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Friday, March 11, 2011

EDITORIAL 11.03.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month march 11, edition 000776, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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





































































Ever since images of kneeling, blindfolded prisoners emerged alongside reports of them being water-boarded, the prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba has been associated with the Bush era's so-called flawed policies. In 2008, when Mr Barack Obama pledged to close the prison as part of his presidential campaign, it became symbolic of all that would change if he came to power. Today, Guantanamo Bay is standing testimony to all that did not change even after he moved into the White House simply because the soft option is not necessarily the best option. On Monday, President Obama announced that military trials for those detained at Guantánamo would resume following a two-year interval. The decision has won him some rare brownie points from his adversaries but has come as a let down for his dwindling tribe of supporters and may even cost him his second term as President. The decision had become inevitable when in December 2010, members of Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, voted not to move the trials to the US or release the prisoners to other countries that are willing to take them. In other words, Mr Obama's flagship promise of 'change', which was intended to mark a clear break from the much-maligned — and in retrospect needlessly so —Bush era of American politics, failed before a Congress firm on its stand and due to his inability to garner political support. The closure of Guantanamo Bay was one of the first executive orders that Mr Obama signed when he took office in January 2009 and he promised that even Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the mastermind behind the 9/11 attacks, would be tried in New York City. His plans were seemingly well received by the masses but his colleagues in Washington DC never quite warmed up to the idea. Consequently, the plans for a civilian trial for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed were abandoned as Mayor Michael Bloomberg withdrew support in the face of growing political opposition and now Mr Obama has been left with no choice but to allow the resumption of military trials for detainees.

There is a lesson in this turnabout in policy. It is easy for those aspiring to occupy high office to denounce the policies of incumbent administrations and promise radical change. But in the real world, radical change rarely happens because the objective situation does not change rapidly. Indeed, more often than not, the very reasons that prompt unpopular decisions tend to get entrenched, leading to a worsening of the situation. For instance, Mr Obama may have believed that he could stall the onward march of radical Islam and thus secure American interests by toeing the line of least resistance and recasting US policy on military engagement in Afghanistan as well as relations between Washington, DC, and Islamabad. But neither his much-publicised — and grossly over-rated — AfPak policy nor his decision to increase aid for Pakistan has worked. On the contrary, while the situation in Afghanistan has worsened, Pakistan has moved on from being a 'staunch' ally to an undependable partner in the US-led war on terror. All this and more, especially the turbulence in the Arab world, has understandably alarmed Americans. And with the changing dynamics of local politics, Mr Obama has cast aside his policies of the past.







A recent Supreme Court order saying litigants losing their legal battle in the apex court can approach the High Court for a review does not make sense. People normally come to the country's highest court after they believe they have not received justice at the lower levels of judiciary. Their case is re-heard in the Supreme Court, and all the material that the lower courts, including the High Court, have relied upon to pronounce their verdict, is placed before the apex court. The Supreme Court then decides to either uphold the earlier orders or set them aside, partly or fully. Petitioners also have the option to seek the review of a Supreme Court order in that court itself. As the highest court its verdicts are considered final. This primacy has been established by various Supreme Court rulings. In departing from the well-established and tested process, the Bench of Justice Markandey Katju and Justice Gyan Sudha Mishra appears to have stepped into uncharted territory. The order, ironically by Supreme Court judges, questions the very supremacy of the Supreme Court in settling disputes. It runs contrary to established practice and conventional wisdom: If a High Court revisits a case settled by the apex court, till now it has been considered an 'affront'.

That could now change. The Bench has said if a petitioner's appeal against a High Court order is dismissed by the apex court without assigning reasons, he or she can return to the High Court with a review plea. But if the Supreme Court dismisses an appeal without assigning any reason, surely it is because the plea does not merit consideration on legal grounds. Moreover, the Supreme Court can, if it finds necessary, not even hear the matter and refer it back to the High Court with a direction to the petitioner to amend the plea accordingly. This is what is normally done. But once the apex court dismisses a petition, there is no logic to allow the petitioner to return to the lower court for relief. The judges may be right in observing that earlier orders of the apex court — in this case precluding a litigant from filing a review petition before a High Court after his petition was cast aside by the Supreme Court — need not serve as a precedent. There have been several instances where the Supreme Court has revised its earlier stand. But such decisions happen when the apex court discovers a new facet to a case or when the precedent harms constitutional guarantees. The power of the High Court to review a plea is certainly there in the statutes but the moot question is whether that power extends to petitions that have been dismissed by the Supreme Court without a hearing. The order also threatens to prolong litigation at a time when the judiciary should be clearing the backlog of tens of thousands of cases.








The ongoing upheaval in West Asia and North Africa should not relegate Afghanistan in the collective global consciousness. If Taliban and Al Qaeda win, it would spell disaster for all.

An offshoot of the continuing troubles in West Asia and North Africa has been a shift of global attention away from Afghanistan. Though understandable given the circumstances, it will be unwise to keep the spotlight away from that country for too long. The outcome of the war there will have a critical impact on developments in North Africa and the Arabian peninsula and the two, in turn have a decisive influence on the course of world history.

Those inclined to dismiss such talk will do well to recall that the withdrawal of Soviet troops from Afghanistan in 1989 had hugely boosted the self-confidence of the Taliban and Al Qaeda and made them believe that they could defeat any power in the world, including the United States.

In an interview with Taysir Alluni, head of the Al Jazeera network in Kabul, Osama bin Laden had said on October 20, 2001, "At that time (the war in Afghanistan during 1980s), the Soviet Empire was a mighty power that scared the whole world." Stating that the Soviet Empire had become "a figment of the imagination", he had added, "So the one god, who sustained us with one of his helping hands and stabilised us to defeat the Soviet Empire, is capable of sustaining us again and allowing us to defeat America on the same land (Afghanistan)... So we believe that defeat of America is something achievable — with the permission of god — and it is easier for us — with the permission of god — than the defeat of the Soviet Empire previously." (Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden edited and with an introduction by Bruce Lawrence; translated by James Howarth).


In a 53-minute-long audiotape, circulated on February 14, 2003, Osama bin Laden stated that the jihad was going well and, claiming that the Americans had "become embroiled in the Afghan quagmire", he argued that the withdrawal of the mujahideen from some cities, whose capture the Americans had considered to be their victory, was tactical and in keeping with Afghanistan's long history of guerrilla warfare. Without a regular army to defend the cities, the Taliban had resorted to guerrilla warfare from the "depth of the rugged mountains", the same tactic with which they had earlier conquered "the Army of USSR".

Al Qaeda's — and also the Taliban's — confidence in their ability to defeat the United States will increase further if the latter and its allies retreat from Afghanistan in a manner which suggests that they have been defeated. It will also enhance Al Qaeda's stock worldwide which, in turn, will lead to a massive rise in the number of its supporters. The appeal of a movement or organisation whose triumph appears inevitable and/or which seems to be the wave of the future has been witnessed too often to require elaboration.

More, control over Afghanistan's very considerable mineral resources which have recently come to light, will enormously enhance Al Qaeda's capacity to wage war should they come to control that country. Victory in Afghanistan will, therefore, significantly enhance its chances of playing an important role in the changes under way in North Africa and West Asia, and, eventually, even establish its sway over both.

Should Al Qaeda be able to do so, it will move close to a position from which it can become the dominant power in the world. That it will make a serious attempt to become such a power follows from the nature of the mission it, and specifically its supreme leader, Osama bin Laden, has set for itself. As Bruce Lawrence points out in his perceptive introduction to Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama bin Laden, the Al Qaeda chief's jihad "is aimed not at an imperium, but a global 'unbelief'." He, according to Lawrence, repeatedly emphasises in his texts that it is a religious war that subsumes a political war, which he can wage with terms appropriate to it. "Yet the battle in the end is one of faith."

In his message of December 16, 2004, a blistering attack on the regimes of the Arabian peninsula, including Saudi Arabia and of its religious establishment, Osama bin Laden said that what was under way was partly an internal struggle against Arab rulers but in other respects a struggle between "global unbelief , with the apostates today under the leadership of America on one side, and the Islamic ummah and its brigades of mujahideen, on the other." Again, in his interview to Taysir Alluni cited above, he urged upon Muslims to "answer the call of god, and the order of His Prophet, with jihad against world unbelief."

Victory in Afghanistan will not enable Al Qaeda to bring West Asia under its control overnight. Historical processes take years to unfold. The East Berlin bread riots of June 1953 constituted the first uprising against the Soviet Union's domination of Eastern Europe. It was suppressed, as were the Hungarian revolt and the Poznan riots in Poland in 1956 and Czechoslovakia's peaceful uprising in 1968 demanding "Communism with a human face". Finally, the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the Soviet Union's domination over Eastern Europe, collapsed in November 1989. One does not know how long the tortuous events in West Asia will take to reach their logical end. One can, however, say with certainty that West Asia is set to witness major changes.

The fact that Al Qaeda has not been at the forefront of the current upheavals in the region does not indicate its absence from the scene. Its North African affiliate, Al Qaeda in the Maghreb, has a substantial presence in the region, as has the Al Qaeda in the Arabian peninsula. Formed in January 2009 through the merger of the Saudi Arabian and Yemeni branches of Al Qaeda, it has been growing steadily in strength, particularly through the arrival of a large number of Saudi Arabian extremists fleeing a fierce crackdown on the organisations in their own country.

By all accounts, Al Qaeda is preserving its strength and biding its time. When it does make its move, the outcome will be determined by a number of factors. The result of the war in Afghanistan will be the most important of them all, as it will shape many of the forces at work.

The photograph accompanying this article shows Lance Corporal Liam Tasker with his Military Working Dog, Theo, during operations in Afghanistan. Lance Corporal Tasker, a dog handler with the British Royal Army Veterinary Corps, was killed in a firefight with Taliban insurgents in Helmand Province. Theo, a bomb-sniffing springer spaniel, suffered a fatal seizure hours later at a British Army base.







Many in India have amassed vast amounts of wealth without having to work for it or making and selling a billion-rupee product. They have become rich through the expedient means of grabbing land with the help of corrupt politicians and bureaucrats. As always, the people of India are the losers

Ours is a strange economy where the number of billionaires is increasing by the day but we hardly have any worthwhile billion-dollar global product. And this weird, inexplicable phenomenon — where billions are being made without having commensurate global products — is only prevalent in India.

One wonders how these billionaires manage to make their billions without a supporting product? Well, of all the inexplicable means that are being adopted, one of the most fashionable has been the act of blatant land-grabbing. In fact, land acquisition in India has been always the most ignored legislation, obviously for understandable reasons.

Not even three months have passed and 2011 has already seen its share of illegal transactions of land meant for public purposes. Among these innumerable and mostly untraceable public land deals, there are three that stand out. The first is that of the Tamil Nadu Government. In January this year, it attempted to divert a stretch of land reserved for slum redevelopment and low income housing to private developers (against the Tamil Nadu Slum Areas (Improvement and Clearance) Act of 1971, a move which could have made nearly 7,000 families homeless.

In January again, it was found out how Maharashtra Housing and Development Authority sold a three-acre plot worth Rs 300 crore to a private developer. The plot had been originally allotted for developing 900 flats for low and middle income groups. Similarly, in February HUDA and HSIIDC acquired almost 350 acre of panchayat land in Wazirabad village under the guise of providing public utilities and then sold it to a private developer for Rs 1,700 crore for residential and commercial purposes.

From politicians to bureaucrats to industrialists, all eye various development projects to grab a share of prime land. And the process is simplified further as the law governing land purchases in India is over 110 years old (the Land Acquisition Act dates back to 1894). In spite of this law having been amended a few times, the amendments have only strengthened the Government's land-grabbing powers.


As per the Act, the Government — both in the States and at the Centre — is absolutely free to acquire any land anywhere in India for public purposes. This means that the Government has all the rights to acquire private land even without the consent of the owners of the land, if the acquisition is done for 'public purpose'. In most such acquisitions, the owners manage to get token money as compensation, which is far below the market price. Most of the times, the land acquired by the Government is developed under the public-private-partnership model where, eventually, the private component in this partnership corners every benefit.

Take for instance the Uttar Pradesh Government's initiative of building the Greater Noida Expressway, where the initial owners — the farmers — were paid as little as Rs 50 per square metre in an area where land is being sold for a minimum of Rs 1,500 per square metre — a staggering 3000 per cent mark-up. Similar have been the cases with the much-touted Vedanta and Posco projects.

A few weeks back, the Supreme Court had to direct the Haryana State Government to evict encroachers from the land belonging to village communities; much of this land had been unofficially transferred to private developers for commercial use. In the past, the courts have had to intervene in many such cases, especially in Gurgaon, where panchayat land meant for public utilities was sold and leased out to private developers.

Among all these various cases, the one that got exposed in November 2010 merits special mention.The High Court of Punjab and Haryana criticised the Haryana Government for acquiring 19 acre of panchayat land in Nathupur and selling it to DLF — consequently, making a profit of Rs 47 crore. In 2009, BMC redirected acres of land meant for public development to private developers for commercial development — this primarily filled the coffers of civic officials.

The saga continues. It requires no audit or surveys to comprehend that large sum of money are transacted, from in all such arrangements.

Further, when it comes to development projects involving huge streches of land meant for public use, most of the time unprecedented amounts of money change hands within the unholy nexus of politicians and corporations. And it is this nexus and its misdeeds that are being forced down the throats of the poor.

What is worse is the bigger monster in the making — realty prices which defy all economic rationality. This is bound to happen again and again as more and more prime land is siphoned off to fewer hands, creating an all-round artificial scarcity. It is equally shocking that all this happens in a country where there are around 80 million people who do not have basic shelter of those who have a shelter almost a third do not own it.

After all, in a dysfunctional nation like India, it is always pelf before people. Land-grabbing and making billions is just one of the means.

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







Supreme Court rules out mercy killing but debate still continues

The Supreme Court's verdict on the plea to allow mercy killing in the Aruna Shanbaug case revives the debate on euthanasia, and how it differs from suicide. The court, while ruling that the 63-year-old woman, in a vegetative state since being sexually assaulted and choked by a hospital ward boy 37 years ago, be allowed to live because of Mumbai's KEM Hospital staff's love for her, expressed approval for 'passive' euthanasia. This entails withdrawing life-support systems or medicines and force-feeding of patients who are brain-dead and in a vegetative condition over a period of time, with no chance of recovery. The court, however, ruled against 'active' euthanasia, which entails injecting a lethal substance to expedite death of such patients. So far as the former is concerned, the court has laid down that an expert panel of doctors, including a neurologist, psychiatrist and physician, would first be required to give its opinion. Once the patient's relatives give their response to the panel's report, the concerned court would proceed. Thus the final decision on mercy-killing would rest on a High Court bench of at least two judges.

In the course of the proceedings, the Supreme Court has observed that it is time to decriminalise suicide and delete section 309 of the Indian Penal Code, which awards punishment for attempted suicide. This is an outdated law, which seeks to punish the survivor of a suicide attempt, who presumably has already suffered enough. There is no justification to enhance that person's torment. Suicide is a tragedy rather than crime. Earlier, the Law Commission in an October 2008 report had also advised repealing this law. Most nations have already decriminalised suicide. But euthanasia has found less easy acceptance. Voluntary euthanasia or assisted suicide, with the patient giving consent, is legal only in a few European countries and American states. When such consent is not available, the act is termed non-voluntary and considered illegal, except under certain conditions in the Netherlands.

Interestingly, nurses at KEM Hospital, where Ms Shanbaug herself worked as a nurse before the assault, are happy that the court has ruled that she should live. They have been taking good care of her, though her kin has abandoned her. They have no reason to put her to sleep as she still seemed to have some responses left. While the apex court's cautious verdict recognises the case for mercy-killing — with medical staff reported to expedite death in acutely painful situations even though the law does not sanction it — the nurses' disapproval of the mercy-killing plea, filed by Mumbai-based journalist Pinky Virani, underlines the need for extreme diligence in such cases. For, putting humans to sleep is not quite the same as putting injured and ailing animals and birds to sleep. Animal rights activists may differ but that is the subject of a different debate. This view hinges on the sanctity of human life, as the most evolved among all species, and the most conducive to spiritual growth and experience. The argument goes further that if property and money is at stake, euthanasia could be a convenient ploy for those who stand to gain with the death of an ailing person.

Distinction also needs to be drawn between ordinary suicide and assisted suicide. The first is usually the outcome of a personal decision, linked to despair; and the second owes to consensus, informed opinion of doctors and others, and the consent of patients suffering from terminal maladies, without a cure. But in an age of internet bonding, the distinction has blurred, with sinister portals that abet suicide making the act a result of consensus. Stringent action is required to block the functioning of these sites, which are reported to have lured many young, vulnerable lives to their doom. In fact, persons, suffering from chronic ailments, have allegedly taken recourse to web portals to be guided step by step towards oblivion. This focuses attention on the ethics and legality of taking an impersonal view of the right to live or die.

Medical and legal opinion may approve of euthanasia but religious sanction for suicide is rare, and is given only in extraordinary circumstances. Human life should ideally be allowed to run its full course. The Jain practice of santhara or sallekhana entails a slow fasting to death by one, who seeks liberation. A couple of hundred Jains every year are reported to give up the breath in this manner. The act is approved by the Jain religion, and not equated with ordinary suicide, resulting from despair. This is because santhara apparently hinges on prolonged introspection, meditation and relinquishing of karmic bondage, and is permitted for those, fit for it. It is considered an exalted ideal though opponents point out that widows, aged dependents and the ailing may be dispensed with via enforced santhara. The recent police crackdown on the practice has led to persons undertaking it in secrecy, without the public excitement, associated formerly with the act.

Among Hindus, there are records of sages and yogis having voluntarily thrown off the body, once it became aged or diseased, or they readied to unite with the infinite. But this is an altogether different act from suicide or euthanasia, which, in some instances, may be difficult to distinguish from medical malpractice. The debate on ethics is thus bound to persist.







Trinamool Congress is understandably reluctant to part with too many seats for Congress but in the end the two allies will work out a deal because of political compulsions

The West Bengal Assembly election is going to be record-breaking if the Trinmaool Congress-Congress combine wins the April-May poll. The CPI(M)-led Left Front, on the other hand, would like to have a hung Assembly, as it would be a face-saving for it. Meanwhile, the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine is already behaving as if the State is in its pocket.

The election is record breaking on many counts. After 33 years of uninterrupted rule, the Left is expected to be pushed to the margins. Although there are reports that the Left has recovered in the past few months, people may vote out the Buddhadeb Government as they are yearning for 'change'.

The Congress is looking forward to its resurgence in the State by virtue of being a small ally to the Trinamool Congress. Whereas the political realignment both before and after the polls is likely.

With the seat-sharing exercise yet to be completed, it is clear that the two alliance partners have their own game plans. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee would like to deal with a weak Congress, the Congress, on the other hand, is ensuring that Ms Banerjee does not become too big for her boots.

For instance, Ms Banerjee may oblige the Congress by sharing power with it but she would like to come to power on her own majority. For this reason she has left little room for seat-sharing negotiation, making it clear that it will not confer as many seats as the ambitious national party wants in the State Assembly polls. She is relying on the support of the smaller parties like the Adivasi Mukti Morcha, Kamta Party and Gorkha Mukti Morcha even after the election so that she is less dependent on the Congress.

She has managed her arithmetic well while the Left alleges that she has obtained the secret support of the dreaded Maoists. Irrespective of whether it is true or not, the election would go smoothly. Even after power-sharing, her efforts would be to see that the Congress does not become too independent and may like to give less important portfolios, depending on the number of seats the Congress wins.

The Congress has a different game plan. Although it is playing with the Trinamool in West Bengal, it would not like to deal with a strong ally. It is the same case with the DMK in Tamil Nadu and the Congress would insist for power-sharing in Tamil Nadu also if the DMK-led alliance wins the polls. One of the recent stand-off between the two parties was because of this sticky point of power-sharing as the Congress wanted to make sure that it would be part of the Government while the DMK would like to deal with the issue after the election. If that happens, the Congress would be in power in both the States after many decades. In Tamil Nadu it has been languishing outside since it lost to the DMK in 1967. In West Bengal there has been no Congress Chief Minister after Siddhartha Shankar Ray during 1970s.

The Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance may not be a smooth affair as the leaders of the two parties have their own ego. While the Congress has left it to Union Minister for Finance Pranab Mukherji and Ahmed Patel to deal with the seat-sharing exercise, Mr Mukherji has a lot of clout as far as Bengal is concerned. He would not like any interference from any quarters as he considers it as his fiefdom.

Interestingly, even the AICC general secretary Rahul Gandhi may not have much say in the five Assembly elections as the Congress leadership does not want to expose him after the humiliating defeat in Bihar Assembly polls last year. He would have a say but not beyond a point and he would also get tickets for youth. It is common knowledge that Mr Gandhi would like the Congress to go it alone in all the States, as he believes that then only the Congress could be built up. There is a large section in the Congress, which agrees with this view as a long-term strategy. Congressmen remember how he said in his Kolkata Press conference last year that the Congress would share seats in an honourable way.

While the Trinamool Congress may not like to part with as many seats as the Congress demands, political compulsions make it necessary for both to compromise with each other. It is the same case with the DMK and the Congress also as the arithmetic would go against if they were not together.

The Trinamool Congress-Congress is upbeat because of the division of the opposition votes and also because of the prevailing disenchantment with the Left.







Inclusive economics refers to the bottom most layer where one has to recast the financial institutions in the role of enablers. Several of the products which are needed to bring in social transformation are still to be created

Each era has its own clichés and favourite terminology. They often mean the same thing as the synonym terminology in use, of the preceding era. Consider for example, how in the quality movement it began with 'quality assurance' which moved on to 'quality circle' that evolved to 'total quality management' and through a process of evolution arrived at the 'ISO mark'. An analysis of the content would show that substantially they were saying the same thing. It was just being packaged differently, according to the contemporary idiom.

The same logic applies to development and growth processes. It is worth reckoning that usually the phraseology acquires its currency because some persons in a key position uses it and puts it in circulation. Recall how during the period of Rajiv Gandhi, the word Human Resource Development became fashionable overnight. When the Department of Education was declared the Department of Human Resource Development and called the Ministry of Human Resource Development, formally the phrase was propelled into popular use as nothing else would have done. Overnight the Department of Personnel of the Corporate Enterprises became Departments of Human Resources Management!

A similar such revolution has taken place in the last Three-four years.

The word 'inclusive' has been pulled out from the dictionary and it is the most trendy word to use, not to overlook the way it adorns the titles of seminars and conferences. Even the Planning Commission is totally convinced that 'growth has to be inclusive'. There can be nothing wrong with that. The snag, however, is that if 'inclusiveness' has to wait till the middle of the first decade of the 20th century to get etched in the administrative psyche of the nation, what indeed has been happening for the preceding, post-independence decades? Or did the Nehruvian philosophy of developmental governance err grievously in not using the word 'inclusive'?

Frankly, one is not quite sure what is the present developmental theory the power elite of this country is swearing by. Is it the unleashing of market forces or reining them in to ensure that 'socialism' was not lost forever? The country may be recording any percentage of GDP growth and it may be possible even to double it. The crucial question remains: What is it that the people at the bottom are getting from beneficial intervention?

This is not a rhetorical question. It is the question which should drive the debate on the Budget and the bottom-up view must prevail. Unless this issue is handled frontally, growth and development inclusiveness will remain a slogan.

At the bottom of the planning layer has to be 'inclusive economics' topped up with 'inclusive governance'. Unless this is achieved, much rhetoric will overshadow reality. Indeed, inclusive economic and inclusive governance are mutually inter-dependent. There is a crescendo for financial inclusion, digital inclusion, social inclusion and more.

A wag has suggested forget about 'inclusion', just reduce the level of 'exclusion'.

Inclusive economics refers to the bottom most layer where one has to recast the financial institutions in the role of enablers. Several of the products which are needed to bring in the social transformation are still to be created.

There is a need for micro-pension, micro-investment, micro-insurance and micro-credit to name a few. At the time of writing, Muhammad Yunus of Grameen Bank fame is facing the choicest epithets from the power of Bangladesh.

These products cannot just be rural versions of urban products. They must be truly rural products. The technological consideration has to be built in and the products would have to be of the Internet age. The mechanism and delivery vehicles for distribution of such products will have to be fashioned. The outreach mechanism, which is served through bank branches, CSCs under the MGNREG, the postal system, the local bodie need strengthening.

It will be salutary to remind ourselves that the 73rd Amendment going back to nearly 15 years, and brought to life much later, today needs to go beyond Panchayati Raj. It needs to fashion micro-finance institutions, involve NGOs, and cooperatives and above all, initiate financial literacy in the mission mode.

If one is to make a reality of the aspiration which is being generated all over and is increasingly gathering momentum, we will have to sit back and think about how to think 'inclusiveness'.










Midway in the tenure of the second UPA government, the upcoming assembly elections in four key states - West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu - are critical. But the outcome of the assembly elections will be even more significant for the Left than the Congress. With little political capital at the Centre after its break with the UPA, the Left now risks being decimated in the two main bastions it has left - West Bengal and Kerala.

In West Bengal, once Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress (TMC) firms up a seat-sharing arrangement with the Congress, the alliance poses a formidable challenge to the ruling Left Front. Public mood in favour of regime change has galvanised around high rates of unemployment and the abysmal state of industry. Thanks to the rampant politicisation of the state bureaucracy and a free run to trade unions since 1977, the investment tap has run dry. Chief minister
Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee did try to effect change through his industrialisation policy. However, the ham-handed way in which it was implemented scuttled any chances of reform.

That the CPM leadership is stuck in a time warp is best exemplified by its position in Kerala. Besieged by factionalism and facing anti-incumbency - Kerala has a well-established tradition of voting out incumbent governments - the party will struggle to hold on to power. The Marxists' only trump card is octogenarian chief minister
V S Achuthanandan, whose antipathy to the private sector is well known. What complicates matters is that Achuthanandan is neither favoured by the politbureau - as in 2006 the party's central leadership is yet to project him as the chief ministerial candidate - nor by those within the party close to his powerful detractor and state party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan. The only thing that Achuthanandan has going for himself is his clean image and his one-man crusade against corruption. Progress in the Idamalyar dam corruption case and the ice cream parlour sex scandal of the 1990s, and the drive against the state's lottery mafia have largely been due to his personal effort.

Despite Achuthanandan's personal record, the Left's grip on Kerala becomes increasingly tenuous as elections approach. The CPM needs to diagnose the disease rather than treat the symptom. It must reinvent itself to keep up with the times. A shift towards a social democratic political philosophy instead of just sticking up for the status quo, along with promoting youth to leadership ranks instead of the same old tired ideologues, are good places to begin. Otherwise Left parties could soon be staring at an existential crisis.







Plans are afoot to patrol the ether in ways unconsidered till now. That is well and good, for the internet needs watching for a range of reasons from terror to sex-crimes. But the way in which this is to be done has clearly not received the consideration it merits. This is all the more surprising because the internet is increasingly essential to society, which uses it in tremendously diverse ways. Such complexity merits great finesse in regulating it. But that's precisely what's absent in the government's draft rules to modify the Information Technology Amendment Act of 2008. The proposal's uncomprehending approach to the internet is evident in holding service providers responsible for user actions. That's akin to making telephone companies responsible for the conversations people have on the phone. Clearly, legislating with a hammer won't do in the era of microchips.

The draft rules are just as rudimentary in their understanding of the electronic world. A case in point is the term 'intermediary' which is defined as any entity which on behalf of another receives, stores or transmits any electronic record. The term is so unrefined that it includes everyone from mega-corporations such as telecom networks and service providers to the
individual blogger. If the draft becomes law, then bloggers will be legally responsible for anything anyone posts on their blog. This unreasonable responsibility is bound to curtail the ability of people to express themselves and the internet's vibrancy in enabling exchange of opinions and ideas. These are by far the Net's most appealing qualities. To steamroll over them - in the name of security - with crude proposals is a travesty that can't be permitted. Such proposals must be summarily rejected.







The law on sedition is often seen as a colonial legacy. However, its problem is not so much that it is colonial as that it is archaic. Sedition is a law that has its roots in societies which did not want change and which privileged the preservation of order above everything else. But democratic societies must by nature be inherently unstable - because it is from this instability that change arises.

Scholars have shown that the etymology of 'sedition' is conflicted - on the one hand the Greek roots of the word 'stasis' imply changelessness or stalemate and on the other stasis also is a synonym for revolt or movement. Similarly, the Latin 'seditio' conveys the idea of 'a turning back onto oneself and the tension of movement, of separation from the other'. It is astounding that a word with such an interesting legacy came to represent such reactionary politics where people could be, and are, incarcerated for life for opposing the political views of an established state.

Most modern states have a conflicted relationship with this law - not wanting it because it clearly runs against the right to free speech, and not wanting to dump it because it helps contain criticism of the state. In the US, the Sedition Act of 1798 had so much opposition that Thomas Jefferson allowed it to expire when he became president. Former president Adams, his political rival, had used the Act to imprison his supporters. Later, southern states tried enacting sedition laws primarily to prevent any criticism of slavery. However, sedition did not find its way back in the American Constitution till World War I, and then too it was restricted to criticism of the state's war efforts.

Today, sedition is not applicable to American citizens and is used primarily against what Americans call 'aliens'. In Malaysia, sedition laws are used to control hate speech, primarily against Malays or to pre-empt any criticism of the state. Maintaining 'order' in Malaysia thus means maintaining Malay supremacy and sedition laws are an instrument to ensure this.

India's relationship with sedition has also been a troubled one and it is incomprehensible that, given the level of opposition there was to retaining it in the Constituent Assembly, it was nevertheless retained. Most stalwarts of the assembly, including Nehru, spoke vehemently against it, but the clause stayed! In 1962, the Supreme Court upheld Section 124A of the IPC, the sedition clause. However, the court clearly recognised that there was a problem in implementing the law as it was framed. So it set about imposing very strict conditions which had to be met in order for someone to be convicted for sedition.

In looking at whether the Act was merely a colonial act or not, the court found that since it was a general British law there was no real reason to strike it down. This was almost 50 years ago. However, England started the process of removing sedition from its books as far back as 1979, but because of the Northern Ireland imbroglio, this was delayed and it was only in 2009 that sedition and seditious libel, as common law offences, were abolished. If, in 1962, the Supreme Court retained 124A because England had it, is this not enough reason to junk it now that this is no longer the case?

The 1962 judgment also imposed strict conditions under which sedition could be applied. It was to be limited to acts where there was a clear intention or tendency to create disorder, or incitement to violence. Effectively it would therefore require not only speech which caused 'disaffection' or 'disapprobation', but also a clear intention to create disorder or incite violence.

It is a measure of the contempt with which Supreme Court judgments are held in this country that in spite of such strict pre-conditions, hundreds continue to languish in jails convicted or charged under 124A. Interestingly, in the past 50 years not one conviction has been able to stand scrutiny of the highest court. The implication is that lower courts and high courts are busy convicting for sedition regardless of the conditions imposed by the Supreme Court. The tragedy is that the public will not even hear of most of these cases nor do the lives of such people matter to anyone. Binayak Sen may be one high-profile example but others will probably undergo years of imprisonment before it is realised that their conviction was not sound in law. This is the extent of mischief this section allows.

About a year ago, P Chidambram talked about the discovery of Maoist literature from some individuals in Chhattisgarh. He read out in Parliament sections which talked about a lack of faith in the Indian Constitution. He used this to justify stronger state action against Maoists. In doing so, he subscribed to the belief that all it takes to incite people to violence is words. Ironically, poor tribals would not even be able to comprehend the Maoist literature even if they were literate.

The sad truth is that people take to violence when there is no other option. There can really be no incitement without some basis in reality. Those who do not want to or cannot alter that reality want people not to speak out against it. That is the real purpose of sedition and that is precisely why it has no place in any genuinely democratic society.

The writer is a filmmaker.








What's the significance of the Jury's award for Mati O Manush (The Soil and the People) at the New Hope Festival, USA?

As an artist i'm always concerned with issues, social or individual. My second film tells a story that deeply bothers me as a responsible human being. I want my concern to reach the people. Recognitions support the cause. An award, especially from America, implies my creation is valued even where language, social customs, religious philosophy and political value systems are different. Viewers grasped the essence of my protest against deep-rooted socio-religious fanaticism and political dishonesty. Additionally i'm happy that it transcended linguistic and cultural barriers to succeed as cinema.

How did the Religion Today festival in Italy respond?

Mati O Manush featured in the Rites and Beliefs section of the festival that had Journeys of Faith, Journeys of Hope as its theme. The jury Fraternity of Nomadelfia found it "extraordinary", "eye-opening" and "very bold" with "clear and direct message in artistic vocabulary". The interfaith festival of features and documentaries promotes a culture of dialogue on religion through cinema. This creates opportunities for filmmakers who, like me, raise a voice against superstition and fanaticism, or speak for value-based education.

Did it succeed commercially?

My purpose in making this film was to underscore the evils of blind faith. Unfortunately, exhibitors released it half-heartedly. It wasn't screened even in Bankura, where hundreds of villagers helped me shoot the rituals and practice of Charak. Now they're watching it on CD.

This is a sad reality in Bengal. Bappaditya Bandopadhyay's Housefull depicts the pathetic plight of directors who choose to make meaningful films. So, commercial success was hardly expected.

But doesn't the industry consider filmmaking worthwhile only if it reaps box-office returns?

Mainstream Indian cinema once gave films like Achhut Kanya, Sujata, Guide. Today, there's a sharp divide between commercial and parallel (purposeful or experimental). Commercial films pack in every element that can elicit BO returns, yet often fail. The other cinema is limited to techno-savvy viewers. So, instead of recovering money from theatrical release, filmmakers focus their energy on sale of satellite rights, video rights, marketing in foreign channels... This way they can recover the cost and plan another film.

Independent filmmakers in the US, too, face the same problem. With few producers and distributors outside Hollywood, they're also putting their hard-earned money at stake for good cinema, a cause that'll survive through people with a sense of commitment towards society.

How was your film financed?

Mostly from my earnings. I did try to get a producer but couldn't. When i approached my teachers Jogen Chowdhury, Suhas Roy, K G Subramanyan and Suryaprakash, they gave their paintings to raise the money. Their honest response charged me up. But, in a market gripped by global recession, i could sell few paintings. Nevertheless, their support encouraged me to borrow from a bank and complete the film. I don't regret it, i consider it a human responsibility.








'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves 

Did gyre and gimble in the wabe; 

All mimsy were the borogoves, 

And the mome raths outgrabe. 

- Lewis Carroll 

A hundred years from now, students of strange words might well be perplexed by an h-word much in use today. What was this mysterious h-word? historians will ask themselves. What did 2011 mean by it? What could 2011 have meant by it? Or was it just a nonsense word, the kind that Lewis Carroll was so fond of making up, and the whole point of which was that they didn't have to mean anything at all. Or, on the other hand, could be made to mean whatever the user of the word wanted it to mean, as Humpty Dumpty said in Alice in Wonderland. What Humpty was saying was that words have no intrinsic meaning; they are just sounds - like gblyztwmn, for instance, however you choose to pronounce it - to which you can attach any meaning you like, or no meaning at all. 

So, the linguists of 2111 will wonder, was the h-word a nonsense word, a word that the Humpty Dumpties of 2011 had made up, just for the heck of it? The needle of suspicion will certainly point that way, if one were to go by circumstantial evidence. 

The semantic sleuths will discover that the h-word cropped up most frequently in conjunction with - or rather, in response to - the four-letter s-word. The four-letter s-word was the most common and frequently used four-letter word in 2011. In fact, it was more commonly and frequently used than any five-, seven-, 14-, or 23-letter word in 2011. 

Unlike the inexplicable h-word, there was nothing strange or hidden of meaning about the s-word. Indeed, the meaning of the s-word was only too clear, both in 2011 and now in 2111. In fact the s-word seemed in 2011 to have the most synonyms - words that meant the same thing, more or less, as it did - of any word in the language. The s-word - which in 2011 had truly become both a household word as well as a Household word, being the most frequently used word both in domestic homes and in the Houses of Parliament - was, of course, 'scam'. 

In the India of 2011, the scam-mantra had replaced the Gayatri Mantra as the most popularly recited of chants: Om, scam, swindle aur loot, Adarsh, CWG, spectrum ka bhoot, my name is Ms Niira Radia, are you Reliance or Mr Ratan Tata? etc, etc. 

Everyone, from nursery kids to great-grandmoms, knew what scam meant. And everyone talked about scams all the time. But the inexplicable thing was that every time a scam was mentioned - which was all the time - the h-word would pop up too. It was like sneezing: you sneeze, and someone automatically says 'Bless you'. Way back in 2011, was the h-word the equivalent of a 'Bless you' to a sneeze? researchers in 2111 will ask themselves. 
The cryptic h-word, which always followed any mention of the scam word, was most often used with reference to the then prime minister. But it was also used as an adjective to describe assorted bureaucrats, judges, defence personnel, industrialists, bankers, or just about anyone else you cared to name. Or, not to name. The moment the four-letter s-word was uttered, the six-letter h-word would follow, like an automatic reflex, a Pavlovian conditioned response. And the weird part was that the h-word seemed to have absolutely no discernible meaning at all, either in 2011 or in 2111. Or rather, like a Humpty-Dumptyism, it could mean anything that the user wanted it to mean. Which meant that it really meant nothing at all. 

The nonsense word of 2011 was 'honest'. But it could as easily been gblyztwmn. Which has - or doesn't have - about as much meaning. 






The butterfingers BJP seems to have consistently dropped every single platter on which the UPA has gifted it politically volatile issues. In the latest instance, even as the government is scrambling for damage control in the wake of the price rise, the 2G spectrum scam, the Commonwealth Games fiasco, the interrogation of moneybags Hasan Ali Khan and the court verdict against Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) PJ Thomas, the BJP has dropped the baton once again. A serious difference of opinion between the party's heavyweights, leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and the party president Nitin Gadkari has deflected attention from the government's dodgy record.

While Ms Swaraj chose to be statesmanlike and expressed the need to move on after the prime minister took responsibility for appointing a CVC who was allegedly part of a corruption case, Mr Gadkari is keen to milk the issue for all it is worth. In this, he is joined by the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley who also thinks that it is too early to let the prime minister off the hook. This is one issue which has caught the public imagination and made a prime minister who has always seemed to hover above the fray say mea culpa. A tailormade issue to make political capital out of for any sensible Opposition party. Had the party taken Ms Swaraj's path of rising above political differences for the sake of democracy, it would have paid dividends. Equally, if it had decided to go hammer and tongs at the government, there would have been many takers. But here we see a situation in which the party's leaders seem more eager to put each other down than best their political rivals. Earlier too, Mr Gadkari publicly chastised Ms Swaraj for her critical remarks against the party's star campaigner and showcase chief minister Narendra Modi. In both instances, Mr Gadkari made no effort to resolve things in a private manner, preferring instead to letting it all hang out in public.

This undermines the party's effectiveness as a vigorous Opposition and amounts to playing into the hands of the government. It is clear that there is a power struggle on within the party. But to get its hands on actual power, the party has to project the image of being cohesive. The government has never been in a more weakened state than it is today. But if the BJP continues to let crucial issues slip through its fingers, it is handing over the cake, the platter and all the trimmings to its main rival.





The best of intentions are at times not good enough. Who would ever doubt Mani Shankar Aiyar's intense and unflagging desire for India and Pak-istan to be conjoined in a permanent bear hug? It seems officials of the Karachi air traffic control (ATC). It turns out that Mr Aiyar's 'aman ki asha' couldn't cut much ice when it came to the chartered aircraft he was travelling in landing in the Pakistani city. The ATC forced the plane to hover over Karachi for nearly 45 minutes. It ran short of fuel and and without a go-ahead to land on Pakistani territory, the plane returned home.

Was the secret mission of the Karachi ATC — which may be taking orders from the Rawalpindi-ISI-jihadi nexus — to make the Pakistan-loving Mr Aiyar slowly but surely start on a new trajectory of becoming suspicious of Pakistani hospitality and bonhomie? Or was it just a liberal ATC official who had misunderstood the content of the Congress MP's book, The Secular Fundamentalist, and wanted to drive home the point that Pakistan needs to be rid of all kinds of homegrown and foreign fundamentalists? Or could it be because Mr Aiyar was travelling with fellow Rajya Sabha MP and Board for Cricket Control in India (BCCI) vice-president Rajiv Shukla, not a favourite 'aman ki asha' ambassador among disgruntled Pakistani cricket lovers after the drubbing in the World Cup match against New Zealand. Officially, it turns out that the Karachi ATC wasn't aware that Mr Aiyar's visit had been cleared by Islamabad.

Whatever be the reason, Mr Aiyar is unlikely to turn into a 'Pakistan murdabad'-spouting Pravin Togadia. His fondness for the country is strong and the chances of a partial un-partitioning of the subcontinent (he isn't that het up about any 'aman' with Bangladesh). The lesson that he may learn from the ordeal is: let's take the Wagah route next time.






On the night of the 2009 general election results, the irrepressible Suhel Seth, opinion television's angry impresario for all seasons, described the DMK as 'Delhi Money for Karunanidhi'. Seth's propensity to spit out the outrageous has made him a great favourite on talk shows and the DMK remark appeared to strike a chord with the chattering classes.

After being in power at the Centre for all but one of the last 15 years, the DMK seems to have been branded as a regional party that uses its clout in Delhi to build an election war-chest. Indeed, as the DMK faces a do-or-die battle in Tamil Nadu, the 2G scam has only heightened the party's image in the media as epitomising political corruption.

M Karunanidhi, the octogenarian patriarch of the DMK family, has been cast in the role of an ageing political godfather, someone who is attempting to ensure a successful transition to his next generation by parceling the spoils of power among them. The children too are seen to be dividing the Dravida empire among themselves. Son and heir MK Stalin controls Chennai; the other son, MK Azhagiri, is responsible for southern Tamil Nadu while English-speaking daughter Kanimozhi was seen as the party's youthful face in Delhi till the 2G scam hurt her credibility. Not to forget the urbane Dayanidhi Maran, who had established a reputation for being a savvy Union minister.

It all has the makings of a perfect tightly knit family business — like most regional parties in the country. Only the DMK is not just another regional force created around a personality cult like a Lalu Prasad's RJD or a Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool Congress. This is a party whose roots lie in agitational politics, in principles of social justice, rationalism and equality that shaped the Justice Party and, later, the Self-Respect movement of the 1920s in Tamil Nadu. The DMK traces its history to the powerful reformist agenda of EV Ramasami 'Periyar' who made a remarkable contribution to the non-Brahmin movement of the pre-independence period.

Karunanidhi, or Kalaignar, which means connoisseur of literature, was part of this great tradition of  reformist Tamil society. His film scripts and passionate prose reflected his political idealism, shaped by the idea of creating an egalitarian society. Movies on themes like widow remarriage and religious hypocrisy earned him a deserved reputation of being at the vanguard of  social change. By spearheading the language agitation of the 1950s and 60s, by being jailed during the Emergency in 1975, Karunanidhi was seen as a politician of courage and principles.

Yet, today, in the autumn of a long and distinguished career in public life, Karunanidhi is being reduced to a political caricature, a leader who is seen to have put family before ideology. By insisting on prized portfolios for DMK ministers, by issuing periodic threats to withdraw support to the Centre, by anointing his children in key posts, Karunanidhi has devalued the rich traditions of reformist zeal which once imbued his politics. Instead, he has allowed himself to become, like so many of his ilk, a dynastical politician who allows loyalty to his family to overwhelm all else.

It is indeed hard to believe that the benefits of the 2G scam were being monopolised by A Raja and friends without the knowledge of the Tamil Nadu chief minister or that the money was not being transferred from Delhi to Chennai. Certainly, the manner in which Karunanidhi virtually held the UPA government to ransom in May 2009 while insisting that the telecom portfolio stay with the DMK is reason enough to believe that behind the muscle-flexing lay the desire to be part of  the 2G loot. In parties like the DMK, an A Raja is only the trusted family retainer, the rules of the game are set by the head of the family. Karunanidhi, whatever his compulsions, cannot escape responsibility for the actions of Raja.

Which is why, logically, the DMK should be heading for a resounding defeat in the forthcoming assembly elections in Tamil Nadu. Unfortunately, logic doesn't always fashion election results, and personal corruption need not always be an impediment in providing good governance, or determining voter preferences. At the recent IBN 7 Diamond States awards, based on an extensive survey of the comparative performances of different states on social and human development indicators, Tamil Nadu emerged as the number one state, a tribute to its legacy of progressive administration.

During the last elections, Karunanidhi made two major promises: rice at R2 per kg under the public distribution system (PDS) and a free colour TV for every family which did not have one. By all accounts, both schemes have been highly successful. A colour TV for free may be scoffed at by the elite, but its role in giving a poor family 'recreational' benefits cannot be minimised. Moreover, the DMK government's schemes — like providing a maternity assistance of Rs1,000 per month for six months and R300 per month to unemployed youth — amount to a direct cash transfer that bypasses bureaucratic procedures.

Which brings us to the larger question: can an efficient distribution of public utilities make corruption irrelevant in the popular imagination? There is a precedent. The late YS Rajasekhar Reddy and family were seen to have enriched themselves when he was the Andhra Pradesh chief minister. But through his pro-poor schemes, which again involved direct cash transfers, he was successfully re-elected. Will the YSR model work in Tamil Nadu or will Karunanidhi be felled by the stench of family corruption? In the answer to that question lies the future of not just the DMK, but even the UPA at the Centre.

Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network n The views expressed by the author are personal.





In May 2007, the Chhattisgarh police arrested Binayak Sen. Five days later, they seized Sen's computer from his home. From the email and files on it, they extracted many documents, printed and spiral-bound them, then presented it all as part of the case against Sen. 'To Honorable Supreme Court, New Delhi,' reads the neat title page. In the table of contents, you'll find this entry: 'Mahila Kosh budget shows Rs 1 crore. And its detailing.' The document it refers to is titled 'Mahila Kosh' and has several bullet points. One is: 'The Kosh has been created with an initial corpus of Rs1 crore.' You read this and wonder — as the prosecution must have intended you to wonder — how did Sen assemble a corpus of a crore? It's not an amount paediatricians have lying around. Surely there's something underhanded here?

That there is nothing underhanded is hinted at in the document itself. The next bullet point states: 'The Governing body is headed by Minister for Women and Child Development.' Why is a minister heading a body with a suspicious corpus? But beyond this hint — speaking of things underhanded — is the truth: this document, identical down to the fonts used, appears on the Chhattisgarh government's website (; note that the home page states: 'Contents provided and maintained by Govt of Chhattisgarh'). That is, this Mahila Kosh is a Chhattisgarh government scheme, headed by its own minister, and this "initial corpus" was set up by the Chhattisgarh government itself.

The same government uses this document, this description of its own scheme, against Binayak Sen.

There's more. Here's another entry from the contents: 'Appeal from the National President (PUCL), People War Group, Maoist Community Centre, Naxalite, POTA-Like Laws.' You may think this must be an appeal on behalf of these dangerous groups and that Sen is in league with them! Then you look at the document concerned. It's on Chhattisgarh PUCL letterhead, signed by Sen in his capacity as general secretary and, yes, it is an appeal. This is the first sentence — the first sentence — in that appeal: "The National President of the People's Union for Civil Liberties (PUCL), Shri KG Kannabiran, has appealed for the unconditional release of Shri Prakash Soni Sub-Inspector of Police, who was recently abducted from Kunakonda block, reportedly by activists of the People's War Group (PWG)."

Let me repeat: this is the PUCL's appeal for the unconditional release of PSI Prakash Soni, abducted by Maoist rebels. Soni was released in October 2004, but only after the Chhattisgarh government conceded four demands of the Maoists. So it was not an unconditional release, as Sen demanded; instead, the government capitulated. Now the same government uses Sen's appeal for the release of one of its own policemen as evidence against Sen.

And it worked. In paragraph 96 of his judgement sentencing Sen to life in prison, sessions judge BP Verma observes this much about Sen's appeal: "People's War Group (PWG) dwara Sub-Inspector Prakash Soni ke apharan ke baat kahi gayi hai (The kidnapping of Sub-Inspector Prakash Soni by People's War Group is mentioned)."

Justice Verma omits one detail: Soni's kidnapping is mentioned only because Sen calls for Soni's unconditional release. Nearly 350 pages were taken from Sen's computer. Some banal, some inexplicable, some twisted like these two. Trying to write a book about the case, I've pored over them. I can't find anything incriminating.

Yet don't take my word for that. Consider this: if the Chhattisgarh government uses its own Mahila Kosh scheme to incriminate Sen and if it turns Sen's call for the release of a policeman around to incriminate Sen, what can we conclude about its own faith in its case against Sen? And on evidence like this, a man has been sentenced to life in prison!

Dilip D'Souza is a Mumbai-based writer and journalist. The views expressed by the author are personal.



T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".

Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."

No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.

Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian






The Special Sessions Court in Mumbai said on Wednesday that the Enforcement Directorate had not done its "homework" when arguing against accused money-launderer Hasan Ali Khan. "You have not been able to make any case," the judge told the prosecutor, so why were they arguing that they needed him to stay in custody? The inchoate anger about black money and corruption that is floating around urban India needs targets, and Khan is one such, with some quoting numbers for his illegal stash that are quite frankly spectacular. Whatever the truth, it needs reasoned investigation, and the Mumbai court was right to remind the prosecutorial agencies of the spadework required.

There is, however, a careful distinction that must be drawn, a line that must surely be kept in mind, between evaluating the power of a case and giving in to anger, however understandable. A few days ago, the Supreme Court (SC), when hearing a petition related to black money filed by Ram Jethmalani, told Solicitor General Gopal Subramaniam that the state "must probe the angle" that is represented by a possible link between Hasan Ali and "arms dealers and terrorist funds". This, they said, was a national security problem, and why weren't anti-terrorism laws being invoked? When a court, especially the highest in the land, makes suggestions of this sort, prosecutors will bend over backwards to obey. Subramaniam said, instantly, that the government had similar ideas in mind. Similarly, the prosecutors in the Mumbai sessions court went back after they were rapped on the knuckles for dilatory homework with a request that prominently highlighted national security concerns.

We are not in a position to know whether or not national security is a sufficiently salient concern in the Hasan Ali case. That is for the investigating agencies to determine. The concern is about the tenor of the proceedings. There is a climate abroad today in which corruption in public and private life is seen everywhere. And the processes by which we investigate individual instances of wrongdoing must be insulated from this sentiment. It is, to take just one example, the SC which moved the 2G investigation beyond partisan blame-calling and obfuscation to begin the process of sifting truth from exaggeration on the basis of facts and fact-finding. We

are sensible of the great task the SC, in particular, has taken on, in demanding status reports on recent, high-profile investigations. The courts' majesty requires they insulate themselves from this climate of runaway anger.






Invocations have their faint but fascinating place in our budget speeches — a Thiruvalluvar couplet here, a Kautilya quote there — to add some lite to what's essentially a log of figures, but never taken half so seriously as those formidable numbers. Pranab Mukherjee's speech, however, got an unusual response in Parliament, when BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi initiated the debate on the budget with peculiar emphasis on the finance minister's tangential supplication: "I seek the blessings of Lord Indra to bestow on us timely and bountiful monsoons, I would pray to Goddess Lakshmi as well." It's all about diversification of risk, Mukherjee had joked. Joshi argued — not about GDP, not GST, but the very fine theological point of how the FM got his gods wrong.

Joshi elucidated: Look, one, the FM should have prayed to Goddess Saraswati since the 21st century is a knowledge-based economy. Who would have indeed thought the hierarchy of heavens dramatically changed at the turn of the century about 11 years ago? Two, he held, the very fact that the FM prayed to Indra and others revealed his weakness. It's worrying that we are still dependent on the monsoon, but this particular take should open up an august Hindu debate on the very praxis of praying, for then, my Lord, every woman, saint and even god who has ever prayed is a pathetic weakling. Three, if it's wealth that Mukherjee wants, then he should have prayed to Kuber, not Lakshmi, Joshi quibbled. Not that Lakshmi, often pictured with gold coins streaming from her palm, is likely to fuss about it.

Now that Joshi, a former university professor, has copy-edited the FM's speech, we could get back to business and the rest of the budget?






Sushma Swaraj clearly misread her party's mood when she forgivingly tweeted her satisfaction with the prime minister's explanation of P.J. Thomas's appointment as CVC — "I think that is enough. Let matters rest at this and we move forward." The rest of the BJP, however, wanted to move forward in a different direction. Arun Jaitley stepped up the pressure in Rajya Sabha, demanding fuller answers from the PM and home minister. And now, party chief Nitin Gadkari has also pitched into the PM, effectively overriding Swaraj with the peremptory "I am the president of the party and I am saying this." Though she had, in fact, first focused attention on the CVC's appointment by recording her objections, Swaraj is clearly no longer fronting that campaign.

Once again, the vulnerable seams in the BJP's leadership have been exposed to public view. The party has a spectacular talent for an open squabble where others may have expected none — and this inability to keep it together has blunted its edge in the recent past. After the Lok Sabha election defeat, it looked as though the BJP was imploding, despite its still-substantial numbers in Parliament. The party with a difference seemed like a party composed entirely of bitter differences, as it hunted for suitable successors to L.K. Advani and Rajnath Singh. However, in the months since, it has regrouped with Gadkari as party chief and Swaraj and Jaitley helming the party in the two Houses of Parliament, and once again becoming a forceful opposition, grilling the government relentlessly over inflation and corruption, and managing to have its way on a joint parliamentary committee on telecom. Whatever their private differences, they had succeeded in presenting a show of political purposefulness. Till now.

In one sense, internal tensions in the party are a sign of life and important disagreement — it takes clashing opinions to produce the party's considered view on various issues. But given the straws the BJP's leaders often grab to openly bicker, it should not surprise them that rumours of deep rifts are always afloat.








There are some worrying signals for the economy emanating from the stock markets. In 2011 so far, foreign institutional investors (FIIs) have pulled out over $2 billion from the Indian markets. Consequently, the net foreign portfolio flows this calendar year is a negative $2 billion, compared with nearly $30 billion that India received in 2010. Most experts believe the Indian stock market performance will remain tepid over the next few months as FIIs with a short-term investment horizon will find the currently rebounding economies like the US more attractive.

In 2010, India was a darling of the global FIIs, receiving nearly a third of all stock market fund flows that came into emerging economies. Clearly, India was the most attractive destination for FIIs, even ahead of China. This year, however, the FIIs have other ideas. Consequently, the overall stock market universe has fallen nearly 40 per cent in recent months. Most analysts agree that the majority of the stocks, outside of the 30 leading companies representing the sensitive index, are in a classic bear market. A bear market grip is typically characterised by stock prices falling dramatically and taking a fairly long time to recover. It may be useful to remember India's bear market of the late 1990s, post the slowdown in the domestic economy which was compounded by the Asian financial crisis in 1997. That bear market lasted a good five years, until 2002.

In fact, bear markets are in a way good as they provide a reality check for policy-makers who have a tendency to relax when the stock markets are in a bull phase. The exuberance and confidence generated by the India rising story during the prolonged bull market of 2003 to 2007 made the government very complacent. This period provided a classic macroeconomic sweet spot with the combination of consistently low inflation and cheap money driven largely by the easing of global liquidity. Indian companies made full use of this opportunity and most of the leading 500 Indian companies saw their turnovers and profits more than double between 2003 and 2007.

However, this sweet spot may not continue as the reverse of the earlier macroeconomic conditions is developing. Between 2002 and 2007, Indian industry was blessed with cheap money and low inflation. Now we have persistent inflation and the money becoming more expensive, largely because central banks across emerging economies are tightening money to control inflation. The consensus view is that the RBI is likely to raise interest rates in small doses by another 100 basis points over the next three quarters.

Cheap money and low inflation resulted in corporate savings doubling from about 4 per cent of GDP in 2002 to about 9 per cent in 2008. This contributed in a big way to the rise in India's overall savings rate. The Keynesian "animal spirits" saw the Indian corporate world increase its investment rate from 5.4 per cent in 2001-02 to 15.9 per cent of GDP in 2007-08. It is this story that attracted the global FIIs who came in hordes to invest in the India story. Some of this faith has got shaken, of late, as the global investors believe that structural reforms have virtually halted in India. These reforms have largely to do with putting in place policies that vastly enhance the domestic supplies of agriculture and other commodities where supplies lag demand by a big margin. By enhancing supplies, the long-term inflation rate can be brought back to 4-5 per cent. This is the most critical aspect of reforms in the next five years.

However, the latest CSO data appears to indicate a trend of falling corporate investment rate, indicating a slight lack of confidence in the macroeconomic environment. The drift in the UPA government over the past year has contributed to this overall sentiment.

Though the overall domestic savings and investment rates appear to have recovered somewhat post the 2008 global financial crises, it is not certain whether the recovery will hold in the absence of further reforms.

Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has sought to instil some confidence through his latest budget, but it will take some doing to revive the "animal spirits" among businesses that existed between 2002 and 2007.

The FM has recognised some other macroeconomic weaknesses that might be creeping into the India growth story. Even while the domestic savings rate improves gradually, India needs bigger doses of foreign savings to fund its ambitious $1 trillion investment in infrastructure over the next five years.

Currently, the inward foreign investment appears skewed towards FIIs pumping short-term money into the stock markets. A good $10 billion of the overall $30 billion that came into the stock markets in 2010 were short-term returns-oriented investments.

So, Indian policy needs to be creative enough to attract more stable, long-term equity and debt funds into India. This reality has been recognised by Pranab Mukherjee in two specific policy announcements in the budget. One relates to relaxing the long-term foreign investment in infrastructure bonds with some easing of the withholding tax on interest earned by the subscriber. The other pertains to allowing individual foreign investors to subscribe to mutual fund units in India. Both these measures are also partly aimed at addressing the macroeconomic concern that a

9 per cent, import intensive GDP growth could widen India's current account deficit to about 4 per cent of GDP in the medium term. You need a much higher order of capital flows to meet such deficit.

If one carefully examines the subtext of these two initiatives, they could also be seen as baby steps towards a greater capital convertibility regime. For instance, after allowing individual foreign investors to buy Indian mutual funds, the next logical step is to allow them to buy directly the top 500 shares of Indian companies. Currently, foreign nationals cannot buy an Indian company directly.

