Google Analytics

Saturday, March 5, 2011

EDITORIAL 05.03.11

Please contact the list owner of subscription and unsubscription at: 

media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya



month march 05edition 000771 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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












  2. FE 500























































  1. WHAT NEXT?    







More than a month after Communist Party of Nepal (UML) leader Jhalanath Khanal was elected as Prime Minister, the induction of four Maoist leaders into the new Government in Nepal, which is still struggling to take shape, is welcome news. Mr Khanal took office in February after successfully negotiating a power-sharing deal with the Maoists. The former insurgents had the maximum number of seats in Parliament but were unable to garner a simple majority that would bring their leader, Mr Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda to power. The deal struck between the CPN(UML) and the UCPN(Maoists) saw Mr Dahal back out of the race and instead throw his party's weight in support of Communists. This was perhaps the most important factor in ending a seven-month-long political deadlock during which legislators had voted 16 times to elect a new Prime Minister but had failed each time. The election of Mr Khanal as Prime Minister, which was a direct consequence of much clever political maneuvering, thus came with a caveat: A particularly vague seven-point 'secret' power-sharing agreement between the man who came to power and those who were directly responsible for getting him there. Predictably, once the euphoria over the election of a new Prime Minister had settled and the leaders had gushed about a new era in Nepali politics (or cried themselves hoarse, if you were a member of the Nepali Congress that was backstabbed by its former ally, the Communists, and left out of all action), then began the dirty business of figuring out who gets how much of the power-pie. The Maoists wanted the coveted Ministry of Home Affairs but Mr Khanal's party vehemently opposed the idea of handing over the crucial portfolio to the former insurgents. There is also disagreement regarding the rehabilitation of the 20,000-member strong Maoist armed force, the People's Liberation Army. The idea of a new security force within the Nepalese Army that would accommodate the former combatants has met with stiff opposition from several quarters. And finally, there is the very contentious issue of a rotational Government wherein the Maoists and the Communists would take turns to lead the administration — an idea that has found few takers. Consequently, in the weeks after bringing Mr Khanal to power the Maoists, who felt that they were getting a raw deal, refused to join the Government despite the fact that they had themselves helped initiate the process to break the logjam.

It has taken more than a month and several modifications to the power-sharing agreement for the Maoists to change their mind. On Friday, they announced the names of the four leaders who were to join the Cabinet and all four were sworn in by the end of the day. Senior Maoist leader Krishna Bahadur Mahara has been appointed Deputy Prime Minister — a clear sign of the significant clout the former insurgents will have in the new Government. Overall, the Maoists have been allotted a total of 11 Ministries, except the Ministry of Home Affairs which for now remains with Mr Khanal. At this point, one can only hope that the new Government takes shape sooner than later, so that it can get on with the crucial task of producing a Constitution by the extended deadline of May 28. The democratic process in Nepal has already been much delayed and any further interruption can only hurt that country's national interest.







Despite the best efforts of individual Governments and collective action under the aegis of the International Narcotics Control Bureau, drug-trafficking remains a serious cause for concern worldwide. This is primarily because corruption is undermining international efforts to eliminate the multi-billion dollar illicit trade in narcotics. According to the International Narcotics Control Board's 2010 report, the police and other criminal justice officials, despite stepping up the war on drug-trafficking, find the odds stacked against them when they confront some of the wealthy and powerful syndicates involved in this organised crime. Apart from facing attacks and receiving threats of violence and retaliation, they have to often deal with corrupt officials from their own ranks.Nothing can be more demoralising or have a worse debilitating impact on efforts to fight the menace than attempts by public officials to undermine the campaign and protect criminals who grease their palms. The problem becomes more pronounced in countries combating terrorism and insurgency. There is overwhelming evidence that shows illicit trade in narcotics has a strong linkage with financing extremists — be it the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the LTTE in Sri Lanka or the Maoists in India. Therefore, it comes as no surprise that most of Afghanistan's poppy is cultivated in six Provinces in the south and west of the country, where the Taliban wields considerable power. India's drug problem arises from its proximity to two major heroin-producing regions: The 'Golden Crescent' — Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iran — in the west and the 'Golden Triangle' — Burma, Thailand and Laos — in the east. Drug traffickers use India as a trans-shipment point. Several foreign nationals have been arrested after they were found to be in possession of heroin. Local dealers in narcotics are not far behind as cannabis and opium are clandestinely cultivated in Uttar Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Kerala and Tamil Nadu.

Although officials in India deserve to be applauded for their relentless efforts to control this illicit trade, more needs to be done. The latest International Narcotics Control Strategy Report has named India as one of the major countries in the production of banned substances and a transit point for drugs. One way to tackle the problem is promoting regional and international cooperation. India has already signed bilateral agreements on drug-trafficking with 13 countries, including Pakistan, Burma, Bangladesh and Laos. However, loopholes in the law and corruption in the ranks — as also at senior levels of bureaucracy — make the country vulnerable. What India needs is a policy of zero tolerance towards trade in drugs and substance abuse, along with a crack down on corruption, apart from a strict regulatory mechanism to control poppy production.









If Mamata Banerjee and J Jayalalithaa were to win handsome victories in the coming Assembly polls, we could witness an early general election.

Five States will see Assembly elections in April and May 2011. The biggest of these — West Bengal and Tamil Nadu — are poised for dramatic change. In the eastern State, the Left Front is not just expected to lose to the Trinamool Congress-led opposition but could well be annihilated. West Bengal's Legislative Assembly has 294 seats; 220 of these are in south Bengal, which is Trinamool country. It is likely Ms Mamata Banerjee's party will win 150-odd seats — and an absolute majority — in south Bengal itself. Should this happen, it will eliminate her dependence on the Congress, a junior partner that may have to be satisfied with 20-odd seats in the Assembly and contemplate its irrelevance in yet another provincial polity.

In Tamil Nadu, the DMK has not been as entrenched as the CPI(M) in West Bengal — after all, the Communists have been winning elections uninterrupted since 1977 — but has had a good run for the past few years. It finished on top in the 2006 State Assembly poll as well as the 2004 and 2009 national elections. For a whole host of reasons — the 2G Spectrum swindle among them — it is a cash-rich party and in 2009 was fairly openly leveraging its wealth to electoral advantage.

This year, a combination of fatigue, corruption scandals and sheer disgust vis-à-vis the grasping nature of DMK raj have the rival AIADMK smelling a chance. Chief Minister M Karunanidhi has reduced governance to a family business, divided among his multiple wives, several sets of children and inter-connected nieces and nephews. Particularly if Ms J Jayalalithaa's AIADMK firms up an electoral agreement with movie star 'Captain' Vijayakanth's DMDK party, Chennai could be set for regime change.

Interestingly, both the CPI(M) and the DMK are at the receiving end of urban revolts. Trinamool is essentially an urban and suburban party, and at its strongest in Kolkata as well as the industrial (to be more accurate, rust-belt) hinterland of that city. In Tamil Nadu, the DMK was traditionally a city and town party and the AIADMK built around the rural appeal of its late founder, the charismatic and populist MG Ramachandran. Today, roles have reversed. Urban voters can't wait to punish the DMK, but the party — like the CPI(M) in West Bengal — is banking on its rural reserves to escape total destruction.

Should these predictions be correct and should two strong-willed women emerge triumphant on May 13, when the votes are counted, what will be the impact on national politics and on the UPA Government? To be fair, this may be limited. Yet there are other possibilities.

The Congress will be a minor gainer in West Bengal in that it has a small boat or two in the Trinamool armada. Ms Banerjee has eaten much of the mother party and more or less absorbed its State unit into Trinamool. In Tamil Nadu, the Congress toyed with the idea of fighting alone but has gone back to the security of a partnership with the DMK. It has no option but to swim or sink with its friend of seven years. In both States, despite Mr Rahul Gandhi's Herculean efforts, travels and — in Tamil Nadu — successful promotion of internal elections in the Youth Congress, the party has only a fractional presence. Without a major ally, it faces Bihar-type irrelevance.

Nevertheless, it would appear a valid argument that the Congress-led UPA Government would not be disturbed. It would have knocked out the Left in Kerala — where a Congress-propelled alliance is favoured to win as well — and West Bengal. Even if the DMK loses in Tamil Nadu, the AIADMK would probably want some sort of 'arrangement' with the ruling party at the Centre. If conventional political logic were to prevail, both Ms Banerjee and Ms Jayalalithaa would want a sympathetic Union Government that would allow them time and space to consolidate.

However, it is necessary to enter a caveat here. Should the UPA Government continue to appear unsettled and should regional parties and chieftains fancy their chances and bargaining capacities in the aftermath of the next general election — whenever that is held — timelines and imperatives could change. Both the AIADMK and Trinamool could then see sense in a Lok Sabha poll as quickly as feasible, rather than in waiting for 2014. Why give regional rivals a chance to regain ground — and risk anti-incumbency setting in against the new State Governments (those that will be elected in May 2011)?

Tamil Nadu has 39 Lok Sabha seats; in 2009, the AIADMK won nine. West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats; in 2009, Trinamool won 19. If these parties sweep the Assembly elections, they could calculate that an early parliamentary poll would benefit them, increase their numbers and give them greater influence at the Centre. Consequently, bolstering the UPA Government and keeping it going will not be as much of a priority. The opportunity cost will need to be tabulated.

Similar ideas may sound persuasive to Mr Nitish Kumar in Bihar. He led the JD(U)-BJP combine to a runaway victory in the Assembly election only three months ago and may fancy an early Lok Sabha poll while the euphoria is still fresh and his arch-rival, Mr Lalu Prasad Yadav, is still on the ropes. In contrast, by 2014 Mr Kumar would have been in power for nine years.

Indeed, next door in Uttar Pradesh, Ms Mayawati too could entertain such thoughts. Assembly election there is due in the early summer of 2012, but the BSP and its leader are believed to be working towards a winter 2011 schedule. Ms Mayawati is confident the Congress has retreated from its surge of 2009 — when it did very well in the Lok Sabha election — and that the other big parties in the State, the Samajwadi Party and the BJP, have not recovered enough. That aside, she wants to call the Assembly election before panchayat and municipal polls, which can be messy and unpredictable. Should her plan work to perfection and should she win another term, what's to stop her dreaming bigger dreams?

It is nobody's case that four Chief Ministers, however powerful, can force a mid-term election on the country. Even so, should they see such an eventuality as being in their interest, they could make the UPA's ride rocky. After that, all it will require is an opportunistic accident.


(The photograph which appears with this article shows a Trinamool Congress wall poster in Kolkata in which Ms Banerjee is seen driving a train over incumbent Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee while racing towards victory in the coming Assembly poll.)







Pranab Mukherjee revealed again the disproportionate sympathy nursed by the so-called ?aam admi ka sarkar for the rich. Tax giveaways may win accolades from India Inc and its media cheerleaders, but steals from the poor and middle class their future

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

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

The gap between real and nominal GDP is inflation. Year after year, from 2005-6, this inflationary gap between the real and nominal GDP has been incrementally enlarging. In 2005-6 the gap was 9.4 per cent; in 2006-7, it rose to 16.9 per cent; in 2007-8, it enlarged to 21.8 per cent; in 2008-9 it topped 31.3 per cent; and in 2010-11, the gap became all time high at 38 per cent, equal to Rs 30 lakh crore. Imagine, had the gap between the real and nominal GDP for 2010-11 not risen over the percentage of the gap in 2005-6, the fiscal deficit for 2010-11 would have been as high as 21 per cent! And had it been the same as in 2009-10, the fiscal deficit for 2010-11 would have been 7.5 per cent. When inflation is high the GDP-fiscal deficit ratio becomes almost meaningless. So much for the reduction in fiscal deficit acclaimed as "fiscal consolidation", "safe play", "cutting spend".

Curiously, inflation escalated the nominal GDP year after year from 2005-6, but surprisingly, not particularly the indirect tax revenues proportionately. This makes the comparison of nominal GDP with fiscal deficit misleading. It also takes us to the confession of the FM that he has not mobilised revenue in this budget. The media has eulogised the FM for sparing the corporates from higher dose of tax, and still managing the deficit. The truth is that UPA has altogether stopped taxing the corporates and other tax worthy. The excise revenue as a percentage of the real GDP is now almost half of what it was in 2005-6; in terms of nominal GDP even less.

According to the Economic Survey 2010-11, the ratio of excise revenue to GDP has come down from 3 per cent in 2005-6 to 1.7 per cent in 2010-11 and customs from 1.8 per cent to 1.5 per cent. On the basis of the excise-customs to GDP ratio of 2005-6, the government has under-levied excise by Rs 1,00,000 crore and customs duty by Rs 43,000 crore in 2010-11, totalling to Rs 1,43,000 crore. The under levy of excise started in 2006-7 at Rs 13,000 crores, rose to Rs 63,000 crore in 2008-9 when stimulus was introduced, and to Rs 81,000 crore in 2009-10. Even if the fiscal stimulus — calculated with 2007-8 as the base — of Rs 59,000 crore in excise and in customs of Rs 41,000 crore are deducted, the under-levy is still Rs 4,3000 crore. It means that the UPA government has simply refused to levy the legitimate tax. But, despite huge tax cuts, inflation is hitting the roof. Yet on the fear and threat that withdrawal of stimulus would intensify inflation the stimulus continues. Is it justified? Read more.

It is not that corporates are in distress; in fact, never were they. An analysis of the profits of corporates given in the statements of revenue foregone attached to annual Budgets shows that corporates have been making huge profits. The companies surveyed posted a profit before tax of Rs 4.08 lakh crore in 2005-6; Rs 7.11 lakh crore in 2007-8; Rs 6.68 lakh crore in 2008-9 (global meltdown year) and Rs 8.24 lakh crore in 2009-10. Most of the super profits in 2009-10 — rise of 23.35 per cent in just one year — is clearly the stimulus cuts not passed on to the public. The super profits clearly make the continuance of stimulus unjust. The story doesn't end here. Thanks to exemptions, corporates have paid far less than the statutory rates of excise, customs and income taxes.

Taxes thus foregone by the government have been rising from year to year from 2005-6 — from 50 per cent of the tax collected in that year to 72 per cent of the tax collected in 2010-11. For 2010-11, the tax giveaways, including excise-customs waivers of Rs 3.62 lakh crore, totalled Rs 5.12 lakh crore. The stimulus cut of Rs 1 lakh crore, and under-levy of Rs 43,000 crore are on top of the tax foregone. More, the big corporates manage to pay less than the small ones. If they pay as much, the extra tax realised for 2010-11 could have been Rs 14,470 crore.

Contrast the giveaways of several lakh of crore with the admission in the Economic Survey that capital formation in agricultural sector, which employs 58 per cent of the Indian people, has, from 2005-6, stagnated around 7.5 per cent of the total capital formed in the economy. The survey says that huge investment is needed to make agriculture viable and sustainable.

A fraction of the giveaways to the corporates could save Indian agriculture from stress. No seer is needed to say that the Budget could not be more unjust, inequitable, and morally wrong. And yet this Budget is branded as the aam admi Budget.

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

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

-- The writer is a commentator who may be contacted at







UPA-2's third Budget was all about statistical jugglery, making it abundantly clear that Manmohan Singh has lost the script

Pranab Mukherjee joined ranks with illustrious names of Indian polity when he presented his sixth Budget this week. In more ways than one, the Budget may not sound middle class, but the Congress party appears to have played the rural card. While issues like inflation, corruption and black money found little or no mention, the greatest gamble was played out when the government committed to reduce the fiscal deficit to 4.6 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2011-12.

The fiscal deficit target, which economists say would be tough to achieve, the government bases its optimism on reducing expenditure and striking buoyancy in tax revenues. The total expenditure of the government is budgeted to increase by 3.38 per cent to Rs 12,57,729 crore and the tax revenues would increase by 17.87 per cent to Rs 6,64,457 crore.

However, with developments in West Asia and North Africa threatening to escalate crude oil prices further, the government may have little option in an election year to providing more subsidies in oil and fertiliser. The raising of prices of diesel, kerosene and LPG prices look impossible in the short to medium term.

It is here that the fiscal deficit target is expected to go for a toss. But with India projected to grow at 9 per cent in 2011-12, tax collection would remain buoyant and government may end of collecting even more than projected. However, putting things in perspective, if we were to argue that current oil prices remain at this level and sovereign crisis remains confined to Euro nations, the reduced fiscal deficit target would take care of inflation in the medium-to-long term. But short-term fluctuations on the supply side would persist and we have all the reasons to argue that if the government did not have a solution to address these fluctuations in the last 60 years, no quick fix solution would have been expected out of the Budget. Inflation remains a concern.

Pranab Mukherjee may have doled out Rs 2,000 to taxpayers by raising the exemption limit of general taxpayers to Rs 1.8 lakh, and argue on his intention of migrating to the Direct Tax Code which would get implemented next year, the bounty seems too little for UPA's aam admi which has been facing the brunt of high inflation for so many months now. But Mukherjee's generation of people had a windfall. Not only was the age for senior citizen lowered to 60 years, but a new category of taxpayers above 80 years was created for whom the exemption limit was as high as Rs 5 lakh.

The migration to the almost-ready Direct Tax Code, which would replace the Income Tax Act, 1961, from next year is imminent. But the movement to Goods and Service Tax (GST) is expected to be rather difficult as many states are still not on board.

The focus on infrastructure has been one of the major highlights of the Budget 2011-12. Allocation to infrastructure has been pegged 23.2 per cent higher at Rs 2,14,000 crore for 2011-12 in areas like roads, power and ports. The measures include the issuance of tax-free bonds worth Rs 30,000 crore and extending income tax exemption on tax-saving infrastructure bonds up to a maximum of Rs 20,000 for one more year.

But major reforms in India's financial sector has come from allowing Foreign Institutional Investors (FII) to invest in mutual funds, a move that could see a lot of foreign funds flow into India's infrastructure sector. India's infrastructure sector will require Rs 41 trillion in the 12th Five Year Plan, as envisaged by the Economic Survey.

The government has also enhanced FII limits in corporate bond to $40 billion. They have also been allowed to invest in unlisted bonds. Surely, with these moves, India could shrug off criticism of not opening its financial sector enough to foreign investment.

The government has also committed to taking up financial sector bills like insurance, banking, pension fund, LIC, SBI, and so on. However, the going from here may be difficult with the kind of hostility the two major parties have and these commitment may turn out to be damp squib. On the inclusiveness front, the Budget has made several provisions for its several flagship schemes and agriculture sector. While social sector spending has been increased by 17 per cent to Rs 1,60,887 crore in 2011-12, inflation-indexing of the MGNREGS would ensure stability in real wages. The government is set to introduce the National Food Security Bill, the allocation for which would further threaten the fiscal deficit target.

However, the government's move towards direct transfer of cash subsidy for kerosene and fertilisers has been long called for by economic commentators. But it will take a while before its actual implementation, as a task force headed by Nandan Nilekani has been set up to study the modalities of this noble scheme.

On the agricultural front, Mukherjee announced several sops like ushering in the green revolution in the eastern region, initiatives on vegetable clusters, promotion of palm oil, enhanced agricultural credit, national mission for protein supplements, mega food parks, augmentation of storage and cold chains and so on. The target for agricultural credit has also been raised by 27 per cent to Rs 4.75 lakh crore.

If I may reiterate what I meant initially when I said the Budget ignored the aspirations of India's middle class, Pranab Mukherjee has found several ways to milk this class to the fullest. From adding new services like air travel, hospital, hotel stay and so on under the tax net, Rs 2,000 ex-gratia does not count much. Inflation is ruling at 8.23 per cent in January and food inflation at close to 11 per cent, the middle class would continue to remain at the mercy of this government, whether it is petrol price at Rs 60, or onions at Rs 80.

The markets may have reacted positively to Mukherjee's Budget and gained over 700 points in two days making investors' richer by Rs 2.3 lakh crore, but the middle class has found its pocket picked again.

 The writer is Senior Reporter, The Pioneer







The Finance Minister has made this a 'mood lifter' Budget by promising to reduce the fiscal deficit, but viewed holistically it is a pacifier Budget which is silent on several crucial areas of the economy

In Budget 2011-12, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has ably presented a politically savvy and minutely detailed picture of the economy. He has promised 9 per cent growth and his biggest market 'mood lifter' was the announcement of a reduction in the fiscal deficit to 4.6 per cent from 5.1 per cent last year. There are sops for middle class taxpayers and senior citizens, incentives for agriculture, and pay hikes for anganwari workers and helpers, but there is also a painful service tax for medical and diagnostic treatment in private hospitals. He has addressed the various deficiencies in agricultural production which are responsible for high food inflation. But the actual measures announced are not enough to shake up agriculture and as Dr MS Swaminathan pointed out — it will not make the youthful population take up farming. Positive action has been announced in the development of cold chains, on encouraging pulse and oilseed farming, on storage and farm credit so that the small and marginal farmers can get cheap loans.

Every year there are such announcements but little gets done at the ground level. We have the same story of big farmers cornering loans and debt relief packages and the small and marginal ones left to fend for themselves and get deeply indebted. Besides these broad measures there is nothing in the Budget that really tells us how the government plans to tackle food inflation and general inflation. Also there is no mention of the big problem of unemployment that is currently plaguing the countryside. He talked of enhancing manufacturing growth and increasing its share in the GDP but how this can be done has remained vague. It is true that manufacturing growth is important for providing jobs to skilled and semi-skilled labour but we are not sure how this is going to be achieved specially when input prices are going up and there is another fuel price hike in the offing. MGNREGA has been indexed to inflation which is a good thing but the amount of Rs 100 per day seems too little in real terms.

Tax sops to the corporate sector have continued in the form of a reduction in the corporation tax surcharge from 7.5 per cent to 5 per cent though MAT has been raised. But even as the markets cheered, opening up the mutual funds to foreign institutional investment may increase volatility of these funds. Many other hurdles for attracting direct foreign investment are being removed, which is a positive step. But it is still unclear how the government proposes to finance the widening current account deficit in the face of a dwindling flow of FII inflows due to recession in some EU member countries. He did mention that current account deficit is a problem and unless export growth is faster and imports slow down, financing the deficit would remain a big problem.

As for women, they have not been given the same treatment as men as far as the reduction in income tax exemption limit is concerned. For women, it remains at Rs 1.80 lakh while for men it has been reduced. Cash transfers to the poor instead of subsidised food, fuel and fertiliser is clearly on the cards and may happen next year. While this type of cash handout has worked in Latin American countries, in India it may not work as the compulsions and temptations of recipients for using cash for consumption purposes are many. While it is true that there are serious leakages in the PDS, cash handouts may not be a good substitute because public goods are the entitlement of the poor.

The cut in subsidies by Rs 20,000 crore is going to be welcomed by the World Bank and IMF. The US government has also hailed the increase in defence spending. US firms would want to pitch in and supply arms to India. Environmental concerns on the other hand have also been adequately addressed and the Finance Minister has proposed the development of electric vehicles and allocated `200 crore for clean energy fund and another Rs 200 crore for cleaning rivers other than the Ganga social sector allocation however has been increased by 17 per cent, in keeping with the UPA government's proclaimed goal of pro-poor, inclusive growth.

On the whole, the Budget seems like a pacifier of sorts because though the current problems have been discussed, no deep solution was offered. May be the Budget speech is indicative of policy action that is to follow-hopefully legislations like the Food Security Bill would be passed in due course, paving the way for more action on the food inflation front. Another burning issue of black money and money stashed away abroad was mentioned but no amnesty scheme was offered. Also how the government intends to deal with rampant corruption and crony capitalism remains nebulous.








The Manmohan Singh-led government should have seen it coming. It's been dealt a hard knock by the Supreme Court, which has declared P J Thomas's appointment as central vigilance commissioner arbitrary and illegal. This is merely the logical denouement of an unsavoury controversy the UPA wilfully created against all good counsel.
It stoutly backed Thomas as
CVC despite a corruption case - involving palm oil import at allegedly exaggerated prices - pending against him in a Kerala trial court. Since then, it has winked at the blunder, at one point even feigning unawareness of the pending chargesheet against him during the selection process.
It made lame excuses about ignoring the dissenting voice of the opposition leader, also a selection committee member. And it issued certificates on Thomas's "suitability" for the post, a fig-leaf for ham-handedness in decision-making.

In the process the UPA missed the point, wittingly or otherwise. The issue, as the
SC says, was never about an individual's moral character and personal probity. Whether mud sticks on Thomas or he emerges unscathed in due process of law isn't germane. What's relevant is the CVC's "institutional integrity", an ideal that must guide any government. A spotless record must be the eligibility criterion for the head of the CVC, a key statutory anti-corruption body monitoring the CBI's functioning. Candidates under a graft-related cloud shouldn't qualify, at least not till they're exonerated. The contention that prevailing standards of latitude applying to scam-hit MPs should also apply to the CVC is an outrageous analogy. This is the first lesson.

The second is that crucial watchdog posts mustn't be filled by steamrolling bipartisanship. True, divergence of views between government and opposition shouldn't lead to logjams in selection, such as can result if panel members exercise veto powers. But that shouldn't preclude the need to build consensus, to ensure impartiality of sensitive office-bearers. Sushma Swaraj did well cautioning the prime minister and home minister against an appointment that would inevitably raise dust. But she was overruled. Surely the government needed greater circumspection, at a time it was already grappling with corruption-related scandals. Instead, it scored a self-goal: it fuelled public perceptions that Thomas was more a political appointee who'd help the UPA firefight corruption charges, than the best, transparently picked choice.

The third, related lesson for the government is that the anti-corruption combat needs scaling up, over and above action already taken compelling resignations, grilling and arrests. On one side, the opposition can claim to have forced the UPA's hands so far, including on the JPC.On the other, the judiciary has nipped at its heels, the latest rap being about delay in nailing alleged black money offender Hasan Ali Khan. The lessons from the CVC episode, however, aren't all negative. When the executive trips up, other institutions - judiciary, legislature or Election Commission - do force course correction. Democracy's system of checks and balances works. That's the final, positive takeaway.







A national mood of revulsion is building up against corruption. The system has to become more transparent so that the corrupt can be exposed. Fear of the law has to be drilled into their minds. For this, the integrity and competence of law enforcement agencies has to be maintained. The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC), vigilance agencies within the government, the CBI and revenue investigators must be upright and non-partisan. It is the primacy of such institutional integrity that the Supreme Court (SC) has upheld by quashing the appointment of an incumbent CVC.

The SC has merely stated the obvious. The decision to appoint a CVC must enhance institutional integrity, not render it suspect. All relevant materials in relation to the integrity of candidates should be before the high-powered committee (HPC). The HPC cannot have a pre-determined mindset on appointing a particular person irrespective of his integrity. Every decision, including the decision to dissent, must be informed by reasons that are cogent and relevant. To any student of administrative law, there is nothing new about these safeguards. They reiterate obvious principles of fairness, relevance and rationality. Judicial review is confined to the decision-making process. It is not intended to be a substitute for a merit review.

What the government did was exactly opposite to these well-established principles. It approached the HPC at the eleventh hour with three names. Record of service, particularly relating to the candidates' integrity quotient, was not even considered relevant. That P J Thomas was accused No. 8 in a pending chargesheet was concealed. When a vigilant leader of the opposition in the Lok Sabha pointed this out, she was reduced to a dissenting minority. Her plea to the prime minister to adjourn the HPC meeting for a day to enable him to verify this fact went unheeded. She pleaded with him and the home minister that, of the three names prepared by the government, the one with a pending corruption case be left out and any of the other two appointed.

Government leaders insisted on their right to appoint the stigmatised candidate on the strength of their majority. But majority does not confer moral authority. The selected candidate lacked legitimacy. All earlier allegations of corruption against the government did not personally implicate the prime minister.He was merely accused of inaction. But here was a dubious appointment for which he was personally liable. The Teflon coating disappeared instantly. He was now open to questioning.

There is legitimate concern about corruption in the country. Politics continues to be funded by illegitimate money. The government has been soft in its approach to unearthing black money stashed in tax havens. If the Quattrocchi case was given a state-supported burial, in the tainted ministers case UPA-I used the power of coalition politics to dilute the taint.2G spectrum allocation demonstrated an alliance partner's power and the weakness of the coalition government's leader. Institutions created to investigate and prosecute the corrupt were subverted to help the corrupt in all these cases.

The CBI has been the worst affected. It was misused against political opponents and effectively used to cover up the crimes of the UPA's friends. The key watchdog against corruption in the government, the CVC, plays a dominant role in appointing senior CBI officers and keeps vigil over the CBI. It was important for the government to capture this key position. A vulnerable officer needing support to avoid his own problems best suited this government.Thomas's appointment was not an act of oversight. The pendency of the corruption case against him became an asset for Thomas to procure this appointment: his vulnerability added to his qualification.

The SC judgment was not unexpected. It has stated and applied the obvious principles of administrative law to this case. The echo of this judgment will resound for all. It has succeeded in bringing to centrestage the key issue of corruption.
India will no longer tolerate or accept the corrupt. Public opinion, media, judiciary, Parliament - all now have corruption as the principal agenda. The judgment has restored the CVC's independence and dignity. Regrettably, the same has not yet been done for the CBI. Nevertheless, the CBI is under increased vigil. Its accountability will now increase.

Politically, the judgment has further demoralised the beleaguered government. It has smashed its arrogance of power. Majority does not necessarily confer legality. For UPA-II, where things can go wrong, they shall go wrong. A curious trend is now visible even in the Congress. A section of the leadership is now grumbling: Why must the party pay a political price for governance defaults? One can see tensions writ large between some senior ministers as also between the party and the PMO.

When P V Narasimha Rao was removed from the party presidency after losing the 1996 elections, his finance minister, Manmohan Singh, did not defend him. "Caesar's wife must be above suspicion", Singh publicly commented. Under UPA-I, seven tainted ministers were inducted into the government. He defended this, saying there was a presumption of innocence till guilt is proved. Caesar's wife did not play on his conscience at the time. Today, the prime minister has to ask himself: Who is accountable for trying to taint the institution of the CVC? An honest answer can help correct the wrong. A not-so-honest answer may further dilute the Teflon coating of Caesar's wife. Caesar's wife may not know where to hide.

The writer is a BJP MP and leader of the opposition in the Rajya Sabha .







The Manmohan Singh-led government should have seen it coming. It's been dealt a hard knock by the Supreme Court, which has declared P J Thomas's appointment as central vigilance commissioner arbitrary and illegal. This is merely the logical denouement of an unsavoury controversy the UPA wilfully created against all good counsel.

It stoutly backed Thomas as CVC despite a corruption case - involving palm oil import at allegedly exaggerated prices - pending against him in a Kerala trial court. Since then, it has winked at the blunder, at one point even feigning unawareness of the pending chargesheet against him during the selection process.
It made lame excuses about ignoring the dissenting voice of the opposition leader, also a selection committee member. And it issued certificates on Thomas's "suitability" for the post, a fig-leaf for ham-handedness in decision-making.

In the process the UPA missed the point, wittingly or otherwise. The issue, as the
SC says, was never about an individual's moral character and personal probity. Whether mud sticks on Thomas or he emerges unscathed in due process of law isn't germane. What's relevant is the CVC's "institutional integrity", an ideal that must guide any government. A spotless record must be the eligibility criterion for the head of the CVC, a key statutory anti-corruption body monitoring the CBI's functioning. Candidates under a graft-related cloud shouldn't qualify, at least not till they're exonerated. The contention that prevailing standards of latitude applying to scam-hit MPs should also apply to the CVC is an outrageous analogy. This is the first lesson.

The second is that crucial watchdog posts mustn't be filled by steamrolling bipartisanship. True, divergence of views between government and opposition shouldn't lead to logjams in selection, such as can result if panel members exercise veto powers. But that shouldn't preclude the need to build consensus, to ensure impartiality of sensitive office-bearers. Sushma Swaraj did well cautioning the prime minister and home minister against an appointment that would inevitably raise dust. But she was overruled. Surely the government needed greater circumspection, at a time it was already grappling with corruption-related scandals. Instead, it scored a self-goal: it fuelled public perceptions that Thomas was more a political appointee who'd help the UPA firefight corruption charges, than the best, transparently picked choice.

The third, related lesson for the government is that the anti-corruption combat needs scaling up, over and above action already taken compelling resignations, grilling and arrests. On one side, the opposition can claim to have forced the UPA's hands so far, including on the JPC.On the other, the judiciary has nipped at its heels, the latest rap being about delay in nailing alleged black money offender Hasan Ali Khan. The lessons from the CVC episode, however, aren't all negative. When the executive trips up, other institutions - judiciary, legislature or Election Commission - do force course correction. Democracy's system of checks and balances works. That's the final, positive takeaway.







There are several issues that make the UDRS a bane and its introduction in the ongoing cricket World Cup unwise.

The review system is far from foolproof, something that was evident in the India-England match last Sunday. There are two main reasons for this. First, the system is inherently susceptible to controversies. This is because it goes against the principle of finality of umpires' decisions that is sacrosanct in the game of cricket. Players are expected to accept the decisions of umpires for better or for worse. But if players are given the power to challenge decisions, it is impossible to please all. Umpires abdicating their authority in favour of a machine is a sure recipe for disaster.

Second, the technology itself is not without significant margins of error. This shows up especially when predictive reviews involving leg-before-wicket decisions are called in.There are too many variables even for the machine to definitively pronounce a verdict. A slight deviation of the ball could result in a completely different outcome. Besides, a lot depends on the proficiency of the person operating the review system. True, umpiring decisions are not without human error either. However, that is part and parcel of cricket. Wrong decisions for and against a team are given all the time.Cricketers will readily acknowledge that luck is integral to the game. But in the long run things even out with consistent performers being rewarded.The use of technology in sports demands prudence. It should not negate the human component. Technology should assist umpires, not overrule them. The latter are the chief arbitrators in a cricket match and that is how it should remain. Good umpiring is an art that merits recognition. On the other hand, neither is UDRS an accurate system nor does it measurably enhance the quality of the game. It should be scrapped forthwith.








Pakistan's deepening troubles should make us think about the prospects of liberalism in our part of the world. After the assassination of Punjab governor Salman Taseer for his opposition to the country's blasphemy laws, it was the turn of minority affairs minister Shahbaz Bhatti to be killed by Islamic extremists. In between the two assassinations, the Pakistani government has had to confront protests over the killing of two Pakistanis by Raymond Davis, a US embassy official. We in India can sit back and congratulate ourselves that we are not Pakistan, but the truth is that there are violent forces in India who are not above acting in the same way.

Events in the Arab world have fascinated us over the past several weeks, with
Libya now taking centre stage. However, we cannot afford to lose sight of what is happening next door to us. The assassinations of Taseer and Bhatti show that public life in Pakistan is extremely dangerous. After Taseer's assassination, it was frightening to see the demonstrations that celebrated his death. Amongst the demonstrators were lawyers. It was the lawyers of Pakistan who had helped to bring down President Pervez Musharraf not so long ago and had been celebrated as liberal and progressive.

The Raymond Davis case shows that there is considerable anger over the relationship with the United States and that there could be an explosion in Pakistan if Davis is set free. While it is true that the US has not played its cards terribly well in this case, the fact is that Davis has diplomatic immunity. Yet, there is a widespread view in Pakistan, across the political spectrum, that Davis must be tried in Pakistan, and that he is indeed lying and is guilty. He has already been tried in the court of public opinion.

The effects of these three events are not clear. Broadly speaking though, Pakistani liberalism, such as it is, is under enormous pressure. In any case, at the best of times, its position in an Islamic republic is fraught. There are limits on individual conduct and choice that deeply compromise the living of a liberal existence. These are mostly religious limits, and they are backed by constitutional fiat and the power of the state. With the assassinations of Taseer and Bhatti, the voices of liberalism will be even more muted, for who will risk coming out against the blasphemy laws or other laws that impinge on individual and group freedoms?

The revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt, perhaps less so in Libya and the Gulf, indicate that there is a liberal-minded constituency powerful and able enough to come out into the streets in the service of freedom and moderation in social life. Can the same be expected in Pakistan? So far we have seen little or no sign that the Pakistani middle class and its liberal leadership will rally against extremism.

We in India have had our dark episodes. We need only remember the violence and intimidation that went on during the anti-Sikh riots in 1984 as also during the Ramjanmabhoomi agitation in the 1990s. The Staines killing in Orissa and the murderous attacks on Christians over the past decades should not be forgotten either. Nor should we forget the many instances of communal violence that have ended in no arrests and no punishments for the perpetrators because witnesses were intimidated by local authorities, goons, politicians and local public opinion.

There are other reminders of how fragile things are: every so often, authors and filmmakers being berated by political parties and mobs because their works apparently 'offend' the sensibilities of one community or another. M F Husain still cannot return to India with any guarantee of safety. The government's stand on the Bangladeshi writer Taslima Nasreen's application to stay on in India also reflects a caving in to community pressures. Attacks on Valentine's Day celebrations or on women who drink in Bangalore pubs took place not so long ago.
Sadly, the record of Indian liberalism is an uneven one, and it is a brave person who would say that there will not be more outrages on individual and group freedoms in India in the years to come.







The government's response to a Supreme Court question on what it is doing about black money is made out in finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's latest budget speech. A five-fold strategy is in play here. India is now a member of the G-20's financial action task force that is spearheading the global anti-money laundering initiative. Besides this, India has also joined Financial Integrity and Economic Development, a global coalition of civil society organisations and more than 50 governments working to address inequalities in the financial system, and the Global Forum on Transparency and Exchange of Information for Tax Purposes. Also, the government has concluded discussions for 11 information-sharing agreements with tax departments of other countries while 23 tax treaties are in various stages of revision.

An enlarged domestic money laundering law in 2009 has seen the number of cases registered shooting up from 50 between 2005 and 2008 to over 1,200 by January 2011. The strength of the Enforcement Directorate has been increased three-fold to deal with the heavier workload. The finance ministry, too, has commissioned a study on unaccounted income and wealth held within and outside India. It's been asked to suggest methods to gouge out illicit money. Finally, Mr Mukherjee proposes to announce a comprehensive national policy in the near future to strengthen controls over prevention of trafficking and to improve the management of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. There is also a slew of measures to tackle the allied issue of corruption.

A group of ministers looking into graft will go into state funding of elections, speedier processing of corruption cases of public servants, transparency in public procurement and contracts, discretionary powers of central ministers and a competitive system for exploiting natural resources.

The Supreme Court's question to the government on what it is doing about black money is actually three questions rolled into one. First, why should a black market exist? Second, what makes money go underground? And third, what are the chances that a person plying his trade in the parallel economy will be caught? The answer to all three is governance, or the lack of it. Mr Mukherjee's intervention in the national debate on black money may have been adequate had the issue not acquired the endemic proportions it has in India. Joining the global crusade against funny money is not enough for a country that has, anecdotally at least, too much of it. India must lead the crusade. As a beginning, it needs to introspect on the shortages that create black markets in the first place, the regulatory mechanism that nudges resources underground, and the lack of policing that allows the parallel economy unfettered growth.






The recently released Times Higher Education World University ranking of 2010 does not feature a single Indian university. The rankings are based on methodologically sound criteria broadly divided into five categories: teaching (30%), research (30%), citations (32.5%), industry income (2.5%) and international mix (5%). The credibility of this year's ranking is underscored by the fact that Times Higher Education itself has noted that it represents "the most accurate picture of global higher education we have ever produced".

The top 200 universities are concentrated in North America, Europe (82), Australia and New Zealand (8) and Asia (27). Within Asia, the most reputed universities are in mainland China (6), Japan (5), Hong Kong (4), Taiwan (4), Korea (4), Singapore (2) and Turkey (2).

Universities should be knowledge-creating institutions. Knowledge is generated only if there are scholars and thinkers passionately committed to innovations in science and technology as well as through empirical and theoretical research in the liberal arts, humanities and social sciences. Academia needs be made attractive for India's youth to be considered worth pursuing as a career and as a haven for the pursuit of knowledge.

The existing framework of university governance systems in India does not allow for extraordinarily talented individuals to grow to their full potential. Performance-based appraisal and career development initiatives have to be implemented so that the best intellectual talent can consider academia as an option.

We need to hugely incentivise academia, not only in terms of financial rewards, but also by creating a vibrant intellectual environment, providing chances for scholars to be involved in public policy and advisory capacities within the government, offering opportunities to engage in research so that scholars have the resources and funding to collaborate domestically and internationally with their peers, and most importantly, generating academic freedom, functional autonomy and operational independence to pursue ideas and experiments within a conducive environment that's liberal and inspiring.

One of the major challenges of Indian university education is our indifference to engage in rigorous research and scholarship. While teaching is absolutely essential, one cannot underestimate the importance of research in universities, which ought to be breeding grounds for new thinking and innovations. Research ought to inform teaching just as teaching must impact research. It's not possible to undertake critical research if a faculty member is overloaded with excessive teaching duties.

The faculty-student ratio of the top universities of the world are in the range of 1:10. Most Indian universities face the ordeal of dealing with large student bodies and disproportionately smaller faculty support. While this problem is connected to the funding that is available for higher education, it is also a matter concerning policy.

(C Raj Kumar is Vice-Chancellor, OP Jindal Global University, Haryana)

*The views expressed by the author are personal






At the courthouse in Benghazi, the seat of the opposition in Libya, you can be forgiven for believing that a new country has already been born. Little children wrap themselves around the old Russian tank in the city square as if it were a fluffy teddy bear. Their parents jostle with each other to pose for the cameras and the new flag of 'liberated' Libya now flies from every home in the city.

When we admire the unvarnished natural beauty of the coastline and the sparkling blue sea, one man asks us if we have ever come here before. "You are lucky," he says, "your first trip is to Free Libya." It's the sort of romantic rhetoric that marks the statements of almost everyone in the east of the country. The people are warm, voluble, excitable and almost desperate to talk to foreign journalists. Flash the victory sign at the security check-posts and even armed rebels with guns and ammunition strapped to them, wave back goofily.

The lusty appetite for the international media is very understandable for a society that has remained both controlled and closed for decades. There has never been a free press in Libya and when Colonel Muammar Gaddafi finally gave his go-ahead for a private radio station in 2006, it was to a venture owned by his son.

Inside the courthouse — as officials of the self-appointed 'interim government' stamp their authority on our local press cards — they are keen to show us the beginnings of an information revolution in the country. In a crumbling old room, two cameras and a single microphone overlook Benghazi's version of Cairo's Tahrir Square. This, they tell us, is where the country's first independent television channel will soon broadcast from. In the adjoining room the walls are papered with cartoons and banners of Gaddafi. "Go, Gaddafi, your game is over," says one.

This is the 'newsroom' for Libya, an independent newspaper being written and printed on a handful of laptops manned by young volunteers. While I write this column, internet services have been blocked across the city.

But a young computer geek shows off the two-way system that some students created to keep proxy servers and Skype alive as their window to the world. It is their answer to the eccentric three-hour pronouncements by Gaddafi who continues to control the national broadcaster.

What do you dislike most about Gaddafi, I ask them. "He made us feel we are nothing," says one man, "this is our time now."

And yet, heady as these images are, Libya is not Egypt.

Years of regimental control by the Gaddafi regime have impaired the proper evolution of a civil society movement. People-power will not be enough to motivate a lasting change in a country where the east and the west have effectively become two separate nations today. Tribes in the east of Libya have historically always been opposed to Colonel Gaddafi. They are now hoping that international pressure will deliver them the same outcome as Tunisia and Egypt.

They are also cynically aware that they have one thing that the rest of the world is very interested in. And that's oil. In a country that produces 2% of the world's oil and sits on Africa's largest known reserves, the opposition's natural advantage is that 75% of Libya's oil is in the east. This is why oil installations have become the frontline for the battle over Libya's future. Through the past week, men still loyal to the Gaddafi regime have unleashed their air-power on oil-rich towns like Brega. The government in Tripoli justifies these attacks by claiming that they are targeted only at ammunition depots being held by the rebels. But eyewitnesses claim a mounting number of civilian casualties in these air strikes. There are also reports that with Libyans in Gaddafi's air force reluctant to target their own people, the colonel has now drafted mercenaries and foreigners to bomb the protestors. He understands only too well that to control oil in Libya is to control the country.

Realising perhaps that a rag-tag army of soldiers and volunteers will not be able to compete with military choppers that attack them from the skies, at the media centre being run by the 'revolutionaries' they are working furiously on new posters to underline the inequity of the battle. 'Bare chests vs Air attacks' says one provocatively, graphic in its images of corpses and gore. On the streets, some protestors are even demanding precision strikes against Gaddafi. But the absence of a consensus on imposing a no-fly zone over Libya means that the air-bombings are likely to continue. And behind the façade of the celebrations and the victory signs there is growing apprehension that Gaddafi's counter-offensive could yet reclaim the east from the rebels.

The opposition is also working furiously on reviving the export of oil from the harbours in the east. But disappointed with what they claim is a tepid response from the international community the people are also cynical about the politics of oil. "Europe may be planning some action," says one man, talking to us in a now-deserted oil refinery, "but this not because they care about the Libyan people. It's because they care about our oil." The West's investment in Libya, they tell us here is about "petro-dollars," not principles.

Libya has thrown an open challenge to the world to look beyond its oil. There may be genuine questions and concerns over what sort of country a post-Gaddafi situation could bring. But the people here argue that the possible perils of democracy are no basis for a despot to continue in power. Gaddafi, meanwhile, looks increasingly like a caricature of himself. His marathon, long-winded speeches may even have been funny if they weren't so tragically real.

(Barkha Dutt is Group Editor, English News, NDTV)

*The views expressed by the author are personal





Two days ago, Vijay, who works with me as a driver, came to me in tears. His wife was seriously ill. He had to rush to the village where she lives, and he needed a loan. Where had she been admitted, I asked. "Private mein," came the reply.

Vijay embodies many of the statistics on healthcare: 80% of India's healthcare expenditure comes from private sources; government spends a pathetic 0.9% of our GDP on healthcare (compared to Brazil's 3%) and medical expenses are a big reason for rural indebtedness.

This government's proposal to slap service tax on hospitals is only going to make a bad situation worse. The announcement of 5% service tax on all services, including diagnostic tests, provided by hospitals with at least 25 beds and central air-conditioning was made by finance minister Pranab Mukherjee while presenting this year's budget. Translated into rupees, this means that you are going to have to pay Rs 5,000 to Rs 10,000 more for heart surgery and at least Rs 20,000 more for cancer treatment.

The proposed service tax is, simply put, a Bad Idea. Here's why. First, as pointed out in an open letter to the aam aadmi by heart surgeon Devi Shetty, air-conditioning in a hospital is not a luxury. It is a legal requirement. No operation theatre or blood bank can legally function without air-conditioning. You cannot have an ICU without air-conditioning. Machines for certain diagnostic tests — CT scans and MRIs, for instance — have to be kept in air-conditioned rooms. Moreover, air-conditioning is often helpful in keeping infections down. This is as true for 'five star' hospitals as it is for government ones. So, the notion that hospital air-conditioning is a luxury, is laughable.

Second, government seems to have abdicated its responsibility in providing comprehensive healthcare to our people. Government hospitals are in appalling conditions. Go to a premier institution like the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and see stray dogs and monkeys roaming the corridors along with harried patients hustling for two minutes with equally harried doctors. Most government hospitals have a chronic shortage of beds. Worse, is a lack of faith among most people that quality healthcare can be found in a government setting. For the very poor, the choice is not between government and private healthcare, but between private healthcare and death.

Third, this government's notion of who is 'rich' and, therefore, fair game for extra taxation is faulty. Extend the medical treatment-as-luxury debate. Medical expenses are never a matter of choice: no one chooses to fall ill. How is the middle-class to cope with the additional medical expense? How are the elderly, who need treatment most, supposed to manage? What happens to someone like my mother, a 78-year-old widow who suffers from diabetes and heart-disease? What happens to the retired private sector executive who lives off the dwindling returns on his provident fund and must already grapple with food inflation and the rising cost of living?

Fourth, a fatter medical bill has serious implications on preventive healthcare. India has the most cancer patients, diabetics and heart disease patients in the world.  By 2015, we'll be spending $265 billion in treating these non-communicable diseases, says Shobhana Kamineni, executive director, Apollo Hospitals. Preventive check-ups that can in the long-term save tens of thousands of rupees, are already out of the reach for most people. Push up the cost of diagnostic tests by another 5% and you'll push these tests further out of reach.

Finally, there is the question of attitude. Private hospitals have been asking for infrastructure status so they can expand even to rural areas. But the government continues to believe that private healthcare must somehow rise above the profit motive. It's absurd to expect the private sector to be Mother Teresas, especially when it's filling a gap created by the government. But removing service tax will be the easy part, and given the reaction, also the inevitable part. In post-liberalised India, changing mindsets will be much, much harder.

(Namita Bhandare is a Delhi-based writer)

*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






With Arjun Singh's passing, the Congress has lost one of its last old-style chieftains, and a link with its own past. He was the original wily thakur, deploying high rhetoric on secularism and social justice for pragmatic political ends, creating a fortress of support for the party and a constituency for himself. In this constant reinvention, he exhibited some of the finest as well as the most cynical of his party's instincts.

Between 1980 and 1985, as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, Arjun Singh came into his own. From being regarded as Sanjay Gandhi's lightweight nominee, he came to be the undisputed fulcrum of MP politics, consolidating the Congress grip on the heart of India. As chief minister, he pushed through several progressive legislations, including greater rights to tribals on forest produce, slum-dwellers rights to land, and other measures — though he was also embroiled in controversy, like the Churhat lottery scam that undid his image in the state, or his less-than-glorious role in the Bhopal gas tragedy and its aftermath. As the governor of Punjab, during Rajiv Gandhi's tenure, he catalysed the Longowal peace agreement. Much later, from 2004 to 2009, his record in the Union government was decidedly mixed. He wore his concern for minorities on his sleeve, and as the HRD minister, he determinedly pushed through reservations for OBCs in higher education, despite strong opposition — forcing a constitutional amendment, making it politically impossible for his party to back down. But again, it was in his term that the deemed universities controversy exploded.

More than his administrative spurs, Arjun Singh will be remembered as the consummate Congresswallah. He embodied certain traits of the party's internal culture — loudly proclaiming loyalty to the Gandhi family, not just to politically position himself but also to undermine other Congress leaders he saw as less than deserving of the prime minister's office. Narasimha Rao never trusted his biggest competitor. And Singh resigned from Rao's cabinet in 1994, but two years late to gain any goodwill for his protest against the Babri Masjid demolition. Later, he led the breakaway Congress (Tiwari) fraction, which failed to take off in any meaningful way, and came right back to the party where he fully belonged once Sonia Gandhi took charge. The Congress, for its part, has found it difficult to distance him, just as

it has found it difficult to own him. He died on the very day he was removed from the Congress Working Committee.






A very senior citizen, as the budget's utterly new contribution to the vocabulary of geriatrics goes, has decided to make things a little difficult for the Marxists. V.S. Achuthanandan, the 87-year-old chief minister of Kerala, has declared that he's ready to contest in the assembly elections, before adding the unavoidable clause, "if the party (CPM) wants me to." There is the big bad fight coming up with the Congress and the bigger challenge of anti-incumbency, but, of course, first there has to be the VS vs PV showdown, the inevitable combat between the old-school comrade and the practical communist, as party state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan styles himself to be.

Achuthanandan's offer obviously carries a political spin and it's likely to hover over CPM's Politburo and the Central Committee meet to decide on the poll strategy in West Bengal and Kerala. What a reversal from the March of 2006 when the party pondered exactly the opposite: the summary removal of Achuthanandan from the front ranks of the poll campaign. What a difference from a couple of years ago, too, when VS lost his Politburo seat briefly and his pride for a much longer time. His fractious relation with Vijayan and his refusal to follow the CPM's top-down approach meant he would be looking to a quiet retirement soon. His own obduracy saw to it that industrialisation didn't pick up pace as it should have in the state. And his projection of self-righteousness took party infighting out into the open, in total disregard to a party that demands both discipline and subservience from its member.

But in this season of scandals in Kerala, which claimed even a victim in Delhi — CVC P.J. Thomas — and saw the Congress-led UDF slide from its position of invincibility, the CPM's anti-corruption archangel has suggested his new relevance. Especially when there have been enough intimations about the party's mortality, in both Kerala and Bengal.






