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Monday, March 14, 2011

EDITORIAL 14.03.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya


month march 14, edition 000779, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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


























































  5. HUB BUG









The catastrophic earthquake, measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale, followed by a massive killer tsunami that struck Sendai on the Pacific coast of Japan have left behind a trail of death and destruction whose true magnitude will only be known after authorities have been able to compute the losses. Such is the scale of devastation that many areas remained inaccessible till Saturday. The death toll remains remarkably low, but that's because nobody quite knows how many have died: Estimates vary from a few hundred to several thousand. Those who survived the Pacific rising in unimaginable fury are seeking solace in the fact that they cheated death. But life will never be the same again for hundreds of families and entire communities as the contours of the scale of tragedy begin to take shape. True, Japan, which has a history of suffering crippling devastation time and again due to earthquakes, has learned to live with the reality that it straddles a faultline on the Pacific floor. It has harnessed technology to cope with tremors, but nothing could have prepared it for Friday's massive earthquake or the instant tsunami it released. The ghastly tragedy has served to remind humankind, though not for the first time, that our best efforts cannot tame nature's fury; we can at best minimise its impact, although even that has become debatable after Japan's latest experience. The disaster has also highlighted the need to introspect on locating nuclear power plants along the coast line because it allows easy access to water, of which vast quantities are required to run the cooling system of reactors. In a sense, the damage caused to the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear power plant, 270 km from Tokyo, should send alarm bells ringing around the world. Irrespective of whether or not a meltdown of the core reactor is prevented, the fallout of the radiation which is reported to be way above levels considered normal cannot be ignored. The immediate impact of the radioactive leak could be invisible and immeasurable, but its effects will begin to be known only in the coming months and years. This could be the worst nuclear power plant disaster after the meltdown of the Chernobyl plant in the erstwhile USSR more than two decades ago whose after-effects are still being documented.

The danger of locating nuclear power plants close the seashore was equally evident in the immediate aftermath of the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami that wrought havoc in Tamil Nadu and the Andaman Islands. The Kalpakkam nuclear power plant's grounds were flooded, endangering the cooling system which is crucial to prevent the excessive heating of fuel rods that could result in a core reactor meltdown, triggering unimaginable damage. While clean energy is no doubt a necessity, it would be worthwhile to weigh its benefits against the possibility of a disaster caused by circumstances beyond our control. As the UPA Government, more so Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, goaded by the US and other Western countries eager to export the hardware for nuclear power plants to India at a time when nobody seems to want them either in Europe or in America, pushes for expediting the process of setting up nuclear power reactors, the people of this country should raise the red flag and call for caution. Apart from the fact that most Indians can't afford the cost of nuclear power, no Indian would want a meltdown.







In the three months since the Arab unrest began with protests in Tunisia, the past week has possibly been the biggest setback in the march towards democratic rule in the region as Libyan leader Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces regained control over several cities that had fallen to rebels. The town of Zawiyah, only 40 km west of the capital of Tripoli, was one of the first to fall to pro-Gaddafi forces. It had been a rebel stronghold for two weeks, secured by former military men and decorated with the opposition flag. By last week, however, the rebels had been overpowered by the regime's tanks and machine guns. Since then, the city has been largely deserted although the signs of previous dissent are still noticeable in the faint outlines of wall graffiti, visible under its day-old coat of whitewash. Through the past week, fighting between Col Gaddafi's forces and the rebels continued unabated along Libya's east-west coastal highway. Violence gripped the country's main oil-producing town, Ras Lanuf, where the opposing groups clashed on Friday. By the end of the day, Col Gaddafi's forces had taken over the town although the rebels held on to the oil terminals; these they lost the following day when regime supporters launched another deadly round of attack, on the ground and from the air. Essentially out-gunned and overpowered by pro-Gaddafi forces that have superior weapons and are much better armed, the rebels were forced to beat a retreat but their leaders have promised to regroup and hit back with vengeance. In the meantime, a newly emboldened Col Gaddafi continued with his assault. He stormed the city of Brega — which had been taken over by the rebels only last week — with his tanks, artillery and gun-ships and was on his way to the rebel-headquarters in Benghazi.

With Col Gaddafi gaining more ground and the rebels getting increasingly desperate for any sort of international intervention, despite the fact that it could possibly taint their independent uprising, the international community is considering all possible options, including a full-scale military intervention. On Saturday, the Arab League approved the imposition of a no-fly zone and that is only one of the several steps being taken to contain Col Gaddafi's rampage. At the same time, the Arab League remains opposed to direct intervention. The Libyan leader has already lost much of his legitimacy and this was most evident in France's recognition of the National Transitional Council, an opposition-led interim governing council which is headed by the former Minister of Justice, Mustafa Abdul Jalil. It is difficult to predict what the week ahead has in store for the Libyan people but it continues to be a tense situation with international forces preparing to intervene and Col Gaddafi showing no signs of letting go of power.









Pakistan is caught in a vortex of jihadi violence for which it has only itself to blame. A country founded on the ideology of hate couldn't have fared any better.

The recent spate of violent incidents in Pakistan has left the uninitiated, particularly the peaceniks, shocked, startled and dazed. The internecine war between various jihadi groups in the name of Islam continues unabated. Fundamentalists are also targetting what remains of religious minority communities, particularly Hindus, in Pakistan. In the process, the country is falling apart and is being increasingly seen as a failed state by the rest of the world.

The seeds of the spiralling violence were sown in the very ideology which led to Pakistan's creation. The demand for an independent Islamic state in the Indian sub-continent was fuelled by two factors — pride in their past among Muslims and their fear of the future in a Hindu-dominated India.

The Muslim elite of pre-partition India that provided leadership to the Muslim masses was caught in a time warp and dreamed of reliving the Mughal glory. After the departure of the British, the prospects of competing with the Hindus (whom they had ruled) in a democratic set-up as equals frightened them. British imperialists and Indian Communists helped the Muslims to divide India.

Hate drove the Muslim League in the 1940s and led to the birth of Pakistan. In those days, it was hatred towards Hindus and Sikhs. After the creation of Pakistan, successive regimes in Pakistan have survived on hate — the objects of their hatred have changed over the decades. In a sense, hate unites the idea and the ideologues of Pakistan.

Mohammed Ali Jinnah, a non-practising, Westernised Muslim, did not get the support of his community so long as he was secular. After his historic split with the Congress and the Muslim League's adoption of the two-nation theory, he emerged as the 'sole spokesman' of the sub-continent's Muslims. Jinnah articulated what his new-found constituency wanted him to say; hence his denunciation and repudiation of India's age-oldvalues of universal brotherhood and religious pluralism.

Jinnah's concept of a Muslim majority 'secular' Pakistan was consistent with the aspirations of the Muslim masses who had forced partition on India to realise their dream of acquiring for themselves a 'land of the pure'. It stood to logic that in such a land there could not be any space for the 'non-pure'. The cleansing of the religious minority communities is rooted in this perception of Pakistan among Pakistanis. With each step in militarising Pakistan came the strengthening of its jihadi ideology and the institutions that have fuelled hatred at home and abroad.

This is best exemplified by civilian rulers and military dictators competing to prove who is a stronger defender of Islam. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto stumped the Generals after the break-up of Pakistan and the birth of Bangladesh, and promised an 'Islamic Bomb'. Later, he was sacked and hanged by General Zia-ul-Haq who became Pakistan's most rabid military ruler. Gen Zia then set about the task of Islamising Pakistan and creating a social, economic and political order in which only fanatics could survive.

Today, the Pakistani military sets the terms and the mullahs define the socio-political agenda for the Government to follow. The military and the mullahs compete as well as co-operate to be the effective rulers of the country. As a result, Pakistan's so-called 'civil society', which was in the forefront of the movement against General Pervez Musharraf, has now gone silent.

The nature of the killings and the Pakistani Government's helplessness in the face of this upsurge of Talibani terror explain the predicament of that country. The military that funds part of the mullah-inspired militancy uses it to scare away the Americans who have to depend increasingly on the military leadership as a counter-balance the mullahs. All the stakeholders in Pakistan seem to be investing in violence and disorder as the Americans, who need Pakistan to support their operations in Afghanistan, wring their hands in despair. Meanwhile, Pakistan descends into deepening chaos.

What is not only surprising but also alarming is that in our own country neither Muslim leaders nor pseudo-secularists who pander to the orthodoxy and shut their eyes to the jihadi mindset do not seem to be interested in drawing any lessons from the developments in Pakistan.

Islam is a minority religion in Europe but decades of pseudo-secularists ignoring the jihadi mindset has resulted in a serious threat of terrorism overwhelming the elected Governments and undermining the liberal societies of Britain, Germany, France and other European nations. Mr David Cameron in Britain, Mr Nicholas Sarkozy in France and Ms Angela Merkel in Germany are now loath to praise multiculturalism that has become a convenient cloak for Islamic fanaticism and Muslim separatism. There is greater appreciation now in Europe of the problems posed by exclusivism and bigotry in the name of faith.

But in India nothing has changed. We still continue to treat Muslims as an exclusive community and their institutions as beyond Government's control although they are funded by the public exchequer and with taxpayers' money. A case in point is the absurd designation of Jamia Millia Islamia, a Central university funded by the Government of India, as a minority institution. That this negates the urgent need for liberal, cosmopolitan centres of learning is of no consequence to those who promote Muslim exclusivism. This in turn has led to the growth of fanaticism among a section of India's Muslims spread across the country. For instance, the 80 absconding SIMI activists come from different States.

It is for the Muslim leadership and secularists to answer the question why the jihadi mindset finds empathy in their community in several districts of the country. Azamgarh in Uttar Pradesh, the Malabar region of Kerala, the Kashmir Valley are some of the places where it is most evident.

Meanwhile, life has come full circle for Pakistan. Hate is a poor glue to keep people together.






After dislodging Ben Ali from power and triggering a chain reaction across Arabia against entrenched regimes, Tunisians discover nothing has changed for them, says Karin Laub


From the sleepy town of Sidi Bouzid in Tunisia, revolution swept across the Arab world. But while one man's act of defiance and despair has transformed West Asia, it has changed little in his hometown.

Residents of Sidi Bouzid can now express their anger more freely. But they're still clamouring for jobs and rail against the official chicanery that drove a local fruit vendor, Mohammed Bouazizi, to set himself on fire on December 17.

The desperate act by the high-school dropout set off mass protests that brought down President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali in less than a month. The revolt inspired others who toppled Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, launched an armed rebellion against Libyan despot Muammar Gaddafi, and rattled Governments in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere.

The protests have common roots: Anger against official corruption and political oppression, a 'youth bulge' that means economies cannot grow fast enough to provide jobs for all, and growing expectations of a better life as a result of improved education and widespread Internet and satellite TV access.

In Sidi Bouzid, a town of about 70,000 people and the provincial capital of a district of about 4,10,000 people in Tunisia's central plain, disillusionment has largely replaced the euphoria of the uprising. Unemployed young men spend their days playing cards in coffee shops, dreaming of sneaking into Europe. Since the overthrow of President Ben Ali, thousands of Tunisians have attempted the dangerous trip across the choppy Mediterranean in old fishing boats.

Other job-seekers throng the local Governor's office, just yards from where the 26-year-old Bouazizi turned himself into a human torch, to try to press crumpled CVs and college diplomas into the hands of officials across coils of barbed wire. Officials say they had to barricade the compound because they fear angry crowds might try to break in.

But for those waiting outside the gates — some come every day and try for hours to get someone's attention — the barriers signal that those in charge now are as inaccessible as their predecessors.

"I don't understand why the Governor cannot open the door," said job-seeker Kamal Hamdi, 38, who holds a degree in economics, but has been forced to work as a waiter for the past 11 years because there are no jobs in his field. "Since the revolution, nothing has changed," said Hamdi, a father of three. "We threw out Ben Ali, that's all."

Unemployment is perhaps most demoralising for the young men who spearheaded the street protests after Bouazizi's self-immolation and now find themselves back in the coffee shops, smoking and talking about ways to get to Europe. One of them is Ali Chouaibi, 22, who earns a little spending money with odd jobs, such as fixing antennas. "We think that work is dignity. We are people without dignity," said Chouaibi. "I want to live a normal life... to marry the woman I love, because without money, you can't marry."

Tunisia's interim Government is appealing for patience, saying it needs time to put in place an ambitious economic development plan. Officials promise that remote places like Sidi Bouzid, which saw the earliest and some of the bloodiest protests, will be given priority as part of this plan.

However, with Tunisia still trying to find its way after the uprising, it appears unlikely the transition Government will get much done. The interim Cabinet has already gone through several shake-ups, sporadic street protests in the capital continue, and elections are set for July for a body meant to rewrite the Constitution and pave the way for a presidential vote. That leaves not much time to get started on massive job-creation programmes.

Meanwhile, unemployment is almost certain to rise from the pre-revolt national average of 14 per cent because the unrest devastated Tunisia's tourism industry. Before President Ben Ali's downfall, tourism employed about 4,00,000 people, or 10 per cent of the working age population. Tourism revenues fell 40 per cent from January into February, Tourism Minister Mehdi Houas said recently, adding that the situation might even be worse, with many businesses fearing collapse if tourists don't return soon.

In some respects, Tunisia seems better off than some of its neighbours. The youth bulge is not nearly as big as in some Arab countries, such as Yemen. Per capita income stands at around $9,500, or lower middle in a worldwide comparison. And Ben Ali's Government spent huge sums on education, creating a growing crop of university graduates.

However, in rural districts like Sidi Bouzid, where jobs for academics are scarce, that has created even more discontent. At least 6,000 university graduates in the Province are unemployed, local officials say.

Among those waiting outside the Governor's office last Wednesday was Ida Hamidi, 27, who is seeking jobs for five college-educated siblings, with degrees in sports, biology, computer science, finance and French, respectively.

Hamidi said she has made the 60 km trip from her village repeatedly in recent days, walking for several miles to catch a bus to the provincial capital. She said she has so far had no luck delivering her siblings' CVs, let alone speak to an official inside. Barely holding back tears of frustration, she said life hasn't changed since the uprising.

The post-revolt Government has replaced top officials, including regional Governors, and insists it's now following an open-door policy.

Sidi Bouzid's new deputy Governor, Ali Rahal, said that all those seeking jobs will get a hearing, but was evasive when asked about specific job-creation plans.

Rahal, who until recently taught philosophy in a nearby town, acknowledged the enormous challenge. "The number (of unemployed) is very big," said the 36-year-old who spent the morning listening to demands from businessmen and area politicians crowding into his office. "This will not be solved overnight."

Despite disillusionment in Sidi Bouzid, there's also pride in having made history as the catalyst of a regionwide protest movement. Bouazizi, the fruit vendor, was an unlikely hero. For the past seven years, he had been the family's main breadwinner, selling fruit from his pushcart.

On December 17, municipal inspectors confiscated his scales and his wares, on grounds that he did not have a vending permit, said his mother, Manoubiyeh. She said one of the inspectors also slapped him in public. Incensed by the humiliation, Bouazizi asked to complain to the Governor, but was ignored, his mother said. He then doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire outside the Governor's office. He suffered severe burns and died on January 4.

Despite her grief, Bouazizi said she is proud of her son. "He was the reason of the revolution that started from Sidi Bouzid and reached Egypt and Libya," she said. The young vendor is buried in a small cemetery nestled among olive trees and cactus fruit, near his home village of Grab Ben Noor, a few miles from Sidi Bouzid. A red Tunisian flag marks the grave of whitewashed stone.

In the center of Sidi Bouzid, Bouazizi's photograph has been attached to a gold-coloured sculpture of a dove, as a makeshift memorial until a proper one is build. The white wall behind the sculpture is covered with red graffiti in English, French and Arabic. "Stand up for your rights," reads one of the slogans.

Other attempts are being made to immortalise the young vendor.

A Tunisian filmmaker Mohamed Zran said he plans to make a movie about Bouazizi's life and visited the family home this week for research. Zran said freedom was hard-won and needs to be protected, but that the international community must also help Tunisia during the difficult transition.

He said the country's potential is boundless because of the energies set free by the uprising. "I am not afraid of the future," he said.

-- Karin Laub wrote this report for the Associated Press. Bouazza Ben Bouazza contributed to the report.







A massive show of force by Saudi Arabia's Government snuffed out a Facebook-based effort to stage unprecedented pro-democracy protests in the capital last Friday, but political unrest and sectarian tensions roiled neighbouring Yemen and Bahrain.

With uprisings threatening allies on its eastern and southern flanks, the Sunni Saudi monarchy appeared to be taking no chances in its effort to keep the popular push for democracy in the Arab world from spreading to the world's largest crude oil exporter.

In the heavily Shia eastern Saudi province, hundreds of protesters marched in at least four different locations, calling for the release of political prisoners and demanding reform.

In the city of Qatif, not far from Bahrain, armoured personnel carriers and dozens of officers in riot gear surrounded several hundred demonstrators shouting calls for reforms and equality between the sects. Police opened fire in the city to disperse a protest late Thursday in an incident that left three protesters and one officer wounded, but there was no repeat of that violence.

In a video posted on social networking websites, a helicopter hovered over a few hundreds male protesters in a small street in the town of al-Ahsa in the Eastern Province. Protesters chanted: "The people want justice and equality." It was not possible to independently confirm the footage.

Yemen's President of 32 years appeared to be one of the Arab leaders most threatened by the regional unrest inspired by pro-democracy revolts in Egypt and Tunisia.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters gathered in Yemen's four largest provinces, ripping down and burning President Ali Abdullah Saleh's portraits in Sheikh Othman, the most populated district in the southern port city of Aden, witnesses said.

Security forces hurled tear gas into crowds close to a stadium and then opened fire, using machine guns mounted on vehicles, said eyewitness Sind Abdullah, 25.

In the conservative capital, Sanaa, thousands of women participated in demonstrations — a startling move in a deeply tribal society where women are expected to stay out of sight.

Demonstrators demanded jobs and greater political freedom and decried Saleh's proposal Thursday that the Government create a new Constitution guaranteeing the independence of parliament and the judiciary, calling it too little and too late.

The autocratic leader is also an ally in the Obama Adminstration's push to eliminate the local branch of Al Qaeda, which has attempted to attack the US. He has also worked closely with the Saudis to quash his own Shia uprising in the north.

In the Saudi capital, security forces who took up positions on corners and intersections as at least one helicopter buzzed overhead. Police blocked roads and set up random checkpoints, searching residents and vehicles around a central mosque as large numbers of people gathered for Friday prayers.

Government minders escorted journalists around the city, where they were shown a man, who gave his name as Khaled al-Juhni, standing outside a Government building, shouting calls for more freedoms.

Police and journalists watched as the man criticised the regime as a "police state" and "a big prison" before he got in his car and left.

A Government official said security measures around state-run oil giant Saudi Aramco and its oil facilities in the east were beefed up protectively in case of any violence. The company is based in the Dhahran district on the kingdom's eastern coast.

Investors are sensitive to any sign of upheaval in Saudi Arabia because the OPEC leader has been using its spare capacity to make up for output lost amid the violent uprising against Libya's Government. When news broke that Saudi Arabian police fired shots to break up the protest Thursday, prices soared $3 in just 12 minutes.

Shias make up 10 per cent of the kingdom's 23 million citizens and have long complained of discrimination, saying they are barred from key positions in the military and Government and are not given an equal share of the country's wealth.

Last month, the ultraconservative Saudi Government announced an unprecedented economic package worth an estimated $36 billion that will give Saudis interest-free home loans, unemployment assistance and debt forgiveness.

At the same time, it reiterated that demonstrations are forbidden in the kingdom.

So far, any demonstrations have been small, concentrated in the east among Shias demanding the release of detainees. But activists set up Facebook groups calling for protests in Riyadh and one group garnered more than 30,000 supporters of its demands for free elections.









The images of devastation and suffering streaming out of Japan are a tragic echo of scenes we have seen far too often in the past decade. But without minimising the tragedy in any way, the damage in terms of human lives has been remarkably contained relative to what might have been, considering that at 8.9 on the Richter scale this was the worst earthquake in Japan's recorded history, followed by a tsunami originating close to Japanese shores that was even more devastating.

For that, all credit must go to successive Japanese administrations and to civil society itself. Situated on the Ring of Fire - an arc of seismic activity around the Pacific Basin - Japan has been hit time and again by devastating earthquakes, from the one in Tokyo in 1923 to Kobe in 1995. But the Japanese have drawn their lessons from these. From the world's most sophisticated earthquake early warning systems to an extensive tsunami warning sensor network; from building codes that keep such exigencies in mind to thorough disaster management plans at every administrative level. Nevertheless the scale of the tragedy is colossal, and the world must be unstinting in its support. New Delhi, too, must help in whatever capacity it can.

Which prompts questions about response and mitigation plans in India. The Indian subcontinent is prone to dangerous earthquakes with five having taken place in the past two decades. The latest surveys indicate that about 60% of the country is at some risk of experiencing an earthquake, and several major metropolitan centres including the national capital fall in high-risk zones. The World Health Organisation has rated India's disaster preparedness fairly well, but there is a difference between adequate policies and effective implementation. For instance, very few institutions here offer any training in earthquake engineering or integrate it with civil engineering. Even existing regulations are more honoured in the breach than in the observance. Nor is disaster management integrated into developmental planning as it is elsewhere.

Development of better building codes, strict enforcement of existing ones, creation of disaster management plans and response bodies from the local level to the central, streamlining of the relevant administrative machinery with funding and jurisdiction clearly demarcated - these are all measures the government must take, and soon. Considering the possibility of a meltdown of nuclear reactors at Fukushima, a thorough safety audit must be conducted of Indian nuclear plants - to test whether they can withstand the severest possible earthquakes. Unless these measures are taken, the cost of India's lack of preparedness may turn out to be devastating.







The 14th Dalai Lama's decision to relinquish his political authority while retaining his spiritual role marks a significant development for the Tibetan community around the world. For more than five decades, the Dalai Lama has been the focal point of the Tibetan movement for self-determination. Under his stewardship, the demand for a free Tibet was refined to 'meaningful autonomy'. However, at 76, the Buddhist leader is well aware that if the Tibetan movement is to last beyond him it cannot be centred on the cult of an individual. Particularly so when the institution of the Dalai Lama as the temporal head of the Tibetan community can itself prove to be a stumbling block. With the Chinese government insisting that the next reincarnation of the Dalai Lama must be born in Chinese-controlled Tibet and with the Panchen Lama already having been appropriated by Beijing, the Tibetan movement needs a long-term solution to the leadership question.

This is precisely why the Dalai Lama has decided to devolve his political powers to the next elected prime minister of the Tibetan government-in-exile. This body isn't recognised by the Indian government or for that matter any government in the world, and its influence is strictly limited. Nevertheless the move is bound to change the character of the Tibetan movement, as its direction can no longer be attributed to (or blamed on) a single individual. It will be an irritant for Beijing, not only because it is likely to keep the flag of self-determination flying but also because it raises the question of representative democracy to which
Beijing is sensitive. Managing the consequences of the Dalai Lama's googly could also become a diplomatic challenge for New Delhi.






Who foresaw that a slap by a police constable on the face of a young, street vendor demonstrating against harassment by local authorities in a small town in Tunisia would redefine the political landscape of North Africa and possibly the Middle East? Who anticipated the fall of the Berlin Wall; the collapse of the Soviet Union; the election of a black US president; the fading lustre of market capitalism and resurrection of Keynesianism; the see-sawing of oil prices from approximately $40 per barrel in January to nearly $150 in July to $40 again by December in the same calendar year? Certainly no political seer called it, no economist can claim credit and no corporate executive predicted the gyrations in oil prices.

The fact is that those who have peered at the future through the lens of the past and have conditioned their sightings by the 'sunk cost' of the present have visualised things that took shape in academic commentary but not in reality. It is becoming increasingly clear that the collage of technology, connectivity and individual aspiration that suffuses public life today has stood conventional wisdom on its head. It is also clear that while history continues to provide a guidepost for the future, its drumbeats have weakening resonance. The thread that binds the past to the present and extends into the future is fragile, and in many places it has ruptured.

The challenge therefore is to identify these ruptures, to distil the signals and signposts that might better help anticipate the unexpected, and to create an intellectual frame that will facilitate a critical but constructive questioning of established orthodoxy. This is a big challenge but, as a first step towards meeting it, one can posit the four important discontinuities that have been triggered by contemporary political, social, economic and technological forces.

First, the people are restive. They are not happy with established institutions of governance. They want greater transparency and accountability. Technology is part cause and consequence of this restiveness. It has empowered people by providing them access to multiple sources of information and the ability to connect with each other. The consequence of empowerment is a questioning of the existing social contract and the amplification of unpredictable behaviour. The state is on the horns of a dilemma. It knows it must somehow find ways of addressing public grievances that arise from relative deprivation. It also knows that it cannot do this satisfactorily without changing the status quo and vested interests.

Second, the economics of globalisation is outpacing the politics of globalisation. The world is no doubt connected but it is not a global village, geography has not become history. On the contrary as is evident from the failure to address global issues like climate change ( Copenhagen, Cancun) or trade liberalisation (Doha), it is nationalism, regionalism and ascriptive identity that continue to determine behaviour. 'Minilateralism' (defined as 'the smallest number of countries required to ensure the largest impact') rather than multilateralism looks increasingly like becoming the basis for future international dialogue.


Third, the arc of the regulatory pendulum has shortened. It no longer swings from the side of free market fundamentalism to the end of total state control. It moves instead within a narrower space which suggests that on one hand regulations will tighten but on the other regulatory interventions will operate within the frame of market liberalism. It also suggests that while the precise nature of the relationship between the state and the market will be determined by context, stage of development and the predilections of
leaders, the fluidity of the relationship will enhance both uncertainty and opportunity.

Finally, the world is fast urbanising. It is estimated that three-quarters of the global population of nine billion in 2050 will be living in cities. Given that current decisions on urban planning and urban infrastructure will hardwire energy demand, water consumption and environmental condition for decades to come, the quality of urban governance today will be a crucial determinant of the quality of human lifestyle in the future.

The confluence of these four 'discontinuities' compels a hard look at established wisdom. In India, for instance, it is assumed (and correctly so in my view) that, among other things, the safety valve of democracy protects us from the type of unrest currently transforming Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. Should this assumption however be challenged? After all, unemployment, the youth bulge, income inequality, corruption, poor governance - the very ingredients that combusted in North Africa - are with us in India. Also, it could be argued that the valve of democracy is opened only once every five years but kept tightly shut in the intervening period.

It is also established wisdom that our paramilitary/armed services are totally 'apolitical'. There is no evidence to suggest otherwise but might there still be merit in asking: How does a middle-rank officer or jawan feel having to clean up the detritus left behind by civilian incompetence and corruption? Police constables in India have often been accused of raising their hand against hapless, unconnected and underprivileged youth. Should one ask what might be the consequence of a 'slap' too many?

The writer is chairman, Shell Companies in India. Views are personal.









Is it just me or was something quite simply missing at this year's Academy Awards? For some reason, they seemed less glitzy, less starry, less impressive. Even the famous, opening monologue with its trademark irreverent humour was missing. And if the Oscars are called the greatest show on earth, then the red carpet event before that is the greatest bore on earth - comprising of little more than who's designing whose gown and who's hanging on to whose arm. And what was A R Rahman doing, pushing his wife into the background unlike others who brought their women up front to share their limelight?

The choice of Oscar winners once again showed up that like India, America too has never got over her penchant for her colonial rulers, as was evident by the inevitable winning Brit flick about repressed royalty and ageing dowagers. Bollywood would, however, do well to take heed of the treatment given to a speech impediment like stammering, instead of deriding it as they tend to (which is ironic, considering that half of our filmmakers and most of our audiences are cerebrally challenged anyway to begin with).

Once again, the Indian entry got eliminated following the nomination, which is nothing surprising really. Perhaps, as has been commented, we are focusing more on Aamir Khan the star rather than on the actual choice of film, and in the process, the truly deserving ones get left out sometimes. More importantly, Anushka Rizvi, the producer of Peepli Live badly needs a reality check for saying that the film didn't need lobbying since the "world was aware of it". This is similar to a typically leftist mindset that sees all advertising as a capitalist brainwashing conspiracy - or all those deluded politicians and diplomats over the years who claimed that everybody acknowledges and bows to our so-called spiritual superiority and ancient traditions!

Then there is the brigade that mourns India being overlooked unfairly at the awards, just because our movies don't have the so-called European sensibilities - whatever that means. Forget about 'sensibilities', half the time, what we lack are even basic 'sanities'. Most people from another country who see an average Bollywood movie come out thinking that these guys have some real serious issues worth exploring - preferably on a shrink's couch. The academy is also accused of a subtle racial bias - our favourite trump card when everything else fails - on the grounds that since we make the largest number of films in the world, seen by international audiences, we deserve recognition in the form of awards and accolades. But most of the people seeing Indian films abroad are usually other Indians.

Above all, we need to realise that contrary to the overrated opinion we may have of our films, the rest of the world may not be as obliging. Do we really think that others are going to give a horse's behind about our penchant for cricket - much less a three-hour-long one? One shudders to think of some of India's entry in past years - like Jeans, Indian and Parinda. What would the jury have thought of Anupam Kher and Anil Kapoor bursting into a song while mouthing declarations of undying love? European sensibilities? I think not. Finally, the story goes that the statuette got its name when someone felt it looked like his "Uncle Oscar". So what should one call its Indian counterpart, the black lady? Perhaps with the pose she's striking, not to mention her curves, Savita bhabhi might not be a bad idea.




Q & A




What were the circumstances under which you came to design and develop the ACD?

The recurring loss of lives in collisions prompt a few words of shock and solace, besides some compensation, followed by same old routine of inquiries and announcements of mega investments in safety. Shamed by this charade as a railway engineer, i visualised and configured a safety network of decentralised units that is much more effective than the centralised European system. The ACDs can see far ahead of loco drivers, respond faster to exigencies and chat with their counterparts.

How does a product like the Anti-Collision Device mark the successful example of public-private partnership?

A patent is as good as a piece of paper unless it is produced and commercialised. I consider the MOUs between the Konkan Railway and Kernex Microsystems, a deemed public-private initiative, unique in our country. This experiment has produced a very sophisticated knowledge embedded next generation ACD. Kernex took all the risk for raising the capital, both human and financial and developing the manufacturing technology as required, in return for manufacturing rights, while Konkan Railway retained marketing rights. The arrangement has survived a decade of trials and tribulations. The cost of development is the lowest in the world for this type of functional product.

Given your long stint with the Railways, do you see any technical problems likely to arise in ACDs' implementation and how can they be overcome?

Really there are few technical problems now in implementation. What i can foresee are ownership problems. Who will take over and maintain the sophisticated microprocessor-based system? The Railways should nominate competent persons, trained to maintain the system at the manufacturing facility. I feel that a miniaturised version of ACD should be permanently fixed to the guard's cabin at the tail end of a train, instead of having it carried daily into such a cabin or van, which is open to human error.

Why do you think it took the Railways so long to accept the ACDs, despite certification by Lloyds Research, Design and Standards Organisation (RDSO) and Electronics Test and Development Centre (ETDC)?

The experts in signals did find it very difficult to accept the ACDs, influenced more by the high-pressure sales pitch of multinationals. Besides, repeated testing of the safety device, when the Railway Board shifted mutually agreed goal posts from time to time, delayed the ACDs. Like ants, ACDs are weak individually but phenomenally powerful when networked. They function like the fuzzy logic of our brains to prevent collision on all stretches, delivering much more than the centralised and prohibitively expensive European system.

In a recent letter to railway minister Mamata Banerjee, you drew her attention towards powerful lobbies and bureaucratic systems which could still create hurdles in ACDs' implementation. How?

Technology wars are fought by proxy. The inimical lobbies may sow seeds of fear and doubt by saying Konkan Railway should now have multi-vendors, misquoting Central Vigilance Commission guidelines. Proprietary products have separate status. Public interest is well protected in the current arrangement. But if the authorities fall prey to the fears created by the bureaucracy, then ACD will not be implemented. We will see only court cases. I hope not. It's wiser to see it as a successful public-private initiative, which will add a feather to the Railways' cap. I wish RDSO adopts this as a standard model to deliver new research products.







The CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat moves in mysterious ways, he blunders to perform, it would seem. Why else would he dilly-dally with announcing the candidature of Kerala chief minister VS Achuthanandan from his constituency in Palakkad even as the other candidates are being finalised.

The chief minister may be getting on a bit but he, like the prime minister, is still a major vote-catcher and can ride on his reputation for integrity. It is not as though the Left is sitting pretty either in West Bengal or Kerala. In Bengal, despite trying to portray the Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee as a flaky leader with no agenda, the reality is that the Left is battling anti-incumbency and a problem of leadership. Ms Banerjee holds out hope for change though we are yet to ascertain what that might be.

For a party which seems allergic to the Congress high command style of functioning, the Left's reliance on the dictates of its unelected leaders in Delhi is passing strange. The politburo headed by the inimitable Mr Karat appears quite fond of deciding the fate of the party in the states where it still has a presence through the curious process of bypassing the opinions of elected state leaders. During the last assembly elections, Mr Karat was loath to hand over the chief ministership to Mr Achuthanandan even when it was crystal clear that the party rode to victory on his coattails. In West Bengal, Mr Karat and Co did not back chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's efforts to bring industrialisation to the moribund state.

Change has been anathema to the politburo in both states that have been hobbled by aggressive unions and chronic lack of employment. That Ms Banerjee too has not spelt out her blueprint for change or her vision for a young population is worrying but people seem willing to take a chance on someone, anyone, who is not from the Left.

The Left in Kerala could have taken advantage of the fact that the Indian Union Muslim League, an ally of the rival United Democratic Front, is embroiled in a sex scandal. But it has been too busy with its own factional squabbling. If the Left loses these two states, and there is every indication it will, the party will be marginalised as never before. It has no political space at the Centre anymore, no second rung leadership to speak of and no new thinking to offer.

The best that Mr Karat can say is that his party will not disappear in both states. But for Karat in Blunderland, its presence could well be like that of the Cheshire cat.





Bargain hunting is an art. And we Indians have perfected it. From grocery shopping to buying tickets, we demand our cut. Nothing makes us happier than those signboards and advertisements announcing the end of season sales. And we certainly know how to do that percentage calculation in real time. So when the Experian Hitwise Travel report confirmed our numero uno status in this department, we just smiled and popped up the collar. The report, released last week, surveyed about 2 lakh websites, 119 industries and over 60 lakh search terms to figure out what was always known to us: Indian travellers search the most for the cheapest airline, bus and train tickets.

While some may think that the study is unfair, biased and downgrades our status, we think that the report should be taken in the right spirit: it just shows we are smart and intelligent. We know how to stretch the rupee and get its value's worth. Having popped our collar once again (thank you!), we must also add that the company is pretty daft to spend money on a survey like this since half of the world must be engaging

in the same thing: looking for cheap tickets. As far as we are concerned, the words 'free', 'cheap' and 'sale' evoke the same sentiments the world over (think: the annual Harrods sale). Considering half of the world is still neck-deep in recession and can't even think of travelling club or 'cattle' class, the intrepid Indian traveller is at least keeping many an airline afloat. Just look at the number of countries that are hankering for their share in the travel pie.

As for the airlines, they shouldn't be too worried that we only eye cheap tickets. Our market is big enough to ensure a steady supply of travellers: the less the price, the more will join the bandwagon. And yes, before feeling disheartened with our purchasing power, ask a certain Captain GR Gopinath how he managed to avoid turbulence and make merry while the world gloomed and doomed.






Last week, the Dalai Lama announced that he is giving up his political role. This news came as a shock to many and left the Tibet polity all shaken up. However, this desire is not new. The only difference is that his earlier pronouncements on the issue were wishes and suggestions. But this time, it seems he has made a firm decision.

The Dalai Lama's decision has put six million Tibetans in a fix. A vast majority of them, particularly the senior leaders, want their 75-year-old god-king to continue. Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister of the Tibetan government-in- exile, also wants him to stay. However, this is not because Tibetan leaders are scared of taking on the challenge. It is because they cannot think of doing anything without the Dalai Lama leading them. A decision on this will be taken during the Tibetan Parliament, which begins today. If the decision is 'yes', then the House has to amend the charter that gives the Dalai Lama sweeping powers in all spheres of governance, including dissolution of Parliament. Election, if needed, will be held on March 20.

If the Tibetan Parliament accepts the Dalai Lama's decision, there would be serious implications not only for China but also for India. New Delhi may have to redo its Tibet policy because the younger generation of Tibetans is not as flexible as the Dalai Lama. And that could put both India and China in a spot. But any change is good and, in this case, it is a must. As the Dalai Lama himself said, an elected political leadership will create the right kind of atmosphere for the future.

India must shed its fear of an uncertain future and welcome the change. China, too, is scared of the unknown. The Dalai Lama, though an institution in himself, is a single person to handle. But with an elected political head, Beijing will have to deal with too many divergent views.

A democratically elected political head will spoil their 'after-Dalai' plan. The Dalai Lama wants to foil any such move by China. China watchers feel Beijing is just waiting for the post-Dalai Lama days so that they could have their own Dalai Lama. On this too, the Dalai Lama has made it clear that the next Dalai Lama, if any, will be born only in a democratic country and not in China! This has put China in a fix and a recent statement by the Chinese leadership said that the Dalai Lama has no right to change the established norms of Tibetan Buddhism and that he can't choose his own successor. But the Dalai Lama has no such compulsions. For him, the best way is the one that suits Tibetans the best.

Despite the Dalai Lama initiating the move to end his political leadership, his spiritual leadership will continue. And after him 26-year-old Karmapa Rinpoche will take over. It would be in the interest of the Tibetans themselves if they allow the Dalai Lama to fulfil his wishes in his lifetime. n




The case of Aruna Shanbaug in the Supreme Court, which has brought the subject of euthanasia into public debate, is in one way typical of such cases, and in another way, not typical at all.

It's not typical because her family is not involved in any decision-making on her behalf: apparently members of her family (sister, niece and so on) stopped visiting her four years after she was admitted to hospital in a vegetative state; since then none of them have been to see her at any time. In a sense, therefore, she has been dead to them for the last 33 years.

Who can blame them? Her closest living relative seems to be an older sister who ekes out a meagre living for herself. Would she be in a position to pay for Aruna's hospitalisation? The answer is clearly no. So if KEM Hospital — and the Bombay Municipal Corporation — weren't willing to foot the enormous bill, how would Aruna be kept alive? The particular circumstances of her tragedy — she was a nurse at the hospital, the criminal assault on her was by a KEM staffer, she was assaulted on the hospital premises — has compelled KEM to continue paying for her treatment.

There is another special feature in the case, which is the extraordinary dedication of the nursing staff at the hospital that ministers to her every need day and night, and has done so selflessly for 37 years.

But is this particular combination always possible? Discussions on euthanasia seldom take into account the people around the patient. Are they in a position to pay for life-long care? If they are not, which would be true of most families, does the debate on euthanasia then centre around only on well-off patients, or those under State care?

Apart from the financial aspect, there is the even more important emotional question to be considered. When the patient is in a vegetative state, he or she does not feel any kind of emotional trauma; it's only those taking care of the patient who feel the daily emotional burden of watching a loved one reduced to a vegetable. What happens to their quality of life? And remember, we are not talking of a trauma lasting a few weeks, but one that can go on for years and years, without any interruption or let up.

Yet, these all important questions, questions which affect whole families engaged full time in the business of survival, are considered irrelevant.

So what is relevant? The most often invoked sentiment from doctors and others involved in these cases is that they do not want to play god and decide who lives and who doesn't. Yet, are they not playing god in keeping alive someone completely unable to look after themselves by feeding them through tubes, and by constant medication? As medicine evolves, and newer and more effective treatments become available, would doctors say they are not playing god by extending the vegetative state of a patient even longer?

Pending legislation on the subject — which the government has now promised to look into — the Supreme Court has formulated an important guideline: 'passive' euthanasia is permissible. The court has elaborated that this means that keeping alive a brain-dead patient by artificial feeding is no longer necessary: doctors can simply stop the treatment and feeds and the already comatose patient will quickly fade away. But this applies only to brain-dead patients. Therefore, euthanasia in the case of Shanbaug was ruled out: she was not considered brain-dead. (Apparently she responds to physical stimuli, reacts to sound and even to changes in her feeds).

This ruling of the court has been hailed as ground breaking but on reflection seems to be only a small tentative step in resolving the question of euthanasia. If a patient's brain has stopped functioning, but his or her heart and other bodily organs still work, that patient is incapable of living in any real sense: the body is a mere shell ticking away to no purpose. Euthanasia in cases like this raises no ethical questions at all.

But they do in cases like Shanbaug's whose brain shows a flicker of life, though her body is completely immobile and incapable of supporting itself. The court has shirked dealing with these questions completely by decreeing that she should be kept alive. Why? At whose cost? Most important of all, to what purpose? If a patient — and here I speak in general, not of Shanbaug — had a brain which were functioning like a normal human brain, even say, a brain with reduced IQ, you could make out a case for keeping the patient alive in the hope that advances in medicine would enable the patient's physical state to improve at a future date. But if the brain is functioning only in the most rudimentary way, how different is that entity from a low life form, say a crustacean?

These are uncomfortable questions and which, if we are lucky, we will never have to personally deal with. But someone, somewhere, will have to face them. It's the duty of the courts, and our law-makers, to think of them.

Anil Dharker is a Mumbai-based author and columnist. The views expressed by the author are personal





It was last month that my column, 'Between Us', crossed 800 weeks of virtually uninterrupted publication in the Hindustan Times. It was perhaps the longest period anyone had written a column based on current affairs in any Indian newspaper. Some days ago, the editor of HT took a decision that there should be a break in its publication. Therefore, the 808th column, which appears today, will probably be my last, at least for some time. I will continue to work for HT and as per the editor's wishes, concentrate more on breaking news and news analysis based on the political acumen I have acquired over 30 years of perceptive persistence.

I have great satisfaction that my column was accepted as a brand by many HT readers and though I received brickbats and bouquets along the 15-and-a-half years span of 'Between Us', I spared no effort in pursuing legitimate and level-headed journalism. I joined this paper on September 1, 1995, as a senior editor-in-charge of Delhi and the NCR after my second stint at The Times of India.

The HT had a long tradition of city coverage chiefs lettering a weekly column on the city's affairs each Sunday. My predecessor, AR Wig, used to write 'Take It From Me' and before him the late Prabha Dutt wrote 'Follow Me Around'. And then before her, the late Raj Gill wrote his weekly column on Delhi. I started 'Between Us' in the second week of September. The column began appearing every Sunday on the top of page three. Subsequently, it carried a logo of the India Gate in the middle. Later, my picture started appearing with the column.

I took up a lot of city issues every week, without no thought to who occupied what position. I wrote critically at times about the policies and actions of powerful people including chief ministers, lieutenant-governors, police chiefs and many civil administrators. In the late 90s, when Delhi faced a huge power crisis due to a faulty distribution and transmission system, I took the then CM, Sahib Singh Verma, to task. I was equally critical of Sushma Swaraj during her brief tenure. I minced no words in taking on the present chief minister, Sheila Dikshit, when I felt that she did not live up to the promise she showed after occupying the same seat.

I gave up my supervision of the city and NCR affairs in September 2001, and was made the political editor. My column thereafter shifted its focus from city to national affairs. It continued to appear every Sunday but gradually moved to Monday on the edit page, then to the oped page and back to the edit page. Though my focus had changed, I continued to write committedly about powerful political players. Narendra Modi, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and LK Advani were some of the top BJP leaders I assessed critically during the NDA's tenure. In fact, when no one thought that the NDA would lose the parliamentary polls in 2004, I was perhaps the only journalist who wrote not once but twice, five or six months ahead of the polls, that the 'shining India' and 'feel good factor' campaign of the BJP was going to boomerang and that the Congress would emerge as the single-largest party.

Many readers have repeatedly accused me of being soft on the Congress and, so, being harsh on the BJP. But there were others who thought that I never hesitated in writing the bare facts. My principle was that politics had to be comprehended through the prism of Niccolo Machiavelli, the statecraft tsar. Meaning: people, by and large, were weak and wanted a strong ruler and that political power does not lie with the person who holds the position but elsewhere. These were the kind of hometruths that needed to be understood and interpreted in simple words for the reader.

During the past year, I could sense the disappointment of people over how the government was run and how the Congress, the grand old party, was deviating from its core beliefs. The criticism was sharp and hard-hitting and I did not mince words in decrying the state of the government or the party.

Kya puchte ho haal mere karobaar ka, andhon ke shahar mein aaina bechta hoon (When you ask what is my vocation, I want to inform you that I sell mirrors in the city of the blind).

As I bid goodbye for now, my commitment to free, frank and fearless journalism will continue. Between us.




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






That our politics has taken a welfarist turn is difficult to deny. Unless that orientation is wedded to a sensible pragmatism, however, there is every chance that the aims of whatever policies are put into place to share the benefits of quick economic growth will stay unrealised. This truth, and the beginnings of a necessary quickness of response, is underlined by a report in this newspaper on Saturday. The government of Uttar Pradesh has had to alter the requirements for a scheme it calls the Mahamaya Gareeb Aarthik Madad Yojna, a direct transfer of cash to the poor — or more precisely, those poor households that neither have cards marking them as below the poverty line, nor are beneficiaries of any other government schemes.

The UP government had estimated that about 30 lakh families would turn out for the transfer — which is not a large amount, Rs 300 a month, though it was upgraded to Rs 400 a month on January 15 this year. Only a fraction of that number, however, asked for the handout. The UP government has correctly interpreted this: it does not mean that there are not at least 30 lakh poor families who would be glad of Rs 300 a month, nor does it mean that all such families are covered by existing government schemes. No, the gap instead pointed to the intensity of the problem the scheme was intended to correct: the difficulty of identifying the poor. Too few have BPL cards; and of those many who do not, it is because they have absolutely no way of interacting with the state. In the UP scheme, a beneficiary was proposed by his local gram sabha, and then needed to have a certificate attesting their income signed by a local tehsildar. That, Lucknow now thinks, was too onerous a requirement for those who were in any case off the map, and the requirement has been withdrawn.

The UP government has shown commendable quickness in trying to reform a scheme that was clearly not working. But, more than that, attention to the problem of inclusion requires more than merely increasing budgetary allocations. It needs a careful tweaking of the mechanisms with which we define beneficiaries, especially as we move, inevitably, to the increasing role of cash transfers as a method of welfare.






The first shot in the battle for the control of Tibetan politics and Himalayan Buddhism after the Dalai Lama has been fired. The pre-emptive salvo came from none other than the Dalai Lama himself when he announced on Thursday his decision to step down as the political head of the Tibetan government-in-exile. For some time now, the Dalai Lama has been hinting at his political retirement. Reincarnated as the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso is both the temporal and spiritual head of the Tibetan people. Exiled in India for more than 50 years — he fled Chinese repression in 1959 — he has sustained the Tibetan struggle for its just rights in China, protected its culture and given it a credible international voice. While the Tibetan parliament meeting shortly might want to reject his decision, the Dalai Lama appears to have made up his mind, in the long-term interests of his people.

At 76, the Dalai Lama knows he has only a few active years left. In calling for an elected political leader, the Dalai Lama hopes to lay a strong democratic foundation for the movement so that it can survive internal division and external manipulation after his departure. Beijing has been waiting patiently for the death of the Dalai Lama to strike at the roots of the Tibetan movement. Organising an orderly political transition might be a lot easier for the Dalai Lama than ensuring there is no chaos in choosing his spiritual successor, the 15th Dalai Lama, which is traditionally done through a "discovery" of the "reincarnation". Beijing will undoubtedly organise its own reincarnation. It has insisted that the Dalai Lama can't choose his successor.

As the prolonged conflict between the Tibetan people and China enters a critical phase, India will be sucked into the vortex. For Tibet is at the very heart of the tensions between China and India since the late 1950s. Beijing must be expected to mount relentless pressure on New Delhi to shut down Tibetan activities after the Dalai Lama's death. Meanwhile, the democratisation of the Tibetan movement will bring multiple voices to the fore. To respond effectively, Delhi must end the kind of incompetence it demonstrated in handling the Karmapa, who heads another branch of Tibetan Buddhism, in recent weeks. Delhi needs to strengthen the interaction with the headquarters of the Tibetan movement in Dharamsala, better equip the state governments of Himachal Pradesh and Karnataka that host a large number of Tibetan refugees, improve the coordination between different Central and state agencies, and provide a higher political direction to the management of Tibetan affairs in India.







High GDP growth in India has created expectations of sustained 9 per cent GDP growth. The government and various forecasters expect the Indian economy to keep growing steadily at 9 per cent year after year. Looking towards China and its multi-decade high GDP growth experience, it has been argued that India can, and should, aim for such growth. This argument translates into a policy stance which encourages expansionary fiscal and monetary policies when growth falls to 7-8 per cent. It is tolerant of higher inflation and it supports an expansion of demand even when inflation is already high.

But is a constant 9 per cent growth rate attainable, or even desirable, for the Indian economy? While high growth is good for personal incomes, and downturns in output and incomes can be painful, slower growth in some periods may sometimes be better suited to the economy. For example, in the current scenario where the economy is producing at nearly full capacity, where inflation is high, where the fiscal deficit is large and real interest rates are negative, a policy of tightening fiscal and monetary policy with a view to reducing aggregate demand will be appropriate. This would be inconsistent with the objective of 9 per cent growth, but would pave the way for long-run sustainable growth.

Macroeconomic policy can stabilise business cycles and reduce the volatility of output. Financial inclusion can reduce the volatility of consumption by giving consumers access to credit that allow them smooth consumption. Social welfare schemes can help people from falling into extreme poverty. But if downturns are altogether prevented by government spending more, or a high supply of credit, the resulting higher inflation can reduce the attractiveness of investment and hurt long-term growth. Similarly, if firms are prevented from closing down by bailing out those that fare badly, by giving them capital injections, cheap bank loans or any other means of public support, this can pave the way for zombie firms, as in Japan. A whole sector can be rendered uncompetitive by the presence of firms which can undercut healthy ones. In other cases, it can create excess capacity in some sectors, as in the case of China where the country's production structure does not match its consumption needs, and consequently growth of output has exceeded growth of consumption leading to disruptive imbalances, both internal and external.

Ever since the mid-1990s when India started witnessing business cycles, as opposed to merely monsoon cycles that it witnessed in the pre-liberalisation decade, the economy has witnessed roughly an average of 7 per cent growth with cycles around the trend. Output has grown roughly within a band of 2 to 2.25 per cent around this trend line with visible periods of up-swings and down-swings.

The presence of cycles around a trend line are consistent with what has been seen in other emerging economies and what economic theory would predict. Business cycles are an integral part of creative destruction. Recessions are the time when inefficient businesses, or those that are no longer in demand, lose their business, are unable to compete, and shut down. Both labour and capital get reallocated to uses that are more efficient, in demand and give consumers what they want. A dynamic and growing economy must see change. Producers making landline telephones when people want to buy cell phones must change their products or go out of business. Companies selling film when consumers are buying digital cameras must face difficulties.

Reallocation of labour and capital is not instantaneous. For labour, there are search costs and costs of learning. There will be periods when growth will not look as good. The question that policy-makers face is whether keeping consumption demand high, in an attempt to eliminate downturns, is a good idea. Long-term investment is necessary for growth and can be hurt by high investment. At the same time, long periods of unemployment and poverty can have huge costs by making large sections of the working force less productive. It is thus not possible to swing to one extreme or another. Macroeconomic policy, which includes both fiscal and monetary policy, has to fine-tune its stance all the time. It is to keep inflation low while not allowing growth to fall too low. The attempt has to be to keep the cycle in a narrow band around the trend line.

The framework of 9 per cent growth for long periods is inconsistent with this view of the Indian economy. In the long run, it is possible that the economy shifts to a higher growth path. The number of literate workers in India will double in 15 years if near-full school enrolment is to have an impact. Similarly, the number of college-educated youth available for employment will double. While the quality of education can be debated, these trends will improve labour productivity. The aim then would be to allow business cycles around a higher-trend growth path, but with low volatility. Neither completely preventing downturns nor allowing long and deep recessions is optimal.

At the present juncture, it is important for policy-makers to move away from the 9 per cent growth target. It can prove to be disruptive because of its implications for inflation. The Union budget of 2011 gave an indication that it would like to move along a path of demand contraction. It, however, did not move away from the 9 per cent target. The 9 per cent target can raise expectations, making it more difficult to make higher interest rates more acceptable. Industry always wants low interest rates, high growth and low inflation. It is usually more vocal in its opposition to higher interest rates, seen as higher cost of capital than to higher inflation. Customers who suffer inflation rarely see the connection. The weak transmission of monetary policy doesn't make it easier as rate hikes have to be large. The Reserve Bank, in its next credit policy, must both move towards a lower growth rate and tighten monetary policy significantly. This would be consistent with longer-term growth.

The writer is a professor at the National Institute of Public Finance and Policy, Delhi








It is rare for the producers of coarse cereals to find space in a Union budget speech. Despite being an important source of cheap food and income for the poorest farmers of this country, these crops are non-glamorous; and thus they are seldom mentioned in the political discourse on Indian agriculture. Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's special reference to them during his recent budget speech, therefore, came as a pleasant surprise.

Coarse grains are often cited for their nutritional value, which is undoubtedly high. But focusing purely on that would be too narrow a perspective. It would, in fact, miss the vital role that these crops play in the lives of many in arid and semi-arid areas. Jowar and bajra are the main staples in at least six states; and many different varieties of millets are the staples in hilly tribal areas. All these crops are rain-fed, and demonstrate no need for external irrigation. This is a quality that we know assumes additional significance, when viewed in the context of the impending impact of global warming on agriculture.

It is obvious, thus, that yield growth in these cereals will pay rich dividends in terms of making an effective dent on poverty as well as on malnutrition among children. But, unfortunately, in recent times, scant attention has been paid to improving the yield of these crops. It is assumed that the best way to escape poverty for coarse-cereal producing farmers and tribals is through their shifting cultivation to high-value crops, such as fruits and vegetables and/ or through the seeking of off-farm income.

Such a shift, though desirable, is difficult to achieve, given the pathetic state of irrigation in dry areas and the inability of poorer farmers to bear the risks associated with such shifts. Maharashtra demonstrates this vividly, with high areas under the cultivation of jowar and bajra, despite being one of the leading states in horticulture and vegetable production. The low level of educational attainment among the rural population in these areas also limits off-farm employment possibilities.

It is thus obvious that coarse cereals will continue to remain a major source of livelihood for a large section of India's agrarian population. There is thus a strong case for supporting these cereals through better prices and improved seeds.

But here's where the problem arises. Instead of creating incentives for improvements in technology and know-how, we have created disincentives. By supplying cheap wheat and rice through the Public Distribution System we have suppressed the prices of these coarser cereals, squeezing the already meagre incomes of the farmers who produce them.

Yet the fact that a food subsidy for wheat and rice seriously and adversely affects the producers of coarse cereals is seldom mentioned in the political debate on food subsidies. It is sadly ironic that a poverty-oriented scheme worsens the spectre of poverty for the poorest of poor farmers.

The suicides of farmers in Vidarbha dominated political discourse for a considerable time, but the steady decline of jowar cultivation in the region because of non-remunerative prices barely received any attention — despite the fact that it also had a large and adverse impact on the availability of fodder for cattle in the region.

Shetkari Sanghatana, a farmers' organisation active in Maharashtra that is led by Raghunathdada Patil, is aware of these issues and is trying to make itself heard in the cacophony of the debate over food subsidy. The organisation's demands include the introduction of direct cash transfers, as an alternative to the PDS. The organisation says that over 50,000 letters have reached the prime minister's office making this plea. This political action is primarily driven by what is expected to be the further suppression of the prices of coarser cereals once the food security legislation is in place. Unfortunately, the present noisy debate on the food security bill has not addressed this vital aspect.

The finance minister's reference to coarse cereals in his budget is thus heartening. However, the actual budgetary allocation for programmes that target these cereals is paltry.