Allowing much higher levels of investments in infrastructure bonds will also force the policy framers to speed up the creation of the corporate bond market which is an important pre-condition to attracting long-term debt investment from abroad. The corporate bond market will provide a secondary market exit for the investors. These are important systemic measures to stabilise the terms of engagement with the global economy, a process which must necessarily intensify as we move forward.

The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express'







For the past month or so, cricket writers haven't had it easy. And courtesy of the International Cricket Council (ICC), the past few days have been worse. It all began that tense evening at Bangalore's Chinnaswamy Stadium last month as India played England. The experts were for once tongue-tied. The moment came at the half-way stage of England's innings, when umpire Billy Bowden didn't give Ian Bell out even though the Hawk-Eye-suggested path of the ball hit the middle stump.

Suddenly, the entire cricketing world (well almost, if one discounts a handful of international umpires and some sharp suits who sit in Dubai) got divided into two equally ignorant halves: those who knew nothing about the Umpire Decision Review System (UDRS) and those who were under the illusion that they had a grip over the complicated, technology-backed rule but were now clueless.

But it wasn't humbling to be ignorant. On the contrary, it was fashionable, since bowler Yuvraj Singh, Bell and M.S. Dhoni — the three players closest to the most contentious moment of the tied game — made for the star-studded Group II.

World Cuppers — that too title contenders — being unaware of the rules of the game is an unimaginable scenario in any sport. But a glimpse of the least publicised, highly ambiguous and constantly updated ICC rulebook makes one understand the confusion over the Hawk-Eye interpretation. The problem starts with the fact that the ICC is banking on a ball-tracking technology that has inherent limitations to judge LBW — without doubt the most debatable of all dismissals, which has for ages kicked up fervent arguments between bowlers and batsmen. Hawk-Eye, by its makers' confession, has a precondition plus a restricted scope as it tries to digitally duplicate the path a ball is expected to take. First, it needs adequate data from the initial path of the ball to calculate its subsequent trajectory. Second, the path prediction has a guarantee that lasts just for a few metres.

And that's how the geeks who run the game from their laptops in Dubai came up with the 40 cm and 2.5 m figures.

In case a ball travels less than 40 cm after pitching and before hitting the pads, Hawk-Eye is ineffective. This is because it doesn't have adequate data to calculate the rest of the path. That means if the ball hits the pad at half-volley, technology goes on the back burner and the field umpire has the final word.

Now to 2.5 m. Once the 40 cm stipulation is met, Hawk-Eye has won half the battle. In case the batsman is more than 2.5 m from the stumps when the ball hits the pads, technology will again throw up its hands. That's because the ball is said to have a mind of its own after a brief period of ascertained travel.

To be fair to the ICC, they have never claimed that tools like Hawk-Eye can ensure error-free decisions. But these words get lost in the din that follows close games, like the one in Bangalore. And when there are 2.5-m-long cumbersome riders to the laws of the game, the detractors are sure to get sympathetic hearing.

Keeping the rules simple is a motto of successful sports administrators, like the ones who sit in FIFA offices. Explaining LBW itself is complicated. With the ambiguity of 40 cm and 25 m, the LBW class for cricket dummies got extended by a few more hours.

A survey conducted by the Australian Cricketers' Association had 87 per cent players supporting the UDRS, but 92 per cent of them called to enhance the technology that helps field umpires. Besides, India's top players have expressed doubts about the proficiency of the broadcast crew that install the Hawk-Eye cameras at the venue. A slight tweak of the crucial camera behind the bowler would mean a wrongly calibrated virtual stump line — the red rectangle that one sees on television screens — and that would result in a series of blunders.

With the ICC not quite strict about the implementation of the UDRS in international cricket, the sacredness of the rule is missing. Host nations have had their way after they have shown reluctance to use the technology that they think is dodgy. There have been instances of countries or broadcasters not willing to bear the extra cost for installing the high-value equipment.

Ask any international umpire what he aspires to and he will tell you that it is the trust of the players. The Dickie Birds and David Shepherds of the bygone era did make errors but their credibility was so high that players rarely criticised them. Hawk-Eye for now has too many loose strings attached to get it institutionalised at cricket games or gain it reputation among players. Maybe, a day will come when the virtual and real paths of the ball will merge. That will make the life of cricketers, umpires and even cricket writers easier.







No one's betting if the Malayali stands cured of his five-year itch to trash a government. But the baggage of the five-year putsch apart, not many foresee a landslide on April 13 when Kerala goes to the polls, no matter how much mud flies before the election.

The state can return wafer-thin vote share differences, even less than 2 per cent. There's no big issue, cause or claim; even the Congress, waiting to take over, wouldn't rule out a close call.

The desperation is showing on both Kerala's political halves; but for the Left — or what is left of it — it's not just anti-incumbency that it needs to tackle. Its politics looked worse than its economics, this time around.

The V.S. Achuthanandan government predictably added to Kerala's robust social sector. But it certainly did not look less investor-scary — and clearly could have done with some big ticket investment. Instead, it pumped good money into PSUs on life-support. A few responded. Kerala also logged close to 10 per cent annual growth last year, but largely thanks to its Rs 200 billion-plus NRI remittances, besides tourist rupees and dollars.

IT was looking up, but attitudes were still abacus-age. The largest single IT project, Kochi Smart City, took five years to clear — finally with a quiet and partial climbdown. The Left went into a huddle last month and emerged to say it would now yoke the state's development with India's, no matter the "neo-liberal straitjacket", yet sceptics remain.

But the Left has bigger worries, way beyond the drubbing it got in both the Lok Sabha and civic polls: its own politics.

It was no mean feat that VS, all of 87 years old, lasted a full term with a cabinet pulling every which way while he was busy shadow-boxing party apparatchiks. He did add to his formidable brand equity — the Real Red McCoy, if you please.

Five years ago, when he stomped back in after the party benched him, VS was painted as a Jurassic interloper or a wronged Red Crusader. At term-end, the man doesn't look like either. He walks out unsoiled and alone from the mess his government left, leaving his cabinet covered in muck. He also walked his 2006 talk to an extent, to keep "fighting and governing", an oxymoron to some. No matter if it was mostly detractors in his own party who were in his cross-hairs — VS still pulls considerable weight in the CPM grassroots.

That he said he wouldn't mind another go this poll was no surprise, nor was Prakash Karat passing that decision to the state committee — even if a 92-year-old CM might be unusual.

There aren't many choices. Achuthanandan's bête noire, state CPM secretary Pinarayi Vijayan, is the other tall Left man, seen as more in touch with the times, less averse to melding Marx and Mammon. But he has too many albatrosses around his neck, including serious corruption charges. Pulling together a fractious, depleted Left in an incumbency-burdened campaign, with a smouldering pro-VS chunk and a legendarily vindictive VS prowling free, cannot be easy.

That leaves Vijayan acolyte Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, a featherweight of little consequence, or in an extreme crisis, CPM Politburo member S. Ramachandra Pillai, who has no base in Kerala, to take over.

About one-fifth of Kerala is Christian. The church remains stridently anti-Left but mercifully, has yet to replay its last Lok Sabha poll act — anti-Left pastoral diktats were read out in hundreds of churches and parishes until the Election Commission put its foot down. The church was not amused at the CPM's pummelling the multi-crore rupee self-financing education business it backed. Most of the many influential Kerala Congress outfits — Christian consolidations run by local satraps — have since abandoned the Left.

Worse, Muslims too are not playing footsie. The Left's poster boy in the last poll, Abdul Nasser Madani, is back in jail on terrorism charges. Nothing divided the Left's ranks and muddied ideological posturing more than that Vijayan-inspired idea. It also estranged moderate Muslims, even led to some anti-Left Hindu consolidation, a rarity in the state. The Muslim League, which the Left bearded in its Malappuram den in the last election, has bounced back on its usual save-the-Muslims plank. The Indian National League, a post-Babri breakaway from the League, has also left for the UDF.

Muslims historically share a thread of struggle with the Kerala Left, yet several Left sops, including the Paloli Commission that liberally follows up on the Sachar report, could not change things. Earlier poll expedients like a photoshopped EMS Namboodiripad hugging Yasser Arafat on Flexboards just won't work anymore.







When 14-year-old Manish sits behind his laptop, punching away at keys, his facial expressions reflecting his various online interactions, his parents stand in the doorway, watching curiously. Their son is physically at home, but to all purposes, lost in the limbo of the Internet. By all standards, Manish is a good, responsible young adult but his parents worry because they don't seem to have any control over Manish's online life. They find it difficult to understand the digital realms that he seamlessly integrates into his life.

As young people across the country are creating these new hybrid physical-digital spaces of work, leisure and lifestyle, the "analogue generations" remain outside, concerned about how they can ensure that their children are safe online, and not abusing the power of this largely unregulated space.

Their paranoia is amplified by the stories of uncontrolled access to pornography, of children falling prey to sexual predators, fears of intellectual property theft, and subversive and violent mobilisations that the young orchestrate through these online networks. The need to regulate, control and design this digital environment that so many of these young people inhabit is countered by their own ignorance and lack of control over these spaces. Technological solutions, like cyber-nannies and filtering software that prevent access to websites that can have questionable content, have eventually proven to be futile preventatives.

Attempts at technology-based censorship are useless because these young people, digital natives, find ways to circumvent the attempts at controlling their access. It is clear that the solutions are outside of technology, and not very different from ways in which parents have always dealt with these questions.

Here are the top five ways to do so, which do not require a parent to become a netizen overnight, but can get them involved and make sure young users of technology remain responsible, safe and canny in their interactions online.

Monitored access: Instead of figuring out censorship software, parents need to learn that as with the TV, monitored access for younger users of the Internet is completely valid. Web 2.0 rhetoric promotes a strong sense of individualism and privacy and parents often feel like they are intruding on a child's "private" time online. However, it is completely valid for parents to be in the same room and keeping an eye on what their child is up to while surfing.

Limited time: Instead of trying to control the content, try and help the young person to efficiently manage time and digital resources. We live in a world where the impulse to stay constantly connected is very strong. However, there is no reason why the young user has to be online in all their free time. If they are given a specified number of hours a week to spend online, they learn to use their time more efficiently. Password-protect the computers, take limited expenditure accounts for their mobile phones and have strict rules (which everybody in the family has to follow) about interface access during family time.

Shared computers: As computing becomes more personal, young users access the Internet from many computing devices like cellphones, personal laptops, etc. Studies have shown that young users who use shared machines kept in common areas of the house are less prone to accessing undesirable material online. Do not keep the computing devices in bedrooms. Use shared studies or quiet corners of the living room.

Get digital and involved: One of the reasons why young people often do not communicate with parents about their technological forays is because the older generation professes a digital disconnect. Take this opportunity to initiate a two-way learning. Get your children to teach you on how to use certain platforms and websites, and in conversations, you might be able to educate them about responsible behaviour online. This peer-to-peer connection helps establish trust and a safe space to discuss problematic areas. Parents of teenagers who join social networks like Facebook and Tumblr, and get to be a part of the child's life, often find new channels of communication opening up for them.

Storytelling: Digital storytelling has huge potential for voicing concerns and problems. For these young people, the spaces provided online are safe spaces. They write freely, tell stories, create digital content, providing a gateway into what is happening in their lives. Recognise the creative potential of young users, appreciate their ability to tell these stories — through blogs, micro-blogs, audio and video podcasts, commentary on other content, etc. Getting them to tell stories and sharing your own with them makes for greater insight. Many cross-generational storytelling projects, where younger children tell the stories of the older people in the house, or write a combined blog have proven to be quite successful online.

At the end of the day, it is good to remember that the problems that new technologies throw up are not necessarily new. The solutions need to be found in our everyday interactions and practices, and dependence on technological application is often counter-productive. Technology can only be a way by which solutions are implemented.

The writer is at the Bangalore-based Centre for Internet and Society







Watching events unfold in Tunisia and Egypt last month, the Libyan dictatorship became nervous. Colonel Gaddafi's regime promised no-interest loans and free housing, and released several political prisoners, including my two uncles and two cousins, who had been held for 21 years.

They had been arrested in March 1990, in the same week that my father, the political dissident Jaballa Matar, was kidnapped from Cairo and taken to Libya. Like him, they were tortured and wrongfully imprisoned without trial. In 1996, my father was moved; news of him stopped. To this day, he is among the "disappeared" who have vanished into Gaddafi's prison system.

I spoke to Uncle Mahmoud, my father's youngest brother, minutes after his release. He was keen to demonstrate that, regardless of what the regime had done to him, he was still very present. Every sentence he spoke started with, "Do you remember?" Shortly after we hung up I began to miss his voice all over again. I waited half an hour and called him back.

Fourteen days later Libya erupted. People did what was never before possible: they gathered on the streets and spoke their minds. A couple of days ago I finally got through to one of my cousins. "We are all OK," he said. Then he told me what I feared but expected: "All the young of the family are fighting. Mum is worried sick and doesn't want us to go outside. But how are we to win our freedom if we stay at home?"

Relatives, some as young as 16, who only days ago ran businesses or held jobs, are now facing a well-equipped army made up mainly of foreign mercenaries. The Gaddafi forces have tanks and aeroplanes. All that my cousins have are old hunting rifles and captured artillery. Some rebels are using slingshots, knives and sticks. "Treachery, cousin, treachery," my cousin said when I asked what he had seen. "Gaddafi's army forced the women and children out into the streets and placed snipers on the rooftops. Whenever we tried to approach, they shot at the civilians." He went on to describe the horror of seeing a child shot in the head with a 14.5 mm round: "The skull exploded like a pomegranate."

The courage and humanity of Libyans has been extraordinary: I've been told of foreign mercenaries captured in Benghazi who were fed and given access to doctors, then taken to the courthouse, with their passports in their hands, asked to choose a lawyer and told they were going to be put on trial.

I am convinced the rebels will win. But there are practical things the international community can and must do to help. Doctors, fighters, men and women all over the country have told me of severe shortages of medical supplies and essential foods. The rebels also hope that the international community will soon set up a no-flight zone to prevent Gaddafi from bombing his own people and importing mercenaries from abroad.

Nonetheless, fighters are adamant they can win this themselves. They don't need or want foreign troops on the ground. They do, however, need better weapons. And Philippe Sands, a law professor at University College London, told me that the UN Security Council resolution that imposes an arms embargo on Libya needs to be amended so that the rebels can get the equipment they need to "level the playing field".

Throughout the uprisings, protesters have been carrying the pictures of those Libyans who, over nearly half a century of Colonel Gaddafi's rule, have disappeared or died calling for justice. The men in these photos, like my father, were carving with their bare hands the early steps to this revolution, while countries like Britain, Italy and the US were treating Colonel Gaddafi with the respect due an international statesman. Libyans will have their own revolution. But the international community, which helped fortify Colonel Gaddafi's dictatorship and now has a great moral responsibility to our new nation, must act to assist the uprising and limit the soaring loss of innocent life.

Matar is the author of the novel 'In the Country of Men.'

The New York Times







At the heart of the debate on electoral reforms lies the vexed issue of campaign finance reform. The four fundamental questions that need to be answered to understand this conundrum are: how are electoral processes currently funded? How much should a candidate and a political party be allowed to spend on an assembly or a parliamentary campaign? How to ensure that the source of electoral funding is legal and accounted for to tax authorities? Finally, how to police the whole process?

Candidates for public office are invariably funded in myriad ways and at multiple levels. The principal funding comes from the political parties they represent, corporate houses and even private individuals. The Indian diaspora is also a top-dollar contributor to electoral campaigns. A significant part of the funding to candidates also comes from government officials, from the patwari to the highest echelons of the bureaucracy, for current or future patronage. Politicians funding their personal campaigns in entirety are also growing phenomenon.

The second issue is: what rationale should be used to determine an electoral expense ceiling? It is possible to fight a Lok Sabha election with Rs 25 lakh (which is the permissible limit now), and also possible to burn through Rs 25 crore (which certain candidates are rumoured to have spent). Given this level of variation, there is a real dilemma in finding a reasonable limit for expenditure.

The government has already accepted the Election Commission's recommendation to increase the limit to 40 lakh. One can ask how Rs 40 lakh is any better than Rs 25 lakh when crores are in play? Then, why shouldn't money spent by a political party in a constituency be counted towards the expenditure incurred by its candidate? After all, it is being spent for and on behalf of the candidate.

Instead of prescribing an arbitrary limit, the Election Commission should float a consultation paper specifically on, and limited to, the issue of campaign finance reform, hold open discussions with people across the social and economic spectrum including civil society and election watchdogs, meet representatives of political parties under Chatham House rules to get the real picture, and then arrive at the ceiling on election expenditure — which must be reviewed after every Lok Sabha election.

The third issue is how to ensure that legitimate funding drives electoral campaigns. As a first step, the entire regime of corporate funding needs to be revisited by relaxing the irrational limit prescribed by Section 293-A of the Companies Act that places a 5 per cent cap on net profits that can be contributed to a political party. Why should it be 5 and not 50 per cent of net profits? There should be no ceiling in law. It should be between the management and the shareholders to decide the level of contribution that a corporate wants to make. The government should only ensure that companies contributing are legitimate business entities and not mere money-laundering fronts.

Even if you liberalise the regime, corporate groups would still prefer to pay in cash because of the coercion and the element of vendetta that accompanies these transactions.

To surmount this reality, the government must, by law, establish an independent campaign finance trust to be chaired by a former president of India, consisting of a former vice president and former chief justice of India as its trustees. This trust would receive funding from corporate entities, NGOs, individuals and others, as well as confidential advice as to which political party the funds should be transmitted.

The recipient must be a political party registered with the Election Commission. No court of law or any right to information request should go into the advice given, unless the trustees themselves find that a receipt is suspect and order an investigation into its origin. All the funds from diverse sources which are advised for a particular political party can then all be bundled up and one cheque every quarter or half-year could go to that registered political party. This would ensure both the anonymity of the contribution and that there is insurance against coercion. Thus by protecting the confidentiality of the transactions, corporate houses and others could be encouraged to contribute by cheque.

The final question is: how to police and regulate a reformed architecture of electoral finance? A possible solution could be the setting up of three-member exclusive election tribunals in each state, headed by a retired Supreme Court judge and including two retired judges of the high court.

These tribunals would be empowered to hear election petitions, with only a statutory appeal straight to the Supreme Court, so that the entire legal journey can culminate in a final decision in 18 to 24 months. If the panel of observers appointed by the Election Commission makes a consensus reference to the tribunal that a candidate is violating or the winner has violated the expenditure ceiling, and the tribunal makes a prima facie assessment that there is merit to the report, it can disqualify a candidate during the campaign process or the winner even after the results are declared — thereby shifting the onus on him to dispute the findings of the observers and establish his innocence.

A related but standalone issue is that of state funding of elections. The moot question remains: how to ensure that other forms of funding can be stopped if state funding is brought into play? Yogendra Yadav's proposal, of reimbursing candidates per vote secured, is an interesting idea that needs to be explored and developed further — with the caveat that it should only qualify a candidate polling at least 20 to 25 per cent of the valid votes cast, and private funding is effectively policed if not eliminated.

The writer is a lawyer and Congress MP. Views are personal








While the government appears to be displaying no particular sense of urgency to cancel the licences A Raja gave out for a fraction of their market value, even though the courts declared the process illegal more than a year ago, a solution has been proposed by one of Raja's beneficiaries. Loop Telecom, partially owned by the Essar Group, which also owns 33% of Vodafone-Essar, is in all manner of trouble. It is being investigated for whether its principal shareholders (relatives of the Ruias of Essar) are really just a front for the Ruias (if they are, the Ruias are in violation of the licensing rules); the CAG has said the company never even met the eligibility criterion and so its licences should be cancelled; independently, Trai has said 20 of the company's 21 licences have not rolled out their network as per the licence conditions and so the licences should be cancelled. Loop, through an affidavit filed by it in the Supreme Court, now wants to smoke the peace pipe.

According to Loop's affidavit, the company is now willing to give up its licence and spectrum and wants the government to auction it. If the government gets more than the R1,454 crore the company paid, it is asking the government to give it back what it paid, or to allow it to match the auction bid that it gets. Loop's reasoning is a solid one. There are pretty good chances the Supreme Court will ask for its licence to be cancelled—in any case, the process was declared illegal more than a year in the STel case. Two, even if the licences are not cancelled, Loop cannot hope to set up anywhere near an economic-sized operation with just the 4.4 MHz of spectrum it got from Raja. So why not, the argument probably goes, at least get back the money paid. Much the same argument, needless to say, applies to all the other companies that Raja benefited. Loop's offer paves the way for them to make similar offers. A lot depends now on how the government treats the offer. If it ignores the offer, the only way forward is a long and lengthy court process of cancellation. This is a good break the government has got. If it botches this one up, it has no one to blame but itself.





Competition in the Commission

A unique situation has arisen in the corridors of the Competition Commission of India (CCI). With the current chairman Dhanendra Kumar all set to hang his boots in July this year, as many as five members of the commission (with just one exception) have applied for the post of the chairmanship. The only exception is because the concerned member himself is slated to retire by the first half of this year. CCI officials have been complaining that decision making has come to a virtual standstill. The last date for application of the post of the chairmanship was on February 18.







India conducts two types of defence exhibitions—Aero India and DefExpo—on an alternate biennial basis, to provide glimpses into the world of military and dual-use equipment on a yearly basis, not only to enable the government and end-users (armed forces) to explore the global military market but also for foreign and Indian military vendors to showcase their products for the Indian market—estimated to be worth $300 billion in the next 15 years, at least half of which could be devoted towards acquisition of aerospace assets for state forces. At the eighth Aero India, held last month, as many as 300 exhibitors from 31 countries, 40 foreign delegates and close to 350 Indian companies were present.

It is interesting to note that the Indian defence exhibitions, which commenced during the late 1990s, preceded the wave of ongoing military modernisation programmes (largely equipment-driven thus far) as well as reforms in institutional arrangements in the higher defence sector. Global trends suggest that while major military powers organise such events (examples include aero shows in Farnborough, Paris, Moscow, Berlin), the linkage in military market transactions between buyers and sellers is largely synchronised with a thrust on exports. The same level of maturity or state objectives are hard to find in other countries (like Dubai or Singapore). India falls somewhere in between, as it sees Aero India as a concoction of meeting demands of a huge market and striving to benefit its upcoming aerospace industry, which is largely state-owned.

The Indian aerospace industry largely revolves around a prime contractor—Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, ranked 34th in the world's top arms companies—and 60-odd medium and small companies as service providers and component suppliers. The emergence of companies like Tata Advanced Systems, Mahindra Aerospace, BEML Aerospace (a subsidiary of the state-owned defence major BEML), Taneja Aerospace, Dynamatic Technologies and even Jubilant Organosys is a good indicator of the private sector's involvement in defence production. Such companies are largely eyeing the offset work accruing from large aerospace contracts, which could be worth $30-35 billion by 2025. The emerging Indian aerospace industrial landscape seems to be becoming the maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) hub in Asia, while its actual aim should have been a globally competitive system integrators' nerve centre in aerospace products. This is where Aero India's biggest challenge lies.

On the positive side, Aero India 2011 provides a basket of choices for the forces to opt for their future requirements. This is firmly backed by a growing military capital budget for the forces, which has been growing 15% annually for the last five years to touch R70,000 crore this year. Also, natural scientific ideas need as much interaction with the world as their social science counterparts, and for the cross-fertilisation of both for universal advancement in science. The Indian military technology domain has been struggling for long in isolation. Conferences organised by DRDO and its constituents during Aero India bring in desirable scientific knowledge. And, the event brings in a sense of healthy competition in attracting knowledge, investment, manufacturing capabilities in the aerospace sector in major cities in India. It is interesting to note that Hyderabad is now competing with Bangalore in attracting investments in the aerospace sector.

Aero India 2011, however, raises a few issues for future debates. First, should aerospace modernisation be a national priority as India enhances its hard power? An affirmative answer validates the significance of Aero India. However, such fundamental issues need to be debated beyond the confines of the government. Second, historically, great powers invariably possess robust domestic arms industries. Should India follow the same? India must adopt a healthy balance by encouraging its domestic manufacturing as well as R&D sectors, which in turn calls for consistent substantial allocations for indigenous military R&D. Military R&D accounts for less than 6% of the defence expenditure, which is very little if pitted against aspirations.

Third, as the Indian arms market looks increasingly lucrative, it is natural that many companies—without previous records in arms manufacturing or supply—would raise their stakes, along with established players. Prudence suggests that the state must encourage the latter first, before it gives space to the former. Fourth, war fighting capabilities stand at the lowest in the innovation spectrum, which is embedded in the larger defence sector, especially in doctrines, training, industrial infrastructure, institutional arrangements and defence R&D. Military exhibitions tend to overemphasise equipment while larger defence innovations take a back seat. Aero India should strive for a right balance between the two. Fifth, military exhibitions are a good place for declaration of state intentions on larger military industrial and acquisition issues. Hence, the state should take the lead in laying out a vision for the sellers to follow. And last but not the least, the state must shed its exclusivist approach and instead embrace an open, collaborative model for the defence industry. Aero India 2011 has shown glimpses of this changing mindset. It must evolve further to reach the next level of maturity.

The author is a senior fellow in security studies at the Observer Research Foundation. These are his personal views







In 2003, when it was clear Reliance Infocomm was providing full-blown mobility instead of the limited mobility that its licence allowed, the Telecom Dispute Settlement and Appellate Tribunal (TDSAT) came up with a 2:1 judgement that said Reliance's unlimited mobility services had to be stopped. The government had only one option, to implement the order; or two, if you consider the possibility of not implementing the order. It came up with a third, a new policy!

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (Trai) came up with a recommendation saying that it would be a good idea to have a Unified Service Licence (USL), one licence that allowed telcos to offer any service, from landline to mobile to Internet, whatever. And in the interim, Trai said, why not unify the licences for mobile phones and landlines—through this fiction called the Unified Access Service Licence (UASL), Reliance's service got legalised. A further twist: Trai argued that Reliance's service would not have been illegal had it got a UASL a couple of years earlier, so it assumed Reliance had been given a UASL earlier but forgot to pay the licence fee—so a penalty was charged for this default!

It was déjà vu time last Tuesday. When telecom minister Kapil Sibal met telecom industry representatives, he said it was time to move on, to put differences between operators behind them (it's another matter that all differences are with the government, which gave out the licences at a fraction of their market price!), and to move towards a USL!

Unlike Trai in 2003, Sibal has not spelt out the exact contours of how the USL will help fix the problem of Raja's licences and how this has badly distorted the playing field between the older and the newer players, but it's apparent he is looking at USL as a possible solution to the problem. Whether the new policy gambit works as well as in 2003 remains to be seen, but it's useful to examine what the policy can do.

A USL is a good idea to the extent it will mean there will be one revenue-share licence fee for all services. So, whether you offer long distance calls, Internet services or mobile phone services, you will pay 6%, say, of the revenues received as a fee to the government—contrast this with the 6-10% paid for mobile phones, 6% paid for long distance and nil for Internet services. Given this arbitrage has resulted in mis-classification of revenues, a single revenue-share is a good idea.

Beyond this, however, the move doesn't make much sense. Most of the incumbent operators have all the licences anyway, so what will they do with a unified licence? So, may be the new ones would like a USL? Well, an Internet licence can be obtained for free, there's a R5 crore cost for the long distance one. So do we really need a USL to provide long distance licences to some six operators for R5 crore each? Will it lower the cost structure? Will it improve efficiency? Will it allow infrastructure sharing that is not allowed currently? Will it lower tariffs? Will it expand the scope of licences or just be a cumulative licence combining five different licences? What will be the migration path for existing operators to this licence—voluntary or compulsory? How will such a licensee stand in queue for spectrum in case they wish to offer mobility? The list can be endless and the answer simply one—today unified licensing will not serve any purpose so its talk is just a red herring to divert attention from the real issues.

There's another interesting fact regarding unified licensing. After Trai recommended unified licensing in 2003 with UASL in the interim, the regulator submitted a full recommendation on unified licensing to the government (UPA) in 2005. This was later rejected by Raja as he went ahead and gave licences to his favourites using a later Trai recommendation. Later still, when one of the operator moved court against him, challenging his cut-off date and court ruled against Raja, a reference was made to Trai to understand how to tide over shortage of spectrum. Trai recommended that licences be delinked from spectrum—a variant of unified licensing!

There's a common thread to the telecom story since 2001: blame all problems on policy, and then find all solutions in policy, in new policies. In 2001, Ram Vilas Paswan created a new policy called WLL to allow landline players a back-door entry into mobile phones by offering what was called limited mobility; in 2003, when this limited was made unlimited, the UASL policy was used to fix the illegality; in 2008, Raja blamed the existing first-come first-served policy to perpetuate his scam; in 2011, Sibal is proposing a new policy solution.

Long live policy!






The fact that western leaders are considering military options over Libya is deeply disturbing. Within Libya, President Muammar Qadhafi's brutally repressive regime appears to be gaining the upper hand in what has become a civil war. Government forces are using tanks and heavy artillery as well as warplanes in attacks on, for example, the oil town of Ras Lanuf, which is held by the ill-equipped and largely untrained rebels. Almost all the western options talked about, or under consideration, involve illegal military intervention of some kind. British Prime Minister David Cameron floated the over-the-top idea of parachuting weapons to the rebels; and The Independent reports that Washington has even asked Saudi Arabia to pay for and channel U.S. weaponry to them. Some suggestions are crazier. Senator John Kerry has said U.S. aircraft could "crater airports and runways" held by the Libyan government; and Senator John McCain wants Mr. Qadhafi removed, possibly by a "coalition of the willing." Another proposal is for missile attacks on government positions; the U.S. did attack Tripoli and Benghazi in 1986. Special operations, like the 1961 Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba or the deployment of secret agents, and cyber warfare have been mooted. The most widely discussed plan is for the imposition of a no-fly zone.

All these proposals, however, are deeply flawed. Arming the rebels would bolster Mr. Qadhafi's claim that a colonialist plot is being hatched. Mr. McCain's suggestions sound very much like the threats the U.S. issued in the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq in 2003. Aside from the flagrant illegality, such an adventure would take a horrifying toll on civilian population. An invasion would discredit the rebellion, and could turn the majority of Libyans against the invaders. The idea of a no-fly zone may appeal to western leaders because it gives the impression of action without excessive danger to their own troops, but it cannot be implemented without attacks on Libyan air defences. The rebels, who may be losing momentum, have asked for international help — but the conspicuous void is the lack of political pressure on the Libyan regime. The Arab League, the Gulf Cooperation Council, and the African Union are yet to come up with a clear position. Western talk of military responses before anything else is not only hubristic but it also obscures the political failures that have led to the current situation. Above all, the military actions now proposed would constitute acts of war against a sovereign state and must be condemned outright. India, along with other developing countries, has done well to express its opposition to the use of force as well as to a no-fly zone to resolve the Libyan crisis.





The plight of some 79 Indian mariners who remain hostages in ships hijacked by Somali pirates and the government's apparent helplessness in securing their release have quite dramatically brought home the menace of modern-day piracy in no uncertain terms. India is not alone in having to cope with the consequences of piracy, which has Somalia as its epicentre and seriously threatens the world's crucial energy shipping routes. Nor has India remained a silent spectator even as the pirates have become more audacious and extended their range close to its shores. In a visible contribution to global anti-piracy efforts, the Indian Navy has joined the navies of the United States, the United Kingdom, China, Russia, South Korea, and Vietnam in patrolling the worst affected sea lanes, achieving a degree of success through warding off attacks or capturing the outlaws. Yet these efforts have clearly not been enough. An expert recently told the United Nations Security Council that "the pirates are progressively becoming the masters of the Indian Ocean." According to the International Maritime Organisation (IMO), the current year might well mark a new ominous phase: there will be more hijackings and in many cases a level of violence not usually seen earlier. During January and February, Somali pirates carried out 61 attacks on vessels and 13 hijackings, and killed at least six hostages. Currently, 34 vessels and about 750 crew members are held hostage.

The financial cost of piracy is huge. According to informed estimates, the maritime industry has to bear up to $3.2 billion by way of extra insurance and another $2.95 billion to re-route ships round the Cape of Good Hope, away from the piracy-hit area. The average ransom rose from $3.4 million to $5.4 million between 2009 and 2010. While everybody is agreed on the gravity of the problem, there is a lot of controversy about the best way of tackling it. Concerns over the fate of hostages have precluded the use of more aggressive strategies. While the shipping industry is against arming its crew and stationing armed guards because of the risks to crew in a lethal fight, several softer options have been tried. Ultimately, the sure way to turn the tide against piracy would be to offer pirates and their families a better way of life. That, in turn, would depend on rebuilding the Somali state, improving socio-economic conditions, and countering and eliminating the iconic status pirates have acquired among that country's vast, mostly unemployed youth. It's a tough challenge even under the most favourable circumstances.








Russia believes that the ongoing revolt in West Asia and North Africa, while having internal roots, also betrays a foreign hand. Warnings against foreign interference have dominated Moscow's reaction to the crisis since the first demonstrations in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak.

"We do not think that foisting any recipes or giving ultimatums will serve any useful purpose," said Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in the first official comment in Moscow on the unfolding popular revolt in Egypt on February 2. The Foreign Ministry followed up this statement with repeated warnings against foreign meddling. In a phone call to Arab League Secretary General Amr Moussa on February 23, Mr. Lavrov "rejected attempts to bring outside pressure on the events in the region."

Russia has also opposed western military interference in the civil strife in Libya. "Attempts to undertake military-political intervention can only aggravate problems the Libyan people face," the Foreign Ministry said in a communiqué on a meeting between Russian and Saudi diplomats in Moscow last week.

President Dmitry Medvedev suggested that the revolts in the Arab world were instigated by outside forces that had also been scheming to subvert Russia. "I won't call any names but a whole range of countries, even those we have friendly relations with, have nevertheless been involved in terrorism in the [Russian] Caucasus," he said at a recent meeting with Russia's security chiefs. Prime Minister Vladimir Putin also urged the western nations to refrain from interfering in the rebellions in the Arab world. "People should have the chance to choose their own fates and their own futures without any kind of outside interference," the Kremlin supremo said on a recent visit to Brussels.

Although Russian leaders have not named any country, experts and politicians have pointed a finger at the United States. "The Arab revolt may have begun as spontaneous protests, but the West has now moved to take the endgame under its control," says Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the State Duma. Analysts say the U.S. is using the same techniques in the Arab East it earlier used in staging "coloured revolutions" in the former Soviet Union — in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan. They noted the role of CIA-linked foundations such as the Freedom House and the National Endowment for Democracy (NED), in supporting and training civil activists and Twitter and Facebook organisers of the protests in Egypt and Tunisia.

"The events [in the Arab world] bear all the traits of a total 'network war' (netwar) as formulated by John Arquilla and David Ronfeldt of the RAND Corporation back in 1996," says Alexander Knyazev of the Moscow-based Institute of Oriental Studies.

At the height of the Arab crisis, U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton declared a netwar on all "repressive governments." In a speech at George Washington University on February 15, she vowed to promote "internet freedom" around the world by matching "our diplomacy with technology, secure distribution networks for tools, and direct support for those on the front lines."

Ms Clinton announced that in addition to launching Twitter feeds in Arabic and Farsi, the U.S. was planning to "start similar ones in Chinese, Russian, and Hindi."

Some Russian analysts are convinced that the U.S. is attempting to exploit the wave of popular rebellions in the Arab east to recast the world order and achieve global domination. "We are witnessing attempts to reformat the Greater Middle East according to a plan devised by the U.S. neoconservatives who are now creeping back to power," says the former diplomat and scholar Vyacheslav Matuzov, who heads the Russia-Arab friendship society.

Whatever its aims in the current crisis, Washington's interventionism may have unintended results, as Mr. Putin reminded the West recently citing its previous attempts to "impose democracy" in Iran and Palestine. Speaking in Brussels last month, he recalled that the Iranian revolutionary leader, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, had enjoyed the support of the West while living in France before he returned to the country in 1979 to lead the Islamic revolution that overthrew the Shah. "And now the West is grappling with the Iranian nuclear programme," Mr. Putin said.

"I remember our partners calling for fair democratic elections in the Palestinian territories," he went on. "Excellent! Those elections were won by Hamas. They declared it a terrorist organisation and confronted it shortly thereafter."

Moscow is concerned that the turmoil in the Arab world, aggravated by western interference, may destabilise Russia's restive North Caucasus and former Soviet Central Asia.

Mr. Medvedev said the Arab rebellion would have a "direct impact" on Russia, which has fought two wars against Islamist separatists in Chechnya in the past 15 years and is still battling terrorism in the neighbouring territories. "They [extremists] prepared a similar scenario for us in the past, and will try and realise it again — now with renewed force," the Russian leader said, adding: "Come what may, they won't succeed."

Islamist militants in the North Caucasus have indeed declared that their insurgency and the Arab revolt shared the same goal of spreading Islamic rule across the globe. "We pray that your struggle will help put the laws of Allah in place in the entire world," Doku Umarov, self-proclaimed "Emir of Caucasian Mujahidin," who claimed responsibility for the bloody suicide bombings on the Moscow metro in 2010 and the Domodedovo airport last month, said in a video address to Arab Muslims, posted on a militant website last week.

Russia is also bracing itself for a possible fallout of the Arab turmoil in Central Asia. "In the last 20 years, Moscow has had to deal with a bloody civil war in Tajikistan, two 'tulip revolutions' in Kyrgyzstan, and an abrupt change of a despot in Turkmenistan, but those were all local developments with limited implications for the wider region or for Russia. What is looming on the horizon could be much bigger and more important," writes political scientist Dmitry Trenin. He points out that the authoritarian leaders of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan, Islam Karimov and Nursultan Nazarbayev, both in their 70s, have been in power for two decades but "are neither able nor willing to arrange an orderly transfer of power" and their departure could "open the floodgates for serious trouble."

Russian experts have warned that the U.S. could now push ahead with its plan of creating a Greater Central Asia, which is part of the larger project, the Greater Middle East.

"The concept of Greater Central Asia calls for the dilution of borders between the five post-Soviet states [Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan], and their merger with Afghanistan and Pakistan," Dr. Knyazev explained in a recent interview. "Four years ago, I called the project 'geopolitical marasmus'. However today it is shaping as a hands-on plan for sowing chaos across entire Central Eurasia."

Moscow has signalled its resolve to tighten its grip on Central Asia to forestall any possible spillover of instability from the Arab crisis. An unnamed official in the Russian "military-diplomatic quarters" told the government news agency Itar-Tass last week that the Moscow-led defence bloc of former Soviet states, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), was planning to hold consultations on the situation in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, considered the likely focal points of turmoil in Central Asia. The CSTO unites Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Belarus and Armenia.

"The CSTO is concerned about renewed attempts of extremist groups to set up bases for expanding their subversive activities in Central Asian states," the Russian official said. He pointed to last summer's ethnic clashes in Kyrgyzstan and more recent fighting between security forces and Islamists in Tajikistan, which borders Afghanistan, as evidence of a "credible extremist threat" in the region.

Even before the unrest broke out in West Asia, Russia took steps to bolster security arrangements in Central Asia. A raft of documents signed in the framework of the CSTO security pact at the end of last year called for creating a concrete mechanism for deploying peacekeeping forces on a request from a member-state. Moscow cited the absence of such a mechanism for failing to send troops to Kyrgyzstan during last year's violence in the Fergana Valley. Next time it will be different. On March 4, the CSTO announced plans to hold the first drills of its peacekeeping forces later this year.








Al-Qatif in Saudi Arabia's eastern province has a harsh climate: summer temperatures often reach the mid-40s, though the winter is pleasantly mild. But it is not the weather that is exercising locals and the government in these days of political turbulence across the Middle East.

Residents say all seems calm, and see no sign that security has been reinforced. But there is a mood of expectation about Friday's Saudi "day of rage" and whether the "Arab spring" will spread to the conservative kingdom.

The city lies in the heartland of the country's oil-producing area, home to a restive Shia minority that has long complained of poverty and discrimination.

Tensions mounted last month when the neighbouring island state of Bahrain saw an unprecedented uprising that left seven dead and set nerves jangling in a region already deeply unsettled by the turmoil in Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen.

Demonstrations are rare in Saudi Arabia — a country with no legal political parties or mass movements — and even committed reformists admit they are anxious about taking to the streets. "There is no history of public protests, even in support of the government," said Jaafar al-Shayeb, a city councillor and businessman in al-Qatif. The Facebook organisers of Friday's event are breaking new ground. "No one knows who is behind the protests," said Waleed Abu al-Khair, a human rights activist in Jeddah. Some fear a ploy by the secret police to entrap protesters. Last week, the security forces came out to forestall trouble after Friday prayers. A young Sunni teacher named Muhammad al-Wad'ani, arrested in Riyadh after a video of him calling for change was posted on YouTube, remains in detention.

Pre-emptive strategy

But government strategy so far appears largely pre-emptive. An Interior Ministry ban on demonstrations was backed by the Council of Senior Clerics, who warned of violating Islamic law — a classic Saudi combination of state and religious power.

"Every citizen should cooperate with the authorities to maintain security and stability throughout the kingdom," warned the appointed Shura council chairman, Abdullah Al-Asheikh.

Saud al-Faisal, the veteran Foreign Minister, weighed in: "Reform does not come via protests and [the clerics] have forbidden protests since they violate the Qur'an and the way of the Prophet." Still, official nervousness has produced some positive gestures too. Twenty-five protesters were released in al-Qatif on Tuesday. Sheikh Tawfiq al-Amer, a Shia cleric who was detained after calling for a constitutional monarchy, was also freed.

Saudi Arabia shares many problems common to the Arab world — a youth "bulge," lack of opportunities for graduates, precious few political freedoms, plus an absence of transparency and accountability by an absolute monarchy that includes 8,000 princes. Restrictions on women — who are not allowed to drive and cannot travel abroad without the permission of a male relative — are another big negative.

The notorious religious police are another. Torture is frequently used on detainees. Unemployment between the ages of 14 and 24 is 40 per cent — in a country where almost 70 per cent of the population is under 20.

Demands for change are relatively modest. Of three reform petitions circulating on the internet, one has gathered signatures from 1,500 prominent liberal and Islamist Saudis calling for a constitutional monarchy, an elected parliament and an accountable executive. Entitled 'Towards a Country with Rights and Institutions,' it is couched in polite and formal language and starts by wishing the king good health. It is a far cry from the slogans heard in Tunis, Cairo and Tripoli. But online access was still quickly blocked.

'Youth petition'

A "youth petition" signed by 60 journalists and cyber-activists calls for political liberalisation and lowering the average age of Ministers to 40 and of Shura council members to 45. "There is a new generation of people who are more liberal," says a senior Saudi journalist, "but they still respect the old red lines." Many Saudi liberals insist the king is a well-intentioned reformist, if one limited by his age and experience. Khaled al-Maeena, editor of the Jeddah-based Arab News, is one of them. "People are adamant that the day of rage will not be about throwing stones and shouting slogans, so there shouldn't be an over-reaction." With national income three times the level of Egypt's and control of 20 per cent of the world's oil reserves, the government's instinct is to throw money at problems. Last month, the king returned from a long convalescence in the U.S. and Morocco and announced a $37 billion package to boost salaries, tackle unemployment and provide affordable housing. Mr. Abdullah's generosity was hailed in the media but a princess who castigated people for their ingratitude at royal largesse angered many.

"The king has given a financial answer," said Abu Khair, "but not a political one. People need more than money." Riyadh is rife with rumours about a possible cabinet reshuffle, sacking under-performing officials or promoting younger princes to positions occupied by their ageing fathers. Another possibility is electing half the Shura council. But will such measures be enough to satisfy the critics?

"There is anger everywhere," said al-Maeena. "We have had years of lethargy and inaction. We need to change the mindset. The king is loved. His personality is something people look up to and the House of Saud is a pillar of this kingdom. But they have to realise that times have changed and people have changed."

(Ian Black is Middle East editor of the Guardian .) — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011





We condemn in the strongest possible terms the recent murder of NREGA activist Niyamat Ansari in Kope Gram Panchayat (Latehar District, Jharkhand), as well as a similar attempt — the same day — on the life of his associate Bhukhan Singh.

Briefly, this murder was the culmination of a series of acts of harassment, including at least one earlier attempt on Bhukhan and Niyamat's lives. Bhukhan and Niyamat fearlessly continued to fight for the rights of NREGA workers and to stand up against the nexus of corruption and crime in the area. Niyamat was killed just a few days after he and others exposed a flagrant NREGA scam in Rankikalan Gram Panchayat.

We are dismayed by the insidious allegations that have been made about Niyamat in sections of the mainstream media, attempting to project him as a "criminal" to divert attention from the real issues and culprits. These reports were factually incorrect and the concerned publication carried an apology the following day.

We are most disturbed to learn from reliable sources that the murder was executed by a local Maoist squad. In fact, the South Latehar sub-zonal committee of the CPI (Maoist) itself claimed responsibility for it and attempted to justify the murder by making absurd allegations such as Niyamat and Bhukhan being police informers. Are we to understand from this incident that there is truth in the rumour of a nexus between the local Maoist squad of that area and corrupt contractors involved in the loot of NREGA funds?

We demand immediate arrest of the prime suspects (named in the FIR), compensation for Niyamat's family, protection for Bhukhan Singh, and a CBI enquiry into Niyamat's murder.

We also demand an apology and explanation from the Central Committee of the CPI (Maoist), and a guarantee of safety for Bhukhan Singh who is still "wanted" by the sub-zonal committee. No explanation, however, can justify the brutal murder of a defenceless person, let alone someone who was bravely fighting for people's rights. This is a wholly reprehensible act and all those responsible for it must be punished.

Signatories: Aruna Roy (Mazdoor Kisan Shatki Sangathan); Arundhati Roy (writer); Bela Bhatia (human rights activist); Cedric Prakash (human rights activist); Gautam Navlakha (People's Union for Democratic Rights); Harish Dhawan (People's Union for Democratic Rights); Harsh Mander (Aman Biradari); K.N. Panikkar (historian); Nandita Das (actress), Nikhil Dey (National Campaign for People's Right to Information); Jean Drèze (Allahabad University); Kavita Srivastava (People's Union for Civil Liberties); Nandini Sundar (Delhi School of Economics); Rajinder Sachar (People's Union for Civil Liberties); Reetika Khera (IIT, Delhi); Satya Sivaraman (freelance journalist); Shabnam Hashmi (ANHAD); Shashi Bhushan Pathak (People's Union for Civil Liberties); Swami Agnivesh (human rights activist); Vrinda Grover (Supreme Court lawyer).

(For detailed information about this incident and its background (including recent video interviews of Bhukhan and Niyamat), see





Two journalists working for the BBC in Libya say they were arrested, tortured and subjected to a mock execution by security forces of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's regime. The shocking account of their experiences, including being held in a cage in a militia barracks while others were tortured around them, was made available to media colleagues in Tripoli after the men had been released and left the country.

The ordeal represents the most serious incident yet involving the targeting of the international media and may offer an insight into the fate of many of those Opposition supporters who have been rounded up during the regime's crackdown on its opponents. It also offers the first real eyewitness depiction of conditions endured by those arrested by the regime, including those whose only crime has been to talk to foreign journalists.

The two reporters for the BBC Arabic service, Ferras Killani, a Palestinian refugee with a Syrian passport, and Turkish citizen Goktay Koraltan, were arrested on Monday with Chris Cobb-Smith, a British citizen, at a checkpoint in Zahra, six miles from the besieged town of Zawiya.

The two journalists were kicked and punched and beaten to the floor with rifle butts while being interrogated as suspected "British spies" despite having permission to work in Libya. Mr. Cobb-Smith was not assaulted. Mr. Killani described being taken to a "black and white barracks" at first where he was questioned aggressively by a captain with three stars on his shoulders before being taken behind a building and assaulted.

"I think there was something personal against me," Mr. Killani said. "They knew me and the sort of coverage I had been doing, especially from Tajoura the Friday before. They don't like us or Arabiya or Jazeera." Warned by his assailants not to tell the others he had been beaten, he was led back to the room where Mr. Koraltan and Mr. Cobb-Smith were being held, and told not to say a word.

"The captain came in again after five minutes, and asked if I spoke to the other guys. They had asked me if I was all right and I said OK. One of the guards said 'yes, he said one word.' So he took me out into the yard again. "He asked the other guards to come and started to hit and kick me. I was speaking with him saying I only said yes and I explained we were nervous. They hit me with a stick, they used their army boots on me, and their knees. It made it worse that I was a Palestinian — and they said you're all spies. Sometimes they said I was a journalist who was covering stories in a bad way.

"[Then] they put us in a car and the captain, the one who beat me, told the guard if they say one word kill them." Taken back to Tripoli under armed guard, the three men were taken past the Rixos hotel where they were staying. "I felt horrible passing the hotel," said Mr. Koraltan. "The soldier had his finger on the trigger and I was worrying it would go off when we went over a bump." Instead the men were taken to a military barracks, as Mr. Cobb-Smith explains: "I thought it was a good sign we were going to a legitimate barracks, it was compound with an eagle on the gate, but we went past the front gate down a back street.

"There was a building down the side, attached to the barracks and not behind the perimeter wall. It was a dirty scruffy little compound about 100 metres square." Most chilling was what the men could see in the middle of the compound, a large metal cage. Once again Mr. Killani was immediately assaulted, knocked to the ground by four or five men who, when he was on his knees, cocked their rifles as if to shoot him. The three men were then placed in the cage." Next, Mr. Killani was taken into what he thought was a guardroom. "[It was] plain concrete with a heavy door. They took me inside and left me alone for a few minutes and then they started. After 15 minutes they were hitting me and kicking me very hard, the worst since I arrived, they put cuffs on my legs. They put three layers over my face, something like a surgical hat, the thing a nurse would wear but over my face."

"I could hear screams," recalled Mr. Koraltan. In the meantime, Mr. Cobb-Smith had managed to call the BBC at their hotel with a phone he had hidden, and alerted them to the seriousness of their situation. Mr. Killani by now had a mask taped on his face and was struggling to breathe. The two other men were having masks taped to their faces.

Taken out of the cage one by one, Mr. Korlatan could hear guns being cocked again and thought he would be executed. "I was really scared, panicked; Chris was trying to say to me it was going to be OK. I thought they were going to kill us and blame al-Qaeda or the rebels." Mr. Killani was kept in the cage, but now his captors had taken off the cuffs binding him, apparently believing his protestations that he was a journalist. Mr. Killani spent the night doing what he could for the other prisoners, who were all handcuffed. Some of them told him they had been arrested because their phone calls had been intercepted — including ones to the foreign media. "I spent the night in a cell. There were 10 to 12 men from Zawiya. Some were in a bad situation, with broken ribs. I was looking out of the cage. Cars were coming and going. I saw them bring in a guy and three girls, prisoners, too. Two of them told me they had broken ribs. The four who were masked, I helped them breathe by lifting their masks, saw they had been badly beaten."

The next morning, after a frantic effort by the BBC's team to locate the men and secure their release, they were taken to another barracks.

"We were lined up against the wall facing it. I stepped aside to face a gap so they wouldn't be able to smash my face into the wall. A man with a small sub machine gun was putting it to the nape of everyone's neck in turn. When he got to me at the end of the line, he pulled the trigger twice. The shots went past my ear. After the shooting incident one man who spoke very good English came to ask who we were, hometowns and so on. He was very pleasant, ordered them to cut off our handcuffs. When he had filled in the paper work, it was suddenly all over." Finally the men were set free. — © Guardian Newspapers Limited, 2011






In a coincidence, three emerging economies as well as democracies from three continents — India, Brazil and South Africa (IBSA) — with a different perception from the western countries on the international world order find themselves together in the United Nations Security Council. Foreign Ministers from the three countries met on Tuesday in New Delhi as part of their normal consultation process but due to their presence in the UNSC, they spent considerable time coordinating their positions on the international situation. In an interview to The Hindu , Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio de Aguiar Patriota spoke about what the BRIC grouping is thinking on Libya, West Asia and other international hot spots. Excerpts:

What has changed with the entry of the three BRIC countries in the UNSC, although on a non-permanent basis?

There is a very fortuitous coincidence that the three countries are now in the Security Council at this point. This gives our communiqué even more visibility and authority. We pronounced on so many items that are on the Security Council agenda from Afghanistan to Middle East and Libya to Somalia and others. And one of the important conclusions, although this is not necessarily new, we reaffirmed our determination to coordinate very closely in New York.

What is your sense of how the Libyan issue is going to come up in the Security Council? We hear Britain and France are drafting a no-fly zone resolution. We know from interacting with the Indian Foreign Secretary that India doesn't support the idea of establishing a no-fly zone in Libya.

I am glad to hear [the Foreign Secretary] making this statement. We adopted a paragraph in our joint communiqué that doesn't go into too much detail but it does make an important point for the three countries, which is that any discussion of no-fly zones or any coercive measures additional to those already decided upon in Resolution 1970 will only be legitimate if approved by the Security Council and if discussed within the framework of the U.N. Charter. Now you understand why we say this, because in the past there have been departures. And these departures may seem very expeditious when adopted by countries in question, but ultimately I think they weaken the international system of collective security, they weaken the U.N. and they provoke indirect consequences that are sometimes very prejudicial to the very objectives that we are trying to achieve.

It is very problematic to intervene militarily in situations of internal turmoil. Any decision to adopt no-fly zones or any other military intervention I think needs to be considered not only under the U.N. framework but also in close consultation with neighbouring countries. So there will be an African Union Peace and Security Council Meeting in the forthcoming days in Ethiopia. It is very important to keep in touch with the Arab League and identify what their perception is. We will continue also working closely with Lebanon, which is the Arab member of the Security Council, in New York at this point.

The western nations are moving for a resolution but it is not clear what western military force can achieve considering that after 11 years, Afghanistan continues to remain in a mess …

It's a very good point actually. You know, the point that I often make is that the first obligation of a responsible international community in the case of situations such as Libya is not to make matters worse. And by intervening, you can actually introduce the dimension of anti-U.S., anti-western sentiments, which has not really been present in most of these manifestations in the Arab world so far — I mean, surprisingly, you haven't even seen anti-Israeli slogans. These are very much home-grown manifestations.

Some of the information is confusing. We've seen statements and reports coming out of Benghazi from the opposition forces that are actually speaking out against intervention, that this is something the Libyan people should themselves handle. When the British sent in some SAS operatives, the resistance arrested them actually.

Really? I was unaware of that.

Yes, this happened day before. There were six SAS personnel who landed with British diplomats and made contact with the revolutionaries in Benghazi but were arrested.

It seems to me that Libya is in for a long and painful conflict, something they should sort out themselves. Also, it is a little bit troublesome when you see the media try to create an environment that is more favourable to military intervention by selectively interviewing people and the population. The Arab league has suspended Libya so it's not as if they are complacent towards Libya, but it will be very important to hear what they say.

The IBSA Foreign Ministers have been saying since early 2005-2006 that the three countries should play a role in the Middle East peace process. Do you think IBSA has reached a level of internal cohesion that it could actually play a role in some of these more political questions? Or are they right now still dealing with establishing internal equations among themselves?

Well, I think there is a leadership gap when we look at the situation in the Middle East. I'm not saying that IBSA is ready to fill that gap on its own, but I think it can play a very constructive supporting role, because the three countries have cooperative relations with Israel and with the Arab world — they are multi-ethnic democracies that have demonstrated that they can provide improved livelihood to their own people and engage with the rest of the world in a constructive way diplomatically. Also they were invited to the Annapolis conference, you remember the Annapolis Conference, George Bush deserves some credit for that, for bringing a large number of countries together to move the Peace Process forward — so you had that P 5+1 and India, Brazil and South Africa.

But given the fact that we are in the UNSC this year, I think it might be worth signalling our readiness to play an increasing role in promoting peace. There is also the IBSA Fund Project in the Palestinian territories. So, we discussed the possibility that our high officials travel to the region to inaugurate this project and also for high-level contacts with the Palestinians and the Israelis. This is not to say that we expect the three countries to be capable of significant breakthroughs, but I think it is important that other actors demonstrate their interest in actually what is one of the top issues in the peace and security agenda. I mean, there is no reason why a team of self-appointed countries should monopolise the discussions on promoting peace between Israel and Palestine, and certainly, judging from the stalemates of the past years, their attempts have not been very successful. So may be, you need some additional voices and ideas to generate some progress.

Brazil along with Turkey had played a role in the Iran nuclear question recently. How do you see the state of play in Iran on this issue? Is the Tehran Research Reactor deal dead and buried?

Well, there is more than one way of looking at it. In many ways, it was a missed opportunity for the international community, because if the objective is to obtain certain concessions from the Iranians what the Turkish-Brazilian initiative demonstrated was that through patient conversation, dialogue and negotiations, you could obtain more results than through sanctions and threats. What have the additional sanctions produced? Nothing in the way of the kind of breakthroughs that were accomplished through the Tehran Declaration of May 2010. I believe that the idea behind the agreement — it's not a Turkish or Brazilian idea, we don't claim any intellectual property rights over the proposal itself — had originated at the IAEA and actually had been the object of initial discussions between the P5+1 and Iran, the U.S. included. As you know, President Obama had written to the Turkish Prime Minister and President Lula of Brazil as to what would be a step in the right direction in terms of concession from Iran. So when the agreement materialised it was surprising to Turkey and Brazil that it was not received in the spirit that it was negotiated and that sanctions went ahead, notwithstanding.

Also an additional difficulty, perhaps, is that not only were stronger sanctions adopted by the Security Council, but also unilateral sanctions were adopted by certain actors like the U.S. We do not claim any monopoly of wisdom — if that approach had produced results, who knows, maybe this would have demonstrated the value of going down that road — but we don't see any results coming out of that approach. So, possibly, what is necessary is to keep avenues of communication open, and certainly Brazil's preference is always to find diplomatic solutions to challenges for peace and security, and we will continue to favour such an approach.