The cabinet has given its assent to the Banking Regulation (Amendment) Bill, which is one of the six bills that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee announced in the budget speech that the government would focus on passing. The success of the reform push in the coming year — and especially in this session — depends not just on the nature of the budget, but on the passing of these bills, which are meant to deepen and broaden India's financial sector. An insufficiently effective financial sector hurts India's growth; further mobilisation of private saving and its direction into profitable growth-creating avenues are essential. The other reason why a more modern financial sector is required is that it increases the effectiveness of monetary policy. A monetary policy transmission mechanism that stutters means that inflation, which hurts both investors and the poor, cannot be adequately addressed.

The bill that the cabinet has cleared will reportedly make several major changes to banking law. One is that it will bring voting rights into correspondence with ownership. This is not only something that is sensible from the point of view of the principles of corporate governance, it will be crucial in attracting new investment into the banking sector. With new investment, the sector will be able to grow, and expand their reach, moving out of saturated areas into under-banked areas. That, one aspect of the non-partisan reform agenda to increase financial inclusion, will help bring more of India's aspirational rural population closer to the benefits of growth, and put their savings to work. Another important aspect of the bill is that it liberalises how banks can raise capital through preference shares. That, too, will boost investment in the financial sector, increasing its institutional strength.

There are more such reforms that are needed, several of which are pending in the other five bills the FM mentioned. The UPA must ensure that it takes the opposition along, and gets these bills passed. The last time the banking bill was suggested, in 2005, UPA 1 was dependent on the Left, which vetoed it. It must show better political management this time round.







The first time I met Arjun Singh, he was not dealing with a real crisis. It was in Bhopal a few days after the gas tragedy in December 1984. What struck me was his composure. He was cool, unruffled and even exchanged old-fashioned banter with journalists. You could not miss the bonhomie between him and the Bhopal press corps. Arjun Singh, we all knew, had done more to improve the living standards of journalists, with government housing and other freebies, in his state than anybody before or after him

My first one-on-one conversation with him came in the following summer. It was a very short, half-hour Indian Airlines flight from Delhi to Chandigarh. He wouldn't stop smiling as all kinds of people lined up to congratulate him. He was on his way to take over as the new governor of Punjab, at a very young age of 55. The Punjab governorship was not a job for retired people. The terror-hit state was constantly under president's rule. Rajiv Gandhi had just signed a peace accord with the respected Sikh leader, Sant Harchand Singh Longowal. Arjun Singh, as Rajiv's most trusted political lieutenant, had played a stellar role behind the scenes. No surprise then, that Rajiv trusted him to oversee its implementation. Hence that governorship at such a young age. In fact as I shook his hand while stepping out of that plane, I, somewhat naively, wished him a brilliant five years of governorship.

"Arrey bhai, young man, I do not know you very well. But do you want me to remember you as my friend or my enemy?" he asked me. He wanted to finish the job quickly, and get back to the political mainstream.

His stint in Chandigarh, though, was longer and patchier than he would have wished. Within months of his arrival, separatists assassinated Sant Longowal, exposing the limitations of the accord and the tenuous peace it had brought. Of course, Arjun Singh did not lose his cool. He asked his trusted aide, IAS officer Sudeep Banerji who he had brought along from Bhopal, to get the pending applications of five of the senior-most journalists in Chandigarh for upgrading their government houses. His first executive act within minutes of that assassination was to upgrade them all, not by one but two levels. Sure enough, many of the following morning's stories talked not so much of his failure to protect his most valuable ward, but of how anguished he was that Longowal never listened to his entreaties to take his personal security more seriously.

Arjun Singh was too layered and fascinating a political figure to describe in one newspaper article. But one of the more interesting aspects of his personality was how seriously he took the media. Friend or foe, he never refused a journalist a favour. But, at the same time, he was never shy of raising that dreaded question: are you my friend or my enemy?

During his full stint as HRD minister in UPA 1, this newspaper, and this editor, were usually at odds with him. While we generally support the idea of caste-based reservations (though with some important qualifications), we saw his move to spring OBC reservations on the entire higher education system without any preparation as some kind of a too-clever-by-half ploy to unsettle the prime minister, where it would be politically unwise for him to oppose that policy and impossible to implement in a hurry. It was in the course of that argument, run on these editorial pages with our usual bluntness, that I received an early morning phone call from him.

"I do not want to engage you in any long conversation," he said, sort of deadpan, in clipped English. "I only called to tell you one thing."

"And what is it Arjun Singhji?" I asked.

"It is just that had the man in whose name your paper is published (referring to our redoubtable founder Ramnath Goenka), had he been alive

today, you would not have lasted in your job for even one more week. I had that kind of relationship with him," he said.

I was starting to tell him we were all so sorry that Ramnathji was no longer with us and that we all missed him greatly. But that he had left a formidable legacy and equally a successor, and that our freedoms were actually very secure with them. But he had no patience.

"I told you I do not want to enter into an argument with you," he said and gently put the phone down. Gently, he did not bang it.

It was a tribute to our old-fashioned political tradition that in spite of so many differences, he was always willing to give me time. My last long conversation with him was when he was recovering from a sudden attack of painful herpes on his face. He talked to me in half-recline, his face unshaven for days because of the herpes lesions. Of course he told me in detail where I had got my reading of politics, particularly politics of caste and poverty, all wrong. But then, maybe because he was distracted by pain, or just generous with me because I had come to look him up in this awfully distracting sickness, he began to speak expansively about himself, almost letting his guard down. Which, those who knew him better would tell you, was extremely rare.

"Why did I return to politics?" he asked, "Only because I discovered that within the Congress, even at senior-most levels, there were people who were in such a hurry to junk Rajiv Gandhi's ideals."

"You mean, Arjun Singhji," I asked, "you are saving Rajiv Gandhi's ideals from a party led by his own wife and son?"

"No, not that. It is just that none of the others was close enough to Rajiv to know what he really dreamed for India," he said. Then he went on to describe the days when he, as chief minister of Madhya Pradesh, accompanied Rajiv deep into the countryside, "where we lay on cots in small inspection bungalows under star-filled skies and exchanged our ideas for the future of India."

It was at this point that I saw his eyes moist a bit. "One thing I will say about Rajiv," he said. "His sense of patriotism was always palpable."

Through exactly 25 years of knowing him, and both disagreeing and arguing with him intellectually, one thing I would never doubt was his loyalty to the Gandhi family. But that is what also made him so angry, even bitter: he thought that his loyalty was not adequately rewarded, as the ultimate prize, the prime ministership, was denied to him not once but twice, by Narasimha Rao and then Manmohan Singh, both of whom he considered lesser leaders than himself. Then, inside their respective cabinets, he tried to run circles around them, on his — and he presumed the Gandhi family's — favourite issues, secularism and social justice. In both cases he was out-manoeuvred. And that too by politicians he did not consider half as sharp as himself. This, more than his many chronic health problems, angered him in his last years. But his political mind remained razor-sharp to his last day. His party, his friends as well as detractors will all miss him. So will we journalists for whom he was a fine example of the traditional Congress politician so accessible, even if you mostly disagreed with him.









In the budget, the finance minister pointed out that "the recent spurt in food prices was driven by increase in the prices of items like fruits and vegetables, milk, meat, poultry and fish." Cassandra-like, we have been anticipating this; we had already worked out that if income went up, the most vulnerable in India, the rural poor, would increase their demand for grains by a third less than three decades ago.

It makes sense to give the poor girl-child milk to keep her in school, and of course an egg. For the non-poor, demand is also high. The Indian dilemma is not just food supply bottlenecks in a fast-growing economy but pushing grain without developing the rest adequately.

Yes, we need some more grain, say 15 per cent more in the rest of the decade, produced with higher technology and less land. We need everything else a lot more, for the energy and satisfaction of all our people, particularly as the poor get their place in the sun. If we don't do it, they will sell the grain and buy what they want — but we will destroy the capability of widespread growth, the only real food security for a billion-plus on the move.

The FM has, on behalf of Krishi Bhavan, announced a series of very welcome initiatives. The important thing is to get them going in the framework he has announced. The "self-sufficiency in production of pulses within the next three years", which he has mandated, is also the framework for an expert group I am chairing in the agriculture ministry. His point about upgrading 60,000 villages in rain-fed regions is well-taken, too.

It is very important that the public-private mode that he has set for his agro-initiatives is taken seriously. In dry agro-climatic regions, we don't have the public sector infrastructure that could cover the last mile in any effort to make available the best seeds and practices — particularly pesticides, limited irrigation and nutrients that could achieve yields close to 12 quintals per hectare, roughly double of what we do at present.

We also do not have a structure that can provide support to the farmer when prices start crashing at harvest time, as they did this year as well. In a successful PPP model in the field, a corporate house covered the last mile in supplying technology and buying the produce at a decent price — and they have, in fact, started a branded distribution system for pulses. But for 60,000 villages we need a hundred flowers to bloom and many such groups.

Fortunately, a number of leading corporate groups are investing in agriculture and have the organisational structure ready. We need the wisdom and the initiative to get things going.

And we need the resources they will bring. Rs 300 crore will not be enough by itself to cover all costs, but can meet the public sector contribution. Remember countries like Australia and Canada are spending more than $300 million to build capability to export pulses to India. We will trade with them; the true concept of self-sufficiency should be to import and export also, with net trade being close to zero for a normal year. The real issue is to get governmental procedures working, so that an honest bureaucrat can get PPPs going without the media and others calling it a scam. This would need transparency and rule-based systems. Fortunately, with 60,000 villages, there is enough space for everybody. It may not be possible to do this for the coming kharif — but should be field practice for the rabi.

The PPP model is needed for another reason. If we are serious we can achieve self-sufficiency in pulses. We can in fact do better; there is really no reason for us not to aim at globally competitive yields, say above 20 quintals a hectare in five years. But for that we need to plan from this year for producing high-yield hybrid seeds for each agro-climatic region. Our scientists are good, but this would take time. They need to work with the best to achieve these goals — private-sector companies.

If in the early 1990s we could work with the private sector for hybrid paddy in the PPP mould, there is no reason for not doing so in pulses or oil palm, fodder or protein supplements, as the FM has mandated. Rs 300 crore each may not just be the lucky number for the FM but also for the kisan, for it is enough to give comfort to the PPPs and maintain public policy leadership there.

Let this budget be the turning point. In a recent meeting, Environment Minister Jairam Ramesh said that biotechnology is not just seeds. He is right — and he must be on board for this new vision from the word go. Too much is at stake for it to be otherwise. Everybody cannot work in silos.

The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand,







Kochi happened freakishly. Early weeks of June always brought rains to Kerala, but in 1341, it was end-of-the-world, biblical downpour. Thunderous rains over the eastern mountains swelled rivers whose fury respected no shore. The Vembanad backwater, fed by surging waters from everywhere, kept rising menacingly. Over the Arabian Sea, the monsoon outbreak was unusually ferocious. Caught between the gnarling sea and the deluged land was the Kochi sandbar. Soon it gave way to excessive attention from conspiring natural forces on both sides. From this rupture rose the port of Kochi.

What Will Cuppy wrote about Egypt in that delightful satire, The Decline and Fall of Practically Everybody — "when the Nile floods receded, the land, as far as the eye can see, is covered by Egyptologists" — could well be true about Kochi. Low tide in the Arabian Sea does not throw up hundreds of historians of Kochi, yet every Kochinite has more than one tale. The best I heard is how a chronicler of Kochi saw Salman Rushdie lurking in a cinnamon-scented alley in Mattancherry and collecting material for The Moor's Last Sigh. "This was after the fatwa," he informed me.

There is a certain lightness about the Kochinite that has probably come from centuries of dealing with modern cultures. Also, they don't seem to be taking themselves seriously; nor do they seem to take others seriously. Kochi is home to "mimicry" in Kerala, the most flourishing performing art of the state. Kochinites' innate sense of humour makes him less bonded to manipulated opinion and manufactured consent, something to which their Malayali brethren elsewhere are easily prone to. One place where mimicking did not happen for a long time was the northern side of the harbour gorge.

Like all Gemini-born, Kochi is also two-faced. Its southern side received visitors from Rome and China, and the Kochi chronicler never fails to tell you that it has been home to Jewish residents for more than two millennia. The successive flush of European imperialists — the Portuguese, the Dutch and, lastly, the English — nurtured the southern part of Kochi. For the Portuguese and the Dutch, Kochi was an important dot on the trade lines that touched many ports on the map from Hormuz to Malacca.

Another event, the opening of the Suez Canal, fortuitously quickened Kochi's development, with many ships choosing to sail by the western route. The British planned a modern harbour in 1920, and to build it, they got Sir Robert Bristow, an engineer with extensive experience in the maintenance of the Suez Canal.

All this while, Kochi's northern twin, a collection of disjointed islands, remained neglected. Except for the white facades of Iberian-style churches occasionally breaking the skyline, nothing much seemed to be happening there. Again, the proximity to international maritime route, about 7 km away from the harbour, has brought opportunities to Kochi. The recent opening of Vallarpadam International Container Terminal by the prime minister is as much a landmark event as the opening of the Cochin Port on the southern side in 1940.

Also on the northern side, an LPG terminal has come up for importing huge quantities of liquified gas. This could be the trigger for a whole lot of downstream industries in Kerala and neighbouring states. Kochi is also the landing point for two major undersea cables carrying international Internet and telephone traffic. To take advantage of this, the Kerala government is starting a much-awaited IT park, called the Smart City.

All of a sudden so much is happening in Kochi. It is now a port of call for the Volvo Ocean Race, which to yachting is like F1 to motor racing (the Ocean racers don't say that; they say it is the "Everest of sailing"). Artists were always drawn to Kochi. Amrita Sher-Gil spent weeks sketching murals in the Mattancherry Palace. At Kayikka's, Kochi's famous biryani place, near the sooty switchboard, you can find an old sketch presented by a satisfied M.F. Husain. Many of the spice godowns in Fort Kochi have now been turned into art galleries. Now, Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari have announced their plans for an art biennale.

To this I am not adding cricket. With the formation of the IPL team, Kochi caught the imagination of many, who had never heard of it. Strung together by a motley group of cricketing buccaneers, with unclear money trails behind them, the team now carries a highly portable name of Indi Commandos, and a logo plagiarised from Mortein insect repellent. Kochinites are hardly likely to hitch their wagon to something as dubious as this.

A chronicler of Kochi recently pointed to the LPG terminal at the harbour mouth and said, "In Sydney they built an opera house there." She always thinks big. Abandoned Ernakulam Terminus should be made into an art gallery like Musee d'Orsay in Paris. On the flip side, its filmmakers have blown up Kochi's underworld to Mumbai-like proportions.

Back in the 1960s, starved for industries, Kochinites demanded a shipbuilding yard from Indira Gandhi. The government of India bargained hard for the land and got half of a promenade in the middle of the town. Now with tall boundaries all around, the face of the city is hidden under an iron veil. Kochinites need urban space. Opening up of the northern part of Kochi is an opportunity to give them that space — one of the most urbane people in the country, like the Mumbaikars.

Madhavan, a Malayalam writer, is an IAS officer






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

This is what a frustrated and angry shopkeeper could achieve in a reality that is just waiting for the match to blow up, for the full explosion. A few policemen in Tunisia destroyed his market stall, he burnt himself in return and the rest is history, dramatic history, which is being created in front of our eyes. Murderous violence in Libya, ongoing demonstrations in Yemen, Iran and Bahrain, the first buds of protest in Syria, Jordan, Morocco and Algeria, and the tyrants in Egypt and Tunisia have already been driven out, though the new regimes are still far from taking form. All these revolutions, those in full swing and those which are on their way, are not necessarily similar but one can already say with confidence that the Arab and the Muslim world will not look the same.

Better or worse, democratic or fundamentalist, a new order is about to be set up. There are very few moments in human history in which dramatic events are taking place simultaneously, in so many places, in such a short period of time. Within weeks the old order was totally destroyed.

It will take some more weeks, months or maybe even years to see what will be built on the ruins of the old order, but already it is very clear that this world is undergoing an agitation the likes of which has not been known before. This is the Arab world, abundant with natural resources, which never knew how to translate its wealth into welfare for its citizens; this is the Arab world which has not known one single democracy.

Now it faces its big opportunity. Fates of nations and states and fates of millions of people yearning to be free and to prosper are now at stake. The dangers are as likely as the opportunities, but it is time to give hope a chance. The remarkable popular revolution in Egypt might end up with a military regime or a fundamentalist Islamic regime. The chances that this will happen should not be ignored but at the same time, there is also a well-founded hope that what started a few weeks ago in the Tahrir Square, the liberation square, will end up with the first and not the last democracy in the Arab world. The Western notion that Arabs are "not ready yet" for democracy is unacceptable. Any assumption like this comes from nothing but old-fashioned Orientalism, if not deep racism.

The world is, for now, observing these stormy winds from afar. It is driven both by narrow economic and political interests and by lofty ideals. It rushed to support the Egyptian protesters, yet it is displaying helplessness and complacency in view of the reported bloodshed in Libya. At the same time, nobody is mentioning Saudi Arabia, one of the dictatorships in which no protests have so far been reported.

Israel, too, is watching the unexpected and surprising storm around it with a mixture of fear and caution. Vis-à-vis the Tahrir revolution in Egypt, official Israel's main concern is maintaining the strategic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt which was signed in 1979. Official Israel is very concerned at the possibility of fundamentalist Islamic regimes taking over like what happened in the Gaza strip. Unfortunately, Israel does not pay the same attention to the opportunities for a better neighbourhood that might emerge from the Arab revolutions. A more democratic Arab world might also be a more peaceful Arab world, and it is about time Israel tried to be accepted in this part of the world. Until now, Israel was accepted only by a few regimes in the Middle East but not by its peoples. When democracy becomes the name of the game, and as certain peoples have proved that their voice counts and might make a change, Israel should also try to be accepted by the Arab peoples, in this new reality.

The way to achieve this, the only way, is through peace settlements with its neighbours and above all, through a just solution to the Palestinian problem. As long as the Israeli occupation (which has existed even longer than Hosni Mubarak's regime in Egypt) continues, there is no way that Israel will be accepted by the Arab peoples. Therefore now, maybe more than ever, Israel must make a special effort to get to an agreement with the Palestinians and to put an end to another tyranny in the Middle East, the tyranny of the Israeli occupation.

Now that we know that tyrannies, even the strongest and most well-established ones, do not last forever in the Middle East, now is the time to put an end to the Israeli tyranny over the Palestinian people before it becomes too late, before one million Palestinians walk to the streets, approaching the city of Jerusalem. Unfortunately, Israel has not changed its strategy in the Middle East yet. In spite of the turmoil, in spite of the tempest, the old doctrine of survival, not doing anything and counting on its clear military advantage, is still the only policy that Israel has.

This is the moment of big opportunities in the Middle East. Never before has there been such a chance to turn at least some of the Arab states into democracies; never before was there such a chance for the world to encourage it to the utmost without getting involved in its domestic politics. And, as strange as it might sound, it is also another chance for changing the relationship between Jews and Arabs, Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East. Nothing in the Middle East will look similar to how it looked before the revolutions, and from Israel must come the hope that this will also include the bleeding relationship, the hatred, the violence, the occupation, and the lack of peace.

Gideon Levy is a columnist with 'Haaretz', Tel Aviv







Law and lawlessness

Religious extremism claimed one more prominent public figure in Pakistan this week. Less than two months after Punjab Governor Salman Taseer's assassination, the federal minister for minority affairs, Shahbaz Bhatti, was also murdered in broad daylight for his opposition to Pakistan's blasphemy law.

Daily Times reported on March 3: "the minister had... informed the interior ministry and cabinet division about the threats he received for his stand against the misuse of the blasphemy law. Bhatti had even asked for enhanced security... but his request was not entertained despite the fact the minister was on the hit list of religious extremists... Bhatti had... also asked for a residence in the Ministers' Enclave over security reasons, a request which was not granted." The Taliban claimed "documented responsibility" for the murder as they left pamphlets at the site of the crime stating that whoever "criticises the blasphemy law has no right to live".

In his last interview to Daily Times less than 24 hours before his assassination, Bhatti spoke of religious fanaticism prevailing in Pakistan: "Bhatti categorically said all mullahs who made fatwas over blasphemy convicts be arrested... for initial investigation into Taseer's assassination. He... pointed out blasphemy laws were man-made... and were being misused for political, religious and personal gains."

Days before Bhatti lost his life for championing the cause of religious minorities, a group of Christians in Punjab failed to get a complaint registered against Muslim persons for offending their religious sensitivities. Daily Times reported on February 28: "The victims alleged the district police officer and the district coordination officer were supporting the miscreants involved in desecration of the Bible, the Cross and even graves of Christians despite warnings from the station house officer."

The Express Tribune on March 4 reported that Bhatti's murder, like Taseer's, failed to elicit a formal condemnation in Parliament. The article stated: "The National Assembly failed to come up with a joint resolution condemning the murder of... Shahbaz Bhatti... repeating its failure to formally condemn the murder of Salman Taseer two months ago... PM Yousaf Raza Gilani did announce a three-day... mourning for Bhatti... but only after emotional speeches demanding this were made by a couple of Christian members and a token walkout by all parties." It underscored that Pakistan's parliament had in the past passed condemnation resolutions against blasphemy incidents in Europe, "though not the murder of government officials..."

Fuelling the fire

The other big story in Pakistan this week was a massive hike in fuel prices. A headline in The News on March 1 read: "Pakistan lobs petrol bomb at masses." The report went on to say: "Exposing the nation to a new wave of inflation, the government... increased petroleum prices by 9.9 per cent, jacking up the price of high-speed diesel by Rs 7.76 per litre to Rs 86.09 and of petrol (motor spirit) by Rs 7.23 per litre to Rs 80.19 per litre... This increase may force the inflation-stricken masses to... hold countrywide demonstrations against the government."A couple of weeks back, a similar hike in fuel prices stirred the opposition (PML-N and MQM) into action. With sustained effort, they had prevailed upon the PPP to roll back the hike.

Bad judgment

Pakistan's former chief justice, Abdul Hameed Dogar, made a surprising public declaration of regret at taking the oath of office under the Provisional Constitutional Order (PCO). Dogar had replaced the incumbent Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry when he was deposed by Pervez Musharraf, after he announced emergency in 2007. Dawn reported on March 4: "Dogar threw himself at the mercy of the Supreme Court... by saying sorry and showing repentance for having taken oath under the PCO." A four-judge bench of the supreme court of Pakistan is trying nine judges for contempt of court.

Davis's low immunity

According to a report in Dawn on March 3, a sessions court hearing Raymond Davis's case rejected the claim that he enjoyed diplomatic immunity, and decided to go ahead with his trial. Another report added the Lahore high court struck down a request to transfer him from Lahore's Kot Lakhpat jail to the high-security Adiala jail in Rawalpindi. The petitioner stated the transfer could make Davis's handover to the US "easier".






 "A single spark can start a prairie fire," Chairman Mao famously declared, and a collective of young mainland — and overseas-based Chinese activists are taking his words to heart, using high-tech crowd — rallying techniques to organise spontaneous demonstrations in dozens of cities across China. Judging by Beijing's heavy-handed response, this new and evolving phenomenon has the Communist leadership rattled.

The growing protest movement, inspired by the uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East, was launched with an announcement on the Chinese language news site Boxun is part of a network of tech-savvy organisations inside and outside China pressing for social change. Its leading figures are veterans of Chinese pro-democracy movements going back to the anti-Gang of Four demonstrations in Tiananmen Square in 1976, the Democracy Wall Movement of 1978, and the protests in Tiananmen Square in 1989. This is the same coalition that helped initiate the Charter 08 effort three years ago that resulted in the imprisonment of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo.

The lesson from past crackdowns was to apply even more decentralised tactics. Today's organisers — who seek to launch a "molihua" (jasmine) revolution — have used social networks like Sina Weibo (the Chinese equivalent of Twitter), Facebook and Google groups to spark public meetings in large cities in every province over the past two weeks. In doing so, organisers have tapped into a traditional method of crowd gathering known as wei guan. The words literally mean "surround and stare," but they also connote a willingness to participate. It's a kind of street democracy, with impromptu public juries declaring their binding verdicts on how civic disputes should be resolved, refusing to allow the antagonists to leave until the group's judgment is enforced.

"We were raised glorifying Chairman Mao's guerrilla warfare tactics," says Flower Girl, the online pseudonym of one of the organisers. "Hit and run, hide among the people like fish in water, advance when your adversary retreats and retreat when they advance, hide and bide: hide your resources and bide your time. It's poetic justice that we're using the very strategies that brought the Communist Party to power — but nonviolently, to demonstrate how far the party has strayed from its grassroots origin as a people's movement. Its brutal response clearly illustrates why political change in China is necessary." Will this protest effort succeed in China? It's hard to say. But it has produced predictable results. Dozens of civil rights lawyers have been beaten and detained in recent weeks, political dissidents placed under house arrest, social activists harassed, and the word "jasmine" banned by China's Internet censors.

An online call on February 20 for people to gather in central locations in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou and several other major cities to celebrate the "Jasmine revolutions" in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other Arab states resulted in a massive security crackdown. When the gatherings took place, police, foreign reporters and curious passersby significantly augmented the number of participants. Scuffles and arrests took place but there were no major incidents.

Then came a call to congregate again, on February 27. This time organisers urged people to gather in several dozen city centres at 2 pm and "stroll" together. Crowds gathered in dozens of cities and China's security apparatus responded with overwhelming force. Numerous foreign journalists were detained and beaten, and dozens of Chinese citizens were dragged away for incarceration and interrogation. But the effort achieved its objective — attracting increased attention by Chinese citizens unaware of the events in the Arab world due to heavy government censorship of mainland media. Another "stroll" has been publicised for March 6, and each Sunday thereafter.

Can these "Sunday strolls" have any effect on China's seemingly indomitable apparatus of repression and authoritarian rule? Although many people would scoff at the notion, this was how Poland's Solidarity movement, the first independent worker's union in a Communist-bloc country, was formed.

Many people argue that the rapid fall of Communism in Eastern Europe and then the Soviet Union won't happen in China because the Chinese are uniquely unsuited for democracy due to their long Confucian traditions and history of authoritarian rule.

Of course, the same was said of Arabs until the events of the past two months. In fact, China held parliamentary elections after the fall of the Qing dynasty's last emperor in the early 20th century. But warlordism, the Japanese invasion and decade-long occupation, and Mao's Communist Revolution suffocated this early effort at democracy.

Few people expected the explosive events in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Bahrain and the other Arab states. Perhaps governments, both in the West and Beijing, should prepare for the unexpected in China.ARCHER WANG & SCOTT SAVITT








Which would you rather buy, a company that has a R4,660 crore turnover or one with a R13,124 crore turnover? The answer is pretty obvious until you take a look at the profits. The first firm had a profit of R2,118 crore, while the latter had, believe it or not, a profit of just R832 crore in 2009-10. Both firms are owned by the same group, Vedanta. The first is the group's mining firm Sesa Goa and the latter is its copper firm Sterlite—Sesa Goa's profit margins are 46%, while Sterlite's are a relatively modest 6%. Cut to the AV Birla Group, and things aren't too different there either. Essel Mining, it is true, has a lower profit of R768 crore in comparison with aluminium firm

Hindalco's R1,916 crore. But while Essel has a turnover of only R2,560 crore, Hindalco's turnover is a mammoth R19,536 crore—while Hindalco's turnover was 7.6 times that of Essel in 2009-10, its profits were just 2.5 times higher. The net profit margins for the two firms were 10% and 30%, respectively. In general, the FE analysis of mining and metals firms found net profit margins were around 45% for mining firms, 8% for copper firms, 15% for aluminium ones and 17% for steel companies in 2009-10.

All of which suggest their own policy actions. One, the government has to go in for auctions as a way to allot mines in the future, otherwise this is going to be the next big scam after the telecom one. The way things are right now, the firm that gets a captive mine gets a huge advantage over the rest, so the government has a lot of scope for favouritism. The Tatas had filed a case against the government for the allotment of an ultra-mega power plant project where, while the government had initially said the coal from the mine could not be used for other projects, they later allowed it—naturally, it made a huge difference to the viability of the plant. The case is listed to come up before the court in the next few weeks. Hopefully the committee that is examining the issue of allocation of natural resources will recommend this course of action. The second course of action that suggests itself relates to royalty rates. Right now, per tonne of iron ore, the government earns R700 or so in terms of excise duty and various royalties—this will go up to around double that amount with the higher export levy. But compare this with around R5,500 for iron and steel. Once again, higher royalty rates are a good idea. Indeed, a hike in royalty rates is a better way to fund local development than the 26% profit sharing the government is in favour of—unlike profits that depend upon how the P&L is constructed, the royalty payments are a lot more certain.




FE 500

How companies took on the challenge of slowing demand in the home market and a shrinking export market, in the wake of the global financial meltdown in late 2008, is now part of Indian corporate history. Corporations were quick to hunker down, cutting down on any unnecessary costs, and maintaining lean inventories even as the government, for its part, made sure there was enough of a stimulus. India Inc's performance for 2009-10 needs to be seen in this context and companies did well to come out of the economic downturn, cashing in on robust rural incomes and urban aspirations. In many ways the corporate sector was fortunate to have been insulated and dependent primarily on the domestic economy; among the worst hit companies were those that had made large cross-border acquisitions. Tata Steel, for instance, had bought Corus in early 2007 while Hindalco had acquired Novelis around the same time. Both these firms grappled with the recession in Europe and struggled to grow top line as both volumes and prices crashed and ultimately their overseas subsidiaries reported losses. Some of this pain is reflected in the aggregate numbers for the year collated in FE500: for an aggregate of the top 500 companies sales, in 2009-10, were up just 5.18%, although towards the end of the year, the low base effect did help.

As the FE500 data shows, there was only one change in India's top 10, with the public-sector Steel Authority of India making way for the newly-listed Coal India. Reliance Communications, Adani Enterprises and Suzlon Energy dropped out of the top 25, and were replaced by Infosys, Sterlite and Mahindra & Mahindra. In an interesting study, Kotak Securities says Reliance Industries and ONGC are obvious candidates to get to $100-bn market capitalisation fairly quickly;

India's largest company Reliance Industries reported sales of approximately $45 bn in 2009-10 and currently has a market capitalisation of $66 bn while ONGC's current market cap is roughly $56 bn. What's surprising is that Kotak believes banks like SBI, ICICI Bank and

HDFC Bank too will get to the $100-bn market capitalisation; SBI's market cap is currently around $38 bn.





The 11th Five Year Plan draws to a close and the Planning Commission is about to kick off the process for the 12th Plan. The planners are faced with difficult and complex choices in charting out the country's course for the next five years. There have been extraordinary swings in the manufacturing growth rates in recent months, mirrored by mood swings of the Indian business community. Political logjams and scams seem to be have dimmed 'India Shining'. At the same time, the global environment continues to remain difficult, with faltering growth and debt overhangs in many parts of the developed world, coupled with high inflation rates in most countries. More recently, the massive turmoil in West Asia and North Africa has led to a huge spike in oil prices. In this scenario of high uncertainty, what should be the aspiration or the overarching theme for the 12th Five Year Plan?

There are two very different perspectives as starting points for this discussion. The first perspective is that of the aam aadmi policies and programmes, which have been among the singular successes of the Congress-led coalition government. The 11th Plan document and the recent Budget speeches of the finance minister have all emphasised the importance of inclusive growth. Even the external world has recognised this success.

The World Economic Forum at this year's Davos summit, which had a theme of 'Shared Norms for the New Reality', celebrated India's inclusive growth model. Business newspapers headline advice from economists and other experts to the government to continue to push the inclusive growth platform seen as critical to achieve future economic growth.

The other perspective is described by The Economist in recent headlines—'India's surprising economic miracle—The country's state may be weak but its private companies are strong', or 'A bumpier but freer road—Despite all the mess and chaos of India, the country's business is booming. This will change the world'. The Economist takes the view that the growing global competitiveness of India's companies is not just transforming the domestic business environment but will have a profound impact on the rest of the world. In other words, Indian companies have the potential to become global champions, the implicit message being that the Indian state should support this journey more actively.

Two very different perspectives. Aam aadmi vs global champions! Each one a legitimate aspiration for the nation. But, one may ask, do we need one to develop the 12th Five Year Plan? It can be argued that the need of the hour is a pragmatic set of policies that systematically address the numerous challenges faced by the nation rather than a grand dream.

In my experience, which I will readily admit has been mostly with businesses, setting an aspiration is critical for the success of any transformational journey. An aspiration is like a magnet that aligns all the different stakeholders in the same direction, who otherwise could end up working at cross-purposes. Let me illustrate this with an example. It is now well recognised that industrial clusters are a critical policy lever for industrial growth and competitiveness. A plant in a good cluster can have as much as 8% lower operating costs compared to a standalone plant. For building successful clusters in India, many disparate elements have to come together—well-developed infrastructure, skill training institutions, research institutions and policies that support innovation, tax and other fiscal benefits, removal of constraints currently faced under the labour laws, factories Act and environmental laws, etc. Each of these areas is under a different central government ministry or the state government, which often work independent of each other. How can they work together towards a common objective to create, say, 50 new globally competitive clusters generating millions of new jobs? They can, if there is a common aspiration for the country articulated in the five-year plan, which then informs all policies that are framed by different parts of central and different state governments? Perhaps a utopian dream but nevertheless one to strive for!

So, what should be our aspiration that should guide the 12th Five Year Plan? Let's look at some basic facts. The last two decades have seen India's economy and its industrial sector grow at 6% to 7% per annum. However, during most of this period, the growth in formal employment in industry has been at best marginal and most of the employment has grown in the informal and unorganised sector. It is now well-recognised that the biggest challenge facing the Indian economy is employment generation.

India needs over 220 million jobs between now and 2025, which calls for achieving double-digit economic growth. But, unless industry can grow at around 12% from its current 7-8% level, we will not reach this target. And industry cannot grow at 12% without doubling the current growth rate of its exports. To do this, India has to create not just a few but many global champions. So, the perspective of The Economist is surely the right one. There is another set of facts. As per the government's own estimates, 5.3 crore households got jobs under MGNREGA—the biggest of the aam aadmi policies. That is 265 crore man-days of employment at 50 days a year per person. So, the perspective of the home-grown economists who aspire to improve the lot of aam aadmi is also right.

As we start the 12th Five Year Plan development, do we have to necessarily choose between these two 'aspirations' for the nation? Can they not be combined to create a far more powerful one? An aspiration that does not exclude the other but is inclusive, and celebrates both the aam aadmi and the global challengers!

—The author is managing director, Boston Consulting Group, India. These are his personal views





History doesn't repeat itself, but it rhymes, Mark Twain is thought to have said. Democrats are hoping that's true. Fifteen years ago, fierce budget fights between Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress forced the government to shut down twice. The conflict boosted the President, revitalised his vision for government and branded Republicans as extreme. Now, as battles loom over the debt ceiling and spending, another shutdown seems quite possible. Congress temporarily postponed the first fight this week in a vote approving a stopgap measure that keeps the government funded until March 18.

But the odds favour budgetary head-butting throughout 2011. This year's budget battle is even more tangled, more fraught and more likely to lead to a murky result economically and politically than in the mid-1990s. In 1995, as today, Republicans were roaring in opposition to the federal government. They aimed to force Clinton to sign a draconian budget or risk a shutdown. They assumed the president would give in. If not, many thought, citizens would cheer a padlocking of the hated federal establishment.

After marathon negotiations, Clinton vetoed their budget bills. Government services deemed "non-essential" were shuttered. Tourists were turned away from national parks. A debt crisis was averted only when Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin declared a 12-month "debt issuance suspension period."

For those of us working for Clinton, it was a charged time. The White House echoed empty, with only a handful of aides. Every day, Clinton strode into the White House press room and volleyed arguments back and forth with House Speaker Newt Gingrich at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue. With the public riveted, he urged "a balanced budget that honours our values by protecting Medicare, Medicaid, education and the environment." Every bit of stagecraft made the point. To veto one budget bill, he used the very fountain pen that President Lyndon Johnson had used to sign Medicare into law. The ink didn't work, but the photo op did. Soon public opinion began to turn. When Gingrich complained that he had been forced to leave Air Force One through the back entrance, the entire grand confrontation was easily caricatured as a fit of pique. Finally, Senate Republicans, led by Robert Dole, forced a back-down. A new consensus for a smaller, but active, government took hold, at least for a while.

It's hardly likely to play out so cleanly today. The White House faces a different political imperative. Clinton had been derided as "slick" and too prone to compromise. The budget fight gave him a chance to stand up for his principles. Obama's weakness comes not from image but unemployment near 10% for almost two years. He can stand tough all he wants: If it doesn't cure joblessness, the public won't care.

Obama's imperative is to convey a sure sense of economic management.

It's different on Capitol Hill, too. Tea Party lawmakers are just as excitable as their forebears, demonstrated when they forced a vote on deep cuts in food-safety inspection or border security. But their leadership seems more deft. Speaker John Boehner is far less messianic, and less likely to self-destruct, than Gingrich. In any case, the public will find it hard to follow a simple shutdown morality play. In 1995, a president of one party faced off against a Congress of another. Today, Congress is divided. Half-attentive citizens may not hear "president stands up for principle" as much as "Congress bickers, deadlocks, dysfunctional as usual."

Today's media environment will further cloud the picture. The 1995 shutdown dominated what quaintly used to be called "the evening news" and received much ink in what were called "newspapers." The Internet was in its infancy, CNN was the only widely watched cable network, and Fox News hadn't launched.

Given all this, how can Obama prevail on policy while making a larger point? A key goal is to manage the government as effectively as possible, given the hairpin turns ahead. Minimising the public impact will prove better politics than letting government fail. He will have to find his moments to engage, too, since he may not have many veto statements to issue. At each moment, he will have to choose whether to rise above partisan passions, or step forward as a principled advocate for his point of view.

Ultimately, he must use the bully pulpit. Democrats can't simply pick at unpopular cuts. Obama will have to explain that the economy still needs investment, or risk imperilling the recovery. And it needs real fiscal discipline, without putting Medicare at risk. It's a subtle argument, but he will have a more attentive audience than before.

Clinton sealed his shutdown victory in his 1996 State of the Union address. Though he declared, "The era of big government is over," he also introduced Richard Dean, a Social Security Administration employee in the Oklahoma City federal building who had helped rescue people injured in the 1995 bombing by Timothy McVeigh.

Dean, Clinton noted, was kept from doing his job by the shutdown. On Dean's behalf, Clinton declared, "I challenge all of you in this Chamber: Never, ever shut the federal government down again." This year's budget brawl will probably last months. If Obama doesn't just try to make history rhyme, he has a chance to set the terms for the next decade of debate.

—The author, former head speechwriter for President Bill Clinton, is executive director of the Brennan Centre for Justice at New York University School of Law







The latest budget accords high priority to fiscal consolidation at the Centre and in the States. The Finance Minister has noted that the Fiscal Responsibility and Budget Management Act 2003 (FRBM) at the Centre and the corresponding acts in the States have had a salutary effect on macroeconomic management. During this session, the government wants to introduce an amendment to the FRBM Act, laying down the fiscal road map for the next five years. This is unexceptionable and in line with the policy decision already taken. What, however, has evoked a great deal of interest and a fair amount of scepticism, is the level of deficit reduction achieved as well as the government's optimistic projections for the next year. In what is seen as the sharpest ever fiscal correction attempted by any government in two decades, the fiscal deficit, which is estimated at 5.1 per cent of the GDP this year, is proposed to be brought down further to 4.6 per cent next year. Since successive governments have, as a rule, under-performed on fiscal consolidation, the planned reduction in deficit appears to be nothing short of the spectacular. The 2010-11 target of 5.1 per cent could be achieved because of the large collections from the auction of spectrum for third-generation telecom services (3G) and broad band services. These two have contributed almost 1.3 per cent of the GDP, which means that without them the deficit would have been as high as 6.4 per cent.

It is unlikely that such a windfall will occur so soon or at frequent intervals. Therefore, the task of fiscal management the government has set for itself for 2011-12 — a steep reduction by almost two percentage points from the current year's "normal" level arrived at after deducting the one-time yields from the spectrum sales — appears daunting. The government is obviously betting on a robust economic growth, tax buoyancy, and a compression in expenditure. While the Economic Survey expects the economy to grow at the pre-crisis levels of around 9 per cent, the recent decline in manufacturing is worrying. By far the biggest challenge will be on the expenditure side. Given the sharp hike in global oil prices, the allocation for subsidies is meagre. The budgeted expenditure for Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), kept at last year's level of Rs.40,000 crore, might well fall short of the money required. The government is also silent on the subsidy implications of the Food Security Bill that awaits Parliament's approval. The projected 14 per cent growth in tax revenue looks achievable with better tax compliance but clearly expenditure looks like ending up far above the estimates.





In a damning report, the British House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee has found that the objective of achieving security for the United Kingdom was attained "some time ago", as al-Qaida had been significantly weakened in Afghanistan; and that the British military presence in that country has far exceeded the time needed. Secondly, the decision to withdraw unconditionally by 2015 has no apparent security rationale. Thirdly, the military alone cannot create safety and security; force can subdue various regions temporarily, but senior British commanders have been excessively optimistic about the benefits of expanded military commitment. The problems are, above all, political. The egregious western assumption that al-Qaida and the Taliban form a single enemy has alienated the very people whose assent is essential for a political solution, namely the ordinary Afghans. Moreover, the 2009 military surge by the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) has worsened matters by increasing civilian casualties. The report recommends that the U.K. encourage direct U.S.-Taliban contact; that has already started. As for Pakistan, the Committee concludes that the continuing existence of Taliban safe havens in that country means ISAF may well find it impossible to succeed.

The British government's reaction was dismally predictable; foreign minister William Hague says parts of the report are out of date. That, however, is only a fig-leaf to cover executive embarrassment over the long list of disastrous failures, including a huge civilian death toll, in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the 2015 withdrawal date is arbitrary; it was not decided in the National Security Council, and was first announced to the media, not to Parliament — which is yet to hear any argument for it. Washington has not reacted publicly, perhaps because the report is not binding on the U.K. government; but the latter is now caught between the rock of U.S.-driven foreign policy and the hard place of domestic exposure. This is no mean achievement on the part of the Foreign Affairs Committee. British parliamentary select committees are not well-funded in comparison with congressional committees on Capitol Hill; nor can they compel Ministers' attendance or disclosure of official documents, but they are admirably non-partisan. Created by Parliament in 1979 against bitter opposition from the political executive and the civil service, they have often proved their worth in scrutinising the government. Tragically, this particular committee has had to compensate, a decade too late, for the failure of the House of Commons to rein in a war-obsessed Prime Minister, Tony Blair.








The Supreme Court's verdict pronounced on March 3 on the appointment of Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas could not have come at a more appropriate time. Each day seems to bring up a new scam, and this confirms that the nation's moral fibre is in tatters. Unless this dangerous trend is reversed, India's future generations will become hostage to a situation where they cannot afford to be even minimally honest. India's current political leadership of all hues is unequal to the challenge. Their focus is solely on grabbing votes with blatantly false promises and alluring freebies at the cost of the exchequer. Only the judiciary is equipped and empowered to stem the rot, notwithstanding the fact that it has its own internal problems to solve.

There are some uninformed sections that take umbrage at the Supreme Court 'taking over' governance. This is an appallingly myopic view. Had the judiciary not intervened as strongly and decisively as it did over the past few months, India would have become the laughing stock of the world. Recent judicial rulings have enhanced the country's image and sent across the message that it means business in handling the scourge of corruption. Today, the rest of the world is watching India admiringly and enviously for the way it is moving forward in creating knowledge and skills. The country will forfeit this enormous goodwill unless it comes down heavily on those who are robbing its national wealth without any fear whatsoever. The recent judicial decisions, however harsh they may seem, should serve, at least partly, to restore outsider-confidence in India's resilience and capacity to move ahead on the economic front.

No proof is any longer required to show that the choice of Mr. Thomas was downright arbitrary, illegal and laughable. It was an exercise of executive authority that was questionable, whatever standards you apply. The Supreme Court's ruling leaves no one in doubt that fundamental facts that should have agitated the minds of those who are authorised by law (read the Central Vigilance Commission Act) to make such a vital appointment were glossed over for reasons of expediency. It is beyond comprehension why the High Power Committee (HPC) chose to wear blinkers. Virtually anybody could have been appointed, except one facing a criminal trial. The clearance by the previous CVC that is touted in defence of Mr. Thomas is but a pro forma requirement that applies to less important jobs in government. It was certainly not applicable to an 'Integrity Commission,' as the court has chosen to label the Central Vigilance Commission.

Tale in the notings

The revelation that two members of the HPC were not convinced that the position required a 100 per cent corruption-free individual is, to say the least, sad and dismaying. The records speak for themselves, and the Department of Personnel and Training (DoPT) could not be faulted. Its notings since the year 2000 had made it abundantly clear that Mr. Thomas in fact had a serious problem. This was ignored. Mr. Thomas took the stand in court that the fact that he had been made Secretary to government was proof enough that he was untainted. But he was greeted the very next day with the arrest of the former Telecommunications Secretary, Siddharth Behura, by the Central Bureau of Investigation in connection with the 2G spectrum scam. Integrity is by no means the exclusive preserve of the higher echelons in society, and certainly not the bureaucracy.

The magnitude of corruption in the higher levels of the civil services is actually enormous compared to that in the lower rungs. The arrest last week of the Chairman of the National Aluminium Company and his wife, and the seizure of significant quantities of gold and cash, are testimony to the need for anti-corruption agencies to focus on senior levels of the officialdom with greater aggression. The CBI is doing an admirable job on this front, and it deserves much larger annual accretions in manpower and more incentives to its staff. Their morale needs to be propped up substantially and meaningfully if the government is serious about tackling graft. In Parliament, the Opposition parties should concentrate on this agenda rather than seek to score brownie points over those in government who have grievously erred and lost their reputation for objectivity and clear thinking. This subject can do with a lot less of politics and more time-bound action, in order that everyone in high places would think twice before doing anything that is even remotely dishonest.

Debatable aspects

There are two aspects of the Supreme Court judgment of March 3 that are, however, debatable. The first is the direction that the pool for the choice of a CVC need not be confined to civil servants, and that it should be wider. Will this give heavily politicised individuals who may otherwise be known for their personal integrity, the opportunity to infiltrate the institution? This issue remains in the realm of conjecture. Given the proclivity among those in power or outside to look at every appointment through a political prism, I fear that the provision to appoint even a person who is not a civil servant to the office could become a mischievous tool in the hands of an unscrupulous executive. This direction to expand the zone of consideration will have to be read along with the Supreme Court's rejection of the plea to make the appointment on the basis of a consensus. Indeed, giving the veto power to one member could stymie the process of selection, and this is not desirable. At the same time, the experience in the case of Mr. Thomas makes you wary of the possible designs of those in power to steamroll the process just to gain political mileage.

Recent events should convince the concerned citizen that maturity and magnanimity do not necessarily go with authority. This is why I would still plump for statutory recognition of the need for a consensus in making the appointment. This may seem preposterous, but is worth a trial. Even if this process leads to several names being rejected and a consequent delay, ultimately the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition should be able to agree on one name. The CVC's job is not a fire-fighting assignment. Even if the position remains vacant for several months because of a lack of consensus, the heavens will not fall before an acceptable candidate is found. And there are other members of the Commission who can hold the fort till a chief is appointed. Let us hasten slowly and arrive at a universally acceptable candidate, rather than be saddled with the wrong individual who is surrounded by controversies.

The court judgment reinforces the widespread feeling that the judiciary is the last bastion of Indian democracy. It must be guarded zealously and at all costs. Let not petty minds be allowed to take pot-shots at it. Or else India will surely be on the road to disaster.

Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia will go down in history for his unparalleled courage and candour. He has no agenda except to bring order to a derailed nation. I understand that total reform in the police system — on the lines set out by the court's landmark decision of September 22, 2006 — tops his wish list. This is heartening. The whole nation, especially the poor, will be ever-grateful to him if only he can achieve this aim before his term ends. Fortunately, he will not have to labour much to do this. He has a ready blueprint on his desk. What he needs to do is to sternly enforce the deadline that he has set for this. Or else the States will continue to dodge reforms, with a view to continuing the misuse of the police force for narrow political ends. In such a situation, most of the Indian police will remain people-unfriendly and dishonest. The distinguished Chief Justice knows that this task brooks no delay, because the victim of crime goes first to the police and only later to the judiciary. This is the crux of the problem.

(Dr. R.K. Raghavan is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation.)







Thousands of stranded immigrant workers fleeing Libya's violence stood huddled together at the Ras Ajdir border crossing in Tunisia, a desolate outpost, on the evening of March 3, braced silently against a whipping, sandy wind, hoping they would not spend the night outside. Then the doors of a bus opened, shouts went up and the crowd swarmed — men and women surging frantically, their overstuffed suitcases balanced precariously on their heads as they ran.

Even as an international airlift began repatriating workers, and as governments and aid agencies began to mobilise in earnest to stem a potential humanitarian crisis, there were still not enough buses to move people to refugee camps or, for the lucky ones, to waiting planes and ships to take them home. Nor was there enough food, tents or toilets for the tens of thousands waiting here on the Tunisian border.

António Guterres, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, who said the numbers of workers able to leave Tunisia were still being dwarfed by the number of those pouring in, called the situation "a logistical nightmare."

Attacked by 'gangsters'

"I haven't been very lucky," said Ripon Das, 33, a Bangladeshi construction worker who fled Tripoli. This was his third night outside on the Tunisian side of the border crossing, Mr. Das said. He had spent two nights waiting at the border in Libya before that. He said that "gangsters" had repeatedly held him up at knifepoint, stealing his money and that soldiers had confiscated and destroyed his cell phone. He still does not know how he will make his way home.

For days, Tunisia — which is itself still grappling with the aftermath of a revolt that deposed its long-time leader — has been overwhelmed with refugees, raising alarm among the international aid community. More than half of the estimated 1,80,000 people fleeing Libya in the past 11 days have sought refuge in Tunisia.

Those who cross here at Ras Ajdir are taken to a hastily built refugee camp about four miles away, which has room for about 10,000 people and is overflowing. An estimated 20,000 to 30,000 refugees are now at the camp.

Many in Libya; WHO warning

Tens of thousands are thought to remain on the Libyan side, as well, according to an estimate by the International Medical Corps, an aid organisation.

Help appears to be on the way from Europe and the United States, which have committed to rescue efforts. Most of those who remain behind are from countries in Asia and Africa that do not have the wherewithal to evacuate them.

But it will take time to set up the huge rescue effort, and conditions here are bad enough that the World Health Organisation (WHO) warned, on March 3, of the risk of epidemics. Aid workers and officials have begun wearing protective masks and latex gloves.

Many of those who have made it consider themselves lucky, but some are haunted by the knowledge that other migrants remain trapped by the fighting.

Speaking to a visitor, one elderly Egyptian in a turban and a flowing robe began denouncing the violence in Libya. A younger man interrupted: "Stop, uncle, don't talk about that. There are still Egyptians in Libya!" A former construction worker in Tripoli, the younger man said he did not want Libyan forces to single out Egyptians because of critical comments about the country.

Food programme

After days of chaos and increasingly urgent calls for help, international agencies were working to develop plans for dealing with the fallout from Libya's turmoil long term. The World Food Program said, on March 3, that it was beginning a $38.7 million operation to feed up to 2.7 million people in Tunisia, Egypt, where many immigrant workers have fled, and Libya itself.

The European Union also committed almost $42 million in aid to address the refugee crisis on Libya's borders.

The number of countries willing to bring workers from other nations to their home countries also grew. Many of those refugees are Egyptians, who fled to Tunisia rather than to the Egyptian border because they started their journeys in Tripoli, in the west.

The region has long been a springboard for illegal immigration into southern Europe, and Italy and other countries have asked for help in avoiding what on Italian official called a possible "biblical exodus."

    © New York Times News Service






New scientific research shows that massive ice sheets in Antarctica do not just grow on top when snow falls, they also grow from the bottom up.

Ice melts at the bottom of ice sheets, and the water helps the sheets slide across the ground below.

But the water can refreeze to the bottom of the sheets and push them up, the researchers have reported (March 3)in the online edition of the journal Science.

The base of a massive ice plateau on the East Antarctic ice sheet called Dome A is about 24 per cent refrozen water, according to the team headed by Robin Bell, a geophysicist at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory.

