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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

EDITORIAL 15.03.11

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Editorial

month march 15, edition 000780, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

For ENGLISH  EDITORIAL  http://editorialsamarth.blogspot.com

 

THE PIONEER

            CRIMINALS THRIVE IN DELHI

            HOPING AGAINST HOPE

            WHEN DEATH LIBERATES - SANDHYA JAIN

            MOOD MAGIC GRIPS WEST BENGAL - SHIKHA MUKERJEE

            DALAI LAMA AND DESTINY OF TIBETANS - B RAMAN

            IN LIBYA, GADDAFI EMERGES TRIUMPHANT - GWYNNE DYER

 

THE TIMES OF INDIA

            FLYING BLIND

            PROTECT WOMEN

            MOVING BACKWARDS - YOGESH ATAL

            STRATEGIC SPRING-CLEANING

            TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE - AJAY VAISHNAV

            MORAL CALAMITY - RUPA SENGUPTA

 

HINDUSTAN TIMES

            LOCK THE GOONS UP

            CUSS AND EFFECT

            KEEPING TABS ON THE POLITICAL GRAPEVINE

            A PEOPLE REINCARNATED - TENZIN TSUNDUE

            FOREIGN ADDITIVES PLEASE - NIALL FERGUSON

 

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

            MINE AND THEIRS

            LOST ECHOES

            AFTER THE QUAKE

            NO JAMIA GHETTO, PLEASE - SAMINAMISHRA

            INTENSE, RECLUSIVE - RAJEEV_LOCHAN

            MICROFINANCE SAINT TO 'BLOOD-SUCKING' SINNER - MAHFUZANAM

            GROWING PAINS? - SATHIALUR

            WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION

            WHEN THE EARTHQUAKE DRILL BECOMES REAL

 

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

            FAR FROM CHERNOBYL

            ESTATE OF MIND

            PROPITIATING LAKSHMI - M GOVINDA RAO

            PROFESSIONALISING POLITICS - NISTULA HEBBAR

 

THE HINDU

            JAPAN'S NUCLEAR WOES

            CATCHING IT EARLY

            SCEPTICISM OVER IRANIAN NUCLEARISATION  - SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

            26/11 INFORMATION AND A TRICKY DYNAMICS AT PLAY  - NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN

            WORLD BANK REP AND NEPAL MAOIST LEADER AS 'LUNCH PALS'  - P. SAINATH

            IN NEPAL, 'INDIA'S FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER'  - P. SAINATH

            PRO-U.S. TILT IN CABINET SHUFFLE  - SURESH NAMBATH

 

THE ASIAN AGE

            TROUBLES NEVER END FOR THE BJP

            NUCLEAR FAMILY - ASHOK MALIK

            IS THE CBI FREE? - PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

 

DNA

            ONE GOVERNMENT, TWO CABINETS, AND NO GOVERNANCE

            R VAIDYANATHAN

            HOW THEY LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND JUNK THE BOMB - PR CHARI

            REALITY DOES NOT MATCH INCREDIBLE INDIA ADS - FRANCOIS GAUTIER

            WE NEED TO LOVE ANIMALS FIRST - N RAGHURAMAN

            WHEN THE SHATTERED PIECES DON'T FIT  - YOSHITA SENGUPTA

 

DAILY EXCELSIOR

            A WEIRD MISSION

            SAFETY OF N-PLANTS

            JUDICIAL OVERSIGHT NEEDED, NOT ACTIVISM - BY M K DHAR

            WEST ASIA IN TURMOIL: OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIA? - BY DR SATISH MISRA

            WOMEN AND CHILDREN WELFARE SCHEMES - BY NIRENDRA DEV

 

THE TRIBUNE

            GENDER-SENSITIVE BUDGET

            FRESH CRISIS GRIPS JAPAN

            UNLICENSED AND DANGEROUS

            INDIA & BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENCE - BY P.R. CHARI

            I'M GLAD MY KIDS DIDN'T HAVE TIGER MOM! - BY PUNAM KHAIRA SIDHU

 

MUMBAI MIRROR

            THE MSD OF CAPTAINCY

 

BUSINESS STANDARD

            SUBBARAO'S DATE

            THE EURO REDUX

            THE FUND OF THE FUTURE - SUMAN BERY

            THE MYSTERY OF MISSING INDIAN LANGUAGES - VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR

            BUDGET ON THE BACK BURNER - A K BHATTACHARYA

            RBI POLICY REVIEW - NAVIGATING ON THE CURVE - RAJEEV MALIK

 

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

            SHARE ROYALTIES

            MOB MENTALITY

            BEASTLY BIASES

            PRESSURE-COOKER POLITICS

            THROUGH THE THIRD EYE  

MAMATA AND GOLIATH IN BENGAL  - BASISTHA BASU

 

DECCAN CHRONICAL

            NUCLEAR FAMILY

            WHY PROTECT CHEATING BANKERS?

            WHY IS CHINA SO SCARED OF DALAI ?

            SAFETY LAST, WE ARE INDIANS

 

THE STATESMAN

            OUTRAGEOUS OMISSION

            FLAWED SCRIPT

            NOT WORTH THE COST

            A PARTY ON EDGE - BY TAPAN KUMAR BANERJEE

            WHY TALK WITH PAKISTAN?  - RAJINDER PURI

            LIQUID ASSET - ARDHENDU NAYAK

            UN PLEDGES ALL SUPPORT TO TSUNAMI-HIT JAPAN

 

THE TELEGRAPH

            LOYALTY FIRST

            INSIDE OUT

            FIGURES IN THE LIMELIGHT  - DASGUPTA

            BREAK THE NEXUS  - MALVIKA SINGH

            GOLDEN MEMORIES OF A TURF OF EMERALD GREEN  - RAJU MUKHERJI

 

DECCAN HERALD

            PAMPERING MPS

            COME ON, INDIA!

            THE GROWTH ILLUSION - BY DEVINDER SHARMA

            WHERE IS THE VOICE OF THE AFRICAN UNION?  - BY WANGARI MAATHAI, IPS

            SERENDIPITY  - BY LASYA SHASHIMOHAN

 

HAARETZ

            BARAK IS RIGHT, AND ALSO WRONG

            NETANYAHU'S EXPLOITATION OF THE MURDERS AT ITAMAR  - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

            ISRAELI LEADERS' ANXIETY ATTACK OVER REGIONAL CHANGES - BY MOSHE ARENS

            MONARCHS AND BRUTAL RULERS  - BY SHLOMO AVINERI

            A DISTURBING SYMMETRY  - BY ALON IDAN

 

THE NEW YORK TIMES

            JAPAN'S MULTIPLE CALAMITIES

            THEY'RE NOT LISTENING

            THE ABUSE OF PRIVATE MANNING

            DANBURY 11

            THE SPORT NEEDS TO CHANGE - BY BOB HERBERT

            THE IKE PHASE - BY DAVID BROOKS

            MEMORIES, WASHED AWAY - BY MARIE MUTSUKI MOCKETT

LET KIDS RULE THE SCHOOL - BY SUSAN ENGEL

 

TIMES FREE PRESS

            JAPAN'S NUCLEAR PERIL

            WHAT SHOULD OUR PURE WATER COST?

            DNA AND 17 MYSTERIOUS RAPES

 

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

            FROM THE BOSPHORUS STRAIGHT – TIME TO TAP NUCLEAR BRAKES

            CARRYING OUR PROUD PAST INTO A CHALLENGING FUTURE - DAVID JUDSON

            LOOKING AT THE WORLD FROM TURKEY - CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

            MOTHER NATURE DEMANDS RESPECT - SEMIH IDIZ

            INFLATION, UNEMPLOYMENT AND POVERTY - ERDOĞAN ALKİN

            DAILY NEWS, 50 YEARS YOUNG - YUSUF KANLI

            HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAILY NEWS - FRANK WHITE

 

THE NEWS

            IN THE SOUP

            NUCLEAR LESSONS

            REHABILITATION

            THE WAY OUT OF OUR PROBLEMS  -  ZAFAR HILALY

            EDUCATION REFORM IN PAKISTAN  - MICHAEL BARBER

            THE VOICE OF THE ARAB STREET  - AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

            PAKISTAN'S INCONCLUSIVE IMF TALKS  - DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN

            DOES A PHRASE MATTER?  - DR MALEEHA LODHI

            DAVISES AND 'MIKES'  - ANIL DATTA

 

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

            THINK BEYOND SARAIKI PROVINCE

            BEING CRITICAL OF DEFENCE BUDGET

            DR AWAN: DO MORE FOR ISLAMABAD

            ROUND AND ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH! - KHALID SALEEM

            REVOLUTION OR CONTROLLED 'PROCESS' - MOHAMMAD JAMIL

            FACTS ARE STUBBORN - RAJA WAHEED ASHRAF

            IS ENDGAME FOR PPP DRAWING CLOSER? - ALI ASHRAF KHAN

            A TREATISE ON PAK CIVIL SERVICE - QUDRAT ULLAH

 