If nothing else, the Indian Left is generally consistent on its outlook when it comes to broad questions of policy. This makes it go with political tactics that are uniformly applied in different states of the country. On the eve of Assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala, however, the CPI(M) — for some time the Left's most influential party in electoral politics, and the leader of the pack — is befuddling its adherents by adopting divergent stances. The party has declared that the bid to retain power in Kolkata will be mounted under the leadership of chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

But it's a different story in Kerala, where chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan does not yet know if he will even get the party's approval to contest the election, now just four weeks away. Since the CPI(M) leads a front in Kerala (as in West Bengal), the fate assigned to the chief minister could possibly impact its ties with front partners. If the leader of the electoral contest that lies ahead is to be someone other than Mr Achuthanandan, the CPI(M)'s partners could well step up their price and confusion — even possible disarray — can reign on election eve. This is mainly on account of the fact that the octogenarian chief minister is thought of well outside his own party, has a sturdy reputation for fighting corruption (an image he has assiduously cultivated), and is seen by Ezhavas — the state's most numerous caste group — as being their chief representative in high political circles. It is therefore possible that going into the poll battle under another leader could be seen as risky.
Traditional wisdom suggests that Kerala would go with the Congress-led United Democratic Front this time round since the right to rule alternates between the UDF and the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front every five years. So it should not matter who leads the LDF in the state. But if incumbents take a merciless beating, not just a moderate one, the Left story in the country as a whole is likely to be impacted as the CPI(M) looks headed for a drubbing in West Bengal as well, ending its undefeated run of over three decades. The simultaneous loss of both frontline states will be a new kind of agony. Such a denouement contains the potential to throw any party off-balance. Difficult questions can be raised that can hurt the CPI(M)'s leadership at the Centre and in the states, troubling ideological issues can surface, the correctness of the political line can be up for debate, and largescale defections of followers can become the order of the day. If the Marxists take a major hit, it is hard to see how its CPI(M)'s partners can escape unscathed.

The CPI(M)'s national leadership might have been better off if it had taken a coordinated view of its pre-election preparations in Kolkata and in Thiruvananthapuram as it girds its loins to enter the fray. The cadres need a different mantra on this occasion, for it is not business as usual. It is not sufficient to deride Opposition parties and candidates, as is usually the case at election time. It may not be far off the mark to suggest that the Left is embarking on nothing less than a battle of conjunctures. The CPI(M), in particular, is badly divided in Kerala along factional lines that mimic those of "bourgeois" parties — the divisions are on personal and group fights for power and unrelated to key issues of politics and ideology. In West Bengal, the party finds itself alienated from the masses and the strain is being felt on its organisational structures. Visionary thinking is needed at its leadership level.






The wave of concern over the deteriorating situation in Pakistan nudges me into invoking an impish letter to the Spectator magazine published last month. In his brief communication, one Andrew Macdonald from London observed that the unrest in Egypt reminded him of what a "splendidly right-of-centre academic" at Reading University once told him: "You know, Mr Macdonald, there is no advertisement for colonial government like post-colonial government".

At the grave risk of appearing to be either supercilious or triumphant, it is now becoming increasingly apparent to most of the democratic world that there is no better advertisement for India than the grim reality of contemporary Pakistan. Not that such a hyphenation is any longer warranted. Ever since India moved out of the Third World and into the G20 sphere, the earlier twinning of the country with Pakistan is appearing increasingly misplaced. India still has enormous problems of governance and the ethical standards of some of its public figures are deplorable. However, they pale into relative insignificance compared to the magnitude of the problems confronting neighbouring Pakistan.
Pakistan's slide into infamy has been precipitate. All the billions of dollars in military and civilian aid poured into that country by a nervous United States have not been able to prevent the drift to a state of lawlessness. The country that once saw itself as another Turkey in the strategic crossroads of Asia is now in real danger of resembling Afghanistan, albeit a cricket playing one. In theory, the world can afford to let Afghanistan retreat into self-fulfilling medievalism as long as it desists from exporting its stark vision of the good life — the situation that prevailed between the retreat of the Soviet Union and the takeover of the Taliban by Al Qaeda. A policy of benign neglect of Pakistan, on the other hand, while immensely appealing as an expression of disgust, is, however, impossible on two counts: its geo-strategic importance and, more worryingly, its ever-growing nuclear arsenal.

Pakistan is different from other "failed states" for many reasons. First, while beleaguered and replete with cracks, the state in Pakistan is still loosely intact — a legacy of colonial rule rather than post-colonial nation-building. It is still not beyond salvage.

Secondly, the military in Pakistan remains institutionally intact. Over the years, the generals, whether exercising power directly or assuming the role of puppeteer, have deftly used every crisis to their ultimate advantage. So much so that it is impossible to contemplate Pakistan's future that assigns a marginal role for the military.
Finally, civil society in Pakistan has become deeply fractured and pulling in different directions. There exists a vibrant middle class with cosmopolitan aspirations but its ability to be a catalyst for modernity has been severely undermined by countervailing pulls from the forces of Islamism and tribalism. As of now, a civil society-led transformation of Pakistan as a force for the good seems a remote possibility.

In the wake of the heightened tensions over the Blasphemy Law, Pakistan has become a dangerous place. With suicide bombers striking targets at will and the liberal minusculity intimidated into silence after the assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, there is growing international fear that Pakistan's transition from being an Islamic state to becoming an Islamist state has taken a giant leap forward. The enormous optimism generated by the pro-democracy movement that forced the ouster of General Pervez Musharraf has largely dissipated and been replaced by a climate of disgust and wariness: disgust with the self-serving venality of the civilian government and wariness of the rising tide of Islamist intolerance. The deification of the murderer of Taseer, the unending demands for greater Islamisation and the persecution of Christian and Hindu minorities would indicate that the soft Islamic revolution begun by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1940 is nearing its Jacobian climax.

On paper, Pakistan remains firmly in the US orbit of influence. However, as the Raymond Davis case indicates, the wave of anti-Americanism has reached such colossal heights that Washington's attempts to "manage" the embarrassment have failed. Neither the fragile civilian government nor the calculating military have the ability to swim against the tide of public opinion and oblige Uncle Sam. The Army has leveraged the arrest to put a moratorium on drone attacks in the troubled border regions and shown the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) its place, but it has also shied away from abjuring the principle of national sovereignty. Indeed, General Kayani is only too aware that the Islamist epidemic has infected a substantial chunk of the professional Army.
For the international community and neighbouring countries, Pakistan has moved from being an irritation to becoming a menace. Apart from China, which still sees Islamabad as a valuable entry point into a troubled region, there is global concern that Pakistan will become the centre of a jihadi Comintern, with a Talibanised Afghanistan giving the terror industry additional strategic depth. Recent events in the Arab world have only added to the concern. If the stars of the pro-West autocrats are on the wane, it does not imply that the alternative will be liberal democracy. The danger of an initial enthusiasm for liberal democracy being replaced by the forces of popular Islamism, as happened in Iran, is real. In which case, the importance of Pakistan as a staging post for Sunni Muslim ferment is bound to rise.

The history of 19th and 20th century jihadi movements points to the importance of both the Indian subcontinent and Egypt as ideological nurseries. Earlier, Islamism was twinned with anti-colonial movements. Today, it has been injected into anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments on the ground. The Islamist fervour is also being fuelled by the perception that the West is economically too hobbled to defend its strategic interests across the Muslim world in any meaningful way. Amid this flux, Pakistan is emerging as the proverbial "swing state": it could go either way.

Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist






The Arab world is on an earth-shaking course of revolutionary transformation. No political pundit could anticipate such a turn of events since they underestimated the revolutionary potential of Islam. All of them thought that Islamic political thought has no rejuvenating energy. But they have been proved wrong.
In this context, there is a need to re-visit the socio-political discourse of Prophet Mohammed and develop a new understanding of his spiritual politics.

The Islamic concept of God became universally understandable and acceptable only after the Prophet made it philosophically valid following his struggle against the idol worshippers among Arab tribes.

The Prophet dismantled the structures of idol worship and instituted the practice of praying to an abstract God among the Arabic tribes that were warring against one another over their idols. For them, a God creating all human beings equal was unthinkable.

That was the primary democratic principle — in the eyes of God all human beings are absolutely equal — that the Prophet established among those warring tribes. This established the notion of spiritual democracy among backward and self-destructive tribes.
By doing so the Prophet changed the route of social change in the Arabic world, which otherwise would have slipped into caste brutalism as it happened in India. Or it would have followed the African path.
But by inspiring the tribes to pray to Allah, the Prophet transformed the men and women of the Arab world into philosophically more advanced people than the other Asians, who were struggling between animism and idol worshipping cultures.

Though Christianity took its followers out of the idol worshipping ethic, the Church did encourage the worship of Jesus Christ and Mary. Ironically, though born as an Asian (Israelite) religion, Christianity attracted the Europeans more than the Asians in its early days.

But Islam expanded into the Asian continent very rapidly. Within 200 years of the Prophet's death it had spread far and wide.

While Jesus tried to separate the political realm from the spiritual realm, the Prophet combined political and spiritual theory into one in a much more nuanced and moral way. That seems to be developing into a democracy of its own model.

The present democratic revolutions in the Arab world are more spiritual-political than what Europe had seen in the 19th and 20th centuries. They might result in re-interpretation of the Islamic notion of democracy on the one hand and change the meaning of secularism on the other. Though the notion of God was very much part of the Euro-American revolutions, secularism was made the core anchor of those revolutions.

The Arab revolutions seem to be evolving a different language of political science. How these revolutions negotiate with the notion of secularism is yet to be seen.

The European mode of secularism does not disconnect itself from the notion of God. This is very clear from many Euro-American constitutions, which use the notion of God in their preamble.
Islam seems to be re-negotiating its relationship to politics and democracy differently. The Prophet has more substantial claim to be a political philosopher than Jesus, as he led the community and his sons-in-law became the initial rulers as Khalifs.

There is an attempt to belittle the Arab revolutions by describing them as "Jasmine Revolutions". On the contrary they have the potential to re-position not only the Islamic world but the whole world.
In the Asian continent the implications of these revolutions would be huge. China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even India and Sri Lanka have not evolved their democratic cultures through mass revolutions.

In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the British-imposed systems of democracy survive. They sustain inequalities, unemployment, illiteracy, and so on. China evolved a communist culture through a revolution but that culture is very fragile and cannot be compared with the Islamic cultures, which have a cementing commonality across nations rooted in one God, one Book and one Prophet.

If that cultural commonality is used for transforming the political systems of nations, no civilisation would match the Islamic civilisation.

If the present trend is any indication, Samuel Huntington's thesis of Clash of Civilisations would not only fall apart but possibly be turned on its head —to "Collusion of Civilisations". The same Arab world that the West once thought had no imagination of its own would make that collusion possible.






I always felt that the word corruption needed a dictionary of words, a thesaurus of local terms and a contour map to show the changing nature of territory. We take for granted what we mean by corruption, rendering uniform the spaces in which it occurs.

Corruption deals with opportunities and restrictions. Restrictions can be artificial and yet real. When restrictions are converted into opportunities as rent, a bribe is born. Basically, corruption is a triangle of three states: violence, scarcity and desire. They all operate through the grammar of classification.
The wisdom of corruptions begins with understanding that classifications exclude and that inclusion can be paid for. Classification can create survival problems. By excluding you can eliminate. Imagine a villager entering a city. To enter a city and to survive, the migrant needs permission. He needs permission to stay, to ply his trade as a scavenger or hawker. He needs permission to live from the gangster, the tout and the cop. They are the first systems of governance he encounters and he has to pay for such governance. The first act of corruption is tied to the logic of citizenship itself. Society demands a bribe even before it expects a vote.
The informal economy is the next theatre of corruption. The Arjun Sengupta Commission report states that 70 per cent of the economy is in the informal sector. The logic is simply that 70 per cent of India is unofficial, illegal, informal, tacit, surviving on arbitrary permissions. The genius of corruption in India is in realising that poverty and marginality possess surpluses that can be extracted. The space between citizenship and non-citizenship is so large that the corruption economy has a gross national product larger than many multi-nationals.
Accompanying the informal economy is a more pathological aspect. This includes what I call the livelihoods which operate in terms of the forced division of labour. This includes child trafficking, prostitution, bonded labour, each of which creates a violence of its own, reducing people to bare life.
If the first structures of corruption emerge from the logic of citizenship, the second emerge from the logic of democracy and bureaucracy. Democracy creates opportunities for corruption. To be elected you have to pay and the others have to pay once you are elected. What links bureaucracy and democracy is development. With development, the state becomes a milch cow creating new opportunities for markets. The irony is development creates corruption which is doubly blessed. It creates a corruption of development markets and the cunning state creates a market out of disasters. The state is the dominant site of corruption. It creates not just a parasite state but a parasitic bureaucracy built around the PA (personal assistant), the tout and the very important person (VIP).
There is a baroquisation of the bureaucratic system. Instead of rationalising and simplifying access and claims, the state baroquises all procedures. Baroquisation is a process whereby more and more effort is spent on obtaining less and less. Corruption involved a violation or blending or two sets of categories. It merged the family and the state and secondly it blurred the public and the private. The ration card, the bribe, the tout, the adulteration and the file as a new form of rental were the hallmarks here.

Globalisation as a process was a realisation that the socialist state offered little freedom and fewer opportunities for corruption. Liberalisation opened up new opportunities. Crime was the first social site to globalise. Dawood Ibrahim in that sense represented a wave of innovation, moving from smuggling and real estate to a more systematic sense of crime. The gangster was turning corporate.

Globalisation also produced a critique of corruption around information. Transparency became the new fashion and the Right to Information and the Public Interest Litigation were greeted with enthusiasm, only to discover the new logic of corruption had shifted elsewhere.

Globalisation created new and hybrid markets for terror. One has to see terror as a commodity and a market. Terror deals with information blending anonymity in the fear it creates with access to the most intimate of personal details.

Violence is the wider commodity for the new markets of corruption. Violence creates its own markets through defence soldiers. Violence is a market which cannot afford peace.

The third market is around disasters. Disasters are no longer crisis events. The globalisation and routinisation of disasters has created an international market for disasters sustained by its own genre of professionalisms. Development in its new form of humanitarianism becomes aid to places of perpetual disaster. The new markets for corruption have a vested interest in the perpetuation and control of disaster sites.

The knowledge economy is the fourth site and by commoditifying knowledge one creates new markets for intellectual property. Piracy and regulation become the Janus face of this new corruption. Patents themselves are new forms of corruption. They legalise robbery from Third World communities too poor to legalise the legacies they have.

As one moves from control of bare life to baroque bureaucracies to liberalisation, markets become the new models of corruption. Our scams rotate around new markets. The 2G spectrum, the smuggling of Bt seeds represent battles around new forms of property.

The nature of middleman changes in context and style. The dalal who had an organic relationship with a community yields to the public relations officer and the lobbyist. Each deals with information in his/her own way. Each creates around them a logic of new legitimisation. The dalal and tout projected a sense of noblesse oblige, the lobbyist acts like an elevated combination of a plumber and research agency.

The diversities of corruption are impressive but the logic of the three streams is different. Each bears the marks of its origins and all blend to create systems of mobility for the corrupt. In an odd sense, corruption blends different forms of livelihood, dealing with lack not as a pathology to be cured but as a market to be addressed. One has to understand its logic and see whether normal systems can simulate these functions. Till we understand corruption is a parallel form of governance, reform would add little to its removal. That is its logic and its final irony.

Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist










I abhor smoke. Even an agarbatti gets me fired up more than itself. This obviously means I have little patience for tobacco fumes or people belching them. So imagine my horror to test positive for nicotine considering I have never smoked.


I thought it was a mistake, until I was promptly educated about how insurance companies, especially multinational ones, never make one. Even if you are paying through your nose to ensure your family has something to fall back on in case you pop it, there's no way they can go wrong.


It's bad enough that the doctor coming to collect blood and other body fluid samples rang the bell at 6.45am. But the shocker came with the results. This would of course necessitate, I was told, paying "a wee-bit more" on a par with smokers if I wanted the insurance.


So, all these years of doing what everyone keeps saying is 'the right thing' was brought to nought. What really has me worried is how some gooey tar-like substance is depositing in my lungs and seeping into me every minute.


I asked a few doctors and pharmacologist friends and they said it is common among people exposed to smoke regularly. I was given reference from a Lancet study to show how this can build up to dangerously high levels.


The office doesn't allow smoking so where am I getting it? Just by passing through the smoking corridor? Isn't it bad that we breathe pollutants and dust that we need to add to it? By now, angered enough, I put it up as a status message on Facebook and among the responses was this scorcher: "Smoking in public should be condemned. If some people have decided to burn their lungs and undergo dhumramoksha, it's fine!! But they should not feed non-smokers their exhaled filth".


Whoa! Quite strong. So I'm not the only one raging against this problem. There are of course those who think one should smoke any way and have suggested I begin puffing way once in a while.


On another note I admit, that I like people with a smoker's sand-papery voice and have tried to live with a sore throat without medication often to hang on to that right amount of baritone. Since I've no patience to go through the blah formalities, paperwork and tests yet again with yet another company and I'm buying this policy anyway, niggling temptation to then go the whole hog and light up is beckoning.


I've been told that after the initial coughing and sputtering it'll be fine. There's only that one problem of mom and wifey though who aren't going to be too amused by the 'pious' thoughts the policy has brought in its wake.







Mumbai is a city of access and all it takes to become eligible for a five-year jail term here is illegal possession of a bottle of beer. Consuming it can avail you another six months. Anywhere else in the country, you'll have to arson and riot to get this far!


The feat is possible under the Bombay Prohibition Act, 1949, which bars anyone from drinking without a liquor permit — granted to anyone above the age of 25 years "for preservation and maintenance of his health". Topple goverments at 18,tie the knot at 21, tipple at 25.


Besides, while applying for one, you are required to attach a doctor's certificate endorsing your 'need' to booze, which clearly establishes that the rule is a vestige of early 19th century when being diagnosed with typhoid would almost certainly land you in the heady company of a huge jar of whiskey, which you'd be prescribed to empty two pegs every three hours.


No one need have known about this law after humans developed a multi-billion dollar pharmaceutical industry to rob the sick of a hic-hic-hurray path to recovery, until the state government, alarmed perhaps by rising alcohol consumption, decided to implement it tooth and nail in 2004. Not that Mumbaikars know much about it since either, and a majority learn of its existence only after being hauled up by a cop out to make a quick buck.


Enforcing little-known laws is naturally a source of joy, and big moolah, for the police as the 'hit rate' is lasciviously high. Hence, when home minister RR Patil recently threatened policemen with punitive action if they fail to shut dance bars, the force self-righteously expanded the scope of the crackdown and raided about 200 'permit rooms' and arrested over 300 people, most of whom were patrons without a permit.


Which makes one wonder what a permit gets you? Nothing, actually. Leave alone medical insurance, for let's say, damage caused after being served spurious ethyl, it does not even grant the holder immunity from prosecution if found living it up in an unlicensed establishment, which outnumber the licensed ones by 10 times in this city. All the 23 kids locked-up recently for bringing in a friend's birthday at an Andheri dive had permits, but were arrested nonetheless since the place did not have its papers in place.


Worse, while this measure is undoubtedly tottering to nowhere in arresting consumption — Mumbai has among the highest number of underage drinkers, and drunken driving cases are on the rise — it has criminalised a sizeable population, who the police can now safely turn a deaf ear to.


Sample this: If after a few you take a taxi home and find the cabbie taking you for a ride, approaching the nearest police station if you don't have a permit is foolhardy, as the likelihood of being asked for one is directly proportional to how lazy the duty officer is feeling about acting on your complaint. Insisting can quickly open the doors to a stinking cell.


So much for easy access.






Marxist economist Ashok Mitra is not known for being polite with, or about, those who he doesn't like. The list of people he holds in contempt is long and many, if not most, of them have had a taste of his acid tongue.

They would wholeheartedly concur with what Mitra, incandescent with rage, once told a stupefied bureaucrat: "I am not a bhadralok, I am a communist."


The few who are fortunate enough not to have made it to his list of lesser creatures would, of course, disagree. This, however, is not about Mitra's likes and dislikes.


It's about his scathingly accurate description of prime minister Manmohan Singh in his autobiography, A Prattler's Tale. Mitra writes, "I am afraid there is little scope for politeness here... His timidity is the product of his civil servant's mind, which many mistake as humility" and then goes on to mock at Singh for his "lamb-like devotion to the Nehru household".


This passage came to mind while hearing the prime minister make a statement, in what his critics would call his trademark whining style, on the Supreme Court's verdict quashing the appointment of PJ Thomas as central vigilance commissioner (CVC).


"We accept and respect the verdict of the Supreme Court. There has been an error of judgement on our part and I accept full responsibility for it," Singh told parliament earlier this week.


Neither the humility of accepting the Supreme Court's verdict nor the claimed respect for the judiciary rang true. Or else he would not have asked his government to brazenly defend Thomas's appointment both within and outside the Supreme Court in a false show of bravado.


In the end, the government had egg on its face and Singh's carefully cultivated image of a person of unimpeachable integrity looked more than slightly soiled.


An error of judgement is understandable even if it is not justifiable; not all decisions of any government stand up to scrutiny although they might have been taken with the best of intentions.


But Singh's decision to appoint Thomas as the CVC (it was his and his decision alone) was not an "error of judgement" but a wilful move on his part to install a complaisant babu with a deep sense of gratitude towards the Congress in one of the most important offices of the country.


With Thomas as the CVC, the Congress hoped to manipulate future key appointments such as that of director and senior officials of the CBI.


More importantly, the government would have been saved the embarrassment of being saddled with an upright CVC not given to glossing over sins of omission and commission.


Hence it opted for Thomas who, let us remember, as telecom secretary had tried to block the CAG's inquiry into the 2G spectrum scam.


Having escaped prosecution all these years in the palmolein import scandal in which he is a co-accused and making it to the top rungs of the bureaucracy despite criminal charges pending against him — something which would have made other bureaucrats languish in obscurity after being denied promotion — because the Congress patronised him, he would have been more than willing to do the government's bidding.


Singh now says that he was "unaware" of the charges against Thomas as the file put up by the department of personnel and training, which reports to the prime minister, did not contain these details and that the then minister of state in the PMO and currently Maharashtra chief minister, Prithviraj Chavan, kept him in the dark.


It would have been a convincing tale of hurt innocence had facts not militated against his version. When the three-member committee headed by him and comprising home minister P Chidambaram and leader of the opposition Sushma Swaraj met on September 3, 2010, the black mark against Thomas was pointed out to him. Swaraj pleaded with Singh to reconsider his decision, but he was adamant.


When it was suggested that the committee could meet again after he had ascertained all facts, he refused ("I'm not bothered," he is believed to have retorted) despite there being sufficient time for a background check. In the end, Swaraj recorded her dissent.


How can Singh now insist that he was "unaware"; that it was an "error of judgement"? This is exactly how a feckless civil servant, caught with his hand in the till, would respond, not the prime minister of India.


The writer is associate editor, The Pioneer







Is it a cultural thing? Is it in our genes? Or is it the overall environment? I am referring to our propensity to inevitably land up in a quagmire of delays, shortcomings and chaos in conducting any major public event.


The shame and scandal of the Delhi Commonwealth Games fiasco had hardly dimmed in public memory when we were confronted with another embarrassing kerfuffle about the unpreparedness of the Eden Gardens stadium in Kolkata for the World Cup cricket match between India and England.


And, as with the CWG mess, the authorities concerned in the Eden Gardens case — the CAB officials — blamed the messenger, ie, the media, for blowing up the issue.


The recent Bollywood film, Band, Baaja, Baraat, brilliantly portrays the contemporary Indian wedding scene with the harried event organisers running about dementedly at the last minute to complete preparations at the venue even as the baraat is at the doorstep.


Much of the same is observed in any public event.


Over the years, time and cost overruns seem to have become part of the public project game. No official is chastised or charge-sheeted, no manager pilloried and no governing politician criticised. The waste is enormous but no one is bothered.


It would be tempting to pass off this dilatory tendency to the fact that we are a tropical country where the heat and humidity induce a languor which negates urgency, and punctuality is no special virtue. Remember the Indian Standard Time jokes?


In fact, one of the cultural training inputs that westerners go through for their Indian sojourn is to avoid being on time for any social event, lest they embarrass their Indian hosts by catching them still amidst preparations.


But our unpunctuality has little to do with the climate. People in Thailand and Singapore are subject to even more sultry and hot weather but do not exhibit our offhanded attitude towards time and are particular about keeping to the schedule, whether it is supplies or project execution.


Having said all this, one must also acknowledge that there are certain peculiar characteristics of the Indian scene that are not in the control of project managements and can lead to tardiness in implementation.


One is the inadequacy and inefficiency of our basic infrastructure, particularly power and transport, which can cause all manner of snafus in supplies and logistics.


A second major cause of hold-ups is the poor state of governance which, when combined with ubiquitous corruption, can foul up the best of plans to execute a project. Exacerbating this is the chaotic element in civic life and a disturbed law and order scenario.


The bottom line is that anything can be held up anywhere at any time.


When it comes to projects or events in the public/government sector, the managers are also hamstrung by a maze of rules and regulations, dos and don'ts, limits of executive powers and constraints, which can paralyse decision-making and ultimately hurt timely execution.


And, constantly hovering, in the back of the honest manager's mind, is the bugbear of nitpicking audit, which makes him fearful of bending any rule to enable quicker execution.

Let us also not forget perennial political interference, which is a major cause of public projects failing to meet deadlines. This could be as simple as forcing the hiring of inept persons in key positions to favouring certain contractors or suppliers who turn out to be incapable.


If the Chinese can execute major projects in double quick time and organise events smoothly, it is partly because they do not have to face any of these circumstances.


Of course, it goes without saying that if the main aim of the project leadership is to make a quick buck, as in the CWG case, then the project will flounder.


Unfortunately for India, there are very few men of honour and capability left in the government and public sector who can successfully handle giant and complex projects.


What the government should do is set up a specialised Institute of Project Management, of the likes of the IIMs, where giants in the business, like E Sreedharan, who implemented the Konkan Railway and Delhi Metro in time and within budget, can pass on their knowledge to younger acolytes.


That way, a cadre of capable project and event managers can be built up for meeting the needs of India's development.


The writer is a commentator on public affairs









Walk out by BJP and sit on dharna in the assembly session are more than justified. A ministry fully conscious of its responsibilities cannot allow its people to starve. Though we will not rush to call it discrimination as is the decree of protesting MLAs, yet it certainly is an act of inefficiency and negligence on the part of the Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) Department which has come under severe censure not only in the assembly but also in earlier observations of the lawmakers. Right to food is one of the fundamental human rights. Any laxity in supplying adequate food grains to the people is tantamount to violation of human rights. The minister concerned has conceded that there has been some mismanagement in supply system. Why should have this mistake been realized only when the legislators were forced to protest vigorously? The ministry should have corrected the system before the situation came to such a pass. Therefore it is answerable to the house for creating a situation in which the proceedings had to be suspended even if temporarily.
There have been complaints of bungling by the department in the case of providing BPL cards and food grains to consumers in the category of BPL. It is alleged that full quota of ration does not reach them and a good chunk is embezzled. No enquiry has been ordered in such complaints and whenever an eyebrow is raised the matter is hushed up. It has been found that people living in remote and hilly areas of the state with very difficult accessibility are made to suffer for want of sufficient ration. Truckloads of ration are alleged to have been misappropriated and sold in black-market. This is unacceptable and the departmental enquiry should have been ordered when complaints like these were made. Legislators have raised some more genuine questions in this regard. First is of not treating the displaced people of Jammu region at par with the displaced persons from Kashmir. Both categories are victims of identical cause and effect and suffer identical deprivation and debility. To be precise, it is a subject of coercion of minorities and subversion of their fundamental right to life and property. There appears no logic in treating them differently. Both categories of displaced persons should receive identical treatment in terms of relief as both are internally displaced persons. It will be reminded that in the context of Prime Minister's relief package to victims of militancy in J&K, the state government created a new category of "internally displaced persons in Kashmir" to enable them for a title to relief under PM's package. Why does the government treat the IDPs from Jammu region differently? At the same time there is weight in the argument that the quantity of ration allowed to the displaced persons from Jammu region has not to be deducted from the quota allotted to Jammu city. It is only diversion of what is allotted to them from their original place of residence to their present place of location why any shortage of food grains should happen in Jammu. The Consumer Affairs and Public Distribution (CAPD) Department needs to be given thorough shakeup. It has to realize that its dealings are directly with the public and public cannot be hoodwinked. The department has no right to allow people starve while adequate supplies are available. Corruption and bungling, to which the legislators have alluded, should be brought under scanner and the functioning of the department has to be streamlined before it leads to mass resentment.







Twenty persons were killed and more than 150 injured in a failed attack on the office of the ISI in Faisalabad. According to reports the bomb went off in a nearby CNG station which blasted gas cylinders and spread havoc. It is the first ever terrorist attack in Faisalabad, and on the office of ISI. The irony is that the terrorists have made the same institution its target that has a major role in spreading terror in the region. ISI largely widened its network of terror during the Afghan mujahideen war. ISI trained special cadres for waging jihad in Kashmir. When jihadi organizations perfected their training and launched subversion in Kashmir, Pakistani rulers gloated over developing a powerful structure that would insulate its security preparedness. They said that they had now a dependable vanguard that would fight as frontline offensive force in a war against India. ISI played crucial role in training, motivating and arming anti-India jihadis. It embarked on a massive disinformation campaign. International media was hijacked and international opinion was maligned against India. Kashmir came to be projected as a human rights violation issue. Known biased NGOs like Amnesty International and Asia Watch, whose antecedents are well known, made Kashmir "human rights" a cause and made baseless allegations. But today the same ISI has become the target of attack for the terrorists of its creation. Civilian government in Pakistan is unable to control it. The Mumbai attack of 2008 is also related to ISI and even the 9/11 tragedy has had links in ISI. The fact of the matter is that ISI is the bastion of military, feudal lords and powerful bureaucratic lobby nexus. It is a parallel government which goes by its own laws. It has close relations with the ISI and that is the main reason why the TTP has made it a target. Within Pakistani Army, there is a strong section of younger officers and soldiers who have been brought up in Wahhabi radical environs and are sworn enemies of the US. In the past, Pakistani army foiled a coup in which the main actors were some Pakistani army and air force personnel of Wahhabi ideology. Some of the staunch Wahhabis of ISI and Pakistani army have left these organizations and joined hands with TTP. It becomes easier for the TTP to identify persons and locales to be subjected to attacks and destruction. From the recent attack in Faisalabad, it appears that now ISI office is their target and if they failed in blowing it up this time, subsequent attempts could make them achieve their mission. That is how terrorism boomerangs.









The day after Pakistan's only Christian minister was shot dead I got a call from an Indian Muslim of relatively conservative disposition. He prays five times a day, fasts every day in the month of Ramadan, believes that the Prophet of Islam brought the last message from God and has lived for most of his life struggling to be a poet and writer in Urdu. It has been a hard struggle because India stupidly disowned Urdu after Pakistan owned it and because the death of one of India's most beautiful languages has been slow and painful my friend did not understand what was happening till it was too late to choose another career. Often in his days of struggle he has been approached by people in Pakistan who have urged him to cross the border and try his luck in Pakistan where Urdu is not just alive but thriving. He never went, however, and the day after Shehzad Bhatti was gunned down by Taliban terrorists he said, 'I thank God that neither I nor a single member of my family has ever seriously considered emigrating to that country. When I see what is happening there I can hardly believe that they are doing this in the name of Islam.'

My friend is not alone in voicing these sentiments. In recent months, as Pakistan has plunged inexorably into religious violence, I have met many Muslims who have expressed similar sentiments. Till not very long ago their feelings about what was happening in Pakistan were mixed. They believed, like most Pakistanis still do, that it was entirely the fault of American foreign policy that a wave of Islamist violence was sweeping across Pakistan. They cited the same reasons that Pakistanis do. It was American money that was poured into the jihad against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. When the war ended and the Soviet Union disintegrated the Americans simply lost interest in the cause and left the suddenly unemployed mujahideen to fend for themselves as best they could. It was from their ranks that Osama bin Laden recruited his terrorist army. This is only half the story of what has gone wrong in Pakistan but there were many Indian Muslims who shared this view. Now, recently, I detect signs of a change.

It is as if Indian Muslims have suddenly discovered that there is much more wrong with Pakistan than they had realized and that the things that have gone wrong cannot be blamed entirely on American foreign policy. This change is very recent and can be attributed as much to the violence in Pakistan as to the winds of change blowing across the rest of the Islamic world. Indian Muslims appear to have noticed that the rebels who have brought about regime change in Tunisia and Egypt and inspired rebellions in nearly every other Middle Eastern country are fighting for rights that they already have in India. They are fighting for the right to choose their own leaders by voting in regular elections. They are fighting for constitutional guarantees that will prevent them from ever being subjugated again by some autocrat.

Indian Muslims appear also to have noticed that the fanatical, violent Islam that is sweeping across Pakistan has very little to do with the religion that has existed in India for nearly as long as it has in the Middle East. In India Islam synthesized into a more refined version of the religion that came to us from the harsh deserts of Arabia and although there have always existed Wahabi type preachers who want women to be veiled and Shariat laws to be imposed they have been ignored for most of the centuries that Islam has been in India. After 9/11 when it seemed for a while as if Islam itself was under attack all over the world we saw a resurgence of a more rigid Islam. It was promoted by Saudi money that poured into mosques and madrassas and a new generation of younger Indian Muslims seemed for a while seduced by the allure of fundamental Islam. This could be changing now and nothing better could happen from an Indian viewpoint. What we now must hope for is that political parties who thrive on creating differences between Hindus and Muslims by denigrating India's religions and encouraging a sense of religious superiority and grievance among Muslims desist from doing what they have always done.

The party that has done this more than any other is the Congress Party. In the interests of consolidating the Muslim vote bank its senior leaders have encouraged Muslims to believe that they have never been given a fair deal in India. Politicians like Digvijay Singh have gone to the extent of promoting a book that says 26/11 was an RSS conspiracy. It is outrageous that he should have been allowed to get away with this by Sonia Gandhi and the Prime Minister and it is time they realized that this kind of thing must stop unless they want the radical Islamists next door to start spilling across the border.

Today, because of the incredible changes that are happening in the Middle East and because they offer such a sharp contrast to the horrors that are happening in Pakistan there is a chance for Indian Muslims to move out of the sense of grievance they have wallowed in. There is a chance for them to acknowledge that if they have remained backward and poor, compared to other communities, it is not so much because they have been politically discriminated against but because they have refused to allow their women to be educated. They have resisted modernity and the benefits that come with it while most other Indian communities have embraced these things with open arms. If that most underprivileged of India's communities, the Dalits, have managed to start escaping the degradation they have suffered for centuries it is not because of the efforts of leaders like Mayawati. It is because Dalit boys and girls are being encouraged to go to school and reject the dark bonds of caste that held them down.

This is a special moment in history for Indian Muslims. They have a choice between turning their faces to the winds of change from the Middle East and their backs to Pakistan. Or they can turn the other way around and continue to deprive themselves of the great changes that are happening in India. Changes that have nothing to do with religion and ancient religious grievances








The main function of education is the development of an all round and well balanced personality of the students. But now a days more emphasis is unduly laid on knowledge based and information oriented education, which takes care of only the intellectual development of the child. Consequently, the other aspects of their personality like physical, emotional, social and spiritual are not properly developed by providing for the growth of attitudes, habits, values, skills and interests among the pupils. Our country is under going radical social changes, the students who are the future citizens have to be trained to respond to and adjust with these social changes by equipping them with desirable skills and values. Suitable values are to be inculcated in the pupil for promoting equality, social justice, national cohesion and democratic citizenship. With these aims in view, radical reforms in the present lop sided education are to be introduced and all attempts need to be made for developing well integrated personalities of our individuals.

Hence, the need of inculcating desirable values is felt more important than teaching of many subjects or more knowledge at present. In spite of spectacular achievements in science, man is not happy and contented. Inspite of wonderful scientific achievements the world is a place of violence, gloom and unease. In the midst of material prosperity, a large section of the humanity is under the grip of poverty, immorality and corruption, man is still the slave of many undesirable passions and tied to his own place, region or country. Such unsatisfactory situations have arisen due to crises of values and character.
There is no harmony between the inner and outer self. Now the question arise : what is the remedy of all these ills? How can international peace and harmony be promoted? How can mankind live in unity amid diversity? How can social justice and fellow feeling be ensured in the modern world? How can mankind carve out for itself a preferred future of peace and prosperity? Inculcation of desirable values in human beings is felt essential for finding out answer to the problems mentioned. The Kothari Commission has observed. The expanding knowledge and the growing power, which it places at the disposal of modern society must, therefore, be combined with the strengthening and deepening of the sense of social responsibility and a keener appreciation of moral and spiritual values.
Indian education commission 1964-1966 have also added that while a combination of ignorance with goodness may be futile, that of knowledge with a lack of essential values may be dangerous. The weakening of social and moral values in the younger generation is creating many serious social and ethical conflicts in western societies and there is already a desire among some great western thinkers to balance the knowledge and skills which science and technology bring with the values and insights associated with ethics and religion at its best. It is important for us to give a proper value orientation to our educational system. It is imperative on the part of teachers and educators to understand the school situations and potentialities of school activities in promoting the values in the schools. The most significant need of the hour is to transform the educational system with a view to cultivating the basic values of humanism, democracy, socialism and secularism.

In the present age social, moral and religious values are being disintegrated. Knowledge and power are being used for selfish interests. In the modern age people are becoming more greedy. They are busy in collecting money. They have lost their character, modernization has influenced our customs and traditions. The modern culture is totally different from the old culture, it is because of change in human values. The many ills that our society as a whole is suffering to day, are mainly due to crisis of values. There is erosion of social, moral, cultural, economic and political values at all levels. We are living in a state of political tension, economic stresses, fears and frustrations, exploitation, corruption, disaster, destruction, selfishness and violence are having their head high. There is lack of true leadership, political leaders are motivated by their party politics. Most of the political leaders exploit the masses to achieve their narrow selfish ends. National interests are sacrificed for personal petty interests. Politicians lack code of conduct. Lawlessness, scandals, militancy, non democratic tendencies and indiscipline are on the increase in the society. There is erosion of social values, man has become so materialistic, bewildered, frustrated and confused that he does not know the art of living with others. Caste system is prevailing in the society. Our society is being rapidly fragmented into small units because of the influence of castism, linguism, provincialism. All types of corruption, bribery, dishonesty, disloyalty, nepotism and other malpractices from the top to low are increasing. People are becoming more and more money minded and materialistic. People have become the victims of callous selfishness, egoism and unlimited greed. Social indiscipline is on the increase. We do not get justice, social justice has become a thing of the past. There is erosion of economic values. At present, when social, moral, cultural and spiritual values are disintegrating, when religion is loosing its hold, when power and knowledge are being misused for vested interests, when nations do not trust one another, when black marketing, corruption, barbarism, indiscipline, violence are fast spreading, it is essential that education should be value oriented. It is the task of education to develop values as these values are the greatest unifying force in life.

The educational workers, and the administrators should try their best to promote value oriented education in the schools. Adequate awareness is to be generated among the adults through various mass media and organizations. The schools can play an important role in inculcating the desirable values in the students through effective organization of different curricular and co-curricular programmes. This should be the joint responsibility of all teachers and not the assigned duty of one or two teachers.








The first stage of the Assembly elections are over as the DMK settle with the Congress and the senseless controversy generated weakens the position of the DMK and is a clear victory for Sonia Gandhi and the Congress. I have written earlier on the need of an eminent astrologer to predict the alliance structure based on equitable ticket distribution and sadly the DMK Chief in the twilight of his career with internal family differences based on power divisions deploys the tactics of the past and the Congress party who have suffered with the 2G scam and thinking of the future hold their nerve and more than the immediate objectives of the Tamil Nadu elections it speaks well of the capacity of the Congress High Command to take difficult decisions under intense pressure.
Elections are never easy and a safe prediction is to indicate a 'close fight' between the DMK and the AIDMK along with their allies and we can expect a great deal of turbulence on a daily basis as we approach the selection of candidates within the DMK family. The Congress gain a respite from the CVC issue and the Supreme Court monitoring of the 2G issue along with the black money matter will ensure that the compulsions of Coalition politics will no longer apply to the UPA2 and while events may wound many within the power structure it is clear that no one in the Congress High Command is involved.
The JPC and the PAC are all effective but I still feel that the speed of the Supreme Court probe will yield results and in issues of this nature the probe will widen and the DMK first family has much to answer for in the immediate future. Political battles are not determined by individual skirmishes and the bigger picture for 2014 in my opinion remains unchanged except for a handful of Regional parties and their charismatic leaders who will gain and this is directly linked to their electoral win in the Assembly elections.
Much has happened in the last three months both in India and abroad and there is no doubt that there are serious issues of governance which have to be addressed and we cannot be dismissive of events. We witness daily chaos in Afghanistan and Pakistan with suicide bomb blasts, we see pressure building up in the Middle East and Africa as millions fight for freedom against regimes based on military might and monopoly on the economic resources of the country.
We see regime change in Tunisia and Egypt and we see a civil war situation in Libya and we see tension and protests in Bahrain, Yemen, Jordan, Oman and the list will become longer as feudal forces based on dynastic succession and maintaining a monopoly on the economic resources of the country are no longer acceptable by vast sections of the population deprived of their wealth. We can see a prolonged period of uncertainty in the area and a regime change is never easy but all this has no meaning for those deprived of political and economic rights and events of this nature affect us in India as we have 5 million citizens in the Middle East and have 400 million people living under the poverty levels across the country and we have a great deal of Maoist violence in the tribal area and we cannot be immune to the situation around us. We have a strong democratic structure and we have achieved high economic growth over the past two decades but expectation levels have increased and we look for better governance in thought and action both at the Center and in the State and there will be greater accountability at the ballot.
We have a very difficult year in 2011 as will the global community but we also have the competence at all levels to deal with this situation and to remain focused on the positives we have to evolve consensus and solutions for the past and concentrate on the present and the future. I was delighted to see the PM accept the responsibility for the CVC selection and the Leaders of the Opposition was graceful in her response. We must find a early resolution to the Telecom issue and sometimes the most complex issues need a very simple solution. We need a 'new' policy and we must settle for the past and since there are few innocents on either side it does not make sense to 'persecute' the system and we should deal in fines and penalties instead of trying to police the system. We are sick and tired of the Telecom scam and I wonder how many people know of the difference between 2G and 3G? We do not have a perfect government and no such thing has ever existed and looking at the larger picture we cannot maintain our momentum of growth unless we reform our system and our archaic laws many of which date back to the era of Colonial rule and were designed to control rather than to encourage initiative.
The media on a 24x7 basis keeps us informed but everything cannot be reported on a daily basis on a indefinite basis and the issue does not die away because another issue dominates the media space. We are shocked today to know that 7 ships are under the pirates in Somalia and 79 Indians are held hostage against a kidnap demand and the government gives a routine reply to a issue of life and death for the families. I am rather surprised that the Somali pirates are allowed to function despite the presence of several Naval ships in the area from several countries and this needs a larger debate and a suitable deterrent for the future. The External Affairs Minister indicates the progress made so far and while these issues cannot be discussed in the media our thoughts are with those kept captive and their families and we pray for their safe return.










Tuesday's broad daylight murder of a girl student of Ram Lal Anand College in South Delhi's Dhaula Kuan area has stunned the people in the national Capital and elsewhere in the country. Even 48 hours after the crime having been committed in the busy morning hours the police had no definite clue about the murderer.


Though it released a sketch of the young man, who is believed to have been harassing her for a long time, the police has failed to get an eyewitness account of the murder. The police somehow prepared the killer's sketch after conversations with family members and friends of the 20-year-old victim, Radhika Tanwar, but it is surprising that no one has come forward with an eyewitness account.


And it is unbelievable that there would be no eyewitnesses as the girl was shot dead in full public view while walking on a footbridge near her college. She remained unattended to for 10 minutes. The precious time was lost when she was taken to hospital by a police constable.


The incident clearly shows public antipathy towards the police. The general impression is that the police harasses those who come forward to help a person in distress or to provide information to the police about a criminal. Eyewitnesses, in most cases, have to suffer at the hands of both the police and the criminal involved in the commission of a crime. There is no credible system to ensure the safety of eyewitnesses.


The crime graph may have come down in Delhi, as the police claims, but the growing distance between the police and the public is a cause for concern. This may eliminate the little gains the police has made. Once criminals are convinced of public indifference in helping the police, they may feel emboldened. In any case, effective policing without people's cooperation is not possible, however stringent the law may be. This factor is as important as is the need to instil the fear of law in every segment of society. 









State budgets increasingly avoid new taxes, which make politicians unpopular. Governments now take loans, which not many understand or oppose. Haryana's debt will soar to Rs 52,701 crore in the coming fiscal year from the current debt of Rs 44,515 crore. The loan in Haryana is harsh but it is still half of Punjab's and is manageable because of robust economic expansion and rising tax collection.


Haryana grows at about 9 per cent — slightly higher than the national GDP growth. Budgets are often loaded with dry statistics which make little sense to a lay reader. The costs imposed by projects taken up under the public-private partnership model are often ignored in calculating the burden on the taxpayers. Hefty amounts are collected for using roads and bridges.


Reforms and technology are shrinking the role of the state. But government expenditure, and the consequent burden on the public, keeps growing, thanks to extravagance, populism and higher perks for politicians. The Haryana Chief Minister's pre-poll sops of Rs 700 crore, a Rs 1,500 crore stimulus to the industry, a farmer debt waiver of Rs 4,200 crore and a Rs 4,000 crore burden of staff pay/pension hike had turned the state from being revenue surplus to a deficit state. Finance Minister Ajay Singh Yadav hopes to make the state revenue surplus again by the next budget.


Barring the pre-poll aberrations, Haryana's priorities have been unquestionable. The government is spending increasingly on power, irrigation and the social sector. Thirty-three per cent of the budget outlay is to be spent on building infrastructure. While health needs a significantly higher allocation, education and sports have got special attention this year. Social and economic disparities have widened over the years spreading unrest in a state, which otherwise boasts of having the second highest per capita income in the country after Goa. The Jats and the Dalits often clash and hold the state to ransom for a higher share of the cake. To end frequent road/rail blockades and ensure social harmony, which alone can fast-track development, equitable and inclusive growth should be high on the government's agenda. 








There is a crisis in higher education in India, both with the quality of education being delivered to students as well as in the inadequacy of institutions of higher learning in the nation. Only 12.4 per cent of Indian students go in for higher education, and it is now clear that the government alone cannot handle the task of providing 800 more universities and an estimated 10,000 colleges in the next 10 years. It is in this context that the public-private partnership model is being envisaged, and indeed, encouraged.


We have it on the authority of the HRD Minister Kapil Sibal that most of the private technical institutions in the country are not up to the mark, and indeed lack both the required infrastructure as well as qualified staff. The Minister, however, is not just expected to state the problem; he is empowered to provide a solution. Instead, in Parliament, recently, he lamented that a World-Bank funded Technical Education Quality Improvement Programme had failed to take off since none of the 130 proposals submitted by technical institutions fulfilled the criteria laid down for allocation of funds. Thus, these 130 institutions were not even of a basic level, where they would qualify for a programme that would help them attain excellence.


With the economy growing steadily, more jobs are available. However, there are not enough institutions to educate students and train them. Many of the new institutions are inadequate. Students of such institutions find it difficult to get good jobs and this leads to discontentment. The HRD Minister must make the effort to monitor both government and private education institutions to ensure that they conform to the norms. Citizens have a right to not only education, but also, by implication, to higher education. It is the duty of the state to provide and adequately monitor institutions of higher education. 











The echoes of popular uprising against authoritarian regimes in the Arab world are reverberating elsewhere in Asia also. Though South Asia displayed its people's power years earlier, from 2004 to 2007, when monarchies and military regimes were forced to take to the democratic path, the heat of the developments in Egypt and Tunisia was felt in Pakistan once again.


The international and local media started speculating if Pakistan will witness another popular uprising against the corrupt and inefficient government as well as the politically entrenched army. Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani had to publicly come out to deny any such possibility and reshuffled the pack of his ministerial cards to project some responsiveness in governance.


Other than Pakistan, China was also alerted towards the possibility of pro-democracy demonstrations triggered by online anonymous messages calling upon the Chinese to stage "strolling protests", in silence and with smiles on their faces, to press for political and economic reforms. These messages ridiculed China's "corrupt leadership" and asked for the termination of its authoritarian "one-party rule". Specific places like the Wangfujing shopping street in Beijing were identified in a number of Chinese cities for such protest gatherings for three consecutive Sundays, on February 20, 27 and March 6. The protests were aimed at targetting the meetings of China's National People's Congress (NPC) and the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) which were scheduled to start their sessions on March 3 to deliberate and finalise China's 12th Five-Year Plan.


Responses to these calls have been disappointing to the unknown, perhaps foreign-based "jasmine" callers. While Shanghai and Southern Nanning witnessed a few hundreds of people gathering at the designated places, in Beijing there were only a few "curious onlookers". Though the anonymous online organisers claimed that there was good response in about 100 big and small Chinese cities, no corroboration of these claims was available through independent sources.


One reason behind this lukewarm response to the calls for "jasmine strolls" was the heavy state reaction to these calls. The Chinese authorities censored many of the suspected websites and popular social networking sites like Twitter and Facebook. Nearly a 100 lawyers and human rights activists were put under house arrest. One of them, prominent Beijing lawyer Teng Biao, had expressed support for "jasmine rallies" on Twitter. The whereabouts of some of them are still unknown. Massive security was mobilised at the designated places where both uniformed and plain-clothes police personnel handled in a heavy-handed manner the curious media persons, mostly foreign, gathered to report these "strolls". Journalists, notably from Bloomberg TV, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, were roughed up and their video cameras damaged. The Foreign Correspondents Club of China condemned the "unprovoked attacks on journalists". The Foreign Ministry's official spokesperson reacted by saying that foreign journalists must "respect and abide by China's laws and regulations" and that "Beijing is a very big city with a large population. It is important to maintain normal order". Local authorities in Beijing are reiterating these warnings.


It would, however, be misleading to assume that the "Jasmine Revolution" in China was thwarted only because of the strong State action. The situation in China is radically different from the Arab world. China is not governed by individual or dynastic dictators as has been the case in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Its leadership is imaginative, organised and responsive, and does not hold office in perpetuity. The calls for protests mostly started from overseas Chinese and not from within as has been the situation in the Arab countries. China has made impressive economic progress and the confidence of ordinary Chinese has grown in their future prosperity with the trickle-down of this growth. The international community has huge stakes in China's stability and continued growth as the factory of the world's cheap consumer goods.


Then why did the Chinese authorities over-react to the "jasmine" calls? This is because China feels internally vulnerable to any popular demands for political reforms and change. The Chinese Communist Party seems determined not to lose political control of the State. The State knows that it is not transparent, nor relaxed on issues like human rights, freedom of expression and organisation and open and healthy competition for power within. It has not preferred the rise of democracies anywhere in its immediate neighbourhood. The restive population in Tibet and Xinjiang reinforces the State's internal sense of insecurity. The experience of Tiananmen also alerts the State apparatus that it can be taken by surprise anytime.


The Chinese leadership realises that faster economic growth has been regionally imbalanced, resulting in economic inequality and environmental degradation, costing the quality of human life for many under-privileged Chinese residing in the rural areas, including hinterland. This was clear in Premier Wen Jiabao's report to the NPC. Economic inequality was starkly highlighted by the presence of the ever-increasing number of billionaires in the country's highest legislative bodies. The rural poor cannot bear the costs of health services and education, nor are they free to move in search of greener pastures. The frustrations of the rural poor are reflected in the increasing number of tensions and conflicts in rural areas. China needs to generate 12 million jobs to cope with the unemployment pressures. China's fast growing urbanisation is also leading to new tensions between the urban population and rural migrants as the latter suffer discrimination in their new places of work.


The internal economic and social pressures are forcing the Chinese leadership to be sensitive to the demands of political reforms. They also cannot ignore the changing global mood in favour of liberalisation and freedom. The word "democracy" and the demands for a multi-party system with greater political space for non-communist groups and organisations are heard more frequently and loudly even in the deliberations of the national legislative bodies. In a way, these voices are allowed to be raised occasionally to tactically diffuse internal pressures and create an ambiance of reform and change without altering the basics of political structures. It is a real challenge for the Communist Party of China to maintain its political hegemony in the midst of these uncomforting noises as they gradually gain momentum. The present leadership being rooted into the hard social reality has been able to meet this challenge. But they realise that pressures for opening the political system and responding to the demands for economic equality will grow faster than expected. Greater budgetary allocation, more than even on defence modernisation, for internal security is a clear evidence of the concerns gripping the leadership.


It remains to be seen if the new leadership that will take office in 2012 will be able to display the present grassroot-embedded leadership's degree of resilience and tact. It will also be interesting to watch what happens if the challenge of unequal and imbalanced economic growth is not tackled fast for a society that is technologically exposed to diverse and radical ideas of political freedom and pluralism from the world around.


The writer is Visiting Research Professor, Institute of South Asian Studies, Singapore.








I have spoken to the secretary about Ideal Public School. He was polite but non-committal, which was only to be expected because I am no longer the Principal of a school. I feel strange communicating with you like this, in two brief paragraphs over the electronic mail when I remember those 20-page letters that I used to write daily and which you still have in a steel trunk under your bed.

It started when we used to cross each other and smile and nod and when you stopped one day and asked if this "silsila" would ever go beyond this casual greeting.


Then there was the postcard telling me that you would be returning to Lucknow on the 20th or the 21st of December. When you got off the train on the 21st and found me waiting on the platform you asked: "Were you here yesterday?" And when I nodded my head, you smiled and said: "I knew you would be." That was the beginning of the most glorious and wonderful relationship of my life. You were always with me. You were the prime mover in that unhappy attempt at a runaway marriage and when it failed you were even more heartbroken than I was. 


You were such a help when I did finally get married and set up house. You were by my side when I lost my first born, holding my hand and doing your best to make me understand that the world had not come to an end. You stood by me all through the trauma of the breaking up of my marriage and did your best to shore up my self-esteem by convincing me that it wasn't all my fault.


And more recently, when my house burned down around my ears you flew in from Australia and helped me get over it by repeatedly telling me that they were only things that had been destroyed, that I should be glad to have got rid of all that useless clutter. I know in today's world our relationship would be dubbed a gay relationship.


I don't know if it was. But I never did desire you physically though I will admit that whenever I was tired and weary I longed to be with you. But then something within me died, perhaps killed by all the buffets that my life had received and by the fact that I was now too old to take them in stride.


I did what I had not allowed myself to do over all these long years I let time and distance take you away from. There was the odd phone call but increasingly these phone calls became further and further apart. And now there was your mail. I know that those 20-page letters will never be again. But now that evening shadows draw so close, do you think we could do better than an email every six months?


I remain as always

Yours affectionately








The issue of judicial activism has again come to the fore following the pro-active role of the Supreme Court. It quashed the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, directed the Centre to unearth black money stashed in foreign banks and put Hasan Ali Khan under custodial interrogation. Experts debate the pros and cons of judicial activism.

The issue of judicial activism has again come to the fore following the pro-active role of the Supreme Court. It quashed the appointment of P.J. Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner, directed the Centre to unearth black money stashed in foreign banks and put Hasan Ali Khan under custodial interrogation. Experts debate the pros and cons of judicial activism.


It's a pejorative phrase


This is not judicial activism. Judicial activism is a pejorative phrase. The orders that have been passed by the Supreme Court in recent days are not at all an exercise in judicial activism, but judicial propriety because the Judges have examined the legality of the orders passed by the government and pronounced on them.


This is part of the judicial function of the court. Therefore, to say that because the government has not succeeded in these matters the court has stepped out of its crease would be a totally erroneous assumption.


— Fali S. Nariman,Eminent jurist


Judiciary is doing its duty


Judicial review is a part of the constitutional set-up. If anything wrong has been done or is being committed, the judiciary is bound to intervene and undo the wrong. Judicial activism has been there for decades and it is wrong to say that it is a new phenomenon.


However, there is a difference. While earlier, judicial activism was restricted to lower level offices, now its scope has expanded to higher authorities. While doing so, the judiciary is only carrying out its onerous duty as mandated by the Constitution.


Courts are not encroaching upon the domain of either the legislature or the executive. For instance, with regard to Mr Thomas' appointment as the CVC, he should not have been appointed in the first place in view of a charge-sheet pending against him. It's because the executive erred in appointing him that the Supreme Court had to quash it and declare it null and void.


The Constitution is supreme and no organ — the legislature, the executive or the judiciary —can claim supremacy. If any organ crosses its limits, there must be an instrument like the judiciary to set it right and protect the Constitution.


Judicial review is nothing but asking the legislature and the executive to act in accordance with the provisions of the Constitution. The judiciary has a constitutional obligation to undo the wrong and uphold the rule of law. It will be failing in its constitutional duty if it doesn't step in.


— Justice Rajindar Sachar,Former Chief Justice, Delhi High Court


THE ONLY choice


Judicial activism is more a matter of compulsion than choice. It's only when the other wings of the administration shy away from carrying out their responsibilities and performing their statutory duties due to political considerations, populist compulsions, vested interests or just secretarial negligence that the judiciary has to step in.


The objective behind judicial intervention is not just to protect larger public interest or safeguard the well-being of individuals but to restore people's faith in the justice delivery system.


People's confidence in the judiciary has to be safeguarded from erosion with the tool of judicial activism. At times, it becomes essential for the Judges to look beyond the immediate, to scratch more than just the surface, to dig deep, to carry exhaustive study, to hold inquiries and see if there is more than what meets the eye.


After all, the courts, as custodians of law, cannot shut their eyes to illegalities, malpractices, violations, discrimination and arbitrariness.


Judicial activism has seen justice restored on the track, innocents being saved from the gallows, scandals being exposed, the famished getting a square meal, the jobless landing up with means of subsistence, and even children finding their way to the schools through the dark lanes of ignorance.


Compensations have been paid, non-deserving ones have been removed from posts, strictures have been passed, and directions issued to set things right. Any argument against judicial activism can hardly be justified.


— Justice Mehtab Singh Gill, Former Acting Chief Justice,Punjab and Haryana High Court


War on black money, graft


This is not activism in a wider sense. It seems the Supreme Court is taking on corruption and issues related to this. The Chief Justice of India has stated on many occasions that corruption cases must be fast-tracked.


Most of the important cases in which the judiciary has passed orders recently are about corruption in one sense or the other.


While the case relating to the Commonwealth Games was financial corruption, the litigation over the appointment of Mr P.J. Thomas as the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) was related to corruption because the CVC is a vigilance institution and is the supreme watchdog of the anti-corruption establishment of the Government of India for its employees.


Who will save the institutions if the Supreme Court doesn't intervene at the right time?


Black money is also a facet of corruption because it is used essentially for illegal and corrupt practices.


