic Survey was understandably more circumspect in its assessment of the MGNREG scheme — it didn't allude to studies that indicate horrifying misappropriation — but its understated conclusion said it all: "There is scope for improvements like shifting to permanent asset creation and infrastructure building activities, reducing transaction costs, better monitoring, and extension to urban areas."

More telling was its observation, "For India to develop faster and do better as an economy, it is… important to foster the culture of honesty and trustworthiness. Thanks to the fact of this social prerequisite of economic development remaining unrecognized for a very long time, this has not received adequate attention…." Rarely has an official document said so much by saying so little.

The champions of inclusive development appear to have put their faith in Nandan Nilekani devising a secure system of identification and verification. But whereas the unique identity device and direct cash transfers will help minimize corruption and even promote a degree of efficiency, it will not be able to cope with the resistance the government is certain to confront in moving from universal to targeted subsidies, particularly in fertilizers. It is doubtful if the UPA government will be able to cope with the farmer backlash once the new proposal for channelling fertilizer and even kerosene subsidies becomes operational. Like tax-free agriculture, the subsidy raj has become far too much of an entitlement to be rationalized in the lifetime of one budget.

As someone attempting, however tentatively, to put good economics into the realm of good governance, Mukherjee could do with all the luck he can muster. But what if the Arab thirst for change turns out to be relentless and forces oil prices northwards? The UPA has approached this exigency in the same way as Britain and France prepared for Hitler's aggressive designs prior to September 1939: through a gamut of less than half-measures and the hope that the danger will pass.

If the danger doesn't pass, the government will be forced into exercising harsh options. Lower GDP growth, the return of the fiscal deficit and more stealth taxes are only to be expected. But if India is to come out of any crisis with its fundamentals intact, the political class must acknowledge an elementary rule of household income: expenditure cannot wildly exceed income. The government is spending beyond its means and replacing a failed socialist model with a discarded Scandinavian one.






The police were there in full strength, but no one turned up to protest. So they vented their wrath on foreign, camera-wielding journalists and turned a non-event into news. Thanks to the heavy-handed response of the authorities, China's 'jasmine revolution' which never was continues to make news — on the internet, and in Western newspapers. It began on a US-based Chinese website, with a letter asking the Chinese people to come out at 2 pm on Sunday, February 20, for a stroll, and every Sunday after that. It gave venues for the strolls in eight major cities. It even gave the reasons for protest, as well as the slogans to be shouted during the protest.

However, the only people who came to these venues on the first Sunday were curious onlookers and the foreign press. Curiously, there was one 'very important person' present at the Beijing venue — outside McDonald's on the capital's famous shopping promenade, Wangfujing. The choice of venues is symbolic; mostly outside US giants such as McDonald's, KFC and Starbucks. The reason probably is that you find these three on the main avenues of all major cities. But then you also find Chinese fast- food chains on such avenues, but they weren't chosen.

The VIP was the American ambassador, Jon Huntsman. He was quickly recognized, and someone there boldly asked him: "So, you want China in chaos, don't you?'' The man who had asked this question announced to everyone present that the US ambassador was in their midst, and people began asking him why he was wearing sunglasses, why he was feigning ignorance.... Huntsman quickly slunk away with his bodyguards. The entire episode has been put up on the internet by a Chinese website. The video has blurbs saying, "Honestly, there are lots of problems in China... But we don't want to be Iraq... Shall we give all our hope to US and these 'human rights' protesters to lead and feed 1.3 billion people...? Never!''

Blocked out

However, undaunted, Huntsman issued a statement berating the authorities for manhandling foreign media persons. This isn't likely to endear him to the Chinese. The amazing thing about China's so-called 'jasmine revolution' is that though it hasn't even begun, across the world, pictures are being flashed that depict crowds out in large numbers, or lone protesters grappling with the police. Turns out that these are file photos of older events, some of which didn't even take place in China. Now,, a website that came up in 2008 to counter the Western media's coverage of the violence by Tibetans in Lhasa, has traced these photographs to their original sources. News portals such as Online USA News and VG Norway, and newspapers such as Ireland's The Irish Independent and Taiwan's Liberty Times have published photographs of policemen standing on guard and Chinese citizens participating in earlier anti-Japanese protests; of a Chinese woman being led to execution; of youngsters holding up placards saying, "seeking workers" and "hiring people" at a job fair and passed these off as current protests.

Any number of China-watchers have analysed why the Chinese haven't been inspired by Egypt and Tunisia. If only the authorities themselves had understood their own people. Instead, they blocked certain words on Chinese websites, including Hillary Clinton, who spoke about China facing a "dictator's dilemma" over controlling the internet. The latest words to have been blocked are 'Wangfujing', 'Jon Huntsman' and 'jasmine'. It so happens that a popular Chinese song is titled What a beautiful jasmine. No less a person than President Hu had sung it with Chinese-language students in Kenya in 2006. That video too has been blocked.






This week had a profoundly sad moment for the tiger fraternity as well as for all those who are committed to speaking out, forcefully and honestly, in an effort to save the total destruction of our forests and wildlife. Fateh Singh Rathore symbolized devotion, knowledge and fearless support for the tiger, king of the jungle, an animal he worshipped without any caveats. He gave the animal his life. He is no more and the tiger is facing extinction because of faulty management, unacceptable babugiri, corruption, and most important, political denial of the worst kind.

Indira Gandhi was the single-handed saviour of our pristine forests, their wealth and diversity of wildlife and more. She connected with the natural environment. It nurtured her soul and she respected nature, believing in the truth that if you tamper with nature, nature will overwhelm and defeat you. It is a truth that recent governance has forgotten in its quest for a warped 'growth' that is laced with inordinate greed. Ironically, the fight to protect the tiger as the crest of the food chain failed because of men and women who thought they knew it all, who were tied up with many wrongs, and blind to the reality because it was too difficult to rectify. The last decade, particularly the last five years, has seen the slaughter of the symbol of India's food chain and our survival in a fast-changing world.

The mouthing of platitudes about the need to protect the tiger, and therefore our forests, has been the worst lie of recent times. There has been no serious intent to ensure that promises are translated into reality. Cover-ups have been the 'official' way forward at huge cost to this country, and lies have allowed for the survival of those responsible for the devastation. Task forces, empowered committees and suchlike, over the last five years, have shamelessly presided over the near-death of the species, compelling civil society to abandon all faith in the politician and the babu — in government and its procedures and priorities. This, too, has been a scam of humungous proportions and needs urgent enquiry under the Right to Information Act.

Under a shadow

Sitting in critical positions of administrative power and with zero knowledge of the field, the forest departments babus, both in the Centre and the states, are responsible for the wholesale destruction, pillage and pollution of the natural wealth of India. The abuse has been unprecedented and the denial equally unforgivable. This one example is representative of all the other societal and economic horrors that have enveloped India and its people. It is as though the unraveling is encompassing all spheres barring none and the only positive take is that there may be a light at the end of this dismal tunnel we are passing through.

Each time one turns on the television, some exposed illegality hits one on the face and, more often than not, it is a wrong initiated by those who have been mandated to enforce the laws of our land and protect probity. This constant breach of the law by those who enact the laws has shamed, humiliated and dishonoured ordinary Indians. We have lost respect for the authority that was created to protect and nurture us. We have been forced to be afraid of the truth, of the law, and of honesty. We have been forced to absorb all that is wrong. We have been forced to believe that integrity is a hazard to our great civilization.

Will the government and its departments ever come out of that dreadful ailment called denial? Is there a commitment to systemic change in a concerted effort to prevent India from descending into anarchy? Is the government truly committed to a 10 per cent rate of growth within an environment that is clean and safe? Or is the true inflation of 10 per cent going to equal the growth and reduce us to nought?



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




With the assassination of Pakistan's minorities minister, Shahbaz Bhatti, yet another influential liberal who dared to speak up against the blasphemy laws has been silenced. Bhatti, like Salman Taseer, the governor of Pakistan's Punjab province who was gunned down in January, had come out in support of Aasia Bibi, a Christian woman who was given the death sentence for allegedly insulting Prophet Mohammed. Religious radicals are killing those who have spoken in favour of reforming the blasphemy laws, hoping to silence all debate on the matter. They have succeeded to some extent. Public discussion on the issue is declining. A private bill to amend the blasphemy law that was introduced last year by Sherry Rehman, a member of the ruling PPP has been put on ice. It was passed on to a parliamentary committee for vetting but has been withdrawn by the government since under pressure from the religious groups and opposition parties.

The blasphemy law carries the death sentence. Many Pakistanis support it because they believe that it is taken straight out of the Koran and thus ordained by Allah. This is a view that radicals have sought to propagate but liberals such as Taseer and Bhatti have shown that this law is not just inhuman but also man-made. Human rights activists have pointed to the gross abuse of the blasphemy laws. Often blasphemy charges are levelled to settle personal scores.

The government's backing down on reforming the blasphemy law in the face of the recent intimidations and assassinations is unfortunate. Its turnaround has been justified by some on the grounds that since many convictions under the blasphemy law are overturned by the higher courts, there is no need for reform the law. Why take the trouble of reforming the law and thus provoking the religious radicals when no one has actually been hanged under this law, they argue. However, this argument ignores the fact that hundreds have been intimidated using this law, scores murdered while facing trial or in jail. And it is not just minorities who have been at the receiving end. Most of its victims are Muslims. This is an unjust law that has repeatedly been used to terrorise. It cannot be allowed to remain in the law books just to avoid the wrath of the radicals. There is no doubt that the blasphemy laws need to be amended, if not repealed.







An important feature of the union budget for 2011-12 is the increased allocation for education. The sector has got a 24 per cent  hike at Rs 52,057 crore and the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan scheme has seen a 40 per cent  increase in allocation. This is in line with the thinking of the government, expressed by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee, that our demographic dividend of a relatively younger population should be made an opportunity in the coming years. This makes good sense because a literate and employable population is among the most important pre-requisites of economic development. In a wider sense, the stability of the democratic system and social justice also call for the empowerment of the people through education. Other social indicators like health standards and gender equity are also dependent on the provision of maximum educational facilities to the people.

The increased emphasis on primary and secondary education, which got the lion's share of the allocation for general education, is especially welcome. The performance of the higher education sector depends on the advances made at lower levels. In spite of many drawbacks and problems at the implementation stage schemes like the Sarva Siksha Abhiyan have made an impact on enrolment levels. The higher allocation should be utilised effectively to widen the scope of the programmes, to increase facilities and to improve the standards of education. The increased  level of funding will also help in the implementation of the Right to Education Act which is yet to take off. Technical education has also been given a substantial increase in allocation. There is the need to set up more number of technical institutions and for better levels of teaching and training in them.

There is criticism that the allocations are still short of requirements. It has been pointed out that  the higher allocation of money is not as high as it looks, in view of inflation. It is also far short of the demand made by the human resources development ministry, which had planned some some new programmes for this year. But the sector will still have more funds to deploy than in the past. More importantly, it shows the priorities and directions that are vital for the country's development. It is necessary to make the best use of the funds and sustain the emphasis on education in the coming years.







When morality goes out of politics and power becomes the end in itself, the parties don't mind the methods they adopt to reap benefits.

Governance is not a matter of wishful thinking. Nor is it some political trickery. For this, a clean, transparent administration is something minimum. By providing more funds for different fields, as the budget has done, does not automatically ensure improvement, particularly when the 'aam admi' has been consciously left out. If the past experience is any guide, the bigger the expenditure the greater is the scope for siphoning off money. A few scams, which have come to light, show how large allocations have given an opportunity to ministers, bureaucrats and their men to fritter away the money.

Prime minister Manmohan Singh's admission that there have been 'aberrations' does not wash. All that he says is that they will be 'more cautious' in the future. The crisis is that of confidence. The deterioration in public life in the Congress as well as in other parties and groups is matched by growing disruptive tendencies, rooted in province, religion, caste and language.

People intrinsically decent are forgetting major issues and getting excited over minor matters and thereby harming the country's unity, strength and progress. There is need for new thinking, in terms of not slogans and dogmas but of a pragmatic idealism related to both modern conditions and human values.

Punishing one former telecommunications minister A Raja or one Commonwealth Games in-charge Suresh Kalmadi does not mean that the government has cleansed its stables. And what the two did is by no standards an 'aberration.' They acted fraudulently and went on doing so over a long period. The prime minister may not have known the nitty-gritty of the corrupt deals. But he was aware that there was some hanky-panky. He could hear the noise the media and others were making. The entire system is reeking with arrogance of power and little fear of punishment. The rot has gone down all the way, making those at positions confident of going scot-free even if a few from among them are caught with their fingers in the jam jar.

I concede that this situation has not come about in one day. Yet I have never seen in my life so much corruption on the scale it is found today. Take any field. It seems that everyone is devising ways to make money and evade the law.

Members of Manmohan Singh's cabinet, if assessed by an independent body (not the government-controlled CBI), practically all of them would be found wanting in integrity in one way or the other. And this holds good for the states, ruled either by the Congress or the BJP. In fact, both parties have brought down the public life to such a low level that people do not know whether India had ever maintained high standards.

Nothing wrong

When morality goes out of politics and power becomes the end by itself, the parties do not mind what methods they adopt to reap benefits. What the different governments have done is that they have wiped out the line dividing right and wrong, moral and immoral. People do not have any compunction in adulterating medicines, fudging degrees or even leaking question papers. There is nothing called wrong per se.

In the process, violence has come to be accepted a normal way in a country which has forgotten how it won independence through non-violence. Since most political parties have become mafias themselves, they have in their cadre criminals, black-marketers and sheer killers. But then they are the ones who are able to 'manage' elections, now that Assam, Pudhucherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal go to polls in April.

The media, a strong pillar of the democratic structure, has itself become part and parcel of the corrupt system. Newspapers and TV channels sell space for consideration. The phrase 'Paid News' is not an affront any more. An unpublished report of the Press Council of India has proved beyond doubt that most leading papers, the English press is not an exception, have accepted money to publish a candidate's propaganda as news and has kept out the opponent's from the paper.


I agree that cleansing has to begin from the top. The Lokpal bill has to be enacted soon. The CBI should be put under charge of the Lokpal. Maybe, the institution should have more than one person, approved by the prime minister and the opposition leader in the Lok Sabha.

But the top most priority has to be given to the functioning of parliament. What the Congress has experienced — stalling of the winter session — the party has done the same thing when the BJP was in power. I was then in the house and found some members equally exasperated over the daily disturbance. Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is quite right when he says that some mechanism should be found to ensure the functioning of parliament. But this depends on the political parties, especially the Congress and the BJP.

I recall how on the 50th anniversary of parliament all members swore never to disturb the house. The Congress, then in the opposition, was the first to violate the consensus. People want to see quick results. And they are losing patience.








Gadhafi simply cannot bring himself to admit he is no longer respected and accepted by his own people.
Libya's leader Muammar Gadhafi is determined to fight to the finish. Neither resignation nor reconciliation are options for him. He simply cannot contemplate stepping down and his forces have shed too much blood to make a deal with the uprising.


Rebels who hold the east of the country and key cities in the west also have no choice but to fight on because they could be slaughtered if he reasserts control over the entire country.

Gadhafi does not compare himself to Tunisian president Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali or Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak, both ousted by a combination of popular pressure and military coup. Ben Ali was an army officer who was invited to overthrow Tunisia's senile independence leader Habib Bourguiba. Mubarak, Anwar Sadat's vice president, came to power after he was assassinated. Ben Ali and Mubarak were projected by circumstances into power.

By contrast, Gadhafi seized power. He sees himself as a man with a mission, creator of an ideology for rule by the people.  He claims he has no official position in his country while keeping the levers of power in his hands.

He is also out of touch with reality. During a surreal interview early this week, he said there had been no demonstrations against him and "all his people love him". Illogically, he held that the defection had been engineered by youngsters provided with drugs by al-Qaeda.

Cut off from reality


He had not digested the fact that Tripoli was circled by cities that have gone over to rebels who have taken control of Benghazi, Libya's second city and stronghold of the uprising in the east. He did not accept that there have been anti-Gadhafi demonstrations in Tripoli itself.

Gadhafi simply cannot bring himself to admit he is no longer respected and accepted by his own people. To do so, he would have to admit that his 41-year rule has been a disaster.

Born in 1942 into a bedouin family living near Sirt on the coast, Gadhafi became an ardent admirer of Egypt's president Gamal Abdel Nasser, an army colonel who overthrew his country's British-backed king, proclaimed a republic, and instituted socialist reforms.

Nasser also became a figure of world stature as leader of the drive to unite Arabs and founder, with Pandit Nehru, of the non-aligned movement.

While at his country's military academy, Gadhafi formed a group of like-minded junior officers — modelled on Nasser's Free Officers group — and plotted to overthrow Libya's elderly King Idriss. In September 1969, Gadhafi and his comrades ousted him and proclaimed the Libyan Arab Republic.

Gadhafi emulated Nasser by adopting a pan-Arab agenda, nationalising the country's oil sector, and instituting economic reforms. In the mid-1970s he published his political philosophy in his three-volume 'Green Book'. His career developed a messianic dimension when he sponsored anti-colonialist struggles around the world, attempted to merge Libya with other Arab countries, and promoted federal union among African countries.

On the Libyan domestic scene he reached accommodations with tribal leaders,
established loyal military units commanded by his sons, and kept the rest of the armed forces weak by conducting periodic purges of officers and starving them of weaponry and funds.

Gadhafi also established Islamic and African Legions,militias consisting of foreign Muslim and African fighters who have been deployed as 'mercenaries' in the ongoing struggle.

Strong history

However, Gadhafi's strategy to preserve his regime did not work, particularly in the country's traditionally restive eastern region which, under the leadership of Libya's national hero Omar Mukhtar, fought Italy's brutal colonial regime during the 1920s.

In Tunisia, the uprising was triggered by the self-immolation of Muhammad Bouazizi, a fruit and vegetable vendor harassed by police. In Libya, the spark was the arrest of human rights lawyer Fateh Tarbel on February 15, following the collapse of talks between the government and a committee representing the families of 1,200 inmates killed in 1996 during prison riots. While the government had begun to pay compensation to the families, they demanded prosecution of officials who had ordered guards to shoot the prisoners.

This demand was, almost certainly, unacceptable to the regime. While Tarbel was detained, protesters gathered and clashes erupted. Fighting escalated during a 'Day of Rage' on Feb 17 and the uprising was born.

Like Ben Ali and Mubarak, the Libyan leader initially responded by ordering his forces to contain the protests. But they spun out of control, leaving Gadhafi, trapped in Tripoli, detached from reality and extremely dangerous.







My tryst with ACK began when my parents bought the first book 'Krishna'.

The news of the demise of Uncle Pai unsettled me. I have never met the man, nor have I exchanged a word with him, but I developed a deep affection and respect for him through his Amar Chitra Katha comic books.

My tryst with the immense series began when my parents bought the first book 'Krishna' priced at Rs two way back in the '70s as a pacifying gift to my little brother because they had got me some hair accessories. We must have read the book a zillion times for we knew every frame of it by heart. There was no looking back since then and we collected close to a hundred of the series even as we graduated to reading 'real books'.

Nevertheless, we kept our antennas up for reading ACK whenever an opportunity presented itself. Our dad belonged to a book club reserved one of his two cards to get us old and new ACK and Tinkle all the time. We always made it a point to read it several times before returning the book the next day!

Our interest in the nuances of languages, literature, history, music and art can be traced to our quality time spent in the company of these picture books. We conducted quizzes based on the books and discussed the characters.

We understood that a conjunction like 'but' could encompass a whole unspoken argument when Lakshmana uttered the word, when told by Rama to leave Sita in the forest in the book 'Sons of Rama'. The reading of 'Vasavadatta' urged us to play on the Veena like her royal spouse Udayana and possibly charm elephants some day. When we studied Mauryan history in school, it appeared as if we had an edge over other student because we were equipped with the reading of 'Chanakya'.  Perusing 'Kannagi' taught us that we must not cow down when confronted with injustice. The list could go on.

Most people who are in their 30s and 40s will find themselves nodding in agreement, for their rendezvous with ACK must have more or less been the same.

These books have the potential to make a palpable difference to those who read them during their formative years. Uncle Pai has become 'Amar' (immortal) in the true sense of the word for his works are invaluable, relevant and timeless! When I console myself saying, "Uncle Pai is dead, Long live Uncle Pai" —  it is with mixed feelings!



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



Another courageous Pakistani official has been assassinated because he stood for tolerance. We increasingly despair over the hatred and extremism that has Pakistan in a death grip.

The official killed on Wednesday was Shahbaz Bhatti, the minister of minorities and the only Christian in the cabinet. Gunmen ambushed him outside his house in Islamabad. The Pakistani Taliban claimed responsibility, saying he was punished for being a blasphemer.

Like Salman Taseer, the governor of Punjab Province who was assassinated in January, Mr. Bhatti called for reform of Pakistan's unconscionable blasphemy law, which imposes a mandatory death sentence on anyone convicted of insulting Islam. The law is popular with the Muslim majority but is routinely manipulated to settle rivalries and persecute minorities. It should be repealed. Extremists are determined to topple Pakistan's government, yet they operate with impunity, enabled by the elites. Mr. Taseer's killer was extolled as a hero in rallies held by conservative religious parties. It was especially chilling that the killer's defenders included lawyers who are supposedly devoted to the rule of law.

President Asif Ali Zardari, afraid for his personal safety, didn't attend Mr. Taseer's funeral even though the governor was a longtime ally of both Mr. Zardari and his wife, Benazir Bhutto, who was assassinated in 2007. This time, Mr. Zardari went to Mr. Bhatti's home to console his family and vowed to fight extremism. Parliament condemned the killing, and the chairman of Pakistan's council of religious scholars, who said Mr. Bhatti's murder went against the teachings of the Prophet Muhammad, did, too. That's progress — but not nearly enough.

Pakistan's military and intelligence services are the country's most powerful institutions. But they are obsessed with India and either blind to the extremist threat or in league with the extremists. They must bring Mr. Bhatti's killers to justice, protect President Zardari and other officials and cut their ties with all groups that are clear enemies of their nation.

All Pakistanis — including Pakistani-Americans who send back $4 billion in remittances annually — must condemn the assassinations. Pakistan's fragile democracy has no chance at all if preaching tolerance comes with a guaranteed death sentence.





Recent price data show home values at nearly their lowest levels in the postbubble era, and a coming tide of foreclosures means prices will drop further. Seven million families have lost their homes so far, and another three million foreclosures are expected through 2012.

The ongoing crash is further evidence that the government's antiforeclosure efforts have fallen short and America's struggling homeowners need more help.

So what are House Republicans proposing? They want the government to get out of the antiforeclosure business altogether and leave homeowners to fend for themselves. The result would be hundreds of thousands of additional foreclosures and steeper price declines.

House Republicans have introduced bills to eliminate four federal antiforeclosure programs and replace them with — nothing. Here is a list of those programs and ways they could be improved:

HOME AFFORDABLE MODIFICATION PROGRAM No one disputes that HAMP, the Obama administration's main antiforeclosure plan, is lagging behind its goal to modify troubled loans for three million to four million homeowners. Of the $30 billion intended for the effort, only $1 billion has been spent so far to permanently modify 608,000 loans.

Much of the problem lies with the participating banks. Widespread errors and abuses include the improper delay and denial of modifications, excessive fees, and violations of borrowers' legal protections. Legislation and regulation that gets tougher on the banks could help fix those problems, including enactment of a transparent process for homeowners to challenge banks' decisions, stiffer penalties for banks that don't meet HAMP standards and a streamlined process for converting trial modifications to permanent ones.

THE NEIGHBORHOOD STABILIZATION PROGRAM This Bush-era program provides money to states, cities and nonprofits to buy and rehabilitate abandoned and foreclosed properties. It helps curb the blight that comes with empty properties and, in the process, preserves the value of nearby homes and the municipalities' tax base.

The problem is there isn't enough money. Congress appropriated $4 billion in 2008 and $2 billion in 2009; all has been obligated. House Republicans want to eliminate a third round of financing — $1 billion — promised in the financial reform law. They say the program may provide a perverse incentive for banks to foreclose. That is absurd. Banks foreclose when they deem it in their interest, not because a small federal program entices them.

THE EMERGENCY HOMEOWNERS LOAN PROGRAM This $1 billion effort, which has not yet been implemented, would grant loans to homeowners who are unemployed, or who have lost income because of illness. Joblessness is the main reason homeowners fall behind, so alleviating such temporary hardship is crucial to curbing foreclosures. Republicans claim that such loans only encourage indebtedness. The claim is overwrought because the loans are not onerous; they are no-interest and are forgiven in installments over five years for homeowners who remain in the home. A short-term and manageable increase in debt is a prudent way to save one's home.

F.H.A. SHORT REFINANCE OPTION Many of the 14 million homeowners who are "underwater" — owe more on the mortgages than the homes are worth — are current in their payments. But because they lack equity, they cannot refinance their loans at lower rates. The Federal Housing Administration option would facilitate the much-needed refinancings by insuring the new loans.