THE AUSTRALIYAN

            NBN NEEDS A RATIONAL RETHINK

            RIOTS SPARKED BY FAILED POLICIES

            SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE VITAL IN JAPAN

 

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

            TIMOR PLAN LOST AT SEA

            NO EASY ANSWERS IN LIBYA

            JAPAN QUAKE A DISASTER WITH MORE IN ITS WAKE

            HOMELESS ARE STILL WAITING FOR RELIEF

 

THE GUARDIAN

            BRADLEY MANNING: CRUEL AND UNUSUAL

            NUCLEAR POWER: AFTER THE FLOOD

            IN PRAISE OF… HISTORY

 

THE JAPAN TIMES

            NUCLEAR POWER IN DISARRAY

            THE ENVIRONMENTAL LINK TO ECONOMIC GROWTH - BY VINOD THOMAS

            PROSPECTS FOR AN INTEGRATED ARMY IN NE PAL - BY JOSHI RATALA DINESH PRASAD

 

THE JAKARTA POST

            TEMANGGUNG CASE AND ISLAMIC STUDIES - USEP ABDUL MATIN

            THE JAPAN QUAKE AND QUESTIONS OF NUCLEAR SAFETY - SIMON TAY

            PECUNIARY ASPECT IS BUT AN OUTER LAYER OF GRAFT - B. HERRY-PRIYONO

            WIKILEAKS AND STATE SECURITY - DONNY SYOFYAN

 

DAILY MIRROR

            BUDDHISM, RADICALS AND RADICALISM: A NECESSARY PREAMBLE

            FEAR OF THE FAULTLINE

            THE TRAVAILS OF CITIZENS IN THE WONDER OF ASIA

            LESSONS FOR LEADERS AND SIGNS OF OUR TIMES

 

GULF DAILY NEWS

            VERY DIFFICULT TO PLEASE...    - BY B COMBER

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

CRIMINALS THRIVE IN DELHI

CALLOUS HOME MINISTRY, INDIFFERENT POLICE


Frustrated by the Union Government's lackadaisical response to the issue of money-laundering in the case of Hasan Ali Khan, the Supreme Court recently retorted, "What the hell is going on in this country?" Given the spate of rape and murder, and other equally appalling incidents of crime in Delhi in recent times, it could well be asked: What the hell is going on in the nation's capital? A 20-year-old college girl is shot in broad daylight; a 77-year-old woman is brutally beaten up and repeatedly raped; and, traders are routinely waylaid, robbed and killed. Law-abiding citizens live in fear while criminals freely strike when they like. Such is the state of affairs in Delhi where policing is directly controlled by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs which, sadly, has indicated no sense of remorse or concern. Neither has it owned up responsibility, nor has it informed the people of the measures it is taking — if any at all — to crack down on criminals. If the Ministry is unable to tackle urban crime in the country's capital, how can we trust it with the internal security of the nation? The Ministry does not tire of pointing out that maintaining law and order is the responsibility of State Governments as it is in their domain. On several occasions it has castigated State Governments — especially those run by parties opposed to the Congress — for their 'shortcomings' on the law and order front. But it remains silent when it comes to law and order in Delhi for which it is solely responsible and cannot pass the buck. This is not just evidence of the Ministry's reluctance to accept responsibility but is also one of the reasons why Delhi Police is perceived to be ineffective. Criminals thrive and becoming increasingly audacious when they are convinced that the police are either inept or indifferent if not thoroughly corrupt. This would be as much true for criminals in Delhi as for those in any other city in this country. But Delhi cannot be compared to any other city simply because the Delhi Government has no say in how the State's police force functions.


Meanwhile, senior police officials, clearly on the defensive, have often waxed eloquent on the need for greater participation by the people, but they fail to appreciate a basic point: Only when the people can trust the police, will they come out to help them and participate in fighting back criminals. This trust cannot be built when the police, for instance, refuse to take note of complaints on flimsy technical grounds such as that the crime was not committed in their jurisdiction. This was the case when the relatives of a 77-year-old woman, who was raped by a rickshaw-puller, had to run from one police station to another to file a missing person's complaint — in the process, they lost valuable time that could have been better utilised by the police to find the victim and perhaps even nab the perpetrator of the crime. Indifference is however just one of the problems that plagues Delhi Police — on the few occassions that it manages to nab suspects, shoddy investigations works to the advantage of criminals who either get off lightly or walk free. According to recent statistics, the accused in 277 murder cases over the last five years in Delhi got away for either lack of evidence or because the police had got hold of the wrong person. Worse, the police rarely, if ever, challenge these acquittals or launch fresh investigations.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

HOPING AGAINST HOPE

CONSEQUENCES OF MELTDOWN ARE FRIGHTENING


Three days after a devastating earthquake and an equally destructive tsunami hit Japan, authorities in that country are still struggling to bring under control several nuclear reactors that were effected in the aftermath. At the quake-damaged Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant, located 270 km from Tokyo, electric supply to the cooling systems of the nuclear reactors was disrupted and that put the entire plant at risk of a partial meltdown. Engineers and plant operators are still trying to cool down nuclear reactors at this facility. Of particular concern are reactors Number 1 and 3 — the building which houses the former exploded on Saturday while hydrogen blasted the roof of the latter's facility on Monday morning. There is some relief in that the reactor itself was not damaged although several workers at the plant were injured. Things took a turn for the worse when the cooling system of reactor Number 2 began to malfunction and workers had to pump in sea-water to prevent the exposure of the reactor's fuel rods. This exposure could lead to a potential meltdown that would result in the release of large amounts of nuclear radiation into a densely populated human habitation: This would be a cataclysmic event, beyond words or measure. Already, reports have emerged that small amounts of radio-active material have been leaked, resulting in increased amounts of radiation at the plant's premises. In this grim situation, assurances by authorities that the release of large amounts of radiation is unlikely have been much welcome. Additionally, an IAEA statement that radiation dose rate as measured at four locations around the plant's perimeter over a 16-hour-period on March 13 were all "normal" has also done much to allay people's fears of another Chernobyl-like disaster.


Nonetheless, it must be taken into account that at least 22 people who have been evacuated from the vicinity of the Fukushima Dai-ichi power plant have shown in screenings to have absorbed more than the usual amount of radiation. While it is unclear if they have absorbed dangerously high levels of radiation, the matter is still one of concern as the full extent of damage may not be revealed until months or even years later. Let us not forget that the after-effects of the Chernobyl disaster are still being felt. Away from the power plant, the situation is no better: The death toll has risen to more than 3,500 while millions have been rendered homeless and are without food, drinking water and power. International aid workers and rescue teams from all over the world have joined hands with Japanese soldiers to carry out a massive relief effort to contain the loss. Yet initial reports claim that there are few left alive who can be rescued — such has been the murderous impact of the earthquake and the tsunami that followed.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

WHEN DEATH LIBERATES

SANDHYA JAIN


The Supreme Court's judgement on euthanasia would have been more wholesome had the judges been forthright in legitimising the right to die and seek the soul's salvation.

The Supreme Court's decision to set parameters for withdrawal of medically unproductive aid to terminally ill patients would have been truly rewarding if it had not fallen into the Abrahamic mindset of viewing life in opposition to death, disregarding India's civilisational ethos which sees life and death as a continuum, and regards the complete cessation of life by reunion with the Divine as the ultimate goal of existence.

Still, the March 7, 2011 judgement on euthanasia, which studies the situation in various countries to arrive at a working paradigm, has moved boldly on legally uncharted seas. The judgement is a welcome respite to the miniscule Jain community that has often been subjected to gross interference by godless atheists who have sought police action against individuals practising sallekhana (also called santhara), religious death by voluntary renunciation of food and water.

This hounding has terrorised the pacific Jain community into hiding rather than celebrating a practice that, if successful, marks the pinnacle of a believer's spiritual journey. The writer views the demonisation of sallekhana as part of a sinister agenda to promote the Abrahamic worldview as an empirical universal norm to which India must adjust its spiritual and secular life, negating its own rich heritage.

While embracing death is not unknown among Hindus (the most eminent examples in independent India include Veer Savarkar who renounced food and water when he realised his end was nigh, and passed away on February 26, 1966; and noted Gandhian Vinoba Bhave who refused medication and died in 1983), the Jain laity has been able to incorporate it into the normal practice of faith. Among Hindus, mostly saints take samadhi (death in meditation), though even today many anticipating death take their families to the holy city of Kashi to have their last rites performed on the sacred ghats of Ganga. But unlike Jainas, Hindus awaiting their end at Kashi do not cease intake of food and water; their demise is a natural rather than a ritual process.

There is an immense power and dignity in the Jain way of choosing to end life by choice, in full possession of one's faculties, as the climax to a life well lived, abandoning worldly ties, including attachment to the body. Jains believe voluntary embrace of death purifies the soul and ensures the final release (moksh, nirvana) from the otherwise eternal cycle of birth and death. As the ascetic ideal is deeply ingrained in the community, such a 'call' is heard and answered unceasingly; the Supreme Court judgement has emboldened community elders to reveal that daily at least one believer exits his/her mortal coils this way. This writer's paternal uncle took this route in 1994, in the very pink of health. sallekhana goes back centuries.