— Mukul Rohatgi, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court


Protector of Human rights


Justice is no more a distant dream even for the most vulnerable strata of society. And that's just one of the many contributions judicial acti-vism has made to Indian democracy. The past two decades have seen the judiciary go deep into issues not just for safeguarding the rights and freedom of the individuals but even to protect the environment and redress related concerns.


The judiciary has, in fact, assumed an activist posture, and has construed the constitutional provision in a broader possible sense with the intent of safeguarding the basic civil liberties and fundamental rights. It's for this larger public interest that the Indian judiciary has moved a little from the conventional and self-imposed limitations on its own jurisdiction.


No wonder, judicial activism has covered every aspect of life with a human touch — from checking child labour, illegal detentions, torture and even custodial deaths to rehabilitating slum dwellers, payment of minimum wages and a better deal for the bonded labour.


The judiciary does play a major role in the quality of the country's governance; an independent judiciary has become an essential feature of a democratic set-up like ours.


The judiciary has taken upon itself the task to enforce the basic rights of the poor and vulnerable sections of society and rightly so. It has proved to be a saviour and is here to stay.


— Mohan Jain, Additional Solicitor-General of India


The only hope of the nation


Activism of any kind is always welcome, especially from the judiciary. For it is the only institution in which the citizens continue to repose faith. Sadly, all other institutions have failed to live up to people's expectations.


— Tushar Mehta, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court


Examples of good law


Some judgements including those on the CVC and euthanasia are great examples of good law. Every time the Supreme Court lays down a good law it does not mean judicial activism. Good judgements are always welcome. The cry of judicial activism for the past few weeks is misplaced.


— Rajeev Dhavan, Senior Advocate, Supreme Court


onerous responsibility


It is a constitutional duty which the Supreme Court owes to the nation as corruption has become society's enemy number one.


The court, being part of society, is discharging its duty by taking cognisance of such cases.


— Mahabir Singh, Senior Counsel for defence personnel

As told to R. Sedhuraman in New Delhi, 
Shiv Kumar in Mumbai and Saurabh Malik in Chandigarh


'Judiciary crossing the Lakshman Rekha'


The judiciary is crossing the lines by stepping into roles that haven't been drawn up for them. It is important that everyone operated within their Lakshman Rekhas.There is confusion everywhere today as the judiciary is busy with executive functions, the legislature with investigations and the executive with everything other than governance.


How can the judiciary decide on the criteria for appointing a CVC? Will Judges now go on to make prescriptions for appointing the Chief of Staff, the Home Secretary or the Defence Secretary?...It will finally come down to how Judges theselves are appointed.


— Somnath Chatterjee,Former Speaker, Lok Sabha


The role of the Judge is that of a referee. I can blow my judicial whistle when the ball goes out of play; but when the game restarts, I must neither take part in it nor tell the players how to play…Judicial whistle needs to be blown for a purpose and with caution. It needs to be remembered that courts cannot run the government…


Policy matters, fiscal, educational or otherwise, are best left to the judgement of the executive. The danger of judiciary creating a multiplicity of rights without the possibility of adequate enforcement will, in the ultimate analysis, be counter-productive and undermine the credibility of the institution.


Courts cannot create rights where none exists nor can they go on making orders which are incapable of enforcement or violative of other laws or settled legal principles. Far from accepting the limits on their legitimacy, judges sometimes confuse the divinity of the judicial function with individual divinity or personal infallibility.


— Justice A.S. Anand,Former Chief Justice of India


Broad guidelines should be followed by the courts in dealing with public interest litigations. There is the danger of inexperienced, indiscreet or embarrassingly naïve use of judicial power whereby PIL becomes a menace to public administration or an illusion for the people. Judicial usurpation erodes constitutional division of powers among the different instrumentalities. Our country has not entrusted governance to justices or legislation to courts.


— Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer,Former Supreme Court Judge







The state of a society's development is perhaps best gauged by three things — its public facilities, the wiring in its public places, and its public libraries.


Public libraries, as much as public spaces, define cities. Great cities in history were known for their libraries. Public libraries are more than collections; they represent an ideal, an idea of freedom and a commitment. Publiclending libraries are physical repositories of abstract thoughts, and the idea they represent is that people, and therefore societies, improve and develop with an exposure to thoughts, ideas, writing.


Of course, libraries also preserve a shared past. The KR Cama Oriental Institute at Kala Ghoda has a wonderful collection of Bombay Gazetteers. Not far away is the Asiatic Library, a place of refuge and reflection in a tempestuous city. Its collection has some gems: one of only two known copies of Dante's Inferno, a 1623 First Folio of Shakespeare and Firdausi's Shahnama among others. It is also a lending library, a reading room and a venue for lectures and events. There are others too, like the JN Petit Library and the David Sassoon reading room, but the Asiatic's collection is unique.


In more recent times, perhaps the greatest commitment to public libraries (and, this can't be coincidence, university education) has been in America. When Benjamin Franklin founded the Library Company of Philadelphia in the 1730s, he also started a movement of public spending on libraries. There are contesting claims to being the oldest or largest free public library in America (or the world), but these hardly matter for each of these does in fact embody a commitment to the public. Consider the extent of this commitment: The Queens Borough Public Library is the largest by circulation; in 2007, it loaned 21 million Loss of a public library shrinks a city and its people; sadly, libraries everywhere are under attack today like never before
items. The Library of Congress has over 115 million items; it is followed by the Boston Public Library, Harvard University and the New York Public Library. All have collections in doubledigit millions. (The Asiatic Society's collection is slightly over 100,000).


University libraries are, of course, a thing apart and here, again, there's nothing quite like the American university library system. I once wandered into the University of California at Berkeley's music library of all things. With not much to do, I browsed the catalogue. They seemed to have every single LP recording of every Hindustani classical music artiste, cross-indexed by artiste, genre, every accompanist and other stuff besides. The law library had books in its India section that I haven't seen in the High Court — and the High Court Law and Government Law College libraries both have some wonderful treasures of their own.


But libraries everywhere are under attack today as never before. They depend on public funding, and a library is the softest target of a budget cut. The 2011 budget cuts might force 20 of the 43 public libraries in Oxfordshire to shut down. In New York, Mayor Bloomberg's budget cuts for 2010 threatened the closure of 14 of the 51 community branches of the Queens Library network. The public libraries of Brooklyn and New York were similarly affected. This isn't new either: it's been going on in one way or another for the last 20 years. Book-buying budgets have been cut. Universities, too, are not immune: writing in the New York Review of Book in December 2010, Robert Darnton said, "Still, there is no disguising the fact that research libraries are going through hard times — times so hard that they are inflicting serious damage on the entire world of learning."
    Changing technology might yet provide an answer in the form of digitisation of books and materials. Digitising is still expensive, and there are serious legal problems, chiefly about copyright, but it has the advantage of very wide reach and low final maintenance costs. Proposals like these are essential to continue the commitment to public learning and education; but the loss of a large central public library shrinks a city and its people. Jorge Luis Borges imagined paradise to be "a kind of library"; and great cities have great public libraries, for nothing represents a more democratic commitment to the citizen than a public library and a public garden.


The ancient library of Thebes bore an inscription over its door: the medicine chest of the soul. Take away a city's library, force its closure, and you rob it of its soul.


Our very own Asiatic Library, a place of refuge and reflection in a tempestuous city, has some gems in its collection



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The yawning gap between farm gate and market prices of agricultural commodities, including food and vegetables, and the role of distortions in agricultural produce marketing in fueling food inflation have been in the news in recent months, and were discussed in the meetings of the Union cabinet. The view that marketing reforms are vital to reducing this gap has now been endorsed by a group of chief ministers on food prices, headed by Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi. The Modi group's report was submitted to the prime minister last week. The CM's panel has recommended liberalisation of agricultural markets by allowing direct marketing and contract marketing. It has sought an end to the monopoly enjoyed by agricultural produce marketing committees (APMC) in routing farm produce to consumers, recommending greater involvement of private organised sector or cooperatives in retail trade. The group favours a single market in agricultural produce, evening out inter-state disparities in the prices of agricultural commodities. Others, including the National Commission on Farmers, headed by noted farm expert M S Swaminathan, have made some of these suggestions before. Even the common minimum programme of the United Progressive Alliance had committed itself to an end to controls on farm goods trade and sought a common market for agricultural produce in India.

The Modi panel has lent its weight to these ideas and has suggested that a ministerial-level coordination mechanism at the national and regional levels be created to ensure implementation of its proposals. To ensure smooth operation of the proposed extended market, the panel has called for a system of collecting and disseminating information to all stakeholders on production, imports, stocks and availability of essential commodities. The CM's panel has also suggested enlarging the scope of priority sector lending to including agricultural marketing. While all these are good ideas, even if not all new, the group's proposal to keep essential commodities out of futures trading for now, militates against its generally pro-market approach. The group believes that there is no strong link between spot and futures markets and so, futures trading is unlikely to make an impact on spot prices. The committee has failed to recognise that the futures market, if allowed to operate fairly and freely, can perform the purpose of price discovery, giving advance signals of impending price rise for timely remedial action. Various studies, including one by the RBI, have absolved futures trading of the charge of pushing up spot prices. Indeed, even the finance ministry has taken this view. There is far too much mythology about the negative effects of futures trading and this needs to be debunked rather than given the imprimatur of a CM's committee.


 In another doubtful recommendation, the Modi committee has mooted "unbundling" of the Food Corporation of India (FCI) operations in terms of procurement, storage and distribution functions. Such a move could create more problems than resolve existing ones, and only add to the administrative cost of running the FCI. Of course, the FCI's functioning leaves much to be desired but its fragmentation into more number of equally inefficient entities would complicate matters further. Overall, the Modi panel report is a vital intervention on food prices and agricultural marketing and should be taken up in all seriousness by the government, especially because this is the view of the states, who are responsible for managing agricultural production and policy.







The glib talk of a "demographic dividend" seems to have erased all concern about population growth from public discourse in India. The term "family planning", or even the politically correct term of "family welfare" has all but disappeared from the national lexicon, including the Economic Survey and Budget documents. At a time when even China is, in fact, reviewing its 'one child' policy and many economies around the world are more worried about ageing, India is one of the world's youngest countries with more than half the population below 30 years of age. Also, the fertility rate, or the number of children per woman, has been declining steadily, almost halving from the late sixties through 2009. In several states where prosperity and education levels are higher — Andhra, Kerala, Punjab — among them fertility rates have fallen below replacement levels, putting them on a par with some advanced nations. These numbers are reassuring but don't tell the full story. Large parts of India are yet to make the demographic transition to lower fertility rates.

On an all-India basis, the fertility rate at 2.76 is still significantly behind China's 1.77, no doubt the result of the latter's stringent one child policy. As a recent article by Indicus Analytics in this newspaper pointed out, using one estimate of constant fertility rate, India's population is set to exceed China's by 2022, just 11 years from now. This date could be postponed by 18 years to 2029 if we use a lower fertility assumption. Either way, India is going to have a lot of people. Global corporations and businessmen see this in terms of burgeoning potential markets for a range of consumer goods and a useful talent pool. But as the Indicus Analytics analysis pointed out, these numbers may set out probable scenarios but "they do give some pointer to the huge resource requirements ahead for feeding, clothing and housing India's growing population". Ergo: it's no point having lots of people if they are neither educated properly nor healthy. This is certainly a major issue even today; despite being among the world's top ten fastest growing economies, the Human Development Indicators (HDI) provide a depressing dampener ever year. India's 2010 HDI ranking was 119 (among 169 countries), to China's 89, Brazil's 73 and Russia's 65, putting it way behind all its BRIC competitors.

Despite strenuous efforts and some notable successes (in primary schooling, for example), the centre and state governments' ability to provide its 1.2 billion people with adequate health, sanitation and education remains poor, more so in the rural areas where the bulk of the population lives. Going by its token investments in social sector schemes, any improvement on this track record is likely to be incremental. With poorer states still recording high rates of population growth, India needs a vigorous family-planning campaign, especially in these states. The two-child —"hum do, hamare do" campaign must be relaunched and the pro-girl child campaign must also be stepped up.







The government of India has outlined very ambitious plans for building infrastructure in India over the coming decade. In the upcoming 12th plan (2012-2017), the government has targeted total infrastructure spend of about a trillion dollars. Of this, the private sector is supposed to fund 50 per cent.

One has seen numerous articles debating the ability of the private sector to access enough debt to fund this build out. The need to develop a corporate debt market, the asset-liability mismatch banks are running in funding infrastructure, the need to attract genuine long-term capital like insurance and pension monies in the space, are all well flagged issues. The government has already moved on some of these pain points and seems seized of the problem. In this Budget, we saw the FII limits on corporate bonds for infrastructure being raised by $20 billion, and numerous discussions to activate the corporate bond markets, encourage take-out financing, etc. are currently active.


 Beyond debt, I think there is an issue on the availability of equity capital, simply put our infra developers do not have the market cap for the buildout.

The infrastructure sector (comprising both project developers and construction companies) has got massively de-rated by investors over the last few years. After being a darling of the markets in the run-up to the peak of 2007, the sector has consistently underperformed. The sector is so out of favour that it currently seems incapable of raising any new equity from the public markets. Its only source of equity capital is from private equity players and that too in mostly structured/guaranteed return transactions.

If we look at a universe of more than 60 private sector infra companies (excluding Larsen and JSPL; they are doing more than just infra) their combined market cap is just $55 billion (out of total market cap of $1 trillion). The typical promoter holding is below 50 per cent. Of this $55 billion, about $28 billion is the market cap of pure-play power developers.

If we want the private sector to invest $500 billion in infrastructure over the coming five years, even assuming a 70/30 debt equity structure, this implies a need for $150 billion of equity over five years. How will a sector with a total market cap of $55 billion( 50 per cent promoter holding ) generate $30 billion of equity contribution per annum? This is difficult to contemplate as companies will not be able to raise multiples of their current market cap. At best one can assume a 30 per cent dilution and that to, once every two years (yielding only $15-16 billion every two years and that too if every company can raise equity). The constant need to dilute will also prevent the market cap of these companies from rising exponentially. Thus, neither will markets support the quantum of equity fund raising needed, nor will promoters accept bringing their stakes down to zero. Market cap is relevant, as most of these infra developers generate no-free cash flow as of today, and hence equity contribution will have to come from fresh fund raising. The quantum of new equity any company can raise is intrinsically linked to its current market value. Without the equity, it does not matter how easily debt is available, as no project will get financial closure. Debt approvals are normally contingent on equity being brought in first. The reality is that the Indian infrastructure sector does not have the size, financial muscle and market clout to fund the infrastructure this country needs.

While power projects may still go ahead, as we have 4-5 large power developers with a combined $28 billion of market cap, $27 billion of market cap has to support everything else from roads to ports, airports, sanitation, etc. Again, the needs dwarf the capital, which can be raised.

There are various implications of this mismatch between current market cap, and incremental equity requirements.

First of all, we are going to be very dependent on foreign equity coming directly into project level investments. This equity will need to come from specialised infrastructure funds or from global project developers who are willing to fund projects and can bring in the capital. As a country, we may have to accept foreigners owning large chunks of our infrastructure, as is the case today with ports.

Secondly, the big boys of Indian industry will have to get more involved in infrastructure. Their balance sheets and cash flows have to come into play. The current lot of entrepreneurs in the space do not have the financial muscle, nor market credibility to fund the needed build out. We have already seen this happen in the power space, with all the top business houses contemplating investments.

Thirdly, markets have ignored the sector, given the poor economics demonstrated. Most infra projects/developers generate no-free cash flow, have low ROE's and are very susceptible to project delays and policy risk. Investors are tired of projects stuck in red tape or subject to the whims and fancies of ministers. Most of the large infra projects are also seen to be disguised bets on real estate, as their entire economics depend on the monetisation of some land parcels bundled along with the project. Unless these project characteristics improve, money will not flow. Investors currently feel that only those developers who can manage the system, can make money in this space. This perception has to change.

We will also see significant concentration risk among a handful of companies. In the power space, for example, only Reliance Power, Adani, Tata Power and JSPL have a market capitalisation in excess of $5 billion. Any project above a certain size can only be put up by one of these four. In ports, the only company with a market cap in excess of $1 billion is Mundra. In roads, only IRB has a market cap in excess of $1 billion. Larsen, with a market cap of $ 21 billion, is larger than all the other infra players combined (excluding the pure-play power developers). Is the government and public policy environment prepared to have 2-3 private companies dominate every sector? How will banks handle group exposure issues?

India is attempting to implement one of the most ambitious public-private partnership programmes ever conceived. Driven by a lack of resources with the government, we need the private sector to step up and fund/develop $500 billion of investments over the coming five years. In a market with ROE's of 20 per cent, investors will not give capital to the infra developers, unless their projects can be seen to deliver similar returns (adjusted for leverage). Will our public policy framework allow private developers to earn these type of project returns, on the scale needed and will the public be willing to pay the prices for infra services needed to deliver these high returns? This is a fundamental contradiction and policy dilemma. We are not a capital surplus country, our high cost of capital and high corporate returns, much lauded by investors is actually a disadvantage when trying to build out infra projects. Investor hurdle rates are too high. We need a new set of investors, satisfied with steady 12-15 per cent annuity type returns, and willing to sit through multi-year project implementation cycles.

The author is Founder and CEO, Amansa Capital






The family, the story goes, had agreed to fund Anand Mahindra's education at Harvard. But the rules at that time did not allow scarce foreign exchange to be taken out of the country for undergraduate studies. Disheartened, Mahindra asked Harvard for a scholarship — there was no other way out. The Ivy League university, to Mahindra's pleasant surprise, decided to make an exception and admitted the scion of the industrialist family as a student on scholarship. So touched was Mahindra by the gesture that he last year made an endowment of $10 million to set up the Mahindra Humanities Centre at Harvard.

No less interesting is what he has chosen to promote — the humanities. Mahindra studied architecture and filmmaking at Harvard. That perhaps explains his interest in the humanities. Mahindra had told Charlie Rose some time back that his self-confidence to think through problems and confront the complexities of work comes from his education at Harvard in the liberal arts. More recently, he has forged an alliance with Sundance Institute to promote the cause of independent cinema.


 Well-known scholar and author Homi K Bhabha, who heads the Mahindra Humanities Centre, says the humanities are central to the way universities in the US work. They provide direction to research in the sciences and the social sciences. The roadmap for the Centre is yet to be laid out and the advisory committee yet to be formed (one of the members, Bhabha discloses, is a renowned musician whose calendar does not have more than three or four days free in a year). But Bhabha says the work would revolve around how deeply are the humanistic questions — ethics, morality, equality and freedom — being implanted in the sciences and social sciences.

Much of it looks like philanthropy. Some bit of it is also about projecting India, and its businessmen, as a soft power. Cross-border acquisitions have become the order of the day; Indian companies have joined the scramble for assets around the world. Soft power is a good way to soften local resistance to such acquisitions. Support to the sciences, on the other hand, is not only expensive but also projects the donor as some sort of a predator. The humanities make a perfect fit.

That apart, it is also true that Indian business houses have got down to a serious study of cultures. As they grow in scale and scope, they need to understand cultural issues — what is sacred in a society, what is not. What may work in one country may not work in another. A hit formula in one context could be a total flop in another. More than that, businessmen need to know what is important for people, what do they want to become, and what is dear to them before they launch a product, service or campaign.

Mahindra, for instance, has a presence in 90 countries. His dream of becoming a successful multinational conglomerate will come to naught if he turns a blind eye to the cultural nuances of local markets or if he ignores societal trends. Bhabha admits that he could be used as a sounding board by Mahindra, but hastens to add that it is for the industrialist to decide which areas he needs advice on.

There are others too who realise the importance of the humanities. The university that Mukesh Ambani wants to put up will have at its core a very strong department of the humanities, though the final details are yet to be tied up. Bhabha says, he recently met Kishore Biyani in Mumbai and was struck by his interest in the humanities and inter-discipline studies. He found India's largest retailer in touch with what was happening at Harvard. Biyani told Bhabha that the humanities are as important for economic understanding as anything else.

Still others want to study trends in Indian culture — which way is it headed? Less than two months ago, the Godrej group launched the Godrej India Culture Lab to "examine the textured nature of modernity in contemporary India by brokering innovative and meaningful interactions between the academia, creative class, business world and civil society." The research interests of the lab will include, amongst other things, urbanism, media convergence, rural cultures, youth cultures and the Indian diaspora.

Those who participated in the first event organised by the Godrej Culture Lab in Mumbai in January say they found Godrej honchos interested in the study of art and culture to understand how people, especially the new consumers and communities, are going to affect consumption. What kind of products will give people a sense of wellbeing? For Godrej, which was set up 113 years ago, it's a way of beginning to understand the social and cultural context in which to create products.

Similarly, Aspen Institute has launched Avantha International Fellowships for international students who want to gain broad knowledge of the world of philanthropy, social reform and development in India. Gautam Thapar of Avantha, of course, heads Aspen Institute India and is the man behind these fellowships. It may not be huge, but it clearly marks out the shape of things to come.







India's economic growth may be back to its pre-2008-09 global crisis trajectory of 9 per cent but there is a risk that it could be derailed by the rapid deterioration in its external balances. The current account deficit – the gap between the import and export of goods and services – widened to 3.7 per cent of GDP during the first half of 2010-11 and was as high as 4 per cent of GDP during the second quarter. In fact, these imbalances have been steadily worsening since the second quarter of 2009-10 and are much above what the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) considers a comfort zone of 1.5 to 2 per cent of GDP.

Why is the current account deficit a problem? Why must it be reduced? The International Monetary Fund's (IMF's) chief economist, Olivier Blanchard, addresses these questions in his latest discussion note*, which was inspired by the G20's request to the Fund to develop "indicative guidelines" for the reduction of global current account imbalances. A deficit can arise for bad or good reasons. The former includes financial sector regulation failures that fuel credit booms or "misbehaviour of fiscal authorities" in reducing national savings. Good reasons include bright economic prospects leading to investment rates exceeding savings rates.


 Blanchard argues that current account deficit must be reduced even if it arises for good reasons since it interacts with distortions to create risks. A country with investment opportunities attracts foreign savings. Such inflows lead to an appreciation of the exchange rate and can crowd out manufacturing activity and result in Dutch disease-type phenomena. The current account deficit and real exchange rate appreciation will be difficult to unwind without a painful real depreciation. Foreign lenders may also change their minds, leading to sudden stops and reversals which will trigger a painful adjustment.

In India's case, the high current account deficit stokes memories of the balance of payments crisis of 1990-91 which forced the government to sell some if its gold reserves and seek an IMF loan. The central bank is also worried about the quality of capital inflows that have been financing the current account deficit since the last fiscal year. The preference clearly is for non-debt inflows such as equity over debt and for relatively longer-term flows like foreign direct investment over short-term inflows like foreign institutional investments that come and go in a trice and are, thus, highly disruptive in nature.

The RBI is concerned that the composition of net capital inflows during the first-half of 2010-11 has been exactly the opposite of what is preferable. India's current account deficit is now being financed largely by foreign institutional investment and short-term debt rather than foreign direct investment. The latter more than halved to $5.3 billion during this period when compared to inflows of $12.3 billion a year earlier. Worse, these developments have been accompanied by a lower pace of reserve accretion and faster increase in external liabilities in relation to external assets, all of which contribute to vulnerability in India's external accounts.

Whether the third-quarter balance of payments data for 2010-11 – due by the end of March – will reflect a further deterioration or an improvement is an open question. The Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council in its latest report does note that the magnitude of the current account deficit reflects the growth dynamics of the economy. That if India's exports continue to improve – as they have of late despite an appreciation of the real exchange rate of the rupee – a moderation in the current account deficit is likely. The deficit in 2010-11 has been pegged at 2.8 per cent of GDP, same as in 2009-10.

The flip side is that India's merchandise trade deficit is unlikely to have improved in the rest of 2010-11 since imports have become costlier with international crude oil trading at $100-plus a barrel. There is also a big question mark over remittance inflows considering the spread, depth and intensity of the Jasmine Revolution unfolding in the Arab world. Remittances held out at similar levels during the first-half of 2010-11, as in the first-half of 2009-10, but moderated in the second quarter of 2010-11. As the crisis deepens in countries like Libya, the remittances are bound to be affected, worsening the current account.

The upshot is that India's external imbalances might well remain at elevated levels in 2010-11 and thereafter since domestic demand continues to boom. If the growth story is not to be affected, it is important to eliminate domestic distortions, thereby reducing the deficit so that they don't pose risks, as Blanchard has rightly argued. Also, concerns about financing the deficit through short-term debt and volatile portfolio inflows must be expeditiously addressed by the government in improving the environment for larger foreign direct inflows that will only reinforce the rapid growth trajectory.

* Olivier Blanchard and Gian Maria Milesi-Ferretti " (Why) Should Current Account Balances be Reduced?" IMF Staff Discussion Note, March 1, 2011. See also their earlier paper "Global balances:In Mid-Stream?", IMF Staff Position Note, December 2009

From the Ivory Tower makes research from the academic world accessible to all our readers









The notification, at last, of merger control provisions of the Competition Act, 2002 puts India in the league of nations that vet corporate merger/acquisition moves to guard against erosion of consumer welfare. Although some of the concerns raised by India Inc have been addressed by a series of notifications by the ministry of corporate affairs and draft regulations by the Competition Commission, doubts linger about the regulator's ability to deliver quick decisions. The draft notification, for instance, suggests that the commission will attempt to issue its final decision on a merger proposal within 180 days as against the 210 days required by the Competition Act. However, six months is too long a time in the life of a transaction, and an adverse decision can prove too costly for the parties to the merger. The European competition authority takes decisions in 90 days, while it is 30 days in the US. Indian companies compete against companies from these jurisdictions and cannot have dilatory regulation that slows them down by design. True, India's Competition Commission is just taking off, but it has the wealth of experience and expertise accumulated by the developed country counterparts to guide them. Just as trans-border competition forces Indian companies to adopt the latest technologies, managerial and marketing practices, the same competition makes it imperative that India's regulatory apparatus also be cutting-edge, right from the word go. The decision of the government to raise thresholds for merger scrutiny in terms of assets and turnover by 50% is good for companies, considering small acquisitions or deals between small-tomedium size companies. Equally welcome is the change in the definition of a group to exclude companies where the parent holds less than 50% of the equity.

Companies have got a three-month notice to prepare for the environment in which mergers and acquisitions will be scrutinised. The commission, too, should get its act together in this period to take on the new task, particularly with the right set of people. Beginning the task well is essential to gain the confidence of all stakeholders. More, and quality staff is the primary requirement.









The Election Commission (EC) continues on its quixotic charge to clean up poll funding. A month before five states go to polls, it has mandated all candidates to open a bank account dedicated to campaign funds, into which cheques would pour in to fund the campaign and from which all expenses would be paid. This, we are told, is another milestone on the road to clean campaign finance. But this road is cluttered with many potholes and speed-breakers, some of those created by the government and the EC. For years, the EC has persisted with caps on election funding. Last month, the EC magnanimously announced a rise in these caps after a gap of nearly four years. A candidate for an assembly election in a major state can now spend a princely . 16 lakh on a seat, up from . 10 lakh earlier. However, a candidate in Puducherry, which also goes to polls this summer, can't spend more than . 8 lakh on her campaign. Anyone familiar with elections and how much money they call for would find these numbers laughable. Actual spending is several multiples of the EC's absurd numbers and that's a big reason why candidates and parties accept campaign funding in cash. Given the curbs, poll-specific bank accounts won't clean up campaign finance.

The problem gets compounded when it comes to funding parliamentary elections. The EC caps campaign spending per candidate for a major state at . 40 lakh per constituency. This number is entirely arbitrary. On average, each parliamentary constituency has 7.6 assembly segments. So, going by the EC's own logic, if an assembly candidate is allowed to spend . 16 lakh, then a Parliamentary candidate should be allowed to spend . 1.2 crore. But she can legitimately spend only a quarter of that amount. The EC's curbs have become a perverse incentive, forcing candidates and parties to bring in cash to contest elections. It's time the babus at the EC took off their blinkers and scrapped these absurd limits on campaign finance. Let each candidate and party canvass for funds openly and spend all that they can, and we'll be on the way to cleaner poll funding.






It is certainly one renewable energy resource that India would have absolutely no problem in generating. So, the Ohio University scientist who has devised a technology to extract hydrogen from urine and use it to generate power, deserves to be invited to India and requested to head an innovation mission forthwith. Since all it apparently requires is for an electrode to zap wastewater to produce hydrogen from urine's significant constituents — ammonia and urea — then every nook and cranny of the country can become a potential power centre. In the West, stadia, airports, malls and other crowded places are being seen as possible generation units. India, however, would not have any problem with the economies of scale needed to make such projects viable everywhere, given that all 1.2 billion citizens, not to mention the world's largest bovine population, can contribute to make the nation a powerhouse. As it is estimated that it will not take much initial electrical energy to begin converting urine to hydrogen, 'electrifying' every village in India can then be launched as a cottage industry and bolster the initiative to devolve power to local institutions.

The technology also offers factories and large offices a great green — well, maybe yellow — option, by converting the emissions from every 200-300 employees into two kilowatts of hydrogen power. Provided, of course, that HR agrees to designate coffee and tea — and, therefore, toilet — breaks as productive exercises. If another group of scientists makes a breakthrough on a fuel cell directly powered by urine, we could see the birth of a new, renewable motor fuel called peetroleum. Then, with the fear of any leakages considerably diminished, a more eco-friendly energy behemoth called BPee can also be contemplated.







The political turmoil in North Africa and West Asia has triggered an increase in risk perception that was possibly any way waiting in the wings. Four particular concerns have been bothering players in financial markets for some time. The first was about where the US economy was headed — mostly about growth and unemployment, and also its fiscal position and the end-game in its extraordinarily extended monetary easing.
The second was how long the agreement between the Euro-majors about shoring up the weaker members — Greece, Portugal, Ireland and maybe Spain — was going to hold out and whether even in this constrained situation, there were growth prospects in the monetary union, or ought that to be written off to the greater glory of Euro-solidarity. Third, with respect to the growth story in emerging markets, even if it turned out to be true in the medium to longer term, were there hiccups on the way, serious enough to slow everything down — including corporate bottom lines? Finally, flowing from these considerations, has the two-step recovery in economies and markets that had followed on the global crisis approached a point of maturity and was a re-normalisation on the cards — in favour of mature economies? On the US, though the braver of the prognostication based on advance estimates for the fourth quarter of 2010 may have become qualified by the more modest magnitude of the revised estimates released a couple of weeks ago, overall there is a positive sense about the US economy — at least in the short-run, where implications of the huge and unresolved fiscal and monetary overhang do count for less. A more accurate description would perhaps be that there is a shift away from hopelessness to the feeling that all may not have been lost.

In Europe, Germany, Sweden and Finland — all did much better than expected in the fourth quarter with yearon-year growth in the quarter of 4.0, 7.2 and 5.0%, respectively. Several East European economies — Estonia, Lithuania and Poland — turned up sharp growth numbers in the fourth quarter, too. Clearly, growth is not an entirely endangered species in Europe, either.

Then again, the new Eurozone financial facility, purchases of government bonds by the European Central Bank and stand-by facilities from the IMF have been able to hold the situation back from a meltdown. Perhaps, much better than had been generally expected. It has even permitted Portugal to successfully re-enter the bond market and issue nearly €7 billion or 35% of the year's total refinancing needs in the year to-date.
Then again, the track record is supportive of the advanced markets revival story. The broad- based S&P 500 index gained 13% in 2010, much of it in the fourth quarter and is up by almost another 5% in 2011. Likewise, the German DAX gained 16% in 2010 — much of it again in the last quarter — and is up another 3% in 2011.
On the other hand, the emerging economies are looking a bit battered, buffeted by the high winds of inflation. About India we all know. China is running 5% consumer inflation and food inflation is in the double digits — way, way off its comfort zone. The FAO world food price index has risen for the eighth consecutive month and is in record territory with year-on-year inflation for February 2011 at 34% and the price index for cereals up 55%. Brazil, with its perennially high interest rate (to ward off the ghost of hyper-inflation), is seeing inflation running well above targets, as indeed has Chile with its record of a tightly managed economy and an appreciating currency that is up 7% on the US dollar.

    In these circumstances, would the emerging market's growth hold up? Sceptical observers have doubts. China has scaled down its growth targets — even if it is for different reasons. It fits the picture in the observer's mind — even if it may not be an accurate call. In any case, the shift over the past year-and-a-half to the emerging economies has been a profitable business and it was perhaps time to lift anchor and add to allocations where the action may be this year — in the advanced economies.

The developing political storm in North Africa and West Asia has catalysed all these trends. Fund trackers report that nearly one-fifth of the $95 billion that flowed into the emerging markets after the crisis had been pulled out to-date — most of it since mid-February. The fallout from the crisis in North Africa and West Asia has obvious connotations for the oil price, which then powerfully feeds into both inflation and fiscal stories in the emerging markets. Not for the first time, and not indeed for the last time, has a developing trend been metamorphosed thus by an unrelated development. In any case, political uncertainty has always induced a flight to safer havens — namely advanced home economies. The emerging market inflation and stalling growth story provide a rationale to this.

All things pass, and so too will this phase. How the perceived lustre in the mature economies might fade (or not) is not our story. But how domestic inflation is brought under control, how clarity and focus drive public policy and action, how the growth momentum is demonstrably preserved, how the risks from higher fuel prices are accommodated by flowing with the inevitable increase in oil prices — these are all within our domain. As indeed is the essential truth of the emerging economy growth story — and the Indian one in particular.







In India's extended neighbourhood, epochal change is underway: the Arab people are beginning to rediscover their soul. India will be understandably nervous about the consequences of the tumult, but it must devoutly wish for the success of the Arab reawakening. But why should we wish for something that has no obvious benefit to us and is fraught with uncertainty? After all, we have cordial relationships with countries of the Arab world. Is not a bird in hand worth two in the bush? That is one way of looking at things. The other is that support of democratisation in the Arab world is both morally correct and strategically wise. This impulse led the Indian National Congress to forge close links with the nationalist Wafd party in Egypt and support nationalist movements in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the Arab world. Jawaharlal Nehru and Egypt's Gamal Abdel Nasser, flushed in the warm afterglow of independence, joined with other stalwarts of the developing world to form the Non-Aligned Movement. India, to this day, is a strong supporter of the Palestinian cause.
Since Independence, there has been much official bonhomie between India and the rulers of Arab nations. But it has also been sterile and inhibited, missing the lively interaction that marks contacts between free peoples. Other than homilies, we have been forgetful of the effervescent relationship that flourished for millennia between India and the Arab world. The Arabs preserved, nourished and transmitted the learning of the Indian, Chinese and the Greeks, particularly during the Abbasid Caliphate, laying the groundwork for the European Renaissance. With Egypt, ironically, there was a real spark in the ties, but Hosni Mubarak had become unbearable for his people.

The major preoccupations of the Indian government have been oil, our relationship with Pakistan and the large expatriate population — up to five million in the Gulf alone. Arab regimes, on the other hand, have looked to India for support on Palestine. But it is the Middle East Quartet that plays the mediator, with a looming American presence. India, at best, is a fringe player while the West is seen as a dishonest broker. The Arab revolution is not just a rejection of the post-colonial autocrats who drew sustenance from the former colonial powers and the US. Even so, the rallying cry has not been about America, the Palestinian cause, pan-Arabism or Islam. Kindred people in similar circumstances — whether in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia or elsewhere — are inspiring each other to achieve freedom and dignity. The uprisings are taking place when America's policies are widely despised in the region. So, when a rejuvenated Arab people look around for democratic examples, they look to India with comfort and optimism. Already, Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood is doing so. The best-organised opposition group in the country, the Brotherhood has asked India to help hold elections in Egypt whenever they happen, as was reported in The Times of India recently. Indian democracy is messy, can be cumbersome and sometimes downright frustrating. But it also an experiment on a grand scale, a laboratory for a contract with humanity. If democracy can be good enough for India, it is good enough for the Arabs, too. It can be safely said that democratic Arab nations will draw away from the western sphere of influence in setting their domestic and foreign policy priorities. Mutual national interest, not cynical power politics, should be the bedrock of relationships. This does not mean empty utopian rhetoric. Rather, we can form genuine friendships with the Arab people, with whom we have cultural affinity and a history of close contact.

For India, boxed in by unstable or undemocratic regimes in a dangerous neighbourhood, a democratised and self-confident Arab world will relieve the claustrophobia and have a positive effect on its relationship with Pakistan. The US and India have been described by many as 'natural allies'. It's true that the closest thing to real friendship we have is with the US. Yet, if democracy comes to the Arab world, our natural allies will be closer home. There is no need to fear that extremist Islam will replace autocrats in the Arab world. Governing within a democratic system will automatically balance competing interests, and moderation will prevail. India has instinctively trusted democracy for itself and proven correct; it can trust democracy for everyone. Perhaps the time has come to revive some of the idealism that marked Nehru's foreign policy vision.







It is time for the National Advisory Council (NAC) to introspect whether its pious thoughts on food security square up to an economic reality check. There are three likely scenarios: (1) universal coverage at 35 kg/per month per family; (2) universal coverage with 25 kg per family per month; and (3) partial coverage (say, to 11 crore families) with 35 kg per family per month. In each case, the implications are discussed below and some suggestions made on how to do it better. The government/FCI currently procures around 54 million tonnes (mt) — (30 mt rice and 24 mt wheat) annually at a cost of nearly . 98,160 crore and delivers it with a subsidy of . 55,000 crore. The economic cost of procurement is . 20,400/mt for rice and . 15,400/mt for wheat, while BPL rates are . 5,650/mt for rice and . 4,150/mt for wheat. To deliver 35 kg at an average rate of . 2.50/kg to all households, the annual grain procurement will have to be 100 mt on a recurring basis, at a current cost of . 1,79,000 crore and a subsidy of an additional . 98,800 crore. These amounts assume India has 24 crore families, five persons per family and an overall population of 120 crore.

The present set-up is incapable of translating NAC's dream into reality. Our PDS is more a 'pilferage distribution system' rather than a 'public distribution system'. The need for its reform has been discussed for the last 20 years, but in vain.

In the second scenario of providing 25 kg/month per family, the annual grain procurement will have to be raised to 72 mt at a cost of . 1,27,608 crore and the subsidy would be an added . 55,800 crore.
The third alternative may envisage the supply of 35 kg grain to 11 crore families, and this may limit the total wheat and rice procurement to 46 mt. But the cost of procurement would be . 83,000 crore, realisation around . 11,550 crore and the net outgo . 71,450 crore. That would leave the additional subsidy at . 16,450 crore. Indeed, the sums are staggering in all cases while the chances of achieving the intended relief are rare and remote.
The additional amount is recurring per annum expenditure after accounting for the existing subsidy of . 55,000 crore and realisation at 2.50/ kg by disposal to families. This quantum will increase every year if MSP is hiked and carrying cost mounts. As a result, a black hole will be created in the Indian economy. Why not invest these lakhs of crores of rupees in agricultural production, health, education, sanitation, power, etc? This could propel the farm growth beyond 4% per annum from a meagre 2% per annum now. To procure 100 mt, the government would have to drive the private sector out to the Indian Ocean! Will it not take us back into the socialist era? It seems we have forgotten what had happened to the erstwhile Soviet Union.

Even if the government mobilises all resources to procure 100 mt foodgrain on the 35 kg basis, can it undertake its distribution when more than 60% of all PDS grain gets diverted to the market? With only 27.5 mt as covered storage available for grains, how will the balance 63.5 mt will be handled? Will the government invest large amounts of money so fast? Or will it end up with another scam in godown construction? Or will the grains be stocked in atmospheric warehouses — where the "moisture tonnage of monsoon and sprinkled water", "mouse tonnage" and the "missing plus manipulated tonnage" would be accounted for stock taking? Will nutrition not take the hit? Why formulate schemes that have a propensity to perpetuate a scam and then dedicate our energies to catching scamsters?

If the common man gets used to doles like this, what will induce farm and industrial labour to work for the national GDP?

Should imports be required, international grain prices would skyrocket — perhaps beyond the economic cost — compelling higher subsidisation. And whether India's port and rail infrastructure can handle highpriced grain imports and when these are timed with fertiliser and coal landings is a moot question.

If such schemes of NAC get extended to pulses/edible oil whose rates of consumption are bound to increase, will the government print more money, pushing up the rupeedollar exchange rate and fanning the inflation fire?
The state machinery is an invisible, heartless entity with hardly any sense of accountability. State agencies and rationing outlets have already messed up foodgrain distribution. Why create a another CAG report that might be adjured in courts or Parliament? Let us not create a mirage of hope for the poor. There is a need to come out with more realistic policies relating to viable investment in agriculture and rural infrastructure, rather than to repeat the failed experiments of subsidisation. Recent proposals on food coupons and direct cash transfer are more relevant than extensive procurement programmes and supplying to target population through leaking systems.

(The author is a former director of PEC Ltd)






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL



If nothing else, the Indian Left is generally consistent on its outlook when it comes to broad questions of policy. This makes it go with political tactics that are uniformly applied in different states of the country. On the eve of Assembly elections in West Bengal and Kerala, however, the CPM — for some time the Left's most influential party in electoral politics, and the leader of the pack — is befuddling its adherents by adopting divergent stances. The party has declared that the bid to retain power in Kolkata will be mounted under the leadership of Chief Minister, Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee. But it's a different story in Kerala, where Chief Minister, Mr V.S. Achuthanandan, does not yet know if he will even get the party's approval to contest the election, now just four weeks away. Since the CPM leads a front in Kerala (as in West Bengal), the fate assigned to the Chief Minister could possibly impact its ties with front partners. If the leader of the electoral contest that lies ahead is to be someone other than Mr Achuthanandan, the CPM's partners could well step up their price and confusion — even possible disarray — can reign on election eve. This is mainly on account of the fact that the octogenarian chief minister is thought of well outside his own party, has a sturdy reputation for fighting corruption (an image he has assiduously cultivated), and is seen by Ezhavas — the state's most numerous caste group — as being their chief representative in high political circles. It is therefore possible that going into the poll battle under another leader could be seen as risky. Traditional wisdom suggests that Kerala would go with the Congress-led United Democratic Front this time round since the right to rule alternates between the UDF and the Marxist-led Left Democratic Front every five years. So it should not matter who leads the LDF in the state. But if incumbents take a merciless beating, not just a moderate one, the Left story in the country as a whole is likely to be impacted as the CPM looks headed for a drubbing in West Bengal as well, ending its undefeated run of over three decades. The simultaneous loss of both frontline states will be a new kind of agony. Such a denouement contains the potential to throw any party off-balance. Difficult questions can be raised that can hurt the CPM's leadership at the Centre and in the states, troubling ideological issues can surface, the correctness of the political line can be up for debate, and largescale defections of followers can become the order of the day. If the Marxists take a major hit, it is hard to see how its CPM's partners can escape unscathed. The CPM's national leadership might have been better off if it had taken a coordinated view of its pre-election preparations in Kolkata and in Thiruvananthapuram as it girds its loins to enter the fray. The cadres need a different mantra on this occasion, for it is not business as usual. Visionary thinking is needed at its leadership level.






The wave of concern over the deteriorating situation in Pakistan nudges me into invoking an impish letter to the Spectator magazine published last month. In his brief communication, one Andrew Macdonald from London observed that the unrest in Egypt reminded him of what a "splendidly right-of-centre academic" at Reading University once told him: "You know, Mr Macdonald, there is no advertisement for colonial government like post-colonial government".

At the grave risk of appearing to be either supercilious or triumphant, it is now becoming increasingly apparent to most of the democratic world that there is no better advertisement for India than the grim reality of contemporary Pakistan. Not that such a hyphenation is any longer warranted. Ever since India moved out of the Third World and into the G20 sphere, the earlier twinning of the country with Pakistan is appearing increasingly misplaced. India still has enormous problems of governance and the ethical standards of some its public figures are deplorable. However, they pale into relative insignificance compared to the magnitude of the problems confronting neighbouring Pakistan.

Pakistan's slide into infamy has been precipitate. All the billions of dollars in military and civilian aid poured into that country by a nervous United States have not been able to prevent the drift to a state of lawlessness. The country that once saw itself as another Turkey in the strategic crossroads of Asia is now in real danger of resembling Afghanistan, albeit a cricket playing one. In theory, the world can afford to let Afghanistan retreat into self-fulfilling medievalism as long as it desists from exporting its stark vision of the good life — the situation that prevailed between the retreat of the Soviet Union and the takeover of the Taliban by Al Qaeda. A policy of benign neglect of Pakistan, on the other hand, while immensely appealing as an expression of disgust, is, however, impossible on two counts: its geo-strategic importance and, more worryingly, its ever-growing nuclear arsenal.

Pakistan is different from other "failed states" for many reasons. First, while beleaguered and replete with cracks, the state in Pakistan is still loosely intact — a legacy of colonial rule rather than post-colonial nation-building. It is still not beyond salvage.

Secondly, the military in Pakistan remains institutionally intact. Over the years, the generals, whether exercising power directly or assuming the role of puppeteer, have deftly used every crisis to their ultimate advantage. So much so that it is impossible to contemplate Pakistan's future that assigns a marginal role for the military.

Finally, civil society in Pakistan has become deeply fractured and pulling in different directions. There exists a vibrant middle class with cosmopolitan aspirations but its ability to be a catalyst for modernity has been severely undermined by countervailing pulls from the forces of Islamism and tribalism. As of now, a civil society-led transformation of Pakistan as a force for the good seems a remote possibility.

In the wake of the heightened tensions over the Blasphemy Law, Pakistan has become a dangerous place. With suicide bombers striking targets at will and the liberal minusculity intimidated into silence after the assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti, there is growing international fear that Pakistan's transition from being an Islamic state to becoming an Islamist state has taken a giant leap forward. The enormous optimism generated by the pro-democracy movement that forced the ouster of General Pervez Musharraf has largely dissipated and been replaced by a climate of disgust and wariness: disgust with the self-serving venality of the civilian government and wariness of the rising tide of Islamist intolerance. The deification of the murderer of Taseer, the unending demands for greater Islamisation and the persecution of Christian and Hindu minorities would indicate that the soft Islamic revolution begun by Muhammad Ali Jinnah in 1940 is nearing its Jacobian climax.

On paper, Pakistan remains firmly in the US orbit of influence. However, as the Raymond Davis case indicates, the wave of anti-Americanism has reached such colossal heights that Washington's attempts to "manage" the embarrassment have failed. Neither the fragile civilian government nor the calculating military have the ability to swim against the tide of public opinion and oblige Uncle Sam. The Army has leveraged the arrest to put a moratorium on drone attacks in the troubled border regions and shown the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) its place, but it has also shied away from abjuring the principle of national sovereignty. Indeed, General Kayani is only too aware that the Islamist epidemic has infected a substantial chunk of the professional Army.

For the international community and neighbouring countries, Pakistan has moved from being an irritation to becoming a menace. Apart from China, which still sees Islamabad as a valuable entry point into a troubled region, there is global concern that Pakistan will become the centre of a jihadi Comintern, with a Talibanised Afghanistan giving the terror industry additional strategic depth. Recent events in the Arab world have only added to the concern. If the stars of the pro-West autocrats are on the wane, it does not imply that the alternative will be liberal democracy. The danger of an initial enthusiasm for liberal democracy being replaced by the forces of popular Islamism, as happened in Iran, is real. In which case, the importance of Pakistan as a staging post for Sunni Muslim ferment is bound to rise.

The history of 19th and 20th century jihadi movements points to the importance of both the Indian subcontinent and Egypt as ideological nurseries. Earlier, Islamism was twinned with anti-colonial movements. Today, it has been injected into anti-American and anti-Israel sentiments on the ground. The Islamist fervour is also being fuelled by the perception that the West is economically too hobbled to defend its strategic interests across the Muslim world in any meaningful way. Amid this flux, Pakistan is emerging as the proverbial "swing state": it could go either way.

* Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist






The Arab world is on an earth-shaking course of revolutionary transformation. No political pundit could anticipate such a turn of events since they underestimated the revolutionary potential of Islam. All of them thought that Islamic political thought has no rejuvenating energy. But they have been proved wrong.

In this context, there is a need to re-visit the socio-political discourse of Prophet Mohammed and develop a new understanding of his spiritual politics.

The Islamic concept of God became universally understandable and acceptable only after the Prophet made it philosophically valid following his struggle against the idol worshippers among Arab tribes.

The Prophet dismantled the structures of idol worship and instituted the practice of praying to an abstract God among the Arabic tribes that were warring against one another over their idols. For them, a God creating all human beings equal was unthinkable.

That was the primary democratic principle — in the eyes of God all human beings are absolutely equal — that the Prophet established among those warring tribes. This established the notion of spiritual democracy among backward and self-destructive tribes.

By doing so the Prophet changed the route of social change in the Arabic world, which otherwise would have slipped into caste brutalism as it happened in India. Or it would have followed the African path.

But by inspiring the tribes to pray to Allah, the Prophet transformed the men and women of the Arab world into philosophically more advanced people than the other Asians, who were struggling between animism and idol worshipping cultures.

Though Christianity took its followers out of the idol worshipping ethic, the Church did encourage the worship of Jesus Christ and Mary. Ironically, though born as an Asian (Israelite) religion, Christianity attracted the Europeans more than the Asians in its early days.

But Islam expanded into the Asian continent very rapidly. Within 200 years of the Prophet's death it had spread far and wide.

While Jesus tried to separate the political realm from the spiritual, the Prophet combined political and spiritual theory into one in a much more nuanced and moral way. That seems to be developing into a democracy of its own model.

The present democratic revolutions in the Arab world are more spiritual-political than what Europe had seen in the 19th and 20th centuries. They might result in a re-interpretation of the Islamic notion of democracy on the one hand and change the meaning of secularism on the other. Though the notion of God was very much part of the Euro-American revolutions, secularism was made the core anchor of those revolutions.

The Arab revolutions seem to be evolving a different language of political science. How these revolutions negotiate with the notion of secularism is yet to be seen.

The European mode of secularism does not disconnect itself from the notion of God. This is very clear from many Euro-American constitutions, which use the notion of God in their preamble.

Islam seems to be re-negotiating its relationship to politics and democracy differently. The Prophet has more substantial claim to be a political philosopher than Jesus, as he led the community and his sons-in-law became the initial rulers as Khalifs.

There is an attempt to belittle the Arab revolutions by describing them as "Jasmine Revolutions". On the contrary they have the potential to re-position not only the Islamic world but the whole world.

In the Asian continent the implications of these revolutions would be huge. China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and even India and Sri Lanka have not evolved their democratic cultures through mass revolutions.

In India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka, the British-imposed systems of democracy survive. They sustain inequalities, unemployment, illiteracy, and so on. China evolved a communist culture through a revolution but that culture is very fragile and cannot be compared with the Islamic cultures, which have a cementing commonality across nations rooted in one God, one Book and one Prophet.

If that cultural commonality is used for transforming the political systems of nations, no civilisation would match the Islamic civilisation.

If the present trend is any indication, Samuel Huntington's thesis of Clash of Civilisations would not only fall apart but possibly be turned on its head —to "Collusion of Civilisations". The same Arab world that the West once thought had no imagination of its own would make that collusion possible.







I always felt that the word corruption needed a dictionary of words, a thesaurus of local terms and a contour map to show the changing nature of territory. We take for granted what we mean by corruption, rendering uniform the spaces in which it occurs.

Corruption deals with opportunities and restrictions. Restrictions can be artificial and yet real. When restrictions are converted into opportunities as rent, a bribe is born. Basically, corruption is a triangle of three states: violence, scarcity and desire. They all operate through the grammar of classification.

The wisdom of corruptions begins with understanding that classifications exclude and that inclusion can be paid for. Classification can create survival problems. By excluding you can eliminate. Imagine a villager entering a city. To enter a city and to survive, the migrant needs permission. He needs permission to stay, to ply his trade as a scavenger or hawker. He needs permission to live from the gangster, the tout and the cop. They are the first systems of governance he encounters and he has to pay for such governance. The first act of corruption is tied to the logic of citizenship itself. Society demands a bribe even before it expects a vote.

The informal economy is the next theatre of corruption. The Arjun Sengupta Commission report states that 70 per cent of the economy is in the informal sector. The logic is simply that 70 per cent of India is unofficial, illegal, informal, tacit, surviving on arbitrary permissions. The genius of corruption in India is in realising that poverty and marginality possess surpluses that can be extracted. The space between citizenship and non-citizenship is so large that the corruption economy has a gross national product larger than many multi-nationals.

Accompanying the informal economy is a more pathological aspect. This includes what I call the livelihoods which operate in terms of the forced division of labour. This includes child trafficking, prostitution, bonded labour, each of which creates a violence of its own, reducing people to bare life.

If the first structures of corruption emerge from the logic of citizenship, the second emerge from the logic of democracy and bureaucracy. Democracy creates opportunities for corruption. To be elected you have to pay and the others have to pay once you are elected. What links bureaucracy and democracy is development.

With development, the state becomes a milch cow creating new opportunities for markets. The irony is development creates corruption which is doubly blessed. It creates a corruption of development markets and the cunning state creates a market out of disasters. The state is the dominant site of corruption. It creates not just a parasite state but a parasitic bureaucracy built around the PA (personal assistant), the tout and the very important person (VIP).

There is a baroquisation of the bureaucratic system. Instead of rationalising and simplifying access and claims, the state baroquises all procedures. Baroquisation is a process whereby more and more effort is spent on obtaining less and less. Corruption involved a violation or blending or two sets of categories. It merged the family and the state and secondly it blurred the public and the private. The ration card, the bribe, the tout, the adulteration and the file as a new form of rental were the hallmarks here.

Globalisation as a process was a realisation that the socialist state offered little freedom and fewer opportunities for corruption. Liberalisation opened up new opportunities. Crime was the first social site to globalise. Dawood Ibrahim in that sense represented a wave of innovation, moving from smuggling and real estate to a more systematic sense of crime. The gangster was turning corporate.

Globalisation also produced a critique of corruption around information. Transparency became the new fashion and the Right to Information and the Public Interest Litigation were greeted with enthusiasm, only to discover the new logic of corruption had shifted elsewhere.

Globalisation created new and hybrid markets for terror. One has to see terror as a commodity and a market. Terror deals with information blending anonymity in the fear it creates with access to the most intimate of personal details.

Violence is the wider commodity for the new markets of corruption. Violence creates its own markets through defence soldiers. Violence is a market which cannot afford peace.

The third market is around disasters. Disasters are no longer crisis events. The globalisation and routinisation of disasters has created an international market for disasters sustained by its own genre of professionalisms. Development in its new form of humanitarianism becomes aid to places of perpetual disaster. The new markets for corruption have a vested interest in the perpetuation and control of disaster sites.

The knowledge economy is the fourth site and by commoditifying knowledge one creates new markets for intellectual property. Piracy and regulation become the Janus face of this new corruption. Patents themselves are new forms of corruption. They legalise robbery from Third World communities too poor to legalise the legacies they have.

As one moves from control of bare life to baroque bureaucracies to liberalisation, markets become the new models of corruption. Our scams rotate around new markets. The 2G spectrum, the smuggling of Bt seeds represent battles around new forms of property.

The nature of middleman changes in context and style. The dalal who had an organic relationship with a community yields to the public relations officer and the lobbyist. Each deals with information in his/her own way. Each creates around them a logic of new legitimisation. The dalal and tout projected a sense of noblesse oblige, the lobbyist acts like an elevated combination of a plumber and research agency.

The diversities of corruption are impressive but the logic of the three streams is different. Each bears the marks of its origins and all blend to create systems of mobility for the corrupt. In an odd sense, corruption blends different forms of livelihood, dealing with lack not as a pathology to be cured but as a market to be addressed. One has to understand its logic and see whether normal systems can simulate these functions. Till we understand corruption is a parallel form of governance, reform would add little to its removal. That is its logic and its final irony.

* Shiv Visvanathan is a social scientist






There are so many of us who get philosophical at times talking about life and its various facets; wondering what life is all about and why something happened when it happened. So many people come to me complaining about how life has cheated them and how they never got what they deserved; they tell me what they had to go through in life and how God has been unjust to them.

And when I tell them it is not God who has chosen the events of their lives, but they themselves are responsible, I see astonishment in their eyes. The general question that comes up then is, "Why would I choose something that is not good for me?"

To understand life and its events, we have to go back to the beginning of Creation. We all existed as part of the Para Brahma, the way salt exists in the ocean. When we were in ananda for a long period of time, we forgot that there could possibly exist another state which could well be the opposite of ananda. For us, the state that we were in was boring and we desired to experience something different. The first act was to separate ourselves from the source and realisation of the "self".

The primary reason was the desire for a new experience, the want for something different. If one observes minutely, one realises that no one is satisfied with what they have in life. The one who has all the pleasures of the world at his beck and call as dissatisfied as the one who has nothing. This is the basic nature of human beings, for if it weren't so life would not have come into existence and the modern day economist would not have been giving precedence over inventions.

Think carefully about what I am saying, observe each and everything around you. What's happening all around you and with each one of us? Where are we all running? You'll see that we're running all the time to fulfil one desire or another.

Is there anyone here who wants nothing for himself/herself? I am yet to meet someone who is not running after an objects of desire, be it material, emotional or spiritual. The difference between a spiritual aspirant and a material seeker is that the spiritual aspirant will be seen doing things for the benefit of Creation, whereas the others do things solely for themselves.

If there were no desires, the soul would not have chosen to separate from the source and come into being. In this journey called life, every moment of a being, in any of the three states of consciousness, is just to satisfy one of the five senses, that's it.

Like a parent looks after every need of a child and gives him the best according to his requirement, the moment the child starts taking his own decisions, he has to be responsible for the choices he makes. In the same way, when a soul chooses to go through the experiences it desires, the results are given on the basis of the karma generated.

This should make it easier for you to understand a little about life and its purpose. The purpose of life is nothing other than experience. Period.

We spent our lifetime fulfilling the desires of the soul, and the lives to come are also going to be spent, or wasted, in doing the same thing, as there is no limit to the pleasures of the physical world. Look at everything around you; the world is busy innovating and acquiring more and more and what one has does not seem to be enough. There is nothing wrong in indulging if you have the balance and the thought does not disturb you. After all, we are here for experience, right? What else is the purpose of life?