The program, which began last fall, got off to a slow start, mainly because of technical problems that have been resolved. Wells Fargo and GMAC/Ally recently announced pilot F.H.A. programs, and other lenders expect to be on board by midyear. Ending the program would squander an important chance to prevent foreclosures.

All of the targeted programs address serious unmet needs. If House Republicans get their way and shut these programs down, all Americans will pay the price.






This week brought news that Rajat Gupta, a longtime senior executive at McKinsey & Company and a former director of Goldman Sachs, is accused by the Securities and Exchange Commission of providing illegal information to Raj Rajaratnam, the founder of the Galleon Group hedge fund who is scheduled for trial next week.

If the charges are true, then the rampant wrongdoing that many suspect in the financial world will have reached one of the most elite boardrooms.

Preet Bharara, the United States attorney who is prosecuting Mr. Rajaratnam for an alleged insider trading scheme, has not charged Mr. Gupta. Since late 2009, he has secured guilty pleas from 29 people for insider trading and charged 17 others. They include high-profile traders, midlevel executives and relatively minor players involved in "expert network" firms that have carried information between traders and companies.

Mr. Gupta and Mr. Rajaratnam met a half-decade ago through their common interest in the Indian School of Business. The S.E.C. alleges that in his role as a Goldman Sachs director, Mr. Gupta learned in September 2008 about Berkshire Hathaway's not yet public $5 billion investment in Goldman. The morning after, according to a S.E.C. document, "Gupta and Rajaratnam very likely had a telephone conversation." Shortly after, Galleon tech funds bought more than 80,000 Goldman shares.

The next morning, according to the document, the two had another call and "less than a minute after the call began," Galleon bought 40,000 more shares. With other calls as well, Galleon eventually enjoyed, the S.E.C. alleges, "illicit profits and loss avoidance" of more than $17 million.

As in all law enforcement, the number of cases Mr. Bharara pursues with the confidence he will convict is likely a fraction of those he is following. If the S.E.C. charges are true, the dealings between Mr. Gupta and Mr. Rajaratnam would take this alleged scheme of insider trading to the pinnacle of finance. They are another sobering warning that insider trading may be pervasive, from relatively low rungs to the top.







Eliminating nearly all the money for poison control centers would save $27 million — not even a rounding error when it comes to the deficit. Yet it is so foolish that it perfectly illustrates the thoughtlessness of the House Republican bill to cut $61 billion from the budget over the next seven months.

The nation's network of 57 poison control centers takes four million calls a year about people who may have been exposed to a toxic substance. In three-quarters of all cases, the centers are able to provide treatment advice that does not require a visit to a hospital or a doctor, saving tens of millions of dollars in medical costs.

While a single visit to an emergency room can cost hundreds or thousands of dollars (often paid for by the government), a call to a poison center costs the government only $30 or $40. A study in the Journal of Medical Toxicology estimated that the poison centers saved the State of Arizona alone $33 million a year. Louisiana eliminated its centers in the 1980s but restored them when it realized how much money they saved.

The centers, which collect poison reports, can also act as an early warning system for pandemics or large toxic exposures, allowing a quick response.

The federal government pays about 20 percent of the cost of the centers, with states, cities and philanthropy picking up the rest. Many strapped state and local governments have cut back their financing, and experts say that the virtual elimination of federal money would force many centers to close and sharply damage the effectiveness of the national network.

Could savings be achieved by consolidating centers? Possibly. House Republicans didn't bother to examine that or how much the cuts would actually increase spending on emergency care. If they get their way, lines at emergency rooms will be longer.






FORTY-THREE minutes into his "special live edition" with Charlie Sheen on Monday night, Piers Morgan finally got around to asking his guest a real question. Before that, Mr. Morgan and Mr. Sheen had mostly traded chuckles and anecdotes about multiday benders, inflated network salaries and meet-ups in Aspen, Colo. But then, after three commercial breaks, Mr. Morgan inquired, "Have you ever hit a woman?"

Two minutes later, with Mr. Morgan apparently satisfied with the actor's answer that no, women should be "hugged and caressed," that line of questioning was over.

That Mr. Morgan didn't press the issue of domestic violence shouldn't have come as any surprise. CBS executives, not to mention the millions of viewers of his "family" sitcom "Two and a Half Men," have consistently turned a blind eye toward Mr. Sheen's history of abusing women. Part of this, of course, is about money. The actor's F-18 of an id — to borrow a metaphor from Mr. Sheen himself — had long provided the show a steady stream of free publicity. It also helped make Mr. Sheen the highest-paid actor on television, at $1.2 million an episode.

But it's also about apathy. Even now — after Mr. Sheen began carpet-bombing his bosses in radio rants, prompting CBS to shut down production on the show — observers still seem more entertained than outraged, tuning in to see him appear on every talk show on the planet and coming up with creative Internet memes based on his most colorful statements. And while his self-abuses are endlessly discussed, his abuse of women is barely broached.

Our inertia is not for lack of evidence. In 1990, he accidentally shot his fiancée at the time, the actress Kelly Preston, in the arm. (The engagement ended soon after.) In 1994 he was sued by a college student who alleged that he struck her in the head after she declined to have sex with him. (The case was settled out of court.) Two years later, a sex film actress, Brittany Ashland, said she had been thrown to the floor of Mr. Sheen's Los Angeles house during a fight. (He pleaded no contest and paid a fine.)

In 2006, his wife at the time, the actress Denise Richards, filed a restraining order against him, saying Mr. Sheen had shoved and threatened to kill her. In December 2009, Mr. Sheen's third wife, Brooke Mueller, a real-estate executive, called 911 after Mr. Sheen held a knife to her throat. (He pleaded guilty and was placed on probation.) Last October, another actress in sex films, Capri Anderson, locked herself in a Plaza Hotel bathroom after Mr. Sheen went on a rampage. (Ms. Anderson filed a criminal complaint but no arrest was made.) And on Tuesday, Ms. Mueller requested a temporary restraining order against her former husband, alleging that he had threatened to cut her head off, "put it in a box and send it to your mom." (The order was granted, and the couple's twin sons were quickly removed from his home.) "Lies," Mr. Sheen told People magazine.

The privilege afforded wealthy white men like Charlie Sheen may not be a particularly new point, but it's an important one nonetheless. Lindsay Lohan and Britney Spears are endlessly derided for their extracurricular meltdowns and lack of professionalism on set; the R&B star Chris Brown was made a veritable pariah after beating up his equally, if not more, famous girlfriend, the singer Rihanna. Their careers have all suffered, and understandably so.

This hasn't been the case with Mr. Sheen, whose behavior has been repeatedly and affectionately dismissed as the antics of a "bad boy" (see: any news article in the past 20 years), a "rock star" (see: Piers Morgan, again) and a "rebel" (see: Andrea Canning's "20/20" interview on Tuesday). He has in essence, achieved a sort of folk-hero status; on Wednesday, his just-created Twitter account hit a million followers, setting a Guinness World Record.

But there's something else at work here: the seeming imperfection of Mr. Sheen's numerous accusers. The women are of a type, which is to say, highly unsympathetic. Some are sex workers — pornographic film stars and escorts — whose compliance with churlish conduct is assumed to be part of the deal. (For the record: It is not.)

Others, namely Ms. Richards and Ms. Mueller, are less-famous starlets or former "nobodies" whose relationships with Mr. Sheen have been disparaged as purely sexual and transactional. The women reside on a continuum in which injuries are assumed and insults are expected.

"Gold diggers," "prostitutes" and "sluts" are just some of the epithets lobbed at the women Mr. Sheen has chosen to spend his time with. Andy Cohen, a senior executive at Bravo and a TV star in his own right, referred to the actor's current companions, Natalie Kenly and Bree Olson, as "whores" on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program on Tuesday. Arianna Huffington sarcastically tweeted that Mr. Sheen's girlfriends "symbolize modesty, loyalty and good taste." Mr. Sheen's own nickname for Ms. Kenly and Ms. Olson — "the goddesses" — is in its own way indicative of their perceived interchangeability and disposability.

It's these sorts of explicit and implicit value judgments that underscore our contempt for women who are assumed to be trading on their sexuality. A woman's active embrace of the fame monster or participation in the sex industry, we seem to say, means that she compromises her right not to be assaulted, let alone humiliated, insulted or degraded; it's part of the deal. The promise of a modern Cinderella ending — attention, fame, the love and savings account of a rich man — is always the assumed goal.

Objectification and abuse, it follows, is not only an accepted occupational hazard for certain women, but something that men like Mr. Sheen have earned the right to indulge in. (Mr. Sheen reportedly once said that he didn't pay prostitutes for the sex; he paid them "to leave.") One can't help but think that his handlers might have moved more quickly to rein in their prized sitcom stallion if his victims' motivations weren't assumed to be purely mercenary. (Or if they enjoyed parity and respect with regards to their age, influence and earning power.)

These assumptions — about women, about powerful men, about bad behavior — have roots that go way back but find endorsement in today's unscripted TV culture. Indeed, it's difficult for many to discern any difference between Mr. Sheen's real-life, round-the-clock, recorded outbursts and the sexist narratives devised by reality television producers, in which women are routinely portrayed as backstabbing floozies, and dreadful behavior by males is explained away as a side effect of unbridled passion or too much pilsner.

As Jennifer Pozner points out in her recent book "Reality Bites Back: The Troubling Truth About Guilty-Pleasure TV," misogyny is embedded within the DNA of the reality genre. One of the very first millennial shows, in fact, "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire," was notable in that it auctioned off what producers called the "biggest prize of all": a supposedly wealthy B-movie writer named Rick Rockwell — who was later revealed to have had a restraining order filed against him by a woman he'd threatened to kill. According to Ms. Pozner, the reaction of one of the producers of "Multimillionaire" was, "Great! More publicity!"

On reality television, gratuitous violence and explicit sexuality are not only entertainment but a means to an end. These enthusiastically documented humiliations are positioned as necessities in the service of some final prize or larger benefit — a marriage proposal, a modeling contract, $1 million. But they also make assault and abasement seem commonplace, acceptable behavior, tolerated by women and encouraged in men.

Which brings us back to Mr. Morgan, who, like many of Mr. Sheen's past and present press enablers, showed little to no urgency in addressing the question of violence against women. "You're entitled to behave however the hell you like as long as you don't scare the horses and the children," Mr. Morgan said at one point. Scaring women, it seems, was just fine.

During the interview, a series of images played on a continuous loop. One of them was a defiant and confident-looking Charlie Sheen, in a mug shot taken after his 2009 domestic violence arrest.

Anna Holmes is a writer and the creator of the Web site Jezebel.






The economic news has been better lately. New claims for unemployment insurance are down; business and consumer surveys suggest solid growth. We're still near the bottom of a very deep hole, but at least we're climbing.

It's too bad that so many people, mainly on the political right, want to send us sliding right back down again.

Before we get to that, let's talk about why economic recovery has been so long in coming.

Some economists expected a rapid bounce-back once we were past the acute phase of the financial crisis — what I think of as the oh-God-we're-all-gonna-die period — which lasted roughly from September 2008 to March 2009. But that was never in the cards. The bubble economy of the Bush years left many Americans with too much debt; once the bubble burst, consumers were forced to cut back, and it was inevitably going to take them time to repair their finances. And business investment was bound to be depressed, too. Why add to capacity when consumer demand is weak and you aren't using the factories and office buildings you have?

The only way we could have avoided a prolonged slump would have been for government spending to take up the slack. But that didn't happen: growth in total government spending actually slowed after the recession hit, as an underpowered federal stimulus was swamped by cuts at the state and local level.

So we've gone through years of high unemployment and inadequate growth. Despite the pain, however, American families have gradually improved their financial position. And in the past few months there have been signs of an emerging virtuous circle. As families have repaired their finances, they have increased their spending; as consumer demand has started to revive, businesses have become more willing to invest; and all this has led to an expanding economy, which further improves families' financial situation.

But it's still a fragile process, especially given the effects of rising oil and food prices. These price rises have little to do with U.S. policy; they're mainly because of growing demand from China and other emerging markets, on one side, and disruption of supply from political turmoil and terrible weather on the other. But they're a hit to purchasing power at an especially awkward time. And things will be much worse if the Federal Reserve and other central banks mistakenly respond to higher headline inflation by raising interest rates.

The clear and present danger to recovery, however, comes from politics — specifically, the demand from House Republicans that the government immediately slash spending on infant nutrition, disease control, clean water and more. Quite aside from their negative long-run consequences, these cuts would lead, directly and indirectly, to the elimination of hundreds of thousands of jobs — and this could short-circuit the virtuous circle of rising incomes and improving finances.

Of course, Republicans believe, or at least pretend to believe, that the direct job-destroying effects of their proposals would be more than offset by a rise in business confidence. As I like to put it, they believe that the Confidence Fairy will make everything all right.

But there's no reason for the rest of us to share that belief. For one thing, it's hard to see how such an obviously irresponsible plan — since when does starving the I.R.S. for funds help reduce the deficit? — can improve confidence.

Beyond that, we have a lot of evidence from other countries about the prospects for "expansionary austerity" — and that evidence is all negative. Last October, a comprehensive study by the International Monetary Fund concluded that "the idea that fiscal austerity stimulates economic activity in the short term finds little support in the data."

And do you remember the lavish praise heaped on Britain's conservative government, which announced harsh austerity measures after it took office last May? How's that going? Well, business confidence did not, in fact, rise when the plan was announced; it plunged, and has yet to recover. And recent surveys suggest that confidence has fallen even further among both businesses and consumers, indicating, as one report put it, that the private sector is "unprepared to fill the hole left by public sector cuts."

Which brings us back to the U.S. budget debate.

Over the next few weeks, House Republicans will try to blackmail the Obama administration into accepting their proposed spending cuts, using the threat of a government shutdown. They'll claim that those cuts would be good for America in both the short term and the long term.

But the truth is exactly the reverse: Republicans have managed to come up with spending cuts that would do double duty, both undermining America's future and threatening to abort a nascent economic recovery.






Samuel Huntington was one of America's greatest political scientists. In 1993, he published a sensational essay in Foreign Affairs called "The Clash of Civilizations?" The essay, which became a book, argued that the post-cold war would be marked by civilizational conflict.

Human beings, Huntington wrote, are divided along cultural lines — Western, Islamic, Hindu and so on. There is no universal civilization. Instead, there are these cultural blocks, each within its own distinct set of values.

The Islamic civilization, he wrote, is the most troublesome. People in the Arab world do not share the general suppositions of the Western world. Their primary attachment is to their religion, not to their nation-state. Their culture is inhospitable to certain liberal ideals, like pluralism, individualism and democracy.

Huntington correctly foresaw that the Arab strongman regimes were fragile and were threatened by the masses of unemployed young men. He thought these regimes could fall, but he did not believe that the nations would modernize in a Western direction. Amid the tumult of regime change, the rebels would selectively borrow tools from the West, but their borrowing would be refracted through their own beliefs. They would follow their own trajectory and not become more Western.

The Muslim world has bloody borders, he continued. There are wars and tensions where the Muslim world comes into conflict with other civilizations. Even if decrepit regimes fell, he suggested, there would still be a fundamental clash of civilizations between Islam and the West. The Western nations would do well to keep their distance from Muslim affairs. The more the two civilizations intermingle, the worse the tensions will be.

Huntington's thesis set off a furious debate. But with the historic changes sweeping through the Arab world, it's illuminating to go back and read his argument today.

In retrospect, I'd say that Huntington committed the Fundamental Attribution Error. That is, he ascribed to traits qualities that are actually determined by context.

He argued that people in Arab lands are intrinsically not nationalistic. He argued that they do not hunger for pluralism and democracy in the way these things are understood in the West. But it now appears as though they were simply living in circumstances that did not allow that patriotism or those spiritual hungers to come to the surface.

It now appears that people in these nations, like people in all nations, have multiple authentic selves. In some circumstances, one set of identities manifests itself, but when those circumstances change, other equally authentic identities and desires get activated.

For most of the past few decades, people in Arab nations were living under regimes that rule by fear. In these circumstances, most people shared the conspiracy mongering and the political passivity that these regimes encouraged. But when the fear lessened, and the opportunity for change arose, different aspirations were energized. Over the past weeks, we've seen Arab people ferociously attached to their national identities. We've seen them willing to risk their lives for pluralism, openness and democracy.

I'd say Huntington was also wrong in the way he defined culture.

In some ways, each of us is like every person on earth; in some ways, each of us is like the members of our culture and group; and, in some ways, each of us is unique. Huntington minimized the power of universal political values and exaggerated the influence of distinct cultural values. It's easy to see why he did this. He was arguing against global elites who sometimes refuse to acknowledge the power of culture at all.

But it seems clear that many people in Arab nations do share a universal hunger for liberty. They feel the presence of universal human rights and feel insulted when they are not accorded them.

Culture is important, but underneath cultural differences there are these universal aspirations for dignity, for political systems that listen to, respond to and respect the will of the people.

Finally, I'd say Huntington misunderstood the nature of historical change. In his book, he describes transformations that move along linear, projectable trajectories. But that's not how things work in times of tumult. Instead, one person moves a step. Then the next person moves a step. Pretty soon, millions are caught up in a contagion, activating passions they had but dimly perceived just weeks before. They get swept up in momentums that have no central authority and that, nonetheless, exercise a sweeping influence on those caught up in their tides.

I write all this not to denigrate the great Huntington. He may still be proved right. The Arab world may modernize on its own separate path. But his mistakes illuminate useful truths: that all people share certain aspirations and that history is wide open. The tumult of events can transform the traits and qualities that seemed, even to great experts, etched in stone.






All of us should want to be "right" about everything we do and say. We should seek, moreover, to be considerate of the rights of others. But a very important part of our American freedom is the "right" to be "wrong."

We are not at liberty to violate our laws, of course, nor to deny equal rights to others. But people naturally will not always agree on everything, and America's Constitution guarantees the right to express differences — including some plainly obnoxious differences.

One example involves a painful but correct ruling this week by the United States Supreme Court, in an 8-1 decision.

The case arose from the 2006 funeral in Westminster, Md., of U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Matthew Snyder, who died in Iraq.

Disgustingly, some meddlesome members of the tiny Westboro Baptist Church of Topeka, Kan., have chosen to demonstrate at more than 600 funerals across the country.

The protesters have expressed their views against the acceptance of homosexuality by carrying appalling signs saying such things as "God Hates Fags," "Thank God for Dead Soldiers" and "You're Going to Hell."

Albert Snyder, the father of the Marine who died in service to this country, sued the picketing church members for infliction of emotional distress, intrusion upon seclusion and civil conspiracy.

A federal court jury in Baltimore awarded the father a verdict calling for payment of $10.9 million in damages. The amount was cut in half by the trial judge. Then the award was overturned by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. That court said that although the protesters' behavior was clearly offensive, it was protected speech on a matter of national debate.

The Supreme Court generally agreed in upholding the appeals court's ruling, with only Justice Samuel Alito dissenting. The high court made it clear, though, that in no way was it endorsing the protesters' behavior.

It is sickening that the demonstrators at the deceased Marine's funeral added to the distress of his surviving family members.

But in this case, "freedom of speech" was protected for us all, while we deplore the obnoxious and repugnant speech of a few.





For decades, the United States has been painfully reminded — during peace and war — of how dependent we are upon foreign oil.

We produce a lot of oil, but we also needlessly forbid safe, clean drilling for much of our oil because of often bogus environmental concerns. So we are still big importers of oil — and thus are affected adversely by foreign price-setters and production disruptions.

Now Libya, a distant oil producer in North Africa, is experiencing violent internal disruption, and its troubles have pushed oil prices to more than $100 a barrel, as of this writing. We Americans are paying $108 million more a day for the same amount of gasoline — because of our lack of energy independence.

Why don't we use more of our oil?






Americans are horrified by the gunning down on Wednesday of two U.S. airmen and the wounding of two more at an airport in Germany by a man who authorities say was apparently a radical Muslim. But not long before that attack, there was another suspected terrorist plot on U.S. soil.

A man from Saudi Arabia who until recently was studying at Texas Tech University on a student visa faces a charge of trying to use a weapon of mass destruction. Authorities said the student, Khalid Aldawsari, bought chemicals online and intended to blow up U.S. targets.

Which targets? Nuclear plants, dams and the Dallas home of former President George W. Bush. Authorities say the suspect was going to hide the materials in dolls and baby carriages, and that the plot had been under development for years.

"After mastering the English language, learning how to build explosives and continuous planning to target the infidel Americans, it is time for jihad," the man allegedly wrote in his journal.

Fortunately, any possible violence was prevented after quick-thinking workers at a chemical company in North Carolina and a shipping company in Michigan alerted authorities to a suspicious shipment that Aldawsari had ordered. Federal agents began tracking his other purchases and found radical statements he had made online.

Still, things might have turned out horribly.

"This was a close call," Robert Casey, the FBI special agent in charge of the Dallas field office, told The New York Times.

Alarmingly, other terror suspects have been arrested in separate cases recently in Seattle and New York.

Aldawsari may face life in prison if convicted. We applaud law enforcement's effort in preventing a tragedy. But we plainly can't let down our guard against the terrorist threat.







Dear Ms. Ria Oomen-Ruijten,

We hope you will excuse the journalistic conceit of an "open letter." It is a feature of our craft to which we seldom resort. But as we reported earlier this week that you are now putting the final touches on the European Parliament's annual resolution on Turkey generally – and freedom of expression specifically – there are a few late-breaking developments to note. We just want to assure they reach your attention. 

Certainly as your draft noted, there are signs of progress including the recent end to a long-standing ban on YouTube. Certainly there has been ample discussion of so much, including the arrests last month of Soner Yalçın, a harsh government critic. Doubtlessly you have been adequately briefed.

But yesterday we reported on two new developments. One is a local court that has issued a blanket ban on a blogging platform over complaints that some bloggers were stealing proprietary content. As a result, some 600,000 Turkish bloggers are being effectively unplugged. A further concern is the status of two journalists arrested in connection to the ongoing "Ergenekon" case and held for over a year, Tuncay Özkan and Mustafa Balbay. We also reported yesterday that both have been remanded to solitary confinement, with no explanation, no reasoning and in fact a forcible relocation at 2.30 a.m.

And today we are scrambling to make sense of raids by Ergenekon investigators on the homes of more than 10 people, the majority of them being journalists. If the past is any guide, these colleagues may well be behind bars by the time you read this letter. While our concern is for journalists of all outlooks and affiliations, our anguish is all the more in that this latest roundup includes Nedim Şener, a frequent contributor to the Daily News and unquestionably the most decorated investigative journalist in Turkey. Also snared in the latest dragnet is Ahmet Şık, author of the most respected, objective and authoritative book on the whole Ergenekon affair. It is no small source of irony that it was his work at the now-closed magazine "Nokta" that sparked the Ergenekon investigation in the first place. 

We appreciate, of course, the work you and others have done to champion the widely accepted legal principles involved. It is certainly our view that these principles, to which we are obligated by the Copenhagen Criteria of our accession accord and many other pan-European conventions, are simply being trampled upon. 

We appreciate your scrutiny of press freedom in Turkey to date and commend your work that is ongoing. We, of course, look forward to reading your final report after it has been formally adopted as a resolution by the European Parliament.


David Judson


On behalf of the editorial board






I criticized President Abdullah Gül in this column recently for appearing extremely supportive of his Iranian counterpart, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, during his recent official visit to Tehran. That visit took place while the mullah regime in that country was brutalizing anti-government protestors on the streets of the capital, and I still stand by the view that this did not present a good picture either for Gül or for Turkey.

Gül was of course reported as having called on his Iranian interlocutors to be more tolerant of the opposition, which continues to be hounded more than ever in that country today. But his voice in this regard was somewhat muted, clearly with a view to not sullying the atmosphere of his official visit.

My personal experiences of Gül over the years, especially when he was foreign minister before being elected president,  has nevertheless proved to me that he is a liberal and tolerant man at heart who is democratic by nature and values human rights.  

He is also one of the first leaders from a predominantly Islamic country to have called on Islamic leaders in the region to move in the direction of democracy and to respect the natural rights of their people if they wanted to free their countries from economic and social backwardness.

Gül has also demonstrated his democratic credentials at home, especially with his annual speeches when Parliament is opened. He has come out in strong support of the democratic values enshrined in Turkey's EU perspective.

One has to therefore consider Gül to be a force for the good. This is also why I would have expected him to be more openly vocal in Tehran than he actually was when exhorting the regime there to be tolerant.

One can naturally understand that he has to consider Turkey's material interests, and that his visit to Iran was essentially spurred on by this consideration. The fact that he was accompanied by a very large contingent of Turkish businessmen on that visit also attests to this fact.