"The ice sheets are not simple layer cake structures. Water moves around underneath the ice sheet and deforms" it, Bell explained.

Fausto Ferraccioli, a scientist with the British Antarctic Survey and co-author of the report, added that knowing how the ice is formed is critical in the search for the oldest ice and also in understanding how the ice moves.

Ted Scambos, a glaciologist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center at the University of Colorado, Boulder, called the finding "totally new, at least at this scale."

"This is orders of magnitude larger than refreezing was imagined to be, and the concept that it could uplift the ice cap is completely new," said Scambos, who was not part of the research project.

In the past, deposits of refrozen water were only seen where there are lakes under the ice, said glacier researcher Sasha Carter of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.

"Now it appears they are widespread in the East Antarctic interior," said Carter, who was not part of the research team.

The researchers discovered the refrozen ice during field work in 2008 and 2009, using radar that can see through the ice.

At first, "we thought they looked like beehives and were worried they were an error in the data," Bell said. But as they found more and more of the refrozen ice pieces it became clear that they were real.

Because the ice moves, it is essential to understand changes to the base, especially in response to climate changes, researchers say.






To transform the concept of children's rights from mere academic discourse to action at the grass-roots level has been a rather difficult journey for the National Commission for Protection of Child Rights (NCPCR). This is because this is a country where parents believe in patronising children and the government sees them only as beneficiaries of its schemes. No one considers them as equals. Magsaysay Award winner Shantha Sinha, serving her second term as chairperson of the Commission, shares her experiences with Aarti Dhar on the fourth foundation day of the panel while calling upon people to give up consuming products that involve the use of child labour.

Can you describe the aims and objectives of the NCPCR that came into existence in 2007 through an Act of Parliament passed in 2005?

Broadly speaking, the NCPCR has been mandated to monitor and protect the rights of children, including reviewing the legal and policy framework. Considering the magnitude and size of the population of children in India, it has evolved methodologies such as field visits which have entailed meeting and having a dialogue with children, civil society, non-governmental organisations, and the state; conducting public hearings; the issuance of communications as letters, directives, guidelines and recommendations to the Government; a policy dialogue with the ministries concerned; responding to complaints and taking suo moto cognisance of the violation of child rights.

Considering that the issue of children's rights is a highly debated or sensitive one in India, how is the response when you reach out to people, especially in the remote areas where an awareness of entitlements is extremely low even among the adults?

In the initial years, the response was very slow because not many knew of the Commission and its seriousness. But now we are being taken seriously. This is also because we have been following up issues.

Unfortunately, we are often confronted with a lack of sensitivity among adults about the rights of children. Children have never been regarded as an important constituency by the political system and society. They are seen only in a patronising manner. We have to talk to people and tell them that children need to be treated with dignity and as equals. It is not enough that you give them love, it is equally important to give them dignity. The moment you start treating them as equals, you give them dignity.

So how does one deal with a society that looks at children in a patronising manner?

This has been a challenge. One would have expected institutions meant for children to have a place of pride in society; like a village should be proud of having the best anganwadi centre to take care of its children. But that ownership and pride, I find, is lacking. If an institution functions well it is only because of a highly motivated individual. There is no institutional building process in the ways services are provided to children. There is so much tokenism. An anganwadi worker has to deal with so many things, which is unfair. She is the only person to deal with the children in the most precious age group. While a hike in their earning, as announced in the Budget, is a welcome step, I think she deserves more for the professional services rendered by her.

Similarly, overcrowding in classrooms and the quality of food served under the Mid-Day Meal scheme still remain major challenges. The task is how to get these institutions work.

How grave is the issue of child labour in India and do you have any suggestions to generate awareness among the people?

Child labour is a huge problem. I sincerely believe that there is a need to sensitise people about the plight of working children in the country. We also need to have a consumer culture like that in Europe where people do not buy products involving child labour. One may describe it as trade related issue but there are many people who really think they owe it to children. We need to develop this kind of consumer ethics.

We should realise how our living adds to the sufferings of poor children. There are a lot of linkages between our lifestyle and the impoverishment of the poor. For example, it may sound exaggerated but some girl child must have sacrificed her schooling to look after her siblings and the house after her parents go to work in the fields. It is not that they are forced to sacrifice her future for us but there are no institutions like crèches to take care of their needs. Children are employed in the textile industry, construction work and in brick kilns in large numbers.

If it is fashionable to talk about organic food why can it not be fashionable to consume child labour free products? If it can happen in Europe it should happen in India too.

The child rights panel has an important role in monitoring the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009. Major areas of concerns are bringing out of school children within the school system and banning corporal punishment. How do you ensure this?

The NCPCR is in the process of creating RTE Advisers in the States who will network with hundreds and thousands of child defenders at the grass-roots level.

The Commission has issued guidelines to schools, local bodies, district and State authorities on corporal punishment. No distinction between forms of violence has been made as it considered that 'all forms of corporal punishment are a fundamental breach of human rights.' The Commission has heard innumerable cases of corporal punishment, and violence and suicide of children for being subjected to insinuating, and often unreasonable, remarks by school teachers. In 2008 it was reported that there were 98 cases of suicide by children in Tamil Nadu alone as a consequence of corporal punishment.

Public hearings have proved to be a highly effective method of gaining insights into social issues. Has the Commission also gained?

The NCPCR has been moved by heroic accounts of children who have repeatedly risked their lives to escape drudgery and solitude for freedom and liberation. During the public hearing on child labour in cotton seed farming, where the purpose was to look at the violation of the rights of children engaged in the production of hybrid cotton seeds, the Commission also gained insights into how large numbers of children migrating from Rajasthan to Gujarat, also work in ginning mills, textile factories, salt pans and brick kilns. The public hearings on corporal punishment in Tamil Nadu also revealed the insult and injustice meted out to poor children, driving some of them to attempt and even commit suicide. This gave the Commission a deeper knowledge on the impact of corporal punishment on children, their loneliness and lack of support and forums to express their difficulties within the school system.

The testimonies of children affected and infected with HIV have been equally revealing. Public hearings in Dantewada showed how vulnerable tribal children were victimised by all parties — both the government and non-government agencies — and deprived of their basic rights to health, survival, food and nutrition, education and protection. It revealed the impact civil unrest can have on children.

Are there areas of conflict with the government?

Considering the fact that issues relating to children are as much in the list of the Centre as the State governments, the Commission's thrust has been on understanding and reviewing the basis, application and actual implementation of legal frameworks, policies and programmes at both levels. Our Commission is fully conscious of its role in the context of India's federalism and the dynamics of Centre-State relations.






Actions speak louder than words, it is said. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh stood to gain if immediately after the Supreme Court's stinging verdict in the CVC case on Thursday he had summoned his top bureaucrats and asked them harsh questions about their failure to ensure that all the right materials available to the government reach him before he decides important questions.

In this particular instance, the relevant question was why the department of personnel and training failed to include in the dossier on Mr P.J. Thomas the crucial fact that the officer was facing a criminal chargesheet in Kerala and that sanction to prosecute him had not been rejected (although it had not been accorded either).

It is likely that Mr Thomas' candidacy for the post of central vigilance commissioner would have been rendered infructuous if this relevant material had been placed before the PM. Alas, Dr Singh has done no such thing. He meekly said he would make a statement in Parliament (which is expected on Monday). That is as it should be, of course. The Prime Minister also noted that he accepted his responsibility in the matter and that coalition compulsions were not to blame in the CVC matter (as in the case of 2G and former communications minister A. Raja). This approach describes a conscientious man who shoulders responsibility, not a forceful doer who initiates prompt action to regain the confidence of his followers.

In every case that has hit the ceiling, starting with the Commonwealth Games affair last year, the Prime Minister has made pro forma observations suggestive of a bland business-as-usual approach, and overlooked the inner sensitivity of the matter when questions were first raised. Action has followed when the courts have stepped in, ending in mea culpa pronouncements in each case and a public loss of face. The Congress Party too has been caught on the wrong foot every single time, suggesting that there might be something seriously the matter with the interface that is said to exist between the party leadership and the highest level of government where, it appears, much too much reliance has been placed on top bureaucrats in the system. It cannot be overemphasised that civil servants are wont to display energy only when they stand to lose if they did not; otherwise they will the machinery to move at a stately pace for which justification rests in the thicket of procedures. Dr Singh appears to have allowed himself to be administered placebos by those who are meant to facilitate administration under his direct charge. No matter what he says in Parliament on the CVC matter, this state of affairs must change.





Getting to know the legendary Urdu poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz personally would be a cherishable memory for anyone, as it is for me. My first "meeting" with Faiz was as an undergraduate student at Delhi University's Kirori Mal College in 1957 or 1958. Faiz had come to visit his old friend and comrade, the legendary historian K.M. Ashraf. As the Pakistan high commission's large car stopped in the porch, with Ashraf and some three-four students waiting to receive him, a medium-sized, somewhat stocky gentleman.

He was wearing a fine silk shirt, Western suit and a necktie and carrying a box of 50 cigarettes of the 555 brand in his left palm. This was his daily quota. His bearing was aristocratic, face serene, eyes compassionate and he wore an all-is-well-with-the-world demeanour. Much later, in the Seventies, Faiz visited Jawaharlal Nehru University several times, once to stay there for a week and deliver lectures on Iqbal. I was then a teacher of history there.
Born a 100 years ago in Sialkot into a family headed by Khan Bahadur Sultan Ahmad, who topped his career as Afghanistan's ambassador in London, Faiz had nothing to complain about in life. He liked the life of luxury and was renowned for never losing his temper at anyone or anything. Yet his outward serenity hid enormous angst — indignation at social inequalities and injustices heaped on society's lower rungs. This indignation often found fiery expression in his verse, sometimes even verse given to sheer romance. His beautiful nazm, Raqib se (To the Rival), in which he completely inverts the conventional image of the rival and finds in him his closest friend, ends with:
Aajizi seekhi, gharibon ki himayat seekhi
Yaas-o-hirmaan ke, dukh dard ke maani seekhe
(We understood despair and learnt to sympathise with the poor
We learnt what failure and deprivation was and we learnt the meaning of suffering)

And in his renowned verse Mujh se pehli si mohabbat mere mahbboob na maang, he counterposes his love for the beloved and his love for the suffering humanity.
But Faiz was willing to do more than write poems to give vent to his anger. An honorary colonel in the Army, he, along with some other Armymen and civilians, engaged in an attempt to overthrow the regime and replace it with an egalitarian one in Pakistan in the early Fifties. The attempt failed and Faiz, along with several others, was imprisoned for over four years in what was designated by the government as the Rawalpindi Conspiracy Case. Some of Faiz's finest poetry was composed during his incarceration, published as Dast-i Saba (The Touch of Breeze) and Zindaan Nama (Prison Memories). As with every political prisoner, the regime's main weapon was to demolish his morale by destroying hope. Faiz became a warrior of hope by finding romance in the most dismal prison conditions. He constantly sought to demonstrate the utterly limited nature of the regime's power by counterposing beauty and romance to it.
Qafas hai bas mein tumhare, tumhare bas mein nahin
Chaman mein aatish-I-gul ke nikhaar ka mausam
(Prison is all you have in your control, you have no control
Over the bursting of the fire of flowers in spring)

In zindaan ki ek sham (An evening in the prison), this comes to the most moving expression:
Shaam ke pech-o kham sitaron se
Zeena zeena utar rahi hai raat
Yuun saba paas se guzarti hai
Jaise keh di kisi ne pyar ki baat
(As the night descends from the evening's steps
The breeze touches you
like the sweetheart's soft voice of love)

Dil na ummeed to nahin naakaam hi to hai
Lambi hai gham ki sham, magar sham hi to hai
(The heart has not lost hope, even as it faces failure
The evening of sorrow is long, but it is the evening after all)

This theme recurs several times in Faiz's poetry. In the end the regime accepted its defeat and set him and his comrades free. But more was to come when Zia-ul-Haq sought to turn Pakistan's politics from the 20th century back to the 7th century and found Faiz's poetry a stumbling block; he banned it. The poetry's popularity, already at its height, was further enhanced and became the vehicle of opposition to Gen. Zia-ul-Haq. The ban was short-lived.

There are understandably several moods discernible in Faiz's different verses. During his incarceration, some newspapers and magazines in Pakistan brought out special issues in which Faiz was denounced as a traitor; some of his friends found it convenient to distance themselves from him. Faiz wasn't left unaffected and some of his verses point to the pain.
Wahin lagi hai jo nazuk maqaam the dil ke
Yeh farq teer-i 'adoo ke gazand kya karte
(The wound in the softest corners of my heart is the most hurtful
The tips of the enemy's arrows couldn't possibly have known of them

Chhore nahin ghairon ne koi naavak-i dushnaam
Chhooti nahin apnon se koi tarz-i malaamat
(The 'others' spared no arrows of infamy
Friends spared no mode of denunciation)

At one time he also felt as if all were contented in their ignorance; he alone felt foolish in his enlightenment.
The bazm mein sub dood-i sar-i bazm se shaadan
Bekar jalaaya hamein raushan nazri ne
(Everyone out there was happy in the surrounding smoke
I suffered needlessly in being so enlightened)
But these are occasional verses which came along once in a while. His grandeur is in his poetry of protest, marked by great humanity, romance and beauty. If he were around when the crowds gathered in Cairo to overthrow an oppressive regime, one could expect some more memorable poems from him.

n Harbans Mukhia is a former professor of history at JNU






"There was a girl who stole the sunlight
She used its touch to make the flowers grow

Its rays made sunsets, colours, sights — I was left in darkness though".
From Bachchoo's Laments

This, please note, is the only column written from Los Angeles this week which will not mention the Osc... oops!)
Everyone knows that the Americans drive on the wrong side of the road. Very few people know why they do, so I am about to enlighten you. After copious enquiries among traffic experts I am confident I have found the correct answer.

The road culture of America, the big chunk of real estate discovered they say by Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci or Shilpa Shetty — it doesn't matter — begins with single horses and develops into rough carts and then stage coaches. We've all seen them in the movies, rambling along the desert road with the spokes of their wheels turning, miraculously, the wrong way as they go forward.
Most of these stage coaches had a team of four and sometimes even six horses. The horses, let's say four, were harnessed to the sprung coach in two rows of two, one to the left one to the right. You can see it, I hope. The coach was driven by a coachman who sat on an unsheltered bench behind the horses and above the cab containing the ladies, gentlemen and the bags of the then King's Mail (or was it privatised and Wells Fargo from the inception?).
As elsewhere in the world from time immemorial, one of the ways in which the coach driver exercised his will over the horses in the team was through the use of a whip. If there were six or even four horses, this whip had to be pretty long to reach the rump of the front runners.
Now most coach drivers are right handed. This is a statistical fact based on the evidence of the majority of "folk" being right handed and coach drivers being randomly selected from the human population. In order for the whip to reach both sides of the equine team, right and left, evenly, this right arm of the coach driver had to be equidistant from both its rows. In other words, the coach driver had to sit on the left of the bench so that his right arm would be above the centre of it.
This not only left room on the right of the bench for the person who "rode shotgun" and protected the coach from Jesse James, Billy the Kid or others who fancied a free lunch, it also made sure that the horses were evenly beaten to spur them to greater effort. This was of course necessary as a little thought will tell you that if the horses on the right ran faster than the horses on the left, the coach would veer to the left and come off the road — and vice versa of course, leading to the same disaster, frightening the ladies, inconveniencing the gentlemen and holding up the King's Mail.
It stands to reason that if the coach drivers all sat to the left of the coach and had to see the traffic coming from the opposite side, that they had to be positioned in or towards the centre of the roadway and not be tucked away to the side of the road. This was made possible by the law that forced the coaches and carriages to drive on the right side of the street or highway. Do you see it?
Now one may well ask "why then do the British and the Indians drive on the left side of the road?" This is a very difficult question and several explanations have been put forward but none of them convince me so I shan't relay them. The closest explanation is that the British are traditionally eccentric and perverse and the Indians were colonised and submissive, but these are rather insulting hypotheses, so one shouldn't pursue them. What does occur to me, though, is that it is quite possible that even a few days in LA have brain-washed me into accepting the theory of driving on the right as perfectly logical and arising out of the biological preponderance of right-handedness. It may not be the case.
But one finds that Americans do claim a natural right to innovate. For instance, people from Los Angeles always refer to their city as "LA". They ask me where I am from and when I say I am from "P", they invariably express puzzlement. I am forced to elaborate and tell them I meant I was from Poona, now known as Pune, but most of them still don't get it. They work on the conceited assumption that only Americans should be allowed to abbreviate the names of their cities into initials and be readily understood when they do.
The common idea that most Americans don't know terribly much about the world was reinforced by three reports and incidents   these last few days: I was talking to Ashok Amritraj who told me that when he first came here and talked to even educated Americans they thought Singapore was in India. Then I meet a young lady who says she is trying to break in to film-making and because I am holding a book asks me what it is. Would it make a good movie? It is in fact the autobiography of Groucho Marx and I tell her that.
"Who is he?" asks this person who wants to make films in Hollywood!
"Oh he's the fellow who invented communism", I reply.
"Interesting", she says.
And in the breakfast room of the motel where I am staying the comestibles are laid out on a table with several varieties of bread and bagels at one end. Next to these bread baskets is a plastic and steel contraption which at first sight startled me because it was nothing but a large toy guillotine. What was it for? The young lady at the breakfast-dispensing table serving herself before me unwittingly demonstrated. She picked up and neatly cut two organic wholewheat, seedy, vitamin-reinforced, bran-rich, low-calorie, unglazed, oil-free, anti-yeast allergen fortified bagels into lateral halves under the guillotine and stuck them in the toaster.
"Let them eat cake", I remarked.
She turned round "Pardon me?"
"Marie Antoinette", I said.
"No, I'm not, I'm Krystal with a 'K,'" and she stuck out a polite hand to shake mine.                  
(See? Not a word about the Osc...)







So the Supreme Court says the decision to appoint P.J. Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) is "non-est" in law. The Vigilance Commission is the "Integrity Commission of India", it says solemnly, and must be headed by an unblemished person with impeccable integrity.

Oops. I suspect that recommending an untainted person with impeccable integrity to head the corruption-control commission is "non-est" in Indian politics. Seriously, in a country driven as much by corruption as by law, which political party would want an utterly upright chap with flawless integrity, one who cannot be influenced by netas and political expediencies, to head the Vigilance Commission? Which suicidal ministers would take pains to instil a thorn in the flesh of robust corruption that drives Indian democracy? Would you want to give someone who doesn't respect your secrets the key to your cupboard of skeletons?
The very fact that the earlier CVC had cleared the palmolein-tainted bureaucrat Mr Thomas' candidature for CVC reveals the anti-corruption body's own limitations in fighting the hydra-headed monster it is up against. "We had to trust the earlier CVC", lamented law minister Veerappa Moily. "We believed in the system. That system has failed."

Wonder why our leaders continue to "believe in the system" when nobody else in the country does. According to Transparency International, India has an integrity score of 3.3, which makes it one of the most corrupt nations of the world. And, of course, our politicians lead the pack in this race of crooks.
In fact, in his defence the CVC had claimed that making a fuss over his appointment makes no sense when hardcore criminals are allowed to be lawmakers. "Twenty-eight per cent members of Parliament (MPs) — 153 of 543 (in the Lok Sabha) — face charges of various kinds, 54 face serious criminal charges, including murder", said the CVC's counsel K.K. Venugopal. "And unfortunately they are the very persons who make laws for us."
Several MPs, even facing murder charges, had become ministers, he argued. And it's not just being chargesheeted — MPs and MLAs (members of the Legislative Assembly) can hold office and are not disqualified even on conviction if the sentence is less than two years. "If the issue of suitability was allowed to be introduced by way of judicial verdict, then it would open a Pandora's box as all executive appointments would become subject to various objective factors…" the counsel had warned.
Which may not displease the Supreme Court, under the formidable Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia. "We want to lay down the law for the future", the court had warned. And it clearly wishes to foreground the issue of probity in public life. Integrity is important, it reminds us, both for an institution and for the individual.
Indian democracy is already facing a steady erosion of legitimacy. Murderers, rapists, thieves and crooks of all kinds power the system which may or may not prop up a few relatively honest leaders to save face. Killer dacoits and goons rule the cow belt of north India, other goons and fraudsters pretty much run the system elsewhere as well.
In every election, almost all our political parties field candidates with criminal links, if not a clear-cut criminal past. As a voter, you cannot change the system satisfactorily because you don't have a real choice. Choosing between several corrupt and criminalised political parties and candidates is not good enough. There have been repeated demands to debar criminals and history-sheeters from contesting elections, but no political power has the guts and muscle to pursue it.
To change the system that our trusting law minister feels so let down by, we need to change its nuts and bolts. And this SC ruling may be the beginning of that radical, sweeping change.
The new Chief Justice of India (CJI) shows every sign of being committed to cleaning up the system. Chief Justice Kapadia has also revived the police reforms case from half-a-decade's stupor, trying to get states to implement the reforms that would ease the politician's grip on the police force, instil accountability, reduce corruption and help the system work more efficiently.
So it is not surprising that the Supreme Court, led by this CJI, would push for a transparent system that focuses on integrity and probity in public life. And if it is a problem seeking out suitably honest bureaucrats, cast your net wider, it ruled. "No reason has been given as to why in the present case the zone of consideration stood restricted only to the civil service", the court stated. "In future, the zone of consideration shall not be restricted to civil servants. All the civil servants and other persons empanelled shall be outstanding civil servants or persons of impeccable integrity." In short, don't just look for babus, look for a suitable, principled, honest person.
But can the nation get a fearless, honest head of this supreme anti-corruption body? Will the honest Abdul not be bumped off as s/he digs into the murky world of the corrupt and powerful? Not necessarily, especially if the police reforms are in place. Unlike all the fearless Right to Information activists being killed around the country, the CVC will hopefully have reliable protection.
And where will such a flawlessly sincere officer come from? With the playing field opened up to non-bureaucrats, the possibilities are wide-ranging and exciting. Efficient, dedicated and honest candidates could come from any profession, from law to academia. They are not "non-est" in larger life. They do exist.
But if that's too much of a hassle, there are easier ways to overcome this stumbling block of "impeccable integrity". The most convenient, of course, would be to define the term clearly. Harry Houdini had once said, "In the many years that I have been before the public my secret methods have been steadily shielded by the strict integrity of my assistants, most of whom have been with me for years". Happily, such "strict integrity" is not very difficult to find in our political world. And the Pandora's box that the CVC's counsel warned about may remain shut — and all may be well.
Unless our netas join the game, the radical systemic reform can only come about if powerful political parties take a cue from the Supreme Court's ruling and bestir themselves. And decide to keep their customary, perpetual promise to fight corruption.

Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at:









When depression weighs you down and it feels like the world is crashing down on you; that there is no one who truly cares and everything in life generally seems meaningless, pick up your purse and immediately head to the nearest posh beauty salon.


I have often wondered whether the training at such salons involve making all customers believe they are balancing beauty pageant crowns on their head. The signs are deliciously subtle and barely discernible, but for those who look for them, they are as obvious as botox on Bollywood.


From the time you sit down flipping magazines and wait for your turn, taking turns to curse the translucence of someone's skin and the slimness of another's waist to the time you step out of the parlour with a considerably light wallet and loaded ego, the charm offensive lasts.


An appreciative glance here and an admiring once-over there as you get your pedicure done, delivered with such finesse that you shed five kilos and 10 years on the spot.


The spotlessly well-groomed 20-something would handle your thinning grey-streaked hair like it's a cascading black waterfall, while gently enquiring about the shampoos you use.


The bounce returns to your locks and curls and the spring gets back to your steps as you catch in the mirror the other attendants' fleeting glance at your hair, leaving the secretly delighted Rapunzel in you turning cartwheels.


The girl who cleanses your worries away, hydrates your parched moments, and massages that ego ever so gently enquiring every few minutes if you are comfortable makes you pity the deprived life of Cleopatra.


Those few minutes or couple of hours at these parlours make us feel so rich that we often end up valiantly tipping a sum that would have covered our entire beauty regimen at the neighbourhood parlour.


I do not see this level of attention and pampering even in the airline and hospitality industry. More often than not, the emphasis is on delighting all customers of all shapes and sizes. Talkative customers are regaled with anecdotes and gupshup while reclusive clients are given their space.


Rather than be in-the-face about all that is wrong with you, pinning you down to spend more on the spot to fix the problem, they deftly counsel you and suggest easy tips to follow at home.


They end up becoming your trusted friends in those moments where you want to hand over your entire body to them for a complete overhaul, pay them through the blackhead-free nose and feel grateful for all their blessings received.


Now contrast this with the levels of customer care in some other stores. I was once outside a prominent silk sari store at South Extension, New Delhi, looking for a spot to park when the store's fat, bald, old attendant (okay, he was not that fat or bald or old) waved at me and said, "Aunty, jaiye jaiye, aage parking milegi".


I brusquely nodded, tightened my grip on the 5k I would have spent at the store, controlled my quivering lips, and kept driving only to stop at the nearest salon. I then rushed into the arms of the hairdresser sobbing.


Surekha Pillai is an independent communications consultant based in Delhi and can be reached at or @surekhapillai on Twitter







When Messrs Kevin O'Brien and John Mooney of Ireland were making mincemeat of the hapless English bowling attack, unless you were a true blue Brit, you were certainly rooting for Ireland.


And if you are even remotely like me, you might have even given out a Tarzan-like war cry, when Mooney tonked the winning runs.


That brings me to a set of questions: Why is that we human beings always back the underdog? Why do we always like to see a David beat a Goliath? Not just at the Bangalore stadium a few nights ago, but since time immemorial. Why have people always cheered an Abhimanyu versus the Kauravas, an Eklavya versus an Arjun?


Take the case of Susan Boyle, the 47-year-old Scottish villager, who made it to Britain's Got Talent music contest of 2009. When she first appeared on stage, unfashionable by modern, urban standards, nobody gave her a chance. Least of all the judges, who even made faces. However, the moment, Susan began singing, people sat up and took notice.


Susan not only had the studio audiences rooting for her, but the judges too became her fans, resulting in her winning the contest. Susan underwent a makeover, made her millions, and is now a case study of the classic underdog.


It is fun to be an underdog. To my mind, more fun than starting off as favourites, Mr Dhoni, please note. I remember the time our B-school entered an inter-collegiate hockey tournament in Pune.


The Maharashtra Hockey Association clerk actually guffawed loudly when he saw our application form. "What do you MBA kids know about hockey?!"he said.


That was just the spark we needed. It was easy to get the adrenalin flowing, during our many practice sessions, which we expertly balanced between weighty sessions of mathematical methods and quantitative techniques (MMQT) and econometrics.


On D-day, we were all charged-up against the defending champions on their home ground. So pumped up were we that we thrashed the champs 3-0, no less! Needless to say, we went the full distance in our debut championship, only to lose by a whisker in the final.


However, this is not just about adrenalin. The underdog theory has been studied threadbare by social psychologists the world over.


A study carried out by a group of researchers at the University of South Florida revealed that people who were viewed as 'disadvantaged' aroused people's sense of fairness and justice — important principles to most people.


The researchers also found that people tend to believe that underdogs put forth more effort than top-dogs. This is interesting.


Methinks that it would not be a bad idea after all, for Dhoni and company to drink a bit of Irish Stout to let some of that underdog magic rub off on them!







As Douglas Adams once said, airports are the most depressing places in the world. He sagely observed that no one has ever said "as pretty as an airport" because they are ugly.


He goes to say that some airports attain a degree of ugliness that can only come from special effort. In a decade after Adams, I am happy to announce that airports have indeed moved from point A in Uglypur to point B in Uglynagar.


They have gotten bigger and for those of you who still remember a bit of physics from your school, you will smartly observe that an increase in volume should result in a corresponding reduction in the density of ugliness.


But airport authorities have indeed taken, as Adams pointed out, special effort to ensure that no such dilution of ugliness happened.


In any large Indian megacity, it starts with the commute to the airport. It's as if that giant malevolent beast extended its tentacles right up to your garage to drain your soul from the very moment you step into your vehicle.


For example, Bangalore's airport exists in a separate dimension, one that keeps the person trying to reach it forever stuck in a spatio-temporal loop in Bangalore traffic.


Chennai's airport showers you with its ugliness once you reach it. Thousands of vehicles attempt to disgorge thousands of passengers in a space suitable for 2 autos and a dog.


There are the customary policemen who try to ensure that every vehicle gets precisely a few microseconds to extricate passenger(s), four large suitcases and one annoying kid before shooing them away.


In the middle of this ruckus, you will also occasionally see the recent recipient of a US study visa being garlanded by extended family while being given last-minute instructions on the dangers of getting involved with Caucasian women from a different caste while working towards an MS degree.


As you make your way from the sonic assault of several car horns towards the entrance, a couple of guards will make sure that you have done your part in depleting the Earth's atmosphere of oxygen by demanding a dead-tree version of your ticket, in triplicate, duly notarized by a gazetted officer.


I have tried showing my ticket on mobile phones and even in the 1024x768 resolution of an iPad only to be shown the direction to the nearest printer.

Once you enter the building, you make your way to what seems like a labyrinthine queue, elaborately constructed with the intention of maximising the ability of one airline employee to issue boarding passes to 400 people, an intention entirely misplaced as several individual queues form, each one with its own historical claim of origin timestamp.


And I haven't even got to the part where that family with 20 pieces of oversized luggage refuse to pay extra for it.


Slightly techie, moderately musical, severely blogging, timepassly tweeting









The highest court of law in the country has cracked the whip, and the Central Vigilance Commissioner P.J. Thomas, fighting an entrenched battle against the law of the land, has been shown the door. Along with it come the cryptic comments of the court, particularly one that raises eyebrow on the legality of the decision of the apex selection committee. The question which the Prime Minister will have to answer in the Parliament is this: even if the prospective candidate for this very important and sensitive position was convincingly capable and appropriate, what were his compulsions to override the terms of reference, disregard the opinion of the leader of the opposition and thrust the decision on the Government when the rules categorically laid down that the selection had to be a consensus decision. There is no doubt that Thomas lied and misled the Prime Minster and the Home Minister. If the Prime Minister and the Home Minster advance this argument, it makes their position more precarious. Why did they ignore fuller verification of the antecedents of the candidate they were supporting? They knew that there were charges against him as Secretary of the Ministry of Telecommunication. How could he be impartial, unbiased and non-partisan when catapulted into the sensitive post of CVC? These are embarrassing questions no doubt but these will be raised in the Parliament. Amusingly, parliamentarians will focus on the pressures and compulsions for the Prime Minister for willfully ignoring the terms of reference of the selection committee. Are these pressures from within or outside the party? Is it safe for the country to be in the hands of a Prime Minister who is prone to overriding the established procedures in sensitive matters of state? The Prime Minister cannot wish way these and other questions. It is notable that the Supreme Court is not happy with the way scams and corruption and major irregularities in governance have become a recurrent phenomenon. The watchdog of countries interests would have been happy if the law of the land could run its normal writ. There is much for the coalition Government to do to make its profile acceptable to the voters when time comes for that. Close at hand are elections to the assemblies in four states. Congress party has to clean the thick layers of dust under which its glorious history remains submerged.






The ruckus overtaking the budget session of the legislative assembly is, in a sense, continuation of combating culture evolved since 2009 when the then opposition leader, unable to control her angst, tried to hurl the mike at the Speaker of the House. Inside the house, rabble rousing members seem more to be exuding personal vendetta than fighting a winning battle for the people for their right to development and progress. If we are to trace the short history of democratic culture of state politics, we may say it actually began only when the PDP emerged as impressive alternative to the traditional National Conference, which has had the privilege of running as the uncontested party for many decades. In that sense PDP has made history in the politics of the state. But while the NC considered it almost blasphemous for any contestant to stage opposition to its monopoly of Kashmir politics because it had played a historic role of winning freedom from autocratic rule, the PDP, on the other hand, regaled on its windfall success. How sad that instead of playing a constructive role that would have immensely strengthened the political construct of the State, it got bogged with rivalry and vendetta. The prime task before the two outstanding political regional parties should have been tackling the menace of terrorism and religious extremism that had engulfed the state and steering clear of turbulent waters so that the beleaguered state and its people would find a ray of hope for the return of normalcy. This did not happen and what is more, the two embarked on a spate of trading mutually denigrating exercise of accusations and counter accusations. The things have come to a pass where they have no hesitation to come to blows and abuses in the full house. What message does it convey to the people who are longing for a radical change in the political scenario of the state? PDP wants that the Government open a discussion on the unrest of summer 2010 in the valley. Its purpose is to tarnish the Government with inefficiency and failure in controlling the situation. The Government is unwilling to open a debate on the regrettable happenings of the past. The PDP is within its right to ask for a debate in the house. But it has to be remembered that the State has been passing through very hard times for two decades in the past. The unrest that has gripped it has been manifesting in various forms and shapes and intensity for last two decades. It is unjust to specify the externally abetted turmoil to any particular regime or period. The unrest was there during the days when PDP led the coalition Government. The reasons for unrest are known to one and all. There is nothing special about these reasons during the summer of 2010. The separatists change strategy as and when it suits them. The change is not of their choosing but they follow the diktat from extraneous sources. As such there seems no sense in opening a debate on the unrest that happened during summer 2010 leading to about a hundred fatalities. And if the PDP insists that it will not let the house conduct its business unless the matter is debated, then in all fairness, it should ask for a threadbare debate on the rise of armed insurgency in the state in early 1990 and the killing of hundreds of innocent members of a minority community. In conclusion if the house remains divided in a manner we see it today, it will be a sad commentary on the history of democracy in the State.









Going, going, gone. Sounds odd, to say the least, if it involves countries which until only the other day had seemed rock solid. Imagine Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian leader on the run, successor to the charismatic pan-Arab leadership of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Col. Qadhaffi, narcissan Libyan leader, whom Ronald Reagan over two decades ago described as "that mad dog". The Tunisian strong man Ben Ali, the Yemanese President, the Sheikh of Bahrain, holding on desperately to his throne, thanks to the unspoken support from a neighbouring Islamic republic which itself is worried about the stirrings of public protests, the Kuwaitis and Omanese royals also showing signs of nerves etc.

The story goes on and on. Even the great Chinese People's Republic of China, never known for its tolerance of public dissent - a few hundred thousands killed here and there by (remember Tiananmen Square) hardly matters. In fact a handful of demonstrations there the other day were put down with a heavy hand.
Thank God, we in India, divided, diverse and the always bickering politicians and caste-driven bigots seem to be living in comparative peace. May be our own cultural, linguistic, religious diversities offer us some kind of safety as against the great monolithic religious States (with one or two exceptions where they have allowed a handful of Christians to stay around) stay divided by tribal loyalties even when they share the same faith.
In the post-world war I and II years the West did instal kings in what they fondly called the Middle East and we insist on calling West Asia; Shiekhdoms were created almost at will.

It is another matter the Kings and Sheikhs were among the first to go, fallen victim to the armies they created. Iraq and Egypt instantly come to mind. Endowed with the nature's most profitable resource, oil, the Kings and Sheikhs considered the God-given wealth their own and that was how Gen. Abubakar and Col. Nasser appeared on the scene, the first, the Iraqi monarch eliminated by his own men and the second deposed by the Coonel. Iran got rid of its Shah but only to be ruled for the past three decades by iron-fisted Mullahs who at the first sound of dissent invoke the wrath of Allah to do away with the dissenters or put them into jails. They will not hear even from their own colleagues in the Shiite clergy.

The Iranian clergy has virtually put itself on par with divine dispensation. I had seen it coming in the winter of 1979 in Teheran when huge waves of demonstrators would march down the streets of the Iranian capital shouting the slogan "Allah-o-Akbar, Khomeini Rahbar", very nearly putting Khomeini almost on the same pedestal as God.

Around the same time I had visited Afghanistan for a fortnight and frankly my heart then went out to the Mujahideen who were repulsing the invasion by the former Soviet Union. Little did I realise then that the freedom fight would shortly after be turned into a religious jihad. Driving in semi-darkness in the wee hours of a chilly winter's day morning from Kabul to Jalalabad I remember the driver, who spoke a little Urdu and asked me to call him Malang, "Insha Allah, Russi (Russian) ko khatam karenge, phir tumhare muluk ayenge. Theek hai." "Insha Allah"I repeated little knowing that my next visit to Kabul would see me find Afghans beaheading each other.

Around the same time, back home in Delhi, I was asked to go to Kashmier where the Pak-backed separatists had begun to surface. In the frst flush of their excitement the militants targeted the odd Kashmiri pandit they ran into, issuing threats to them etc. causing most of them to flee. It broke my Kashmiri heart because I had always believed that the Kashmiris unlike Hindus and Muslim in the rest of the sub-continent were just Kashmiris, not "Bhattas" (Pandits) and Musalmans.

Much blood has been spilled in that State in the intervening years and sadly there are very few who are for peace and reconciliation. To my simplistic mind there is some hope, though, now seeing how things are going in the separatists dreamland of Pakistan. With Pakistan persisting with its self-destructive ways it may not be long before its nascent (three-year-old) democracy yields place to the Army. Nawaz Shrif's Muslim League, a partner with the People's Party in the last general election has broken its ties with the latter in the most populous province, Punjab ruled by Sharif's brother, while holding its hand from pulling rug from under Asif Ali Zardari's feet in Islamabad.

Zardari may manage to hold on to power for a while longer but huge question mark hangs over if Sharif has gained the support of Muslim League (Q), Chaudhry Shujaat's faction which owed allegiance to Gen. Musharraf when he was in power. What is apparently saving the Zardari government at the moment is Nawaz Sharif's fear that by causing the PPP-led government's collapse in Islamabad he may only be providing the Army with the pretext to take over.
So, it is said, Nawaz will wait it out until the elections fall due again in not very distant future. Zardari's fool hardiness has made the PPP a ghost of what it was during Zulfiquar or Benazir's time.
This apart, the Pakistani Taliban appear to be in no mood to relieve the pressure on the Government; its campaign of suicide attacks in any part of the country shows no signs of relenting. Apart from the Pakistani Taliban the government must contend with forces such as the Laskar-e-Toiba of Hafeez Saeed and numerous other militant organisations. The jihaddits are simply not stopping from taunting the Zardari government as an American stooge, a charge which gained strength when former Foreign Minister Qureshi once he was dropped from the Cabinet by the Prime Minister, claimed that he was shown the door because he had insisted on action against the American who shot dead two Pakistanis in Lahore.

The Americas argue that the man enjoys diplomatic immunity by Zardari, his hands tied, is withholding consent to that. In the meantime another American has been held by the Pakistani authorities even as a whole fleet of petrol-laden tankers en route to Afghanistan was set ablaze by the Taliban in Pakistan.

I don't know how exactly and how long the Pakistani government will remain in power and be seen as an effective instrument of the State. Domestically it is faced with challenges not only from Nawaz Sharif but by most dangerously from the Taliban/Lashkar and the Army. Who knows in his desperation Zardari, Army willing, may be forced to heed Hafez Saeed's warning a fortnight ago that time for action against Indians in Kashmir has arrived.

I am sure the Kashmiris, even in the valley, would not want to be subjected to a war-like situation. That would make so much nonsense of the efforts of the Indian interlocutors and the Kashmiris demand for withdrawal of Army from civilian areas and the act that empowering the Army with Special powers in the State.
The mainstream People's Democratic Party of Kashmir, led by Mufti Mohammad Sayeed, has suddenly chosen to make a common cause of it with the separatist Hurriyet saying since they both talked the same language (on separatists demand) "we can evolve consensus on the ground". I don't know how he links the similarity between his party's and the Hurriyat's demands, having refused to talk to the interlocutors and yet demanding a roundtable conference with the Prime Minister with Hurriyet as a part of it.

Does the Mufti go with the extremist Hurriyet (Geelani) when it speaks of accession to Pakistan or is he with Maulvi Farouk's Hurriyet who is currently trying to fish in the troubled India-China waters with a tottering Paskistani regime holding the fishing rod. If I know what the PDP leadership really wants, why doesn't it make a clean breast of it and ask the Prime Minister to switch the Congress Party's loyalty from the National Conference to PDP for the Muftis to be installed in government once again. After all they shared power in the State for six years once before. Or, is it that we are playing for higher stakes. Like, for instance, create instability in the valley to facilitate other designs, like preparing ground for the likes of Hafez Saeed and his Lashkar-e-Toiba to step in.








Our Eleventh Five Year Plan ( 2007- 2012) aims at bringing about inclusive growth in the real sector. In the context of the policy paradigm of inclusive growth in the real sector, financial inclusion has become a policy priority. The basic idea is simple: access to affordable finance may enable the poor, especially the rural poor, to undertake economic activities like self- employment, or micro businesses. The broader perspective of financial inclusion is provided by the Rangarajan Commission: "financial inclusion is considered a prerequisite for empowerment, employment, economic growth, poverty reduction, and social cohesion." A rather tall order indeed!

Financial inclusion is thus the process of ensuring access to credit, or financial services generally, needed by vulnerable groups such as weaker sections and low income groups at affordable cost, from the mainstream institutions, like commercial banks, Regional Rural Banks, and Cooperatives, Reserve Bank of India (RBI) has taken a number of measures to accelerate this process of financial inclusion by setting specific targets of coverage of population by public sector banks ( PSBs). A major change introduced by RBI is that such coverage could take place not necessarily through a brick and mortar branch but also through any of the various forms of Information and Communication Technology ( ICT) based models like Business Correspondents ( BCs). Under this BC Model banks have been permitted to use the services of various entities like the individual Kirana, medical and fair price shop owners, agents of small saving schemes, functionaries of well- run Self Help Groups ( SHG ) linked to banks.

Two funds were set up with NABARD: first, Financial Inclusion Fund for meeting the cost of developmental and promotional interventions for facilitating financial inclusion, secondly, Financial Inclusion Technology Fund to meet the cost of technology adoption. The overall Corpus of these funds was Rs. 500 crore each: these were enhanced by Rs. 100 crore each in 2010- 2011.

In November 2009, the RBI advised banks to draw up a roadmap to provide, by March 2011, banking services in every village with a population of over 2000.

The target date has now been postponed to March 2012. About 73,000 villages have been allocated to various banks for provision of banking services.

While, in principle, the concept of financial inclusion is indeed incontrovertible, it is necessary to introspect on whether the way we are going about to achieve the results is the right way. Does the target based approach, targets in terms of villages to be covered, or number of accounts to be opened, dilute the substance of inclusion? In this zeal for hundred per cent coverage, is the movement being reduced to tokenism?
In retrospect, it can be seen that much before financial inclusion became internationally fashionable, the authors of nationalisations of banks in 1969, emerge as pioneers of financial inclusion. The expansion of branches of public sector banks was phenomenal in the post- nationalisation period, unprecedented in the history of world banking. Banking growth in this era was in a manner of speaking organic. Banks were allocated areas for expansion like Lead Districts.

Further expansion was left to banks concerned: each bank would decide on whom to lend; how much to lend and so on. In other words, normal banking practices governed the expansion of banking.
In contrast, the emphasis now seems to be on quantities. How many accounts has a bank opened? Since the inception of the scheme in November 2005, 50.6 million no- frills accounts, which banks are required to open with very low or even nil balances have been opened by banks, up to March 2010, with an outstanding balance of Rs. 5386 crore.

Further more, in 2009- 10, banks were advised to provide small over drafts in such accounts, by March 2010 banks had provided 0.18 million over drafts with a total amount of Rs. 28 crore. General purpose credit cards ( GCC) offered by banks at their rural and semi- urban branches are in the nature of revolving credit, entitling the holder to withdraw upto the limit sanctioned Rs.25,000.

By March 2010, banks had provided credit aggregating Rs. 635 crore for 3.5 million GCC accounts. This is a result of "command performance", a case of directed credit. This massive target of number of accounts to be opened is putting a strain on banks' resources, both human and financial. The ministry of finance is planning to compensate public sector banks for this additional burden imposed on them in terms of rural penetration.
The RBI's approach to financial inclusion in the sense of universal or near universal coverage of households is flawed, or basically misconceived. Banking sector resources are, and would continue to be, limited.
Optimum utilisation of banking sector resources would demand a selective approach to credit extension. Ideally credit should chase productive activities and if this is ensured, we could promote optimal use of banking sector resources.

Spreading banking sector resources too thinly, which universal coverage necessarily implies, would not lead to optimise growth.

However, today financial inclusion has been reduced to a game of numbers, a mere tokenism. Take, for instance, No frills Accounts. As Dr. Tarapore, former Deputy Governor, has pointed out, only a tenth of these accounts are operational. What purpose on earth 90 per cent of such "near dead" accounts serve? Only RBI could provide an answer to this question. Because these accounts have stemmed from "targets" and not grown organically, they are in a sorry state.

The point is let us not pursue the shadow of universal coverage but seize the substance of banking. Let RBI allocate areas to different banks for penetration but, leave the selection of borrowers to banks. Let there be no insistence on numbers. Then there will be the normal banking practices which govern the selection of borrowers, the quantum of credit to be given and so on. This approach would bring about healthy banking growth, facilitating growth in the real sector. (INAV)








It is an ever-agreeable fact that the imperial power of knowledge is the only factor that basically discriminates a person from his other mortals of the world. The same also helps him to bring the world under his unquestionable custody. This power never comes to an individual as a birthright or through inheritance but through time bound education, a constant touch with the social inmates and through tireless follow ups.
Human beings are born as helpless babies. They grow and while growing they change in their physique. It should be ensured that there is simultaneous mental development for which they need morally stimulating faculties. Thus the foundation of a systematic value based and progressive education is to be laid for them.
Education Institutions are authorized agencies in imparting formal education to the students. These institutions have the purpose of making students more humane understandably by giving them knowledge and through knowledge wisdom for national development to take place. Knowledge is important, imagination is more important, the character is perhaps most important. Albert Einstein once said, "Most people think that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist, they are wrong, it is the character". The primary purpose of education is the development of character. The character building requires the inculcation of value system that emphasizes the pursuit of excellence, nurturing of scientific temper and developing a human approach to all aspects of working life. But the present social set up depicts a different picture. The students today are not aspiring for education for its own sake. They seek learning in order to make money out of such education. India's political and social life is passing through a phase which poses a danger of erosion of long accepted values. We are able to see this even as we regret it. Secularism, Democracy, National Unity, Professional Ethos and other cherished values are coming under increasing strain. Today India has one of the largest systems of education in the world. Facilities for education have grown at all levels. But what is most painful is the fact that our students acquire knowledge, they acquire skill, but they don't acquire wisdom, Wisdom encompasses knowledge. It is the ability to see the true nature of things, helps us to arrive at connectivity and unity of all mankind.
The famous verse of TS Eliot depicts the scenario as:

"Where is the Wisdom, that we have lost in knowledge,

Where is the Knowledge,

that we have lost in information

The cycle of heaven in twenty centuries

Brings us farther from God;

and nearer to dust".


In fact, in our education system certain faculties of the mind are emphasized and rest of them is often neglected, this creates fragmentation of knowledge in the minds of students and this fragmentation in turn creates conflict and confusion. An integrated and right type of education is necessary for the harmonious development of an individual. No matter how much one might read and engage in philosophical discourse, all one gains is knowledge, which doesn't bring about any real change, it remains only at superficial level.
Today the world over, while science is progressing and knowledge is exploding, man dislikes man to the point at which every man believes that what he says is right and that the other man has no right to disagree. This is the basic truth of fundamentalism and when a person with fundamentalist ideas becomes equipped with a weapon of death we get a terrorist. Thus, the assimilation of knowledge through the process of thought into wisdom of living is totally absent today.

Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru said that a University stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for search of truth, it stands for onward march of human race, towards even higher objectives.
The real University does not consist of buildings or classrooms or laboratories or libraries. The real University is a state of mind, a continuity of thought, and a body of intellectual tradition to which all teachers and students belong. The growth of such an entity is the real personality of Universality development. Such a state of mind can be induced only by an inner bond with the idea that true education liberates the human spirit.
"Sa Vidya Ya Vimuktay" Its perception is that acquisition of meaningful knowledge releases the energy for liberation from not just ignorance or the backwardness that arises from ignorance but liberation from psychological complexes prejudices, narrow thinking and other curbs on the potentials of human beings. It is a grand conception --- for it is based on the idea that truth has a profound power and real education, by equipping the human being with the power of truth generates forces of liberation.

Bishop Burgmann said many years ago:" …a nation's education is simply its vigorous pulsating life energy seeking knowledge and skill and feeling after wisdom and understanding. A nation grows as the quality of its citizen's increases and quality is seen in character. Character grows out of the discipline of knowledge and refinement of love.

(The writer is a former Reader Coordinator of University of Jammu)










The employment package offered by the Centre for Jammu and Kashmir is a welcome step to ensure that youngsters in the strife-torn Valley get engaged in productive activities. The package, aimed at creating at least one lakh jobs, is based on a comprehensive employment generation plan prepared by a group of experts headed by former RBI Governor C. Rangarajan. The Rangarajan panel was appointed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh along with four other groups on Kashmir in May 2006. The idea behind the job-generation plan obviously is that widespread unemployment is a major factor which has contributed to the loss of peace in the border state. Handling the issue of joblessness successfully can make it difficult for terrorist outfits to find new recruits to their destructive projects. Acute unemployment was one of the major factors that helped last summer's turmoil to continue for four months following the killing of 17-year-old Tufail Ahmed allegedly in a firing incident involving the security forces. Those who indulged in stone throwing were mostly unemployed young men, who were paid by anti-national forces for what they did.


The Rangarajan panel has recommended not only the creation of jobs for the state's youth, but also tapping of Jammu and Kashmir's hydroelectric potential and transfer of the Dul Hasti power project to the state to enable it to minimise unemployment. These meaningful recommendations will require a massive infusion of funds, which must be arranged in the larger interest of the nation. It is necessary to increase economic activity in the state so that people have little interest in destructive programmes.


However, there are experts on Kashmir who believe that concentrating on the economic aspect of the Kashmir problem will help only to a limited extent. In their opinion, the political aspect also needs to be handled carefully and boldly. Separatists and mainstream parties have almost similar views on many issues like the withdrawal of the Armed Forces Special Powers Act, reduction of troops, allowing more trading activity between Jammu and Kashmir and the Pakistan-occupied areas of the state and promoting people-to-people contacts. That is all right. But no one can ignore the importance of increased economic activity for normalising the situation in the Valley.









THURSDAY, March 3, was an important day for the Supreme Court of India. While a three-member Bench headed by Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia quashed the appointment of Mr P.J. Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, another Bench comprising Justice B. Sudershan Reddy and Justice S.S. Nijjar pulled up the government for its inaction on black money. Specifically, it expressed its anguish over the manner in which Hasan Ali Khan was roaming free even though he had allegedly stashed away around $8 billion in foreign banks and had been served a tax notice for Rs 40,000 crore. "What the hell is going on in this country?", thundered Justice Reddy. When senior counsel Anil Divan blamed the Enforcement Directorate (ED) for giving repeated adjournments, Justice Reddy observed that "the authorities hoodwinking everybody" and wondered whether the same leniency would be shown to petty offenders.


The judges were unconvinced with Solicitor-General of India Gopal Subramanium's explanation citing the measures being taken by the Centre against offenders like Hasan Ali Khan and asked him why he was not subjected to custodial interrogation so far. Interestingly, when Mr Anil Divan submitted that three key officials probing Khan's case had been peremptorily transferred, the court ordered their immediate reinstatement. Going a step further, Justice Reddy made it clear that if the government's response to the court's directions was not satisfactory, he would pass an order on March 8 and appoint a special officer for supervising the probe.

Admittedly, the Supreme Court's pro-active approach in this case seems to have worked because Mumbai's Enforcement Directorate has now summoned Hasan Ali Khan on March 7, a day before the Centre is expected to explain to the court about its efforts to nab him. The judiciary's anguish over the state of affairs and the need to set things right is understandable. However, the judges ought to be discreet while passing obiter dicta (an opinion voiced by a judge that has only incidental bearing on the case in question and is, therefore, not binding or forms a part of any ruling or judgment). Otherwise, it would send wrong signals and may even disturb the delicate constitutional balance between the judiciary and the executive. Obiter dicta by themselves are not legally significant though these may have evolved as a routine part of jurisprudence worldwide. But the judges ought to tread with caution while dealing with top functionaries like the Prime Minister as also the executive and the legislature.