By preparing devotees for the eternal life beyond transient human existence, Jain tradition redefines the moral contours of natural human hedonism. sallekhana (literally, thinning one's body and passions) cannot be invoked without an inner call that is itself the fruition of a long karmic trajectory wherein the soul accumulates merit over myriad lifetimes. It is customary to seek the permission of a senior monk to ensure that the person undertaking this fast has the necessary level of spiritual attainment (accumulated over past lives), or is dying from old age or an incurable disease. Those with worldly responsibilities to fulfil (like young children) are denied permission. That is why Jains have insisted that sallekhana cannot be equated with ordinary suicide, which is an act of despair committed by those driven by mortal anxiety or mental instability. The Supreme Court has now recognised this truth about suicide and suggested its decriminalisation, with help extended to such unhappy souls.

Interestingly, Jains believe that animals too have a moral and spiritual dimension. One of the most beautiful stories concerns an elephant, the leader of a large herd, which was trapped in a forest fire. In their quest for safety, all the animals clustered around a lake, and the area was soon crammed with creatures large and small. After a while, the elephant lifted a leg to scratch himself, and a small hare swiftly occupied the space thus vacated. Feeling deep compassion for the small animal, the elephant immediately severed all ties with future animal desires. He stood with one leg raised for over three days till the fire abated and the hare left. His limb froze, and unable to set his foot down, he fell down. Maintaining purity of mind till the end, he was reborn as prince Megha, son of King Srenika of Magadha; he became an eminent monk under Mahavira.

This exalted understanding of life and death should have informed the national debate over euthanasia for the incurably ill. Long before author Pinki Virani took up the cause of nurse Aruna Shanbaug, who has been in a persistent vegetative condition for 37 years, long-suffering patients had begun petitioning the President of India, the courts and the Human Rights Commission of various States for the right to die. In June 2008, Ramesh Babu, 38, an ex-Indian Air Force officer suffering from muscular dystrophy, petitioned the Andhra Pradesh State Human Rights Commission for permission to commit suicide. Though avoiding advocacy of such active euthanasia, the Law Commission had, in June 2005, suggested permitting withdrawal of life-support systems (including artificial nutrition and hydration) in the "best interests" of terminally ill patients. But, as noted by the Supreme Court, the Government has failed to move in this regard.

Some unsatisfactory aspects of the Supreme Court's judgement derive from a tacit assumption that the worldly life is the summon bonum (highest good) of existence. There appears to be a bias towards Western materialism and its bizarre quest to prolong human life to the point of abolishing death. This derives from the belief that there is just one life, at the end of which the soul remains in limbo for aeons, till the Day of Judgement assigns it to eternal heaven or hell.

Centuries ago, Hindu society dealt with the unnatural quest for eternal human life by frustrating the strenuous exertions of prince Trishanku to enter heaven in his mortal frame, condemning him to a solitary life, upside down, in a special nether world between Earth and heaven (Valmiki's Ramayana). Trishanku seems a prescient metaphor for a medically prolonged comatose existence.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

MOOD MAGIC GRIPS WEST BENGAL

SHIKHA MUKERJEE

 

Popular mood plays a decisive role in determining the outcome of any election. In West Bengal the mood is overwhelmingly in favour of Trinamool Congress and could fetch Mamata Banerjee a sweeping victory in the coming Assembly election. This will not only mean defeat for the Left Front but also render the Congress inconsequential in the State's politics

Every survey includes a host of variables: Conditions under which there would be shifts in voter preference. Since surveys are based on complicated mathematics and are derived from the strictly logical process of interpreting numbers, the probabilities that these reveal will not work in West Bengal.

Currently the State is in the grip of a mood magic. Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee is as much an idea as she is a real person. She is the embodiment of the ordinary and the extraordinary. She is all about possibilities. Therefore when didi woos her voters, the mood that is now damped down with anxieties over the alliance with the Congress will miraculously revive. And when it does, the Trinamool Congress will romp to the Writers' Building with a spectacular victory.

For the Congress keeping a connection with the Trinamool Congress is a hangover syndrome. Perhaps the Congress needs to rethink the purpose of the connection. If the Trinamool Congress can agree to engage in a friendly fight with the Congress in the forthcoming State Assembly election with an understanding that the partnership at the Centre will remain unaltered, the Congress should consider its strategy all over again. So long as the Congress and the Trinamool Congress have a cosy relationship at the Centre what does it matter if they compete against each other in the State Assembly election?

That way the Trinamool Congress can test its real strength without the baggage of the Congress. The Congress similarly can check to see whether its loyalists constitute the numbers that they believe they possess. The Congress cannot have any illusions about its immediate future in West Bengal politics. It is weak. It cannot hope to revive its fortunes in 2011, because this is the Trinamool Congress's election. At best the Congress can hope that its loyalists will give it enough numbers to stay in the game when the next parliamentary election comes around.

Any ardent admirer of the Trinamool Congress, as well as many apprehensive comrades within the CPI(M) believe that the magic of Ms Banerjee will produce a sweeping win. Their unshakable faith in didi as the only force on earth that can oust the CPI(M) from power after 34 years provides an inkling of the magic that she has. It would, therefore, make sense for the Trinamool Congress to get down to making magic with the people rather than prolonging the speculation over the possible alliance with the Congress.

If it is the case that the Trinamool Congress has not consolidated its position in West Bengal, then any arrangement that works as a force multiplier be it a seat-sharing one or a full-fledged programme-based alliance with not just the Congress, but every other party that can bring with it segments of voters is crucial to the calculations of victory. Then the Congress as a party of 125 years with deep roots in the West Bengal political space and a loyal band of supporters is a necessity. By that logic, so would everyone of the 18 or so parties that had clustered around the Trinamool Congress when it launched the Singur agitation be a necessity.

That there is no noise within the Trinamool Congress or the other fringe parties over seat-sharing is an indication that the Trinamool Congress has graduated from being a new party to a party that can appeal to all sections of voters on its own. For such is the power of the magic that didi possesses, according to the Trinamool Congress. The array of parties from Siddiqullah Chowdhury's new avatar People's Democratic Conference of India, Party for Democratic Socialism, the Indian Muslim League, Republican Party, Jharkhand Disom Party, the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities headed by Chhatradhar Mahato now in custody for Maoist links as well as assorted groups led by people like Santosh Rana, Medha Patkar and the Sanhati group would all be necessary to add small pockets of support to the Trinamool Congress to help build its numbers to challenge the CPI(M) as the alternative party of governance.


That is not the case. Every other party that has submitted a very low key claim to seat-sharing with the Trinamool Congress like the Jharkhand Disom Party has done so out of a desire to jump on board the Trinamool Congress bandwagon with the hope of capitalising on the connection. The fact that PDCI, PDS, the Indian Muslim League have all signed up with the Congress is an indication that their appeal no longer matters to the Trinamool Congress. Instead, parties like JDP have realised that far from being force multipliers their role has been reduced to hopefuls fly hanging on to the coat tails of the Trinamool Congress. If they abandon the connection or get abandoned by the Trinamool Congress, their loss is greater.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

DALAI LAMA AND DESTINY OF TIBETANS

B RAMAN


To ensure that Tibetans do not lose their sense of nationhood, the Dalai Lama should select his successor before it's too late. This is all the more important to prevent Beijing from imposing its choice on Tibetans

While wishing and hoping for a long life for His Holiness the Dalai Lama, one has to mentally prepare oneself to the eventuality of his being no more with us one day and think of how to keep the Tibetan cause alive after him. To talk of likely scenarios after he leaves this world should not be misinterpreted as disrespect to him.

One thing is certain. After the death of His Holiness, the legitimacy of his spiritual successor is going to be questioned. Also, who would decide about his reincarnation — the Tibetan elders respected by their community or the surrogates of the Communist Party of China — remains a moot question. As has happened in the case of the institution of the Panchen Lama — one has to expect a long period of contention between two Dalai Lamas, one chosen by Tibetan elders in accordance with Tibetan traditions and the selection of the other manipulated by the Communist Party of China.


There is bound to be a long period of vacuum in the exercise of the spiritual authority of His Holiness till the question of the legitimacy of the succession is decided and the person chosen by the Tibetan elders has completed his spiritual education and is in a position to exercise his spiritual authority.

During this period, the wise men of the Tibetan Government in Exile will have to carefully guide the Tibetan people, maintain and strengthen traditions and ensure that the Tibetan cause is not suffocated to death by the CPC by taking advantage of any confusion caused in the Tibetan community inside China as well as abroad by the death of His Holiness and the subsequent controversy that might be engineered by the CPC on the question of his succession.

To be able to guide the Tibetan people on the right lines and to defeat the machinations of the CPC, it is important that a political leader enjoying the confidence of His Holiness when he is still alive and commanding the respect of the people is already in position when His Holiness leaves this world. It will be unwise to postpone the selection of such person till the death of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.

His Holiness wears two hats — as the political and administrative head of the Tibetan people and as their spiritual head. The spiritual authority has to be exercised by His Holiness so long as he is alive. It cannot be delegated by him to anybody else.