Serving the national interests is, of course, nothing new or strange in international affairs. Despite my own criticism of him in this regard, I believe that Western governments do not have the right to mount any moral high horse over his visit to Iran – which in all honesty they did not.

It would have been rather contradictory for them to do so anyway given the revelations now about how the brutal Moammar Gadhafi regime in Libya was propped up by the West over the years because of their oil interests, and with scant consideration for the welfare of the Libyan people.

The timely visit that Gül paid to Egypt on Thursday, on the other hand, is something that should be looked on positively by all those who are interested in seeing that country attain the democratic values desired by its people after they successfully toppled the Mubarak regime.

The semi-official Anatolian News Agency reported before Gül traveled to Cairo that his intention while there was "to display solidarity with the Egyptian state and the Egyptian people." It also indicated that he would hold high-level talks with the head of the Supreme Military Council,  which is provisionally running that country until the necessary groundwork for fair elections is prepared.

There have been visits to Egypt by Western leaders and officials since the popular uprising there, of course, one of them being the high-profile visit by Britain's David Cameron, whose support for the Egyptian people was welcomed warmly on the streets of Cairo as we saw from TV news reports.

It is clear, however, that Gül's Egyptian interlocutors must have listened to him on Thursday from a very different perspective, and possibly with much greater interest, given that he represents a country whose population is predominantly Muslim and yet has managed to show that Islam and democracy are not incompatible.

This is after all what Egyptians will also try and achieve now, regardless of whether they do it according to the "Turkish model," or according to a model specific to their own sociological realities, which in the end is more likely to happen whatever inspiration they may draw from Turkey.

The fact that Turkey is a country which has had to cope with anti-democratic military interventions in the past, and now has a government with an Islamic orientation that has effectively forced the same military to withdraw to behind democratic lines, will also have increased the interest in Gül's visit among ordinary Egyptians.

While the average Egyptian, like the average Turk, has respect for the nation's military as an institution, this does not mean that people in Turkey or in Egypt want the military to get involved in politics and undermine democratic values and the hard-gained advances made in this regard.

Gül, in fact, made his views about developments in Egypt known to journalists on his plane as he was traveling to Tehran recently for his official visit. These views have been reported and give us and idea of what he must have said in Cairo during his talks with officials there on Thursday.

Gül reportedly told journalists on the plane that Egypt "is a great country with a deep civilization whose place in international fora should be much better than it is." He also praised the Egyptian army for the great contribution it made to preventing bloodshed among brothers during the recent demonstration and went on to add the following:

"Now we are in a state of transition. There is the need for a proper constitution, and fair elections. The people and state of Egypt must come out of this transition period much stronger. If the system is rotten it does not matter if the public is strong. It is not possible to achieve anything with a rotten system."

There is no doubt this was the bottom line in terms of what he transmitted to his Egyptian hosts on Thursday. One can expect, given prevailing circumstances and his complimentary remarks about the Egyptian people and military, that his remarks were generally welcomed.

This is the kind of role that we expect a liberal and democratically oriented person like Gül, who has respect for human rights, to play in the region. It does him and Turkey much more credit than appearing to "chummy" with leaders whose democratic credentials are highly questionable, if they exist at all.







My taxi driver, an Arab who was too kind in agreeing to drive me to Leicester Square from Islington at 3:30 a.m., turned extra generous after he asked me where I was from. For the sake of our prime minister "who has a heart as good as an Arab's," my taxi driver insisted on giving me a five-pound discount – after telling me that his meter was temporarily out of service and having inflated the figure by a good 15 pounds. He pretended to be heart-broken after I thanked him but told him I did not want to owe five pounds to our prime minister who has a heart as good as an Arab's. I convinced him against the discount after a very tough struggle which lasted about 20 seconds.

The taxi driver was so fond of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan that he even likened him to Simon Bolivar – a Muslim version. During our journey from north to central London he told me that he liked Mr. Erdoğan especially because the prime minister spoke the truth at all times and never behaved inconsistently.

"He is a man of principles, just like the Arabs," he said. I told him I fully agreed. Maybe he is an Arab by blood, he said. Maybe, I said. For the first time, he said, you Turks have a Muslim leader. First time, I replied. For the first time, he said, a Turkish leader stood against the bloody "Joooos!" First time, I replied. Brave man, he said. Brave man, I said. The distance had never before seemed so long to me.

In my room, a copy of Private Eye (issue 1,282) reminded its readers of two numbers:

250,000: the estimated number of protestors gathering in Cairo resulting in the ousting of Hosni Mubarak which former British Prime Minister Tony Blair welcomed as a "huge opportunity for change."

1 million: the estimated number of anti-war protestors marching in London in 2003 which Tony Blair took no notice of whatsoever.

I pitied the British for electing hypocritical prime minister(s). I turned to the electronic copy of Hürriyet which was quoting Mr. Erdoğan as saying in Hanover, Germany, "There should be no anger or hatred between [political] leaders." I remembered Davos and his famous "You know well how to kill" tirade directed at Israeli President Shimon Peres but which implicated "those bloody Joooos" rather than Mr. Peres himself. I also remembered my generous Arab taxi driver, who thinks we have a prime minister who is a man of principles.

I recalled Mr. Erdoğan's haste in inviting Mr. Mubarak to step down and listen to the people's voice. And his silence on Moammar Gadhafi and the voice of the Libyan people. In Hanover, Mr. Erdoğan criticized Western governments for being unfair to Col. Gadhafi and his regime by plotting sanctions against the dictator's rule. No one, Mr. Erdoğan, the man of principles, said, should make (political) calculations based on oil wells (in Libya).

In the same hours, Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek said that about 200 Turkish companies had a $26 billion business portfolio in Libya, and that "if we withdrew, others would fill in."

I understood that making political calculations based on oil wells was unethical but making political calculations based on heavy machinery and construction sites was perfectly ethical. My taxi driver was right. One had to be a man of principles. I began to regret turning down his generous discount offer.

Since he was politically very talkative at that weird hour of the morning, I took the liberty to ask my taxi driver of his opinion about the unrest in Iran. In a fresh round of demonstrations, security forces had fired tear gas at opposition supporters who were protesting the imprisonment of opposition leaders Mir Hossein Moussavi and Mehdi Karroubi. Bah, he said, they are Zionist conspirators. Bah, I thought, they are Zionist conspirators. But at least I had been able to get a clue as to how our prime minister of principles would possibly be assessing the Iranian riots. Now I have an idea.

But was it not brutal and totally undemocratic that the opposition leaders, together with their wives, had been arrested. My all-too-knowledgeable taxi driver corrected me: "They were not arrested. Dr. [President Mahmoud] Ahmadinejad was generous enough to order their removal to a safe house. For their own security…" For their own security, I repeated after him. For their own security, he repeated after me…







The Cyprus reunification talks are getting stuck, again. But for Turkey this should no longer be a license to shrug, yawn and allow the standoff on the island to slide further towards partition. Contrary to public perceptions, the situation is not static. The diplomatic stalemate is forcing the dispute into an area that is strongly against Turkish national interests.

Take a look at some previously unimaginable changes since the last breakdown in 2004. Turkish Cypriots are demonstrating against Turkish policies on the island. Turkey's EU accession talks have slowed to crawl – mostly because of Cyprus – and the Turkish prime minister is almost daring EU leaders to break them off. And tumult in the Middle East has revealed the risks Turkey would be running if the Cyprus dispute really did result in politicians in Ankara carrying out their often-repeated threat to "choose Cyprus," turn their back on Europe, and base Turkey's future on going it alone as a regional player.

The time has come for Turkey to rebalance its policies toward Europe – whatever the current leaders of France and Germany do and say. A Turkish attitude of "love us or leave us" is not working and is alienating even Turkey's traditional allies in the EU and NATO. Turkey's reform program is stumbling without the discipline of the EU accession process. Scorning the EU because of political dysfunction or the euro crisis is premature: Europe still enjoys an average income double that of Turkey, a gap that will take at least a generation, and probably two to close.

The EU – the world's biggest market – is also still the meat and potatoes of the Turkish economic diet. Half of Turkey's exports go to Europe, two-thirds of its foreign investment comes from Europe, and more than 3 million Turks live there. By way of comparison, just 10 percent of Turkey's tourists come from the Middle East, and just 110,000 Turks lived and worked there until recently. The region offers opportunities but volatile ones. It took a quarter of Turkey's exports two decades ago, but that ratio plunged to a tenth a decade ago, then shot back to a quarter again last year. The past month's exodus of 20,000 workers from Libya, the crisis in Egypt and problems elsewhere doubtless suggest that ups and downs will continue to be the pattern.

But tuning up the steady engine of the EU relationship and accession process means that Turkey has to do something about Cyprus. The EU-Turkey-Cyprus triangle of issues is inter-locked: all rise and fall together. The Cyprus dispute is used as an excuse to do nothing difficult by politicians not just in Europe, but also in Turkey. Another reason that the Cyprus talks since 2008 have not gone far is that both Turkey and Greek Cypriots – the main powers in the dispute – simply do not believe that the other side wants to do a deal, while in fact they do.

All sides suffer from the situation. European states and Turkey are both frustrated that they cannot normalize the EU relationship, formal EU-NATO ties remain impossible as Greek Cypriots and Turkey leverage their membership of those organizations against the other, and the 600,000 ethnic Greek Cypriots remain isolated and vulnerable on the far eastern tip of the EU.

Seeing this, it may be that the EU can broker a breakthrough set of phased confidence-building measures. But such packages are notoriously hard to organize. A much better and more certain plan would be for one or both of the two sides to simply begin unilaterally implementing confidence-building measures that will be part of almost any agreed settlement anyway – without prejudice to the talks on the eventual political reunification.

For its part, Ankara should be daring, since, unfair though this may seem to Turkish opinion, it is true that Turkey has far more pressing incentives to act than the Greek Cypriots. Turkey should open its ports, airports and airspace to Cyprus – implementing its signed EU obligation from 2005, the Additional Protocol. Doing so means instantly winning years' worth of EU negotiating chapters, throwing a lifeline to pro-compromise Greek Cypriots, validating the 'zero-problem' foreign policy and making possible the trade and contacts that will build trust in a future political settlement.

Turkey should also hand back the sealed-off beach resort of Varosha to its Greek Cypriot owners – under an indefinite interim U.N. administration. This would reduce its multi-billion euro judicial liability for occupying someone else's property, invigorate all Cypriots' belief in a settlement and create an excellent way for Turkish Cypriots to find profitable work beyond taking Ankara's handouts. If the Additional Protocol is ratified, Turkish construction firms could bid on the U.N. and other contracts too.

For their part, Greek Cypriots should make clear to Turkey their desire for a compromise settlement. They should immediately put an end to their policy of blocking half of Turkey's EU accession chapters, which risks the real possibility of disaster for Nicosia if it actually kills off the membership negotiations. They should legitimize all Cypriots' trade with EU states and the world through the port of Famagusta, under Turkish Cypriot management but with EU supervision and checks of Turkish Cypriot Chamber of Commerce documents. They should find a way to legitimize international charter flights to the Turkish Cypriots' Ercan airport, and begin de facto cooperation with Turkish Cypriot administrative bodies.

Above all, beyond trading, Turkey and the Greek Cypriots should start to talk and to listen to each other. Turkish officials must find a way to meet and get down to business with Greek Cypriot officials. Only then will the bitter anger leave the voices of diplomats when talking about each other, as is already happening between Turkey and Armenia, where contact has brought much greater understanding. This would allow all sides to begin to build trust, whose absence is the main reason why the talks since 2008 have made so little progress.

* Hugh Pope, Turkey/Cyprus Project Director for International Crisis Group, will present the Crisis Group's latest report, "Cyprus: Six Steps Towards a Settlement," at the TEPAV think tank in Ankara at 10 a.m. on Friday, March 4.






I was talking with a senior Turkish Cypriot official about the March 2 "Communal Existence Rally" organized by a coalition of labor unions and supported by almost all political parties, obviously except the ruling National Unity Party, or UBP.

The senior official, of course, was having mixed feelings regarding the rally. He was sad that such a rally was held against his government and the Turkey-imposed austerity package while at the same time as a Turkish Cypriot was frank enough to say if he was not holding such an office he would be in the rally ground as well to tell "the sultan and his grand vizier" in Ankara that they cannot humiliate and insult the Turkish Cypriot people in such a deplorable down-looking and opprobrious fashion.

"What was the strategy of Ankara?" he asked. "Why has Ankara all of a sudden started to be so demanding? Are we experiencing all this because Turkey wishes to extend $100 million less to northern Cyprus this year? What is behind all the trouble we have been going through?"

I was perplexed. Instead of me asking him questions the senior official was asking such thorny questions to me, obviously aware that I do not have an answer to them. I often say Cyprus is the true inheritor of Byzantium and the Byzantine politics still survive on the island at all levels, including the Cyprus talks. Nothing might be what it is portrayed to be.

"Come on," I said, "You know the background of the trouble…"

With a large grin on his face and a "Mr. Know-It-All" glare in his eyes, the middle-aged technocrat-politician started giving a lengthy lecture on the legendary 19th century politician Otto Eduard Leopold von Bismarck, who gained the nickname the "Iron Chancellor" because of his diplomacy of realpolitik and powerful rule.

"My friend, according to the advice of Bismarck there is a distinct difference between a successful strategy and an unsuccessful or counterproductive strategy. If, when a strategy is put into implementation, opposing forces that have nothing more in common than being opposite to the force that implemented said strategy come together and merge their potential … Or, if because of that strategy small elements that would otherwise be ignored by everyone and have no relevance in policymaking or implementation in any way, all of a sudden gain prominence and receive an acceptance far greater than what they are… Or if you intend to solve a problem with that strategy but once it is put into implementation elements on your side start to be weakened while the opposing side start gaining strength and thus increase their demands during talks with you, according to Bismarck's advice, you are dead wrong my friend…"

I wanted to intervene and ask him to speak more openly. He just did not let me. "Wait… Wait… On the other hand, if after a strategy is put into force and then elements united against you start to disperse, for example if big groups or elements start to be perceived far less weaker, and if your opponents feel they need to downscale their demands in order to make an accord with you, then that is a successful strategy…"

"Why don't you be more specific?" I asked.

"Do you reasonably expect me to be more specific? You should be grateful for what I already explained you! To what purpose did it serve the Turkish prime minister and the deputy prime minister to use an insolent placard carried by a trivial or nuance political group at a democratic event in northern Cyprus to create a thunderstorm in a teacup? Did the premier's outburst, down-looking remarks and insults, indeed unacceptable curses, against Turkish Cypriots help any purpose? What great benefit was achieved with those humiliating developments? Was our position in the Cyprus talks strengthened or weakened? Or did the developments force Greek Cypriots to retreat from some of their demands or are they now encouraged to demand more, seeing that even Ankara considered the Turkish Cypriots as some sort of an "ungrateful cat"?

In summary, if Ankara did not want to purposely portray Turkish Cypriots as some sort of an "ungrateful cat," then was everything we experienced on the Ankara-northern Cyprus line over the past two months products of a failed strategy. Was it really so?

New Ergenekon thriller

The Turkish media community awoke Thursday to a new episode of the so-called Ergenekon thriller. Early in the morning police started searching 16 different places and many journalists were placed under detention. Journalists would perhaps overthrow the government of the absolute ruler with their pens, or books they have written.

Absolutely, I have no doubt that prosecutors will soon disclose or it will be splashed on the front pages of the allegiant media how many CDs containing plans for a coup were found in the homes of journalists.

Oscars should definitely go to that department for successfully writing and copying on CD all kinds of coup plans.






The meaning of history may be as vexed a subject as is the attempt actually to dominate history — by communists, by capitalists, by imperialists of the spirit. I propose not to enter here on the controversies of the philosophy of history and theology of history, tempting as they are. I focus instead on what history can mean in the life of an ordinary person — say, you or me. On the historical and the historian in us.

Since you are reading a newspaper, you are already abreast of current history, the noting of significant acts and actors in the present. More and more these reported actions in all the media are worldwide in scope and impact. Do we see ourselves as species-players in the dramas of human history?

One can be a world-citizen in one's armchair. (Though travel does have right-of-way to inculcate the sense of history, anon.) Immanuel Kant never left his native town of Königsberg (King's Mountain) but his words leveraged a hefty change in Westerners' confidence in what their reason can, and cannot, do for them. Socrates only quit his lively Athens if required to do so for battle. Jesus never walked more than a day's distance in Galilee, except once, maybe, fatally, to Jerusalem. And the latter two did not write, as Kant prodigiously did, yet their speech and deeds and being ripple still through literate history. All three set their souls on what runs deep in us.

For we are interconnected in ways we are always discovering anew. Biology has revealed how the genes of our homo sapiens species, that propel our development, are the same in every one of us, and that we share very many of them with other animals. Further, each individual recapitulates from embryo to maturity the whole sequence of the evolution of living beings on the planet over spans of time hard to apprehend. Fortunately, the recorded history of that procession covers only about the last 6,000 years — quite enough to take in for a body who spends a third of its time asleep. Yet it is our history. We are species-beings, as Marx insisted.

Given that our embedded physical makeup and especially the brain set the possibilities and limits of our endeavors, there is still a bewildering variety of human activity to appropriate and assess. Some deny that any traits or arrangements are universally human. Yet a being who makes such judgments and pronouncements exhibits a structure of self-conscious freedom and destiny that belong to all with the same species-endowment. To pontificate about humanity is human, all too human. Human nature is indeed variable and even changeable, but it changes within its own history, and a being capable of making and registering history has that as its nature, whatever contradictions or failures of it occur in existence.

Marks of the human

Some form of morality (mutual acknowledgement of personhood) and of culture (language and technology) and some sense of the transfinite implicated in the finite and of the finite implicated in the transfinite (religion!) belong to our being. History as recorded is one of its recent efflorescences. Now, where do I come in? — as the child asks who hears the family history recited. 

The gradual self-understanding of the human occurred within the religious apprehension of reality for most of known history. How we are different from the divine and yet dependent on it framed the profusion and succession of cults and cultures. Only in Turkey's Aegean region in the 6th century BC did a few individuals take the first steps in thinking about the world of nature and the human place in it in fully secular terms, using self-critical reason as the instrument of knowledge and of self-knowledge. This legacy flourished in Athens soon afterwards and from time to time in subsequent Western history and elsewhere, where thinkers applied these methods to the questions of science and of human society.

The traditions of the liberal arts and sciences, of philosophy and of theology as a rational system survived through the Middle Ages, advanced in the Renaissance and early modern period, and attained self-possession in the Enlightenment. But only in the last two centuries have the disciplines of the humanities and of the human sciences reached for the methodical maturity of the physical and mathematical sciences. Thus anthropology in the widest sense, as the self-interpretation of the human, is open to us in a way never before available.

But to take hold of this vast diverse and contentious profusion of fields, including archeology, linguistics, art history, gender studies, ethnic studies and so many others, one needs to be hydra-headed. The single-headed must braid the salient points from as many preserves as can be raided. Here travel and experience of the ways of others can loosen blinders and increase the data for reflection. As we see and digest what remains of the former feats of human beings we may renew our gratefulness for all that has prepared our way, as well as simply relive what has occurred. Our own struggles acquire context and depth. To learn how other societies and their individuals, as well as those in our own national past, have negotiated the trails and the trials of being human is to find new joy in our own part in the ongoing drama that is our species' history. You and I not only ruminate its meaning, we have a role in enacting it.

* Frank White is a professor emeritus at City University of New York and lives part of the year in Alanya, Turkey. He can be reached at






This year, the 47th Munich Security Conference included for the first time a special session on cyber-security. "This may be the first time," the president of a small European state noted to the high-powered assembly, more accustomed to dealing with armies and alliances than with worms and denial-of-service attacks, "but it will not be the last."

Until now, the issue of cyber-security has largely been the domain of computer geeks. When the Internet was created 40 years ago, this small community was like a virtual village of people who knew each other, and they designed a system with little attention to security.

Even the commercial Web is only two decades old, but as British Foreign Secretary William Hague reminded the Munich conference: It has exploded from 16 million users in 1995 to more than 1.7 billion users today.

This burgeoning interdependence has created great opportunities and great vulnerabilities. Security experts wrestling with cyber-issues are at about the same stage in understanding the implications of this new technology as nuclear experts were in the early years after the first nuclear explosions.

The cyber-domain is a volatile manmade environment. As an advisory panel of defense scientists explained, "people built all the pieces," but "the cyber-universe is complex well beyond anyone's understanding and exhibits behavior that no one predicted, and sometimes can't even be explained well."

Unlike atoms, human adversaries are purposeful and intelligent. Mountains and oceans are hard to move, but portions of cyberspace can be turned on and off at the click of a mouse. It is cheaper and quicker to move electrons across the globe than to move large ships long distances through the friction of salt water. The costs of developing multiple carrier taskforces and submarine fleets create enormous barriers to entry and make it possible to speak of U.S. naval dominance. In contrast, the barriers to entry in the cyber-domain are so low that non-state actors and small states can play significant roles at low levels of cost.

In my book, 'The Future of Power,' I describe diffusion of power away from governments as one of the great power shifts in this century. Cyberspace is a perfect example of the broader trend. The largest powers are unlikely to be able to dominate this domain as much as they have others like sea, air or space.

While they have greater resources, they also have greater vulnerabilities, and at this stage, offense dominates defense in cyberspace. The United States, Russia, Britain, France and China have greater capacity than other state and non-state actors, but it makes little sense to speak of dominance in cyberspace. If anything, dependence on complex cyber-systems for support of military and economic activities creates vulnerabilities in large states that can be exploited.

There is much loose talk about "cyber-war." But if we restrict the term to cyber-actions that have effects outside cyberspace that amplify or are equivalent to physical violence, we are only just beginning to see glimpses of cyber-war – for instance in the denial-of-service attacks that accompanied the conventional war in Georgia in 2008, or the recent sabotage of Iranian centrifuges by the Stuxnet worm.

If one treats most hacktivism as mostly a nuisance, there are four major categories of cyber threats to national security, each with a different time horizon and with different (in principle) solutions: 1) cyber-war and 2) economic espionage, both largely associated with states, and 3) cybercrime and 4) cyber-terrorism, mostly associated with non-state actors.

For the United States, at the present time, the highest costs come from the espionage and crime, but over the next decade or so, war and terrorism may become greater threats.

Moreover, as alliances and tactics evolve among different actors, the categories may increasingly overlap. As the former director of National Intelligence, Mike McConnell, said, "Sooner or later, terror groups will achieve cyber-sophistication. It's like nuclear proliferation, only far easier."

At this stage, however, according to President Obama's 2009 cyber-review, theft of intellectual property by other states (and corporations) is the highest immediate cost. Not only does it result in current economic losses, but by destroying competitive advantage, it jeopardizes future hard power.

Security experts are far from certain what terms such as "offense, defense, deterrence, or the laws of war" mean in the cyber-realm. We are only at the early stages of developing a strategy. And public understanding lags even further behind. That is why this year is likely to be just the beginning of many discussions like the one at the Munich security conference.

* Joseph S. Nye Jr. is a professor at Harvard and the author, most recently, of "The Future of Power". This piece appeared on the Khaleej Times website.







The targeting of college girls who had organised a function within the premises of their all-girls institute by militants in Mardan, injuring some 40 students and killing one, is another evidence of the insanity that still prevails in the North. The militants who hurled grenades into the premises as the function – a farewell for leaving students – was being staged, clearly wished to create a sense of terror. The following day a massive planted bomb of perhaps 600kg was detonated in Hangu outside a police station killing at least nine and injuring 30. This was swiftly followed by the death of six more innocent people in Khyber Agency. Within twenty-four hours almost 100 people are dead and injured. Terror is a powerful weapon and it has been used repeatedly by the Taliban who seem able to continue their acts of murder despite the many claims we have heard from the government that they had been tamed.

This quite obviously is not the case at all. At frequent intervals we hear accounts of suicide bombings, attacks on schools or the killing of security personnel. We wonder when the chapter of death will be brought to a close. Too many lives have already been lost; those who have no role in the current conflict have been among those killed. The young girl felled in Mardan is the latest to join their ranks. The casualties in Hangu were mostly civilians although the target was obviously the police. Even now we can only wonder when the next outrage will occur – and if anything can be done to stop it. Attacks such as these create a sense of hopelessness and despondency. The belief that had existed for some months that the militants had been defeated has long since faded away, and this can only leave all of us wondering what the future will hold or where the militants will strike next. They have already demonstrated many times that they have no humanity. The attacks in Mardan, Hangu and Khyber merely reinforce this perception.