Punjab politicians are falling over one another in a distasteful way to cash in on the mass appeal of Shaheed Bhagat Singh. This year his martyrdom day on March 23 is set to witness unseemly acts of political one-upmanship. The Congress and the Shiromani Akali Dal are all mobilising their supporters to converge at Khatkar Kalan, the martyr's birthplace in Nawanshehr district of Punjab. Former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal's decision to launch a political party on March 23 at Khatkar Kalan had led the two major political parties of Punjab to organise similar shows of strength. However, Manpreet Badal has wisely postponed the launch of his party to March 27.


It is amazing how Bhagat Singh's appeal has grown over the years and across the political spectrum. Earlier, the Leftists and Naxalites drew inspiration from him. Bhagat Singh had embraced Marxism in his later years and wanted India to be a socialist state. Though Rajguru, Sukhdev and Bhagat Singh had rejected Irish-style terrorism and favoured the path of Marxist-Leninist revolution, Punjab militants killed innocents, while blindly worshipping Shaheed Bhagat Singh. A religion-based party like the Akali Dal too swears by the revolutionary, who wrote an essay "Why I am an Atheist" while on death row.


Bhagat Singh had differences with Mahatma Gandhi over non-violence and also with other Congress leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru. Yet he conducted himself with dignity in public life. He held conferences, published pamphlets and posters to spread his message and not to run down opponents. The dropping of the bomb in the assembly, the hunger strike in prison to uphold the rights of prisoners and the final trial were all aimed to draw public attention to his ideas. While remembering the Shaheed-e-Azam, politicians should ensure that the sombre mood of martyrdom is not marred by petty political attacks on the pattern of what happens every year during the Jor Mela at Fatehgarh Sahib and the Maghi Mela at Muktsar.











In India's 2011-12 Budget, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has allocated Rs.1,64,415 crore ($ 36 bn) for Defence. An increase of 11.59 per cent over the budget estimate of Rs 1,47,344 crore for fiscal 2010-11, this amounts to just 1.8 per cent of the country's gross domestic product (GDP).


According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) database, India is among the world's 10 highest military spenders. However, its per capita defence expenditure is the lowest among the world's top defence spenders. Even as the percentage share of the GDP, India's defence expenditure has been lower than the global average.


Many defence experts consider 2011-12 outlay highly inadequate, given India's dangerous neighbourhood. Pakistan is drifting into a chaotic state, while West Asia's turmoil seems to be getting more complex. The experts' biggest concern is China's growing assertiveness and huge military budget. According to SIPRI Year Book 2010, India's military expenditure has grown from $ 22 bn in 2000 to $ 37 bn in 2009, whereas China's has more than tripled during the same period, from $ 31 bn to $ 99 bn.


In this context, critics of India's defence budget argue that it should have been a minimum of 3 per cent of the GDP. Such an expectation was, of course, unrealistic. Finance Ministers have to deal with a difficult challenge of balancing competing demands. In Mr Mukhejee's case, he had to address the worrying fiscal deficit and also meet a number of vital requirements of sectors like education, health and agriculture. He has, however, assured that "any further requirement for the country's defence will be met".


This outlay needs to be viewed in the context of the chronic problem of underutilisation that ails the Defence Ministry. While examining the expenditure pattern in the years 2006-07 to 2009-10, the Sixth Report of the Standing Committee on Defence observes: "…notwithstanding the growth in the allocation, there is underutilisation of the allocations made to them (services) in all the years." Therefore, while advocating a higher outlay, the critics need to keep in view the current spending capacity of the defence establishment. A 3 per cent share of the GDP will amount to over Rs.2,69,000 crore, a jump of over Rs 1 lakh crore, which will be a wholly unrealistic outlay, as much of it will have to be surrendered. There is certainly a strong case for enhancing the defence outlay, by stages, to around 2.5 per cent of the GDP, but first the spending capacity of the defence apparatus will have to be augmented on the basis of a sound long-term national security strategy and capability development plans.


The good news from the Defence Ministry is that last year it was able to fully utilise and, in fact, exceed its capital budget, meant chiefly for modernisation. Another positive feature is the growing share of the defence budget's capital outlay. The revenue-to-capital ratio was just 74:26 in the ninth defence plan; it increased to 63:37 in the tenth defence plan and this year nearly 42 per cent of the defence budget has been allocated to the capital head. This trend indicates an increasing emphasis on defence modernisation.


Even within the constraints of a relatively modest defence budget, there is ample scope to improve the country's defence capabilities. The same resources can be innovatively applied to much greater effect. Substantial scope exists for securing greater value for money by harnessing the great potential of India's domestic industry. This would need sharing adequate information about capabilities (not equipment) required in the future, formulating broad specifications or qualitative requirements in consultation with the industry and encouraging the domestic private industry to participate in the procurement process. The manner in which specifications are currently formulated, most prospective Indian vendors get excluded from the competition. As in the developed countries, our defence forces will also have to learn the art of effecting performance - cost trade-offs and not always aspire for the most perfect equipment or weapon systems. Experience shows that reasonable compromises at the margins of performance parameters can result in huge time and cost savings and enable the local industry to enter the market presently monopolised by a handful of dominant global players.


The second innovation can be to outsource logistics, product support and maintenance to the industry to the extent possible. This measure can lead to greater efficiencies and cost savings. It is a growing practice in the West. There is no need to own and manage non-core services, if these can be handled by industry or service providers. This practice will also lead to substantial savings in terms of smaller inventories and minimising their obsolescence.



A third measure should be reform in project and process management combined with the intelligent use of information technology (IT). IT can greatly improve inventory management, logistics and in general decision -making. A major problem affecting many sectors in the country, including defence, is inordinate delays in project management. Given the huge outlays in defence, the cost of delays is particularly prohibitive. Speedier processing of major programmes and efficient project management can generate substantial resources for defence which can then be deployed for other vital capabilities.


While a robust defence for the country requires more money, it is perhaps equally important to secure maximum value from the available resources.


The writer, Director-General, Institute for Defence Studies and Analyses, was a Secretary in the Ministry of Defence.








Where do you get so many mythological and historical examples from?" This is an oft-repeated question that many respondents ask me.

After having written about 80 episodes of Happiness@work, a weekly column in The Tribune, I confess it is all due to my guru Uncle Pai.

Though I never met him (and now, I never will. He passed away on February 24), he taught me much more than many of my school teachers put together did. Through his Amar Chitra Kathas (ACK) and Tinkles, he imparted unforgettable lessons to me in English, mythology, history, science and drawing. And all in good fun.

"Tell your son to practice drawing at home. He is not good at my subject," my arts teacher in school had told my father at the parent-teacher meeting. And the first drawing I copied was Abhimanyu, the 16-year-old hero in the Mahabharata, from the ACK title by the same name.

The figures, colours and the scenes had me hooked on for long with the result that I turned out on top in the technical drawing class during my engineering.

For me, he was more than a distance educator. He was a freedom fighter. In his own sweet way, he repaired the damage done by the British education system that told us that we were only worthy of being slaves.

Uncle Pai's titles infused fresh life into Indian heroes right from Chandragupta Maurya to Shivaji to Mahatma Gandhi.

To an India that had embraced secularism after Independence, he made sure we didn't forget our rich religious past through titles like Guru Nanak, Buddha and Kabir. After all, no other country is the birthplace of four religions - Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism.

And he did to Ved Vyas what Ved Vyas did to the Vedas - simplified these for the masses. The ancient seer, who rearranged the Vedas in their present form millenniums ago, wrote their essence for popular consumption in the form of the Mahabharata.

Anant Pai, through his sketches and colours, made the consumption of epics like the Mahabharata (and Ramayana) far easier for us children.

Many years ago, our household was abuzz. A letter from Uncle Pai had arrived. My entry about a real-life incident had been selected for Tinkle's feature, "This happened to me".

A few weeks later, a book of children's stories arrived with a "thank you" letter signed by Anant Pai. It still adorns my bookshelf.

Thank you, Uncle Pai.










Cancer is a disease in which the cells in the body grow uncontrollably. Rapidly growing cells form a lump or a mass called a lesion or a tumor. A tumor can be malignant (cancerous) or benign (non-cancerous).

When cancer spreads from one part of the body to the next it is called 'metastasis.'`85

Risk factors

Certain diseases have well-established risk factors. Smoking, for example, can lead to lung cancer; tobacco chewing is responsible for the cancer of the tongue; increased cholesterol is known to cause heart disease.

However, in the case of breast cancer, a definite cause is hard to arrive at. Breast cancer is a multi-factorial disease, with many risk factors, which may interact in a manner that is not clearly understood. Nearly, 70 per cent of patients with breast cancer do not mirror any of the perilous choices or conditions associated with the disease.

However, there are some factors that add an element of risk.

We can list them under one of the five categories.

 General risk factors

 Hormonal risk factors

 Genetic risk factors

 External risk factors: diet, environmental, or behavioural issues

 Stress

General risk factors

 Gender: A woman by virtue of being a woman is at a higher risk for breast cancer. However, a small percentage of men can also develop this disease.

 Age: Children do not get breast cancer. However, it is difficult to say precisely after what age a woman is more likely to get the disease. We used to think that women under the age of 35 did not get breast cancer. However, it has been increasingly seen in younger women in their late 20s and early 30s. The youngest patient I diagnosed with breast cancer was a girl who was 28 years old.

However, cases are reported of even

those as young as 25 years.

 Menstrual cycle: There is no relationship between breast cancer and the pattern of the menstrual cycle whether regular, irregular, scanty or heavy. However, the age at which menses start, and the age at which menopause occurs has some significance. This will be further discussed under 'hormonal risk factors'.

 Breast feeding: It is a common belief that a woman who cannot or does not breast-feed her child has a higher likelihood of getting breast cancer.

 Alcohol: Regularly drinking more than 1 unit of alcohol per day slightly increases the risk of breast cancer.

 Breast conditions: Certain breast conditions like atypical hyperplasia can increase the risk of developing breast cancer.

 Obesity: Being overweight later in life increases the risk of breast cancer. This is because when a woman's ovaries stop producing estrogen after menopause, fat cells become the main source of estrogen. Thus, obese women are exposed to more estrogen than their body can handle, which can stimulate the growth of abnormal cells.

 Family history: A strong family history of breast cancer increases the risk of developing the disease.

 Sexuality: Lesbians are at a greater risk of having breast cancer than those in heterosexual relationships.

Hormonal risk factors

Hormones, especially estrogen, play a huge role in the development of breasts. They also control menarche (the onset of the first period), cyclic changes during menstruation, and are closely related to the development of menopause.

Estrogen is often identified as the main culprit responsible for breast cancer. The breasts, as we had discussed earlier, have estrogen and progesterone receptors. The hormone estrogen stimulates the breast estrogen receptors, leading to a proliferation of these cells. Thus, whenever there is an excessive amount of unopposed estrogen the risk of breast cancer increases. This is especially seen under the following circumstances:

Menstruation: When menstruation starts early, especially before the age of 12, a girl is at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Menopause: When menopause starts late, after the age of 55, again, a woman is at a higher risk of developing breast cancer.

Pregnancy: There is a theory that between menarche and the first pregnancy, the breast tissue is sensitive to carcinogens. Thus, if a woman has never been pregnant or gets pregnant after the age of 30, she is at a greater risk of getting breast cancer.

Weight: If the woman concerned is overweight, and especially if she has excess fat around her waist, the hormone estrogen gets stored in such fat and this increases the risk of breast cancer.

Hormone replacement therapy: If the patient has gone through hormone replacement therapy (HRT), without regular check-ups, she is at a higher risk of breast cancer, as stated in reports of a study of HRT, in July 2002.

Certain birth control pills: In the past, when birth control pills had just reached medical counters, they came with high levels of estrogen, which made pill-consumers more susceptible to breast cancer. But over the past four decades, the amount of estrogen in the pill has reduced substantially.

Also progesterone given with estrogen, opposes estrogen, and makes the ovaries quiescent. Thus, there is no fear and risk of getting breast cancer due to low hormonal birth control pills.

Hysterectomy without the removal of ovaries: During a hysterectomy (removal of the uterus), if the ovaries are removed, the risk of developing breast cancer is reduced considerably. However, if the ovaries are not removed, then estrogen from the ovaries makes the breast more vulnerable to cancer. There may also be an incident of ovarian cancer, if the ovaries are left intact. Thus, based on the various risk factors at play and the age at which the operation is performed, a decision about the removal or preservation of ovaries must be taken.

Genetic factors

Factors such as an individual's family history can cause a great deal of anxiety, or worse still, lead to a false sense of security if the person concerned has no family history of breast cancer.

It is, therefore, important to be acquainted with the precise nature of genes and their influence. These are some of the key warning signs.

Family history: If one member of the family has breast cancer, a person's risk of developing the disease is double that of the general population. If more than one relative has had breast cancer, a person's risk of developing the disease is five times higher. This is true irrespective of whether the family member in question happens to be a close relation (such as, a grandmother, mother, sister or daughter), a distant relative (such as the mother's or father's sisters or their children), or a male relative...

Breast cancer gene: Genetic tests are not done routinely, due to their non-availability and non-affordability. But if and when done and a woman is found to be a carrier of the gene, she is at a higher risk of developing the disease. A woman is likely to have a breast cancer gene if she has been diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 40, if several family members have been diagnosed with breast and/or ovarian cancer, or if there has been a diagnosis of bilateral breast cancer (cancer in both the breasts)`85

External risk factors

Alcohol, smoking and excessive
consumption of caffeinated drinks:

Radiation: In the case of some skin conditions treated with radiation, there is risk of developing breast cancer.

Breast inflammation: This can sometimes spiral into skin cancer.

Diet and stress: Diet and stress will be discussed at length under life-style changes. . .

A diagnosis of breast cancer

To make a diagnosis of breast cancer, the type, and the spread of the disease , one has to understand the anatomy of the breast . . .


Lymphatics carry lymph fluid to the lymph nodes, situated in the axilla (under arm), around the collar bone and chest. They act as barriers of the immune system. It filters infective cells and foreign material.

Thus the lymph nodes are the first to get enlarged whenever an infection occurs. A classic example of this is "tonsils." The tonsils are a lymph gland, and they get swollen and painful whenever infection occurs in the mouth and throat. . .

Diagnostic methods

To make a diagnosis of breast cancer one needs to suspect that there is a lump which could be non-cancerous or malignant. Sometimes a lump may not even be present, but a woman may be worried and may wish to confirm that there is no malignant growth. This is especially so, if the woman concerned has family history of breast cancer, or has just heard about a friend or a relative having developed the disease.

As listed earlier, a lump in the breast may be detected while a woman is bathing, during a massage, in the course of sex play, after a fair amount of weight loss, subsequent to an ultrasound, during a routine mammography or after an examination of the breasts.

A lump, however, could be either cancerous or non-cancerous.

To determine if the lump is malignant, it is important for a woman to get examined by family physician, gynaecologist, general surgeon, or onco-surgeon (cancer surgeon). It is also imperative for her to get a mammography, an MRI, or a sonomammography done.

A fine needle aspiration biopsy (FNAC) or a MRI-guided core needle biopsy may be recommended.

An open surgical biopsy with frozen section (to send the tissue or material received for urgent histo-pathology reporting) may be required. If the report is positive, it is advised to undertake surgery under the same anaesthesia.

If cancer is confirmed, a CT scan may also be required to assess the involvement of the lymph nodes.

Breast cancer set to overtake cervical cancer

By 2020, breast cancer is expected to overtake cervical cancer, which is now the most reported cancer among women in India.

In a written reply in the Rajya Sabha in August 2010, Minister of State for Health S. Gandhiselvan had said that by 2020, breast cancer was expected to overtake cervical cancer at the current rate of increase in such cases. At the moment, cervical cancer tops the list of cancers detected among Indian women, as its symptoms are not easily detected.

According to the National Cancer Registry Programme report on time trends in cancer incidence rates (1982-2005) of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), the estimated number of breast cancer cases in India in 2010 was 90,659 and of cervical cancer1,03,821.

The National Programme for Control of Cancer, Diabetes, Cardiovascular Diseases and Stroke had been approved with an outlay of Rs.731.52 crore for cancer for the remaining two years of the 11th Five Year Plan (2010-11 and 2011-12) for strengthening cancer care facilities in the country.

Under the scheme, it is planned to increase awareness, prevention, early detection and treatment for cancer cases, besides strengthening the healthcare delivery.

Stages of cancer

Stage 0 : Cancer in situ, where only few cells have started multiplying.

Stage 1 : The lump is not larger than 1 cm and is still inside the basement membrane.

Stage 2 : The lump is between 1 cm to 2 cm and has spread to the lymph nodes. Alternatively, the lump is larger than 2 cm but has not spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage 3 A : The lump is larger than 2 cm and has spread to the lymph nodes.

Stage 3 B : The lump has spread to the skin, chest wall, ribs, muscles and the inner lymph nodes.

Stage 4 : The lump has spread to several other parts of the body, the other breast, bone, lungs, liver or brain. (Inflammatory breast cancer is rare.)

Excerpt used with permission from 'Know Your Breasts' by Dr Geeta Pandya. Published by Vakils, Feffer & Simons. Pages 118. Rs 300








The Finance Minister this week told the Parliament, how his government plans to spend Rs 12.6 trillion over the next 12 months. This large amount represents about 14 per cent of national income, and will be financed by taxes. But even after collecting taxes, there will still be a large hole, of about Rs 4 trillion. This hole is called the "fiscal deficit", and this shortfall is made up by a begging bowl.


 No, the government doesn't simply print money to pay for the deficit. It borrows. That borrowing keeps adding to the already-high debt mountain.


Every year, the government has to pay ever higher interest on this debt mountain. In fact, one-third of all revenues simply go to pay interest on the debt — about Rs 3 trillion this year.


If there were no interest obligation, there would be no deficit. Thus, the government is borrowing to pay interest. Or, it is running to stay at the same place!


 So, unless the debt is drastically reduced, and hence interest burden curtailed, the biggest part of the Union Budget will continue to be a non-discretionary item, i.e. interest payment. The second largest component is also non-discretionary, viz, defence spending.


It is the discretionary parts which give the budget its flavour. This year, the main flavours were agriculture, infrastructure and financial sector. Infrastructure spending comes under the broad heading of Bharat Nirman, and will increase by 23 per cent to 2.1 trillion.


 In the financial sector, there will be fresh money poured into public sector banks, so as to enable them to make higher loans. Many other laws in finance are being amended to attract foreign inflows, and increase competition.


For agriculture, there are many initiatives. The farm loans are being hiked by Rs 1 trillion. And all farmers who repay their loans on time will get an interest rebate of 4 per cent, as reward for financial discipline.
 The country's dependence on imported edible oil is sought to be reduced by an effort to bring 60,000 hectares under palm oil plantations (Malaysia might not be happy about this!). Our country produced plenty of other oils like coconut, sesame, groundnut, castor or mustard. We could get oil from rapeseed too (called canola), which is low in cholesterol. But we still seem to be obsessed with palm oil of Malaysia, and the FM is trying to pander that taste. Just like crude oil and petrol, almost 50 per cent of edible oil of India is imported.

 A similar story can be told about our protein shortage. We are the world's largest milk producer, at 120 million tonnes (This column celebrated the brand sponsorship of the Dutch cricket team by Amul, the milk superbrand). Yet, milk shortages are acute, and milk inflation has been at 20 per cent for two years. The FM announced a national protein mission to tap into various animal proteins (Milk is an animal protein, so you could call it "nonveg"). We have one of the world's largest coastlines, and many water bodies, but fish is a miniscule source of protein for us. The same is true for eggs. Even the non-animal source of protein like soya and groundnut oil-cake goes to feed chicken and cattle, and not as much to human beings. In fact, much of this kind of protein is exported to foreign countries to feed their cattle (Ask our largest soyameal manufacturer).


 A large part of our food inflation is actually inflation in protein-rich stuff like milk, dal, pulses, eggs and poultry.


In fact, the Reserve Bank of India calls this our "protein problem". The FM has recognised this in this budget. On this, one cannot have much beef with him!



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





It is easy to agree with the experts who have been skeptical about the Budget numbers. But even after conceding room for error on the subsidy numbers and therefore on the deficit, it has to be said that this is the most reassuring Budget that the Manmohan Singh government has presented to Parliament. The two UPA governments have so far displayed an eagerness to increase spending, especially on social sector programmes, and more recently on infrastructure investment. This is entirely understandable, given the glaring deficiencies in both areas; but from the perspective of fiscal rectitude, there is the affordability question to be considered. This Budget is therefore different, not just because of the tight control on spending that is proposed, but also because of the remarkable reduction in the ratio of public debt to GDP. If things go to plan, the reduction of the ratio proposed by the Finance Commission for 2014-15 will be achieved next year — three years ahead of target. Accustomed as everyone is to fiscal slippages, this is to be welcomed.


But the task of fiscal correction has barely begun. Two big ticket transitions beckon. First, the revenue foregone last year on account of tax concessions and incentives was Rs 79,554 crore on corporate income tax (mainly accelerated depreciation, software technology parks, etc.), and on personal income tax a further Rs 36,186 crore (mostly long-term savings). Excise concessions cost Rs 1,70,765 crore, while customs concessions had the biggest bill: Rs 2,02,240 crore. The total bill (Rs 4.89 lakh crore) was nearly 80 per cent of the tax collection in 2009-10!


Surely, it should be possible to eliminate most of the exemptions and simultaneously lower the rates of tax, so as to be revenue neutral. This is what the proposed GST and the DTC should do, if they are to exploit their full potential. The peak income tax, for both companies and individuals, could then be no more than 22 per cent. That would make India a tax haven and there would be much less incentive to take money out of the country; if the incentives work, tax revenue would actually climb as people report incomes more honestly. The key question is whether the finance minister can aim for this by saying 'No' to all or most of the special interests, many of them very vocal.


The second transition waiting to be achieved is on the subsidy front. The central subsidy bill, mostly on food, oil-related products and fertiliser, is slated to be Rs 1,43,570 crore next year. The Economic Survey cites research, which suggests that between 40 per cent and 55 per cent of foodgrain meant for the poor is pilfered. The leakages on subsidised kerosene and cooking gas are likely to be even greater. The big reform step, which this Budget seeks to take forward — cash transfers — was also mentioned by the finance minister in his Budget speech last year. If action does result in about a year from now, and proves to be successful, it could be expanded later to replace the food subsidy as well as rural employment guarantee programme. Taking the budgets for all these, every one of about 50 million families that are below the poverty line could be given Rs 3,000 every month as a cash transfer — better than what NREG offers, and enough to bring all of them above the poverty line, at no extra cost to the government.


In short, India could be transformed into a tax haven, and a land without absolute poverty. Both dreams can become reality. What is needed is for the finance minister to focus on these big tasks.







The Union Budget of 2011 should have made me very happy. I got promoted to the rank of senior citizen, and have been told that I deserve special attention. I got a substantial hike in my income tax exemption limit as a result of my promotion, and I now have an incentive to live until eighty and become very senior, with an even higher exemption limit.

But there are problems with the numbers. The Medium Term Fiscal Plan (MTFP) projects a nominal GDP growth at 14 per cent in 2011-12. Real growth is expected at 9 per cent, with a narrow error margin on either side of 0.25 per cent. The narrow band suggests an underlying modeling exercise, which however is not disclosed. But with real growth at 9 per cent, a 14 per cent nominal growth rate implies inflation projected at 4.6 per cent. We are just staggering out of a year in which, by the latest CSO estimates, nominal GDP growth was 20.3 per cent, and real growth at 8.6 per cent, giving us inflation by the GDP deflator at 10.75 per cent. So, inflation is expected to be more than halved next year. At a time of rising global food prices, turbulence in the West Asia and climbing oil prices, that appears too optimistic an expectation.

If higher inflation raises the nominal growth rate above 14 per cent, a more than likely possibility, a 4.6 per cent fiscal deficit could be achieved with a much higher absolute net borrowing, as happened in 2010-11. The absolute fiscal deficit was higher than budgeted by Rs 19.6 thousand crore, and still a lower percent of GDP at 5.1 than the 5.5 percent projected.

The two big ticket subsidies, food and fertiliser, are pegged in the budget estimates for next year at just a touch below the revised 2010-11 estimates for food, and at Rs 5,000 crore below for fertiliser. Clearly the new Food Security Bill has not been factored in, not even in terms of the range of options in terms of its perimeters. That makes the Budget very incomplete, unless it has been decided that the bill becomes operative only in 2012-13. As for the fertiliser subsidy, the revised figure for the concluding year was Rs 5,000 crore higher than budgeted, so the figure for the forthcoming year pegs it at what was budgeted the previous year. The move to a nutrient-based subsidy scheme last year did not contain expenditure at budgeted levels, so why is last year's Budget expectation being retained? Then again, the nutrient-based subsidy rates are not known. A rolling MTFP with a clear policy path would have related the subsidy rate reductions to the subsidy bill, in a way that an annual exercise with ad hoc numbers does not.

In order not to spook the markets with these obfuscations, and with the clear room next year for higher net borrowing while still retaining fiscal correction in percentage terms, the budget speech for the very first time, or certainly the first in my memory, announced that net market borrowing will be at Rs 3.43 lakh crore, well below the absolute fiscal deficit of Rs 4.13 lakh crore. From the small print, it would appear that the difference of Rs 70 thousand crore will be financed by a drawdown of cash balances. Those cash balances were presumably sequestered from the fiscal accounts of 2010-11. Had that not been done, the fiscal deficit in 2010-11 would have been lower in absolutes than budgeted and still lower as a percentage. But it would have made the fiscal correction in 2011-12 look less muscular. The speech adds further comfort for the market by mentioning that Rs 15 thousand crore will be financed through short-term treasury bills.

Window dressing of this kind happens when fiscal discipline is reduced to a matter of targets. Fiscal discipline is fundamentally about transparency and disclosure. What really spooks markets is concealment and prevarication. The fiscal responsibility legislation that was to have been enacted in 2010-11 as a successor to the previous act of 2003, is promised as a follow-on to the budget in the form of an amendment to the earlier act. The amendment must radically alter the MTFP, which is presently chatty but not very informative, to a serious rolling projection of expenditure commitments going three years into the future. Alternative scenarios have to be presented for a variety of values of basic parameters such as the price of oil and the rate of interest underpinning the projections, and for a range of bills on the anvil with expenditure implications.

Centrally sponsored schemes such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan, and the forthcoming Madhyamik Abhiyan, require co-funding from the states in steadily rising proportions. States need to know in advance about these claims that will be made upon them. The inclusive social outcomes the central government rightly wishes, and the enhanced agricultural productivity that is desperately needed to hold down food inflation, can only be achieved in partnership with states. Unalterable commitments in respect not merely of statutory flows, but of the non-statutory flows they receive under a huge range of Budget heads, will give state governments firm fiscal parameters within which they can plan ahead. No less than the GST, progress on these fronts can only be made "in concert" with states, to use a turn of phrase from the finance minister's speech.

One projection alone seems not merely plausible, but actually cautious. Gross tax revenue is projected to increase only by 18.5 per cent. With nominal growth at 14 per cent, that is an assumed buoyancy of 1.3. Why did the speech blot this caution with a reference to a 25 per cent gross tax revenue increase from budget estimate to budget estimate?

The author is Honourary Visiting Professor, ISI Delhi








Last month, Tejas, a newspaper based in Kerala's Malabar region published the results of a political survey. It made two points: if the Left Democratic Front (LDF) continued with V S Achyuthanandan as chief minister, it could get up to 76 of the 140 seats in the Kerala Assembly elections on April 13; and the Congress-led United Democratic Front (UDF) was not as comfortably placed as it was about three months ago.


 The reason: Kerala Police last month registered a case against P K Kunhalikutty, former minister and general secretary of the Indian Union Muslim League (IUML), a partner of the Congress-led UDF coalition, in the ice-cream parlour sex scandal (a brothel in Kozhikode that used an ice-cream shop as front office about eight years ago that Kunhalikutty allegedly used to frequent). With this police action, based on a directive from the Home Department, the Congress-led coalition, which had been tipped to win the Assembly election, has been pushed into the defensive. In 2006 the case, which involved a minor girl, went right up to the Supreme Court and was closed. Now, Kunhalikutty's relative Rauf (his wife and Kunhalikutty's wife are sisters) has said two high court judges were paid off. True or not, the IUML – and the Congress – is battling these charges.

Another former state power minister, Kerala Congress leader R Balakrishnan Pillai was awarded one year rigorous imprisonment by the Supreme Court (overturning acquittal orders passed by the high court) in the Idamalayar dam corruption case. The court ruled that the former minister entered into a criminal conspiracy under which contracts were awarded at extraordinarily high rates, causing the Kerala State Electricity Board (KSEB) a loss of over Rs 2 crore.

And now there are murmurs that the principal Congress contender for chief ministership, Oommen Chandy, must be held responsible for the palmolein import case, which has engulfed the Central Vigilance Commissioner. Chandy was finance minister at that time. The loudest clamour that Chandy must own up to culpability in the case is coming from the Congress.

This is part of the problem. Way back when the Congress in Kerala was essentially run by two men and their groups – A K Antony and K Karunakaran – Congress President Sonia Gandhi decided another pole was needed and implicitly recognised Chandy as the third. But now Karunakaran is dead, Antony is pushing for an altogether new candidate for chief ministership (Maharashtra Governor K Sankaranarayanan, who was finance minister in Antony's government from 2001 to 2004) and the party has developed six groups.

However, Chandy continues to be the front runner to lead the Assembly elections and though the gap between the winning UDF – in keeping with Kerala's tradition of voting in the Opposition – and the LDF will be narrow, the odds are in favour of Chandy.

What sort of man is he?

The trivial stuff first. His wife Mariamma, an officer with the Canara Bank, is his personal barber. Chandy allows his hair to be trimmed only when he is sleeping or reading the morning newspaper. He is very particular that the hair cut should stop as soon as he gets up. So he ends up with quite a few hair-cutting sessions a month.

He is enormously popular. In fact, when he was chief minister of Kerala, his colleague and rival Ramesh Chennithala led the campaign that he must stop meeting people and attend to work in the secretariat — he just cannot say no to anyone. In this he is different from his erstwhile mentor A K Antony, who, while being in the public eye, is a much more private person. Chandy was Antony's chosen successor and long-time lieutenant. But later he became a silent critic of Antony's unpopular and unpredictably idealistic political positions.

A former bureaucrat who worked with him wrote in his autobiography that Chandy is a details man. When he was finance minister, the two happened to travel together on the same flight and discussed details of agricultural financing. Three months later, a few days before the Budget, Chandy called the bureaucrat to hold a few more rounds of discussion on how this could be done.

Kerala has been a financially troubled state. The Vallarpadam Trans-shipment Terminal, Vizhinjam Port, Smart City, Metro Rail, Capital City Development, Kerala State Transport Project, Sabarimala Master Plan, Kannur International Airport and Trivandrum International Airport are all projects Chandy took up when he was either finance minister (1991-94) or chief minister (2004-06). Some materialised, some didn't. But Chandy went about all of them methodically.

However, he couldn't find the will to take tough measures. As chief minister, he led Kerala on the path to savage power sector reforms. These included strengthening the energy audit, enhancing the anti-power theft squads, bringing down transmission and distribution losses from around 31 per cent in 2001-02 to 23 per cent in April 2006, reducing the KSEB workforce from 32,000 to 25,000 in five years, and the swapping of high-cost debt. Consequently, KSEB reduced the revenue gap from Rs 1,316.43 crore in 2001-02 to Rs 144.58 crore in 2005-06. Upgradation of equipment should have followed. Instead, the government announced tariff reduction for domestic and commercial consumers.

So if Chandy is prepared to be tough this time, Kerala will take it. Otherewise, there's always Achyuthanandan.









Mikhail Sergeyerich Gorbachev turned 80 three days ago. He will go down in history as the man who presided over the liquidation of the USSR in 1991. The consequences of that demographic and political earthquake have yet to be fully played out! One major fall out was the disappearance of an alternative point of view on global issues. Gorbachev also erred by giving political transformation priority over economic reform. China did precisely the opposite and succeeded.

This is good occasion to recall the Gorbachev-Rajiv Gandhi relationship. Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister in October 1984. Gorbachev was "elected" general secretary of the Communist party of the USSR in March 1985. in his "memories" Gorbachev has recalled his two visits to India, 1986 and 1988 at some length. With the Indian prime minister he established "a warm personal rapport". His words of praise for Rajiv deserves repetition. "I was deeply impressed by the way he organically combined the profound philosophic tradition of India and the East with a perfect knowledge and comprehension of European culture. He had great personal charm and was endowed with many human virtues. Rajiv was devoted to the cause of his grandfather, Jawaharlal Nehru, and his mother, Indira Gandhi — his life's aim was the renaissance of India".


 I was, as minister of state, associated with both of Gorbachev visits. The 1986 visit was of particular significance. The Delhi Declaration was signed by the two leaders on 27 November, 1986. It was in some ways an extraordinary document. Gorbachev made an ideological turn about. He jettisoned/rejected the deterministic rigidity of Marx's vision of history by putting his signatures on a declaration that celebrated non-violence. Both sides spent hours to reach agreement on the text. The declaration is now all but forgotten. It was a novel pronouncement. I shall quote several striking parts of it.

1. In the nuclear age, mankind must develop a new political thinking and a new concept of the world that provides sound guarantees for the survival of mankind

2. The world we have inherited belongs to present and future generations alike — hence we must give priority to universal human values

3. Human life must be acknowledged the supreme value

4. Non-violence must become the basis of human co-existence

The most startling inclusion was the reference to non-violence. Here was the general secretary of the Communist Party of the USSR publicly subscribing to the Gandhian gospel of non-violence. No communist leader had done so. Gorbachev broke new ground, which needed both courage and imagination.

The 1988 visit though important, provoked less enthusiastic interest. Two issues that were discussed I remember well. One related to China and the other to Afghanistan. Both leaders agreed that it was "essential to avoid creating the impression that the Indo-Russian rapprochement could be directed against the Chinese."

Gorbachev informed Rajiv Gandhi that Soviet military forces would soon be withdrawn from Afghanistan. Knowing the consequences of this decision, I told a senior member of the Gorbachev delegation to "hasten slowly". Soviet withdrawal was as disastrous as was their intervention.

The past forty years have been unkind to Gorbachev. He has some admirers outside Russia but few inside. Hundreds of thousands curse him, others are indifferent. From time to time, he writes for the International Herald Tribune and runs the Gorbachev Foundation. He has time on his hand and full of memories. He is in some ways the pall bearer of the corpse of Soviet communism.

The focal point of history at the moment is North Africa. Muammar al-Gaddafi, is a wolf in wolf's clothing. He is not a quitter. That means more horrors are in store for Libyans. Our nationals are at the receiving end. Only a few thousand have been brought home. Why cannot our government ensure that all eighteen thousand get back to India as soon as possible?

The focal point of history can shift. I, for one, thought that Oman would be untouched. The country has good record of benign tolerance. It is the only Arab country, which permitted its Hindu community to build a temple. The mystery of the Arab revolt is that no leader has emerged in any country. What instrumentality will emerge to run these countries now that at least three dictators have been overthrown? The real challenges are now surfacing. Who is to meet and overcome these challenges in a creative and orderly manner? The people!! Will the people lead the people? Is the destination in sight or is it a receding one?

Tailpiece: Alexander M Kadakin is the Russian Federation's ambassador to India. He first came to this country over thirty years ago to learn Hindi, a language he speaks fluently. This is his second term as ambassador. His knowledge and understanding of India is deep and profound. More importantly, he is a genuine friend of India that is Bharat. We, on our part, must further broaden and strengthen our relations with Russia. More needs to be done.






Not surprisingly, for all writers under totalitarian regimes like in Eastern and Central Europe before the War, the relation between art and power was a constant preoccupation. Unable to speak truth to power, the anger grew underground and emerged only in disguise, transformed into irony, sarcasm or an icy calm from which it was hard to deduce the fury that lay concealed beneath it. All writing became a political act, a token of independence, an attempt to switch not merely the interest, but the whole focus of attention away from the ruling elite towards the mundane affairs of daily living. Like Stephen Dedalus in Jamres Joyce's A Portrait of a Young Artist, the writer used his only defence, the only weapon he was allowed to use, "silence, exile and cunning." This is what the Hungarian writer, György Faludy (1910-2006) did with his old classic, My Happy Days in Hell (Penguin Central European Classics, Special Indian Price, Rs 499) that had to wait for 25 years for the original Hungarian until the change of regime in 1989, though the English translation, now reissued, appeared as far back as 1962.

Faludy's My Happy Days in Hell is a grim autobiography of his battle to survive tyranny and oppression. It is divided into five parts: France, Africa, the US and People's Democracy, Arrest and Forced Labour Camp. Fleeing Hungary in 1938, after the Nazi occupation of Austria (he had little choice as a Jew) he lived in France for two years but again had to flee when the Germans marched into the country in 1940. He managed to escape to Morocco where he spent "the happiest days of my life", first in Casablanca and then in Marrakesh.


 Fearing persecution by the Vichy regime, he found refuge in US where he joined the American armed forces, serving with the Marines in the Far East. He returned home for a brief spell under the reformist Prime Minister, Imre Nagy but had to flee again after the revolution failed in 1956. He finally came home after the collapse of the communist regime in 1988 to be recognised as the grand old poet of Hungary. The book can be described as a history of dictatorships and their modus operandi with plenty of stories, political barbs and philosophical comments that makes it resemble a picaresque novel. The book is full of characters on the run from the tyranny of the state and could be read as much for entertainment because its truths are stranger than the wildest fiction.

'Characters' or odd-balls is what the book is peopled with, but that is not surprising because Faludy himself was one and must have attracted more of his own wherever he found himself, whether Casablanca, New York or Paris. In France, he runs into one of the many Hungarian exiles, Havas, a communist who like Faludy returns home after the World War II. But he is soon disappointed with the new "socialist order", its corruption and nepotism and above all, the cronyism. He is arrested on trumped up charges for activities against the "people" as a foreign agent and beaten to death by the secret police.

Faludy also writes about the Rajk affair of 1949. Rajk, a former minister of the interior, was arrested on false charges in an anti-Titoist purge. He was hanged by his own comrades for crimes he had not committed.

What had happened really was that Rajk did something unprecedented among leaders of the colonial regimes: he failed to change with the change of the Party line in Moscow. He did not perform the prescribed ritual of self-criticism of his policy of liberalisation and did not endorse the new policy of tightening the screws. Faludy learned of this when sections of the press publicised his integrity by railing at him for refusing to renounce his "anti-people policies."

Rajk's material interests as well as his spiritual investment in his past beliefs — in the Russian leadership of communism, in communism itself — should have made him conform. He had done so in the past. He had beaten his breast before when Party policy required him to speak against nationalism and for collectivisation; all he needed to do was to repeat himself. Simply, all Moscow needed from him was words. Once Faludy learned that Rajk was set up and the evidence against him was forged, he knew he was "next". It is Faludy's descriptions of this atmosphere of dread, "of waiting to be plunged into the memory hole" that makes the book essential reading of what really happened at the height of Communist era.

During his imprisonment when he was denied paper and pencil, Faludy committed many of his poems to memory that he published when he was free. Poetry to Hungarians is what opera is to the Italians; it reached everybody and was highly appreciated. It was their life line; it is what they had instead of national self determination, free press, free speech. Here is a rough extract of Faludy's The Execution of Imre Nagy:

He made his inventory at dawn, pacing under the vault of his cell; everything was in order, only his prince-nez was missing.

What made him so calm? Was it apathy, courage, character? Or did he know that halfway there he had solved the riddle of the century? And what made him great and beautiful? His faith? His intentions? His honesty? The end? Force of circumstances? I don't know.

Faludy may have been a bit of a rake but his poems, were a magic chant that protected people from brainwashing.







It's an ailing king in Shakespeare who utters the famous line: "Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown." Asian rulers everywhere, in the wake of deadly contagion of the Jasmine Revolution, must be casting nervous glances in their backyards to check out the symptoms. The ailment is more complex than it appears and further complicated by the uncontrollable virus of instant communication. All in a matter of a few weeks, the white-flowered rebellion has seen the overthrow of autocratic regimes in Egypt and Tunisia, placed Libya's half-crazed dictator under siege, shaken monarchies in Bahrain and Oman and put authoritarian governments in China and North Korea on high alert to quash any sign of protest.


 What people want in these countries is not the same just as their levels of economic and social advancement are dissimilar. Poverty, unemployment and corruption may be the issues that drove protestors into the streets of Tunis and Cairo but the Gulf kingdoms, like Libya, are oil rich and very wealthy. Muammar al-Gaddafi and his tribal ruling elite, it could be argued, squandered their riches worthlessly but others have been shovelling bank notes down the throats of the populace to buy peace at any cost.

The sovereign rulers of Bahrain and Kuwait recently deposited 1,000 dinars (about $3,000) into every citizen's bank account and, last week, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia made permanent thousands of temporary jobs held by government employees. He also announced social schemes worth $36 billion. What their people seem to want, however, is not guilt money but other freedoms. In the super-rich, urbanised and relatively liberal island kingdom of Bahrain, for example, women were allowed to contest elections only as recently as 2002. In Saudi, they still can't drive cars nor hope to get around much without male chaperons.

India sits smugly, between parts of an Arab world on fire and a jittery China, but how complacent can it be about its democratic, social and economic achievements? It may side-step the sweep of the Jasmine Revolution but parts of the country are either in the throes of, or ripe for, serial chameli revolutions. One-third of the population mired in poverty, two million malnourished children under the age of five dying each year and depreciating standards of education that make a large number of college graduates unemployable, are just some of the disasters shadowing India. Chameli churns in full cry include Maoists taking district collectors for ransom, corruption scams on a scale unknown in the modern nation-state and an escalating hiatus between the rich and poor of eye-rubbing wonder.

What the economic reforms have also produced is a loosening of belts in outlandish displays of wealth unseen in an era of socialist austerity. A brazen example, worthy of an Arab sheikh's bounty, on show in the capital this week was at Congress leader Kanwar Singh Tanwar son's wedding. The gifts included a helicopter worth Rs 33 crore, it took 1,000 workers more than a month to complete the decorations, and the event was attended by 30,000 guests including cabinet ministers and MPs. The host was unabashed and called it a "simple" affair, gratuitously adding, "I got many poor girls married but no one noticed."

An embattled ruling party, engaged in defending itself on other fronts, seems not to have noticed the damage to its image such an event can inflict. It confirms the public impression that anything goes and the political class, DMK or Congress, has its own set of social norms when it comes to showing off. It is the sort of extravagant partying that contributed to the troubles of Seif al-Islam Gaddafi and other high-flying despots, now painfully grounded. As Shakespeare's sickly king realised, the people are watchful even if the ruler is not.










Niyamat Ansari, an activist monitoring the use of NREGS funds in Jharkhand, was murdered after he unearthed massive embezzlement of funds from the government's flagship scheme for the rural poor. This is probably the fifth NREGS-related murder in the last four years. Most of the victims are whistleblowers, killed by locally powerful people who have their hands in the till. In India, whistleblowing is a risky proposition. Today, the right to information (RTI) is guaranteed by law, but at least 10 RTI activists have been killed in the last two years trying to exercise this right. In a horribly tragic way, the spate of killings of people exercising their right to information to expose wrongdoing shows that the RTI is working and starting to hurt the corrupt. NREGS-related killings are more complicated, and the victims, like Ansari, are almost always members of voluntary organisations that are trying to make this vast scheme more efficient and free of leakages. The perpetrators, it can safely be assumed, want just the opposite: to siphon away as much cash as possible. How can these killings be stopped?

Many people, including Aruna Roy, the pioneer of the RTI legislation, believe that the establishment of an antigraft ombudsman called the Lokpal at the Centre and the states will help. It could, only if the government can stop dithering over the draft Bill and make it into law. But the Lokpal will not be sufficient to protect whistleblowers and those exercising the RTI to unearth wrongdoing. That can only happen at a political level, with parties putting their organisational strength behind the activists. Today, the monitoring of many schemes including the NREGS is done by small groups of well-meaning people who take great risks to do what they do. They need to be backed by local political forces to go about their task fearlessly. This might sound contradictory, because local elites are nearly always behind corruption rackets. But since politics abhors a vacuum, there will always be a political force opposed to the corrupt one. Political empowerment emancipates, and mobilisation for NREGS and RTI is a means to empowerment.








As the situation in Libya seems to be a military stalemate for now between forces loyal to Muammar Gaddafi and the motley groups that have come together as the opposition, the international community is again facing the question of whether, and how, to intervene in an internal conflict in a sovereign nation. Given Gaddafi's dogged refusal to step down, the threat of a virtual civil war turning extremely bloody is very real. But the issue of intervention, mostly by the US and its Nato allies, has been fraught with allegations of riding roughshod over legalities, sovereign and human rights as well as seeking control of energy resources. The latter issue is significant in Libya, with battles being fought in major oil-producing areas in a country whose per-capita oil output is one of the highest in the world. Some opposition leaders have, indeed, called for intervention, but reports also aver internal reservations abound. If the stalemate continues, it is likely that calls for intervention will be bolstered. But there will need to be a well-thought out, and genuinely international, consensus on what such an intervention can be. For now, India has done well to oppose the hasty western proposals to enforce no-fly zones and use force against Gaddafi. Though it has, with reservations, gone along with the consensus to impose targeted sanctions and refer the Gaddafi regime to the International Criminal Court.

It isn't certain if that will deter an often-eccentric and now seemingly irrational figure like Gaddafi. But it is clear his regime, a familial-tribal protection racket, marked by repression of opponents and the squandering of oil wealth, must end. And even as Libyan diplomats have been defecting in droves, the country remains a maze of tribal politics, with its ephemeral allegiances. There have been proposals for negotiations between the two sides, with the opposition saying Gaddafi must first resign and go into exile. To that end, calibrated pressure has to be the global community's response. India must play its part, while redoubling its hitherto unsatisfactory effort to evacuate Indian nationals still stuck in Libya.







 The recent study by a Dutch university linking wise decision-making to bladder control — as mastering the desire for immediate gratification stems from a single neurological area — should lead to drastic rethinking on the placement of toilet facilities around the world. If indeed it is conclusively proved that the habit of holding back, inculcated by the paucity of such facilities, spills over into other areas and promotes a broader tendency to suppress impulses to spend, then stores should speedily install more public conveniences. The lure of advertising and low prices are likely to have limited appeal where restraint becomes a well-entrenched habit. Conversely, places where abstemiousness is encouraged as a virtue, such as savings institutions, should curtail the availability of such conveniences forthwith so that the need to hold back becomes imperative. Moreover, to rapidly induce further restraint among potential hasty spenders, they should also provide plenty of liquid replenishment opportunities.

In that context, the Delhi government's move this week to scrap the project for citywide public toilets that it had launched with eight prototypes during the Commonwealth Games should be hailed as pro-a a m a a d m i. If its original plan to sprinkle the city with 250 of these spiffy sanitation facilities around market areas had been implemented, the consequences could have been deleterious at a time when frugality has become a necessity. Of course, Indians are known to take recourse to alf r e s c o measures if the pressure really builds up, so the mere denial of toilets may not enforce thrift. To encourage more self-control and in the civic interest, the Delhi government could consider a fine and a monitoring force to prevent any unauthorised emissions.






 Social sciences literature, in addition to economic and physical capital, now recognises social, human and cultural capital. Even though independent, different types of capital possess attributes of interdependency and reciprocity. Simply, this means that even social capital can be transmuted into economic capital. And, women groups repaying loans to microfinance institutions through frequent instalments in a group setting exemplify social capital at work.

The underlying idea, as Robert Putnam found in the Italian rotating credit associations, is that membership in associations — or self-help groups (SHG) — generates trust and norms of reciprocity. Typically, SHGs are small groups possessing thick trust — trust based on personal knowledge of other actors in the group — that makes responses of group members predictable and enforcement of loan repayment easy; and attracting financial institutions to lend. Accordingly, in social capital — relationships of trust embedded in social networks — the poor have a non-monetised resource that metamorphoses into loans and the attractiveness of the SHG model is founded on inclusiveness, the unique democratic accessibility of social capital, since all other forms of capital exclude the poor, ignorant and unpropertied.

Also, researchers agree that social capital is a multidimensional construct having several forms and two forms of social capital — bonding (that links people together with others like them) and bridging (social ties that cut across differences such as caste, class or religion) — distinguished by Avis Vidal, are generally accepted. Bonding social capital promotes exclusive identities, gives precedence to the group over community and generates specific reciprocity; in contrast, bridging social capital is outward-looking, promotes acquaintances with different and distant people and leads to generalised reciprocity.

Importantly, the work of Xav Briggs has shown that the outcomes associated with the two forms of social capital are different. Bonding capital helps the poor to get by or cope with particular challenges (social support), as opposed to bridging capital that helps to change the opportunity set and get ahead in life (social leverage). Presently, lending activities of microfinance institutions (MFI) are primarily confined to lend and enforce collections drawing down on the social ties found in supportive groups. Recently, C Rangarajan, chairman of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council, also referred to the 'flawed business model' in which the MFIs primarily leverage on the existing social ties to engage in multiple lending, that too for consumption.
Additionally, insights available from a recent MIT study (Abhijit Banerjee and others, 2009) in 104 slums of Hyderabad show the importance of context while designing interventions for the poor. The MIT study found that pre-existing conditions of households matter. In response to MFI loans, households with existing businesses increase spending on durable goods (for instance, investment). Households with high propensity to start businesses, finding loan amounts inadequate to start businesses, reduce spending on temptation goods (for instance, tobacco and alcohol). And, households with low propensity to start businesses raise non-durables spending (for instance, food, marriage and illness).

So, the challenge in addition to broadening and deepening ties is to design specific interventions based on existing business activities of households and their propensity to engage in income-generating activities. The fact that the bonding and bridging capital interact and mediation by intermediary structures is possible provides a useful way to access outside resources (build bridging capital) to transform social ties to economic capital.
    Drawing from practice stories elsewhere, MFIs can work as intermediary organisations to design deep contextual interventions. Households with existing businesses will require social ties that provide more than emotional support and everyday favours. More useful are bridging contacts that can help them to get a crucial new idea, or news of an impending market downturn, or provide political and managerial access.
The value of such bridging networks lies in the fact that they are not passive bridges, but are active links relaying important information and are capable of endorsing (vouching for) the poor having limited access to money and other resources. For households with little propensity for business, the MFI intervention will include training and other support to help households acquire and practice 'public life skills' to earn more than subsistence wages that only help them to cope with daily life.

Research by Michael Woolcock and others points to the contribution of such linking social ties to help the poor to expand their opportunity set, for example, getting jobs through external contacts. Finally, for households with high inclination to engage in income-generating activities getting ahead in life will require training and other support, such as leveraging funds from the government and locating funding sources to meet their complete fixed and working capital needs.

All in all, social capital is about relationships; therefore, freely accessible to the poor and the common availability differentiates social capital from other forms of capital. The MFIs have mainly limited themselves to using the existing bonding capital in groups to lend and recover. However, the simple but crucial support or leverage distinction and the fact that the two forms of capital interact, and mediation by intermediary structures is possible, has the potential to give competitive advantage to the poor by broadening and deepening their social networks. The MFIs can purposefully facilitate the development of meaningful bridging ties by working as intermediary organisations to help the poor to get ahead in life and move beyond the support networks that only help them to stay where they are and only cope with calamities of life.

(Views are personal)







Yasushi Akao is running the show at Renesas Electronics, says a blog devoted to electronics technology. When you tell that to Akao, the company's global president, he smiles. Such plaudits are not new to this semiconductor industry veteran who authored a 100-day structural reform plan to integrate Renesas with NEC in April last.

That merger created Renesas Electronics Corporation, now the third-largest semiconductor vendor globally with revenues topping ¥153 billion. Akao, who started back in 1979 with Hitachi, took over the key executive role in April last. He joined Renesas in 2003.

Within semiconductors, Renesas is top of the heap in microcontrollers with a 30% global share overtaking Freescale, which comes in at the second slot. Akao was in Bangalore to announce a $10-million initial investment to pursue growth strategy outside Japan. It is betting big on India where it is looking to double sales from $50 million to $100 million by 2012 by providing smart solutions.