The writer is a Nashik-based food and agriculture policy economist







Almost immediately after the commencement of the Constitution on January 26, 1950, Jawaharlal Nehru set up this country's Planning Commission, with himself as its chairman. His finance minister, John Matthai, resigned in protest while some others complained that the prime minister was "imposing" on the country centralised planning with emphasis on the public sector. Nothing could have been farther from the truth.

For, way back in 1938, the Indian National Congress had appointed a national planning committee — with Nehru as chairman and politicians, economists, scientists and industrialists as members — that fully endorsed the concept of planning in India after Independence as an instrument for increasing production as well as improving the people's standard of living. More strikingly, the "Bombay Plan", formulated by leading industrialists of the day — such as J.R.D. Tata and G.D. Birla — on its own had conceded that in independent India, the state had to both "intervene in and control the economy" in the nation's best interest.

In any case, by 1951 the doctrine of the state controlling the "commanding heights of the economy" had found wide acceptance in Labour-governed Britain, this country's role model at that time. The country and the Congress were also agreed that reducing social and economic inequalities was as important an objective as development.

Perhaps inevitably, the first Five-Year Plan turned out to be a hurried compilation of schemes, such as the Bhakra-Nangal Dam in Punjab, that were already on the anvil. However, by common consent it was decided to give priority to agriculture, which had been damaged the most by Partition. Even so, many felt that the plan lacked both "vision" and "ambition". Nehru resolved therefore to see to it that the Second Plan would have both these attributes.

The architect of the second Five-Year Plan was Prasanta Chandra Mahalanobis, an eminent physicist and statistician who had founded the famous Indian Statistical Institute in Calcutta (now Kolkata). He had wide interests, and was a leftist to boot — in short, a man after the prime minister's heart. No wonder he had quite a few jealous rivals, too. When assigned the task of framing the Second Plan, he buckled down with his customary diligence.

The Mahalanobis Plan, as some called it, was both innovative and inspiring. Rejecting the traditional mode of planning — allocating funds to various projects and judging the results by determining how much of the money was actually spent — he insisted that targets should be physical, so that their achievement or lack of it should be manifest. Another major feature of the Plan was a pronounced emphasis on basic and heavy industry for rapidly industrialising and modernising the country. This envisaged, among other things, the construction of three integrated steel plants, one each to be built by the British, the Germans and the Russians. The man who negotiated with these three countries, Steel Secretary S. Bhoothalingam, was proficient in the languages of all three. The basic doctrine of the Plan was self-reliance — a cherished legacy of the freedom struggle.

Despite the country's preoccupation with the linguistic reorganisation of states and concomitant agitations and violence, the Second Plan had a heady start. Enthusiasm over it was heightened because the Congress had by then committed itself to a "socialistic pattern of society."

But within a year misfortune struck. During the first half of the '50s, this country had gone on issuing import licenses recklessly, unmindful of the huge drain on its scanty foreign exchange reserves. In a sense, the rude awakening was purely fortuitous. C.D. Deshmukh, finance minister from 1950 onwards, resigned in 1956 over the future of Bombay City, now called Mumbai. His successor, T.T. Krishnamachari, generally called TTK, was commerce minister till then. The first thing he encountered on arrival at the ministry of finance was the crippling foreign exchange crunch. Ironically, the profligacy of the commerce ministry during his stewardship was the culprit. He immediately wielded the chopper and drastically cut foreign exchange allocations. He even introduced a "P form", to be issued by the Reserve Bank, without which no one could go abroad.

The most painful question before policymakers was that of the future of the much-trumpeted Second Plan. The high priests of high finance — with the finance ministry's B. K. Nehru in the lead — bluntly told all concerned that there was none of the foreign exchange needed for the Plan's ambitious schemes.

After much bickering between the spending ministries and the ministry of finance — sometimes at cabinet meetings and sometimes at those of the Planning Commission — everyone, the PM included, bowed to the inevitable. However, the consensus was that while the Plan should be pruned to the extent necessary, foreign exchange must be found for its "core" by slashing non-Plan expenditure.

This led to a battle royal over the import of Canberra bombers, which would come with a very heavy cost in foreign exchange, but which the ministry of defence considered absolutely essential. So acrimonious was an exchange between Defence Minister Krishna Menon and TTK that Nehru angrily exclaimed: "To hell with Canberras; the core of the Plan must go through." However, subsequently Defence Secretary M.K. Vellodi, through astute and calm argument, managed to persuade the PM that the air force could not do without the Canberras.

The task of cutting the Second Plan to size was entrusted to B. K. Nehru, then economic affairs secretary, and Penderal Moon, an Englishman, one of the very few to opt to serve independent India. He was then adviser to the Planning Commission. The duo's ruthless recommendations had to be approved by the Planning Commission. This gave a last-ditch opportunity to the aggrieved parties to make their case. Sir V.T. Krishnamachari (no relative of TTK), then vice-chairman of the Planning Commission, overruled them one by one.

These grim proceedings ended, however, on a hilarious note. At one stage B. K. Nehru chose to protest on behalf of the finance ministry that it had been treated "most unjustly". A smiling Sir VT told him to "shut up" and respect his own recommendations.

The writer is a Delhi-based political analyst






Anyone watching TV commercials could easily conclude that trading on stock markets is something a baby can do from a crib. But new research shows that the baby in all of us is likely to buy or sell at the worst possible time. Philip Z. Maymin, an assistant professor of finance at New York University, studied comprehensive records kept by the investment firm Gerstein Fisher from the firm's founding in 1993 to mid-2010 — 1.5 million interactions by phone, e-mail or letter.

The study, which will be published in the spring edition of The Journal of Wealth Management, found that the value of investment advisers was not in the stocks or mutual funds they recommended but in their ability to restrain investors from impulsively trading at the wrong time. It cites data showing that aggressive orders by individuals can cost them about four percentage points a year.

Maymin and Fisher looked at when clients called the most after the initial period of setting up their accounts. It turned out that it was right after the most volatile periods.

"The urge to trade never goes to zero," Maymin said. "People who want to trade aggressively, it will never go away. If the market is volatile, it increases." More than that urge not going away, the Maymin-Fisher study found, it reappears just after a sudden rise or fall in the market. In other words, investors did not trade in expectation of intense volatility or even during it, which might be rational. They waited until the period of greatest volatility had passed and then looked to do what any adviser would tell them not to do: sell at the bottom or buy at the top.

There is much research into the so-called behaviour gap, to explain the difference in investment and investor returns. It is the percentage difference, for example, between a mutual fund's stated returns and the returns individual investors actually get.

Data from a 2010 quantitative analysis of investor behaviour showed that the spread between investor and investment returns was narrowing but persisted. In 1998, it was 10.65 per cent; in 2009, it was 5.03 per cent. "These findings still hold true: Mutual fund investors do not achieve the returns cited by fund firms — due to their irrational behaviour," Lou Harvey, president of the Boston firm that collected the data, said.

The recognition of this phenomenon has reached the point where Morningstar, which tracks fund returns, has started reporting two sets of returns. In addition to the buy-and-hold returns the funds themselves release, Morningstar now reports investor returns on open-ended mutual funds and exchange-traded funds. It explained the change as an attempt to capture the returns of average investors, who move their money in and out of funds. "Investors often suffer from poor timing and poor planning," it noted.

This is what Fisher is up against in advising his clients. Using the results of the study to persuade clients not to act against their economic interest is not going to be easy, he said.

One caveat here is that advisers can be subject to the same myopia as the investors they advise. "If most investors use advisers and most investors continue to do the wrong thing, then there must be a tremendous amount of bad advice being given," writes Don Phillips. The other side of this argument is that advisers may not be forceful enough in their advice or that it may go unheeded. It is the clients' money, after all.

Still, Fisher is ultimately optimistic that having the data on client calls will allow his firm to better understand client behaviour. "This has helped us and our clients make healthy decisions," he said. "We know what happens to us yesterday does affect us today. We want to understand what everyone does and take advantage of it."

In that sense, knowing that most people trade like babies can be an advantage to those who control their inner toddler.







Once I had lunch with Samuel Huntington at the Harvard Faculty Club. I was eager to talk to him because he had used my 1991 book, La Revanche de Dieu ("The Revenge of God"), in his famous article and subsequent volume, "The Clash of Civilisations."

I had argued that the emergence of religious political movements from the 1970s onward had comparable roots in Islam, Judaism and Christendom: They were all born of a reaction to the passing of the industrial age and had to do with a global rewriting of political identities — from social to religious.

Paradoxically, Huntington had focused only on the chapter that dealt with the Islamic world, and made use of it to help develop his idea about the exceptional character of the Muslim civilisation; he had no interest studying its internal, opposing forces. To him, Islam was homogenous — and "other." We had a good talk, though our views remained quite dissimilar.

A few years later came 9/11. Huntington was elevated to a second media apotheosis: Al-Qaeda terrorism proved him right, many believed, as it demonstrated on the ground that Islam had an absolutist dimension, and that the mass of the faithful could become Osama bin Laden's followers. In the meanwhile, I had written another book, Jihad, whose subtitle in the original French was "Expansion and Decline of Islamism." The English-language translation, published in early 2002, skipped that part.

I contended that Islamism, as a cohesive ideology, was doomed to decline, because it bore a fault line between two irreconcilable trends. On the one side were the radicals, who would use more and more demonstrative violence to underline the weakness of the powers-that-be in an attempt to mobilise the masses on their side, and who would finally find themselves isolated and ostracised by those same masses, as the failure of Egyptian and Algerian radicals had proven in the 1990s.

On the other side, a growing amount of Islamists were converting to the creed of pluralism and democracy, as was already then the case in Turkey. That change would not take place without turmoil within their ranks, but at the end of the day their ideological purity — based on the "absolute sovereignty of Allah" concept — would be corroded by parliamentary participation. Hence the movement would lose its unity and integrity.

After 9/11 those views were not the most popular. A decade later, and the Arab democratic revolutions, the same people who had extolled Huntington now make an auto-da-fé of his book, saying he misled us in pointing at Arabs and Muslims as radically "other"; now we know them to be just like us — they tweet, they're on Facebook, and the figurehead of the Egyptian revolution is Google's Middle East manager.

Things may actually be slightly less simple. Jihadi radicalism failed to mobilise the Muslim masses. Conversely, the authoritarian regimes of the Ben Alis and the Mubaraks, whose life expectancy had been extended by their Western allies for a decade because they bragged they were the bulwark against jihadism, became irrelevant.

Today, Arab civil society has dispelled its curse: It has moved on from "Either Ben Ali or Bin Laden" to "Neither Bin Laden nor Ben Ali." The Arab revolutions have reached Phase One in Tunisia and Egypt — toppling the dictators — but they face the same ordeal: The parlance of democracy and human rights now has to deal with pressing social issues and address huge cohorts of jobless young urban poor.

Lacking it, the secularised middle classes that took the lead in Tunis and Cairo will be at risk. Islamists kept a low profile — even in Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood has the biggest and best organised network of charities, mosques and local associations. They couldn't beat the democrats, so they joined them.

Listening to their slogans, reading their publications in Arabic, one is struck by the fact that, as opposed to Khomeini in 1979, they were unable to control the revolution's vocabulary. Now, they must either keep on that track — and relinquish "sovereignty to the people" — or they must capitalise on the dissatisfaction of the disinherited and push their old "Islam is the alternative" agenda.

The Islamists, for the time being, are divided along generational and ideological lines, but they have not vanished from the Arab street — let alone from Tahrir Square, where Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi, back from Qatar, addressed the crowd for the Friday prayer. They find themselves, along with the whole of society, at a defining moment. It has little to do with the grand schemes of the clash of civilisations, and far more with grass-roots issues. All Arab politics are local — and Western academe could pay slightly more attention to that field than to the Web.

The writer is professor of Middle Eastern politics at Sciences Po, Paris The New York Times







On the sunny side of the Muslim street today, you can find growing talk of the crying need for Muslim empowerment and meaningful initiatives to pull the community out of its state of hopelessness. You can meet young Muslim professionals in Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore, Chennai and elsewhere who are not only doing well for themselves, but also actively engaged in lighting the path for others.

Read the writing on the wall: "Padho aur Badho" ("Get educated, grab opportunities"), through "Uncle's (free tuition) classes" run by journalist-activist Firoz Ashraf in a poverty-ridden, educationally-challenged Muslim mohalla in Mumbai's Jogeshwari suburb. Don't be surprised if you meet young Muslim girls clad in burqas head-to-toe but dreaming of taking to the skies. "Sir, can you please guide me? I want to become an aeronautical engineer," I was asked by one such bright spark from a poor Muslim basti in Juhu Galli last year. These are just a few examples of Muslims on the move, foot firmly on the accelerator.

But in the dingy, dark quarters of these very mohallas — in Mumbai, in Maharashtra and elsewhere in the country — you will also find those determined to drag the community on a journey into the distant past. They do so in the name of Islam, and to underestimate their hold on the Muslim mind would be naive. The Tablighi Jamaat has been at it for years and the damage it does is there to see, if you know where to look. And now, the Jamiatul-ulema-e-Hind has announced its resolve to enter the competition with its own "social reform committees" to promote "Islamic rules and social values".

What are these Islamic rules? Well, banishing the TV set from your homes is one of them. Using the qiyas (reasoning by analogy) principle in Shariah , this should also mean that the Internet is a no-no as well. The message is simple: shut your windows to the world, stay away from these aala-e-shaitani (instruments of the devil), for they are gateways to the devil himself: immodesty, immorality, nudity, promiscuity. If you don't believe people listen to such obscurantist mullahs, go take a tour of Azamgarh district in UP, where TV has been forbidden for Muslims in these villages.

Or meet the young engineer from Bhiwandi who, two years ago, chucked up his job with L&T in Bangalore. Why? Because the company would not give him time off for congregational prayers every Friday.

A few weeks ago, I was with a young Muslim professional in Pachora town in Jalgaon district of north Maharashtra. Afzal (not his real name) has a depressing story to tell. Over 80 per cent of the Muslim youth in his town are under the sway of the Tablighi Jamaat, he claims. They preach that a good Muslim must only think of zameen ke neeche aur aasman se oopar ki zindagi (life below the ground — the grave — and above the sky — heaven and hell). "With them, any talk of Muslim empowerment, Sachar Committee, what Modi did to Muslims in Gujarat is all meaningless", Afzal laments.

Two days later, I am in Beed city in Maharashtra's Marathwada region with a group of socially-engaged Muslims who happen to be members of the Jamaat-e-Islami. I recount to them what Afzal had told me. "The situation in our city is worse than that in Pachora," they say, with example after example of how the Tablighis have successfully locked up young Muslim minds. Their parting shot: "Go to Amravati and you'll find the picture there is even grimmer than what it is in Beed."

"You don't need to go anywhere," says a maulana sahib from Mumbai, who describes himself as a "freelance maulana". "I can take you on a round of well-to-do Muslims from posh Bandra and show you examples of how many young Muslim minds have been wrecked, how many futures destroyed."

That's the dark side of the Muslim street to which the Jamiat now proposes to make its own contribution. The Jamiat is largely a product of and draws its theological inspiration from the Darul Uloom in Deoband, which has just issued a fatwa that it is haraam (sinful) for a Muslim woman to travel beyond 48 miles, except in the company of a mehram (which means the husband or one of those close male relatives with whom sexual relations will amount to incest and is therefore strictly prohibited in Islam). It's a fatwa that advises space-age Muslims to return to the age of the camel.

Its not just the Tablighi Jamaat, Jamiat and Darul Uloom that Muslims who wish to see their community on the move have to contend with. Let's talk of the Jamaat-e-Islami, the Ahl-e-Hadith and the Wahhabis (including its "modern" version in the person of Dr Zakir Naik) all of whom also insist that a Muslim woman must not be seen in public except when clad in burqa, head-to-toe. Imagine a district collector, superintendent of police, judge, MLA, MP, or CEO of a major firm thus attired. Let's talk about Muslim women's empowerment.

The writer is general secretary, Muslims for Secular Democracy






The 55 Indians in the Forbes Billionaires List of 2011 are an eclectic mix. With a combined net worth of $246.5bn, the wealthy Indians in the list pretty much represent all 19 industry groups in the Forbes classification, barring sports, service and gaming (which includes theme-parks), where the country draws a blank. Obviously there is a big opportunity for new, big businesses to take root here à la the Indian Premier League with promise to throw up India's first sports billionaire! Diversified conglomerates, typical of business in a far from developed economy like ours where opportunities in new sectors open up all the time, hog the majority share of Indian billionaires, a total of eight here. Led by the Shashi & Ravi Ruia of the Essar Group, the diversifieds include Kumar Birla, Anil Ambani, Adi Godrej, Rajan Raheja and Keshub Mahindra among others. Healthcare (8 billionaires), technology (7), real estate (6), metals & mining (4), media (3), construction & engineering (3), manufacturing (3), automotive (2), energy (2), finance (2), logistics (2), telecom (2), and one each in fashion & retail, food & beverage and investments complete the Indian list. By the way, China doubled its count in the 2011 list to 115 billionaires, Russia has 101 and Brazil 30 in the list of 1,210 dollar billionaires.

In as many as nine of the 16 industry sector rankings, Indians figure in the top ten, an encouraging sign that our businesses are punching at global level, even if the measure here is mere promoter wealth! Four Indians—Ruias, Kumar Birla, Anil Ambani and Adi Godrej—take pole position amongst top ten diversifieds, globally. Healthcare boasts of two in top ten (Dilip Sanghvi and Malvinder & Shivinder Singh), two again for logistics (Gautam Adani and GM Rao) and metals & mining (Lakshmi Mittal and Savitri Jindal & family) and one each in energy (Mukesh Ambani), telecom (Sunil Mittal), real estate (KP Singh), technology (Azim Premji) and automotive (Rahul Bajaj). Note that most billionaires here are products of leveraging the global opportunity (like outsourcing in IT and pharma) with little help or interference from the government, or opening up hitherto closed sectors like telecom, ports, airports and oil & gas to the private sector in the last decade or so.

The underperformers, so to speak, are our billionaires in manufacturing, media, fashion & retail, finance, investments, food & beverage and construction & engineering, with not even a single one here

making the top ten global cut in their respective industries. Given the relative small size of these businesses in India, this is not really a surprise. The reasons vary, from policy-led (relative) global isolation of sectors like media and retail, to lack of value-addition in sectors like food, beverages and fashion, where a majority of our consumption is still commoditised.





If it wasn't bad enough that the government has been speaking in different voices on issues like environment or the governance deficit, we now have the commerce secretary saying the government could even be dragged to court for its decision to levy a minimum alternate tax (MAT) on SEZs. The ministry of commerce is understandably upset with the budget proposal since it takes away a large part of the SEZ's USP—since average tax levels are around 21-22% for non-SEZ units, the 18.5% proposed MAT on SEZs reduces the advantage considerably, the commerce secretary told journalists. What is surprising, however, is that the commerce secretary should voice his opposition so openly, since the Budget is a collective decision of the government. As for the specific assertion by the secretary, that the Finance Bill cannot over-ride the SEZ Act, this is based on an incomplete reading of the budget. The explanatory memorandum makes it clear that the MAT proposal will be incorporated in an amendment to the SEZ Act. So the question of the Finance Bill over-riding or not over-riding the SEZ Act doesn't come into play.

Though the removal of exemptions is the way to go in general, the commerce secretary is correct when he says investors have invested large sums of money on the basis of the law that said there would be no taxes, so they have reason to be upset. Whether they go to court or not is something we'll have to wait and see, but it does make you wonder about the kind of decision-making that is taking place. Just a few years ago, the government okayed the new SEZ Act, after being fully aware that experts were arguing tax exemptions would distort the playing field between SEZ and non-SEZ units, that few firms ever set up shop in a country because of tax breaks (it is the size of the home market, the lower labour costs and other efficiencies that attract them) alone. So if the government was aware of this in 2005, why did it go in for SEZs? Or is policy subject to the whims and fancies of the minister in charge—Kamal Nath was commerce minister when the policy was first legislated. If that's so, it is a poor reflection on policy-making and all that goes into it.





The first set of numbers are truly flattering, that India's urban population will grow three-fourths in the next two decades, that 75% of India's GDP will come from urban areas, that 70% of new jobs will get created here, that the difference between urban and rural salaries alone will result in a huge jump in India's GDP, that India will create as many new cities in the next two decades as it has in the last several hundred years… You can almost hear the concrete mixers buzzing and see the crane becoming India's national bird too.

Once you get over the initial buzz, the figures get a bit daunting: where will these people live and what happens to the cities when already a fourth of those living in them do so in slums (half in the case of bigger cities like Mumbai and Faridabad). The Isher Ahluwalia-chaired High Powered Expert Committee for Estimating the Investment Requirements for Urban Infrastructure Services, just out last week, puts much of this in perspective when it tells you just how much urban India isn't working.

4,861 out of 5,161 cities/towns don't have even a partial sewerage network (and all of you just went around singling out Gurgaon)l Less than 20% of the road network is covered by storm water drains (happy monsoons!)

l Lack of waste water treatment leads to $15 bn of spending each year on treating water-borne diseases (remember the President's speech that just 103 habitations don't have safe drinking water?!)

About 40% of the investment required is to meet the current unmet urban demand for services.

Imagine how bad things will be once you put in three-fourths more people in the same space, most of whom are getting more prosperous by the day—between 1951 and 2004, while the road network grew 8 times, the motor vehicle population rose 100 times; and that's before the boom in vehicle ownership took place!

The Ahluwalia Committee's job was to cost the urban development (R39.2 lakh crore over 20 years and an additional R19.9 lakh crore for O&M)—investment in cities needs to rise from 1.6% of GDP today to 2.1% of GDP in another two decades.

And then to figure out ways to finance this. Since the government already has an ambitious Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM), which is aimed at ensuring Indian cities make the kind of reforms needed, one of the things the Committee did was to evaluate its performance—an amount of R66,000 crore has been spent on it so far. After saying a major achievement of JNNURM has been to highlight the urban agenda of reforms, the Committee concludes "notwithstanding excellent results in some cities (they're truly excellent, so read the report), the Mission has more generally exposed the lack of capacity at the local government level to prepare and implement projects in urban infrastructure … progress in implementing reforms under the JNNURM has been slow"—just 8 cities have been, for instance, able to charge enough to even cover their O&M costs for supplying water.

One of the points the report makes is that the reforms promised under the JNNURM are generally back-loaded (money now, reforms later) … so the government has been reluctant to hold back money for projects even when the promised reform never happened as this would mean leaving an investment incomplete!

Having reached this conclusion, the Committee then makes a pitch for what it calls a New Improved JNNURM (NIJNNURM), with a specific component for capacity building and with more service-level indicators, among others. It is not immediately clear why a JNNURM, even if new and improved should work when the old one didn't, but the Committee has some good reasons for this. It points to how cities have been treated in a completely step-motherly manner, whether in terms of the funding available to them (if states can get an automatic share of central taxes, why can't cities which generate the bulk of these taxes?), making plans for how to develop the city (today, politicians, with their eyes on rural votes make plans for cities)—a great chart on Bangalore shows 3 bodies are in charge of planning and land development, another 3 for city roads and about two each for things like water supply and sewerage.

So, the Committee concludes, genuine devolution of power to cities is critical if urban India isn't going to become one giant Dharavi—that we are nowhere near doing this is obvious when you look at the football being played with Hyderabad and its future, or Delhi for that matter where the chief minister isn't in control over many critical functions including what property tax rates should be (these have to be ratified by the Lieutenant Governor who is an appointee of the Central Government). In which case, here's a suggestion: by all means, let's go ahead with a NIJNNURM, but let's not operationalise it till the genuine devolution takes place—else, as in the case of the JNNURM, politicians and bureaucrats will feel compelled to spend the money even without the reforms taking place, if only to fill up the 'action taken' column of some budget report.

It would also be interesting for the NIJNNURM to learn from the World Bank's experience in lending to the energy sector. By the early 2000s, the Bank had a portfolio of $500 mn, the loans all given in return for a Bank-prescribed reforms agenda. By 2002, the Bank realised no states were doing any reforms, perhaps the amounts given as loans weren't big enough to make a difference; for three to four years, the Bank stopped lending. By 2005, it was back, but with a difference—this time, it went in for reforms the states were prepared to do, all the Bank did was to get the states to commit to what they felt was possible and then examined whether it would like to give a loan.

Today, the Bank's portfolio of power loans is $5bn.\

If various politicians are willing to do what the Committee recommends, that's wonderful since the suggestions made are very important as many members of the Committee, such as Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaagraha, even have hands-on experience of revamping urban governance. The Committee does well to draw upon the 74th Amendment to the Constitution that was brought in to create the necessary political space for local governments in 1992, but has not really been implemented in the last two decades. The bottom line, however, is that if just 35% of urban India continues to vote, there's only a small chance India's politicians will give it the space it needs, a 14% chance (that's the 35% voting-share multiplied by urban India's projected 40% population-share in another two decades) on the outside! Odds that most betting men will balk at.





In the year 1900, electric cars outsold all others kinds (steam, electric and gasoline options were available) in the US. Then the internal combustion engine made a big technological leap, went into mass production and grew to dominate the 20th century. The economies of fuel, industrial growth and consumer passion were all in its favour. Today, inch by hard-fought inch, we are seeing the trend reversing on all these fronts. Future descendants will look back and call this the century of the electric car.

India is justifiably proud of the "the people's car". Its egalitarian, social vision made the world stand up and applaud. Yet, the reason Nano only happened in 2009 was because that's how long it took for our desires, innovation, incomes, manufacturing and policy support to catch up with the West. It would be unconscionable if we were to fall back once again. So, it's great that Budget 2011 has announced a National Mission for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles, alongside customs and excise concessions for electrical, fuel cell or hydrogen cell, and hybrid vehicles. But we don't know the whens and hows of the mission yet. We know that a 5% duty cut here or a 10% there cannot be a game-changer. Not by itself. We worry that the mission will go the way of the national biofuel policy.

Remember, back in 2007, a GoM headed by Pranab Mukherjee had recommended that India adopt a mandatory blending of 10% ethanol for petrol vehicles. Next year, the Cabinet approved a policy target of 20% bioethanol and biodiesel blending by 2017. You didn't hear anything about it in this Budget and you may not hear anything about the hybrid and electric vehicles mission in the next one. Admittedly, biofuels have turned out to be more dodgy than they appeared initially. US ethanol is now blamed for food inflation and its greenhouse-gas emissions have not turned out to be that wholesome either. But the country managed to increase ethanol's share in its fuel supply from 1% to 7% between 2000 and 2008, while we kept yo-yoing over whether jatropha was the next big thing or not.

The affordable, air-conditioned, widely repair- and fuel-networked, and quiet efficiency of conventional cars was not birthed in a day. We can't expect any different of cost-competitive alternatives. But because quantum technological leaps are the order of the day today, green car evolution is much more brisk. Oil company representatives are still saying wait; because the alternatives have high prices and high emissions (not higher), resources would be better spent on supporting improvements in the internal combustion engine's performance. This, they say, would be more cost-effective for now. Fuel-efficiency ratings are certainly something that should have become routine in India by now. But all carmakers recognise that conservatism won't make for a good endgame.

Last year, Tata turned up with Indica Vista EV at the Geneva motor show. One of the biggest hits at this year's show has been the Phantom 102EX. A fully electric Rolls-Royce! Another brand that's switching gears noticeably is the Volkswagen, which had long argued that better diesel strategies made for more sense than hybrids. But, given its announced ambition of becoming the world's leading automaker by 2018, Volkswagen didn't shock by showing up with the Jetta Hybrid in Geneva.

January was the cruellest month for Toyota Prius in India. A grand total of one sale was reported. The world's best-selling hybrid has been at the heart of green cars' main-streaming story. It's not a fairy tale. Cost and mileage remain formidable sale barriers as compared to conventional cars, especially in emerging markets like India. On the other hand, improvements in technology haven't been insubstantial either. Analysts estimate that the Prius needed oil at $160 a barrel to offset its high price in 2008. By 2015, a barrel price of $100 would do the trick, and without government subsidy at that.

Indian royalty led car purchases at the beginning of the last century. The last decade saw Hollywood celebrities line up to buy, use and promote the Prius, electric cars and company. In the UK, prominent businessmen like Victor Blank (with RBS and Lloyds credentials) have given electrics a whizzful of publicity. India hasn't seen anything of the sort with a Khan or on Marine Drive. Yes, till electric cars match the price effect of a Nano, they won't achieve mass scales. Yes, the government can be blamed for policy inertia. But why haven't our elite climbed aboard what's obviously the next big thing?






So cynical has the public become about the impartiality and seriousness with which corruption cases against the rich and the powerful are probed, that hardly an eyebrow is raised when the judiciary starts actively monitoring the investigation in such cases. Over the last couple of months, the Supreme Court has assumed a supervisory role in the CBI's investigation of the 2G scam, asking the agency to act against "persons who think themselves to be the law" and demanding to see the charge sheet before it is filed. Earlier this week, in the case relating to black money stashed abroad, another bench of the Supreme Court asked the government to consider invoking terror laws against Hasan Ali Khan. The provocation for such judicial activism lies in the suspicion — most often well grounded — about the lack of good faith in the manner these cases are being probed. An FIR in the 2G scam (against unknown persons and firms) was registered as early as October 2009, but it wasn't until the Supreme Court reprimanded the CBI for dragging its feet that the investigation really moved forward. Similarly, the Centre's persistent stonewalling in the black money case led an exasperated Supreme Court to ask: "What the hell is going on in this country?"

Some of the Court's prodding has been in the form of sharp questions and cutting observations on the investigations. It is hardly a surprise that its display of annoyance has led agencies such as the CBI to interpret oral observations made in the course of the hearing as if they were judicial diktat. Since the mid-90s, the judiciary has tried to strengthen the independence of investigating agencies, a process that both began with, and is highlighted by, the Supreme Court's judgment in the Jain hawala case, which centred on a diary that allegedly recorded the sums of money paid by a money-laundering agent to the country's leading politicians. The Court took the extraordinary step of barring the CBI from furnishing any information on the case to the then Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. Eventually, it ruled that the superintendence of the CBI in relation to investigations will vest with the Central Vigilance Commission, and not with the Prime Minister's Office which, deplorably, continues to influence investigations informally apart from exercising formal administrative control. In an ideal world, the judiciary would stick to interpreting the law and refrain from treading on the domain of the legislature or the executive. But in an environment where justice is constantly being subverted, it is arguable that the courts are left with no choice but to st





Given that inflation, especially food inflation, has been an extremely sensitive issue, it was certain that the budget would assume a strong anti-inflationary stance. In his budget speech the Finance Minister admitted that the government could have done better in controlling food inflation The Reserve Bank of India, which has for long advocated a fiscal policy that complemented its monetary policy, would certainly take note of the anti-inflationary elements of the Union budget when it reviews the credit policy later this week. The most important of these is the large reduction in the fiscal deficit. As a proportion of the GDP, it is expected, according to the revised estimates for 2010-11, to come down to 5.1 per cent from the budgeted figure of 5.5 per cent. For 2011-12, the budget aims at an even more ambitious target of 4.6 per cent. On paper, the government's commitment to fiscal consolidation is not in doubt. However, the windfall from the sale of 3G and broad band spectrum which has brought down the deficit sharply this year will not be repeated in the near future. At a more general level, the assumptions of tight expenditure management and revenue buoyancy to bring about fiscal consolidation will be closely watched.

Total government expenditure for 2011-12 is budgeted to be only three per cent more than this year, with a sharp contraction in non-Plan spending and a very modest rise in Plan outlay. It is doubtful whether any government can realistically cut down expenditure to such an extent. Moreover, the outlays for subsidies seem meagre. The budgeted expenditure on the government's key social sector programmes might well fall short of the money required. On the revenue side, the government is banking on robust economic growth and the consequent higher tax revenues. Even so, the anticipated increases in corporate tax collections (21.5 per cent) and excise collections (19 per cent) appear to be on the high side. The upshot of all this is that the government may be hard pressed to stick to its planned fiscal consolidation. Consequently, it might be forced to borrow more than what is budgeted for or raise taxes in a supplementary budget. What all these would do to inflation and inflationary expectations is anybody's guess. There are many who question the connection between deficit reduction and inflation control. For most part of the current year, the rise in inflation was attributed to demand-supply imbalances due to a poor monsoon and spike in the prices of specific food items. Deficit reduction, as a single line of attack, will meet with only limited success under these circumstances.








The murder of Radhika Tanwar (20) in broad daylight and outside her college in Dhaula Kuan in New Delhi a few days ago comes as no surprise to those of us who know the city inside out. New Delhi is undoubtedly becoming more and more dangerous, especially for young women, both students and professionals. The Delhi Police may deny this. One should remember that in crime, what matters is not statistics but public perception. It is easy to dismiss Radhika's murder as the characteristic aggression of a male stalker who had been spurned by a young girl who never believed that someone in the world could be so obsessive and deranged.

These are early days of investigation. It is just possible that the case would be solved by the time this piece appears in print. The Delhi Police have produced a rough sketch of the assailant from nowhere, after their initial charge that no one who witnessed the crime had come forward to give a clue or two. Let us hope they succeed in hunting down the killer, just as they did a few months ago, when a girl was subjected to gang rape in a moving vehicle. The case was nearly blind but the police did a remarkable piece of job.

There are many features of Radhika's murder that stand out as typical of modern urban crime. The family members knew that Radhika was being stalked by someone for a few years. It is possible they also knew his identity, and have now shared the information with police. If they claim however that they are not aware who he was, that would be indeed strange. Even after learning that the girl was being harassed by a male, if they chose not to report the matter to the police, their omission borders on the culpable. This is of course typical of many Indian parents — both at home and abroad — who value family honour over the safety of their children.

Matter of concern

The Radhika killer used a firearm. This squares with the belief that homicides in India with the help of a gun are rising. This is of great concern. We were smug all these days that unlike the U.S., we had no gun problem. This is no longer tenable. If the murderer is ultimately traced, investigation should focus on from where he got the weapon. It is possible he himself was a licensee. If so, did he have reasonable cause — such as personal security — to possess a gun? We have a fairly tight licensing policy. But there are ways of circumventing it, especially if you are from an influential family and tout your wealth and business interests to show that your life is in danger from your rivals. Unlicensed country made weapons are also not a rarity these days and not difficult to procure, especially in States such as Bihar and Uttar Pradesh. Importing guns into a sprawling metropolis is a relatively easy proposition.

Murders like Radhika's keep reminding us of the need to keep a close eye on weapons that are floating around in many cities and towns. With elections in some States fast approaching, there is a ready market for firearms. The temptation to brandish them to intimidate your rivals is very high, and no region, including the normally peaceful south, is exempt from this alarming trend of firearms replacing traditional weapons.

This is again an occasion to review the state of security for women. Without doubt, many of our urban centres are highly risky for young women. With the growth in female workforce — thanks to the burgeoning IT companies — there is a definite case for strengthening precautionary measures. Many private corporations have a commendable system that protects women employees working late into the night. This is good as long as such employees do not flout company-laid arrangements. Some of them ignore basic rules of prudence, and unfortunately pay a heavy price for their callousness. In such instances, the employer is blamed for what is obviously a lapse on the part of the employee. Parental control which has otherwise become lax can prevail at least here, so that women professionals are made to adhere strictly to the facility extended to them at their workplace. Employers can hardly fill this role.

The police come under fire when incidents of the kind occur. This is natural, and police officers taking umbrage at citizen fury need to be trained to take criticism in the right spirit. Policing huge metropolises is tricky and complicated. Indian cities are chaotic not only from the point of view of traffic management. Crime control is least professional. Intelligence collection is almost negligible, something that many of my colleagues in the U.K. are greatly surprised about. Our intelligence work concentrates on the political rivals of the ruling party. There is no doubt a change in focus with the arrival of terrorism. But this has not ushered in a realisation that criminals with a known record and others who pose a danger to the average citizen also require to be documented and watched.

Prevention, a low priority

The police spring into action only after a sensational crime takes place. Otherwise, prevention of crime is of low priority because of the unconscionable diversion of precious resources to dignitary protection and regulation of political demonstrations. This is of course no longer a purely Indian phenomenon. Streets of London and many European cities are now subjected to the stress arising from massive public protests. These however have not diluted police attention to conventional crime. One explanation could be the generous use of technology in the areas of crime prevention and detection. The police will have to live with politically-inspired public protests, as long as democratic dissent is permissible under law.

My only complaint is that many Indian Police supervisors become complacent with mere deployment of manpower in trouble spots. Widespread police presence is no substitute for technology that is increasingly used by police forces the world over. The massive installation of CCTV cameras has worked wonders in a city like London. Not only has it introduced deterrence, it has also quickened detection, as it did after the bombing of the London Underground in July 2005. Indian cities are slow to resort to this simple but reliable technology. Private industry has used this most effectively. The alleged loss of privacy of individual citizens is no ground for postponing the introduction of cameras all over a city. The expense involved is something a State government can easily afford these days.

The Delhi Police force is a complex organisation. It draws its recruits from different regions of the country. There is therefore no homogeneity, which alone can produce effective policing. In spite of the odds stacked against it, the force has given a satisfactory account of itself. It has no shortage of funds or equipment. The Union Home Ministry (MHA) extends generous assistance. This brings me to the fundamental issue raised by successive Chief Ministers of Delhi. Why does the Delhi Police still remain under the MHA control? Reasons are both legal and political. Is it not time for a debate on this contentious issue? Not that I believe things would improve, even under a dynamic Chief Minister. There is a case at least for enhancing the stakes for an elected government and denying it an alibi for non-performance.

(The writer is a former Director of the Central Bureau of Investigation, New Delhi.)








Replying to the debate on the general budget on Friday, March 9, Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee mentioned that the government was serious about the issue of bringing back "black money." In the course of his reply, he is reported to have said that during the Emergency, he had, because of his deep concern in this regard, ordered raids on a "very important family" that he did not want to identify. He is reported to have added "it was not a fruitless raid. One tonne of primary gold with Swiss marks was discovered. Later on with the change of government, I was accused of causing Emergency excesses and was put in the dock before the Shah Commission."

I do not know whether the tonne of gold was a figment of the Finance Minister's fertile imagination, but the allegation that he was put on the dock by the Shah Commission in any such case where major tax evasion was later established by discovery of a tonne of gold, is, to put it politely, factually incorrect. The Shah Commission dealt, inter alia, with Emergency excesses. Five of those cases related to the Income Tax department over which the present Finance Minister presided as Minister of State for Finance (Revenue).

It is necessary to mention that in spite of subsequent authoritarian measures to practically obliterate this valuable document, a few copies of the Shah Commission Report survived. The country owes a debt of gratitude to Era Sezhiyan, a great parliamentarian, for his efforts at publishing the report recently in the form of a book with an excellent introduction from him.

The five cases referred to are briefly mentioned below, with page, etc., references for those interested. The first two cases can be clubbed together. They were tax raids on two brave trade union leaders, Prabhat Kar and D.P. Chadha, general secretary and president, respectively of the All India Bank Employees Association (First Interim Report of the Commission, Chapter 7, Para 7.294 onwards at pp 93-94).

Significantly, action in this case was initiated by the then powerful Director, CBI, D. Sen. He sent for the tax official concerned, gave him the orders, which were meekly followed. The Director, CBI, later recorded a secret note which says that the two persons' houses "were got searched" and added that a report regarding the search is enclosed. In his oral testimony, Sen said that the report was sent either to O.M. Mehta, the then reasonably notorious MOS in the Home Ministry, or to R.K. Dhavan. Neither Sen nor the above two dignitaries was in anyway lawfully concerned with the Tax law or its administration. As the then Minister in charge of Revenue, Pranab Mukherjee, cannot escape responsibility for this high handed and unlawful exercise of the drastic and draconian provisions of the tax law to suppress legitimate trade union activity.

Then comes the Baroda Rayon Corporation case (Second interim Report, Chapter 9, pages 10 to 15 para 9.1 to 9.27). It will be useful to mention at the outset that the alleged one tonne of gold was not discovered or seized in this case. In fact, this raid was very similar to the drama of raids, arrests and "grilling" of persons like Suresh Kalmadi, A. Raja and other near and dear ones by the CBI, the ED and other sundry agencies.

I said no gold was found, but something more precious was. But that material was not used to detect tax evasion. Three files containing the vital information V.K. Shah, the managing director of the company, so helpfully placed in his briefcase were "seized" from him and through the chain of command reached the present Finance Minister who quite legitimately forgot almost immediately what he did with them. It used to be said those days by persons close to the then important hangers-on that the party high command was keen on verifying details of large sums of money apparently handed over to a then charismatic party leader allegedly to persuade some legislators to act in a particular manner. V.K. Shah only requested that the papers be seized from him rather than he hand them over and thus betray his Guru.

The next tax raid case dealt with by the Shah Commission was the one on Bajaj and Mukund groups in May 1976. Here again, there was no discovery of the tonne of gold because no such claim was made during the proceedings before the Commission in justification of the action taken. What was submitted then on behalf of the Group was that this favour was bestowed on them because of their association with Jayaprakash Narayan and the Sarvodya movement. Besides, Viren Shah, Managing Director of Mukund Iron and Steel Works, who was a close associate of the Bajaj family, was a persona non grata at the Imperial Durbar.

To conclude, at least one benevolent act of the then Emergency Regime merits mention. In the course of a routine enquiry, it was noticed that the identity of two women who were registered as shareholders in Maruti Ltd, a Sanjay Gandhi venture, could not be verified as they did not live at the address furnished in the company's records. The moment further enquiries were started, they came to an abrupt stop. The Director of Investigation recorded that the "Chairman has desired that no enquiries should be made regarding this case till further instructions from him." A mere 35 years have elapsed. The instructions might well be on their way. Obviously, the investment in unverifiable names was of unaccounted money.

Based on the above, it would not be unreasonable to ask the Finance Minister to specify in which case where a tonne of primary gold with Swiss markings was discovered was he "put in the dock by the Shah Commission." History and propriety demand an honest answer.

(V.U. Eradi, former member of Central Board of Direct Taxes, was the officer concerned dealing with the tax matters in the Shah Commission.)








In 18th century America, it came to be called "break bone fever," a grim testament to the excruciating pain the sufferers experience. Dengue, according to the World Health Organisation, is the most rapidly spreading mosquito-borne viral disease in the world.

In the last five decades, the incidence has jumped 30-fold. The disease is now endemic in over 100 countries, placing two-fifths of the world's population at risk. Not only is the number of cases increasing as the disease spreads to new areas but explosive outbreaks are occurring, the global agency notes.

Globally, it is estimated that 50 million-100 million people become infected with the virus each year, and 5,00,000 of them — a very large proportion children — develop life-threatening forms of the disease.

Over the years, dengue has become endemic across much of India, says U.C. Chaturvedi, a virologist who has studied the disease for many years. Most people who become infected will recover without any problem. But to keep the death rate down, it is essential that signs of severe forms of the disease, such as a rash and small bleeding spots on the skin, be recognised. Such people must be immediately admitted to a hospital that can provide supportive treatment, he says.

Without proper treatment, death rates can approach 10-30 per cent, he notes. But mortality can be kept to less than one per cent with sufficient medical care. In the process, however, hospitals can become heavily burdened when a large number of people become infected during outbreaks, he adds.

'Major health problem'

"The spread of dengue virus throughout the tropics represents a major, rapidly growing public health problem with an estimated 2.5 billion people at risk of dengue fever and the life-threatening disease, severe dengue," observed Daniel P. Webster of the John Radcliffe Hospital in the U.K. and others in a review paper published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases in 2009. A safe and effective vaccine, they said, was urgently needed.

But while vaccines are available against yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis, caused by closely related viruses, a vaccine against dengue has proved remarkably hard to develop. Nevertheless, a number of different approaches to producing vaccines against it are being tested, from live but weakened viruses to killed viruses, and giving bits of viral protein. Some of these are already in clinical trials.

One hurdle to any prospective vaccine is that the virus comes in four varieties known as serotypes. A person who recovers after being infected with one serotype develops lifelong immunity only to that form of the virus, not the others.

The paradigm has been to make a vaccine that contains the four different viruses and get simultaneous immunisation against each of them, says Scott Halstead, a leading expert on dengue and vaccines against it. Dr. Halstead, who was born in Lucknow, is currently director of the Dengue Vaccine Initiative's Supportive Research and Development Programme.

It is possible to combine viruses from different families in a single vaccine as in the case of measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. But with regard to the dengue vaccine, when the four different viruses are given together, there will be interference between some of the viruses that is unpredictable and quite erratic, he says.

Sanofi Pasteur, for instance, spent about 15 years working on a vaccine only to find that one virus out-competed the other three. It finally switched to a completely different vaccine type, he added. Others too had a similar experience. (The new type of dengue vaccine from Sanofi Pasteur, vaccine division of the French company Sanofi Aventis, is currently the most advanced in clinical trials. It could be ready for licensing as early as in 2014, according to a paper that appeared in the journal PLoS Medicine last month.)

Vaccines try to generate antibodies, mimicking the natural process by which people develop immunity after catching a disease. These antibodies then recognise and latch on to the germ if it gains entry into the body again and prevent it from setting up an infection. In dengue, however, there are concerns about antibodies themselves contributing to the severe disease.

Epidemiological studies carried out in Thailand in the 1960s showed that more than 85 per cent of severe dengue cases happened in people with pre-existing dengue antibodies, pointed out Dr. Webster and others in their review paper. Additional evidence from infants with maternal antibodies too lent weight to the hypothesis of immune involvement in the development of severe dengue.

Antibodies generated by the first dengue infection protect the person from being infected again with the same serotype. It turns out that if the next infection is caused by a different dengue virus, the antibodies can actually form a complex with it. Such complexes then bind to certain immune cells, leading to increased viral uptake and replication. The much greater number of viruses produced in the body then increases the severity of the disease. This process is known as antibody-dependent enhancement of infection.

'Perversion of immune response'

"So we really have in dengue the most amazing perversion of the immune response," remarked Dr. Halstead in an interview at the New York Academy of Sciences in 2009. The cells that were supposed to scout out and kill the viruses as well as the antibodies that were supposed to destroy them were forming "an unholy complex" to defeat the immune system.

However, Dr. Webster and his colleagues also pointed out that severe dengue could happen even with the very first infection. Moreover, only a small proportion of secondary infections progressed to severe dengue, suggesting that other factors too were involved. There was, they said, evidence of links between disease severity and nutritional status, ethnicity, virulence of the infecting strain and the host's genetic background.

"Whatever the role of antibody-dependent enhancement, it seems that a vaccine inducing a long-lived neutralising antibody response against all four serotypes simultaneously should not induce any risk in this respect," they went on to note.

To avoid problems with under-vaccinating people, Sanofi Pasteur has adopted a conservative three-dose regimen for its vaccine, Dr. Halstead told this correspondent. A second dose after six months helped raise the antibodies in those who did not respond after the first dose. Even so, a third dose was still required to really get close to a 100 per cent antibody response to the vaccination.

But the challenge of developing a dengue vaccine may not end with successfully completing human trials and getting a licence for public use.

Trials will need to address the risk of persons acquiring or developing severe dengue as a direct consequence of vaccination, noted a summary of a WHO Technical Consultation published in the journal, Vaccine, in 2008. Long-term follow-up of those who participated in vaccine trials would be a powerful way of conforming or rejecting such a risk. Such follow-up should be planned in advance, it said.

'Sustained, long-term follow up'

"Dengue vaccine, more than almost any other, is going to require sustained, long-term follow up," agreed Dr. Halstead. On the one hand, real world experience with dengue indicated that it was only the first infection that sensitised people to a severe disease. On the other, if a person had two different dengue infections, he would essentially be no longer at risk. That means any booster vaccine that really takes effect should be protective, he added.

If a safe and effective vaccine becomes available, it would be possible to consider immunising children and young adults in parts of India where the disease is endemic, according to Dr. Chaturvedi. It is people in these age groups, rather than older adults, who are the most affected by severe forms of dengue and among whom most of the mortality occurs.





It was close to midnight on Saturday when the bodies of five members of the Fogel family were removed from their home in this Jewish settlement in the hills of the northern West Bank, more than 24 hours after suspected Palestinian intruders stabbed them to death in their sleep.

The bodies were brought out in order of age first the parents, Udi, 36, and Ruth, 35, then the three children, Yoav, 11, Elad, 4, and Hadas, a baby girl of 3 months. They were the victims of the deadliest attack inside a settlement in years. "They slaughtered them, really slaughtered them," said Avichai Ronsky, a former chief rabbi of the Israeli military and a resident of Itamar, outside the house of the victims on Saturday night.

The killers appeared to have randomly picked the house, one of a neat row of identical one-story homes at the edge of the settlement, on a rocky incline overlooking the nearby Palestinian village of Awarta, the proximity underlining the visceral nature of the contest in this area between Jewish settlers and Palestinians over the land. The Israeli military was combing the Palestinian villages around Itamar, near the Palestinian city of Nablus, on Saturday, searching for at least two intruders. "Rest assured, we are on a hunt after those responsible," said Maj. Gen. Avi Mizrahi, the chief of the military's Central Command, which is in charge of security in the West Bank. "We will find them." The military called the killings a terrorist attack, indicating that it held Palestinians responsible.

Israel's Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, pointed a finger at the Palestinian Authority, blaming it for what he described as incitement in the mosques and the news media it controls.

New York Times News Service







The different radioactive materials reported at the nuclear accidents in Japan range from relatively benign to extremely worrisome. The central problem in assessing the degree of danger is that the amounts of various radioactive releases into the environment are now unknown, as are the winds and other atmospheric factors that determine how radioactivity will disperse around the stricken plants.

Still, the properties of the materials and their typical interactions with the human body give some indication of the threat.

"The situation is pretty bad," said Frank N. von Hippel, a nuclear physicist who advised the Clinton White House and now teaches international affairs at Princeton. "But it could get a lot worse."

Iodine pills

In Vienna on Saturday, the International Atomic Energy Agency said Japanese authorities had informed it that iodine pills would be distributed to residents around the Fukushima Daiichi and Daini plants in northeast Japan. Both have experienced multiple failures in the wake of the huge earthquake and tsunami that struck on Friday.

In the types of reactors involved, water is used to cool the reactor core and produce steam to turn the turbines that make electricity. The water contains two of the least dangerous radioactive materials now in the news, radioactive nitrogen and tritium. Normal plant operations produce both of them in the cooling water and they are even released routinely in small amounts into the environment, usually through tall chimneys.

Nitrogen is the most common gas in the earth's atmosphere, and at a nuclear plant the main radioactive form is known as nitrogen-16. It is made when speeding neutrons from the reactor's core hit oxygen in the surrounding cooling water. This radioactive form of nitrogen does not occur in nature.

The danger of nitrogen-16 is an issue only for plant workers and operators because its half-life is only seven seconds. A half-life is the time it takes half the atoms of a radioactive substance to disintegrate.

The other form of radioactive materials often in the cooling water of a nuclear reactor is tritium. It is a naturally occurring radioactive form of hydrogen, sometimes known as heavy hydrogen. It is found in trace amounts in groundwater throughout the world. Tritium emits a weak form of radiation that does not travel very far in the air and cannot penetrate the skin. It accumulates in the cooling water of nuclear reactors and is often vented in small amounts to the environment. Its half-life is 12 years.

Iodine and cesium

The big worries on the reported releases of radioactive material in Japan centre on radioactive iodine and cesium.

"They imply some kind of core problem," said Thomas B. Cochran, a senior scientist in the nuclear programme of the Natural Resources Defense Council, a private group in Washington.

The active core of a nuclear reactor splits atoms in two to produce bursts of energy and, as a by-product, large masses of highly radioactive particles. The many safety mechanisms of a nuclear plant focus mainly on keeping these so-called fission products out of the environment.


Iodine-131 has a half-life of eight days and is quite dangerous to human health. If absorbed through contaminated food, especially milk and milk products, it will accumulate in the thyroid and cause cancer. Located near the base of the neck, the thyroid is a large endocrine gland that produces hormones that help control growth and metabolism.

The thyroid danger, von Hippel of Princeton said, is gravest in children. "The thyroid is more sensitive to damage when the cells are dividing and the gland is growing," he said.

Fortunately, an easy form of protection is potassium iodide, a simple compound typically added to table salt to prevent goiter and a form of mental retardation caused by a dietary lack of iodine.

Potassium iodide

If ingested promptly after a nuclear accident, potassium iodide, in concentrated form, can help reduce the dose of radiation to the thyroid and thus the risk of cancer. In the United States, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission recommends that people living within a 10-mile emergency planning zone around a nuclear plant have access to potassium iodide tablets.

Over the long term, the big threat to human health is cesium-137, which has a half-life of 30 years. At that rate of disintegration, John Emsley wrote in Nature's Building Blocks (Oxford, 2001), "it takes over 200 years to reduce it to 1 per cent of its former level."

It is cesium-137 that still contaminates much land in Ukraine around the Chernobyl reactor. In 1986, the plant suffered what is considered the worst nuclear power plant accident in history.

Cesium-137 mixes easily with water and is chemically similar to potassium. It thus mimics how potassium gets metabolised in the body and can enter through many foods, including milk. After entering, cesium gets widely distributed, its concentrations said to be higher in muscle tissues and lower in bones.

Risk of cancer

The radiation from cesium-137 can throw cellular machinery out of order, including the chromosomes, leading to an increased risk of cancer.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that everyone in the U.S. is exposed to very small amounts of cesium-137 in soil and water because of atmospheric fallout from the nuclear detonations of the Cold War. The agency says that very high exposures can result in serious burns and even death, but that such cases are extremely rare. Once dispersed in the environment, it says, cesium-137 "is impossible to avoid."

    New York Times News Service







Hiromitsu Shinkawa was pushed out to sea while he clung to the roof of his home after a tsunami swept away his wife.

For two days, he drifted off Japan's northeastern coast, trying to get the attention of helicopters and ships that passed by to no avail.

Finally, on Sunday, a Japanese military vessel spotted the 60-year-old waving a red cloth.

He was about 15 km (about 10 miles) offshore from the earthquake-ravaged city of Minamisoma, said Yoshiyuki Kotake, a Defence Ministry spokesman.

Mr. Shinkawa told his rescuers that the tsunami hit as he and his wife returned home to gather some belongings after Friday's quake. His wife was swept away, Mr. Kotake said.

"Several helicopters and ships passed by, but none of them noticed me," he was quoted by another defence agency spokesman, who refused to be identified by name, as saying. Japanese troops used a small boat to pluck him from the ocean.

Military officials said Mr. Shinkawa was lucky that mild weather and relatively calm seas enabled him to stay afloat for nearly two days, the Kyodo news agency reported.

"I thought today was the last day of my life," it quoted him as saying.










There has been much hullabaloo about the 14th Dalai Lama's internationally-publicised decision last week to retreat from a political life, although Tibetan Buddhism's most important monk did not fail to state that he would remain a servant of Tibet's cause. Basically, he would be around in order to serve. Seen in all its dimensions, this is a straightforward postulate, and it is surprising that the astute Communists in Beijing have got all worked up, calling the Dharamsala announcement a "trick".

Why a trick is not clear. Given to circumspection, India has not reacted. But no matter which way one looks at an issue linked to the Dalai Lama, relations between India and China come into play. This is due to the Chinese Communists' deep suspicion of any individual, movement, or tendency — social, political or spiritual — that has the potential to challenge their authority.

After Tibet's abortive anti-Beijng uprising of 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave him refuge on account of his exalted religious status on condition that he engage in no political activity since India recognised Tibet as an autonomous region of China, not a sovereign state. But Communist China was not amused. The condition for the Dalai Lama's stay in India has been scrupulously followed. No anti-China politics has been pursued from Indian soil, but the Chinese remain suspicious. Indeed, India accepting the Tibetan guru as a refugee in 1959 appears to be the proximate reason for the downturn in Sino-Indian ties. Since then relations have fundamentally lacked warmth. As the Dalai Lama is the temporal and spiritual head of the Tibetan people by virtue of being the leading light of the dominant sect of Tibetan Buddhism, his very presence in the midst of his people is imbued with a political meaning. This is what Beijing resents. (It is rightly surmised that Beijing is waiting for the spiritual leader to die as it expects the intensity of the Tibetan cause to die down with him gone.) Besides, Tenzin Gyatso, the present incarnation of the Dalai Lama, has emerged as an international icon of peace and is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. None of this is to Beijing's liking. It does not believe him when he maintains that he does not espouse Tibetan independence and only seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet. The reason is the Dalai Lama says all Tibetans in China (dispersed in several provinces) should be brought under one umbrella.