According to a story in this newspaper, a highly emotional and badly shaken prime minister offered to resign in the wake of the news of Shahbaz Bhatti's death, but was prevented from doing so by Cabinet colleagues. The demonstration of distress by the PM and his offer to accept responsibility for the latest murder in the country may be welcome in the sense that they indicate Mr Gillani at least recognises the gravity of the situation. But the fact we need to face up to is also that, in concrete terms, the PPP has done very little to act against those responsible for such assassinations. Persons who should be taking prime responsibility for a rapidly deteriorating law and order situation and a descent into the worst extremist violence we have seen in our history have shown no capacity to look beyond the mundane. They have failed to look at the broader situation and focused instead on security issues such as the deployment of guards with ministers. Perhaps, they have already forgotten that in January this year Salmaan Taseer was shot dead by one of his own protectors. The demon we face consists of a specific mindset; it is this that needs to be dealt with – rather than focusing on far less significant aspects of the crime committed in broad daylight in the federal capital.

Remarks from other PPP members have also, in most cases, failed to address the core issue of intolerance and the need to treat it as a national emergency. While some other mainstream parties have spoken out, too many others have either taken cover behind the veil of silence or – in the case of the religious parties – put forward conspiracy theories that make only limited sense. The strongest words of condemnation at home have come from a grieving Christian community, which appears to have been left to mourn largely alone. This response from our national leadership contrasts rather starkly with the shocked reaction that has poured in from around the world. It has come in from Washington, from London, from the Vatican and from other places where a call has been made for the Pakistan government to deal stringently with the murderers of a man who attempted to defend the rights of all religious groups. The world, quite evidently, fears for Pakistan and its future. The question now is if we, as a nation, possess the capacity to stand together and challenge the extremists. There is, so far, little evidence that this will happen or that we will be able to stop the tide of extremism that threatens to decimate our society.







Tens of thousands of people were left stranded across Karachi on account of a strike called by the transporters' association in the city to protest the recent increase in petroleum prices. Transporters have warned that the strike will continue until the decision is reversed. This is a prospect that fills people with greater dread given the immense inconveniences they have been facing as buses and wagons vanished from the roads. Subsequently, rickshaw drivers demanded highly inflated rates from commuters at bus stops and other public places where people searched for a way to reach educational institutions or places of work. Many were unable to afford these inflated rates and could not make it to work.


Given their sorry plight, people demanded to know what the government was doing to alleviate their misery. Commuters faced similar problems several days ago when the prospect of a petrol price increase led to filling stations being closed down. The transport strike came on top of rising inflation generated by the petrol price hike. Predictions from officials in the city that transporters would not go ahead with the strike proved to be inaccurate. Transporters have expressed determination to force a change in fuel pricing policy – with the government decision on this count triggering a series of problems, the brunt of which is being borne by ordinary citizens – and especially those who do not have access to private vehicles and are, as such, entirely dependent on a public transport system that has ground to a halt.








We have played with fire and folly. We have nurtured myths and fantasies, far removed from any notion of reality. We have planted the seeds of intolerance and fanned the winds of bigotry, convinced that we were doing so for the greater glory of the faith. And now we are reaping the consequences.

Shahbaz Bhatti is not the first victim of hatred and bigotry, nor will he be the last. The furies we have created, the demons let loose, will claim more victims even as the rest of us perform the rituals of superficial sorrow.

If nuke capability was a formula for national confidence, which it isn't – let's be clear on this score – Kahuta and the bomb should have given us confidence. We should have been able to shed our fears and concentrate on schools and hospitals, the pursuit of knowledge, not tanks and guns.

Pakistan had everything in it to become the crossroads of east and west, gateway to India on one side and Central Asia on the other. It could have become the starting point of a heady journey through history and fantasy, fact and fiction. But only if we had chosen to live like a normal nation, devoted to the normal tasks of nation-building, instead of living in the clouds and from the 1980s onwards raising holy armies in the name of 'jihad'.

We should have been more careful of the law of unintended consequences, how our desire to liberate Kashmir had led us on a journey ending in the division of Jinnah's Pakistan. Forgetting this history lesson, with CIA and Saudi help we set out to liberate Afghanistan from Soviet occupation and ended up fanning the flames of hyper-religiosity and extremism in Pakistan.

We should have checked our horses then but puffed up by a misplaced sense of achievement we embarked on another journey dedicated anew to 'jihad' in Kashmir. We ended up with burned fingers again, Kargil one of the trophies of this misplaced sense of adventurism.

Still we refuse to learn, bent upon having our say in Afghanistan once again even as the lights go out one by one in Pakistan and the country slips further into disorder and mindless violence.

All our various lashkars, lashkar-e-this and lashkar-e-that, including the mother of all lashkars, the Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan, are products of the same fertile soil assiduously ploughed and cultivated in the name of 'jihad' by our strategic masters.

The political class may be in power nominally but limited capacity and a serious lack of ideas have hampered its ability to challenge the military's hold on ideology. Nor, as we have seen time and again, has it been able to stand up to the clerical armies on emotionally-charged issues such as the anti-blasphemy law.

When Salmaan Taseer was gunned down the government and the political class as a whole should have taken a clear stand instead of ducking behind equivocations, and the prime minister and sundry ministers declaring over and over again that the law was not being amended. This conduct stemming from fear only emboldened the holy armies.

Now the misguided passions ignited by the inane controversy over the anti-blasphemy law has claimed another victim: the only Christian minister in the federal cabinet, the very decent Shahbaz Bhatti. May the Lord of the Worlds rest his soul in peace.

His crime was to seek justice for the Christian woman, Aasia Bibi, condemned to death by a sessions court on the charge of blasphemy. He had received death threats and had asked for enhanced security, including a bullet-proof car. If anyone deserved such a car it was Bhatti, especially after Taseer's assassination at the hands of one of his own guards, hailed as a hero by the armies of the bearded, which is a measure of the depths to which Pakistani society has sunk. Why wasn't the security he deserved provided to Bhatti? We can be pretty sure for some pretty smooth explanations from Interior Minister Rehman Malik, ever-eloquent and ever-unconvincing.

But the larger questions remain. When will we finally change course and recognise that the roots of violence and extremism lie in the kind of confused state we have managed to create? And how much further sacrificial bloodletting will make us confront the fact that the idea of Pakistan, propounded none too clearly by our founding fathers, has been hijacked by elements the founding fathers would have been hard put to recognise?

The idea of a separate Muslim state was open to misinterpretation in that it provided a handle to religious elements, most of them dead opposed to the Pakistan movement, to go a step further and insist, as they have done ever since, that Pakistan was created in the name of Islam. Which is not quite the same thing as Muslim separatism.

Islam was in no danger in undivided India. But the Muslim elites of Northern India felt insecure at the prospect of being dominated politically by a Hindu majority. The demand for Pakistan was thus a political and not a religious demand or theological battle cry. It is the bankruptcy of our English-speaking governing classes which allowed the far right to subvert and distort this history.

Today's Pakistan is not Jinnah's Pakistan. If it has a godfather it is the ghost of Gen Zia under whose command the army and intelligence agencies, instead of being agents of modernism, became instruments of ideological regression.

The fight against extremism will not end when American forces start leaving Afghanistan. It will enter a new phase and if the Taliban triumph this will mean more complications for us as religious forces, already on the march, get more emboldened.

So the task really is to get rid of the ideological baggage – more like ideological nonsense – which we have amassed over the years. Are we up to this task? This is the challenge facing Pakistan and in meeting it Kahuta and the bomb, our arsenal of Ghauri and Hatf missiles, will be of little use. This is a battle of ideas and this must be won if the forces of darkness which have Pakistan in their grip are to be defeated.

The army's responsibility is clear. It must undergo some kind of a cultural revolution if we are to put the past behind us and look for salvation within Pakistan's borders rather than without. If the army remains an engine of reaction, if it doesn't break out of the Ziaul Haq mould, if it doesn't give up its dreams of Afghan glory, we are doomed.

The political class also has to expand its horizons if it is to give a lead to the army, as it should. The idea of reinventing the idea of Pakistan has to be a political endeavour if politics is to acquire the supremacy in national affairs that so far it has not achieved.

We face a different problem from the Arab world. The Arab masses, long shackled in dictatorship, are seeking the light of democracy. We have democracy but without substance and meaning.
In the Arab world the masses are the motors of change. In Pakistan the masses cannot undertake the task of reinventing the Islamic Republic because this is a task whose urgency they have yet to recognise. Where then are the knights who will undertake this task and around which round table? We have to find an answer to this question if we are to emerge from the dark.








Pakistan is increasingly transforming into a country where dissent is abhorred and disagreement is penalised whether the sphere is political, religious or social. Intolerance has been seeping into almost all branches of Pakistan's systems for some time now.

Three main sources (and signs) of intolerance can be identified in Pakistan's systems.

First, the democratic culture to infuse tolerance into the political system is yet unripe. One reasons for this may be that democracy is considered to have been thrust upon the people rather than an evolved product of the native culture. One wonders if the creation of Pakistan had not originated from an egalitarian decision of the Muslims of the subcontinent to get a separate homeland, what would have been the scenario in Pakistan today?

Perhaps, Pakistan would have been an extension of the Mughal Empire run by despots. If the democratic origin of Pakistan cannot guarantee democracy in the country, what hope can the future offer? In recent history, the Charter of Democracy (CoD) is considered the first document to broach accommodation between two main political parties, the PML-N and the PPP. Refusing to learn from history and violating all principles of political fairness, the PML-N is inclined – even if this is not openly declared – to gather into its folds politicians from the PML-Q in Punjab (under the guise of the Unification bloc) thereby reviving the loathsome practice of 'lotaism' which earned notoriety in the 90s.

The PML-N may not countenance the company of the PPP as a coalition partner for another two years (to complete the term) and apparently has decided to cash in on growing unrest in the country. It is a pity that the political parties adhere to democratic principles only as long as it serves their purpose; the same trend bodes ill for democracy in Pakistan.

Second, dialogue is not considered a positive way to settle inter-faith or inter-sectarian issues in the sphere of religion. Instead, suppression of thought and voice is an adopted approach. Both Salmaan Taseer, former governor of Punjab, and Shahbaz Bhatti, the former federal minister for minorities affairs, have fallen prey to raging religious intolerance.

In this regard, one of the main problems created by the military-dominated eras in the past was the forcible muffling of the representative voice of the people. The consequent message of suppression was imbibed by society and now the same message is determining the fate of those who raise a voice of dissent. Moreover, during military rules (especially of General Ziaul Haq), it was not just that religion was superimposed on politics but also that religious sentiments were prodded to take precedence over nationalism. Now, Pakistani society is yielding the fruits of religious fanaticism by counting the dead bodies of its members.

Third, Pakistani society is still not open at the family level. In the rural or semi-urban areas of Pakistan inhabited by a majority of populace, democratic values have not yet penetrated the institution of family. The institution is strictly patriarchal – the say of elders is irrefutable and compliance is unavoidable.

Unfortunately, at that level, democracy is considered alien to local culture thereby limiting its reach. Further, the youth is conditioned by the lesson of suppression and later on in life the youth starts teaching the same to others – perhaps using the language of violence. Hence begins social bigotry coupled with moral medievalism. Nevertheless, democracy finds breathing space mostly out of the house (or the fiefdoms) as democracy is considered a means to run the affairs of the country and not of the family. Consequently, despite its democratic facade, from inside Pakistani society is still undemocratic and has been conserving its orthodoxy by all means.

Retrospectively, one of the reasons that might have encouraged the military to take over the democratic set-up was that the military eras would be seen in terms of economic gain and not in terms of democratic loss to the country – under the pretext that the prime concern of Pakistanis is not democracy but economic survival. In Pakistan, it seems that democracy and economic prosperity are ideas lying too far apart to be reconciled; it is as if democracy beckons poverty whereas dictatorship beckons prosperity.

The question now is – how long will the country be kept dispossessed of democratic experience (as an asset) at the cost of economic management? Secondly, for how long will this preference be exploited by non-democratic forces and their beneficiaries? Third, how much longer will Pakistan remain enmeshed in the discussion about what should stand first – religion or the country?

It seems that intolerance is a common malicious thread joining politics, religion and society in Pakistan. The antithesis to this malevolent bond is an uninterrupted supply of democracy, unhindered electoral accountability of politicians and unlimited dissemination of education among the masses.










The proverbial cat is out. No one can put it back in the bag, but where would it go? Those who orchestrated change in the Middle East were unaware of the consequences of "liberating" Iraq, but they pretended to know it all. They bombed Iraq into submission, had its dictator hanged, pretended to have no responsibility for the intra-Muslim blood baths that ensued. But they certainly had no idea where this change will lead and what would emerge from the fires.

Surely, the Western world cannot be blamed for the centuries-old Shia-Sunni divide, which has never been so full of rage in modern history as it is now in Iraq, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman, even Syria. But even though the West has little to do with the historical divide between Shias and Sunnis, its modern-day reincarnation is certainly dependent, to a large extent, on how the Western world has played out the old historical divisions. That, however, is a footnote to the great possibility that lies beyond the present state of affairs. To be sure, the Sunnis and Shias have to work out a modality of coexistence if further bloodshed is to be avoided in Iraq and other countries of the region, as there are no easy solutions to their theological disagreements, and there are no corrective measures to curtail the damage caused by uninformed mass-circulating false historical narratives which generate hatred and, ultimately, violence.

Furthermore, let us also note that, regardless of how one looks at the invasion of Iraq – the starting point of the current process of change – there is no denying the fact that it was an illegal invasion and that it was orchestrated by the United States of America and the UK on false claims. But what is important is the fact that this invasion has led to a wave of change in the Arab world—the first real and significant change since the reconfiguration of the Arab world by the European powers in the first quarter of the 20th century when the Ottoman Empire was dissolved and its large Arab territories were carved out in different states under different political influences.

This change has now unleashed its logical consequence in the form of a new generation rising up to dictators with whom the West has comfortably worked for decades. The change has been sudden and swift and, though both Europe and America seem to have quickly adapted to it, they are still not in a position to control it. Yet, this slow adaptation is apparent. For instance, the Swiss authorities keep the accounts of these dictators in fluid state for decades, even though they know that the large sums of money which flow into these accounts are illegal. And now as soon as the first signs of uprising appear on the horizon, they freeze the accounts, claiming the high moral ground that the money is illegal. Well, I suppose, they have their cake and can eat it too; after all, the money was illegal when it was fluid and they had it, and now that they see the danger of its going out, they freeze it so that it does not leave! That is some Darwinian adaptation!

These are, however, passing situations. Of more permanence is the fact that the Arab world is going through a complex process of change in which a new generation of Arabs is playing the leading role. This new generation is rather inexperienced in the ways of the world. The old dictators had received a well-formed state machinery modelled by the colonial powers for their own good. All that they did was appropriate the profits from that setup and rename certain companies and banks. They kept the Western interests in place, and this involved very large sums of money spent on arms, oil exploration and export rights, concessions for building railroads and telecommunication systems and development of real state, and in some cases a profitable hotel and resort business. All of this was shared by these dictators and their cronies with the Western companies and with the Western corporate world.

The new generation does not have the practical skills and experience of governing modern states and it cannot depend on the old system without making the word "change" meaningless. Thus, Arabs need to form a new structure and the most logical one is an Arabian Union. They have to learn to rely on each other in matters of governance and they have to forge a polity that is greater than their own nations. This is the only way to move forward in a world that has changed so much since the last reconfiguration of their part of the world three quarters of a century ago. This means that any real change has to be slow. It has to be well-grounded in new trans-national institutions which can cope with the new political realities of these nations, as well as with the new and emerging political, military, and economic tactics of the Western world. They need to bring benefits of national resources to the masses, rather than to a handpicked elite working hand-in-glove with the rulers who, in turn, work as surrogates for the Western world. This also requires visionary leadership that can see the process of change beyond national frontiers in the form of an Arabian Union which will economically and socially unite this resource-rich region into one single entity in the not too-distant a future.

The idea of an Arabian Union, perhaps initially modelled on the European Union, is not a far-fetched idea, if Arabs can overcome the Shia-Sunni divide, and this may be far easier for the new generation of young men and women who have come out on the streets of Egypt, Tunis, Libya and other countries, for they can hope to forge a new polity in which these age-old conflicts can finally come to rest, even if no theological solutions can be found for them.

The writer is a freelance columnist. Email:








At the start of the third year of the PPP government, the political brinksmanship of the two largest parties of the country is at its climax. The resizing of the Federal Cabinet, the respective stances of the Federal and Punjab governments with regard to Raymond Davis, the 10 point agenda of the PML-N, the ouster of the PPP from the Punjab government, and the fact that Senate elections are to take place early next year, have all fueled speculations that the opposition is likely to push for elections this year. However, the question at the moment is not whether political temperatures should rise to the level whereby a fresh mandate would be required from the public, but rather whether the major opposition party, namely the PML-N, is ready for any such eventuality.

In these past three years, the PML-N's biggest achievement may very well be its capacity to mobilise the public in the form of the restoration of the Judiciary. Traditionally viewed as an establishment party, the mobilisation of the people against that very establishment and its perceived ally, the PPP, was nothing short of a 'coming of age' for the party leadership.


However, other than this, unfortunately, the PML-N has seemingly done little to capture support nationally. In the past three odd years in opposition, the PML-N has been unable to make the government undertake reforms or even seriously consider its proposals.


In fact, the party's meek responses to, amongst other things, the NRO fiasco, corruption scandals, promotion of nepotism, and the unjust distribution of gas and power throughout the country at Punjab's expense, shall serve to establish it as a weak, if not outright impotent, political power.

In addition to this, and despite tall claims to the contrary, it is also a stark reality that the PML-N of today remains limited to Punjab in general, and Central Punjab in particular. Although the PML-N has historically had a rising vote bank in Khyber- Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan, the party leadership seems totally clueless as to how to capitalise on the perks of its relatively principled politics. Surprisingly, the top leadership seems unwilling or, at the very least, reluctant to visit places outside Central Punjab, and in fact, no efforts are seemingly being made to effectively reorganise the party in the provinces or in Fata.

It is because of this and the lack of promotion of individuals from other provinces in the Central Executive Committee, amongst other reasons, that the PML-N has been unable to shed its Punjabi persona. Furthermore, not only has the PML-N been unable to provide a platform to persons from other provinces to air their grievances, but the same has failed shamelessly in mobilising and promoting local leadership in different provinces so as to give the party a distinctively national flavour. In connection with the above, the PML-N has further failed to provide a national agenda and vision which takes into account the interests and sensitivities of all peoples and regions of the country, including but not limited to Central Punjab.

To our utter disappointment, the only national agenda being provided, ironically, consists of oddly assembled ambiguous and vague ideals which although undeniably desirable, are much like the principles of policy within the constitution of Pakistan: tentative guidelines which are frankly unenforceable.

Hence, in light of the above, it must be said that the upcoming elections shall prove to be extremely important for the future of the PML-N. Its opponents shall try their best to brand it as a regional party with a somewhat national flavour, whilst its detractors will try to bracket it as a defunct organisation with nothing to offer the people other than disappointment. However, at the end of the day, it won't be the opinions of their detractors or the predictions of the opposition that will decide the fate of the second largest party in Pakistan, but rather its perceived commitment to national politics and the successful representation of the various stakeholders settled in this land of the pure.


The writer is a Karachi based lawyer and can be contacted at







  Shahbaz Bhatti was an obvious target, yet he had no security. His repeated requests for a bullet-proof car and enhanced police protection were turned down, or not attended to.

In the aftermath of his tragic assassination, we are now being subjected to theatrics. The prime minister, we are told, was distraught and threatened to resign but was dissuaded by his cabinet colleagues. How very convenient. Good media copy without any damage.

The interior minister does not take this chance—in case someone actually accepts his resignation—and orders another inquiry. He also promises to beef up security for the ministers. This is theatre of the absurd, bordering on ridiculous. Why did he not give better protection to Bhatti while he was alive?

It gives me no pleasure to say this, but we have a bunch of jokers running the government. They wake up to a problem after the damage has been done. And, even then, their stirrings are confined to inane remarks: inquiry has been ordered, new plans are being prepared, etc., etc. There is no foresight, no solid preparation.

We are on our own, my friends. Our government is run by airheads whose only interest is to hang on to their positions and take whatever advantage they can, as long as it lasts. And, our state structure is breaking down, unable to protect us or hold criminals to account.

It comes as no surprise to me that the late Shahbaz Bhatti was wary of people assigned to protect him, or so we are told. After Salmaan Taseer's murder by his security guard a Christian federal minister would have all sorts of misgivings.

And the aftermath of Taseer's murder would hardly have been reassuring. Despite a confessional statement, his killer is yet to be tried. The news from the highest quarters in the government is that they are having difficulty finding a judge or prosecutors willing to take on the challenge.

The follow-up of other such cases of targeted assassinations and terror acts is also depressing. The special courts set up to try the accused are consistently letting them off. The message that this sends to potential terrorists is that, first, it is unlikely that they would be apprehended. And even if they are, there is little chance of conviction. Not much of a disincentive to someone thinking of mass murder.

While the state is rotting from the inside, the society is no better. The aftermath of Taseer's murder did not see an overwhelming outpouring of sympathy for him or universal condemnation of the murderer. If the unfortunate surveys callously conducted by a section of the media are any guide, many felt that he had asked for it.

And those surveyed were not the faceless poor or the illiterate. These were educated people reading newspapers, having access to the internet and text messaging. They are the fruits of our national labour in the field of education or, what passes for the best and brightest in the land. It only shows that the disease of intolerance and bigotry has seeped into the sinews of our society.

It is frightening how disconnected we are from what is happening in the world. With parts of our educated elite condoning murder or terror on this or that basis, we are being looked at as a danger not only to ourselves but also to the global community.

No one is disregarding the unjust wars launched by the United States and its European partners. Or excusing the West for the state terror of Israel on the Palestinian people. But, within their societies, they are endeavouring to maintain equal treatment under law for all people. They do not always succeed, but it is a stated national goal. No wonder that large communities of Muslims and others from the Third World have found space in their polities.

Even in the underdeveloped countries, the situation is changing. Nations such as Brazil that were once global backwaters are marching forward. Their focus is on not only economics but also building a state and society based on rule of law and human rights. They are also addressing imbalances not only of incomes but also of mindsets through a universal system of education.

We are still stuck in an elite system that creates a dysfunctional state and society. Our educational system is inadequate, with more than half of our population illiterate. What is worse, even those having access to education are studying multiple curriculums that have no connection with each other. It is dividing society into divergent worldviews and mindsets.

Any democratic system is supposed to reflect the collective ethos of the people. We have a strange democracy in which a set of elites, whether feudal, business, or religious, are reaping all its benefits. The possibility for anybody from a poor background making it in this milieu is virtually impossible.

Is this the reason that those who would have different point of view do not take the democratic route of argument and counterargument but pick up a gun to settle the matter? I am not finding excuses for people who resort to violence, but it does make one think why so many people are choosing guns over the democratic process.

Could it be that our democracy is just a superstructure not actually representing the people or giving them enough space to articulate their points of view? There are no easy answers. One thing is clear, though, that our political parties are not helping matters as far as creating a tolerant society is concerned.

It has been correctly surmised by many that people like Fazalur Rehman, and the Jamaat-e-Islami, have actively sought to create a discourse of violence on the issue of blasphemy. Even Rehman Malik and Babar Awan have evoked violent imageries – we will personally kill people who commit blasphemy – to show what committed Muslims they are.

No one can tolerate blasphemy in this country, but to inflame emotions in this manner will naturally lead to violent acts by those who do not understand the debate. People like Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, or the courageous Sherry Rehman, have not been challenging the law; only that its misuse should be prevented. Yet, this distinction, this nuance has deliberately been submerged under opportunistic but dangerous politics.

This terrible deterioration in state, politics and society will have to be arrested, or we are moving towards even greater bloodshed. Wherever human beings reside they will differ on things. Orderly societies find ways to mediate these differences without violence. We are heading towards a situation where it is becoming the preferred solution.

If indeed we have reached or are reaching this stage, there is no shortage of things that divide us. If our democracy fails to create mechanisms for resolving them, we are heading towards anarchy, chaos and bloodshed.

Some would say we are already there. The shell of our state is standing. The substance has long gone.








CIA spook Raymond Davis, whose real identity is unknown, isn't Clint Eastwood who in cowboy movies used to shoot first and ask questions later. Raymond shoots first, takes pictures later, and in real life. Such a cool kid is he. Cool, because when he pumped his hollow tip bullets into two young men on the motorbike, killing both, he knew the wheels of the administration in Washington will quickly start turning to bail him out. And they did, including Mr Obama, who called Raymond "our diplomat."

While Raymond's debacle still smouldered, another "Raymond" was caught in Peshawar. This one hadn't even cared to renew his expired visa. So, "Raymond" has come to characterise a typical trigger-happy secret agent, with a Glock in his holster and a licence to kill in his pocket. How many Raymonds stalk this land unhindered is what confounds the public.

Did Raymond have diplomatic immunity, did he shoot his victims in the chest or in the back, in self-defence or to test his shooting skills? That isn't the subject of this piece. What's of interest is how Raymonds have so flagrantly intruded this land and violated its laws with impunity in the last decade. How many of them prowl the country, and where do they live? Many a time, when monstrous vehicles with dark glasses were stopped at checkpoints, out came burly Raymonds. Before they could be questioned, more Raymonds poured in to rescue their buddies. The police were left agape.