"Emerging markets are gaining prominence as consumer markets in their own right. As such, we need to respond with product and cost competitiveness suited to these markets," says Akao. To boot, the India investment could go up substantially depending on how the market grows and the success of the intellectual property and product offerings that are being customised for the local market.

"We have a slew of products providing best-of-breed solutions in all our three business areas: microcontrollers, analogue and power devices, and system-on-chips. Our growth strategy is based on reinforcement of overseas business and we aim to raise overseas sales ratio to over 60% by 2012 by amplifying our global offering of smart solutions combining microcontrollers with our analogue and power devices."

He says Japan accounts for 50% of its global sales, US and UK notch up 10% each, while Asia, including China, accounts for the rest.

Mergers have played a key role in Renesas' growth strategy. "Our goal in pooling the accrued strengths of both companies (NEC and Renesas) will enable us to enhance competitiveness, generate powerful product businesses and offer customers a wider range of solutions through mutually-complementary
products. The merger (with NEC) took place against the backdrop of changes in the business environment surrounding the semiconductor industry," Akao explains.

On the buyout track, Renesas Electronics had spent $200 million last year to buy out Nokia's global wireless modem division to enhance its technology in the mobile multimedia domain. Today, about 13% of Renesas Mobile, the new subsidiary, manpower is stationed in its India subsidiary, which works on cutting-edge research in mobile multimedia system-onchip space.

In India, Renesas has offshore development centres in software firms like Wipro and KPIT that work mainly on its system-on-chip designs. "Considering the potential market growth in the Indian market, we believe it is important to develop products onsite," Akao noted. Renesas will more than triple its resources in India over next few years, in line with its India Vision Strategy. And resources will be spread not only in Bangalore but at other centres too, he says.

Today, while the 2010 semiconductor market size for south Asia — including south-east Asia and Oceania — is pegged at $39.3 billion by Gartner and the compounded growth rate for 2010-11 expected to be 9.6%, the India market is growing much faster at 17% compounded — quite captivating to semiconductor vendors.
"Renesas will be providing new, and latest, products and solutions to the Indian market. Our theme basically revolves around green microcontrollers leading to green systems for a green society. In tune with this theme, we have lined up over 100 India-dedicated products to be brought here," he says.

In India and other emerging countries, the company will determine the target segment for microcontrollers and reinforce the lineup with analogue and power devices to offer smart solutions. "The company eyes a 20%-plus share of the local design market in India by 2015, while in microcontrollers, it plans to double its current 10% market share to 20% by 2015 with the help of newly-launched products," says Akao.

Quizzed on the management restructuring initiated by him post-merger, Akao says that "discussion centred on three points — formulate growth strategies, realise merger synergies, and implement structural reforms — with an eye to strengthening product competitiveness, our sales force, and cost competitiveness in order to achieve our management targets. To achieve these management targets, it will require us to further strengthen our product competitiveness, our sales force, and cost competitiveness in our core business."










 Union Budget 2011 is balanced, growth-oriented and forward-looking. Industry is relieved that the finance minister has displayed fiscal sagacity in continuing with the stimulus measures and has resisted tinkering with the rates of excise duty. Obviously, the finance minister seems to be banking on the economy going well and, therefore, has placed his hopes on revenues rising on the back of overall higher growth of the economy.
The higher personal income-tax exemption limit for individual taxpayer will result in relief of only . 2,000. This may not be adequate compensation in view of the high level of food inflation, one hopes that the measures in the Budget for smoothening farm product supply chain and distribution would help moderate food inflation.
The finance minister announced that the fiscal deficit in 2010-11 would be brought down to 5.1% from 5.5% in the previous year, and further to 4.6% in 2011-12. Extreme care, however, needs to be exercised to ensure that such constriction does not dampen the growth impulses.

The Budget has several positives. Steps such as maintaining the disinvestment target of . 40,000 crore for 2011-12, development of mega clusters for labour-intensive industries such as leather and handicraft, and the possibility of further liberalisation of FDI policy are decisions that will spur economic growth.
Industry, however, has more than a tinge of worry. A major problem area is input cost inflation that is hitting industry hard. About 90% firms that participated in the latest Ficci Business Confidence Survey point to rising cost of raw materials and industrial inputs as a 'negative factor' impeding their business performance. As high as 93% of the firms expect the build-up in food prices to spill over to the manufacturing sector. Companies are facing demands for higher wages and salaries, and this is complicating their cost structure further.
A fallout of the rising raw material and manpower costs is the compression in profit levels. And companies appear to be struggling to hold the priceline. Nearly 53% of the firms say that they would raise selling prices in the next six months. So, corporates were looking to the finance minister for specific domestic demand-boosting measures. The cut in the surcharge on corporate tax from 7.5% to 5% would reduce the tax burden on corporates, but the impact would be marginal. I feel that the surcharge and education cess should have been removed. With the anticipated rise in direct tax collections, a portion of these could be utilised for funding education projects. In the competitive global business environment, the corporate tax rate should have been in the vicinity of the global average rate of 24.99%. Also, the cascading effect of DDT should have been removed and, instead of raising the MAT rate to 18.5% from 18%, the finance minister should have reduced it to 15%.
In the last three Budgets, including this one, the ambit of investment-linked incentive is being enlarged. This would become meaningful only if the losses arising from the deduction of capital expenditure are allowed to be set off against the profits of other businesses of the assessee.

Finance minister Pranab Mukherjee has brought more services under the service tax net. While the tax base needs to be widened, it would be in the fitness of things to bring down the tax rate with an expanding base so that both the exchequer and the aseessess get a fair deal.

The finance minister appreciates the imperative to grow agriculture at a rapid pace. Towards this end, he has announced several measures to fast-track private-sector investment in agriculture and agro-processing. These could have been supplemented with fiscal incentives by allowing 100% depreciation on investments in physical assets like infrastructure development in farm by the private sector and the farm-value chain and a tax holiday for 10 years. It was also desirable to provide aweighted deduction of 200% on any expenditure on R&D in agriculture and provision of extension services in transferring the best agriculture practices for various crops. Expanding the coverage of healthcare and education is vital for inclusive growth. While education and health outlays have been raised by 24% and 20% respectively, the minister could have given a tax holiday for five years in any of the 10 years of the inception of a healthcare project. In education, there is an urgent need for a national policy for PPP initiatives in the higher education sector and the private sector should be encouraged to set up higher educational institutions as a Section 25 company.

Given the importance of housing,the proposal for an investment-linked deduction for businesses that develop affordable housing under a notified scheme, is welcome. He must also consider allowing funding of township and residential and commercial buildings by banks and financial institutions at concessional rates, same as for the infrastructure sector.

(The author is the immediate past president of Ficci)






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



Actions speak louder than words, it is said. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, stood to gain if immediately after the Supreme Court's stinging verdict in the CVC case on Thursday he had summoned his top bureaucrats and asked them harsh questions about their failure to ensure that all the right materials available to the government reach him before he decides important questions. In this particular instance, the relevant question was why the department of personnel and training failed to include in the dossier on Mr P.J. Thomas the crucial fact that the officer was facing a criminal chargesheet in Kerala and that sanction to prosecute him had not been rejected (although it had not been accorded either). It is likely that Mr Thomas' candidacy for the post of central vigilance commissioner would have been rendered infructuous if this relevant material had been placed before the PM. Alas, Dr Singh has done no such thing. He meekly said he would make a statement in Parliament (which is expected on Monday). That is as it should be, of course. The Prime Minister also noted that he accepted his responsibility in the matter and that coalition compulsions were not to blame in the CVC matter (as in the case of 2G and former communications minister A. Raja). This approach describes a conscientious man who shoulders responsibility, not a forceful doer who initiates prompt action to regain the confidence of his followers. In every case that has hit the ceiling, starting with the Commonwealth Games affair last year, the Prime Minister has made pro forma observations suggestive of a bland business-as-usual approach, and overlooked the inner sensitivity of the matter when questions were first raised. Action has followed when the courts have stepped in, ending in mea culpa pronouncements in each case and a public loss of face. The Congress Party too has been caught on the wrong foot every single time, suggesting that there might be something seriously the matter with the interface that is said to exist between the party leadership and the highest level of government where, it appears, much too much reliance has been placed on top bureaucrats in the system. It cannot be overemphasised that civil servants are wont to display energy only when they stand to lose if they did not; otherwise they will the machinery to move at a stately pace for which justification rests in the thicket of procedures. Dr Singh appears to have allowed himself to be administered placebos by those who are meant to facilitate administration under his direct charge. No matter what he says in Parliament on the CVC matter, this state of affairs must change. In the light of the unambiguous, no-nonsense, judgement of the country's highest court in the CVC case, it is shocking to hear Mr Thomas' counsel say that his client has not resigned and may seek a review of the judgment. Mr Thomas risks making a mockery of himself through such an approach.






 "There was a girl who stole the sunlight
She used its touch to make the flowers grow
Its rays made sunsets, colours, sights — I was left in darkness though".
From Bachchoo's Laments
(This, please note, is the only column written from Los Angeles this week which will not mention the Osc... oops!)

Everyone knows that the Americans drive on the wrong side of the road. Very few people know why they do, so I am about to enlighten you. After copious enquiries among traffic experts I am confident I have found the correct answer.

The road culture of America, the big chunk of real estate discovered they say by Christopher Columbus, Amerigo Vespucci or Shilpa Shetty — it doesn't matter — begins with single horses and develops into rough carts and then stage coaches. We've all seen them in the movies, rambling along the desert road with the spokes of their wheels turning, miraculously, the wrong way as they go forward.

Most of these stage coaches had a team of four and sometimes even six horses. The horses, let's say four, were harnessed to the sprung coach in two rows of two, one to the left one to the right. You can see it, I hope. The coach was driven by a coachman who sat on an unsheltered bench behind the horses and above the cab containing the ladies, gentlemen and the bags of the then King's Mail (or was it privatised and Wells Fargo from the inception?).

As elsewhere in the world from time immemorial, one of the ways in which the coach driver exercised his will over the horses in the team was through the use of a whip. If there were six or even four horses, this whip had to be pretty long to reach the rump of the front runners.

Now most coach drivers are right handed. This is a statistical fact based on the evidence of the majority of "folk" being right handed and coach drivers being randomly selected from the human population. In order for the whip to reach both sides of the equine team, right and left, evenly, this right arm of the coach driver had to be equidistant from both its rows. In other words, the coach driver had to sit on the left of the bench so that his right arm would be above the centre of it.

This not only left room on the right of the bench for the person who "rode shotgun" and protected the coach from Jesse James, Billy the Kid or others who fancied a free lunch, it also made sure that the horses were evenly beaten to spur them to greater effort. This was of course necessary as a little thought will tell you that if the horses on the right ran faster than the horses on the left, the coach would veer to the left and come off the road — and vice versa of course, leading to the same disaster, frightening the ladies, inconveniencing the gentlemen and holding up the King's Mail.

It stands to reason that if the coach drivers all sat to the left of the coach and had to see the traffic coming from the opposite side, that they had to be positioned in or towards the centre of the roadway and not be tucked away to the side of the road. This was made possible by the law that forced the coaches and carriages to drive on the right side of the street or highway. Do you see it?

Now one may well ask "why then do the British and the Indians drive on the left side of the road?" This is a very difficult question and several explanations have been put forward but none of them convince me so I shan't relay them. The closest explanation is that the British are traditionally eccentric and perverse and the Indians were colonised and submissive, but these are rather insulting hypotheses, so one shouldn't pursue them. What does occur to me, though, is that it is quite possible that even a few days in LA have brain-washed me into accepting the theory of driving on the right as perfectly logical and arising out of the biological preponderance of right-handedness. It may not be the case.

But one finds that Americans do claim a natural right to innovate. For instance, people from Los Angeles always refer to their city as "LA". They ask me where I am from and when I say I am from "P", they invariably express puzzlement. I am forced to elaborate and tell them I meant I was from Poona, now known as Pune, but most of them still don't get it. They work on the conceited assumption that only Americans should be allowed to abbreviate the names of their cities into initials and be readily understood when they do.

The common idea that most Americans don't know terribly much about the world was reinforced by three reports and incidents these last few days: I was talking to Ashok Amritraj who told me that when he first came here and talked to even educated Americans they thought Singapore was in India. Then I meet a young lady who says she is trying to break in to film-making and because I am holding a book asks me what it is. Would it make a good movie? It is in fact the autobiography of Groucho Marx and I tell her that.

"Who is he?" asks this person who wants to make films in Hollywood!

"Oh he's the fellow who invented communism", I reply.
"Interesting", she says.
And in the breakfast room of the motel where I am staying the comestibles are laid out on a table with several varieties of bread and bagels at one end. Next to these bread baskets is a plastic and steel contraption which at first sight startled me because it was nothing but a large toy guillotine. What was it for? The young lady at the breakfast-dispensing table serving herself before me unwittingly demonstrated. She picked up and neatly cut two organic wholewheat, seedy, vitamin-reinforced, bran-rich, low-calorie, unglazed, oil-free, anti-yeast allergen fortified bagels into lateral halves under the guillotine and stuck them in the toaster.

"Let them eat cake", I remarked.
She turned round "Pardon me?"
"Marie Antoinette", I said.
"No, I'm not, I'm Krystal with a 'K,'" and she stuck out a polite hand to shake mine.                  
(See? Not a word about the Osc...)





The Chief Minister, Mr N. Kiran Kumar Reddy, ooks on his 100 days in office as being full of speed breakers which he has to struggle to cross in order to complete the marathon race to the 2014 elections. This picturesque phraseology is not ours but the CM's. When the CM completed the landmark 100 days in office, there were no formal or informal celebrations like exchange of sweets and bouquets. When journos inquired about this, Mr Reddy smiled and said he did not remember his birthday either. Someone then questioned him about his experiences while in office. "It is a marathon race till the 2014 elections. I had come at a crucial time when the state was facing a number of problems. I am crossing the speed breakers one by one," he replied. Not content with the analogy of the speed breakers, Mr Reddy next likened his experiences in office to a common cold! He said whatever medicine one takes, the cold remains immune and persists for four to five days before disappearing. The problems he faced are similar. "They will be there for a few days and vanish. Time is a great healer," he said.

The textile minister, Mr P. Sankar Rao, is a terror to babudom these days. First it was the General Administration Department principal secretary, Mr R.M. Gonela, who faced the wrath of the minister for not allotting him the chamber of his choice in the Secretariat. Then, it was the turn of senior police officials, who he said neglected to look into his complaint of receiving threatening calls from anonymous persons. The latest victim is Apco managing director, Mr Rajagopal. The two differed on who should get the contract for supplying uniforms to students and went to the extent of Mr Rao filing a case against the official under the SC/ST Atrocities (Prevention) Act. The High Court has stayed the filing of the case by the police thus affording Mr Rajagopal some relief. Another senior bureaucrat, Mr B. Sambob, probably sensing the danger in advance, lobbied with the powers-that-be to relieve him of the textile portfolio. He had been given additional charge of mines and textiles after the incumbent, Ms Ranjan R. Acharya, went on long leave, but Mr Sambob coolly passed on charge of textiles to another industries principal secretary, Mr J.C. Sarma, whose turn it now is to worry about setting a foot wrong.

When all Telangana MLAs are supporting the statehood movement by participating in agitations, the Hyderabad city MLAs are pretending as if the issue doesn't exist. This has irked the students and others who espouse the pro-Telangana cause. A few days ago, some activists questioned the Jubilee Hills MLA, Mr P. Vishnu Vardhan Reddy, and demanded his open support. Mr Vishnu, a second time MLA, got furious and gave the students a bit of a tongue-lashing: "I am for Telangana. My late father was for Telangana. What more do you want from me? Are you saying that I should regularly attend breakfast, lunch and dinner meetings of T-leaders and later talk about the same old stuff on TV? Or do you want me to dance to Telangana folk songs at public places? Is this the way you want me to work for T-state? I don't do all this. Please go away." Considerably taken aback, the activists faded from the scene.







So the Supreme Court says the decision to appoint P.J. Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) is "non-est" in law. The Vigilance Commission is the "Integrity Commission of India", it says solemnly, and must be headed by an unblemished person with impeccable integrity.

Oops. I suspect that recommending an untainted person with impeccable integrity to head the corruption-control commission is "non-est" in Indian politics. Seriously, in a country driven as much by corruption as by law, which political party would want an utterly upright chap with flawless integrity, one who cannot be influenced by netas and political expediencies, to head the Vigilance Commission? Which suicidal ministers would take pains to instil a thorn in the flesh of robust corruption that drives Indian democracy? Would you want to give someone who doesn't respect your secrets the key to your cupboard of skeletons?

The very fact that the earlier CVC had cleared the palmolein-tainted bureaucrat Mr Thomas' candidature for CVC reveals the anti-corruption body's own limitations in fighting the hydra-headed monster it is up against. "We had to trust the earlier CVC", lamented law minister Veerappa Moily. "We believed in the system. That system has failed."

Wonder why our leaders continue to "believe in the system" when nobody else in the country does. According to Transparency International, India has an integrity score of 3.3, which makes it one of the most corrupt nations of the world. And, of course, our politicians lead the pack in this race of crooks.

In fact, in his defence the CVC had claimed that making a fuss over his appointment makes no sense when hardcore criminals are allowed to be lawmakers. "Twenty-eight per cent members of Parliament (MPs) — 153 of 543 (in the Lok Sabha) — face charges of various kinds, 54 face serious criminal charges, including murder", said the CVC's counsel K.K. Venugopal. "And unfortunately they are the very persons who make laws for us."

Several MPs, even facing murder charges, had become ministers, he argued. And it's not just being chargesheeted — MPs and MLAs (members of the Legislative Assembly) can hold office and are not disqualified even on conviction if the sentence is less than two years.

"If the issue of suitability was allowed to be introduced by way of judicial verdict, then it would open a Pandora's box as all executive appointments would become subject to various objective factors…" the counsel had warned. Which may not displease the Supreme Court, under the formidable Chief Justice S.H. Kapadia. "We want to lay down the law for the future", the court had warned. And it clearly wishes to foreground the issue of probity in public life. Integrity is important, it reminds us, both for an institution and for the individual.

Indian democracy is already facing a steady erosion of legitimacy. Murderers, rapists, thieves and crooks of all kinds power the system which may or may not prop up a few relatively honest leaders to save face. Killer dacoits and goons rule the cow belt of north India, other goons and fraudsters pretty much run the system elsewhere as well.

To change the system that our trusting law minister feels so let down by, we need to change its nuts and bolts. And this SC ruling may be the beginning of that radical, sweeping change.

The new Chief Justice of India (CJI) shows every sign of being committed to cleaning up the system. Chief Justice Kapadia has also revived the police reforms case from half-a-decade's stupor, trying to get states to implement the reforms that would ease the politician's grip on the police force, instil accountability, reduce corruption and help the system work more efficiently.

So it is not surprising that the Supreme Court, led by this CJI, would push for a transparent system that focuses on integrity and probity in public life.

* Antara Dev Sen is editor of The Little Magazine. She can be contacted at: [1]







IT may have been in a different context that the Supreme Court had on Thursday asked "what the hell is going on in this country": but that was precisely the query that troubled most Indians after the UPA appeared to be trying to brazen out the ignominy that settled upon the government after the court quashed the appointment of PJ Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, and asserted that "institutional integrity" was paramount. An immediate expression of regret by the Prime Minister and home minister might have undone a little of the damage they had inflicted upon their government ~ the Rajya Sabha offered an appropriate forum for that. Hence their silence (Dr Manmohan Singh is expected to speak in Parliament on Monday) arouses suspicions of buying time to craft a response rooted in as much sophistry as the arguments the government advanced in the apex court in favour of the dubious appointment. Nobody, except the sycophants that abound in the Congress party, accepts the line taken by law minister and hapless party spokespersons that the effectively articulated verdict of the court did not add up to an indictment of the Prime Minister and home minister (and thereby a vindication of Sushma Swaraj's opposition to the appointment): or that this was just another of the several instances in which the court had overturned a government decision. To suggest that the decision to appoint Thomas was taken on the basis of incomplete information is ridiculous on more than one count: it is factually incorrect since Swaraj did raise the palmolein import issue, it speaks poorly of how top appointments are processed. And did the government not make unsuccessful attempts at persuading/ pressuring the man to quit after the court indicated its line of thought? So a deficit of moral rectitude as well as a lack of the strength to remedy a situation stand exposed. Rightfully did the apex court move on to laying down detailed guidelines for the future functioning of the appointment panel which it had created earlier: guidelines which it had initially probably deemed unnecessary since a vestige of propriety was deemed integral to governmental functioning. It must be asked if what the court observed/ ruled was really necessary ~ common decency encapsulates much of that. National affairs have indeed sunk to the "pits".

It still remains a mystery (though we do not advocate a JPC to solve it) why the government persisted with Thomas' appointment: some day the truth will emerge. What is definitely not a mystery is that the wheels are fast falling off UPA-II, and essentially because of the corruption that has flourished under its patronage ~ the public perception that once elevated Dr Manmohan Singh above the political morass has dissipated. Perhaps all that keeps him ensconced in Race Course Road is that Lok Sabha polls are still some way off. The Indian voter is capable of ousting governments, even while alive to the risk that the replacement may be equally unsavoury. The stench from New Delhi is overpowering.




THE response of the Pakistan government was wimpish when Salman Taseer, the Punjab Governor, was gunned down in January. It has been quite totally muted since Wednesday when a similar fate befell Shahbaz Bhatti, the lone Christian minister in the shockingly ineffectual Zardari cabinet. Both were high-profile opponents of the repugnant laws on blasphemy. Notably, opposition to the legislation stems from within the ruling PPP establishment. Tragically though, the beleaguered government doesn't have the nerve to review the law, let alone concede the demand for abrogation.  Whether the assassin is a bodyguard or an Islamist militant, the blasphemy law is now being used to persecute religious minorities or their sympathisers. This is the strand that binds the killings of Taseer and Bhatti. Both had demanded the reform of the law. The assassination of the religious minorities affairs minister has shattered Pakistan's fragile image of a democracy and a relatively moderate Islamic state. The mayhem in Islamabad is bound to intensify the threat from the Taliban and Al Qaida, both nurtured by the fundamentalist section within the military. Taseer's killer, it bears iteration, belonged to the elite guards. The culpability must rest also on the government which almost as a matter of policy has been impervious to strident demands from civil rights groups to nullify the law on blasphemy, a legacy of Zia-ul-Haq's heyday.

For Christians, the largest minority group, the country has ceased to be a safe place. And this has bluntly been buttressed in responses from the Western world. The fine print of the reactions from the Vatican, Britain's Anglican church and Hillary Clinton makes it obvious that Pakistan has slid from a failed to a condemned democracy. The fact that it is a nuclear-armed country makes the outlook ever more chilling. Beyond the attack on an individual and on libertarian principles, Wednesday once again witnessed an outrage on the values of tolerance and respect of faiths. It is a vicious circle of fanatically fierce intolerance and Islamist extremism. The bigotry is lethal if even to question the law is deemed as blasphemy. Deafening is the silence of an elected government. Its handling of the floods, corruption, religious assassinations and the collapse of the democratic spirit have confirmed its spurious credentials.




MAMATA Banerjee's Railway Budget sprung a pleasant surprise on Manipur by proposing the setting up of a diesel engine unit in Imphal. Whether this was a gesture of gratitude to the people for electing Trinamul Congress candidate K Sarat in the recently held by-election to the Konthoujam Assembly constituency is not clear because the poll results were announced just 12 days before the presentation of the budget, by which time the relevant report would have been ready. The party's victory was all the more significant because it set up shop in the state only a few months ago. The irony, however, is that Imphal is still at least 40 km removed from any railway connection. The state got its first railhead at Jiribam in Barak Valley some seven years ago. Work on the Jiribam-Imphal route via Tupui, declared a national project, is on and likely to be completed in another four years. But this will be meaningless if the conversion of the Lumding-Badarpur-Silchar line to broad gauge ~ already years behind schedule ~ is not speeded up. Unfortunately, there has been a wide gap between proposal and practice. The Railway minister's proposal for the creation of a non-lapseable fund to complete ongoing schemes in the North-east is not new because even her predecessor Lalu Prasad  in 2008 came up with such an idea to complete the Jiribam-Imphal, Dimapur-Kohima and Azra-Byrnihat (Meghalaya) projects. Since no deadlines are set it is anybody's guess when these will see the light of day. If Imphal is to have a diesel engine unit, militant outfits have to shed their abhorrence of outsiders because no work can be done without importing labour. Over the past three years they have killed more than 24 people, mostly floating migrants. If the line from Guwahati to Byrnihat had been extended it would have benefited Meghalaya, but following opposition by Khasi students this had to be abandoned.








What do the problems in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt have in common with the Oscars? The answer is Facebook and Social Network. The latter is the name of the film about the founders of Facebook that won three Oscars. The Egyptian protestors learnt how to socially connect through Facebook, having learnt the techniques of social organization and use of mobile communication technology from a bunch of Serbs who succeeded in overturning Milosevic in the late 1990s.  Foreign Policy magazine calls this 'Revolution U'.

What the problems in West Asia show is really the breakdown of social capital, as against economic capital and cultural capital.  In his 1995 book, Bowling Alone, Harvard Professor Robert Putnam first identified the decline of social capital in the US which he defined as 'connections among individuals ~ social networks and the norms of reciprocity and trust-worthiness that arise from them.' Modern urban living, when many of us spend time watching TV and doing things alone, reduces the time for social connectivity. Throughout Asia, rural folk lament the loneliness of cities, where there is little friendship and all human transactions are commercial.
The mobile phone, Facebook, Twitter and the like have transformed the mode of communication between friends, family and even business acquaintances, especially amongst the young. The Web, as marketing and media people discovered quickly, is the new wonder of social communication, but as people in Egypt and West Asia also discovered, a power for social mobilization.


What Putnam lamented was the breakdown of local neighbourhood clubs and societies, where people met to share common hobbies and interests and learn to generate trust and reciprocity with other people.  These would include religious societies, bridge clubs or even weekend barbeques. These were mostly voluntary organizations for mutual welfare and support. As modern life made demands for higher consumption, families had to have dual-incomes in order to afford a higher standard of living. There was less and less time for voluntary social work and more and more time devoted to fulltime employment.  Similarly, as government got bigger, the state took care of the functions that civil society used to perform, like supervision of hospitals, schools and even cultural affairs.

The result was alienation and distance between the individual and others, eroding social capital and trust within society and between individuals and government. This void is not filled by political activity alone.
In Hong Kong, there is emerging a growing sense of resentment against the rich that was not obvious before. Hong Kong has always been a city of contrasting incomes and wealth, but until recently few envied the rich because there was a sense that everyone had the same opportunities to become rich. The Hong Kong government has always provided for the basic needs of the poor, with large doses of public housing and one of the finest public health systems in the world. 

But as the population ages, even as modern life speeds up, many urban poor feel increasingly alienated and a sense of loss of control over their own lives.  This explains the willingness to express their protests either through marches or through anger in the blogs.

In West Asia, the breakdown of social capital exploded as the connectivity between the masses and the ruling elite has been broken. The three most basic issues are rising population, youth unemployment and corruption of the ruling elite. In 1990, the population of Egypt was only 58 million and by 2009, the population had risen to 83 million, more than a million a year.  Not surprising that youth unemployment was quoted as high as 40 per cent. In Tunisia, the unemployment rate is 14 per cent, but youth unemployment probably double that. With the elites concentrated on building their own nests, it was not surprising that the masses rose up in protest when food prices rose. All these add to social frustration.

There are important lessons for Asia as we embark on faster and faster urbanization. In the next 30 years, the proportion of Asians in cities will rise from the current 40 per cent to an estimated 53 per cent by 2030 and 65 per cent by 2050.  The urban drift will stress social capital even more, as large populations are moving into cities with infrastructure already creaking at the seams.

But what consolidates social trust and stability is less physical capital (hardware) and more social capital (the software) of how to make cities more liveable and where jobs and job satisfaction are attainable and sustainable. It has become urgent for Asian planners to look into not just hard infrastructure, but also social engineering on a scale never attempted in history.

So far, the faster growth in East Asia has meant that unemployment levels have been kept at reasonable levels. Most business people see the rising urbanization as opportunities from investments in real estate and infrastructure, higher middle class spending and more growing sophisticated cities.

But in reality, the harder stuff is all in creating what Putnam calls bonding social capital and bridging social capital that mutually reinforce each other. Bonding social capital is uniting people who are alike, either on a religious, ethnic or cultural basis. Bridging social capital is about linking people who are not alike, such as rural-urban differences, religious and ethnic differences. In this global, multi-racial, multi-religious and multi-cultural environment, it is vital that bridging social capital is constantly fostered, nurtured and strengthened.
It is not surprising that Indonesia has been offered as example to North Africa and Egypt as a model of how to deal with such complex social capital. Although Indonesia has had her share of problems in the aftermath of the Asian financial crisis and the fall of the Suharto regime, the vigour of social narrative between the different ethnic races and different religions, in a country where 88 per cent are Muslims, is very impressive indeed. 
Time for civil society to wake up and for greater efforts to rebuild social capital.    

~ Asia News Network

The writer is Adjunct Professor at Tsinghua University, Beijing, and University of Malaya. He was formerly the Chairman of the Securities and Futures Commission, Hong Kong







Dr Hans-Gert Pöttering is the president of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), a member of the European Parliament and former President of the European Parliament. He holds the distinction of being the only continuous member of the European Parliament since his first direct election in 1979.  He studied law, political science and history at the universities of Bonn and Geneva as well at the Institut des hautes études internationales in Geneva. Simran Sodhi catches up with him.

As the former President of the European Parliament, how do you evaluate the foreign policy of the European Union after the establishment of the new European External Action Services (EEAS)?
First of all, the Lisbon Treaty, which provides the basis for the external services agency, is a very important treaty because it gives full democracy and parliamentarism to the European Union (EU). So the Lisbon Treaty is a great step forward for European democracy and integration. As far as the EEAS is concerned, this is a means and an instrument for a better representation of the EU in the world; but the EEAS makes it even more necessary that we define within the EU a common and strong European foreign and security policy.

How does Germany look at the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union? Is that a realistic option or something we will never get to see?

Turkey is a very important country and a very important partner ~ and a friend. We want to have very close relations with Turkey. But the membership of Turkey in the European Union is another question. I personally think that politically, culturally, financially and geographically it would be too big a challenge to give Turkey a full European Union membership. We in Germany would rather prefer to have a privileged partnership, instead of a full membership. This privileged partnership means we have a close cooperation with Turkey in many fields. For example, in the fields of international relations, in foreign policy, in financial and economic questions and by promoting the dialogue between different cultures. Therefore, we should identify political areas where we can have an intensive dialogue with extensive relations.  

The newly-elected President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Mr Christian Wulff, remarked in his first statements that "Islam is part of Germany". Do you agree with him and is that the sentiment prevalent in most of Germany?
I would rather prefer to say that the followers of the religion of Islam are part of Germany. We have to respect all religions and in this regard, the religion of  Islam is also part of Germany. But Christianity has been in Germany for more than 1,000 years. Nonetheless, people who believe in Islam are a part of Germany. And I think German citizens feel the same about the four million Muslims currently living in Germany. The great challenge is to integrate them into German society because we are not in favour of parallel societies. Our values ~ based on the German Constitution ~ have to be applied to all citizens living in Germany.

How do the EU and Germany look at the situation in Afghanistan and Pakistan? Broadly speaking, do you think we are witnessing a "Talibanisation" in this part of the world?
The "Talibanisation" of Afghanistan and Pakistan is certainly a matter of great concern. We are in favour of a democratic society, and a society under the Taliban will not be a democratic society; women are oppressed, girls cannot go to school ~ to give just a few examples ~ so we are in favour of an open and democratic society in Afghanistan and in Pakistan, and we promote this. But democratic development, the promotion of democracy, has to come from within for the two countries ~ that is the main task they have to accomplish.  

How do the EU and Germany view the rise of China? Do you see the world moving to a bi-polar structure with the USA and China as the major players?


There are two aspects. On one hand, China is a strong and powerful country while on the other hand, China is not a democracy and the people are oppressed there. But once China develops into a democracy, it will be a different China. We want to see a strong China based on democracy, based on liberty and based on the rule of law, which will partner with other democracies in the world like India and the EU.

It will be totally wrong not to criticise China with regard to its human rights situation. We need a double strategy with China: co-operation on the one hand but also criticism, insofar as the human rights situation is concerned. And with this double strategy, we will serve our values and interests. I have no doubt that a time will come, like in the Middle East today, when the people of China will live in a democracy with liberty and human dignity.

In October 2010, both Germany and India were elected as non-permanent members of the UNSC for 2011 and 2012. With regard to the reform of the UNSC, do you think the EU should get a permanent seat on the UNSC?
I am in favour of the membership of India in the UNSC. As far as Europe is concerned, I would like to see a seat for the European Union in the Security Council. I am realistic enough to recognise that this will not happen soon but it must be the EU's ambition to get a seat in the Security Council. The Lisbon Treaty makes it possible for the EU to be a member of international organisations.

There are some who fear a German domination of the European Union, given the size of Germany's economy. Do you think this is a valid concern?

I would not speak of a German domination; I would rather prefer to say that its is Germany's responsibility to be a strong partner to develop the European Union further in the right way. To make the EU economically robust, to make it internationally strong and to make sure that the values that we share in the EU with respect to human dignity, human rights and rule of law are visible and protected. And Germany promotes this strongly.

Could you throw some light on the Indo-German relationship and the role played by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) in this regard?

India was one of the first countries where the KAS introduced its programmes more than 40 years ago. From the early stages, it has been the endeavour of the KAS to promote a greater understanding between Europe and India, to widen and deepen the people to people links between Germany, India and Europe, to further contribute to the strengthening of strategic partnerships.

Chancellor Merkel is likely to visit India later this year. How do you think this will help in strengthening the bilateral relationship, especially in light of her party's recent losses in the regional elections?
Angela Merkel enjoys a strong position as Chancellor. We have had regional elections and it is always the case that the dispensation that holds power at the national level loses some seats at the regional level but her position as a strong Chancellor is not questioned. Indo-German relations are strong, this is my impression and something that I have shared in all discussions I have had here in India. Further, the visit of Chancellor Merkel will further strengthen bilateral relations. Her visit to India is an example of the stable relationship between India and Germany. 







 "The economy is back on its pre-crisis growth trajectory. Agriculture is on a rebound, industry is regaining its earlier momentum. The services sector continues its near double-digit run. Fiscal consolidation has been impressive."

Finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee

"Our reaction to the Budget is mixed. The good side is that some positive steps such as initiative for a second Green Revolution in eastern states, increase in budgetary support in the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and in education as well as health sectors have been taken in the Budget. But, there is no specific proposal to address two major problems ~ unemployment and inflation."
Mr Asim Dasgupta, West Bengal finance minister to reporters at Writers' Buildings

"It is a well-settled principle that once the process of selection starts, the prescribed selection criteria cannot be changed. In the instant case the respondents had changed the rules of the game, while the game was in progress."
The Central Administrative Tribunal observed while scrapping the law ministry's appointment process
"I have decided not to contest the Assembly election since I have to campaign in all 294 constituencies in the state. If I choose to contest the election, my mobility will be restricted."
Trinamul Congress chief Miss Mamata Banerjee

"People on the streets are now saying : If the CPI-M is a thief, the Trinamul Congress is a dacoit. The general perception of the party has been very adverse and it is bound to have a telling effect on the poll results. We have to change this. Much has been done, but all party workers and sympathisers should put in tireless efforts to ensure that people again recognise communists as politicians with a difference. For that, we have to change ourselves and our approach first."
The CPI-M's secretary for West Bengal Mr Biman Bose

"This is a very unfortunate incident. We had tried to take precautionary measures so that everything goes smoothly. We do not know how this happened, it was not the fault of the Board."
Professor Anjan Sengupta, president of the West Bengal Board of Secondary Education on the Madhyamik question paper leak







In an address which Baron Schrottky delivered recently at Mozufferpore to the Behar indigo planters he claimed that his research work, in the direction of marketing the natural dye in a more suitable form for the dyer, has given the industry one more powerful factor for a successful competition with the synthetic product.
Baron Schrottky sent last year samples of a natural indigo paste into the market, which, it is stated, has been greatly approved of in Mincing Lane, and which has come out well in actual dyeing in comparison with the 20 per cent synthetic paste. A much higher value, it seems, can be obtained for natural indigo in this paste form than when sold in the ordinary dry state.

Baron Schrottky considers this progress a most important one, as dyers who now use exclusively synthetic indigo have declared themselves ready to go back to the natural dye if supplied in the same paste form of the synthetic product. With the rational cultivation of Java-Natal indigo the adoption of up-do-date methods of manufacture and the marketing of the dye in paste form, the natural indigo can, in Baron Schrottky's opinion, be made sufficiently cheap to compete successfully with the 20 per cent synthetic paste. Baron Schrottky considers that at least 15 tons of indigo paste should be marketed this year and sent in two or three lots to England, America, Russia, France, Germany, Suez, the Persian Gulf and Japan, and as it may be necessary to distribute a considerable portion of this in the first instance free of cost, he has suggested that the Bengal Government should make a special grant to some indigo concern which would undertake the manufacture and distribution of this quantity of paste.



What appears to be a daring dacoity was reported on Tuesday by the Deygonga police to the district police at Alipore. Within the jurisdiction of Deygonga Thana in Baraset, there is a village named Jhikra chiefly inhabited by well-to-do men.

At midnight on the 6th instant, when all the inmates of Babu Surjo Kumar Paul, a rich landholder, were asleep, a gang of dacoits, numbering about 40, most of whom were young men all masked and armed with guns, swords and spears forced an entrance into the house.

They entered the room where Surjo Babu was sleeping with his wife and children, tied him hand and foot and demanded the key of his iron safe. On his refusing to give it up he was murderously assaulted.
The dacoits broke open the iron safe, and extracted valuables worth more than a thousand rupees, ransacked the other rooms, and decamped with the booty. The inmates recognised some of the young men and the local police were informed accordingly.







Disagreements between the government and the higher judiciary are always discomfiting. They immediately throw up questions of form — of purviews and boundaries — that politely disguise suspicions about shifts in the balance of the democratic edifice. They also throw up other, even less pleasant, questions, about what the executive could have done to make the Supreme Court frown. The court has declared the high-powered committee's recommendation of P.J. Thomas as chief vigilance commissioner non-est, that is, it 'does not exist'. Although the government has accepted this quietly and even the Opposition has refrained from crowing, the incident remains deeply disturbing. The court was responding to a public interest litigation objecting to the appointment of Mr Thomas as the CVC. Since the HPC had not considered the "adverse material" that the court referred to as relevant to a CVC's appointment, the process of appointment was declared invalid.

There is undoubtedly a question of boundaries here. The government is free to appoint a CVC of its choice, and he or she cannot be removed by any other institution. Therefore it is the process of recommendation that has been shown to have been illegal. This, again, is not without its own problem. The "adverse material" chiefly relates to the palmolein corruption case against Mr Thomas that has not been resolved in court. It is not as if the HPC did not know about it, because one member, Sushma Swaraj, dissented with the majority decision on this point. On principle, Mr Thomas is presumed innocent till he is proven guilty, although questions of morality are not irrelevant to a CVC's appointment. But technically, the HPC would have the freedom to decide what to consider as relevant to the appointment.

It was, however, undoubtedly a silly thing to do. The institution in question is the vigilance commission, a fact on which the court has laid the greatest stress. The "institutional integrity" of the commission should not be threatened by the appointment of a commissioner whose record is not spotless. That a case was filed against him is like a shadow in this situation, although the court made it clear that Mr Thomas's "personal integrity" was not being questioned. But the post is too sensitive, and the times are bad; it is strange that the HPC should have taken the risk. The dissenting member's reason was clear; the argument overriding it was not. The HPC may have been functioning with its own wisdom within its frames of reference, but technicality is not the same as morality. The court's concerns are evident. For the vigilance commission, only Caesar's wife will do. In another hearing, the court pointed out that the government has been singularly lax in the questioning of Hasan Ali Khan, who allegedly has illegal businesses and piles of black money. It seems that the executive is almost inviting the court's strictures by its inefficiency and lack of foresight in matters of corruption.







Muammar Gaddafi complains the West has deserted him. So have the Arab League and the Organisation of the Islamic Conference. So has India. The West's desertion matters most, perhaps, not only because Gaddafi has been at such pains to surrender his nuclear options and reinvent himself as Uncle Sam's pet but because of the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. With British and German planes landing in Libya, talk of a no-fly zone and David Cameron accused of playing Tony Blair, a Western bid for regime change can be expected if the revolt fails to bring Gaddafi down.

India's position is enigmatic. A former ambassador to Libya once recalled admiringly that when he called on Gaddafi, the latter hugged his local driver because they had fought together in the resistance. He saw Libya's leader as a man of the people. When Pranab Mukherjee visited Libya in 2007 — the first high-powered visit since Indira Gandhi's in 1984 — Gaddafi waxed eloquent about the sky being "the limit for cooperation between the two countries." Matching his exuberance, Mukherjee declared India's "unlimited interest" in promoting "the historical friendship" and broadening ties "in the economic, commercial, cultural, and joint investment fields." An Indian multi-product business delegation last March, followed in July by the eighth session of the Indo-Libyan Joint Commission, confirmed the promise of partnership in oil and petroleum, IT, education and human resource development.

Has India's evaluation changed because some of Gaddafi's people have turned against him? Or because the United States of America has? Now we are told Seif al-Islam, Gaddafi's son and heir, pulled a fast one on New Delhi's Islamic Centre. Now India, like the US, wants sanctions against Libya, and its leader tried for crimes against humanity. Fellow columnist K.P. Nayar may be able to throw light on the number of telephone calls and summonses from the Americans before Hardeep Singh Puri, India's permanent representative to the United Nations who was reportedly held at Texas airport not long ago in violation of his diplomatic immunity and his turban "searched forcefully", agreed to suppress his own preference for a more calibrated approach and go the whole hog.

Since Americans test friends and foes on the touchstone of UN votes, P.V. Narasimha Rao had to support revocation of Resolution 3379 (Zionism-is-racism), passed by the UN general assembly with great gusto in 1975, as part of the price of acceptance. As prime minister, I.K. Gujral did not rush to Kuwait's defence when Saddam Hussein overran the emirate but realized — when the US cut off aid for impoverished Yemen because it voted against invading Iraq — that near-bankrupt India would have to toe the line. After that, India supported every American move at the UN.

It's ironical that the US, with India tagging along, should seek to commit Gaddafi to the International Criminal Court which neither country recognizes. It is also ironical that the world should suddenly have woken up to his dictatorship. Gaddafi has not been anything else since he overthrew the pro-Western monarchy in 1969 and set up the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Presumably, the Americans and Indians would have continued to befriend him if he had ruthlessly suppressed the revolt before it exploded. It's ironic, too, that a pro-democracy movement is pitted against a jamahiriya or "state of the masses".

The strident American campaign is the biggest irony. The US has accommodated too many dictators in the past for Hillary Clinton's human rights rhetoric to be taken at face value. Perhaps Gaddafi's nuclear penitence was never believed and the US has been biding its time since the unfinished business of 1969 when Henry Kissinger tried to topple him or 1986 when the Reagan administration tried to have him killed. Perhaps Washington wants to demonstrate that the Central Intelligence Agency, which could not save a star protégé in Cairo and has been caught with its pants down in Lahore, isn't such a nincompoop (if an organization can be called that) after all. This could also be a manifestation of the new plan — CIA 2015 — by the CIA director, Leon Panetta, to refurbish his agency's image. Another explanation might be the intelligence assessment that despite bombast about "fighting to the last man and woman", Gaddafi will not survive the storm, and the consequent American determination to win favour with the next ruler(s) of a major oil exporter with Africa's largest proven oil deposits.

The danger is that a superpower can foment trouble in a country and use it as an excuse for intervention. It was a tactic imperial Britain perfected, and the US might feel tempted to employ to avoid the mess that outright invasion created in Iraq and Afghanistan. No one should be surprised if Western arms and funds are channelled to the "Free Libya" insurgents, as they were to Osama bin Laden and the Afghan Mujahideen. Hugo Chávez, who has produced a peace plan, can save his breath to cool his porridge, as they say. The Americans can't back out now.

Unlike the British, Indians don't instinctively protest when civil rights are infringed anywhere in the world. Outsiders have commented India is absorbed in India. The British writer, Taya Zinkin, who knew India well, explained indifference to global events by suggesting that Indians are psychologically incapable of seeing repression when both sides are the same colour. The traditional aversion to championing human rights and democratic freedoms, evident in Jawaharlal Nehru's hesitation over Hungary in 1956, may also reflect a genuine reluctance to interfere in another country's sovereign jurisdiction. It could be born, too, of a hard-pressed people's pragmatic strategy for survival. An Indian Zimbabwean at the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas strongly resented Western criticism of Robert Mugabe whose high-handedness he justified in the name of discipline, arguing that white farmers deserved to be expropriated. Typically, he was doing well and didn't want the boat rocked.

Not that Indian governments care much about emigrant sentiments. Nehru, who advised East African Indians to make the best of their circumstances, took up the cudgels against apartheid South Africa because of Mahatma Gandhi's involvement. Playing to the Afro-Asian gallery and attacking Western colonialism were added incentives. Initiatives like the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas and liberalized passport, visa and voting rules were prompted by China's success in mobilizing funds from its diaspora.

Normally, West Asian countries are barely mentioned in the Indian media. The orgy of reports about the upsurge there reflects (dare I say it?) media imitativeness rather than a response to keen domestic interest. Yet, West Asia should rank high in foreign policy priorities. India imports 75 per cent of its oil needs and nearly three-quarters of that comes from the region. The four million Indians there (only 18,000 in Libya) are a major source of foreign remittances. The United Arab Emirates overtook the US in 2008-09 as India's biggest trading partner. If national interest justifies dealing with Myanmar's ruling junta (despite Barack Obama's chiding) or an array of Arab sheikhs and sultans, there need be no squeamishness about Libya's "Leader and Guide of the Revolution".

Whether or not his days are numbered, India must forge a coherent West Asian strategy that places India's fiscal stability, technological expertise and familiarity with democratic institutions at the disposal of the emerging order. Whatever the earlier record of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, its request for help in conducting elections merits a positive response. The unique instrument of soft power that is Bollywood can be deployed with aggressive creativity.

While India cannot afford to ignore either US strategic interests or its ties with Israel, being seen to hang on to America's coat-tails like Hosni Mubarak's ousted regime will only invite ridicule. "A subedar owing allegiance to a global overlord", as Syed Shahabuddin put it in another context, won't serve even American global interests either. The US needs a credible ally in Asia with an independent foreign policy.


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




The annulment by the supreme court of the appointment of P J Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner has dealt a severe blow to the credibility and prestige of the UPA government and to the image of prime minister Manmohan Singh. The prime minister and home minister P Chidambaram took the decision to appoint the officer who was charge-sheeted in the palmolein import case,  overruling the objection of the leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj. The responsibility for the bad decision therefore rests directly on them. The court's conclusion that the institutional integrity of the CVC's office is more important than any other consideration can be extended to call into question the institutional integrity of the prime minister's and the home minister's offices.

It was clear from the beginning that P J Thomas was not the right person for this high office which has to function as the country's anti-corruption watchdog. The court's questions and observations during the hearing had indicated that it had serious reservations about his suitability for the position and the manner in which the decision was taken. Neither the government's nor the CVC's arguments before the court were convincing. Thomas' offer to  recuse himself from the 2G investigation only weakened his position and lowered the stature of his office. The government claimed that the facts about Thomas' charge-sheet were not before the high-powered committee when it took the decision, though it later admitted that the opposition leader had raised the issue at the meeting. The government even went to the ridiculous extent of stating that the lack of knowledge about the case against Thomas did not make the decision wrong and illegal.

While there was arbitrariness writ large on the government's decision, persistence with the weak defence was a sign of arrogance and lack of concern for public opinion. Both Thomas and the government had the opportunity to wriggle out of the embarrassment but they stuck to their untenable positions. The embarrassment has now turned out be a legal and moral indictment of the government. After exhausting all defences the government is now left with no hiding place. But it owes an explanation to the people and it has to come from the prime minister. In many other cases he had the excuse of ignorance about the wrongdoing of others. Even that fig leaf was not there in the CVC case.







The assembly elections announced in four states — Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala — and one union territory — Puducherry — may not qualify to be called a mini general election but they are important for the Congress, its UPA partner, the DMK, and the CPM, which leads the Left front. The elections will be held in two far corners of the country and may not reflect a countrywide political mood. But they involve a large and politically sensitive electorate and will provide pointers to the standing of important political parties in their strongholds. This is bound to have a bearing on national politics too. The stakes are high for the CPM and the DMK and to a some extent to the Congress.

The elections will be crucial for the CPM which heads governments in West Bengal and Kerala. Both governments have been weakened by defeats in the Lok Sabha and local body elections in the recent past. The over three decades old rule of the Left Front in West Bengal is in danger with the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance posing a serious threat to it. In Kerala there is a tradition of the Congress-led UDF and the CPM-led LDF coming to power in alternate elections and so the chances of a return of the present LDF government are poor.  The DMK is going into battle in Tamil Nadu after being tainted by the 2G spectrum scandal and in the midst of reports about lack of cohesiveness in the party. Its rival, the AIADMK, led by Jayalalitha, has formed a strong electoral alliance with film star Vijaykanth's DMDK and other smaller parties. The Congress, which is in power in Assam, may not find the going difficult in the state, with the major opposition parties — the BJP and the AGP — failing to agree on an alliance. The Congress is also comfortably placed in Puducherry.

The elections, to be held between April 4 and May 10, will be held on a single day in Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Puducherry and on two days in Assam. West Bengal will have its polling in six phases in view of the threat from the Maoists and other law and order problems. It is for the Election Commission to ensure that the polling and election campaigns are held in the most free and fair manner in all the poll-bound states.







In a democracy, the power of judicial review should be exercised with restraint and it is for the judiciary to defi-ne the boundary for itself.

In a major act of judicial activism, the supreme court quashed the appointment of P J Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner rejecting the argument of the Union government that it is the prerogative of the government to appoint anyone. Never before did any court set aside the appointment of such a high functionary.

Eligibility and suitability are two different things and the apex court has outlined the difference between the two in several cases. The Union government, in a sober reaction, has said that the SC's guidelines would be followed and the law minister has admitted to the 'systemic failure in governance'.

The argument trotted out by Thomas' counsel as well as the government that there cannot be any judicial review of the executive appointment has been rightly rejected as the power of judicial review is an inherent power of the court and held to be a basic feature. However, in a democracy, this power of judicial review should be exercised with restraint. But again, it is for the judiciary to define the boundary for itself — this far and no further.

In Vineet Narain case (1998), the supreme court gave guidelines as to how the CBI and the Central Vigilance Commission should be restructured so that it is impervious to any extraneous influence, and how the Chief Vigilance Commissioner should be selected. Chief Justice J S Verma reiterated the 'filling the vacuum' theory it is the duty of the executive to fill the vacuum by executive order.

However, these directions were not complied with, but the court did not take it to be contempt of court. In Prakash P Hinduja's case (2003), the court maintained: "In A K Roy vs Union of India, AIR 1982 SC 710, it was held that no mandamus can be issued to enforce an Act which has been passed by the legislature. Therefore, the direction issued regarding conferment of statutory status on CVC cannot be treated to be of such a nature, the non-compliance whereof may amount to contempt of the order passed by this court."

The court realised it was overstepping, but it makes a mockery of the directions given in Vineet Narain. Moreover, it creates scope for non-compliance of any orders which the executive decides is beyond the jurisdiction of the judiciary. However, the directions were implemented later on. Now again the court has adopted an activist posture.

There is a growing judicialisation of political issues all over the world. Ran Hirschl in his article 'The Judicialisation of mega-politics and the rise of political courts' has commented that the judicialisation of politics has expanded beyond rights issues or transnational cooperation to encompass what may be termed 'mega-politics'.

Nation-building process

It is so wide in its sweep that it encompasses issues from electoral outcomes and corroboration of regime change to matters of war and peace, foundational collective identity questions, and nation-building processes pertaining to the very nature and definition of the body politic.