But, his political and administrative authority can be delegated to someone enjoying the confidence of His Holiness and the Tibetan people even when His Holiness is alive. His Holiness will be in a position to ensure that the selection of his political and administrative successor is done in a smooth manner without causing any differences among his followers in Tibet as well as abroad.

This process of selecting a separate political and administrative authority by the appropriate institutions of the Tibetan community has to start now without further delay. In this context, the suggestion made by His Holiness on the 52nd anniversary of the 'Tibetan Uprising Day', which was observed by the Tibetan people all over the world on March 10, 2011, that the time has come for him to hand over political authority to a freely elected leader is very wise and needs to be seriously considered by his followers. They should avoid reacting to it emotionally and rejecting it when the suggestion comes up for approval before the Tibetan Parliament in Exile.

They should give it serious consideration and approve it and facilitate the election of a suitable political leader enjoying the blessings of His Holiness.


--The writer, a former senior officer of R&AW, is a strategic affairs commentator.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

IN LIBYA, GADDAFI EMERGES TRIUMPHANT

GWYNNE DYER


The collapse of the 'revolution' in Libya will gravely damage the prospects of the Arab uprising elsewhere and strengthen the hands of autocratic rulers. The situation can be salvaged if fellow Arabs join those demanding change in Libya


The Libyan revolution is losing the battle. Col Mummar Gaddafi's Army does not have much logistical capability, but it can get enough fuel and ammunition east along the coast road to attack Benghazi, Libya's second city, at some point in the next week or so. His Army is not well trained and a lot of his troops are foreign mercenaries, but the lightly armed rebels cannot hold out long against tanks, artillery and air strikes.


Even sooner, Col Gaddafi's forces will attack Misrata, Libya's third city and the last opposition stronghold in the western half of the country. It will probably fall after some days of bitter fighting, as Zawiya eventually fell. And if Zawiya's brave and stubborn resistance is repeated in the two larger cities then they will both suffer very large casualties, including many non-combatants, in the fighting.


What happens to the rebels and their families after active resistance is crushed will be much worse. When political prisoners in Abu Salim prison staged a protest at jail conditions in 1996, Col Gaddafi had 1,200 of them massacred. All the people now fighting him, or helping the Libyan National Council that organises resistance in the east, or just demonstrating against him, will be tracked down by his secret police. They and their families are doomed.

The collapse of the democratic revolution in Libya will also gravely damage the prospects of the 'Arab uprising' elsewhere. Rulers in other Arab countries where the Army is also largely made up of foreign mercenaries (Bahrain and several other Gulf states, for example), will conclude that they can safely kill enough of their own protesters to 'restore order'.

How can this disaster be prevented? Condemnation from abroad, including from the Arab League, will not stop Col Gaddafi. An arms embargo is too slow-acting, as are economic boycotts and freezing Libyan Government assets overseas. Col Gaddafi is fighting for his life, probably literally, and he knows that if he wins, the embargoes, boycotts and asset freezes will eventually be lifted. Libya has oil, after all.

Even the famous 'no-fly' zone over Libya (now endorsed by France, Britain and the Arab League) would not stop Col Gadaffi's advance. It's not that destroying or grounding the Libyan air force, which is poorly trained and badly maintained, is a problem. Neither are Libya's decrepit, last-generation-but-one surface-to-air defences. It's just that Col Gaddafi can win without his air force. Tanks and artillery beat courage and small arms every time.

US Defence Secretary Robert Gates was not being entirely honest when he said that a no-fly zone could not be imposed without the prior destruction of all Libya's surface-to-air defences, which would require a lot of bombing. It would be perfectly possible to enforce the no-fly ban from the air, and only attack Col Gaddafi's ground-based defence systems if and when their targeting radars locked onto the enforcing aircraft.

Nevertheless, Mr Gates is right to reject the no-fly solution, for two reasons. First, it wouldn't stop Col Gaddafi's advance. Second, if it were done by American and European air forces, it would undermine the Arab sense of ownership of this extraordinary revolt against tyranny. It would be pure gesture politics, to make the onlookers to the tragedy feel better about themselves.

What is actually needed is active military intervention on the ground and in the air by disciplined, well-trained Arab forces, sent by a revolutionary Arab Government that is in sympathy with the Libyan rebels. So where is the Egyptian Army when the Libyans need it?

Egypt has an open border with the rebel-controlled east of Libya, and just one brigade of the Egyptian Army would be enough to stop Col Gaddafi's ground forces in their tracks. The Egyptian air force could easily shoot down any of Col Gaddafi's aircraft that dared to take off, especially if it had early warning from European or American AWACS aircraft.

The Egyptian Army would probably not need to go all the way to Tripoli, although it could easily do so if necessary. Just the fact of Egyptian military intervention would probably convince most of the Libyan troops still supporting Col Gaddafi that it is time to change sides.

Arab League support for the intervention would not be hard to get, and the Libyan rebels are now desperate enough that they would quickly overcome their natural distrust of their giant neighbour. As for internal Egyptian politics, what better way for the Egyptian Army to establish its revolutionary credentials and protect its privileged position in the state than by saving the revolution next door?

It is very much in the interest of the Egyptian revolution that Col Gaddafi does not triumph in Libya, and even more that the forces of reaction do not win in the broader Arab world. For the first time since Gamal Abdel Nasser in the 1950s, the giant of the Arab world would also be its moral leader.

It would be nice if the Tunisian Army could intervene from the west at the same time as the Egyptian Army went into Libya from the east, but it is a far weaker force belonging to a far smaller country: Tunisia only has twice Libya's population, whereas Egypt has 12 times as many people. No matter. Egypt would be enough on its own.

Only do it fast. A week from now will probably be too late.

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

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

FLYING BLIND

 

If with the Commonwealth Games, 2G spectrum or Adarsh you thought that you had seen the last or worst of corruption scandals, think again. The news that pilots who have failed to qualify for their commercial licences have been paying for fake marksheets to obtain them anyway trumps them all. Parminder Kaul Gulati, the first pilot caught just a few days ago, must be a true pioneer of corruption. Inflating the price of a roll of toilet paper or grabbing a flat meant for the kin of dead soldiers is one thing; taking to the skies without proper knowledge of how to pilot your aircraft and with the lives of hundreds of people depending on your competence - or rather, incompetence - blazes a new trail. Rules and regulations appear to serve little purpose, other than as an intellectual exercise for scamsters to figure out a way around them.


It would be farcical if it were not so horrifying - touts offering to have below-par exam papers 're-evaluated' much like blackmarketers try to scalp movie tickets outside a theatre. Or the fact that when the marksheets and other documentation for acquiring an airline transport pilot licence are submitted at the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) head office in Delhi, staff there cannot cross-check the authenticity because the databases containing exam results are not networked. Surely a process needs to be in place whereby the DGCA offices distributing pilot licences have access to their own exam results.


It is luck of the highest order that this scam has come to light without any lives being lost, despite the many hard landings by Gulati that prompted officials to check her documents. The DGCA has launched a drive now to scrutinise the licences of about 4,000 pilots who might have obtained them through a similarly compromised process. Well and good, but civil aviation minister Vayalar Ravi must take personal charge of this. It's extremely unlikely that such a scam could have been perpetrated without the involvement of at least a few DGCA officials, especially since reports allege that a number of them have been resisting a probe. There must be no scope for a cover-up.


With the scam believed to have started in 2009, it has at least come to light quickly enough that there is a fair opportunity for cleaning it up before it becomes institutionalised. The investigative and judicial process must be swift. Just like those involved in the manufacture of spurious medicines, the guilty here have endangered thousands of lives for monetary gain. They must be found before luck runs out and we have an aircraft crash on our hands.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

PROTECT WOMEN

 

The murder of 20-year-old Delhi University student Radhika Tanwar by her stalker highlights the plight of a large number of women in India. Radhika was shot dead in broad daylight by a man who had allegedly been stalking her for the past three years. In the absence of a specific anti-stalking law in the country, women have little choice other than ignoring the unsolicited advances of stalkers. The most that the police can do in routine stalking cases is lock up the stalker for 24 hours; charging the offender under laws for sexual harassment not amounting to assault being inadequate. In 2008, the Bombay high court had echoed the need for a stringent anti-stalking law, noting that the act of stalking amounts to severe mental and emotional trauma for the victims. As in Radhika's case, stalkers may graduate to murder (or rape). Thus, it is vital to nip the problem in the bud.

With changing socio-economic trends and women increasingly becoming an integral part of the workforce, it is imperative to ensure women's safety in the public sphere. Presently, the law doesn't even recognise stalking as a crime. Hence, measures such as setting up anti-stalking cells are largely ineffective. It is important to have a sophisticated law that acts as a deterrent and takes cognisance of realities such as cyber stalking, which too is on the rise. In countries such as the US and
Canada, anti-stalking laws provide for fines and restraining orders that prohibit stalkers from coming within a specified distance of the victim. There is no reason why this cannot be replicated. Our lawmakers would do well to take the first step.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

MOVING BACKWARDS

YOGESH ATAL

 

There is a repeat of Rajasthan in Haryana and UP, where the BSP has backed the Jat agitation to access OBC quotas in central government jobs. What is happening today was predictable. Electoral expediency undermined the long-term consequences of a seemingly reformative but inherently dangerous policy of reservations.