Reportedly, thousands of Raymonds live in posh localities of various cities, including a few hundred in Quetta. No wonder Balochistan is in turmoil. It's in public knowledge that the CIA operates its Predator and Reaper drones equipped with deadly Hellfire missiles from Balochistan and from a base near Tarbela. If we have allowed the CIA to use our space for its nefarious programme, why complain about drone strikes that have killed innumerable Pakistanis?

Raymond hasn't confessed much because no persuasive methods were used on him. Why not let him have the taste of Dick Cheney's favourite sport: water-boarding? The CIA subjected Khalid Sheikh Mohammad to water-boarding 183 times in March 2009 to force him to confess that he had masterminded the 9/11. However, discovery at the site of Twin Towers of residue and telltale marks of explosives used to demolish high-rise buildings was another matter.

The Raymond caught in Peshawar, Aaron DeHaven, said he was a contractor and worked for the US embassy in Islamabad, and that his firm, staffed by retired US military and defence personnel, had offices in Afghanistan and Dubai. The Raymond of the Lahore saga was also a contractor. Aren't we inundated by US contractors and instructors? Perhaps we can now sit back to hum "too many contractors, too little time to count."

Except for Imran Khan, the leaders of main political parties who claim their hearts beat in consonance with public aspirations have remained tight-lipped about the massacre caused by the drones. They think they owe it to the US to be in power. Shockingly, even the ANP's top leaders are so callous about the plight of their Pakhtun brethrens. It's Imran who unequivocally asserts that the nation must unshackle itself from US control. One way to determine the public's mood as to whether it supports US policies in the region is to hold an opinion poll.

A poll would reveal that, except for a few hundred beneficiaries at the top, the Pakistani people are against the US because of its policies. However, the public anger so far is impotent. But it could soon boil over as it has in the Arab world. It's always a minor issue that ignites the tinderbox. Was it not single a case of self-immolation in Tunisia that shook the country and swept the despot out of power?

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Lahore. Email: pinecity









THE brutal and cold-blooded murder of Minister for Minorities Affairs Shahbaz Bhatti has shocked not only the Christian community of Pakistan but also the entire nation and that is why Information Minister Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan has described it as an attack on Pakistan. It has plunged the country into a state of extreme grief as reflected by the statements of the governmental leaders, a series of measures announced by the Prime Minister to formulate an effective response to address the challenge, condemnation by leaders of different shades of public opinion and people at large. The international community too is upset over the grave nature of the crime with Vatican referring to it as 'unspeakable'.

It would, of course, take some time to expose real motives and that would obviously happen when the culprits involved in the heinous crime are apprehended and thoroughly investigated. Some circles have been quick to link the unfortunate incident to the issue of blasphemy and the murder has been promptly blamed on Tehrik-e-Taliban. But in complex and treacherous circumstances that we are in, it is absolutely not verifiable whether the claim attributed to Tehrik-e-Taliban is genuine or mere a ploy to fan communal hatred. In our view, it is something more than blasphemy phenomenon, as the plan was well-conceived and executed to create confusion, disorder, sense of insecurity and above all to paint Pakistan as an intolerant society. Some foreign forces and their local tools are working on an agenda to destabilize Pakistan, make it an unsafe place and shatter its economy further. It is understood that the gory incident has helped these elements achieve their objective, as gunning down of the Minister, who belonged to minority, has damaged Pakistan in all respects. Unfortunately, hundreds, and some say thousands, of Black Water agents and agents of several other secret agencies are having free hand in Pakistan and indulging in activities that no sovereign country would allow. The United States is employing its economic clout to force Pakistani authorities to permit entry of unspecified number of US nationals in the garb of contractors. It is time that our civilian and military leadership ponder over the threat that is assuming dangerous proportions and hammer out a strategy that safeguards the national interests in an effective manner. As for killing of Shahbaz Bhatti, we fully share grief of the bereaved family but humbly point out that we should see the tragedy in wider perspective rather than indulging in over-simplification.








AFTER a spate of target killings and kidnappings, the situation in Balochistan has deteriorated to such an extent that the Chief Justice of Pakistan Mr Justice Iftikhar Mohammad Chaudhry has been forced to take notice directing the Federal and Provincial Governments to ensure law and order in the Province and protect the life and properties of the citizens.

During the proceedings on a constitutional petition filed by Balochistan High Court Bar President, the three-member bench headed by the Chief Justice directed the Chief Secretary to appear before it on 8th March with details of measures being taken for recovery of missing persons and submit a progress report in this regard. There is no doubt that law and order situation in Balochistan has been deteriorating and in the past few weeks some lawyers and two judges of the lower judiciary had been kidnapped. The Prime Minister and other senior functionaries of the Government had been talking of involvement of foreign hand in the disturbing situation yet it appears that the authorities had been unable to unearth and apprehend the culprits. We believe that there is a dire need to expose internal and external hidden hands behind. The gravity of the situation demands out of box thinking and a Grand National Alliance to forge a united strategy to address the challenge. Two types of terrorism exist in the country—one pursued by non-state actors and foreign agencies with the support of criminal elements in furtherance of their agenda and the other economic terrorism. There is sense of deprivation in Balochistan for denial of economic, political and cultural rights to the people of the province for a long time. Those who were against violence have been gunned down and it is time to unmask internal and external elements engaged in destabilization of the Province and the country. In this scenario, the government, the opposition and politicians will have to fulfil their responsibilities to improve the situation and stop the bloodshed. We hope at least now the Government will listen to the concern of the Chief Justice and take appropriate measures to stabilize the situation and protect the life and property of the people.







IT is quite encouraging that at a time when foreign inspired unrest is rocking some countries of African and Arab region, King Mohammed VI of Morocco has come out with a comprehensive new social charter aimed at social stability and democratic reform. The plan is aimed at building a democratic development model on a solid foundation and ensuring good governance.

Those who know King Mohammed VI and his way of governance fully agree that his personal traits and policies have turned Morocco into an oasis of peace and prosperity. He has made concerted efforts to develop each and every part of the country on the basis of Islamic principles of equality and justice and that is why people there live in peace and harmony. People from across the Arab world make it to Morocco whenever they are in search of peace of mind which is a proof of successful policies of the King. Mohammed VI, who is direct descendant of the Last Prophet (PBUH), has become a role model in the region because of his people-friendly initiatives and accessibility. It is because of the tangible progress and development unleashed due to enormous spending that the World Bank has been praising Morocco for its success on meeting the Millennium Development Goals. Morocco is one of the few countries that have prepared long-term plans for human development as it conducted a 50 year study of the country's human development and publicly recognized the need to accelerate social progress through a broad-based, multi-dimensional strategy that involves the Government, private sector, and the country's growing NGO community. A number of initiatives have also been taken to harness the potential of women for national development and empower them through social, legal and economic reforms. Observers agree that Morocco is not facing unrest like other countries only because the King has been attentive to the grievances of the masses and always worked hard for their well-being.









Clients of banks based in the capitals of countries that are NATO members say that service is excellent, so long as times are good. There are smiles and parties, in all of which alcohol and charming company is present in profusion. However, as soon as times turn bad, these Fair Weather Friends change, and begin demanding the observance of conditions that are designed to further push the enterprise into catastrophe. Unlike banking institutions that have an Asian ethos, which step forward to the rescue whenever business turns sour, and shows the patience and understanding needed to conquer the crisis, the NATO-based financial institutions look only at their own (narrow and short-term) interests, and frequently convert a manageable crisis into a disaster by their unsympathetic policies. Sadly, despite knowing this, several businesspersons get lured by the superficial charm and seeming efficiency of such organisations, and flock there in preference to Asian entities, just as so many millions of consumers in Asia waste huge amounts of savings in buying super-luxury brands from Europe (even those where only the name is European, with even the label made in Asia. The reason for this is the continuing inferiority complex of several High Net Worth individuals who are secretly ashamed of being Asian, and compensate by using only European brands, whether these be shoes, clothes, cars or any other requirement of modern life.

Throughout the two hundred years of the dominance of the major NATO powers over the rest of the world, a period that ended only with the start of Deng-era economic reform in China by the close of the 1970s and the rise of India and Brazil in the 1990s, any effort by the rest of the world to acquire technologies that could compete with those of the colonialist rulers was smothered. The population was kept in a subordinate position, prevented from access to advanced knowledge or responsibilities. An example was the Civil Service in British-ruled India, where technically Indians too could compete (those that knew the mandatory languages of Latin and Greek), but in reality, the system was tweaked in such a way that few natives made it to the ICS. Many of those who did were subsequently expelled by the use of small errors committed in the course of duty, mistakes that were ignored if the individual making them was British. As for the Indian armed forces, although 99.8% of its personnel were natives of the subcontinent, less than 1% of its officer corps came from the same group. There was a clear caste system at work which separated the Europeans from the Asians, even though the latter did almost all the fighting and the dying. Some would argue that such single-track devotion to supremacy deserves to be admired, and that others should follow in the footsteps of the European powers in placing self-interest above all other considerations. However, the reality is that such zero-sum options (where one loses and as a consequence the other gains) are less productive for humanity than win-win solutions, where both sides benefit. Had the Europeans abandoned their zero-sum mentality while dealing with Asia and with Asians, the history of the world would have been more pleasant to read.

Old habits take a long time to disappear, as Colonel Moamer Kadhafi is finding out in Libya. On the prodding of his sons, who in common with much of the Asian economic elite are far more comfortable with Europeans and in Europe than they are with their own people and in their own country, Colonel Kadhafi gave up his quest for strategic weapons and threw himself on the mercy of the major NATO powers. He ensured that 90% of Libya's investments went to these countries, many of whose citizens have become rich doing business in his country. The many sacrifices made by Kadhafi to the NATO powers was to ensure their support during bad times, but as he has discovered lately, the second that the situation turned negative for him, these same powers have changed sides, and are now backing those who seek the overthrow and even the death of Kadhafi and his family. In what is clearly one of the single biggest bank robberies in history (next to the theft of Jewish assets by Hitlerite Germany in during 1933-45), more than $30 billion of Libyan money has been frozen by the NATO powers, on the excuse that this belongs to Kadhafi. Clearly, it is going to take a long time for Libya to recover this cash, if it ever does.

In brief hours, a leader who had obeyed all the commands of the NATO powers has become their target, with the chance that air raids will be conducted so as to ensure his removal from power. As for Kadhafi's sons, they have all been banned from entering the very countries that they were so much in awe of, and for which they made their doting father pay such a high price. They too will face imprisonment and even possibly the hangman's noose, in case the NATO countries succeed in ensuring the fall of the Libyan regime. Kadhafi must now be aware of the limits to friendship in the Fair Weather world of NATO, where "help" comes only to those who do not need it. As Samuel Johnson said, such "patrons" are those who stand by while the drowning man struggles to survive, and only offers a hand once he is safely ashore. Each of the many leaders of the region who have for decades made painful concession after concession to the NATO powers in order to ensure their support in case they ever face a serious threat, will now be aware that no such assistance can be expected, and that all the concessions were made in vain. Kadhafi has got the message, and is now talking of diverting investments towards India, China and other non-NATO countries, but is it too late for him? And will his country ever get back the $30 billion that has been seized from the treasury by countries that have sought to cast away Kadhafi like a dried coconut shell after they came to the conclusion that he (and his trusting sons) are no longer of any use to them? The United Nations has gone the way of the League of Nations in Afghanistan and Iraq, handing over sovereign countries to a few big powers, for them to use in any way they deem fit in their own interests. Should the UN Security Council sanction the use of armed force against Libya, it would amount to a return of the period wheoutside powers directly administered much of the world. As we have seen in the case of the financial scams that have so impoverished billions of people during the period since Reagan-Thatcher in the 1980s, the NATO powers simply legalise crime and thereby justify it. Should the UNSC permit the crime of the use of armed force against a sovereign state, many of those who agree to such a travesty of international law may someday become victims of the doctrine of rule from outside.

It is for the Libyan people to decide their own fate, and it is not the business of other countries to interfere. As for the International Court of Justice, so long as it fails to act against war crimes committed in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam during the 1970s, and against those responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands in Iraq since the 1990s sanctions got enforced, it has no moral authority to speak of Human Rights. Today, a system of international jurisprudence has evolved in which a segment of humanity has been exempted from the standards that they seek to enforce on others. In the process, such crimes against humanity get committed as the effort to deny cheap medicines to millions of poor patients by preventing generic substitutes from being made or sold in locations such as India. The same countries that preach morality are working overtime to place the interests of just three dozen pharmaceutical companies over the collective well-being of billions of the earth's poor, with hardly any protest.

Events in Libya are an example for the world of a policy that places short-term interests above all other considerations. It is such policies that, when enforced globally in the previous two centuries, resulted in four-fifths of the globe becoming famished and poor. The international community must take care to see that such a period does not recur, this time in the form of UN resolutions that give some countries the right to impose their preferences over weaker ones. Had Colonel Kadhfai the nuclear bomb, he would not today be facing the outside threat to his very existence from those for whose goodwill he sacrificed so much of treasure and technology.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








The arrests of Raymond Allen Davis (RAD), an established CIA operative and US national Mark De Haven from Peshawar have blown the lid off CIA's clandestine operations in Pakistan. What is shocking is the extent of the massive covert maneuvers, which have been going on for years since the painstakingly laid infrastructure could not have been established in a few weeks' time. As Pakistan's security agencies dig deeper, they uncover more dark secrets. It has now become apparent that CIA was working for besides itself, the interests of a number of other foreign powers having hegemonic concerns in Pakistan; some of them openly hostile to Pakistan. If this is not abuse of hospitality then what else is? There is honour even amongst thieves. In the dark and dank world of espionage, enshrouded in secrecy and comprises, there are certain norms and mores, which are upheld. However, it appears that the CIA is totally devoid of any ethical considerations. It is an accepted moral principle of espionage that the host country has the exclusive right of operating at home and external agencies have to coordinate their efforts in consonance with the home government. In this case, the CIA has crossed all limits especially when Pakistan and USA are considered to be allies and ISI and CIA have had the opportunity to work in tandem, first to route the Soviets from Afghanistan and post 9/11 to defeat the Al-Qaeda. However, at some stage CIA's plans included working to the detriment of Pakistan's interests too.

Under the garb of diplomats, the US government managed to place intelligence, security and guerrilla warfare experts in its embassies and consulates in Pakistan. These estimated over 3000 operatives have been conducting an internecine warfare within Pakistan. They have managed to infiltrate the Taliban and Al-Qaeda network and create their own Tehrik-e-Taliban (Pakistan) force, which has been recruited, trained and equipped by these CIA operatives to target Pakistan Army personnel, Armed Forces installations, markets, hospitals, schools and public places to destabilize Pakistan. The Soviet Intelligence Agency SVR has disclosed that RAD and his network have provided Al-Qaeda operatives with chemical, nuclear and biological weapons so that installations in the US may be targeted and Pakistan is blamed and pressed to do more of the US' dirty work like conducting operations in North Waziristan.

CIA operatives in Tehrik-e-Taliban (Pakistan) have also been unleashed to conduct political assassinations. Reportedly, PPP stalwart Benazir Bhutto was enabled to return to Pakistan by the US so that she could protect American interests in the region. The US even expected her to rollback Pakistan's nuclear program. However, on her return to Pakistan, Benazir had a reality check and refused to play ball. Any bonafide Pakistani with roots amongst the masses would have had difficulty in toeing the US agenda and Benazir was a diehard Pakistani. Her reluctance resulted in her elimination and it is no coincidence that alleged CIA operative Baitullah Mehsud took responsibility for the assassination. It is no coincidence that within hours of Benazir's assassination, Sindh not only came to a standstill but organized looting of banks, ATMs and Petrol Pumps was carried out. It appeared as if a blueprint of the entire operation of pillaging, looting and rioting had been prepared in advance. The perpetrators only had to cry havoc and let loose the dogs of war. Has anyone wondered why no high value target has ever been eliminated during the drone attacks? RAD's arrest resulted in the drone attacks being suspended for over four weeks. It was only when Pakistani media took up the question if RAD was directing the reviled drone attacks, which have resulted in the demise of hundreds of women, children and old men as collateral damage, that the drone attacks were ultimately resumed perhaps under a new spy master.

Let us examine the case of the fresh arrest of an American national, Aaron Mark De Haven. The alleged CIA operative had an expired visit visa; he is married to a local woman at Peshawar and claims to have converted to Islam. The whole episode is highly dubious and smacks of CIA operations. Coming back to RAD's role as a CIA operative; his business cards were bogus, the address provided in the US was fictitious and there was little or no clue regarding his real identity. It was his wife, who finally let the cat out of the bag about his CIA connections. In fact it came about that the US media was under instructions to keep RAD's true identity and CIA links under wraps. The cases of RAD and De Haven are only the tip of the iceberg. The whole gamut of the CIA operations in Pakistan is still enshrouded in mystery and secrecy. The aspect of CIA giving its sister spy agency RAW a helping hand has also been uncovered. RAW has been facing disappointments in its Pakistan operations, however ever since it teamed up with the CIA and decided to ride piggyback, it has been having some success. The deadly attack on the Sri Lankan cricket team at Lahore was not only a triumphant operation, which besides driving away foreign sports teams from visiting Pakistan, also hammered the last nail in the coffin of Pakistan hosting the Cricket World Cup, currently in progress in India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh. Pakistan has lost tremendous revenue while the cricket enthusiasts in Pakistan have been deprived of watching high class live cricket and the downstream industry has also suffered. CIA operations in Pakistan are already illegal but cozying up to Pakistan's enemies is akin to following the Chanakyan principle of "my enemy's enemy is my friend". Indian spy agency RAW has had a watershed by its marriage of convenience to CIA and provided it an opportunity to settle old scores with archenemy Pakistan but the cat is now out of the bag. Pakistan needs to take the bull by the horns and confront CIA to stop its shenanigans in Pakistan and end its complicity with Pakistan's enemies.








Recently according to 'The TIME' magazine report: "Pakistan has steadily grown its nuclear stockpiles over the past two years and now boasts between 95 to 110 deployed weapons… while Islamabad insists its arsenals is for deterrence, there are long- standing concerns about Pakistani nuclear program vulnerability to Islamic extremism." This is a popular subject in the west that Pakistan's nuclear arsenals may fall into the hands of terrorists. President Franklin D. Roosevelt famously said, "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." His words clearly reflect the situation about nuclear security in Pakistan. We can derive two kinds of result from Time's report, one is that the extremist can capture the nuclear weapons, or come into power through ballet. Both these apprehensions are nearly impossible in case study of Pakistan. Religious parties of Pakistan never got a popular support in elections; the other fear is also a fiction. Nuclear technology is too much complex to be handled by non-state actors.

Nuclear security is a complex phenomenon. There is no specified global rule that how much security the nuclear arsenals should have. It is the vital duty of a nuclear power to take utmost pains to safeguard its nukes. According to IAEA, "There are more than 400 confirmed cases of illicit trafficking in materials that could be used in nuclear terrorism between 1993 and 2004 and 21 that involved material that could be used to produce a nuclear bomb." Not even a single such case is registered in Pakistan since the formation of Nation Command Authority (NCA). While a number of cases are reported at Russia and USA nuclear sites. Both the countries have 95% of total nuclear weapons. According to Ken Berry in his article The Security of Pakistan's Nuclear Facilities said, "The United States has spent billions of dollars in securing its own nuclear assets and that is ongoing expenditure just to keep one step ahead of the terrorists. Even with high security and stable domestic political and social system accident can happen."

So the question is that why only Pakistan's nukes are a matter of concerns. Why is only Pakistan being maligned? No eyebrow rises, no tongue mutters if India and Israel pile up their nuclear assets. The reason is quite simple. Anti- Pakistan element does not want to see our state in a power position. Ex-President Musharraf highlighted the same question in his book In the Line of Fire, "no one else's bomb is called Hindu, Jewish, Christian, Capitalist or Communist, yet somehow our bomb becomes Islamic as if that makes illegitimate. The idea is illogical and essentially racist. This is an example of how Muslims continually feel unjustly singled out and alienated."

Since the formation of Nation Command Authority (NCA) and Strategic Plan Division (SPD) our nuclear weapons are safe enough. It is believed that NCA & SPD set-up are strong enough to foil the dirty design of terrorists and extremists. Even America and rest of world confess that there is no real threat to Pakistan nuclear assets. Nothing dangerous has happened since the formation of NCA and SPD. The Personnel Reliability Program (PRP) is the prominent feature of SPD, which supervises all persons working in sensitive areas of nuclear system. Pakistan also installed two main rules and Permissive Action Links (PALs) in 2006 to stop the unauthorized use of nuclear weapons.

There are some challenges and problems about Pakistan's nuclear security measures, but these are not very serious. They can be tackled with coherent strategy. The day we became nuclear power we are constantly under threats from many sides. Insurgency in northern areas has become very problematic for Pakistan. The present situation calls for decisive and effective steps to curb the wave of extremism. It must be the foremost duty of the government to deal extremist forces heavy handedly. Other thing is the de-radicalization of society. Unfortunately, seeds of radicalization and extremism have seeped into all sections and institutions of our society. De-radicalization of society is an uphill task. It requires a complete change of behavior of society. It cannot be done unless the present socio-economic system is overhauled through education which may teach us the values of tolerance, moderation and enlightenment. Media and all government functionaries must play a bold role against the monster of extremism and radicalization. The most important thing is that we should have comprehensive literature on nuclear security. The biggest challenge for Pakistan think thanks is to make effective reply to the negative propaganda of the west. We have no adequate literature on nuclear issues.

—The writer works for IPRI.









You have to realize that most of the diseases of the heart are solved by "iyaka na'budu (it is You we worship)." (Qur'an, 1:5). When we say "iyaka na'budu" arrogance, for example, is wiped away. Being scared is wiped away. Shirk (associating partners to Allah) is wiped away. Being lazy, misguided, miserly or devious is wiped way. Most of the diseases of the heart are cured by struggling to obey Allah (swt). Sometimes you wonder, "Subhan'Allah how long do I have to keep going through this internally?" Iyaka na'budu. I'm waiting and I'm trusting in You. One day You're going to fix it for me.

The next disease of the heart is very dangerous; in fact the Prophet feared this thing the most for us. The Prophet (PBUH) was merciful, loving and good to everyone - but this is the thing he feared for you and me the most. It is so dangerous that the one who feels safe from it is usually the one who's been entrapped in its tentacles with no way out. It's so deadly that you can do a lot of good deeds but if you've cloaked your good deeds with the dress of this thing, you've lost all the rewards. Imagine doing good and getting none of the rewards. You're doing good deeds but you're getting nothing: in fact you're getting punished. This is the disease of ar-riyaa: to be a show-off. People like me with big mouths who you guys invite to speak everywhere are the ones who have the biggest test of riyaa. It's very difficult. Nobody can say, "I'm safe from riyaa." The one who says this is showing off. The Prophet Muhammed warned us about riyaa, but what is the meaning of ar-riyaa? Imam al Ghazali said in his book Al Ihya that ar-riyaa is to seek stations (i.e. being high in people's minds and hearts) with actions so that they see you; to seek the praise of the people. There are some signs of the one who has riyaa that we will talk about, as well as their cures as found in Surat al-Fatiha (Qur'an, 1).

Riyaa is so dangerous that the Prophet gave it a special name. He said, "Indeed the thing I fear for you the most is the minor shirk (associating partners with Allah)." We have minor shirk and major shirk. Major shirk is something like worshipping a statue or another god with Allah (swt) or to take a legislator other than Allah (swt). But the minor shirk is mentioned in this hadith. And the Prophet said that it is the thing he fears for us the most. The Companions of the Prophet asked him, "What is minor shirk, ya Rasullah?" He said, "Ar-riyaa. Showing off." In one hadith the Prophet gave the example of someone making the athan (call to prayer) and while making the athan he thinks, "Wow I bet the people think my voice is beautiful." This is ar-riyaa. In another hadith the Prophet said it's so dangerous that it's like the black ant on the black rock in the night with no moon. It can sneak up on you like this.