After nine rounds of talks spread over decades between the Dalai Lama's representatives and those of the Chinese government, there has been no forward movement as the Chinese posture remains frozen. While not playing a political role from Indian soil (except by his mere presence, which is a uniting factor for Tibetans worldwide), the Dalai Lama has said he will no longer be associated with politics. There is no dichotomy here. The spiritual leader's international travels arouse immense sympathy for Tibet's cause. That is on account of China's intransigence and the brutality shown toward the Tibetan people, and would have been the case even if the Dalai Lama had not lived in India. Also, the spiritual leader's representatives engage in dialogue with the Chinese — clearly a political act. If the grand monk withdraws from this political role, does it really matter? So long as he is alive, the world will continue to warm to the cause of Tibetan independence. After him too, the issue is unlikely to die, but he brings inordinate charisma to the table. When he is not around to show the way, perhaps one of his followers can step up to the plate (the 15th Dalai Lama incarnate, or just another Tibetan in search of freedom for his land). Beijing's Tibet problem isn't going away in a hurry.






The Budget Session of Parliament is always a time when economists, experts, politicians, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and all stakeholders in our society participate in active debates about national economics. How should our public money be spent? What should our priorities be? And it is eternally interesting for me as a non-expert politician to absorb and understand the vast rainbow of well-argued presentations, with industry leaders at one end of the spectrum and the welfare state (for want of a better word) at the other.

It is in this context, that, as a citizen, I feel that "inclusive growth", as conceptualised and propagated by the Congress Party and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, is the best possible model for our country. And my emphasis would be more on aspects of inclusion — where could we tilt more towards making greater inclusion possible, while making decisions on policy issues.

Inclusion is one of the buzzwords of our times. Inclusive growth is both a national necessity and an abiding principle with the UPA government. In fact, the Indian exposition at the World Economic Forum in Davos was titled "India Inclusive". This was not just clever wordplay; but a pointer to the sort of economic growth India needs and the philosophy of the UPA government.

Inclusion is a noun that can be suffixed to create a variety of adjectives. We can have financial inclusion, educational inclusion, knowledge inclusion, gender inclusion and, of course, political inclusion. Yet, we must recall what Jawaharlal Nehru said in his remarkable, iconic and never-to-be-forgotten "Tryst with destiny" speech on the midnight of August 15, 1947: "Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments".
Inclusion, too, is one of those indivisible phenomena. No one type of inclusion can be seen in isolation. Social inclusion inevitably leads to political inclusion. Political inclusion inevitably leads to economic inclusion. Economic inclusion inevitably leads to financial inclusion. Therefore, the challenge before us is simple: How soon and how quickly can we expand the "inclusion" universe?

In focusing on inclusion, we are not undertaking an act of charity. Frankly, to debate inclusion is not an option for our country — it is our only way. The alternative is not just a brutal, unequal and fundamentally unfair society, but also a potentially combustible one.

In today's India, wealth is being created at a scorching pace. The number of dollar-denominated millionaires has gone up by almost 50 per cent. According to a Merrill Lynch report, high networth individuals (HNIs) rose from 84,000 in 2008 to 1,27,000 in 2009.

Yet, this is also the land of acute poverty. This country has 700 million mobile phone connections and, as per even the most optimistic estimates, only 400 million personal bank accounts. Indeed, less than 100 million Indians — under 10 per cent of the population — have PAN cards. These people have names, not identities. They have no ID proof; they are not treated as human beings, but as statistics. They are not among the "included".

For everything that is true of India, the opposite is also true. And so it is with inclusion. Each one of us, in some deep-seated and strongly-felt sense, feels he or she is a victim of non-inclusion. The villager who gravitates towards the Maoist slogan; the poor, desperate person from a remote village who migrates to the teeming misery of urban life in a faraway city just to earn a living; the ordinary middle-class wage earner who walks outside a glitzy shopping mall but dare not go in; the "outsider" who feels unwanted in some religious or community ghetto; the business tycoon in the political hothouse of Delhi; the Dalit avoiding those uncomfortable upper caste stares in the village temple; the elderly — each has his or her own idea of inclusion and its absence.

Yet there is one cross-cutting theme to the non-inclusion story — that of gender. In all the examples I have cited, a woman would be doubly excluded. She would feel an absence of inclusion due to class, caste, identity, social status, relocation. And she would feel a second absence of inclusion due to her gender. In a sense, the Indian woman is twice scorned.

Where do the solutions lie to this and other forms of exclusion? We have learnt for over 60 years that they do not lie in the exclusive domain of the government and the law. India has one of the world's finest corpus of legal statutes and constitutionally-guaranteed rights and freedoms. We have made much progress in these decades in increasing opportunities for more and more of our fellow citizens and in enlarging the inclusion cake. Yet, surely, that is not all?

Inclusion will remain a legal text and a national aspiration and a little more unless it is embraced by civil society and the private sector. Already, the biggest effort is coming from and is going to continue to come from the civil society. India has among the largest, the most extensive and most vigorous networks of civil society organisations in the world. The role of NGOs in incubating self-help groups (SHGs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) is well known. SHGs and CBOs are invaluable tools for a variety of inclusions.
Civil society plays its role, but what about the private sector? Inclusion may be too abstract and intangible an expression for most pragmatic businesspersons to wrestle with. Perhaps, they would be better served contemplating inclusion's first cousin, its synonym: diversity. Does the workplace employ tens and hundreds of people of the same community, caste, state, religion and — dare I say it — gender? Or is it truly diverse?
Empirical evidence establishes that workplaces and business corporations that practice diversity — that are inclusive, in that they are identity-neutral when they recruit — are more innovative, have more motivated employees and move ahead faster than their peers and rivals.

The idea of inclusion has got to be adopted not just by the Indian state, but by Indian business as well. The idea of inclusion is the idea of diversity. It is an idea whose time has come.

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








Verdicts that elaborately examine the constitution and legal precedents give a lot of scope to the mushrooming number of 'experts' to offer 'simple' judgments.


The PJ Thomas judgment talks of institutional integrity. It raises doubt on the high-powered committee's decision and strikes down his appointment as chief of the central information commission (CVC).


It has been argued that a corruption case was pending against Thomas much before he was appointed CVC. He didn't commit any wrong since he was made chief of the corruption watchdog last year.


The conditions preceding his removal are quite akin to those applicable to judges.


Then why so much time has been taken in getting rid of certain judges against whom complaints of misconduct or corruption are pending.


Then chief justice of India KG Balakrishnan had recommended removal of Calcutta high court judge Soumitra Sen for allegedly committing financial irregularities when he was a lawyer. But the Supreme Court (SC) collegium found him fit to become a judge.


The issue in the Thomas and Sen episodes is the same. It's another case that an inquiry panel probed the allegations against Sen and found him guilty and he awaits impeachment.


It's merely because Sen is a judge, he is safe. Had he been a Thomas, his appointment would have been scrapped by Supreme Court. The principle of integrity does apply to a court of law. It does apply to a judge as it applies to Thomas.


Interestingly, even Balakrishnan is facing flak for alleged corruption by his kin. He is facing pressure to resign as chief of National Human Rights Commission.


Mind you, Supreme Court is seized of a petition seeking his removal. Let's see what happens now.







Nature can wreck havoc when it turns furious. Earthquakes are not unknown to Japan. The people in this country are born with quakes as part of their life. Consequently, they have adapted their life style to sudden and devastating earthquakes caused by eruption of volcanoes. But there is another dimension of this wrath of nature. It is called tsunami, a Japanese word meaning furious wind. Actually it is the sliding layers deep under water that cause terrible tremours making the waters of the sea turbulent. Thus cities and habitats close to the seashore where tsunami strikes are vulnerable to its fury and devastating power. The quake that struck Japan two days back is recorded to be of 9.8 magnitudes. Our sympathies are with affected victims.

Japanese have met these furies with fortitude. After recurring quakes and tsunamis, people have overcome the tragedy and moved forward to rebuild their land and their country. It is a great nation, great in peace and greater in times of tragedy. As of now it is premature to tell how much the loss of life can be. Entire dwellings and habitats have been washed away by the rising waves from the sea leaving no trace of habitation behind. Japan has yet to count the number of people killed in this tragedy. It is feared that the loss will be much more than we can imagine. Entire families along with their homes and belongings have been washed down and destroyed. Emergency has been declared in the country and the prime minister has appealed to the people not to lose calm and help each other. This is how a great nation faces the unprecedented tragedy.

When the fury of the tragedy begins to subside, the death toll in the affected areas will be known better. There will inevitably also be the costs of destroyed houses, factories, farms, and various kinds of infrastructure to reckon with. It bears recall that the 1995 quake near the city of Kobe, with a magnitude of 6.9, killed more than 6,000 people and caused damage in excess of $100 billion. Decades earlier, in 1923, the Great Kanto Earthquake set off vast fires that claimed close to 140,000 lives in Tokyo and surrounding areas. As brave, resilient, and resourceful Japan picks itself up and rebuilds from the latest devastation, it will learn lessons about where improvements need to be made. But this natural disaster raises issues that must concern countries like India too. As this country experiences rapid economic growth, how much of its vital infrastructure and buildings can withstand a powerful trembler? After the experience of the 2004 quake and the huge tsunami that it unleashed, India has put in place its own tsunami warning system. Japan's experience shows that even with preparation, loss to life and property can be tremendous. Without such preparedness, however, the tragedy would be unimaginably greater. The world is in deep distress owing to what has befallen Japan. We know that Japan has been an important factor in world economy. She has made large investments in developing world and has had many financial commitments. Of late Japanese foreign investment had increased manifold and she had undertaken very big projects in Asian, African and European countries. Our country has a vast area of technical cooperation with Japan and we have drawn much benefit from Japanese technical assistance. No doubt India will extend whatever help it can to see that Japan is rebuilt and our relations remain as close and friendly as these are.






Inception of a Central University in Jammu became a subject of controversy from day one of its announcement by the Union Ministry of HRD. No sooner was the announcement made early last year than spoilers and mischievous elements tried to torpedo the entire scheme for Jammu. Firstly, the chauvinistic forces in the valley conspired to influence the union government to divert the inception of CU to the valley. However failing to force the diversion, politically influential segments in the state with the support of a positive section of bureaucracy managed to extract the commitment of the Ministry of HRD of incepting another central university in the valley. In shortest possible time, state authorities managed to obtain the funds and provide the infrastructure for a CU in the valley. The task of providing infrastructure and manpower was undertaken on war footing and within a year the university began to function. On the other hand, many hurdles were created in the path of a CU in Jammu. One big hurdle created intentionally was to appoint a person of controversial record as its vice chancellor. Students and teachers in Jammu were not happy with that appointment because, as they alleged, he had been espousing the cause of separatists of Kashmir. Resentment deepened and delegations of interested parties from Jammu made representations to the HRD minister and the President of India who is usually the Chancellor and the Visitor of Central Universities. All this hassle took almost one year and the stalemate ensued to the detriment of prospective students of Jammu region. . So the HRD Ministry is back to square one and the search of a new vice chancellor is on. How much time it will take, nobody can say. The resentment of Jammu region MLAs is justified. Why is there unnecessary delay in seeing the Central University functional in Jammu? Does it not strengthen the complaint of discrimination against Jammu? Why should not an eminent local scholar, in active service or retired, become the vice chancellor of the proposed central university? It has to be noted that during his earlier stint as vice chancellor of Jammu University the prospective candidate had become controversial and there was much resentment against him in a section of the staff and students of Jammu University. In view of that it was unwise to thrust him on unwilling Jammu student community. It appears there was more of personal aggrandizement at some place and point of time in thrusting his appointment which was resisted. The see-saw of Central University in Jammu is a loss to the student community and it has manifested in the walkout staged by the Jammu region MLAs in the assembly session.







Black money is unquestionably harmful for the economy. It is used more for luxury and conspicuous consumption. It is sent away to foreign banks. Tax is not paid by businesses on these activities. This leads to less generation of revenues by the Government and less creation of infrastructure such as roads. However, the same black money has an opposite effect if character of the Government is corrupt and exploitative. Almost 45 percent of the revenues of State Governments are today being used to pay huge salaries to the Government employees. These employees have acquired an exploitative character. They are being paid huge salaries so that they suppress the people's movements against corruption and extortion by politicians. Our politicians have spawned a huge welfare mafia to co-opt and quieten the voice of disgruntled majority. Government teachers get five times the salaries of private teachers only so that double the numbers of students fail in the exams. Revenue is being leaked through scams such as Bofors, Spectrum and Commonwealth Games. In this situation, black money provides relief to the people from exploitation by the Government.

It is commonly believed that black money leads to slower growth of the economy. I think the situation is exactly the opposite today. Partaking of ghee by a healthy man is good but taking of the same ghee by a sick man is harmful. Similarly, control of black money in clean governance is good but control of the same in corrupt governance is harmful. Presently about 11 percent of the national income is collected by the Government as taxes. Increase in this is good if the money is being utilized for the welfare of the people. The same increase is harmful if revenue is being utilized for corruption.

There are two types of black money-that generated by businessmen and that generated by politicians and officials. Let us examine the impact of black money generated by businessmen first. Say income of the country is Rs 200. Of this, Rs 100 is in black and Rs 100 in white. Of the latter, Rs 11 is collected by the Government as tax. Of this, say, Rs 8 is used to pay huge salaries to Government servants and siphoned off via corruption. The people are left with Rs 192-Rs 100 from black money, Rs 89 left in their hands after payment of tax and Rs 3 spent for their benefit by the Government. Now examine the impact if black money is wholly eliminated and the entire economic activity is carried out in white. The Government will now collect Rs 22 as tax. Of this Rs 16 will be used for the benefit of Government employees and politicians. The people will be left with only Rs 184-Rs 178 left in their hands after payment of tax and Rs 6 spent for their benefit by the government. The people have become poorer because black money is abolished.

I have taken birth in a business family. Maybe my perspective is coloured. I resigned at Professor at Indian Institute of Management in the eighties and started running a strawboard factory belonging to the family. I did business in white in the first two years. Tax rates were stiff. On a sale of Rs 100, I had to pay Rs 25 as excise duty, Rs 12 as sales tax and Rs 3 as other levies. Strawboard produced by me was costly because of the burden of these taxes. I incurred huge loss and had to change my ways. Strawboard was then made available by me to the consumers at a lower price.

This was when tax rates were high and most black money was generated by businessmen. The situation has changed dramatically today. Tax rates have been reduced. Businesses are generating less black money. More black money is being generated by politicians and official as in the Bofors, Spectrum and Commonwealth Games scams. Impact of this black money is altogether different. The Swedish Company manufacturing Bofors guns gave commission to certain politicians. The Company increased the price of the guns to meet this expense. Or, say, commission was given in allotment of spectrum. The burden of this commission ultimately fell on the mobile phone user. Or, the fruit vendor on the train gives weekly hafta to the GRP policeman. He has to sell the fruit at a higher price to recover this money. The consumer has to pay more due to black money generated by the politicians. In contrast, he has to pay less due to black money generated by the businessmen.
My estimate is that businessmen spend less money in vulgar and conspicuous consumption. Businessmen buy less gold and send lesser amount for deposit in Swiss Banks because these deployments provide lower returns. I know of businessmen who buy land, bricks and cement with black money and establish factories. Politicians and officials, on the other hand, invest hugely in gold, property and send monies to Swiss Banks. The reader can confirm this by speaking to any jewelry shop or property dealer. This corruption would be less harmful if politicians would use the money for building their party. One politician correctly declared that it is not possible to run a party without black money. The problem arises when politicians and businessmen use the black money for unproductive purposes like buying gold or depositing in Swiss Banks.

We must distinguish between three types of black money. Best situation is that Government is clean and black money is wholly eliminated. Second situation is that politician uses black money for party building and businessmen use it for investment. This is not much harmful. The worst situation is when Government is corrupt and businessmen, politicians and officials send the black money to Swiss Banks. This black money is mostly generated by politicians and officials. This is the main problem today. The problem is not of bringing back the money lying in the Swiss Banks. The problem is of generation of black money by the politician-official nexus. Till the seventies politicians would come to my father before the elections asking for contributions. Now they rarely come before elections. They collect huge monies from Government contracts, MP's Local Area Development Scheme and other works done by the Government.

Strangely, we are expecting the politicians to bring back the money from stashed away by the politicians themselves in Swiss Banks. This is like asking the thief to do the policing. Perhaps, it is for this reason that our Prime Minister is saying that names of Swiss Bank account holders cannot be made public. This will not do. We will have to find solution to this problem outside the ambit of Government. Perhaps, honest businessmen should come together to establish an agency like Transparency International in every district to expose corruption among the politicians and officials. We should honour and protect those selfless individuals who are fighting against corruption in their own small ways. Asking the politicians to control corruption or to bring back money from Swiss Banks will not do.







The Union Government on March 11 increased the Member of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) fund from the existing Rs. 2 crore a year to Rs. 5 crore a year for each MP. This will involve an extra annual expenditure of Rs. 2,370 crore. At the same time, the minister indicated the Government would formulate tougher norms for the scheme. Many audit reports have shown a need to plug loopholes.
The Left parties were critical of this increase and, instead, wanted to end the scheme altogether as it was against the spirit of the Panchayati Raj system. Why should an individual decide what is to be done for development in an area? The other MPs across party lines welcomed it. MPs from election-bound Kerala, Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry will, however, have to wait till the end of May to use the enhanced amount. The Election Commission had permitted Mukherjee to announce the rise in the Lok Sabha but with a rider that the poll-bound states could not avail this facility till the polls concluded.


On the loopholes in usage of MPLAD money, the Comptroller and Auditor General of India have been giving adverse report year after year.


The Left parties had opposed the scheme at its inception in 1993. The Telecom Minister Kapil Sibal said, "There is no question of good or bad. The intent is certainly that we spread the benefit of the MPLAD scheme to the aam admi and I hope that objective is achieved.

The MPLADS started with a provision of Rs.50 lakhs per constituency to enable MPs to implement small capital works in their constituencies. The outlay was increased to Rs.1 crore in 1994-95 and to Rs.2 crore in 1998-99. The Ninth Report (December 2001) of the Lok Sabha Committee on MPLADS recommended increasing the quota "at least Rs.5 crores" in view of "the phenomenal cost escalation of every item of day-to-day life". The budgetary grants for this scheme from 1993-94 to 2003-2004 totalled Rs.12, 140 crores.
The main features of the Scheme are that an MP can recommend works in his constituency to the district collectors or commissioners who will get them completed through the implementing agencies of the state governments. The works shall involve creation of durable assets for public use. The ownership of the assets should vest in the Government. The works to be recommended by MPs are subject to the guidelines prescribed.
The scheme suffers from serious defects. First, it contravenes the spirit and letter of the Constitution in so far as it affects the distribution of powers in the federal set-up, as it negates parliamentary control over the Executive and distorts the role of MPs. Second, the administrative ministry had not evolved so far a satisfactory financial procedure, leading to serious violation of every norm of audit and accountability.

When Parliament sanctions grants for certain projects, it is for the administrative ministry concerned to implement the works subject to the directions and rules prescribed. If there is any failure on the part of government, it is for Parliament and its committee system to fix responsibility and take remedial measures.
Instead of strengthening the supervisory role of MPs, the MPLADS involves them "in the entire system of implement and completion of project works" and makes them "participate directly in the administrative work of the country". By his participation directly in the administrative system, the MP loses his constitutional authority and ability to control the administrative ministries, at least in respect of expenditures incurred under the Scheme.

The grants are given under the Union Budget to the MPLADS which forms part of "Central Assistance to state plans". Thus, the constituency funds to the MPs are merely diversion of funds earmarked for the respective states. While the services of district collectors and the implementing agencies of the states are utilised for completion of work under the scheme, the guidelines do not allow any payment to the states for the services rendered. The state Governments have to bear such expenses over and above depletion of the Central assistance due to them.

The ministry of planning and programme implementation is responsible for the overall supervision and budgetary control of the scheme. When the Audit took up in 1998 scrutiny of the performance of the scheme, it found that the ministry had not done any book keeping -- it was unable even to give particulars of year-wise release of funds of the district heads and the expenditure incurred. The audit had to approach the state agencies in this regard.

In Para 3, the 2009 audit report observed: "The Central Government transfers the funds for scheme directly to the District Collectors. These funds do not lapse at the end of the financial year. The usual checks and balances, which automatically become applicable to Government expenditure when Government expenditure flows from normal state budgetary route, do not, therefore, apply in the administration of the MPLADS funds. It was necessary for the Ministry to have devised appropriate accounting procedures at the stage of formulation of the scheme itself."

The object of establishment of the scheme was to remove maladministration and creeping corruption in execution of works by the Government. Instead, direct participation of MPs in implementation of the works has distorted the entire system of administrative responsibility and legislative control.

The Audit Reports found innumerable irregularities - 6257, works had been sanctioned by district collectors without proper recommendations from the MPs concerned; 3405 works were allowed by the district collectors without the requisite technical sanction and administrative approval. The 2009 Report pointed that the district collectors did not get utilisation certificates in 11,915 works, forming 70 percent of 16,978 works completed. These findings were the outcome of sample audits in 111 constituencies for a period of three years. If a thorough scrutiny of all the projects in all the constituencies for the 10- years were to be conducted, the irregularities revealed could be of mind-boggling proportions.

There was a suggestion in the Second Report of the Rajya Sabha Committee (2009) for setting up a separate cell in the Union ministry to monitor the progress of the projects under MPLADS. To this, the ministry sent a reply: "As Department of Statistics and Programme Implementation, Ministry of Planning and Implementation, has been provided with skeletal staff, it is not possible to set up a separate cell to monitor the progress of the projects taken under MPLADS."

Do we have a Parliament that controls the ministry or a ministry that dictates terms to the Parliamentary Committees? It is a pity that the scheme involving Rs. 2,370 crore of investment will be managed -- or mismanaged -- by a ministry that has no commitment to financial responsibility and administrative accountability. (INAV)








The climate change is defined as a substantial change in measures of climate (temperature, precipitation, wind or other variable) lasting for decade or so whether due to the natural factor or man-made whereas term Global warming is used to describe the average increase in global temperature of the atmosphere near the earth's surface which is mostly man-made viz. excess release of gases like carbon-dioxide, ammonia, other pollutants etc. Humanity is living beyond its environmental means and running up ecological debt that future generations will not be able to pay as it is on tipping point due to global warming and because of ozone hole followed by albedo effect and rise in temperature. Our generation has the means and responsibility to avert that outcome (By Sarthak Behuria, Chairman Indian oil Corporation). The environmental crisis is heading towards a big catastrophe/eco-disaster because of the inadequate efforts and insincere approach adopted by the people all over the world. Some of the trailers of this film are in the shape of water crisis, unpredictable diseases like Mina Mata Killing occurred in 1960 due to mercury dumping where in twenty one thousand people died and four thousand are seeking state compensation besides pollution affected several generations.
Global Warming is hanging like a Sword of Damocles on our heads. The very first problem which we are going to face in near future is the water crisis; a main component for the sustenance of life. The major aspect of the water crisis are allegedly due to the overall scarcity of usable water and water pollution. Lawrence Smith, the president of the population institute, asserts that although an overwhelming majority of the planet is composed of water but 97% of this consists of salty, brackish and polluted one and the consumable water is only 3% ; Out of which only 1% is available for use and that too is speedily being polluted. Similarly there are other sensitive areas like air pollution, soil pollution, extinction of various species of flora and fauna and the shrinking of their habitat and encroachment of water bodies. There are various other factors which include the presence of volatile organic compounds with significant vapour pressure, the holocene extinction, ocean acidification, indoor poor air quality, global warming, global dimming. In nut shell our planet is under siege and there is apprehension that many worst things like ecological disaster, environment pollution are likely to come and create more troubles and painful deaths.
This all demands immediate setting of policy platform on climate change because protection and preservation of environment to ameliorate the climate change is a great challenge and rather a herculean task especially when the population is growing at a blitzkrieg speed and infrastructure is being developed to meet the day to day requirements is on an exponential rise.
India actions on climate change
India being highly Vulnerable to adverse effect on climate change has to decide on two level i.e. national and state levels
National missions:- These are eight in number viz solar enhance energy efficiency, sustainable habitat, water mission, Himalayan ecosystem, green India, sustainable agriculture and knowledge for climate change mission. These missions are to be looked after by the respective ministries.
State level action plans: All have been asked by the PM to prepare the State Level action plan as per the national level mission and implement them and some of the states have already started it.
It is all being done to save the country from direct and in-direct human health as the climate change effect the health of citizens through the disease like malaria, dengu fever, respiratory and cardiac disease due to increase and decrease in temperature.
World Millenium Goals: In the year of 2000 the leaders of the world after assessing the precarious and fragile condition of the environment emerging due to the climate change followed by Global warming decided to set the millennium goal to be fulfilled by 2020 through reduction of carbon emission and implementation of various laws and treaties in letters and spirits as well as creating educational awareness among the masses to combat the menace of climate change. But this has drawn a big flak.
What further need to be done: It is a bitter truth that we have many policies, programmes, rules and regulations, laws, acts, SROs and orders favourable on this account but the difficulty to implement them in the field is the lack of will as well as lack of education and awareness among the public besides involving religious bodies in the protection of environment and conservation strategies. There is also need of developing a habit of green living by using energy efficient technologies and creating the mind set for judicious use of resources through public participation and honest & holistic implementation of rules and regulations. This can be done if we have strong and regional based policy platform along with synergetic efforts of all of us especially among the various Govt. agencies and paraphernalia. The role of the politicians who are the beacon of light and what not in the democratic setup is utmost important and unavoidable one. So the politician of the country should be aware and equipped to fight out the problem.
The reciprocation of the input and output has to be balanced in such a way that could pave the way towards prosperity rather than the destruction of this planet earth. The research oriented programs should be formulated side by side with the conventional way of exchange bonus in terms of oxygen assimilation in the environment and has to be given due heed without going in to the outcome of monetary benefits. The policy makers have to be conscious regarding the balancing of obnoxious gases like carbon dioxide, carbon mono-oxide, sulphur dioxide, methane gases. If such projects are to be launched that have the tendency of emission beyond permissible limits then correspondingly that should be compensated with equal and even more receptive measures by way of plantation etc. The planting of trees and worship to nature is the core competence of our belief and way of living.
To conclude there is need of setting systemic and systematic policy platform on climate change and before the thing goes beyond control let us here by pledge to implement the policies and programmes so formulated without wasting further time as it is already too late.
"Love the nature more than you".asas









Vast areas in Japan have been devastated with over 1000 lives lost as a massive offshore earthquake led to a major tsunami in the northeast of the country on Friday. The quake, measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale, resulted in walls of water as high as 23 feet hitting hundreds of towns and villages in the country's 2,100-km-long coastal belt.


It was the fifth biggest earthquake in the world's history and the severest in Japan since it began to keep records of such natural calamities in the late 1800s. The tremors were only a little less powerful than what was recorded in the sea off Northern Sumatra — of magnitude 9.1 — in 2004 that spawned a tsunami claiming over 200,000 lives in the Indian Ocean region, including India. But the toll from the Japanese quake, fortunately, has been much lower. Why?


There is no country better prepared to face natural calamities like a tsunami than Japan. It has a strict building code, which is scrupulously followed. The Japanese, for whom facing earthquakes is part of their life, have spent billions of dollars on creating infrastructure to meet any kind of natural calamity. The skycrapers in Tokyo and other cities have the capacity to withstand as powerful an earthquake as has never been experienced before. Japan's long coastline has high concrete walls with an alarm system connected to every building, residential or commercial, to warn people of an impending disaster much in advance. There could have been devastation worse than what the Japanese suffered on Friday if they were not adequately prepared to face natural disasters.


Even the nuclear power plants in the affected areas have been found to be safe. The people around the reactors, closed immediately after the disaster struck, have been asked to shift to safer places as the cooling system in one of the plants was not functioning properly. The Japanese, one can hope, will have far better arrangements in the future to withstand natural disasters. There is a lot to learn for other countries like India. Foolproof preparedness to meet such eventualities can save hundreds of lives as the world has seen in Japan.









Few schemes have evoked as much criticism as the Member of Parliament's Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) for its various conceptual flaws and the manner in which it has been executed over the years. No wonder, the UPA government's decision to raise the corpus for MPs from Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore under the scheme has come as a big surprise.


That the government decided to go ahead with the hefty raise despite the Planning Commission's objection is surprising. The hike, effective from April 1, will result in an additional expenditure of Rs 2,370 crore a year. In May 2010, when Planning Commission Secretary Sudha Pillai presented an update to a Rajya Sabha committee on the scheme, members told her to consider pruning fund outlays of big ticket schemes to make available necessary funds for the scheme. In fact, members have been demanding an increase in the corpus since 1999 on the ground that Rs 2 crore was insufficient to undertake worthwhile projects in their respective constituencies. The scheme, introduced in 1993 when Dr Manmohan Singh was the Union Finance Minister with a budget of Rs 5 lakh for each MP, was raised to Rs 1 crore in 1994 and then to Rs 2 crore in 1998.


Experts have questioned the constitutional validity of the scheme and called for its abolition on the ground that it blurred the demarcation between the executive and the legislature. However, on May 6, 2010, the Supreme Court ruled that the scheme did not violate the principle of separation of powers because MPs could only recommend projects and it was the district administration, municipalities or panchayats that implemented them. The government kept modifying the guidelines of the scheme from time to time and introduced measures to ensure transparency, accountability and effectiveness even as states like Bihar have scrapped a similar scheme for MLAs following complaints of lack of transparency.


The government should address the concerns raised about the scheme. This is particularly important because in its latest review, the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India has raised the question of diversion of funds, use of funds for private and commercial purposes, inflated estimates and misreporting of work progress besides wrong selection of work. The scheme's status report (1993-2010) shows encouraging trends with most states registering a whopping 90 per cent fund utilisation. But the government should come clean over reports about irregularities in its implementation. After all, it is the people's money and the government — and the MPs — are accountable for every pie that they spend on development.








One can understand UP Chief Minister Mayawati's support for the agitating Jats' demand for reservation in Central jobs since her government has already granted them a quota in the state services.

Besides, she gains politically by embarrassing the UPA government at the Centre and scoring over the Rashtriya Lok Dal, which enjoys Jat support but is silent on the issue. Why should Haryana Chief Minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda pass the buck to the Centre when his own government has not acceded to the Jats' demand? Of course, Mr Hooda cannot go against the interests of his own community, which constitutes 30 per cent of Haryana's population.


Politics apart, the two chief ministers have mishandled the agitation. The Mayawati government was rather brutal with the peacefully protesting Samajwadi Party workers. However, the police did not intervene when the Jats indulged in arson at the UP-Delhi border on Thursday. They ignored Mayawati's appeal for peace and threatened to cut off all rail and road links to Delhi. The Haryana Jats' agitation is spreading. The days of rail blockade has crippled coal supplies to power plants, hitting power supply in parts of the state. The Hooda government has quietly watched the frequent breakdown of law and order in the Jat land. Be it the road and rail blockades on the issue of reservations, violence against Dalits or khap panchayats ordering the killings of young lovers — the government has abdicated its primary duty of ensuring the rule of law.


It is true the fruits of growth have not adequately reached the Jats. Their plight has worsened with agriculture languishing. Their access to education has remained limited, partly because of their ignorance and choice. This has denied them a fair representation in government jobs. The way forward is not through reservations alone. Good health, education and training for entrepreneurship and technical skills along with the adoption of modern farming and agri-business practices can lift their living standards. It is here the government has a vital role to play.











It is heartening to note that in the past two years there has been a renewed emphasis on electoral reforms. This is perhaps for the first time that the Union Ministry of Law and Justice and the Election Commission have jointly taken up the responsibility of pursuing reforms to their logical conclusion.


As a first step, regional consultations were held at Bhopal, Mumbai, Kolkata, Lucknow, Chandigarh, Bangalore and Guwahati. A national consultation will be held in New Delhi next month in which Prime Minister Manmohan Singh will take active part. Later, a Vision Report, based on the feedback from the consultations, will be prepared for effective implementation.


In addition, NGOs and civil society are also contributing their might. Of special mention are the Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) and the National Election Watch (NEW) with which 1200 NGOs from all the states are associated. At the recent national seminar on electoral and political reforms held at the IIT, Chennai, ADR and NEW, in collaboration with the Election Commission, have come out with many meaningful proposals to rid the electoral system of various ills and shortcomings.


A major reform that cries for urgent attention is the mushrooming of political parties. Do we need 1200 parties today most of which collect funds, enjoy income-tax rebate but don't contest elections? The money is spent on shares, jewellery and furniture. There is no financial discipline, internal democracy and transparency in the functioning of these parties.


True, multiplicity of parties is not confined to India alone. It is a common feature in most new democracies. Nepal boasts of 39 parties, Sri Lanka 53 and Pakistan 71. In the UK, of the 160 parties, less than 10 parties are active. In the 2009 Lok Sabha elections in India, only 390 parties joined the fray. But the problem here is that while small, regional and caste-oriented parties are exerting pressure on coalition governments at the Centre and in the states, national parties seem to be losing their pan-Indian identity.


Today, registration of a political party by the Election Commission is very easy. All that one needs to do is to file a simple declaration under Section 29A (5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951. This has led to system overload and a huge burden on electoral management. The tendency of non-serious individuals or parties to stay on the rolls of the Election commission as functioning political parties can be discouraged and curbed by empowering the commission to de-register them. A simple introduction of a clause to Section 29A will suffice.


Given the political will, a comprehensive piece of legislation that would provide for the enforcement of inner-party democracy, succession, clear and transparent procedures regarding receipts and expenditure with periodic public disclosure of financial accounts will be in order. The legislation could also deal with issues such as periodic rotation of posts among party leaders, parties' accountability to their manifestos through an annual statement, candidates' selection and nomination for various constituencies (similar to the US primaries), disqualification of those with a criminal background, prohibition of hate speeches, settlement of party disputes, splits and dissolution.


Of late, increasing criminalisation of politics has become a cause for major concern. The argument that criminals have been duly elected by the people is flawed fundamentally and structurally. If MPs or MLAs are to be the role models, what examples these criminals would set for the country?


In the current Lok Sabha, criminal cases are pending against 153 MPs, 74 of them with serious charges such as murder and robbery. The BJP and the Congress with 42 and 41 MPs with criminal cases respectively lead the pack. The maxim that a person is innocent until proven guilty does not apply to criminals. Ideally, political parties should refuse to give tickets to history-sheeters at the entry level itself. However, as they have failed in this onerous task, the Centre should take recourse to statutory enactment.


Currently, the law debars only those candidates who have been convicted and sentenced with imprisonment of at least two years. The Election Commission's proposal for an interim ban on criminals is worthy of consideration. It has recommended to the Centre that if anyone is facing serious criminal charges like murder, rape and extortion for which the punishment on conviction is five years of imprisonment or more, he/she should be barred from contesting the election during the pendency of the trial.


Undoubtedly, elections have ceased to become a level-playing field for all candidates because of the increasing role of money power. Even the latest increase in the ceiling on election expenditure — Rs 40 lakh for a Lok Sabha election and Rs 16 lakh for an Assembly seat — will not help matters. The laws regarding the accounting and regulation of collections and expenditure by political parties are also vague. Suitable legislation is needed to bring about clarity on this issue.


State funding of political parties is a laudable idea. The Dinesh Goswami Committee, the Indrajit Gupta Committee, the Justice M.N. Venkatachalaiah Committee and the Law Commission of India have all recommended it. However, there are reasonable apprehensions that cash funding may be misused by parties because of their poor record of accountability. The question of state aid, even in kind, to all beneficiaries, including Independents, needs to be examined closely. Any criteria like the votes polled by a party or its strength in Parliament and state legislatures for the grant of state aid may disturb the level-playing field. Clearly, the menace of proliferation of political parties should be tackled first before state aid is considered. Otherwise, it will be a heavy burden on the national exchequer.


Of late, the menace of paid news has been engaging the attention of both the Centre and the Election Commission. Self-regulation is the best remedy, but it may not work effectively. The Press Council of India needs to be given adequate teeth to tackle the problem. It is presently a court of ethics and not a court of law. Similarly, there is a need to make recalcitrant TV channels to fall in line. A Group of Ministers of the Union Cabinet is currently looking into the menace.


Significantly, when the Election Commission issued notices to 86 candidates during the Bihar elections, they admitted that they paid for the news and included expenditure on paid news in their returns. The newly-created Expenditure and Monitoring Division in the Election Commission has decided to emulate the Bihar model in the ensuing elections to five states — West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry.


Undoubtedly, the Election Commission of India commands great respect and credibility for conducting elections in a free and fair manner. The model code of conduct during elections, evolved by political parties themselves, is a unique concept, some aberrations notwithstanding.


Interestingly, the commission has handled the controversy over the electronic voting machines (EVMs) deftly by holding an all-party meeting in December last. It is presently seized with the suggestion for paper trials to EVMs. A five-member committee will soon give its report on the feasibility of introducing an automatic system of providing acknowledgement to voters after they exercise their franchise.


The reforms proposed during the various consultations need to be followed up and implemented by the government with a sense of urgency. Given the political will, it should not be difficult for the Centre to strive for an all-party consensus without which Parliament cannot enact some of |the reforms.n








I was recently introduced to dastangoi, the dramatic Urdu art of oral story-telling. Invited by a friend, one of the handful of female dastango (story-tellers) involved in its revival, my sister and I sat enthralled. The two angrakha-sporting performers, sans props except gao-takiyas, presented lively moving pictures of a fantastic world peopled by warriors, evil kings, tricksters and sorcerers. It was the trusting innocence of childhood revisited.


The episode unfolding before us vividly brought to life the trials and triumphs of a warrior from the most famous of dastans (long stories), the 46-volume Dastan–e-Amir Hamza. It had Hamza's grandson, Asad, setting out to conquer the enchanted kingdom of Hoshruba, ruled by Afrasiyaab, king of magicians. He is aided in this task by the clever trickster Aman who possesses magical artifacts such as a cloak of invisibility and a pouch that contains parallel worlds. They are beset by magical snares and seductive sorceresses at every step but finally succeed in defeating Afrasiyaab. A classic triumph, that of good over evil, regardless of the means.


Dating back to the narrative genre of medieval Iran, this vastly popular form of rich story-telling entered the subcontinent with the Mughals. Emperor Akbar would become one of the most significant patrons of this art by commissioning the Hamzanma: canvas folios painted with scenes from the dastan on one side and poetic narration on the other. These paintings were then held up by two people for an audience to view while a narrator stood behind to read out the inscriptions.


After reaching its zenith in mid-nineteenth century Lucknow, this splendid art form would be devoured by technology and ironically by that other "talkie" in the twentieth. The verbal depiction of epics and heroes was no competition for the allure of radio and cinema; the last known dastango, Mir Baqir dying in poverty, selling paan in Delhi to earn his livelihood.


Culturally, the dastan or qissah had no religious or official purpose. They existed purely for the sheer pleasure of the story-telling experience. Created by the narrator's artistry, they were sustained by the listener's continual query: then what happened? A similar refrain I recall even an old retainer, Bhikam Shah, insisting upon while tucking us into bed as children. His never-ending tall tales, too, were prompted by a sleepily mumbled "pher ki hoya"? Silence from our comatose forms, an indication for him to stop conjuring up a perfect world for believing young ears. Could he have been our very own dastango? I am left wondering…n







A national sample survey has revealed that a majority of bankruptcies in the country are caused by expensive and prolonged medical treatment of patients who are on their deathbed. While guidelines existed in the UK, the US and in Europe on when to withdraw or stop life-support systems and medical treatment, India has just made a beginning with the Aruna Shanbaug case ruling


Medical practice is traditionally riddled with innumerable moral and legal dilemmas — the doubts about 'doing' or 'non-doing' in the management of a patient. Presence of a dilemma causes great impairment of one's decision-making capabilities. It not only creates unease of mind but also, sometimes, a feeling of apathy and depression.


The choice between different alternatives in medical practice is hard. Often the points for or against an apparent decision are equally strong and weak. Moreover, the concerned individuals - the patient and/or the family members — are often ignorant of wider perspectives of the issues concerned.


On the other hand, the physician, who may foresee the disease course and weigh the pros and cons is not the competent individual, either morally or legally to take a decision. The socio-economic factors are other compelling forces in the overall decision-making process. A survey of the national sample of 2314 bankruptcy filers in 2007 revealed that 62.1 per cent of all bankruptcies were medical - this had risen by 49.6 per cent (2.38 fold higher) in 2007 than in 2001.


Let us take a topically important example which one faces in day-to-day life. The issues related to the continued care of a terminally ill patient with chronic end-stage disease are bothersome for all concerned. Each specific term included in this statement i.e. the chronic end-stage disease, the terminally ill condition and the continued care must be fully understood. Chronic end-stage disease is the most critical determinant of decision-making. Parameters for these terms or conditions are clearly defined in scientific medical literature. The dilemma of whether to continue care or to withdraw the treatment is not easy to solve.


Prima facie, it is almost abhorrent to think that the treatment may be stopped in an irretrievable and hopeless situation. This act, even if futile, may also be considered as an immoral or unethical practice. Some may tend to equate it with euthanasia, which it is not by any stretch of imagination even in a wider sense. But there are several genuine fears in the minds of the kith and the kin of the patient who is lying in a kind of vegetative state. "What will the relatives and others in society say if I/we suggest to withdraw the treatment"? "Let us continue irrespective of the outcome, perhaps some miracle may happen".


As an advocate of the patient who is unable to express his/her opinion, let me dare to question the need and the obligation to "prolong the death" and interfere with the natural process of dying? Why to employ artificial supports to extend the period of suffering in pain and agony? Why deny the dignity of death? The real objective of medicine is to heal and provide comfort - not the opposite. The bottomline remains that the condition is end stage and irretrievable and all possible methods of cure have been exhausted.


The arguments for and against the withdrawal of continued care can go on without finding a final answer. This, like many other difficult dilemmas in medicine, remains debatable since the introduction of artificial life supports and aggressive management practices. Incidentally, it was mostly in the 19th century onwards that different medical dilemmas had actually cropped up. This had broadly corresponded with the developments in advanced technology and their consequent application in medical care.


It is in the past two decades, that a real attempt has been made to solve such dilemmas. The era now belongs to the guidelines - the scientific principles to solve a complex problem. Practical guidelines are neither rules nor policies. They consist of carefully designed and documented suggestions for the resolution of a conflict. Being framed through a systematic approach by a larger group of experts without any conflict of interest, the guidelines may serve as the leading light to move out of a dark tunnel. The decisions made on the basis of defined guidelines are more acceptable, and also defendable, including in the courts of law in case of disputes.


The trend to formulate guidelines for the management of diseases and disorders is a global phenomenon in modern clinical medicine. Previously, the guidelines were based on expert opinions and views. Then came the consensus guidelines made by groups of people, based on mutual consensus arrived at after discussions and consultations. Now, there is greater stress laid on the scientific evidence available from studies published in peer-reviewed journals on the particular subject. Such evidence-based guidelines also tend to classify the level of evidence from 'unequivocal' to 'doubtful' and 'none' based on the methodology, the size and the type of studies, which are available and analysed. The evidence-based guidelines, in spite of some limitations, are more wide-based and professionally analysed. However, one must be careful to look into the credibility and objectives of the people or the body associated with the formulation of such guidelines. It is not uncommon in this era of Internet information and commercial exploitation to find motivated guidelines disseminated for ulterior or selfish purposes.


The guidelines with reference to terminal care cannot be considered as 'unequivocal' and universal, unlike other recommendations for management of diseases. The terminal-care issues involve a whole lot of personal, emotional, financial, legal and socio-religious concerns, which are not only region-specific, but also different in different cultures and ethnic groups. It is, therefore, important to allow a degree of flexibility and variation in the interpretation of these guidelines in individual cases.


An important aspect of the guidelines for terminal care relates to the issue of "withdrawal of aggressive treatments" in case of prolonged and hopeless situations. This is especially so in case of treatments in intensive-care units for patients on assisted life-supports such as the tracheal intubation and mechanical ventilation. The British Medical Association Guidelines "Withholding and Withdrawing Life-prolonging Treatments" is a highly valuable document for decision-making. Such guidelines are also available from the American Academy of Critical Care Medicine, European Intensive Care Units (ETHICUS) Study and a few others.


There had been also attempts by the Indian societies, in particular the Indian Society for Critical Care Medicine to formulate Indian guidelines. In the recent past, doctors at the Postgraduate Institute of Medical Education and Research, Chandigarh, in joint consultation with the legal fraternity, had framed the "Guidelines for Withdrawal of Treatment of Irreversibly Critically ill Patients on Assisted Respiratory Supports". The document, available on the Institute website clearly defines the need, the situations, the ethical principles and the recommendations. They help a patient's family as well as the medical personnel looking after the patient to resolve conflicts and take a decision.


Some people advocate voluntary "withholding" of aggressive treatments i.e. not instituting a particular treatment, as a more humane act than withdrawing at a later stage. Several western countries allow the end-stage disease patient to voluntarily sign the "do-not resuscitate" and/or "do-not intubate" consents as clearly expressed advance directives. This, as yet is not a valid consent in the Indian set-up. "Withholding," therefore, is not a practical option to offer.


The withdrawal of life supports, especially of the assisted respiration, in the presence of defined conditions in the presence of an end-stage terminal disease is allowing the God's natural process to take its own course without any external interference. It considers death as a normal and logical end of life - something which is known to man since time immemorial. Even in modern medicine, it is true today what was said over two-and-a-half centuries earlier by Morgagni: 'In the treatment of disease, often times to do nothing is to do everything' (The Seats and Causes of Diseases).


Case examples


  KR, a 74-year-old male who suffered from progressive lung disease for over 15 years, was admitted to a hospital after he fell unconscious. He was resuscitated, intubated and put on mechanical ventilation. He remained unconscious, developed bedsores and swelling all over the body. The daily costs amounted to over Rs 30,000 per day. Finally, he died after about 5 weeks of suffering.


  TS, a 48-year-old individual suffered from advanced lung cancer which spread to different parts of the body. He had been given several cycles of anti-cancer drugs without any significant response. He suffered from relentless pain and sleeplessness. One day, he threw a fit (due to spread in the brain) and became unconscious. The rest of the story was generally similar as in the first case.


Question: In both the cases, could (or should) one have withdrawn (or withheld) mechanical ventilation earlier?


Ethical principles involved


  The Indian Medical Council (Professional Conduct, and Ethics) Regulations with regard to professional conduct, etiquette and ethics terms the practice of euthanasia as misconduct. The exception is withdrawal of supporting devices to sustain cardio-pulmonary function after brain death. Assisted suicide and abetment to suicide are legally proscribed and hence shall not be indulged in by a medical practitioner.


  There is an important distinction between intentional killing and allowing a person to die under circumstances mentioned as 'brain death' and persistent vegetative state /deep coma in the presence of all of the following:


i. Chronic, previously diagnosed and documented advanced, end-stage disease.

ii. No recognisable and treatable or reversible cause of an exacerbation.

iii. No concurrent administration of  a hypnotic/sedative/ opioid  overdose.

iv. No hypothermia (body temperature more than 35 degree celsius).


v. All above (i to iv) are documented to be true by at least two specialist doctors.


  Physicians have an obligation to make patients comfortable during dying. Withholding therapy to provide comfort is not intended to or equivalent to killing. The intentions are critically important in determining the moralities, decisions, liabilities and legalities.


 These principles are not in any way contradictory to the existing social, religious and legal values or systems in India.


The writer is Professor and Head, Department of Pulmonary Medicine, PGI,Chandigarh


Ruling in Aruna Shanbaug case


Euthanasia or mercy killing in its passive form has taken legal root in India. The Supreme Court recently broke new ground with a judgment in the Aruna Shanbaug case, sanctioning passive euthanasia — or withdrawal of life-support systems — on patients who are brain dead or in a permanent vegetative state (PVS).


The court clarified that active euthanasia, involving injecting a potent drug to advance the death of such a patient, was a crime under law and would continue to remain so.


A Supreme Court Bench, comprising Justices Markandey Katju and Gyan Sudha Misra, laid down the guidelines for the high courts concerned alone to give a final go-ahead for passive euthanasia, involving withdrawal of life-sustaining drugs and/or life-support system, in a brain dead or PVS patient, after bona fide consent from the patient's relatives and the doctor's opinion. The procedure would hold good until Parliament enacted a law on this issue.


While laying down the guidelines, the Bench rejected the euthanasia plea for Aruna Shanbaug, who is in a PVS for the past 37 years after sexual assault.








It is in the nature of Opposition parties to be agitational, to be constantly in campaign mode. The pursuit of power demands it but there is a fine line between keeping the government on its toes by demanding accountability and being churlish. The BJP's summersaults after the sacking of CVC PJ Thomas are a case in point.


The forced exit of the CVC should have been the BJP's finest hour. Instead, internal jockeying for a post-Advani age among its top brass has helped shift attention from the Congress' many failures to the BJP's Achilles' heel: the absence of an alpha leader who can shepherd the party's bickering stalwarts towards a common goal.


Differences at the top are the party's worst kept secret and the aftermath of the PM's mea culpa on the CVC judgment has only underscored them further.


 Look at what happened. When the Prime Minister accepted full responsibility for persisting with Thomas' appointment, the BJP's Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj was first of the blocks with her response. "This is enough," she tweeted, "let matters rest at this and we move forward." It was a statesman-like sentiment by any yardstick.


The BJP after all had already won its political victory. It had succeeded in pinning down the government in a clear case of executive over-reach and its stand was vindicated by the Supreme Court. Thomas was out and the PM had already owned up. Given Swaraj's pivotal leadership position and her central role in the Thomas affair, this seemed like the final word on this sordid affair. Politically speaking, whatever way one looks at it, the point had been made and won already.


But within hours, senior BJP leaders were making it known that they did not agree with what they saw as soft-peddling by Swaraj. Her counterpart in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitely, signalled a far more combative tone, asking if the PM had been misled or chose to be misled.


Jaitely's is a legitimate point but it meant that on a day when the front page headlines should have been only about the Congress getting a black eye and the BJP being vindicated, they were instead also devoted to differences surfacing within the BJP. On the same day, Jaitely penned an opinion piece in the Times of India, questioning the validity of the PM's 'Ceaser's wife' image. It was a clear signal of intent that Swaraj's view to let bygones be bygones did not quite enjoy her party's full support.


With the party's top two leaders in Parliament speaking in different voices, Nitin Gadkari ultimately had to clear the confusion with a press conference. Clearly weighing in with the Jaitely hardline – and pointedly underscoring that he was speaking in his capacity as party president – he announced that the BJP had no intention of letting the CVC issue rest and that it would be at the centre of the party's nationwide campaign on corruption.


Let's be clear. It is entirely natural for senior political leaders to have differing takes on an issue and for the BJP to debate whether to take the Swaraj or the Jaitely line. But when an internal party debate spills out into the open, it makes for a particularly unseemly spectacle. It is not every day that a party president openly snubs his Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha and Gadkari has only reinforced the impression of a factional fight within a party that is still struggling to find its centre of gravity in the post-Advani era. Irrespective of who is right, the turf war has meant that in the hour of its triumph, the BJP suddenly finds itself exposed with old questions opening up again.


Arun Jaitely, of course, has publicly emphasised that there were no differences on substance between him and Sushma Swaraj, only a difference of styles. But the fact remains that when the BJP should have been pressing home its hard-fought victory over the Congress, it has been left to deal with the public perception of a rift in its top echelons.


Much like the Congress, there is a growing feeling that factional in-party positioning within the BJP is driving external policy decisions, more than anything else. Once the party's top ideologue, before he was cast out in the wilderness, KN Govindacharya has a point when he argues that "there is confusion in the party because they don't know which way to go. There is a tug of war inside." Govindacharya, of course, doesn't hold much water in the current BJP dispensation but if anyone knows the party inside out, he does.


Which is why Nitin Gadkari should pay heed. There was a time when the BJP prided itself as the party with a difference. That claim is part of its history but India cannot afford its primary opposition party to be one of differences.



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The massive earthquake that logged 8.9 on the Richter scale, and the tsunami that struck northeastern Japan, have wrecked enormous havoc on Japan taking a huge toll in terms of life and property. Worse, the misery heaped by nature has been made worse by human failing with a nuclear power plant being impacted by the quake and leaking radiation into the atmosphere. Japan will take a long time to recover from the destruction and the psychological impact of human failure. For a nation that takes great pride, and justifiably so, in its technological competence and organisational capability, the tragedy of the nuclear accident would be felt as deeply as that caused by nature. While the nuclear accident is a tragedy, global response to it should be one of learning lessons and not debunking nuclear energy. Japan has no other equally important source of power and so cannot run away from nuclear power. But it has the ability to learn and improve technology.

The economic consequences of the quake and the tsunami will be felt for some time, even if they are not altogether debilitating. It has been reported that the most important industrial and agricultural regions of Japan have not been seriously impacted, either by the quake or the tsunami. Some analysts speculate that a repatriation of capital from overseas, both for security and reconstruction, may drive the Yen up rather than down. This, along with the disruption caused to shipping activity could hurt Japan's exports. The enormous reconstruction work will impose a fiscal burden that Japan can bear, provided the government is able to tap into private savings. Moments like these, where there is national grief, enable governments to raise the required fiscal resources and the global community has said it will also step in to help. In the medium term, the reconstruction activity would generate economic activity that could more than compensate for the loss caused by the quake and the tsunami. Domestic demand-based growth can help Japan revive its economy. However, any disruption in export trade runs the risk of Japan yielding space in global markets to rivals like Korea and China.


The entire world has come together to express its sympathy and extend help and support to Japan. This is a testimony to the affection the global community has for a people that have, within living memory, risen Phoenix like from the ashes and built one of the world's most successful economies and talented nations. The people of Japan have demonstrated before their enormous will and resilience in rebuilding what has been destroyed and creating new life out of virtually nothing. For its part, India must work closely with the people and government of Japan to help them overcome this tragedy and rebuild their lives. Japan is an invaluable friend and partner of India, and the government and people of India, including Indian business, must step forward to help and do all that is possible and useful. The sun will shine again on this land and this great nation.







The Securities and Exchange Board of India's (SEBI) latest circular on mutual funds has helped rationalise the usage of accumulated and unspent entry load of the mutual funds. Whether this is a "UK Sinha effect" or just institutional rethink is not clear but mutual funds have begun reading the tea leaves and drawing some solace! It would be comforting for them to believe that the regulatory pendulum could now swing away from the Bhave era. This is a matter of management of rational expectation on the part of the regulator and the regulated. If the Indian mutual funds could have their way, the date 30 June, 2009 would not exist. It was the day on which the market regulator, in fulfilment of its responsibility of investor protection, abolished entry loads for all mutual fund schemes, and left it to the investors to pay directly the mutual fund distributors based on an investor's assessment of their services.

Prior to August 2009, mutual funds charged both entry and exit loads on investors. The SEBI fiat allowed the mutual funds to charge only exit loads from the investors from August 2009, to be used by the asset management companies (AMCs) to pay commissions to the distributors and to take care of other marketing and selling expenses. The immediacy of the directive stumped the mutual funds and the distributors of the mutual fund schemes, who by that time were virtually calling the shots. Many viewed the SEBI proposal as impractical and quixotic. The distribution margins shrunk overnight. The new fund collections of mutual funds were impacted. It was apparent that the impact of the circular was not well thought through by those who frame SEBI's mutual fund policy and by the SEBI Board. The 2009 directive had another implication, which affected the balance sheet of the asset management companies. Prior to August 2009, the mutual funds had already collected entry loads and not all of which were spent by the asset management companies (AMCs). In the absence of a SEBI directive, large amount of funds were sitting idle on the balance sheets of the AMCs. But idle funds helped none, least the investor whom SEBI protects. It would have, had SEBI directed that the funds be transferred to the Investor Protection Fund. SEBI may not have found this legally feasible.