Courts had to grapple with issues like the fate of the American presidency, the war in Chechnya, political turmoil in Pakistan, multicultural citizenship in western Europe, the place of Germany in the EU and so on.

Since the Indian supreme court is one of the most powerful in the world, this trend is more pronounced here. The confrontation between parliament and the supreme court began immediately after India became a republic as the elected representatives were emphatic that they had got the mandate to shape the destiny of the nation but the judiciary was equally emphatic that the government or the legislature must not try to interfere with its independence.

The activism of the supreme court is perceptible from the very first year of its inception in the dissenting opinion of Justice Fazl Ali in A K Gopalan's case. It sowed the seed of judicial component in the legislative function. Though prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru firmly believed in the independence of the judiciary, he, nonetheless, told the Lok Sabha on May 16, 1951, in no uncertain terms that the judiciary had no role with respect to great schemes and big social changes.

The confrontation that started with the enforcement of the constitution and the setting up of the supreme court got sharper with the passage of time. The Golak Nath decision making the fundamental rights untouchable by parliament was the first major example of judicial activism.

Immediately thereafter, Samyukta Socialist Party MP Nath Pai introduced a private member's bill to restore the supremacy of parliament with respect to the amendment of the constitution. However, it was vociferously opposed by his own party MPs Rammanohar Lohia and Madhu Limaye.

Lohia found a parallelism in the 'Enabling law' of Germany, a lawless law which Hitler used to justify his dictatorship. The activism reached a new high when in 1973 the supreme court enunciated the doctrine of basic structure in Kesavananda Bharati case and put a permanent brake on the amending power of parliament.

However, in a certain low for the supreme court, it prostrated before the government during the Emergency (June 25, 1975, to March 21, 1977).








Inder Kumar Gujral was prime minister of India for just under a year: from April 1997 to March 1998.
 A couple of days before he was sworn in, the front runner in the race for the prime ministership was Jyoti Basu, Communist chief minister of West Bengal. Two days before the election, his name was withdrawn from the race and after hectic political wheeling-dealing the aspirants agreed on the name of I K Gujral.

In his memoirs 'Matters of Discretion: An Autobiography' (Hay House) he tells the story in full detail. His younger days were already narrated by his younger brother Satish Gujral who, despite his handicap of deafness rose to be one of India's top painters, sculptors and architects.

I heard Inder Gujral speak a couple of times before he become prime minister. He was a polished speaker not a rabble-rouser but eloquent. It was a joy listening to him. He was to the point and invariably quoted some Urdu couplets. I took them down to use in my columns.

He did not have the time to make his mark as citizen number one. He did spell out what he called the Gujral Doctrine of five principals to conduct foreign relationship with India's immediate neighbours: Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives and Sri Lanka.

First: India could not seek reciprocity but would give and accommodate what it could in good faith.

Two: No South Asian country should allow its territory to be used against the interest of another country of the region.

Three: No country should interfere in the internal affairs of another.

Four: All South Asian countries must respect each others' territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Fifth: they should settle all their disputes through peaceful bi-lateral negotiations.

In actual fact, Gujral made a mess of his attempts in dealing with Saddam Hussain's unwarranted invasion and occupation of Kuwait. With a little malice I describe the Gujral doctrine in a Punjabi style embrace (jupee) followed by an apt couplet from Urdu poetry.


Where service to the people is
a religion
And every meeting ends with Jan Gan Man
Mayawati's party has no
criminals, not even one
This is something only by her rivals done
No minister or MLA can
Slap a common citizen or
a policeman
Nor kill a commissioner
or engineer
For not collecting enough
money for the chief minister
On her epoch-making birthday
Nor his hand on a poor we woman lay
But if one does come his way
He neither rapes nor molests ever
And if still she creates a stir
He arranges a jail term for
her —
Thus for every criminal UP is
a terror
A model of law and order
It is a state where Ram Lakshman run factories and schools
And Sita Mata herself rules.

(Courtesy: Kuldip Salil, Delhi)

Mustard oil

Everyone seems to be in such a hurry to scream 'racism' these days.

A customer asked, "In what aisle could I find the 'sarson da tel'?" (Mustard oil)
The clerk says: "Yoy a Sardar?"

The guy, clearly offended says: "Yes, I am. But let me ask you something."

If I had asked for Italian Olive Oil, would you ask me if I was Italian?

Or if I had asked for German Bratwurst, would you ask me if I was German?

Or if I asked for a kosher hot dog, would you ask me if I was Jewish?

Or if I had asked for a Taco, would you ask if I was Mexican?

Or if I asked for some Irish whiskey, would you ask if I was Irish?

The clerk says, "No, I probably wouldn't."

The guy says, "Well then, because I asked for Sarson Da Tel, why did you say I am a Sardar?"

The clerk replied, "Because you're in a liquor store."

(Contributed by Vipin Buckshey, Delhi)






The modern grandmother bravely sails into the progeny's domain.


Watch that impatient queue which forms in those fidgeting minutes before the ground staff give the green signal to board a Trans Atlantic flight, and you will spot them. They come neatly packaged in saris or the more convenient, and for many, only recently adopted, salwar kameez. Some have excitement written all over their face, others wear a bored look of déjà vu. Their hand baggage is heavy, speaking evocatively of lovingly made sambar powder and mango achaar, theplas  and chaklis. Yes indeed, they are the grandmothers, off on Mission Baby Sitting.

Whether the trip is to bring in an 'American' bundle of joy or to relieve another grandparent who has exhausted US hospitality on a visitor visa, they are a Godsend for modern India's famous H, L and Green card holders. Many successful female careers have floundered without this support. Childcare is costly and work from home options, gold dust. But in comes the grandmother with the magic hand and hey presto maternity, indeed is a walk in the park.

While her earlier avatar brought the daughter back home to pamper during pregnancy, the modern grandmother bravely sails into the progeny's domain to play an omnipotent role. The kitchen and the crib are handled with equal ease. Mother and child are provided improvised therapeutic baths, literally, on the tap. And delayed pediatrician appointments are overcome with well-tested home remedies.

If it is spring or summer, the grandmother's overseas stay is indeed pleasant. Suburban America sees many of them take an afternoon constitutional in newly minted sports shoes. Weekends see them in the neighbourhood Indian watering holes — be it Bridgewater, Queens or Maryland. Winters are tougher and it is to Indian TV channels and soap operas that many a grateful son-in-law turns, to keep them entertained.
The country of course is only incidental. Grandmothers are an invaluable part of the maternity journey anywhere in the world.


For working women, the role a grandmother plays in their seamless re-entry into the workplace, after the maternity hiatus is indeed special. Her presence at home means no last minute 'leave' if an errant maid does not show up or apologetic calls to the day-care centre to keep the toddler a half-hour extra while the professional participates in an important conference call. It means said executive returns home with a spring in her step to the fragrant aroma of a home-cooked meal or at least a hot cup of coffee.

Yes indeed, behind every successful working woman, is a hardworking grandmother. And as yet another International Women's Day rolls by, celebrations are on in corporate offices, panelists hold forth on daises, and kudos are paid on reams of newsprint to the  'Double-U-O-Man' Woman, let us raise a toast to this unobtrusive, ubiquitous pillar of strength.



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



Washington's inaction on immigration reform has left the states feeling abandoned and wondering what to do. When the frustration boils over, as it has most scarily in Arizona, Republicans have been pushing what amounts to vigilantism — states taking on federal enforcement, shouldering aside civil rights and the Constitution and spending whatever it takes to get rid of illegal immigrants. It's a seductively simple vision, and lawmakers across the country are grasping at it, pushing Arizona-style copycat laws.

Thank goodness for the pushback. In dozens of states considering such crackdowns — including Nebraska, Indiana, Oklahoma, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, South Carolina and Texas — elected officials, law enforcers, business owners, religious leaders and regular citizens are providing the calm voices and cool judgment that are lacking in the shimmering heat of Phoenix.

They are reminding their representatives that replacing federal immigration policy with a crazy quilt of state-led enforcement schemes is only a recipe for more lawlessness and social disruption, for expensive lawsuits and busted budgets, lost jobs and boycotts. And all without fixing the problem.

This isn't just an immigrants' cause. Business owners in places like Kansas and Texas, the attorney general in Indiana, Catholic and Protestant bishops in Mississippi — these and hundreds of other community leaders have been sending a contrary message.

The businesses say bills to force employers to check workers' legal status are redundant, costly and anticompetitive. The clergy members have denounced bills to criminalize acts of charity, like driving an undocumented immigrant to church or the doctor. Lawyers have said new layers of enforcement paperwork would heavily burden legitimate business and overwhelm state bureaucracies.

Police chiefs and sheriffs are leading the skeptical resistance to the bills, which frequently involve having local police checking the immigration status of people they stop. A report released on Thursday by a national police research group looked at cities where police officials had been drawn into heated immigration debates. Its conclusions: federal enforcement is no job for local officers, who should be forbidden to arrest or detain people solely because of their immigration status.

The reasons: it costs too much, prompts false-arrest lawsuits and frightens law-abiding immigrants. "I have a responsibility to provide service to the entire community — no matter how they got here," said Chief Charlie Deane of the Prince William County Police Department in Virginia. "It is in the best interest of our community to trust the police."

The chiefs of Nebraska's two largest police departments — in Lincoln and Omaha — recently told the State Legislature basically the same thing.

A peculiar mix of nativism and immigration panic has pushed the immigration debate far out into the desert of extremism. It's going to take a serious effort by saner voices to ensure that what happens in Arizona stays there.





Over all, the job market did not get any worse in February, and by some measures, showed signs of new life. It would be wrong, however, to regard the latest data with anything other than extreme caution.

Unemployment declined to 8.9 percent from 9 percent in January and from 9.7 percent a year ago. Unfortunately, the improvement over the past year is mainly because of a decline in the size of the labor force — generally, people giving up their search for work — a quirk in the data that masks the true level of distress.

It is all too easy to disparage "dropouts" as slackers. But with the average spell of unemployment at a record high of 37.1 weeks, and with nearly five unemployed workers for every available job opening, their plight is not so much a personal failing as an economic catastrophe. A weakened labor force is a sign of distress and decline, presaging a slow recovery and an ailing society.

Job growth data is similarly troubling. On net, 192,000 jobs were added in February, marking 12 straight months of private-sector job gains, for a total of 1.3 million new jobs over the past year. Even if last month's pace of job creation could be sustained, it would take nearly eight years to return to the pre-recession unemployment rate of 5 percent, set in December 2007.

In the meantime, human capital — the basis of prosperity — is being squandered.

Recent college graduates, for instance, are still stymied by the job market. Over the past year, unemployment among college graduates under age 25 has averaged 9.5 percent. Among all workers under 25, unemployment in February was 17.7 percent. Many young people will never recoup the work experience and income growth they have been denied by today's weak economy.

And things could get worse before they get better. The economy is threatened anew by higher oil prices, a resumed slump in house prices, budget cuts by state and local governments and, on the federal level, the Republican campaign to make deep cuts in this year's spending. Make no mistake. With the labor market slack, such cuts can only do more damage.

In the months to come, the way the nation responds to joblessness will determine the strength of the recovery. Too many politicians in Washington aren't getting that message. The budget deficit is a serious long-term problem. But, until the economy recovers, the lack of jobs is the clear and present crisis.






The Air Force's decision to award Boeing the multibillion-dollar contract to replace its fleet of Eisenhower-era KC-135 refueling jets appears to have been based on a fair assessment of costs and capabilities rather than favoritism for the home team over its European rival EADS, the maker of Airbus.

A fair outcome for this decade-long, deeply marred procurement saga is a relief. We hope the Air Force and all of the military services have learned the right lessons — not just about avoiding possible corruption but also about the need to ensure that every step of the process is transparent to all bidders.

The problems date to 2004 when it was discovered that an Air Force official involved in the tanker bidding was angling for a job at Boeing. Senator John McCain rightly scuttled the Air Force's plan to lease Boeing jets.

In a second round, the Air Force decided to buy the jets from a consortium made of EADS and Northrop Grumman. Boeing successfully challenged the decision, arguing that EADS had been given extra credit for offering a much larger jet when the original specifications didn't award points for size. It also charged that the Air Force — perhaps trying to make up for its previous embarrassment — had provided more guidance to Airbus.

The Air Force did a better job the third time. It called for a jet that could meet 372 specifications with no extra points for extra bells and whistles, reducing the space for favoritism or other contestable mistakes. But in its eagerness to protect itself from another challenge, the Air Force was less able to make trade-offs between the cost of the tankers, their performance and capabilities, and the risks that a project of this size entails.

This meant that the competition was decided mostly on price, including the jets' sticker price plus the cost of operating them. Boeing's smaller 767, which consumes much less fuel, was the predictable winner.

The new specifications so clearly favored a smaller jet that Northrop abandoned the contest, leaving EADS to bid alone.

As budgets are sliced around the globe, competition for military contracts is likely to keep getting fiercer, with losers increasingly challenging the outcomes. To address this risk, the Pentagon could craft procurement contracts with narrow, rigidly refined specifications. Unfortunately, that could discourage future bidders from innovating and aiming to exceed expectations.

A better route would be simply to avoid the kind of dumb mistakes made by the Air Force. All it had to do was avoid conflicts of interest, keep the rules clear and not move the goal posts midway through the game. The military today may be high-tech. But that approach to business has been around for a long time.








  The IPCC is the leading international scientific body studying climate change. Despite criticism — much of it manufactured by climate-change deniers — the panel has for more than a decade provided rigorous and balanced information to policy makers to help guide their efforts to prevent and mitigate the potentially disastrous effects of global warming.

Regrettably, politics trumps science among House Republicans, who recently voted to zero out this country's extremely modest $2.3 million annual commitment to the IPCC. The bill also slashes spending on a half-dozen domestic programs that study the causes and effects of climate change.

The budget for the Energy Information Agency — which gathers information on energy production, consumption and pollution — would be cut by one-sixth. Small but vital Interior Department programs that measure the impact of climate change on animal, plant and fish species and their habitat were reduced and in some cases nearly wiped out.

We have already pointed to devastating amendments to the budget resolution that, unless reversed by the Senate, will undermine the Environmental Protection Agency's authority to regulate greenhouse gases. The bill would also make it impossible for President Obama to meet his promises to help poor countries save their rainforests and deploy clean energy technologies, also essential for addressing global warming.

Mr. Obama asked for $400 million for the World Bank's clean technology fund, $95 million for the bank's program to prevent deforestation and $90 million for its program to help at-risk nations cope with the effects of a warming planet by, for instance, developing drought-resistant crops. The House's answer in all three cases: zero.

An appalling performance. But the worst of it was the House's apparent belief that wishing away the evidence will eliminate the problem.






We may be embarking on a new era in politics, in which candidates and officials are just as likely to be brought down by bad writing as adultery.

Today, let us consider the case of the Florida State Senate president, Mike Haridopolos.

Haridopolos is of interest to us non-Floridians for several reasons. One is his wavy blond hair, which curves around his 40-year-old forehead in a perfect dip and may be setting a whole new post-John-Edwards political hair standard.

Second, he is an early favorite to win the Republican nomination to take on United States Senator Bill Nelson, one of the Democratic incumbents expected to face a tough re-election battle in 2012.

"We're only four seats short of a majority," Haridopolos told a TV interviewer this week. "I can be one of those four seats ... and join Marco Rubio as a Florida U.S. senator." Rubio, who was just elected in November, is a young man with great hair himself. If Haridopolos were to join him in Washington, they would definitely wrest the hottest-Senate-delegation title away from New York's Kirsten Gillibrand and Chuck Schumer.

But first Haridopolos is going to have to get past some current political unpleasantness about the fact that, a few years back, he got a community college in his district to pay him $152,000 to write a book on Florida government.

Which, The Associated Press pointed out recently, was supposed to become a textbook but wound up being a single 175-page, double-spaced manuscript stashed away in the Brevard Community College administration office.

Furor ensued. Florida journalists pointed out that on a per-copy basis, Haridopolos made 61,000 times more than J.K. Rowling did for the Harry Potter series.

I am hoping that the next defining series of political scandals will be about illegitimate prose. You will remember that last year, the leading candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in Colorado was torpedoed by charges that he had plagiarized chunks of "Musings on Water," a manuscript that a conservative foundation had paid him $300,000 to write.

Many of us were most fascinated by the idea that you could get $300,000 for musing about water. But the voters were upset about the plagiarism part. The candidate, Scott McInnis, lost the nomination to Dan Maes, a dark horse who arguably turned out to be the worst candidate for a major post in a year when his competition included Alvin Greene, the guy running for the Senate in South Carolina whose economic development program involved getting the unemployed to build action figures of Alvin Greene.

Haridopolos's tome, "Florida Legislative History and Process," is Literary Scandal Two, and if we get just one more we will have an official trend, suggesting that politicians can now get in more trouble with a laptop than a lap dance.

Wait! This just in! The director of the London School of Economics has resigned following charges that Seif Qaddafi, son of you-know-who, plagiarized chunks of his Ph.D. dissertation. Seif was awarded a doctorate from the London School of Economics shortly after Libya made a huge donation to the school. (This is not the Qaddafi son who got arrested for beating the servants with a coat hanger in a Swiss hotel, causing Libya to begin a campaign to have Switzerland removed from Europe. That was Hannibal, and he is not a big writer. Seif is the one you see on TV telling reporters that his father is in high spirits.)

But back to State Senator Haridopolos. He is a dedicated fiscal conservative, and when a reporter asked him whether the taxpayers got their money's worth from his book, he replied: "I don't know. How much are you worth?" We take this as a sign of incipient testiness.

One thing about crimes against writing is that journalists tend to take them more personally than crimes against marriage. But, generally, politicians are protected from their worst literary sins by the fact that nobody actually ever reads the books they produce.

Now the community college has agreed to make "Florida Legislative History and Process" available on Kindle, and both voters and writers will be able to judge for themselves whether Haridopolos is right when he blames the whole controversy on the fact that he is "running for office, trying to change America."

Frank Cerabino of The Palm Beach Post gave the manuscript a quick read and reported that Haridopolos "somehow managed to write a political history of Florida that completely skips over the Florida recount of the 2000 election." But he was most taken by the section entitled "Running for Office," in which Haridopolos advised: "It is essential to study the issues before deciding to run."

Other reviewers fixated on another insider tip: "A cellphone will be essential." Although I am kind of partial to: "Most importantly, a candidate should avoid wasting money on useless novelty items such as wooden nickels."

Or wooden prose.






The Tea Party is synonymous with anger. Anger defined it. Anger fueled it. Anger marred it. Anger became its face and its heart. But anger is too exhausting an emotion to sustain.

A poll released Thursday by the Pew Research Center found that anger at the government among Tea Party supporters fell by 40 percent from September 2010 to this month. Furthermore, anger among Republicans fell by more than half, and anger among whites, the elderly and independents fell by 40 percent or more.

On the other hand, the percentage of Tea Party supporters who said that they trusted the government always or most of the time doubled from last March to this March, and the percentage of Republicans saying so nearly doubled. In fact, the percent of both Republicans and independents saying so is now higher than it has been since January 2007.

Less anger? More trust? What happened? The midterms happened, that's what.

Elections have a way of cooling passions, especially when voters get what they want. (Remember how lethargic many Democrats became after November 2008?) Electoral success not only satisfies, it pacifies. The enormous gains by Republicans during the midterms assuaged much of the country's grief. The pressure began to subside. The novelty dimmed. The urgency evaporated.

Yet Tea Party leaders are still sniping from the sidelines, holding politicians to overreaching promises made when the electorate was still stewing. Judson Phillips, founder of the Tea Party Nation, wrote a post on its Web site this week saying the House speaker, John Boehner, looks "like a fool" and should face a primary challenge in 2012 for not pursuing enough spending cuts this year.

For these Tea Partiers, any concession is a crime worthy of expulsion.

A September Pew Poll found that only 22 percent of those who identify with the Tea Party admire political leaders who make compromises. This is not the way the rest of the country feels. Fifty-five percent of Democrats and 36 percent of Republicans said that they admired politicians who compromise.

Staunch Tea Partiers seem to be guided by the worst kind of fundamentalist political extremism — immutable positions derived from a near-religious adherence to self-proclaimed inviolable principles. This could well be their undoing.

During the right's season of anger, passion and convictions galvanized Tea Party supporters into an army of activism. But the vehicle is outliving its fuel. The movement is losing momentum. In fact, Tea Party-backed governors like Scott Walker in Wisconsin could be providing the rallying cry on the left to pick up the mantle of anger and send the momentum back the other way.

If Tea Party leaders continue to operate as if anger is still a major part of their arsenal and Republican politicians continue to feel pressured into untenable positions, Democrats could enjoy their very own Charlie Sheen-ism come 2012: "Winning!"






The cost of college has skyrocketed and a four-year degree has become an ever more essential cornerstone to a middle-class standard of living. But what are America's kids actually learning in college?

For an awful lot of students, the answer appears to be not much.

A provocative new book, "Academically Adrift: Limited Learning on College Campuses," makes a strong case that for a large portion of the nation's seemingly successful undergraduates the years in college barely improve their skills in critical thinking, complex reasoning and writing.

Intellectual effort and academic rigor, in the minds of many of the nation's college students, is becoming increasingly less important. According to the authors, Professors Richard Arum of New York University and Josipa Roksa of the University of Virginia: "Many students come to college not only poorly prepared by prior schooling for highly demanding academic tasks that ideally lie in front of them, but — more troubling still — they enter college with attitudes, norms, values, and behaviors that are often at odds with academic commitment."

Students are hitting the books less and partying more. Easier courses and easier majors have become more and more popular. Perhaps more now than ever, the point of the college experience is to have a good time and walk away with a valuable credential after putting in the least effort possible.

What many of those students are not walking away with is something that has long been recognized as invaluable — higher order thinking and reasoning skills. They can get their degrees without putting in more of an effort because in far too many instances the colleges and universities are not demanding more of them.

The authors cite empirical work showing that the average amount of time spent studying by college students has dropped by more than 50 percent since the early 1960s. But a lack of academic focus has not had much of an effect on grade point averages or the ability of the undergraduates to obtain their degrees.

Thirty-six percent of the students said they studied alone less than five hours a week. Nevertheless, their transcripts showed a collective grade point average of 3.16. "Their G.P.A.'s are between a B and a B-plus," said Professor Arum, "which says to me that it's not the students, really — they share some of the blame — but the colleges and universities have set up a system so that there are ways to navigate through it without taking difficult courses and still get the credential."

The book is based on a study, led by Professor Arum, that followed more than 2,300 students at a broad range of schools from the fall of 2005 to the spring of 2009. The study (available at showed that in their first two years of college, 45 percent of the students made no significant improvement in skills related to critical thinking, complex reasoning and communication. After the full four years, 36 percent still had not substantially improved those skills.

The development of such skills is generally thought to be the core function of a college education. The students who don't develop them may leave college with a degree and an expanded circle of friends, but little more. Many of these young men and women are unable to communicate effectively, solve simple intellectual tasks (such as distinguishing fact from opinion), or engage in effective problem-solving.

"This is a terrible disservice, not only to those students, but also to the larger society," said Professor Arum. "I really think it's important to get the word out about the lack of academic rigor and intellectual engagement that's occurring at colleges and universities today."

While there are certainly plenty of students doing very well and learning a great deal in college, this large increase in the number of students just skating by should be of enormous concern in an era in which a college education plays such a crucial role in the lifetime potential of America's young people. It can leave the U.S. at a disadvantage in the global marketplace. But, more important, the students are cheating themselves — and being cheated — of the richer, more satisfying lives that should be the real payoff of a four-year college experience.

"You have to ask what this means for a democratic society," said Professor Arum. "This is the portion of the population that you would expect to demonstrate civic leadership in the future, civic engagement. They are the ones we would expect to be struggling to understand the world, to think critically about the rhetoric out there, and to make informed, reasoned decisions.

"If they're not developing their higher order skills, it means they're not developing the attitudes and dispositions that are needed to even understand that that's important."







AS Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi tightens his grip on the Libyan capital, Tripoli, and the millions of people trapped inside, the world is debating how it can help the opposition, including no-flight zones and air strikes.

But there's a less aggressive, though perhaps even more important, step we can take: ensuring that Libyans can communicate with the outside world.

Social media sites like Facebook and Twitter and communications devices like camera-enabled cellphones have been important tools for protesters in the revolutions that are rocking Arab countries. This is particularly true in countries like Libya that lack opposition political parties or even formal opposition movements, requiring protesters to build communications networks literally overnight.

Perhaps that's why, since the Libyan demonstrations started last month, Internet access and cellphone service in Libya has severely deteriorated — the work, many suspect, of the government, since Colonel Qaddafi's son Muhammad runs the country's satellite and cellphone communications companies. Huge portions of the population are now frequently unable to complete cellphone calls or gain access to the Internet.

Loyalists to Colonel Qaddafi are also reported to have confiscated cellphones or deleted photographs on them to prevent the spread of images from the uprising.

As a result, democracy demonstrators have had a harder time communicating with one another, while foreign correspondents in Libya have found it nearly impossible to report on events fully.

Colonel Qaddafi and his loyalists, meanwhile, can use the military communication networks they control to counter rebel forces.

Fortunately, there is an easy step the United States and its allies could take to help: deploying cellphone base stations on aircraft or tethered balloons. The calls could then be routed to Navy ships equipped with satellite communications terminals.

Base stations are small and cheap. Indeed, this kind of portable system, though not used, was already available in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, and in the years since the hurricane, the equipment has shrunk even further.

Ideally, a commercial cellphone operator would provide direct access to its network, and either the operator, the American government or the international community could foot the bill.

What's more, establishing such a network would present minimal risk to pilots, who could loiter safely over the Mediterranean and still provide coverage to the coast, where the overwhelming majority of Libyans live and where most of the fighting is.

It's true that such a communications system would require military protection. But because only a small number of communications aircraft would have to be defended, the size of the protected zone would be small — much smaller than the no-flight zones imposed on the Saddam Hussein regime after the gulf war.

Moreover, the effort would give the international community a flexible starting point in case further intervention is necessary, whether to engage with the Libyan military or provide assistance to refugees.

By ensuring that Libyans maintain access to these basic services, the United States and the rest of the world would not only assist in the overthrow of Colonel Qaddafi, but they would also send a strong message of support to those elsewhere in the Middle East and North Africa fighting for their voices to be heard.

Dan Gonzales is a senior scientist and Sarah Harting is a project associate at the RAND Corporation.







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.





Everyone realizes that our local public schools are very important to our young people, and all the rest of us. We want to get youngsters off to a good start in life.

In addition to assuring personal safety for everyone, one of local government's top priorities is education. The challenge is to have good schools and excellent teachers, while keeping tax rates reasonable.

But it is difficult to provide the quality of school opportunities we want. We seek to attract the most dedicated teachers, build and maintain good school buildings close to our children's homes, and foster high student achievement. Our Hamilton County Board of Education has to try to get those desirable results from the dollars available.

Well, board members are facing a dollar "crunch." They have to decide whether three schools should be closed to save $1 million. They say that is necessary because the County Commission is setting aside for school construction $6 million that would otherwise go into schools' operating budget. Other possible budget cuts include money for hiring extra teachers, and reductions in central office staff and health care costs.

The schools under consideration have not been named. But you can be sure there are three communities who love those schools and who want their children to continue to have the convenience of attending schools in their neighborhoods.

"Keep in mind," Superintendent Jim Scales realistically said, "I don't care how inefficient a school might be on paper, these are live bodies in there, and it's pretty late in the year to do that [close schools]."

"But," he added, "we can put our finger on three schools we could reasonably close without a lot of construction."

Decisions have to be made in accord with the dollars available. And we want to avoid any upset before next fall. Surely, closing any school would cause pain, inconvenience and controversy.

We want our children to be offered the best in learning opportunities. So the ultimate decisions should be based on what's best for students — which is to assure there are excellent and dedicated teachers in uncrowded classrooms, and that those goals are accomplished within appropriate financial bounds.

It's hard to balance all those interests successfully and comfortably.





A Georgia lawmaker is proposing a creative, if unlikely, way to challenge the location of the boundary between Tennessee and Georgia.

Rep. Tom Weldon, R-Ringgold, is talking up a bill that would offer Georgia's HOPE scholarship benefits to Tennesseans who live south of the 35th parallel. That's a swath of far southern Tennessee that includes part of Chattanooga and East Ridge.

Some in Georgia contend that the existing boundary was set too far south back in 1826. It seems a stone marker was placed a mile south from where it should have been. The issue heated up in recent years as Georgia has struggled to find enough water to meet its needs. Tennessee, fortunately, has an ample supply in the Tennessee River, and Georgia could get access to that water if its state boundary were moved north.

Weldon says his plan would extend HOPE benefits to people in the disputed area. He says it has nothing to do with gaining access to water for thirsty Georgians and "everything to do with offering valid Georgia citizens benefits and the ability to participate in the programs of the state of Georgia."

Not surprisingly, Tennessee officials have little interest in ceding part of our territory to our neighbor to the south — or in letting Georgia tap water from the Tennessee River.

But state Rep. Vince Dean, R-East Ridge, welcomed any scholarships that Georgia might wish to offer "to Tennessee residents."

Georgia is a good neighbor, but we suspect most Tennesseans in the disputed area would just as soon remain Vols rather than become Bulldogs.








Women want 275 female deputies in Parliament following the June 12 elections.

The Association for the Educating and Supporting Women Candidates, or Ka-Der, has appeared with the slogan "Half of Parliament are Women" for the March 8  [International Women's Day] week.

Although the Chinese say, "half of the sky belongs to women," this is not true for the Earth. We very well know that.

Especially if the country is Turkey, being the eighth from the bottom among 134 countries in the "Gender Gap Report."

Having half of Parliament females is beyond a dream for Turkey.

This is a country where women's employment stands at 22 percent and the number of female Parliament members remains at 9 percent. The rate of women murdered has increased 1,400 times in the last seven years.

Lawyer Hülya Gülbahar, former president of Ka-Der, was stressing the other night on a TV program about the murder of women that Turkey is rapidly being transformed into a patriarchal society.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's remark, "I don't believe in gender equality" during a meeting with women's organizations has spread in waves in the society, according to Gülbahar.

The reason for why the poor resort to violence

Çiğdem Aydın, new chair of Ka-Der, makes a striking claim.

Women's population was about 300,000 more than that of men until three or four years ago, but has fallen behind in present, Aydın says.

 "The number of women has decreased by murders," she says.

"Why does the state not come to the fore and say, 'We will protect women's right to live?'" Aydın asks.

The murder of women is today one of Turkey's most crucial social issues.

Nebahat Akkoç, president of the KAMER association, a women's rights organization headquartered in the southeastern province of Diyarbakır, was one of the participants on the same TV program.

Violence and murder committed against women are multiplied by poverty, according to Akkoç.

As poverty worsens to the level of hunger in some houses, the KAMER president says, women push violence aside and demand a solution to hunger at first.

I think needless to say that poverty among women is much more serious and widespread compared to that of men.

It seems with issues like murder of women, domestic violence and child brides, which all disregard human rights, women's employment and representation in Parliament become less important.

Democracy is not democracy without women

However, political representation and employment are the solution to these issues because women's gaining strength is strictly related to both.

I wonder if our male administrators do not know that strength of women means strength of democracy.

I have research conducted by Professor Ayşe Buğra of Boğaziçi University and her team for the March 8 week during which various activities will be held. She is also one of the founders of the Social Policy Forum at the university.

The research was done in five provinces (Istanbul, Denizli, Sinop, Kayseri and Gaziantep).

And data were compared with the results found in the Mediterranean countries (Italy, Portugal, Spain and Greece).

The research "Women Employment in Turkey," supported by the Scientific and Technological Research Council of Turkey, or TÜBİTAK, as well, also puts "conservatism" under the microscope for it's been said so far to be influential in low rate of women employment but never put forth clearly.

Conservatism in Turkey affects women employment in two aspects, according to the study.

"Harassment" and "gossiping" cause women to be excluded from economic life in a society that is not accustomed to the socialization of women and have women living with men side by side.

On the other side, there is this conventional view that women remain at home and her duty is limited to taking care of children and elderly.

When you look through the window of conservatism, it is difficult to increase women's employment, currently at 22 percent, no matter how eager you are to take measures. And so it is with women gaining strength.






The motto "No to assimilation!" is not about Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's advice to Turkish descents in Germany during a visit earlier this week; it is about Cypriot Turks expressing their discontent with Ankara lately. As well, while nowadays everyone is writing about the awakening of people in Arab countries, it would be judicious to also look at the awakening in our immediate neighborhood that is of particular concern to Turkey.  

An unprecedented demonstration was organized in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus last Wednesday. The 2nd "Societal Existence Meeting" was a continuation of the first one held on Jan. 28, and an answer to pejorative remarks from Ankara. Participants say more Cypriot Turks than that of the 2004 Annan Plan referendum meetings gathered at the İnönü Square on Wednesday. Apparently, the armed attack against the daily Afrika was not enough to scare anyone, quite to the contrary.

Under the banner of the Trade Union Platform, Cypriot Turks by and large, the Republican Turkish Party, the Communal Democracy Party and the Democratic Party of Serdar Denktaş, the son of former President of Northern Cyprus Rauf Denktaş, joined the crowds supported by a general strike. More than 50,000 demonstrators, which is an enormous figure on the Northern Cyprus scale, from all political views, including Rauf Denktaş' wife Aydın Denktaş, were there. By looking at the slogans, we see that the "identity" outweighs the "economy": "This is Our Country. We'll run it," "We're Cypriot-Turks. Who are you?" "Respect Identity," "No to Annihilation," and "Resistance against Assimilation."

The Cypriot Turkish Teachers' Trade Union, or KTÖS, Secretary-General Şenel Elcil at the podium named Turkish Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek in charge of Northern Cyprus "the Minister of Colonies" as the Cypriot Turkish Secondary School Education Teachers' Trade Union, or KTOEÖS, President Adnan Eraslan, lamented on behalf of the Trade Union Platform: "Why don't you say that more than what you provide as aid returns back to you? We cannot use our hospitals and schools. We don't know the size of our population. You are forcing us to attend private schools and hospitals because of the new settlers you send [from Turkey]. We are witnessing mafia warfare, which we are not accustomed to, at casinos and nightclubs. We cannot enjoy walking in the street because of the escalating crime rate. Our prisons are filled to the brim. You are causing social and cultural erosion of Cypriot Turks through mosques, religious complexes and religious propaganda. You allow your friends to build hotels on our most valuable lots but these hotels contribute nothing to our economy. And I think you are unaware of the fact that some of our institutions have been given to the proponents of the ruling Justice and Development Party of Turkey [AKP]."

  Population and identity

The Turkish mainland looks today at northern Cyprus through the very same eyes as "Megali Idea" and "Enosis." It's been all clear today that Cyprus is nothing but an archaic show of force between Greece and Turkey, that the northern part of the country is seen as a piece of land conquered and that nobody cares what locals might want or demand. Indeed the former Prime Minister Necmettin Erbakan, who passed away recently, before anyone else called the 1974 "Peace Operation" a "conquest."

In the book "Ambassadors' Account: Cyprus in Turkish Diplomacy," former Ambassador to Nicosia İnal Batu talks about Rauf Denktaş and his close circles as follows: "Denktaş and people around him are loyal to the homeland. They say, 'We wish Turkey would annex us so we could become the 82nd province.'" (p. 95)

In the same book, information provided by former Ambassador Asaf İnhan put a final dot on the deliriums of commentators who still claim that Cypriot Turks are arrogant snobs who underrate Anatolian settlers.  İnhan admits that the transfer of population from Turkey to the Northern Cyprus was demographic engineering organized by the state. "The Population transfer was rushed and unplanned. This was a direct attempt by Ankara. Cyprus had made no demand in this direction."  

Today, a study conducted by the Center for Quality Research Consultation and Education, or KADEM, reveals that 92 percent of Cypriot Turks are disturbed by the population policy of the government and uncontrolled population flux to the north of Cyprus from Turkey. Eighty percent are disturbed by the construction of new mosques.

It is difficult for a government to manage this crisis when it doesn't even call it as such. The way to reduce the issue to "economic rationality" or "Mediterranean lethargy" of Cypriot Turks is grossly inadequate. From now on, exactly like people of Tunisia or Egypt, Cypriot Turks are rising up, asking to determine their fate. They are becoming new social actors.

The demand for identity recognition is not against crossbreeding but against Turkey-style Turkification and abuse. If we read it another way around, Cypriot Turks imply, "If I want to be lazy, that's my business."







What you read in the headline is what I said to myself two mornings ago, on the new "wave" of Ergenekon arrests, involving almost a dozen journalists. One of them was Nedim Şener, a meticulous reporter I barely know yet genuinely respect, for his exposure of the "deep state" in the infamous Hrant Dink murder case. Another was Ahmet Şık, who is also known for his brave journalism on the criminals within Turkish security forces.

"This is unbelievable," said a friend of mine, who is a dedicated human rights lawyer, on the phone. "This Ergenekon thing has gone out of control."

Facts and excesses

In fact, that was my sense for a while. Unlike most Kemalists, I do not think that the Ergenekon case, the most controversial trial of recent Turkish history, is a political operation "to crack down on patriots." Unlike foreign journalists such Gareth Jenkins, I also do not think that "fantasy" is what really lies behind much of the case. I rather believe that most suspects involved in the Ergenekon trial were really craving and scheming for a military coup against the elected government. But that does not blind me from the excesses of the investigation, which seem to have skyrocketed this week.

Let me elaborate a bit. Those who are not yet initiated to Turkey might find it bizarre that any journalist can ever be a suspect for a military coup scheme. But history suggests otherwise. The two military coups that targeted a particular political line, those of May 27, 1960, and Feb. 28, 1997, were carried out with the active support of the media. Both of these coups overthrew governments that were found too pro-Islamic, or not Kemalist enough, and the Kemalist-minded media supported them rigorously through black propaganda. Especially in the latter case, the "post-modern coup" of 1997, the generals and their media yes-men worked in perfect harmony, with false stories created in the barracks and promoted in the headlines.

When the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, came to power in late 2002, the same coalition felt uneasy once again. As the AKP proved to be resilient to the military's dictates, and dared to disobey the generals who saw themselves as the ultimate owners of the state, the Kemalist anger grew. So, "meetings" began between generals, and some of their civilian friends, which included journalists, on how to overthrow the AKP. We know this clearly from the electronic diaries and phone conversations of the Ergenekon suspects, which the police were closely monitoring.

According to the Ergenekon prosecutors, this coalition even planned some killings and bombings, such as the shoot out at the Council of State and the bombing of daily Cumhuriyet, to hit these secular targets and then put the blame on the "Islamists."

The two iconic journalists who have been Ergenekon suspects since 2008, Mustafa Balbay and Tuncay Özkan, are on trial for not what they have written, but because they were conspiring with the coup-craving generals. That's why I never saw their trial as an attack on press freedom. (I just object to the fact that they are on trial under custody – a terrible Turkish legal tradition to that I object to in general.)

Yet as the Ergenekon probe extended, I began to see a risk: Some people seemed to have become suspects merely for being passionately anti-AKP and having "connections" with more established suspects – connections that could have been just normal contacts and friendships. That's why I have insisted on making a crucial distinction: between people who merely have a radical Kemalist ideology, and those who have decided to commit crimes (such as planning a coup) for the sake of that ideology.

When Soner Yalçın and his colleagues were arrested two weeks ago, I re-emphasized that distinction, remaining skeptical about the charges. But in this recent case, that of Nedim Şener et al., even the ideological element is not there! And the "evidence" proposed, that files written about or by them are found in Soner Yalçın's computer, is all too unconvincing.

Turkish McCarthyism?

Hence, I agree with the critics who see a risk of "McCarthyism" here – with the important difference being that while the Red Peril of Senator McCarthy was totally delusional, the Ergenekon threat is real. But exaggerating the threat and over-extending the probe is all too dangerous. It risks not only harming innocent people, but also unintentionally whitewashing the real criminals.

Finally, the pro-AKP conservatives who have passionately supported the Ergenekon case must be careful to be principled. Their fear of a Kemalist backlash is most understandable, but they would become like their enemy if they begin to believe that the end justifies the means.

Let's make no mistake: the "new Turkey" these conservatives are proud to build must be a country in which everybody, including the Kemalists, is free – and free from fear. Otherwise, there will only be new winners and new losers, instead of the old ones. And the "new Turkish model," so popular in Tunisia, Egypt and elsewhere, will fade all too quickly.







Washington hosted two high-level Turkish diplomats this week and had a chance to listen to the Turkish administration's foreign policy vision spanning from Eurasia to the Middle East and North Africa during various think tank discussions.

One of the visiting diplomats, Ambassador Selim Yenel, deputy undersecretary for Bilateral Affairs and Public Diplomacy, was in Washington primarily for the sixth meeting of the U.S.-Turkey Economic Partnership Commission to follow up previous meetings to find ways to increase the trade between two countries. However, Yenel spent considerable time to reach members of the Congress, especially from the House Foreign Relations Committee, met some of the new members of the commission, and also talked at the German Marshall Fund, in a panel organized by Ian Lesser, senior Transatlantic fellow there. Interest in this particular discussion was high, as many of Washington's serious Turkey watchers as well as diplomats from various European countries crowded the conference room.

During his talk, Ambassador Yenel gave a strikingly plain presentation on especially Turkey's approach toward the Libyan unrest. Yenel appeared remarkably comfortable not only with his excellent English speaking but also while explaining some of Turkey's foreign policy dealings that have been under some criticism. When asked about Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan's and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu's universalistic rhetoric especially in the Middle East, and how that particular rhetoric, (for example Erdoğan's earlier remarks, "We call murder as murder anywhere in the world") contrasts with Turkey's soft-spoken language and "case-by-case" attitude toward Libya, Yenel replicated Turkey's realist approach in pretty clear terms and articulated, "The Libyan case is a little different because of our vested interests there. Our people are working there, our companies. That is why we are taking a cautious approach on how we address this matter. Prime Minister Erdoğan talked to Gadhafi and told him, 'Look, you have to look out for our Turkish interests there.' And beyond that, of course we do have a holistic approach. But in real terms, when the situation becomes as difficult as it is now, as we are seeing in Libya, we have to be a realistic; we have to look out for our interests there. Frankly speaking, right now, we don't know whether Gadhafi or the opposition can have any influence on what happens there. So, yes, saying certain things are good, but living in the real world, of course our approach and our policies have to gear toward this realism."

Yenel's straightforward definition of Turkey's current foreign affairs in Washington remained very much the Nixon Doctrine in the late 60s and early 70s. Pursuer of realism, President Nixon's basic theme in foreign affairs, which he wrote himself in February 1970 in the first annual report on foreign policy, was: "Our [national] interests must shape our commitments, rather than the other way around." According to his foreign policy chief Henry Kissinger, "Nixon had treated American idealism as one factor among many," while pursuing cold national interests.

Yenel, both at the GMF and later on Thursday at the Washington Foreign Policy Center where he and U.S. Assistant Secretary for Economic, Energy and Business Affairs Jose W. Fernandez, the head the U.S. delegation gave a press conference, repeated that what is taking place in North Africa and Middle East countries brought Turkey and the U.S. even closer together in the last three weeks. According to Yenel, both countries are talking to each other daily and much more often now. "The U.S. administration understands us better now," Yenel said. "But is the attitude toward Turkey in Congress changing? It is still too early to tell." During the congressional meetings of the Turkish delegation, Turkey's dealing with Libya was not met with a hostile attitude, but on Israel and Iran, it appeared that the Turkish arguments still failed to make considerable gain. Revolts that are taking place in those countries created a new chance to bring us altogether together, Yenel reiterated.

According to Scott Wilson of the Washington Post, the Obama administration is preparing for the possibility of new Islamist regimes following the revolts in North Africa or Middle East. And certainly the Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, value in the region rises, considering its Islamist roots ruling still a largely secular political system, and makes its alliance even more precious and sought-out.

During his GMF talk, Yenel also heard criticism about Turkey's approach to Iran, especially following the June 2009 presidential elections in which the Turkish administration stayed aloof regarding Iranian regime's harsh treatment of protesters. Yenel once more resorted to the "case-by-case" approach and described the overthrown dictator of Egypt, Hosni Mubarak, as a "statesman" who was able to understand "the messages given to him by Prime Minister Erdoğan." Yenel drew a contrast between situations in Iran and Egypt, and argued that in Iran there is more than one power center, while it was clear whom to deal with in Egypt. Instead, Turkey chooses to give its messages to Iran in private conversations, because the Iranian leaders do not like hearing criticism publicly.

Turkey's bare "realist" approach to Libya, and the region, which was clearly articulated by Ambassador Yenel from different podiums this week in many ways reduces Ankara's moral credibility. After all, simply, if Turkey's "vested interests" in Libya do not permit Ankara to change its soft rhetoric, even after evacuating of all Turkish citizens, how would it be possible for Erdoğan to criticize any other country for double standards, considering various Western states have various levels of interest in each Middle Eastern country, including Israel.

One would hope that closer relations with the U.S. these days, as Ambassador Yenel happily stated, would also nudge Turkey's rhetoric from cold realism toward one that has a more universalistic tone, which Washington has been trying hard to strike.

US not shy on criticizing Ankara for freedom issues

I asked Assistant Secretary of State and spokesman P.J Crowley more than a dozen questions over the worsening record of Turkey's freedom of press in recent months. Every time I had to ask, Crowley had plain responses that indicated that the U.S. administration has growing concerns over "the trend" in Turkey, which appears to be "intimidating" the Turkish press. P.J., on Thursday, added that the U.S. is urging for "any investigations or prosecutions to proceed in a transparent manner, and we will continue to engage Turkey and encourage an independent, pluralistic media.  It's critical to a healthy democracy. And we will continue our assessments of global press freedoms in our annual Human Rights Report," which is expected to be released in the coming weeks.

However, let's not kid ourselves. It is not the U.S. that will solve the freedom of expression issues in Turkey, and it is not certainly the U.S. that orchestrates the arrests of journalists, as conspiracy theorists, including a big part of Oda TV-type journalists, have been arguing all along.

It is important to note that Erdoğan, on the same day that another round of journalists got arrested, stated, "There is only one thing I have to say; it is these processes need to be finished quickly, in a short time. This is my wish, and I would like to especially state this."

It is a hopeful sign, even if it comes this late. However, it is obvious that the Turkish media has to take a firm stand first, while expecting the U.S. or EU to voice those concerns. The latest events in the region displayed once more how powerful ordinary people are, and how hapless Washington is while trying to catch up with their aspirations






Returning from a trip to Beirut last November, a female journalist asked Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan whether any parliamentary deputies would be wearing the headscarf.

"You will pave the way. Anything is possible in politics," the prime minister said in response.

"But we have only six months left to the elections," one of the journalists insisted.

"In politics," Erdoğan added, "even 24 hours is a long time."

Following Erdoğan's remarks, the winds of "female candidates wearing headscarves" started to blow at the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. Both in advance of the 2002 and 2007 elections, he made sure from day one that there wouldn't be any female candidates wearing headscarves. Now, for the first time, however, the door has been left ajar on the eve of a general election.

That perception has spread the atmosphere of "this time, it seems possible" among the party organizations.

Candidates-to-be have begun to resign from party organizations – a requirement of the AKP Central Executive Body; a total of 135 party administrators in provinces and districts have resigned to date. Five female candidates wearing headscarves took their places among the said administrators. Having resigned from their posts in Yalova, Ankara and Bursa, the headscarved female party officials appear intent on becoming parliamentary deputy candidates. There are female officials wearing the headscarf in the central administration and among the founders of the party. Members of the Central Decision Executive Body, or MKYK, Ayşe Böhürler, Asuman Erdoğan, Emine Çift, Mutlu Alkan, Necla Hattapoğlu and Sema Özdemir are among them.

As resignations from the party organizations continue, AKP Vice Chairman Hüseyin Çelik was asked whether or not they would nominate female candidates wearing headscarves: "In the present agenda, that seems impossible," Çelik said.

Two political parties close to the AKP grassroots have signaled for an indication about whether headscarved female candidates will campaign for seats or again be relegated to the sidelines as in past elections.

The decisions of the Saadet Party, or SP, and the People's Voice Party, or HAS Party, to nominate female candidates with headscarves have dropped like a bombshell. Give this development, the hand of those in the ruling party who favor the nomination of women with headscarves has been strengthened.

Voices have been raised: "As these two parties, which address the same grassroots as us, are nominating headscarved female candidates, if we do not nominate any similar women, this could turn against us in the election. We have already lifted the headscarf ban in universities; parliamentary deputies face no legal obstacles to doing the same. There is no reason not to nominate any female candidates wearing a headscarf."

Asked on private channel Kanal Türk's "Central Politics" TV program this week whether there would be any headscarved candidates, Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç said, "There should be, but not this time."

"If it is not due time, even flowers do not come into blossom," he said. "I have my concerns on the matter. Reaching a decision is very difficult but there should be [headscarved candidates]. Some day it will definitely happen. There is a first time for everything. This has nothing to do with secularism, or the regime, but customary fears, anxieties and troubles do exist. For the sake of not making politics more difficult, this should wait a little bit longer, I think."

Has the AKP administration decided not to nominate any female candidate wearing headscarves after discussing the issue behind closed doors?

Erdoğan said, "Anything is possible" four months ago, but why is Arınç saying now that "it will not happen"? Did he say all of this because he already knew that there wouldn't be any female candidate covering her head? Or was Arınç expressing his personal opinion?

As these questions preoccupy minds, the latest rumor behind the scenes suggested that the AKP might try a different formula. According to this, the AKP could nominate female candidates wearing headscarves, though only symbolically, as they would not be allowed to win elections. That is to say, some female party officials covering their heads will be on electoral lists, but further down the pecking order. With this, the message to the organization would be "We have nominated them," but they would be prevented from winning the election and heading to Parliament. Therefore, it would be possible to nip a new discussion in the bud.

As the election period approaches, the rumors continue incessantly.

The answer to this will emerge when Erdoğan and his party produce its electoral list some time in early April.






Americans are experts at sending post-visit messages. Every single person who played a role in a particular visit gets a nice note. This gesture is a mixture of politeness and politics. In Istanbul's covered Grand Bazaar, you have such letters hanging on the walls of carpet stores signed by the presidents and vice presidents who visited them. Obviously there is a person who is specifically assigned to this job who notes down particular moments and writes these notes on behalf of the leader to a zillion people whom the politician meets during his trips.

In business, this behavior plays a different and more important role, especially in cultures like Turkey. Whether they are expats or Turkish executives, I hear quite a few friends complaining about how difficult it is to convey a company's overall strategies to their business partners in Anatolia. They pay visits to different cities in order to observe, listen and explain their business strategies. In a large company, it takes them at least another year to visit the same place to observe the changes. It is very frustrating if the change does not take place between these two trips.

I advise them to act like the presidents and add five minutes to their visits at their offices when they come back and write a nice letter to thank the host and summarize what has been discussed during the visit. Nowadays you can even do that on the way back with mobile devices, but it is not as effective as a signed letter. It gives the feeling that you are back in your own environment, but still remember the host and the things that have been discussed. A letter signed by an important visitor from the organization with blue ink for sure will be framed and hanged on the wall of the office. It is something to be looked at everyday and to show to other people proudly.

The reason for this is very simple. In Turkey, business is in the middle of transition from verbal to written culture. In most parts of Anatolia, verbal contracts are still the most common binding contracts. Word of honor is the main enforcement. Strategies are not black and white as they are for international executives. Therefore you do not have much of a written document circulating between parties. This is why such recognition letters are unique and valuable for them.

The content is very important. It should be soft enough to be hanged on the wall, but also delicately contain your guidance. Positive statements such as "I am sure your contribution and guidance will enable us to progress in such and such a way" can be very effective. If written well, these letters are as influential as the financial benefits provided for such progress. Relationship management is one of the most important pillars of doing business in Turkey. At the end of the day, the extraordinary hospitality people show you when you visit Anatolia deserves a lot more than a good thank you letter anyway.






A few weeks ago, Jaffa witnessed protests against members of the Jewish religious-nationalist community moving into the area. At the same time, the Israeli parliament began debating a measure which would allow small villages to select residents by using the undefined concept of "social suitability," a move seen as a stealth measure to prevent Arabs from joining elite communities around the country.