Indeed riyaa is so difficult and dangerous that it can fall into your good actions. The Prophet Muhammed said, "The one who prays and wants people to see them has committed shirk. The one who fasted and they want the people to know about their fasting has committed shirk. The one who gave sadaqah (charity) and wants people to know about their charity has committed shirk." You know how dangerous shaytan is, especially when it comes to sadaqah? For example, maybe Islamic Relief or some charitable organization comes to your campus and they do a fundraiser. You're not even married and you say, "Subhan'Allah I really need this money but the Prophet said wealth does not decrease from giving charity. So I'm going to give and no one will know about it." So you give the money and then later you get married. Then ten years later you're sitting with your spouse at home and you say, "You know what I did ten years ago?" You just lost it. This is Shaytan. Don't think that Shaytan will just mess with you at that moment. We will talk about the attacks of Shaytan later in this series, insha'Allah. One word that Ibn Qayyim used to describe Shaytan is very scary. He said Shaytan is patient. He waits. Then, at a specific moment, he hits you. For ten years you got the hasanat (blessings) of this charity. But what counts is when you die. So after that ten years if you start boasting to someone, then you've lost it. You've got to start over. This attack is even more dangerous because if Shaytan hits you today with riyaa you still have ten years to make up for it. But if he waits ten years and then gets you then you lost ten years. Shaytan is an enemy to us. How dangerous is riyaa, the minor shirk? If you read any of the du'a' that we recite every day after Fajr (predawn prayer) or 'Asr (afternoon prayer) we say, "Oh my Lord, I seek refuge in You from associating partners with You knowingly and from associating partners with You unknowingly."

How subtle is riyaa? Maybe a sister goes to Egypt or Syria for three months to study. She buys a nice jilbab (dress), not the American not-really-quite-there jilbab. She buys the real jilbab. Then she comes back and goes to campus and now she wears jilbab and she thinks to herself proudly, "Oh yes, now I wear jilbab." Why is she wearing this jilbab? Did she wear this jilbab to please Allah (swt) or did she wear this jilbab so that people would say, "Oh you wear jilbab, you're a big sheikha!" This is very dangerous. Maybe a brother got some knowledge and then he comes to the MSA and he starts preaching, "Well Ibn Malik said in the Al-Fiya..." and he reads some poetry that no one in the world can understand except him. Then you say to him, "Subhan'Allah, brother. We're talking about parking at jum'ah (Friday prayer), and you're reading the poetry of sarf (Arabic morphology)?" Why did the brother read this poetry? Why did he learn? Why is he increasing himself? This is ar-riyaa.

Many of us might be listening today and think, "Oh well I'm not even a good Muslim. I don't need to worry about riyaa. I'm doing bad, ain't no riyaa in doing bad." Check yourself before you wreck yourself. That's not the case because you can even have riyaa in doing bad. You might be doing bad and think, "Yeah them brothers see how I've got it going on. They're going to think I'm all that." This is riyaa. In fact 99% of hip-hop music is riyaa. "Look at me, I'm the baddest dude on the block, I got more girls than stars in the sky, I can drink more than the Pacific Ocean. It's because of me that the world's in motion." This is riyaa! This is showing-off and exaggeration. Those of us who feel safe from riyaa, listen to the following statements of one of the great scholars. He said, "The closest to people to falling into showing off are those who feel the most secure from it." Those people who think, "I don't have to worry about what he's talking about. I'm not an active Muslim." There is only one type of Muslim and that's an active Muslim. You move, you breathe, right? Your blood is moving in your body. You're active and you're a Muslim. Therefore you are an active Muslim. We should note the types of riyaa so that we can protect ourselves from it.








With the Arab world up in arms Pakistan is desperately trying to head into the same direction. Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya. Bahrain, Jordan, Oman have been infected with the seed of dissention and un-intentional change towards the age of bondage because of perpetuation in power for long by visionless autocratic rulers, who are being toppled ungracefully by their one time Western allies. Iran has become a bone of contention for the West because it is extending moral & material support to Muslim countries of the region.

While the visionless leadership of Pakistan is careful not to let the fig leaf of democracy go the economic woes of the population which are an important reason for the uprisings in the Arab world are abundantly present here also and they are getting more pressing day by day. During last two centuries World Zionist Organization has usefully launched their "Cobweb – Worldwide design of Satan" through Economic Warfare, the tragedy with Muslim Ummah is that they have ignored the teachings of Holy Quran and are suffering inspite of discovery of oil, gold and other mineral and natural resources in abundance, but their puppet rulers have pushed the sovereignty of their countries at stake and the hidden enemies of Islam have gathered strength through launching of New World Order of Globalization and WTO. My worry about the future of Middle East is that through these West controlled uproars they might end up again into another dark tunnel with no light at the end due to foreign intervention in their national affairs.

The sad part of our story of down turn starts, when our rulers in 1990 claimed to embark upon sustainability through unscrupulous liberalization of economic and financial policies through privatization of national silver for a laugh to give the gift of un-employment for our youth, who are jobless with degrees in their hands forced to get involved with criminal networks operating with immunity in Pakistan. PTCL giving 6 billion rupees in profit to the government was sold to twice to different foreigners for peanuts without bring any foreign investment. Apart from the fact that electricity is more often absent than present and the service of Wapda and KESC became dismal nevertheless the prices for electricity keep rising and are already out of reach for most of the people with even middle class coming into troubles by now.

No effort was made to build more dams, which were first discouraged by the donor agencies that large water reservoirs vaporization develops clouds leading to atmospheric change considered a hazard, while the issue of global warming has been conveniently ignored by US till today and remain one of the few non signatory to this treaty. Distribution and marketing control was privatized in different areas but KESC which Karachi Chamber of Commerce & industry was willing to take over was privatized to a foreign investor who never invested agreed $ 500 million for network improvement and $ 300 million to install another turbine.

When sensible Pakistani engineers refused to accept CEO position tagged with if and buts, a German boss was imported to fulfill their agenda for transfer of profits, when a uproar started another Dubai based company without any electricity generation, distribution or planning experience were saddled in place with over 3 dozen Executives drawing heavy perks and benefits to further fleece KESC without any questioning by the Privatization Commission and documentation in this regard were manipulated later on. KESC instead of providing relief to its customers from the curse of load shedding continued to increase tariff that in December when government announced increase it was met with strong resistance from MQM and other political parties so the government was obliged to withdraw this increase though Ms. Hillary Clinton was were harsh in criticizing this step by going to the extent that unless the richer elements in society pay their due tax donor countries and agencies will not advance grant in aid to Pakistan. I think US secretary of State enjoys this immunity to embarrass another government effort to provide relief to people. Already before the advent of March NEPRA had announced another 9.9% rise in electricity prices even if this time it will hit or not hit KESC customers.

One hard fact which the government and media is hiding from people is that International prices of Brent Crude oil which jumped to $ 115 has returned to $ 97 per barrel since 1st of March and the other day Ministry of petroleum has submitted before the National Assembly in reply to a question that government is procuring oil @ Rs. 55.57 per liter and after loading it with levis and commissions government is still making a profit of Rs.12.80 per liter on its old retail rates, then who is pocketing the so-claimed subsidy? KESC owners and runner came to Pakistan to make money but they are unable to do the job which they pledged to do: reorganize KESC.

Their hapless attempt to reduce the huge number of employees in their organization who are good for nothing ended up with a whimper and the cost of the destruction which the barbarians have caused will now have to be paid for by the customers. The situation is no better with PEPCO. Millions of wrong bills have been issued and some Pepco officials admit that issuing of wrong bills is a source of massive corruption in the system, but nobody is punished for the gross violation of public trust. Same thing is with petrol prices. They have already risen to a level which makes it impossible for many to run their businesses in transportation. Especially in a huge city like Karachi people depend on public transportation for getting to their work and around. With 15 to 20 % rise in ticket prices for wagons, buses and trains it will be more difficult for the commuters to manage their budget by the day. Apart from this, all other prices are going to rise when petrol prices are up and inflation is getting another push. That had been the reason why the rise of petrol prices had been reversed in January and now we are back to square one. This time it was being manipulated to justify and make it difficult to avoid price rise of petrol by mis-leading and propagating the rise in the international market as a result of the Libyan crisis, which lasted for only two three days. But any delay in not reversing petrol prices to the prevailing market level will hurt our working class adversely, who has no say in the affairs of governance, which will be anyway shaking economy and financial system even more severely mainly because of heavy borrowing from State Bank by government on daily basis creating further inflation and misery for the common people, while the privileged ones are making hey under the sun and the moon.

Since MQM and other political parties playing musical chairs with the rulers have given 3 day notice to reverse this people unfriendly decision, which should have been tabled before the parliamentary committee on petroleum before announcing increase. Let us keep our fingers crossed if this time our government which has not been able to face a murderer Raymond facing trial is trying to build public opinion for his release before next date of hearing and our electronic media seems to be hand in gloves with them bulldozing the aspirations of the people of Pakistan who want Raymond to face the bar of Justice according to law of the land.









Consumers are the winners from the milk price war between Australia's largest supermarket chains, which has seen home-brand milk cut to $1 a litre as Woolworths, Franklins and Aldi struggle to combat the effective marketing strategies of Coles and its parent company, Wesfarmers. Not everybody is happy, however, especially smaller retailers and the dairy industry, which fears the effects will be felt by farmers, who have struggled mightily with drought and other challenges in recent years.

In competitive marketplaces, it is natural for players that come off second-best to look to authorities to protect their interests. Too often in the past, for expedient political reasons, governments of both political persuasions have resorted to heavy-handed regulation and old-fashioned protectionism. Inevitably, consumers are penalised as a result.

Not surprisingly, the Senate economics committee inquiry is fielding a litany of complaints and arguments from farmers, bakers, garage operators, milk co-operatives and others calling, among other things, for "a regulatory framework" and "rebuilding the retail value of milk".

Lack of action, some submissions claim, will usher in doomsday scenarios, including the demise of small shops and family farms, leaving Australians at the mercy of retail monopolies and drinking imported UHT milk. While strong on rhetoric, many submissions are more about crying over spilt milk than making constructive, economically logical proposals. At this stage, it is Coles, not the farmers or companies that process home-brand milk, funding price cuts that might or might not be sustainable.

Dairying has been transformed in recent decades, with the number of farms falling from 22,000 to 7500 largely because of deregulation, the creation of larger holdings and the impact of drought. Farmers have been well-supported by taxpayers, with $1.7 billion compensation distributed from 2000 to 2008 to offset the impact of deregulation and allow farmers to reduce debt, improve efficiency or exit the industry. Industry players such as the Dairy Farmers Milk Co-operative have a reasonable point in calling for greater transparency in the milk supply chain, but curbing competition through overregulation would benefit nobody, least of all consumers.






Our mining story just gets better and better, with a surge in commodity prices suggesting sunny days well into the future. We are in the midst of a boom that is delivering high employment and economic stability to the nation. Despite our sky-high terms of trade, the economy is not overheating thanks to a high dollar, a transformation in the spending behaviour of households and an increase in workforce participation. Combined, these factors are helping the nation absorb the resources boom without fuelling inflation, thus allowing interest rates to stay relatively low.

How sweet it is. Yet there is no room for complacency: Australia may be an island, but it cannot blithely ignore the economic forces swirling around it. The warning this week from Reserve Bank board member Warwick McKibbin of a prices and property bubble heading our way ought to be taken seriously by our policy-makers and politicians. The inevitable bursting of this Asian-based bubble has the potential to hit Australia far harder than the global financial crisis, says Professor McKibbin, one of our leading macroeconomists.

The loose monetary and fiscal policies of the United States and the zero interest-rate settings in Europe are overheating emerging economies in Asia, which in turn are making no real effort to curb inflation. If and when this new bubble bursts, the implications for Australia could be profound, with a fall in the dollar and a rise in inflation on the cards. Our well-managed and well-regulated financial system weathered the GFC, but there is no certainty the economy could withstand a further external shock of the magnitude predicted by Professor McKibbin. Time for our leaders to realise that, even if we are in the midst of a long-term super- cycle of growth thanks to demand for our mineral resources, we will inevitably be buffeted by busts along the way. Yet Wayne Swan, who in opposition warned the boom could not last for ever, as Treasurer operates as if there is no tomorrow. On paper, Labor is committed to the goal of a budget surplus by 2013. In practice, there is not much evidence of the long-term fiscal discipline needed to turn the commodity prices boom into ongoing surpluses. At a time when the government should be reviewing spending and addressing taxation and productivity issues, it must resist the temptation to expand the welfare net under the guise of household compensation for the carbon tax.

John Howard perfected the art of the tax-welfare churn, but the Gillard government is doing little to suggest it will reverse middle-class welfare. Nor does it seem to appreciate the dangers of reregulating the workplace at a time of wage pressures in the resources sector. Mr Swan has also been busy this week laying the ground work so he can blame the floods for any slippage in the budget down the track.

Meanwhile, the main game of locking in the benefits of the boom gets little attention. The economic signals are positive, but we cannot take the China and India markets for granted. In the 1980s, the pundits argued that Japan would overtake the US, only to see the "miracle economy" collapse under the weight of an asset price bubble. The possibility of China coming off the boil must be factored into Canberra's thinking, even as Australia enjoys the good times.






On his new SkyNews show, former Labor numbers man Graham Richardson gave Climate Change Minister Greg Combet the benefit of some of his research. "I've not heard anything like the last couple of days on talkback radio," he said. "Flicking between all the stations to get a feel for it, and it doesn't matter whether they're Left- or Right-leaning commentators, they've been barking at you uphill and downhill . . . because of what they say is the broken promise."

Mr Combet, Julia Gillard and their colleagues could do a lot worse than follow Richo and do a bit of dial-twiddling. Switching between ABC radio and commercial radio is to listen to two different nations, and politicians need to understand this divide and the trap it presents. Yet Labor MPs and their supporters dismiss the substantially larger audiences on commercial talkback by referring to their hosts as "shock jocks" and treating their viewpoints with contempt. Too many press gallery journalists, particularly from the ABC and Fairfax, also do this, turning their back on a window into the mood of the electorate. Politicians and journalists need to be in touch with voters in suburban Australia, and if they take their cues from the progressive monoculture of the public broadcasters, they risk a disconnect. Last year, most media ignored criticisms of the Rudd government to such an extent that they were as surprised as Kevin Rudd at his demise. If government MPs had spent just a little time listening to the likes of Ray Hadley, Neil Mitchell, Leon Byner and their counterparts in each state, they might have understood taxpayers did not appreciate their money being wasted in programs such as the BER and pink batts, or had serious concerns about the mining tax. Instead, urged on by boosters, the government remained in denial, betraying an arrogance and disconnect that led to the loss of its leader and then the loss of its majority.

Unfortunately, the government and much of the media seem not to have learned their lesson. Again they are dismissing the anger being vented by talkback radio callers about the broken carbon tax promise. Defending the tax in parliament yesterday, the Prime Minister scorned the opposition: "The dogs are barking but the caravan has moved on." Well, no. People promised "no carbon tax" are angry they are getting one, and they won't move on so quickly. Or if they have, it is not in the way Ms Gillard would prefer.






THERE will be some sympathy for the Greens' move to end Federal Parliament's veto power over legislation passed in the Australian Capital Territory and Northern Territory assemblies. Certainly the Greens' tactic is self-interested: the party wants to push forward its social agenda, with which many will have difficulties. It backs the right of individuals to choose how and when they die. The Northern Territory attempted to legalise euthanasia late last century but had its legislation annulled in 1997 by the federal government under John Howard. The party also backs gay marriage - a measure contemplated by the ACT assembly. But while the Greens may be solidly behind both measures, along with many on Labor's left wing, significant sections of the Labor Right are not. Leaders of Labor's right-wing factions visited the Prime Minister on Wednesday to express their alarm at the legislation, the full implications of which they had only just realised.

Though it should be about the rights of voters in a democracy, the argument has thus come down to gay rights and euthanasia. The implication: the Commonwealth must not allow the territories to have full legislative powers because they may use them to enact laws which people outside those territories will not like. Of course that is possible - and not just over euthanasia and gay marriage. Given the present law-and-order alarm in Alice Springs, it is conceivable that if the Northern Territory could legislate unfettered it might bring down legislation which more liberal spirits in Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra would find unacceptable. But it is a shaky foundation on which to deny people responsible government.

For the moment, though, there is a more substantial obstacle. Both territories rely heavily on federal government assistance to function. Full statehood - which is what the Greens' bill implies - should be for entities which are economically robust. That is the most powerful argument against the Greens' move - although at least in the Northern Territory, it is one which the mining boom will increasingly test.

The constitutional arrangement which divides Australians into two classes - residents of states with full power and responsibility to legislate for themselves, and territories with powers to legislate only at the Commonwealth's discretion - looks like what it is: a relic of the colonial era. Australia will at some point have to contemplate giving its own last colonies - in Canberra and the Northern Territory - the full independence and self-governing status of other states. Today's anxieties over what they might do with their independence show that the rest of the country at least is not yet ready for decolonisation.






YOU'RE a minister in a government facing annihilation at the coming election. As things look now, your party may be out of power for two, three - even four terms. On your desk a pile of directives awaits your signature, some of them months old. Some are embarrassing but necessary, awaiting a politically convenient time. Others are glad-handing gestures of the kind all governments make to shore up support. Still others are genuine achievements to which your party will be able to point in opposition, but which cost too much when budgets are tight. The election writs are about to be issued, ending your time in office. What do you do?

If you are a minister in the Keneally government, you take up your pen and sign and sign and sign. That is the way to understand the welter of decisions the state government is now rushing out. In the embarrassing category is the decision of the Planning Minister, Tony Kelly, to change the rules applying to excavations at Barangaroo, exempting the development from laws

relating to the possible leaching of contamination into the harbour - even as a court is seeking to determine whether those laws have been correctly applied. Other than a desire to impress a large development company or to reassure the industry that Labor can be relied on - neither of them worthy motives - the reason for the rush is unclear. Why not just let due process take its course and abide by the court's decision?

In the glad-handing category are the awards announced by the Premier, dressed in her sari, to members of various ethnic groups. We do not doubt the worthiness of the recipients, but we do question the value of any awards system which splits the community into various ethnic divisions, rewards some but not all, and is most active on the eve of an election in which government members fear losing the ethnic minority vote. The pork barrel has gone multicultural.

As for the genuine achievement - it comes in the form of a bribe of sorts to commuters on the airport rail link. The government will pay the access fee for which commuters are now liable. The fee, of course, was always unreasonable and hampered the line's success. But still, even though it benefits the Premier's own constituents, and even though it took too long, it is good that it is gone.

The government has until midnight tonight before it disappears in a puff of pinkish smoke. Who knows what other surprises Labor is signing up to?






ALCOHOL is a strand running through the Australian story right back to European settlement and the days when the military force commissioned to keep order in the British colony of New South Wales was nicknamed the ''Rum Corps''. More recently, the fact that Bob Hawke had earned a place in the Guinness Book of Records for the fastest skulling of a yard of beer during his time at Oxford University only added to his popularity as prime minister. Today, political observers engage in serious discussion about whether Premier Ted Baillieu may be at a disadvantage in his public life because of his status as a non-drinker. After all, it is almost un-Australian not to enjoy a drink, isn't it?

But alcohol is a curse as well as a social lubricant, a fact evident on the streets and in the hospital emergency departments of Melbourne and Victoria's regional cities most weekends and reinforced by an important report by Auditor-General Des Pearson on the state's drug and alcohol prevention and treatment services.

The raw numbers in the report, tabled in Parliament this week, are disturbing enough. The auditor calculates that harmful drug and alcohol use costs the Victorian community $14 billion a year. About 77,000 Victorians require hospital treatment for alcohol and drug-related conditions each year, and 27,000 of the worst cases enter government-funded, specialised treatment programs each year.

More worrying are Mr Pearson's findings: that the Department of Health's drug and alcohol prevention and treatment efforts are under-funded, poorly co-ordinated and inadequate to keep pace with increasing demand caused by population rises and a culture of drinking to excess, especially among young men.

The auditor is damning of the record in this area of the former Bracks/Brumby government. He reveals that 31 internal reviews of the system have been done since 1999 - an average of about three a year during Labor's decade in office. The vast majority of the findings of those inquiries had been subsumed by still more reviews. ''In this way, review has stifled reform rather than being the springboard to improvement,'' Mr Pearson writes. His conclusion is no less compelling for being self-evident: ''A real commitment to implement long-overdue reforms is required.''

The new government's response to the report is promising. Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge pledges to ensure Victorians battling a drug or alcohol addiction ''can access the full range of services they need''. She says the Coalition will provide a skilled workforce, improve the collection and monitoring of data and ''develop a much-needed whole-of-government prevention and treatment strategy to reduce the incidence and impact of drug and alcohol abuse''. These are admirable goals, but in this field words are cheap. Ms Wooldridge is refusing to commit the government to a funding boost, despite the auditor's finding that the amount of money allocated to drug and alcohol services fell by more than 10 per cent in real terms in

the three years to 2010.

The Baillieu government would send a powerful signal about its intentions if it used its first budget to start putting this right. In doing so, it should expect community support. The Coalition is already responding to public concern about drunken street violence by committing hundreds of millions of dollars to recruiting extra police. But policing can only deal with the consequences, not the causes, of binge drinking. The Auditor-General's report is a clear-headed reminder that spending more money on competently administered programs designed to prevent alcohol and drug abuse will always be a better investment than hiring more police to help clean up the mess.





NICHOLSON Street, Fitzroy, is prime real estate, especially the portion of it that borders the Exhibition Gardens. Many people would pay a lot of money to live on Nicholson Street facing the Royal Exhibition Building, which is no doubt why the owners of Fitzroy's last big private rooming house, The Hub, intend to knock it down and build a block of 51 apartments in its place. The Hub's 72 tenants have been given 60 days' notice to quit the property. For the owners and for the site's developers, Urban Works, this is a rational business decision. For Yarra Council, the application has been approved because it complies with planning regulations. For the tenants, many of whom are one step away from homelessness, the question is a practical one; where will they live now?

If they are lucky, they might find a place in the new social housing under construction in Fitzroy as part of the federal government's economic stimulus. But the queue for public housing in Fitzroy, 1446 people, is already a long one. There are other private rooming houses in inner Melbourne, but Hub residents who have lived in them say they are not as clean or as safe, and agencies that work with the homeless agree. And another 72 people roaming the streets will increase the competition for places in other rooming houses, whatever their condition. Some of those who leave The Hub may find themselves in the ranks of the 105,000 Australians who, according to the 2006 census, are homeless each night.

When the Labor government was elected in 2007, then prime minister Kevin Rudd described the plight of those 105,000 as a national scandal. It remains one, despite the allocations to social housing. Nor is Mr Rudd the only politician to have drawn attention to the plight of the homeless on coming to office: lord mayor Robert Doyle did the same on the night of his election in 2008. There is no reason to doubt the sincerity of Mr Rudd or Mr Doyle, but there is little evidence the problem is diminishing, in part because of the closure of rooming houses such as The Hub. As Steve Nash, chief executive of advocacy group HomeGround, has said, gentrification of inner suburbs has meant rooming houses are disappearing faster than new social housing can be built.

The problem requires a response from all tiers of government: it is not only a matter of increasing funds for public housing, but of changing planning regulations so that local authorities are required to take the effect on homelessness into account when considering applications for the redevelopment of sites such as that occupied by The Hub.









The weakness of British vocational training is hardly news. Anxieties trace back to an 1851 royal commission, as the education secretary Michael Gove yesterday pointed out in introducing yet another report into this most reviewed of fields. Unlike in the past, today's weaknesses do not reflect neglect. Gordon Brown, in particular, cared deeply about the question, and all manner of activity was devised to produce the answers. The scope to get educationists, and more particularly businessmen, round the table sat naturally with New Labour working methods, giving everyone a warm glow. Everyone, that is, except for the students.

The report's author, Alison Wolf, has blown a gale through the cosy consensus. She understands that overly involved employers will grab subsidies for specific training that they would anyway have had to provide. The price is paid in those general, transferable skills which are of most use to young people – and indeed to a future economy in which employers will not be the same firms as today. Then there is the awkward truth that some qualifications pay dividends for the colleges that dish them out, but not the people who take them. It is a scandal that youngsters are promised that vocational science courses will passport them on to advanced academic study later even where this is not true. Righteous bleating about parity of esteem for technical study will not make it happen until the certificates gain currency beyond college walls.

Students can travel further and make more meaningful choices than school pupils, and Professor Wolf says funding should follow them. But disadvantaged youths will get less guidance than affluent peers, and it is important to prescribe a core element of maths and English, so no one is left without the indispensable basics. After so many overlapping, contradictory and ultimately ineffective diktats, however, freeing things up is worth a try. Instead of regulating every qualification, the centre should get a grip on the quality of the bodies who dish them out. In turn, they should start worrying about teaching programmes instead of pieces of paper.

One welcome Wolf proposal is for people who forgo education in their late teens to have a hard right to take it up later. Great dedication will be needed to prevent this, and much else, from falling into the fiscal black. It will also be needed to see off the rage of employers who will protest that any redirecting of subsidy, from out of their clutches will mean fewer apprenticeships. Until now, however, Mr Gove has shown more interest in scholarly subjects. To tackle this oldest of policy failures, he now needs to combine the passion of Mr Brown with the acuity of Professor Wolf.






So Rupert Murdoch got what he wanted. If there is a less surprising sentence in the English language it would be good to know of it. As a result of Jeremy Hunt's announcement yesterday the American media tycoon is virtually certain to end up owning a monster British media company spanning broadcasting, newspapers and film and sports rights – together with the distribution channels through which the content is piped. His television company – double the size of the BBC – will be free to exploit numerous synergies with his newspapers, which are easily the most dominant in the market. If the government doesn't understand why this makes a great many people nervous it is either being disingenuous or dishonest.