 The latest SEBI circular now allows the AMCs, among other things, to equally amortise in three years the funds accumulated till August 2009 to pay for the marketing and selling expenses and distributor's and agent's commissions. The accretions after 31 July, 2009 can be freely used without restrictions. This makes a lot of sense, at least it puts idle funds to useful use. Of course, the bigger funds would stand to benefit more from the circular. But by restricting the maximum use of the funds in a year, it has tried to ensure that the smaller funds are not left far behind. All this is welcome. But SEBI should ensure that its policy making remains long-term and consistent. Mutual funds in India have not grown the way they should have. Unhealthy practices had helped the growth of some players, but hamstrung the development of mutual funds. SEBI must keep a watchful eye that this does not happen again.









You don't have to travel very far from the epicentre of power in India to grasp the challenge of urban governance. Take a walk to Delhi's hip and happening Khan Market. Watch the BMWs squeeze their way in, and the glitzy crowd walk quickly from chauffeur-driven car into fancy restaurant or fancier boutique, noses covered with handkerchief!


 There is no experience more sobering for the perfumed than a walk down the inner lane of Khan Market — it stinks. Khan Market has become the latest metaphor for private wealth and public squalor in urban India.

If New Delhi's central government is unable to address the challenge of urban governance next door, and is not willing to empower the chief minister of Delhi, forget about the titular mayor of Delhi, how can one expect a new 74th Constitution amendment bill type of intervention to make a difference to urban governance, when the old one has made hardly any difference to rural governance?!

However, a report of a 'high-powered expert committee on urban infrastructure and services' (HPECUIS), chaired by Isher Ahluwalia and including some very knowledgeable persons, sees such a legislation as key to addressing the problem of urban governance, which the committee calls "the weakest and most crucial link, which needs to be repaired to bring about the urban transformation so urgently needed in India."

Accepting a widely held view that the original Jawaharlal Nehru National Urban Renewal Mission (JNNURM) has failed to meet its mission objectives — namely urban reform — the HPECUIS has recommended a New Improved JNNURM (NIJNNURM!)

But the JNNURM failed because a weak coalition government in Delhi was unable to impose reform on unwilling state governments that were quite happy to take the money and not pay much attention to reform. How an even weaker central government will now be able to get an assortment of political parties around the country that are still dragging their feet on tax reform to agree to not just "reform", but in fact a transfer of power from the state government to local governments, with empowered mayor and municipalities is not clear.

India has a three-tiered governance structure captured best by the statement that power in India revolves around three offices — DM, CM & PM (district magistrate, chief minister and prime minister). Possessed by a fanciful view that New Delhi can administer top-down reform in India via legislation, the Rajiv Gandhi–Mani Shankar Aiyar duo amended the Constitution to transfer funds and powers from Delhi to the districts, bypassing the state capital. Andhra Pradesh's irreverent and irrepressible chief minister of the day, N T Rama Rao, got back with the oneliner — the Centre is a conceptual myth — and showed that any attempt to bypass the state capital will be disastrous for the success of any centrally-sponsored initiative at the local level.

The initiative for empowerment of local government will have to come from state governments and through public pressure from below. This is the single biggest lesson to have been learnt from the actual experience of the 74th amendment to the Constitution. A highly regarded and knowledgeable member of the HPECUIS, Ramesh Ramanathan of Janaaagraha, Bangalore, has long lamented the delinking of reform from funding in JNNURM. This delinking has happened not because the Centre has no clout with urban local bodies, but because the Union ministry is under pressure to disburse funds even when not much reform is happening on the ground.

Funds once created are normally not allowed to lapse in government. Not using funds is as much of a crime as misusing them! I am surprised that even Mr Ramanathan thinks NIJNNURM will succeed where JNNURM failed. India's cities do not necessarily lack funds, they lack a political focus that only state governments can provide. To end the ugliness of private wealth and public squalor, India's cities require local mobilisation, not national incentivisation.

The key to urban reform and development is to get state governments to push for them. In Uttar Pradesh, it is chief minister Mayawati, who is finally driving urban reform. If UP's cities develop, it will be because of chief ministerial leadership, neither the incentive of funds from Delhi nor the incentivisation of local government leadership.

Hyderabad offers a good example of a city that improved rapidly under chief minister Chandrababu Naidu's leadership and has since deteriorated due to the neglect of a successor government that shifted its focus away from the city to the countryside. In fact, in this case the Union urban development minister was from the same state and a resident of the city, and was implementing JNNURM. Yet, Hyderabad saw little governance reform, and instead experienced deterioration of urban services.

Almost all the ideas in the HPECUIS are very good. Indian cities need better governance, better services, more investment, etc. etc. A lot of the suggestions made in the report are useful and will help. But if urbanisation in India has to move forward there can be only two ways forward — either the central government takes over an entire city (as has been the case with New Delhi and Chandigarh, and such an option has been suggested before for Mumbai and, more recently, for Hyderabad); or, state governments get involved in urban development, as happened in Andhra Pradesh with Mr Naidu, and more recently is happening in UP with Ms Mayawati.

The HPECUIS view that central funds and Constitutionally-empowered local leadership, trained by Indian Institutes of Urban Management and such like institutional interventions from Delhi, will transform Indian cities appears fanciful.








I suspect Indian scientists have retired hurt to the pavilion. They were exposed to some nasty public scrutiny on a deal made by a premier science research establishment, Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), with Devas, a private company, on the allocation of spectrum. The public verdict was that the arrangement was a scandal; public resources had been given away for a song. The government, already scam-bruised, hastily scrapped the contract.


 Since then there has been dead silence among the powerful scientific leaders of the country, with one exception. Kiran Karnik, a former employee of ISRO and board member of Devas, spoke out and explained it is wrong to equate this deal with the scam of mobile telephony. The cost calculations done for terrestrial spectrum cannot be used to estimate the loss to the exchequer in the ISRO-Devas contract, which involves S-band spectrum.

Clearly, there is much more to this story. But when the scientists who understand the issue are not prepared to engage with the public, there can be little informed discussion. The cynical public, which sees scams tumble out each day, believes easily that everybody is a crook. But, as I said, the country's top scientists have withdrawn further into their comfort holes, their opinion frozen in contempt that Indian society is scientifically illiterate. I can assure you in the future there will be even less conversation between scientists and all of us in the public sphere.

This is not good. Science is about everyday policy. It needs to be understood and for this it needs to be discussed and deliberated openly and strenuously. But how will this happen if one side — the one with information, knowledge and power — will not engage in public discourse?

Take the issue of genetically-modified (GM) crops. For long this matter has been decided inside closed-door committee rooms, where scientists are comforted by the fact that their decisions will not be challenged. Their defence is "sound science" and "superior knowledge". It is interesting that the same scientists will accept data produced by private companies pushing the product. Issues of conflict of interest will be brushed aside as integrity cannot be questioned behind closed doors. Silence is the best insurance. This is what happened inside a stuffy committee room, where scientists sat to give permission to Mahyco-Monsanto to grow genetically-modified brinjal.

This case involved a vegetable we all eat. This was a matter of science we had the right to know about and to decide upon. The issue made headlines. The reaction of the scientific fraternity was predictable and obnoxious. They resented the questions. They did not want a public debate.

As the controversy raged and more people got involved, the scientists ran for cover. They wanted none of this messy street fight. They were meant to advise prime ministers and the likes, not to answer simple questions of people. Finally, when environment minister Jairam Ramesh took the decision on the side of the ordinary vegetable eater, unconvinced by the validity of the scientific data to justify no-harm, scientists were missing in their public reactions. Instead, they whispered about lack of "sound science" in the decision inside committees.

The matter did not end there. The minister commissioned an inter-academy inquiry — six top scientific institutions looked into GM crops and Bt-brinjal — expecting a rigorous examination of the technical issues and data gaps. The report released by this committee was shoddy to say the least. It contained no references or attributions and not a single citation. It made sweeping statements and lifted passages from a government newsletter and even from global biotech industry. The report was thrashed. Scientists again withdrew into offended silence.

The final report of this apex-science group is marginally better in that it includes citations but it reeks of scientific arrogance cloaked in jargon. The committee did not find it fit to review the matter, which had reached public scrutiny. The report is only a cover for their established opinion about the 'truth' of Bt-brinjal. Science for them is certainly not a matter of enquiry, critique or even dissent.

But the world has changed. No longer is this report meant only for top political and policy leaders, who would be overwhelmed by the weight of the matter, the language and the expert knowledge of the writer. The report will be subjected to public scrutiny. Its lack of rigour will be deliberated, its unquestioned assertion challenged.

This is the difference between the manufactured comfortable world of science behind closed doors and the noisy messy world outside. It is clear to me that Indian scientists need confidence to creatively engage in public concerns. The task to build scientific literacy will not happen without their engagement and their tolerance for dissent. The role of science in Indian democracy is being revisited with a new intensity. The only problem is that the key players are missing in action.









One of the old, and often reliable, market adages is that when reaction to an event is different from what is expected, this is often an indicator of a major trend movement in the opposite direction. As a student of the foreign exchange market, I have been wondering whether recent movements of the dollar among the G3 currencies (the yen, the euro and the US dollar) is such an event. For a long time now, the dollar has been regarded as a "safe haven" currency to which speculators/investors migrate in times of uncertainty. The last time this phenomenon was witnessed was in late 2008 when, after the collapse of Lehman Brothers and the crisis in financial markets, the dollar strengthened sharply in global markets. But the recent experience is quite different (see graph). Remember that this period included the overthrow of two long-established rulers in West Asia (Tunisia and Egypt), and the rebellion in Libya which is continuing at the time of writing. There have been strong protests in Algeria and Yemen and, to some extent, in Iran. The Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries has promised to increase output to compensate for Libya, but any extension of the troubles to Saudi Arabia will put the oil market on fire. And, as The Economist reminded in its issue of February 26, much of Saudi Arabia's oil reserves are in its eastern, Shia-dominated provinces in a Sunni-ruled country. Incidentally, this issue also underlies the unrest in Bahrain.

Indeed, the entire situation in that part of the world, which produces something like 40 per cent of global oil supplies, is in ferment. As a result, crude oil has jumped from a few dollars below $100 per barrel to $120 at the time of writing. Developments in our immediate neighbourhood, nuclear-armed Pakistan, are equally worrying: the murder of a relatively liberal chief minister of Punjab for his call for blasphemy law review has been followed by the murder of a Cabinet minister, for similar reasons. The murderers are heroes even to the middle class and the lawyers, whose protests led to the ouster of former Pakistan president Pervez Musharraf. Clearly, the "democratic" government of Pakistan is unable to halt the spread of Islamic fundamentalism, which is gaining ever more support. At the moment, there is no indication of what kind of governments will assume power in Tunisia and Egypt, but there are reports of sectarian clashes in Cairo.

In the ordinary course, given such tensions in one of the most volatile regions of the world, one would have expected money to fly to the US dollar. But what has happened is quite different: relative stability against the yen despite political uncertainties and an extremely unusual current account deficit, and a sharp fall against the euro, notwithstanding the still major problems in the euro zone (last week, Greece, where the eurozone crisis began, was downgraded three notches).

To say the least, these developments are a surprise. This is because only a few months ago, analysts were questioning the very future of the currency, given the fundamental differences on inflation, external balance and growth between the Southern Cone countries and the other group led by Germany. In the New Year, yesterday's discredited currency suddenly seems to have acquired the status of a new safe haven. On some fundamentals, of course, the eurozone is stronger. Its external account is in far better balance than the US', and there is political will to cut the fiscal deficit — in the US, the Republican-Democrat divide is going to make it far more difficult to restore public finances. Also, latest central bank statements suggest the European Central Bank is likely to raise interest rates sooner than the Fed.

Surely, the country that should be most worried about the fall of the dollar is China — its exposure to dollar-denominated assets is huge.

One also wonders whether the recent change in the status of the euro, if it lasts, would gradually reduce the predominance of the dollar as the world's reserve currency, and the "exorbitant privilege" this confers on the US. Barry Eichengreen, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley, has recently come out with a book with the same title, which discusses the rise and fall of the dollar and the future of the international monetary system. In a separate article in The Wall Street Journal (March 2) Eichengreen discusses "why the dollar's reign is near an end". This should not be much of a surprise. Sterling's reign lasted a little over the nineteenth century, and the dollar's unrivalled status goes back to 1945. And economic cycles seem to be running ever faster.  








 Our heart goes out to Japan, as the country grapples with the aftermath of terrible earthquakes, the original gigantic one and its aftershocks, and a three-storey high tsunami. But, as pictures unfold of buildings, ships, trains and hordes of cars being tossed and turned as so much flotsam and fiery jetsam on a swell of nature's fury, our rational selves cannot but bow down in admiration for the systems and organisation in that country, which have successfully contained loss of human life at a few thousand. The tsunami toll in 2004, in contrast, had been 10,000 in India alone and 2,00,000 in the mostly developing countries that were ravaged then. This just goes to show the scope for planned, institutional preparation to minimise and mitigate the impact of natural calamities when they occur. At the very heart of effective preparedness to manage and mitigate disasters is conscious, coherent social acceptance of the discipline that is required to swiftly move tens of thousands of people out of danger zones and to nurture their existence in temporary shelters till they can return to their normal lives. Reports that buoys deployed offshore as part of India's early warning system on tsunamis have been destroyed by fishermen in order to raid their innards for metals and machinery offer a sad commentary on the evolution of our people into citizens with interdependent rights and duties. While the technological fixes — for which committees of legislators and technocrats will, no doubt, traverse the globe — can be procured, hopefully without a scam, the social coherence that is required to make them work cannot be achieved through sectarian mobilisation, our politics' mainstay.

How can India help Japan rebuild itself ? Advanced nations, research suggests, often use natural calamities to replace outdated, legacy infrastructure with modern, more efficient systems, making for faster growth. But debt-ridden Japan can do without yet more borrowed finance. Can a part of the global surpluses badly in need of recycling be redeployed as grants and risk capital for the reconstruction Japan needs? New Delhi should, probably, put this on the G20 agenda at the earliest.









The Centre has signalled bolder reforms in fertilisers, which consume . 50,000 crore of subsidy. The Budget proposal to fix the subsidy on urea, the big daddy among fertilisers, based on the nutrient content is welcome. At present, subsidised urea skews demand in its favour at the expense of other nutrients and the manner in which it is dispensed rewards inefficient producers. Fixing the amount of subsidy available by producers per tonne of urea, regardless of how much companies claim as the cost of production, will greatly improve matters. This is what the proposed nutrientbased subsidy does. But we need to go one step further. The farmgate price must be decontrolled. Giving fertiliser companies the freedom to set the price of what they produce will allow farmers to benefit the most from innovations in products, marketing and soil-specific nutrition diagnostics. It will allow manufacturers to offer innovative nutrient combinations, improve the fertiliser balance, soil health and farm yields. This is the only way the fertiliser industry can see fresh investment, after over a decade. The next stage should be to provide subsidy to the farmers through direct cash transfers instead of reimbursing fertiliser companies the difference between the retention and sale price. And the ultimate goal should be to end this subsidy altogether, redirecting the resources saved to invest in farm infrastructure and R&D. The decision to switch to cash transfers for fertiliser as well in 2012-13 is wholly welcome. Price decontrol of fertiliser and direct cash transfers to the farmer will pave the way for competitive markets that will help lower prices. Gas is the preferred feedstock for fertiliser, the world over, and would cut costs. There is urgent need to ensure that fertiliser companies do, in fact, get gas on a priority basis as they are supposed to.

While the levy of 1% excise duty on fertiliser is a welcome step to bring it under the goods and services tax regime, the right way to end the confusion on who would bear this additional cost, whether companies, farmers or the government, is to decontrol farmgate prices.






 For someone who was meant to be but a toy boy, completing half a century without losing his r a i s o n d'e t r e is an enormous achievement. More so since Ken Carson has managed to adapt to changing tastes and mores without being subjected to the excoriating criticism that his gorgeous girlfriend Barbie has drawn from her sorority for decades. Now he is preparing to reinvent himself yet again, at a time when others of his ilk start to get concerned about mortality, bald patches, and cholesterol levels. No further proof is needed to assert that Ken is not a mere accessory, he's the Amitabh Bachchan if not the Dev Anand of toyland. Moreover, being silent arm candy to his controversial blonde bombshell for five decades — and then wooing her back this year after their 2004 split via a much publicised advertisement campaign — is a rare example of fidelity in an increasingly fickle world.

There is much to admire about Ken, not the least his mouldable plastic frame that enabled him to muscle-up and slim down through the years with much less effort than Aamir Khan's journey from G h a ji n ibrawn to 3 I d i o t sbrain. He has traversed with ease the distance between heterosexuality to metrosexuality, from Dustin Hoffman to Justin Bieber. And even if his earlier efforts at careers had not met with much success, his recent debut in T o y S t o r y 3, new on-trend appearance options and harnessing of Facebook and Twitter, shows a resilience and flexibility greater than what his tactile arms and legs can achieve. However, at 50, he also now has a real killer app: he will repeat whatever is said to him when pressing on his heart. Forget little girls being influenced by Barbie's unattainable form, will any man ever match up to Ken's virtue of saying what he is told?







 Since the economic recession in the West, some observers have dared to say that the Emperor may be insufficiently clad. Economists have dominated the advisory councils of policy-makers. Now many people, even economists themselves, are questioning the foundations of their theories. We should know the whole truth before indicting economists. Milton Friedman is popularly known for the statement, 'The business of business is only business' (which many business leaders are turning away from now). When he visited India in 1955, he warned Indian policy-makers about the dangers of their approach to development — too mathematically planned, too closed, stifling business. 'He told us so', commentators on India's economic history point out. And, thank goodness, we made the reforms in 1991.

Friedman had said more than that, though. He began his memorandum to the government of India with a warning that, "There is a tendency not only in India but in most of the literature on economic development to regard the ratio of investment to national income as almost the only key to the rate of development… In the opinion of this writer, this seems a serious mistake… In any economy, the major source of productive power is not machinery, equipment, buildings and other physical capital; it is the productive capacity of the human beings who compose the society. Yet, what we call in vestment refers only to expenditures on physical capital; expenditures that improve the productive capacity of human beings are generally left entirely out of account."
The dominant paradigm of economics (and planning), to which Friedman had alluded, is growth of the numbers and by numbers. Whereas another paradigm is development of people and by people. In this paradigm, development is focused primarily on people. Indeed, India's 'demographic dividend' — and consequent growth in the size of India's GDP that economists foresee — cannot be predicated only on the large numbers of Indians. It will arise from improvement of capabilities, livelihoods and quality of lives of the people those numbers represent. In an ongoing public debate among Indian economists, Jagdish Bhagwati and Arvind Panagriya are leading one side, and Amartya Sen is the talisman on the other. Both sides agree that development requires growth in the size of the economy as well as human development. The argument is about means and ends. How much growth in GDP is necessary before a nation can have improvement in its human development indicators? Sen, and others on that side, show that several countries, including Bangladesh, have been able to accelerate human development at much lower levels of per capita GDP than India. An analysis by the Planning Commission of the performance of Indian states also shows that some states with lower incomes have performed much better on human development than richer states. Perhaps, as Friedman suggested, acceleration of human development must be the precursor to economic growth, rather than a later outcome of it. The point is not how much water you must have in the overhead tank. But how leaky are the pipes that carry the water to the people. Rajiv Gandhi had said, before the economic reforms of 1991, that only 15% of money allocated for public welfare is translated into useful results. The rest is wasted in one form or another. Fifteen years after those reforms, with more water in the tank, Rahul Gandhi estimated the same high level of wastage of resources. Therefore, what the coun try needs is reforms in the ma chinery of implementation, so that people can get more bangs for the buck. This must be the core of our reform agenda.


 India needs innovations in its architecture for imple mentation designed around three 'L's. First, Locali sation. Government programmes are too centralised with detailed designs determined by a controlling body in the Centre or in the states. One size cannot fit all. When the de sign does not fit a local need there will be wastages and poor outcomes. These are a large part of the 85% losses in transmission from the Centre to the periphery that both Gandhis observed. The gov ernment must be for the people and of the people. It must be by the people also: because partic ipation by the people in plan ning and execution is required to produce useful benefits. The second 'L' is Lateralisa tion. Vertical silos that sepa rate government departments and schemes must be cut through. Also, organisational (and even ideological) bounda ries between the public sector private sector and the volun tary sector must be bridged to create working partnerships The formation of lateral part nerships across many bounda ries is required to produce re sults more effectively. The third 'L' is accelerated Learning. Local teams must learn to design good solutions and to implement them. States must learn how to enable more devolution. And the Centre must learn how to support the states to accelerate improve ment in human development and economic growth. Local bodies can learn from each other, and the states from each other. Much can be learned from other countries, too. In ternational experts are im pressed by the systematic way in which Chinese policy-mak ers and managers experiment learn, and implement. The pace at which Indian in stitutions learn and change will determine how much longer India will take to im prove its human development indicators. Starting with simi lar or even lesser endowments the nations that learn faster and implement faster, develop and grow faster, too. The final caution is this. Just as the ca pacity of the physical infras tructure must increase to sup port the pace of economic growth, tardy change of insti tutions and development of human capacity will be con straints on sustainability of India's growth.









As an expert on the world economy, Gerard Lyons is clear that tightening monetary policy to check high oil prices due to tensions in the North Africa and the West Asia is a recipe for disaster. More so because economies around the world are still unsure of their recovery after the global financial meltdown, says the Chief Economist and Group Head of Global Research at Standard Chartered Bank.

The best way to deal with the ongoing trouble is to absorb the oil shock and avoid any wrong policy that could lead to a double-dip recession in the US, the world's largest economy. "If you raise interest rates just because fuel prices go up, it means two wrongs don't make a right." The big challenge now is to have a balanced global economy, Lyons says. This will include three parts: the West must save less and spend more. The savers in Germany, the Persian Gulf states, China and Japan must spend more and save less. And currencies need to adjust. "We are definitely going to get one of those three. The only one definite is that the West is going to have to spend less because of the overhang of debt and the need to de-leverage. We need to focus on seeing that we get the other two components — that the savers spend more and we get currencies adjusted. The economy will underperform, not outperform, when we have only one of those three components," said Lyons, who is in New Delhi to attend the spring meeting of the International Institute of Finance.

China has been under pressure to allow its currency, the yuan, to appreciate against the dollar. The US argues that the value of the Chinese currency is being kept artificially low, hurting American exports to China and giving Chinese exporters an unfair advantage. Lyons, a frequent visitor to China, believes that the country will move on the yuan, but gradually.

"I think it is like your Indian budget deficit. We shouldn't expect anything overnight. One lesson for China after the crisis is that you can't rely on selling cheap goods to those who have too much debt. So, their Twelfth Five-Year Plan will be a major event, effectively trying to move China up the value chain."

Part and parcel of that will be accepting a stronger currency. A stronger currency will become more acceptable in China not because China wants to please the rest of the world. It will want to do that because it suits its domestic agenda. Of course, if the events in the Middle East and North Africa leave China to worry about low value-added exporters suffering because of a stronger currency, it will make the Chinese go slower in currency appreciation." If there is unsatisfactory movement towards strengthening the yuan, could it result in a trade war? Lyons thinks that is unlikely because it is in no one's interest to engage in a trade war.

"Where I see the challenge globally is between workers and corporates, not between international trade. It doesn't suit anyone to hurt international trade. What we had in the US is the great desire for wages to get a greater share. Maybe, the problem will play out in a different way, which is greater labour militancy, greater trade union activism, greater desire for wage increases at the expense of companies," he says.

Labour, particularly youth unemployment, is going to be a big issue, according to Lyons. The lesson for India from the tumult in North Africa is the importance of generating jobs.

"This is a key challenge for India. Most people wonder if China needs to worry about events in the Middle East and North Africa. Maybe, India needs to worry. Your democracy works very well as a shock absorber, but you need to have jobs for your people. India does need to generate jobs on a massive scale. India needs growth and growth dividend is demographic dividend. It will be demographic disaster if you don't have growth. The manufacturing aspects of the Union Budget are, therefore, important. Winners never complain, losers make more noise than winners — that is natural consequence."

Growth is also the key to achieving the Budget targets in the coming fiscal. Lyons, who began his career as an economist with Chase Manhattan, is optimistic about India's prospects. "India should congratulate itself in terms of containing its overall level of debt. There is consistency between monetary and fiscal policy."
However, like many economists, he thinks that finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's fiscal deficit projection of 4.6% in 2011-12 is quite ambitious. "If growth disappoints, he will miss it. The subsidy issue needs to be addressed and there has to be a credible timeframe to show that subsidies will be eroded over time."










It is easy to sit up and take notice, what is difficult is getting up and taking action, noted the man of letters and moderniser, musing change and reform. That was then, in the era of carriages, court intrigues and attendant chicanery. Fast-forward to the here and now, and it is notable that the Budget for next fiscal proposes several measures to implement subsidy reform. It remains to be seen whether, how and to what extent the Cabinet would be able to walk the finance minister's talk. Yet, reform mechanisms in administering subsidies by the Centre would have gainful fiscal implications, better allocate resources and improve social services, especially for low-income groups. Subsidies, fast rising, add up to about a tenth of the total Budget, and amount to over 1% of our economic output. The idea of price subsidies in food, fertiliser, fuel, etc is, of course, to avoid an adverse impact on the poor and augment demand. A price-subsidy can aid the policy purpose of pursuing social goals, or correct market imperfections, say, for the greater good. But the fact remains that much of the subsidies are appropriated by the non-poor. Also, the resources earmarked for subsidies are now huge. Hence, the vital need to optimise subsidy levels to correct fiscal imbalances and improve allocative efficiency. In the Budget, there's the attempt to restrict expenditure on major subsidies, a proposal to begin a system of direct cash transfers, and other related measures to rationalise subsidy levels such as the move to extend nutrient-based subventions for nitrogenous fertilisers or urea. Note that the nutrient-based scheme for phosphatic and potassic fertilisers, implemented this fiscal, has reportedly led to saving of over .12,000 crore in the subsidy requirement. The nutrientbased subsidy (NBS) scheme for fertilisers is really about partial decontrol of prices and scope for price revision, in a sector where overhaul and finetuning of the subsidy regime has traditionally been perceived as politically difficult. So, NBS for urea — presumably with leeway for price revision — where the volumes are higher (albeit lower unit prices) could lead to substantial saving in the subsidy requirement. Anyway, it makes ample sense to limit the subsidy on urea and avoid excessive usage, which can mean diminishing returns for soil health, rising nutrient imbalances, etc.

The point is that reform of the subsidy budget would make more resources available for health, education and various social programmes such as child nutrition. Meanwhile, telescopic estimates by the mavens suggest that India could emerge as the world's largest economy in the next few decades. We are anyway likely to be the most populous nation some time in the next decade. Therefore, given the sheer tasks and challenges ahead in terms of policy-making and follow through, what's required is efficient subsidy design for greater payback, going forward.

The proposed plan to leverage the unique identification or UID project for direct subsidy delivery read cash transfers can mean changing over to a more efficient and better subsidy targeting that may be far less prone to 'leakages'. Cash transfers after all do have many advantages. In the Indian context, it would mean pass-books and money accounts; at present almost half the population is known to be outside the banking system and its myriad advantages. Direct subsidy transfer allow more consumer choice, the cost to the budget is known with greater certainty than in the case of generalised subsidies, and the entire process can be less distortionary, going by international experience and the fact that cash transfers eliminate the need for subsidised prices. It remains to be seen whether and to what extent cash transfers via UID numbers would be prone to corruption. The ability to identify the poor, the administrative capacity to deliver monetary assistance, and the political support for the targeting scheme are the key for the subsidy overhaul. But it can be done.

The way ahead is to guard against two types of targeting errors. If the targeting is too tight, some people in the target group would be excluded from the subsidy regime, termed errors of exclusion. And the converse is that, if the targeting is too loose, as has been the case for ration cards for below poverty line households, the subsidy accrues to people for whom it is not intended, read errors of inclusion. To begin with, the practical solution would be to provide adequate protection to the poor, while minimising leakages to the non-poor.
As for petroleum subsidies, we have a thoroughly distorted system characterised by high cascading indirect levies in retail prices, and price subsidy on kerosene and cooking gas. It leads to a panoply of unintended consequences, such as adulteration. It's welcome that the Budget has sought to better target fuel subsidies. There are also incentives to boost investments in the food economy. And the 5% tax on medical services should have ample scope for tax setoffs against other central levies. Overall, the development delivery mechanism needs revving up.






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




There has been much hullabaloo about the 14th Dalai Lama's internationally-publicised decision last week to retreat from a political life, although Tibetan Buddhism's most important monk did not fail to state that he would remain a servant of Tibet's cause. Basically, he would be around in order to serve. Seen in all its dimensions, this is a straightforward postulate, and it is surprising that the astute Communists in Beijing have got all worked up, calling the Dharamsala announcement a "trick". Why a trick is not clear. Given to circumspection, India has not reacted. But no matter which way one looks at an issue linked to the Dalai Lama, relations between India and China come into play. This is due to the Chinese Communists' deep suspicion of any individual, movement, or tendency — social, political or spiritual — that has the potential to challenge their authority. After Tibet's abortive anti-Beijng uprising of 1959, the Dalai Lama fled to India. Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru gave him refuge on account of his exalted religious status on condition that he engage in no political activity since India recognised Tibet as an autonomous region of China, not a sovereign state. But Communist China was not amused. The condition for the Dalai Lama's stay in India has been scrupulously followed. No anti-China politics has been pursued from Indian soil, but the Chinese remain suspicious. Indeed, India accepting the Tibetan guru as a refugee in 1959 appears to be the proximate reason for the downturn in Sino-Indian ties. Since then relations have fundamentally lacked warmth. As the Dalai Lama is the temporal and spiritual head of the Tibetan people by virtue of being the leading light of the dominant sect of Tibetan Buddhism, his very presence in the midst of his people is imbued with a political meaning. This is what Beijing resents. (It is rightly surmised that Beijing is waiting for the spiritual leader to die as it expects the intensity of the Tibetan cause to die down with him gone.) Besides, Tenzin Gyatso, the present incarnation of the Dalai Lama, has emerged as an international icon of peace and is a recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. None of this is to Beijing's liking. It does not believe him when he maintains that he does not espouse Tibetan independence and only seeks genuine autonomy for Tibet. The reason is the Dalai Lama says all Tibetans in China (dispersed in many provinces) should be brought under one umbrella. After nine rounds of talks spread over decades between the Dalai Lama's representatives and those of the Chinese government, there has been no forward movement as the Chinese posture remains frozen. While not playing a political role from Indian soil, the Dalai Lama has said he will no longer be associated with politics. There is no dichotomy here. His international travels arouse immense sympathy for Tibet's cause. That is on account of China's intransigence and the brutality shown toward the Tibetans, and would have been the case even if the Dalai Lama had not lived in India.






The Budget Session of Parliament is always a time when economists, experts, politicians, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and all stakeholders in our society participate in active debates about national economics. How should our public money be spent? What should our priorities be? And it is eternally interesting for me as a non-expert politician to absorb and understand the vast rainbow of well-argued presentations, with industry leaders at one end of the spectrum and the welfare state (for want of a better word) at the other. It is in this context, that, as a citizen, I feel that "inclusive growth", as conceptualised and propagated by the Congress and the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government, is the best possible model for our country. And my emphasis would be more on aspects of inclusion — where could we tilt more towards making greater inclusion possible, while making decisions on policy issues. Inclusion is one of the buzzwords of our times. Inclusive growth is both a national necessity and an abiding principle with the UPA government. In fact, the Indian exposition at the World Economic Forum in Davos was titled "India Inclusive". This was not just clever wordplay; but a pointer to the sort of economic growth India needs and the philosophy of the UPA government. Inclusion is a noun that can be suffixed to create a variety of adjectives. We can have financial inclusion, educational inclusion, knowledge inclusion, gender inclusion and, of course, political inclusion. Yet, we must recall what Jawaharlal Nehru said in his remarkable, iconic and never-to-be-forgotten "Tryst with destiny" speech on the midnight of August 15, 1947: "Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments". Inclusion, too, is one of those indivisible phenomena. No one type of inclusion can be seen in isolation. Social inclusion inevitably leads to political inclusion. Political inclusion inevitably leads to economic inclusion. Economic inclusion inevitably leads to financial inclusion. Therefore, the challenge before us is simple: How soon and how quickly can we expand the "inclusion" universe? In focusing on inclusion, we are not undertaking an act of charity. Frankly, to debate inclusion is not an option for our country — it is our only way. The alternative is not just a brutal, unequal and fundamentally unfair society, but also a potentially combustible one. In today's India, wealth is being created at a scorching pace. The number of dollar-denominated millionaires has gone up by almost 50 per cent. According to a Merrill Lynch report, high networth individuals (HNIs) rose from 84,000 in 2008 to 1,27,000 in 2009. Yet, this is also the land of acute poverty. This country has 700 million mobile phone connections and, as per even the most optimistic estimates, only 400 million personal bank accounts. Indeed, less than 100 million Indians — under 10 per cent of the population — have PAN cards. These people have names, not identities. They have no ID proof; they are not treated as human beings, but as statistics. They are not among the "included". For everything that is true of India, the opposite is also true. And so it is with inclusion. Each one of us, in some deep-seated and strongly-felt sense, feels he or she is a victim of non-inclusion. The villager who gravitates towards the Maoist slogan; the poor, desperate person from a remote village who migrates to the teeming misery of urban life in a faraway city just to earn a living; the ordinary middle-class wage earner who walks outside a glitzy shopping mall but dare not go in; the "outsider" who feels unwanted in some religious or community ghetto; the business tycoon in the political hothouse of Delhi; the Dalit avoiding those uncomfortable upper caste stares in the village temple; the elderly — each has his or her own idea of inclusion and its absence. Yet there is one cross-cutting theme to the non-inclusion story — that of gender. In all the examples I have cited, a woman would be doubly excluded. She would feel an absence of inclusion due to class, caste, identity, social status, relocation. And she would feel a second absence of inclusion due to her gender. In a sense, the Indian woman is twice scorned. Where do the solutions lie to this and other forms of exclusion? We have learnt for over 60 years that they do not lie in the exclusive domain of the government and the law. India has one of the world's finest corpus of legal statutes and constitutionally-guaranteed rights and freedoms. We have made much progress in these decades in increasing opportunities for more and more of our fellow citizens and in enlarging the inclusion cake. Yet, surely, that is not all? Inclusion will remain a legal text and a national aspiration and a little more unless it is embraced by civil society and the private sector. Already, the biggest effort is coming from and is going to continue to come from the civil society. India has among the largest, the most extensive and most vigorous networks of civil society organisations in the world. The role of NGOs in incubating self-help groups (SHGs) and community-based organisations (CBOs) is well known. SHGs and CBOs are invaluable tools for a variety of inclusions. Civil society plays its role, but what about the private sector? Inclusion may be too abstract and intangible an expression for most pragmatic businesspersons to wrestle with. Perhaps, they would be better served contemplating inclusion's first cousin, its synonym: diversity. Does the workplace employ tens and hundreds of people of the same community, caste, state, religion and — dare I say it — gender? Or is it truly diverse? Empirical evidence establishes that workplaces and business corporations that practice diversity — that are inclusive, in that they are identity-neutral when they recruit — are more innovative, have more motivated employees and move ahead faster than their peers and rivals. The idea of inclusion has got to be adopted not just by the Indian state, but by Indian business as well. The idea of inclusion is the idea of diversity. It is an idea whose time has come. * Jayanthi Natarajan is a Congress MP in the Rajya Sabha and AICC spokesperson. The views expressed in this column are her own.







The Brits don't go in much for happiness. Stiff upper lip is more the thing, and a good laugh if warranted. Trying to be happy just seems like piffle to practical people. Undeterred, Prime Minister David Cameron has decided to create a national happiness index providing quarterly measures of how folks feel. His foray into "happynomics" has prompted a deluge of criticism — "woolly-headed distraction" was a mild commentary — at a time when Brits face a year of cuts in everything from public-sector jobs to child benefits. The consensus seems to be that Cameron is going touchy-feely because in reality he's wielding an ax. That may be so. But the case for trying to measure the happiness of a society, rather than its growth and productivity alone, has become compelling. When Western industrialised societies started measuring gross domestic product, the issue for many was survival. Now most people have enough — or far more than enough by the standards of human history — but the question remains: "What's going on inside their heads?" Little that's good, it seems. Stress has become the byword for a spreading anxiety. This anxiety's personal, about jobs and money and health, but also general: that we can't go on like this, running only to stand still, making things faster and faster, consuming more and more food (with consequent pressures on prices); that somehow a world of more than seven billion people is going to have to "downshift" to make it, revise its criteria of what constitutes well-being. Just what goes into well-being is confounding. Many of the variables — like love and friendship and family relations — are hard to pin down. But British research has suggested that money itself does not confer happiness, although wealthier people tend to be happier; that employment is critical to self-esteem; that women tend to be happier than men; and that people need something beyond the material for fulfilment. Starting next month, the government will pose the following questions and ask people to respond on a scale of zero to 10: How happy did you feel yesterday? How anxious did you feel yesterday? How satisfied are you with your life nowadays? To what extent do you feel the things you do in your life are worthwhile? Scarcely extraordinary, but Andrew Oswald, a happiness economics expert at the University of Warwick, suggested the questions were a good start, although he would have added, "How well have you been sleeping?" — an important mental health indicator — and "How pressurised do you feel your time is?" The important thing, he argues, is to shift "from the concept of financial prosperity to the idea of emotional prosperity". Perhaps that's the 21st century indicator we need: gross emotional prosperity, or GEP. The Office for National Statistics, which will do the survey, has been conducting an online debate. Answers suggest Brits link happiness to bird song, knowing themselves, the environment, responsible pet ownership, contributing to society, going out into the wild and reading Socrates. Clearly, happynomics is no precise science, and how the happiness index will link to policy remains to be seen. But the idea is to put value on things that don't have price tags. Open spaces, clear air, security, release from pressure — these are things of growing importance and scarcity. Then the question becomes: How do you promote them while at the same time creating the jobs needed in all Western societies? Growth is of course a large part of the answer, but it can't be all the answer any longer. I was thinking about some recent moments of happiness in my own life. One came walking across Regent's Park, my skin tingling at the first brush of spring. Another came kissing my daughter goodnight as she slept and seeing how peaceful she was. A third came in Cairo seeing the powerful dignity of the Egyptian people coalescing to bring peaceful change. These moments were linked to nature, to finding time, to feeling the transcendent power of the human spirit. Emotional prosperity is not the next e-mail in a relentless life. So I'm ready to give Cameron the benefit of the doubt and even give a wary nod to his related "Big Society" project, also the source of much guffawing. The essence of this idea is that people can give more to one another — British ATMs, for example, would automatically give customers an option of donating to charity. It's a tough sell in a grim economy, but it captures a need among dislocated people to connect more. That's also true in the United States. Liberty is an inalienable right of Americans, along with the "pursuit of happiness". Note the distinction here, evidence of the wisdom of the founding fathers. The Declaration of Independence guarantees freedom but, when it comes to happiness, only the quest for it is underwritten. Still, perhaps it's time to measure just how that quest is going.









In my last article, I had dealt with the existence of God. Once we know and accept that He exists, the next question is how do we "realise" Him. Each one of us is endowed with three powers — the powers of knowing, desiring and acting. It is only when we become aware of our potential powers that desires arise and we want to possess, create or become something. Knowledge creates desire and this in turn becomes the motivating power behind all actions. The source for all this is the infinite potential within us. Our scriptures refer to this potential as "God". Once we understand that God is the support and substratum, the Self and the infinite potential in all beings, how can we deny His existence? People are happy when God is far away because His proximity poses a problem. Whether we know, we believe or we understand it or not, God is the power that exists in us. So there is no question of not realising God; we just have to shed certain notions about ourselves. We talk of realisation without understanding the meaning of the word "realisation". We imagine some strange experience, like seeing white or ethereal lights. Also realisation is not an idea that we have to understand later. Neither does it have to materialise nor manifest. We have to accept that it exists. There are different stages to realisation. The first is to accept the existence of God and know that He is there within us. The second stage is an appreciation of His nature, which becomes clearer through the words of the scriptures and the teacher. At the third stage, you realise that God is your own Self. God is not some material thing or person, it is our very existence. This is the realisation of one's own essence, tattvabhava. So we can and must realise God or our own true nature and rise from being miserable and complaining individuals. Having established the need to realise God, we must know how it is to be accomplished. Bhagavan says, "Fix your mind and intellect in Me, then you will abide in Me, dwell in Me; there is no doubt about it". The nature of the mind is to entertain thoughts and the nature of the intellect is discrimination. If the mind and intellect are aligned and work together, we can reach our goal. People say, "If I can realise my dream that is enough. Who wants to realise God?" We are not able to realise our dreams because we have to stay awake to realise them! The mind entertains various thoughts which by themselves can lead us nowhere without the decision of the intellect. So the first step in this journey is to entertain the thought "I want to realise God!" The intellect must decide and whatever the obstacles or contrary advice, there should be no wavering from the goal. With such an attitude, other things follow naturally. The mind is the seat of emotions and love. When we love something, understanding develops. The Lord says, "Where both love and knowledge come together, there will be abidance and realisation of the nature of God". In Bhagavad Gita, Krishna very clearly tells Arjuna, "Anyone who dedicates all his actions to Me, considering Me as the goal of life, loves Me, and has no enmity towards anyone, comes to Me". He is infinity, the supreme goal of life. An unemployed person wants employment. Once in a job, he is anxious for a pay raise. He then has visions of becoming a millionaire, billionaire, and soon a zillionaire. The search never ends because finite things cannot satisfy us. Knowingly or unknowingly, our natural tendency is for the infinite. We want immortality, even though we are aware of the temporary nature of this body. We do not want to be bound by the limitations of time. In conclusion, let us remember the words of the Gita: "Having known this nothing remains to be known". In this state, even mountain-like sorrows cannot disturb you. You attain a state of indescribable and inexplicable peace. So we must know this Truth, here and now, without any delay! — Swami Tejomayananda, head of Chinmaya Mission Worldwide, is an orator, poet, singer, composer and storyteller. To find out more about Chinmaya Mission, visit







Model groom, sulking baraatis Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) member of Parliament Varun Gandhi's wedding in Varanasi, Uttar Pradesh, on March 6 left a sour taste in the mouths of several of BJP leaders and workers. Top BJP leaders, who had expected to be invited for the other Gandhi's wedding, were disappointed to be left out. Even local Varanasi leaders, who had helped in the wedding arrangements, were not on the guest list. To add to their woes, the gala reception in Delhi was cancelled following a death in Mr Gandhi's family. However, even his most bitter critics could not but help admire Mr Gandhi for keeping the wedding in Varanasi a low-key and subdued affair. "We had expected a flamboyant wedding with live media coverage. But the young Gandhi scion kept his promise — something that not many politicians do today", said one BJPwalla. But he continued to sulk. Munni, munnas and ministers Often, the most interesting and juicy nuggets are the last to trickle in from foreign sojourns of desi VIPs. One especially delightful one fell in our lap just yesterday. It seems that the "Indian cultural evening" at the World Economic Forum in Davos held early February created quite a stir. A fashion show had been organised as part of the cultural evening to entertain guests, including some Indian Union ministers. But as soon as lissome ladies started walking the ramp, one minister could not "take the assault on the Indian culture" and decided to walk out. He huffed and puffed and told the officials that such shows should not be part of "Indian cultural evenings" since all this walking about in skimpy clothes was, simply, "degeneration". A while later some officials went up to him and urged him to return since the fashion show was over and it was "Bollywood theme" time. After much pleading, the minister returned, only to find the hit Dabangg song, Munni badnam hui darling tere liye playing, and one of his colleagues, a suave Union minister, gyrating rather excitedly. To further grate on his sense of propriety, he found a female TV journalist, who had recently been in the news for all the wrong reasons, dancing along. The minister resigned himself to fate and just as he was about to settle in his chair, someone asked: "Kya gana hain — Munni baiman hui ya badnam hui?" The 'P' gang is back During the 1993 riots in Mumbai, a young deputy commissioner of police stood on a handcart and announced to the rioters on a loudspeaker, "I am the biggest goon out here", and warned the mobs to disperse or face his wrath. A few years later, during a press conference, when asked which was the most powerful gang in Mumbai, the reply came promptly: "Here there is no 'D' (Dawood) gang or 'C' (Chhota Rajan) gang. This city has only one gang — the 'P' (police) gang". The 1979 batch IPS officer, Arup Patnaik, who was shunted to the "unimportant" post of additional director general of police (state highways), has now been given his baton back and is heading the Mumbai police. His appointment has inspired confidence in ordinary Mumbaikars and has unnerved the "real goons". Mamata and Santoshi Ma Immediately after presenting the Railway Budget in Parliament, Union minister Mamata Banerjee went to the chamber of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar. Ms Kumar, always the warm host, offered Ms Banerjee some snacks. When Ms Banerjee politely refused, the Speaker reminded her that she must be tired and hungry after the marathon reading of his budget speech, and must take some nourishment. Ms Banerjee, however, again refused and just had a glass of water much to Ms Kumar's disappointment. "On every Friday I observe Santoshi Ma's vrata", she informed the Speaker. In Bengal and north India, many women observe this vrata for 16 successive Fridays to fulfil their wishes. The diplomatic Speaker didn't ask the Trinamul Congress chief what her ardent wish was. Marathi mentors for Rajasthan THOUGH MAHARASHTRA is located far away from the desert state of Rajasthan, there seems to a strong political link between the states. Both the Congress and the BJP prefer to send leaders from Maharashtra to take charge of party affairs in the state. Late BJP leader Pramod Mahajan was deputed to Rajasthan as "in-charge". The Congress dispatched Mukul Wasnik in the run up to the last Assembly elections as their man in-charge. And now the Raj Bhavan in Jaipur too has a Maharashtra connect: Punjab governor Shivraj Patil has been given additional charge of Rajasthan. No one knows the reasons for this affinity, but one saffron party worker quipped, "We learn a lot from such 'exchanges', including some business tricks". Take your pick, toughie The aggressive side of Maharashtra deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, better known as the nephew of Union agriculture minister Sharad Pawar, was in full display recently. Mr Ajit Pawar, who was the Maharashtra satrap's heir apparent until daughter Supriya Sule decided to take over the mantle, said a meeting in Tasgaon, Maharashtra, that he is a "tagya" ("toughie" in colloquial Marathi) and that if one wants to succeed in politics one must be, well, a tagya. This sparked a whole lot of comments as the minister is neither very popular in his own party, the Nationalist Congress Party, nor in the Congress. One wag listed all the meanings of Tagya in a popular Marathi daily — deceitful, burly, roguish, rascal, intrepid... Take your pick Mr Ajit Pawar.










THE pilgrim has advanced a perfectly rational suggestion, one that urgently calls for reflection by the government. Muslim MPs, cutting across party lines, have urged the Centre to do away with the subsidy on the Haj pilgrimage and ensure better facilities and accommodation for those who visit Mecca, Medina and Mina. In their interaction with the external affairs minister, SM Krishna, the MPs have offered another meaningful suggestion. The money saved by the government after abolishing the subsidy ought to be diverted for the education of Muslim girls, and thereby facilitate the process of empowerment. The people's representatives of the community have taken the issue beyond the recent Supreme Court ruling which was eminently concordant with the country's secular credentials.

  It had upheld the Haj subsidy on the ground that the diversion of a small percentage of the taxpayers' money doesn't violate the Constitution.  Much as the community has welcomed the apex court ruling, the MPs' constituency, notably the Jamiat leader, Mahmood Madni of the Rajya Sabha, have seen through the economic game, indeed the flip side of the governmental package. Chiefly, that the official underpinning is to help out Air-India. In the event, the government makes itself vulnerable to the charge of appeasement of Muslims. The MPs' suggestion makes it pretty obvious that there exists an undercurrent of resentment within a critical segment of the community at the national legislature.

The proposal, which has also been backed by the BJP MP, Shahnawaz Hussain, is eminently worthy of consideration by the MEA not least because of the welfare angle. As the ministry makes the arrangements for accommodation and subsidised air travel, better facilities will doubtless make the pilgrimage more convenient. Most particularly for the elderly who now have to trudge for miles in the blazing heat before they reach the centre of the rituals. The MEA ought to take a call on providing accommodation close to the pilgrimage site. Also as much on the Muslim Personal Law Board's cavil that the Haj subsidy doesn't help the pilgrims, only Air India. The secular credentials as much as societal welfare will be reinforced through streamlined housing for pilgrims and increased funding for the education of poor Muslims girls. The Centre must reflect.



DEVIOUSNESS is not part of AK Antony's ministerial make-up, so it would be unfair to suggest he was taking the Rajya Sabha for a ride when he claimed that there had been an increase of 10 per cent in the ratio of imported-indigenous equipment utilised by the armed forces: it has now improved from 70:30 to 60:40. That he advised against expecting "miracles" as he expounded on revised production and procurement policies and modernisation of ordnance factories and defence public sector enterprises also points to his sincerity. Yet while members of the House seemed happy with what he told them, most defence analysts were far from impressed. And not just because they recalled that some 18 years ago then prime minister PV Narasimha Rao had promised a reversal of the 70:30 ratio ~ they wished the minister had offered some details. Particularly the yardstick he had used. For if it was only in money terms, inflation had eroded much of the significance of the improvement he had claimed. In terms of the percentage of the stores supplied, that improvement might not impress if it was restricted to items at the lower end of the technology scale. And was he including items being indigenously produced under licence from foreign firms? Figures can so easily be juggled around to paint favourable pictures. Even in money terms, a more realistic presentation would have had the minister informing the House of the quantum of defence capital outlay expended in foreign exchange, and if there had been any decline in that ratio. It is true that no such specifics were sought from him during Question Hour ~ it is a national shame that the demands for grants for the defence ministry have not been debated for several years ~ but there is a much larger security-related "audience" that needs to be addressed. Would Antony make bold enough to flesh out his case?

Despite policy revisions, some incentives to domestic industry and tinkering with FDI caps, there has been no significant breakthrough on the "made in India" front ~ the shopping list of forces confirms that all big-ticket deals are for imported weaponry. The DRDO continues to flounder, the gap between laboratory and factory has not been bridged. And, most tellingly, the forces' confidence in indigenous weapons and systems is not run as strong as ministerial statements in the legislature.



MR Barack Obama's Director of National Intelligence (DNI) has sparked off an outrage among American lawmakers by suggesting that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi's forces will prevail in Libya. In the period since President Obama nominated James Clapper, a retired Air Force General, to the post last June, he has distinguished himself by making observations that fly in the face of public positions taken by the US government. His earlier gaffes included a televised admission of ignorance of an Al Qaida-inspired plot to terrorise the USA and Europe and a description of the devout Muslim Brotherhood as "largely secular". At least one Senator wants him to resign and another has said "Clearly, there's a problem." The White House spokesperson, Mr Jay Carney, insists though that Gen. Clapper enjoys the full confidence of the President.
While appointing Gen. Clapper as the DNI last year, Mr Obama had said he "possesses a quality that I value in all my advisers: a willingness to tell leaders what we need to know even if it's not what we want to hear". What the General is saying about Libya is clearly not what Britain and France want to hear. Both French President Nicolas Sarkozy and British Prime Minister Mr David Cameron said they were ready to launch "target air strikes" on Gaddafi's forces should he use chemical weapons or warplanes against civilians. At an emergency summit of the European Union (EU) demanded by the two leaders in Brussels, their demand for an explicit EU backing for a no-fly zone over Libya and "other options against air attacks" was shot down. Germany and most EU members expressed clear reservations about military intervention ~ a sentiment shared according to the Financial Times by "Washington, most EU leaders and British defence chiefs". Mr Obama and his secretary of state Mrs Hillary Clinton have stated in public innumerable times since the Libyan crisis peaked that they saw the days of Colonel Gaddafi as numbered. But seeing as we all know is not always believing. And Gen. Clapper is telling France and Britain just that.








IT has been reported in the print media that in the 34 years of CPI-M rule, as many as 34 cases of mass murder ~ through firing ~ were organised either directly by the police or by the party's armed cadres either to seek revenge or to establish political control over areas lost to the Opposition in elections. The police have abetted and assisted the cadres both by acts of commission or omission.

The organised genocide by the police and the party began at Marichjhanpi. The technique was perfected over time, culminating in Netai on 7 January this year.  In spite of repeated requests by the Tamluk MP, Shubendu Adhikary, the police reached Netai four-and-a-half hours after the killings, time enough for the cadres to leave the area.  The incident testifies to the cordial relationship between the police and the party.

The reality of malgovernance was confirmed when Calcutta High Court handed over the investigation to the CBI. Till then, the state government had entrusted the CID with the task. The latter didn't display the minimum civil service neutrality. So politicised is the police that it supported the armed cadres and the local CPI-M leadership. In its order on 18 February 2011, the court has cast aspersions on the impartiality of the CID. It observed: "Therefore, we have no hesitation to come to a conclusion that the state CID will not be able to work in an effective manner beyond a point. In our view the Lalgarh local committee is involved in this incident ... had the CID tried to find out these facts, i.e. the sources of arms and ammunition as well as the identity of the persons who had been living in the house of Rathin Dandapat at Netai from where a hail of bullets rained on the crowd, it could have done so in the period which Abani Singh and Aswini Chalak who had also been arrested with him, had spent in police custody." (The Statesman, 19 February 2011). This was a rap on the knuckles of the police administration and the CPI-M government.

The court has brought the entire civil administration to utter disgrace. But the government is planning to move the Supreme Court. This is just a ploy to gain time so that whatever remains in terms of evidence at Netai can be tampered with.  So that when the CBI starts the probe, it will face the problem of insufficient evidence.
It bears recall that the state government had adopted this tactic after the killing of 14 people in Nandigram on 14 March 2007. Calcutta High Court had taken suo motu notice of the incident, and had ordered a CBI inquiry. To quote the court's observation: "The action of the police cannot be protected or justified on the ground of sovereign immunity... It  cannot be justified even under the provisions of Criminal Procedure Code, the Police Act, 1861, or the Police Regulation, 1943". To protect the culpable police officers, notably the regional Inspector-General, the range DIG, the Superintendent of Police, and the SDPO, the government filed an appeal before the Supreme Court. The matter is still pending.

Three issues are clear from the judiciary's observations. First, police in West Bengal are not allowed to act properly under the laws they are expected to enforce. Second, the police, particularly the higher echelons of the force, have been thoroughly politicised under the influence of the CPI-M. Third, the police is immune to any punishment for illegal action, grave dereliction of duty and utter negligence to perform according to law, rules and regulation. A fair segment of the force has become insolent, defiant, dishonest and corrupt. The force, which has lost its elan, its culture and its pride in discharging its lawful duties, can hardly be trusted to perform effectively and ensure good governance should there be a change in the political dispensation.
A police force is a collection of highly motivated, disciplined and skilled personnel, functioning under a streamlined structure and a hierarchy of command. Once it loses its vital force, it becomes a malfunctioning instrument, one that is too dangerous to ensure public security and well-being. To make it an effective, legally-compliant, and a citizen-friendly force, a large-scale "cleansing" operation needs to be undertaken.
I do not buy the thesis that with the change of political masters, the police shall also change. Some will, and but many will be loath to give up their easy and corrupt way of life. Hence a new dispensation will have to be hard, harsh ~ yet fair ~ in weeding out those who have openly been partisan and have acted against the law only to please their CPI-M masters. This section must be moved out with a measure of firmness and speed. Any leniency will imperil the moral authority of the new government.