Vedic philosophy does not believe in suppression, as suppression is interpreted as violence. Violence or use of force of any kind is prohibited in yog, for it is believed that if you suppress any desire with force, it will not leave you and will bounce back with much greater force at a time when you are least prepared for it. So it becomes a vicious circle — neither can you indulge nor suppress. It is here that the importance of a Guru and the relevance of yog comes in. For those who realise the purpose and want to complete the journey they have started, only the Guru can give the key to the path that can take them through this vast ocean of desires and stop them from getting lost in them.

— Yogi Ashwini is an authority on yoga, tantra and the Vedic sciences. He is the guiding light of Dhyan Foundation. He has recently written a book, Sanatan Kriya: 51 Miracles... And a Haunting.
Contact him at [1]







FAKE driving licences are as common as potholes on Indian roads, but who could ever have imagined a commercial airline pilot with forged papers? The confidence of the steadily increasing number of air travellers would be subjected to severe turbulence with the arrest of a woman pilot of a leading private airline ~ and the possibility of at least two more such cases ~ for having "graduated" to the commander's seat in the cockpit by using the same dirty trick as the drivers of the Capital's notorious Blueline buses. The parallel is not stretching things too far: the pilot is Delhi-based, and like many of those "killer" buses has a police connection, her husband is an IPS officer. And had it not been for a near-miss ~ a nose-wheel landing ~ there would have been no checking of credentials. Just one more instance of how the regulatory authority has been overtaken by the boom in the aviation sector. It is perhaps true that the red tape of the national carrier might have stopped her from thus spreading her wings as easily as she did with a budget airline, but that is no exoneration of the Directorate-General for Civil Aviation for issuing her an Airline Transport Pilot Licence on the basis of doctored documentation. Indeed, it is difficult to believe that the fraud was perpetrated without the active connivance of some persons within the DGCA, and surely other members of the pilot's community, the crew with whom she flew, ought to have been suspicious of her handling of aircraft before she took one close to disaster.
Those factors trigger doubts about the thoroughness of the consequent review the DGCA is undertaking of the licences of some 4,000 pilots operating in the country. The agency's track record does not inspire confidence that it will do so faithfully, and it might seek to underplay ~ if not cover up ~ instances of its own shortcomings, or worse. There is a valid case for associating "outside" experts with that review, more so since detecting forged papers is involved. The active cooperation of the private carriers must also be secured, they could be held legally liable for allowing under-qualified persons to operate their flights. The employment of foreign pilots, particularly those whose English-language skills are limited, has long raised one kind of controversy: now we have one that is so uniquely Indian ~ 'benami' pilots!




Barely six months after it was born again, Presidency University has suffered the second jolt after the fire in the Chemistry laboratory. The violent encounter between the SFI and Independent Consolidation has once again deflected attention from what ought to have been the primary focus of the authorities ~ a thorough examination of the statute and reconstitution of the faculties. Little or nothing that can be called substantive would appear to have been achieved aside from the Chief Minister's insistence that there must be no compromise in the matter of quality. If the laboratory fire was an accident, this week's mockery of discipline is embedded in the traditional inter-union rivalry. To the deeply regrettable extent that the Vice-Chancellor has been compelled to acknowledge that the institution's "image has been tarnished". If indeed normalcy has been restored, it is an extremely fragile restoration of order. The deployment of the police inside the campus is a pointer to the tensions within. It would be presumptuous to imagine that mere upgradation of the college to a university would ipso facto revive what Dr Amita Chatterjee calls "the lost glory". She is acutely aware though that the fundamental irritants persist. As an alumnus of the early Seventies' generation, the VC will recall that the grievous injury inflicted on a student and the blockade of College Street are faintly reminiscent of the violence that rocked the college at the peak of the Naxalite movement. Nor for that matter can a parallel be drawn with student politics in Jadavpur University where, the VC claims, campus agitations are  over "academic issues".
Dr Chatterjee is right when she argues that the student unions at Presidency are traditionally concerned with "non-academic" matters. They are ever so politically driven though it is an alarming trend that the violence against the SFI was triggered by the Independent Consolidation which claims to be a non-political outfit. That the authorities are now mulling the induction of private security suggests that law and order might remain a forbidding challenge for some time yet. Not least because the students have demonstrated the tendency to descend to the level of street-fighters. At any rate, private security ought to have been an anathema for a university that has embarked on a rediscovery of glory.




THE pattern of the crime is clear; yet there has been no matching crackdown by India, let alone Bangladesh, on the booming racket in fake currency. A month before the Assembly election, Kolkata has emerged as the hub of this economic destabiliser, as a report in this newspaper reveals. The volume of Fake Indian Currency Notes (FICN) in circulation within the city has risen to a whopping Rs 1.52 crore in the two-and-a-half years since August 2008. That the syndicate has spread its tentacles from the border districts to the downtown areas of the city is apparent from the arrests made in the New Market, Hare Street ~ it covers Writers' Buildings as well ~ and Park Street police station areas. The 76 arrested include a fair number of Bangladeshis, confirming the joint venture in economic crime. Palpably enough, a former Chief Secretary's alert has had no impact on the administration. On closer reflection though, it might be less than fair to blame the police alone for not being vigilant enough. The primary responsibility rests with the Directorate of Revenue Intelligence, under the Union ministry of finance. As with the transit of potential terrorists, Kolkata is being used as the currency corridor from Bangladesh to Kashmir. In the periodic India-Bangladesh meetings at rarefied levels, the destabilisation of the economy has scarcely been brought up with the earnestness it deserves.

Clearly, there is a fake too many. The Centre protects residents of border states with identity cards for the genuine as much as the fake. Kolkata's supposedly reputed Government College of Art and Craft mounts an exhibition of fake Tagore paintings on the poet's 150th anniversary. And now fake currency notes are being shoved inside wads of the purportedly genuine. Transactions per se may soon be endangered as the line that separates the real from the spurious gets increasingly blurred. Having traversed the distance in time between Sutanuti and shopping malls, it would be a tragedy if Kolkata degenerates to a fake city. Perhaps an over-reaction just yet; but the exemplars are portentous enough. So much for demographic dividend.








KARL Popper is famous for his indictment of any sort of social and political control of individual freedom. He has sparked controversy for his criticism of any philosophy or ideology that tends to curb free action or thought of any individual or institution. His famous work, The Open Society and its Enemies, is a strong critique of people and ideology that tend to curb individual freedom in the social or political arena. Witness to two world wars and the rise and fall of Nazism and Bolshevism, Popper remained an indefatigable optimist and champion of a free world believing that 'ours' (meaning Western democracy) is the best world so far. Even if the latter claim is contentious the main thrust on individual freedom is laudable.


With such a conviction in free individualistic world view, Popper welcomed the technology associated with modern science. He remained a champion of indeterminism in the physical universe as well. The physical universe outside as well as the man-made social world are not guided by any deterministic law. To him the future is unpredictable and not determined by any historical law. With such a strong proponent of modernity and scientific methods, one would have imagined that he would welcome modern technological innovations. Actually he has great faith in modern science as a tool to solve many problems, including  environmental degradation.

But towards the end of his life (he died in 1994 at the age of 92) he realised that television is the most powerful 'morally corrupting' agent of the modern era. It sounds strange and surprising to anyone familiar with his extremely liberal views on individual rights and institutional freedom. When told that his view almost sounds like the Pope's opinion on the matter, he replied that he has to examine that perception to admit the allegation. The criticism of television first came in an interview to an Italian journalist and has been translated into English and published in chapter 7 of a slim volume, The Lesson of This Century: Karl Popper, 1997 and 2003.
Let us first examine the claim regarding the  corrupting influence of television. 'The growth of crime and the loss of normal feelings of living in a well-ordered world' seem to him to be related to exposure to violence through television. But is violence unknown even in his circumscribed Western world?  Besides  the world wars, even the colonial rule of the Europeans witnessed considerable violence. There was no television in those days!

It is true that the tremendous impact of television on the human mind cannot be over- emphasized. Children and their sensitive minds get corrupted by violence and sensational items on the screen. Adults are influenced no less by television programmes. Of course, children can adapt if they are constantly exposed to extreme situations, and Popper is right that their adaptation to violence is precisely the problem to reckon with. We have seen TV visuals of violence-prone areas where children are shown playing violent games, sometimes with fake guns. Even in real life they may use violence and guns to settle scores. In fact there are cases of children involved in violent activity.

One could argue that there are factors that can counteract the impact of television ~ parents and teachers for example. Parents can temporarily block certain programmes. Teachers do not have much power to go against the electrifying dynamic influence of television. And it is well known that forbidden things are more attractive to seek.

As Popper has stated: 'Television is more capable of seducing innocent little ones, more capable of playing on their better points, especially their interest in life.' The motto of television, he says, is 'action and more action. What can a teacher put up against that? Only the voice of reason. Television took a long time to develop and reached its full impact in the last fifteen years. Then it came down like an avalanche. Teachers don't stand a chance of resisting it'.

The progress of television cannot be stopped like other technological innovations, such as electricity, the telephone and cars. Popper pointed out that such innovations cannot be stopped but regulated. Cars, electricity, telephone, the computer and the internet can be regulated by specific norms and licence. There are rules which should be followed by everyone, and any violation should be punished. By this general conformity to social norms, television programmes should also be disciplined just as traffic rules control the movement of cars. We do not object if the driving licence is taken away or punishment imposed on an offender of traffic rules. So why object if there are disciplinary rules for television as well?

One could also argue that as a theorist of the 'open society', Popper supports the role of market economics; but in case of television he maintains a disciplinary stance. He was in favour of rules and regulations to govern the market. To function properly it also needs a degree of 'trust, self-discipline and cooperation'. The philosopher of open society iterates that 'television has an enormous power over human minds, a power that has never existed before. If we do not restrict its influence, it will go on leading us down a slope away from civilization…And at the end of the tunnel there is nothing but violence'.

Popper said this almost 19 years ago, long before the recent surge of violence in the Arab world. Indeed, it is difficult to establish any correlation between the two. But the exposure to violence is often revolting.  People can gradually become insensitive to finer sensibilities. It is the manner in which particularly gruesome aspects of violence is shown that needs to be regulated. Terrorism and other forms of violence have multiplied and even violence in personal lives is often aired with gory details. Newspapers also carry news of violence; but television visuals have a direct impact.

Arguably, it is time to reflect on self-discipline for the electronic media. The dignity of the human being is repeatedly being violated.  Some time ago, the 'captured' bodies of Maoists were shown being carried with their hands and legs tied to a pole.

It was an abominable visual that horrified both adults and children. Moreover, commercial advertisements often cross the limits of decency and truth. Half-truths and false promises are presented through television to allure the credulous public with false or misleading propaganda. Regulation and self-discipline are imperative for television channels. Freedom and unbridled licence are not synonymous.

The writer is former Professor, Department of Philosophy, Calcutta University, and UGC Emeritus Fellow







I must confess my disappointment with Prime Minister Dr Manmohan Singh's rather casual reference to the drubbing that the country's Supreme Court handed down to the government over the appointment of a tainted bureaucrat as the country's Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC). I had waited the entire week for the Prime Minister to accept responsibility for the folly, in the perpetration of which he had a part, in his statement in Parliament last Monday.

Sadly, Dr Manmohan Singh ~ Mr Honest of India ~ nearly failed to acknowledge the gravity of the decision he and his home minister, able lawyer Mr P Chidambaram, had taken in appointing Mr PJ Thomas as the CVC. Surprisingly, Dr Singh appeared somewhat reluctant even to repeat what he had said in Jammu: "I have already said that I respect the judgment of the Supreme Court in this regard…… I accept it and respect it and I accept my responsibility as well." Missing from his short statement on the matter in Parliament on Monday was a reference to his willingness to accept responsibility for the lapse. It was only when the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Mrs Sushma Swaraj, pointed out that Parliament had only received a watered-down version of the Prime Minister's statement in Jammu that Dr Singh finally took "full responsibility" for having made the wrong choice. I do not wish to recount here the details of the scathing indictment that the Supreme Court handed down to the government but it seems only proper to mention that the chargesheet against Mr Thomas, for an alleged scam perpetrated when he was the chief secretary of Kerala, is still pending disposal and that he had been Union telecom secretary when the 2G scam came to the fore.

One would have expected the Prime Minster to give a detailed statement on the circumstances in which the government hit upon the name of Mr Thomas in the first place and chose to put it up before the three-member selection panel. How come the dissent expressed by the Leader of the Opposition was ignored? What was the tearing hurry that had prevented the Prime Minister and his home minister from not paying heed to the dissenting voice and why had they not bothered to get the Prime Minister's secretariat or any Intelligence agency to check out if Mrs Swaraj's words carried any truth? It's a different matter that there have been insinuations about a senior Congress leader having recommended Mr Thomas' name. That apart, I would have expected from the Prime Minister an explanation on why, as the Supreme Court disapprovingly noted, must the CVC always come from among the bureaucrats of "impeccable record". Why can't we look beyond bureaucrats?

It is general knowledge that most of the legislation in our country is drafted, overseen and passed on to the minister concerned by bureaucrats. Every time babus get a raise, we know the necessary recommendations had been made, naturally, by senior babus and vetted by a Committee of Secretaries. Isn't it a fact that Central services almost ritualistically complain of the government's incurable bias for the mandarins of the Indian Administrative Service (IAS)? Most IAS officers know how to play the game and earn the stamp of "impeccable integrity" from ministers as a passport, as it were, to cushy post-retirement jobs. Maybe, the Prime Minister, a one-time bureaucrat and an ex-World Bank hand, has a soft corner for bureaucrats. Maybe, it was this bias that had persuaded him and his colleagues to doggedly defend Mr Thomas' appointment. Maybe, he never realised that that it would be his undoing.

In this context, the speech that the Prime Minister delivered at the Commonwealth Law Conference in Hyderabad last month is worrisome. In the conclave, Dr Singh said that power of judicial review must never be used to erode the role of other branches of the government. Judicial restraint, he said, was vitally necessary to preserve the integrity and sanctity of the Constitutional scheme premised on the diffusion of sovereign power. Very un-Manmohan Singh like, I would say. But upon considering the string of scams to have assailed the UPA government in the past months, it becomes clear how much hemmed in the government finds itself to be. "Lost in transit" would best describe its predicament at the moment. And, that probably explains why the usually-mild Dr Singh felt impelled to take a mindless jibe at the judiciary in Hyderabad.

Dr Singh's comments were clearly directed at the Supreme Court's proactive role in the investigations into the appointment of the CVC, the 2G spectrum scam, the Commonwealth Games fiasco and money-launderer Hassan Ali Khan's Swiss bank deposit. What also plagues the government is the revelation about billions of dollars in black money stashed abroad and its seeming unwillingness to do anything about it despite foreign banks sharing with it names of 40 such depositors. Finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee's repeated assertions that there is nothing to worry because the taxmen and the Enforcement Directorate are doing the needful come across as curiously unconvincing.

The Prime Minister may be an honest man but he is not exactly what one would call, well, a free man. All of his key decisions are required to be vetted and okayed by UPA chairperson Mrs Sonia Gandhi first. I do believe that he could have spared himself the embarrassment over the CVC episode had he listened to Mrs Sushma Swaraj. Is it because someone else had wanted Mr Thomas in the post that home minister Mr P Chidambaram mounted such an elaborate defence of the government's decision despite Mrs Swaraj having pricked the bubble?
Dr Singh's jibes or not, the Supreme Court must continue to crack its whip as it deems appropriate and should not spare even tainted judges and Chief Justices of High Courts and the Supreme Court. The current Chief Justice of India, Mr SH Kapadia, unlike his predecessor, is not eager to please the executive with an eye on a post-retirement reward. His reputation is such and he has already demonstrated his willingness to take on wrongdoers, however mighty they may be.

The Prime Minister needs to marshal all his moral authority to deal with malcontent within party ranks. It is unbecoming of a man of such impeccable integrity as himself to blame the 2G disaster on coalition compulsions. The cheeky Mr Raja of the DMK may be cooling his heels behind bars but Dr Singh should have known better.

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






For the last time this scribe is drawing attention to the glaring contradiction related to the alleged confession of Swami Aseemanand. The Swami's confession is crucial. Other cases depend on its veracity and on the Swami's reliability as a witness. It has been repeatedly pointed out that the UN Security Council (UNSC) Resolution indicted Lashkar-e-Taiyyaba (LeT) for organising the Samjhauta Train bomb blast. For that reason the UN banned the LeT and designated it a terrorist organisation. It named the four perpetrators of the blast. It named the mastermind in Karachi who allegedly financed the operation and froze his assets.

However, Swami Aseemanand in his confession to police and to a magistrate has claimed that the Samjhauta Train blast was carried out by Hindu terrorists. The investigative agencies are proceeding with the Swami's confession on face value and choose to remain oblivious of the UNSC Resolution. Opposition parties and the national media also choose to maintain a deafening silence regarding this glaring unexplained contradiction.
There are four possibilities. First, that Swami Aseemanand is speaking the truth and the UNSC was mistaken. If so, the LeT was innocent regarding the train blast. Secondly, the UNSC was correct and the Swami was lying. In that case Hindu terrorists could not have been connected to the train blast. Thirdly, both the UNSC and the Swami spoke the truth. In that case the Hindu terrorists were colluding with LeT as has been alleged by some conspiracy theorists. Fourthly, both the UNSC and Swami Aseemanand were lying in which case the Samjhauta Train blast was perpetrated by an unknown terrorist outfit.

There is no explanation outside of these four possibilities. The investigative agencies, the opposition parties and the national media must choose which option to approve. What cannot be accepted is the continuing deafening silence on the issue and the pretence that the contradiction does not exist. The current silence exposes a malaise in Indian society that betrays a dangerous sickness.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







Efforts to find a durable solution to the farming crisis have made it clear that low-cost, environment-friendly organic farming is key to the success of sustainable farming. In this regard, women farmers have been found to be particularly enthusiastic.

In Uttar Pradesh's Gorakhpur district, a voluntary organisation ~ Gorakhpur Environment Protection Group (GEAG) ~ has been focusing on improving the lot of small farmers, particularly women among them. Prabhawati is a resident of Dudhai village in Sardarnagar block of Gorakhpur district. Her success in organic farming, involving a wealth of crop diversity, has attracted a lot of admiration. Prabhawati's 10-member family owns barely an acre and a half of land. The method of farming that she has devised not only reduces costs and improves self-reliance but also provides year-round nutrition to the family. This apart, it also enables the family to earn more by raising cash crops. Prabhawati and her husband Suraya Bhan live in a  house  adjacent to the family plot. They share it with their sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren who also use another house built in the main residential area of the village. Apart from paddy, wheat and maize, 22 varieties of vegetables are grown on Prabhawati's plot. She also grows two varieties of oilseeds, two varieties of pulses as also four spice crops, This apart, she has leased an adjacent plot for groundnut farming. Trees bearing guava, mango, banana, jackfruit, papaya, lemon, pomegranate and mulberry abound other than a number of plants from which organic pest repellents are prepared. Prabhawati also grows a number of medicinal plants and varieties of flowers. There is a small sugarcane patch that takes of the family's sucrose requirements.

Prabhawati has three buffaloes and four goats at her farm. She uses their dung, which she mixes with cow urine borrowed from neighbours to prepare compost as also vermicompost. She has been able minimise costs by personally preparing organic manure and pest repellents which has considerably increased the fertility of her fields. Originally sandy and low in fertility, her farm has become more productive with the use of organic manure and supports the successful cultivation of diverse crops. What is special about Prabhawati's success is that she is able to meet the balanced nutrition needs of a 10-member family with produce from a 1.5-acre holding. The abundance of fruit-bearing trees makes it possible for the family to earn extra by selling the surplus in local markets. What makes this grandmother a responsible farmer other than being a successful one is that she readily shares her skills with other farmers and travels a lot to impart training.

Ramrati's story is similar to Prabhawati's. An organic farmer based in Sarpathan village at Compereganj block of Gorakhpur district, she is a source of inspiration for other organic farmers. With the help of her husband Rambahal and other family members ~ who number 12 ~ she grows a wide variety of crops on her one-acre farm and has been able to post a yearly income of Rs 35,000. Ramrati said last year she sold bananas for Rs 5,000, rice for Rs 5,000, wheat for about Rs 5000 other than lots of potatoes and vegetables. Like Prabhawati, Ramrati makes her own compost manure, including vermicompost, other than organic pest repellent. She hires extra hands only for transplanting. GEAG activists say that in a good year, Ramrati is able to achieve a cost-output ratio of 1:13.

Ramrati switched to organic farming about a decade ago when she came in contact with GEAG activists. It took her about three years to make a complete switch to organic farming as a sudden change could have been counter-productive. But once that done, she has been committed to organic farming. With a lot of confidence, she said that organic farming had helped her increase overall production other than the family's income, while bringing about a remarkable improvement in the quality of soil. She insists that organic food is more healthy and tastes much better and takes better care of the nutritional needs of her family.
Ramrati cares about the health of people to whom she sells her produce. Unlike other banana growers and traders who use harmful chemicals such as carbide indiscriminately to ripen the produce, Ramrati uses a method which may be more labour-intensive but is infinitely safer. To do this, she first lines a ditch with banana leaves and then arranges the bananas on them. The ditch is then covered with leaves and loose soil, leaving only a small opening for a pitcher with a hole. First, some straw is burnt in the pitcher and then the smoke is blown down the hole so that it reaches the produce, slowly ripening it.

Apart from wheat and paddy, Ramrati's one-acre farm grows about thirty varieties of vegetables other than oilseeds, spices and pulses. Apart from bananas, mango, guava and pomegranate trees can be seen on her farm. Crops rare in this area such as red beans and ramdana are also grown there. Ramrati carefully plans her crops so that there is not too much root competition. Like Prabhawati, Ramrati too finds the time to train others in organic farming. A member of the Alliance for Small and Marginal farmers and the treasurer of a local federation for development initiatives, she too travels to impart skills.

All organic farmers associated with GEAG conceded that expenses had come down considerably once they switched to organic farming with their income (output minus cost), nutrition levels and soil fertility improving drastically. Perhaps, owners of large farms can now take a lesson from the small farmers.

The writer is currently a Fellow at the Institute of Social Sciences, New Delhi







There are more useful ways to spend the government's subsidy for the Haj pilgrimage. This was the core of the message members of parliament from the minority community had for the foreign minister last Monday. The subsidized airfare for Haj pilgrims has been causing a fair amount of bickering. But in spite of the recent ruling of the Supreme Court that the Haj subsidy is neither excessive nor violative of secularism, it seems that MPs from the community would rather that the government pulled out of the arrangement. A corporation should facilitate the trip, as happens in Malaysia, for example. The subsidy helps the pilgrims very little, and they are left to face the discomforts of accommodation at the pilgrimage site. It merely helps the State carrier, which is very expensive anyway. The Centre should see to it that the pilgrims are allowed comfortable accommodation close to the site instead.

Rational suggestions are rare these days, and the MPs' arguments are impeccable. What is perhaps more interesting is the corollary. The money is a lot, after all — Rs 611 crore in 2009-10. That, the MPs have suggested, can be used more productively for the education of underprivileged girls from the minority community. This is in line with an earlier suggestion. Leaders of the minority community had said that the Haj money could be used for the community's education and healthcare. There is a covert reminder for the government here if read that way: successive parties and coalitions in power have preferred the easy way of compliance than the hard way of addressing lacunae in education, health and exposure. The MPs' suggestion should be considered seriously. There is always the problem of segmentation in any form of positive discrimination. It may be asked why only poor Muslim girls should benefit; all poor children from the minority community should be given a leg up where schooling is concerned. That question may eddy outwards: should sectarian differences not be erased in education? The amount allocated to the Haj subsidy could make up a specific fund for the poorest children from all communities, for example. Or be channelled into a particular programme that benefits them. This would need sensitive thinking, careful planning and, most important, effective implementation. Only then would the MPs' suggestions become truly meaningful.






Affairs of the state cannot be left to the "discretion" of any individual, irrespective of the office such a person may hold. Many of the recent cases of tension between an elected government and the governor of a state are due to the discretionary powers of the latter. But the current tussle between the Bihar government and the state's governor, Devanand Konwar, has little to do with the larger issues involving the gubernatorial office. The two sides seem to differ on the definition of a money bill. Mr Konwar thinks that both the Bihar State University (Amendment) Bill, 2010 and the Patna University (Amendment) Bill, 2010 are money bills. He argued that the bills would require withdrawal of money from the treasury and, therefore, sent the bills back to the legislature for reconsideration. The government, on the other hand, claims that both are "normal" bills. There is some merit in the argument of the Bihar assembly Speaker, Uday Narayan Chaudhary, that a bill does not become a money bill only because it involves the use of public money. All that the two sides need to do is refer to Article 199 of the Constitution, which defines a money bill. But it is doubtful if the Speaker's ruling against the governor's decision resolves the constitutional issue.

However, the controversy raises another issue that is no less important than the legal one. Some legal and academic circles in Patna fear that the two bills would curtail the autonomy of the universities and place the vice-chancellors under the control of government officials. Unfortunately, the fear is not wholly unfounded as several state governments are known to interfere in the functioning of vice-chancellors. Some governments even seek to justify this on the ground that they fund the universities. As chancellor of the state universities, the governor has a moral responsibility to ensure that they can function as autonomous institutions and their academic and administrative freedom is safe from the government's interference. There is, however, a larger debate on whether there is any justification for governors functioning as chancellors of state universities. Sadly, the controversy in Bihar has taken its toll on the administration of the universities. None other than Bihar's human resource development minister, P.K. Shahi, held the governor responsible for the "anarchy" in the universities. Bihar can do without inventing new anarchies.






The former civil servant whom the government had installed as central vigilance commissioner is reported to have sent in his resignation on hearing the judgment of the Supreme Court. The report, however, is yet to be confirmed. Does it matter though? The nation's highest judiciary has found him to be a squatter in that position and ordered his ejection. His resignation is therefore a meaningless gesture.

A similar query is legitimate apropos of the prime minister's statement that he respected the Supreme Court's judgment and would abide by it. Does he think he had any option? Had he and his government sought to defy the Supreme Court, that would have implied a constitutional breakdown and an indication that those in power had made up their minds to embark on an authoritarian path.

The prime minister has now appeared in sackcloth and ashes and looks the picture of misery. His plight nonetheless evokes not sympathy, but pity. For the candour deficit remains: he does not reveal the reason or reasons underlying his "error of judgment". It should not have taken the Supreme Court's intervention for him and his home minister to be made aware of the grave impropriety they were perpetrating over their choice of the CVC. Even if the third member of the screening committee, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, had not drawn their attention to a very important lacuna in the papers put up before them concerning the service record of the person the prime minister and the home minister were determined to select, the relevant facts were public knowledge; it would be the height of imprudence on the part of the prime minister to claim that he did not read newspapers. No, it was not the lack of knowledge about the palm oil import case that led him astray. He, in the company of his home minister, chose to go astray in picking an individual against whom a high court of the country had approved criminal prosecution on the ground of corruption and the case was still pending.

The issue is as much of legality as of insensitivity. Forget disputation over morals and ethics, the dividing line between seemliness and unseemliness is obliterated. The mood is one of we-could-not-care-less, aesthetics is irrelevant, how the general public might react is no part of the agenda. This attitude is the spin-off of a growing conviction of those ensconced in power that most sections of the citizenry are now so used to witnessing gross breaches of civilization in different spheres of activity that it has spawned a genre of cynicism in their approach to worldly affairs. The cutting of corners has emerged as a way of life; those in authority, therefore, feel confident enough to do things that are not reconcilable with the code of conduct prevalent in earlier days. This stance of mind is hardly distinguishable from the tacit point of view of, for instance, politicians wont to lean on the support of notorious anti-social elements to do chores for them: well, he may be a goon, but he is our goon, we will protect him through thick and thin and never mind how undesirable a character he might be, the public are already aware of all political parties having their shady side and have grown tolerant about it.

It would be naive to assume that, in view of the great rebuff it has received, a chastened regime would henceforth turn over a new leaf. It would not, for at the root of most of the seamy happenings in the country is the inexorable process of unrestrained economic liberalization. Thanks to the neo-liberal ambience, the system is now a far-gone case. Old-time morals go ill with the awesome grammar of the free-market philosophy. Material success, the ability to accumulate money and even more money, is the only basis for judging a person's worthiness. Should the pursuit of pelf necessitate the greasing of some palms, do so, the means do not matter, corruption is to be connived at. The authorities go along; they have staked their all on the breakneck growth of gross domestic product which globalization and the free market mechanism are supposedly going to ensure. If the rules of the free market call for compromising with graft, the government does not demur. Ministers sworn to defend the tenets of the Constitution wink at criminal activities that yield mountain loads of extra profit for this or that tycoon. Against this backdrop, naming a person well disposed to those in power to posts such as that of CVC or director of the Central Bureau of Investigation is an exercise in sagacity; the emphasis is not so much on locating a man of integrity as one who can be depended upon to stay loyal to the powers-that-be.

On the day the division bench of the Supreme Court was giving its verdict on the CVC, another bench of the nation's highest judiciary was commenting on the curious case of the once-small-time hardware merchant in Pune who has stashed an estimated eight billion dollars in Swiss back accounts. The tax authorities have imposed a token fine on him which he is yet to pay. They have till now let him roam freely in the country. He has not been detained for questioning, apparently very little enterprise has been shown to force out of him information on the sources of the mammoth amount of black money he is known to own. The judges on the division bench of the Supreme Court before whom the matter was referred were, justifiably, in an angry mood: the police, one of the judges constituting the bench remarked, do not think twice before shooting innocent citizens who might have absent-mindedly breached an order under Section 144 of the Indian Penal Code prohibiting assembly of more than five persons, but this black money wizard has not even been subjected to interrogative detention.

The indignation of the judges is unlikely to have much impact. It is, in fact, a tussle between two universes: the old universe of liberalism which the nation's highest judiciary would like to cling to and which talks of fair play and equality of all citizens before the law; on the other side the new universe of unabashed neo-liberalism the government of the day is championing. One and all are invited to be singleminded in their determination to maximize profit, the modalities are irrelevant. Many businessmen, industrialists, rich peasants, touts and middlemen, film stars, front-rank cricketers, lawyers, sad to say even some judges, have joined the fun and games. Groups of politicians and civil servants, too, have been sucked in. The role of those presiding over the affairs of the government is particularly crucial for ensuring the unimpeded progress of liberalization. More than one-third of the nation's income is channelled through the budget. Vast sums of money are collected for expenditure on a wide range of purposes, including for defence and development. How and on whom such huge magnitudes are spent and how and from what these are gathered are decided by those in government. Contracts are doled out by the different ministries. Deals are struck at various levels and commissions are often paid and collected; middlemen come into the picture. Once imbued with the neo-liberal spirit, bribing one's way to dizzy success becomes an ordinary event; those benefiting from bribery do not think differently either.

Kickbacks and commission money received need to be stored away from the public gaze. This is where the tribe of the Pune merchant and his ilk enter centre stage. Ill-gotten money is laundered within the country for several clandestine rounds; at the end-point is someone like Hasan Ali Khan, who has his own channels to send money out of the country. Once the money reaches foreign shores, it goes through another round of laundering before finally reaching the destination of the Swiss banks — or banks somewhere else in this big, wide world. The person or persons acting as conduit feel safe. They have protection in appropriate quarters. The authorities concerned perhaps know about the identities of the middlemen even before these are flashed in this or that European newspaper. It would, however, be somewhat foolhardy to detain the likes of Hasan Ali Khan for interrogations: if subjected to awkward questions, they might spill inconvenient beans. That would disturb the process of maximizing x, y and z's free enterprise earnings under the liberal dispensation. It therefore needs a devastating reprimand from the nation's highest court before the executive would take them in.

The division benches of the Supreme Court were dealing with two separate matters; there is however a theme that overlaps the two.







The Congress Party is so predictable. It indulges in the same old and failed politicking to try and revive alliances that are dead; alliances that have breached the laws of the land and been corrupt; alliances kept together using a simplistic and untenable patchwork of personalized give-and-take that has nothing to do with good governance; alliances that have discredited the Congress for neglecting its real job of good governance. Everything seems to revolve around money and greed. It is believed that 'agencies' mandated to chase and indict the corrupt have now been asked to go slow on partners in an effort to keep an alliance alive till the elections. This, in itself, is wrong and corrupt. Why cannot the Congress think out of the box and deliver some googlies? Is it just too safe and easy for its leaders to abide by the failed status quo and remain in the comfort zone till they are hurled out?

Cosmetic changes only imply diffidence, arrogance and an inability to hear, observe, think and alter. India is not the India of 15 years ago, and the players of that past period, who continue to dominate parties and the political space, who refuse to make way for the next generation, who indulge in cheap politics, are totally out of sync with the aspirations of at least 70 per cent Indians. The Congress, for one, is being destroyed, slowly but steadily, and we are all watching the saga unfold. It is very sad to see the mother of all parties getting sucked into an overwhelming mire of corruption, mal-practice, bad judgment, phoney alliances, and so on, all of this being manipulated by puppeteers who have lost their skills. The same political creatures leap into the fray to do what this particular generation of Indians are adept at — jugaad — at a huge cost to the party, the nation and its citizens.

Too ill

Commitment to India is not in the DNA of Indian politicians. The corrosive infection has spread, causing gangrene in the marrow of the nation. As we grow economically, political choices are becoming few and far between if honesty and integrity are the criteria. It is becoming difficult to be a good, honest citizen in India. Wherever you turn, corruption in some form beckons you. If you want to start a small business, the government officers who are mandated to serve the people come first for their baksheesh. After that, the scale keeps rising and there is no retribution whatsoever.

The truth is that no individual in Indian politics is willing to address and end this nightmare. Surely those who are pushing the 'rate of growth' as the only mantra of India 2011 should also restore probity in the operating system to enhance the growth rate? They have failed to give the system priority, and it appears that their intention is to permit wrongdoings as long as they remain out of sight. Wherever a veil has been thrown over corruption, it has become acceptable. It is only when the Supreme Court rules that the executive admits its guilt. This is the worst example to be set by any leadership.

A debilitating tiredness is emanating from the Congress headquarters. Energy levels rest at petty politicking and patchwork, short-term remedies that are designed to fall apart ever so often because such breakdowns generate another kind of 'value'. These truths are passed on through our rich oral tradition even as the print media push their own agenda by exposing some truths and concealing others. Why is India being sacrificed at the altar of corruption? Why are Indians, renowned for their generosity and supreme patience, being abused? When will the political class refrain from exploiting for personal gain? When will democracy and civil society be the priority, and not merely political platitudes that are mouthed on national and international fora?


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




There are certain things that are best ignored. The jarring voices of a small section of Kannada writers and artists against inviting N R Narayana Murthy to inaugurate the Vishwa Kannada Sammelana (World Kannada Conference) eminently belong to this category. If this section had fancied success for its campaign launched some ten days ago, it is certainly hopelessly misplaced optimism. The organisers have rightly chosen to ignore the discordant voices. As the Infosys chief mentor prepared to open the meet in Belgaum on Friday, it is heartening to note that the campaign had hardly any takers and there hasn't been even an iota of support among the public.

The meet is not just about Kannada literature. It is really about celebrating the state's distinct identity; it is a celebration of its successes. Kannadigas from all walks of life and wherever they might be are part of this celebration. It did not require Murthy to announce to the world what his company has done over the years for Bangalore and Karnataka over the last two decades. What he shared with Deccan Herald Thursday — that his company has provided gainful employment to over 50,000 Kannadigas — is just one aspect of the Infosys story. But more than providing employment to locals it has helped establish Bangalore as India's new economy capital and firmly placed the city on the world IT map.


Until the 1990s, it is doubtful if American presidents had bothered to know much about India. Today, Bangalore's new class of entrepreneurs — of which Murthy is certainly the leader — has ensured that the White House incumbent cannot afford to be ignorant about this city. Perhaps, nobody has ever been as good an advertisement for Bangalore as Murthy in recent years, whether in the country or abroad. And, in Karnataka, Infosys has virtually been a passport to rapid economic empowerment for thousands of rural households. The success of Infosys and other IT and ITES companies globally has spurred economic growth and development in Bangalore and, indeed, across the state. Murthy was certainly not invited to inaugurate the Belgaum conclave for any contribution to Kannada literature. Neither is the meet only about Kannada literature. As it is about celebrating the successes of the state's identity, can there be better ambassadors to showcase the achievements than, among others, the Murthys, the Premjis, the Anil Kumbles and the Rahul Dravids of the cricket world and the Aishwarya Rais and the Shilpa Shettys of Bollywood? Let's grow up.








The CBI's charge-sheet against a former high court judge, Justice Nirmal Yadav, shows some progress in a case of alleged judicial corruption which has received wide national attention. Justice Yadav was a judge of the Punjab and Haryana High Court when the incident of alleged bribery took place, but she was later transferred to the Uttarakhand High Court. An amount of Rs 15 lakh, considered to be a bribe for a favourable judgment from her in a land dispute case, was delivered by mistake at the house of another judge with a similar name. The case has taken many turns since it came to public notice three years ago. She has now been charge-sheeted under various sections of the penal code and the Prevention of Corruption Act and strangely the action took place on the day of her retirement last week. She has the dubious distinction of being the first judge to be charge-sheeted while in office.

The slow pace of investigation against the judge and even perceived attempts to bury the case had attracted much criticism. Both judicial and government authorities had tried to slow-pedal the investigation. The judge was only transferred to another high court when, from the beginning, there was credible evidence of her involvement in the scandal. The CBI filed a closure report in 2009 on the ground that sanction for her prosecution had been denied. However, a special court rejected the plea and ordered a reinvestigation which resulted in the charge-sheeting of Justice Yadav.

Chief Justice of India Justice S H Kapadia cleared the sanction for prosecution in September 2010 but the law ministry sat on it. The president's sanction was given only on March 1.

Finally, there is hope that Justice Yadav will be made accountable to the law. The CBI has charged that the judge wrongly fast-tracked the case and ruled in favour of a party whose connections with her through others have been established. It has found a nexus involving lawyers, other persons and the judge. The prosecution and trial should take place fast and the accused should not be allowed to evade the law any further. Many judges of the higher courts have come under a cloud in the recent past. Effective penal and remedial action against wrong-doers will help send the message that judges are not above the law.







A foreign intervention in Libya will turn out to be as horrendous a crime against humanity as the Iraq invasion was.

For a moment, it seemed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was hustled into another meaningless cabinet reshuffle, prompted by an urgent need to induct Mulayam Singh Yadav into the government, and in the process external affairs minister S M Krishna was compelled to surrender his portfolio to the doughty 'pahalwan' from Uttar Pradesh. Anything can happen, after all, in Delhi and nothing is quite beyond the realms of possibility anymore.

Certainly, the 'low-profile' stance Krishna adopted at the IBSA (India-Brazil-South Africa) foreign-minister level meet in Delhi on Tuesday still remains incomprehensible. It is a great privilege to host an international meet. Besides, courtesy and diplomatic propriety — and leadership qualities — demanded that as the host country India took the rostrum and announced to the world, "Yes, we three democratic countries from the developing world drawn from 3 continents and presently represented in the United Nations Security Council have taken a principled decision to oppose a 'no-fly' zone over Libya".

Yet, somehow it was left to Antonio de Aguiar Patriota, foreign minister of Brazil, to annotate the IBSA's stance. Indian spokesmen were nowhere to be seen. No dashing 'public diplomacy', either. Consequently, a virtual media blackout ensued.

Of course, Patriota is an accomplished diplomat and can speak authoritatively on conflict situations and collective security. After all, how many diplomats would peel off on mid-career sabbatical to do a PhD on 'The Security Council After the Gulf War: Articulating a New Paradigm for Collective Security?' Patriota ably explained the IBSA decision, saying "while this formulation doesn't go into detail, it is an 'important measure' of what the non-western world is thinking. Why we say this, in part, is because the resort to a 'no-fly' zone is seen as expedient by a country but it weakens the system of collective security and provokes indirect consequences prejudicial to the objective we have been trying to achieve."

He added: "It is very problematic to intervene militarily in a situation of internal turmoil. Any decision to adopt military intervention needs to be considered within the UN framework and in close coordination with African Union and the Arab League."

The heart of the matter is that there is great moral ambiguity, political opaqueness and strategic miscalculation in the unseemly haste with which Britain and France are approaching the UNSC with the acquiescence of the US for a mandate to impose a 'no-fly' zone over Libya. The only quarrel we can have is the IBSA's view of Arab League, which, despite the 45-day-old 'Arab awakening', still comprises 'pro-West' ancien regimes who may not even survive the coming New Year Day and is based in Cairo where a military junta holds the steering wheel.

Double standards

The moral depravity and political cynicism of the proponents of 'no-fly' zone is at once obvious. Washington, on the one hand, requests Riyadh to send weapons clandestinely to the rebels in Benghazi to fuel a civil war that becomes an excuse for western 'humanitarian intervention' in Libya, where Muammar Gadhafi is using the very same tear gas shells, bullets, tanks, artillery and helicopter gunships to attack the rebels that the Europeans sold to him.

Israel butchered five times more Palestinians in Gaza (including hundreds of children) in one go in Operation Cast Lead in 2008. What did the west do about it? It looked away. Let us face it. Britain and France aspire to intervene to save some of the vast investments that European companies made in Gadhafi's Libya. They are particularly interested in a 'no-fly' zone in Libya's northern tier where the oil terminals feeding Europe need to function. In order to legitimise the intervention, US and allies are seeking 'regional consultations'. American President Barack Obama doesn't want to drink out of the poisoned chalice his predecessor left behind in the Oval Office — doctrine of 'unilateralist intervention', 'coalition of the willing', etc.

A foreign intervention in Libya will turn out to be as horrendous a crime against humanity as the Iraq invasion was. Gadhafi is the grotesque end-product of a historical process of Arab nationalism (and socialism) that began high-spiritedly but somehow morphed into a pro-west, pro-capitalist regime under western encouragement. Ranged against it are Islamist forces. Do not underestimate the ideological and political basis of the current strife, which is being simplistically seen as a battle between Gadhafi and his people.

Like the Iraqis, the Libyans too have to grapple with multiple identities and a tortuous history, including a bloody colonial past. Therefore, interposing in a civil war by the western countries in yet another Muslim country when they are already up to their knees in rivers of Muslim blood can only add to the root causes of international terrorism.

Finally, imposing a 'no-fly' zone involves 'degrading' Gadhafi's air defence systems, which means sustained aerial bombardment, 'collateral' deaths, and devastation of a country that, ironically, also happens to occupy the first spot on the UN's Human Development Index for Africa.

Delhi knows all this. Yet, it somehow seems afraid to say so and keeps mumbling. You hear one reasoning today, another tomorrow. Delhi prefers to cherry-pick from the IBSA process and selectively laud the grouping's emphasis on UNSC reform. Alas, we have become one-dimensional men (and women) who can't even enjoy a cup of high-end Arabica coffee from Brazil.







At 1.22 per 1,000 citizens, India's soldier-to-citizen ratio is also among the lowest in Asia.


In his budget speech on Feb 28 finance minister Pranab Mukherjee set aside Rs 1,64,425 crore for defence for 2011-12. This is less than 2 per cent of the country's GDP despite the recommendations of successive parliamentary standing committees on defence that it should be at least 3 per cent if the emerging threats and challenges are to be successfully countered.

Meanwhile, China has increased its official defence expenditure for 2011 by 13 per cent to $91.5 billion while its actual expenditure is likely to be close to $150 billion (3.5 per cent of its GDP). The US defence expenditure in 2010 was $530 billion, excluding funds allotted for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Of the total allocation for defence, the army will get Rs 64,250 crore, the navy Rs 10,590 crore, the air force Rs 1,593 crore and the Defence Research and Development Organisation Rs 5,624 crore. The total revenue expenditure planned for the year is Rs 95,216 crore. The remaining amount of Rs 69,199 crore has been allotted on capital account for the acquisition of modern weapon systems. It is well known that India plans to spend approximately $100 billion over 10 years on defence modernisation.

Modernisation suffers

Reacting to the finance minister's budget speech, defence minister A K Antony said, "We welcome it as our concerns have been by and large addressed and the finance minister has stated that if we have any fresh requirements, they would be made up without any difficulty." However, while the reactions of the armed forces are not known, they are unlikely to be satisfied as their plans for modernisation have been stymied year after year by the lack of committed budgetary support.

The 11th Defence Plan, which will enter its fifth and final year on April 1, has not yet been accorded approval and, therefore, lacks committed budgetary support. The only silver lining on the horizon is that the funds earmarked on capital account for 2010-11 have been fully spent by the government for the first time in many years.

In addition to the defence budget, the government has also earmarked adequate resources in the annual budget of the ministry of home affairs (MHA) for homeland or internal security. A portion of these funds will be utilised for setting up a National Intelligence Grid and the National Counter-terrorism Centre. Also, funds for the modernisation of Central police and para-military forces will be provided from the budget of the MHA.

This year's defence budget is 1.83 per cent of the projected GDP and 13.07 per cent of the total Central government expenditure. In fact, according to the recommendations made by the 13th Finance Commission, defence expenditure should progressively come down to 1.76 per cent of the GDP by 2014-15.

India's defence budget is far below international norms. India's per capita expenditure on defence is less than $10 while the average expenditure of the top ten spenders in Asia is $800 approximately. At 1.22 per 1,000 citizens, India's soldier-to-citizen ratio is also among the lowest in Asia. The average of the top ten Asian nations is about 20 per 1,000 (China 1.76 per 1,000).

Though the present allocation shows an increase of 11.59 per cent over the budgetary estimates for 2010-11 and 8.47 per cent over the revised estimates, it is barely adequate to neutralise the annual rate of inflation. Year-on-year inflation is averaging over 11 per cent and shows no sign of abating in the short term. Hence, in 'real', inflation-adjusted terms, the defence budget has been declining and not increasing in recent years. Also, inflation in weapons, ammunition and defence equipment is usually much higher than domestic inflation. For example, the MiG-21 costs $1 million but its replacement fighter aircraft like the F-18 and the Eurofighter will cost over $100 million each.

Finally, the most relevant yardstick for measuring the adequacy of defence expenditure is whether or not India is getting the defensive capabilities that it needs. In view of the continuing territorial disputes with China and Pakistan and the increasing nuclear, missile and military hardware nexus between them — prompting the need to prepare for a two-front future war, the emerging threats and challenges on the strategic horizon especially on the maritime security front, the lack of military modernisation and the marked obsolescence of the weapons and equipment of the armed forces, India is consistently failing to develop the capabilities that its armed forces will need in the 2015-20 time frame.

Therefore, the country needs to spend much more on its defence if another military debacle like that of 1962 is to be avoided. This is one field in which complacency costs lives and imposes unacceptable burdens during future crisis situations.

(The writer is Director, Centre for Land Warfare Studies, New Delhi)







After a whole morning of requests and reminders, the garbage was cleared.

It is the way of the world to grab most of the credit when something good is done and not disown discredit when things don't go as well as expected.

A recent incident highlighted this common human trait. There was a pile of garbage just outside our compound wall — an unsightly hillock, in fact — which kept growing at an alarming rate.

I called the BBMP and was told it would be cleared and advised me to contact A, which I promptly did. A directed me to B who, in turn, referred me to C. Never one to let the grass grow under my feet, I did so. C was 'not in his seat'. I gave him a long rope, knowing that the breaks these employees take is stretchable. When I managed to catch him, he said 'urgent matters' had kept him busy and suggested I approach D. I couldn't afford the luxury of irritation at being pushed from pillar to post (or in this case, from A to probably Z, only to return to A) what with the garbage level rising rapidly. So I set about tracking D. Not surprisingly, D proved elusive. Patience is a virtue and I decided to practise it, though it was beginning to wear thin. Before it completely gave way, I managed to corner D. He promised to take action. Being sceptical, I wasn't convinced. As if sensing it, reassured me.

Even after two days, nothing was done. I was forced to tackle D again, treading warily as my interest was at stake. After a whole morning of requests and reminders, the garbage was cleared. I heaved a sigh of relief. It was such a pleasure to see the place all spruced up.

The very next morning, the door bell rang. A khaki-clad stranger stood outside. "I am Raghu," he declared. As I had never seen him before, I didn't recognise him. I couldn't figure out why he was giving himself the celebrity status of Rajikanth. I got a bit suspicious, especially after the gory stories of assault and murder that the media publicises in painful detail. "What do you want?" I asked brusquely. He looked hurt. "How can you ask that? I am the one who cleared all that garbage," he answered. I could recall the faces of those who had done the clean-up but Raghu definitely wasn't one of them. He coolly demanded Rs 50 for a job which he hadn't done.

I was more prepared to deal with the next claimant. The uniformed lady gave me a sweet smile and took credit for what was done and wanted to be rewarded for having done nothing. But who took the cake was a local resident who claimed the rubbish heap was cleared because she threatened to expose the BBMP by sending a picture of the rubbish heap to the press.








What is the common denominator linking proposed solutions for the housing market and the Israeli-Palestinian dispute? In both cases, it's all just talk. Bibi believes that words replace deeds, and he puts what we say ahead of what we do. His attempts to mitigate international pressure on Israel by promising a "path-breaking" speech in a few weeks, either before the U.S. Congress, or at the annual AIPAC conference. The key element is that it be delivered in Washington. Why? Is the Knesset insufficiently distinguished for his taste?

At the same time, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, increasingly eccentric with each public appearance, claimed in interviews with Arieh Golan on Israel Radio and with the Wall Street Journal that Israel needs $20 billion in additional aid, in view of the volatile situation that has developed in the region. Implicitly, this call for more dollars is a precondition for presenting a "daring plan" to solve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Dan Halperin, a former diplomat in Washington and an expert on U.S.-Israel relations, says that Bibi and Barak have forgotten a well-known American saying: Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. In view of the Americans' disappointment after Netanyahu's Bar-Ilan speech, only acts of substance will impress them and the rest of the world. They've heard enough speeches.

Whoever has his feet on the ground, and understands how deep is the crisis of confidence marring our relations with Washington, not to mention the economic stagnation gripping America, knows that prospects of receiving additional assistance depend entirely on genuine progress in the peace process - taking risks, such as (for example ) the return of the Golan Heights, or the designation of borders so the Palestinians can feel, at long last, that they have a state of their own. Even in this scenario, an American government well-versed in dealings with us will tread carefully. Obama cannot afford to come out looking like a sucker.

Apparently, Barak was much impressed by Ari Shavit's column of March 3, which referred to a Bar-Ilan II speech of Churchill-like dimensions. Interviewed by Golan, Barak said the time has come for leadership, and for making important decisions. "Bibi admires Churchill, but I say that these are decisions more on the level of Ben-Gurion or de Gaulle," Barak said.

It's not clear why Barak felt a need for such distinctions. To deliver a Churchillian speech, one needs, first of all, to be Churchill. Nor are there Ben-Gurions in these parts; a Ben-Gurion is a leader who knows where he's headed, and who has the strength to tell the truth to his countrymen. Ariel Sharon did not deliver speeches in Congress or the UN; instead, he spoke to his people via an interview in Haaretz, and before he evacuated Gaza, he spoke historic words: "The time has come to end our addiction to the dream of Greater Israel."

As Barak sees it, Bibi has sweeping support for any daring decision he might reach. That depends on who you ask. Barak himself can contribute a mere five Knesset votes. Benny Begin, asked about the putative peace proposal, replied nonchalantly that he does not know how to talk about eggs before they are hatched.

One political commentator said recently that when Bibi talks about how every settlement built on private land will be razed, whereas retroactive authorization will be given for houses built on state land, he must think that everyone is dumb. Retroactive authorization for most of the settlements would be an illegal act. Bibi is trying to lessen international pressure on Israel by talking about a breakthrough speech in a few weeks in the U.S. Why does Bibi believe he can appear before Congress with an egg that has yet to be hatched? Who knows? Perhaps after the strange precedent set by Obama, he will receive a Nobel Peace Prize, even before he does anything.

While Barak is a careful commentator, when it comes to words, Bibi is a wizard. He wants the grandest stage, and instead of writing the play, he wants to produce and direct it. But if he really does have a plan, it is important that he present it first to the Knesset, and his people. We've had enough of babbling on about nothing.







The volcano in the Middle East is continuing to spew lava and no one knows what form this lava will take when it congeals. The lesson to be learned from the hasty steps taken by the Americans and the Europeans is that anyone who has eyes in his head should take care not to make a hasty move, not to utter any statement - and certainly not a plan - that will be binding.

As a wise Arabic proverb says, "hastiness is from the devil." But here it works the other way around: A vast political and media conglomerate is putting unprecedented pressure on the prime minister, at precisely this time, to carry out a decisive plan. And to whom should it be presented? After all, even when the seats of his patrons in the Arab world seemed to be stable, Mahmoud Abbas rejected out of hand - apparently for fear that he would not get backing - the far-reaching compromises offered him by Ehud Olmert.

Is there really anyone who believes that, precisely now, when no one has a clue what the attitude will be of the new regimes to continued negotiations between the Palestinians and the Israelis, the time is ripe for Abbas to make decisions that he was not able to make when Hosni Mubarak and Kings Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and Jordan were giving him support? The writers of opinion pieces, the Middle East experts and other kinds of experts - and certainly the Americans and members of the Quartet - all know this and it is unclear why they are not leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alone. It is unclear what is pushing them to dictate to Israel moves that could lead it to the brink of an abyss.

Maybe those who are pushing from the inside will say to those who are pushing from the outside, at least this one time: Is this what you have to do - put pressure on Israel in the face of the giant waves that are threatening to wash away the entire region? Is this what will bring relief to the millions of wretched people in Egypt? Or put an end to the historic conflicts between the tribes in Libya? Or prevent the events that appear to be on the brink of erupting in Saudi Arabia and Jordan?

And if indeed there is to be "a brave diplomatic move now," perhaps the political-media conglomerate will, for a change, put its pressure on the Palestinian president to present a move of that kind? And what is more logical than that this vision be presented even before the second "Bar-Ilan" speech? For after all, it was Abbas who rejected the first "Bar-Ilan." But those who push, from inside and from outside, have granted the Palestinians - way back from the time of Yasser Arafat - a perpetual exemption from initiating plans and giving clear answers to Israeli initiatives.

And in this way a consensus has been created, that Israel is the one that has to slice another slice off the salami after every refusal by the Palestinians. And wise and clever people, who know how to run their private businesses with utmost rationality, nevertheless urge [Israel], when we are talking about national interests, to take risks most of which have been proven to be reckless. For example - letting 40,000 terrorists into the area of the Palestinian Authority, fleeing from Lebanon in the year 2000 and uprooting people from Gush Katif. All these gambles ended in bloodshed.

Worst of all are those who now are explicitly inciting the Palestinians to revolt, just like their brethren in Egypt and Libya. And when the Palestinians are indecisive, the inciters reproach them with having become too bourgeois and being too busy with [the Palestinian TV version of] "A Star Is Born," with seeking a good life and deserting the struggle. And the department in the justice ministry responsible for preventing incitement does not respond. Because after all, the only kind of incitement permitted in Israel is of the kind that calls for harming Jews.

They are trying to frighten us by saying that the whole world is opposed to us. That is not correct. Part of the world with which certain Israeli academics and politicians are connected socially, politically and also professionally, is indeed against us. It is interesting why it is precisely with them that these Israelis have connections.

Many of the citizens of the organized and normal world follow what is happening in our region and do not accept what is considered political correctness in their countries, that leads to the hatred of Israel. Some of them even admire us for our ability to stand up to the Islamic terror that threatens to wash over their countries. But these people are not considered important in the eyes of Israeli politicians and media. They even despise them. A worthwhile kind of connection is to wallow in the dirt kicked up by those who try to judge Israel Defense Forces soldiers for "crimes against humanity."

On the other hand, expressions of appreciation for the evangelists who support Israel are unacceptable, on principle. We have enemies, plenty of them. But not because of "a lack of diplomatic initiatives" but rather because we are Jews, and even worse, Jews who are sovereign in their land. And Jews who hate themselves meet Jew-haters who are disguised as humanists and believers in human rights, and then we have "all the world is against us."

It is unbelievable how Netanyahu thwarted the targeted assassination that his opponents were planning against Ya'akov Amidror. It should be hoped that this is the first step on his way to freeing himself from the psychological pressures that are brought to bear on him by those to whom his declaration of "two states for two peoples" is not enough. Perhaps now that his back has straightened a bit, he will dare in his upcoming speech to free himself of their dictates, will make a U-turn and surprise people with the declaration that he and his party are returning to the main road of Zionism, on the foundations of which the state of Israel was established.





Attacks on civilian airliners began about half a century ago, on the route from Cuba to Florida. Palestinian terrorist organizations adopted this tactic about a decade later, hijacking planes for the sake of striking deals and also blowing them up. Israel, which had not prepared for this threat, responded by destroying passenger aircraft at the Beirut airport and by beefing up aviation security, with the goal of thwarting attacks on the planes themselves, on Israeli airports and on all points of departure to Israel.

The difference between a land-based target for aviation terror, of which Ben-Gurion Airport is the prime example, and any other crowded locale like a shopping center is not one of principle but of practice. In all of these places, the number of victims of a terror attack could be very high, and for all, the weakest point is the crowds of people waiting in line for a security check. What makes Ben-Gurion unique is the combination of the price of a security failure - which would allow terrorists to get a bomb aboard the aircraft and blow it up, or alternatively other weapons that would enable it to be hijacked and crashed into a city - and the need to abide by a tight timetable of scheduled takeoffs.

The contradictory goals of thoroughness and speed resulted in a security policy of risk management: a quick initial check to weed out those who don't arouse suspicion, followed by very strict checks of those identified as potentially dangerous.

Because any security doctrine is a mixture of technology and ideology, the problem lies in the criteria used to select the minority from the majority. The principal criterion is belonging to one of the groups from which most of those responsible for aviation terror have thus far come.

In the Israeli context, this risk group includes the country's Arab citizens, in a sweeping and therefore outrageous fashion. Security guards display a blatantly suspicious attitude toward them, cause them lengthy delays that can even make them miss their flights and humiliate them in front of their families and other passengers.

This week, the High Court of Justice heard a petition on this issue and ordered the Shin Bet security service and the Israel Airports Authority to adapt their security procedures to their constitutional obligation to avoid harming human dignity. This is the correct approach, as it balances the security of the passengers (including those offended by the checks ) with the preservation of their dignity. Government agencies must sever the link between taking off and dressing down.