Many are familiar with Israel's discriminatory attitude toward its Arab minority. The rulings by the rabbis in Safed and other towns banning property-owners from renting to Arabs are one recent example. But discrimination is not confined to the Arab-Jewish divide. South Tel Aviv sees regular protests by local Israelis against African refugees and North Tel Aviv sees occasional protests by secular Jews against ultra-Orthodox Jews.

All instances of exclusion are unacceptable: the disparate communities in Israel need to learn how to live together.

Many left-of-centre critics allege that the developments outlined above represent the inevitable descent of Zionism into outright racism. But the problem is far more complicated. The course of Zionist history bears some responsibility for these outbursts of intolerance, but not in the way that the reflexive critics argue.

In the early days of Israel, the government tried to unite the different Jewish ethnic groups in the melting-pot of "Israeli-ness." The Arab community, which lived under military rule at the time, were excluded from this nation-building. But even within Jewish society, this relentless policy of trying to mould Israel into a unitary, Hebrew-speaking state necessitated discrimination against minorities, with Mizrachi (Jews from Arab countries) and Yiddish-speaking immigrants particularly affected.

Eventually, though, the experiment was all but abandoned. By the end of the 1990s, the melting pot had been abandoned. It was no longer seen as necessary; there was now a sufficiently robust Zionist-Hebrew majority. Israel, a country once famous for its socialism (most popularly manifested by the kibbutz), had now signed up to the neo-liberal consensus, and personal advancement was pre-eminent. It was accepted that different groups would live separately, with their own culture, rituals and languages.

Whenever anyone has tried to challenge the status quo, whether it is ultra-Orthodox Jews in the largely secular neighborhood of Ramat Aviv, moderately Orthodox Jews in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods of Beit Shemesh, or Arabs in northern communities, there has been conflict.

According to the defenders of this policy, there's a certain realism in acknowledging people's differences and allowing them to live separately and develop their own identity autonomously. To call this racism – the issue of discrimination with regard to government funding notwithstanding – is to abuse the word. After all, they argue, don't the Arabs want to live separately just as much as the Jews?

The problem, though, is that it tacitly reveals Zionism's failure to create a normalized state according to the promise of Israel's founding document, known as the Declaration of Independence, with "complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex." Building a normal society means struggling to ensure that disparate communities have at least a modicum of a shared national life, that there is some thread to connect everyone within the nation, regardless of their ethnicity or religious practice. For Israel to work, this urgent national mission cannot be abandoned.

Selection committees should be outlawed. Religious Jews should be welcome in Jaffa. Arabs should be welcome in the neighboring Jewish Bat Yam. Ultra-Orthodox Jews should be welcome in Ramat Aviv. But they should come on the basis of parity and not of conquest. There should be no demographic infighting. We must strongly support the work of civil society organizations such as Merchavim or the Abraham Fund Initiatives, which work toward democratic pluralism and equality between the Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel.

Instead of withdrawing into our caves, we need to work towards a shared Israeli identity.

I live in Tel Aviv's Yemenite quarter, where Orthodox Jews, secular hipsters and the occasional foreign worker live happily side-by-side. The Jewish Shabbat is a quieter time, but nobody is reprimanded for listening to loud music. Walking along the beach last Shabbat, I saw a religious Jewish family watching happily as a group of secular Israelis danced to blaring music. Their secularism in no way detracted from the watching family's orthodoxy. For Israel to thrive, we have to stop living in settlements and get to know one another, in all our wonderful variety.

* Alex Stein lives in Tel Aviv and is an activist with Combatants for Peace. This article first appeared on the Common Ground News Service.







The difficulty of comprehending – never mind finding a credible solution to – our power and energy crisis almost defies description. There is no single answer to this multi-layered and faceted problem, and a contributory factor to the failure of its resolution is the consistent inability of governments to transcend political imperatives and formulate a holistic and non-partisan national energy strategy. The government first raised the price of fuel by almost 10 percent and then within two days cut the raise by almost half. It did so in both cases because it had little choice in the matter. External events beyond our politics are driving the price of oil ever upwards, and coupled with the pressure from our donors to eradicate fuel subsidies a rise was inevitable. Equally inevitable was the outcry at home which drove the increase back down again, although for how long remains a matter of debate. The government had already put on hold since last November the incremental rises in power that were part of the plan to appease the donors, but it now looks as if the stepped increases of about two percent a month between now and June are again on the cards. 'Foul' cry the opposition parties, as is their right and duty. Foul they may cry, but none of them has yet come up with an alternative strategy to fix the fuel and power problem; and they would do better instead to say to the government that now is the time for unity rather than mudslinging and let us try to resolve this together.

The Karachi transporters called a strike in protest at the price-hike which is now into its second day; but do these same transporters adjust their fares downwards when the price of fuel comes down? We think not because they are far more interested in maximising profits than providing a flexible fare tariff. The pressure was on from all sides to take back the increase; but this is a government increasingly desperate to raise revenue against a background where the tax to GDP ratio at about 10 percent is one of the lowest in the world. As well as paying more for our fuel, those of us that do pay income tax are going to find a flood surcharge of 15 percent imposed at some future date, again as part of the process of satisfying the donors that we really are doing something about broadening the tax base. The Reform of General Sales Tax (RGST) which was designed to in part solve our cashflow problems is stalled and parked in a parliamentary siding, circular debt in every part of the power generation and distribution process continues to cripple both industries and all and sundry pilfer what power they can for free. We accept that the government faces huge challenges, but we do not accept the piecemeal approach to solving them, the poor coordination, the lack of vision across the political spectrum and the unwillingness to seek common ground in solution of a common problem. An injection of unity and discipline could do much to solve the difficulties we all share.







Having little cash of our own to spare for building the infrastructure resources that we so desperately need we have turned again to our perennial 'frenemies' the Americans. If ever there was a textbook example of a love/hate relationship at the level of geopolitics it is that which we have with Uncle Sam. Currently our perceived relationship is at a low, dragged down by the Davis case and the failure to resolve it. Anti-American feeling is higher than usual and kept a-boil by drone strikes. The streets are daubed with anti-American slogans and processions are regularly taken out calling for America to leave us, now and forever. At the level of raw emotion, America is not and perhaps never has been, flavour of the month.

When we are not busy hating America we are begging from it. We go begging a lot and we are not fussy who we beg from so long as they have money in their pockets, and America has money aplenty. In an attempt to dig ourselves out of the energy hole we are sinking ever deeper into we have asked the Americans to give us funding for the Diamer-Basha Dam as a part of the monies coming our way under the Kerry-Lugar Law. (KLL) This dam was not on our original shopping list of 40 development projects but it is now reported that a request that funding for the dam be included in the plan for the 2011-12 financial year. The cost of the dam will be about $11.5 billion and we are not asking for the full amount, but enough to kick-start the process of attracting match-funding from other donors who are currently slow in coming forward. If Uncle Sam would put cash in the dam project so the thinking goes, others may be encouraged to do the same. Even if we can persuade other bilateral and multilateral donors into supporting us in this crucial project, there is still a battle to be won in terms of getting inter-provincial consensus and agreeing a finance package for Gilgit-Baltistan. Given the desperate urgency that we have for both power and future water conservation we would have thought that this would have inspired a sense of urgency in the matter of resolving outstanding difficulties, particularly as the Indians are building dams faster than they can draw up the plans for them. This has do far not been the case.








With several Arab rulers bearing the brunt of public wrath, a number of our parliamentarians have recently appeared on television talk shows to pre-empt a similar fate by mocking and condemning public political activism. They say that it has become fashionable, since the success of the lawyers movement, to try to settle all scores in the streets. They argue that there is no need for such extreme measures in the presence of an elected parliament. Have they forgotten that they are sitting in parliament and enjoying the perks of power only by virtue of the mandate issued to them by the public? Who are they to preach complacent inaction to the people when they have failed to solve their problems? The people are the political sovereign. They are the fount of political legitimacy and authority. Their role in the democratic process does not end at the polls, nor is their mandate a carte blanche for rulers to run amok and unchecked for a whole term. It is constant and continuous public scrutiny that keeps governments honest in western democracies.

Far from limiting the role of the public, there is an urgent need for greater public awareness and involvement, because the ship of state is floundering and needs to be rescued. We need a salvage operation which only the people care about and are capable of carrying out. Some reject this outright because their political survival depends on the status quo and are busy making hay while the sun shines. Others are of the view that Pakistan cannot be bracketed with the Middle Eastern countries because the scenario here is different.

They argue that, unlike Middle Eastern states, we have democracy. Do we? Where is it? Elections alone do not define democracy. There was an elected parliament and president in Egypt. Should a government 'of the people, for the people and by the people' not be founded on a genuine and palpable commitment to serve the people, particularly those in desperate need, rather than feathering its own nest? Is duping the people by begging for votes in the name of a slain leader and then letting her killers walk scot-free after forming a government democracy? Is stabbing political allies in the back democracy? Is sacrificing public and national interests at the altar of expediency before foreign masters' democracy? Is record-breaking corruption and sleaze that has rubbed national pride and honour in the mud all over the world democracy? Do democratic leaders take off to visit chateaus in France or for a sojourn in the presidential suite at the Churchill Hotel in London, while their country is drowning in the worst flood in nearly a hundred years? Does democracy condone a daily budget of 2.5 million rupees for the presidential and prime ministerial palaces while, even six months after the floods, the displaced refugees continue to die from starvation and bitter cold in camps? How can anyone gloat about this 'democracy' that, far from empowering the people and serving their interests, exacerbates and compounds their pain and misery? It is worse than some of the Arab monarchies and dictatorships the people are striving to overthrow.

We have had six general elections since 1988. Has the lot of the common man improved by even an iota since then? While those who have wielded power in this period have prospered enormously, with some who used to travel in buses and live in mud shacks having acquired fleets of luxurious vehicles and palatial properties not just in Pakistan but all over the world, the poor labourer and hari has been pushed into such desperation that he must sell his children to make ends meet. It may seem politically correct to extol the virtues of this lame 'democracy' and peddle ridiculous and meaningless cliches like 'the worse democracy is better than the best dictatorship' on talk shows and in plush drawing rooms, but go to the villages and inner cities where people are losing daily battles for survival and tell them that they are better off under this 'democracy' and see what they do.

It is said that unlike the troubled Arab states, important state institutions in Pakistan are independent and can be instrumental in resolving issue of public importance. If this is the case, then why are people out in the streets, with dozens of protests and demonstrations taking place all over the country every day? Yes, parliament is elected and empowered to provide relief to the people, but their greatest achievement thus far has been the sanctioning of construction of new residences for themselves at a cost of three billion rupees, while people are committing suicides daily because of hunger and poverty. In what way has parliament lessened the agony that people endure every day? Yes, the judiciary is finally free and is in the vanguard of the fight against this government's corruption and illegal conduct, but the government has found an easy way around it by simply ignoring its orders. If the courts push harder for the implementation of their orders, they are accused of judicial activism. Yes, the media is independent, but all they can do is report realities. They cannot remedy the problems. All important state agencies and institutions have been put under the control of government thugs to facilitate loot and plunder. NAB, under its new chairman, has reportedly withdrawn cases in which over 61 billion rupees were allegedly embezzled. How does this help the cause of the people or the country?

It is argued that the current dispensation in Pakistan is not despotic, in the sense that Qaddafi's is in Libya. But there are other ways to inflict pain and suffering on a nation. Record-breaking corruption that leeches the life blood out of the state, horrifying incompetence, ignorance and malicious intent that have ground all public institutions to a halt and gross negligence that is eroding the edifice of state all combine to have the same excruciating effect as despotism; the people are denied resources that should be earmarked for their uplift, they have no security of life, property and dignity and continue to be squeezed by the claws of poverty and lack of opportunity, education, health services, electricity and clean water with no relief in sight.

If a chasm so wide opens up between the people and the government, if a government strays so far from its mandate and obligations, does it not become the moral duty of the people to step forward and correct the anomaly when the system clearly cannot? In Pakistan, we need to go beyond targeting just one leader, one party or a failed, useless, indeed harmful, government. The whole system has collapsed because it has been made hollow by repeated perversions. It needs not just a jolt, but reconstruction.

However, there are no portents of the needed public uprising on the horizon. That does not mean that it is not needed or that it should not or cannot happen. It is undeniably desperately needed and will happen. But its beginnings are not visible at the moment. This is so because despite continuous intolerable pain and humiliation, people habitually sell out too cheaply, for a watan card or a thousand rupees handout from the Benazir Income Support Scheme. The authorities in Egypt tried to buy people off by announcing similar handouts, but it did not work. We should learn a lesson from them. But the beautiful thing about revolutions is that they happen when least expected. Nobody could have predicted the uprising in Tunisia even weeks before it happened. Why should it be considered an impossibility here where it is needed more urgently?

The writer is vice-chairman of the Sindh National Front and a former MPA from Ratodero. He has degrees from the University of Buckingham and Cambridge University.








During my recent visit to the Far Eastern countries, I found many similarities between Malaysia and Pakistan: they are Muslim countries and had been colonies of British imperialists. Like Pakistan where states like Swat, Qalat, Bahawalpur and Dir willingly joined this land, more than ten small states and units had opted to form Malaysia. The majorities in both countries are Muslims, but religious minorities also exist. Malaysia has a 60 per cent Muslim majority. Christians are 9 per cent, Buddhists 19 per cent, Hindus 6 per cent. These and other religious minorities are a crucial part of that country. We have linguistic and racial diversity. We have Punjabis, Sindhis, Baloch, Pakhtuns, Saraikis and other ethnic groups. Malaysia has Malays (50 per cent), Chinese (24 per cent), Indians (8 per cent) and other groups (8 per cent).

At a juncture, the communist movement flourished in Pakistan and has died its natural death now. Malaysia also passed through that phase. Pakistan's official religion is Islam and Islamists have a considerable presence here. Malaysia has almost the same situation. In some states in both countries, Islamists are dominant; in a state (Kelantan) in Malaysia, the party led by Islamist Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat has been in power for the last twenty years. Both countries have endured pains of losing parts of their territories: Pakistan lost East Pakistan while Malaysia lost Singapore. Pakistan is mired in disputes with India, while Malaysia had confrontation with a bigger Indonesia. Both had played frontline states; the US used Pakistan as a frontline state against the former USSR, while Malaysia played this role against Japan. Pakistan harboured militant groups in view of impending threats from India and the USSR while Malaysia did the same thing to counter threats from Japan.

There was a time when Malaysians used to idealise Pakistan; Malaysia gifted land worth billions of ringgit to the Pakistan embassy the same way as we are now gifting land worth billions to the US embassy in Islamabad. Malaysian elites and leaders used to send their children for education to Pakistan the same way as our leaders and elites now send theirs to the US and Europe. Malaysians at one time were very impressed with us; they had even expressed their desire to appoint Gen Sher Ali Khan of the Pakistan army as head of the Malaysian forces. They were so awed by our physical and mental capabilities that thousands of Pakhtun from Pakistan were invited to settle in Malaysia.

But this is a story of the past: today Malaysia seems to be another world. We still hold the begging bowl before the US while Malaysia has been challenging it. Our economy is dependent on foreign aid while Malaysians are self-reliant and strong. Pervez Musharraf had requested Turkish good offices to establish relations with Israel in order to please the US, but Malaysian leader Mahathir Muhammad had made it a habit to issue statements against Israel to provoke the US.

Democracy in Pakistan is still frail and under threats after long dictatorship was over, but the Malaysian army neither had taken over power in the recent past nor are there chances for such actions in the future. Pakistan is suffering from capital flight while Malaysia is an attractive place for capital. Even Pakistanis are averse to investment but Malaysia is attractive destination for Western investment. We are suffering from brain drain, but Malaysia attracts this asset from all over the world. Islam has become a hollow slogans in Pakistan, but its spirit is dominant in Malaysian social, economic and political lives. Pakistan's economy is based on riba, but Malaysia is seriously trying to oust usury from its economy.

Muslim women are working side by side with Chinese, Indian and other women. Non-Muslim women don't wear hijab but Muslim women wear it regularly. Muslims, Christians and Hindus pray in their own worship places – mosque, churches and temples – andpose no threat to each other. Our mosques have become unsafe, but the Malaysian prime minister comes to the mosque like an ordinary man without fear. A few days back, non-Muslims freely celebrated Valentine's Day while Islamic parties were distributing pamphlets against this non-Islamic festival. Non-Muslims did not try to impose this festival on Muslims and the latter did not try to stop it through lathis (sticks).

We don't have provincial autonomy but lots of inter-provincial prejudices. On the contrary, the states (provinces) in Malaysia are autonomous to the extent that they even have their own flags and financial and family laws. There is no tension between the centre and the states. Pakistanis are unable even to solve water distribution issues and construction of Kalabagh Dam, but Malaysia has amicably solved all such issues. Some time ago, it had constructed a dam larger in size than Singapore, but all problems between the centre and the affected state were amicably solved.

Our militant organisations are challenging the writ of the state. The military is involved in operations against such groups. However, members of such groups in Malaysia were so skilfully rehabilitated in society that today not a single group or individual has risen to challenge the state. We have made the whole country hostage to disputes with India, but Malaysia converted its disputes with Indonesia into strengths and today the issue no longer exists.

We should ask ourselves; how did Malaysia become an advanced country and we are mired in problems? And why Pakistan cannot become another Malaysia?

I think that instead of Iran and the US, Malaysia is the best role model for Pakistan. If Mian Nawaz Sharif had followed Mahathir Muhammad as a role model, and Imran Khan, Asfandiyar Wali Khan, Sanaullah Baloch, Altaf Hussain and true inheritors of the PPP had imitated Najib Tun Razzaq, prime minister of Malaysia, Syed Munawar Hasan, Maulana Fazlur Rahman and Samiul Haq became religious leaders like Nik Abdul Aziz, the Pakistani people followed the path of patriotism, hard work and love, Pakistan could overtake Malaysia in a few years. Unlike Malaysia, Pakistan has abundant natural resources. Pakistanis are far too intelligent and more hardworking than Malaysians. Our strategic location too makes us better placed than Malaysia. So we should turn our weaknesses into strengths.


The writer works for Geo TV. Email: saleem.








Pakistan's average annual exports have been steadily rising. On the face of it, this improvement has been quite impressive, but the optimism in this regard must be viewed in the light of inflationary expansion of the exports value. Thus, though the unit value of Pakistan's exports has been going up, it has been hardly enough to keep up with the imports value – with the trade deficit rising from $4.51 billion in FY05 to $11.53 in FY'10.

Even if the inflationary implications are ignored, the deterioration in the export orientation of Pakistan's economy is quite clear from other facts: Pakistan's annual average gross national product, at the current factor cost relative to the gross national product, on the whole, is far too behind. Furthermore, Pakistan's commodity export earnings have been going down, year after year.

The gross national product at the current factor cost registered an annual compound growth rate between the averages of the earlier plan periods (now there are no plans, as such). The corresponding growth rates for average annual exports respectively were, however, low.

Pakistan economy's export orientation coefficient, then, was slightly better, but it did not compare favourably with Tunisia, Burma, Nigeria, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Morocco, Tanzania, Iraq and Malaysia. In most cases, however, this comparison with other developing countries is not meaningful, because export orientation is generally high in countries with greater commercialisation in the economy, optimum crops plantation and dependence on extractive mining operations, particularly oil and gas.

Pakistan's mineral resources – oil, gas and copper, much less gold – remain unexploited. Whatever the case, Pakistan is basically an agricultural economy. Before Partition, the area now comprising Pakistan had fed the entire India. Even now when the floods have affected the crops, Pakistan is exporting rice and wheat. And the cotton prices are so high that, together with wheat and rice prices – reinforced by global revival – it has fed the entire rural area, with unusual liquidity, so as to give a fillip to consumer demand seldom seen before!

Pakistan's major exports consist of textile, rice, leather goods, sports goods, chemicals and carpets. More than 50 per cent of its export earnings still come from textiles – now yarn being in the forefront. Only if Pakistan focuses on agriculture in the right way can it replace the import with export economy. The current year is expected to record export of over $25 billion but, on the other hand, imports are also expected to exceed exports – $35 billion at the close of the year. The deficit finance – July-December FY10, $6.895 billion – is not any pride whatsoever. The existing situation can be remedied through exploration of mines and optimising agricultural growth and export

On the other hand, expansion in commodity export earnings would have been impossible without the export performance of manufacturing industries, despite the average annual value of manufactures exported continuing to go down.

However, the exports have been falling and imports increasing, adding to the trade deficit – leading to inflation of over 15 per cent now, among others. While the private sector has always been starved of funds, the public sector has been thriving on borrowings – at Rs4,958.8 billion now – an unprecedented level against the private sector's Rs2,566.03 billion vis-a-vis Pakistan's total debt of Rs10,745.1 billion. It is hardly desirable for the economy.

In a situation like this, perhaps, the only course remains increased reliance on aid, loans and credit, which, in essence, has been worsening the economy. These loans and credits, in fact, help the economies of the developed world more than the economies of the developing countries. This is achieved through massive import – of machinery, raw materials, if not food – the PL480 of the USA – depriving the recipient countries of local investment, production and export. This has been leading to unemployment and poverty from which the developing countries traditionally suffer. The solution for the developing countries lies in reliance on education, healthcare and socio-economic infrastructure – more so in Pakistan.

This approach will add intrinsic value, which has always been deprived through the so-called aid, loans and credits from the developed world. Unless such remedial measures are taken, the gulf between the haves and have-nots will continue to increase. The developing countries – and Pakistan, in particular – must realise this phenomenon, and the sooner the better. That is the key to an export-orientated economy and self-reliance. The aid-giving developed world, too, has started emphasising that recipient countries should rely on their own resources first. With the highest-ever foreign exchange reserves now of $17.5 billion, with the current account during the July-Dec 2010 period at a surplus of $26 million against a deficit of $2.75 billion in the same period a year ago, perhaps, Pakistan can make a beginning – with socio-politico-economic harmony.

Socio-politico-economic harmony will depend, among others, on development finance through development finance institutions like PICIC and IDBP that provided long-term development finance. Now there is none. The commercial banks are doing it, but not adequately enough. It is not the job of commercial banks either. However, they are not only providing development finance of whatever worth, but all sorts of non-commercial banking – investment banking, leasing, to say nothing of asset management, and mutual funds. Jack of all trades, master of none. It is all at the cost of commercial banking, per se. The regulators may take note of it. The sooner this anomaly is rectified the better for the export orientation of the economy, and for the socio-politico-economic development of the country as a whole.

An immediately available solution is facilitating remittances, now roughly $1 billion per month and taxing the 57 per cent underground economy, under-invoicing and tax evasion, if not smuggling. The World Bank's recent report claims this deprives the exchequer of over $500 billion annually. This will be equal to, if not, more than the aid, loans and credits which are always given at a high cost to the economy. Taxing the underground economy will reinforce localisation of investment, production and exports – glocalisation, creating employment opportunities, providing the roti, kapra aur makaan (bread, clothing and shelter) promised to the masses of people, not globalisation, which serves global interests. It will enable also much sought after access to the developed world based on outright merit.


The writer is the founder/chairman of the Atlas group of companies.









The bill seeking eight national languages for Pakistan is nothing other than an attempt to kill the movement for Urdu in this country. Eight national languages will help none but those who want English to continue to undermine the potential of Pakistani youngsters. Since independence, there have been a few voices in favour of making Urdu the official language and the medium of instruction. This bill is intended to suppress these sane voices.

The bill has received favour from those who claim that Urdu is spoken by a minority of this country. They say Urdu is spoken only by those whose ancestors migrated from India and that Urdu is as difficult for most people as English, so teaching in English or Urdu will amount to the same. This is almost entirely untrue. Urdu is certainly not the mother tongue of the majority, but the majority does understand and can speak Urdu. So learning in Urdu will be much easier for the whole Pakistani nation than learning in English.

Then they argue that English is necessary for communication with the outside world, so we must teach our children English. But what percentage of our people goes abroad? Less than one percent. How many people living in Pakistan have to communicate with English-speaking people? Again, less than one percent. We cannot and should not burden the whole nation with the task of learning English for the sake of that tiny percent of people. Our education system's energies should be directed towards that part of our population which will remain here.

There are countless examples of our wasteful spending on teaching different subjects in English. Our lawyers plead cases of people who don't speak English. So lawyers talk to them in Urdu or their native language. Why, then, do lawyers have to know English? Our doctors treat people who speak Urdu or their mother tongue. Why then do we have to teach our doctors in English?

What benefit have we had of teaching our youngsters in english? I find none. We have only hampered our students' ability to think clearly. Instead of developing expertise in their subjects, they remain busy trying to improve their english language skills because that is a pre-requisite for any good job.

In most of the private sector companies, interviewers ask candidates questions in English although employees do not have to speak in English to perform their job.

In recent interviews at the Federal Urdu University of Arts, Science and Technology, candidates were asked questions in English. It was shocking to know that those who have been chosen to run an Urdu-medium university themselves do not believe in Urdu as a medium of instruction.

It is regrettable that in exams for civil service, there are two compulsory papers of English language, while Urdu remains optional. Does command over the English language improve the capacity of our civil service? Surely, it doesn't. In fact, it hampers their work because they spend more time trying to write correct English than they do on improving their quality of work.

Our rulers, civil and military bureaucracy included, have been setting deadlines to make Urdu our official language. The deadlines were never met because the day Urdu becomes the official language, the elite will lose its supremacy over ordinary folk.

Set no deadlines. What needs to be done should be done now. All official paperwork should be done in Urdu. Technical terms should not become hurdles. Those terms that have no Urdu equivalent at present should be used as they are.

There should be no exam of the English language for any public sector job unless the job involves communication with foreigners (most jobs don't). Sound knowledge of the relevant subject should be enough for a candidate to get a job.

Researchers pursuing doctorates in philosophy, who have had all their education in English, learn German to read the original texts of German philosophers. This shows that one can learn a foreign language even after graduating. Then, why can't our people learn English after they have had their primary and secondary education in Urdu? If we do this, we will be producing students with better skills of English language. It is a proven fact that you have to know your mother tongue well to be able to learn any other language.

If we continue to ignore Urdu, we will remain followers of the English-speaking world. If we adopt Urdu as our official language, we may hope to lead the world some day because then we will be thinking in our own language and that will make us creative. Creativity is what takes a nation forward, not any particular language. The English-speaking world is dominant because of its creativity, not because it speaks English.

The writer is a staffer

We welcome other views on this issue and would like to invite comment regarding this bill.








The writer is a lawyer based in Islamabad.

Jis dhaj se koi maqtal mai gaya wo shaan salamat rehto hai

Ye jaan to aani jaani hai iss jaan ki koi baat nahin (Faiz)

Poetry can never be translated aptly. But Faiz was probably suggesting that life is transitory and its passing is of no consequence. However, the courage with which one approaches life and meets its end is what matters and bestows immortality on an individual. By refusing to be intimidated by threats of persecution and sacrificing his life for the sake of principles, Shahbaz Bhatti has earned an immortal legacy. But courage and conviction alone are not life threatening traits. What claimed Shahbaz Bhatti's life was his exhibition of courage and conviction in a country that has deliberately nurtured religious obscurantism, militancy, intolerance and vigilantism, and within a society that has made its peace with hypocrisy and timidity.

How many more Bhuttos, Taseers and Bhattis do we need to mourn before realising that our national security doctrine and politicisation of religion are depriving citizens of their right to life and liberty? We continue to blame Ziaul Haq for using religion to garner political legitimacy, contriving a national security doctrine that relied on the jihadi project employing ideologically brainwashed Pakistani youth as killing machines, and nurturing a malignant form of social hypocrisy built around exhibition of religiosity and piety in public life. But while Ziaul Haq has been dead for over two decades, the jihadi project lives on as an integral part of our national security doctrine, no political force is willing to depoliticise religion and exclude it from matters of state, and duplicity in public life knows no bounds. Are crimes of omission any less pernicious than those of commission?

We know how this story started. Pakistan's security establishment decided to recruit impressionable youth fed on an ideology of intolerance and hatred and trained as militants to pursue the country's strategic interests, with the encouragement and support of our foreign allies. Together they sponsored the elaborate infrastructure needed to recruit and train jihadis and facilitate the movement of men, materials and money that would keep the project running. The fundamental design flaw in the jihadi project was that it recruited Pakistani citizens and included no decommissioning mechanism. The security establishment also didn't contemplate that the 'assets' it was producing weren't mission specific. Motivated by religious obscurantism and trained in the art of violence, their worldview could not be reoriented. It was only a matter of time before many of them would turn inward and try to cleanse their own society of infidels.

We cannot rewrite history. But why does our security establishment refuse to learn lessons from the past? The reasons can be two-fold: one, the mistaken belief that it is possible to separate good jihadis from bad ones, control the former and eliminate the latter; and two, prevalence of the view that losing some 30,000 citizens to terrorism within Pakistan over almost a decade is an acceptable cost in pursuit of Pakistan's national security interests (as defined by the security establishment).

It is hard to fathom which one of these reasons is scarier. The inability to distinguish between good and bad jihadis is also a design issue and not a product of 9/11 or the strategic environment Pakistan is mired in today.

The only difference between good and bad jihadis is that the mission assigned to the former is endorsed by the state. All it would then take a good jihadi to transform into a nasty one is a disagreement with his handlers or handlers of handlers. More importantly, there is no way to cure jihadis of the intolerant and violent ideology they have been made to grow up on.

Back from a kosher mission in Kashmir or Afghanistan, a jihadi is not itching to head to vocational school, hone an alternative skill-set and settle into ordinary life. There are enough ideologies of hate spawning around. You leave a good jihadi idle and the next thing you know he has found a match with a bad outfit. Until our security establishment concludes that extremist outfits are causing unacceptable damage to the state and the society and abandons the jihadi project for good, the state will remain equivocal in confronting terrorism.

And without the state taking a firm position backed by action, citizens alone cannot confront proliferation of violence in the name of religion and vigilante justice. A bout between extremist outfits that were organised, trained, equipped and financed by the state and rational citizenry vying for life, individual liberties, rule of law and due process doesn't take place on a level playing field. We witnessed this most recently during the Swat operation.

Until the state intervenes decisively, terrorists continue to win. And it is in shaking the state out of complacency that the role of political leadership becomes most crucial. Unfortunately, at a time when the fight for the soul of this nation is underway, we are being led by pygmies who either lack comprehension of the magnitude of our problem of religious intolerance and bigotry or the courage to fight it.

The most effective tool that a civilian government possesses is the bully pulpit and its power lies in its ability to use this pulpit to shape public opinion. Unfortunately, our political leaders have used the stage to appease the bigoted brigades and further cede the scarce public space available for rational debate. Notwithstanding the frozen mind-set of our security establishment, is it possible for banned extremist organisations to flourish across Punjab and hold rallies across Lahore without the permission or acquiescence of the PML-N government?

Do the Sharifs not understand that the cancer of intolerance has spread to a stage where the only available options are amputating a part today or watching it consume the whole body tomorrow? Are they also stung by the morbid belief that the lashkars being raised all around their hometown can be harnessed?

The hypocrisy and timidity (together with the desire to hold on to power at any cost) exhibited by the PPP and its liberal ally, the ANP, arouse nothing but contempt. When things heated up in Swat the coalition government was found appeasing the barbaric Swati Taliban with the Nifaz-e-Shariah law.

When Salmaan Taseer was assassinated for standing up against abuse of our broken blasphemy law, his friends and colleagues within the PPP beat a hasty retreat into whatever hole they could find. In surrendering to the bigotry of the right-wing religious parties – that have contributed nothing constructive to this country and instead made carriers out of politicising religion and justifying obscurantism – the PPP leadership abandoned the voices of sanity such as Sherry Rehman and Shahbaz Bhatti. Did the prime minister feel no shame in falsely announcing that a private member bill proposing amendments to fix the blasphemy law had been withdrawn?

Do other political leaders who privately agree with the need to amend the blasphemy law and introduce sensible amendments aimed at curtailing its use for persecution not realise that it is their silence that has made targets out of embodiments of courage and integrity such as Sherry Rehman? Bigotry, prejudice and intolerance know no bounds.

Just as it is impossible to harness and control jihadis, appeasing their more articulate cousins within religious parties only whets their appetites further. Militancy, extremism, and bigotry and their manifestation in the form of terror will not go away so long as the state continues to stand by and function as an apologist to the extremist mindset. If we wish to move past this reign of terror, our political and military leadership will have to join hands to ensure that the state takes on the infrastructure of extremism, and that it challenges and prosecutes those inciting hatred in the name of religion.










The virtual bomb attack to hit Pakistan just recently has claimed 170 million casualties – minus, of course, the few hundred "rulers" running the country. This bomb attack, like the kind that took place before it, was not detonated by terrorists but by the government, in the form of a rise in petroleum prices. Every increase in the prices of petroleum products increases the prices of everything else, making the already miserable lives of the people of Pakistan still worse. This time around, and in tune with the mood in the Arab world, people in Pakistan reacted against this rise, causing what can be called revolutionary ripples in many parts of the country. Protestors came out on the streets in large numbers to protest against this decision – even if it was only for a day. To their credit, they did block roads, disrupt traffic and scuffle with security personnel, and there was the predictable strike. However, afterwards they all went home, filling their cars and motorcycles with fuel they had bought at the marked up price, and got back to their mundane existence, as if nothing had happened.

The majority of Pakistan's population lives under the poverty line, with a large number of people earning, in international terms, less than two dollars a day, the globally recognised poverty baseline. These people are already crushed under increasing prices of all commodities, including bare necessities like food and clothing, and the "luxuries" like healthcare and education.

With the regular increases in the prices of petroleum products, more and more people find themselves unable to provide for their families. The rising unemployment and the recent floods that devastated the lives of millions, have only added to this inability. And unemployment never comes without a rise in crime. But, although there is a lot of frustration and anger, there is little resistance. You can hardly expect a revolution on the lines of the radical changes in Tunisia and in Egypt, where millions of suppressed, frustrated and starving masses stood up and said "Kefayah!" (Enough!)

Revolutions are for societies containing an igniting spark. Not for countries like Pakistan, which has a large number of starving people who quietly bear everything from price hikes to political, moral and social degeneration. Pakistan is a country where peasants are still kept in chains in the personal jails of landlords.

The majority of Pakistanis seems resigned to their existence, probably because of a fatalistic certainty that they are unable to do anything about their lives. They are resigned to the daily routine of merely trying to make ends meet. They do get frustrated, but then do nothing. Not even when things get so bad that the poorest of the poor end up selling their children, to say nothing of the growing number of suicides. It's as if all this makes little impression on anyone – the politicians least of all.

Sometimes it seems as if this social numbness is a new phenomenon, at a time when things are arguably at their worst in Pakistan. Gone are the days when a rise in the price of sugar could threaten a government, such was the power of the streets. In the early 1980s a college student, Bushra Zaidi, was crushed under the wheels of a speeding bus in Karachi. Gen Zia's government was forced to clamp curfew in the city when a multitude of students descended onto the streets to protest the tragedy and clashed with the dictator's police.

This flashback to the past holds out hope for the present. If only Pakistan's hungry and deprived rediscovered defiance.

The writer is a staff member








THE latest increase in the prices of petroleum products had triggered a wave of protests throughout the country as taking advantage of the decision transporters and other mafias had started fleecing the general public by hiking fares of transport and prices of goods and services disproportionately. Political parties too had taken a tough position on the issue accusing the Government of bypassing the parliamentary committee formed by the Prime Minister himself to determine the formula to pass on international prices to the domestic consumers.

In this backdrop, the announcement of the Government to take back half of the ten per cent increase would surely be welcomed by the people as it would help mitigate their sufferings. It is encouraging that the Government realized the gravity of the situation and showed sensitivity towards people who were already groaning under high inflationary pressure. This is a good indicator that the Government has started responding to the woes of the people in a positive manner. However, wiser approach for the Government would have been to give sympathetic consideration to the difficulties of the common man before taking harsh measures that ordinary citizen is unable to digest. Though other political parties too displayed mute reaction over latest increase yet the credit goes to MQM which gave three-day deadline to the Government to reverse the decision. This forced the authorities to initiate discussions with MQM leadership that resulted in reduction of fifty per cent in the hike. We agree that the Government too has its own compulsions as the country was passing through a worst phase of economic crisis and those who have the ability to pay taxes are not ready to contribute their share. But this doesn't mean to burden those who are already leading a miserable life in the wake of price-hike, unemployment, low wages and lack of economic opportunities. No doubt, the Government needs to expand the tax base but this should be done by bringing into net those who have so far been only enjoying multitudes of concessions and paying either no taxes at all or contributing insignificantly. Instead of resorting to typical bureaucratic tactics of hiking fuel and energy costs every now and then, the economic team of the Government should come out with innovative solutions to the problems of taxation and economic malaises. Anyhow, this incident is not the end in itself and we hope that in future the Government would first explore all other options and then take a bitter decision affecting the general public.








THE Government on Thursday allowed import of seven more products from India, adding them to the positive list being maintained for doing trade with the neighbouring country. According to the details, import of plant and machinery for extraction and refining of rice bran oil has been allowed to encourage investment in the sector. Other items include import of laboratory testing equipment for pharmaceutical industry with accessories and spares, air brake equipment and spares for rail locomotives and laboratory glassware of all sorts.

It has been maintained that the decision has been taken as per demands of various chambers, associations and bodies for inclusion of new products in the list of items importable from India. This is also evident from the welcome announcement by Lahore Chamber of Commerce and Industry, which believes that import of rice bran machinery would help save billions of rupees being spent on the import of palm oil. Trade has its own dynamics and normally there would have been no objection to doing business with any country from where imports cost less, transport charges are low and delivery time is minimal. However, there are several serious issues involved in doing trade with India. Analysts and experts point out since 1979, the positive list has been expanded to over 1,945 items diverting more than $5 billion of Pakistan's global trade towards India but Pakistan has not benefited from the expansion of positive list as exports to India still face numerous non-tariff barriers in that country. It is because of this that Indian exports to Pakistan have crossed $2 billion while our exports to India are still hovering around 400 to 600 million dollars a year. Indians are reportedly also not buying Pakistani goods citing Mumbai incident and claiming that Indian consumers feel that buying things from Pakistan would mean funding terrorism. As against this, it is strange that our rulers are expanding trade with a country that is State-sponsors of terrorism and is using its resources to crush the legitimate struggle of Kashmiri people. There are genuine concerns in Pakistan about justification of increasing trade with a country that is in illegal occupation of Jammu and Kashmir for over six decades and is spilling blood of innocent Kashmiris. And sentiments of Pakistani people must be respected by the Government. of the people.







WE have been hearing since long about launching of mass transit system in the country's largest city — Karachi — but progress so far on the project is dismal, as a result of which commuters face daily ordeals. However, according to a report appearing in this newspaper, for the first time, public transport owners have also shown their interest in the system, raising hopes for its success.

The interest of the transporters in the option of Bus Rapid Transit System (BRTS) is understandable as it involves provision and plying of buses, which would strengthen their monopoly over transport of the city. BRTS might be a way out of the existing mess and must be tried if it helps mitigate the woes of the travellers. However, we firmly believe that long-term solution of the traffic problems that have become a headache not only for Karachi but all other big cities including Federal Capital Islamabad lies in development of underground metro system that has resolved similar problems successfully in many of the countries of the world. It is regrettable that we have not been able to launch even one such project in any of the major cities despite its proven utility and benefits. There are credible reports that transport mafia is a major hurdle in the way of such long-term plans as it hurts their vested interests. Problems like traffic congestion, environmental pollution and rising bill of oil import can effectively be addressed through revamping of the public transport system, bringing efficiency to Railways and developing mass transit systems








About ten years since the US-led invasion of Afghanistan, the country's south and east are still veritably under the sway of Taliban and other insurgent groups, notwithstanding the tall claims of success by new military command of occupying American and NATO forces. As regards country's north and west, the large swaths are in the control of regional warlords but beyond their writ. Anyhow, American, NATO and Afghan forces in Afghanistan are extremely worried about the heightened activities of the Taliban. A well-placed Afghan official, based in Kabul, made startling disclosures about the underhand deals and concessions offered to Taliban in various provinces of Afghanistan stating that troops of 46 countries, deployed in different provinces of Afghanistan, have evolved their respective mechanism to ensure safety for their troops and supply convoys. Almost all have brokered local peace deals with the Taliban to avoid casualties; Germany, France, Holland the UK to name a few. Already, in December 2009 the US Congress in a wide-ranging probe had confirmed that private security companies, hired to protect defence convoys in Afghanistan, were paying Taliban and warlords for safe passage.

The US became complacent after bombing Afghanistan flat thinking that it had created enough 'shock and awe' and would be able to control Afghanistan with minimum troops. The Americans had primarily focused on hunting down Al Qaeda leaders and cadres not realizing that Afghanistan is a large territory and cannot be controlled by abysmally meager force. ISAF forces stayed around Kabul for years and were scared to go into hinterland, which provided opportunity to the militants to come back and consolidate. For years, 6000 ISAF troops stayed put in Kabul, whereas they should have spread out to chase and capture Al Qaeda's and Taliban's fleeing rumpus, but they did not dare. Initially, American soldiers were barely 12000, and they too remained in their Bagram redoubt, showing not much of soldiering to take on their adversaries. In 2006, when the NATO officially led and ramped up the forces spreading out to the south and the east, the Taliban had already regrouped in their strongholds of the country's east and south. Yet, the coalition forces were mostly less keen on fighting and more intent on spending out duty period in the country's relatively peaceful north and west.

It was because of their cowardice that the Taliban now control 70 per cent of landmass in Afghanistan. The US and NATO Generals seemed to have lost the war in their minds before losing it on the ground in Afghanistan. When McChrystal was commander of the US and NATO forces, the weaknesses had surfaced. Already in 2008, Mike Mullen had testified to a Congressional hearing that "America is not winning the war in Afghanistan but it can". The bland truth, however, is that America has practically lost the war, which is reflective of the failure of the world's best 'war machine' - the US and NATO forces - that could not achieve any of the objectives set for it – capturing Osama bin Laden and decimating the Taliban. There is a perception that no progress can be made unless more than half of Afghanistan's population - Pashtuns who draw the bulk of their fighters and supporters are given assurance that they will have their rightful share in power. And no other tricks or ruses are likely to work. Instead of understanding the ground realities, the US has been trying to shift the blame to Pakistan insisting that top Al Qaeda and Taliban leadership is in Pakistan's tribal belt.

The reports, known as National Intelligence Estimates, are prepared by the Director of National Intelligence and used by policymakers as senior as the president to understand trends in a region. The last one issued in December 2010 presented a bleak picture of security conditions in Afghanistan, which cited progress in "ink spots" where there were enough US or NATO troops to maintain security, such as Kabul and parts of Helmand and Kandahar provinces.

Much of the rest of the country remains Taliban-controlled, or at least vulnerable to Taliban infiltration. The document alleged that Pakistan's government pays lip service to cooperating with US efforts against the militants, and still secretly backs the Taliban as a way of hedging its bets in order to influence Afghanistan after a US departure from the region. The allegations smack of something sinister. For showing no spine for fighting, the coalition forces sought in Pakistan the whipping boy for their failure in Afghanistan. Instead of blaming Pakistan, they should do a bit of serious introspection and examine as to why more than 150000 American and NATO forces and about the same number of Afghan army could not control more than 30 per cent area in Afghanistan.

In fact, right from the beginning, the US and ISAF forces did not do much of soldiering, and despite using all the arsenals at their disposal they failed to shake the determination of the Taliban fighters. In 2006, southern Afghanistan had been rocked by the worst upsurge in violence since the US led war ousted hard line Taliban regime from power in 2001. The same year, Major General Ton Van Loon, the then commander of NATO-led forces battling resurgent Taliban in southern Afghanistan had said: "His forces feel like a blinded boxer who needs to be guided where to throw his punches. The allies are sick and tired of fighting and were ready to talk to tribal elders to make sure they correctly targeted the militants". It was due to the eerie circumstances that the so-called international peacekeepers remained confined in large measure to capital Kabul for five years, leaving the rest of the country especially its southern and eastern parts where Taliban regrouped. Some time back, Russia's Afghan War Veterans who had the first hand experience and lost about 25000 troops, expressed their opinion that the US and its allies could not win the war in Afghanistan.


Vechislov Sivko, who heads the Committee of Veterans of the Afghanistan War remarked: "No matter how good your technology is, it can't level the mountains…I don't think the United States in the end will accomplish its goal…There has never been a foreign country that has successfully achieved its goal of conquering or defeating Afghanistan. You can invade Afghanistan, but to possess it is practically impossible."

Long before the Soviet occupation, other invaders met with failure in the steep mountains and arid desert of Afghanistan. Twice in the 19th century, Britain had lost thousands of soldiers in disastrous military adventures. Centuries earlier, famed conquerors from Alexander the Great to Genghis Khan also had to retreat. In fact, the Afghans guard their independence too jealously, and apart from their will and determination, the terrain helps them maintain their independence. There seems to be reluctance to learn any lesson from history. If the US insists on staying the course, it is likely to meet the same fate the above adventurers met.

—The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.








Although the US has carried out two troop surges and has increased its force level to over 100,000 and total ISAF strength to 152,000, initiative is still in the hands of Taliban. Possibility of regaining initiative by US military through Kandahar operation has become remote. Taliban have become more aggressive and hardly a day passes without a raid, IED explosion or suicide bombing. In 2010, they inflicted 711 casualties upon ISAF, which is the highest since 2001. Their morale is high since prevalent symptoms have boosted their optimism. They are confident that war has practically been won and total victory is not far off. Other than the Generals, US-NATO soldiers are weary, fatigued, depressed and have no heart to continue facing hazards without any purposeful cause. American economy is not recovering due to expensive war.

Karzai regime has yet to show improvement in governance or in scaling down corruption. Afghan National Army (ANA) and Police are afflicted with old ailments and are far from becoming self-sustaining. American and western public have lost faith in the ability of ISAF to turn the tide. War has become highly unpopular and demand for ending it has become louder. The hawks in US Administration egged on by Jewish and Indian lobbies have turned blind eye to ground realities and a deaf ear to opinion of majority. They continue to live in a world of delusion that progress is being made and keep giving self-defeating arguments that war can still be won. In their vain effort to deflect barrage of criticism, they keep giving reference of safe havens of Al-Qaeda and Taliban in FATA. Pakistan bashing provides them a measure of comfort and a shield to hide their weaknesses. Despite contrasting performances of resource heavy ISAF and ill-equipped Pakistan Army fighting under severe constraints, the US officials habitually keep pointing fingers at Pakistan and ask it to do more. They are constantly pressing Pak Army to destroy safe havens of militants in North Waziristan. None can deny that brilliant performance of Pak Army has been the only silver lining amidst gloomy conditions in Afghanistan for US led ISAF. However, its ability to stretch out any further has been hampered by continuation of militants activities in several parts of FATA, Indian bellicosity, America's distrust and duplicity, lack of funds and counter terrorism equipment, crumbling economy and unstable political situation. Except for Swat, no thinning out has taken place from northwestern regions since there is no letup in operations against terrorists. But for continued foreign support to militant groups, pockets of resistance would have been eliminated by now.

Notwithstanding that the US is outwardly trying to give an impression that it is ready to hold talks with the Taliban to end the war and arrive at a negotiated political settlement and usher in peace in war torn Afghanistan, inwardly it has not given up its favorite game of intrigue and deceit. It is continuing with its double game since the US leaders haven't accepted the hard reality that for all practical purposes the US has lost the war and has been unable to achieve any of the stated objectives. It has also not reconciled to the fact that Taliban are winners and qualify to take over the reins of power in the near future.

While they have in principle made up their minds to exit, they want to depart not as losers but as victors. They desire future government in Kabul friendly to USA so that its regional interests could be well served. The two wishes seem far fetched in the face of ground realities. The Taliban having suffered a great deal at the hands of Americans are likely to remain anti-American for times to come. None can deny that Afghan issue has been complicated by Israel and India. Both are unhappy over the prospects of war on terror coming to an end and that too without comprehensively defeating Al-Qaeda and Taliban. While Israel view Al-Qaeda as the biggest danger to its existence, India feels that all its gains made in Afghanistan would be lost if Taliban return to power. Hence the ongoing hectic efforts of the duo to keep USA embroiled in Afghanistan for as long as possible. The two have already succeeded in persuading Obama to revise exit date of troops from Afghanistan from July 2011 to 2014. Based on the advice of Israel, Washington too is desperate to pitch Taliban against Al-Qaeda and thus defeat Al-Qaeda and weaken Taliban. It is this wish which has complicated matters and given space to the conspirators to keep the pot boiling.


Since 2008, Al-Qaeda is playing insignificant role in Afghanistan since Taliban led by Mullah Omar in Afghanistan have become a formidable force to reckon with. Next in line are Haqqani network in Khost-Paktika region and Salafin Taliban in Kunar-Nuristan, followed by Gulbadin Hikmatyar's Hizb-e-Islami. Therefore, breaking of Taliban-Al-Qaeda nexus will make no difference to Taliban power. The US is busy with its efforts to divide Taliban by offering inducements to the moderates, making continuous overtures towards key Shura members of Taliban and isolating Mullah Omar and Haqqani network, winning over Gulbadin Hikmatyar led Hizb-e-Islami, dividing Afghanistan into two on ethnic basis, all in a bid to weaken resistance movement and forcing the hardliners to come to the negotiating table. It is continuing to support Karzai regime despite its questionable performance and loss of credibility but is also preparing Abdullah Abdullah to take over northern part if situation so desired.

ANA and Police are being excitedly enlarged and up-graded to be able to start taking over relatively peaceful provinces in northern, central and western Afghanistan from July 2011 onwards. Coalition troops would strive to hold the front till end 2011 and in case security situation gets out of hand, pull back into northern Afghanistan and provide full backup support to ANA for next 2-3 years, if not more. In case ANA attains desired proficiency and willpower, it may be launched under the umbrella of firepower of US military to reoccupy certain key cities like Kandahar as was done in October-November 2001.

These options are however loaded with dangerous ramifications with little scope for success. USA finds itself in a deep hole and does not have slightest clue how to pull itself out of the hole it has dug for itself. Since it didn't learn any lessons from its earlier debacles in North Korea and Vietnam and ignored the advice rendered by McNamara never to send American troops to Asian mainland, today it finds itself on wrong side of history. America's problems have compounded because of North Korean and Iran's continued defiance against US imperialism, China's economic resurgence and turbulence in Arab world where its protégés are falling. It is actively considering military option in Libya.

Notwithstanding that Pakistan needs US economic assistance to steady its tumbling economy, the US too needs Pakistan to extricate its military from the closing jaws of Afghan crocodile. Uninterrupted flow of supplies via Torkhum and Chaman are crucial for ISAF. Pakistan is the only country which can help in finding a practical political solution in Afghanistan. If that be the intertwined compulsions, is it appropriate on part of the US to put Pak-US relations at stake for the sake of a double-murderer Raymond Davis in custody of Pakistan authorities by postponing trilateral Pak-Afghan-US dialogue and Pak-US strategic dialogue in a huff? Obama must act with wise prudence rather than get carried away by emotions and further soil his and US credibility. The US Administration must get out of Davis syndrome and take immediate corrective measures to find a workable resolution to Afghan tangle and to rebuild Pak-US relations based on mutual respect and trust.

—The writer is a retired Brig and a defence and security analyst.








Good governance has always been a bankable idea. An assurance of good governance guarantees success for governments to get support from undecided voters and International donors. It is widely speculated that lack of good governance is ostensibly responsible for problems of Pakistan and PPP led coalition Government. With the changing dimensions of security perceptions, non-traditional security threats are gaining importance. Among these human security is of top priority for policy makers all over the world, because governance directly affects human conditions and security. But it seems that like many misspelled political terminologies, ambiguity of this idea is often exploited as a popular rhetoric to defame political antagonists.

Theoretically speaking good governance is creation of such conducive and prompting environment that does not require any vicious financial institution to jump in and rub its nose in state's matter, since this term was initially enchanted by the managers of international financial institutions like IMF and World Bank. According to the milieu and the paramount goal sought, good governance should encompass: total reverence of human rights, the rule of law, effective participation, multi-actor partnerships, political pluralism, transparent and accountable processes and institutions, an efficient and effective public sector, legitimacy, access to knowledge, information and education, political empowerment of people, equity, sustainability, and attitudes and values that foster responsibility, solidarity and tolerance. So good governance requires such a system in which institutions are accountable, effective and efficient, participatory, transparent, responsive and equitable.