The CPI-M has introduced certain elements of "dirty war", that was widely practised by the Latin American dictators in the latter half of the last century. One facet is the creation of a vast network of illegally armed civilians, who are assigned to enforce a culture of fear and terror. Such cadres, whether in Colombia or Argentina or West Bengal, would not have been able to enforce this "culture" without the overt and covert support of the police and the paramilitary that has now been deployed in parts of the state. Camps  for  armed  cadres  do exist in Junglemahal. This is clear from the High Court's ruling on Netai, confirming the fact that "dirty war" tactics have been adopted by the CPI-M.

Those elements of the police who have openly or secretly supported these armed cadres will have to be cleansed to end the culture of fear and terror. The altered political scenario must translate to a lifestyle of freedom and enlightenment.

West Bengal has become almost a genocidal state. This is evident from the fact that between 1977 and 2009, 55408 political murders were committed (as statistically estimated). An estimated 72,600 political rapes were committed by ruling party goons. At least four lakh murderers and rapists are moving about freely and with the full support of the leadership of the CPI-M in different levels.

The violent state of affairs,  perpetrated by the CPI-M and its armed cadres with the assistance of the police, should be rectified in the altered situation not with counter-violence but through the due process of law. Only the rule of law can end the culture of violence and terror. It is imperative, therefore, to set up a Political Crimes Tribunal with adequate Benches to enquire, investigate and try all cases of crime against humanity committed by the CPI-M government ~ from Marichjhanpi in 1979 to Netai in January 2011. The culprits, including the delinquent policemen, must be punished. To prove its bonafides, the new government will have to execute this essential, if difficult, task immediately after assumption of office.

The writer is a retired IAS officer





The European Union is a union to end disunion forever; hence it cannot be allowed to fail. It also aspires to be an economic model; so it cannot allow any member to fail. These ambitions have come under stress in recent years; first Iceland, then Ireland, and then Greece have gone bankrupt and been rescued by their fellow members. The governments have not put in much money of their own; they have mostly persuaded banks to purchase or prop up the debt of failing governments. But elementary calculation shows Greece to be incapable of repaying its debt. The other countries' crises have been shoved into the future; there is no guarantee that they will not recur. And the banks that have rescued these countries cannot be allowed to fail without catastrophic consequences, not least for the economies of France and Germany. So ultimately, the governments of these two countries have put their own reputations at stake for the sake of their less responsible fellow members. This worries them no end, and from time to time they come up with rules for all to follow that are supposed to prevent all future crises.

Now they have devised yet another set of commitments they want fellow member countries to give. One part relates to three variables — international competitiveness, fiscal stability and infrastructural investment. For all three, the members are supposed to agree to binding figures; but months of discussion have led to no agreed figures. Then they have another list of six things to do: banning wage indexation, common recognition of university degrees, uniform corporation tax, raising the age of retirement, constitutional wage alerts, and national plans for dealing with bank bankruptcies. The list covers all the risks that have been brought to the fore by the EU's recent near-crises; if they were effectively tackled, the risk of the Union facing a breakdown would be largely mitigated.

The Franco-German approach, however, confuses the willingness of governments to agree to be wise with their ability to do so. Prime ministers, elected for the time being, would have no compunction about signing all kinds of commitments; but they might just melt away into the dark after the next election. Even if they came back, they could always plead force majeure. The impossibility is not always absolute; often they could fulfil their commitments, but at an impossible cost. In particular, all the stress these days is on fiscal consolidation — on raising taxes, reducing government expenditure, and using revenue to repay debt. It is not as if these have not been tried here and there in Europe; and the consequences also are well known. Entire countries have been closed down by strikes; pensioners have been thrown into poverty, and rates of unemployment have soared. And these catastrophes have been insufficient to prevent further crises. So clearly, soundness is not the final solution.






The European Union is a union to end disunion forever; hence it cannot be allowed to fail. It also aspires to be an economic model; so it cannot allow any member to fail. These ambitions have come under stress in recent years; first Iceland, then Ireland, and then Greece have gone bankrupt and been rescued by their fellow members. The governments have not put in much money of their own; they have mostly persuaded banks to purchase or prop up the debt of failing governments. But elementary calculation shows Greece to be incapable of repaying its debt. The other countries' crises have been shoved into the future; there is no guarantee that they will not recur. And the banks that have rescued these countries cannot be allowed to fail without catastrophic consequences, not least for the economies of France and Germany. So ultimately, the governments of these two countries have put their own reputations at stake for the sake of their less responsible fellow members. This worries them no end, and from time to time they come up with rules for all to follow that are supposed to prevent all future crises.

Now they have devised yet another set of commitments they want fellow member countries to give. One part relates to three variables — international competitiveness, fiscal stability and infrastructural investment. For all three, the members are supposed to agree to binding figures; but months of discussion have led to no agreed figures. Then they have another list of six things to do: banning wage indexation, common recognition of university degrees, uniform corporation tax, raising the age of retirement, constitutional wage alerts, and national plans for dealing with bank bankruptcies. The list covers all the risks that have been brought to the fore by the EU's recent near-crises; if they were effectively tackled, the risk of the Union facing a breakdown would be largely mitigated.

The Franco-German approach, however, confuses the willingness of governments to agree to be wise with their ability to do so. Prime ministers, elected for the time being, would have no compunction about signing all kinds of commitments; but they might just melt away into the dark after the next election. Even if they came back, they could always plead force majeure. The impossibility is not always absolute; often they could fulfil their commitments, but at an impossible cost. In particular, all the stress these days is on fiscal consolidation — on raising taxes, reducing government expenditure, and using revenue to repay debt. It is not as if these have not been tried here and there in Europe; and the consequences also are well known. Entire countries have been closed down by strikes; pensioners have been thrown into poverty, and rates of unemployment have soared. And these catastrophes have been insufficient to prevent further crises. So clearly, soundness is not the final solution.





Nature has its way of mocking the vanity of human wishes. In spite of its technological achievements and economic stature, Japan was shattered by a powerful earthquake, which was followed by a devastating tsunami. Located in a region prone to seismic turmoil, Japan could not have been better prepared to meet such disasters. Yet stringent building regulations, public safety drills, state-of-the-art scientific devices, and years of research could not prevent the loss of lives and damage to property. It is to be hoped that Japan will pick up the pieces and make a fresh start. But smaller island-states like Samoa and Tuvalu, or relatively less prosperous nations like Indonesia and the Philippines, will have to bear the brunt of the aftershock, as huge waves of ocean current are unleashed upon these places.

Japan has been torn apart by seismic upheaval time and again. But this is a watershed moment in the history of this Asian superpower. The meltdown of the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, triggered by the twin disasters, brought to light the risk of building nuclear power plants in areas of intense seismic activity. In July 2007, the Kashiwazaki reactor had leaked after an earthquake measuring 6.8. Since then, seismologists have warned against the dangers of setting up nuclear plants in a country that is hit by tremors with alarming frequency. The government did not pay heed to the warnings then and decided to continue building as it did 40 years ago when seismic activity in the country was not as high. At present, Japan is the third largest nuclear power in the world, with 53 reactors providing 34.5 per cent of its electricity. The number is expected to rise to 50 per cent by 2030. Hopefully, safety standards will also increase commensurately by then.






The prime minister says that wherever he goes in the world there is praise for India's spectacular and consistent growth for four years. The chambers of commerce and chief executive officers of companies talk about India having arrived and boastfully quote President Barack Obama that India is no longer an emerging economy but an economy that has emerged. There are some who now compare India with China and look to a future where India will outstrip China. The government puts growth above all other challenges — inflation, environment, corruption, the black economy, current account deficit and fiscal deficit. There is an obsession with achieving a growth of 9 or 10 per cent annually. Is this hype justified?

India has the capability to achieve spectacular and consistent growth. This must be all-round growth, not, as now, lopsided, with the dominance of services in the gross domestic product, declining agricultural production and productivity although 60 per cent of the population depends on agriculture, a weak export effort and growing deficit in the balance of trade and payments, foreign exchange reserves composed mainly of volatile funds and not of direct investment or surpluses earned by exports, poor infrastructure, desperately slow and inefficient implementation, and ineffective administration with little accountability, and much corruption.

Chinese growth has been in double digits for 30 years (versus erratic growth in India over the same period). Initially we doubted China's statistics, raised questions about the economic exploitation of its workforce, sneeringly referred to the State's authoritarian ways that enabled single-minded attention to growth. But the hard reality of China's vast foreign exchange reserves, assets abroad, global ubiquity of cheap manufactures from silk to power plants, and the rapid growth of world-beating infrastructure silenced these doubts.

Jeffrey Hays wrote that the GDP in China was $4.91 trillion in 2009 ($14 trillion in the United States of America and a little over $1 trillion in India). China was the world's No. 2 economy in 2010 and predictions are that it will become the world's largest economy by 2035 or even earlier. It has been the fastest growing major economy for more than a decade and will remain so for five to 10 years more. A Pew Research Center poll before the 2008 Olympics found that 82 per cent of the Chinese interviewed were satisfied with the national economy (52 per cent in 2002). China jumped to 27 from 29 in the international competitiveness ranking in 2007; India slipped to 51. China is a developing country and, like India, simultaneously experiencing industrial and information age revolutions. The majority of the population is in agriculture and rural occupations, like India, but information age research centres and factories are producing advanced electronics in many places, as in India.

China has a long tradition of fudging growth figures. True growth figures may actually be a couple of percentage points below reported ones. Sometimes the output of small- and medium-size companies is grossly overestimated. Government accountants add the income from a single collectively-owned pig to five villagers instead of just one. Looking after a cow for a day gives a person a right to claim that as an asset. Selling any amount of produce is recorded as profit. In some cases, these statistics make villages where people are hungry and poor seem like bustling income earners. Cigarette makers have paid employees with cigarettes to boost production figures. Based on statistics on electricity consumption rates and rural growth Lester Thurow concluded that growth rates in China are between 5 and 6 per cent not 10 and 11 per cent. Ten per cent to 11 per cent is the growth rate in the cities. As far as consumer inflation is concerned, it was 17.5 per cent in 1989, 3 per cent 1991, 5 per cent 1992, 13 per cent in 1993 and 27 per cent in 1994. In the 2000s, inflation was running at 5 and 6 per cent with prices of things like textiles, cell phones and cars falling while those of gasoline and food rose. The government has used price controls to keep inflation in check. In 2005, as some inflation pressures were easing there was discussion of lifting price controls. Inflation is now back, interest rates are rising and China is decelerating growth to tackle inflation.

China has other problems. There appear to be a real estate bubble, industrial over-capacity, rampant corruption, debt-ridden banks and companies, many of which will have to shut down or be merged.

Indian statisticians also change national income estimates for any year dramatically between preliminary and final estimates over three to four years. Governments mislead themselves and the public by using the wholesale and not the consumer price index to measure inflation and its effect on the poor. Agricultural production figures are habitually misreported by state governments. The black economy conceals a great deal of manufacturing production. The fact is that our real economy is relatively small, inflation has been a constant worry, external deficits are large, foreign fund inflows and reserves are volatile, there is a large and growing black economy, and much of Indian wealth is illegally remitted abroad. There is not that much to boast about.

China has the largest dollar reserves after Japan, accumulated from export surpluses and foreign direct investment. Exports account for 40 per cent of the Chinese GDP (well below 20 for India). China has followed Japan and South Korea in their early years with an undervalued currency and its exports are very competitive. China, unlike India, is single-minded about building infrastructure — roads, railways, power plants, airports and so on, and inviting the best technologies to participate in these with Chinese companies. China also got the best technical and other teaching institutions in the world to set up shop there (we are still arguing about it). The result has been the exposure of newly minted Chinese engineers, technicians, managers, economists and so on to the best foreign technologies, and quick absorption. With the weak protection of intellectual property and rampant copying, China has absorbed the best technologies. The assumption that India is superior in all higher engineering is faulty. China's defence preparedness, manufacture of nuclear weapons, advanced missiles, and other sophisticated equipment demonstrate this.

China has doubled its per capita income in 10 years, and risen in rank in per capita income at purchasing power parity from 90 in 1984 to 58 in 2004; India has moved from 89 to75 over the same years. Officially, unemployment rate in 2005 was 4.2 per cent in urban areas but there is a lot of unemployment and underemployment in rural areas — not so different from India. With a savings rate of 49.7 per cent of the GDP (32.5 in 2008-09 in India), China has the highest savings in the world, and the flexibility to use deficits to grow its economy without much fear of inflation.

Goldman Sachs in a study said, "India could be 40 times bigger by 2050. To achieve this, India needs to... [i]mprove its governance, control inflation, introduce credible fiscal policy, liberalize financial markets and increase trade with its neighbours. It also needs both to significantly raise its basic educational standards, and increase the quality and quantity of its universities. India needs to boost agricultural productivity, improve its infrastructure and environmental quality. Delivery of all these would ensure strong, persistent, medium to long-term growth, allowing India to reach its amazing potential."

We need not keep eyeing China. We have the capability and a democracy to ensure people's involvement. But our administrative and governance failures and self-regarding political leaderships have prevented action. The Right to Information Act, the judiciary and the media must be our pillars in the course of our development despite the failure of ethics and poor governance.

The author is former director general, National Council for Applied Economic Research






From the beginning of next month, it will be illegal for a Muslim woman in France to wear a full-face veil (niqab) in any public place. An opinion poll suggested that Marine Le Pen, the new leader of the far-right National Front, could win the first round of next year's presidential elections. These two facts are not unconnected.

President Nicolas Sarkozy is in a panic as the National Front gains in the polls, for his own core vote is also on the right. He has responded by ordering a nationwide debate on Islam's place in secular France, and he has made it quite clear which side he is on: he wants no minarets in France, and no halal food in school canteens. But the new anti-niqab law is the centrepiece of his strategy.

It is a solution to a problem that does not exist. There are around five million Muslims in France, about 8 per cent of the population, but only a couple of hundred Muslim Frenchwomen wear the niqab in public. In what sense is their occasional presence in public spaces a threat to society? In fact, there are probably more British women wearing niqab in my small patch of London than there are Frenchwomen wearing niqab in the entire country. In Camden Town, I see them in the supermarket, on the bus, in the street — and when I overhear them talking to their husbands or their kids, I notice that most of them have London accents.

That's because most of the niqab-wearers are not immigrants. They are the British-born daughters of immigrants, and the fact that they now appear in public wearing this extreme garb is part of the crisis that always affects second-generation immigrants everywhere.

The men of the conservative older generation are horrified as their daughters absorb the values of the larger society around them, and try desperately to isolate them from those influences. It was a losing battle for Italian and Jewish fathers in New York a hundred years ago, and it's a losing battle for Algerian and Indian fathers in London and Paris now.

Panic attack

But these things take time to work out, and in the meantime a tiny minority of British Muslim women, and an even tinier minority of Muslim Frenchwomen, wear niqabs. So why would a French government ban women wearing niqab from taking a bus, entering a shop, or even just walking down the street, on pain of a 150-euro fine? The right is in the ascendant in French politics, and this has unleashed a wave of panic-mongering over 'multiculturalism.' Assimilation of second- and third-generation immigrants is actually proceeding at the normal pace, but in the midst of the process it is possible to believe that the cultural turmoil is leading to a permanently divided society.

Whoever can more convincingly claim to have the solution for this imaginary problem wins the right-wing vote, and the National Front is drawing ahead of Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement. Under the leadership of Jean-Marie Le Pen, the National Front came second in the 2002 presidential election; under the leadership of his daughter, Marine Le Pen, it could do even better.

The tide of Islamophobia is running strongly on the European right at the moment. The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has been trumpeting the failure of multiculturalism and the British prime minister, David Cameron, recently added his voice to the chorus. It is only a cynical political stratagem, but it could have real consequences.

Left to their own devices, the various immigrant groups in these countries, including the Muslim groups, will assimilate with the general society in a couple of generations. You can accelerate the process a little with the right government policies, but not much. However, you could stall it entirely by attacking the minority groups and driving them into cultural ghettos. That's the game that Sarkozy is playing now.



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




A little over 65 years after Japan became the first country to be attacked with nuclear weapons, it is now staring at a nuclear catastrophe once again. An earthquake measuring 8.9 on the Richter scale that was followed by giant tsunami waves wreaked havoc along Japan's northeast, sweeping far inland and devastating a number of towns and villages. In the coastal city of Sendai, cars, boats, trains and shipping containers were tossed around like toys by the killer waves. Around 2,000 bodies have been recovered so far and tens of thousands are still missing. But even as Japan struggles to get a grip on the havoc, a more deadly disaster is unfolding.

At least two reactors in the Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant have been severely damaged. There have been massive explosions and the danger of widespread nuclear radiation looms. Japan, the only country to have suffered a nuclear attack, is now living out its worst nightmare. Its people will suffer the immediate and long term impact of nuclear radiation. Scientists and anti-nuclear activists had repeatedly warned of the extreme vulnerability of nuclear reactors in Japan given that the country is a hot spot for earthquakes. The dire scenarios they warned the world about are now unfolding in Japan.

The Japanese government has sought to play down fears of a radiation leak at Fukushima. But plant officials have admitted that radiation in the area has crossed permissible levels. While the government might be seeking to avoid triggering panic among the public, it must avoid secrecy as denial and dissemination will only deepen the crisis. Evacuation of people and treatment of those who have been exposed to radiation hinges on provision of correct information.

Japan had put in place alarm systems, earthquake resistant buildings and other safeguards to protect people in the event of a deadly tremor. But none of these were enough to protect people fully, underscoring the fact that despite the advance in science and technology man remains vulnerable in the face of natural disasters. The Japanese nuclear reactors had multiple safeguards; yet when the tsunami crashed into the coast, these collapsed. Last Friday, as Japan was battered by the quake and aftershocks and then by a tsunami it did seem it was the worst day in its history. Now as reactors spew nuclear radiation, it is evident the worst is still to come. The days after are bringing new, deadlier havoc to this country.







The  Dalai Lama's announcement of political retirement was not unexpected. He has hinted for some time that he would like to step down as the political head of the Tibetan government-in-exile in India which is not recognised by any government in the world. Even its identity is not well known, though the Tibetan cause enjoys support among many sections of people.

The Dalai Lama's personality has put it in a shade. It has an elected prime minister but neither the office nor the political arrangement is completely democratic, because the real power rests in the Dalai Lama. He wants to change the position by empowering the prime minister's office. The septuagenarian spiritual leader may not have many more years of active life left. The world's interest in the Tibetan cause is to a good extent the result of his personal status and charisma.  He might want the prime minister's office to gain more legitimacy and visibility so it can effectively continue the Tibetans' struggle.

The Dalai Lama might have also felt that democratisation of the office will strengthen it. It might make it more sensitive to the different views among the Tibetans. The decision is also significant in view of the pro-democracy movements in the Arab world and Africa. It is likely that any future negotiations with China will be conducted by the empowered political office rather than by representatives of the Dalai Lama. However, it is unlikely that there will be any diminution of the Dalai Lama's position in the real sense at least in the near future. This is because it is difficult to separate political power from religious authority in the institution of the Dalai Lama, as the former flows from the latter. It took centuries for Rome to effect this separation of powers.

It also makes good practical sense to democratically empower a political office to represent him and the community because it will take many years for his spiritual successor to be discovered and groomed. Succession is likely to be controversial as China has said it would accept only a reincarnation within Tibet and the Dalai Lama has, perhaps deliberately, spelt out a number of options before him. Separation of the political leadership and giving it an independent status  might insulate the office to some extent from the likely controversy over succession.








'Dhoni has fashioned half a team on the assumption that opponents will get themselves out.'

Style is the yeast of leadership. The league rounds of this World Cricket Cup are not designed to offer much by way of excitement since it would require too much stupidity on the part of the Biggies not to qualify for the knockout stage, which is when the mercury will start rising. England, possibly in honour of its long sporting tradition, is trying very hard to fail, but I suspect that it might very well fail to fail. I hope Bangladesh marches into the quarter-finals, precisely because it is the very opposite of England: its spirit is greater than its ability, unlike England, which brought along quality to the Cup but mislaid its spirit somewhere on the flight to the subcontinent.

The one fascinating aspect of this tournament so far is the difference in the management style of its captains. The test of a captain lies, obviously, in adversity, and Bangladesh's Shakib al Hasan is blessed with the courage of self-belief. He could have fallen into that worst of all traps, sulking self-pity, when angry fans broke his window panes after his team's pathetic loss to the West Indies. Instead, he picked himself and the team up, and led them to a famous victory against England. It does not actually matter now whether he goes into the next round. He has restored his nation's pride. Bengali fans are right. They do not expect Bangladesh to win the Cup, but they will not tolerate a team that betrays its honour.

The surprise is Shahid Afridi, who could easily join Pakistan's foreign service after this swan song. The man who has tweaked a ball or two in his time, has flowered into a diplomat. He soothed ruffled feathers after defeat against New Zealand through a brilliant strategic pincer movement: he invited the huge Pakistani media contingent for dinner with the players. Mollifying the messenger is the best treatment for the ache of bad news.

Afridi is clearly aware that contemporary Pakistan has only two powerful institutions, the Army and the media. The Army has only cursory interest in cricket during wartime, so an alliance with the media is sufficient for crisis control. Pakistan remains the contrarian's favourite; and if Afridi can handle his temperamental eleven with the kind of aplomb he has shown off the field, then watch out for the Greens. Predictably Pakistan's erratic, slippery-fingers wicketkeeper Kamran Akmal has induced the best joke so far: "What is Akmal's favourite pick-up line? Can I drop you anywhere?"

In contrast, Mahendra Dhoni is so laidback he could have been training in a sauna. Dhoni is a proponent of the Yawn School of Business. When asked why India had made such heavy weather of defeating less-than-ordinary sides like Holland, he replied with a verbal shrug. India was winning, wasn't it, and that was good enough for him. Well, he might lose when there is no second chance left. It may not be much of a problem for him personally, since the advertisement deals are done, cheques are in the bank, and he probably thinks that the Great Indian Public is fickle in its affections anyway. Somebody should tell him that the symbol of India is the elephant, and while the elephant treads with a light step, it also has a long memory.

The captain who really knew how to lie on his back was the incomparable Viv Richards, but he had a few advantages over Dhoni. He was a genius with the bat. He was fearless (he disdained a helmet, trusting his eye and instinct instead). And he had a set of bowlers who could break your hand when you were looking and crack your head when you took your eye off the ball. Dhoni has fashioned half a team for this tournament, just a set of brilliant batsmen, on the assumption that opponents will get themselves out. We shall see what we shall see.

The finest gentleman ever to captain England was surely Colin Cowdrey. In his last match as captain Cowdrey walked to the pitch for the toss, dressed in immaculate whites. And waited. Richards sauntered up 20 minutes late, wearing a T shirt and bandana in more colours than a rainbow would dare to advertise. The coin was tossed. Richards won. Richards looked at the prim and proper Cowdrey and asked the Englishman what he wanted to do, rather than exercising his right of decision. Once Cowdrey had recovered, he said England would like to bat. Okay maan, said Richards, you bat.

The West Indies won that Test match by ten wickets. That is why it was Cowdrey's last match. And that is why few lovers of cricket can remember Cowdrey, and no one has forgotten Vivian Richards.

Style is an art, particularly if it can be complemented with swagger. But style is not a substitute for substance.







In Tunisia the military was not the major political player while Egypt has been ruled by the army.
Tunisia is well ahead of Egypt in making the transition from dictatorship to democracy. Prime Minister Beji Caid Essebsi has formed a cabinet of technocrats who held no posts during the regime of ousted President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali, ordered the dissolution of the country's secret police, and abolished the Ministry of Information which had been in charge of press censorship. The high court has disbanded Ben Ali's political party. The country's democracy movement is clearly satisfied with these measures since protesters camping in the capital's central square went home and demonstrations have ceased — at least for the time being.

An interim government of technocrats, the dismantling of the internal security apparatus, freedom of the press, and the dissolution of the former ruling party are top demands of the January 25 Youth Coalition which speaks for people's power in Egypt. But Egyptians have had to make do with half measures. Egypt has a new prime minister in Essam Sharaf, a candidate proposed by the Youth Coalition. He did not appoint a cabinet of technocrats but replaced key ministers and reshuffled the rest, most of whom appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak before he was ousted.

Sharaf's government looks rather like the cabinet of the Tunisian old guard formed in the wake of Ben Ali's flight. When Sharaf equivocated over the dissolution of Egypt's State Security Investigations (SSI) apparatus — known as the "Stasi," the name of the brutal East German secret police — democracy activists invaded a dozen SSI sites to prevent officers from shredding or burning files and documents or destroying computer disks containing evidence of human rights abuses, torture, corruption, and dubious connections to western or other foreign intelligence agencies.

The army, which was reluctant to take action against its SSI partner, was compelled to seal and guard the sites while the public prosecutor arrested dozens of high and mid-ranking SSI and interior ministry officers accused of wrong doing. This makes it all the more likely that the SSI — which employed 500,000 officials and informers — will be disbanded and a new, more streamlined security service focused on "terrorism" will be created. Sometimes "do it yourself" action works when demonstrations do not.

While the Egyptian press has seized freedom since the toppling of the Mubarak regime, legal and political constraints continue to inhibit it, and the former ruling National Democratic Party (NDP)  is disbanding itself rather than being dissolved.

The differences between developments in Tunisia and Egypt are explained by examination of the roles of the armed forces in the two countries. In Tunisia the military was not a major political player while Egypt has been ruled by military men wearing suits and ties since 1952. Consequently, when Ben Ali stepped down, a civilian president and government were appointed.  In Egypt, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) — men in uniform rather than suits — assumed presidential powers. While many Egyptians, who trust the armed forces, feel reassured, the democracy camp suspects that the military, which has major political and economic interests, is not as ready to cede power as did Tunisia's old guard politicians. 

Egyptian democrats are right. Egypt's generals have their own agenda. On March 19, they will hold a referendum on proposed constitutional amendments, reducing the president's power and providing for better supervision of elections. If the amendments are adopted, parliamentary elections will be held in June and a presidential poll a few weeks later, permitting the generals to hand over by September or October.

The democracy movement believes the military is eager for a rapid political transition so that veteran political parties which dominated the scene under Mubarak could retain power while political forces emerging from the uprising would not have time to form and pose a challenge to the old order. Democrats reject the proposed constitutional amendments which, they say, do not go far enough to prevent the rise of another autocrat and insist that elections should not be held for a year to 18 months. Democrats also argue that the presidential election should precede a parliamentary poll.

Some in the military may be encouraging a counter-revolution. Democracy activists argue the torching of a Christian church near Cairo and Christian-Muslim clashes  were orchestrated by SSI elements and NDP thugs determined to unermine the transition to democracy. So far, people's power has thwarted the machinations of counter-revolutionaries but they remain a threat.







Remuneration for our deeds may not be instantaneously obtained.

Be it happiness or unhappiness, what we radiate around us is what we ultimately get back. This nuggest of wisdom formed in my mind since childhood. I was rather enlightened by this cardinal truth after witnessing the strange vagaries in the life of a Brahmin cook employed at my father's place when I was young.

The cook, a middle-aged woman, started working for us after the sudden demise of her spouse, who had left her and five young children to fend for themselves. She was in such financial straits that, at times, she had to ineluctably send her children to seek alms in the neighbourhood.The memory of my first visit to her place is etched in my mind even today. Her home was just a dingy, single-room dilapidated abode with a rickety chair being the solitary piece of furniture. I felt a heart-wrenching pain when I saw her grappling with a kerosene-fuelled stove that had a bad leakage at its base. She was in the process of rustling up a few ragi rotis for her children with whatever provisions available.   

She tried offering a couple of rotis to me too. Her penury-stricken state notwithstanding, indeed she was too open-handed, which was truly her most sterling quality. Apparently, her indigent social status neither thwarted her gusto in helping others in myriad ways, nor stymied her awe-inspiring generous acts. She was the one who imbued me with the valuable lesson that one needn't necessarily be rich to be generous in life.

This she tried proving by distributing daily her share of snacks and savouries among neighbours whose places she visited to do sundry kitchen chores for that extra money. Her munificence would leave everyone stupefied, especially after seeing some of the rich folks wallowing in wealth, being such niggardly skinflints! Later, we lost all track of her when she shifted residence elsewhere.

Then after two decades, fortuitously I met her at a veggie market. She beamed with unreserved joy as she recounted how her three sons had landed lucrative jobs owing to their good educational qualifications. Her two daughters too were wedded to undemanding, well-heeled families. She herself looked stunning, decked out in a shimmering sari with splendid gold ornaments to boot.

I must say I did feel truly happy to see her. Indeed, she had been rewarded for her singular generosity and for her quality of radiating happiness. That day I realised that the 'remuneration or retribution' for our respective good or bad deeds may not be instantaneously obtained. But surely, it would come back to us with all intensity some day.








The despicable murder of five members of the Fogel family on Saturday is a crime against every human being. But the atrocity in Itamar is not only a criminal act. It was committed in a diplomatic and security context, and we have to examine its background and consequences. Not, heaven forbid, to justify what cannot be justified or grant absolution. Instead, we have to study the complex situation that makes Israel responsible for preventing an escalation that could result in many new victims.

A diplomatic stagnation marks relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Both sides have contributed to this, as has the ineffectiveness of the U.S. administration under President Barack Obama. Two years after his administration and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's government took over, there has been no progress on the formula that ostensibly everyone agrees on: the establishment of a Palestinian state alongside Israel. The diplomatic vacuum is enabling extremist elements on both sides - terror organizations (and individuals acting alone ) on the one side and settlers ravenous for more territory and a price tag on the other - to take the initiative and dictate events instead of the leaders.

In recent weeks, under pressure from visitors from Washington, Berlin and other foreign capitals, Netanyahu seems to be signaling he intends to unveil a more moderate policy in about two months. Moreover, he and his partner, Defense Minister Ehud Barak, have explained that the moderation will not be a favor to the Palestinians, but rather what Israel needs. They have also promised to evacuate settlements built on privately owned land stolen from Palestinians. For a moment it appeared that the government, to develop a moderate image, was heading for a clash with the settlers.

Now, a single cell of murderers has come and changed the trend of Netanyahu and Barak's actions to a toughening of positions and the decision to build 500 new housing units in the settlements. This is a terrible decision that will neither placate the settlers nor prevent a revenge attack by the lawless among them. In addition, it is making things difficult for Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, angering Obama and feeding the unrest in the territories in advance of tomorrow, a day of planned demonstrations.

A responsible government would act now to calm and not to escalate, to pursue a diplomatic solution and not a belligerent confrontation. But in Jerusalem we don't have a government like that.








In November 2007 MK Jamal Zahalka (Balad ) gave a one-minute speech in the Knesset plenum about Israel's lack of earthquake preparedness and said that a large earthquake, of the kind that destroys entire cities, takes place in Israel once every 80-90 years. The last such earthquake took place in 1927, 84 years ago.

After Zahalka's speech, then-Knesset Speaker Dalia Itzik (Kadima ) showed initiative and set up a parliamentary inquiry committee to investigate Israel's earthquake preparedness, headed by MK Moshe Kahlon (Likud ). In the wake of Friday's earthquake in Japan, it seems essential to note a few facts that have been presented to the Kahlon committee.

Nearly half of all schools in Israel were built before a standard for earthquake-resistant construction was introduced in 1980, and are at risk of collapse. According to a rough estimate, this means that nearly 1 million children attend schools that were not built to withstand earthquakes.

If there is a major earthquake here, it is expected to take place, as in the past, near the Syrian-African Rift, making Eilat and northern Israel the local danger zones. Entire wards in four hospitals in the north are expected to collapse if a major earthquake hits.

There are seven prisons in the country that are not built to withstand earthquakes - including the walls around them. On one hand, the prison staff and the inmates are in danger. On the other hand, hundreds or even thousands of prisoners, whether they are incarcerated for security offenses or other crimes, could escape if disaster strikes. In addition, five police stations are classified as dangerous in an earthquake. That's what happens when you put police stations in historic buildings.

And here are another few facts about earthquakes: The phone systems will collapse - and so will the bridges, making it tough for help to arrive. The few firefighters Israel has will make it only to the worst spots.

These facts lead to a few troubling questions, like how earthquake-resistant are the army bases in the north? Will the Israel Defense Forces be capable of preparing to defend the northern border when an earthquake takes place? Is there a plan for an air defense umbrella over Israel as soon as the earthquake hits? How protected are the nuclear reactors, the Israel Institute for Biological Research and other such facilities?

It is not by chance that I am focusing on institutions of public interest. There is no feasible financial way to protect the thousands of apartment buildings constructed before 1980, but it is possible - and necessary - to either protect the public buildings known to be at risk or tear them down and build others in their place.

There should be a clear procedure for what to do during an earthquake, so that everyone knows who's responsible for what. The only way that will happen is if we deal with mass-casualty disasters not just when they occur, but also between one disaster and the next.

The Knesset recently came up with a pretty good way of doing that, in the form of a supervisory task force monitoring the Tal Law, headed by MK Yohanan Plesner (Kadima ). (Full disclosure: I assist the task force, as an expert consultant. )

This task force is quite effective because all the people involved know that once every few months, they will have to report to the Knesset what they did and didn't do.

It is precisely this kind of task force that needs to be set up to help Israel prepare for mass-casualty disasters. Some, but not all, of its meetings should be open to journalists, and at least once a year such a panel should submit a report detailing Israel's disaster preparedness.

A task force like this could help minimize the damage a disaster like an earthquake would cause - saving the lives of hundreds or thousands of people and making it one of the most important committees in Israel's history.

Even if its contribution is less extensive, it can still put all the relevant material together for an inquiry committee after the fact. It would also be worthwhile if the task force were to spend a bit of time here and there on the condition of a particular building that has already sustained earthquake damage: the Knesset itself.







Merav Michaeli is a good friend of mine. For years, I've been trying to persuade her to enter politics because women like her will change Israel. And for years, she would dismissively harrumph: "Why do I need these phony mass voter registration drives?" or make some other remark that is not fit for print on this page. So I was dumbfounded to read last week that Michaeli was calling upon readers to register for the Labor Party, since Ehud Barak had already departed and there was no need for a new, leftist party ("Laboring to empower the left", March 8 ).

Yet, Michaeli seems to have forgotten that even if Barak flew the coop, the ails that have hindered the Labor Party remain. The "method" has trumped democracy, values, and the highest quality individuals. We will soon be reminded of party functionaries like Efraim Maimoni, Yehuda Bar-Or, or Ibrahim Abu Sabih.

Once again, the Labor Party is holding primaries, cheeks are high with color, and there's an excuse for a voter registration drive. "Register now," demand the billboards plastered on the sides of the nations's roads. This moves people to "register," leaving Maimoni, Bar-Or, and Abu Sabih with lots to do. Once again, they are amassing piles of registration forms, working past sundown, until their last breath. For years, they have been the most prolific recruiters of new registered voters. We would not dare label them "vote contractors," as we do with their counterparts in the Likud. After all, there is a reputation to protect here.

This was how it was when Amram Mitzna ignited the party only to melt away afterward, and Amir Peretz stormed onto the scene only to suffer defeat, and Ami Ayalon rose up briefly before sinking. Now the latest worthy would-be leaders have arrived - Shelly Yachimovich and Isaac Herzog. Maimoni, Bar-Or, and Abu Sabih are here to gather the requisite forms for the next great hope. It always starts well but then collapses under the weight of the forms.

The Labor Party is a movement with an illustrious past. But Yachimovich and Herzog will not redeem its present and the method by which it operates. It is a task that would be too much for Hercules even. For years now, party primaries have always wound up in police stations or in court. For years, crime reporters have been just as busy as political commentators in covering the primaries.

Hence, whoever wishes to change Israel needs to be thinking about a framework that champions democracy, values, and ideology without the defects. Whoever doesn't want the lofty dream to once again blow up in their face should link up with one of the new political organizations cropping up on the left and brimming with a youth that is determined to restore Israel to Israelis. These are individuals who do not wonder, "Does the new party have a chance?" or "What's in it for me?" or "Maybe it's easier to just join an existing, old, ailing party in order to win a seat in the Knesset." These are individuals who simply take action daily, be it at demonstrations in Sheikh Jarrah or at solidarity rallies with sub-contract workers on university campuses.

Political life in Israel cries out for a revolution. It is in dire need of brave men and women, revolutionaries, those who are not ready to reconcile with what they see. It needs those who do not raise their arms up in despair and give up; those who do not run when the going gets tough; those who do not haul large boxes of phony registration forms.

Oh, how fun it must be in Egypt now that Hosni Mubarak has been tossed from power. This fate also waits our Mubaraks. For 30 years, they have been with us. They may have sat in opposition once, but mostly, they've spent their time in the government. This is especially true of the Labor Party, which has found its place in every government. Even if that government is run by Avigdor Lieberman. There is always a rationale or an excuse to sit in the government. It's a matter of "national responsibility." And it always ends in a pool of tears.

This time, it's OK to say, "Enough!" No more. They are not going to make suckers out of us once again. We will not fall into the hallucinatory trap. We are also allowed to live in this country. If we are to send our Mubaraks home, we need to show them the way. We need to do it without registration forms. With Michaeli and wonderful people like her, it is possible to change Israel. But one must want to. One must dare to jump into cold water. It will certainly be difficult. But, guess what? It pays off. Tahrir Square is here. Just not in the Labor Party.







In a typical Pavlovian reaction, the ministerial committee on settlements has decided to build 500 housing units in response to the murder at Itamar. We are so accustomed to this conduct that we may not even realize how destructive it is, sticking Israel deeper and deeper into territories not its own, wasting public money and impeding any possible future solution.

But what are 500 housing units compared with 50,000? This is the destructive building impetus that Netanyahu has offered in his new plan, which has already earned heaps of scorn: a year and a half of accelerated permits, hasty planning, trampling of open spaces, construction of white elephants and prices that will not go down.

As the son of an historian, Netanyahu should start internalizing: The settlement enterprise is over. It is possible to insist on adding to it housing units, roads and laws against boycotts, but it is over - be this in an agreement with the Palestinians, in a war with a state they will establish unilaterally, in the waning and evaporation of the Apartheid state, or in a binational state. In any case, this is the end of settlements by the State of Israel in Judea and Samaria.

To a large extent, the settlement project in the occupied territories is the Jewish-capitalist pendulum reaction to the secular-socialist settlement project in Israel's early years - all part of the internal Jewish struggle for ownership of the state and the land. Both of these grand projects have had destructive effects on those who were not partner to them. Now the time has come for the pendulum to stabilize in the middle, in a place where it is possible to live. What needs to be built today is the next phase of the State of Israel.

The plan that should be coming out today is one for resettlement of the Jewish settlers in the territories. Not "evacuation-compensation" that gives them money and then forgets about them, but rather a call to rise up and walk within the boundaries of the state and seek their next home. A call to resettle, in their own free time, as individuals or as groups, in one of the wonderful locations the State of Israel has to offer. It is an opportunity to leverage the fact that the settlers are not residents of the overpriced and overcrowded center of the country and offer them an excellent quality of life in the Negev or the Galilee.

The committees that should be formed are regional committees, which in consultation with the heads of the local authorities, existing planning bodies (which should be supplemented with professional manpower ) and representatives of government offices will meet with the re-settlers and offer them apartments, homes and neighborhoods suited to the way of life they seek, as well as a package of incentives to give them the best possible start when making their move. Perhaps it is even possible to think about a new role for the kibbutzim in this context.

Of course, the hardcore ideological third of the settlers will not agree to meet with any committee. But two-thirds of the 330,000 people now living outside the borders of the state will be glad to have the opportunity for a good life without the risk of evacuation. Such a plan would bring excellent people to communities hungering for people like them, it would provide an opportunity to upgrade social services in communities they join, and it would enable good, good, yet gradual, development for all concerned.

When Israel wants to do things like this, it knows how: Just witness the relocation of the Israel Defense Forces to the south, to the metropolis of Be'er Sheva. The army is evacuating land in the center of the country, receiving new and upgraded infrastructures and bringing excellent people and worthwhile employment opportunities to areas where they are welcomed them with open arms.

Instead of throwing away hundreds of millions on 500 destructive housing units, the same money could be used to construct cultural, educational and health facilities in Mitzpeh Ramon, Carmiel, Dimona and Tiberias for the benefit of the inhabitants there and those who will join them. Such a plan could be carried out today even without committing to a future agreement with the Palestinians, just by looking inwards, at the state of Israel, at its needs and at what will advance it in the future. And no emergency plan.

Enough with emergencies. Israel needs space to breathe, reasonable planning and a gradual transition. Not a disengagement and not staking claims to bits of land in the dark of night. It needs a phase of sanity.







This time, too, as always, the right wing has the upper hand. When the Palestinian Authority thwarts terror attacks and the occupied territories are quiet, who needs a Palestinian partner? Why should we evacuate outposts and freeze construction in the territories? When monsters murder a baby in the cradle, what more needs to happen for us to understand that there is no Palestinian partner? Are those people, who spread hatred of Israel, the ones you want to make peace with? They take our children, we'll take their land.

And around it goes. The non-Jews don't like it? The collaborators on the left are unhappy? Their problem. The people got what they voted for. Until Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu runs the people aground, he'll continue dozing on the deck of the ship of fools. Get the shelters ready for a long stay. Don't bank on the next election.

In their important book "The Elections in Israel - 2009," Asher Arian and Michal Shamir say the right wing was the big winner in the last elections. They note that in the previous Knesset the left and center blocs numbered 70 seats, while the right wing had only 50 seats. But in the 2009 elections, the right wing won 65 seats and the left-center shrank to 55. That number includes the five lawmakers headed by Defense Minister Ehud Barak who have since left Labor. And since the book was published, these five people have become a Likud appendage, increasing the gap to 20 seats in favor of the right.

Occupying the "center," which is considered a necessary partner for any agreement involving far-reaching concessions, are the 28 Kadima seats. The attack by the Kadima Knesset faction on the Jewish-American peace group J Street - whose only sin was urging U.S. President Barack Obama not to veto the Security Council proposal to condemn settlement policy - raises doubts about Kadima's place on the political map. The members of that faction have signed off on a number of the extreme right's racist legislative initiatives, which even ministers from the Likud party refused to support. Most of them absented themselves from the vote on establishing committees to investigate leftist groups.

The main reason MK Tzipi Livni is not prime minister is that Yisrael Beiteinu's Avigdor Lieberman preferred Netanyahu over her. Let's assume that in the next elections Kadima grows from 28 to 32 seats, and the Zionist left - Labor and Meretz - increases from 16 to 18 seats. Where will Livni (or Kadima MK Shaul Mofaz, who is gaining strength from the grassroots ) get the 11 missing seats for a majority? Kadima would have to choose between Yisrael Beiteinu, Shas and United Torah Judaism (it would be hard to imagine former Likud members inviting Arab MKs to join their coalition ). With such a coalition, could 150,000 Jews be evacuated from the West Bank and Jerusalem divided?

Israeli politicians in 2011 don't care what the people need. More important to them is what the people want. And the people want the right wing. During more than 20 years of election surveys, Arian and Shamir asked people whether in Israel's relations with the Arabs, it should stress peace talks or increase its military might. In 2009, the fewest people since the end of the 1980s said they thought peace talks should be stressed. No more than 44 percent (among Jews, 36 percent ) said they supported such talks, compared with an average of 57 percent in previous surveys.

So by all means, let Netanyahu bring his friends from National Union into the coalition, and have him make sure not to leave out the Kahanist MK Michael Ben Ari. The prime minister did well to appoint Yaakov Amidror to head the National Security Council in this government. Amidror is the right man in the right place at the right time. Five hundred new houses in the settlements is small change. The appropriate Jewish response to the attack on Itamar should be the annexation of Ariel. Let them stain the Knesset with racist laws. Don't stop the right from triumphing over the whole world. Let the prime minister navigate toward the reef, and pray that we wake up a moment before the crash.


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



Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki of Iraq is drawing the wrong lessons from the upheavals in the Arab world. Inspired by uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, thousands of Iraqis have taken to the streets to criticize their government's failure to combat corruption, create more jobs or improve electricity and other services. Nearly 20 Iraqis have been killed in clashes with security forces.

Instead of taking responsibility, Mr. Maliki charged that the protests were organized by "terrorists." He ordered the closing of the offices of two political parties that helped lead the demonstrations.

His only concessions were vows not to seek a third term in 2014 and to cut his pay in half. That was not persuasive, especially given his many recent power grabs.

It has been one year since national elections and three months since Mr. Maliki and the opposition leader Ayad Allawi finally ended their destructive impasse and formed a government. Yet Mr. Maliki has still not filled all his cabinet positions — most notably, he has not named a defense minister or interior minister. Instead, he is personally overseeing the powerful, and often abusive, army and police forces.

That concentration of clout is corrosive, especially to a fragile, new democracy.

Mr. Maliki needs to quickly appoint competent professionals to run the two institutions and let them do their jobs in a fair, impartial manner. The reported torture and other abuses by security forces must stop now.

Mr. Maliki's thirst for power doesn't end there. In January, Iraq's highest court — which is far too cozy with the prime minister — agreed to let him take control of three formerly independent agencies that run the central bank, conduct elections and investigate corruption. (Last week, the court issued a "clarification," insisting the agencies would remain independent; we're eager to see if that proves true.)

Six months earlier, the court — at Mr. Maliki's request — ruled that only the prime minister or his cabinet, not members of Parliament, could propose legislation. Democracy requires checks and balances. They are fast disappearing in Iraq.

It's reassuring to see so many young people willing to criticize their government, without picking up guns. Protests have largely called for more freedom and effective government, not the political system's overthrow.

As American troops prepare to withdraw in July, the United States has to keep pressing Iraqis — including with targeted aid — toward a more democratic system, grounded in the rule of law. It needs to encourage other Iraqi leaders to both challenge and work with Mr. Maliki to build a more responsive government.

Despite winning the most votes in the last election, Mr. Allawi — whose deal with Mr. Maliki to head a new national strategic policy council appears to have fallen apart — doesn't work hard enough or spend enough time in Iraq to be an effective opposition leader. Other politicians and Parliament need to step up and play that role.

After all that the Iraqi people, and American soldiers, have sacrificed, Iraq's democracy must not be allowed to falter because of Mr. Maliki's ambitions or the passivity of other leaders.





There must be days when Kenneth Feinberg, who administered the 9/11 victims fund nearly a decade ago, asks himself why he ever volunteered to run the $20 billion compensation fund for victims of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. He has heard little but criticism — some justified and helpful, some unfair and unhelpful — from the start.

Gulf coast residents have complained of delays and shoddy treatment. Representative Jo Bonner, an Alabama Republican, recently called the program a "monster" and Mr. Feinberg a "miser." A Mobile newspaper once asked the White House to fire him. And now BP, whose money Mr. Feinberg is dispensing, has jumped in with the claim that Mr. Feinberg is being too generous.

Mr. Feinberg pushes forward, as he should, making midcourse corrections in the program's rules, as he also should. As of March 10, he had awarded $3.6 billion to 170,000 claimants across five gulf states, mostly in "emergency payments" equal to six months' lost income. The Justice Department, which has kept a close and critical eye on the program, says these are "significant numbers by any measure."

The emergency payments period is over; now begins the harder task of calculating final payments. Claimants have three years to file. Nobody is required to accept a final payment, but those who do — as in the 9/11 program — give up their right to sue BP. Alternatively, claimants can receive "interim" payments for damages as they accrue, without relinquishing their right to sue.

The interim payment alternative is crucially important. Mr. Feinberg's instinct will be to encourage people to accept a final settlement; the main purpose of the program, after all, is to provide an expeditious alternative to drawn-out lawsuits, and the idea worked well after 9/11.

Even so, as Mr. Feinberg acknowledges, it's hard to predict how quickly the gulf is going to recover, or how soon businesses — shrimpers, for instance — will return to good health. The Justice Department has urged him not to favor one form of payment, and to make sure that interim claims are processed fairly and efficiently.

We would expect Mr. Feinberg to be evenhanded. He has already made several positive changes at the department's urging. Until quite recently, for instance, he had limited eligibility to businesses obviously affected by the spill, like fishing and lodging. This effectively excluded some potential claimants, dentists for instance, who say they have lost tourist revenue. Mr. Feinberg has also promised a more customer-friendly and transparent approach to individual applicants.

Justice should continue to comment, and Mr. Feinberg should continue to listen. Meanwhile, the more boisterous politicians could show some patience. Nearly 250,000 individuals and businesses have already filed claims for final or interim payments, with more coming. Finding a balance between paying claims in a prompt manner and ensuring their validity is a hard enough job without grandstanding from the sidelines.






The Obama administration is rightly keeping the pressure on tax cheats and the bank executives who help them by stashing their money in secret accounts overseas. Now we would like to see the Internal Revenue Service and the Justice Department take the battle to the banks themselves. That's the only way of getting them to drop this lucrative and illegal business.

The Justice Department has charged five bankers with helping wealthy Americans conceal their assets from American authorities. A former employee of Switzerland's UBS who now works for rival Credit Suisse was arrested in January and accused of helping 100 to 150 Americans hide as much as $500 million from tax authorities.

A few weeks later, three former employees and one current banker at Credit Suisse were indicted for helping 17 Americans conceal assets in accounts at the bank and then helping them move the stash to other banks in Switzerland, Hong Kong and Israel once it was clear American authorities were on the trail of tax evaders at big Swiss banks.

This is a promising route both to recover unpaid taxes and to deter other Americans from trying to evade the I.R.S. this way. So far, however, the banks have faced no charges. The country-hopping by the Credit Suisse account holders in search of a safer hiding place suggests that cross-border tax evasion won't be shut down until the institutions determine that secret offshore accounts are too risky a business.

The I.R.S.'s strategy gathered momentum when the agency went after UBS, which was caught sending bankers to the United States to offer tax evasion services and settled with the government. The bank paid a $780 million fine and exited the business. It promised to cooperate with the government and later revealed the names of some 5,000 American secret account holders. The case eventually led Switzerland to relax its bank secrecy laws and cooperate with American authorities.

Since then, some 20,000 Americans have disclosed their accounts to the I.R.S., taking advantage of programs that shielded them from prosecution in exchange for paying back taxes, interest and a substantial fine. UBS has since gotten out of the American cross-border banking business, as have Credit Suisse and other big Swiss banks. But there are still banks willing to open secret offshore accounts for wealthy Americans. It will take some more high-profile action against financial institutions to force them out of the racket.





Acknowledging New York's deep fiscal crisis, Judge Jonathan Lippman, the state's chief judge, has reluctantly agreed to make cuts in his $2.7 billion budget request, including a reduction in the number of people working for the court system. But he is refusing to back down on his call for a $25 million increase, to $40 million, in support for civil legal service programs that help low-income New Yorkers faced with foreclosures, evictions, domestic violence and other serious legal problems.

His commitment comes at a time when Republicans in Washington are determined to slash the federal contributions to these essential programs.

Judge Lippman knows what he is up against politically but is undaunted. In a recent talk at Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in Manhattan, he described the shocking need for help out there — and the cost to justice and the judicial system if it continues to go unmet.

He told of state courtrooms that are "standing room only, filled with frightened, unrepresented litigants — many of them newly indigent — who are fighting to keep a roof over their heads, fighting to keep their children, fighting to keep their sources of income and health care." And he cited the astonishing fact that in New York City 99 percent of tenants in eviction cases and 99 percent of borrowers in consumer credit cases have no lawyers.

"What is at stake," he said, "is nothing less than the legitimacy of our justice system," adding that the rule of law "loses its meaning when the protection of our laws is available only to those who can afford it."

Judge Lippman offered a final practical reason for increasing spending on civil legal services: preventing unwarranted evictions, avoiding foster care placements, helping clients get access to federal benefits and easing court delays will carry real economic benefits for the state. He is right on all counts. The Legislature should approve the increase.






Count me among those who were glad to see the documentary "Inside Job" win an Oscar. The film reminded us that the financial crisis of 2008, whose aftereffects are still blighting the lives of millions of Americans, didn't just happen — it was made possible by bad behavior on the part of bankers, regulators and, yes, economists.

What the film didn't point out, however, is that the crisis has spawned a whole new set of abuses, many of them illegal as well as immoral. And leading political figures are, at long last, showing some outrage. Unfortunately, this outrage is directed, not at banking abuses, but at those trying to hold banks accountable for these abuses.

The immediate flashpoint is a proposed settlement between state attorneys general and the mortgage servicing industry. That settlement is a "shakedown," says Senator Richard Shelby of Alabama. The money banks would be required to allot to mortgage modification would be "extorted," declares The Wall Street Journal. And the bankers themselves warn that any action against them would place economic recovery at risk.

All of which goes to confirm that the rich are different from you and me: when they break the law, it's the prosecutors who find themselves on trial.

To get an idea of what we're talking about here, look at the complaint filed by Nevada's attorney general against Bank of America. The complaint charges the bank with luring families into its loan-modification program — supposedly to help them keep their homes — under false pretenses; with giving false information about the program's requirements (for example, telling them that they had to default on their mortgages before receiving a modification); with stringing families along with promises of action, then "sending foreclosure notices, scheduling auction dates, and even selling consumers' homes while they waited for decisions"; and, in general, with exploiting the program to enrich itself at those families' expense.

The end result, the complaint charges, was that "many Nevada consumers continued to make mortgage payments they could not afford, running through their savings, their retirement funds, or their children's education funds. Additionally, due to Bank of America's misleading assurances, consumers deferred short-sales and passed on other attempts to mitigate their losses. And they waited anxiously, month after month, calling Bank of America and submitting their paperwork again and again, not knowing whether or when they would lose their homes."

Still, things like this only happen to losers who can't keep up their mortgage payments, right? Wrong. Recently Dana Milbank, the Washington Post columnist, wrote about his own experience: a routine mortgage refinance with Citibank somehow turned into a nightmare of misquoted rates, improper interest charges, and frozen bank accounts. And all the evidence suggests that Mr. Milbank's experience wasn't unusual.

Notice, by the way, that we're not talking about the business practices of fly-by-night operators; we're talking about two of our three largest financial companies, with roughly $2 trillion each in assets. Yet politicians would have you believe that any attempt to get these abusive banking giants to make modest restitution is a "shakedown." The only real question is whether the proposed settlement lets them off far too lightly.

What about the argument that placing any demand on the banks would endanger the recovery? There's a lot to be said about that argument, none of it good. But let me emphasize two points.

First, the proposed settlement only calls for loan modifications that would produce a greater "net present value" than foreclosure — that is, for offering deals that are in the interest of both homeowners and investors. The outrageous truth is that in many cases banks are blocking such mutually beneficial deals, so that they can continue to extract fees. How could ending this highway robbery be bad for the economy?

Second, the biggest obstacle to recovery isn't the financial condition of major banks, which were bailed out once and are now profiting from the widespread perception that they'll be bailed out again if anything goes wrong. It is, instead, the overhang of household debt combined with paralysis in the housing market. Getting banks to clear up mortgage debts — instead of stringing families along to extract a few more dollars — would help, not hurt, the economy.

In the days and weeks ahead, we'll see pro-banker politicians denounce the proposed settlement, asserting that it's all about defending the rule of law. But what they're actually defending is the exact opposite — a system in which only the little people have to obey the law, while the rich, and bankers especially, can cheat and defraud without consequences.






ABOUT a week after Egyptian protesters forced out President Hosni Mubarak, anonymous calls demanding a similar revolution in China appeared on Web sites hosted outside of China. The unnamed activists asked people to gather every Sunday at designated spots in 13 Chinese cities.

The Chinese government responded swiftly, rounding up prominent dissidents and installing a heavy police presence in the cities. On the following Sunday, police officers at the designated spots herded people away and detained resisters. Foreign journalists were roughed up.

That's how the Chinese "Jasmine Revolution" has turned out so far. But while it's true that sudden, radical change is not likely to happen in China, that's no reason for despair: change has been under way in China for years, but in forms more subtle than most people outside the country understand.

After the government crackdown on protesters in Tiananmen Square in 1989, it was widely assumed that Beijing had quashed any chance for meaningful dissent. But protests have become more common since then, over everything from wages and polluted land to dam-building and animal rights. They have involved workers, villagers, migrants, environmentalists and public-interest lawyers.