This column has in the past commented on its troubled addiction to gossip. Seven circles of hell must be gone through before one knows when, where and why one social type becomes attached to another celebrity. On Israel's social map, there is no yellow brick road - only the money road.

There is a tried and true system for reading a newspaper - start with the back pages and work your way to the front. This practice proved its worth this week, a week in which a car new to Israel was showcased for purchase at a Tel Aviv restaurant. Food was provided by a top chef, and there were Cuban cigars and French champagne. Watches were offered for sale, starting at NIS 20,000. (All these details come from the "Everything's Personal" column in TheMarker; product names have been kept confidential ).

There's no cause to name all persons who crashed this party, pretending they were interested in buying the car. It's the same, fixed group who wander about and rate luxury items up for sale - there's the woman whose underpants were seen missing on a live broadcast, and another on whom a film director tried to pounce, as though he were a dog in heat, and there's another who stuffs and stretches parts of her body out of a foolish hope for eternal youth. In short, all of the white trash of the local social scene were there.

Everyone was there, even the son of the prime minister. He appeared suddenly with a girlfriend and a bodyguard paid for by the public. Our ears still ring with the prime minister's entreaties not to harass members of his family. Not forgotten is the press conference in Germany, held in the presence of the chancellor, during which Benjamin Netanyahu asked that his wife and sons be left alone. Such a request should be honored. But that is on condition his family members make an effort to protect their own privacy, and do not encroach upon the lair of paparazzi, looking for publicity and to preen their feathers. Whoever willingly enters the lion's den of public relations professionals and celebrities is liable to get hurt.

The car they came to see was a good one. Sleazy fast movers attempted to buy it. The car was said to be "unique and exclusive;" it "provides a perfect experience of ownership"; it is designed for "the most demanding people, persons for whom it is important to flaunt their success; it is not for introverts." Wait a minute. I have to go vomit, and then I'll come back. I'm back, and will summarize: "Now in Israel," the car costs half a million shekels. Not a bad price, not as expensive as an apartment.

More than being surprised, we were disappointed. After all, the young Netanyahu received a fine education at home, as we have been informed by innumerable media reports. We learned that the first family takes history- and Jewish history-oriented trips around the country, to get a first-hand understanding of our roots and our ancient homeland; we have learned that at their home in Jerusalem or Caesarea, they return to their roots, that they study Bible night and day, and that the son listens to his father talk about morality, while not forsaking his mother's love of the religion. The Netanyahu family, it is to be assumed, did not wait for guidelines from the education minister before it visited holy sites in Hebron. And what did all this educational investment produce? Party hopping to a car show attended by the glitterati. Does this not provide depressing evidence of the futility of educational effort in general, and of the lack of influence exerted by parents and teachers? Is there not proof here of the triumph of the materialism of the father over the idealism of the grandfather? Yair Netanyahu did not face a life threat by attending the opulent social bash; his only risk was having too much of the good life. Forgotten for the moment was the bodyguard, who has to work for a living, and is saving for his studies. The guard's friends say that he is considering - idiotically - to study social work.






Let's imagine that Golda Meir and Moshe Dayan continue to head the government and the Defense Ministry for months and years after the debacle of the Yom Kippur War; and not merely that, but that no decisive situation was reached during the war and hostile forces continue to pour in from north and south, to Ashkelon and to Tiberias, and to mount a siege of Israel's major cities.

Is such an unrealistic scenario possible? Could it happen in a country of committees of inquiry and state comptroller reports when the careers of senior army and government figures are ended almost automatically after every bungled battle? The answer is: yes. It's not only possible but happening right now in front of our eyes. It happens under one condition - that the disaster takes place not on the battlefield, but in the political arena.

With well-honed apathy, one can dismiss the horrifying survey the BBC released this week saying that a huge percentage of the public in 27 countries places Israel among the most hated states in the world, alongside Iran and North Korea.

It's possible not merely to scorn these findings (and similar ones published in recent years ), but even to wallow in them in the kind of masochistic pleasure which became a motto of Israeli foreign policy in the Netanyahu-Lieberman era - Happy are we, we are hated! We are hated anyway simply because we are Jews and because the world is anti-Semitic. Why try to be "Israeli"? To what end should we attempt to take our fate into our own hands and strive for normalization and a diplomatic solution if they will go on hating us anyway?

On the contrary, we can supply the gentiles with new reasons to hate us: We shall continue to settle and to irritate them until they burst a blood vessel and - as a bonus - we shall strengthen our "Jewish identity." That means we shall curl up tighter inside our ethnocentric ghetto mentality.

Even though the diplomatic fiasco that Israel is experiencing now is no less serious than a military blunder, and its implications in the long run are perhaps even more threatening to the country's future and robustness, no protest movement has sprung up against those clearly responsible for the failure. No commission of inquiry has been appointed. Even the state comptroller does not sniff any possibility of unveiling the rot. Benjamin Netanyahu and Avigdor Lieberman continue to stretch out in their armchairs, their arrogance and defiance grow, and they have rolled up their sleeves to continue the same "policy," while it explodes in our faces daily.

Only one voice has been heard - the profound and courageous words of Ilan Baruch, the Foreign Ministry official who resigned in protest over the "malignant diplomatic dynamic" of the Netanyahu government, which is acting provocatively in a way that "threatens Israel's international standing and undermines the legitimacy not only of the occupation but also Israel's very membership in the family of nations."

In retrospect, will we compare this lone protest to Motti Ashkenazi, who provoked the outrage that followed the Yom Kippur debacle? That's doubtful. Israelis have become accustomed to being dependent, almost exclusively, on the army, on its campaigns and wars, for their sense of self-importance and national morale. No civilian political culture has developed that can grasp profoundly - sometimes with horror - the fateful significance of coping with the diplomatic challenge, which is the real playing field of the nations. No one is going out in the streets holding placards protesting against the fall of one political outpost after another; there are no demonstrations against the apathy that holds Israel captive as its isolation grows, year after year.

When people want to say a good word about Netanyahu and the way in which he functions, they point mainly to the "quiet on the security front." They boast that "there are no terrorist attacks on the buses," that the stock exchange is rising, and that the number of soldiers dying is small. It makes you think of a person whose home burned down and now is proud of the fact that he's gotten rid of the smoky smell, while a flood is washing away the ground on which it stands.


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



Should a former attorney general be held personally liable for brazenly misusing the material witness statute when he was in office to hold an American man in brutal conditions on the pretext that he was a witness in a case in which he was never called to testify?

At last week's Supreme Court argument in Ashcroft v. al-Kidd, which turns on that question, the justices' silence suggested they are reluctant to do that — and, in addition, would prefer to avert their eyes from the misuse of the statute.

Before letting John Ashcroft, a former attorney general, off the hook and giving the Justice Department a pass to continue misusing that law, the justices should read an amicus brief in support of Abdullah al-Kidd by 31 former federal prosecutors, including former United States attorneys in New York, Illinois and California.

The brief makes clear that the argument presented to the court by the acting solicitor general, contending that Mr. Ashcroft is immune from prosecution and all but ignoring the disgraceful conduct from which he seeks immunity, is hardly Justice Department gospel.

The former prosecutors' brief underscores why the justices should uphold the judgment of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit that Mr. Ashcroft forfeited immunity when he devised the strategy that led to the statute's misuse.

It emphasizes why they should rule that the material witness statute, letting the government keep a witness from fleeing before testifying about an alleged crime by somebody else, can never be used as a pretext to hold someone for investigation or building a case against him.

Because Mr. Ashcroft chose to appeal before a full record could be developed in this case, the justices must accept as true the facts that Mr. Kidd's complaint alleges and draw reasonable inferences about them in his favor.

The facts are that, without a claim he had broken any law and as one of four seized as part of the F.B.I.'s wider "Idaho probe," Mr. Kidd was arrested, strip-searched, shackled and jailed for 15 days — handled like a suspect, not a witness. Against him and others, the Justice Department used the statute, Mr. Kidd's lawyers inferred and others must as well, "to detain and investigate suspects for whom the government lacked probable cause of wrongdoing, and not to secure testimony."

The government contends that Mr. Ashcroft didn't have to intend to use Mr. Kidd as a witness to detain him because the then-attorney general's motivation was irrelevant. But to the former prosecutors, it is "settled understanding" that the statute has "no other legitimate purpose" except to hold a witness for testimony.

It can't be used to detain someone because it simply doesn't grant that power. The Non-Detention Act says clearly: "No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress." After Sept. 11, 2001, Mr. Ashcroft asked Congress for that authority. Congress said no — and the Justice Department's misuse of the material witness statute was a ruse to get around that rebuff.

Despite the "settled understanding" to the contrary, the department got away with that ruse until this case. The Supreme Court should say it has no power to do so.





Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin have reversed half-a-century's middle-class progress in the state by erasing collective-bargaining rights for public employees. Union members, caught off guard and infuriated by the Senate vote on Wednesday and the Assembly vote on Thursday, immediately talked of legal challenges and general strikes, but the outcome was probably inevitable given the Republican success in the 2010 elections. Now union members have to make sure they do not stay away from the polls again when their rights are at stake.

The vote, pushed by Gov. Scott Walker, would have happened weeks ago if Democratic state senators had not fled to Illinois to deprive the Senate of the supermajority it needs to pass bills that are considered fiscal matters. Republicans then moved the bargaining rights from a larger budget bill to a separate bill that they could pass by proclaiming that the rights were not a fiscal issue.

And, in doing so, they reluctantly exposed the real truth behind the maneuver: stripping the unions of their rights was never about the budget, especially once the unions had agreed to significant concessions on pensions and health care. It was always about politics. Governor Walker had hoped to hide behind a cooked-up budget crisis, but the fleeing Democrats at least succeeded in pulling away that facade.

Undermining public unions — and the support they give to Democrats — has been a long-sought goal of the Republican Party and many of its corporate backers. Koch Industries, one of the party's biggest supporters, spent $1.2 million last year to help elect Mr. Walker and other Republican governors who want to eliminate or reduce bargaining rights. On Wednesday, the State Senate's Republican leader, Scott Fitzgerald, told Fox News that if unions lose the battle for their rights, they would have less money to help President Obama win re-election.

Some union benefits are exorbitant, but no politician was forced to hand them out. Lawmakers are free to end this practice and should, but ending the basic rights of unions is a very different matter. It could have serious consequences for the Wisconsin Republicans who voted to do so. Recall efforts against Mr. Walker and several Republican senators are already under way. Polls in The Times and The Wall Street Journal have consistently shown large national majorities against these kinds of union-busting moves.

More broadly, the overreach by Mr. Walker and Republicans elsewhere has finally revealed their true agenda to blue-collar voters who either voted for them last year or who stayed home. These voters are not going to benefit from a crippled union movement; they live next door to the teachers and nurses and D.M.V. clerks who are about to lose what little clout they had in the state capital. Many have suffered during the recession and have watched in pain as private-sector unions have been battered to the point of ineffectiveness.

They understand the power play that took place this week. The place to exercise some power of their own is at the voting booth.






Barring a last-minute assault from the banks, a federal rule to protect vulnerable Americans from overly grabby creditors will take effect on May 1.

The issue involves individuals' bank accounts that contain Social Security payments for retirement and disability or certain other federal benefits for veterans, the poor, the aged and the disabled. By law, those sums cannot be seized by creditors to cover unpaid debts, a vital protection intended to shield close-to-the-edge recipients from financial calamity and to block creditors from acquiring taxpayer-provided benefits.

In practice, however, banks that receive garnishment orders routinely freeze a customer's account up to the amount of the debt, even if the account contains protected funds. Unfreezing an account often requires a lawyer and invariably involves delays, which can be devastating for low-income beneficiaries.

Each month, more than 100,000 low-income beneficiaries are left temporarily destitute by improperly frozen accounts, according to the National Consumer Law Center. If the account is not unfrozen, it is eventually turned over to the creditor.

Banks have justified their practice by saying they are not responsible for determining the source of a customer's deposits. They have also said they could face legal problems from creditors if they do not freeze the targeted accounts. Those claims are self-serving because banks often issue garnishment orders to each other.

Under the new rule, government agencies will add electronic tags to protected sums that are automatically deposited. Banks will be required to exempt tagged deposits made in the previous two months from garnishment and to make those deposits fully available to the customer. (Paper checks for federal benefits will no longer be used for new recipients as of May 1 and will be phased out for all recipients by early 2013). There's no excuse for shirking because the rule will shield compliant banks from liability to creditors.

For such a complex rule — it gets into areas like commingled funds and the interplay of state and federal law — it is remarkably free of loopholes. Kudos to the Obama Treasury Department, which led the effort. The task now is to stand firm against any efforts to weaken the rule before it becomes final.





Gridlock is the name of the game at the Federal Election Commission, where all three Republican members routinely block any punishment of even the most blatant violators.

In one recent case, the commission's professional investigators properly concluded that campaign laws were violated by Kansas Republicans who tapped $100,000 in banned soft money to pay for party members' travel expenses to the 2008 presidential convention. In another, the staff recommended action against Georgia Democrats who improperly paid almost $500,000 in party salaries from an equally forbidden soft money account.

In the past, these cases would have drawn penalties. And now? Not even a slap on the wrist.

In both cases, the three Republican members voted to ignore the staff recommendations for enforcement. The three Democratic members, to their credit, urged strong action. But the 3-to-3 deadlock meant nothing happened.

The message to candidates entering the new era of unlimited big-money campaigning is clear. So long as the Republican members of the F.E.C. get their way, nobody's minding the store and anything goes.

The F.E.C. is only one of many problems. After the Supreme Court misguidedly overturned limits on corporate spending, Senate Republicans blocked disclosure of corporate and union check writers. Republicans in both chambers are determined to deep-six the public subsidy alternative for presidential campaigns, adopted in the wake of Watergate.

With 2012 in sight, more, not less, reform is urgently needed. Five of the six F.E.C. seats come up for replacement next month. The Senate's preference will be to confirm safe loyalists chosen by party bigwigs. President Obama can make a real difference if he breaks the tradition by selecting truly independent watchdogs as the two parties' nominees — ones committed to enforcing the law — and fights for their confirmation.






We're an overconfident species. Ninety-four percent of college professors believe they have above-average teaching skills. A survey of high school students found that 70 percent of them have above-average leadership skills and only 2 percent are below average.

Men tend to be especially blessed with self-esteem. Men are the victims of unintentional drowning more than twice as often as women. That's because men have tremendous faith in their own swimming ability, especially after they've been drinking.

Americans are similarly endowed with self-esteem. When pollsters ask people around the world to rate themselves on a variety of traits, they find that people in Serbia, Chile, Israel and the United States generally supply the most positive views of themselves. People in South Korea, Switzerland, Japan, Taiwan and Morocco are on the humble side of the rankings.

Yet even from this high base, there is some evidence to suggest that Americans have taken self-approval up a notch over the past few decades. Start with the anecdotal evidence. It would have been unthinkable for a baseball player to celebrate himself in the batter's box after a home-run swing. Now it's not unusual. A few decades ago, pop singers didn't compose anthems to their own prowess; now those songs dominate the charts.

American students no longer perform particularly well in global math tests. But Americans are among the world leaders when it comes to thinking that we are really good at math.

Students in the Middle East, Africa and the United States have the greatest faith in their math skills. Students in Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and Taiwan have much less self-confidence, though they actually do better on the tests.

In a variety of books and articles, Jean M. Twenge of San Diego State University and W. Keith Campbell of the University of Georgia have collected data suggesting that American self-confidence has risen of late. College students today are much more likely to agree with statements such as "I am easy to like" than college students 30 years ago. In the 1950s, 12 percent of high school seniors said they were a "very important person." By the '90s, 80 percent said they believed that they were.

In short, there's abundant evidence to suggest that we have shifted a bit from a culture that emphasized self-effacement — I'm no better than anybody else, but nobody is better than me — to a culture that emphasizes self-expansion.

Writers like Twenge point out that young people are bathed in messages telling them how special they are. Often these messages are untethered to evidence of actual merit. Over the past few decades, for example, the number of hours college students spend studying has steadily declined. Meanwhile, the average G.P.A. has steadily risen.

Some argue that today's child-rearing and educational techniques have produced praise addicts. Roni Caryn Rabin of The Times recently reported on some research that found that college students would rather receive a compliment than eat their favorite food or have sex.

If Americans do, indeed, have a different and larger conception of the self than they did a few decades ago, I wonder if this is connected to some of the social and political problems we have observed over the past few years.

I wonder if the rise of consumption and debt is in part influenced by people's desire to adorn their lives with the things they feel befit their station. I wonder if the rise in partisanship is influenced in part by a narcissistic sense that, "I know how the country should be run and anybody who disagrees with me is just in the way."

Most pervasively, I wonder if there is a link between a possible magnification of self and a declining saliency of the virtues associated with citizenship.

Citizenship, after all, is built on an awareness that we are not all that special but are, instead, enmeshed in a common enterprise. Our lives are given meaning by the service we supply to the nation. I wonder if Americans are unwilling to support the sacrifices that will be required to avert fiscal catastrophe in part because they are less conscious of themselves as components of a national project.

Perhaps the enlargement of the self has also attenuated the links between the generations. Every generation has an incentive to push costs of current spending onto future generations. But no generation has done it as freely as this one. Maybe people in the past had a visceral sense of themselves as a small piece of a larger chain across the centuries. As a result, it felt viscerally wrong to privilege the current generation over the future ones, in a way it no longer does.

It's possible, in other words, that some of the current political problems are influenced by fundamental shifts in culture, involving things as fundamental as how we appraise ourselves. Addressing them would require a more comprehensive shift in values.






Like anyone who writes regularly about what passes for economic and fiscal debate in American politics, I've developed a strong tolerance for nonsense. After all, if I got upset every time powerful people were illogical and/or dishonest, I'd spend every waking hour in a state of raging despair.

Yet there are still moments when I find myself saying, "They can't really be that stupid," or maybe, "They can't really think the rest of us are that stupid." And I had one of those moments reading about a recent conference on national health policy, which featured a bipartisan dialogue among Congressional staffers.

According to a column in Kaiser Health News, Republican staffers jeered at any and all proposals to use Medicare and Medicaid funds better. Spending money on prevention was no more than a "slush fund." Research on innovation was "an oxymoron." And there was no reason to pay for "so-called effectiveness research."

To put this in context, you have to realize two things about the fiscal state of America. First, the nation is not, in fact, "broke." The federal government is having no trouble raising money, and the price of that money — the interest rate on federal borrowing — is very low by historical standards. So there's no need to scramble to slash spending now now now; we can and should be willing to spend now if it will produce savings in the long run.

Second, while the government does have a long-run fiscal problem, that problem is overwhelmingly driven by rising health care costs. The Congressional Budget Office expects Social Security outlays as a percentage of G.D.P. to rise 30 percent over the next quarter-century, as the population ages, but it expects a near doubling of the share of G.D.P. spent on Medicare and Medicaid.

So if you're serious about deficits, you shouldn't be pinching pennies now; you should be looking for ways to rein in health spending over the long term. And that means taking exactly the steps that had those G.O.P. staffers sneering.

Think of it this way: Congress could, with a stroke of a pen, cut Social Security benefits in half. But it couldn't do the same with health spending: Medicare can't suddenly start paying to replace only half a heart valve or mandate that bypass operations stop halfway through.

Limiting health costs, therefore, requires a smarter approach. We need to work harder on prevention, which can be much cheaper than a cure. We need to find innovative ways of managing health care. And, above all, we need to know what works and what doesn't so that Medicare and Medicaid can say no to expensive procedures with little or no medical benefit. "So-called comparative effectiveness research" is central to any rational attempt to deal with America's fiscal problems.

But today's Republicans just aren't into rationality. They claim to care deeply about deficits — but they've spent the past two years putting cynical, demagogic attacks on any attempt to actually deal with long-run deficits at the heart of their campaign strategy.

Here's a recent example. In his new book, Mike Huckabee — the current leader in polls asking Republicans whom they want to nominate in 2012 — attacks the Obama stimulus because it included funds for, yes, comparative effectiveness research: "The stimulus didn't just waste your money; it planted the seeds from which the poisonous tree of death panels will grow." Will others in the G.O.P. stand up and say that Mr. Huckabee is wrong, that Medicare needs to know which medical procedures actually work? Don't hold your breath.

Of course, Republicans aren't the only cynics. As the national debate over fiscal policy descends ever deeper into penny-pinching, future-killing absurdity, one voice is curiously muted — that of President Obama.

The president and his aides know that the G.O.P. approach to the budget is wrongheaded and destructive. But they've stopped making the case for an alternative approach; instead, they've positioned themselves as know-nothings lite, accepting the notion that spending must be slashed immediately — just not as much as Republicans want.

Mr. Obama's political advisers clearly believe that this strategy of protective camouflage offers the president his best chance at re-election — and they may be right. But that doesn't change the fact that the White House is aiding and abetting the dumbing down of our deficit debate.

And this dumbing down bodes ill for the nation's future. Health care is only one of the large and difficult problems America needs to deal with, ranging from infrastructure to climate change, all of which demand that we engage in a lot of hard thinking. Yet what we have instead is a political culture in which one side sneers at knowledge and exalts ignorance, while the other side hunkers down and pretends to halfway agree.






Boulder, Colo.

LAST week Michele Bachmann, a Republican representative from Minnesota, introduced a bill to roll back efficiency standards for light bulbs, which include a phasing out of incandescent bulbs in favor of more energy-efficient bulbs. The "government has no business telling an individual what kind of light bulb to buy," she declared.

Opponents of the new standards, to be in place by 2014, draw on the odd-couple coalition of Tea Party Republicans and organized labor. They have positioned themselves as defenders of American tradition in the face of big government: another Republican representative, Joe Barton of Texas, waxed lyrically with two colleagues about "the incandescent bulb that has been turning back the night ever since Thomas Edison ended the era of a world lit only by fire in 1879."

But this opposition ignores another, more important bit of American history: the critical role that government-mandated standards have played in scientific and industrial innovation.

Republicans are right, of course, to praise inventors like Edison for their pioneering advancements at the close of the 19th century. But inventions alone weren't enough to guarantee progress.

Indeed, at the time the lack of standards for everything from weights and measures to electricity — even the gallon, for example, had eight definitions — threatened to overwhelm industry and consumers with a confusing array of incompatible choices.

This wasn't the case everywhere. Germany's standards agency, established in 1887, was busy setting rules for everything from the content of dyes to the process for making porcelain; other European countries soon followed suit. Higher-quality products, in turn, helped the growth in Germany's trade exceed that of the United States in the 1890s.

America finally got its act together in 1894, when Congress standardized the meaning of what are today common scientific measures, including the ohm, the volt, the watt and the henry, in line with international metrics. And, in 1901, the United States became the last major economic power to establish an agency to set technological standards.

The result was a boom in product innovation in all aspects of life during the 20th century. Today we can go to our hardware store and choose from hundreds of light bulbs that all conform to government-mandated quality and performance standards.

Technological standards not only promote innovation — they also can help protect one country's industries from falling behind those of other countries. Today China, India and other rapidly growing nations are adopting standards that speed the deployment of new technologies. Without similar requirements to manufacture more technologically advanced products, American companies risk seeing the overseas markets for their products shrink while innovative goods from other countries flood the domestic market.

To prevent that from happening, America needs not only to continue developing standards, but also to devise a strategy to apply them consistently and quickly.

The best approach would be to borrow from Japan, whose Top Runner program sets energy-efficiency standards by identifying technological leaders in a particular industry — say, washing machines — and mandating that the rest of the industry keep up. As technologies improve, the standards change as well, enabling a virtuous cycle of improvement.

At the same time, the government should work with businesses to devise multidimensional standards, so that consumers don't balk at products because they sacrifice, say, brightness and cost for energy efficiency.

This is not to say that innovation doesn't bring disruption, and American policymakers can't ignore the jobs that are lost when government standards sweep older technologies into the dustbin of history.

An effective way forward on light bulbs, then, would be to apply standards only to those manufacturers that produce or import in large volume. Meanwhile, smaller, legacy light-bulb producers could remain, cushioning the blow to workers and meeting consumer demand.

Technologies and the standards that guide their deployment have revolutionized American society. They've been so successful, in fact, that the role of government has become invisible — so much so that even members of Congress should be excused for believing the government has no business mandating your choice of light bulbs.

Roger A. Pielke Jr. is a professor at the Center for Science and Technology Policy Research at the University of Colorado-Boulder.






Hancock, N.H.

NOT long ago, clocks were thought to be dangerous. Folklore had it that two of them ticking in the same room could bring "sure death." It's easy to see how this belief arose. The clocks were almost certain to disagree, and in the space between two chimings of one hour, uncertainty crept in; the machines' authority was undermined. We don't like to be reminded that clock time is a convenient fiction.

Daylight saving time, which begins on Sunday, is unsettling in the same way. Winding the clock forward in March and back in November is like biannually changing the measure of an inch.

This tinkering with clocks is our inheritance from a people obsessed with time. Clocks spread rapidly in early America. They were expensive imports, but popular among the Puritans, who despised idleness. Massachusetts passed a law in 1663 making the wasting of time a crime: "No person, householder or other shall spend his time idly or unprofitably, under pain of such punishment as the court shall think meet to inflict." A century later, the Boston-born Benjamin Franklin ("time is money") proposed a version of daylight saving time as a joke to stop slothful Parisians from sleeping in. But it was an English Puritan, Ralph Thoresby, who invented an early alarm clock.

By the mid-19th century, Americans were producing their own clocks. Workshops in Connecticut produced cheap models with wooden gears. Peddlers sold them from coast to frontier. The "Yankee clock peddlers" managed to "stick up a clock in every cabin in the western country," reported George William Featherstonhaugh, an English geographer who visited the States. "Wherever we have been, in Kentucky, in Indiana, in Illinois, in Missouri, and here in every dell of Arkansas, and in cabins where there was not a chair to sit on, there was sure to be a Connecticut clock."

But all these clocks were like many Americans themselves: individual, conforming to their own notions. There were hundreds of local times, each city setting its city hall or courthouse clock to match its own solar noon. When it was 12 p.m. in Chicago, it was 11:50 a.m. in St. Louis and 12:18 p.m. in Detroit. But that wasn't a problem because local time was all that mattered.

That changed when the railroads began to unify the country. The railroads ran by their own time, which vexed travelers trying to make connections. Many stations had two clocks, one for railroad time and one for local time.

To eliminate the confusion, railroads took it upon themselves in 1883 to divide the country into four time zones, with one standard time within each zone. To resist could mean economic isolation, so at noon on Nov. 18, 1883, Chicagoans had to move their clocks back 9 minutes and 32 seconds. It's as if the railroads had commanded the sun to stand still, The Chicago Tribune wrote. Louisville was set back almost 18 minutes, and The Louisville Courier-Journal called the change a "compulsory lie." In a letter to the editor, a reader demanded to know "if anyone has the authority and right to change the city time without the consent of the people?" In an 1884 referendum, three-quarters of voters in Bangor, Me., opposed the 25-minute change to "Philadelphia time."

One sees the same annoyance with the "compulsory lie" of daylight saving time. When it was being debated in 1916, The Literary Digest saw it as a trick to make "people get up earlier by telling them it is later than it really is." The Saturday Evening Post asked, in jest, "why not 'save summer' by having June begin at the end of February?" And an Arkansas congressman lampooned the time reformers by proposing that we change our thermometers: move the freezing point up 13 degrees and a lot of folks could be tricked into burning less fuel to heat their houses.

We adopted daylight saving time (during World War I), rejected it (after the war), adopted it again (during World War II), and then left it up to the states and localities until 1966, when Congress once more decided it was a national concern. And as much as we complain and point out that it doesn't make anyone more productive or save any energy, it persists. Almost every state has eight months of it each year and only four months of so-called standard time. As a result, today we rose with the dawn and next week we'll be eating breakfast in darkness.

The change is disconcerting. But more unsettling still is the mystery we'd rather not face: If clock time isn't real, what is time, anyway? We don't understand time, and we definitely don't want to admit that our allotment is limited. We just want to get on with our day.

Howard Mansfield is the author of "Turn and Jump: How Time and Place Fell Apart."







Tennessee fortunately has no general state income tax. We should amend our state constitution to head off any possibility that we ever will.

We say Tennessee doesn't have a "general" income tax because, while we do not have an income tax on ordinary salaries and wages, the state unfortunately does levy a tax on income from stocks and bonds — the so-called "Hall income tax."

But the Tennessee Senate wisely voted 28-5 on Wednesday to amend the state constitution specifically to prohibit imposing any general tax on income.

The purpose is to keep Tennessee attractive to our people and to businesses that are here, and to others proposing to locate here, thus creating more Tennessee jobs.

If the state House of Representatives agrees with the Senate — as it should promptly — the proposed ban would also need to pass both houses by a two-thirds vote in the next legislative session, starting in 2013. If it passes then, it would go on a statewide ballot in 2014. If it gets that far, a general income tax prohibition should be overwhelmingly approved by Tennessee voters.

"I think we have a lot of support in the House," said Sen. Brian Kelsey, R-Germantown, who sponsored the legislation.

Despite multiple state Supreme Court rulings that a general income tax is constitutionally impermissible in Tennessee, the stated goal of the proposed amendment is to "clarify the language by which the Constitution of Tennessee" now forbids such a tax. The idea is to head off any possible "confusion" by which lawmakers might seek to impose the tax — as some have tried to do in the past.

All of us are subject to U.S. income tax law. But Tennesseans should be eager to prohibit a general Tennessee income tax. The House should follow the Senate's approval of the proposed ban, both houses should again approve the ban in 2013, and voters should readily approve the general income tax prohibition in 2014.






Republican U.S. Sens. Bob Corker and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson of Georgia are soundly opposing what would amount to a new national "energy tax" that threatens to hit all Americans' pocketbooks.

Our senators are being joined by nearly 40 others — not a majority so far — in opposing implementation of new Obama administration Environmental Protection Agency rules designed to impose "greenhouse gas" emissions controls. The restrictions would result in higher energy prices. Congress has refused to impose such rules, so the administration is making an end run around lawmakers.

We all want clean air, of course. But with gasoline and oil prices in our country and worldwide already rising, and with still higher prices threatened because of trouble in the oil-producing country of Libya, where there is a revolt against dictator Moammar Gadhafi, this is no time for Congress to raise Americans' energy costs still higher.

Sen. Corker, a member of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, is among the sponsors of a bill titled the Energy Tax Prevention Act. Similar legislation has been introduced in the House. The bills would halt the administration's attempt to get around Congress.

Sen. Corker said: "American families and businesses can't afford the new energy tax that EPA's planned regulation of carbon emissions would create. It is inappropriate for the EPA to mandate large-scale carbon emissions reductions through administrative regulations, and instead, it is my hope that in Congress we will determine a rational energy policy for the country, broadly advancing our energy security and maintaining policies to ensure clean air and water."

Sen. Alexander said: "America wants a low-cost clean-energy policy that keeps and grows jobs here, not a comprehensive, high-cost clean-energy policy that sends jobs overseas looking for cheap electricity, which Congress already rejected and a group of unelected Washington bureaucrats now seeks to impose."

Sen. Chambliss said: "Congress is the appropriate branch of the federal government to debate and design a climate change policy. I do not appreciate the implied threat that if Congress does not go along with the EPA, the agency will impose costly regulations. This bill is about preserving the traditional and constitutional role of Congress as elected representatives of the citizens of this country to make necessary and proper laws for our nation."

Sen. Isakson said: "The last thing America's families and businesses need during this recession is a back door regulatory effort by the Administration to implement cap and trade. This legislation ensures that the Administration will not be able to regulate what it could not legislate, while also ensuring that they will not add new burdensome, job-killing energy taxes. ... I will do all that I can to repeal onerous regulations and to prevent the Administration from imposing new taxes through more regulations."

There are right and timely ways to limit objectionable emissions, and there are right and timely ways to avoid unnecessarily higher energy costs to the American people. Sens. Corker, Alexander, Chambliss and Isakson, and dozens of others who stand with them to avert higher energy costs, are seeking to do the right thing at this time.





Nearly 700,000 state of Georgia employees, agency retirees, dependents and school system workers have learned that many of them may face premium increases of up to $200 per month in their health benefits program. The program is $250 million in the hole, according to recent calculations, and lots of workers understandably are wondering how they will pay the much higher premiums.

Maybe you don't have any friends or family covered by that program in Georgia, so you might not fret too much about what is happening in the Peach State.

But what happens a few years down the road when our nation's Medicare program goes broke because it has promised more in benefits than it can deliver? What happens some years (but not too many) after that when Social Security can't fulfill its promises? That will hit tens of millions of Americans hard.

Shouldn't Congress face facts and start reforming our huge entitlement programs now, rather than wait for calamity to strike?





Here is the beginning of a recent article by The Associated Press: "The U.S. military is too white and too male at the top and needs to change recruiting and promotion policies and lift its ban on women in combat, an independent report for Congress said Monday."

Actually, what the U.S. military needs is to seek out the best leaders it can find without regard to race or sex — but it should not deliberately place women in combat roles.

Our military would be in trouble without the many female service members who ably fill a variety of roles in the armed forces. But the sad reality is, women captured in combat would be subjected to even crueler-than-usual treatment by our enemies.

That does not mean women should be denied ample opportunities for advancement in the military alongside men. But in no case should advancement be tied to racial or gender quotas. The U.S. military should be as close to a "meritocracy" as our nation can make it.






We think the practices of a few democracies on the rights of the accused to review evidence against them are worth a quick review.

Police in South Africa, for example, were overruled last October when they sought to deny a suspected terrorist, Henry Okah, access to the evidence against him. The evidence against Okah included mobile phone memories and computer files seized from his office. To detail what the police found incriminating, they argued, might allow Okah to obstruct their investigation. No way, said a magistrate, the right to review evidence is fundamental, and Okah got it. 

Another example from last year comes from Poland. An investigation is ongoing there into a secret CIA prison used to interrogate the most unruly of suspects in America's Sept. 11, 2001, bombing investigation. One, now in America's offshore prison in Guantanamo, Cuba, is Zayn Abdeen al Hussein, charged with links to al-Qaeda. The Polish government's lawyers said producing the evidence would obstruct other cases. But the Polish lawyers for al Hussein prevailed in their recitation of both Polish and European Union law. His defense got a look at the evidence. 

In Guantanamo itself, where suspects have languished for years, the U.S. Supreme Court in 2007 granted the suspects the right known in Anglo-Saxon law as "habaeus corpus."  This is a constitutional right with its roots in England's Magna Carta of 1215 that allows a hearing for suspects to learn exactly what they are accused of, including the evidence. 

Our point here is that one need not go to the various articles of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the United Nations in 1948 to find evidence of the right to review evidence. This right exists in Turkey, both in the Criminal Procedure Code and in a host of European Union and Council of Europe accords to which Turkey is obligated. It is a basic standard of democracy. 

But as we reported yesterday, this right has been denied many defendants in the now-famous Ergenekon case, including those journalists arrested and charged last week. Among them, in the spirit of full disclosure, is our own Nedim Şener who works for our sister newspaper, Milliyet.

All of this should be offensive enough. But as we report today, the "evidence" has now been made public. But not by the prosecutor, not by the courts nor by any judicial authority. Rather, it was published by a series of newspapers who have made no pretense of objectivity in this case but rather have assigned themselves as cheerleaders for the government and the Ergenekon prosecutor.

Professionalism in the Turkish news media is a topic for another day, a problem we think best ameliorated by example. We thus hold our tempers in check. But if any reasonable observer of Turkey today had or has doubts about the game that is being played... Well we think it is now clear.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.






The Erdoğan government was against sanctions on Libya and it is now against a no-fly zone over that country. The official argument as it applies to both cases is that these steps will not contribute to efforts aimed at bringing stability to that country, and will instead only aggravate the situation and make it more intractable.

Some may find a certain merit to this argument while other will disagree. Until there is clarity about what is actually going on in Libya the question will remain an open one. Judging by what is filtering down the diplomatic grapevine; however, there appears to be renewed annoyance in Washington and some European capitals over Turkey's reluctance to "toe the line on Libya."

Prime Minister Erdoğan's strong opposition to U.N. sanctions on this country had already raised eyebrows, even though foreign Minister Davutoğlu said after they were adopted unanimously by the Security Council that Ankara would comply with them.

Erdoğan's angry remarks recently during a visit to Germany on the question of a NATO involvement in Libya also showed that he is against any military intervention, even though Turkey is a key member of the alliance; a fact that should have made him speak more cautiously.

This seemingly preemptive outburst by Erdoğan concerning a possible NATO intervention merely reinforced the notion for some that he is covertly supporting the Gadhafi regime. Some see a replay of the Iran situation here and are once more questioning "whose side Turkey is on."

The answer to that question from a Turkish perspective in fact comes to mind easily and is a simple one in this case. Turkey is on Turkey's side in Libya. Turkish companies have invested heavily in that country over the past three decades and are now concerned about the fate of these investments, which are valued at an estimated $30 billion.

Given the powerful business lobby in Turkey the Erdoğan government cannot ignore this fact. But this does not alter the serious dilemma facing Turkey over Libya though. Turkish companies clearly want to be well positioned after that country returns to a semblance of normality, even if full stability will take time to achieve.

Put another way Ankara is facing a delicate balancing act not knowing how the die will be cast when the dust settles down. Gadhafi is also aware of Ankara's quandary and has been playing on it by courting the Erdoğan government. This was apparent in an interview he gave to TRT, the official Turkish broadcasting company, a few days ago.

Expressing regret that thousands of Turkish workers and engineers had been evacuated from Libya, Gadhafi said he was ready to welcome them all back. In order to counter the recent negative remarks his son made about the Ottoman period in Libya, Gadhafi also went so far as to suggest a certain hankering for Ottoman times.

This being Gadhafi, though, he also could not help but step on Turkish sensitivities during the interview. When asked about the possibility of a no-fly zone over Libya he responded angrily by questioning why the West never talked about a no-fly zone over Turkey where the authorities have been combating Kurdish separatists for years.

Under normal circumstances these remarks of Gadhafi's should have elicited a strong reaction, but the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration decided to overlook the matter, clearly for the sake of the greater interest.

The fact that the Erdoğan government is looking after Turkey's material interests in this way has some in the West trying to denigrate it as "mercantilist" and "opportunist." While there is some substance to this criticism if one looks at the matter in absolute terms, it is also a fact that Turkey is by no means unique in this respect.

In fact this cold blooded attempt to serve Turkey's own interests puts the AKP administration in the league of normal countries, rather than one trying to somehow promote political Islam in the region at the expense of the national interest.

Given what is being revealed now about how Western countries turned a blind eye to Gadhafi's misdeeds, and propped him up for years, it is not likely that any criticism over Ankara's current position is going to cause much concern in the Erdoğan government either.

The AKP administration is also aware that the necessary international consensus for a military intervention in Libya, including a no-fly zone, appears difficult to establish. Most of the talk by countries such as the U.S. and Britain about an intervention is also "hedged" and "qualified."  

This suggests that Western capitals are not prepared to get involved in Libya unilaterally, or under the guise of some meaningless designation such as "the coalition of the willing."

Washington for one has said that any intervention should be based on a decision by the U.N.; a sure sign that the Americans are not interested in an Iraq-type intervention after already having been burned once.

Russia and China however are opposed to any intervention, even though they supported sanctions against Libya. This makes it unlikely that U.N. will come up with a single position. Meanwhile some reports indicate that Britain, France and Italy are trying to get a unified EU or NATO position with the support of the Arab League and/ or the African Union, for a no-fly zone.  

NATO defense ministers were due to meet in Brussels as this article was going to print on Thursday to discuss the topic. It was doubtful, however, that they would come up with a unified position since Turkey is apparently not the only alliance member questioning whether a no-fly zone would serve any real purpose.

In other words it does not look like NATO can come up with a unified decision on Libya either. Germany for one is said to be opposed to a no-fly-zone, which also means that the necessary consensus will not be arrived at in the EU either.

It is also unlikely that the Arab League will find the necessary consensus and provide the necessary support to NATO or the EU here. As for the African Union, it has been opposing Western calls against Robert Mugabe's regime in Zimbabwe, and is therefore unlikely to toe the line over another African dictator.

If we return to the question of whether "Turkey is toeing the line on Libya" in the light of these glaring facts, it is clear that it is not doing so, but one has to question given the prevailing confusion whether there is actually a line to toe, to start off with, in this case. All we have in real terms so far is a lot of talk and nothing else by countries that are only considering their own self-interest in the first instance.






I cannot recall even one single line from "Those crazy Turks (Hürriyet Daily News, Feb. 3, 2011); but, to this day, I am still laughing at the exchange of comments from two apparently Greek readers.

The reader "Minoas" reminded all posters of "a real Greek Rambo called Manolis Bikakis from Crete" who during the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus destroyed six M48 A2 tanks using a M67 90 mm recoilless bazooka type rifle although he was completely alone. "Sadly," Minoas went on, "This hero never received a medal from his country although his commanding officer recommended him for the gold medal for valor (Greece never recognized the commandos that fought in Cyprus in 1974). He died in a car accident in the 90s."

And the reader "Harry Foundalis" responded: "No, Minoas, you're wrong! My uncle was bigger, stronger, and he single-handedly annihilated 48 Turkish battalions, sacked Constantinople [in the 17th century], sank 341 submarines [still in the 17th century], and married Atatürk's daughter [yes, in the 17th century]. Unfortunately, my dear Minoas, he died in a donkey accident in the 90s."

I don't want to make "Minoas" and "Harry Foundalis" suffer from fits of jealousy by telling them even more impressive stories from glorious Turkish history. Fortunately, we no longer live in times of conventional warfare. But sorry to remind you both, gentlemen, that even the great contemporary statesman Col. Moammar Gadhafi has acknowledged that "We are all Ottomans!" Sorry, gentlemen, this is the "great awakening" of a magnificent country – mine, not yours.

"Those crazy Turks" no longer fight with weapons. They fight with their intellect. Quite naturally, one day the "great awakening" may come in the form of a professor of theology who asserts that "rape should be blamed [also] on the provocative outfit of the victim."

One day it may come in the form of a governor who orders schoolmasters to "elect two police-pupils [yes, police-pupils] for each school." The police-pupils are to watch out on their schoolmates and represent the honorable police force in their schools. Hopefully, in their future careers they will use the espionage techniques they learned at the age of 8.

"Minoas" and "Harry Foundalis," you may have been busy following the Arab uprisings, or too much bogged down with the youth uprisings in your own country in recent weeks, so I trust that a very sensible uprising in Turkey may have escaped your attention. Thousands of locals in the eastern province of Tunceli attacked beer pubs and held demonstrations last month because "they had heard rumors that some pub owners would employ waitresses." Waitresses in pubs, the crowd claimed, could turn their town into a brothel.

And no, "Harry Foundalis," this incident did not take place in the 17th century. It took place in 2011 around the same days when a police patrol in the holiday resort of Antalya decided to breathalyse about 20 people who were drinking in public space (by sitting on a bench and enjoying the sunset, not by driving). Although the alcohol test proved that the pedestrians had consumed alcohol below driving limits, they were fined (around 30 euros each) for "being drunk and disturbing the public order [still in the year 2011]."

I expect you, "Minoas" and "Harry Foundalis," to guess how sensitive "those crazy Turks" are about Cyprus, our "baby homeland." But I bet you could not guess also how knowledgeable we Turks are about Cyprus. Recent TV footage revealed it.

It was the days (yes, in the year 2011) when unusual frictions between the homeland and the baby homeland were big headlines. Turkish Cypriots were angry with Ankara. They were on the streets, protesting the mainland with placards decorated with vulgar words. That angered our prime minister who confessed that these ungrateful creatures forgot that "Turkey was their savior," and that "Turkey had a strategic interest in the island." Cyprus was the talk of the country.

One of those days, a maverick TV crew interviewed passers-by in Istanbul's busy Taksim Square. They asked the interviewees one simple question: Where is Cyprus? The answers were a challenge to the claim that "war is God's way of teaching the Americans geography."

Most of the respondents confidently answered that Cyprus was "on the Aegean." Someone said "it's close to Greece;" another said "it's in the Greek territories;" and another located the island in "Southeast Anatolia [see, now you'll have to negotiate reunification with the Kurds…]."

One respondent said "it's near Adana [coming closer];" and another said "it's near Hatay [getting better]." There was one risk-averter too. "Outside of Turkey," he responded, "Far, far away."

Other responses included "on the Black Sea," "in the north," and "by the Imia [island]." But my favorite one was the respondent who looked down on the TV crew – with chilling spite in his eyes – as if he was going to say, "What a silly question."

"It's in the Black Sea," he began. "I mean, Black Sea, near Europe, and around Sicily." "Sicily?" the puzzled interviewer asked. "Sure, Sicily," he went on. "Cyprus is one of the islands around Sicily." Then he explained where his confident knowledge came from: "How can I not know? I did my military service in Cyprus."

You see, it's getting more complicated. In addition to the Kurds, now you have to deal with Cosa Nostra for reunification. So, dear "Minoas" and "Harry Foundalis," now you can go to the nearest ouzeri and seek consolation in a karafaki of fine ouzo (I recommend Veto from Mytilinis).






Something called dark matter constitutes 80 percent of the universe.

Seeing and touching it is impossible. Astronomers and cosmologists deduce its existence through the gravity effect it has over visible substances, i.e. stars and galaxies.

The thing called dark matter looks like freedom of the press in Turkey. There is press freedom, so it is said. And Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was the last one who said it a few days ago. Press freedom constitutes a substantial part of freedoms and is very important, it is said.

But we cannot see it. I have been in this profession since the time of the dinosaurs but have never come across to it.

Reality a bit more complex

In fact, the reality is a bit more complex. There has never been freedom of the press in Turkey, but there were different degrees of its absence. I mean it is something like shades of darkness in the dark.

For instance, even during the period of the late Bülent Ecevit, the most libertarian of all the prime ministers, press freedom did not exist in Turkey. But its absence was less than that of the Sept. 12, 1980, military coup period. Doesn't make sense, does it? It doesn't to me either. But you know what I mean.

Just like it is the case with dark matter, we see if freedom of the press exists in Turkey through other things; in other words, through its power over politicians. If you see a politician who stands up in a huff, you'd better know that freedom of the press exists there though invisible to the naked eye. But, how dark is the dark, in the scale of dark matter, during the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, period?

If I answer this question, this article cannot be printed. And that is where dark matter differs from freedom of the press.

Freedom of the press is light

An astronomer or a cosmologist might say, "There is no dark matter." If s/he defends such a hypothesis logically enough, no one would tell her/him, "You cannot introduce more than one hypothesis a week," or "Go publish your hypotheses in the daily Gözcü."

But the situation is different for the press freedom subject. To defend something logically and to write about the truth is not an excuse. Things must be written in a way to please, or flatter, the government; even if they are lies.

And then, you know, there are black holes. A black hole is such a region in space that nothing can survive if it falls into it. Normal matter reflects light. A black hole's force of gravity is so high that it absorbs even the light and never gives it back.

Power is the black hole. Freedom of the press is the light.

* Metin Münir is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






Nowadays people are afraid to talk about the Ergenekon case even during a cab ride in Turkey, where everybody used to act like politicians and perhaps discuss "why can't Turkey move forward." Not anymore. Seeing intellectuals, politicians, former-military members and journalists getting detained and arrested creates a fog of war over the society and the fear is almost paralyzing.

Last week we witnessed demonstrations in several cities in Turkey against the recent arrests with participants from every segment of society including students, professors and well-known journalists. Their anxiety is two-headed. First, people are worried about the direction of Turkish public policy and the repressive methods of the state. Second, everyone has one question in mind: "If I declare my thoughts out loud, am I going to be the next one?"

According to the Turkish Journalists Association, so far 58 journalists in the country have been imprisoned and it seems that more are yet to join them. Recently, 10 journalists were detained in connection with Ergenekon including an award-winning reporter who had investigated official negligence in the 2007 assassination of the Armenian- Turkish journalist Hrant Dink. Furthermore, the head of the Ankara Bar Association, Metin Feyzioğlu keeps repeating that raids are illegal and that the search warrants are against the law. "Everyone can be subject to these search warrants based on abstract reasons, without specific accusations," he said.

Western diplomats and NGOs are suspicious about the flimsy evidence, legal experts have been criticizing the process since its beginning and journalists opposing the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's policies in general are fearful of sudden retaliation; newspapers, meanwhile, are full of references to George Orwell's "1984" and McCarthyism. Let's make a note that so far more than 275 people, including 116 military officers, have been charged in the Ergenekon trial, which is investigating an alleged attempt to topple the government and instigate armed riots.

Defining terrorism 

There have been so many investigations, home searches, accusations, yet the so-called "Ergenekon terror organization" is still a vague concept in minds. People are getting arrested, some have been in prison for more than two years and we still wonder about the concrete evidence regarding the existence of a terrorist organization, if there is one at all. Isn't this a little odd?

Allegations indicate that the main objective of the "gang" is to overthrow the government by creating chaos within the society; that we know. Other than this unofficial aspiration, there is no identifiable chain of command or cell structure and no declared proof of violence which are seen as key characteristics of a terrorist organization by international experts.

The one common point of all them appears to be that people who have made critical statements about the state policies, authorities, the police and politicians are becoming the subjects of criminal investigations. These can hardly count as inducing terror or designing psychological repercussions, if at all, which are other crucial factors you need to identify a terrorist entity.

"Many of these cases require a total suspension of common sense," Dani Rodrik, a Turkish economist, said about the Ergenekon case, and this is right to the point. With the lack of evidence for the detentions, it seems that some people have assigned the label of "terrorist group" for the Ergenekon trial on purpose just to use its negative connotation to have a larger impact on society. As a country that has been combating the terrorism of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers' Party, or PKK, for so many years, this kind of labeling is surely an easy trick to trigger public reaction without letting them knowing the details of the Ergenekon case. 

A glimpse of the past

Finally, taking a quick look at Turkish history shows us that the water is not under the bridge yet when it comes to facing criticism. Johannes Gutenberg invented the first printing system in the 1450s and it was not until 1729 that the first Turkish printing press was established in the Ottoman Empire. Seen as "the Devil's Invention," the printing press was shut down in 1742 and re-established in 1784. Under the heavy censorship of the Ottoman government, most political events were not mentioned in the newspapers and even when they were, the news was completely biased.

In light of history, it is unfortunate to see that Turkey is still having a hard time digesting different voices from the mass media and it would be even sadder to observe the slow yet steady departure of the free press that already arrived later than it should have.

In the meantime, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan perpetually reminds us of his imprisonment for reading a poem in public. It looks like this chip on his shoulder made him bitter rather than understanding in time. Still, we can all remember that the name "Ergenekon" comes from a Turkish legend and perhaps can hope that, at the end, it will stay in its mythical place. Otherwise, personal vendettas and the usage of misleading concepts will further blur the line between myth and reality, doing good to no one.

*Berfu Kızıltan is a researcher in Turkish politics and economics based in Istanbul.







Definitely, the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government is the most creative administration this country has ever had. Furthermore, this country has always had a rather dynamic agenda and as so many things are happening all together, it is impossible to get bored. Yet, even the master of manipulation the chubby Turgut Özal would not be able to compete with absolute ruler Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his benevolent AKP government in controlling the agenda of the country.

Scores of journalists critical of the government and the almighty sultan… pardon, the prime minister, were linked with the Ergenekon thriller and placed behind bars. The society is shocked. Even some neo-liberals who support the government not because they share the open or the secret agenda of the AKP but out of their enmity to nationalist or Kemalist founding philosophy of the republic, start making critical comments against the government.

Immediately, the center of excellence in forgery and all kinds of plots fabricates an excellent example of a blend of religion, love, treason, sex, conspiracy, confession and compassion. A not so young coiffeur-blonde woman, vowing on her integrity all the time, revealing intriguing sexual harassment charges against a former top political figure, implicating a current top political figure in the plot and implying some sort of involvement of some excellence in conspiracy centers.

The charges are serious. Though she is married and mother of a kid, the lady recognizes no borders. She is so vociferous that everyone has no other option but to hear at least a portion of the saga.

The sexual abuse saga captures the attention of the society – as probably foreseen so in designing the ordeal by the excellence of forgery department – but somehow while most people forget about the journalists placed behind bars, perhaps partly also because of a European Parliament report harshly criticizing Turkey's persistent backward drift as regards freedom of speech and media freedom, some people still remained interested in the arrest of journalists including much respected Nedim Şener and Ahmet Şık.

For a long time it was in the pipeline. From time to time the head of the Religious Affairs Directorate – which has a budget share bigger than the combined share of three or four ministries – was mentioning about the project. Ministers were as well talking about it from time to time. Yet, perhaps – as Turkey is not a country of solely Muslim Hanefi people – fearing social backlash neither the directorate nor the government was taking the step of putting the project into implementation.

All of a sudden this week at the southern Adana's Sarıçam neighborhood the "Family İmam" project was put into action. It was said that the project would be first tested there before it is started to be nationally applied.

Of course, if top posts of the governance of the country are all occupied by imams it should be considered as absolutely normal to see imams playing a wider role in a society though under Islam, particularly in Islam's Sunni school there can be no clergy class of people as intermediaries between the believers and the creator. Imam, in Sunni Islam, is just a senior person of a society leading the community at prayers. Already, appointment of imams by the Religious Affairs Directorate – establishment of the directorate itself and the imam appointments are products of Turkey's desire to control Islam religion and prevent it from controlling the state – is a clear violation of the principle in Sunni Islam that there is no clergy class.

Now, as if, for example, the country has successfully completed the "family doctor" application, has solved all other social problems and now it has come to allocate immense additional funds and personnel to the Religious Affairs Directorate, the "family imam" practice has started, so far as a test case limited with an Adana neighborhood. Under the project, imams will not only lead the society at prayers but together with the mufti of the region and some other religious officials visit citizens at their homes, listen to their problems, express advices for a resolution of those problems and particularly enlighten the society regarding the harms of alcohol, cigarette and drugs. Furthermore, the imams will collect information about the residents of the neighborhood and help efficient distribution of donations to the needy people.

And, we still hope that this country will progress on the path of democracy with independent individuals not fearing from oppression of the executive. In AKP's advanced democracy, now it is time for imams watching those who are still outside of prisons, beware!






Some time ago, the Turkish government made public that it planned to alter the way in which alcohol is being sold in the country. According to some, the current Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government has been waging a war against the consumption of alcohol in the country in a bold-faced attempt to bring Turkey more in line with Islamic rules and regulations.

Two vocal critics of the AKP and its government, Soner Çağaptay and Cansın Ersöz, researchers affiliated with the Turkish Research Program at the pro-Israeli Washington Institute for Near East Policy, categorically write that since "the AKP rose to power in Turkey in 2002, special taxes on alcohol have increased dramatically, making a glass of wine or beer one of the most expensive in Europe, and for that purpose anywhere in the world." In June 2002, the AKP adopted the Special Consumption Tax, or ÖTV, which raised the tax on alcoholic beverages from 18 percent (the standard VAT rate) to 48 percent, and as time went by, the ÖTV rate increased more and more until it reached 63 percent in 2009. Subsequently, the government came under fire for its policy and in 2010, some ÖTV taxes were eliminated.

But now the Tobacco and Alcohol Market Regulatory Authority, or TAPDK, has issued new regulations restricting advertisements for alcoholic beverages as well as its sale tactics. The decree requires catering companies that organize events that serve alcoholic beverages to get a license before each event. While it also prohibits supermarkets and grocery stores from placing alcoholic products for sale near goods aimed at children and youngsters. In addition, the sale of alcohol will be banned at municipally owned establishments and along roads designated as highways and state routes in the traffic code. However, no such provision in the regulation will apply to the sale of alcoholic beverages at venues in coastal zones. Draconic measures which restrict access to a product which is already restricted as a result of its high price?

Çağaptay and Ersöz opine that in "2003, Turkey's per capita alcohol consumption rate was 1.4 liters per year. For that same year, this amount was 10.9 liters in Belgium; and 11.5 liters and 9.0 liters in neighboring Cyprus and Greece respectively. Even, Qatar, which implements a rigid version of the Shariah under the Wahhabi school, had higher per capita alcohol consumption rates than Turkey, at 4.4 liras per capita." In other words, Turkish citizens do not appear to partake of alcoholic beverages all that much to begin with.

Arguments claiming to protect the young are very popular when it comes to restricting access to "forbidden" products such as pornography and/or drugs the world over. Mehmet Küçük, the head of the TAPDK, has publicly said that the aim of the new decree was not to restrict individuals' freedoms but to lessen alcohol's incentive. In other words, Küçük merely wants to limit the availability of attractive seducers, arguably in a way somewhat similar to the effect of laws that eventually prohibited the Marlboro Man from riding into the sunset while willingly exposing his body to carcinogenic substances in Europe and elsewhere. Küçük is thus suggesting that Turkish citizens require a nanny-state that knows best what is right or wrong. Turkey, a country that straddles the Balkans and the Middle East with a population that is officially 99.9 percent Muslim, is arguably the only country with an Islamic population and culture that allows its citizens unrestricted access to alcoholic beverages. Are the new regulations regarding the sale of alcoholic beverages in Turkey a somewhat cynical ploy to increase the state's tax revenues or is there more than meets the eye?

In my opinion, the whole debate surrounding the consumption of alcohol in Turkey is primarily about perception. Opponents of the AKP government accuse Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his ministers of secretly planning to introduce Islamic codes and attitudes via the backdoor. They thus regard this new TAPDK decree as a direct attack on the country's "secular constitution."

Is this really the case, and if so, why? In my book, "Ottomans looking West?" I posited that the "proclamation of the Republic . . . liberated Turkish citizens from the restrictions of Islam and the Şeriat [Shariah]." As a result, Republican Turks were meant to enjoy this world and its delights to the fullest and the decision to let Turkish citizens "partake of the delights of the mortal world was arguably crystallized in the consumption of alcoholic beverages. A strict interpretation of Islam explicitly prohibits the drinking of intoxicants in this world." Hence, the issue of unrestricted access to beer and other alcoholic intoxicants has now assumed political, if not ideological, importance.

Turkey's Muslim citizens have had legal access to alcohol since 1926. Turkey's Islamic neighbor states do not grant their citizens equally easy access to the forbidden delights of alcohol. As a result, some Turks regard the issue as critical to the definition of secularism in the country. In fact, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) also defines secularism as "Concerned with the affairs of this world, wordly; not sacred."