Pakistan's predicament is also over emphasis on micro management on government's part. This is why government normally over stretches itself and is strangled in a variety of problems. Public-Private partnership in the country should be encouraged and more projects should be started on these terms. Specialists of the field suggest that government should only provide a level playing field for the private sector and let it be the engine of growth, because the countries that have done well in economy recently seem to have taken investment in social services and infrastructure very seriously. It is state's responsibility to create conducive environment for growth. Former Commission on Human Rights in its resolution 2000/64 pronounces that Good Governance is linked to an enabling environment conducive to the enjoyment of human rights, prompting growth and sustainable human development.

Pakistan's problem of governance is not a mere rhetoric enchanted by financial managers of these donor institutes. It is an absence of good governance in the first place; because good governance relates to political and institutional processes and outcomes that are deemed necessary to achieve the goals of development. Pakistan's dilemma of governance requires creation of such a system that is transparent, accountable, participatory and responsive. The views of all oppressed groups, including women, youth and the poor, should be heard and considered by governing bodies because they will be the ones most negatively affected if good governance is not achieved. So far progress of the present government is far from what these interpretations require but the important thing to understand here is that basic requirement of good governance is participation. This means that good governance can not be achieved unless there is some participation from the stake holders like opposition and civil society and judiciary. A half hearted participation has been witnessed at times but still the objectives remain unattained. Pakistani nation is a perfect example of Soda-Water bottle effect. We are very fast to rise and even faster to give-up. A reason has to be found that why the results are far from expectation, noting the propagated participation by a self righteous civil society, free judiciary and responsible media.

It is importance of this issue that Nawaz Sharif tabled a 10 point agenda to government and no wonder majority of these points concern governance issue. Given the upheaval of societies and population in Muslim world this is prime time for the government to step up and save its face and still if they fail to do so then many among intellectual circles are forecasting a Middle Eastern style cataclysm. What we need to is also depicted by a member of Young People Take charge's member in these words: Let us dismiss hypocrisy and enhance democracy. By changing the process. To measure our country's progress

—The writer works at Islamabad Policy Research Institute.








It can only be a conjecture that one of the options that USA might be contemplating to exercise is to heavily bomb the palace or the sheltering place of the Libyan reckless president Col Mummar Qaddafi to physically remove him from the scene. The United States Air Force carried out such airstrikes on Qaddafi's residence Bab al-Azizia compound on April 15, 1986 in which his adopted daughter Hanna was killed. Qaddafi and his family escaped from that attack. The attack was conducted in response to the 1986 Berlin discotheque bombing. That aerial attack, in fact, bolstered the image of Qadaffi both domestically and around the world. But the time now is drastically different. The mesmeric attraction as a formidable, fire-spitting revolutionary that Qadaffi had for his people and in some other countries seething with sentiments of anti imperialism and ante Americanism is now over. The revolutionaries of the ilk of Qaddafi have squarely disappointed the revolutionary cadres and proponents around the world because of their being self centered and brutal on their own people for perpetuation in power.

He had been outstanding among the post second world revolutionaries and diehard nationalists among the anti imperialist preachers and torch bearers. But while these revolutionaries enhanced themselves and their clans, families and aristocracy around them, they marginalized and disempowered their own people as not to be able to challenge their exalted positions. This time the situation is fundamentally different because these are not foreign plot hatchers or devious imperialists that are challenging the absolutism of these revolutionaries who changed their missions from serving the oppressed people to raising the family fiefdom and consolidating clannish dynasties. It would be instructive to see that these uprisings, rebellions and grassroots revolutions in such states are being carried out by the local populations against those rulers who were primarily pro- west surrogates and mercenaries of the global hegemons.

Barring Qaddafi who has distinguished himself as a freakish and raucous head of state, the ousted Mubarak of Egypt and Tunisian Ben Ali were allies of America. Besides, the president of Yemen Ali Abdullah Saleh, the sovereigns in Jordan and Oman and Kuwait and UAE and Bahrain are not different from Mubarak and Zainul Abidine Ben Ali. It is a common knowledge that these autocrat rulers enjoyed the blessings of the west and particularly that of the mighty United States. So those proponents and peddlers of conspiracy theories who see sinister plots behind these uprisings as engineered by the villainous west ought to change their erroneous perceptions for the present. This is not a grand design and grand slam of the treacherous west as many commentators are trying to make the word believe. These momentous and earth shaking upheavals are from the people forcibly kept like cattle and servile all these decades by their repressive leaders.

Middle East and North Africa have been infested by the heartless and tribal tyrants for centuries. These regions have always been ripe and vulnerable for the monarchs and powerful military heavy weights to bring into submission their people because there has never been a tradition for civil rights or respect for common man. The sheikhs, the tribal chiefs and the notables have been dominant and repositories of local or regional power, which means of their tribe or that of the country. After the disintegration in early 20th century, of the Ottomans caliphate as the last strong Muslim empire, this entire region was usurped and colonized by the imperialist powers and victors of the fist world war. The clannish culture is the worst form of local government in which the common people remain servile and subjects to the ruling elite families.

Under the impact of the changing times and because of their eroded credibility these yester years revolutionary icons have lost their luster and appeal for their people. Therefore, the people in these countries are now looking up to western powers that were not long ago hated and despised, to rescue and deliver them from their autocrat leaders. There is a 180 degree swing of the pendulum. The villains are being perceived as saviors and the icon as enemies. To earn good name and to wash off decades old calumny and bad reputation as neo colonists and looters of the resources of the poor countries and facilitators of despots, this is a unique juncture for the western countries and particularly United States to come forward and support the bonded and grievously mal- treated nations by their rapacious leaders.

The change is inevitable in these countries and finally the people would triumph against their blood sucker leaders. If the west joins the struggling nations for emancipation from these despots, it would hasten this historic phase of stupendous change. Col Qaddafi spoke before the media for two and a half hours explaining his government's crackdown against the protesters which is now assuming armed confrontations. He blamed Al-Qaida and the drug addict youth of his country for a revolt against his government. At the same time he accused America of distributing arms to the Libyan people to wage a civil war to oust him. Additionally he charged that the western countries wanted to capture the oilfields like Iraq. He also claimed that Libya has been in the forefront in fighting against the Islamic terrorists particularly Al-qaida meaning there was no presence of these terrorist bands in his country. Now patently all these accusations are self contradictory. Firstly, the uprising in Libya is a spillover from other revolts and anti-government demonstrations in other countries of the Middle East that started from Tunisia. Secondly, these movements are by their very nature secular and do not involve an anti-west or pro Islamic slogans or agenda.

These are purely indigenous reactions to the severe repression, nauseating suffocation and deep decay in these societies accumulated over the years because of the authoritarian rulers who brooked no dissent or political opposition. As far the anti-Qaddafi movement led or spearheaded by Al-Qaida or Islamic extremist, it is simply a ploy and ruse used by him to win over the sympathies of United States. How come that if Qaddafi has cleared Libya of the Islamic terrorists including al-Qaida, they are clamoring , marching and fighting in countless numbers all over Libya. Libyan anti-regime uprising cannot be separated from other movements in the Middle East and Africa which Qaddafi is trying to prove. An ordinary citizen cannot even whisper against Qaddafi's brutal government. How come then, that a huge number of al-Qaida activists were present in Libya, by defying the vigilant and ruthless Libyan intelligence agencies. The drug charge is also squarely false. According to Qaddafi these hundreds of thousands of youth chanting slogans were drug addicts and are shouting under the influence of intoxicants. It would be utterly impossible for the drug trade to flourish in Libya on such a huge scale.

Even if Qaddafi brutally crushes the people's movement for change and suppresses their urge for popular government, does he believe that he would be able to restore order and rule Libya in peace as was the situation before this tumult. He is refusing to listen to reason and is ready to take all steps to remain in power. In the face of the phenomenal eruption of the people's outrage and fury, he should have, as an honorable person, left the power as others two have done. If he is determined to fight to the last, he would inflict such wounds on his society that would take years to heal up. The sack, the pillage and the ruin would be colossal and irreparable for a long time.

If he fears that the West was planning to occupy Libyan oil wells and monopolize the oil trade, then he should hasten to open a dialogue with the uprising leaders and find ways to transfer power to them. There are several ways that a peaceful atmosphere can be worked out and a transition towards democracy, elections and openness can be started. But with a closed and unyielding mindset, he refuses to accept that he is no more a popular leader and that the Libyan people were fed up with him, and that it was time for him to leave and thus pave way for Libya to usher into a democratic era. Only thereafter, all unwanted restrictions could be lifted, the society could be opened and unchained and the people to choose their representatives through elections.

There is no gainsaying that a representative government is in a much stronger position to safeguard the national interests and to deal with outside interference and threats, than an authoritarian regime.

—The writer is a Dallas-based freelance journalist .








The debate on Raymond Davis has now moved much further, his identity doesn't seem a riddle now as much has been revealed about his status. In recent times many reports have been appeared regarding his status; US media itself is digging out the realities behind this case. Lately the most famous and esteemed intelligence website of US Startfor which is being run by ex-members of CIA and American intelligence, is coming up with many reports in this regard, it recently revealed that 'The American detained after shooting two Pakistanis, Raymond Davis, was part of a covert CIA-led team collecting intelligence and conducting surveillance on militant groups deep inside the country'. It clarified that he is not a diplomat but he is CIA contract security officer, so he cannot enjoy the relaxation and security which a diplomat do and he must have been told about this when he joined CIA.

It says that before sending to Pakistan , Raymond must have been told by his company about his status, that though he is a contract officer but US government will help him in anyway incase of any unpleasant situation. Hence a reliable source that too from US itself has declared his status as a contract security officer which obviously doesn't enjoy diplomatic immunity. New York Times also wrote that Raymond Davis is retired army personnel, he established an intelligence company with his wife Remika Davis in 2006 which later started working for CIA. Thus different reports are coming up about his identity but none of them says that he is a diplomat. That's why now US media is directly asking US government that why US is reluctant to declare him a diplomat. Hence if it was cleared that he is non diplomat then why US state department was silent on this identity, why spokesman of State Department said that he is not permitted to tell the actual identity of Davis and why US was reluctant to convince Pakistan that he should be given blanket immunity?

Nevertheless now the question is not merely stuck to Davis identity and status, now everything related to him has become considerable and is divulging secrets. Panic of US government, President Obama influx in the issue, arrival of Jhon Kerry in Pakistan , Phone call to COAS of Pakistan, all these signs are thought provoking. International Media and many Pakistani security analysts are suggesting that US government is in panic because Raymond Davis is an agent of Black water or from Joint Special Operations Command Pakistan Unit (JSOC), which is an armed group of American armed forces. Main objectives of JSOC are to overthrow government, establishment of terrorists groups against anti-US states and searching of nuclear arms. It is an intelligence terrorist group of American army. Pakistani security analysts are saying that from the past JSOC is working against Pakistan through Afghanistan and it is involved in insurgency inside Pakistan . Russian Intelligence Agency SVR has claimed that CIA agent Raymond Davis was trying to theft Pakistani Nuclear Material to give it to Terrorists so that America gets an excuse to attack Pakistan . They further said, 'it is also found that Raymond Davis has connections with terrorist groups that are involved in terrorist attacks in Pakistan, because America wants to start a new war with any country to save dying Western economy'.


These reports doesn't seems mere stories as telephone numbers and addresses of people of TTP and Asian Tigers have been recovered from Raymond and they all were trying to establish terrorists groups in Southern Punjab. Till now the law enforcement agencies arrested many individuals for staying in constant contact with Raymond Davis. Subsequently now the ground realities are revealing that Davis is the head of much larger snake, the evidence, equipments and data that come out so far almost confirms his link with Tehreek-e-Taliban terrorism inside Pakistan as different attacks took place inside Pakistan on security establishment of Pakistan and as well as his link with the drone attacks are also almost confirmed.

Thus now the issue is not just limited to the assassination of those two boys on the streets of Lahore but now it is of to identifying the much larger network of CIA inside Pakistan, that is why we find every day our security establishment more tighten the security around Davis. This is the reason that America wants Raymond as soon as possible, and due to these realities whole episode is coming up with two interesting hypothesis, first says that any Mission Impossible type scenarios can took place in order to rescue Davis, while the other says there are great chances that even the CIA can make plots to assassinate him just to make him silent because he knows much to disclose and there is much more to this incident than we are just seeing. As Pakistani security analyst are of the view that the backup vehicle which comes to recue Davis didn't come to recue Davis it came to rescue a much larger target sitting in the vehicle next to him, the rescue vehicle smashed person and gone in other direction while the Davis went in other direction just to distract the attention.

Panic in the US government is increasing day by day which clearly suggest that Davis has some very critical information to reveal, the information which seems to be very much related to the US operation in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and this is what Pakistan's security establishment is very keen to know. Davis must be screened and squeezed in order to get out the information which can be come out of him. About Davis as every body is suspicious that it's not his real name so his real identity is yet to come and that must come out that for whom and with whom he was working for? What type of spy game is going in Pakistan ? These critically questions need to be answered.

The spy game which is going in Pakistan should be disclosed now. Obviously the revelations which can come out from Davis is raising extremely huge pressure for US government and the pressure is now coming over to Pakistan to hand over Davis to US, but the issue is now almost out of the hand of Pakistani government and now it's more in the hand of Army and security establishment. So now the Americans are in totally confused and in panic situation as the Pakistani security establishment are firm, they are holding the tight squadron around Davis till the time they acquired the required information.









As Julia Gillard flies to Washington today she should use the relative solitude of the airline cabin to review her performance in federal parliament this week. The Prime Minister has looked rattled by the reactions of the opposition, the public and, worst of all, her party colleagues. It wasn't meant to be this way. A new year in Canberra promised a fresh start for Labor and its neophyte leader. This newspaper wished her well, endorsing yet again more speeches about a reform vision to rival that of earlier prime ministers Bob Hawke and Paul Keating.

But far from singing from her own song sheet, the Prime Minister is marching to the beat of the crossbenchers keeping her in power. From Bob Brown's cunning play on the commonwealth veto on ACT laws to Andrew Wilkie's demands on poker machines, it is not a good look. Irrespective of the merits or otherwise of Mr Wilkie's bid for "pre-commitment" controls, is it right that a man who came third in Denison with just 21.26 per cent of the vote before preferences were distributed, should dictate such a significant and costly change? But it is in climate change that the Prime Minister looks most compromised as the Greens claim credit for a carbon tax she had so recently ruled out. Some media outlets continue to airbrush reality, but it is clear the tax is on the nose with the public even before it is finalised.

Ms Gillard did well to negotiate Labor into government after the August election but her alliance with the Greens always looked dangerous to the integrity of the party and her administration. Her only chance was to call their bluff and govern as if Labor held power in its own right. Her failure to do so led to the unedifying scenes in parliament this week as a scratchy Prime Minister struggled to get on the front foot.

Labor is now bogged down in the politics of carbon with Climate Change Minister Greg Combet left to hold the fort while the Prime Minister is in Washington. She has international affairs on her mind, but Ms Gillard might care to reflect on the comments of Labor elder Graham Richardson that with a "stack of uranium" -- indeed, 40 per cent of the world's total -- Australia needs a serious look at nuclear power. That would be a useful and courageous contribution to the debate. But, of course, not one that suits Senator Brown and his colleagues, hovering so destructively over national policy.






Being admirably pragmatic and transparent in its approach to education reform, the Gillard government has created a highly effective tool in its expanded My School website. As well as allowing parents to compare schools' performances in literacy and numeracy from year to year, it is a powerful motivator for principals and teachers to home in on areas that need improvement. The updated site has also shone a clear light on the controversial issue of school funding. And the overall picture it reveals is one of fairness and good value.

The statistics put to rest the extravagant and misleading claims of public sector teachers unions that non-government schools are bastions of elitism unfairly featherbedded by taxpayers while state schools are short-changed. In fact, private fees -- which support 33 per cent of Australian children, including more than 40 per cent at senior secondary level -- reduce the taxpayers' burden by billions of dollars. When federal and state funding are combined, state school students receive $10,600 in government support. On average, those in Catholic schools receive $7700 and independent school students $6200 -- allocations which are topped up by parents' fees.

Non-government schools are excellent value for taxpayers. As well as directly paying for more than half their own children's schooling in many cases, private school parents fund state schools from their taxes more than state school parents subsidise private schools. Denominational and secular independent schools provide choice, which is vital in a free society, and the variety creates an impetus for all schools to perform better to attract and retain students. This is especially important in disadvantaged areas, where many aspirational parents have embraced low-fee independent schools, one of the fastest-growing education sectors, despite the fact that such schools spend the least amount of money. In prosperous inner-city areas, in contrast, many well-off parents have a choice of good state schools in their vicinity.

Following the launch of My School 2.0, Australian Education Union federal president Angelo Gavrielatos has stepped up demands for new funding arrangements because of the "huge resources gap between public and private schools . . . bolstered by millions of dollars in federal funding". Expect more rhetorical barrages with submissions to the review of school funding headed by University of NSW chancellor David Gonski due by the end of this month.

But on the basis of their sound track record in striving for better curriculum quality and teaching, thorough testing and transparent reporting, there is nothing to suggest that Julia Gillard or Peter Garrett will use the review or the financial data to upset the broad, effective balance of funding. That balance is providing a good deal for all sectors, with the biggest share of public funding supporting state schools.

Rather than persisting with their pathetic complaints about NAPLAN, league tables and the "pressures" of "teaching to the test", unions should wake up to the fact that the game has changed. Parents have a right to information that helps them make informed choices about the best school for their children.






During the election campaign, just seven months ago, Julia Gillard said she would "stop the boats". She deflected suggestions that her government planned to expand mainland detention facilities to cope with more unauthorised arrivals. Since then, 53 more boats have arrived carrying 2901 asylum-seekers, and we have seen the tragic loss of life in December's accident off Christmas Island. As a result, the island's expanded detention centre has become overcrowded, forcing the government to bring asylum-seekers to a variety of facilities on the mainland. Now the government has announced a further expansion of mainland detention, including a 1500-bed centre costing $9.2 million near Darwin.

When Labor took office in 2007, there were only four people who had arrived by boat remaining in detention. Labor relaxed our laws, closing the Nauru facility and scrapping temporary protection visas. Now there are 6659 people in Australian detention centres and the system is at breaking point. Labor has failed to resolve this dilemma, and its escalation has required the provision of an additional 4900 detention places since the election.

Also in last year's campaign, the Prime Minister promoted her so-called East Timor solution. The ambitious and ill-conceived plan was to build a regional detention facility in East Timor, to prevent asylum-seekers reaching Australian shores. Ms Gillard said she would pursue this vigorously if elected. Since then there has been little progress, a fact underscored yesterday by Prime Minister Najib Razak's underwhelming statement that Malaysia would be "as positive as we can" about the proposal. The test will come later this month at the Bali Process regional meeting on people-smuggling, but all the signs so far suggest the idea will run into the sand. Ms Gillard should get out ahead, abandon this pipedream and reopen Nauru. It is instructive that Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd has shown not the slightest interest or involvement in the East Timor consultations, although he will attend the Bali meeting.

As a spokesperson on this issue in opposition, Ms Gillard once famously pointed out that each boat arrival was a policy failure. That observation remains true, and she can add that every extra person placed in detention is also a policy failure.






THE federal opposition is working up a head of steam in its campaign to oppose the Gillard government's proposed carbon tax, gaining early momentum it hopes will shunt the debate in the direction it chooses. The outcome of the fight to introduce a tax on carbon will probably determine the fate of the government. Surprisingly, the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, whose instincts are those of a consensus leader, appears to be embarking on a Whitlamesque escapade in which she must crash through or crash.

Even in the most favourable political conditions, introducing a carbon tax would be a difficult proposition. The numbers and the money are on the opposing side: a tax will affect a large number of people more or less directly, and will apply to highly profitable and powerful industries. And though Australians are the world's worst emitters of carbon dioxide per head, our small population means the effect overall of improving our environmental performance may make only a small difference to a global problem. Convincing voters that a carbon tax is necessary - as indeed it is necessary - is thus a difficult task. Though the actual burden is likely to be light on any individual, opponents can easily make voters feel that any tax at all is unreasonably heavy and objectionable. In our political culture, which favours victimhood and blame over the national interest - let alone the global interest - a negative campaign will find many supporters. And we are already seeing affected industries start to campaign, with dubious honesty, for whatever advantage they can gain for themselves from compensation arrangements.

But instead of preparing a difficult campaign with care, the government's tactics have been poor. It has blundered straight into a fight without preparing any weapons. By announcing that there will indeed be a tax - but leaving the detail for later - the government has allowed its opponents the time to build an ever more fanciful and angry scare campaign about the likely economic consequences. It matters not at all that no one knows what the rate of tax will be, or how it will operate, or what compensation will be available and for whom. In a log-rolling campaign of this sort the absence of detail is all the better: it means the scares can be even bigger and nastier than would be possible if facts were available.

Gillard bears the additional burden of her undertaking before the last election not to introduce a carbon tax. She has yet to answer convincingly the opposition's point that she has no mandate for the tax - that she has indeed a mandate for the opposite, and that introducing a tax on carbon involves a degree of deceit. It is right, too, to point to the influence of the Greens in motivating the government to move on this issue now.

All that tactical muddle is most unfortunate - and yet it has to be disregarded. By a roundabout, contradictory and confused route, the government has arrived at the right conclusion. It is right to want to introduce the tax, and to start doing so early. We have argued before about the need for such a tax. As other countries implement their climate change policies, and frame their development to favour the new industries of a low-carbon economy, Australia risks being left behind.

The opposition may have made its first mistake in promising to repeal the tax. Business needs certainty on this issue because it will affect investment decisions, and regardless of the spittle-flecked ragings of commentators on the right, some sort of policy limiting carbon dioxide emissions - tax or an emissions trading scheme - is inevitable. The opposition's alternative approach is frankly absurd, as many in the Coalition already realise. That being so, the promise made by the Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, which only increases uncertainty and diminishes Australia's economic prospects, should worry all voters.

The opposition's second mistake is not to reject - indeed to encourage - the vicious and bullying tone of its unelected allies. The latter have adopted the pack mentality seen more frequently in pub brawls: an enemy is given no respect and no quarter. This thuggish approach was seen this week in interviews with Gillard, and in the news that the independent MP Tony Windsor had been personally targeted by political opponents and had received death threats for his support for the government. He believes his anonymous abusers were egged on by the extreme views and tactics of radio personalities. It was emphasised when some Coalition MPs compared Gillard - absurdly - to the Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. To his discredit, Abbott did the absolute minimum to discourage this behaviour. These are the kind of bitter, rancorous political tactics that Australians have routinely rejected.






THE Speaker of the Legislative Assembly has forbidden one member of an MP's staff to download and play a game called Bejewelled Blitz in work time. The staff member in question said the game was her equivalent of doodling while on long phone calls to constituents of the member for Ryde. It is good to know that our elected representatives and their staff are having their work habits properly regulated, given that public money is at stake. All right-thinking citizens - particularly in Ryde - will applaud the Speaker's decision. But does it go far enough? Deprived of Bejewelled Blitz, the staff member may be tempted to return to the vice of doodling, covering untold sheets of scarce, taxpayer-funded stationery with pictures of Martians, owls, pussycats and the like. At the Herald we rather like abstract patterns of geometric shapes, with really fine cross-hatching to show the … but we digress. We do hope that, if she or others seek permission to use the resources of Parliament to doodle, the Speaker comes down equally hard. Anyone in MPs' offices with time on their hands should pull themselves together and watch the cricket.






RACIAL vilification has no place in civilised democracies. Indeed, in some countries, the laws governing such antisocial behaviour often carry hefty fines and jail sentences. The British couturier John Galliano - who, until this week, was the chief designer at the venerable Paris fashion house of Christian Dior - is about to discover for himself how strict these laws can be. Following an alleged incident last week in a chic Right Bank bar, after which Galliano was arrested, and an earlier incident in the same bar last October, the now disgraced designer is to have his day in court, courtesy of the state prosecutor. He will have to answer allegations that he publicly insulted three people ''based on [their] origin, religious affiliation, race or ethnicity''.

Even though justice is yet to be done, Galliano's spectacular, lurid and wayward career in the fashion capital of the world is effectively over - largely thanks to an online video, appearing to show Galliano, on a separate occasion, telling two women, ''I love Hitler'', and making anti-Semitic remarks. On Tuesday, he was shown the door at Dior, just days before his latest collection was to have been unveiled at Paris fashion week. Denounced by his bosses and, more especially, by the Israeli-born actress Natalie Portman - the public face of one of Dior's perfumes - Galliano's goodbye was swift and unforgiving, as it should have been. He has expressed remorse, but denies the claims against him.

In the brittle and competitive world of haute couture, it might be tempting to regard John Galliano as a creative genius with a runaway mind and, therefore, someone whose behaviour might be excusable. It isn't. Just because he happens to be talented and celebrated is incidental to the fact he stands accused of utterances vile and contemptible enough to earn him six months in prison and a $A30,000 fine. He should have known better. Dior had no alternative but to dissociate itself from a man whose alleged remarks must never be in fashion.






Labour has very quickly rediscovered its electoral appeal and cutting edge after its dismal general election defeat in May 2010

Normally it is not advisable to draw too many political conclusions from the result of a single byelection in a rock-solid safe seat just 10 months into a parliament, especially on a turnout of only 37%. But the Barnsley Central byelection was not just the predictably easy win for Labour. It also sent some wider messages that should be taken seriously, in spite of the acknowledged limitations of the evidence.

The first is that Labour has very quickly rediscovered its electoral appeal and cutting edge after its dismal general election defeat in May 2010. In both byelections this year, Labour has boosted its share of the poll by more than 10%. That is an unusually good performance so early in a parliament. It points to the damage that Gordon Brown's failed leadership did to Labour and to the strength of feeling that Ed Miliband, in his unspectacular way, has been able to mobilise against what the newly elected MP Dan Jarvis rightly called the coalition government's recklessness and unfairness.

The other side of this coin is the unusually poor showing by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Barnsley is not natural territory for either of them; yet both parties were simply abandoned by their 2010 voters. The Tories deserted in force to Ukip, while five out of every six people who voted Lib Dem last year evaporated into thin air. Both parties can naturally hope their votes will hold up better in more favourable parts of the country. But it is surely that same feeling of the coalition's recklessness and unfairness, even among the coalition's own electorate, which has drained their votes away. This is a national phenomenon.

Thursday also produced a big referendum win in Wales, though again on a low 35% turnout, for more devolved powers. This was not, on the face of it, a party issue, since even the Welsh Tories campaigned for a yes vote. Yet the result can be seen in the same anti-coalition, anti-cuts context. The scale of the yes victory – much more emphatic than the devolution votes in 1979 and 1997 – speaks, among other things, to an aroused hope among the voters that Wales can protect itself against that same recklessness and unfairness from London.

This week's voting – echoed in local byelections too – packs a serious warning to the coalition. It says they will lose if they do not change course. That warning is particularly acute for the Lib Dems. This week's voting has been a reminder that, even after Labour's mistakes and for all Labour's unresolved weaknesses, Britain remains a broadly progressive country, opposed to destructive cuts and ill-thought-out change. The Lib Dems have got themselves on to the wrong side of the divide. They need to find a way back to where they belong.





Potentially, at least, and if the right lessons are drawn, today's threat could be tomorrow's opportunity

It will come as little comfort to many motorists blenching at the pumps today at having to pay 130p or more a litre to fill up their cars with unleaded petrol, but the surge in the price of oil may not all be bad news. Potentially, at least, and if the right lessons are drawn, today's threat could be tomorrow's opportunity.

Be clear, however. The 15% jump in the cost of crude oil since the new year will lead to higher inflation and lower growth, particularly if central banks respond by pushing up interest rates. If sustained, this will be the fifth significant rise in oil prices since 1973, and each of the previous four was followed by a recession. This will have political consequences too. If consumers are paying more for their petrol, domestic energy bills and public transport, they have less to spend on everything else. Historically, support for the government drops when there is a squeeze on disposable incomes of the sort currently being endured. And worse may be to come. Chris Huhne, the energy secretary, says there is a real threat of crude prices hitting $160 a barrel; the business secretary, Vince Cable, is warning of a "fully fledged energy and commodity price shock".

Oil prices are high for three reasons: demand, particularly from China, has been strong; the vast quantities of cheap dollars in the global financial markets have encouraged speculation in commodities; and political unrest in north Africa and the Middle East has led to fears of disrupted supplies. While the UK government is powerless to influence these trends, it has a duty to come up with a medium-term strategy for British needs in a world in which rapid growth in the emerging nations, coupled with dwindling output from traditional low-cost producers, means prices are on a permanent upward trend. This will not wait.

In the short term, there will be pressure on Saudi Arabia and the other leading oil producers to increase production and hence bring down the cost. This has helped in the past but may not work this time. In part, that is because there are growing doubts about whether Saudi reserves are as big as the officially quoted figures. But it is also because the jittery leaders of oil-producing states – Russia, Iran and Venezuela as much as those in the Arab world – are using the windfall from higher crude prices to buy off domestic opposition. They have an incentive to keep the cost of crude high.

Higher oil prices, if sustained, will also prompt oil companies to seek to develop new fields in the inhospitable parts of the world that were uneconomic when the cost of crude was below $30 a barrel. But, as BP found to its cost with the Deepwater Horizon disaster, this can be dangerous as well as expensive. What is more, it misses the longer-term point. Sooner or later the oil that has been crucial to the development of industrialised societies for the past 150 years is going to run out. As Mr Huhne rightly noted this week, the faster we follow the example of China and America and move to a low-carbon economy the better.

There is plenty of room for improvement. UK firms have only 3% of the $3tn global market in low-carbon goods and services, largely because other countries have decided that the transition to low carbon will not come about through market forces alone and have actively used government procurement, regulation, tax breaks and direct subsidies to nurture green industries. They have recognised that there is a virtuous circle in which investment in the low-carbon economy creates jobs, makes energy supplies more stable, and cuts greenhouse gas emissions. Here, the stranglehold of the Treasury has meant a scaling back of plans for a green investment bank and limits on the funds available for small-scale renewable electricity schemes under the feed-in tariff scheme. To argue that the state of the public finances necessitates a more cautious approach will not wash. It is short-termism of the worst kind.






Mervyn King is a banker; indeed, as governor of the Bank of England, the biggest banker of all. This week he said of the kings of his industry what most of the country thinks: that they created the great financial crisis, and that the cost was falling on those who had no part in it. "I'm surprised," he added, "that the degree of public anger has not been greater than it has." But how can that anger be expressed? The public cannot directly confront those who in their arrogance, greed and complacency got us into this mess. They may be denounced from the pulpit, but words alone are unlikely to shame them. There used to be devices allowing the public to demonstrate repugnance on such occasions. One was the skimmington, a raucous procession with much beating of pots and pans; see the fate of Lucetta Farfrae in Hardy's Mayor of Casterbridge. More formally, there were the pillory and its less ferocious cousin, the stocks, where as punishment for some offence the perpetrator might undergo a public pelting with tomatoes, bad eggs, dead cats or worse. Some people died in the pillory, which is why it was abolished in 1837; the stocks survived for some three decades more. No appropriate, but more civilised, replacement has been devised. Few, however eager to see the agents of the banking catastrophe effectively arraigned for their misdeeds, would today wish to see them pinned in some public place like the stocks to face the traditional vegetable artillery. But that's certainly not to say that they would not deserve it.






Preliminary results of the 2010 census announced Feb. 25 show that in 97 of Japan's 300 single-seat Lower House constituencies, the vote-value disparity as compared with the least populated constituency has reached 2-to-1 or more, with a maximum disparity at 2.524-to-1. In the 2000 census, there were 95 such constituencies, with a maximum disparity at 2.573-to-1. This shows that reapportionment efforts made after the 2000 census have come to naught due to population movements.

An advisory body for the prime minister has begun reapportionment work for the Lower House. The basic idea is to hold the maximum vote disparity to 2-to-1 or less. If this principle is applied, Tokyo would get two more seats and Kanagawa and Aichi prefectures one more seat. Osaka, Tokushima, Kochi and Kagoshima prefectures would each lose a seat.

Constituencies may have to be newly demarcated since 92 municipalities are now each divided into more than one constituency — a result of the large-scale mergers of municipalities pushed by the Liberal Democratic Party-Komeito government. Although its work may become complicated, the council should do its best to ensure equality under the law as required by the Constitution.

Vote-value disparity is also a big issue for the Upper House. One high court after another has ruled that the seat distribution in the July Upper House election was unconstitutional although they have not nullified the election results. According to the 2010 census' preliminary results, vote-value disparity has reached a maximum of 5.126-to-1.

Since an Upper House election will be held in 2013, political parties should start serious discussions soon. They should take care to avoid over-representation of urban areas as well as refrain from slashing the number of Diet seats because they are not large relative to the population and such a move would lead to a suppression of minority opinions. Both the council and parties should have the courage to drastically change current election systems that employ similar approaches for both Lower and Upper House elections.






The Supreme Public Prosecutors Office (SPPO) on Feb. 23 said that the special investigation squads at the Tokyo, Osaka and Nagoya district public prosecutors offices will start partial electronic recording of interrogations of suspects from March 18. At present, public prosecutors are recording a process in which public prosecutors read aloud to a suspect their record of oral statements made by the suspect and the latter verifies the validity of the statements. The recordings are then submitted in criminal trials under the lay judge system.

The new decision covers such cases as bribery involving politicians, contract rigging for public works projects by major construction firms and large-scale tax evasion, as well as cases against which accusations have been filed by the Fair Trade Commission, the National Tax Administration Agency and the Securities and Exchange Surveillance Commission.

A public prosecutor will decide on his or her own discretion what part of the interrogation process to record. There is the possibility that more parts of the process will be recorded than is currently done for trials under the lay judge system. Interrogations will not be recorded if suspects do not wish them to be recorded or if it is deemed that recording would make it difficult to protect the suspects' privacy or hamper efforts to obtain truthful statements. These aspects of the reform reflect the resistance that the SPPO faced from prosecutors who insisted that recording interrogations would make suspects reluctant to speak the truth.

In December, the SPPO released a report that contained proposals to improve investigations. The report reinforced a widely held suspicion that current problems are structural in nature. Although the SPPO wishes to show it is making an effort, its reforms of the interrogation process recording are half-measures at best. The SPPO won't regain the people's trust until it makes it mandatory to record the entire interrogation process so it can be fully examined by defense lawyers and judges.






HONG KONG — The so-called Jasmine Revolution sweeping North Africa and the Mideast has caught the world's attention and there are now attempts to spread the flames to China as well. But is China ripe for a Jasmine Revolution? Unlike the countries in the Arab world experiencing unrest, China has gone through more than 30 years of rapid economic growth that have lifted hundreds of millions of people from poverty.

A 22-nation Pew Global Attitudes Survey made public last June showed that while most people were unhappy with the direction of their country, China was an exception. "Only in China," the survey reported, "does an overwhelming portion of the population (87 percent) express satisfaction with national conditions."

Certainly, the common assumption is that as long as the government keeps delivering growth, the Communist Party will remain in power.

One serious problem is growing inequality of wealth. However, a leading sociologist, Martin K. Whyte of Harvard University who has done more than a decade of research into the issue, said last week that most Chinese citizens accept the current order as "more fair than unfair and as providing ample chances for the industrious and ambitious to raise their living standards and improve the lot of their families."

However, professor Whyte, who gave testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission last Friday, acknowledged that there has been a rising tide of social protests in China, which he attributes to abuses of power and other procedural injustice issues rather than to an unequal distribution of wealth.

Murray Scot Tanner, a China security analyst at CNA, pointed out that "unrest in China has continued rising for nearly two decades with little or no break."

The grievances, he said, include illegal land seizures, forced evictions and demolitions, withheld wages and pensions (often accompanied by unannounced factory closures), illegal pollution of air, water and farmland, and the refusal of local authorities to accept or honor citizen petitions.

Another scholar, Elizabeth Economy of the Council on Foreign Relations, traced the roots of protest in China to a systemic weakness in the country's governance structure.

These include a lack of transparency and official accountability, which cause otherwise manageable issues such as inflation, forced relocation, environmental pollution and corruption to transform into large-scale protests.

Clearly, despite the country's growing wealth, China's people are beset by many problems that do not lend themselves to easy solutions.

Hukon Huang, former World Bank director for China who is now with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, stressed that "venting one's frustrations in ways that are perceived to be taken seriously by the authorities are as important as actually resolving an issue."

Huang has put his finger on a major problem. The Chinese authorities instinctively choose repression when confronted with any problem: lock up people, censor their writings, block the Internet, do anything possible not to allow their voices to be heard. And yet, sometimes, people will be satisfied if they are allowed to vent their frustrations. Simply allowing an issue to be publicly discussed will go a long way to its resolution.

But the leaders in Beijing are so insecure that they will not allow any ventilation of grievances. Of course, substantial reforms will be needed to resolve issues. But reforms cannot even begin if grievances cannot be articulated.

Organizers of the Jasmine protests called for rallies across the country every Sunday at 2 p.m. beginning Feb. 20, with participants going to designated centralized locations simply to stroll, watch or pretend to pass by without necessarily doing anything that is overtly political.

However, because their online messages on websites hosted overseas are immediately deleted when posted within China, few people actually known about such a call for defiance of the Communist authorities.

Even so, the authorities are taking no chances. Before the first scheduled protest in Beijing, security police swooped down and detained 100 activists, including five lawyers.

And last Sunday, the authorities went even further. Boarding was put up outside the Wangfujing McDonald's — the designated protest site — because of "road repairs." Security police and attack dogs were deployed and street cleaning machines constantly sprayed water on both sides of the street, making any gathering of people impossible.

Are all these steps really necessary? Does the Chinese government really believe that a handful of people strolling on Wangfujing could result in its overthrow? If so, then maybe China is much more vulnerable than it would appear to be on the surface.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist.







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.




An article published in The Jakarta Post on Feb. 26 titled "Cyprus and RI: Old Friends with New Responsibilities, Possibilities", written by Ambassador Nicos Panayi, is prone to misguide your readers who are not familiar with the recent history of Cyprus.

I would like to clarify promptly the situation in Cyprus by taking into consideration two basic elements referred to in the above-mentioned article so that the picture of what happened and what is happening in Cyprus can be easily understood.

In 1960, a partnership state between Turkish and Greek Cypriots was established in accordance with the international agreements signed by the Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot sides, as well as the Turkish, Greek and British Governments.

The attempts to annex the island to Greece by overthrowing the President of Cyprus and the atrocities perpetrated by the Greek Cypriot paramilitary organization "EOKA" against the Turkish Cypriot community forced Turkey to intervene in Cyprus in 1974 as one of the three Guarantor States (the two others were Greece and the United Kingdom) in accordance with the 1960 Treaty of Guarantee.

It is rather ironic to mention in the article that the wish of Greek Cypriots is to find a solution to the Cyprus problem on the basis of the United Nations (UN) Security Council resolutions. It is a well known fact that the referenda aimed to unify Cyprus which was held on April 24, 2004, under the auspices of the UN simultaneously in the Turkish and the Greek sides of Cyprus was approved in the Turkish Cypriot by 65 percent of the votes, whereas 76 percent of the Greek Cypriot people overwhelmingly rejected the UN-Annan Plan as called.

The April 2004 referenda have shown which side is for a solution that encompasses reunification and peace, and which side is not. Simply, it was the Greek Cypriot leadership which blocked a comprehensive settlement on the island, thus returning to "normal conditions".

In the light of these facts, any reader who is willing to find out the realities in Cyprus can easily notice that neither Turkey nor the Turkish Cypriot Community are the authors of the ongoing division of the island.

Murat Adali
Ambassador of the Republic of Turkey






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.








The Local Government election this time seems to be very ho-hum; a situation where one would hardly find something to ascribe it to. One may attempt to attribute the dull situation to the World Cup cricket tournament now being played with Sri Lanka being a co-host. However, to the utter dismay of many, the feverishness of the election campaign did not mount to a noticeable level even after people largely lost interest in World Cup cricket following the defeat of the Sri Lanka to Pakistan on February 26. 

There is every chance for the World Cup cricket fever to rise to the utmost level depending on the results of today's match between Sri Lanka and its arch-rival and one of the world's toughest teams, Australia. However, nothing seems to be capable of so educing enthusiasm in March 17 elections. On the other hand  today's match between Sri Lanka and Australia has a potential to further kill the enthusiasm in elections, again depending on the outcome of the match.

In Sri Lanka the Opposition parties rarely display their merit in creating election hype, especially during provincial and local elections, since all opportunities are plundered by the ruling parties in this regard since early eighties. Hence, all credit for the hue and cry during elections, particularly during provincial and local government elections goes to the ruling parties. Thus the relatively subdued election campaign this time seems to be owing to the fact that the ruling United Peoples Freedom Alliance (UPFA) had made little headway in running the show. 

The UPFA seems to be at a loss about how to proceed with the campaign or it is not interested in making extravagant public events, perhaps due to the overconfidence in the outcomes of the mini polls. Whatever it may be, it is vividly evident that the ruling coalition has exhausted slogans it can market, while the economic ground situation in the country too has turned against the Government.

The war victory gained two years ago by the security forces against the LTTE has been the prime issue to be marketed on the ruling party's electoral platforms since 2008 and it gave extremely high yields to the ruling coalition, culminating in offering the UPFA the two thirds majority parliamentary power on a platter last year. However, translating the war victories into votes is seemingly no more workable, not because the gains in the battlefront are now being undervalued by the people, but because the issue seems to increasingly become stale to be repeatedly showcased.

 On the other hand, masses, even those who voted for the ruling coalition at the last several elections with high hopes are now worried about the unprecedented high cost of living and the euphoria among them over the war victories seems to have long evaporated. However, there is a possibility of the latest US move to take the Sri Lankan leaders to task over wartime accountability issues rekindling the feelings of the people, and a fuss being again created, in which case the opposition would be bewildered as to what stand to be taken.  

 Ironically, the Opposition has plenty of issues to capitalize at the election, though none of them has been their achievements. Rather they all have been results of weaknesses, shortsightedness and maladministration on the part of the Governments of the PA and the UPFA, two coalitions led by the SLFP.

 The soaring of prices of essential items is one such issue that any Opposition party can capitalize on, especially during this election The increase in prices of essential items during the past one year has been unimaginable and in most cases unjustifiable at all.

The recent floods and rains were not the culprits, as the steep upward curve in the price chart was seen before the floods and the rains occurred. Also, the effects of the floods or rain on the prices of some of the imported items have not yet been explained. The situation has been further aggravated by the failure on the part of the government to keep its promises to grant a salary increase. Although this issue is being taken up at the Opposition rallies it is not clear as to whether they have been successful in changing the electorate.

Nevertheless, leaders of the government have now started to cling on to a traditional but undemocratic argument. Their contention is that Local Authorities have to be run by the party that rules the country. Some even have threatened to stop state funds to the LG bodies that would be won by the Opposition. If this is a valid contention it is wiser to amend the laws accordingly, rather than holding mini elections, burdening the public coffers.





Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak, in a recent interview with a radio channel in Israel, expressed cautious optimism about the changes in the region. Barak's 'optimism' may be more of a bravado, given Israels initial reaction to the changes in its neighbourhood. Trying to toe a middle line, Barak noted the obvious dangers of the situation and at the same time expressed optimism at the possible opportunity for peace.

Barak's comments indicate a damage reversal by Tel Aviv following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's reaction at the time of the collapse of the previousß Egyptian regime under Hosni Mubarak. Tel Aviv's comfort level with the Mubarak regime and the survival of the three decades-old peace treaty was the principal reason the Israeli government may have been nervous. More than change was the fear of having an anti-Israeli, Islamist government in Cairo that would  throw to the winds the peace arrangements that survived the past 30 years.

In such a case, as per Israels calculations, it would literally be wedged in between hardline regimes and stakeholders such as Iran, the Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza.  Despite the wave of change sweeping across the region, Israels political vision continues to be as myopic as ever. While Tel Aviv frets over the new anti-Israeli Islamists that would inevitably threaten the Israeli state, it continues to stand in complete denial of the most important fact. This could well be the key to peace and recognition by the Arab world, Israel has to date claimed as its ultimate endeavour. The biggest threat to Israel and the largest stumbling block (to peace and regional stability remains its own policies.

So while Barak may drop hints how other regional states such as Syria have indicated willingness for resuming peace talks, he should also ask his government to reflect why peace has been so elusive. A deeper understanding of the impact of the obdurate adherence to faulty policies and acknowledgement of the deliberate and exaggerated entrenching of a misperceived existential threat masking blatant belligerence may be required. 

What may be more worrying for Israel, more than the missiles fired from across Lebanon or Gaza would be to face tens of thousands of peaceful Palestinian demonstrators in every illegal Israeli settlement and Jerusalem. It is only a matter of mobilisation and will power.






The last decade has seen the highest number of natural disasters in recorded history; called the "warmest decade" and marred by catastrophic water related disasters, in the vein of the tsunami (2004), Hurricane Katrina (2005) and the floods in Pakistan (2010). Most recently calamity hit home when the Eastern Province and other parts of the island were pelted with incessant rain. As is common knowledge, these disasters are the manifestation of the greater issue of climate change engulfing the planet and they are followed on by the more tangible tragedy of food scarcity.

Experts gathered last week to address these vital issues at a workshop on the lines of "Climate Change, Food and water security; identifying critical issues and exploring cooperative strategies in an age of increased risk and uncertainty for South Asia." The discussion facilitated an exchange between experts on this area from all over South Asia and was organised by the Global Water Partnership and the International Water Management Institute (IMWI), which is based in Colombo. The South Asian arm of Water Vision 2025 by the Global Water Partnership envisages "poverty in South Asia will be eradicated and living conditions of all the people will be uplifted to sustainable levels of comfort, health and wellbeing through coordinated and integrated development and management of waster resources of the region."

The issue at the forefront of the minds of those at the workshop was the preparedness of the South Asian region for the challenge posed by climate change and the inevitable natural disasters it brings. "We are being pushed into a situation where extreme events are overtaking us and the question is; what are we doing enough to be prepared for what seems to be a continuous challenge? I think that this activity where we have brought together all the South Asian countries is an excellent opportunity to discuss this along these lines of collective preparedness," Chair of the Sri Lanka water partnership Kusum Atukorala said.

Chair of the South Asia Global Water Partnership Sardar Tariq emphasised the need to recognize the conglomerate responsibility of all states in South Asia to water related challenges. "If you consider water management in South Asia every country individually has an impact and is working very fast on our goals of water for all, water for environment and water for development. But in the context of climate change we have found that we have to come out of these territorial boundaries and we have to have a more holistic view and see how we can manage water resources on a regional level and move out from this boundary mentality," he says.

In the Sri Lankan context Atukorala sees a great overlap in responsibilities which leads to inefficiency and bad water management. "If you take most South Asian countries and we are not an exception we have bifurcated responsibilities for water management; the water board would be doing one thing the irrigation ministry would be doing another thing but then if you look at it seriously there is a great deal of overlap and replication. Now for instance if you take water from irrigation, it is the same water that is being taken for water supply. Integrated water supply management tries to bring all the stakeholders together and this is where the Sri Lanka water partnership comes in -bringing stakeholders together," she said.

For the everyday individual who can make the whole-scale institutional changes necessary yet is willing to in their own way contribute to protecting the vital resources of water Atukorala says rainwater harvesting is a suitable option. "If you are building a new house this is clearly more expensive but if you consider the amount you will save on your water bill in the long run it tends to pay off. With rainwater you won't have to pay anything and you will generally have a reliable stored supply- you don't have to use it for drinking but you can always use it for flushing or washing clothes etc," she explains.

Fellow of IMWI and Ground water expert Dr. Tushaar Shah explains that ground water utilization is also an apt way for households to save on their water bills while conserving water. "We have to manage groundwater according to the type of acquiface- that is if the ground is full of rock formations or not in the former there is very little water that gathers. In Sri Lanka this is the case. Therefore you must use an open well, In these open wells if you start pumping using an electric or diesel pump then what you can pump in a given period is what is there in the well at that time, then you have to rest that well for 7 to 8 hours," he cautions.

Water is vital for our everyday needs. Yet our mismanagement of the resources provided to us has caused water to now become this sinister force that could destroy all that mankind had called development. In the face of this challenge all we can do is learn to protect whatever resources we have left and to mitigate the harmful actions of our ancestors to ensure that we are not altogether destroyed.

* The World Meteorological Organization






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.

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.

"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.

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.

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 seized by an evangelical urge to sort out the world.

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.

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.

The Hindu







REVOLUTIONS raise more questions than answers. The prime one being what happens after the thrill of protest victory wears off?


Zen master Alan Watts said there were only four basic questions that apply to anything: what are we going to do? Who's going to do it? How are we going to do it? Who's going to clean up the mess afterwards?


Protests in the streets are only part of the answer to Watt's first question.


Do the protesters know or agree upon what they want?


The desire for some kind of change is obvious. But what change will satisfy most, or all?


Peter Oborne, the Daily Telegraph's chief political commentator, said: "They have been impelled into action by mass poverty and unemployment, allied to a sense of disgust at vast divergences of wealth and grotesque corruption."


Will removal of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Hosni Mubarak or Ali Abdullah Saleh respond to the problems of mass poverty and unemployment?


What's to be done about the vast divergences of wealth and grotesque corruption referred to by Oborne?


What about those not involved in the demonstrations? How many Tunisians, Egyptians or Yemenis were among the protesters? Hundreds of thousands?


What about the rest of the populations (more than 80 million in Egypt)? Do the demonstrators represent them? Should the protesters make decisions about what to do because they took part in the shouting and waving of arms and flags?


Oborne questioned the popular belief that revolutionary activity was stimulated by social networking.


He wrote: "Far from being inspired by Twitter, a great many of Arab people who have driven the sensational events of recent weeks are illiterate."


The last I heard, Egyptian males have a literacy rate of 83 per cent, with females at 59.4pc. In Tunisia, it's 78pc for all.


While these are a long way from the 90pc to 100pc rates of 98 countries, they don't preclude the use of social media like Twitter to organise youths.


However, not even 83pc literacy can solve post-demonstration problems. There are those who want constitutional changes. Others look for leaders who will not follow in the footsteps of their predecessors.


Then there are dreamers who hope that employment and elimination of poverty will somehow come out of a genie's bottle.


Protesters look back with obsessions about the ills that brought them into the streets, but answers to "what are we going to do?" should extend beyond cleaning the political house.


Some semblance of unity must preclude the choice of "who's going to do it?"


Things don't run by themselves. Leaders are needed post-revolution to take over the task of putting Humpty Dumpty back together again.


If supreme councils or parliaments could lead, the loudly touted democracies wouldn't need presidents, prime ministers or cabinets to run things.


How much do demonstrators take into account the need for leaders with the necessary expertise or experience to make decisions that keep a country functioning?


The mess to be cleaned up afterward includes recovering an economy wrecked by protests.


The Egyptian economy, for example, depends heavily on a tourist trade that is now in a shambles.


Dear protesters, in getting rid of one problem, you have created another that may be harder on your pocket book than the one you eliminated.


The problems you create will be greater than the ones you solve. Look at the history of any revolution, then go home and start answering Watt's questions.



EDITORIAL from The Pioneer, The Times of India, Hindustan Times, The Indian Express, The Financial Express, The Hindu, The Statesman's, The Tribune, Deccan Chronicle, Deccan Herald, Economic Times, The Telegraph, The Assam Tribune, Pakistan Observer, The Asian Age, The News, The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, The New York Times, China Daily, Japan Times, The Gazette, The Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian, The Guardian, Jakarta Post, The Moscow Times, The Bottom Line and more only on EDITORIAL.




Project By


a trust – of the people by the people for the people

An Organisation for Rastriya Abhyudaya

(Registered under Registration Act 1908 in Gorakhpur, Regis No – 142- 07/12/2007)

Central Office: Basement, H-136, Shiv Durga Vihar, Lakkarpur, Faridabad – 121009

Cell: - 0091-93131-03060

Email –,

Registered Office: Rajendra Nagar (East), Near Bhagwati Chowk, Lachchipur

Gorakhnath Road, Gorakhpur – 273 015

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.