Protest is also increasingly common on the Internet. I recently counted 60 major cases of online activism, ranging from extensive blogging to heavily trafficked forums to petitions, in 2009 and 2010 alone. Yet these protests are reformist, not revolutionary. They are usually local, centering on corrupt government officials and specific injustices against Chinese citizens, and the participants in different movements do not connect with one another, because the government forbids broad-based coalitions for large-scale social movements.

Because of those political limits, protesters express modest and concrete goals rather than demand total change. And the plural nature of Chinese society means that citizens have sometimes conflicting interests, making it difficult to form any overarching oppositional ideology. In other words, the government allows a certain level of local unrest as long as it knows it can keep that activism from spreading.

And while the Internet has revolutionary potential, here too Chinese leaders have a firm grasp of the situation: they understand the power of the Internet much better than their Middle Eastern counterparts, and they regularly restrict access to the Web when they sense that unrest is gaining momentum.

At the same time, they are careful not to cut off access completely, knowing that could backfire against them as well as damage the Chinese economy.

What outsiders often miss, however, is the response to that strong government control. Activists who understand the possibilities and limits of political opposition in China have developed new forms of online and offline mobilization.

For example, using the Internet to rapidly organize informal "strolls," rather than formal protests, is part of a broader trend of contemporary activism in which Chinese activists challenge, embarrass or shame the authorities through provocation rather than direct confrontation.

This kind of activism is effective: even as the government tightens control, it also takes steps to mollify public concerns. To demonstrate his awareness of pressing social issues, Wen Jiabao, the Chinese prime minister, has gone online three times over the last two years to talk with Chinese Web users. And new laws and policies are constantly introduced to tackle the issues raised by activists: barely a year after a scandal involving tainted milk, for instance, China instituted its first food safety law.

Yet rather than resolving the underlying sources of instability, the government all too often offers short-term, superficial solutions, which are more likely to sweep the problems under the carpet or dam them up. The introduction of the food safety law, for example, has so far failed to solve the country's serious food safety problems.

What's more, the energy and resources Beijing puts into maintaining control — its 2011 budget commits more money to internal security than to the military — means that little effort is being devoted to real reform.

There is always the possibility that, if these trends continue, the gaps between reality and people's expectations will boil over into more aggressive, organized activism. But given the complex dynamic between the Chinese state and public activists, it's unlikely to happen any time soon.

Guobin Yang, an associate professor of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures at Barnard, is the author of "The Power of the Internet in China."






PRESIDENT Obama says the noose is tightening around Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi. In fact, it is tightening around the Libyan rebels, as Colonel Qaddafi makes the most of the world's dithering and steadily retakes rebel-held towns. The United States and Europe are temporizing on a no-flight zone while the Organization of the Islamic Conference, the Gulf Cooperation Council and now the Arab League have all called on the United Nations Security Council to authorize one. Opponents of a no-flight zone have put forth five main arguments, none of which, on close examination, hold up.

IT'S NOT IN OUR INTEREST Gen. Wesley K. Clark argues that "Libya doesn't sell much oil to the United States" and that while Americans "want to support democratic movements in the region," we are already doing that in Iraq and Afghanistan. Framing this issue in terms of oil is exactly what Arab populations and indeed much of the world expect, which is why they are so cynical about our professions of support for democracy and human rights. Now we have a chance to support a real new beginning in the Muslim world — a new beginning of accountable governments that can provide services and opportunities for their citizens in ways that could dramatically decrease support for terrorist groups and violent extremism. It's hard to imagine something more in our strategic interest.

IT WILL BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE Many thoughtful commentators, including Al Jazeera's director general, Wadah Khanfar, argue that what is most important about the Arab spring is that it is coming from Arabs themselves. From this perspective, Western military intervention will play right into Colonel Qaddafi's hands, allowing him to broadcast pictures of Western bombs falling on Arab civilians. But these arguments, while important, must be weighed against the appeals of Libyan opposition fighters for international help, and now, astonishingly, against support for a no-flight zone by some of the same governments that have kept their populations quiescent by holding up the specter of foreign intervention. Assuming that a no-flight zone can be imposed by an international coalition that includes Arab states, we have an opportunity to establish a new narrative of Western support for Arab democrats.

IT WON'T WORK The United States ambassador to NATO, Ivo H. Daalder, argues that stopping Colonel Qaddafi's air force will not be decisive; he will continue to inflict damage with tanks and helicopters, bombing oil refineries and depots on his way to retaking key towns. But the potential effect of a no-flight zone must also be assessed in terms of Colonel Qaddafi's own calculations about his future. Richard Downie of the Center for Strategic and International Studies argues that although Colonel Qaddafi cultivates a mad-dictator image, he has been a canny survivor and political manipulator for 40 years. He is aware of debates with regard to a no-flight zone and is timing his military campaign accordingly; he is also capable of using his air force just enough to gain strategic advantage, but not enough to trigger a no-flight zone. If the international community lines up against him and is willing to crater his runways and take out his antiaircraft weapons, he might well renew his offer of a negotiated departure.

IF IT DOES WORK, WE DON'T KNOW WHAT WE WILL GET Revolutions are almost always followed by internal divisions among the revolutionaries. We should not expect a rosy, Jeffersonian Libya. But the choice is between uncertainty and the certainty that if Colonel Qaddafi wins, regimes across the region will conclude that force is the way to answer protests. And when Colonel Qaddafi massacres the opposition, young protesters across the Middle East will conclude that when we were asked to support their cause with more than words, we blinked. Americans in turn will read the words of Mr. Obama's June 2009 speech in Cairo, with its lofty promises to stand for universal human rights, and cringe.

LET'S ARM THE REBELS INSTEAD Some commentators who agree with the analysis above say we could better accomplish our goals by providing intelligence and arms to the opposition. That would, of course, be much easier for us. It undoubtedly appeals to Mr. Obama as a neat compromise between the desire to help the protesters and the desire not to overrule his defense secretary's reluctance to participate in a no-flight zone. However, we would be providing arms not to a disciplined military, but to ragged groups of brave volunteers who barely know how to use the weapons they have. They need action that will change the situation on the ground for Colonel Qaddafi, as well as his calculations. Moreover, by the time arms and intelligence could take effect, it is quite likely that Colonel Qaddafi will have retaken or at least besieged Benghazi, the opposition stronghold.

The United States should immediately ask the Security Council to authorize a no-flight zone and make clear to Russia and China that if they block the resolution, the blood of the Libyan opposition will be on their hands. We should push them at least to abstain, and bring the issue to a vote as soon as possible. If we get a resolution, we should work with the Arab League to assemble an international coalition to impose the no-flight zone. If the Security Council fails to act, then we should recognize the opposition Libyan National Council as the legitimate government, as France has done, and work with the Arab League to give the council any assistance it requests.

Any use of force must be carefully and fully debated, but that debate has now been had. It's been raging for a week, during which almost every Arab country has come on board calling for a no-flight zone and Colonel Qaddafi continue






What is the true cost when government bails out failing companies?

Well, first there is the visible cost. In the case of the hundreds of billions of dollars in bailouts that Congress started providing to financial institutions and the auto industry in 2008, it is now expected that taxpayers will ultimately lose as "little" as $25 billion or as much as $380 billion.

Neither figure is "chump change," especially in a time when even greater debt is the last thing America needs.

But those losses don't begin to measure the bailouts' full negative effects — many of which might not be readily visible but are painfully real nonetheless.

Washington hurried to the rescue of companies that in some cases had made bad management decisions and performed poorly in the market. By doing so, Congress essentially rewarded failure with bailouts but punished better-performing, more successful companies, which did not receive bailouts.

So the free-market ideal of businesses being rewarded by consumers for providing good products and services at desirable prices was turned on its head.

Plus, by using taxes and borrowed money to fund the bailouts, Washington removed current and future dollars from the productive private sector, where it might otherwise have been used by go-getting entrepreneurs to create jobs and economic growth.

Unfortunately, politicians who approved the bailouts have little interest in talking about the economic growth that never happened as a result of their market-distorting actions. They are instead claiming that they rescued the economy, when in fact so many of our economic problems are direct results of excessive government intervention through everything from bailouts to subsidies to high taxes to undue regulations.

With the collapse of the housing market having been a huge part of what led to the financial crisis, just think what economic heartache might have been avoided if only government had not pressured lenders to make home loans to lots of risky borrowers. Those borrowers would not have wound up losing homes that they could not afford in the first place, and other homeowners would not have seen the value of their houses plunge because of widespread foreclosures.

But in the name of "fairness" and "economic justice," government was determined to intervene in the housing market, and now we're all paying the awful price.

If anything needs "rescuing," it is our wonderful but often abused free-market system — not from "Greeks bearing gifts" but from "politicians bearing bailouts."






President Barack Obama used a recess appointment in 2010 to install Dr. Donald Berwick as head of the massive Medicare program. That meant Berwick didn't have to go through the Senate confirmation process.

That's unfortunate, because the hearings might have forced him to explain his 2009 remarks in the journal Biotechnology Healthcare embracing medical rationing. He said: "The decision is not whether or not we will ration care. The decision is whether we will ration with our eyes open."

And speaking in Britain in 2008, Berwick said, "Any health care funding plan that is just, equitable, civilized and humane must, must redistribute wealth from the richer among us to the poorer and the less fortunate. Excellent health care is by definition redistributional."

Now, 42 GOP senators have asked the president to remove Berwick before his recess term runs out at the end of this year. At that point, he would have to be officially confirmed by the Senate or he would lose his post.

Considering Berwick's unfortunate embrace of medical rationing and socialized medicine, he should step down or the president should remove him. Barring that, lawmakers should not confirm him when his nomination finally goes before the Senate — as it should have last year.






It's odd how lots of government spending is suddenly defended as a "good investment of tax dollars" the moment anyone mentions cutting it.

Internal Revenue Service Commissioner Doug Shulman says the federal treasury will lose billions of dollars if Republicans succeed in cutting $600 million from the IRS budget this year. That lost money will be the result of fewer audits, liens and property seizures, he said. There are even estimates by some that the IRS brings in $10 for every $1 spent on tax-enforcement programs.

If that sounds strangely familiar, you're not imagining it. Doesn't it seem that every time somebody wants to reduce spending, defenders of the spending in question assure us that it "pays for itself." Yet here we are as a nation, more than $14 trillion in debt. Plainly, a lot of federal spending isn't "paying for itself."

Alarmingly, President Barack Obama proposes adding more than 5,000 new IRS workers — including 1,300 to implement ObamaCare socialized medicine. Yet the IRS already has nearly 100,000 workers!

We don't doubt that more taxes will be seized from Americans — sometimes justly, sometimes not — if the IRS keeps growing as it already has under the Obama administration. But that money will be diverted out of the productive private sector to fund even more government.

Are a bigger IRS and bigger federal government what we really need?






One advantage of our federal system of government, when it is functioning properly, is that it lets each state experiment with different types of laws.

If a law works well in one state, other states' lawmakers may enact a similar law, and the benefit can spread from coast to coast. By the same token, a public policy that fails in one state may serve as a warning to other states, and the entire country need not suffer the effects of a bad law.

That is the trouble with Congress' ignoring of the Constitution's delegation of most powers to the states and the people under the 10th Amendment. Washington enacts laws in areas where it was never intended to have authority. And when those laws don't pan out, the whole country has to suffer.

You may have read that the National Football League wants all 50 states as well as the District of Columbia to enact laws to help reduce concussions among young football players. The NFL is also promoting such a bill in Congress.

Unfortunately, the Constitution delegates no power to Congress to handle such matters, so it is far preferable that the states address football safety issues individually. Some of those laws may be effective; some may not. But the effective ones can be replicated in other states, and the ineffective ones can be avoided.

If, however, Congress enacts a poorly crafted law to address football players' concussions, every state will pay the price. And it can be difficult if not impossible to get a federal law repealed once various special interests discover that they have a financial stake in keeping it on the books.

Washington has grown accustomed to seizing power that belongs to the states. But that doesn't make it right, much less constitutional.







No expression of condolences, no vow of solidarity, no pledge to join a world rushing to offer assistance measure up to the still-unfolding picture of devastation and loss of life continuing in Japan. Our hearts go out to thousands of victims and the millions in continuing peril. We nod with pride to the gestures by the Turkish government and other organizations. Within hours of the devastating quake and more devastating tsunami in northern Japan, teams from Turkey's Red Crescent Society, the volunteer search and rescue squad AKUT and the Humanitarian Relief Foundation, or IHH, were on their way to Tokyo.


A sense of powerlessness, nonetheless, prevails. For the challenge faced by Japan's own formidable and well-prepared response network is simply daunting. That the country has just experienced one of the most severe earthquakes ever recorded, followed by a tsunami wave that has carried off entire villages is difficult to ponder. That the Japanese, the only people to ever endure the pure horror of nuclear weaponry, now race to grapple with the threat of nuclear reactor meltdown is a twist of fate's knife.


It is premature to talk of recovery. Most urgent is simply the still-treacherous search and rescue operations that may involve tens of thousands and containment of radiation. As we went to press Sunday, this disaster had already seriously injured three workers and prompted distribution of protective iodine to residents living nearby.


We hope that Turkey, so soon after a year of events commemorating the deep ties between Turkey and Japan, will find other ways to offer concrete assistance in the days and weeks ahead.


And once again, we restate the hope that in the face of this overwhelming triple tragedy in Japan we can redouble our own efforts to emulate Japan's preparedness. Through televised news clips and homemade videos, we have witnessed the well-rehearsed schoolchildren quickly moving to safety under desks. We have watched buildings wavering terrifyingly, but by careful seismic design not collapsing. And we have seen Tokyo's 13 million responding with patience and discipline and an absence of panic. All of this prompts the question: How ready are we? Not very, is the inevitable answer, as study after study has made clear.


We anticipate renewed debate in the coming weeks over Turkey's own advanced plans for the construction of at least two nuclear reactors. Surely in the face of Turkey's skyrocketing energy needs, the option of nuclear power generation can be neither ignored nor easily discarded. It is nonetheless worth remembering however, that one long-planned nuclear site will be near Mersin, on Turkey's Mediterranean coast. The facility will be only 150 kilometers from Antakya, the site of the third most devastating earthquake in recorded history, in 526.


Japan was as ready as a nation can get. How ready are we?








To: The Muslim Brotherhood

From: A Fellow Muslim

Dear Brother,

As you prepare to run in Egypt's first free elections – Inshallah, you will win – I am writing to make recommendations for your success, drawing from the Turkish model. Do not get me wrong; I am not referring to Turkey's secularism or its earlier march toward a liberal democracy. Rather, I have in mind for you the other Turkish model, namely the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, government's successful crackdown on the media after being elected in 2002, ensuring nearly a decade of unbroken AKP rule in Turkey. I wish the same and more to you in Egypt. So, brother, please follow these recommendations:

First, align with some liberals who will support you and your policies. In 2002, the AKP promised the liberals a paradise if they defended the party's policies to eliminate the military's role in politics. Some liberals helped the AKP to this end, supporting the party while it launched the Ergenekon investigation to prosecute an alleged coup plot that was said to be orchestrated by the military, journalists, scholars and others. 

Arrest journalists by connecting them to an alleged coup plot or other purported misconduct. This will help you intimidate the media. The AKP has implemented this goal successfully, especially targeting Cumhuriyet, which has been steadfast and often alone in its criticism of the party since 2002. In March 2009, the police arrested Cumhuriyet's Ankara bureau chief Mustafa Balbay in connection to the alleged Ergenekon plot. The government has also targeted Oda TV, the country's most prominent independent online portal. Soner Yalçın, the portal's editor, was detained along with three other journalists in February 2011.

Wiretap independent media and journalists. You have intimidated everyone by now, so you do not even need an excuse. The Freedom House Report for 2010 in Turkey states that the police have wiretapped mainstream and independent dailies, such as Milliyet and Hürriyet, as well as Cumhuriyet. The police said that such wiretaps, which took place without a court order, were justified, for "the papers were allegedly connected to the Ergenekon coup plot." While you are at it, throw in a few wiretaps of your opponents. Under the AKP, the police also wiretapped, without a court order, conversations between Cumhuriyet correspondent İlhan Taşçı and Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the chair of the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, in February 2009. The former deputy chief of the national police, Chief Emin Aslan, confirmed that the police have been wiretapping journalists, as well as politicians, judges, and civil servants. Aslan also confirmed that the police wiretapped Milliyet in August 2008. What happened when news broke out that the government wiretapped a major newspaper and judges? Nothing. As I said, at this stage, everyone will be afraid of you.  

Then, pass the media into the hands of pro-government businesses. Learn from the AKP, my brother: in 2002, pro-AKP businesses owned less than 20 percent of the Turkish media; today, pro-government businesses own around 50 percent and that percentage will increase further. To this end, the party has used and will use legal loopholes to transfer ownership of the media companies. Take for instance, the story of Sabah-ATV, Turkey's second-largest media conglomerate. The government first charged Sabah-ATV's owners with improper business practices and then passed control of the company to a national regulator. The regulator then sold the media group at an auction with only one bidder: Çalık Holding, a conglomerate well-known for being an AKP supporter. Çalık then appointed Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's son-in-law Berat Albayrak as his media group's new CEO. Subsequently, Erdoğan's son-in-law paid the government $1.25 billion just last year for this deal, having obtained loans from public banks Halkbank and Vakıfbank. The media reported that Qatari investors supported Çalık's purchase, as well.  You see brother; you can do it if you put your mind to it.

Next, pass restrictive media laws. Follow the AKP and adopt an opaque new media regulation law, open to interpretation and abuse. For instance, the new media law, passed by the AKP on Feb. 15, 2011, stipulates that Turkey's official broadcast watchdog, Radio and Television Higher Council, or RTÜK, a majority of whose board members are appointed by the AKP, "can determine the principles of measuring the percentage of homes watching or listening to the broadcasting services and apply sanctions to companies and organizations that do not comply with the principles."  This gives you the opportunity to not only control the media but also dangle the Sword of Damocles over the Internet – you have to be careful with the Internet!

Trust me; you can have it all in the end. The new law asserts: "In cases where national security or public order is seriously deteriorated, the prime minister or the minister he appoints can temporarily ban broadcasting."

Finally, arrest the liberals. Since you no longer require their support, you can go ahead and arrest those conspicuous liberals who have served their purpose. On March 3, 2011, AKP-controlled national police arrested a number of prominent journalists, among them Ahmet Şık, whose investigative work in 2007 helped the AKP launch the Ergenekon case. Too bad for him, but he did serve his purpose for us – such is life! At this stage, no target is too big: the police also arrested Nedim Şener, an investigative reporter for daily Milliyet and a recipient of the International Press Institute's "World Press Freedom Hero" award. The police charged Şener and other journalists for their alleged participation in the Ergenekon coup plot. 

By now brother, you have the country under full, unbridled control, and trust me; you will win the coming elections. For while elections will continue to be free, in the absence of independent media, they will be far from fair. Follow my advice, brother, and you are sure to succeed.






As Libyan leader Moammar Gadhafi threatens the increased use of his air force against his own civilian population, it is becoming clear that regional and international opinion is moving in favor of supporting the imposition of a no-fly zone over Libya. Despite its business interests in Libya, Turkey should recognize the broader values at stake, reverse its opposition, and play a leading role in implementing a no fly zone.

Col. Gadhafi has clearly lost whatever shreds of legitimacy he had with the majority of his own people; however, through sheer military brutality he might be able to put down these popular uprisings, like Saddam did in southern Iraq after 1991, or the Soviets did in Hungary and Czechoslovakia during the Cold War. His air force is his only military advantage over his people. If he uses it more widely against civilian populations, it will become an unavoidable moral imperative to help save the Libyan people from such massacre.

The League of Arab States, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Organization of Islamic Conference have indicated that they would be in favor a no-fly zone. And United Nations Security Council members are discussing the outlines of a potential resolution. Turkey has, so far, said that it was not in favor of such a no-fly zone.

I have written many times in recent months and years how Turkey has inspired many in the region as a model of democratic change; how it has also provided an example of responsible foreign policy in an otherwise polarized region. And how it has emphasized that we in the region should play a larger role in managing our own affairs, rather than leaving them to Western or other external intervention.

Now is the time for Turkey to build on its leadership role in the region, and recognize that helping to save large sections of the civilian population in Libya from the vengeful attacks of a spent and deranged leader, and to help the Libyans bring stability and democracy to Libya is not only a moral imperative but serves the interests of stability and democratization that Turkey has been exemplifying for years. And it is correct for Ankara to recognize that being a regional power entails responsibilities as well as advantages.

One can understand that in the first days of the Libyan uprising, Turkey was concerned about evacuating the 20,000-25,000 Turks that worked in Libya. We also know that Turkish companies have over $10 billion of contracts in Libya. And we know that the Turkish leadership is in the run-up to parliamentary elections in June. 

But this is a time to put principle and long-term strategic interests of stability and regional democratization above business and other narrow interests. People in the region have always accused the West of putting economic interests above principle; Turkey has come too far in helping build a new paradigm of democratization and regional order in the Middle East to fall under the same misperception.

And if a no-fly zone becomes a necessity to protect the Libyan people, we in the region should not wash our hands of it and ask the West to come do the work for us. At the very least, a no-fly zone should be implemented in full partnership: this should include full Turkish participation, as well as at least some participation from Egypt and Tunisia – the two countries that have unleashed the tide of democratization in the Arab world.

Building a democratic and stable Middle East will take regional leadership. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President Abdullah Gül, and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu have talked about Turkey's leadership role in a changing region. Now is the time to put words into action.

* Paul Salem is the Director of the Carnegie Middle East Center, in Beirut.






Many journalists and democracy activists believe that without the Internet, Twitter and Facebook nothing revolutionary would have happened in Egypt or Tunisia earlier this year. A lot of people even think these technologies caused those revolts. The new technologies were of course important tools for getting people onto the streets. But social media were not an underlying cause of the protests – let alone of the civil war in Libya. To suggest that they are is to ignore what fueled popular anger in the first place: pervasive government corruption and repression, chronic unemployment (especially among the educated young), economic hopelessness and rising food prices.

The regimes in Tunisia and Egypt suffered from deep legitimation deficits for decades, experiencing periodic displays of mass protests earlier. This time social media created a tipping point in Tunisia; the success of the Tunisian revolt inspired those in Egypt who had prepared a resistance strategy for months. Protest leaders in both countries had been absorbing key ideas from an American activist's manual, "From Dictatorship to Democracy: A Conceptual Framework" – a Gandhi-inspired guide that says nothing about using electronic technologies. Round-the-clock television coverage by Al-Jazeera was at least as important as any social media. So let's give the new media their proper credit, but let's also not lose sight of the whole bundle of predisposing political, social and economic causes.

More important, the technologies that helped mobilize masses in Egypt and Tunisia to overthrow the old regimes are ill suited to building new democratic polities. In neither country have protests resulted in a united opposition with effective leadership; indeed, there are worrisome signs that elements of the old regimes are resisting basic reforms. This is a huge problem, and it's clear that the "sort-of-new" regimes in Tunisia and Egypt will probably withstand popular opposition as long as that opposition lacks organized political leadership that can compete for power. Lingering elements of the old regimes in both countries (including the military and security apparatuses) know what their political interests are and they're in a much better position, organizationally, to pursue them against a diffuse, weakly organized opposition. I want the democratic opposition to succeed, but they're not going to do so with social media and public protests.

No successful political revolution has ever been spearheaded by information or communication technologies. And there's no good reason to think that the current "wave" of Arab revolts will be different. In this regard the violent upheaval in Libya is instructive – and, alas, typical. The revolts in Tunisia and Egypt were well organized and (relatively) non-violent. This lulled supporters into a false sense that a new sort of "post-modern" media-driven revolution model was emerging. Libya and the less vicious but still violent upheavals in Bahrain, Algeria, and Yemen are a reminder that revolutions are chaotic, bloody affairs with profoundly uncertain outcomes.

Why, then, do so many people want to believe that social media can launch new democratic revolutions? What deeper sociological currents underlie such beliefs? Two seem most significant. First, the Internet is the only technology in history to have been created, pioneered and adopted largely by younger more than older age groups. In societies like Tunisia and Egypt, where as much as 50 percent of the population is under 25, it's completely predictable to see protests led by young, well-educated, Internet-savvy (and unemployed) activists. Social media are now the Internet's leading edge. How liberating it must be to discover that Tweets and Facebook posts can fuel democratic aspirations and not just fill the empty spaces of everyday life. Yet, this admirable impulse is also disturbingly naive: "If a small group of people in every Arab country went out and persevered as we did," said one Egyptian activist, "then that would be the end of all the regimes." That hasn't worked in Libya (or Iran) nor is it likely to be a winning formula in most other Arab nations. The belief that the Internet, which makes so many tasks easier, can do the same for revolutions is naive. 

The second deep current is the powerful symbolism of the new technologies. Twitter, Facebook and indeed the Internet at large were invented and propagated in the United States and have come to symbolize eminently "Western" technological projects. It seems, then, only somehow natural for those technologies to serve that most Western of political impulses: democracy. "Information wants to be free," claimed cyberspace theorists in the 1990s. Many now believe that the Internet is an inherently democratic technology; eventually, autocratic leaders who come to rely on it for economic growth will be compelled to liberalize their politics. It's no surprise that U.S. Secretary of State Clinton has anointed "connection technologies" as democratic tools whose development in other nations must be actively supported by U. S. foreign policy. That kind of technological utopian thinking, coupled with missionary foreign-policy objectives, has been at the heart of U.S. modernization thinking for more than 60 years. The globalization of the Internet has given new inspiration to this vision.

In The Net Delusion: The Dark Side of Internet Freedom, Evgeny Morozov calls this kind of thinking "cyber-utopianism." He documents how misleading that mind-set can be, pointing out in case after case how dictators have used the Internet to suppress free speech and democracy and to spy on dissidents. Cyber-utopianism today reminds me of Francis Fukuyama's argument, in The End of History and the Last Man (1992), that liberal democracy and capitalism are sweeping the world and their triumph is just a matter of time. Fukuyama was right about capitalism but his case for democracy is weak. If there's a correlation between democracy and the spread of the Internet, with about 2 billion users worldwide, it doesn't appear to be moving in the right direction. The Economist Intelligence Unit's "Democracy Index 2010" reports that the "dominant pattern in all regions over the past two years has been backsliding on previously attained progress in democratization."

Looking beyond the Arab world to China – now with more than 420 million Internet users – the prospects for social-media-driven political transformations are bleak. The Chinese Communist Party has implemented the world's most thorough Internet censorship and control regime. China poses the ultimate challenge for cyber-utopians. And if we look at democratic-capitalist societies like those in North America and Western Europe, it doesn't seem to be the case that the Internet is nurturing more democracy. Let's hope that cyber-utopians will eventually be right. For now, however, the Internet's only universal comrade-in-arms is capitalism – whether of the democratic or authoritarian type.

* Mark A. Shields, a sociologist, teaches in the Department of Humanities and Social Sciences at Işık University.






From time to time Turkey has issued statements reminding the Greek Cypriot-run Cyprus republic and some other countries of the Mediterranean basin that the Greek Cypriot administration cannot undertake cooperation schemes with other countries.

Engaging with nearby countries in pursuit of the natural riches of the Mediterranean is just another example of how the Greek Cypriots operate in total defiance of the unalienable rights of their Turkish Cypriot partners in the independence and sovereignty of the island. Their Greek Cypriot partners have not allowed them to exercise their partnership rights in governing the island since December 1963.

That is, Ankara has been frequently reminding countries like Egypt, Israel and Syria that: a) in the absence of the Turkish Cypriot element in the administration of the island, the Greek Cypriots alone cannot represent the government of the entire island; b) as equal partners with Greek Cypriots in the sovereignty and independence of Cyprus, Turkish Cypriots are entitled to a share of the island's offshore riches as well and their share cannot be ignored; c) as long as there is no settlement on the island and the bi-communal power-sharing problem continues, Greek Cypriots do not possess the legitimacy of undertaking unilateral decisions over the common riches of the island and its economic zone in the sea.

A second element in Ankara's not-so-seldom notes to littoral countries was the absence of a deal with Turkey, a country with a huge Mediterranean shore, regarding utilization of the resources of the eastern Mediterranean. Turkey, obviously, is not a state that can turn a blind eye to some greedy eyes fixed on resources of the Mediterranean in total defiance of the interests of Turkey.

The gas and oil finds in the eastern Mediterranean, will of course, have a very serious impact on the geopolitical situation of the entire region. For example, in the last days of 2010, Noble Energy and partners announced that the Leviathan field, off the north coast of Israel contained at least 16 Tcf of recoverable gas, which would make the field one of the largest offshore natural gas fields ever. Such a giant discovery, which may be followed by other discoveries, would certainly make Israel a prime candidate as a natural gas exporter. The United States Geological Survey has estimated that the Eastern Mediterranean may hold 200 Tcf of ultimately recoverable natural gas.

On, Michael Economides recently commented that Israel's success in the energy arena "is a game-changer" in geopolitics. According to Economides, first, the least worrisome eventuality would be a conflict between Israel and its northern neighbor Lebanon, which is already claiming that the Leviathan prospect extends into its waters and is planning for an exploration program off its coast. Further west, Noble already holds the only lease in Cypriot waters, which could prove success in the outer reaches of the Leviathan Basin. Israel and Cyprus are cooperating to define the borders of the continental shelf under the rules of the U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea. A country has certain rights, which includes the right to explore and exploit natural resources, within a distance of 200 nautical miles. The closest distance between Israel and Cyprus is 140 nautical miles and, according to international law, the boundary is set midway between the two countries. These are, of course, just some factual details. But, there are more important things in the article by Economides that requires very careful reading.

"Natural gas may bring Israel and Cyprus (and by extension Greece) into a natural alliance, not just for the economic benefit. In a classic example of the 'enemy of my enemy is my friend,' the recent breech between Israel and Turkey brings the Greeks closer to Israel. A natural gas pipeline from the Israeli finds to Cyprus would be an obvious gesture of the rapprochement. Such a pipeline, which could benefit Cyprus, now in the process of making a decision to import natural gas as a highly expensive LNG, can become the vehicle for LNG liquefaction and then exports of LNG to a natural gas starving Europe, suffocated by Russian natural gas imports. An alternative substantial source of natural gas to Europe can provide what the ill-fated Nabucco pipeline is unlikely to ever deliver. Two LNG trains on Cyprus each of 7 million metric tons of LNG will amount to about 23 percent of Russian exports to Western Europe, which were 3.3 Tcf in 2009. Israeli natural gas, as almost everything else in that part of the world, has many more dimensions than the obvious."

Strange enough, while it has been so vocal on the Mediterranean gas and oil speculations, as regards these hard developments Ankara has been dead silent. Whereas, Greek Cypriot leader Demetris Christofias is now traveling to Tel Aviv and high on his agenda is an accord on Leviathan rights… Noble Energy, on the other hand, is waiting at the Larnaca port for the political go-ahead to start its Leviathan dig.

We will have more on this issue in the days ahead…







The real cost of failing to educate our children is exposed with clinical accuracy by a new report on the state of our education system. The report is a product of the Pakistan Education Task Force and it makes grim reading. Reports of this nature tend to be serial dust-gatherers, but this one might have a life beyond the desktops of concerned educationalists and education providers or policy planners. The PETF has launched a website that went live on March 9 which enables anybody with a net connection to follow its work. The data at the heart of the report leaves no room for equivocation. One in ten of the world's population of out of school children is from Pakistan – equivalent to the population of Lahore. The Millennium Development goals for education are not going to be met – they will be missed by a mile and we look askance at India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka as they streak ahead in the race to achieve these goals. Astonishingly, no citizen of this country alive today will see universal education as defined by our Constitution, and at current rates of progress Baluchistan will not see universal education until the year 2100.

Truly, we face an emergency of the gravest nature in our education system. It has been neglected by successive governments since partition, and wilfully neglected at that. There are 26 countries listed as being poorer than Pakistan but all of them send a higher proportion of their children to school – so the claim that education for all is too expensive holds no water. It is about will and the effective articulation of demand – of people getting up and demanding their right to education as enshrined in law. We are not too poor to provide sufficient funds to improve the system, and with an additional spend of Rs 100 billion over the next two years there could be a significant improvement in this gloomy picture. The operant word here is 'could'. With budgets devolved to the provinces they are not spending up to their capacity in the education budget line – they lack the capacity to effectively spend the money and education slips further down the list of priorities. Our governments happily subsidise white elephants like PIA, Pakistan Steel and PEPCO but doggedly refuse to invest in one of the few genuine assets we have – our human capital in the form of school-going children. This timely and damning report goes beyond being a wake-up call, it is a final notice. Either we invest in the education of our children or we fail to thrive as a state. And for that we have nobody to blame but every government that never thought it worth bothering with.







Once again, a court has questioned why it is that they are being obliged to give bail to terrorist suspects because the cases brought to them by the police are so evidentially weak. The Peshawar High Court has asked the government to set up an enquiry into this obvious and national problem – it is not limited to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa. The call for an enquiry was prompted by the police and the prosecution failing to produce solid evidence when two suspects were arraigned charged with acts of terrorism. It was also noted by the judiciary that the court could only decide cases on the basis of the records before it presented by the Prosecution Department and the police. If those records were found to be in any way deficient – and they often are – then the accused may apply for bail and stand a good chance of getting it because the courts have to be seen to be acting within the law even if nobody else does.

Arising from these observations come a number of questions, all of which go to the heart of the practices of our police and prosecution services. It is obvious that not all cases brought to court are flawed – because if they were then nobody would be convicted and that is not the case. There are thousands of convictions, and in those cases the judiciary found no substantive deficiency in the evidence or the basis for the prosecution and a convictions were secured. If it is possible for the police and prosecution services to successfully bring to book any number of criminals, why do they find it so difficult to do the same with cases where terrorism is the issue? In part, the matter may turn on who 'owns' the case being brought. The police may only be the front-of-house operation for a 'sensitive' agency, and that agency may not be willing to have either its members or its officers tested by the courts evidentially – which leaves the police and the Prosecution Service in the unenviable position of bringing a case they know from the outset they cannot win. Alternatively, there may be those within the police and prosecution service who harbour sympathies for those they are putting in the dock, and therefore tailor the evidence into a weak garment that can be torn to pieces by a defence lawyer who then sees his client bailed. A third possibility is that the police simply lack the forensic skills that would enable them to make a case stronger, and that may be because they do not have the training or equipment that would allow them to function more effectively. Whatever the reason, it is evident that evidence, its collection, recording and presentation need to improve if terrorists are not to walk free; and the judiciary has every right to demand an enquiry.








The secretary of the Election Commission told the press last week that out of the 81 million registered voters in the parliamentary elections of 2008, only 44 million could be confirmed as genuine. This finding had been made in a scrutiny of the electoral rolls carried out by NADRA. The remaining 37 million entries, or fully 45 per cent of the total, could not be verified and were either completely bogus or the result of multiple registration. This revelation, which raises fresh doubts about the credibility of the 2008 elections, received little coverage in our media and hardly elicited comment from our political parties. The reason is worrying: election rigging has become so deeply rooted in our political culture that it hardly causes any outrage.

The Election Commission is now working on a plan to prepare accurate computerised electoral rolls from the NADRA records and a house-to-house survey to be carried out in June and July this year. According to the commission, the new system would eliminate the possibility of false entries. In addition, the government has proposed legislation, the Election Laws Amendment Bill 2011, that will make it mandatory for a voter to produce his national identity card before he casts his vote.

These two measures should help reduce bogus registration and bogus voting. That is to be welcomed, but it will not suffice. There is a lot that needs to be fixed in our electoral system, and a whole raft of administrative, legal and constitutional measures will be required before we can claim that our elected legislatures at the national and provincial level reflect the will of the people.

The Election Commission should start by enforcing vigorously all existing laws which impose penalties on those who pervert the electoral process. Because these people belong to the class of the rich and powerful, the commission has a very poor record in this respect. It is an offence to give any form of "gratification" to a voter to win his vote. But the commission has been unwilling to prosecute the culprits. In the 2008 elections, a reputed foreign newspaper quoted a prominent candidate from a rural constituency, a former minister, with these words: "I pay (the voters) to vote for me. Then I pay someone else to check they actually did vote, and then I pay more people to check they weren't paid to vote for someone else too." It is known that many candidates from our ruling classes do the same, but no steps are taken to enforce the law.

It is also well-known that restrictions on election expenses laid down in the law are openly violated by most candidates. Many of them are sitting in our assemblies. They are estimated to number more than half of the entire membership. Yet, hardly anyone has been prosecuted. Similarly, the number of our legislators who won membership of the august chambers on the strength of fake degrees could well be more than a hundred.

Another example of a legal provision which has been more honoured in its breach than its observance is one that stipulates that a person who acquires the citizenship of another country is disqualified from election to parliament. This provision has existed in the Constitution since it was adopted in 1973. Since then, the Citizenship Act has been amended to allow dual nationality with some countries. But an ordinary law cannot affect the mandatory constitutional requirement that acquisition of foreign nationality entails disqualification from election. Despite this, several persons believed to be holding foreign nationality have seats in parliament.

The Election Commission has clearly failed to fulfil its constitutional obligation to ensure that elections are conducted "honestly, justly, fairly and in accordance with law, and that corrupt practices are guarded against." Because of this failure, the legitimacy of our assemblies is open to serious question.

The 18th Amendment now seeks to strengthen the independence of the commission by instituting a new system for the appointment of the chief election commissioner and the members of the commission. They are to be selected in future by a 12-member parliamentary committee from a panel of three names proposed by the prime minister after consultation with the leader of the opposition or, failing agreement between them, by each one of them separately. But nearly a year after the 18th Amendment was passed, vacancies in the commission have not been filled. The PML-N has also demanded that the current chief election commissioner, whose term expires in March 2012, should be immediately replaced.

The failure to reconstitute the Election Commission in accordance with the 18th Amendment is already affecting its functioning. In particular, action against holders of fake degrees who are sitting in parliament, has been practically suspended. Zardari's hand is clearly visible behind these machinations. It is clear that he will only allow the vacancies in the Election Commission to be filled once he is assured of a majority in the parliamentary committee through deals with the smaller opposition parties.

Doubts about the chances of holding the next parliamentary elections, due by May 2013, in a free and fair manner will be reinforced by the fact that a caretaker cabinet appointed by Zardari will be in office at the time. The rationale of having a caretaker prime minister is that the government that oversees an election should be headed by a person without any political affiliation who can be counted upon to ensure a level playing field for all parties. But in practice, this expectation has not been fulfilled. From Ghulam Mustafa Jatoi through Moeen Qursehi and Meraj Khalid to Muhammadmian Soomro, they were all seen as pawns appointed to ensure preordained election results. A caretaker prime minister appointed by Zardari would be no different. In Bangladesh, the Constitution expressly lays down that a caretaker government would be "non-party." There is no such requirement in our Constitution. So there is nothing to stop Zardari from appointing a man like Babar Awan as caretaker prime minister. Although the president is now required to consult the outgoing prime minister and the leader of the opposition before making the appointment, their advice is not binding upon him.

Under an amendment to the Constitution made by Musharraf in 2002, a general election is to be held not in the sixty days preceding the end of the five-year parliamentary term but in the following sixty days. This means that during the time between the end of the tenure of the outgoing parliament and the beginning of the term of the newly elected parliament – the three-month during which election is held – the president, acting through a caretaker prime minister, has complete and unfettered legislative powers. It is mind-boggling how a man like Zardari could abuse that power to influence the outcome of the election.

All this does not augur well for the fairness and transparency of the next parliamentary elections. These elections will be the first since those of March 1977 – and only the second in our history – to take place under a purely civilian setup. The Election Commission will bear a heavy responsibility. Not only our electoral system but the entire political system will be put to a severe test. The continuity of the political process will be at stake. We only need recall what the 1977 election led to.

Zardari's foremost objective is to win five more years as president after his present term expires in September 2013, so that he retains the immunity from criminal process without which he would be in the dock on corruption charges. He will therefore stop at nothing to obtain "positive results" in the parliamentary elections, to borrow Ziaul Haq's immortal words. Clearly, Pakistan is about to enter what promises to be an even stormier period of its turbulent political history.

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








Have you ever heard anyone make an argument against education in Pakistan? Of course not. Everyone agrees education is absolutely central to the future of Pakistan. This is part of the problem of education in Pakistan. It is so easy to sweepingly endorse the need for education that it becomes nearly impossible to articulate the exact, sharp contours of what is needed to actually make education in Pakistan a reality, as a widely, equitably and meaningfully shared experience. In being all things to everyone, education in Pakistan is fast becoming nothing, to anyone.

The only way to transform the amorphous idea of improving education in Pakistan, from a slogan to a practical reality, is through politics. Mapping, navigating and negotiating politics is the singular definitive challenge in improving education outcomes in Pakistan.

In a detailed study of the election manifestoes of the five largest parties for the 2008 elections (PPP, PML-N, PML-Q, MQM and ANP), the Centre for Peace and Development Initiatives (CPDI) finds that while all the parties make overarching commitments to universal education, they are desperately inadequate on details. Most tellingly, not a single one of the political parties talks about governance and administrative issues within the education sector – no discussion of teacher absenteeism, no discussion of training and capacity, no discussion of the need for solid data on education, and no discussion on the system's accountability to the taxpayer and the parent.

This is the beating heart of the education problem – an unaccountable Pakistani state that pumps insufficient funds into a completely ineffective system of education.

Discussions about the role of the Pakistani state in the education sector often hinge around two kinds of analyses of Pakistan. The first is the historical view, in which nationalisation of the education sector directly led to teaching becoming the single-largest source of public-sector employment in the country.

The second is the appropriate role of non-state or private-sector actors. Since 1980, when less than one per cent of all education was being provided by the private sector, there has been a seminal shift in the delivery of education. Today, more than 33 per cent of all education is provided by the private sector. The debate about whether the private sector offers an answer to Pakistan's education problems is no debate at all. It is already providing a substantial portion of the answer.

The concurrence of teachers becoming the overwhelmingly largest proportion of government employees and the dramatic growth of the provision of education outside government is no accident. It is a direct product of "the anti-education state."

The anti-education state is the natural orientation of Pakistan. The Pakistani elite, both military and political, depend on the distribution of patronage to sustain, deepen and build power. To do this, they need a reservoir of patronage to begin with. This reservoir is the Pakistani state.

On any given day in Pakistan, one out of four government school teachers do not show up for work. Given the manner in which teachers are hired, and the purpose that their hiring into government serves for the Pakistani elite, however, it is clear that teacher absenteeism is not an education-sector problem. Teacher absenteeism is an accountability problem. Teachers are overwhelmingly hired as a function of politics. Why would the very politicians that got the teachers their jobs ever have an incentive to hold those teachers to account? They would not.

A change in tactics is badly needed.

In a democracy, sustainable change is the kind that is brought about through organic political processes that are based on a cumulative popular will, and the convergence of the narrow elite interests that translate into politics.

A cumulative popular will for good education outcomes already exists in Pakistan. This is evident from the massive growth of private and non-state education, and the survey results from across time and geographic horizons, that all confirm a huge demand for education. By re-framing the urgency for education reform around issues that matter to the political discourse in Pakistan-such as national security, national self-confidence, international support and economic & financial imperatives-cumulative popular will can be asserted more effectively.

To truly have a lasting impact however, the agenda for education reform, must not only change its tactics, but also be pursued within the framework of a theory of change. What is a theory of change?

A theory of change is an organised way of approaching large-scale change. We need to know where we're going, and how we will measure the landmarks on that journey.

It is high time for the Pakistani political and military elite to come together and announce that journey. Pakistan recently achieved historic constitutional change through political consensus. A similar effort is needed to develop and implement a theory of change for education. Across all political parties, a new consensus, a long-term commitment and a clear path for how it will be pursued can be achieved through a reinvigorated Pakistan Education Task Force comprised of politicians.

Debates about the role of the federation in education can be sorted out by the Council of Common Interests. Regardless of the modalities, education is of burning national urgency. No matter what path is chosen, the provinces will drive the process forward. They must not be left do so without federal support, or without the participation of the private sector. A national crisis needs a national response. The March for Education campaign is clearly illustrating the education emergency in Pakistan. Can the Pakistani political and military elite put aside their petty differences for the sake of the nearly sixty million children between the ages of five and 16? The answer to that question will determine whether Pakistan can overcome this national emergency.

The writer is a strategist and adviser to governments and international organisations. Website:









I am not really in a mood to talk about unpleasant things, as these just depress everybody and they don't have any effect on the rulers anyway. However, this is coming from my heart (not from a logical mind) and it is also the voice of millions of my fellow countrymen who are genuinely and seriously worried about the future of Pakistan.

There is such a long, unending list of problems and miseries faced by the nation that one is at a loss where to start. Over the past three years this country has been destroyed, has lost its dignity, is referred to as a haven for terrorists and as an almost failed state. Unemployment, high cost of living and continuously spiralling prices, terrorism, total absence of law and order, load-shedding of gas and electricity and, above all, the lies told by the ruling clique, have turned us into a laughingstock. As a matter of fact, there is no imaginable curse that has not afflicted this country during the past three years. And why not?

Caliph Abu Bakr (RA) said: "I have myself heard our Prophet Mohammad (PBUH) saying: 'When people see others indulging in wrongdoings and don't stop them; see oppressors harming others and don't stop them, then Almighty Allah will definitely catch them and will severely punish them. By Almighty Allah, it is your duty that you preach righteousness and stop others from wrongdoing, otherwise the Almighty will thrust on you such rulers who will be of the worst amongst you, who will hurt you badly and put you to severe pain and trouble. Then your good, honest, God-fearing people will pray to Allah for remedy, for relief, but it won't be heard, won't be accepted.' " Is the present situation any different from that our Holy Prophet (PBUH) had warned of? Are not the worst people ruling us and putting us to all kinds of miseries and troubles while the prayers of God-fearing people are not being heard?

Foreigners, fully armed, roam the country and kill locals and the rulers are making lame excuses to justify those acts. The people and the country have been deprived of all sovereignty and self-respect. Political parties and politicians and all self-centred and are following their own agendas.

An urgent matter is the prevailing conflict between the judiciary and the government, which is totally ignoring the orders of the courts. People have seen how the judges announce their judgements only to find the rulers considering these judgements fit for the dustbin, and the judges remain silent. The recent case of the director general of the Federal Investigation Agency (FIA), Wasim Ahmed, is a very disturbing one. The Supreme Court issued specific orders, but the trio of Yousaf Raza Gilani, Babar Awan and Rehman Malik have not implemented them. We have, by now, seen Mr Gilani on a hundred occasions throwing up his hands in the air and announcing in parliament how he respected Supreme Court orders and would implement them. However, in practice, he does not give a damn and there are many cases where he has totally rejected Supreme Court decisions.

The sole responsibility for this fiasco rests on the shoulders of one man – the prime minister. As chief executive he is bound to take care of administration and the implementation of the orders of the Supreme Court. However, we all know that when an animal gets out of control, its keeper takes appropriate action to restrain it. In this case, the judiciary carries the responsibility of checks and balances. It must take prompt and effective measures to control maladministration, corruption and nepotism.

In my column of Nov 26, 2008, I had mentioned that many of our ills since independence were due to an ineffective and compromising judiciary. Starting from Justice Muneer right up to Justice Dogar, the courts have been more or less compromising. The judiciary had lost all respect in the eyes of the public. People had very high hopes from the judiciary after its restoration, but now we are witnessing blatant violation of many of its decisions.

Just recently the Indian Supreme Court dismissed the newly appointed head of the Anti-corruption Agency and nobody dared to put implementation off for a minute, or challenge the decision. The delay in judgements and lack of their enforcement reminds me of an old Arabic saying: "Not telling the truth for compromise or convenience and delaying or refusing justice is a bigger crime than lying and not doing justice."

When the judges were restored by Gilani/Zardari under public pressure, people were hoping for a marked improvement in the country. Slowly but surely it dawned on them that this was like asking for the moon. Nothing substantial has resulted. Decisions were delayed for long periods and when decisions were finally given, they were trashed by the government.

I am an engineer and a scientist, not a legal expert. However, as an educated person, I do have common sense and some knowledge of affairs unrelated to my subject. I am still at a loss to understand why it took the honourable judges so long to decide whether or not Gen Musharraf in uniform was eligible to participate in election for president, whether Asif Ali Zardari could keep two posts: president of Pakistan and leader of the ruling Pakistan People's Party. These decisions were not like making a hydrogen bomb or sending a man to the moon that required much time. Judges know the law as much as I know about engineering and nuclear technology. These are our professions. When courts delay judgements, there arises genuine concern about the affects of the delays, because postponements provide an opportunity to the rulers to continue their rule. A quick judgement, either for or against the accused, could decide the matter in a jiffy. If the court had tried and convicted the law minister and the attorney general for contempt of court (didn't the two men refuse to write to the Swiss court, ignoring Supreme Court orders?) and banned them for life from holding public office, matters would have been different now. Prime Minister Gilani would not have dared to ignore the orders relating to the director general of the FIA.

The country is currently at a dangerous crossroads. There is no sense in looking to the army for rescue. All military dictators proved to be corrupt, loved sycophancy and destroyed national institutions. The only institution that can rise to the occasion is the judiciary. If they do not deliver quick justice without fear or favour, we are doomed – or as the saying goes, our goose is cooked. A grave responsibility lies on the shoulders of the lawmakers to enact effective laws quickly to enable the honourable judges to use them efficiently and to save this poor country from total destruction and disintegration. The country is indeed at dangerous crossroads – either we reach our destination or we fall into a deep, dark pit.










It's said that Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani offered to step down in the wake of the assassination of Minorities Affairs Minister Shahbaz Bhatti. But his cabinet colleagues implored him to change his mind. The premier's offer gives the lie to the view, which unfortunately has gained wide currency, that people in the saddle are bent upon saving their own positions by any means. Three cheers for Mr Gilani!

However, even more than the prime minister, the members of his cabinet deserve our accolades for having the good sense of prevailing upon their captain to continue at the helm. The country is in the throes of clear and present dangers. Bloodthirsty terrorists are on the rampage striking at will, malevolent mafias and gruesome gangs are ruling the roost, the economy is in a shambles, society is in disarray and public morale is going downhill. The allies are looking daggers at the government. The donors have made capital inflows contingent upon economic reforms, which don't seem to be coming through. Both foreign investment and assistance have dried up.

A change of guards at this critical juncture would only make matters worse. Hence, although the death of Mr Shahbaz Bhatti is a great national loss, Mr Gilani's departure from the Prime Minister's House would have been a graver one. Thank God, he is still there piloting the ship of state in deep waters.

The nation is also indebted to Interior Minister Rehman Malik for brushing aside the calls for his resignation on account of the alleged security lapse leading to the terrorists' gunning down of his colleague in the cabinet. Mr Rehman Malik hit the nail on the head when he said, in so many words, that if the alleged security lapse could constitute a ground for the minister concerned to quit, the Punjab government should have bowed out a long time ago for its failure to prevent many an incident of terrorism.

One is at one's wits' end to find that such demands were made at all for the interior minister to call it a day, and even by some folks in the ruling party (you too, Brutus!). We all know Mr Rehman Malik has risked his life in putting down militancy and at present is at the top on the hit list of the terrorists. He is as much indispensable to the war against terror as Mr Gilani is to the crusade against bad governance. Therefore it is in vital national interest that both stay the course. But some people will never come to terms with this fact.

Mr Malik has some other feathers in his cap. For instance, he is the ruling party's trouble-shooter. Whether it's wooing back the MQM, de-escalating ethnic tensions in Karachi, resolving the deadlock between the management and workers of the country's flagship airline, or making the transporters call off their strike, the negotiating and persuasive skills of the interior minister come in handy more than anything else. However, we live in a thankless world, where a person runs the gauntlet more for his virtues than for his vices; rather, more for his achievements than for his failures. This probably accounts for why some politicians are gunning for Mr Malik.

The assassination of Mr Bhatti should open our eyes to a couple of things. One, the most effective way to combat militancy and extremism is to shore up security through the length and breadth of the country. In fact, the entire country should be turned into a security state – if it hasn't already become so. Terrorism is essentially an administrative problem and needs to be grappled with as such. The government may give serious thought to resurrection of the office of the deputy commissioner as well as executive magistracy, which is the panacea for most of the problems that the country is faced with.

Addressing the factors which, it's widely believed, lay at the root of extremism, such as a deteriorating education system, rising poverty, widening income disparities, continuing backwardness, shrinking employment opportunities, growing social injustices, rotting governance, increasing intolerance and brutalisation of society, rising bigotry and fanaticism and the growing tendency to take the law into one's own hands, should at best be of secondary importance.

Two, of all the people, those holding top slots in the government or the ruling party are facing the most serious threat to their life. Therefore, each of them is in need of foolproof security. This includes, evidently, bullet-proof cars and scores of well-trained and well-equipped guards. These valiant men and women are fighting the war of our survival and their security needs have to be taken into full account while public money is apportioned under various heads. Their security ought not to be compromised for such flimsy reasons as paucity of funds or shortage of men and matter.

These jargons are only part of the infamous bureaucratic red tape meant to delay rather than facilitate action by having on tap all that's necessary. If required, the entire development spending may be re-appropriated to VIP security. For a people will thrive only if they survive and they can hardly survive if those who underwrite their security live perpetually in the shadow of death.

The writer is a freelance contributor based in Islamabad. Email: hussainhzaidi@gmail. com







The writer is the author of Afghanistan, the Taliban Years, published by Bennett &Bloom, London.

There is a need for Pakistan to constantly review its Afghan policy because of the perpetually changing ground realties. In the nineteenth century imperial Britain and Russia in their competition with each other understood this only too well and came to the conclusion that their respective interests were best served by a stable Afghanistan. This, however, was easier said than done because the ethnic diversity of the country has been at the heart of its past and present turmoil.

The emergence of Afghanistan as a state in the last two centuries owed itself more to Britain's imperial ambitions than any desire among its peoples to forge a national identity. British writers claimed that their country had contributed significantly to give "a national unity to that nebulous community which we call Afghanistan (which the Afghans never called by that name) by drawing a boundary all round it and elevating it into a position of buffer state between ourselves and Russia." External compression was, therefore, applied by the advancing empires of Britain and Russia to foster effective cohesion among the Afghan groups.

The conflicting interests of imperial Britain and Russia did not permit either to establish itself in Afghanistan. The alternative to an armed clash over the territory was to transform it into a buffer state. It was also in their interest, if Afghanistan was to play this role, to ensure that chaos and anarchy did not prevail in it. A strong ruler was, therefore, needed in the country. Both imperial powers feared chaos in a leaderless Afghanistan more than the unfriendliness of an Afghan ruler.

Britain also believed that strong leadership could only be provided by the largest ethnic group, namely, the Pushtuns. This became of paramount importance for the British who often played a decisive role in the selection of the amir – always a Pushtun. They not only provided him subsidies and weapons to build an army and consolidate power but also encouraged the subjugation of ethnic minorities. In the words of a Russian historian "after 1849 Dost Muhammad turned to the conquest of non-Afghan peoples living north of the Hindu Kush (Uzbeks, Tajiks, and Turkmen) with the support of the British India Company."

Like the British, Pakistan has also crafted its Afghan policy on support for a friendly Pusthun leadership but without the resources available to the former imperial power. Thus when Mullah Muhammad Omar Akhund set forth in August 1994 from Maiwand, Kandahar with a small group of followers to punish a local warlord, he was encouraged by Islamabad. His movement, which was a reaction to the prevailing anarchy after the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan and the subsequent misrule of Burhanuddin Rabbani regime, gathered momentum and within weeks Kandahar city was taken by the Taliban.

In less than two years since their emergence, Jalalabad fell to the Taliban onslaught with only 20 casualties. In Sarobi, where Burhanuddin Rabbani and Ahmed Shah Masood had sent their own commanders to strengthen its defence and mine the approaches, the local Ahmadzai tribe joined the Taliban, and the commanders around Sarobi either surrendered immediately or fled to Kabul. It had been claimed that the capital could sustain a siege for more than a year but its surrender came virtually overnight on Sept 27, 1996, with only 200 fatalities.