But nowadays, the term, particularly in its French form of laicité (at the root of Turkey's laiklik), denotes a strict separation of church (or religion) and state. And, the theory is that Turkey, as a result of the reform movement, known as the İnkılap, is a secular state. In reality, however, ever since the Turkish state abolished the Caliphate and the Ministry of Pious Endowments in 1924, the Turkish Republic has regulated its citizens' religious life through the Religious Affairs Directorate, a branch of government attached to the office of the prime minister.

Consequently, proponents of secularism in Turkey quite naturally feel the need to attach a lot of importance to certain symbolic issues: the availability of alcoholic beverages springs to mind, as well as the thorny headscarf issue, or rather the notion that women possess the freedom to don more or less revealing outfits (arguably, to please the male gaze). Let us call these charged matters "beer and bikinis" as a shorthand for the contentious topic of Turkish secularism in the 21st century.

Ali Bardakoğlu, the president of the Diyanet until recently, publicly called for the establishment of an independent religious authority in Turkey in an interview he gave to the self-avowed atheist Ahmet İnsel of daily Radikal (Oct. 23-24, 2010). After he made these statements, Bardakoğlu was replaced by Mehmet Görmez as the head of the Diyanet (Nov. 11).







An eight-member parliamentary committee has suggested the government move a review petition against the Supreme Court judgement delivered a few days ago, overruling the committee's rejection of the Judicial Commission's recommendations on extensions for six judges of the higher courts. The threat of a stand-off between institutions, which we had hoped would be settled following the apex court ruling last year and the passage of the 19th Amendment, arises once more. The issue is a crucial one, given that perhaps more than anything else, we need an independent judiciary able to mete out justice freely and without any restraint. Behind the many angry words we hear, this is the crux of the matter. The periodic challenges to an independent judiciary are inflicting a great deal of damage. It is clear that people seek this ardently, as do most members of the legal profession. The celebration of 'Iftikhar Day' by lawyers, to mark the anniversary of the restoration of the judiciary headed by Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry is just one indication of this. Many of us also wonder where we would stand if the judiciary had not been willing to assert itself and take up issues such as corruption. The situation we face could have been even worse than is currently the case, and this is a frightening thought in more ways than one.

We badly need our judiciary to be able to work independently and without pressure. The role of the courts in introducing reform in countries such as India is well-established. That process seems to be beginning at home. It should not be disrupted. What we definitely do not need at this point is any kind of power game between institutions. There are enough problems already. Since the 18th Amendment was passed by parliament last year, there have been warnings of a clash between institutions. In the present case we have already heard a variety of views. What is vital is that the matter be sorted out before any lasting damage is inflicted, the role of the judiciary as laid down in the Constitution accepted, and the principle of a separation of the institutions fully accepted. Unless this happens, we will keep running into roadblocks, and this can only hurt a democracy that has still to establish itself in the country. It will be able to do so only if every institution is given the space it needs to grow and develop.







The fragile nature of relations between India and Pakistan, based on mutual mistrust and open warfare, has defied attempts to bring reconciliation since partition. It would be pointless to list the various diplomatic – and undiplomatic – ups and downs of the graph that charts our unhappy union, and the foreign policy makers of both countries look back upon decades of broken promises and unfulfilled dreams. At the macro level there appears to be a slight warming of relations as the blowback from the Mumbai attacks begins to abate in its force, but we are far from a position where either lowers the perceived threat level of the other. It was this sense of 'stuckness' that prompted the Aman-ki-asha initiative between The Times of India and the Jang Group, an attempt to open lines of dialogue outside of the formal – and largely failed – diplomatic channels. Aman-ki-asha is now in its second year and meat is beginning to appear on the bones in the form of a model of conflict resolution that has a proven track-record of success.

The Europeans fought two wars in the last century that collectively cost about 107 million dead and countless millions wounded and maimed. If ever states had reason to mistrust, hate even, one another it was those in Europe. They had been at one-another's throats for hundreds of years, eventually exhausting and almost bankrupting themselves in the wars that started in Europe but engulfed the world. Today, 66 years after the end of WW2, Europe is at peace. Old enemies are today true friends. Monetary sovereignty is shared between 16 countries and trade and people flow across borders in mutually beneficial rivers. This has not happened by accident or osmosis. As the ambassadors of France and Germany explained in a strategic seminar under the aegis of Aman-ki-asha held in Karachi this week, states have to learn to compromise, that dogmatic positions lead nowhere and foster enmity and that ultimately civilians are the largest casualty of every modern war. In today's world, war is not the solution it used to offer centuries ago. Europe has learned that the concept of 'hereditary enmity' no longer holds and that compromise and mutuality were the only way for states to truly prosper. We, India and Pakistan, share a common heritage that stretches back millennia, and the meeting was told that in the opinion of ambassadorial speakers the enmity between the two of us was overstated. War between India and Pakistan is no longer an option. The seminar concluded with a practical – and do-able – proposal that we implement the joint mechanism that was agreed in Havana and establish Counter Terrorism Centres (CTC). This we can and should do. This is in the realms of the possible, but only if we want to. The Aman-ki-asha initiative is proof-positive that a little out of the box thinking by out of the (diplomatic) box men and women of both countries, may lubricate the hinges of more formal – but much creakier – processes.







 For two things the Islamic Republic stands out in all its glory: the highest levels of radioactive confusion and self-righteousness anywhere on the planet. We moan constantly about the state of the nation, and for valid reasons, but because of pathology or a congenital condition, getting to the bottom of things is not a national specialty.

About how it all began in 1947 or before, we should give up the discussion and turmoil. Enough of confused and incomplete forays into the past. Let us concentrate on the present if at all we are interested in trying to fight the ills plaguing this land, pregnant with promise at its birth but now overloaded with problems.

After three years of Zardari and his feckless dispensation, everything suggests a nation and a people whose cup of patience has run over. This country is not ripe for revolution. Let us be clear on this score. But it stands on the verge of disorder. No one expects anything from this regime, not even its fervent partisans, if any are left. Yet we are stuck with it. And as it is not in our power to make time stand still, our problems are mounting – some inherited, others made worse by an incompetence worthy of the highest prizes.

So, as Lenin would have put it, what is to be done? Two fronts demand the most urgent attention: the economy and the Afghan war, the second fuelling the fires of militancy and extremism not only in Afghanistan but Pakistan as well.

The longer our involvement in this war the more we get burned. This connection is lost on many of the 'liberal' tribe – amongst whose number I count myself – who are anti-extremist and partisans of 'the war on terror'. If we are to win our side of this war, and get the better of the forces of extremism, we have to opt out of America's lost imperial venture in Afghanistan. This won't be easy but since when were tough decisions easy?

Both the economy and the war call for tough decisions, which only a strong government can take. The circus before us, amusing and tragic by turns, scarcely answers to this description.

So the question really is, does the political class, and those perennially agitated by political questions, wait out the next two years before elections are due? Or should a national hunt be on for alternatives?

Democracy's votaries, most of them armchair warriors, say the march of democracy should not be interrupted. They have a point and history too is on their side. Extra-constitutional adventures have cost Pakistan dear. If the factors accounting for the mess Pakistan is in are enumerated, military interventionism will top the list.

Even so, democracy in Zardari clothing is a hard act to swallow, tempting one to stand accepted wisdom on its head. The information revolution has compressed the meaning of time. Zia could be endured for 11 years, Musharraf for not more than eight and a half, and Zardari for not more than three. The prospect of two more years of the present dramatic cast is enough to send a tremor through the stoutest heart.

So what are we left with? If not military intervention – and may the gods spare us that – what else? Fresh elections is the only answer. This government can do nothing worthwhile either for the economy or the Afghan war. We need a fresh set of decision-makers, which makes a recourse to the people imperative.

It is not so much a question of what is to be done, as of who is to do what needs to be done? If ever Pakistan stood in need of men and women of action and vision, it is now. They won't come from Mars but from within the nation's bosom. If not, woe betide the Islamic Republic and let it look to its salvation where it will.

Even if, when elections are attempted, the same lot we see today is recycled, to increase the sum of our misery and despair, it will still have been worth it because stagnant waters become clearer and lose some of their slime with a bit of movement.

Elections will also provide an opportunity to bring some of the disaffected Baloch, if not all, back into the national mainstream. Balochistan needs the most urgent attention. Musharraf and his generals, who deserve to be put in the stocks on this account if no other, allowed Balochistan to fester and become a seedbed of anger and alienation.

This is a collective indictment against the entire nation. We say we are God's chosen and anointed – part of the mythology we have nurtured since the country's birth. But look at it this way: if we can't solve the problems of eight – repeat eight – million people, how in the name of all the furies do we go about solving the problems afflicting 180 million people?

Round-table conferences or a conclave bringing the political leadership and judges and generals together is another recipe for endless talk and more confusion. The judiciary, in any event, is fanning its own bits of confusion. These days it looks more like an alternative centre of executive power than anything else.

Pakistan doesn't need prescriptions. We have all the world's clichés, and to spare, at our disposal. If words and stale communiqués could be of any use we would have been out of the woods long ago. Pakistan needs a strong course of medicines and strong doctors to administer the poison. Where do we get them from? This is our foremost problem. Elections are a means to this end.

Not a government of experts – a formula scripted by the devil – not a council of wise men or women (alas, none around) but a recourse to the people. And let their choice be what it will. At least the dull waters will have been stirred and some of the enthusiasm lost since the last elections will hopefully return.

To repeat, if the economy is to be pulled back from the edge and the umbilical cord linking Pakistan to the quicksands of Afghanistan to be cut, fresh hands are called for on the national tiller.

The clamour of the religious armies is not the cause of Pakistan's distress. It is but one symptom of the larger problem which has Pakistan in its grip. This won't be loosened without a rethinking of national priorities. We have enough problems of our own. We should look to them instead of being distracted, and tempted, by foreign adventures.

Much of the army's angst in the wake of the Raymond Davis affair is misplaced. Army and ISI want the terms of engagement with the Americans, especially the CIA, to be redefined. This is akin to wanting a rent agreement renegotiated whereas Pakistan's problem is to seek a closure of the original agreement.

Pakistan needs other things, like preferential trade access. It doesn't need Kerry-Lugar largesse. It doesn't need USAID. It doesn't need the biggest or second-biggest American embassy in the world in Islamabad (in the process of being built). And the army's officer corps should not be so set on going for training courses in the United States.

The Americans are training our commandos in Cherat. They are imparting training to the Frontier Corps. They are training our naval commandos. And after feeding with golden corn the holy cow of national security all these years we thought that if not in inter-continental ballistic missiles we were at least self-sufficient in basic military training. We never cease to be amazed.








Military coups are a besetting problem Pakistan is faced with. So far, the democratic age of Pakistan has been reduced to about half of Pakistan's total corporal age. People generally expect Pakistan to behave democratically in commensurate with its physical age. That may not be possible. Nevertheless, there are a few other impediments engendering the juvenile democratic polity of Pakistan.

First, the slogan of extra-constitutionalism is becoming a political ethos. The slogan to provoke the 'patriotic generals' into taking the reins of power into their own hands is again being marketed. In this regard, the slogan chanted by MQM's Altaf Hussain a few weeks ago has been aired again but with certain modifications by Shahbaz Sharif of the PML-N. They have vocalised the slogan of extra-constitutionalism without even realising that Pakistan is repetitively cursed with derailment of democracy. Their remarks are tantamount to disenfranchising the people of Pakistan. To contrive a method to disabuse politicians of such hideous ideas is still an uphill task for the democratic minds of society.

After the recent general elections and restoration of the higher judiciary it was thought that such kind of slogans would be dumped but that seems not the case. Old habits die hard. Pakistani politicians have to reconsider the perils of declaring the military a counter-balancing force to parliament. Militating against the democratic norms has already cramped the progress of Pakistan. Apparently, the repetitive democratic failures have not yet chastened the Pakistanis.

Second, the religious parties active in the political domain are refusing to learn the way the political path be tread. Since 1973, they have been either acting as a pressure group practising 'mob politics' to unnerve a sitting government or becoming a default option for a military dictator to bank on to seek legitimacy. General Ziaul Haq exploited their talent to his advantage and even General Pervez Musharraf could not avoid capitalising on their utility despite the fact that he was peddling his enlightened moderation theory.

Further, the religious parties are not appreciating the point that in the recent general elections, the electorate overwhelmingly rejected the relevance of even those religious parties that took part in the contest. The left over space apportioned to them were the streets. The religious parties that opted out of the electoral exercise are now also utilising the full potential of the streets to stay politically relevant. Several issues ranging from imposition of the reformed general sales tax (RGST) to the immunity available to Raymond Davis have offered the religious parties ample leg room to spew acerbity to raise their credit ratings to be cashed in on in the next elections. In fact, these issues have gathered storm to an alarming proportion owing to the efforts of one religious party to outclass the rest of its competitors. Nevertheless, rumours are afloat that constituting of a neo-IJI is in the offing. Certainly, to dredge it up, the midnight 'jackalism' is the final hope of the religious parties to salvage themselves from the abyss of oblivion.

Third, the concept of liberty falling under the head democracy is considered to enfold a mandate of imitating western values of liberalism. In certain sections of the Pakistani society, it is firmly believed that an unchecked and unadulterated supply of democracy may construct effects detrimental to the Islamic and Asian values customary in the society. In that way, the moral aspect of liberty is accentuated and the resultant danger posed by liberty is appraised. Unfortunately, it is not extolled that the kind of liberty democracy broaches liberates people from the shackles of feudal lords and autocrats.

Moreover, it is also not realised that democracy-driven liberty tenders freedom of thought and action. If the societal environment surrounding the advent of liberty is full of Islamic and Asian values, the ensuing freedom may evoke a kind of response different from the one educed in the West. In fact, fewer are the reasons to be apprehensive of democracy and its attendant liberty.

Fourth, there is a dearth of the informed voters. On the other hand, the uninformed voters are in abundance around and can be spotted by their displaying parochialism and sentimentalism; to them illiteracy offers fuel to the proverbial fire. Much is being talked about the hidden – lethal – potential of the youth to bring about a revolution in Pakistan mimicking the one sweeping the Arab world. Given the high reproduction rate in the country, the consequent youth bulge in the demographic facade is now a bogey for any sitting government. The point is to make a revolution happen is one thing but to cause a democratic change – through the electoral system – is altogether a different proposition. Apropos of the latter, the youth bulge blighted by illiteracy is nightmarish for the country.

Fifth, during an electoral process, a considerable number of voters tend not to vote for or against contesting candidates of their electoral constituency. The voters opt to stay at home and act as bystanders. Those voters are considered a 'silent majority' which is the bane of the political parties but a hope for the military dictators to prop them up. It is said that the intelligence agencies exact the feedback from the silent majority. The same feedback, however, is fed to the empty boxes of referendum to acclaim an overwhelming victory against all supposed opponents. The final opinion of General Ziaul Haq about the silent majority is yet unknown; nevertheless, under the spell of presumptive politics, General Pervez Musharraf is still hopeful of teaming up with the silent majority to rout the politicians of all hues in the forthcoming electoral episode.

In short, in Pakistan, multilayered obstacles make the itinerary of democracy thorny.

The writer is a freelance contributor.









This article is dedicated to Governor Punjab Salmaan Taseer and my dear colleague Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti who became victims of government "apathy and abandonment" but stood tall in the eyes of their countrymen as "men of substance" and raised the bar for all of us, to uphold the voice of reason and sanity in the country.

Pakistanis were visibly shaken and upset over the horrific assassinations of Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti and it was expected of President Zardari that he would address the nation, condemn the brutal killings explicitly, pay homage to the deceased for their services and urge the people to show fortitude but lo and behold! The president purportedly wrote an article in the Washington Post seeking the "trust and confidence of our international allies" asking them not to lose patience.

It was shocking to read the president blaming Bhatti's murder on extremists tied to al-Qaeda and the Taliban without any substantial proof. It seems to have become fashionable nowadays to blame security lapses and one's own "slip-ups and incompetence" on al-Qaeda, the Taliban and religious intolerance. The million dollar question is what steps has the government taken to bring to justice the handful of extremists; which the president calls a small but increasingly belligerent minority?

Saying that extremists' acts will not deter the government from its calibrated efforts to eliminate extremism, is nothing but a "performer playing" to the gallery. The buzz in the streets is that successive governments have raised the bogey of Muslim extremists just to stay in power. And if one is so concerned about the "future of Pakistan" then one needs to end unbridled crime, callous corruption, and damaging cronyism that have become existentialist threats for Pakistan.

For Pakistanis, life now seems like a never-ending curse and wherever one goes and whoever one meets, the topic seems to be the same; the Zardari-Gilani led government has failed on all counts and Pakistan needs a saviour to rescue it from further damage, preferably a man like the Quaid-e-Azam; and I find myself thinking how naïve can they be? If a man with Jinnah's secular, progressive, moderate vision, espousing values such as religious freedom, equality of citizenship, social justice, human rights and women's empowerment walked the country today, someone would surely take his life.

The Pakistani "ruling clique" possesses such an insatiable appetite for power-quests, and greed that it would trample under its feet anyone challenging the status quo and the ulema having obtained a firm grip in the affairs of the state would consider "reversal or fine-tuning" profanity. Having no distinguishing character or quality they have unfortunately crossed the line from sanity to madness and Pakistan has become the victim of their psychosis.

History bears witness that the capture of Jinnah's Pakistan by those whom Jinnah reportedly described as "khottey sikay" was achieved during his lifetime. While thousands had thronged to greet Quaid-e-Azam at the Mauripur Airport in 1947, including cabinet ministers and members of the diplomatic corps, on his arrival at the same airport a year later from Ziarat, there was no one at the airport but Colonel Geoferry Knowles, his Military Secretary.

The ambulance taking the critically unwell governor general from the Mauripur airport to his house mysteriously stalled after covering just four miles and ran short of petrol. In the unbearable heat, Pakistan's founding father lay on a stretcher in the broken-down ambulance, parked on a deserted railway level-crossing, waiting helplessly for help to arrive. While two hours from Quetta to Karachi were tiring enough for someone in poor health, the delay, neglect and two hours from Mauripur airport to the governor-general's house unquestionably hastened his end.

After reaching the governor general's residence Quaid-e-Azam died within a few hours. In the words of Akbar S. Ahmed, "I thought of Jinnah old, sick and dying, so vulnerable in the capital of his own state. The broken-down ambulance was a pathetic reflection on those who had benefitted the most – the Pakistanis in power."

Three days before Pakistan came into being, Quaid-e-Azam's speech, phenomenally secular, talked of his dream of Pakistan, "all citizens are equal citizens... Hindus will cease to be Hindus... Muslims will cease to be Muslims... any religion, caste, creed would have nothing to do with the business of the state." His address to the nation on August 11, 1947 to the members of the first Pakistan Constituent Assembly which held the status of a national covenant was not only distorted in print but vanished and later surfaced after nearly five decades. The press was prohibited to report it for three days because Jinnah's deputy Liaquat Ali Khan ordered its censorship considering it fearfully secular.

And to this day our rulers who claim to be "liberal and progressive" don't have the courage and political will to make the Quaid's speech part of the Constitution of Pakistan, and are bent on appeasing the religious lobbies who have time and again desecrated our founding father's political thoughts. The very ulemas who had openly opposed Quaid-e-Azam and denounced Pakistan have claimed time and again that the whole fight for Pakistan was on religious grounds and that they alone should be entrusted with the task of shaping its polity.

A study of the Pakistan movement clearly indicates that the Islamic state did not figure prominently during the period of struggle. The propelling slogan during the struggle for Pakistan was to establish a homeland that safeguards Muslim interests, rights, economic opportunities, equality and social justice. Islam was the unifying and motivating force no doubt but the method to achieve the goal was not a religious movement but political agitation. The struggle for Pakistan was led by men of politics rather than religion. The Muslim League leadership came entirely from the Western educated, secularised Muslim professionals of Cambridge and the Inns of Court who had studied not theology and Islamic law but politics and common law.

Tragically, the forces that had already chalked out their post-Jinnah agenda, those hostile to Jinnah and the Muslim League, the Pakistan movement and the two-nation theory vowed to establish an Islamic state based on traditional Shariah law and waged an incessant struggle "without interruption" and every successive government willingly surrendered to gain political advantages or legitimacy.

The writer is an MNA. Email:








When the United Kingdom's coalition government came to power last year we knew that tough economic times would call for tough choices. But we will not balance our books on the backs of the poor – whether in Britain or around the world.

That is why we have made a commitment to provide 0.7 per cent of the United Kingdom's Gross National Income as aid. As a result of that decision, we have faced criticism from some who think that aid should be cut.

But I believe that the next four years represent an opportunity to change lives and transform communities across the developing world. Yet if the world is to make real progress in the fight against poverty in these four years that remain to reach the Millennium Development Goals, we need to ensure that our collective efforts have the greatest possible impact.

That is why my first act as the United Kingdom's Secretary of State for International Development was to instigate a review of all our aid around the world. That review has looked at where we spend our money, how aid is delivered, and the results we achieve.

As a result of the review, if progress is made on reform then Pakistan could become the UK's largest recipient of aid, scaling up to £446 million (Rs62 billion) a year by 2015.

However this increase in UKaid is dependent on securing value for money and results, and will be calibrated to the government of Pakistan's own progress on reform, including taking tangible steps to build a more dynamic economy, strengthen the tax base, and tackle corruption.

Our plans for Pakistan over the next four years include getting four million more children in to school, preventing 3,600 women's deaths in childbirth, and getting two million more people to vote at the next general election.

UK aid over the coming years will include:

• Education: the one key issue that has the potential to transform Pakistan's future is education. That's why a major portion of UK aid will focus on getting more than four million more children in to school; recruit and train an additional 90,000 new teachers; and provide more than six million text books;

• Health: women and children are the UK's top health priority. We will prevent 3,600 mothers' deaths in childbirth; save the lives of 110,000 children by expanding basic community health services; prevent half-a-million children from becoming under-nourished; and help another 400,000 couples to access family planning and contraceptives;

• Economy and financial inclusion: we will help another 1.5 million poor people, more than half of them women, access microfinance loans to enable them to set up their own business and lift themselves out of poverty; expand branchless banking to another three million people; enable another 4,000 loans to small and medium businesses; fund jobs and skills training for 125,000 poor people in Punjab;

• Democracy and governance: UKaid will get another two million people, half of them women, to vote at the next general election; strengthen weak government institutions to improve delivery of essential services to the public, including education and health; as well as help improve policing and access to justice, and contribute to the rebuilding of schools, roads, and bridges in the border areas to replace those destroyed by conflict;

• The UK will continue to provide lifesaving humanitarian assistance when needed, as it did in response to the devastating floods in 2010 and earthquake in 2005.

Around the world, we will work with fewer countries, where we believe our assistance can have the greatest impact.

We will do more to provide the building blocks of a better life: sufficient food, clean drinking water, basic healthcare, and education. We will do more to create economic growth and jobs, working with the private sector to create opportunity.

We will tackle poverty and insecurity in some of the world's most unstable places. Development can help tackle the root causes of global problems such as disease, drugs, migration, terrorism, and climate change, which matter to all of us.

As part of this global review of aid, we have also taken a hard look at the value for money offered by international organisations such as the World Bank and the United Nations. No one doubts the importance of such organisations to the effort to fight poverty. But we know that they are not all equally effective. The United Kingdom will no longer provide funding to organisations which do not deliver – instead directing more of our aid to those which do, and pushing them to deliver even more.

Above all, we will be relentless in providing value for money and achieving results. That matters because we need to be able to show our taxpayers that we are delivering with their money, and because we need to ensure that every pound of our aid has the maximum impact for the people we are trying to help. That is why I have introduced a new Aid Transparency Guarantee, and set up an independent aid watchdog. I believe that the United Kingdom is leading the way on aid transparency, and I am encouraging others to join us in this effort.

Aid spent well has the power to improve millions of lives. I am proud of what British aid is achieving, and I sincerely believe that working together, we have an opportunity to transform the life chances of millions of people around the world.

The writer is United Kingdom's secretary of state for international development.








More often than not talks between Indians and Pakistanis degenerate into point- scoring. The good thing about the strategic seminars under the Aman ki Asha initiative – jointly sponsored by the Jang Group and The Times of India – is the positivity on both sides.

This was visible in the second round of the series just concluded in Karachi. While there was, like always, much to disagree on, the intent on both sides was to seek solutions. The 12-point joint declaration issued at the conclusion of the event reflected that.

An argument is sometimes made asking what difference such unofficial talks make considering that people participating in them are rarely in a position to affect state-policy. This may be true of relations between states that are not as intertwined as Pakistan and India. Public opinion is a factor between them and provides the context for formulation of state-policy. This is where unofficial exchanges and media projections play an important role.

In this particular case, the involvement of two major media groups in India and Pakistan makes the Aman ki Asha initiative more effective than other track two events. While others play an important role too in creating a better understanding between important unofficial players, the media coverage helps in moulding wider public attitudes.

This is reflected in surveys since Aman ki Asha was launched. As explained by Shahrukh Hasan, Group Managing Editor, Jang Group, public opinion surveys in both countries show that positivity has significantly increased between the people and negativity has considerably decreased. This is a huge achievement for the two media groups in just a year and makes it easy for the leaders of the respective countries to take bolder steps towards peace and normalisation.

And bold steps are needed. For too long there has been dialogue and more dialogue: front channel, back channel, and various categories of unofficial discussions, but without any significant breakthrough. Diplomats always emphasise baby steps because issues are so intractable. But babies sometimes walk in circles, which is what we seem to be doing. A significant win is required to give an impetus to the peace process.

If the purpose was not to make peace then it is another matter. But all indicators suggest that both parties understand it is in their respective national interests to seek peace and normalisation. That is the reason why the dialogue process never totally breaks down. It does go into long periods of stagnation but if the status quo – no war, no peace – was the preferred status for both sides, it would never start again.

This is obviously not the case. For a while after the Mumbai tragedy India seemed adamant only to talk to Pakistan about terrorism. But, since this was not acceptable to us, there has been a breakthrough of sorts at Thimpu. India is now ready to resume the composite dialogue process. This would not have happened if its national interest did not so dictate.

On the Pakistani side, too much has changed in the last decade. For a long time we stuck to the position that without a settlement of the Kashmir dispute, movement on other bilateral issues was not possible. The readiness on our part to participate in the composite dialogue, which covers all issues between the two countries, indicates that our national interest too dictates normalisation of relations with India.

It has taken a while, but it is good that both sides have come to this realisation. Too much is at stake for us to hold the dialogue process hostage to one issue. This does not mean giving up on what is important. A settlement of the Kashmir dispute reflecting the wishes of the Kashmiri people will remain a significant issue for Pakistan. Terrorism by groups allegedly in Pakistan will remain vital to India. But, the need to move forward on other issues has been recognised which is an important breakthrough.

While hopefully the composite dialogue process will now not stagnate, I will come back to the theme that the peace process needs some significant wins. One possibility is Siachin. On this, what divides the two countries is not a whole lot except mistrust. If Siachin is declared a demilitarised zone by both sides and sanctified by an international agency such as the UN, the withdrawal of forces can begin. It will not only result in saving lives but also precious resources being spent on this highest battlefield in the world.

A win like Siachin can give a massive boost to the peace process. It can also have an impact on the minefield of trade negotiations between the two countries. Though, what is important in the trade area, is that the business communities of both countries want it.

Yes, the Pakistanis have concerns about non-tariff barriers, which essentially means holding up Pakistani goods for interminable inspections, and the Indians complain about not getting the most favoured nation status – a facility that Pakistan has given to many countries. These are not insurmountable obstacles. Through goodwill, they can be overcome. The trick is to involve the business communities and let them resolve the issues.

This can only happen if the business communities of the two countries can interact easily. The visa regimes put in place by both India and Pakistan are shocking in this day and age. Security procedures mean interminable waits and often denials. Those lucky to get visas are confined to one or two cities and invariably required to report to the police. This is archaic and provides no deterrence with regard to real terrorists. All this must change.

The one clear and present danger to the peace process is another Mumbai-like terrorist attack in India. Pakistan is itself a victim of terrorism and cannot control or prevent every non-state actor from operating in other parts of the world. This India must understand and educate its people about.

It would be foolish to make peace between two countries hostage to terrorist organisations. This will in itself be an impetus to them to take desperate measures knowing that they have such power over the destinies of a billion and a half people. One can only hope and pray that something like Mumbai does not happen again but if it does, India should not exhibit a knee-jerk response and blame Pakistani state organisations.

As the recent investigations of Samjotha Express and some other terror incidents have shown, India has a serious homegrown militancy problem. Therefore, every incident must be evaluated carefully. Even if the trail leads to a Pakistani organisation, it calls for cooperation between the two countries not threats of war.

There is much to be done between the two states but we must learn from what is happening around the world. Concepts of sovereignty are being redefined to bring old enemies together in economic zones. South Asia remains a global backwater and the most restrictive trade area in the world.


The future of our people depends on peace between India and Pakistan. We must move forward to grasp it.








This time around, a little over a week in and about the capital of Nepal provided me the opportunity to meet diverse people, sift through local press and rediscover the splendour of Kathmandu valley's wealthy heritage. While some Nepalese remain wary of ubiquitous Indian influence, they have learnt to address their indigenous problems more rationally. Three themes dominate the discourse today. One, the republic's constitution in the making and the unavoidable tensions the process imposes on the members of the constituent assembly belonging to different parties. Two, senior Nepalese Congress leader Krishna Prasad Bhattarai's death and analysing his political legacy, and three, the management of economy.

It is due to the gallant struggle of the Nepalese people spanning over decades and the inexorable pressure mounted by armed Maoist rebels on the old monarchy that brought about Nepal's transformation into a republic a couple of years ago. The constituent assembly is busy in statute writing for some time now while the combination of issues that serves as the backdrop to this process include federalism, inclusion of Dalits and other marginalised communities and people belonging to backward regions in all institutions and the matters pertaining to lawmaking, an independent judiciary and a proportional representation of all communities in the army.

Lest we forget Nepal was the only Hindu kingdom in the world with its sovereign enjoying the status of a living god. Major parts of the Nepalese society remain religious but the people of this country through decisive political action have disassociated state affairs from the domination of people monopolising faith or caste. Something the Bangladeshis, living in an equally religious Muslim society, were also able to confirm recently through reasserting the original constitution promulgated after 1971 and the verdict to this effect by their supreme court.

Bhattarai, one of the founders of the Nepalese Congress Party, who served two short terms as the prime minister, passed away this week. He gathered heaps of praise by politicians and people at large for his incorruptibility and his role in the struggle against absolute monarchy. At the same time, some commentators, while agreeing with his virtuous nature as an individual, criticised him for his organisational incompetence and softness towards the erstwhile royal family which caused his sidelining from mainstream politics in the later years of his life. They see his spirituality as a refuge from the rage he felt against some of his compatriots when confronted with contemporary challenges of creating a modern republic.

Creating a modern republic is stressful for the Maoists as well. Their popular and representative United Communist Party of Nepal (UCPN) couldn't run the government effectively after the defining political change was brought about. As far as the economy is concerned, they seem to have settled for a 'Socialism-within-Capitalism', if one borrows the phrase from Meghnad Desai's seminal work, Marx's Revenge. Here, I also remember veteran journalist Afzal Khan once quoting Maulana Bhashani, our own Maoist leader of yesteryear. Bhashani was asked, "Why don't you take over East Pakistan when you have such a huge following among youth?" He said, "They can only fight the system but haven't learnt how to run it."

Tailpiece: Visiting another South Asian country always makes one feel how so similar we are and how much we could prosper if regional peace is restored. Here, I quote from Kanak Manik Dixit in this month's Himal, the coveted South Asian magazine brought out from Kathmandu, "The time will come... when the barbed-wire fences will start crumbling for lack of upkeep."

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor who works with progressive social movements. Email: harris.khalique@gmail. Com








IN the backdrop of criminal negligence towards educational development and falling standards, it is heartening to hear about Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani chairing a special meeting on education system and planning in underdeveloped areas of the country where he was given extensive briefing by Chairperson of National Education Task Force on different aspects of the challenges in educational sector and the way out.

Though recommendations of the Task Force are very relevant and the Prime Minister also made very pertinent observations, giving directions for resolution of the problems facing education sector yet the real issue is provision of financial resources and implementation of the recommendations and decisions in letter and in spirit. It is regretted that despite claims by successive governments to have increased allocations for education, a latest UN report reveals that one out of every ten children out of schools is a Pakistani, a deplorable performance towards achievement of Millennium Development Goals, in which countries like Bangladesh and Sri Lanka are far ahead of us. Isn't it shame that a donors' conference held in Islamabad on Wednesday concluded that Pakistan would need another 38 long years to achieve universal primary education (100 per cent enrolment) and 16 years to achieve 86 per cent literacy rate? This is because of the lip-service to the education, as with the exception of a brief period during tenure of the previous government when sufficient budgetary allocations were made for education, none of the governments spared the required sources to make a real difference in education, which is the key to development and offers solution to the challenges facing the country. By giving title of "Education Emergency" to the report of the Task Force, launched on Wednesday, the present Government has conveyed the impression it realises gravity of the problem and urgency to address it but they say actions speak louder than words. A Government that was unable to honour its own commitment (unless it was forced to do so) to introduce uniform system of education and service structure in Islamabad to make the capital city a model in this regard, is hardly expected to take any revolutionary initiative. No doubt, the country is facing financial crunch but you will have to make sacrifices for future of the country and young generation.







AS the Government is finding it hard to expand tax net and increase revenue collection, the Pakistan Business Council has strongly supported the demand made by Finance Minister Dr Abdul Hafeez Sheikh that provinces effectively tax agricultural income and real estate. The Council is of the view that Federal and Provincial Governments should bring under taxed sectors of the economy into an effective tax net as opposed to imposing additional taxes on the existing taxpayers.

Ever since he assumed charge of the Ministry, Dr Hafeez Sheikh has been pleading that agriculture sector and real estate should be taxed effectively to raise revenue and end tax apartheid but strangely enough no practical measures have so far been taken in this regard. The Federal Government has been seeking refuge behind the excuse that agriculture being provincial subject, Federation cannot impose agricultural tax. But this is nothing but a lame excuse, as this is question of income tax on agriculture, imposition of which is well within the domain of the Federal Government, which has been taxing 'other' incomes under the Income Tax definition. And even if it is for the Provincial Governments to do so then what is the obstacle when the PPP has its own Governments in Sindh and Balochistan while PML (N) Government in Punjab has already expressed its readiness to impose such a tax. In fact, feudal lords in different political parties, who are abundant in Parliament, are real road-blocks and the Government has no courage to confront them squarely. There is also substance in proposal being floated by some other sections of the society that instead of taxing the agriculture, the Government should simply withdraw subsidies being provided to the sector, as it is doing in the case of subsidy on POL and power and this would result in substantial savings. Similarly, there is absolutely no justification not to tax the real estate business where people are becoming millionaires and billionaires overnight.







WITHIN twenty-four hours of Faisalabad explosion, terrorists carried out yet another deadly suicide blast in the outskirts of Peshawar killing innocent people while they were offering funeral prayers. The Adezai incident indicates that the militants have regrouped themselves after defeat at the hands of the security forces and started attacks with vengeance.

It was the second suicide attack on the Peace Lashkar, which has been fighting the Taliban since 2008 in Adezai village, about 35km from Peshawar Cantonment. In Nov 2009, Lashkar's founder Haji Abdul Malik and 13 others were killed in a blast at Matni. The Lashkar had been supporting law-enforcement agencies for three years in rural areas of Peshawar and Wednesday's attack was surely aimed at eliminating maximum number of Lashkar members to remove the hurdle in the way of movement of terrorists from tribal areas to the settled districts. No Muslim can think of carrying out attacks during funeral processions or in mosques and thus it is quite clear that the planners and the handlers of the terrorist activities are foreigners who are arming and funding such acts in Pakistan. Regrettably despite deployment of massive human and financial resources, we have not been able to root out the menace, which has badly affected the law and order and economy of the country. After every blast incident, routine statements are being issued that the Government would eliminate terrorism, which lack any purpose and are mere rhetoric. Even promises made to the tribal lashkars who are fighting the militancy along with security forces are not being fulfilled. By not providing ammunition, ration and any salary to the members of such Lashkars, how can the Government expect that they would be able to defeat heavily armed militants. It is because of lack of support on the part of the Government that the Chief of Peace Committee Dara Adam Khel was at pain to demand immediate compensation to the victim families and warned that if this was not done within two days, the members of the Peace Committee would re-think to join the ranks of militants. We think time has come that the Government should revisit its strategy on war against terror and give a policy statement in Parliament exposing those behind suicide blasts without caring for diplomatic repercussions as it is an open war imposed on us from across the borders.









In 1982, Ariel Sharon decided to intervene on behalf of the Maronite Christians of Lebanon, against the Shia. He gave weapons, training and other requisites to the Gemayel brothers, individuals whose concept of democracy was to send a bullet through the heart of any individual who disagreed with them. Intervening in a civil conflict in any society is fraught with risk, but this is exactly what some powers have repeatedly done.

However, Israel is far more vulnerable than former colonial empires such as the UK and France, in that it is located in a region where the population regards it with distaste, if not hatred. Secondly, it is far smaller than the major NATO powers in both size as well as population. Hence, caution ought to have been exercised rather than a reflexive exercise of power. Sadly for the world's only Jewish-majority state, neither Sharon nor other Israeli leaders stopped to consider the ill-effects of their bias towards the Maronite Christian leadership. The consequence of Israeli intervention was to deepen the Lebanese sectarian conflict (with Syria and later Iran coming on the side of the embattled Shia) and to make the country the only one in the world that is the target of Shia-based terror groups. The intervention in Lebanon has cost Israel dear

These days, after having incorrectly assumed that Muammer Kadhafiwill go the way of Hosni Mubarak, both the UK as well as the US are threatening to enforce a No Fly Zone over Libya, thereby seeking to ensure that the particular tribes backed by them have a better chance of dividing Libya into two states, with the oil-rich eastern state coming within the control of groups that are ( at least for now) friendly to the NATO powers. Strangely, even some governments in the region who ought to know better are secretly encouraging both President Obama as well as Prime Minister Cameron to attack Libya. This is a shortsighted view, caused by personal hatred of Colonel Kadhafi and disquiet at the fact that he is a republican rather than a monarch. Indeed, Kadhafihas become as much a figure of hatred within high councils in many Arab countries as was Gamal Abdel Nasser in his time. The difference, of course, is that Nasser was a simple man whose family declined to join in money-making, whereas the Kadhaficlan have become billionaires, thereby provoking anger within their own country. As in the case of the ancient Indian king Dritarashtra, Colonel Kadhafi's blind spot are his sons. These have masterminded a policy of succumbing to the commands of the NATO powers, only to be abandoned by them at the first sign of an internal threat to the rule of their father

However, whatever the personal faults of Colonel Kadhafi, the reality is that the world has come a long way since the 1956 Suez intervention against Egypt. Should the NATO powers use armed force to battle the Libyan air force and anti-aircraft defenses, the spectacle that would enfold would inflame fears of a colonial takeover. Apprehensions that the strutting of the Paul Bremers in Iraq and the numerous NATO proconsuls in Afghanistan have already created. Amazingly, as yet the numerous well-paid individuals ( mostly from the NATO powers) who man the International Court of Justice have not bothered to examine the numerous cases of civilian deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan that are caused by the foreign armies occupying both countries. Should CNN or BBC focus as much attention on the broken families that have been the result of such killings, scenes may emerge that are far more heart-rending than the endless picturisations of the Libyan conflict. However, they seem to be ignoring this carnage as much as the International Court is.

Should President Karzai take the bold step of preferring a formal complaint to the International Court about such civilian deaths, he would find himself in deep trouble in a country where 83% of the money gets spent by NATO but almost all the corruption allegations get placed at the door of Karzai. While Iraq is slowly regaining its sovereignty, the same cannot be said of Afghanistan, which is still a UN-legitimized colony of the occupying powers, a situation that has led to the rebirth of the Taliban

The use of armed force in Libya would erase the hatred for Kadhafi that is being felt across the region for his use of air power against protestors, and make him a martyr. There would be Libyan deaths, each of which would serve to increase hatred for those causing them. NATO pilots are not known for their forbearance in combat situations, and their insertion in what is at the base a tribal war in Libya would create a chain reaction across the region. In every country in the region, there are tribes that are - or regard themselves as being - treated poorly by the ruling structures. In each, there would be a tendency to follow the Libyan example and seek outside intervention in an armed assault on the ruling structures. There would be a huge multiplication of instability in the region, that could send oil prices to levels that would be disastrous especially for newly-rising powers India and China. Neither President Obama nor Prime Minister Cameron seem to have any idea of the tempest that they would be unleashing in the Mideast, were they to use armed force to help those tribes that seek the overthrow of the Kadhafi regime. Those tribal and other groups that are these days at the doorsteps of NATO asking for military intervention will desert that alliance soon after victory is secured, the way the Taliban turned against the very country that gave it training, weapons and cash, the US. Who can forget the many visits made by Assistant Secretary of State Robin Raphel to Peshawar and Kabul, so as to ensure facilitation for the Taliban? Of course, these days such intervention and assistance is a forgotten chapter, and the entire blame for the Taliban has been placed at the door of Pakistan

Will Russia and China agree to a UN Security Council resolution that imposes a No Fly Zone over Libya? Or will they block the UK-France move for such a resolution to get passed? If Moscow and Beijing agree to the demands of the other three permanent UNSC members and approve the use of military force against Colonel Gaddafy, they would be letting loose a swarm of hornets similar to that unleashed by Ariel Sharon in his 1982 intervention in the civil war in Lebanon. However, this time, it will not be a single country but the whole of NATO that will feel the sting of the tribalism that will be unleashed across the Arab world, should there by military intervention in Libya. Sometimes, the best policy is a policy of doing nothing. Indeed, this is what India is doing. Delhi has made it clear that it would oppose any use of force in Libya. Hopefully, the Chinese and the Russians will agree, and thereby save Cameron and Obama from themselves.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








Marc Grossman, who was appointed the Special Representatives for Afghanistan and Pakistan on February 22, 2011, after the demise of the legendary Richard Holbrooke, is currently on his first overseas tour in his current appointment. His tour comprised stopovers at London, Jeddah, Kabul, Islamabad and Brussels. At London he met British government officials and Afghan President Hamid Karzai. At Jeddah, he attended the meeting of the International Contact Group while at Kabul he called on Hamid Karzai and other Afghan leaders. Islamabad, which happened to be his first station of posting as diplomat (1977 to 1979), he was pleased to return after 32 years. Pakistani political milieu during the period was tumultuous and the budding diplomat had to face baptism under fire. I had the opportunity to meet Ambassador Grossman at a meeting with senior journalists, organized by the US Embassy. A native Californian, Marc Grossman came across as a genuine person, with a quick disarming smile indicating sincerity. How he will emerge while filling the difficult shoes of Holbrooke, only time will tell.

The meeting, which was also attended by the current US Ambassador to Pakistan, Cameron Munter, commenced with a briefing by the visiting Special Representative. He offered condolences at the sad demise of three Pakistanis in the Raymond Davis episode and the assassination of Pakistan's Minorities Minister, Shahbaz Bhatti. During his briefing, Grossman quoted from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's remarks on Afghanistan and Pakistan at the launch

of the Asia Society's Series of Richard C. Holbrooke memorial addresses on February 18, 2011 at New York. At the outset, Grossman made it clear that the Raymond Davis saga must end and he should be set free since he enjoyed diplomatic immunity. During his intercourse with the jurnalists, the topic revolved around the Raymond Davis case. When asked whether his release had become a prerequisite for normalization of the presently strained relations between US and Pakistan, Grossman refuted the idea.

However, when his attention was drawn towards the cancellation of the trilateral meeting and the strategic dialogue, Grossman deftly hedged the point and insisted that "both United States and Pakistan are better served when standing together" emphasizing that US was committed to building a strategic relationship with Pakistan. However, he stressed that, "It is very important that Davis is released as soon as possible".

Referring to the Raymond Davis case, Grossman was queried, whether the US was considering reviewing the use of civilian contractors in future conflicts or operations, especially in light of the Raymond Davis fiasco and the fact that in Iraq 18 civilian casualties including children occurred at the hands of US civilian contractors. Grossman did not have a suitable response but said that such aspects can be discussed after the release of Raymond Davis. Ambassador Munter joined in the discussion and painstakingly defined the procedure for granting immunity to a diplomat continuing with his assertion that Raymond Davis enjoyed full immunity. However both ultimately found saving grace in committing that the decision would have to be made at a much higher level.

Grossman was asked if he had sought the good offices of the Saudi monarchy in mediating in the Raymond Davis case. He retorted that he held no secret parleys with Saudis but in Jeddah, during public meetings, he did deliberate on the Raymond Davis case since it is a serious issue. Ambassador Grossman emphasized that, "US was not walking away from the region". He said that US would stand by Pakistan and will also work with the armed forces to defeat the terrorist forces.

Besides making the usual statements about US desiring a peaceful, stable and prosperous Pakistan, he paid tributes to the Armed Forces and people of Pakistan for their contribution and sacrifices in the war against terror. Dilating on Secretary Clinton's speech, he stated that the US was following a strategy with three mutually reinforcing tracks — three surges, if you will: a military offensive against al-Qaida terrorists and Taliban insurgents; a civilian campaign to bolster the governments, economies, and civil societies of Afghanistan and Pakistan to undercut the pull of the insurgency; and an intensified diplomatic push to bring the Afghan conflict to an end and chart a new and more secure future for the region. The first two surges set the table for the success of the third, which aims to support an Afghan-led political process to split the weakened Taliban off from al-Qaida and reconcile those who will renounce violence and accept the Afghan constitution with an increasingly stable Afghan Government. That would isolate al-Qaida and on the run. He did not elaborate on the diplomatic surge but repeated Secretary Clinton's words that supporting the Afghan-led reconciliation effort, over the past two years, the US has laid out its unambiguous red lines for reconciliation with the insurgents: They must renounce violence; they must abandon their alliance with al-Qaida; and they must abide by the constitution of Afghanistan including respect of women's rights. Those are necessary outcomes of any negotiation.

This is the price for reaching a political resolution and bringing an end to the military actions that are targeting their leadership and decimating their ranks. He elaborated that Pakistan and the US have a supportive role to play in the negotiations while Pakistan has a very important role to play towards achieving peace in the region.

To my question whether it would be considered to free Dr. Aafia Siddiqui as a quid pro quo for securing the release of Raymond Davis, both Ambassadors responded in unison that they would not comment. My second query was regarding the WikiLeaks exposé quoting Peru's Financial Intelligence Unit report that Europe was being as a conduit by Al-Qaeda to remit funds to India. Ambassador Grossman responded that he had not heard of the report and he did not give credence to WikiLeaks exposé, since it was illegally acquired. All in all Ambassador Grossman appears sincere in his efforts. Time will tell whether he is successful in bringing peace to the region.








In the present modern age information plays an important role in the development of a country and the level of information of the people can be used as a scale for the determination of their development. That is the development of a country can easily be determined by how much their people know. It is a fact that well-informed citizens move towards prosperity. Thus if the people of a country are well-informed they will be more prosperous and developed and if they are not well-informed then such situation would have adverse effect.

Indeed if the people of a country are more informed and have enough information about; the national/international markets and products, the new trends, their religious values, their cultural heritage, government policies, political parties' manifestoes and even if they are informed about the previous performance of their political leadership, they will definitely take better decisions in their actions which lead to the prosperity and development.

Being a library professional the paralyzed political, social, economic, cultural and peace situations of the country raise many questions in my mind such as why the universe of knowledge is out of the eyes of my countrymen? Why they are not well-informed while taking their decisions? Why they are not provided a chance to bring a change through the knowledge and information rather than anarchy? A single word "Internet" (international networking) claiming access to the universe of information probably solve the problem of making informed citizenry but however so many conditions and restrictions involve with the internet bring me at one place which I feel is the most appropriate and suitable place, provide easy access to the knowledge and information and change the mind of the people for better actions by making them well informed, that is public library.

However the combination of internet and public library becomes beautiful paradise of knowledge and information. Public library is an organization established for the public and supported (through taxes) by the public and provide access to the universe of knowledge and information. Public libraries educate and inform the societies, assist personal development services to children and young people and provide focus for cultural development. As a community centre public library assist the citizens with the democratic way of life. Here the community members together and exchange freely and openly their ideas fundamental to democratic participation and civil society. The public libraries are operating at the leading edge of citizens participation in the political process. In the 19th century public library was recognized as an instrument for the development and maintenance of a democratic society which offers the individuals access to a wide range of knowledge, ideas and opinions.

It was considered as an agency for change in the manifesto. In fact public library is itself a democratic institution in its functions because it welcomes people from all classes of the society irrespective of race, sex, age, language, disability, education, economic and employment status and feed them with knowledge. Therefore it has a special role in nurturing democracy. Democracy requires a population which is enlightened through the knowledge and information because empowerment, a base for democracy, and other rights emerges from access to information that supports democratic, social, and political actions. Social reforms can not be achieved by noise, shouting, denunciation, or strikes but can only be achieved by the development of ideas which guide towards better decisions at the time of actions.

If there is a network of public libraries in the country and this network maintain manifestoes of political parties, previous performance record of each government, performance record of standing candidate in election, policies of each government, civic and civil society publications, newspapers etc. and all these records are easily accessible for public then surely the public will be well-award in right decision-making. Pakistan, where democracy is always fragile, has a very unsatisfactory library scenario which is one of the reasons of democracy failure in this country.








Cleanliness and purification is one of the great privileges of Islam. It has evolved a wonderful system that encompasses Muslim life on individual and social levels. Islam places great emphasis on cleanliness, in both physical and spiritual terms. The attention to hygiene is the aspect which is an unknown concern in any other religion or philosophy before Islam. While people generally consider cleanliness a desirable attribute, Islam insists on it, making it an indispensable fundamental of faith. Cleanliness is an essential part of Islamic life and in fact the meaning and spirit behind the concept of cleanliness is much beyond the superficial concept of the conventional cleanliness.

There are two kinds of cleanliness; physical and spiritual. As far as physical cleanliness is concerned, it is of two types. One which is related to human body and the other is related to environment, water, house, road and public places. Muslims are required to observe cleanliness from the excretions of the penis, vagina or anus. Semen, sperm, urine, menstruation, vaginal fluid, stool and blood are impure and require compulsory modes of cleanliness. Muslims wash their genitals after passing urine and secretion and take bath every time they have intercourse with their mates. Muslims also enjoined to use water, not paper or anything else after eliMinating body wastes. They are categorically prohibited to have sex with their wives during their menses. A Muslim is obliged to make ablution if exposed to minor impurities. This means he must wash off those parts of the body (like hand, feet, face, nostrils etc) which are commonly exposed to dust, dirt and environmental pollution. Before every prayer (at least five times a day) and before recital of the Quran, Muslims are asked to perform this ablution. Likewise, Muslims are enjoined to have a Ghusl (bathe) after ejaculation, sexual intercourse, menstruation and puerperium. While at many other occasions, bathing is recommended as for Friday prayer, festival days, in Hajj etc.

Cleanliness had very little to do with that civilization, but it has everything to do with ours. Unfortunately, the Muslims are backtracking to a darker period, when to be clean, in our bodies, our homes, and our communities, was looked upon as a small thing. But as the old saying goes, cleanliness is godliness, and as we profess to be the true worshippers of the One, true God, Allah, then our nation should be the cleanest. Cleanliness, however, does not stop at the physical level; we must also strive to keep our minds, our hearts and our intentions free from the filth of sin. Abu Malik al-Ash'ari narrated that the Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu alayhi wasallam, said, "Cleanliness is half of faith and Alhamdulillah fills the scale, and Subhana Allah and Alhamdulillah fill up what is between the heavens and the earth. Salah is a light, and charity is proof (of one's faith) and endurance is a brightness and the Qur'an is a proof on your behalf or against you. All men go out early in the morning and sell themselves, thereby setting themselves free or destroying themselves." (Muslim). Here the Prophet of Allah, sallallaahu alayhi wasallam, is telling us that cleanliness is half of faith, therefore it should not be taken lightly. Yet, how many Muslim brothers go to the masjids to offer their salahs, and annoy their brothers, their Lord, and His Angels, by not making the proper wudu or ghusl? It is narrated by Abu Hurairah that the Prophet, sallallaahu alayhi wasallam, said, "If I had not found it hard for my followers or the people, I would have ordered them to clean their teeth with siwak for every salah." (Bukhari and Muslim). Keeping our persons clean is very important in this deen, but our level of cleanliness should not be skin deep. Our level of cleanliness needs to go beyond the outer self to touch our minds, our hearts and our souls.

Because there is a lot of filth in societies we line, it is easy to get dirty. Before we know it, all sorts of crazy things are running through our minds and our hearts are occupied with concerns and desires of this worldly life. But Allah, subhanahu wa ta'ala, says, "Lo! We purified them with a pure thought, remembrance of the Home (of the Hereafter)." [38:46] The way to keep our minds and our hearts clean is through the constant remembrance of Allah and the Home of the Hereafter. When our minds are full of thikr, there is no room for unclean thoughts. When our hearts are full of dhikr, there is no room for lust, envy and jealousy. Cleanliness is godliness, for Allah says, "O you who believe! When you rise up for salah, wash you faces, and your hands up to the elbows, and lightly rub your heads and (wash) your feet up to the ankles. And if you are unclean, purify yourselves ... Allah would not place a burden on you, but He would purify you and would perfect His grace upon you, that you may give thanks." [5:6]. Cleanliness is the pathway to health and strength. Islam wants a healthy and strong Muslim society which is immune against infectious diseases and is capable of understanding and applying God's message and carrying it away to the whole world.

The Holy Quran says: You are the best community that hath been raised up for mankind, enjoining what is right, forbidding what is wrong, and believing In Allah. (Surah Aal-Imran, 3/110). In view of the significance of cleanliness in Islam, Muslims should have the highest standard of cleanliness and personal hygiene of all the people in the world. But, it is highly regrettable that the heap of garbage has become an identity of Muslim homes and localities. The Muslim majority areas are marked with unhygienic and unhealthy conditions.








In October 1947, Indian troops entered Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan and India fought three wars, but India could not be dislodged from the Occupied state. In 1962, when China and India went to war, Ayub Khan did not avail the opportunity to push India out of Kashmir. After December 1972, when Pakistan was cut into two, the policy to aid and launch freedom fighter faltered and failed. India went on a killing rampage, after the Kashmiri people in October 1989 revolted against the excesses of Indian military occupation. This peoples rebellion against Indian military occupation has turned into a freedom struggle, which continues till date. Musharraf deviated from Pakistan's principled stand of self determination for the people of Jammu and Kashmir, as enshrined in several UN Security Council Resolutions. India scoffed at his off the cuff proposals, and the Kashmir problem continues to fester, with continued Indian military atrocities, and bitter India-Pakistan relations.

Despite PPP governments inaction, Kashmiri's freedom struggle is continuing, due to the undaunted courage of Kashmiri leaders and the perseverance of the Kashmiri people for freedom and self determination. Syed Ali Gilani, Mir Waiz Mohammad Farooq, Abdul Ghani Lone, Shabir Shah and several leaders of All Parties Hurriyet Conference and Mehbooba Mufti the head of the Peoples Democratic Party - the PDP have remained outspoken and articulate, yet determined to unshackle the Indian grip on Jammu and Kashmir. Their views are respected within and outside South Asia. They continue to speak fearlessly, and remain undeterred by Indian atrocities. The Kashmiri leaders and the people are determined to continue the freedom struggle, till the exit of the Indian military of occupation from the Indian occupied Kashmir.

Syed Ali Gilani has been subjected to torture, but has remained the steadfast in stressing that India cannot suppress Kashmiri's aspirations and urge for freedom. Despite daily killings and kidnappings, illegal detentions, merciless beatings and house arrests, India has failed to cow down and break the will of the men and women of Kashmir to remove the usurper occupier from the soil of Jammu and Kashmir. India has failed to break the indomitable spirit and courage of the Kashmiri youth to continue the freedom struggle undaunted.

Mehbooba Mufti in her press statement in Srinagar on Feb 24, 2011, stressed the futility of any unilateral, isolated or piecemeal decision by India about the resolution of Kashmir issue. Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) President Mehbooba Mufti called for a comprehensive solution of the Kashmir problem in order to restore sustainable and lasting peace in this region. Talking to officials and leaders of the Congress party, she reminded New Delhi to desist from unilateral or bilateral decisions, which have proved meaningless and counterproductive since sixty years. She emphasized that all stake holders especially Pakistan and the freedom fighters, whom she called separatists, be brought on board and should be part of the dialogue process, for a lasting solution of the long festering Kashmir problem.

It is about time that India sees the writing on the wall. With one hundred thousand Kashmiri's martyred, and an equal number injured, maimed, orphaned and raped, there is no way that India can put the Kashmir issue under the mat. Astonishingly while throwing dust into the eyes of the West by misleading propaganda, India has brandished the Kashmiri freedom fighters as terrorists, and has justified its military carnage and slaughters as war against terrorism. Emphasizing on involving the Kashmiri freedom fighters in discussions and dialogue for Jammu and Kashmir's permanent solution, Mehbooba Mufti said that, "The Separatists must be engaged and involved in the talks, and their views taken seriously and their demands addressed . The Separatists are indigenous Kashmiri youth and important stake holders, in the process, and a dialogue process minus the Separatists would be futile, and will not succeed to take the process to its logical end. Her forceful advocacy that a lasting resolution of the Kashmir dispute is impossible without a serious and purposeful dialogue with the Separatists- the Freedom Fighters is highly significant. For the opinion makers in Pakistan, and the Pakistani establishment talk of support for the separatists in a taboo. But despite frequent massacres the freedom fighters have remained undeterred.

Clearly the Kashmiri Freedom Fighters have become a powerful force in Jammu and Kashmir state, and cannot be ignored any longer. Mehbooba has correctly stated that considering the complexity and diversity of the Kashmir problem any unilateral roadmap by New Delhi will end in utter failure; as it always has. All sections of the population, all regions, sub-regions, the Freedom Fighters and Pakistan are vital stake holders, for an acceptable and workable solution of the explosive dispute. She correctly said that involvement of Pakistan in the talks is a must, because without taking the neighboring country on board dialogue process would be meaningless. Pakistan needs to put its own house in order, and simultaneously extend fullest moral and diplomatic support to Kashmiri politicians like Mehmooba Mufti, Mir Waiz Mohammad Farooq, Maulana Syed Gilani and others, who despite frequent arrests and detention have kept the flame of freedom alight in Kashmir.