The timing could hardly be worse. Rupert Murdoch's companies in Britain are currently subject to unprecedented scrutiny and investigation. There is a 45-strong team of detectives looking into how one of his newspapers illegally commissioned a snooper to hack into the phones of numerous leading politicians, royals and actors. Two parliamentary committees are looking into related questions of MPs' privilege and the supine behaviour of the police when confronted with this kind of media muscle. There are multiple civil actions wending their way through the courts by the victims of this illicit surveillance. And the press regulator, the PCC, has launched its own inquiry as to whether – or, more accurately, how – it was misled and into the nature of the expensive cover-up orchestrated by News International, with the presumed acquiescence of the "independent" grandees on the News Corp board.

So this was hardly the best moment to be offering Mr Murdoch even more power. Given the perfectly reasonable suspicions that hang over any dealings involving Mr Murdoch, politicians and regulation it would have been wiser for Mr Hunt to have passed the matter straight to the Competition Commission, as the media regulator Ofcom advised. Mr Hunt chose a different course – trying to see if he could extract concessions out of Mr Murdoch which would relieve him of the need to involve any more regulators. Mr Murdoch duly obliged, with a souped-up version of his favourite solution when thus challenged – an "independent" oversight board. By hiving off Sky News into a curious spinoff company with a 10-year guarantee of Murdoch cashflow, the problem was solved to the satisfaction of all concerned.

What the Murdoch lawyers and lobbyists have done is cleverly weave their way through the gaps between European regulation, competition law and the muddled and inadequate framework for judging issues of media plurality. The coalition government (and where were the Lib Dem voices yesterday?) cannot seriously believe that yesterday's decision will advance the cause of media plurality in this country. No weight has been given to the future potential for price bundling, rights carve-ups and cross-platform advertising deals which smaller media groups simply won't be able to compete with. News Corp operates on a global scale. Most of its competitors work on a much more limited scale, often within national boundaries, with different statutory frameworks. News Corp can be arguing about plurality of news in one arena, about territorial sports rights in another and about secondary movies rights in yet another.

Mr Hunt hinted that a future communications bill might find ways of addressing the sort of media dominance which grows organically rather than through acquisition. In future, if Ofcom's proposal is accepted, any warping of the media landscape with one company growing too big – not least through competitors dropping out – could be subject to a public interest test which would put it in danger of being broken up. Such a measure is urgently needed. Whether this government has the genuine political will to pass it must be doubted. It is, after all, not what Mr Murdoch would want.






For those of us working in offices, alien life on this planet is not a hypothesis. It is an established fact. Men in Black got it about right. A cockroach three storeys high and with a bad anger management problem could lurk inside the most benign of human frames. Perhaps that is why the dismissal of UFO sightings has never quite been as confident at the time as official records subsequently imply, hence the susceptibility to hoaxers. The interesting thing about a rag week stunt mounted in the early hours of 4 September 1967 by a group of aircraft engineering apprentices is less the fact that the army's southern command, four police forces, the MoD's intelligence branch and a bomb disposal unit all turned out to defuse six models powered by Ever Ready batteries. It is more that it took four decades for the truth to emerge. Even 20 years after the event, the MoD thought seriously about gagging the retired RAF group captain who dealt with the hoax. The secrecy surrounding the investigation of UFO sightings, from such trained observers of flight as commercial pilots, is meat and drink to the conspiracy theory industry. The history of UFO sightings is entwined with an equally byzantine narrative of official cover-up. Did a UFO crash at Roswell in New Mexico in 1947 or was it an experimental high-altitude balloon? Or are people suffering from innocently transformed memories of military accidents? The doubt itself is telling. The next alien who crashes on this planet should call a press conference.






Once again, while the world has been transfixed by events in the Arab world, legal but no less revolutionary change has been occurring elsewhere. For there is no word other than "revolutionary" that fits the Irish voters' rejection of Fianna Fail, the party that has dominated Irish politics since independence, in an election last week.

The dethroning of Fianna Fail was both expected and justified — the party's incompetence created one of the most spectacular economic crashes in modern history. The new government will be lucky to prevent the situation from deteriorating: Indeed, there is little reason to expect more from Dublin's new leaders.

Fianna Fail, a centrist nationalist party, has been in power in Ireland for 60 of the last 80 years, and ruled in one coalition or another since 1997. It presided over the birth of the Celtic Tiger, a period of 9.6 percent average annual economic growth that turned Ireland, a perennial backwater, into the second richest economy in the European Union.

But as former Prime Minister Brian Cowen explained, "the boom got boomier" and turned to froth and bubbles. Low interest rates, a heady and unaccustomed sense of optimism and an economy that relied heavily on the construction industry all helped fuel a spectacular increase in real estate prices — housing prices alone tripled between 2000 and 2006.

Not surprisingly, that state of affairs was not sustainable, and reality began to bite in 2007. The credit crunch that followed the global financial crisis of 2008 intensified Ireland's woes. It is estimated that housing prices have fallen about 43 percent since their peak. Ireland lost an estimated 150 billion euro in wealth in 2009 alone. Bad as that situation was, it was worsened when the Irish government in September 2008 decided to guarantee the debts of Irish banks.

That put taxpayers on the hook for the bad loans of the country's banks, a sum that is reckoned to exceed 100 billion euro — or nearly two-thirds of the country's GDP in 2009. Gross government debt has nearly tripled from 25.8 percent of GDP in 2006 and is expected to top 75 percent by the end of the fiscal 2011. Unemployment has gone from 4.2 percent to nearly 14 percent. Some 100,000 people are expected to emigrate over the next two years, out of a population of 4.3 million.

Voters are not sure whether to blame corruption or pure incompetence. A party in power for such an extended period of time is almost certain to lose its way, and the clubby nature of Irish politics yields relationships that other countries recoil from. Either way Fianna Fail was sure to get the boot. In last weekend's ballot, the party was gutted, losing more three-quarters of its seats, falling from 78 seats to 20 in the 166-seat Parliament. Fine Gael jumped from 51 seats to 76, and Labour came in third with 37 seats, adding 17 seats.

What is troubling, though not unexpected, was Fine Gael's inability to win an outright majority. It must therefore forge a coalition, mostly likely with Labour. But that will not be easy since the campaign highlighted deep divisions between the two parties on tax policy, public spending and how quickly the budget deficit can be reduced.

Agreement must be reached on a government by March 9, when Parliament reconvenes. Looming large over the negotiations is the EU summit that will be held March 24-25. Irish politicians will attend that meeting with two objectives. The first is renegotiating the terms of the rescue package cobbled together by the EU and the IMF last November which provided $115 billion to bail out the government while imposing a draconian four-year austerity program.

Mr. Enda Kenny, the leader of Fine Gael and the man tipped to become taoiseach (prime minister), has promised to renegotiate the terms of the deal, particularly the interest rate on the loan, a rate that exceeds that being paid by Greece.

EU officials say that is not likely. They want Ireland to raise its corporate tax rate, which is low by European standards. But sticking to that low rate is one of the few points of agreement between Fine Gail and Labour and among virtually all Irish, who believe that low rate has been key to the country's former economic success.

If Ireland has any leverage, it is in the form of a "nuclear option" — declaring a default. Doing so would expose European banks, particularly those in Germany that are among the main holders of Irish banking bonds.

The dirty little secret of the Irish bailout is that European money is going to pay continental banks. An Irish declaration that it would not pay its debts would shatter its credibility — but it would also rattle the eurozone as it would transfer Irish losses to European institutions. In these circumstances, renegotiation looks more appealing. It is a dangerous game of chicken, but it is an option.

Ultimately, however, Ireland needs a better regulatory framework for its banks, a more diversified economy and a more realistic assessment of acceptable growth. Citizens and politicians need to adjust to this new reality — politics as usual is no longer an option in Ireland.







SINGAPORE — Latest estimates by Western analysts put China's stockpile at 240 warheads, with 175 in active mode and 65 in reserve or waiting to be dismantled because they are considered too old for use.

This is a small arsenal compared with those of the United States and Russia. The U.S. has declared that it has 5,113 active nuclear warheads. Russia is thought to have a similar number; it has indicated it will follow the U.S. and make a full disclosure after their latest treaty on strategic arms cuts has been ratified.

France said several years ago that it had no more than 300 warheads. Britain, the last of the five original nuclear weapons states, disclosed not long ago that it had 225 nuclear weapons, 160 of which are deployed.

Not only is China's arsenal relatively small, but in normal circumstances the warheads are believed to be held in storage, not mated with delivery systems — mainly missiles of various kinds.

Beijing has also said repeatedly it will never be the first to use nuclear weapons in a conflict. Since the only other Asian nations known to have nuclear weapons are India and Pakistan (an ally of China), Asian countries without such weapons should be able to rest easy.

It may not be as simple as that. Unlike the other four nuclear powers in the treaty to prevent the spread of nuclear weapons, China has not disclosed the size of its arsenal and has increased its nuclear-capable weapons systems by roughly 25 percent in the past five years, according to the U.S. Defense Department.

China deploys about 130 land-based ballistic missiles that can carry nuclear warheads. There are six different types with differing ranges and payloads.

Those with the longest range — 7,200 to 13,000 kilometers or more — target the U.S. and Russia. But there are probably no more than 50 of these missiles carrying the same number of warheads. In the future, instead of single nuclear warheads, some of these missiles may carry three lighter-weight warheads, each able to strike separate targets.

However, the majority of China's land-based nuclear missiles have ranges out to 3,300 kilometers, covering most of Asia as well as U.S. military bases in the region. The whole of India is within range of these missiles.

About 60 of them are DF-21 missiles, whose number has quadrupled since 2005. Some of the DF-21s are the C model, which can carry either a conventional high-explosive warhead or a nuclear one. This has prompted analysts to warn of the risks that might arise if the DF-21C was deployed in a conflict with India, which has a history of tension with China over their disputed border and other issues.

India would not be able to tell whether the missile was carrying a conventional or nuclear charge. It might well conclude that it was faced with a nuclear attack and respond in kind.

A similar risk of misunderstanding and escalation arises from China's expansion of its cruise missiles. These missiles travel much more slowly than ballistic missiles, but they are highly accurate, skim low over the terrain, and are difficult to detect and shoot down.

The Pentagon says China has the most active land-based ballistic and cruise missile program in the world and that it is "developing and testing several new classes and variants of offensive missiles, forming additional missile units, qualitatively upgrading certain missile systems, and developing methods to counter ballistic missile defenses."

The number of launchers for China's DH-10 cruise missile, which has a range of more than 1,500 kilometers and is designed to hit land targets, has remained fairly constant at around 50. But the Pentagon reckons that the number of missiles for the launchers has risen by about 50 percent since 2009, to as many as 500.

Like the DF-21C ballistic missile, the DH-10 cruise missile could carry either a conventional or nuclear warhead. It is therefore a potential trigger for a devastating exchange of nuclear weapons in a regional conflict. Depending on prevailing winds, any radioactive fallout could spread across national boundaries in Asia. China wants to ensure that enough of its nuclear weapon systems survive to retaliate and inflict unacceptable damage if it is involved a nuclear war with either the U.S., Russia or India.

China worries that development by potential antagonists of more advanced technology for shooting down incoming missiles would undermine its nuclear deterrent. Hence its interest in more nuclear warheads and delivery systems.

However, India fears that China is modernizing and enlarging its precision- strike missile force to coerce its neighbors into resolving disputes on Beijing's terms.

The optimistic view is that when China thinks it has a credible deterrent for each of its potential nuclear adversaries, it may join the U.S., Russia, Britain and France in being more open about its warhead stockpile and delivery systems.

At that point, China and India will need to negotiate a nuclear deal, assuming that India is confident in the deterrent power of its arsenal. India's adversary, nuclear-armed Pakistan, will have to be brought into the negotiations.

The driving force in U.S.-Russia nuclear arms reduction and control is that transparency fosters predictability and minimizes the risk of a terrible war by miscalculation. A similar pact must be in the interests of China, India, Pakistan — and the rest of Asia.

The writer is a visiting senior research fellow at the Institute of South East Asian Studies in Singapore.







Special to The Japan Times

MELBOURNE — The world has watched in horror as Libya's Colonel Moammar Gadhafi uses his military to attack protesters opposed to his rule, killing hundreds or possibly thousands of unarmed civilians.

Many of his own men have refused to fire on their own people, instead defecting to the rebels or flying their planes to nearby Malta, so Gadhafi has called in mercenaries from neighboring countries who are more willing to obey his orders.

World leaders were quick to condemn Gadhafi's actions. On Feb. 26, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to impose an arms embargo on Libya, urge member nations to freeze assets owned by Gadhafi and his family, and refer the regime's violence to the International Criminal Court for possible prosecution of those responsible.

This is the first time that the Security Council has unanimously referred a situation involving human rights violations to the International Criminal Court, and it is remarkable that countries that are not members of the Court — including the United States, Russia and China — nevertheless supported the referral. The resolution can thus be seen as another incremental step toward the establishment of a global system of justice able to punish those who commit gross violations of human rights, regardless of their political or legal status in their own country.

Yet, in another way, the Security Council resolution was a disappointment. The situation in Libya became a test of how seriously the international community takes the idea of a responsibility to protect people from their rulers. The idea is an old one, but its modern form is rooted in the tragic failure to intervene in the Rwandan genocide in 1994. A subsequent U.N. inquiry concluded that as few as 2,500 properly trained military personnel could have prevented the massacre of 800,000 Tutsis.

Former U.S. President Bill Clinton has said that the mistake he most regrets making during his presidency was his failure to push for intervention in Rwanda. Kofi Annan, who was then U.N. undersecretary general for peacekeeping operations, described the situation at the U.N. at the time as a "terrible and humiliating" paralysis.

When Annan became secretary general, he urged the development of principles that would indicate when it is justifiable for the international community to intervene to prevent gross violations of human rights.

In response, Canada's government established an International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty, which recommended that military intervention could be justified, as an extraordinary measure, where large-scale loss of life is occurring or imminent, owing to deliberate state action or the state's refusal or failure to act. These principles were endorsed by the U.N. General Assembly at its special World Summit in 2005 and discussed again in 2009, with an overwhelming majority of states supporting them.

The principle fits the situation in Libya today. Yet the Security Council resolution contains no mention of the possibility of military intervention — not even the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya to prevent Gadhafi from using planes to attack protesters.

One body with a special concern to transform the idea of the responsibility to protect into a cause for action is the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, at the City University of New York. It has called on U.N. members to uphold their 2005 commitments and put the responsibility to protect into action in Libya. It urges consideration of a range of measures, several of which were covered by the Security Council resolution, but also including a no-fly zone.

In addition to arguing that the responsibility to protect can justify military intervention, the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty recommended a set of precautionary principles. For example, military intervention should be a last resort, and the consequences of action should not be likely to be worse than the consequences of inaction.

Whether these precautionary principles are satisfied in Libya requires expert judgment of the specifics of the situation. No one wants another drawn-out war like those in Iraq and Afghanistan. But Libya is not Iraq or Afghanistan — its population is only about one-fifth of either country's, and there is a strong popular movement for a democratic form of government.

Assuming that foreign military forces rapidly overwhelmed Gadhafi's troops, they would soon be able to withdraw and leave the Libyan people to decide their own future.

At the time of writing, it is arguable that other sanctions or threats, short of military intervention, would be sufficient to deter more widespread bloodshed. Perhaps the rebels and the sanctions can overthrow Gadhafi unaided, without great loss of life. It is also unclear whether military intervention would cause more deaths than it prevented.

These are questions that the international community needs to ask, and that the Security Council should have been discussing so that the principle of the responsibility to protect — and its possible implications for military action — become part of our understanding of the requirements of international law and global ethics.

Peter Singer is professor of bioethics at Princeton University and Laureate professor at the University of Melbourne. His most recent book is "The Life You Can Save." © 2011 Project Syndicate (







Given the fact that the two biggest stars at the Java Jazz Festival 2011 opening today are guitar legend Carlos Santana and another guitar-wielding funk rocker, George Benson, let us forget the word "jazz" in the festival's moniker.

Jazz may or may not be dead, but one thing is certain, that in the next three days, music buffs in the city have more than enough reason to celebrate, despite the absence of serious jazz purveyors besides Bob James and Fourplay: good music, good food and a relaxed atmosphere in the increasingly claustrophobic Jakarta.

It is still a moot point right now. The connection between music and civility, whether this art form can contribute much to holding back our animal instinct (Hitler after all was a big fan of Wagner), but the arrival of another installment of Java Jazz would be a much-needed respite in our politics-weary society.

At the very least, in the next three days we can escape from watching politicians jockey for ministerial posts that President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono is expected to dole out in the coming Cabinet reshuffle.

And after strings of bad press on members of hard-line groups continuing their wrangling of Ahmadis and other minority groups, Java Jazz Festival could bring the world's attention back to Indonesia, and this time the attraction will not involve blurry YouTube videos of locals lynching their neighbors.

The tenacity with which Java Jazz Festival has existed in the past six years —which makes it something of a cultural institution in Jakarta — shows that stability, both political and economic, has returned to this country. Now, big names in the music business no longer have qualms over performing here.

Even some of the biggest names like Iron Maiden — which only five years ago would certainly have been objected to by authorities for security concerns —can have trouble-free concerts in Jakarta and Bali. There have been talks about legendary thrash band Metallica — which caused Jakarta to burn in 1993 — performing in Jakarta.

We indeed have come a long way from our troubled days in the late 1990s, where almost no one from the international music industry had the courage to turn up and perform here. Today, the endless stream of foreign performers who charge serious amounts of money for their shows indicates the expansion of the middle class, not only in Jakarta but also in other major cities in the country.

Members of this middle class have gone past the stage where they only had to think about the bread-and-butter issues, and now they finally can find time to indulge in the more refined things in life: music, art and literature.

But sadly enough, the middle class' newfound fervor for music and art hit the wall of the government's ignorance and big business' insistence on crass materialism. The
government — other than official speech supporting Java Jazz and Yudhoyono dropping in for a Diane Warren gig — continue to let music and art promoters fend for themselves.

The greatest irony of Java Jazz is that the country's biggest music festival and the city's credible claim for civility is being held in the farthest post of the capital, the Kemayoran fair ground.

But at the end of the day, Jazz is always about rebelling against the authority. So consider Java Jazz a party of our own, and when you head North this weekend be sure to leave politics in downtown Jakarta.





At a ceremonial dinner with some 150 guests, mostly aleemat (women ulama) from Mindanao, a Christian priest told the audience about his experience of feeling peaceful among Muslims in Mindanao.

The priest was passing the Muslim majority area, Jolo, and discovered that he was the only Christian aboard the boat. Looking like a stranger, he was greeted by a Muslim Tausug. They chatted. Then came another, and another man, who greeted him. The priest continued his story, that he slept soundly in the boat knowing that he was the only Christian there.

On Fridays, the priest often passed the Muslim majority area, Lanao del Norte and Lanao del Sur, on his way to Malabang. When asked why he was doing it, he said, because "My friends are praying [Friday prayer] and they are praying for my safety and I have never been harassed, ever."

This beautiful story was a piece shared during the World Interfaith Harmony Solidarity Dinner in Zamboanga City, Mindanao. I was fortunate to have been at the dinner, in addition to my other tasks of sharing with the aleemat and the youth in Mindanao. I was amazed that this story of peaceful religion took place in Mindanao, a place widely known for its persistent religious conflicts and being a "breeding ground" for radicals. Unlike the negative image of insecurity, the region is peaceful and secure and people of different religions — Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Jamud (indigenous religion) — coexist in harmony.

Reflecting upon the brutal attacks to the minority Muslims and the non-Muslims back home in Indonesia, I feel ashamed. A religion of peace as evidenced by the Mindanao priest, in the hands of these brutal attackers Islam looks horrible. It is sickening to see them abuse the yell of Allahu Akbar with anger and enmity to terror those they consider "the other," Muslims and non-Muslims.

These "hooligans" claim themselves as Muslims, but their attitude and behavior are obviously un-Islamic. Islam is a religion of ethics (akhlak), and as a matter of fact, the reason of Prophet Muhammad's prophet hood was primarily to improve the quality of noble character, as reiterated in his hadith, "Innama bu'ithtu li utammima makarim al-akhlaq," (Indeed, I have been sent to perfect the quality of noble character).

Islam has three equally important pillars: iman, islam, and ihsan. This third element literally means "beautiful", meaning that our faith (iman), our acts of submission (Islam) are to be performed in the way ordained by Allah, the beautiful way. Allah is beautiful and loves beauty, including in our behavior. Countless references in the Koran and hadith regulate Muslims to lead a beautiful (ihsan) way of life, including in relating to others, Muslim and non-Muslim.

Thus, nothing can justify terror and brutal acts in the name of God. Allah is All Loving and Compassionate. Islam acknowledges the sanctity of human life, enjoying its protection and prohibiting its arbitrary deprivation. The Koran says if one kills an innocent person it is as if he were killing the whole of the human race. God has made human life sacred and no one has the right to take it this away from someone, except by way of justice and law. The sharia provisions on the sanctity and protection of human life are so fundamental and emphatic that they cannot be denied.

However, religion is like a double-edged sword: Enlightening and emancipating, but it can also be used as a weapon for oppression by the majority and the more powerful. In the latter case, the victims are more likely to be women and non-Muslim minorities, those considered "the other". History notes the plight of Muslim women by the patriarchs in the guise of Islamic law. They justify polygamy and domestic violence, for example, by referring to Koranic texts partially and literally and with a rigid and narrow minded interpretation. A woman's dignity as a human and her right to justice barely exists in their minds.

The shameful religious hijacking appears more serious if we recall that the first week of February was declared in a UN Resolution as "World Interfaith Harmony Week". As part of the global family, Indonesians cannot evade from the global responsibility of abiding by international laws and UN resolutions, including the one on interfaith harmony.

This UN Resolution, passed in October last year, was driven by an open letter entitled A Common Word Between Us and You (ACW), which is anchored on a Koranic verse: Say: O People of the Scripture! Come to a common word (kalimatin sawaa...) between us and you... (QS 3:64). This verse should serve as a reminder for Muslims to promote interfaith and intrafaith harmony, because we can focus on our common word, where we find no disputes among us.

The writer is the director of the Center for Pesantren and Democracy Studies.






The concept of multiculturalism was once believed to offer an antidote to countries (like ours) rampant with racial, ethnic and religious clashes. Once thought to be a magic potion, multiculturalism was recommended for incorporation in school curricula. Multicultural education is now widely practiced in local and international schools in the country.

Yet, regrettably, the efficacy of multicultural education is still to be demonstrated. We cannot shortsightedly place the blame on teachers for this uncertainty. The root of the problem — our intellectual prudence might suggest — does not lie in the way multicultural education is practiced, but rather in how we think of it.

It is useful here to discuss two perspectives on multicultural education initially proposed by Japanese-born scholar Ryuko Kubota in 2004. The first is liberal multicultural education and the second is critical multicultural education.

The former emphasizes "common humanity" and "natural equality" in terms of differences in cultures, class, languages and genders with the eventual goal being the celebration of assumed differences and inequalities. By contrast, the latter examines and interrogates these constructs by situating them in a specific political and ideological context with the aim being social transformation.

Despite its emphasis on equalities, the former paradoxically favors differences and regards social realities as fixed entities not to be disputed or questioned let alone challenged. In contrast, the latter views social reality as mutable, dynamic, heterogeneous, discursively constructed and implicated in political and historical contexts.

Of these two perspectives, Indonesia has clearly adopted liberal multicultural education, which when closely examined tends to be Western-centered and interlaced with "assimilationist agendas".

It is important to underscore that multiculturalism is a term heavily undergirded by the dominant ideologies of individualism and liberal humanism. As such, a glib assurance that this foreign import can be universally applied in a collective culture is unwarranted and borrowed constructs from liberal multiculturalism should be subject to scrutiny.

Probably our adherence to liberal multicultural education is motivated by its lure in mitigating-sounding terminologies such as tolerance, respect and appreciation for differences in ethnicities, religions, cultures and languages.

What we are less cognizant of is that these constructs appear very superficial in that they are too reductive, treating the existence of social realities as separate, atomistic entities and as an end in itself. Thus, it is feared that the employment of the model of liberal multicultural education in schools can obscure the very process of how such constructs are discursively constructed as a whole and eventually come into existence.

Unless critically scrutinized, we will be dragged down by the model's hegemonic forces to accept many of its premises as representations of objective truth and opposing or conflicting vantage points will be held hostage.

With its inherent limitations, the liberal multicultural education model is less likely to make students aware of, for example, the rise of radicalism and brutality on behalf of religious, racial and cultural issues.