Taliban justice in the 75 percent of Afghan territory that they controlled was both swift and harsh. Admittedly, there was no longer any theft, murder or molestation of women but the peace and security that prevailed resembled that of a prison. The two most significant achievements of the Taliban regime were the eradication of poppy cultivation and the de-weaponisation of their society. This was certainly remarkable as a firearm was almost a part of the Pushtun tribal attire and as natural to them as the wearing of a necktie is to males in western societies.

Yet despite their hardships, ordinary Afghans during the early months of Taliban rule had hopes for a better future because, unlike Pakistan, their leaders were honest. An incident indicative of these expectations – that were later to be shattered by the obscurantist world view of the Taliban – was a conversation that a Pakistan consulate official in Kandahar had with a mechanical engineer whose monthly take-home pay was equivalent to a paltry $ 20 (US). The man said that he was not in the least bitter about his inadequate emoluments because his leaders were even poorer than he was. The reason for this was that the Taliban were a volunteer movement and none of its members down from Mullah Omar, to provincial governors, ministers and fighters received any pay.

For decision-makers in Islamabad, who harboured the unreal dream of strategic depth, Taliban control of Afghanistan was of supreme importance for Pakistan. Indian influence in Afghanistan had ceased to exist and peace and security prevailed in the country under a strong Pushtun leader. Pakistan's post-9/11 Afghan policy is built around the restoration of Taliban dominance in Afghanistan albeit in a modified form. The problem is that the Taliban movement seems to be fracturing.

The international media has reported that in recent months more than a 1,000 Taliban fighters have defected and many of them have joined the Afghan National Security Forces. Though this is only a fraction of the movement's estimated armed strength of around 30,000 men, the defectors have provided valuable intelligence to the US-led troops enabling them to kill or capture hundreds of seasoned fighters as well as overrun key Taliban bases in Helmand and Kandahar over the past one year.

Zabiullah, a senior Taliban adviser, recently admitted that the group is confronted with a severe leadership crisis. He said: "In 16 years of the Taliban's military and political life, this is our most difficult phase." Reports in the western media indicate that morale among the Taliban is at an all-time low. Taliban fighters have complained that their two key commanders in the vitally important south, Abdul Qayum and Akhtar Muhammad Mansoor, are ineffective and do not inspire any confidence.

Furthermore, there has been an absence of coordination among the so-called Quetta and Peshawar shuras as well as the Haqqani network which is predominant in the eastern provinces of Paktia, Paktika and Khost. Mullah Omar, the supreme leader of the Taliban, has not been seen or heard since he fled Afghanistan in 2001. His influence also seems to have diminished dramatically as was evident from his inability to save his close friend, Col Imam, who was recently killed by a splinter group in the tribal areas of Pakistan.

At another level, popular support for the Taliban among the Pushtuns could be in decline. The UN statistics indicate that in the first 10 months of 2010 the insurgents were responsible for 1,800 civilian deaths which is three times the number of fatalities caused by NATO and US forces.


The coming of spring will herald what is cynically called "the fighting season" in Afghanistan. The ground situation is likely to change and a constant policy review will be required. There was a time when an Afghan Cell meeting presided by the president or the prime minister was regularly held and there is need to revive this system to enable Pakistan to respond to the emergent realities.








 Some weeks are more blood-boltered than others and blood-free weeks are a thing of distant memory. The graffiti of intolerance is scrawled across walls in the blood and flesh of the bomber. A pile of shoes appears to be all that is left of what was a group of people saying prayers at a funeral. The rev-counter of the violence in Karachi is calibrated in corpses. Torture of women is routinely reported in the print media, less often on the electronic and the casual butchery carried out in the name of honour barely gets a mention so commonplace is it. Acid eats into the faces of girls whose pictures circulate on the internet, one good eye staring out from the pustulent wreckage.

It would be enough to make anybody angry, just looking at the carnage that now washes around us. Yet there is a curious serenity, a calm that allows the blood and tears to somehow become invisible to all but a few. There is no bubbling of unrest beyond the choreographed processions and rallies organised by the political parties of all types and stripes. Letters of protest addressed to the president and prime minister get signed and the list of signatories is probably duly noted by 'sensitive agencies' for future reference. Footage of women marching shoulder-to-shoulder across the width of the street gets aired to an audience indifferent to much of what goes on outside the family discussion of shaadi and the machinations of the Aunty Mafia.

A contradiction it may be but this does not feel like an angry place, more a place shot through with benign content and satisfied that whatever befalls is preordained and beyond the wit or will of men and women to change. Whatever anger or protest there is has the sense of being manufactured, temporary constructs put up and taken down at need and mobile, lacking a rooted foundation. You cannot put your hands out towards the crowd and feel the heat they generate, the heat that comes from deep within and is born of a genuine rage and a burning hunger for change.

No tented camps at iconic intersections for us. No external media interest beyond Washington commentators blathering on about the vulnerability of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal and how vulnerable it is and just how worried we should all be if the mullahs got their hands on the firing keys. No teams from CNN or Al-Jazeera interviewing articulate men and women as they press the government for reform, for the fulfilment of their constitutional right to free education for their children or for clean drinking water and at least two square meals a day.

None of that, and instead the sound of one hand clapping. The silence that is between the stick and the drumskin before it strikes. The nothing you hear from a photograph.

The truly awful thing is that I increasingly realise how little I feel. It was as I watched the tsunami overwhelm the coastal town of Sendai last Friday, lives being snuffed out in an instant, that I felt my heart reach out and a wetness of the eyes. Compassion, a sense of sorrow and helplessness accentuated by distance. Senses that had been pounded to a tissue-paper thinness by the daily horror of life in a country where life is so cheap, came alive at the deaths of people I feel no connection to.

Perhaps that explains the absence of rage in a place where anger should be the engine of change. Try as I might the anger button no longer seems to work. This is Pakistan.

The writer is a British social worker settled in Pakistan. Email: manticore73@gmail. com








AN explosion at a Japanese nuclear plant triggering fears of meltdown has once again raised the crucial necessity of safety of nuclear power plants. Fearing the danger of radiation, the Japanese government stopped operations at five of its reactors, including the Fukushima plant, damaged in the latest earthquake for safety reasons.

Delayed footage was aired of smoke billowing from the site, and the reactor building was seen to have been destroyed, leaving only a skeletal metal frame. But what happened on Friday was something unusual: It was a deadly combination of a strong earthquake and a tsunami which struck the nuclear plant and damaged it. Official nuclear safety authorities warned that the plant, about 160 miles northeast of Tokyo, "may be experiencing a nuclear meltdown." Blanket evacuation orders had to be issued for evacuation of 2, 00, 000 people within a twelve mile radius as a precautionary measure against radiation. Japanese nuclear power plants have the best of safety standards and the incident invites the attention of IAEA that in future too such incidents could take place due to natural calamities or for technical reasons in any country. We say so because in 1986 Chernobyl nuclear plant in Ukraine witnessed the worst nuclear accident in history as well. It marked level 7 radiation in the INES (International Nuclear and Radiological Event Scale- the scale for measuring severity of a nuclear disaster). While the accident caused more than 50 deaths, the release of radioactive substance led to the death of another 4,000 people. There were four radiation-related deaths in India in May, 2010 as scrap metal was sold and that raised concerns over nuclear safety in that country. Luckily Pakistan can take pride that because of its safety standards there has been no minutest incident which reflects the excellent security arrangements. However one cannot rule out the possibility of radiation from the plants in any part of the world. Following the Fukushima nuclear accident in Japan, Pakistan and other countries must once again review the safety features of their nuclear plants to assess whether they can tackle inoperable situations. Given the intensity of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, nuclear scientists will also have to be prepared for extreme, or inoperable situations. Not only the existing security and safety procedures must be strengthened but the new plants should be also established at far-away places from the population centres.








IN the backdrop of removal of NAB Chairman Justice Deedar Hussain Shah (Retd ), demonstrations were organized by PPP in Sindh on Saturday while criminal elements took advantage and resorted to target killings in Karachi. Taking notice of the violence that erupted in Karachi, the Supreme Court has sought detailed reports from the Sindh Chief Secretary, Provincial Assembly Secretary and PEMRA inquiring whether any action had been taken in respect of the strike call against the judgement of the Apex Court.

We are glad to say that some members of the ruling party have rightly opposed the protests. According to reports while some typical Jiyala leaders in line with their hard core stance on various issues are fuming and saying that Deedar Hussain Shah was being targeted because he holds domicile of Sindh, saner elements in the PPP opposed their protests to reflect their anger in the public. It is very encouraging that these senior members of the party have fuller sense of responsibility and realize the situation the country is passing through and cannot afford protests and confrontation. We wish these voices of sanity should become wider and louder. We say so because it is incumbent upon the ruling party to ensure peace and order all over the country and not give the verdict of the Apex Court a provincial colour. Had the PPP been in the opposition, even then it was its duty to work for peace and order as it is a federal party with roots in all the provinces and giving provincial colour to an appointment would cause a serious dent to its credibility and popularity in other provinces. People of Pakistan are sick of protests and long marches and they expect the ruling and other parties to learn from past mistakes, avoid confrontation on legal issues and pay their attention to address the challenges including law and order, price hike and unemployment. We hope that the President and the co-Chairperson of PPP and similarly the Prime Minister who enjoys immense respect in the party circles will prevail upon the workers and prevent them from organising such protests.







IMAM-e-Kaaba Sheikh Osama Khayyat has described the protest calls in Saudi Arabia as devilish temptations and urged the people to be aware of false promises through which the devil strives to trap believers and drive them to acts of sedition, disagreement and dispute.


During his sermon at Khana Kaaba on Friday the Imam said such people are employed by the forces of darkness to create chaos that would tamper with the security and ruin the welfare of the people. By virtue of his position as Imam of House of God, the Sheikh enjoys influence and respect not only in the length and breadth of Saudi Arabia but also across the Muslim world. He is perfectly right that Saudi Arabia not only in the comity of nations but also in the fraternity of the Muslim world enjoys a unique position and it has the culture and leadership which we hold very dear to our hearts. Joining the call of the Imam we would say that democracy in every country of the world has its own form and shape reflecting the traditional demands of a society. In Saudi Arabia, the Aal -e- Saud, keeping in view the commandment of the Almighty Allah is giving top priority to the well-being of the people. There is peace and order, prosperity and needs of the people are being met according to their aspirations. Even last month the Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Abdullah unveiled a series of benefits for Saudis estimated to be worth $35 billion to further improve the lot of his people. There is a Majlis-e-Shoora, which is represented by highly qualified people in addition to Councils at the local levels. In our view to say that Saudi Arabia lacks democracy is negation of the ground realities. Therefore we would say to demand a Westminster or US type democracy in Saudi Arabia or for that matter in any Muslim country is like imposing will of others by force and amounts to implanting foreign democratic culture in Saudi Arabia.









For quite some time I have been absent from the columns of this esteemed daily as I had started to doubt if articles in the papers affect public opinion on national issues. If this is true, then is it a labour in futility to write columns. ?. Does the public takes any notice of what is written in the columns by experts in their fields? However, some people feel that one should not stop expressing views on matters of national concern .

These days history has taken such a sharp turn in the Arab World that it was the least expected and all explanations as to what caused this change like a one play drama will at present be nothing but guesses. I am reminded of what Khawaja Shahbuddin, then Ambassador to Saudi Arabia had written in one of his reports " The scene in Arab world changes like sand dunes in the desert. However, the Arab world would never be the same again No one could foresee that it was coming, so suddenly and the leadership in most of Arab world would collapse like a house of cards, leaving a vacuum in leadership . What has happened, are foreign forces behind this historic collapse , or has it happened partly itself and partly by foreign machinations ? These are many questions which remain to be answered, may be at some time in future.

However, it seems to be an oversimplification that all this turmoil is caused by a wave of democracy sweeping through the Arab world. It could be much more complex what led to this "revolution". Three internal causes for the "revolution" in the Arab World are: one that the long reining rulers had become highly unpopular for different reasons but not that suddenly one day the Arab masses discovered the virtues of democracy like on one call they woke up demanding democracy.

Two, the corruption or habit to amassing wealth of rulers which has become a common feature of Muslim ruling elite. Imagine the wealth they amassed runs into huge two figure billions of dollars. They forgot the old lesson for rulers taught by Aristotle, Plato and even Arab political writers that Rulers should not become businessmen; thirdly rulers' total subservience to America and pro-Israel policies had for example had made Mubarak highly unpopular among the masses. And his brutal suppression of Ikhwan, and rigging of elections against this new wave in Egypt.

The turmoil started with Tunisia. Tunisia is the dyed in wool Francophone country Presiden Zeinel Abadin's corrupt regime in terms of bribe and money making had earned the notoriety that surfaced too suddenly. In addition, Tunisians were too much dubbed in French values and culture. Perhaps in Tunisia's low middle classes it was being resented that Islamic values were being pushed into the background taking a secondary place to French-ness. Perhaps there was an assertive tiny remnant of Islamic values in the lower classes, while middle class had ceased to be Islamic. One does not know to what extent there was a competition between Islamic values and French culture in Tunisia. Perhaps the Islamist were against westernization of their society. There could be rival claims in Tunisia between Reformists and Islamists under the surface.

Anyway this is the golden opportunity for many a modern Lawrences of Arabia. Western powers are openly supporting the turmoil in the Arab World , for example in Egypt the Americans openly supported ouster of Hosni Mubarak although he was a totally pliant to American wishes and bend to Israeli requirements Perhaps the American wanted that a new rule replace Hosni Mubark before the Ikhwan take to the streets againt him. But these two personalities mentioned as likely candidates to be new Egypt's Presidents are Amr Mousa at present Arab League's secretary general, a moderate Arabist-as I knew him during my ambassadorship in Cairo , when he was Director of International Organisations in the Egyptian Foreign Ministry, and Baraderi the former IAEA boss. Nonetheless it must be said that Egypt is a highly evolved society and it would be next to impossible to turn it into a client state.

Its highly learned and expert leadership, and the pride of six thousand year old civilizational heritage do not make Egypt a pliant state. Leadership of the Arab world finally rests with Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Prince Abdullah Al-Saud is a great leader and Saudi Arabia is considerably responsive to the economic needs of its people. Revising the ruling system can create stability in Saudi Arabia.

Egypt and Saudi Arabia are two countries which could still provide social and intellectual leadership to the Arab world in its present state of affairs.

Was this coup on Arab history planned or happened accidentally? It seems most unusual if t happened unplanned, although many questions remain unanswered if it happened sui generis However, the western world is trying its best and would try its best to control or direct the turmoil to channels which would change if wishes were horses the Arab world by first toppling any Arab leader of whom they wish to throw in the dustbin. US and France are blatantly going after Ghaddafi's blood. There can be much truth in Ghaddafi's claim that France has imported Niger and Chadian soldiers to fight against him. The correct course in the situation in Libya would have been to let the Libyan decide the fate of their Ghaddafi led rule. But US and now France have in violation of international law and customs moved directly to topple Ghaddafi. The modern Lawrences of Arabia are busy in chisslng out a new Arab world as they wish. A much bigger character than the old Lawrence, like Sarkozi and the infamous neo-imperialist caucus the NATO are involved in Libya openly and surreptitiously in the Arab world.

The Western world, US and NATO in particular have now two objectives in view in chiseling the new Arab World. One that the Arab League emerge as a Western tool in their hands. The old assertive Arab League was a pain in their neck. This hope is not likely to materialize even if in the interim period a softer Arab League may take shape but it would be only for an interim period. The Arab issues which under Hosni Mubarak had been pushed under the rug are bound to resurface as new forces might be more assertive "under a democratic system" . The Arab issues remain unresolved particularly the Palestinian problem and the place of Israel in the Arab world in post Mubarak period. Emergence of Israel as a "super Power" in the Middle East after 1973 War is an issue and might not be pushed back again. Ikhwan and Islamist forces are likely to emerge stronger under "democratic" system.

US –NATO would wish Islamic forces to be suppressed by their progenies in the new Arab leadership. This might take place in the immediate future in interim period only but this issue is not likely to remain dormant as the Arab masses recover from the turmoil.

What will happen in the next couple of years will determine the shape of new Arab World. It is not easy to predict what shape it will take place, more if Arab world is ruled by democratic systems. Possibly the client rules are likely to come to an end.







Apart from its agenda in Afghanistan , the US had defined objectives set for Pakistan as well. Under the ruse of alliance, America wanted to denuclearize Pakistan and turn it into a compliant state subservient to India . For the accomplishment of its objectives, the US in connivance with Israel , Britain and India chalked out a comprehensive covert plan spread over 7-8 years to weaken it from within.

Under the plea of keeping a watch on terrorists and netting them, CIA and FBI established Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) in FATA, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Balochistan. The two agencies soon took complete control over intelligence gathering and dissemination and marginalized the role of ISI and MI. These FOBs became spying hideouts for destabilizing FATA and Balochistan. Their task was not to control terrorists but to fan terrorism, Tehrik-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP) in FATA and Baloch Liberation Army in Balochistan were the creation of CIA duly helped by RAW.

Blackwater elements under the supervision of CIA started operating in Pakistan from 2008 onwards under various guises with a view to expand covert war in major urban centres, gain maximum information about nuclear facilities and draw road maps leading to these sites. DynCorps Pvt Ltd Security Company was an offshoot of Xe-World (new name of Blackwater). It had a warehouse Kestral Logistics in Islamabad for storing arms. DynCorps with assistance from US Embassy imported weapons and ammunition from abroad for onward distribution to its operatives. Xe-World also had a training centre in a hired house with a large compound at Sihala next door to police academy. This facility was opened to train the police but it was misused to train a local force for multiple purposes including keeping an eye on Kahuta nuclear plant. Sihala centre and Dyncorps office were closed after public protests and media pressure, but Interior Minister maintained all along that there was no Blackwater operative in Pakistan. Another training centre was opened at Warsak to train Frontier Corps but was used for other purposes as well. Trainers were under cover CIA operatives and were linked with a safe house located in Peshawar . USA , Israel and India fund Xe-World since the private contractors act as double agents and execute clandestine operations for the three countries. Xe-World elements as well as CIA, FBI, Mossad and RAW agents including over 1000 under cover operatives of US Special Forces work in tandem and are still active in provincial capitals and are responsible for escalating incidents of terrorism. These elements are behind most terrorist attacks including attacks on mosques, shrines of saints and religious places. In addition, a specially trained force of 3000 ex Afghan soldiers trained by CIA had been inducted in FATA sometime in 2007/08 to carryout target killings of pro-government and anti-US notables and clerics and also to beef up TTP.

Aid under Kerry-Lugar Bill was designed to induct greater number of agents belonging to Special Operations on the pretext of coordinators and distributors of funds for approved projects. Under cover CIA agents posing as diplomats, businessmen, consultants and security contractors are provided official residences in posh areas duly protected by Blackwater security guards; they move in cars with diplomatic number plates. They are given heavier perks, privileges and pay compared to US military personnel engaged in combat in Afghanistan .

The US and Indian Embassies in Islamabad as well as consulates have become dens of espionage within Pakistan and safe houses for Raymond Davis like terrorists. The so-called diplomats and staff posted in US and Indian Embassies and consulates are mostly involved in espionage. US media has disclosed that Davis was part of a covert intelligence network involving hundreds of spies operating in Pakistan without the knowledge of security agencies. Death of three US Special Forces trainers in Lower Dir as a result of suicide attack, arrest of Davis in Lahore , and Aaron Mark De-Haven from Peshawar and identification of Jonathan Banks as chief supervisor of drone attacks and detection of Blackwater activities gives an idea about the scale of organized CIA network in Pakistan .

The US plans to convert its embassy in Islamabad into the biggest and most modern embassy in the world surpassing its Baghdad Embassy. 18 acres of extra land has been acquired for expansion of embassy. It plans to station 1000 Marines and greater number of CIA and Blackwater elements along with APCs, large fleet of vehicles including Humvies and other latest gadgets so as to expand its intelligence network and improve its quick reaction capability. This force can also act as the staging section to guide the main assault group against a specified target. Pentagon has made contingency plans for quick seizure or destruction of our nuclear arsenal.

US Consulates in Peshawar , Lahore and Karachi as well as Xe-World offices are connected with several Joint Special Operation Command (JSOC) and FOBs. Based on policy guidelines received from US Ambassador in Islamabad , the JSOCs plan, coordinate and monitor the activities of field operatives as well as provide intelligence for drone strikes. Efforts are now in hand to open another consulate in Quetta to be able to add fuel to the dying fire of separatist movement led by a small band of Baloch rebels. Pressure on Pakistan to mount an operation in North Waziristan is with a devious intent. Departure date from Afghanistan has not been extended by USA to 2014 to convert its defeat into victory but to steal Pakistan 's nukes.

There have been numerous cases wherein the US diplomats and officials have been found breaking the law of the land in Islamabad and in Lahore . Some were in possession of unlicensed and prohibited bore weapons, grenades and explosives and traveling at ungodly hours of the night. Each time they were apprehended by the police, they were let off scot-free. The Interior Minister has always been coming to the rescue of the culprits, while our Ambassador in Washington Hussein Haqqani assists the undesirables in obtaining visas and getting clearance from Foreign Office.

Heavy inflow of undesirable American citizens from 2008 onwards without proper checks at Embassy's end was objected to by ISI after several incidents of terrorism took place in Peshawar , Islamabad , Rawalpindi and Lahore in which hand of Blackwater was visible. Certain US officials involved in suspicious activities and deported from Pakistan had been re-issued visas by our Embassy in Washington . Raymond Davis was twice declared persona non-grata and sent back and yet he managed to return to Pakistan and this time he killed two Pakistanis.

On repeated complaints of ISI when restrictions were imposed on issuance of visas and credentials of each entrant were checked, Washington resorted to its usual practice of threats asserting that aid under Kerry-Lugar Bill will get affected. Based on the complaint of Hussein Haqqani that the ISI and Foreign Office were causing unnecessary problems in clearing visas of US nationals, Rahman Malik prevailed upon PM Gilani and convinced him to issue an executive order in July 2010 empowering Haqqani to issue visas to Americans without any scrutiny.

Our Embassy in Washington issued 500 visas in one week and has ever since continued to issue visas freely. Record of visas issued in last three years indicate 3528 in 2008, 3784 in 2009 and 3555 in 2010. It is not known as to how many out of 11567 visas issued by Haqqani are CIA, Mosad and RAW agents under the garb of diplomats. Haqqani and Malik are mainly responsible for this inexcusable offence and must be held accountable. Despite the spy network been exposed, the US is still unwilling to wind up and withdraw it's under cover agents in hundreds from Pakistan. It is high time that we get rid of the foreign assassins as well as snakes in the grass at the earliest.

The writer is a defence and security analyst.







"A truth that one does not understand becomes an error", says Desbarolles. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in the Lok Sabha on Monday feebly described the appointment of PJ Thomas as chief vigilance commissioner as an "error of judgment". The belated admission by Dr. Singh under the pressure from the opposition and the Supreme Court is just a lame excuse for having appointed someone who was tainted. By making an elaborate case in his own defence to prove his innocence, the PM seems to be looking for escape routes to free himself of the unsavoury charges. Feigning unawareness of the pending chargesheet against Mr. Thomas, the Congress is only winking at the blunder by taking recourse to deceit. This is evident from the ruling regime's chutzpah of telling one lie after the other in justification. It is therefore difficult to accept Dr. Singh's claim that it was an "error of judgment". The least he should have furnished was a detailed account of circumstances leading to the "error of judgment" as well as the reason for error. But it is necessary to raise the larger question; was it really an "error of judgment" or a case of calculated misjudgement?

Why did Prime Minister Manmohan Singh clear Mr. Thomas's appointment? Clearly, he cannot be allowed to get away by saying that it was an error. His claim that he was not aware that a case was pending against Mr. Thomas fails to convince. Even assuming that he did not know the details regarding Mr. Thomas, how does he explain ignoring the objections raised by the head of opposition Mrs. Sushma Swaraj who was dead against appointing a tainted person as the CVC? The PM owes an explanation to the nation as to why he did so. Accepting his mistakes and apologizing alone does not absolve him. He must also tell the nation what compulsions clouded his judgment to unravel the mystery surrounding the whole episode. He can not skirt the issue by maintaining silence, as has been his practice, over a case that has outraged an entire nation, including his party colleagues. His statement to the Parliament which was a mere record of events surrounding the controversy has tarnished his image further. It was clearly on Ms. Swaraj's deliberate prodding that the PM admitted that he was not hesitant to accept responsibility.

What is worse, the Prime Minister tried to pass on the buck for his faux pas by blaming the then Junior Minister and present Maharashtra Chief Minister Mr. Prithviraj Chauhan while responding to the opposition's demand for a clarification in Rajya Sabha Dr. Singh's move is another indication that he has no gumption to stand up and accept responsibility for his decisions, right or wrong. Agreed that Dr. Manmohan Singh's integrity as a Prime Minister cannot be questioned. But this alone is not enough to lead a nation of over one billion people. Doesn't he understand that a leader has to accept blame even if his subordinates have erred? Now that the blame has conveniently been shifted to Mr. Chavhan, it is anybody's guess if action will be taken against him. Dr. Singh who is fond of saying that like Caesar's wife he must be above suspicion perhaps needs to clean up his government's Augean stables.

Although Mr. Thoma's appointment has been struck down by the Supreme Court and the government has got the president to withdraw her sanction, it has dealt a major blow to the Union Government witch is yet to recover from a series of scams and scandals. It needs no reiteration that the Prime Minister is a puppet of the Congress President and dances to her tunes. This has caused irreparable damage to the integrity of the country as well as the diginity of the Prime Minister's office. Be it inflation, the 2G scam, mismanagement in Commonwealth games or the appointment of the CVC, the government has failed to take the right decisions. Other than the series of scams and corruption scandals that have emerged in recent times, India's law and order situation has also been worsening day by day. Allegations of money laundering, government's failure to control prices and presentation of anti people budget have all added to the burden of the masses. Mr. Singh's brazen claims that he was unaware of all vital issues be it the 2G scam or the CVC selection fiasco-are meaningless. The big question remains-how long will the PM keep repeating his mistakes to save his own face? Despite having a so called honest Prime Minister, corruption has spread widely all over India, not sparing even the judiciary.

As corruption seems to have made inroads into every department, the verdict comes as a breath of fresh air especially at a time when institutional values are on a decline. The Supreme Court deserves to be lauded for reinforcing out faith in the judiciary.


—The writer is a New Delhi based journalist.







While militancy is receding in Pakistan, it is phenomenally increasing in India. Indeed it is being institutionalized in a rare public-private partnership. Pakistan's security forces have done a commendable job to recover wide stretches of land from the jaws of terrorists. However, India is complacent about the rise of Hindu militancy directed against minorities, especially Muslims. Likewise, assaults on Christians and their property by Hindu mobs are on the rise; some gory anti-Christian incidents have taken place at various places in Andhra Pradesh, Assam Orissa and Kerala. RAW, civil and military officials, lower judiciary and fundamentalist political parties are hand in glove in promoting a strategy of militancy to cow down the minorities and pave the way for supremacy of Hindutva. Tapped conversations of infamous Col Purohit reveal the depth of such nexus, he says, "We are all on the same plane, Hindu Rashtra (Nation)". He even claimed that General J J Singh (a former Army Chief) is "with us". As a cover up to rise in its home grown Hindu terrorism, India spares no opportunity for tarnishing the image of Pakistan by attributing these acts to Pakistani outfits.

Peruvian Financial Intelligence Unit (FIU) has recently discovered that European countries are being used as hot destinations by al-Qaeda to route money to India. Wikileaks have also mentioned the flow of money from Europe through Lima to India. Hindu terrorism is operative over a wide canvas covering domestic and international spectrums. India has been investing heavily in its notorious agency RAW to support insurgency, separatism, extremism and terrorism in its neighbouring states like Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhuttan, Sikkim and China. A sophisticated network of RAW is working to destabilise Pakistan. On domestic side, state terrorism is ruthlessly employed to impede freedom movements in Kashmir, Punjab, Assam, Nagaland, Tamil Nadu, Tripura and Mizoram.

After the last year's politically motivated and highly biased verdict on Babri Mosque, Indian Muslims are baffled by yet another recent (mis) judgment given by a special court on the Godhra train burning incident. Ninety four people, mostly Muslims, were indicted in 2002 for their alleged role in the incident, when a compartment of Sabarmati Express was set on fire at Godhra railway station, near Ahmadabad. The trial court has convicted 31 Muslims and acquitted 63; including the 70-year old Maulana Umerji, who had been named as the chief conspirator by the Special Investigation Team. Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the court accepted the conspiracy theory blaming the local Muslims for torching the bogie.

This conspiracy theory was initially floated by Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, within half hour of the burning of the train; he opined that conspiracy was hatched by international terrorist network, in complicity with the local Muslims through Pakistan's ISI. This conspiracy theory was given wide publicity and was used as a sort of justification for anti Muslim riots of Gujrat which followed the burning of train. However, at the same time, there were saner voices rejecting the conspiracy theory. Godhra collector Jayanti Ravi had ruled out the conspiracy theory. Likelihood of a conspiracy was also rejected by a judicial commission set up by former Railway Minister Lalu Prasad Yadav. This inquisition was conducted by Justice Chandra Bannerjee, and it revealed that burning of coach was accidental and it was not deliberately set on fire by a Muslim mob. Moreover, investigation by 'Hazards Centre', specialising in forensic investigations, also rejected the likelihood of a conspiracy by Muslims.

Mainstay of conspiracy theory has been the selling of loose petrol. There are no eye witnesses. Individuals who initially confessed of selling loose petrol could not stand the scrutiny and one of them even admitted that he was paid Rs 50,000. Kakul Pathak was one of the key prosecution witnesses. In 2007, Pathak, unaware of the fact that he was being secretly recorded, narrated that his entire testimony was a lie manufactured by the police to implicate innocent Muslims. He stated that he and eight other BJP members, who were also made witnesses like him, were not present at the scene of crime and were actually sleeping in their beds when the train was set on fire! Though Judge set aside the testimony of these nine witnesses, calling them unreliable, yet he upheld the conspiracy theory. Investigation by an Ahmadabad based Forensic Science Laboratory has established that almost 60 litres of inflammable material was poured from inside the compartment before it was set on fire. Report clearly says that the fire was started inside the coach and such a huge fire could not mushroom just with the petrol that was thrown from outside. This raises a question mark over the theory that the train was set alight by a Muslim mob that had gathered outside the train.

Ashsih Khetan in his recent investigative report for 'Tehlka' points out that there is no substance in the theory that it was a conspiracy by Muslims. He says that this whole theory is deceptive; it distracts attention from the truth of another conspiracy which was going on. Khetan's investigation makes it clear that the real conspiracy was not by the Muslims. Khetan points out "That there was a conspiracy afoot in Gujarat those years is beyond doubt…It was a conspiracy by the State machinery to blacken one community's name. And declare them the enemy." Godhra was chosen for the climax of drama because this town has highly dense Muslim population. When the train reached Godhra railway station, all kar sevaks came out of train and started to have tea and snacks, at a small tea stall run by an old Muslim man and his young daughter. Kar sevaks beat the old man and abducted his daughter; they took her inside their compartment. As the train started to move out of the platform of Godhra railway station, two stall vendors jumped into the last bogey, pulled the chain and stopped the train. When the train stopped, a 2000 strong mob gathered around it. These people were Hindu extremists in the guise of Muslims, who apparently came for the rescue of girl but their real purpose was to throw gasoline and burning rags on the train. These people threw burning rags on the train to ignite the inflammables already placed inside the train. As a result, a huge fire broke out in the train.

Muslim community is taking the legal battle to the higher courts considering that police and lower judiciary in India, particularly in Gujarat, are well known for their communal inclinations. Earlier Malegaon, Samjhota Express and Ajmer blast were blamed on Muslims but recently an activist of RSS, Aseemanand Swami, has confessed his own and his organization's involvement in these incidents. Soon we may hear similar version about burning of Sabarmati Express, which is up till now blamed on Muslims.

—The writer is international security, current affairs analyst and a former PAF Assistant Chief of Air Staff.








United States and European Union has issued stern warnings to Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi to end its tyrannical rule over the country. The self made leader has been ruling this oil rich country since last forty-two years. The prolonged rule would not have been a concern had there been deprivations of the masses addressed to their satisfaction. After all, Libyan people do have the right to lead a prosperous life, where their basic necessities are met. Against the popular rising in that country, Mummer Gaddafi has refused to step down. Contrary to a comparatively peaceful over-throwing of the power Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Bin Ali of Tunisia, Mummer Gaddafi has decided to fight back the masses, demonstrating against this one man rule, against the global norms.

There have been less than 200 human losses in Tunisia and 350 deaths in Egypt during the anti regimes protests. Unfortunately, since the start of the anti-regime uprisings in Libya, nobody knows the correct figures of all those died or wounded in last four weeks. Apart from the use of ground forces and heavy Libyan forces are resorting to aerial bombardment on the demonstrators and all those fighting against the regime. In case of the revolution in Tunisia and Egypt, the armed forces of both countries have been rather friendly to the people.

What bothers the Arab world is not really the dislodging of the Gaddafi from the Libyan thorn, but the escalating threats of civil war, subsequently paving way for a likely invasion of foreign power(s). These powers may have a longer list for the subsequent expanding to rest of the Arabia. In fact, today's Arab world is facing a situation, it confronted during World War-I. It is unclear as how many Lawrence of Arabia are covertly working in Arab world. However, this for sure that this time the group of Lawrence have been mandated to fuel the revolt against their own handpicked monarchs or the autocrats to give way to a Western style democratization.

To put the record straight, Colonel T.E. Lawrence, a British intelligence officer, had played a very significant role in igniting the Arab revolt against the Turk's rule in the former Muslim Empire. Indeed, this Arab revolt against the Turks proved lost nail in the coffin of the last Muslim Empire; the Ottoman Empire. British and France provoked the Arabs to revolt against the Turks, as Ottoman Empire, had decided to side with the Germany against the United Kingdom and the Allies. And the Allies of this Great War wanted to teach them a lesson through an internal revolt.

Unfortunately, the internally weakened Ottoman Empire could not sustain the repeated overt and covert attacks and finally lost the war, resultant disintegration of this huge Muslim Empire into modern Middle East, much to wishes of Britain and France. As agreed between Britain and France in the "Sykes-Picot agreement-1916," Middle East was carved up into nation states, mandates and protectorates, all of which eventually became independent, following the World War II. The British Government did not honour the promises, made by Sir Henry McMahon to Sheriff Hussayan, the Governor of Hijaz in 1915. Arabs were not given most of the areas, as promised for revolting against the Turks. Rather, through the Balfour Declaration of November 1917, British Government paved the way for the creation a Zionist state in the heart of the Arab. Indeed, the Balfour Declaration was a formal, but a classified policy statement of the British Government for its unwavering support for Jewish national home in Palestine. The document is kept at the British Library. It was made in a letter from Arthur James Balfour (British Foreign Secretary) to Lord Rothschild; a leader of the British Community for the transmission to the Zionist Federation, a private Zionist organization. The Arabs are suffering since then, at the hands of this unnatural Zionist state.

United States and NATO has hinted a likely use of the force, if Mummer Gaddafi remains stick to the power to the dislikes of the Libyan masses. There is a rapid worsening of law and order situation in Libya. So much so, that on March 12, Arab League, has requested the United Nations Security Council for the imposition of the a no-fly zone on Libya. The confidential sources have also revealed that, Arab League has also decided to negotiate with "Libyan rebel council based in Benghazi" representing the Libyan people. In an interview with a German magazine, Amr Moussa, the Secretary General of the Arab League, called for a no-fly zone over Libya. He said that, "I am speaking of a humanitarian action. It is about assisting the Libyan people with a no-fly zone in their struggle for freedom against an increasingly inhuman regime. The Arab League can also play a role."

It is beyond doubt that, the current uprising in the Arab world is the result of the years of the deprivations of the people of these states at the hands of these autocratic rulers. They must respect the wishes of their masses by bringing reforms and the types of the governments, as desired by them. However, there are fears that, major powers may use these uprisings for their own benefits, if these are allowed to persist indefinitely. Such a scenario would be a disastrous one for the people, rulers and the above all the region in general. Before it is too late, Arab League and OIC; the most significant forums for the debate and discussion of the problems of the Arab world and Muslim Ummah, should take a lead role and make all out efforts to resolve the crises of the Arab world. These organizations must have institutional strength to resolve the regional issues to the satisfaction of the masses in their respective sphere, lest, the foreign forces are already lined up to make a big invasion, Arabs may not be ready to afford at this moment.

Besides, Muslim rulers must understand that, there is a widening gap between Muslim Elite and Muslim Street. The Muslim streets are now well award and have started asking for their rights. They cannot be kept in dark for a long duration. Moreover, the former blue-eyed of the major powers like; Hosni Mubarak or the Bin Ali, has lost their values in front of their former bosses. Muslim rulers must remember that in international politics, there is no permanent friendship, rather the criteria is as to who serve their interests. Major Powers always use the rulers and states for their purposes and through them, once no longer required.

Let us be cognizant of the global politics, which is essentially a power politics. Muslim Ummah should get united and its organizations to take a lead role in resolving the crises arose in the Arab word in the best interest of the people and the region without involvement of external powers like US, EU or any other, including the UN. Any lose handling of the crises would give way for a US or NATO invasion, who issue their own order for the future shaping of the Arab world, which may not be very different from another Balfour Declaration or the Sykes-Picot Agreement.


The writer is an international relations analyst.









NO nation can insulate itself from nature's fury, and certainly not from one of the biggest earthquakes in recorded history. But Japan was as close to being well prepared for such catastrophe as any nation could be in a region deeply vulnerable to seismological instability. As the toll from Friday's earthquake and tsunami is counted, the Japanese people have set about the recovery operation with a resilience, technical expertise and a capacity for organisation that have served them well for generations. Confronted with wastelands of debris, they are off to a good start with their recovery efforts, earning them the international community's respect as well as a willingness to assist. It says something important about human nature that one of impoverished Afghanistan's most violent provinces, Kandahar, is sending $50,000 in aid. Australia has sent search and rescue teams and stands ready to help in any way possible. And as the crisis at the Fukushima nuclear power plant 250km northeast of Tokyo unfolds, Japan and the rest of the world will learn important lessons about better protecting such installations from future catastrophes.

However sturdy Japan's contingency plans, it was impossible to prevent whole towns in the north being obliterated by the brunt of the quake and the tsunami, leaving 400,000 people displaced. With 10,000 people still accounted for in the small port town of Minamisanriku alone, it will take weeks or months to determine the final number of victims. Horrific as it is, the loss of life would have been far greater if not for sound warning systems and engineering. In Tokyo, with 13 million people, where modern buildings have been engineered to withstand earthquakes, skyscrapers swayed like palm trees but most, remarkably, sustained limited damage.

Three years ago, the Japanese completed the world's most sophisticated early-warning system for earthquakes, which was credited with giving industrial, energy and transport operators vital time to shut down on Friday. It also alerted residents through the media and mobile networks that a quake was imminent. Such resources need to be replicated in earthquake zones across the world, given the stark contrasts between Japan's proactive planning and the lack of preparedness in Haiti, where 200,000 people died as a result of the quake in January last year and Sichuan, China, where 70,000 perished in 2008. Search and rescue efforts remained the priority yesterday, but officials also concentrated on containing damage at the Fukushima nuclear power plant, evacuating surrounding areas and treating those admitted to hospital with suspected radiation poisoning. The problem arose from electricity blackouts causing the cooling systems of the plant's reactors to malfunction. Much needs to be learned about how to prevent such problems in the wake of future disasters. Other nations, prudently, are reviewing their facilities, but the fact that seawater was used to cool reactors suggests that technically it should not be beyond the capability of scientists to devise better safeguards.

The gradual return to relative normality in parts of Japan after just three days is a reflection of the strength of character of the nation's people. Their characteristic good manners, civic mindedness and restraint remained largely intact on Friday under frightening circumstances, with few obvious signs of panic in circumstances that would jolt the nerves of any human being. Outsiders might find it extraordinary that Tokyo residents even waited patiently for the green light to cross roads that were empty of cars and tried to hold back goods on supermarket shelves as the earthquake struck, but it reflects a selfless and pragmatic society. Within hours of the quake, staff trapped in city offices were being handed bowls of noodles and water. The Japanese people's stoicism, gentle discipline, respect for authority and concern for their elders will be important as the rebuilding process picks up pace. The people will also need to be patient as the Japanese economy struggles with the fallout from the disaster, especially in the northern Tohoku region directly affected, which is an important manufacturing area producing about 8 per cent of GDP. Despite being the world's third-largest economy and a major industrial power, growth in Japan has averaged a flat 0.55 per cent for the past 30 years. In the short term, such stagnation will be reinforced by factory shutdowns, power cuts, transport disruptions and the impact on consumer confidence. Over time, reconstruction should restimulate the economy but will be a major challenge for the national government, which is mired in debt, with a credit rating downgraded in January to AA minus. Demand for Australian imports could be reduced in the short term but is likely to rebound during the recovery.

In an age when fatalism is in danger of becoming fashionable, the worst response to natural disaster is to succumb to the belief that our species is the plaything of malevolent forces beyond its control. The death toll in Japan is already tragically high, and likely to rise much further, and structural damage is appalling, but we take comfort that many more deaths were avoided because of prudent risk management, good governance and technology. While we bow in awe at the powerful natural forces that have forged our planet over billions of years, we also stand in respect for the resilience of the human spirit.






THE Arab League's unanimous call for the UN Security Council to authorise a no-fly zone over Libya robs world leaders of another excuse to do nothing. President Barack Obama in particular must be scratching his head for a reason not to take firm and effective measures to support those struggling valiantly for liberation from Colonel Gaddafi's psychopathic grip.

Dilly-dallying and dragging the chain, as Mr Obama has been doing, is no answer to the profound moral and strategic imperatives posed by Gaddafi's slaughter of innocent civilians and use of unbridled power to suppress the legitimate demands of people yearning for freedom and democracy. In the 1990s there was similar vacillation in Europe over intervention in the former Yugoslavia. Now, as was shown at last week's meeting of EU leaders, similar divisions, assertions of impotence and even indications of appeasement are on display. Only British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President Nicolas Sarkozy are commendably showing the fibre needed to confront Gaddafi, while our own Foreign Minister, Kevin Rudd, deserves credit for tirelessly travelling the world to lobby for a no-fly zone.

Sanctions, which could take many months, if not years, to impact, seems the preferred option of naysayers such as Germany's Angela Merkel. That would be the worst possible outcome, not just for Libyans and the Middle East, but for the world beyond. Gaddafi's survival, if that is what happens, will send grotesque encouragement to tyrants everywhere, especially in the Arab region, that the formula for staying in power in the face of a popular uprising is to shoot and bomb people into oblivion because the world is too timid to intervene. Indeed, presidents Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Zine El Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia might be wondering why they didn't do just that. Washington's rhetoric about the benefits of democracy for the Arab world will be worthless unless it is backed by action. When the Libyan people rise up to challenge tyranny, the world watches, huffs and puffs. Realpolitik, too, demands a more determined approach, for if Libya ends up without an effective government and splits among rival warlords, it could become another Somalia or Afghanistan and a dangerous breeding ground for terrorism.

Nervousness in Washington about military involvement is understandable following the entanglements in Iraq and Afghanistan. But when Mr Obama maintains that in assessing a no-fly zone you have to balance costs versus benefits he is being far too cynical. The tactical challenges of imposing a no-fly zone would be considerable, although with most Libyan population centres within 15km of the Mediterranean coast and rebels controlling almost half that coastline, the task would be easier than in Iraq and the former Yugoslavia. The importance of neutering Gaddafi's air capacity -- both his fixed-wing aircraft and the helicopters he is now using to attack his opponents -- and the psychological impact on the regime as it tries to cling on would be critical.

Gaddafi is a lethally unbalanced despot. Assessments are that he retains stocks of mustard gas which he could use against those fighting for freedom. Mr Obama said Arab League support was a prerequisite for action. Every member, with a single voice, has now declared Gaddafi's regime to be illegitimate. The Security Council should act without delay.






For the past few days, the Prime Minister has been able to put to one side the difficulties of imposing a price on carbon through a tax that morphs into a market-based emissions trading scheme. But as our report from political editor Dennis Shanahan today demonstrates, the complex issues facing Labor just keep on coming. His story reveals how highly carbon may have to be priced in order for a tax to have any impact on the use of brown coal in electricity production. The government has not fixed a price, but early speculation has put it at about $20-$30 a tonne, rising to $40 by 2015-16. But confidential research by Morgan Stanley and Victorian power stations suggests it will need to be far higher at about $60 a tonne, to force electricity generators to switch to gas. The figures are a reminder of the size of the task ahead in calibrating compensation for industry and household consumers for higher power costs. Just getting to first base -- gas-fired production of energy instead of brown coal -- will require a price that could be easily exploited politically by the federal opposition. As well, there are real dangers in moving ahead of the world on this issue. The government must ensure the price set does not lead to "carbon leakage" in trade-exposed sectors of the Australian economy.

The Weekend Australian supported the ETS put forward by former prime minister Kevin Rudd in 2009. We must give the planet the benefit of the doubt and begin the process of reducing emissions. A price mechanism is the cheapest way to end uncertainty for industry and reduce pollution without the hidden costs of direct interventions. But we should be careful not to exaggerate the impact that setting a price on carbon will have on coal use.

The past couple of weeks since the scheme was announced have underlined the need for realism as we move towards a carbon price. It is clear that in the longer term, technology will be key to securing a low-carbon future for the globe. This is a point emphasised by Danish climate change expert Bjorn Lomborg, who argues that the only way to really drive down emissions is to invest in research and development to make green energy cheaper than fossil fuels. According to Lomborg, rather than making coal more expensive, the signals must work in the opposite direction: we need to make green energy so cheap it proves irresistible at an economic level. It is important to note that backing research and encouraging innovation is not the same as governments subsidising renewable energy through funding solar panels or giant wind farms. There is ample evidence of how ill-conceived and wasteful some of these programs are, with taxpayers' money draining away to produce expensive energy. It does not make much economic sense to produce solar power by subsidising programs that cut emissions at a cost 25 times more than under an ETS.

Governments around the world are wrestling with how to address climate change. It is not simple, but the Prime Minister cannot retreat from her commitment to impose a carbon price and work towards an ETS. We have seen already that the politics are hazardous for her, but she must quickly put flesh on this scheme. Australian industry needs certainty on carbon, and voters need to see the fine print of Labor's plan.






Many courses in cross-cultural sensitisation, such as for officials and businessmen being sent on assignments in Asia, start with a study of how people say yes and no in the other country. People can otherwise come back with idea that they have a deal, when they haven't, or that they've been rebuffed when they've really been told the proposal is promising but needs more studying.

Julia Gillard's plan for a regional processing centre for asylum seekers in East Timor has now been around for eight months since it was first floated before last year's federal election. It is now fair to say the response has been so underwhelming the idea is now effectively dead in the water.

It was never much of a goer anyway. Housing several thousand refugees in a camp or camps in a desperately poor country would be hugely destabilising, creating envy and resentment among the population outside. Instead of being a deterrent to fake or exaggerated attempts to gain refugee status and resettlement, the system could become a magnet. There are intrinsic doubts about who would ''own'' the asylum seekers and obligations to them. As much as East Timor would like to help Australia it doesn't want to be left with people no other country wants.

The reception in the two countries that are the major stepping stones for boat people, Malaysia and Indonesia, has also been politely lukewarm. As recently as the end of January, Malaysia's Prime Minister was saying he didn't know about the proposal. In Canberra this month Najib Razak was still saying ''we need a bit of time'' to discuss it. Last week the Indonesian Foreign Minister said it would be up to Australia to make a case for the East Timor solution at a regional meeting of foreign ministers in Bali at the end of the month.

Now a senior adviser to the visiting Indonesian Vice-President has frankly declared it a ''terrible idea'', as it would create a lot of security and social problems for Indonesia itself, given the porous border between East Timor and the Indonesian half of the island of Timor, one of the country's poorest regions. Dewi Fortuna Anwar's boss is a bit more diplomatic, but the regional message by now is quite clear: No. The Gillard government has already admitted this tacitly by announcing a new detention centre near Darwin as a ''contingency measure''. It should add the Timor plan to its list of unwise election promises and tell Australians they're lucky not to have the refugee pressures of countries like Italy.





The weekend call by Arab League foreign ministers for the United Nations Security Council to impose a no-fly zone over Libya will boost the morale of hard-pressed anti-Gaddafi rebels as they struggle to defend the dwindling territory they captured early in their uprising. It should also strengthen the hands of those who have been urging direct international action, as opposed to diplomatic table-thumping, to counter the military superiority of the dictator's much better armed and trained forces. International and regional support has been one of the preconditions for such an intervention set by Washington and the European Union.

The Arab League decision - only two of the 11 foreign ministers attending the Cairo meeting (predictably Syria and Algeria) voted against asking the UN to mandate a flight-exclusion zone - is credible evidence of regional support. Moreover, while only France has so far formally recognised the Libyan rebels' provisional government in Benghazi, the EU, the Obama administration and now the Arab League have all agreed to make contact with it. Both Washington and the EU have called on Gaddafi to stand aside, although they have not yet agreed to a no-fly zone.

So the ageing tyrant is looking isolated. The problem is not just that Gaddafi does not care that he is an international pariah, but that a UN Security Council resolution to provide a legal justification for imposing an exclusion zone might not be forthcoming. Either China or Russia could veto it on the specious grounds that it would be an improper intervention in the internal affairs of a member state.

And even if a resolution were approved, presumably after many days of diplomatic haggling, would it be effective? Or would it be too little, too late? True, even at this late stage, grounding Gaddafi's air force might delay the outcome, but would it change it? Military analysts are doubtful, arguing that the regime's ground forces - with tanks, armoured vehicles, heavy artillery and disciplined troops at their disposal in a desert terrain - will inevitably prevail, and then wreak vengeance on their brave, but hopelessly outgunned opponents.

The international community faces terrible dilemmas. Haunted by memories of Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia and Kosovo, Western governments fear that policing a no-fly zone would lead them inexorably into yet another expensive, bloody and unpopular military commitment on foreign soil. The alternative is to keep impotently dithering, offering diplomatic, humanitarian and perhaps limited military aid to the Libyan freedom fighters who have risked all in pursuit of the democratic change that we have advocated.






IT IS easy to feel sympathetic towards the Melbourne broadcaster Derryn Hinch, who on Thursday lost his High Court challenge to the constitutional validity of Victorian laws that forbid the naming of certain serious child sex offenders.

Hinch, who is suffering from liver cancer and awaiting a transplant, now faces a sentencing hearing in the Melbourne Magistrates Court - stayed during the High Court hearing - on charges of breaching suppression orders by naming two offenders at a rally in 2008 and on his website. He could face a jail term of up to five years or a fine of up to $60,000.

Undeniably, Hinch is putting a brave face on things: he says he will continue to fight the laws, and has described Melbourne as ''the suppression capital of Australia''; he has also said that, if he is jailed, he will ask to be interned within 45 minutes of the Austin Hospital.

With respect to Hinch's terminal condition, and in hoping that a transplant becomes available for him, The Age nevertheless believes it is important to draw a distinction between the emotional and the legal aspects of this matter.

Regardless of Hinch's state of health, or his passionate determination to see the overturning of legislation he regards as unjust and over-protective of child sex offenders, he remains in breach of the law. Now his High Court challenge has been rejected by seven-to-nil, Hinch must face his day in court.

Moreover, the laws he has breached have been enacted for very good reason: they exist not purely to suppress the names of certain child sex offenders, but to shield other, more vulnerable, people from potential public scrutiny, when their privacy is of the utmost concern. Identifying the perpetrator can often run the risk of identifying the victim - something dealt with in Thursday's High Court judgment.

It made another pertinent point: ''The word 'identify' has a number of shades of meaning.'' So, too, does the law in general. This was not lost on the High Court, which described one of Hinch's propositions - that under existing suppression laws, governments could effectively contain or silence community discussion or protests about serious sex offenders - as ''febrile rhetoric''. Hinch says he is not ashamed of that, if it draws attention to a law he says must be changed.

But sometimes careful analysis of the need for such laws is more appropriate than elemental ''naming and shaming'' campaigns that call for their abolition.





THE uncertainty attached to any change of government gives rise to both hope and trepidation. Nowhere is this more evident than in the ever-contentious area of planning. After a decade of at least notional adherence by Labor to its Melbourne 2030/Melbourne @ 5 Million policies, Coalition Planning Minister Matthew Guy has committed to a lengthy audit and consultation program as the new government works on its own vision for accommodating urban growth. However, in less than four months, several announcements and discussions have already given cause for hope and concern.

The Age supports the vision for inner-urban renewal embodied in the development of Fishermans Bend as a mixed residential, inner-city growth corridor. Last week, this newspaper revealed that this project, involving up to 15,000 dwellings over 200 hectares, would be preceded by a 20-hectare, high-density suburb of 12,000 in old railyards on Footscray Road in West Melbourne. Major Projects Minister Denis Napthine said work could begin on the E-Gate project, the largest since Docklands, as early as 2014. Richmond train station is the focus of a third long-discussed development.

Such projects, and moves to establish an Urban Renewal Authority, lend weight to Mr Napthine's assertion that ''we want to grow the population without massively contributing to urban sprawl''. This accords with Mr Guy's stated desire for ''a higher-density style of accommodation closer to the city that is different to an outer-urban growth market''.

Tempering that hope is the knowledge that, under pressure from developers, the Coalition backed the Labor government last year in legislating for the biggest outward shift of the urban growth boundary since its creation. Melbourne's sprawl is creating one of the world's biggest and most unwieldy cities for transport and service provision. Low-density living makes for high-density traffic, a destroyer of liveability.

Another concern, reported by The Age last week, is plans for more skyscrapers that flout height limits. Mr Guy has met advocates for a 140-metre apartment tower - five times the discretionary height limits for the Bourke Hill precinct - on the Palace Theatre site. This building would be almost 50 per cent taller than the Windsor Hotel tower approved in contentious circumstances by Labor planning minister Justin Madden. The unnamed developer has yet to lodge a planning application, but it will rely on the Windsor precedent, just as critics feared.

Height limits are meant to protect the character of the precinct dominated by Parliament. As The Saturday Age revealed, these and other city landmarks, including the Shrine of Remembrance, St Paul's Cathedral and Victoria Market, largely lack protection against intrusive, overshadowing developments. Some planning experts fear the city faces the greatest challenge to its heritage and character in four decades. Unbroken skyscraper canyons would destroy that character.

A Melbourne City Council review is expected to recommend tougher heritage protections and height controls in key areas. This matters for Melbourne, which, lacking the natural assets of a certain brash metropolis to the north, is essentially a self-made city. Its character is the product of a vision that valued diversity and restraint in its streetscapes.

Indeed, the E-Gate plan commissioned by Major Projects Victoria proposes a layout inspired by the Hoddle Grid and a mix of housing styles. Emulating St Kilda Road, Royal Parade and Victoria Parade, Footscray Road would become a boulevard. Encouragingly, the proposed carbon-neutral suburb would have open spaces at its heart. Its lack of large roads and street parking aims to limit car use. A new tram line and a bridge to North Melbourne train station would be built. This appears to be a forward-looking plan that draws on wise planning decisions in the past. But first Melbourne must protect the best of what has already been built.







If Europe finds it hard to tell its own story at the moment, it does not mean there is not one

It is like being in an accident and emergency reception on a Friday night. To inhabit this place we call Europe is to see nations wheeled in on trolleys from a series of pile-ups. First the banking crash; then the sovereign debt crises of Greece and Ireland – with ambulance crews poised for 999 calls from Portugal, Spain and Italy. Once admitted, treatment can be worse than the trauma: the austerity packages, welfare cuts, job losses. Recovery is slow, fragile and sensitive to changes, like oil prices being pushed up by the revolution sweeping the Arab world. Small wonder that the banks feel "stressed". A good number of Europe's citizens do too.