What has India gained by chaining Kashmir in military captivity since 1947. PDP President Mehbooba Mufti explained that the " sense of siege that gripped the State of Jammu and Kashmir in the wake of partition has kept the occupied state economically stunted and the population deprived of jobs and business and trade opportunities. This sense of siege due to Indian military tyranny should be removed to help the region to regain its past premier position. To harness Kashmir's inherent potential as a business center, as it was before partition, it is important that Indian military leaves the state. As the socio-economic growth of the state has been restricted after the partition due to the plugging of all routes connecting Jammu and Kashmir with rest of the world, there is urgent need to open all traditional routes from Kashmir, Jammu and Ladakh (which are through Pakistan) to make the state economy once again vibrant. The natural resources of Jammu and Kashmir need to be revisited and properly exploited for the benefit of the Kashmiri people. She demanded renegotiation of pro-Bharat biased trade agreements, made by the Srinagar government with various agencies.

In another positive development on March 04, 2011 Sardar Manmohan Singh the Prime Minister of India issued an important statement to the press in New Delhi to the effect that India is willing to resolve the long outstanding Kashmir dispute and all other outstanding issues with Pakistan, through negotiations. Stating that India has resolved to resume the dialogue process with Pakistan, he promised to enter the talks with Pakistan with an open mind. But the Kashmir dispute is a complex issue, and the people of Kashmir and their leaders (not Indian puppets) are equally important stake holders. It will be wise to get the Kashmiri leaders on board when discussing the Kashmir problem. Senior Hurriyet Leaders, Azad Kashmir leaders and Mehbooba Mufti and all senior PDP leaders - Mahbooba Mufti, Muhammad Dillawar Mir, Moulvi Iftikhar Hussain Ansari and Naeem Akhtar must be invited to a round table conference on Jammu and Kashmir as soon as possible. The Pakistan delegation to the joint round table conference should have Jammu and Kashmir on top of the agenda.









After his nine years as Premier, with no shortage of political scandals and folly, South Australian voters appear disillusioned with Australia's longest-serving state leader and his government. Yesterday's Newspoll showed that Mike Rann is deeply unpopular, and Labor's vote is at its lowest point in 16 years.

Voters are no doubt frustrated after the "Claytons" departure of the colourful but competent former deputy premier and treasurer Kevin Foley, and probably feel the time is approaching for Mr Rann himself to move along. But Mr Rann's government has managed the economy moderately well. Undoubtedly, some of the dissatisfaction stems from his determination to contain spending and resist the demands of unions opposed to reducing the public sector workforce and its holiday leave loading. That's all the more reason why Mr Rann and his level-headed Treasurer, Jack Snelling, must hold their ground.

After Standard & Poor's warning last year that the state's AAA credit rating "could be reassessed if the underlying levels of debt appear to be more severe than forecast", Mr Rann and his team must govern for the long term and stick to their guns on reform. With three years before the next election, this is not time for backflips. Ultimately, good policy is good politics.






"There's a man (or woman) going around taking names and he (or she) decides who to free and who to blame." Sadly, public policy in Australia has sunk to the level of a Johnny Cash ballad with the proposed introduction of spot checks on medium and large businesses to count the number of women employed. Companies that fail the official gender equity test would be excluded from government contracts and industry assistance, which surely should be allocated to provide the best value for taxpayers. Or are such values now obsolete in a new age world of soft-headed public administration?

The best fate for the harebrained scheme announced by the Minister for the Status of Women, Kate Ellis, would be for it to go the way of cash for clunkers, Fuel Watch, Grocery Choice and the government's obsession with alcopops. At a time of lagging productivity and skill shortages, businesses do not need more red tape. Smart employers hire the best staff on merit, regardless of gender. Some companies employ more women, some employ more men and some have not bothered to count. It remains to be seen what penalties are proposed for firms that are top-heavy with women. Nor is it clear how mining companies employing more men in fly-in, fly-out roles or engineering firms, where qualified women unfortunately are in short supply, will balance the books. Perhaps a bit of cross-dressing?

For decades, women and men who believe they have suffered discrimination have sought redress through federal or state anti-discrimination legislation, making further intrusions unnecessary. More remains to be achieved to improve opportunities for parents to work more hours. Lack of childcare outside standard working hours can be especially problematic, but wasting taxpayers' money on bureaucratic checks would be unproductive and, frankly, an insult to millions of women making their way without molly-coddling. The government would do more to help women's participation through better welfare-to-work incentives and a flexible industrial relations system that would allow workers and employers to make their own arrangements. Doubling funding to step up patrols will merely disadvantage businesses that provide jobs. Not surprisingly, the anti-business Greens have given the plan a tick, which should start alarm bells ringing in the mainstream parties.





Julia Gillard's address to the US congress was the finest and most important of her career, encapsulating the significance of our alliance and the values that underpin our relationship. To mark the 60th anniversary of the ANZUS Treaty, it was fitting that such an honour be granted the Australian leader. Considering Robert Menzies, Bob Hawke and John Howard are the only other Australians to precede the Prime Minister at that podium, and weighing the contributions they each made to the bilateral relationship, you can grasp the expectations placed upon the incumbent. Pleasingly, her words matched the elevated occasion and Australia's interests were well-served.

Indeed, so well crafted was Ms Gillard's speech that it conceivably could have been delivered by the man it generously praised, Mr Howard. Who would have thought, for instance, that we would hear a former leftist activist from the 1980s go to Washington and praise Ronald Reagan as the "great symbol of American optimism". "The only greater symbol of American optimism," Ms Gillard said, " is America itself." As The Australian noted only yesterday, Reagan's staring down of the Soviets and fostering of democratic freedoms was a historic triumph, so it was fitting for an Australian leader to put this view on the record, in the congress. Referring to the passing of the Cold War, Ms Gillard said: "Hundreds of millions of people have a better life today, democracy and human dignity have spread wide in the world in the last 20 years."

Afghanistan featured prominently, with poignant references to the sacrifices of American and Australian personnel, and a strong pledge to stay the course. Ms Gillard even lent support to the supposedly neoconservative philosophy of spreading democracy, including now in the Middle East. "For Australia's part," she said, "we will do what we can, and work with you, to support orderly transitions to democracy."

But there was one country whose name the Prime Minister dared not speak. While she made passing reference to "conflicts in the Gulf", she did not mention Iraq. This is a pity. As we highlighted yesterday, the hope of democracy in the Middle East now largely springs from the difficult and dangerous work of supporting the nascent democracy in Iraq. Perhaps Ms Gillard skipped around this crucial element of the global equation because of a self-conscious squeamishness about her opposition to the Iraq war, a position shared with President Barack Obama. If Australia, the US and other nations are to seize the opportunities and grapple with the difficulties of the emerging democratic movements in the Arab world, they must learn to be frank about its origins. Recognition of the role that Iraq has played requires no apologies for positions past, merely a practical understanding of the benefits of a free society in the heart of the Middle East, and a reaffirmed dedication to ensure it does not fail.

By focusing on history, values and shared challenges -- from terrorism to climate change, the rise of China to free trade -- the speech also exposed the futile partisanship of much debate about the alliance over the past decade. Had it been given by a conservative prime minister, there is little doubt the speech would have been damned as obsequious. Indeed, this was the charge made vitriolically against Mr Howard for many years. It does Ms Gillard no credit to reflect that she once joined that chorus, accusing Mr Howard in 2005 of "subservience" and declaring "We're not little Americans, we're Australians." Two years earlier at the Sydney Institute, she described him as the "sycophantic echo of the American president."

So for Ms Gillard, the speech to congress was a declaration she has studied and learned the true importance of the alliance. But her speech also gave the lie to claims the relationship strengthened in the past decade because of an ideological connection between Mr Howard and George W. Bush. Personal rapport is useful, as Ms Gillard and Mr Obama can attest, but the core of the US-Australia relationship exists in the values we hold dear, our commitment to prosper from them, share them and defend them.

Despite the end of the Cold War, a myriad new challenges ensure that mission continues apace.






IF Julia Gillard is finding the going tough selling her carbon tax, she might glance at the new survey by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development to understand why. The OECD has surveyed 10 member nations for their attitudes to, and relevant behaviour towards, the environment. For this country, the results are far from flattering. Given other survey results on attitudes to climate change, it would not be too harsh to conclude that we are a nation of hypocrites.

The survey found Australians are the least likely of those surveyed to consider energy costs when buying a house; we are most likely to waste energy leaving appliances on standby, or by using a car to go shopping. We own the second highest number of cars per family. We are among the least likely to recycle plastic, paper and glass. And so it goes on.

Yet the survey found that we are at the same time among the most worried about pollution and climate change. This awkward paradox puts Australians in a similar position as the cynic's definition of a Romantic: one who would weep floods of tears over the condition of the poor - yet not lift a finger to improve it.

The logical disconnection in the results explains too why the wheels on Julia Gillard's carbon tax bandwagon are spinning fast without it making much progress. Australians

can be quite convinced that climate change is a problem, and that governments should do something about it - as has been repeatedly shown in opinion surveys such as the one published by the Climate Institute last August - yet reject the notion of a price on carbon, and be susceptible to the intellectually dishonest scare campaigns about a carbon tax run by some politicians and media personalities.

Australians apparently expect the government to fix the problem without any change to the way they live - both an irrational and an impossible demand. To those holding this irrational position, though, Tony Abbott's equally irrational policy on climate change may well appear to make sense.

The government's tactic, according to the Climate Change Minister, Greg Combet, is to give the public time to discuss the carbon tax before deciding how and at what rate it will be paid. That is understandable - given the painful experience of the resources rent tax and also the Murray-Darling basin plan, which were presented in the reverse order. Even so, with the carbon tax's critics marshalling new reserves to their cause daily, it is clear time is short.





WHAT gives a city a buzz? A booming economy helps. Pleasant surroundings help too. But money and real estate by themselves are not enough: without talent, energy and ideas they simply lie idle. As we reported yesterday, leading figures in Sydney's arts hierarchy fear they may be lying idle in Sydney now. The city, they say, has lost its creative energy. Where Melbourne and Brisbane have moved ahead, Sydney remains stuck in a groove carved out somewhere around the time of the 2000 Olympics.

Certainly it has taken too long for Sydney to get over those Games. The post-Games letdown is a known phenomenon which affects Olympic cities. It has been often remarked that Sydney did not really benefit from the Games as it had expected to. That surely is wrong. It did benefit immensely from them, but it was wrong to expect future benefits to flow in without any effort.

It is time to farewell the Olympics era and build once again. The Olympic experience can be a guide here. The Games were the culmination of a long flowering of this city as an economic and creative centre. If it has a starting date, it may be the opening of the Sydney

Opera House in 1973: the point when Sydney gained,

almost despite itself, and to its own amazement, a second symbol and one by which the city and the country are known around the world. That solid boost to its confidence was seconded later by a flowering of theatre and publishing in Sydney and the renaissance of the Australian film industry, based substantially in this city because of the existence here of the Australian Film and Television School, started by the Gorton government. Sydney benefited too, though peripherally, from a newly confident indigenous arts movement.

Many of the trends which came together and culminated in the September 2000 Games were borne of government action. By no means all of it was direct subsidies from, in particular, the Australia Council. Probably more important was political leaders' active interest, sympathy and engagement with artistic enterprise.

The Olympics, though hugely successful, were in one way a dead end for Sydney: they diverted dazzled state politicians away from artistic - genuinely creative - endeavours towards big events of any kind - usually sporting, but sometimes not even that. Sporting world cups and other jamborees like Catholic Youth Day are worthwhile, but any buzz they generate falls quickly silent. For a buzz that lasts, it is time Sydney got back to basics and encouraged the arts.






ONLY eight sleeps to go. While many Australians aren't quite so keenly anticipating Prince William's visit, the second-in-line to the throne will be welcome, as Premier Ted Baillieu says. The prince made a very positive personal impression visiting Victoria's bushfire-affected communities in January last year - his first official tour anywhere - having not previously visited this country except as a small child with his parents, the Prince and Princess of Wales, 25 years ago. He will tour Christchurch and Greymouth in New Zealand, areas devastated by the Queensland floods and cyclone and Victoria's flood zones. It is a pity that it seems to take such disasters to prompt a visit by our possible future king, but his demonstration of concern will lift flood victims' spirits and remind everyone else of their continuing ordeal.

At the same time, the fact that Prince William could reach the age of 27 before his first visit as an adult to Australia, and that royal visits in successive years seem like a novelty, reflects physical distance certainly but, more to the point, an emotional distance between the monarchy and its Australian subjects. Last year's visit followed an epic English victory in the Test cricket series, and Prince William couldn't help but quip: ''Don't mention the Ashes.'' What this remark reveals is that Prince William was on the other side in this battle of two nations. In his mind, the future king is English, however much Australian monarchists might bridle at republican objections to having a foreign head of state. His father, Prince Charles, could claim closer personal ties to Australia, which included a period of schooling here, but that has not dispelled the widespread belief that the end of the 84-year-old Queen's reign will revive the push for a republic.

Of course, the monarchy has had low points before, in Britain and Australia; 30 years ago, Prince William's mother, Diana, was seen as its saviour. Her son has inherited her personal touch with the public. As one girl said during last year's visit, ''he looks like a normal prince''. Considering the range of characters in the royal family, the monarchy is fortunate that it is William who happens to be next in line after Charles.

Australians will gladly wish him well for his marriage on April 29 to Catherine Middleton, known to all as Kate. The personable couple may appeal as the future of a more modern monarchy, but the key issue is whether this alters the increasingly anachronistic nature of its connection with Australia. How likely is it that their first-born will still be visiting his or her future subjects in Australia after another generation has passed?





VICTORIA'S most senior judge, Marilyn Warren, has proven to be a thoughtful, vigorous and progressive advocate for a better justice system since her appointment in 2003 as the state's first female chief justice. Her campaign for a new Supreme Court building for Melbourne, for example, merits more consideration from the new Baillieu government than it received from the long-standing Labor attorney-general, Rob Hulls.

The Supreme Court is housed in one of the city's most beautiful buildings from the boom days of the gold rushes, but the William Street complex was designed for another age and is no longer adequate for the needs of those who work in, or have reason to appear before, the court. As the Chief Justice has remarked, it is a closed and imperious symbol of the 19th century, a building where justice was delivered from on high, the judge looked down on the litigants, and ''the architecture was intended to instil fear and trepidation''. In the court's most recent annual report to Parliament, she pointed out that prisoners are held in three sets of cells, the two court registries are not in the buildings that contain the courts they serve, and security is routinely compromised.

The Chief Justice wants an international architectural competition for a design for a new, open, light-filled building, perhaps on the site of the old Mint on the corner of William and Lonsdale streets, so that the Supreme Court no longer intimidates but ''conveys to the citizen that the law is there to protect the community''. It is an exciting idea that should not be dismissed merely because a new building would be costly. There is a cost, too, in not constructing a better home for the state's highest court.

The Chief Justice's vision for a more modern legal system extends well beyond bricks and mortar. At the weekend she delivered an important speech to the Victorian bar, warning that the professional body representing barristers needs to reform itself if it is to better respond to a rapidly changing legal landscape. Her language was refreshingly direct. ''The weakness of the structure of the Victorian bar lies in its lack of sharp market focus,'' she declared. It could not continue to do things in the traditional way. But the Chief Justice's purpose was not to condemn the bar; rather, it was to urge barristers to consider how they could play a more creative role in the delivery of justice.

''So much could be done to demystify the Victorian bar to make sure that the commercial and private consumers of legal services properly understand how the bar may help and, potentially, save the consumer money,'' she said. ''Some still view the Victorian bar as an elite secret society rather than a unique institution of highly specialised advocates. In fact, the bar does not sufficiently promote itself as a centre of dispute strategy specialists.''

Chief Justice Warren's suggestions make commonsense. She is right to urge the bar to build better networks with the corporate world, especially along what the Chief Justice calls Melbourne's unique financial and superannuation ''business spine'', from the Spring Street end of Collins Street down to Docklands. She is right to chastise the bar for failing to take full advantage of Australia's geographic proximity to the modern boom economies of Asia. In this context, she poses some telling questions of the Victorian bar: When will it invite a serious Indian delegation to Australia? How many of its members speak Cantonese? Why not establish chambers in Singapore? More prosaically, she urges barristers to intervene in cases as early as possible, and to point out that this will often save clients money. Again, the Chief Justice has a pertinent question for the bar: ''Why not advertise in the commercial press: 'Have you met your barrister yet? How much is your lawyer charging you before you will see your barrister?' ''

Victoria's justice system will be enhanced by a more efficient and outward-looking bar. The Chief Justice is serving the state well by pointing the way.







What's needed from the EU on the eurozone debt crisis is not good resolutions but firefighting equipment

European leaders meet in Brussels today to agree on some remedial action to calm the crisis in the eurozone. In theory, a lot is riding on what will be decided. The crisis that has raged across the single-currency club for over a year has forced Ireland and Greece to accept emergency financial aid and raised the prospect that Portugal, Spain and Italy could be next. While lenders in the financial markets wait to see if that happens, they are raising the interest they charge on loans to southern Europe – which only increases chatter about a crisis.

All this leaves eurozone leaders with rather a hefty to-do list for their summit. And yet few analysts expect much to come today, or even in a fortnight's time when the full two-day meeting will be staged. That at least is the conclusion to be drawn from yesterday's announcement by the debt-rating agency Moody's and the way markets reacted to it.

Moody's downgraded its rating of Spain's government debt to two notches below the top level that it used to hold. If that sounds undramatic, that's because it is – a relatively technical change in the creditworthiness of one country, and yet another downgrade of a European state borrower. Besides, given the track record of the credit-rating agencies in the bubble years, their pronouncements now are hardly to be taken as unquestionably solid. Still, for markets jittery about the Middle East, and already worried about the outlook for southern Europe, it was enough to push the euro down and jack up borrowing costs for Spain and Italy. More to the point, it adds to the sense that Europe's powerbrokers continue to drift through this crisis, rather than making a serious attempt to tackle it. Consider one reason Moody's gave for its downgrade: its analysts now believe that Spain will require an extra €40bn-€50bn to restore its banking sector to full stability – which might rise to €110bn-€120bn in a "stressed" situation. Compare that to the €15bn that Spanish officials yesterday ordered banks to raise. Not only is there a gulf between those figures, there are very few people in financial markets (or elsewhere) willing to back the estimates from Madrid. Rather than deal with this dangerous lack of faith, Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy are concentrating on what they term a competitiveness pact, but which is essentially a budgetary straitjacket that governments on the periphery of the eurozone are to be strapped into.

At this rate, European leaders may come up with a hefty rulebook for the euro club, just as lenders decide to tighten the screws on Portugal and Spain. What's needed now is not good resolutions but firefighting equipment. Sadly, Brussels is likely to be heavy on the first, and miserly with the second.





Pension reform may be inevitable, but it is inevitably going to run into resentment

More money to get less pension – after working longer. There's no doubt that public employers have a tough sales job on their hands, and – despite a few worthwhile ideas – yesterday's report from the New Labour peer turned coalition adviser, John Hutton, barely sweetens the pill. The taste will be bitter for many a modestly paid public servant planning a modest retirement, as the unions explained yesterday.

Their frustration is redoubled because cuts are being superimposed on a 2005 deal to raise pension ages, a deal supposed to make the arithmetic sustainable once and for all. Thanks to the energetic posturing of the CBI's Digby Jones at that time, it was reported as a craven surrender, as existing staff held on to their existing terms. But the deal, whose brokers included John Hutton himself, required the new starters – who constitute the majority after a decade or so – to work five extra years to get a full pension. That one change entirely arrested the rise in costs, and Lord Hutton's own analysis yesterday showed that even if things stay as they are, public pensions will consume not a rising but a falling share of national income.

Public sector unions, however, would be unwise to rely on this logic carrying the day. They represent the minority, at a time when the remaining final salary schemes in the private sector are closing at a record rate, as a new survey has just shown. Regardless of whose fault the swollen deficit may be, and regardless of the dangers of immediate slash and burn, there will come a point where it must be reduced, and pain will be felt far and wide.

Even if pension costs are not spinning out of control, they will get squeezed in a climate where voters will expect every last pound of state spending to be milked for all its worth. In particular, with lives that are not merely longer but also healthier for longer, there is a case for saying that the calculation, including for current staff, should be based on a longer working life. Indeed, Lord Hutton might even be criticised for proposing such a sweeping waiver for uniformed servicemen, who, he insists, must always be able to draw a pension at 60, even though his own figures show that most of them move on to other paid jobs, as opposed to a dependent dotage.

His nervousness here is one sign of the fraught politics, which will be dominated by two decisions that the coalition has already made – to ratchet down the real value of pensions by excluding housing from the cost-of-living adjustment, and to demand that public sector workers cough up an extra 3% of their frozen salaries towards their schemes. With these twin storm clouds dominating the horizon, rational appraisal of the Hutton proposal to shift the basis of the pension calculation from final salary towards average pay over the whole career is unlikely to get much airtime. That is a shame, seeing as it could well be a fairer way to calculate who gets what, with the potential to benefit women. But it's always important to read the small print with pensions, and this will depend on decisions that the government has yet to make about how quickly pension rights are clocked up. It will need to be faster, or it will not merely be high flyers who get to the top, but anyone who has ever got a promotion or a mere increment for experience who may find they are short-changed. The context is not one in which ministers can expect the benefit of the doubt.

Inevitable change may be, but when a typical local government pension is just £3,000 a year, as against around £4,000 in the NHS, it is going to run into resentment. All the more so since the cuts have been driven by the fallout from misplaced bets in the City that were laid by people who really can look forward to retiring in gold-plated style. The coalition had better hope it can divide state employees from the rest of the workforce, since most public servants may soon be demanding that this government is pensioned off.





It is a perfect fit of format and presenter, a kind of jeu sans frontiers of the mind

"I might have stayed in bed this morning," remarked Melvyn Bragg yesterday, and although he was making a point about this week's discussion of free will, indeed after 499 In Our Times, he might have rested up rather than turning up at Broadcasting House to present the 500th. This is Bragg's programme, invented with his producer after he was made a Labour peer in 1998. The BBC decided he was tainted with a partisanship inappropriate to his old Radio 4 outlet, Start the Week; happily for the rest of us, that launched him into the less party-political world of the intellect. From the beginning it was a perfect fit of format and presenter, a kind of jeu sans frontiers of the mind where a programme on The Venerable Bede one week would be followed the next by one on Higgs Boson and the week after by Zoroastrianism: history, physics, religion – and that is only a taster. From the Abassid Caliph to the rise and fall of the Zulu Nation, the programmes have roamed eclectically, with the leading academics in the field contributing their expertise in terms any interested person can follow. The Bragg technique, sometimes tetchy and occasionally downright menacing, keeps his studio guests focused as well as obliging his audience to pay attention even at 9am, not an easy time to engage people with heavyweight ideas. The BBC might ponder its success – two million listeners at a time of day when audiences normally fall off – and think again about what listeners really want.






China's legislature, the National People's Congress, commenced its annual 10-day session last weekend. The body is pretty much a rubber stamp, providing a democratic veneer to the decisions of the Chinese Communist Party. The session does shed light on affairs of state, in particular the government's budget and its economic priorities. In his speech, Prime Minister Wen Jiabao highlighted his concern about rising inequality within China and the dangers posed by expectations that rise faster than the pace of change.

China's economic juggernaut may be reshaping the global balance of power. The country is now the world's second largest economy and incomes, both urban and rural, have grown by 9 percent in the last five years; hundreds of millions of people have escaped poverty in China over the last two decades.

But, for many Chinese, change is not coming fast enough. Growth has been uneven — not surprising, in a country of China's size. According to the World Bank, China's Gini index, which measures inequalities of wealth, now exceeds that of every developed country.

Worse, there are few outlets for the anger and disappointment. As a result, it is estimated that last year China had 180,000 incidents of large-scale public protests and demonstrations, a doubling of the number of mass disturbances in five years. That has in turn yielded a hyper-vigilant party and police apparatus to ensure that any and all protests are contained.

In his speech to the NPC, Mr. Wen underscored risks posed by inflation, which has been growing about 5 percent per month in recent surveys. Rising prices erode the gains enjoyed by Chinese, who see increasing shares of their income going to pay for staples such as food. Real estate markets in major cities have been especially frothy, a phenomenon that compounds public anger when ordinary Chinese cannot afford housing. Add corruption and environmental degradation, and more and more Chinese feel that genuine prosperity remains just beyond their reach.

The Chinese government has a daunting assignment. It has to keep the economy expanding and ensure rising standards of living, while keeping inflation under control. In practical terms, that means the government will aim for growth of around 8 percent this year, but an average economic growth will fall to 7 percent from 2011 to 2015.

Mr. Wen promised to focus on helping China's poorer citizens. As total government spending rises 12.5 percent to $823 billion in 2011, funds for low-income housing will increase by 30 percent to $15 billion. The minimum wage is slated to increase, but it is not clear by what amount. Funds for education and health insurance are also set to grow.

A core component of Mr. Wen's vision is transformation of the Chinese economy. Rather than continuing the focus on exports and perpetuating the central role played by state-directed investment, the new plan seeks to make domestic consumption the driver of China's growth. This will better spread the wealth by giving more Chinese a stake in their future, undercut the opportunities for corruption and reduce friction with China's trade partners.

But China's leaders have no illusions about the stakes. While Mr. Wen promised to better the lives of ordinary Chinese, he also announced plans to boost spending for the state security apparatus. Total spending for public security is anticipated to reach 624 billion yuan ($95 billion), a 13.8 percent increase. This is the first time that such spending tops the (official) military budget, which will grow to 601 billion yuan ($91.5 billion) a 12.7 percent increase.

That last figure gets a lot of attention, and rightly so. The Chinese military has enjoyed double digit budget increases in the two decades since the Cold War ended. And most experts believe the official statistics are understated by a considerable amount. Nevertheless, Chinese officials insist that the buildup is defensive in nature and threatens no nations.

Those assurances count for little these days. Beijing's readiness to use force against its citizens raises concerns among its neighbors. Not only are there fears that such heavy-handed single-mindedness will color its foreign policy, but other nations also worry that China may use foreign policy to distract a restive population. The easiest way to quell public dissent is to rally around the flag during a foreign conflict.

There is one more reason to be worried. China's leadership changes next year, with Mr. Wen and President Hu Jintao stepping down so that the "fifth generation" can take charge. Transitions in authoritarian states are always tense moments as factions compete for influence. Many observers believe that the assertiveness of Chinese foreign policy during the last year reflected jockeying for position before 2012: No leader can afford to be seen as soft on foreign policy. If that assessment is correct, then other governments should be prepared for yet more assertiveness by Beijing in the months ahead.







NEW YORK — Self-immolation committed by a large number of Afghan women is one of the most tragic responses to gender violence in that country.

Aside from the horror of dying, surviving this act makes victims unfit for a normal life. They are often permanently maimed, disfigured and shunned by their communities. Unless current laws regarding the protection of women are implemented in full, the consequences of gender violence will continue to exact a punishing effect on women's lives in Afghanistan. Self-immolation is perceived as the only response available to some women who want to escape domestic abuse, forced marriage or other misogynistic social customs.

Although many Afghans — including some religious leaders — reinforce these social customs based on their interpretation of Islam, these practices are inconsistent with Shariah law as well as with Afghan and international law in that they violate women's basic human rights.

Reliable national statistics on this phenomenon are not available, since many families cover up these acts because of shame. Lack of good medical care and adequate government services means that such events are never officially recorded.

The Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission (AIHRC) reported 106 cases of self-immolation in 2006 and 184 cases in 2007. It is feared that the phenomenon has continued to grow.

What makes the situation even more troublesome is that the police and judiciary do not conduct any formal investigations to determine the causes of suicide, according to AIHRC.

"There is a culture of impunity for those who push women to self-immolation and suicide," remarks Homa Sultani, a researcher on women's rights at AIHRC.

Women's self-immolation in Afghanistan is a reflection of their disadvantaged situation in social and health areas. Some statistics are telling: 87 percent of Afghan women are illiterate; more than one in three women experience physical, psychological or sexual violence; and 70 to 80 percent of women face forced marriages.

Some people feel that marriage in Afghanistan is, in some cases, like a form of sale in which women are traded to solve family disputes or strengthen family bonds. In this context, forced marriages with underage girls often occur in defiance of national law, which stipulates that women must be 16 to marry. Some girls are married off to men who are five times their age.

The majority of Afghan women are victims of mental and sexual violence, which compels them to commit suicide or engage in drug abuse. Most of the recorded cases occur in Afghanistan's main cities; those that occur in rural areas are not recorded.

There is a way to lower the incidence of this tragedy. In August 2009, the Afghan government enacted the Law on Elimination of Violence against Women (EVAW), which criminalizes many harmful traditional practices. Although passage of the law was a significant achievement, the Human Rights, United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA HR) found that law enforcement authorities are often unwilling or unable to apply laws that protect women's rights. Such inaction is one of the main factors that allow these practices to continue.

What is urgently needed is for the government of Afghanistan to create the conditions for full implementation of the EVAW law. As the UNAMA HR has indicated, "Convictions under the EVAW law can result in deterring perpetrators of violence against women." At the same time, Afghanistan's President Hamid Karzai should indicate that respect for women's rights is at the core of the government's human rights policy.

Cesar Chelala, M.D., an international public health consultant, is a co-winner of the Overseas Press Club of America award.






Prime Minister Naoto Kan will likely have to decide whether to call a general election or to resign as early as next month as his popularity continues to plummet.

Sixteen Lower House members of his Democratic Party of Japan have openly revolted against him; he has so far failed to win cooperation from part of the opposition forces to get important budget-related bills through the Diet; and his ally, Seiji Maehara, has stepped down as foreign minister for receiving contributions from an illegal source.

Shizuka Kamei, head of the People's New Party, the junior partner in Kan's coalition government, has gone so far as to predict that Kan is incapable of dissolving the Lower House and calling a general election because he has become "immobilized." If Kamei is right, the final countdown for Kan's resignation may start as early as next month.

On Feb. 17, the 16 DPJ Lower House members jointly announced that they were defecting from the parliamentary group consisting of the DPJ and independents. Yet, they said they were not deserting the DPJ itself. They were all elected in the the August 2009 Lower House election for the first time, with the support of Ichiro Ozawa, Kan's archrival within the DPJ, and through the proportional representation system.

Observers see their move as one of desperation, as they are fully aware of the tiny chance of retaining their seats in the next general election. Still, the fact that Ozawa's followers openly revolted against the Kan leadership is of political significance, they say.

As if to add insult to injury, the latest opinion polls taken by major newspapers and press agencies have shown that the Kan administration's approval ratings have slipped to 20 percent and lower.

Another headache for the prime minister is how to secure enough votes to pass major pieces of legislation, especially bills related to the fiscal 2011 budget, through the Diet, where the governing DPJ has a commanding majority in the Lower House but not in the Upper House. With the defection of the 16 lawmakers, it has now become all but impossible for the DPJ to secure the Lower House two-thirds majority needed to pass bills voted down by the Upper House.

As another alternative, the DPJ leadership sounded out the Liberal Democratic Party and Komeito for cooperation in passing such bills by offering some amendments to satisfy their demands. A flat "no" was the answer from both parties, which had formed a coalition government before the DPJ came to power in September 2009.

As if they sense that Kan's days are numbered, several prominent figures within the DPJ have already started making moves to succeed him, including Finance Minister Yoshihiko Noda, DPJ acting chief Yoshito Sengoku, DPJ Secretary General Katsuya Okada and Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano.

Maehara is out of the race, for the time being, after his resignation over political contributions from a non-Japanese citizen (a Korean resident in Kyoto) in violation of the Political Funds Law.

Maehara, who clashed head-on with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov at their meeting in Moscow in February over the long-standing territorial dispute involving four islands north of Hokkaido, has been keen on contacting opposition LDP leaders on diplomatic issues. Although Sengoku behaved as though he was distancing himself from Maehara, there had been speculation that Sengoku's ulterior aim was to lead the DPJ as secretary general, conceding the party presidency and prime ministership to Maehara. That dream has evaporated.

Finance Minister Noda is a "favorite son" among bureaucrats of the Finance and other ministries, but his apparent weakness is the lack of charisma to attract a large number of supporters. Attention also must be paid to moves by national strategy minister Koichiro Genba.

One person who must not be overlooked in the race to succeed Kan is ex-DPJ Secretary General Ozawa, who was indicted in January on allegations of falsifying political funds reports. The DPJ subsequently deprived him of all rights and privileges as a party member pending the final verdict in court.

Although Ozawa does not appear to have much room for political maneuvers until the court ruling, he recently started to make some waves. On Feb. 8, he met with Takashi Kawamura, who only two days earlier had been re-elected mayor of Nagoya, the third largest city in Japan, on a platform of reducing local taxes and reducing the number of seats in the municipal assembly.

While some observers see the meeting as a "farce" initiated by Ozawa out of desperation, others interpret it as an attempt by both to inaugurate a new political party, as Kawamura and his followers have organized a new regional group called Genzei Nippon (Tax Reduction Japan). This and other local groups could be a boon for local elections in April. The development may open the way for Ozawa to lead his "children" as head of an entirely new political party.

As Ozawa fights for a comeback, Kenko Matsuki, one of Ozawa's close aides, on Feb. 24 resigned as the parliamentary secretary of the farm ministry in protest against the disciplinary action the DPJ leadership took against Ozawa. This was a blow to Kan as he struggles to remain at the helm of the ruling party and the government.

Kan's near-term choice has been narrowed down to either dissolving the Lower House or simply stepping down. At present, he rules out any possibility of giving up the premiership. But if Kamei of the People's New Party is right in predicting that Kan won't be in position to call a general election, the final countdown for his resignation could start as early as April when the nation goes to the polls to elect local officials.

This is an abridged translation of an article from the March issue of Sentaku, a monthly magazine covering Japanese political, social and economic topics, with some revisions.









Blasphemy can be a deadly affair in Indonesia and Pakistan, two of Asia's largest Muslim-majority countries. Triggered by allegations of blasphemy, virulent mob attacks against those perceived to have offended Islam have rocked the two countries in recent months.

While Indonesia and Pakistan have laws that specifically address issues of blasphemy, those unfortunate enough to be labeled blasphemers are rarely taken to court. Encouraged by, if not with tacit approval from, conservative Muslim leaders, Indonesian and Pakistani mobs have been taking the law into their own hands instead.

On Feb. 5, three Indonesian adherents of Ahmadiyah, a sect with origins in 19th-century British India and considered heretical by many Muslims, were killed when a mob raided their house in Pandeglang, a town in Banten province to the southwest of Jakarta.

This was the deadliest attack yet on the sect — which has 200,000 to 500,000 followers in Indonesia — that subscribes to most of the tenets of Islam but recognizes its founder, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, as a prophet. Sunni Muslims, the great majority of Indonesians, believe that Muhammad is the last prophet, and any claim to the contrary is considered offensive to Islam and thus blasphemous.

Under great pressure from Muslim conservative groups, the Indonesian government has been trying to persuade — to no avail — Ahmadis, followers of Ahmadiyah, to cease all "deviant" religious activities and "return to the right path," or at the very least drop their claim to being Muslims. This is the gist of a 2008 joint decree signed by Indonesia's Minister of Religious Affairs, Minister of Home Affairs, and Attorney General.

Deriving its legal basis from an anti-blasphemy law originally promulgated in 1965, the joint decree also enjoins that Muslims refrain from attacking Ahmadis. As Ahmadis refused to obey the joint decree, conservative Muslim groups have grown impatient and attacks on Ahmadis have become more frequent and more violent. A YouTube video of the Feb. 5 raid shows frenzied attackers beating an Ahmadi to death while shouting "God is great" in — or perhaps because of — the presence of unstirred police officers.

Two days later, with Indonesia still in shock after the brutal attack on the Ahmadis, another mob vandalized several churches in Temanggung, a town in Central Java. The trigger this time was a district court's ostensibly insufficiently harsh conviction of a man charged with insulting Islam through the leaflets he had produced and circulated around town.

Antonius Richmond Bawengan had received the maximum sentence of five years under the anti-blasphemy law, but the crowd amassing in court to hear the verdict demanded nothing less than the death penalty. That Bawengan's leaflets also insulted Christianity mattered little to the mostly Muslim crowd. More disturbingly, attacks on Christian churches and schools have become more frequent under many pretexts, blasphemous or otherwise.

In Pakistan, two top government officials have been assassinated in the last two months for speaking out against the anti-blasphemy law, apparently a capital offense. On March 2, Federal Minorities Minister Shahbaz Bhatti, a Christian and a member of the ruling Pakistan People's Party, was shot in Islamabad by unidentified gunmen as he left home for work.

No one has claimed responsibility for the attack, although Bhatti had said before his death that he had received many death threats. There was no doubt about who killed Salman Taseer, the governor of the Punjab, on Jan. 3: his own bodyguard.

Instead of widespread handwringing, reports from Pakistan immediately after the murder described massive rallies of Muslim conservatives who endorse the murder. Both men spoke in defense of Asiya Bibi, a Christian farmer who was sentenced to death for insulting prophet Muhammad and is awaiting execution.

Although the anti-blasphemy law has been part of the criminal code since the creation of Pakistan, the death penalty was introduced in 1984 as an addition to life imprisonment for offenses that amount to insulting Islam, the Koran, and Prophet Muhammad. Only in 1992 did capital punishment become mandatory for those specific offenses.

Nevertheless, while no execution has taken place in Pakistan under the anti-blasphemy law, extrajudicial killings of over 30 people presumed guilty of those offenses by angry individuals or mobs have occurred. According to the Asian Human Rights Commission, at least 1,030 people had also been charged for blasphemy in Pakistan since 1986. The fatalities figures exclude Ahmadis who, as in Indonesia, have been the target of recurrent violent attacks. In May 2010, a mob massacred 86 Ahmadis in a Lahore mosque after Friday prayers.

Furthermore, Pakistan has declared Ahmadis to be non-Muslims and continued to let violent persecution of the sect persist. This is little comfort for Indonesian Ahmadis who are under pressure to drop their claim to being Muslims.

In light of these recent events, there is little hope of seeing the anti-blasphemy laws in Indonesia and Pakistan repealed any time soon. On the contrary, both governments are under growing pressure from conservative Muslim groups to deal even more harshly with religious minorities that are perceived to offend Islam and with any effort to alter the legal status quo.

Presiding over a precarious coalition government, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gillani has ruled out repealing the anti-blasphemy law, and Sherry Rehman, a coalition politician whose bill would repeal the law, has been told to withdraw the offending bill. In Indonesia, the Constitutional Court rejected by a majority decision a petition to have the 1965 anti-blasphemy law annulled in April 2010.

The anti-blasphemy law's increasing use in the two countries is a reflection of the growing political clout of conservative Muslim organizations, and religious minorities are increasingly finding themselves at the wrong end of the law. The Ahmadis are the most vulnerable because their belief itself is considered blasphemous by the majority Muslims.

At a time of increasing religious intolerance, conservative Muslims may construe any indication of slight by members of other religious minorities, Christians in particular, to be a blasphemous offense. A relative absence of government intervention in cases of violent vigilantism, a judiciary unwilling to stand up for the defense of minority rights, and a legislature swayed by conservative Muslim leaders cannot but undermine the underpinnings of the state.

Leaders of Indonesia and Pakistan should know what to do: the Indonesian and Pakistani constitutions do provide for, respectively, religious freedom and the protection for citizens to practice their faith, and the protection of the rights of religious minorities.

Indonesia and Pakistan support the resolution on "the defamation of religions" at the UN Human Rights Council. Each year, the Council votes on the resolution, which is proposed by Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Congress, to address concerns about the rise of Islamophobia around the world. Looking at recent events, Indonesia and Pakistan have a far bigger problem at home than Islamophobia.

The writer is visiting fellow at the East-West Center in Washington and formerly editor-in-chief of
The Jakarta Post.





It is hard to take a liking to Cabinet Secretary Dipo Alam these days, especially if you are watching through the lens of Metro TV. In the words of Dipo's lawyer, Amir Syamsuddin, the Cabinet Secretary has been portrayed as an "enemy of the press".

This, in the realm of democracy, is not a flattering title. And so Team Dipo hits back, launching complaints to the Press Council and the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission.

Team Dipo here refers to the team of capable lawyers hired to do the job. But more than that, questions have risen as to whether Dipo had acted on the President's orders or if his stance represents that of the people closest to the President, or if the man himself has overreacted.

The fact is he was simply doing his job.

Over and over again, the Cabinet Secretary has stressed his role in managing members of the Cabinet, which encompasses dealing with frustrations over what seems to be a lack of good and effective public affairs campaigns on the government's part.

Had each Cabinet member done a better job of reaching out to the public, there would be fewer minor interruptions, and hopefully, more positive coverage of the government, which potentially leads to a better investment climate. However, in doing so, the government has to depend on the mass media, as another Power Holder in the equation.

Unfortunately, this is where harmony breaks and the former diplomat comes out frustrated.

Reflecting on the state of the press in our beloved emerging democracy, there has never been a better time than now. In President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, the press finds a figure who not only nurtures deep appreciation of its existence, but also openly acknowledges its role.

Speaking on National Press Day in Kupang, East Nusa Tenggara, last month, the President specifically highlighted three contributions made by the press—enhancing the nation's intellect, fostering democracy and controlling government power.

On controlling, the President took time to remind the parties involved — government, lawmakers, watchdogs and the media — to do their best in making sure the country runs on a healthy dose of checks-and-balances.

In such a vibrant democracy as ours, this is where ideas and ideals sometime collide. As James Madison, Father of the US Constitution, wrote on the Federalist Paper No. 10, "democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention." As rancorous as it may be, we Indonesians should welcome any debate, as long as it leads somewhere constructive.

Just how constructive that debate would turn out in the impending Media Group vs Dipo Alam remains a question. One factor is the parties' different views of the nature of news.

In his book "Public Opinion", American journalist cum political commentator Walter Lippmann summed it well, "Naturally there is room for wide difference of opinion as to when events have a shape that can be reported… usually it is the stereotyped shape assumed by an event at an obvious place that uncovers the run of the news. The most obvious place is where people's affairs touch public authority." (Lippmann, Public Opinion, Free Press, 1997).

On Jan. 12, 2011, an editorial in Media Indonesia Daily titled "Kritik Keras Tokoh Agama" hit hard at the President. "Pertanyaannya, apakah kritik itu didengarkan? Apakah pemerintahan Presiden Yudhoyono membuka telinga? Tak mudah untuk jujur. Lebih mudah memproduksi kebohongan demi kebohongan untuk menutupi kegagalan. Padahal, honesty is the best policy. Termasuk, jujur untuk mengakui gagal...." (The question at hand is that is anyone listening to the criticism? Is the government of President Yudhoyono opening its ears? It's not easy being honest. It's easier to produce lies after lies to cover failures, even when honesty is the best policy. That includes the honesty to admit failure.)

Without backing its allegations with valid reasoning, only referring to the opinions of several people, the newspaper has dared to make a bold accusation that the government has failed.

Never mind any achievement made in the past seven years of the administration, to the folks in Kedoya, everything was just a failure, which is not quite a fair judgment. Yes, we still have some loopholes here and there, but there have been recognizable improvements certainly not worthy of being tagged as a failure. Then again, doesn't Journalism 101 teach the need to cover both sides of the story?

In their must-read book, "Elements of Journalism", Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel write clearly that journalists should keep the news in proportion and make it comprehensive. (Kovach and Rosenstiel, Elements of Journalism, Crown Publishers, 2001)

Such were elements in question that led the Indonesian Broadcasting Commission (KPI) into summoning Metro TV and TV One on Jan. 20, 2011. Detiknews quoted Deputy Chairwoman Nina Mutmainah as saying that the summon was based on concerns over editorial decisions that allegedly prioritized interests of the owners more than professionalism and objectivity. Where the argument goes from here, I shall leave it in the hands of pundits and professionals.

One thing for sure, on whether or not an apology is required of the Cabinet Secretary, I would say it is no longer an issue. There is too much at stake here, as Harold L. Wilensky wrote in his book Rich Democracies.

"Media versions of reality strongly shape public images and even elite images of the size, trend, causes and consequences of budget imbalances, unemployment or economic growth … and a host of other crucial issues of public policy…as the public sector grows, as the public agenda proliferates, these complex technical issues are frequently beyond the understanding of citizens, unless they are involved in broader associations that do a good job of issue interpretation." (Wilensky, Rich Democracies, University of California Press, 2002)

For the benefit of the people, both the government and the media need to be better interpreters, if not the best.

The writer is a former journalist and is currently serving as an assistant to the spokesman of the President of the Republic of Indonesia. The views expressed are her own.






On March 11 it will be 45 years since Sukarno wrote his famous letter commanding Gen. Soeharto to take all necessary measures to restore security in the country.

Supersemar as this letter was later called — an acronym of Surat Sebelas Maret (Letter of March 11), alluding to the powerful figure of Semar in the Javanese shadow puppet play — immediately became the legitimacy for the takeover of power in Indonesia by Soeharto, certainly against Sukarno's wishes.

Only on the next day Soeharto outlawed the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). A few days later he imprisoned about 12 ministers of Sukarno's cabinet, and then formed a new one. Thus from March 11, 1965 Soeharto was the undisputed ruler of Indonesia — until he had to step down on May 21, 1998.

I still vividly remember that day. I was then living in Yogyakarta studying theology. Will it shock you when I tell you that we received radio news of the takeover rejoicing?

But I have to begin earlier. Since I arrived in Indonesia on Jan. 29, 1961 as a young Jesuit student my apprehension that Indonesia might be taken over by the communists grew steadily.

Communism was for me, after the collapse of (German) national-socialism, the greatest menace to humankind and specifically to religion and the Catholic Church.

Sukarno seemed to me more and more radical and blind to the fact that people were starving and the economic infrastructure rotting. The victory in 1961 in the (justified) fight for "Irian Barat" was quickly followed by the new "crush Malaysia" policy.

In December 1964 Sukarno had outlawed the BPS (Agency of Defenders of Sukarnoism) that had used a long absence of Sukarno to spread anti-communist "teachings of Sukarno".

Twenty newspapers that had published these writings were closed down. In January 1965 Sukarno brought Indonesia out of the UN, positioning Indonesia into growing international isolation.

All the time the PKI was triumphantly present, climaxing in the celebration of its 45th birthday in 1965. After Sukarno proclaimed NASAKOM, the revolutionary unity of Nationalism (NAS), Religion (A) and Communism (KOM), any anti-communist expression was mobbed as communisto-phoby. The media were practically dominated by the PKI.

At the end of 1964 my Indonesian Jesuit brothers, up to then enthusiastic followers of Sukarno, began to lose faith in him.

In August 1965 we heard rumors that Sukarno had fainted and that 10 doctors, flown in by communist leader Aidit from Beijing, had, in a secret memorandum, given Sukarno not more than three months to live (Sukarno died in 1970). A tense mood lay over the country: Something was going to happen.

It happened on Oct. 1. We followed all the announcements by the "Movement of September 30" glued to the radio.

In the afternoon we more or less guessed that the movement was leftist. When we heard the voice of Gen. Soeharto on the radio at about 8 p.m. pronouncing the movement crushed we felt somewhat relieved.

In Yogyakarta immediately a feeling of fear descended upon the city. Blood had been spilled in Jakarta and Yogyakarta (where commander of the garrison and his staff had been murdered by their own troops that supported the Movement) and more blood was going to flow. People remembered the Madiun Affair 17 years earlier where many more killings had been committed by both sides than was "operationally necessary".

We were in a tense mood. It quickly became clear that Sukarno was not prepared to dissolve the PKI. On Oct. 16, the "involved" troops left Yogyakarta by train. We heard of clashes in the area of Klaten-Jatinom.

RPKAD special troopers (now Kopassus) arrived and began "cleaning up" the region, often immediately executing higher communist cadres.

Others were thrown into prison. In November some news about mass killings of communists in Eastern Java and, in December, on Bali leaked through. We also heard rumors that Aidit had been captured and immediately shot (probably in order to forestall him being freed by Sukarno).

I felt that what was happening was outside our control. I certainly hoped that the communists would get no chance to return as a political power.

While the systematic killings by the military of the higher communist cadres in Central Java and Yogyakarta were brutal, but had a certain logic (those killed where the communist top people), that what leaked out from East Java and Bali, the wholesale random slaughter, looked simply terrifying.

It had the air of a final reckoning of a Bharatayuda war (where all the dirty tricks of the bad, left faction, the Kurawas, are finally, karmatically, revenged in their terrible death). Was this the way a life or death struggle would be fought in Indonesia?

As a non-Indonesian I felt completely powerless to do anything. Launching a protest to the outside world did not offer itself as a possibility. We had no hard facts to start from, nobody in Indonesian society would have understood such an appeal and we ourselves were still worried about the possibility that Sukarno would restore the communists.

We also thought that had Sukarno banned the PKI as the huge anti-PKI majority demanded, maybe the bloodshed would not have happened, at least not on this scale (the logic was: since Sukarno refused to ban the communists, they were made irrelevant by being physically annihilated).

At the same time Sukarno seemed slowly to regain power. In February he formed a new cabinet, the "Cabinet of 100 Ministers". We regarded it as proof that Sukarno was recovering. General Abdul Haris Nasution of whom we had a high opinion was thrown out.

Thus for me and my friends the 11th of March ended this period of uncertainty. We immediately understood that this meant a real power shift and so it was. The communists were finally outlawed and Sukarno had lost effective power.

The mass killings had stopped in January. Did Soeharto order them? Or did they come about "naturally"? Will we ever know?

But now began the third phase of what began on Oct. 1, 1965, and for this Soeharto was clearly 100 percent responsible, the stigmatization and excommunication of millions of  "communists", their children and children's children and acquaintances (categorized as "from an unclean environment") from Indonesian society which meant the destruction of their social and economical life.

Millions were arrested, about 100,000 of them for more than 10 years, without any trial (the last 40,000 were released in 1979 because of pressure from US President Jimmy Carter, God bless him).

But things were then not easy to distinguish. In spite of these terrible circumstances for me and my friends the ascension of Soeharto to power was, at that time, essentially a positive development although we quickly lost any illusions that democracy or human rights would get a chance.

But the visible fruits of pembangunan (economic development, the ongoing improvement of the infrastructure, of general conditions) were impressive. Only during the 70s I internally took distance to Soeharto's New Order.

But I had not come to Indonesia to lecture Indonesians on what to do and what not to do. I was and still am aware of the huge problems a country like Indonesia, my country for 50 years, is facing.

Indonesia would have to make her own experiences and find her own way.

The writer, a Jesuit priest, is professor at Driyarkara School of Philosophy in Jakarta. The article is a worked-over edition of a paper the writer delivered at a seminar in Jakarta by Goetheinstitut last January.









The major incidents of election violence so far being reported in the Galle district have created mixed feelings about the Local Government elections among the people. In Peraliya, Rathgama last Friday two were killed and another three were injured, inclding a local government election candidate. The Daily Mirror took to the streets in Galle hoping to make clear the blurred lines between politics and the needs of the people with one question, to vote or not to vote? 

W. Sakalasooriya - GA Galle District

There have been a number of reports of election violence in the area, most of which have been inter- party incidents of violence. When we speak of regulations for propaganda, there have been many shortcomings with some, if not most of the posters, cut-outs that were to be removed but were still visible during the postal voting. We are hoping that in the coming days all parties and candidates will adhere to election regulations.

We have discussed our concerns with the heads of political parties and asked them to conduct their campaigning in a free and fair manner. The Police are regulating election activities. Therefore there is nothing more that we can do than to request them to keep matters under control. Most candidates have shown their concerns and interest in proceeding with a peaceful election but there are still a few who do not adhere to the regulations as they should.

Kingsley Ekanayake – DIG Southern Province

Since Local Government nominations were called in January there have been six incidents of election violence in the Galle district. The culprits responsible for the killing of two people in Peraliya have been found and will be arrested. Most of the complaints we received were on posters and other election propaganda. We have assigned some 6000 police officers to cover each elections centre in the south.

Dharmadasa Kariyawasam- PAFFREL Monitor for Galle district 

 We have found through our observations that the voter's interest has reduced a great deal during this election. As such there is a large number who are not using their votes during this year's local government elections. Only a very few have opted to use their vote. In Galle alone postal votes used by Government workers is some 25-30 % Although there have been some serious incidents of violence in the district as a whole, the number of cases of violence have been limited.

Piyasena Gamage - Senior Minister for National Resources, UPFA Vice Secretary and leader for Galle District

We are afraid that the voters will not use their right to vote at the elections but we are confident that we will have a good response from the people under the preferential system. Since the war is over those who win the election will have a major role to play working towards the development of the country since development begins at the grass root level.

As for election violence, the most serious election violence has been reported from the Southern Province. Most people believe that the violent incidents that took place were related to the election but they were most likely due to a personal matter. Also the incidents that have been reported are not as high as they usually are and as a party we do not approve of this type of violence.

Ramesh Pathirana, UPFA MP

If southern UPFA candidates get chosen by the people it is not only because of the popularity of the President in the south but also because of the capabilities of these candidates. Under President Rajapaksa's administration we have been successful in developing the infrastructure in the southern parts of the country which the people truly appreciate.

People are worried about the rising cost of living and there is slight concern about unemployment but this is a trend that we see all over the world today. The people will not think of the prices of goods but will instead look at the bigger picture when they give their vote. People may show disinterest but there will be a large number who will vote on Election Day.

There were two shooting incidents which killed two people that were reported in the area but elections in Rathgama, Galle have been peaceful for the most part. We still do not know the reasons for these incidents and it is being investigated.  In terms of election propaganda, Local Government candidates are less interested in putting up posters and cut-outs unlike in the past. The media has played a huge part in keeping the public informed and candidates prefer to conduct door to door campaigning instead.

Pradeep Aruna, UPFA Candidate and former Chairman of Ambalangoda Urban Council

The main reason for the existing election violence is the preferential voting system. However, this is about to change as the President will change the election system to the First Past the Post system and violence along with the preferential votes will not be there any longer. Despite the recent incidents that have taken place, the UPFA is against violence.

Gayantha Karunathilake, Galle District UNP MP

The Government has had the opportunity to evaluate the opinion of the masses on living standards and to gauge the fulfillment of their needs. However they have done everything to avoid it by postponing elections in some areas using the Cricket World Cup and other factors as an excuse.

The reason they did this was because they knew they could lose the local government polls. Their budget proposals were not approved in many of the councils which is a clear indication of this.  The people are disappointed by the local government bodies as they have done nothing to develop their area. Unlike in the UPFA, we represent the party as a whole and not as individuals which is the reason why most incidents of inter-party violence have reportedly been in the UPFA and not in ours. 

Lionel Ipalawatte - UNP Candidate

There was some uncertainty on how well we would fare at the local government elections

since the Government does a lot of canvassing in the South. However we have become more and more confident of winning the elections as many of the party members contesting the election have had a positive response from the people. In fact we believe the tide against the Government will begin from the south.

The people are suffering as so many at the grass root level have no jobs. Since the cost of living has risen people do not have the means to meet their daily needs. People have had enough with Government suppression and are tainted by the level of violence and corruption that is taking place.

If given the opportunity I intend to develop infrastructure, drainage systems and find a solution to the mounting garbage problem. There has been very little done about the problem and I intend to address it.

D.P.S Sunil – UNP Candidate

In the last four years the previous Chief in our area did not do anything for the people. For instance, there is a library with no facilities, there is no sports ground and people receive little financial assistance. These are areas that need to be looked into, and that is what I hope to do. I have had a tough upbringing and know what it is to be in want.

The Government candidates have been carrying out an unruly campaign as far as I can see. They are fighting amongst themselves for the council leadership. We have faced a few incidents where some parties cause trouble for us by ruthlessly removing our cut-outs and posters but we have handled the situation in our stride because we refused to get pulled into trouble with them.

There are some candidates who do not want to represent their party but who instead want representation as individuals so as to boost their ego and fulfil their personal needs.

My main goal is to ensure that the UNP wins this election.

Ajith Kumara - Galle District JVP MP

Local government bodies have become extremely corrupt and have done nothing to fulfil the people's needs. During the war the Government ignored the economic problems faced by the country and they still continue to do so. The cost of living has sky-rocketed. The price of a loaf of bread when President Rajapaksa was made the Leader in 2005 was Rs.18 and now it is Rs.45. A kilo of rice was Rs.30 and now it is Rs.60. When will people get relief? The Government is on the wrong path. We cannot afford to be an economy in debt. Instead we should strive to be a productive economy.

Election violence too has become a major issue. In the Government alone there have been some severe acts of violence. If they are attacking the people in their own party how do they expect the people to want their leadership? As for election budgets, candidates have been spending millions of rupees on election propaganda which is hardly necessary. Provincial council members earn a meager salary of Rs.5000 a month, yet they are spending at least Rs.300,000 each day for election work.

Dayarathna Udakala- JVP Candidate

We can see that the government like all the parties that came to power after independence has had no proper plan to develop the country. They had the golden opportunity to do this  when the war ended by utilizing funds that were earlier allocated for defence for development purposes. Instead most Government officials have done nothing and are there only for personal gain.

Speaking about election violence, we can say that while internal conflicts within parties have increased, disputes between parties have reduced a great deal. This is with the exception of certain situations where posters and cut-outs are ripped off.The JVP has created its policies with the support of members of the party as well as the communities living in the area. We have become aware that the people are tired of politics and may not use their right to vote at the election. However we have done our best to convince them to use their vote. We will be representing ourselves as a party and not as individuals because we believe in unity.

Marshal Dayasiri, JVP Candidate

We as party members believe in equality and therefore we do our canvassing together. Many of the candidates have spent millions for their campaigns to get a meager salary from the government when they are elected, by this we can say that they have a personal purpose rather than the need to work for the public. 

Both parties that have come into power after independence have made false promises to the people to come to power and once they are in power they fail to fullfil any of their promises instead they work according to their personal agenda, where corruption and wastage is rampant. 

The JVP on the other hand represents the party; we do our canvassing together and we collect the money needed by asking the public for aid. The ruling party has a lot of violence within the party, with candidates competing aggressively for the post of chairman. Sometimes they try to create fights with us too but we have done our best to stay out of the way.

Wimalasiri Weerakkody

I think that this government has done something for the country; they have many programmes some of which had good results. The Gama Naguma programme for instance is something that we practice even at home; we have been given all the necessary items that we need and we have put it to good use.