What happened in Rajasthan? Gujjars succeeded in getting OBC status after prolonged agitation. This encouraged the Jats to demand similar status, which the government of the time granted as an act of political expediency. Jat leaders rejoiced at attaining lower status, downgrading themselves from the respect earlier enjoyed as a rich and dominant agricultural class. They were congratulated by their brethren from other states. Gujjars were not happy: it meant sharing their little cake. They therefore took the second step to move out of the OBC and into the ST category. The Jats supported the Gujjar claim, but those already in the ST category resented it.

The success of the Jat agitation in Rajasthan, however, was bound to instigate others to make similar demands in other states. The Jats of Haryana and UP are demanding OBC status. They are employing the same strategy Rajasthan's Gujjars employed in 2007: mass mobilisation, threats to disturb the peace and destroy public property, and confrontation with the police. The agitators believe violence has great communication value.

What will happen if the agitators' demand is met is also predictable. First, groups already in the OBC category would not welcome reduction in their quota of privileges. Second, people of this group in other states would follow suit.

The time has come to de-schedule many groups that have benefited from reservation and are not deserving of protection any more. The Supreme Court hinted at the exclusion of the "creamy layer". Interestingly, it is the leadership of these groups that is unwilling to quit the backwards category. The disadvantaged become the crowd, enthusiastically support an ill-understood cause, and some of them get killed. Their martyrdom adds to the chorus for reservations. It is becoming an unending crisis.


It is hard to accept that all those belonging to this cluster are socially or economically backward. Responding to the rising demand of many groups not included in the SC or ST category, the government set up the first commission under Kaka Kalelkar's chairmanship. It is now forgotten that his report was never tabled in Parliament. No one points out that this commission was meant to identify backward classes, but ended up listing castes as if they were synonyms. Class and caste are two different concepts. A caste can be divided into several classes: rich, middle class, poor, and the indigent; similarly, a class can cut across several castes. But commissions and committees have ignored this fact.


This is not to deny the existence of poverty in many families belonging to the castes identified by these bodies as backward. However, poverty exists at the level of the family, not at the level of caste. If the aim is to eradicate poverty, the unit for action has to be the family. If several families belonging to a caste are found to be poor in a specified region they will all be eligible for state privileges, but this would not ostracise those poor families belonging to castes not listed as ST, SC or OBC.


Reservation is not the sole remedy for amelioration of poverty, nor ensures that members of castes, tribes, or caste clusters will find a berth in all government departments or seats in assemblies or Parliament. How will the government respond if each caste begins to complain of non-representation in all political outfits or government departments?

The poor in a village need a school for their children, a clinic for healthcare, a link road and electricity. These areas indicate development deficit. A different area-based approach is needed for development, not charity in the name of reservations. Reservations promote dependence, and hence parasites.

Used by the British to "divide and rule", caste-linked strategy still rules the minds of our political leadership. We learnt to condemn caste from the British; we also faithfully followed their agenda to perpetuate it. Castes got strengthened through strategies explicitly designed to weaken this institution.


What the foreigners found objectionable was the nature of interaction between castes, not the unity of individual castes expressed in terms of endogamy. They highlighted the plight of what they designated as oppressed groups. Gandhi took up the cause, talked of untouchability's abolition and coined a term which, replacing other pejorative terms used exclusively for this section, did not help blur their identity.


The word Dalit is no improvement. Taking pride in being called Dalit - oppressed - cannot serve to enhance status. And demands for inclusion under SC, ST and OBC categories are promoting separation rather than integration. Moreover, a vested interest is developing in remaining 'backward', serving to demotivate any move to exalt oneself.


Designed to ameliorate conditions, any policy's success is judged by the ever-declining number of its 'beneficiaries'. But the period since Independence has seen increasing numbers of groups come under reservation's ambit, and more and more clamouring for admission in them. This is a good enough indicator of the policy's failure. It is time it gets thoroughly and professionally reviewed and a methodology evolves to ensure that the deserving remain and the privileged - the creamy layer - are shown the exit door.

The writer is former principal director of social and human sciences, Unesco.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TIMES VIEWS

STRATEGIC SPRING-CLEANING

 

With West Bengal's elections drawing close, the ruling Left Front has released its list of MLA candidates featuring 150 new contenders. The measure is remarkable. It turfs out tainted aspirants and replaces them with fresh faces. This is a major statement to make in an election considered vital for the party's survival. The CPM's leadership has, in fact, dropped strongmen and satraps known for tactics of violence and intimidation.

The rolls instead feature youth, through young activists, teachers and doctors. They also seriously include minority groups, fielding 40% more Muslim candidates than in the 2006 elections. The opportunity to contest has been denied to several sitting ministers. Facing Trinamool charges over the lifestyles of those in power, the party leadership is making contesting ministers return to previous constituencies rather than fight from 'safe' seats.

These moves should stand the Left Front and the
CPM in good stead, even if it happens to lose the April elections. The exclusion of those tainted by corruption, violence or nepotism makes the party stand out in a political atmosphere vitiated by the very same ills. The emphatic inclusion of youth is a win-win. If the Left Front retains considerable seats, its younger MLAs will act with new ideas and fresh energy rather than repeat the omissions of the past. If the regime changes, its youthful members will connect to a new population of voters in Bengal, understanding priorities and visions for the future better than an ossified gerontocracy.

The inclusion of the young and untainted can bring about the ideological, pragmatic and ethical rejuvenation of a party seen by many as stagnant in the mists of time. These are important and innovative moves. Other political parties would do well to heed them. Measures like these could help the Left Front win the war, if not the immediate battle.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COUNTERVIEW

TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE

AJAY VAISHNAV

 

The Left Front's desperation to save its bastion in West Bengal from the Trinamool Congress is mounting with each passing day. Expecting to turn the rising tide of anti-incumbency, the front is not sparing any effort to woo back Bengal voters. The latest evidence of that has come up with the front arbitrarily dropping nine incumbent ministers from its list of candidates. Further the front has decided to field 150 young faces in these elections to project the image of a clean and young party. But, the key question is whether these last-minute changes can help it secure a record eighth win in the assembly elections.


To start with, the front's efforts to give its parties the much-needed facelift are too little, too late. It would be a mistake to attach too much significance to the Left's hurriedly conceived cosmetic changes. Besides, let's not get carried away with the Left's claims of having a clean slate of candidates. While ostensibly championing merit over dynastic politics in India it has given tickets to at least six candidates due to their family connections including Tamalika Panda Seth - the wife of Lakshman Seth who is largely held responsible for the Nandigram massacre.

Given the tremendous amount of anti-incumbency the Left Front government faces in these elections, it has decided to use a slate of young candidates as guinea pigs. They can hardly be expected to provide redemption for the three decades of stagnation and coercion the Left has imposed on West Bengal. The supposed generational shift in the
CPM is exposed as fallacious the moment one looks at its politburo, composed of the same ageing, out-of-touch leaders. Who doesn't know that in the 'disciplined' parties of the Left, it is the politburo which wields real power?

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

SUBVERSE

MORAL CALAMITY

RUPA SENGUPTA

 

We humans do a fair bit of intellectual jugglery about man as both aggressor and victim. We have a moral consensus on the essentially scandalous nature of death by accident or intent. Yet a social consensus also mandates that we kill in order to defend country, community, even ideology. An aesthetic consensus, meanwhile, allows this strange contradiction to be glossed over in - and as - cultural representation.

Why do suicide-bombers sustain breaking news and wars spawn award-winning films? Evil makes man kill; the good in him makes prime time and high art out of it. Similarly, why are we voracious consumers of disaster stories, like the tragic one coming out of quake-hit Japan? Man's undoing at human hands or by nature's fury works as moral recompense for his own aggression. Of course, the victims of violence must necessarily be human to move us.


Man however sheds non-human blood on a scale making damage to human life seem comparably puny. Yet in calamities natural or manmade, non-human deaths are deemed a trifle unless at our economic cost. When tsunamis strike or cities are bombed, we assess depletion of 'livestock' or 'fish stocks'. Who cares that animals and birds also perish in floods and forest fires, zoo animals starve in war-ravaged towns, and marine life chokes in oil spills and fishing's overkill?


Violence against non-human species is global in scope, colossal in cruelty. Canada's seal hunts aren't less brutal than Japan's slaughter of near-extinct whales, bluefin tuna and dolphins. Chinese bear bile, food and fur farms provoke outrage; so does "canned hunting" of captive lions and tigers from the US to South Africa. If dogfights are a blood sport in Mexico, Spain's conservative politicians want bullfighting declared world heritage. And everywhere, every year, billions of living beings perish in meat-producing plants, experimentation labs, aquaculture...The scandal sits easy on civilised consciences.