The poll we publish today is taken from a sample of more than 5,000 people of working age in the five leading EU states – Britain, France, Germany, Spain and Poland – and clearly speaks to a crisis in European governance. Only 6% truly trust their government, and just 9% think their politicians are honest, either in power or out of it. Political anxiety is driven by economic pessimism, particularly in France and Germany, the powerhouse of Europe. Almost three-quarters of the French think they will be worse off a decade from now, and so do half of all those polled in Germany, despite its economic recovery.

If Europe is unthinkable without its nations, and those nations are led by a generation of politicians so lacklustre that the only character who stands out, for all the wrong reasons, is Silvio Berlusconi, does that mean that the grand European project is on the wane, however you define it – as a market, a union, a currency, a set of rules, standards and law? Which would now seem more eloquent of the collective mood – the optimism of Beethoven's Ode to Joy, the EU's official anthem, or John Cage's four minutes and 33 seconds of silence?

Yet sift through the wreckage of discarded European ambition, and all is not quite what it seems. Our poll shows that despite the costs of bailing Greece and Ireland out, those in the eurozone clearly want to stay in it. Despite high levels of opposition to EU migration and the rise of the right, the majority polled are loyal to the EU's founding values of openness and social liberalism. Collective action is far from dead either. The principle of common economic governance and Europe-wide rescue funds entails its own political logic even if the current packages are sticking plasters rather than treatments.

Social democracy may be down but it is not out. A meeting of European socialists in Athens recently put together a distinctly Keynesian-looking alternative to the austerity hairshirt forced on ailing southern eurozone economies by Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy. Bernard Guetta, writing recently in Liberation, may have been premature in seeing the formation of what he calls a European shadow cabinet, but with presidential elections in France next year and federal elections in Germany the year after, who knows? Public opinion is volatile and prone to large swings. The true length of the mandate it gives national governments is shorter than it once was. Five years at these levels of mistrust somehow feels like an age.

Over the next four weeks, Guardian writers, along with leading voices from Germany, France, Poland and Spain, will comb through this vast social, political and economic terrain. It is essential to map it. If Europe finds it hard to tell its own story at the moment, it does not mean there is not one. Federalism envisaged as the permanent answer to a war-ravaged Europe may be last century's dream. The expansion of Europe may have stalled. But few who have experienced the contagion of chaos can argue that any country in Europe can seal itself off from the sometimes violent winds of change blowing through the whole continent. Even in distress, Europe has simply become too integrated, too big and too close to us to ignore.






When Japan's prime minister Naoto Kan described the crisis facing his country as its "most severe... since the second world war", his assessment, extraordinary though it was, did not sound at all overstated. As if 10,000 missing residents from one town alone is not calamitous enough for even the most advanced of countries to deal with, technicians were last night battling to save from meltdown nuclear reactors with failed emergency cooling systems. Only a few weeks away from the 25th anniversary of the world's worst nuclear accident, no one can be under any illusions of what could result if the technicians lose their battle.

Disasters can sometimes pull a people behind their leaders; but they can just as easily dissolve the trust that the electors repose in the elected. In 2005, the Bush administration's bungling of the damage done by Hurricane Katrina swiftly became effective shorthand for a president out of touch with his people. The early signs do not look good for Mr Kan.

Brought in as a rather unlikely change candidate to run a country bogged down in an economic slump lasting two decades, the prime minister's few months in office have left him looking beleaguered – and with plummeting approval ratings. The country's press has repeatedly accused him of weakness in territorial disputes with China and Russia, while his economic policymaking has often been blocked by the opposition in parliament. And now the government and nuclear industry face accusations that they had seriously underestimated the nuclear plants fundamental vulnerability to earthquakes. There are lessons here for Britain's government, too – as environment secretary Chris Huhne acknowledged yesterday in calling for an official report on nuclear safety. The obvious point for ministers to make would be that Britain does not face the same quake threat as Japan. An important point, but it may not sway public opinion formed by TV footage of Japan's crisis-hit nuclear plants.

Meanwhile, the dimensions of this disaster keep expanding: more than 210,000 people evacuated from five prefectures, 3,400 homes destroyed, the coastal area of Miyako and almost all of the town of Yamada submerged. Many of the victims will be elderly. It is the boast of Japan to have a long-lived people, but those demographics may prove one of the defining features of this crisis. In Shintona many buildings withstood the force of a 10 metre-high wave slamming into the coastline at the speed of a jumbo jet; but a number of their elderly occupants could not. A stark reminder that the toll from this tragedy will continue to mount, even after the immediate danger has receded.






A rather severe marble girl on the little temperance fountain in the centre of Bath pours eternally from a jug above the inscription "Water is Best". She is right – or so it appears, in every sense, from the latest index of UK property prices. Spa towns have an average premium of 16% over houses in neighbouring places where springs have yet to bubble or stink. In some hotspots, such as Boston Spa and Ilkley in West Yorkshire, prices are almost twice the level for the rest of the county. Life is not always fair, but it seems specially perverse that fissures should open and allow natural water to the surface largely in areas already generously blessed. Leave aside property prices, and Bath, Ilkley and most of the others would be lovely if no chalybeate or other soothing water had ever seeped from their soil. But the dips and douches created their own virtuous circle; from Buxton to Royal Tunbridge Wells, and even at little Askern near Doncaster, fine architecture followed the hypochondriacs and now attracts wealthy buyers. And the benefits may spread. Just as the best place to live in Cheltenham is not in a Regency house but opposite one, so the canniest property buyers will go for cheaper towns near spas and so have the best of both worlds. And perhaps, live in geothermal hope. Let us not forget that "Nil sine aqua" was the motto of humble south Staffordshire's waterworks company, while their counterparts in Grimsby had "E rupe erumpet aqua" (Let water gush from the rock).







Perhaps only in Japan could a young man be arrested for the crime of "obstructing university operations by fraudulent means." For weeks, the nation's headlines have been jammed with the story about a student who cheated on the entrance exam for four prestigious universities, Kyoto, Waseda, Doshisha and Rikkyo.

In most countries, cheating would hardly make the college newspaper, much less become a full-scale police investigation. The frenzy of interest and indignation is fueled by the exalted, iconic status of Japan's entrance exams. Anyone bucking the system risks becoming a pariah, though for many, perhaps, this student may seem more like an anti-hero.

Whatever one's personal reaction, the story reveals the need for changes in one of Japan's most revered traditions — the university entrance exam. University administrators' shocked, angry reactions need to be placed in the context of one simple fact — entrance exams are huge moneymakers.

Exams at private schools run ¥30,000 apiece. Each day's exam can attract one or two thousand test-takers, with students often sitting for separate exams in different departments. With 500,000-some total examinees throughout Japan each year, the outlines of a sizable, profitable industry emerge. One should also add prep schools, such as the one this student attended, all dedicated to one single goal — getting into college.

Families can spend ¥100,000 to ¥200,000 a month on prep school tuition, sometimes all the way from primary school to that dream moment of passing. It is no surprise the student did not want to fail. He knew he could not afford to.

Some newspapers reported the student remarking that "I was stressed out." In that, he was not alone. The grueling system pressures students to perform rather than learn deeply or think critically. Unfortunately, the challenges these students will face in the future will not be reducible to a-b-c-d choices or easy-to-memorize formulas.

The current exam system reinforces an excessive focus on outcome, which is one lesson this student seemed to have understood, perhaps too well.

Cheaters should not be coddled. Tests have rules, and this student clearly broke those rules, but the quandary over this incident is similar to another piece of front-page news — WikiLeaks.

In both cases, the alleged crime involved exposing secrets through technology. Despite other differences between the two cases, critics of the student's actions seemed shocked that a test-taker would engage in "wrongful use of the Internet." Yet, the Internet is used for all purposes with greater efficiency and simplicity as technology marches forward. This student is hardly the first one to misuse technology. Nor will he be the last.

The saddest part of the story may be that the student was naive enough to imagine he could not be tracked down. Every teacher knows that most cheaters unconsciously want to be caught. The student received instantaneous answers from the online question-answering site, Chiebukuro, which claims 27.5 million regular users.

Those answering the posting helped him cheat without knowing, but in the future, less traceable sites could easily be set up, if not already.

One important reality was revealed along with those few test questions. Universities, whether public or private, are not run on the basis of transparency. The process of creating exams is tightly guarded. The results of some exams are released later on request, but individual test-takers are never allowed to view their own results. Social status and political power often rely on secrecy. Universities are no exception.

The solutions are not easy, but universities need to reconsider their process of selection for admissions. Searching students for cell phones, refusing toilet breaks and increasing the number of proctors is not going to solve this problem. The pressures are too great and the belief that getting into a good school will lead to certain success is too deeply founded.

After this student is punished, appropriately, and the furor dies down, the system will still need change. Test questions that require too much thought or creativity to be hastily typed into a cell phone would be a good place to start. The one-test-fits-all approach no longer corresponds to how students learn and what they need to know.

Some universities are already starting to consider high school grades, outside activities, recommendations, interviews and essays as alternatives to the paper-based, multiple-choice exams. One cannot text for help during an in-person interview.

Until substantial changes take place, there will continue to be cheaters, not all of them caught, and the exam system will continue to be revered and feared as one of the most intense experiences in Japanese life.

Finding better ways to select students would help the entire educational system focus on what should be the real task at hand — learning thoroughly, critically and, dare it be mentioned, pleasurably.







SEATTLE — A pervading sense of awe seems to be engulfing Arab societies. What is under way in the Arab world is greater than simply revolution in a political or economic sense. It is, in fact, shifting the very self-definition of what it means to be Arab, both individually and collectively.

Hollywood has long caricatured and humiliated Arabs. U.S. foreign policy in the Mideast has been aided by simplistic and, at times, racist depictions of Arabs in the mass media. A whole generation of pseudo-intellectuals have built their careers on the notion that they have a key understanding of Arabs and the seemingly predictable pattern of their behavior.

Now we see Libya — a society that had nothing by way of a civil society and which was under a protracted stage of siege — literally making history. The collective strength displayed by Libyan society is awe-inspiring to say the least.

Equally praiseworthy is the way in which Libyans have responded to growing dangers and challenges. But most important is the spontaneous nature of their actions. Diplomatic efforts, political organization, structured revolutionary efforts and media outreach simply followed the path and demands of the people. Libyans led the fight, and everyone else either obliged or played the role of spectator.

There is something new and fascinating under way here — a phenomena of popular action that renders any historical comparisons inadequate. Western stereotypes have long served an important (and often violent) purpose: reducing the Arab, while propping up Israeli, British and American invasions in the name of "democracy," "freedom" and "liberation." Those who held the "torch of civilization" and allegedly commanded uncontested moral superiority gave themselves unhindered access to the lands of the Arabs, their resources, their history and, most of all, their very dignity.

Yet those who chartered the prejudiced discourses, defining the Arabs to suit their colonial objectives — from Napoleon Bonaparte to George W. Bush — only showed themselves to be bad students of history. They tailored historical narratives to meet their own designs, always casting themselves as the liberators and saviors of all good things, civilization and democracy notwithstanding. In actual fact, they practiced the very opposite of what they preached, wreaking havoc, delaying reforms, co-opting democracy, and consistently leaving behind a trail of blood and destruction.

In the 1920s, Britain sliced up, then recomposed Iraq territorially and demographically to suit specific political and economic agenda. Oil wells were drilled in Kirkuk and Baghdad, then Mosul and Basra. Iraq's cultural uniqueness was merely an opportunity to divide and conquer. Britain played out the ethno-religious tribal mix to the point of mastery. But Arabs in Iraq rebelled repeatedly and Britain reacted the way it would to an army in a battlefield. The Iraqi blood ran deep until the revolution of 1958, when the people obtained freedom from puppet kings and British colonizers.

In 2003, British battalions returned carrying even deadlier arms and more dehumanizing discourses, imposing themselves as the new rulers of Iraq, with the United States leading the way.

Palestinians — as Arabs from other societies — were not far behind in terms of their ability to mobilize around a decided and highly progressive political platform. Indeed, Palestine experienced its first open rebellion against the Zionist colonial drive in the country, and the complacent British role in espousing it and laboring to ensure its success decades ago (well before Facebook and Twitter made it to the revolutionary Arab scene).

In April 1936, all five Palestinian political parties joined under the umbrella of the Arab Higher Committee (AHC), led by Haj Amin al-Husseini. One of the AHC's first decisions was to assemble National Committees throughout Palestine. In May, al-Husseini summoned the first conference of the National Committees in Jerusalem, which collectively declared a general strike on May 8, 1936.

The first joint Palestinian action to protest the Zionist-British designs in Palestine was nonviolent. Employing means of civil disobedience, the 1936 uprising aimed to send a stern message to the British government that Palestinians were nationally unified and capable of acting as an assertive, self-assured society. The British administration in Palestine had thus far discounted the Palestinian demand for independence and paid little attention to their incessant complaints about the rising menace of Zionism and its colonial project.

Palestinian fury turned violent when the British government resorted to mass repression. It had wanted to send a message to Palestinians that her majesty's government would not be intimidated by what it saw as insignificant fellahin, or peasants. The first six months of the uprising, which lasted under different manifestations and phases for three years, was characterized at the outset by a widely observed general strike that lasted from May to October 1936.

Palestine was simply shut down in response to the call of the National Committees and al-Husseini. This irked the British, who saw the "non-Jewish residents of Palestine" as deplorable, troublesome peasants with untamed leadership. Within a few years, Palestinians managed to challenge the conventional wisdom of the British, whose narrow Orientalist grasp on the Arabs as lesser beings with fewer or no rights — a model to be borrowed later on by the Zionists and Israeli officials — left them unqualified to ponder any other response to a legitimate uprising than coercive measures.

The price of revolution is always very high. Then, thousands of Palestinians were killed. Today, Libyans are falling in intolerable numbers. But freedom is sweet and several generations of Arabs have demonstrated willingness to pay the high price it demands.

Arab society — whether the strikers of Palestine in 1936, the rebels of Baghdad of 1958, or the revolutionaries of Libya, Tunisia and Egypt of 2011 — remain, in a sense, unchanged, as determined as ever win freedom, equality and democracy. And their tormenters also remain unhinged, using the same language of political manipulation and brutal military tactics.

The studious neoconservatives at the Foreign Policy Initiative and elsewhere must be experiencing an intellectual "shock and awe," even as they continue in their quest to control the wealth and destiny of Arabs. Arab societies, however, have risen with a unified call for freedom. The call is now too strong to be muted.

Ramzy Baroud ( is the editor of His latest book is "My Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story (Pluto Press, London)








Special to The Japan Times

SINGAPORE — It has been common in recent years to praise Indonesia as Southeast Asia's primary democratic success story. Vital achievements include a successful campaign against Islamist terrorism and the end to three decades of futile military oppression of Aceh province.

Indonesia's swift transition to democracy and its proud standing as the world's largest Muslim-majority democracy have tended to cloud deeply rooted deficiencies in the country's political culture. In the course of the last few years, a more balanced and sober perspective on the quality of Indonesian democracy has taken over.

Elections in post-Suharto Indonesia have produced complex compositions of Parliament with numerous parties represented. Indonesian Cabinets traditionally tended to embrace all major streams and allocated posts roughly in accordance with electoral shares. Parties were extremely wary of the dangers of being excluded from lucrative Cabinet positions because they gave access to much needed patronage funds. Cadres traditionally expected party elites to use their powerful positions to collect funds and distribute them.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's coalition faces formal opposition from the Indonesian Democratic Party-Struggle (PDIP) and the small Hanura and Gerindra parties. The problem for the president is that two vital parties in his coalition — the Golkar Party and the Islamist Justice Prosperity Party (PKS) — increasingly act like quasi-oppositional parties. In October 2009, Yudhoyono was re-elected with 62 percent of the votes, but his Democrats' Party holds only 26 percent of the legislature. So, despite a large popular mandate for himself, the president is to a great extent dependent on the good will and loyalty of his coalition partners.

The latest hubbub in Yudhoyono's coalition of parties was triggered by the decision of Golkar and PKS to support PDIP and Hanura in their call for the formation of a commission to investigate possible corruption in the tax office where officials allegedly gave out favors to the well-heeled and powerful.

In a vote in Parliament, the Democrats' Party and the rest of the coalition were barely able to thwart the proposal from succeeding (266 vs. 264 votes). Some legislators think that a successful proposal could have opened doors to an impeachment of the president.

The quarrel is occurring both at the party and the personal level: It is a sign of enduring rifts within Yudhoyono's coalition as well as the ongoing rivalry between the president and business magnate Aburizal Bakrie.

Last year Yudhoyono, it is believed, indicated to Bakrie that he would launch an investigation of the latter's corporate affairs over tax irregularities. When Bakrie loyalists in Golkar, however, started to protest publicly about what they saw as intimidating threats against their boss, the president opted for harmony in his coalition. He even appointed Bakrie as head of a newly formed secretariat for the coalition of parties. This apparently did not have the desired effect of stabilizing the coalition and the rivalry between the two men continues (Bakrie is a strong contender for Golkar's presidency in 2014).

As for PKS and Golkar, the majority of legislators appear wanting to remain partners of Yudhoyono's coalition despite the frequent display of dissent. Of the two parties, PKS is the more divided over which position to take. Last week secretary general Anis Matta said PKS should go into opposition whereas former party chairman and minister in the president's current Cabinet, Tifatul Sembiring, ruled this out.

The "tax inquiry" squabble follows a distinctly static 2010, which was dominated by investigations into the bailout of the faltering Bank Century. The Bank Century scandal would leave its mark on much of the year, famously leading to the resignation of Finance Minister Sri Mulyani Indrawati and severely disrupting the government's work. Several other messy and lengthy tax evasion and corruption cases were to follow; 2010, indeed, was almost "lost" to the Bank Century saga, which wasn't helped by Yudhoyono's timid leadership.

In previous years, the president has favored a leadership style that is grounded in maintaining harmony in his coalition and securing the support of main constituencies. To this end, he eventually fell short of securing the position of one of his chief reformers (Sri Mulyani). Last year was also remarkable for carrying a shaky coalition and a volatile Cabinet over into 2011.

The latest crisis early this year could be a sign that 2011 will pick up the thread left from 2010, which in itself was somewhat of a prolongation of 2009 — a static transitional period that increasingly puts into perspective earlier raptures about the successes of Indonesian democracy.

Bernhard Platzdasch is a visiting research fellow at the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.







Our hearts, thoughts and prayers are with the people of Japan who must deal with the aftermath of the massive devastation wrought by Friday's earthquake and tsunami.

The 8.9-magnitude tremor was the strongest ever recorded in the history of Japan, which like Indonesia, is quite prone to earthquakes. Even more deadly and destructive than the quake, however, was the ensuing tsunami that swept away buildings, houses, roads and bridges in the northern city of Sendai. If that wasn't enough, the northeastern coastal region is on red alert with the explosion of a nuclear reactor and the possible exposure of exposing tens of thousands of people to radiation.

Amid the chaos and mass confusion over the weekend, exactly how many people died is unclear. The figure of "more than 1,000" often cited in news report would seem irrelevant as the number keeps rising by the hour. As of Sunday, we have still not fathomed the full impact of the disaster.

Learning from the 2004 earthquake and tsunami in Aceh, more attention should be given to survivors.

There isn't much you can do about the dead beyond gathering their remains and giving them a proper burial where possible. There is a lot of you can do to help those trapped in buildings, those lingering in hospitals, or those who lost their homes and are now living in shelters. Their number is
even larger than those who died. They are exposed to disease, trauma and depression, and some are at risk of exposure to nuclear radiation. They should be saved first and foremost during this initial emergency relief operation. They should not die unnecessarily just because help did not come on time.

Japan may be one of the wealthiest countries in the world, but today, it is a country that needs all the help it can get. Indonesia, one of the largest recipients of Japanese aid, stands ready to help in anyway it can. While Indonesia may not be in a position to provide much financial or material assistance, it has gathered plenty of managerial experience in the aftermath of major natural disasters which it can now share with Japan. The reconstruction and rehabilitation of Aceh and Nias after the 2004 earthquake and tsunami won global accolades as one of the most successful programs of its kind.

Indonesia could also learn a thing or two from this tragedy. One has to admire the fact that most high-rise buildings survived the powerful impact of the earthquake. This is due to the imposition of very strict building codes across Japan. Video clips also showed people calmly reacting to the earthquakes when they struck. There was little of the panic and hysteria one assumes would happen.

Japan has done its homework well in making sure buildings are safe, and that people are thoroughly prepared and trained to face earthquakes.

Sadly, no amount of preparation would be enough to deal with the disaster of the scale seen Friday.

The tsunami was certainly unstoppable and the leak in the nuclear reactors was probably inevitable.

Still, we can take comfort that the casualty figure and extent of damage would probably have been even more severe without the kind of meticulous work Japan had gone through in preparing its people for powerful earthquakes.

We have every confidence that Japan will be able to recover quickly from this tragedy. After all, this is a country that was rebuilt from the ashes of World War II to become Asia's economic powerhouse in less than three decades. Nevertheless, Japan should also know that Indonesia is always ready to lend a hand to a friend in need.





As reported by various media, many quarters have called for an intervention by the international community to save lives in Libya. The call has been made greater as the number of casualties among civilians from the military actions by the Libyan authorities is increasing.  

More than 1,000 people are reported to have been killed and many more injured, and more than 140,000 people have fled to neighboring countries.

In his statement on Feb. 24, 2011, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono expressed his deep concern and said, among other things, that casualties had gone beyond the lines of appropriateness.

Many other world leaders, including the UN secretary-general, have also expressed profound concerns and condemned such attacks against civilians.

The UN Security Council through its press statement (SC/10180) condemned the violence and use of force against civilians.

Others have warned that attacks against civilians by military forces and mercenaries may constitute crimes against humanity, for which President Muammar Qaddafi and his authorities could be held

The international intervention called for by concerned parties in order to save lives in Libya is
also known as humanitarian intervention.

The right to humanitarian intervention became a rising topic among nations and within the UN community following the Rwandan civil war that caused 800,000 casualties in 1994 and the Srebrenica massacre in 1995 with more than 8,000 casualties.

The report of the International Panel of Eminent Personalities to Investigate the 1994 Genocide in Rwanda and the Surrounding Events, which was created by the Organization of African Unity (now the African Union), concludes that the genocide was not inevitable, and the necessary response (to prevent it) was a serious international military force.

Meanwhile, in the 1999 report on the Fall of Srebrenica (A/54/549), then UN secretary-general Kofi Annan drew at least two lessons.

First, the international community as a whole must accept its share of responsibility for allowing this tragic course of events (the Srebrenica massacre) by its prolonged refusal to use force in the early stages of the war (§501).

Second, the cardinal lesson of Srebrenica is that a deliberate and systematic attempt to terrorize, expel or murder an entire people must be met decisively with all necessary means, and with the political will to carry the policy through to its logical conclusion (§502).

Having seen the failure of the international community to help prevent the Rwanda and Srebrenica genocides, Annan was convinced of the critical necessity of using force to save helpless lives in a country ravaged by horrific internal conflicts.

In his "Millennium Report of 2000", Annan challenged the UN Member States with a question: "If humanitarian intervention is, indeed, an unacceptable assault on sovereignty, how should we respond to a Rwanda, to a Srebrenica, to gross and systematic violation of human rights that offend every precept of our common humanity?"

Years of debates among governments, especially through the UN forums, did not lead to an agreement on the concept of right to humanitarian intervention. The opposing views contend that humanitarian intervention contravenes the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity as enshrined in the UN Charter.

But Annan believed that state sovereignty was being defined. In his views, states are instruments at the service of their peoples, not vice versa, and individual sovereignty — the fundamental freedom of each individual — was enhanced by a renewed and spreading consciousness of individual rights.

As objection against the right to humanitarian intervention was strongly persistent, a new angle to emphasize the norms of protection was needed.

It began with the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty when in its 2000 report the Commission introduced the concept of responsibility to protect, known in later stage as R2P.

In 2004, Annan endorsed the concept and believing that if needed, use of force by the international community was a possible step as a last resort.

R2P seems to have received greater support although the opposing views believe it is nothing but the same wine in a different bottle, it is as controversial as the right to humanitarian intervention.

During the 2005 High-level Plenary Meeting of the General Assembly, heads of state and government agreed, among others, that "they are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner, through the Security Council, in accordance with the Charter, including Chapter VII, on a case-by-case basis and in cooperation with relevant regional organizations as appropriate, should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity" (§139).

The international community now has high hopes that the UN Security Council through its resolution 1970 (2011) will prevent larger casualties in Libya.

Through the resolution, the Security Council recalls the Libyan authorities' responsibility to protect their population.

The implementation of tough measures under resolution 1970 (2011) that comprise, among others, International Criminal Court (ICC) referrals, arms embargos, travel bans, asset freezes, and the establishment of a new sanction committee, should help to immediately end the violence and make the Libyan authorities fulfill their responsibility to protect the Libyan population.

When the Libyan authorities fail to protect their population, and casualties continue to increase, an urgent need to explore other means, including those that refer to Chapter VII of the UN Charter and to the paragraph 139 commitment of the 2005 Summit, will arise.

A stronger Chapter VII — based and UN-led international response, including use of force, to the imminence of casualties amounting to a level of genocide may eventually be required. One casualty is indeed one too many.

The writer is assistant special staff to the President for international relations. The opinions expressed

are personal.






Not only Indonesia's national soccer association, the PSSI, is facing a leadership crisis, but also the Libyan Football Federation, headed by Muammar Qaddafi's third-oldest son, Al-Saadi Al-Qaddafi, 37, when he was still playing for Al Ahly and Al Ittihad in Tripoli, Libya.

The young man eventually built a career in professional football in Libya's former colonizer, Italy. Besides having had spells for several clubs (Perugia, Udinese, Cagliari and Sampdoria), Daddy supported his son's hobby by investing Libya's petrodollars in several top score Italian football clubs.

These clubs are currently facing financial uncertainties due to the Italy's March 5 freeze on Libyan assets under a wider ban by the UN. Among these corporations is Juventus Football Club SpA. The Libyan Foreign Investment Company (Lafico), currently owns 7.5 percent shares in Juventus, where Al-Saadi and Khaled Fareg Zentuti, Lafico president sit on the board.

Another top Italian football club with indirect links to the Libyan dictator is AS Roma. The Libyan Investment Authority (LIA) managed to purchase 2.59 percent of shares of UniCredit SpA, Italy's largest bank. Libya's central bank also holds 4.9 percent of shares of UniCredit, which brings the North African nation's investment in UniCredit to a total of approximately 7.57 percent.

This Italian bank was in the process of selling AS Roma to Boston International Group, an investment group led by Thomas DiBenedetto, a partner in the holding company that owns the Boston Red Sox  and Liverpool.

Last January, the group of "five to eight" investors proposed to pay ¤130 million (US$178.5 million) and were seeking a ¤50 million credit line  for AS Roma from UniCredit after the purchase (Il Messaggero, Jan. 29, 2011).

The third club on the brink of being controlled by the Qaddafis was Silvio Berlusconi's AC Milan. On the first anniversary of the 2008 cooperation treaty between Libya and Italy, Berlusconi flew to Tripoli, where the Italian prime minister offered the Libyan dictator the chance to buy his club, worth between ¤600 million and ¤800 million (la Repubblica , Sept. 4, 2009).

Then, according to a report by Michael Cockerill in on  Jan. 20, 2005, Al-Saadi also has stakes in three major Italian clubs, Juventus, Lazio and Triestina, and the Greek club, PAOK Salonika (, Sept. 5, 2009). These are only the tip of the iceberg of up to 45 different football-related investments in a wide range of countries, including the total ownership of Libya's dominant club, Al Ittihad.

Now that many football fans in Italy and Greece are questioning the future of all the football clubs, which have to be sanitized from the Qaddafi regime's assets, one should ask, what drove those investments.

The majority shareholder (63 percent) of Juventus is the Agnelli family, who are also owners of the Turin-based Italian car maker FIAT SpA. Their car factory certainly needs a lot of fuel for their production process, and obtaining a special, subsidized oil price from Libya is very helpful. Especially since in 1976, about 15 percent shares in FIAT, worth US$400 million, were bought by Libya (Time, June 2, 1986).

Then you have Sampdoria, where Al-Saadi made his last appearance, without playing at all.

Sampdoria president Ricardo Garrone also heads the oil company Erg, and invited Al-Saadi to train with his team "in the hope that it would open the door to Libyan oil contracts", wrote James M. Dorsey in the soccer website, Welcome to The Turbulent World of Middle East Soccer of Feb. 28, 2011.

Dorsey also wrote that "Saadi Qaddafi's football career seems to have been propelled more by Italian and Maltese interest in his nation's oil reserves and the Libyan regime's use of the game as a diversion from the country's problems than by any real sports ambition."

In other words, soccer in Italy is what Nero's circus was in the past. Other Latin countries have also mastered this diversion tactic. During the Salazar — Caetano dictatorship in Portugal, leftist activists used the term "triple F", to stand for football, fado, and Fatima,  as the three institutions that delayed popular protests until the alliance of leftist political parties and soldiers returning from the wars in Africa launched the Carnation Revolution in Lisbon on the dawn of Wednesday, April 24, 1974.

This political economy analysis can be applied to Indonesia, where football fans are facing a strong reluctance of the incumbent PSSI chairperson, Nurdin Halid, who has served several terms for corruption, to step down.

Nurdin's main supporter and his two competitors were not soccer athletes who have served before in the national soccer umbrella organization, the PSSI, but rather top businessmen and an Army general, who may have realized how soccer mesmerizes the masses and diverts the public eye away from more crucial problems facing the people, such as the deteriorating health and education facilities, partly due to the high level of corruption.

Then, as in the case of Libya, the current PSSI succession controversy also covers up the political and economic clique that have supported the incumbent chairperson and want him to stay.

Hence, it is always important to investigate the real powers that support a ruling elite, whether it be an aging dictator, as in the case of Libya, or an umbrella organization that is supposed to serve a nationwide popular sport, such as soccer.

The author teaches at the Religious and Cultural Studies postgraduate program at the Sanata Dharma University in Yogyakarta.






Toward the end of 2010, the world's attention was drawn to a small country in Latin America: Chile. Why? Because of a dramatic life saving mission to rescue miners who had been trapped underground when a mine shaft collapsed.

What was so fantastic about the Chilean humanitarian mission was that it was to save the lives of "small" people, the low-ranking workers of a mining company. I use the word "small" here not because I wish to undermine the context of the issue and our common concerns, but because I want to place it in comparison with all the "big" things that often happen on the "other side" of the globe, in a country we know as Indonesia.

First, in terms of quantity, there were only 32 Chileans and one Bolivian who were trapped below the ground.

Second, in terms of quality, they were "only low-ranking workers", not a bunch of mining "experts" who would have been regarded as "valuable assets".

Third, in terms of the cost, rescuing the miners would be regarded as "high" for a small country like Chile.

Fortunately, all those "small people" received serious attention from Chilean President Sebastian Pinere, who decided to launch a multimillion dollar rescue operation to save the miners. His move has elevated him to stardom and put him at a prominent place alongside US President Barack Obama and Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez.

When Pinere declared publicly for the first time that he would not abandon the miners and would do his best to launch rescue operations at all costs, he immediately won support and praise from the world community. One lesson that we can learn from Pinere's leadership is
the importance (for a leader) to walk the talk.

The miners he saved might not have voted for him in the past election, yet he opted to save them because he is their leader anyway.

Many people in Indonesia sympathized with Pinere and longed for our own leader to speak and act like him during crisis.

Psychologically, Indonesians' longing for a true, fearless leader, particularly since the so-called reformasi back in 1998, is not without cause. Over the period, every time we faced a humanitarian crisis due to disasters, riots, or other humanitarian tragedies, we would see and witness how our leaders reacted and behaved: Unprepared, uncoordinated, throwing blame around, and, eventually abandoning victims and people affected by the crises.

Often our President and state apparatuses spoke and expressed condolences and sympathy to the victims and all the people affected by the disaster. They would then make promises, as if they would materialize automatically.

But, believe me, we will not see any real actions on those promises until another disaster strikes after all the previous promises have been forgotten. When we asked what happened to government's plan for assisting people affected by disaster, we would get the same answer over and over again: Coordination in the field is not that simple —  it's complicated.

The government's performance over the last 12 years has disappointed and frustrated Indonesians, particularly "small people". There is not much we could be proud of in the reform movement. Our reform movement is even too skewed to be an example for the Arabian countries which, over the past few weeks, have been launching their own "reform" movements. Worse still, for the last few weeks we have been dealing with the reality that our reform has gone nowhere, that our leaders are toothless and that human solidarity and compassion and respect for other people's lives and rights have vanished.

Street thuggery has become the fashion for those longing for power, and triggering religious hatred and provoking social conflict have become their means to achieve their goals. For these people, human life is worthless. They would kill and murder other human beings in the name of God. Humanity is no longer important.

Everything revolves around money and interest. Intellectual actors are rooted in and around the system and sub-system. The law becomes weak and meaningless when these actors cover each other's backs.

We have lost 12 years of our time, energy and patience to build Indonesia better in the post: New Order era. We have shed tears and licked our wounds for a better Indonesia.

Unfortunately, our sacrifices have been wasted by those who we had trusted to defend the people's rights that had been crushed by the New Order regime for more than 30 years.

The 12-year reform has only brought about more and even worse suffering for the people, and there are no significant changes we have been able to enjoy.

Poverty and people's suffering have become political commodities to elevate those in power to even higher and more powerful positions, leaving the people in the same impoverished circumstances.

By viewing the government's reaction to many riots that have threatened our Bhinneka Tunggal Ika  (Unity in diversity) principles and attacks against minority groups, people could conclude that the government has failed in upholding and implementing the Constitution and in protecting its people and respecting their basic rights.

This needs to end and the government's failure needs to be mitigated and rectified. Otherwise, the world will note that what they knew of the beautiful, religious, respectful people of Indonesia was in fact just a bunch of fanatic terrorists led by toothless, arrogant leaders.

Or, given that our social and political roots have become fragile and that Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, as the glue of our inter-faith, inter-ethnic (and other groups, small or big) peaceful relationship has been completely uprooted and that the current government has lost its interest in serving and protecting the people, this may be the right time for us to contemplate what kind of a country, state and government we want?

This may be the right time to rearrange and redefine who Indonesians are. Naturalization (adopting citizens of other countries to become Indonesian citizens), like in Indonesian soccer, or outsourcing leaders from outside Indonesia (who have track records marked by excellence, compassion, honesty, courage, and leadership) are worth looking at as an option.

The government's performance over the last 12 years has disappointed and frustrated Indonesians, particularly "small people".

The author is the executive director of ProPatria Institute, Jakarta.








Prime Minister D. M. Jayaratne told Parliament that the LTTE had three 'secret camps' across the Palk Strait, in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu.

Independent of Jayaratne's subsequent withdrawal, the damage had been done, particularly to the mutual trust between the two nations that was missing in between but was carefully re-built, brick by brick, in recent years. The credit for this on the Sri Lankan side should go to President Mahinda Rajapaksa, who handled the India relations, personally, and at the highest levels of the second rung, otherwise. 

If the Prime Minister were to rely on unverified media reports, as he has since claimed, and not on his intelligence agencies, something seems to be really amiss in the State of Sri Lanka. Worse still, Jayaratne, on parliamentary record, had attributed his information to intelligence agencies.

It is a serious lapse of responsibility, considering the fragile nature of bilateral relations with an immediate neighbour, which has serious consequences for both in more ways than one. If the Prime Minister and the Government of Sri Lanka are serious about the rebuttal since, the record could be set right, if at all, only if it is stated in Parliament.

It is sad that on matters of bilateral relations, particularly with the Indian neighbour but including the rest of the international community, too, flippant comments of the kind have come to be made by responsible – or, not so responsible -- individuals holding high offices in Government, from time to time.

Such instances takes away the seriousness of governance from the Government, and thus challenges the credibility, though not the legitimacy, of the institutions that such individuals have come to represent in the Sri Lankan State scheme. To comment in haste and rebut at leisure is not what diplomacy is about. Instead, it is about weighing the words and presenting it with care. Prime Minister Jayaratne would only have to ask his External Affairs Ministry, and they would tell him what diplomacy and parliamentary statements on bilateral relations are all about.

It is nobody's case that the Sri Lankan political class should not make statements, based on newspaper reports on sensitive issues that involve the nation's security. Nor can anyone deny them the luxury when their counterparts in the south Indian State of Tamil Nadu have been making rash statements of the kind, based on unverified reports, often palmed off by pro-LTTE segments of the Sri Lankan Tamil Diaspora. It is a habit that does not die that easily. It is also fine for provincial politicians, most of whom are not even a part of the Government in Tamil Nadu. It is a different matter when the Prime Minister of a country to come up with such observations.

What makes Jayaratne's observations flippant on the one hand, and a serious concern for bilateral relations is the fact that it involves the LTTE. Sri Lankans are not tired of reminding India, how it had armed and trained the LTTE in the past, in camps on Indian soil. In the immediate context, the Prime Minister's statement contests the claims of his own Government that the LTTE had been routed completely. Ground reports since the conclusion of the ethnic war too have stood testimony to the Government's original claim.

If nothing else, it begs the question why Jayaratne did not have his intelligence agencies verify the news reports before going to Parliament -- rather than go to Parliament first, and then have the media reports verified for their veracity. This is not how Governments act, and not in relation to the nation's Parliament. Nor do they do so with the immediate neighbour, whom his President is not tired of reiterating was a 'relation', an elder sister, and not just a friend.

A predecessor of Jayaratne and UNP Opposition Leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was not wide off the mark when he contested the Prime Minister's parliamentary claim. Despite the rebuttal, Jayaratne's statement has the potential to stir up the political scene in Tamil Nadu, during the current run-up to the Assembly polls in the south Indian State. In the land of 'Rajiv Gandhi assassination', LTTE is a bad word still, despite what anti-India hard-liners in Sri Lanka may want to believe. Those sympathetic to the LTTE still in Tamil Nadu are individuals. The Prime Minister of Sri Lanka is an institution.





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.        Hindu






Mixed ideas, responses and the certainty that is Kurunegala, Daily Mirror took the streets of the district between Colombo and the hill Capital to better understand its occupants response and ideas to the upcoming local government elections.


Ajith Priyalal Warnasooriya-

UNP candidate
Initially when we started campaigning for the elections we faced a lot of challenges competing with the UPFA, but this has now changed. When we were campaigning what we came to realize was that people who had voted for the UPFA before are now disappointed not only because of the increasing cost of living but also because they are tired of seeing petty politics.

We believe that atleast 20% of the UPFA voter base is has not only changed its mind but will be voting for us during the upcoming elections. I don't know how the UPFA expects to win the election because unlike other parties, they have not carried out any campaigning. Except for the large vehicles displaying pictures of the UPFA candidates there isn't even a flag in the area. This is the only canvassing that we have seen from the party.

We haven't had much trouble with election violence, except for a few incidents. If there are any clashes they have been inside the UPFA. There have been a few issues we've dealt with where our cut-outs and posters have been ripped off but there has never been a need to make a complaint to the police. The Police have been very cooperative towards us.

Aruni Mahesika Perera –UNP


Being the only woman contesting from the area I have faced many challenges in this election. As a woman I have faced a lot of challenges in my campaigns in, like putting up my posters. When men contest both men and women come to their support but when women do, very few men and women come forward to support us. However I am slowly but surely gaining the support of the people.

But I can say with no doubt that many people have shifted their support from the UPFA to UNP, they told me so themselves. In our area garage is a big problem, and there isn't enough available drinking water, drainage, road systems are also issues.  These are severe problems that we intend to resolve. We see that a lot of people are interested in voting and will give us their support. Out of 100 villages that we visited at least 90 % are for the UNP I feel.

UPFA MP Upeksha Smarnamali recently stated that we should refrain from domestic violence and should come together to support women during elections and I'm a strong believer in that.

Darmapriya Dissanayake –

JVP Candidate

The elections for the ruling party began on a bad note because a lot of the nominations they handed in were rejected in the Kurunegala District. The fact that many of their supporters have lost faith in the President this time is another disadvantage for the government. Many of the people who are contesting this elections are rogues.

The UNP on the other hand is unlikely to succeed because they haven't resolved their internal politics and it sends a bad message to the people at the grass root level, therefore they too are unlikely to succeed. 

A number of UNP and UPFA candidates told us that they are spending some rupees 20 to 30 lakhs on the elections when the salary of local government member is a meager Rs. 5000. A small poster costs Rs.11  and a big poster is Rs. 25. If a candidate is to put up at least 20,000 large sized posters and 40,000 small posters alone that would cost about Rs. 4 lakhs for all 28 candidates who are participating in the elections in this area.

The authorities usually invest money in gravel and concrete to develop roads because the biggest commissions can be made out of these. According to Government estimates, n the Kurunegala Urban Council area gravel for a 5km stretch   of road costs Rs.1623 but it can be done for Rs. 900-950. Therefore it is clear that they rob some Rs.700 from each cube that is utilized to build a road. With concrete it is the same.

In addition to that it has been 20 months since the war ended and yet the people don't feel any significant change in the standard of living. The people in Kurunegala feel the difficulties because its an agricultural based district. Therefore when the price of rice, coconuts and other essential items increase they have to undergo a lot of difficulties.

B. Kumarasiri- JVP Candidate
People are very silent during this election process. The vast majority are not interested as they feel there is nothing to gain from it. They are tainted by increasing prices and want a change but are not interested in voting.

Right now we expect a voter turnout of Less than 50 % but this may reduce further on election day. People don't have trust in the election process. The UPFA has not been canvassing the local government elections in the area and we feel it is because they are using the media to carry out their campaigning and they do this by highlighting the defeat of terrorism which the people are not so concerned about any more.

Patrick Karunasinghe-

UPFA Candidate

The local government elections are essential to the people as they have a direct impact on uplifting their living standards. We have not carried out a lot of campaigning in the area because the service that we have done for the people is our campaign and people have faith in us. 

The Opposition parties and other groups have made several allegations against us but it is natural as people will always point their finger at the party which holds the most amount of power. It has been very peaceful there have not been any reported incidents of violence in the elections.

The increasing cost of living is rising not only in Sri Lanka but over the world. Economies across the globe are striving to achieve growth and sustainability. Opposition parties say that people won't vote this time around but they will and the people will decide.

Withanage Rohana-UPFA Candidate

The UNP and JVP have  a tendency to make allegations against the UPFA without actually producing their polices to develop the local government bodies. It is clear that they do not have a proper plan and have no stability. The Opposition continuously throws mud at us and claims that we have hampered the quality of life of the people. This is not true at all. The people are not that badly off and can improve their lives by increasing their productivity.

We cannot expect things to just fall in place and the Government along cannot work towards fulfilling the needs of the people. It is only with increasing efficiency that we can improve productivity. It is only then that we will reap the benefits of our hard labour.

In any country growth and development are present if the people work hard. This can be done much  earlier at this time because earlier there were no funds separately allocated for villages, but this is done now. When people decide to vote they don't look at the political parties but instead they look at the individual candidates. Due to this reason election violence has been very limited I believe.

SSP Vaas Gunawardena

We have set up 14 road blocks, 80 special police teams at each police station in the district. There will be 67 mobile police services during the elections as well. In addition to that four police officials have been appointed to monitor each counting centre and five police officials have been appointed to monitor the election results centres.

Army officers will also be guarding the town area. Five main road blocks will be set up at all entrance points to the Kurunegala district. There have been no reported incidents of election violence such as party clashes or reports on abuse of state resources but if any arise we will take necessary measures to resolve them irrespective of which party or group the candidate belongs to.


Kumara Premarathne
I will be casting my vote this time, but I can say that I along with most people am not happy with the situation in the country at the moment. people who are elected to the urban council are more like contractors than those who will be serving the purpose. 

The councils have to utilize the funds they are allocated because there is a lot of wastage. Apart from this we can see that there is a lot of corruption and theft with members diving what the council gets amongst them. It doesn't matter which party that comes to party they are all the same.

Manik Jayakody
I don't particularly care about the upcoming lections, therefore I will not be voting. I don't have much faith in the urban councils, but if I do vote I will vote for the UPFA as they have done some service to us like making some roads and I hope that they will continue to do so.

Jayantha Iddamalgoda
I will be voting for the UPFA, it is our way of respecting the President for what he did. The urban council had the UPFA in power and they have done something for the people so we don't see anything wrong with them

When it comes to the cost of living, we know that it will increase no matter what party is in power and we cant see it decreasing, but we hope to see it decrease or be stable in the future. 

M. M. S Magalika
I will be voting for the UPFA, because many have seemed to forget that it was because of the President that we have no war and are walking freely in the country today. We think that he can do some thing for the country. But the people must support him and th party to achieve a successful outcome. The other parties were good but they aren't anymore.

We are an agriculture based country and therefore we have to grow everything that we eat and earn the funds for other necessities, though I cant say that we are fully satisfied, we are expecting an improvement in the situation pretty soon. 

J.S.S Bandara
I don't see a point in holding elections as these elections do not give any results. Some may vote on Election Day but most people that I speak to tell me that they are not interested in voting. I think many of them won't give their vote to the Government because nothing good has come out of their work. The cost of living is ever increasing and everyone is weary of politics.

L.H Mettananda

People are not interested in the local government elections and therefore will not use their vote on Election Day. This is because the local government system is meant to increase the benefits of government officials and not our own. For instance it took more than an year to get a drain constructed across my property because the officers at the Urban council continuously postponed it. If the people's expectations are not fulfilled, they are not happy. If they are not happy they won't vote.

K.A Udayapala
I think there will be a large turnout at the elections this time around because the people are not happy with the state of the country's economy and we all want a change, especially in terms of the cost of living. If a there is to be an increase in the cost of living, then salaries too have to rise. Otherwise it will be difficult to sustain.

Chithranee Herath
I am tired of politics in this country. I think we would all be better off without it. Neither the government nor the local government system does anything for the people. We are able to live our lives at the pace that it is at not because of the support we get from these parties but because of our own strength and determination. We work hard for what we have.






Rohitha Abeygunawardena - UPFA MP Kalutara

I strongly believe that we will win the local government elections. There is no doubt about it. The UPFA has shown far more strength as a party in the Kalutara district. There have been no cases of violence reported in the area and so far election propaganda has been carried out quite peacefully. Election propaganda has been stopped to a great extent, except for certain villages where posters are still visible to an extent.

Pradeep Alwis – UPFA

The escalating price of food is turning into a crisis that needs to be immediately addressed. If I am chosen by my people I would resolve this problem by introducing a program to encourage cultivation at home level.  President Rajapakse himself has embarkd on such an island wide program to encourage an increased production and give relief to the people. I believe that if we start at provincial level, we will be able to reach this goal. With the rising cost of living we will face grave economic problems in the future therefore we need to utilize the people and other resources in our Pradeshiya saba to the maximum advantage.

Political parties and election candidates should refrain from election violence because it acts as a dis-incentive to use people to use their vote. If we could all see the value of a human being, we would allow them to use their vote as they wished and not resort to violence. We need unity for, without unity we do not have the capacity to compete in a competitive world. Therefore we; the UPFA must put our differences aside and work today.

In this election I have seen that people are far more environmentally conscious than they were in previous elections. I think election propaganda has reduced by 90% this time around in Kalutara. I have used posters and cuts-outs like other candidates in my election campaign but I have not used polythene and the cut-outs after they are removed are used for recycling purposes.

Ajith P. Perera- UNP

MP Kalutara
There is a blatant disregard for election laws, with candidates of the ruling party freely violating these laws as they please. There are some Government officers who are hard core supporters of the governments and it is they who are campaigning for the ruling party not the party supporters.

Most government appointments are political and thus state-run institutions including the police would be partial towards the Government. JVP and UNP candidates are pressurized to remove their cut-outs and such but they allow the ruling party to do as they please. However, I can say that there been no reports of any violent incidents in the area. With a voter turnout of 55% at the last elections we are expecting less than 50% to cast their votes this time.

The Government fears the response they will receive from the people at the grass root level because of their unpopularity. It will be the high cost of living that will be on the minds of people when they vote on election day. The UNP has set out a plan for each Urban Council in accordance with the needs of the people in each area and we will implement them when we are elected.

Mahesh Kotelawala – UNP Candidate

The Bandaragama electorate is the largest in the Kalutara district but it is only a small percentage of people who use their votes.  In previous elections the UNP had not won in this area because there was no proper party representation. However, now there is and we hope that we will win this election. The people are tainted by the local government authority because they have not gained anything from their work and have lost hope for their future.

No work is being done in Government institutions and the Osu Sala in the area which the people heavily depended on has closed down. There is garbage scattered all over the place including places of worship. There are no facilities at the Bandaragma hospital. Also, we need to have the law on our side which we don't see anymore. Sometimes you find that people who commit heinous crimes are set free and the innocent are put behind bars.

The people who live in this village are very poor and will continue to be poor for many years to come since the Government has done nothing for them. The Government has concreted the roads but that doesn't mean the people gain any personal benefit from it as it does not uplift their lives in any significant manner. I want to change this situation. I visit about 800 houses during the course of a day for campaigning to do this.

Election violence has been rampant but I won't let it affect my campaign. Recently a cut-out of mine was set on fire when another group was canvassing in the elections. Unlike the Government there is no internal conflict in our party. We all get along and can discuss matters and be civil with each other on one platform without any problem.

Ajith Thalangamaarchchi- JVP Candidate
The people are disappointed because in the past they used their vote with a lot of expectations, none of which have been fulfilled. They now feel they were fooled by the Government. An Urban Council is meant to fulfill the needs of the people but there have been  no significant contribution made to them. What's more, no one is aware of where the money that was allocated for the development of these areas had disappeared.

People are disappointed with the ruling party and do not have much confidence in the UNP either since they have so many internal problems. Most of the election violence however is intra- party violence. We have had trouble with other political parties and groups but we haven't made any formal complaints as we are aware that that no action will be taken even if we did.

The monthly salary of a member of the Urban Council is Rs.5,000 but local government election candidates are spending four to five lakhs worth of rupees for this election which

is a clear indication that they are looking for personal benefits and not to serve the people.

Jagatha Pushpakumara- JVP Candidate

We thought the local government elections would be free and fair but we have come to find that the government was doing everything it can even through despicable means to win this election.

Minister Nimal Siripala de Silva recently while addressing a crowd said that the public should vote for the government and that they would not be given jobs or other benefits if the Opposition parties came into power. He bribed the people telling them that more money would be allocated to the Urban Councils if the government was elected.

Government candidates are not only fighting amongst themselves but with other parties. There have been incidents where our supporters have been severely assaulted. When we complained, we were told that they were not election related matters but due to personal disputes. Therefore we have given up complaining.

If we come into power, we will work in accordance with the Urban Council Act. If we want to work together with the people we must initially try to create an environment that is easy for them. We can do this with certainty. 





The government has again said it was going to make Sri Lanka into a centre of International Universities with the opening of faculties by a large number of prestigious foreign universities. We note a little bit of deviation in wording though.

"Opening of faculties by a large number of prestigious foreign universities."

It is claimed that universities in India, Australia, Malaysia, the US, UK, Japan and Australia were seriously considering the possibility of opening such faculties here and bringing students from their countries to Sri Lanka for degree programmes.

The catch is here. "The faculties of foreign universities will enroll 80% of students from abroad and offer the rest 20% to Sri Lankan students under scholarships" according to subject Minister, S.B. Dissanayake.

We are told that representatives of some foreign universities have already begun surveying locations in Sri Lanka to start faculties of their respective universities.

Good news.

Elaborating on the steps taken by the government to put an end to the brain drain-if any- Minister Dissanayake says the government decided to grantthe 35% salary allowance. Good salaries are indeed needed these days.

But the question is on the quality of the academics themselves- a majority of them, to be fair by a few serious ones.

They-many of them- won't go abroad anyway. They can't, in fact if they continue to cannibalize in recruitment and leave out the PhDs.

Earlier there were "attempts to upgrade" the existing local universities. Looks like the government has given up on it. Now we are planning to be a good trading place for education.  For that matter, again we need good infrastructure, a stable government.

Good infra-structure is a long shot.

The country still hasn't finished its first highway…Look up the reviews on BIA on the internet.

It was a grand design or a sweeping statement.

The country is struggling to pay the cronies of the university system who have sent it on a downward spiral in quality.

That means the foreign universities would have to bring their own academic staff. 

In the first place we do not know in what sense of the word the government is talking about Universities.

Most likely it looks like we are talking about tuition centres for foreign universities. i.e Sans research.

Universities in their proper sense would mean a centres of learning and research. Research and learning go hand in hand. Lectures are forums and knowledge gathering takes place intuitively and through self-study.

 It is also said that 80% of the students would be foreign and the only the remaining 20% would be local.

Going by the local situation, the entire intake is going to be local, it looks.

Again, if it's going to be faculties only then.. the country already has university franchises operating.

Looks like the brain drain is over!









For all the fanfare and bluster, the US House of Representative's Committee on Homeland Security hearings on "The Extent of Radicalisation in the Muslim Community and That Community's Response" produced little of value. The affair was so ill-conceived and poorly executed as to leave one wondering whether panel chairman, New York Republican Peter King, was fit to lead.


Since he announced the hearings, American Muslims, Arab Americans and many civil rights organisations feared the effort could become a McCarthy-like witch hunt.


King has a long history of making virulently anti-Muslim remarks. He once said, "Unfortunately, we have too many mosques in the country" and "85 per cent of American Muslim community leaders are an enemy living amongst us." He charged that Muslims do not volunteer to serve America.


Amplifying concerns about the Congressman's views were his associations with individuals who have made Muslim-bashing their life's work. They helped shape King's views, designed his approach to the hearings and helped promote the effort on their websites or TV and radio programmes.


The best King could muster to make his case were the uncle of one of the young Somalis recruited from the US to go to Somalia to fight with the Al Shabab group against the Ethiopians, who had invaded the country, and the father of a young American, who was radicalised leading to his involvement in the terrorist murder of a soldier in Arkansas.


These condemnable and unrelated anecdotes failed to make the argument of widespread radicalisation and the systematic failure of American Muslims to co-operate with law enforcement agencies.


King's third witness, Arizona doctor Zuhdi Jasser, added nothing of value to the discussion. He heads a group with few members and is best known as a Glenn Beck "long-time good friend". He serves on a number of boards of anti-Muslim propaganda groups and appears on right-wing media outlets as their Muslim voice of choice since he can be counted on to attack Muslim organisations and claim Muslim Americans have become hostage of extremist ideologies and will not co-operate with law enforcement agencies.


Democrats were able to invite Keith Ellison, the first Muslim American member of Congress, and Sheriff Lee Baca, the top law enforcement official from Los Angeles County. Ellison gave an emotional defence of the Muslim American community, citing Muslims who served the US and examples and data demonstrating the community's co-operation with law enforcement agencies.


While King based his hearing on the claim that unnamed law enforcement officials had told him that Muslim Americans would not co-operate, Baca, the only law enforcement official on the panel praised the community's efforts, with examples of co-operation.


At the end of the session, two observations became clear. First, King's effort did little to advance a thoughtful and data-driven discussion about radicalisation. Secondly, the deep partisan divide that characterised the committee's work. Democrats berated him for convening an unbalanced hearing that threatened to demonise a religious community. Some called King's effort "McCarthy-like", while others chided him for his failure to examine other forms of radicalisation and noted the absence of testimony from experts.


King's colleagues on the Republican side termed the sessions as "historic" and "significant".


The only bright spot of the day came in the immediate aftermath of the hearings when a group of leaders of major religious communities and organisations came together to announce the formation of "Shoulder to Shoulder" - an interfaith effort to defend American Muslims.


The group, which came together last fall in the midst of the Park 51 controversy to defend Muslims against bigotry, has formed itself into a permanent organisation.


The King hearings weren't even a good example of "McCarthyism". They were ideological folly - a suborning of an important committee's resources to serve the chairman's obsession with America's Muslims.



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