What this model can offer is at best a normative principle that inequalities and differences in whatever aspects of life must be highly respected and all people, irrespective of their beliefs and ideologies, must be treated equally.

Yet the model fails to inform us about the extent to which inequalities and differences exist and are propagated in society. Further, as it bears affinities with liberal individualism, liberal multicultural education also cannot provide an account of how a certain group of people (e.g. the minority Ahmadiyah sect in the country) is systematically marginalized and oppressed incessantly with no clear solution.

The danger of positing the liberal multicultural education model as a lofty ideal in multicultural countries is its tacit assumptions that tend to exoticize and essentialize a particular way of thinking that should not be flouted but respected and valued.

A case in point in our educational context is the tendency to exoticize the so-called international curriculum and imported language assessments. Another example is religious essentialism and exoticism, which are rampant in the country.

These cases require an educational approach that not only perceives and accepts inequalities and injustices prima facie, but one that critically interrogates and examines these aspects in light of power, ideology, hegemony and politics.

If the eventual goal is social transformation, the critical multicultural education model merits our consideration.

The writer is an associate professor at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta. He is chief editor of the Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching.







On the morning before the last Hindu Day of Silence or Nyepi, the roads of the central Ubud area were strangely quite. This was a great surprise for me, as I'm used to complaining about the increasing traffic in this small Bali town.

Many people, like some of my friends, had probably decided to spend this boring Nyepi off the Island, making the most of the opportunity to visit other areas and other islands close by.

The town's surroundings, where ogoh-ogoh (giant Balinese papier-mâché statues) had started to emerge, preparing for the big night parade, were unusually quite and silent.

The situation changed from 5 o'clock in the afternoon, with crowds pressing onto the roads leading to the area selected as the starting point for the parade: the football field on Jl. Monkey Forest.

The following morning, I woke up to the sound of rosters, competing for the best "cock-a-doodle-doo". Little by little, birds also started making themselves heard, with their cheerful chirping. Then even geckos (cicak) took part in this chorus with their squeaking voices.

While in Bali it is normal to wake up to this magic atmosphere, I could fully enjoy it only on that day of Nyepi. Like almost everybody else on the island, I spent the whole first day of the Balinese New Year at home with my family. The only exceptions were some short walks inside the compound to dispose of garbage or to take some pots to the common kitchen.

Outside, on the roads, the silence was absolute and, for this reason, unusual but wonderful. No motorbikes or cars were seen. Everything was silent except for rosters, which continued to crow from time to time, their ritual song from dawn to sunset.

Only twice was the human silence broken. In the morning I heard cheerful voices coming from a neighboring compound, where a local NGO that helps children with physical and mental handicaps is located. But this, knowing the special character of the organization, was not disturbing. The only disturbance came early in the afternoon with the sudden shouts of several boys, who rushed onto the green field, passing a bordering stream, to play catch. Fortunately this didn't last long.

All day long I had the opportunity to enjoy various aspects of this special day. The lack of pressure was one: it was impossible to go out to buy anything something, to try the specialties of a newly opened restaurant, or to rush to the bank before it would be too crowded. The air was crisp and clear compared to that of other days, when the odors and thick smoke of fuel, burned garbage and greens compete with the perfumes of flowers and incense burned for offerings or the fragrance of pots gurgling in traditional open kitchens.

I recalled this experience after attending a seminar promoting "Spiritual Tourism" in Sanur, several weeks ago. The event, publicized also in The Jakarta Post, could rely on the participation of prominent governmental and non-governmental institutions involved in social, cultural and tourist matters and well-known personalities of the cultural and spiritual world. This renowned participation and the interesting and topical theme of the seminar, aimed at attaining a more sustainable tourism, tailored for Bali peculiarities, resulted in a large audience, who were mainly representatives of the Bali tourism business world.

I think the best way to develop Balinese tourism more in keeping with local traditions and culture, and respectful to the local environment, is to start promoting events, products and other aspects of the local life, not for their immediate and direct monetary return, but just for a better understanding and appreciation of the special Bali spirit. This seems, in fact, the essence of spiritual tourism. That is to say a tourism less based on external, spectacular and folkloric aspects, which are easy to sell but also faster to be consumed and eroded. It must be tourism more attentive to soft, long-lasting and genuine aspects.

In this connection, Nyepi could be seen and promoted not only as an important tradition of Balinese New Year or, for foreigners, as a strange expression of local folklore and an occasion to pop over from Bali to surrounding areas to escape the boredom of a too quiet, homely day.

Nyepi could and should be seen as a meaningful and inspiring day to better grasp Bali's unique but tangled culture. At this moment, when the flow of tourism has reached a peak, it would be wise, perhaps, looking at the future, to start thinking seriously about making tourism more attentive to qualitative, cultural and spiritual aspects.

Experience teaches us that the most successful and sustainable changes are those undertaken before the curve of success starts going down.

The writer is an architect and urban planner.








Since we as human beings have not taken care of our environment as we should have and have tinkered with Mother Earth, our Global Village has had to face many natural disasters in recent years.

 It is in this context that Sri Lankans need to understand the recent floods and earth slips in our country. Amid these natural disasters those in the Wanni were subject to waters getting into their camps and tents. Some weeks ago President Mahinda Rajapaksa was in the North to open a new bridge and to celebrate Thaipongal the harvest festival of the Hindus. Therefore it is necessary to ask the question as to when those compelled to live in camps and under United Nations tents since May 2009 will be given the privilege and joy of returning to their own homes with sustainable means to earn their livelihood and restore their dignity as human beings.

 From the Global Village we learn that the Government of Sri Lanka is being helped immensely in the resettlement and rehabilitation of the innocent war victims. What is happening to all that money and why is there an undue delay in this vital step which could lead to reconciliation and bring about lasting peace with justice.

 It seems that some of our leaders do not have the political will to address the issue of the uprooted people of the Wanni, the other areas of the North and the East.

 In the United States on the 3rd Monday of every January, the People of that Land remember the assassinated Southern American Baptist Minister Martin Luther King. Recently our Media focused on his legendary message titled, "I have a dream ".

 Do Sri Lankan leaders have the dream of caring for every single person of this land by providing each family a house and plot of land to live and earn their living? The people of this country have a rich heritage of being part of Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity and Islam.

These world religions call us to respect every life and to practise what is preached so that we will bear good fruit instead of earning the label of hypocrites who do not do what they say or say what they do. Why then is this inordinate delay and the reluctance to care for the displaced people of the North and East?

Sadly in some quarters in our country there is misguided if not dangerous thinking that these displaced people should be punished because of the LTTE terrorism and 30 year-war in Sri Lanka.

 If we in Sri Lanka are sincere in developing the country for the common good of all our people then it is incumbent on the part of our political leadership to take care of all the People from Batticaloa to Colombo and Hambantota to Jaffna.

We believe our land has enough sincere, other centered, generous and compassionate people who will support the government to achieve this mission of care and concern for the needs and wishes of all, understanding their faults or weaknesses and appreciating what's good and nice in them.





The Sri Lanka Air Force celebrates six decades of serving the nation; over two decades of that in fighting and successfully defeating one of the most ruthless terror groups in the world.

However on the eve of the celebrations of the Air Force's 60th Anniversary they experienced what is possibly their worst setback since the war ended. Two Israeli built Kfir fighter jets the Sri Lanka Air Force's pride involved in a difficult fly-past manoeuvers practising for an air show collided mid-air and crashed into the Warana area in Gampaha on Tuesday morning.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa speaking at the opening of the Air Force's 60th Anniversary Celebrations stressed that the life of a human is more precious than metals. "We should never forget the airmen who sacrificed their lives and also the pilot who sacrificed his life on Tuesday while rehearsing. Our sympathies go out to his family and all the families who sacrificed their loved ones to protect the motherland", he said.

The highlight of the 60th anniversary celebrations will be the SLAF Exhibition and Carnival which started on Wednesday and will go on till March 8 from 10am to 11pm. 

An Air Show inclusive of Air combat manoeuvers and aerobatic displays by SLAF and international teams, simulated hostage rescue operation with the SLAF Special forces paratroopers and air craft, Exhibition of air craft, rehearsals and weaponry hitherto never displayed are some of the items exhibited at the venue. It will also see the participation of several international aerobatic and parachute teams.

The Air Force said that the two pilots had ejected but it was found later that one had died in the accident.  One civilian who had been in the vicinity of the place where the aircraft crashed had been injured and was admitted to the Wathupitiwala Hospital. The Air Force said that the two jets were flying at a speed of around 900 kilometers per hour in a close formation and when taking a turn, the wings had touched.

The body of pilot, Flight Lt. Monath Perera who was found at the crash site was posthumously promoted to the rank of Squadron Leader. The pilot of the other aircraft Squadron Leader Vajira Jayakody escaped unhurt.

The pilots had taken off in their aircraft from the Katunayake Air Force Base on March 1, at around 9am.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa also visited the crash site and inspected the damaged caused to the surroundings.

The remnants of the two crashed aircrafts were scattered over several places in the Uduthuththiripitiya- Warana area in Gampaha. The pieces of one aircraft had burnt into ashes and had landed among a group of houses while several other burnt pieces were lying in paddy fields.

The other aircraft had crashed about a kilometer away from the first site and was almost intact while half of it had burnt into ashes.

 All Kfir fighter jets of the Sri Lanka Air Force have been grounded until the investigation into the Tuesday morning mid-air collision of two Kfir jets in the Uduthuththiripitiya-Warana area in Gampaha, is over, the Air Force said yesterday.

 "All the Kfir jets have to be grounded as investigations are initiated to evaluate the technical records of the jets", a senior Air Force official said. The fleet of Kfirs included 12 jets.

However, jets which were supposed to participate in the fly past parade did not take part in the Air Force 60th Anniversary celebrations today.

A special investigation had been initiated by a five-member team led by Air Vice Marshal Kapila Jayampathi into the crash. The Air Force said that they still cannot provide a particular reason behind the death of the pilot although he had ejected himself from the aircraft during the time of the crash.

"We only have offensive intentions and not defensive intentions."

Air Force Commander Air Marshal Harsha Abeywickrama

We are very happy as an air force as we have achieved remarkable change during the last six decades from a ceremonial force to an air force made up of a heavy lift aircraft, ground attack aircrafts, advanced trainers and state-of-the-art attack helicopters.

It was team work, hard working and leadership which enabled us to achieve these remarkable achievements.

We started with 10 officers and 1500 airmen and now it consists of 1500 officers and 35,000 airmen.

During the last four years we were one of the few air forces in the world which utilized our assets to counter a ruthless terrorist organization. In the future we will develop our interceptor capability by acquiring next generation aircrafts. As we have to defend our air space we will also strengthen our radar and surveillance capabilities. We only have offensive intentions and we do not have any defensive intentions. We will also expand our commercial services and contribute towards tourism.

"We need to upgrade our air to air capabilities."

Chief of Defence Staff and Former Air Force Commander Air Chief Marshal Roshan Goonathileke

Since I was two months old I was at Katunayake. And at that time it was a ceremonial force. I joined the Air Force in 1978. We observed it and we changed the image of the Air Force. We bought the first helicopters and jets after 1971. We wanted to purchase jets to increase the fire power. Yesterday we faced a war and today it is over. At the start there were ten officers and 1500 airmen. Now we have 1500 officers and 35,000 airmen with 110 aircrafts.

Even if we are not technologically ahead we used the existing technology to meet the enemy and conduct the operations. SLAF is ahead with its capabilities and our Air Force cannot be called a small Air Force. Yes we want to share our experiences as well. The Army has already started to share their experience by introducing special courses. We met the enemy face to face and sometimes it was a conventional war. We have established a research unit to encourage products and we have already started to build an indigenous UAV, we are testing it right now and in the near future we will demonstrate it after testing a new engine for it. Most of the testing of engines of aircraft in the inventory is being tested by Air Force engineers which is very outstanding.

We need to upgrade our air to air capabilities. We have to purchase new aircrafts as we have to phase out old ones. We have to train the pilots properly to meet the high standards of future aircrafts.

So we are identifying the places  where we need to make the improvements. An air force always needs to be ready to face the advanced technology put in place in new aircrafts.

"Kfir aircraft provided a formidable force against the battle against the LTTE."

Air Chief Marshal Oliver Ranasinghe (1994- 1998)

When the terrorist activities were growing rapidly, the MI-24 attack helicopters were inducted and also the Air Force acquired multi role Kfir aircraft provided a formidable force against the battle against the LTTE.

To enhance the troop and cargo mobility, AN-32 transporters were purchased. This advancement began to provide tremendous service in the area of tactical transport in the North and the East operations.

Unmanned Aerial Vehicle (UAV) technology was introduced to the Air Force to enhance its reconnaissance capability which performed as a force multiplier to the ground forces and fighter aircraft operations in the Northern and Eastern theaters.

"We revived the fighter jet capability of the SLAF."

Air Chief Marshal M.J.T De Gunawardena (1990-1994)

We revived the fighter jet capability of the SLAF by inducting the first supersonic jet interceptor, the Chinese built Chengdu F-7 fighter jet to enhance ground attack capabilities. 

The Air Force also acquired the first three MI-17 tactical helicopter transporters from Russia.

The management structure was radically changed and introduced the zonal command concept to decentralize to respond to the intensifying operational requirements.

"The Air Force was an integral force in defeating the terrorists."   

Director General for the Media Center for National Security (MCNS) Lakshman Hulugalle
It is important that the Air Force continue with their celebrations. It is a national event and it must go on. Even in the most developed countries jets do crash. It is normal. We can't stop the crashes. It happens in all parts of the world they are unavoidable. We have to sympathize with the people who lost their loved ones.

President Mahinda Rajapaksa is the only person who initiated to expand the Air Force and introduce advanced technology we believe that he will continue to do so even in the future.

The Air Force was an integral force in defeating the terrorists. It was the commanding force that guided and led the Army and Navy during the height of the war.

The public needs to get to know the role the Air Force played in successfully concluding the war. The Air Force is celebrating their 60th Anniversary and they need all the recognition and support. The country owes it to the Air Force for uniting and liberating the country. The event marking their Anniversary will be in celebration of their illustrious history and development.

The Air Force rescue efforts during the Tsunami, floods and all other natural disasters is another factor they are held closer to the peoples hearts. They will remain in the spotlight for their efforts of evacuating and saving the lives of  millions of people.

"SLAF assisted the fighting efficiency of the Navy"

Navy Commander Vice Admiral Somathilaka Dissanayake

Sri Lanka Air Force, now celebrating its 60 Anniversary has been executing a prolong period to safeguard our motherland.

The Sri Lanka Air Force had succeeded well to carry out its mission during the humanitarian operation resulting in eliminating terrorism from Sri Lanka.

The support rendered by the SLAF to the Navy in providing maritime reconnaissance, close air support and augmenting maritime domain awareness, no doubt assisted the fighting efficiency of the Navy, which is well remembered.

Being associated with the Air Force during the past three decades I am well aware of the professionalism, dedication and comradeship of the Air Force who have achieved great heights,  and I am sure that it  will continue to fly towards glory in the designated peace time role for the Air Force.





There is more to this than meets the eye. Yes, it is a cliché but it is an apt phrase to describe world politics where injustice is presented as justice, dictatorship is tolerated as democracy and the villain is seen as a hero. With the Western powers preparing for an invasion of Libya, the cliché assumes importance once again.

What is delaying the invasion is the lack of public support in the Western world. It is here that the unholy alliance between imperialist forces and the western media comes into play. Sections of the Western media, which humbly and shamelessly served capitalist and neocolonial interests during the two Gulf wars, are up to their old tricks again. Libyan leader Moammer Gaddafi is being portrayed now in the same way Saddam Hussein was portrayed — a mad man killing his own people.

True, even friends agree that Gaddafi is a maverick and may be a megalomaniac too. But is he a mass murderer?  After all, didn't he support freedom struggles around the world? Ask the African National Congress which under the visionary leadership of Nelson Mandela fought the apartheid regime in South Africa. Ask those rebel groups which fought colonialist-backed regimes in Africa. They will shower praises on Gaddafi for Libya's financial and moral support.

But ask the West. It will say Gaddafi is a terrorist.

The West, especially the United States, has an axe to grind. It's time for vengeance. In 1969, the young revolutionary Gaddafi after ousting pro-British and pro-US King Idris marched with his troops to the US base near Tripoli on the Mediterranean coast — it was so big that even Americans called it 'Little America' — and issued an ultimatum to all foreign troops including the British who also had a base in Libya to leave.

You chased us out in 1969 and here we come now to chase you out. These words flash across the mind when the US and Britain prepare their military for a Libyan job. Although the Libyan leader is being accused of using African mercenaries to attack the protesters, there is strong suspicion that mercenaries backed by Western powers have infiltrated the protesters. Otherwise, how could the protesters capture town after town, defeating Gaddafi's well-armed forces? Egypt also saw demonstrations but the protesters there did not capture territory. What is happening in Libya is different from what happened in Tunisia and Egypt. There is something fishy. The democracy protest has degenerated into a civil war. This was what the imperialists wanted — an excuse for intervention.

Adding to the doubts is the US insistence to include a strange clause in this week's UN Security Council resolution on Libya. This clause exempts mercenaries from prosecution for war crimes. Why?

The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported that British troops were already in Libya carrying out rescue operations and SAS Special Forces were ready to seize Gaddafi's mustard gas depots. The US Sixth Fleet, meanwhile, has positioned itself in the Mediterranean Sea overlooking Libya. And a docile United Nations is blowing up a humanitarian crisis.

Against this backdrop, doubts arise as to who is doing what in Libya. Who is bombing the protesters, using aircraft? Are we one hundred percent certain that it is Gaddafi?

The protests in Libya seem to have been hijacked by the West to promote its own capitalist and imperialist interests — to take control of Libya's oil and natural gas and set up military bases. Creating a humanitarian crisis in Libya will offer an ideal excuse for an invasion. Television images of thousands of workers scrambling for food and trying to escape Libya and a few bodies in morgues are probably an attempt to show that a humanitarian crisis is in the making. The Western media won't talk about the casualties supporters of Gaddafi are suffering at the hands of marauding protesters.

The one-sided coverage smacks of an ulterior motive for invasion. Even if one assumes that Gaddafi's forces are responsible for the killings, the toll is much lower than the number of people George W. Bush and his military killed in Iraq. Barack Obama's army has killed more civilians in Afghanistan and Pakistan than Gaddafi has allegedly killed in Libya. It was only on Wednesday that the US forces killed nine children who were collecting firewood in Afghanistan. Yet the United Nations Security Council will not condemn the mass murder and baby killings by US troops in Afghanistan. The biggest impediment to global justice is the United Nations, an instrument that gives the stamp of legitimacy to illegal wars and whitewashes war crimes committed by the imperialist West.

The other culprits are the Western media, which have mastered the art of faking news and presenting them as facts. Who can forget the case of 15-year-old Nurse Nahiriya during the first Iraq war in 1991? The US media repeatedly showed the young Kuwait nurse's testimony before the US Congress to whip up public support for the war. Nayirah testified that she witnessed the murder of infants by Iraqi soldiers who "took the incubators and left the babies to die on the cold floor." Even Amnesty International believed the story and lent indirect support to the war party. But it later turned out that Nurse Nayirah was the daughter of Saud bin Nasir Al-Sabah, Kuwait's then ambassador to the United States. She was coached by the public relations firm Hill & Knowlton to tell a fabricated story aimed at melting the hearts of the American public and winning their support for the war.

If this was not enough, the lies and heaps of crap the US administration presented as solid facts to claim that Iraq's Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction are another example. Throughout the build-up for the war and after that, the mainstream US media were with the war party, distorting stories, withholding facts and not giving adequate and fair space to voices which spoke against the war.

Against this backdrop, commonsense demands that one takes what the Western media and leaders say with a mountain of salt. Their hypocrisy or moral nakedness is exposed when they adopt a totally different approach to deal with protests in pro-US Bahrain and Yemen.

The Arab masses are rising up against dictators and monarchs. When will the American public rise up against their rulers and take them to justice for repeatedly lying to them to promote the capitalist agenda?





Elections to the Legislative Assemblies in four States and a Union Territory are set to send temperatures soaring through April-May. While Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as also Puducherry, will this time have single-phase polling, Assam will do it in two phases, as in 2006. West Bengal will, however, have the process in six phases. It has 294 constituencies, the largest number among the States in the fray. But as the Election Commission indicated, the stretching stems also from a perception of major law and order challenges. In truth, this reading can only derive from depredations by Maoist elements — thriving in a climate of political collaboration with the Trinamool Congress and, indirectly, with its ally, the Congress. Significantly, the ruling Left Front in the State has welcomed the decision to spread out polling. In its 34th consecutive year in power in eastern India's largest State, the CPI(M)-led Left Front has reason to be proud of its long-term record of governance in key areas, above all land reform. The 2009 Lok Sabha election in the State dealt the Left a severe blow, exposing an eroded base, and it remains to be seen whether anything has changed since then. In any case, given the animosities and the ideological intensity of the battle in this State, the Election Commission of India faces a major test this time. This calls for a heightened level of preparedness, anticipation, and monitoring.

The challenge will be of a different character in Tamil Nadu. Here the Election Commission's carefully structured machinery, which includes observers and micro-observers, will have its task cut out in checking the play of money power, muscle power, and misuse of the administrative machinery and the police. In a clever populist gambit, the DMK government managed to reduce the sales tax on petrol just before the Model Code of Conduct kicked in, although the next day its ongoing scheme of distributing free TV sets was ordered stopped. Assam will witness relatively peaceful conditions on the ground this time, with the United Liberation Front of Assam engaging in talks with the government. Given the political culture, Kerala elections rarely face law and order problems worth the name. This is the first time non-resident Indians will be able to exercise the franchise, provided they are in India. There are other issues that wait to be addressed and resolved, which the Election Commission and other bodies have broadly grouped under the head of electoral reform. There is also the challenge of preventing, and cracking down on, the vice of 'paid news,' which came to the fore in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections. How the media conduct themselves this time, and how the Election Commission goes about rooting out this shameful corruption of journalism and the democratic process, will be watched with keen interest.








GREGORY David Roberts writes in his book Shantaram that men wage war for profit or principle but they fight them for land and women.


There couldn't be a fairer assessment than that to describe the inflammatory situation in the central Indian state of Chhattisgarh, which witnesses sporadic violence between Maoist rebels and the paramilitary and government organised anti-Naxalite groups.


A few days ago, human rights activist from the state Dr Ilina Sen visited my college and addressed the department of mass media about the history of the conflict and, most importantly, why her husband Dr Binayak has been imprisoned on charges of sedition.


She said some years ago when she had gone to France for her post-doctoral studies, she found it difficult to describe where she was from as nobody had heard of Chhattisgarh. She would say it was "prs de Bhopal", a city in another state, but made famous as the site of the world's worst chemical disaster.


Now, she feels she doesn't require to go into many details about her home as the state has been hogging national and international headlines as the hotbed of Naxalites, a militant group at war with the government.


A state many Indians and foreign tourists comfortably forget to explore, Ms Sen said times had changed - flights to Chhattisgarh are full of foreign and Indian investors. The state has lucrative business and investment opportunities due to its rich mineral resources. The trouble is, they're in heavily forested tribal areas.


For a community of indigenous people who consider their land hallowed by the spirits of their ancestors, it is suicidal to give up their homes. However, that is what they were asked to with promises of compensation they weren't interested in.


Taking the side of the multinational companies, the government imposed emergency law and forced the tribals to give up their lands under police supervision.


The displacement of the people and hunger deaths in the region, one of the poorest, fuelled increased Naxalite activity.


Using violent means to achieve their goals, the Naxalites whose name comes from the village of Naxalbari in the state of West Bengal, cause terror along the 'red corridor' that runs through the eastern states where they operate from.


Career options for the displaced tribals were limited - they could become special police officers to hunt down Naxalites for a starting salary of Rs1,500 (BD12.5) a month or women could sell themselves to the paramilitary.


The state forces executed people and raped women they considered Maoist sympathisers.

People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), whose vice-president is Dr Sen, published reports which found the state to be waging a war against its own people. It was banned and termed "anti-national" under a law, which also places restrictions on reporting from the area.


Dr Sen was jailed in May 2007 based on fabricated evidence that he couriered information during his professional jail visits that helped blow up bridges. He was given bail in May 2009 following an international outcry over his detention. Last December, a sessions court in state capital Raipur sentenced him to life imprisonment.


Thirty-eight Nobel laureates have signed petitions for the release of Dr Sen, considered by Amnesty International a prisoner of conscience.


Ms Sen said she planned to appeal in the Supreme Court of India but had no idea what will happen to him, her and her daughter, who studies in my college, but hoped the truth will be out soon.


She said Gandhi, when charged with sedition, was jailed for three years by the colonial British government, while the democratic government that followed feels it is fitting to jail someone for life for exercising his right to dissent.


l Ms Gnana is a former Bahrain resident now studying in Mumbai.



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