True, death involves suffering, including for man. What then of lifelong misery? Hog factory sows are 'farmed' as breeding machines till they burn out. Mutilated lab chimps are caged entire lives. Salmon turn cannibals when bred in polluted, overcrowded ponds. Must species subjugation involve agony? Yes: the very structure of systematised exploitation mandates suffering. Hence the sanitising trend to keep slaughterhouses, labs, fur farms, etc, out of sight. Who wants reality shows on how sentient beings are turned into cold cuts, coat-collars and car leather?


Tragedy strikes non-human life indirectly too: environmental destruction, official connivance in poaching and overfishing, climate change. It's estimated 35 per cent of all living species could vanish by 2050 and over half by 2100. Species are dying quicker than replacements can evolve, with extinction assessed at rates 1,000 to 10,000 times faster than pre-human fossil records indicate.


Many think species loss should bother only tree-huggers and lunatic fringes. Correction: conservation's logic anchors on hard-nosed economic calculations. Loss of biodiversity and "ecosystems services" - those nature provides (free of cost!) like water, timber, fish stocks, nutrient cycling, climate stability - has a huge price tag: 50 billion euros annually, going by a UN and EU-backed report. Overfishing means a yearly $48 billion dent in potential income. The worth of endangered pollinator insects or coral reefs runs into hundreds of billions of dollars annually. A Cost of Policy Inaction report says, by 2050, biodiversity depletion could cost the world economy 14 trillion euros, that is, 7% of projected global GDP.

It's said the "Sixth Great Extinction" underway today is singular. It's due to the depredations of just one aberrant species: Man. What if nature has other ideas, not caring for our predatory anthropocentrism or technological hubris? On the scale of the cosmos, man's parade as terrestrial top dog means little. Yet ask if nature's violence sometimes appears to reset survival's balance in favour of, say, the fish against the killer-trawlers and whale-hunting boats, and there'll be loud protest. This, while silence reigns over the terrorisation of non-human species everywhere on Earth. Avid documenters and image broadcasters of catastrophic violence, we'd rather count its human casualties. Everybody loves a good disaster. It makes us feel that we're the victim.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

LOCK THE GOONS UP

It irritates many Indians, including those strictly apolitical, each time they find the foreign media describe the main opposition party of India, the BJP, as a 'Hindu fundamentalist party'. After all, the hoary days of the late 80s-early 90s when the party was synonymous with its steroids-pumped Hindu nationalism are in the past. Even

LK Advani now admits that the demolition of the Babri Masjid in 1992 by Sangh parivar forces "badly dented the BJP's credibility". The 2002 communal riots in Gujarat, reminder as they were of the BJP's ideological DNA, too, have given way to the more or less standard image of an Opposition party that mostly plays by the rules of parliamentary democracy and by the norms of civilised behaviour. So the seriousness of the violence unleashed by activists of the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad (ABVP), a student body affiliated to the BJP's mentoring 'cultural organisation', the RSS, can be seen as a flashback to the nasty, brutish behaviour of louts latching on to a nasty, brutish ideology of delivering extra-judicial justice.

Last week, a professor at the Government Agriculture College in Khandwa, Madhya Pradesh, was assaulted by ABVP workers. The louts found it perfectly fit to hand out their own idea of 'justice' as they alleged that the professor had been having 'illicit relations' with a student and had molested others. The university officials later denied the charge that the professor had engaged in any such illegal activity. This is especially believable since no complaints had been received by the authorities or the police from any 'victims'. But even if the charges were to be pursued and proved, goons under the banner of a students' union deciding that it was perfectly well within their rights to play moral police can hardly be the arbiters of guilt or innocence.

A lecturer of the college who intervened in the violence later succumbed to shock and died. ABVP state secretary Bharati Kumbhare stated that his death was now being used to settle scores against the students' body by its rivals, adding that "nobody had touched him". The ABVP may or may not have been responsible for the death, but it certainly is for the violent attack on the professor. It was the same organisation that had attacked HS Sabharwal, head of the political science department, Madhav College, Ujjain, in 2006. Sabharwal died after the attack. A Maharashtra court in 2009 acquitted the six students accused in the case due to lack of evidence. This time round, the BJP has a moral duty to condemn the ABVP's latest act of violence and use its influence to rein it in. It can always argue that the dots joining the ABVP to the RSS and the BJP are tenuous. But a body under its tutelage, ranting against 'immorality', can easily be perceived as a 'secularised' residue of the Sangh parivar's old nasty, brutish habit of treating the law as if it's not there.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

CUSS AND EFFECT

We swear this is true: it's absolutely fine to use cuss words. Before you blame us for devaluing this 'sacred space', let's make it clear that it's not we but the mighty judges of the Delhi high court who have passed this order. While ruling on a case involving two Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) personnel, the court said that using expletives during a conversation is common among jawans and is, therefore, not a valid ground for dismissal from service. Krishna Pal Singh, a constable, was dismissed from the CISF unit of the Indian Oil Corporation, Panipat, in 2002, after he abused his superior over administrative problems. Mr Singh was found guilty after an inquiry and was retired with full pension benefits. Now the high court wants him to be reinstated in service and given full wages.

The order is a vindication of what we always knew: cussing is not bad. For many, it's a stress reliever. So in the morning, fresh after a round of bhajans, you board a public bus, be ready to hear the conductor discussing the day's weather with his colleague, but his thoughts peppered with some loving words involving mothers and sisters. The listener won't mind one bit and reply in the same brotherly fashion. Only dainty dollies will complain.

The judges rightly said "the experience of life resolves more than the logic of the law." And they did not shy away for uttering the unspeakable: "Queries with abuses are in the form of words 'madarc**d', 'behanc**d'," the judges said while referring to the life of a jawan. We get the message: stop being a prude and get on with @#!^ing life.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

KEEPING TABS ON THE POLITICAL GRAPEVINE

No rift in the lute

Even as the alleged rift between home minister P Chidambaram and finance minister Pranab Mukherjee is creating a buzz in the capital's power circles, the two put up a show of bonhomie for the benefit of observers. In the Lok Sabha last week, while BJP leader Murli Manohar Joshi was speaking on the general budget, Chidambaram was sitting alongside Mukherjee chipping in with facts and observations to counter the Opposition's attack. Chidambaram even took notes of Joshi's speech when Mukherjee had to excuse himself from the House to take a call. And the award for best actor goes to…

Pangs of separation

After their protests in Parliament caught the Congress high command's attention, Telangana Congress MPs met finance minister Pranab Mukherjee who told them to be calm till May 10. That's when the UPA may take a fresh call on separate statehood, he reportedly hinted to them. By then the polls in West Bengal would be over too. Any noise on Telangana before that could have an impact in Bengal where the demand for a separate Gorkhaland state is still active. A case of 'divided we stand' at the moment.

Parts of the sum

As the finance minister announced a bonanza for MPs by raising the Member of Parliament Local Area evelopment Scheme (MPLAD) allocation from Rs 2 crore to Rs 5 crore, the Congress parliamentary party (CPP) also doubled the monthly subscription fee for its members. The 278 Congress MPs — 207 in Lok Sabha and 71 in Rajya Sabha — will now have to shell out Rs 2,000 each month. The R1,000 hike will come with retrospective effect from January this year. Not a sum which will break their bank balance really.

My place, not yours

Ministers love protocol — and they smell a rat when they are at the receiving end of perceived discrimination. Malaysian deputy PM Muhyiddin Mohd Yassin, in the capital over the past week, requested appointments with a number of Manmohan Singh's ministers, but they all had to visit Yassin at his hotel. Except one. Yassin broke with his rule to visit foreign minister SM Krishna — whose ministry was in charge of organising the meetings and venues for other ministers. This special treatment for Krishna left a few of his colleagues fuming. But then, it is his call.

Nose out of the joint

Former minister of state for external affairs, Shashi Tharoor, threw two parties last week to celebrate his turning 55. The first one had politicians and socialites in attendance, including BJP leader Arun Jaitley. The second was meant for Malayali journalists and to relaunch the MP in Kerala's public space. The Thiruvananthapuram MP is apparently upset that the club of Kerala MPs don't invite him to meetings and deliberations regarding the state. He has also been kept out of the Congress election panel for the state where assembly elections have been announced. Ah, the sorrows of Shashi.

Rai of hope for BSY

Actor Aishwarya Rai Bachchan kept her word to Karnataka CM BS Yeddyurappa that she would attend the World Kannada Conference at Belgaum despite stern warnings from the Shiv Sena which asked her not to participate as it was against Marathis. An undeterred Rai not only addressed a crowd of 70,000 plus, but she did so in Kannada as BSY beamed in pride. Belgaum is in Karnataka but is an area bone of dispute with Maharashtra. The Shiv Sena's threats must have turned to ash in its mouth.

Round the mulberry bush

BSY and his arch rival, Janata Dal(S) state president and former CM HD Kumaraswamy, are again threatening to poach on each other's MLAs. While BSY has been told by the BJP leaders not to revive the rivalry, HDK has threatened he would hit back: "I know how to poach on BJP MLAs and reduce the party's strength from 106 to 96 in the assembly in no time." HDK is bugged that Koppal JD(S) legislator Karadi Sanganna had recently quit the party and joined the BJP. With all this poaching in the offing, they might just come up against Jairam Ramesh.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

A PEOPLE REINCARNATED

TENZIN TSUNDUE

Last Thursday, when the Dalai Lama made his 52nd State of the Occupied Nation's Speech on Tibetan National Uprising Day, it wasn't Chinese officials alone who voiced scepticism at his remarks but also  Tibetans who reacted with apprehension and anxiety. The Dalai Lama has repeatedly spoken about his desire to retire from his political role. But this time he outlined his decision and is clearly determined to bring it into effect.

The annual uprising ceremony on March 10 was first addressed by the Kalon Tripa, head of the government-in-exile's cabinet, Samdhong Rinpoche, who before the Dalai Lama had announced his retirement was beseeching the Tibetan leader to "not take such a step". Already the Dalai Lama's office had received hundreds of letters from individuals and organisations imploring him not to 'abdicate'.

What the Tibetans are resisting is not what most of the media are highlighting. The Dalai Lama will neither be looking for a successor nor will he cease to be visible. Also, this is not an answer to China's promise that it will install its own Dalai Lama. It is  actually the decisive step to preparing the post-Dalai Lama scenario.

So most young Tibetans, I think, will be supporting the Dalai Lama in what is a visionary move to create a new leadership so as to spearhead the struggle and keep the nation united (with whatever limitations) while he is still watching over Tibetans. What this final transition of power really means in practical terms for the populace and the Tibetan government-in-exile is that the Dalai Lama will devolve all the nine key powers vested in him by the Charter for Tibetans in Exile.

Legally, the Dalai Lama appoints and can dismiss the chief justice and his two assistants, the chief election commissioner and the auditor general. Though the Kalon Tripa is directly elected by all Tibetans in exile, and his seven other ministers must receive a two-third majority vote from the parliament, His Holiness can dissolve the eight-member Kashag (cabinet) and the 43-member parliament as he did in 1990. All resolutions passed by the parliament, including the annual budget, must be sent to him for his endorsement, and without that they do not become law.

Having all these powers safely placed in the hands of the Dalai Lama is one thing. The worrying question is: who will be vested with these powers if it isn't the Dalai Lama? Which is why the officials running the Dharamsala-based government are at their wits' end debating this imminent and massive legislative amendment, thinking how to finesse such fundamental changes to the Charter. In the new mechanism the government might resort to innovative resources such as using the provisions to jointly elect (through an electoral college) a 'Silon' (a prime minister) or a 'desi' (a regent) who traditionally ran the political scenario in the interim years between previous Dalai Lamas.

On Monday, the Dalai Lama's statement to the Tibetan parliament suggested an amendment to the Charter by the setting up of a Council of Regency. More than the technical aspect of these changes that will evolve in time, the people's genuine apprehension today is of credibility, confidence, effectiveness and, most of all, the absence of the Dalai Lama's steadying hand in the government.

Democracy, when exercised among the Tibetans here in India, looks small, even petty like a ping-pong ball that's constantly being tossed between the Dalai Lama and his people. The leader, loved, trusted and worshipped — and with a mandate far higher than one provided by elections — doesn't want an elected head of State to be leading while the people he is entrusting his powers to are tossing the ball back to the Buddha.  Tibetan 'Lama' democracy has been characterised by a never-ending ping-pong rally between the Dalai Lama and his reluctant people. Now, it's time for change.

The Dalai Lama announced five days ago: "Now we have clearly reached the time to put this [change] into effect." Some Tibetan MPs feel that the Dalai Lama is almost inflicting this  change on them. But the Dalai Lama's political reforms of Tibetan society date right back to the days in Tibet when he was enthroned in 1950 at 15 to lead his country, then in the process of being invaded by its northern neighbour, Mao Zedong's People's Republic of China.

Who would have known that in 1959 — when the 24-year-old leader set up his first government in exile with three ministers who had escaped with him from Tibet; inaugurated the first parliament with 13 members on September 2, 1960, and then introduced the Constitution in 1963 — the complete cycle of this democratisation process over 51 years would end with the Dalai Lama forcing the community to stand on its own feet in March 2011?

The forthcoming election on March 20 for an all-powerful Kalon Tripa and a parliament-in-exile with much-enhanced authority is, therefore, a turning point as new leaders will play pivotal roles in shaping the Tibetan people's future. The government-in-exile will evolve as a new structure sustaining the leadership. Tibetan politicians — unlike Tibetan businessmen — are not risk-takers. Perhaps this is because they come from sectarian and provincial constituencies that are symbolic and create no direct link with their votebanks.

With the Dalai Lama's latest statement, change is now certain. But it will come into effect gradually.

Tenzine Tsundue is a Tibetan writer and activist. The views expressed by the author are personal.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

FOREIGN ADDITIVES PLEASE

NIALL FERGUSON

US President Barack Obama is reluctant to intervene in the bloody civil war now underway in Libya. As a senior aide told The New York Times last week, "He keeps reminding us that the best revolutions are completely organic." I like that notion of organic revolutions — guaranteed no foreign additives, exclusive to Whole Foods. I like it because, like so much about this administration, it's both trendy and ignorant.

Was the American Revolution 'completely organic'? Funny, I could have sworn those were French ships off Yorktown. What about Britain's Glorious Revolution, the one that established parliamentary rule? Strange, I had this crazy idea that William III was a Dutchman.

The reality is that very few revolutions, good or bad, succeed without some foreign assistance. Lenin had German money; Mao had Soviet arms. Revolutions that don't get some help from outside aren't so much inorganic as unsuccessful. Indeed, they generally don't go down in history as revolutions at all. More than one revolt has been brutally crushed by an Arab dictator — think of the Marsh Arabs' fate at the hands of Saddam Hussein. Such events tend to be remembered as massacres. We must hope that someone gives Obama a history lesson before thousands of Libyans share their fate. It will be tragic indeed if America concludes from the experience of overthrowing murderous tyrannies in Afghanistan and Iraq that the correct policy is to turn a blind eye to murder in Libya. That, remember, was the policy pursued by the last Democrat to occupy the White House, in Rwanda as well as, for much too long, in Bosnia.

Yet it would also be an erroneous conclusion that the only form of assistance America can give to good revolutions is military. A no-fly zone was not, after all, what helped the Central and Eastern European revolutionaries of 1989 topple their tyrants. The assistance we gave them was not military. It was moral.

One of the many unsung achievements of President Gerald Ford, the Helsinki Final Act of 1975, was history's biggest-ever poison pill. The document was the result of two years of haggling at the Conference on Security and Cooperation in Europe, originally a Soviet initiative to deal with security issues, but one that veered unexpectedly to address issues of human rights.

Eight of the 35 countries that signed the Final Act were communist. Yet it contained the following startling words: "The participating States will respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, including the freedom of thought, conscience, religion or belief, for all without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion... The participating States will respect the equal rights of peoples and their right to self-determination."

So accustomed were the Soviet authorities to lying that they saw no harm in subscribing to these pledges. Indeed, the Final Act was reprinted in full in Pravda. But for dissidents inside the Soviet bloc, like the physicist Andrei Sakharov or the Czech playwright Vaclav Havel, Helsinki represented a huge stick with which to beat their persecutors.

The Cold War ended not because the US achieved a military edge over the Soviet Union, but because the legitimacy of the Soviet system collapsed from within. The West's role was to insist on the importance of those "human rights and fundamental freedoms." Even if not all America's allies in the Cold War always upheld them, the other side respected them less.

Why have we failed to learn from that success? Why have we allowed a mockery to be made of the UN Human Rights Council, which numbered Libya among its members until just the other day, and still includes Saudi Arabia, not to mention China and Cuba?

Memo to President Obama: organic revolutions, just like your Whole Foods arugula, need sunlight and watering. It's time for a new Helsinki, aimed at discrediting all of today's unfree states, starting with the four I've just named.

Niall Ferguson is a British historian. His latest book is Civilization: The West and the Rest. The views expressed by the author are personal © 2011 Newsweek Inc.

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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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MINE AND THEIRS

 

The draft bill from the mines ministry that is meant to begin the overhaul of India's outdated and archaic mining regulations — the Mines and Minerals (Development & Regulation) Bill, 2010 — had already been generally agreed to by the group of ministers scrutinising the legislation. Yet the deputy chairman of the Plan-

ning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, has made a telling point or two about a particular provision in the bill: to ensure that 26 per cent of the net profits from mining should be "shared" with local populations. The exact mechanism of this provision is still a little hazy. But Ahluwalia is concerned, reportedly, about the more macro implications. He feels that, "if we end up with too high a cumulative royalty burden compared with international standards, this will only discourage future investments in the mining sector."

Even so, the argument for ensuring that mining industries are seen to be empowering local communities is strong. However, it's questionable whether this is a sensible way of going about it. How would this work administratively, anyway? How will the money be distributed? Is it not likely that it will become just another way for companies to plough "social responsibility" funds into the favoured, cash-bleeding projects of those connected to the company's management or owners? The problems with the implementation of this particular rule do not stop there, either. If the levy is 26 per cent of net profit, will not mining companies be able to fiddle their balance sheets in such a way that they get away with showing minimal net profit for the actual extractive business? That would not cause a reasonably competent accountant to break out in even a light sweat.

This is a provision that needs to be thought through better. Areas that surround mining sites are some of the least developed, in terms of social indicators, in India. But the responsibility for increasing social indicators there cannot be shrugged off by government. And particularly not to individual companies. Governments are, in the end, accountable to people; mining companies are not — and thus who knows what sort of job they'll do? The equitable sharing of super-normal mining profits is something we need to get done. One efficient way to do this would be at the stage at which mining rights are auctioned; we would also need a market-based system that automatically detects windfall profits, too. The bill's current mechanism does not seem to do the job.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

LOST ECHOES

 

In 1931, Alam Ara resounded across India, four years after The Jazz Singer — where Al Johnson uttered the first words heard in a movie, "You ain't heard nothin' yet". India's first "talkie", Alam Ara, mesmerised huge crowds at Majestic cinema in Mumbai. Initially dismissed in the industry as a frivolity, a passing fad (much like 3D in recent times), talkies profoundly changed the movies.

It brought an end to the dominion of silent cinema, and ended the careers of stars whose voice would never be their fortune. It splintered Indian cinema into many languages — three other "regional" films were also made that year. Importantly, Alam Ara was also the first movie to feature songs (seven, in fact) — establishing a convention that has been with us ever since.

Eighty years since that day, Google has paid tribute to the movie on its homepage, focusing attention on the fact that there is no trace of the film today. The National Archives of India has admitted that the last known prints, in Pune's film archives, were damaged by a fire in 2003. The information and broadcasting ministry has announced an effort to scour and locate a print of Alam Ara, in India or Pakistan, so that it can be preserved. (This is not a lone case. Many early films across the world have been lost for ever because the cellulose nitrate film base was so flammable, and in other cases, the film stock has simply crumbled into dust.) Studios began to view their own libraries as worthy of preservation pretty late in the day, and it was only in the 1980s and 1990s that the movement to retrieve and restore classic films really took off. One can only hope that Alam Ara's fate will be a clarion call for those efforts in India.

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 THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

AFTER THE QUAKE

 

Is there triumph in defeat, dignity in devastation, salvation in apocalypse? It is always irreverent and rhetorical to pose such questions at the example of the Japanese. It is particularly so in the aftermath of the disaster that struck the island nation on Friday. However, apart from instinctive sympathy, how has the world reacted? With respect. Nothing captures the Japanese nation and character — its fortitude and discipline, its determination and endless renewal, its reflexive selflessness — as this universal

respect. Japan, extremely vulnerable to natural calamities of the kinds that destroyed most of its north-eastern coast on Friday, had put in place the most advanced earthquake-resistant building codes and technology, along with the most sophisticated early warning systems.

When its strongest quake struck, followed by the 10-metre-high wave at the speed of a jumbo jet that left a surreal landscape in its wake, that investment in technology and mass training did save many lives. Unfortunately, the best the human mind and hand can do is still meagre before nature's fury. The quake, tsunami and nuclear emergency have displaced more than 500,000 people; as the death toll goes up, just one statistic indicates the scale of the disaster — 10,000 people missing from a single coastal town. Thus, against the backdrop of flattened habitations and continuing efforts to tackle the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant, amateur footage of skyscrapers swaying but not falling, staff bulwarking department store shelves, hospital attendants and rescue workers professionally picking their way through the human tragedy, is the story of survival and certain renewal.

The exhibition of order and the lack of chaos may be the social sophistication of a people perennially anticipating disaster, but Japan also demonstrates how the impact of the worst natural calamity can be mitigated with infrastructure and public awareness. The much weaker quake in Haiti last year took 316,000 lives. Japan will not have it easy — economically, socially, politically — to rise fully from this crisis. But it could have been worse. To the Japanese, such generous contributors to aid programmes in other countries, the world would say: ganbatte kudasai, do your best.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

NO JAMIA GHETTO, PLEASE

SAMINAMISHRA

 

My father said adaab throughout his life," she said, "He worked in Jamia till he died and that was Jamia's culture which we learnt as children. But now, I have understood how adaab is not the correct greeting. It's okay with non-Muslims. But to a Muslim, you must always say assalaam waleikum — peace be upon you. Isn't that a good thing to say?"

For someone with a Muslim name who had just walked in saying adaab, perhaps this was meant as a chastisement. I, too, learnt to say adaab as a child. Adaab and Khuda hafiz, and have held on to both, despite a growing popularity of assalaam waleikum and Allah hafiz. As the discourse around identity gets increasingly overpowered by simplistic, unidimensional articulations, I hold on to them, more fiercely. These may be fragments of a nostalgic past but their gradual disappearance is linked to the hardening of positions — the voices that speak of "minority appeasement" and those that seek to bestow "minority status" on individuals and institutions.

Recently, Jamia Millia Islamia in Delhi was granted minority status, a first for a Central university. As someone who studied there, who has lived cheek by jowl with the university and has produced work there, I see this as another sad link in a growing chain that seeks to corral people. It is part of the transformation which builds malls and gated residential colonies, which issues identity cards and gate passes for domestic help to enter, which makes women believe they are expressing agency when they choose to fast on karva chauth or wear the veil. The culture of Jamia was bound to change. The direction of change also seems to be in keeping with these globalised times in which new borders are erected to deal with the bewildering dissolution of old ones.

Let me say, at the outset, that I am a privileged Muslim. My great-grandfather was one of Jamia's founders. My family has studied in Delhi's best colleges and is active in national-level politics. So, yes, I will never need reservation. However, I am not opposed to reservation per se. I believe that centuries of oppression can make the use of "merit" as a qualifying tool quite meaningless. I also believe that affirmative action is necessary to redress the long history of violence perpetrated by the caste system. But is Jamia's minority status the same thing?

The aim of caste-based reservations is to scale exclusionary walls and introduce diversity into spaces where access has been denied, either in institutionalised or in informal ways. But the granting of minority status to Jamia operates to erect walls and make the space the preserve of one community. By allowing the university to reserve 50 per cent of the seats for Muslims, educational prospects for young Muslims may see an improvement and there is no doubt that this needs improvement. But will these improved educational prospects actually help these young men and women to go on to lead non-ghettoised lives? Will it make available for them jobs that have been denied for so long? Will it open up housing opportunities? Will it make financial credit easier?

There is a complex web of reasons that creates the sorry state of education among Muslims today. Ordinary Muslims face shocking levels of discrimination in our country. But the answer is not to create a walled-in ghetto. Physically, Jamia is the focal point of a growing landscape of housing projects, a testament to the fact that housing is simply unavailable for Muslims in most other parts of Delhi. There are people here who would choose to live elsewhere, there are people who could afford to live elsewhere. But they do not. They live in densely populated colonies around Jamia, and justify to themselves that they are among their "own". And while "own" could be a dynamic interplay of class, language, district and religion, the diversity of Muslim communities in India ends up being articulated only in terms of a simplistic, monolithic religious identity. It is this that those who look in from the outside see. A sense of "own" that may be many things, but is certainly, predominantly Muslim. Thus, the ghetto is perpetuated. With the granting of minority status to Jamia, the physical ghetto finds its equivalent in the educational space. If you're Muslim, you will find a college seat here more easily than you could elsewhere. Just as you can find an apartment here that you can't elsewhere. The immediate need is taken care of and in the process, a sense of community is constructed. But, what about those desires that seek other forms of community, those existences that don't conform to the constructions, those imaginations that search for new landscapes? If we want to question the ways of seeing by those who look in, surely we need to question the ways of being by those who reside within.

While talking to a family whose 12-year-old daughter studies in the Jamia school, the father told me why he had chosen Jamia — mainstream education with a Muslim culture. Was it necessary, I asked, for the school space to deliver the latter? Was the domestic domain not enough for that? "Of course," he said, "But which good school will give us admission?" There are thousands of stories of rejection and while some continue to brave the admission process for mainstream private schools, many don't even try. The growing demand has led to the mushrooming of private schools that peddle this marketable combination of English-medium education and Islamic values. Hundreds of children in Jamia's neighbourhood go to these schools. They will spend their 12-odd school years with others from similar backgrounds, taught by teachers from similar backgrounds, playing with neighbours from similar backgrounds. Their only exposure to "difference", as opposed to what is their "own", will be the media and the malls. With Jamia's minority status, they can continue living that life, with meagre opportunities for engaging with the "other". Perhaps, that is what is being sought. The lines have to be kept in place, the boxes neatly stacked. So, when France votes to make the wearing of the veil illegal and when minarets get banned in Switzerland, there is a small pocket in my corner of the world that will resonate. The ghetto will be perpetuated. The "other" neatly boxed in.

As for me, with my easy privileges, I will continue to say adaab and Khuda hafiz. Indeed, in the narrative of transformation from adaab to assalaam waleikum, lies an ugly, twisted history — of the Babri Masjid, Gujarat and so many other spaces. But raising our voice against one cannot drown out the silence on the other.

Mishra is a writer and documentary filmmaker whose film, 'The House on Gulmohar Avenue', is set in the neighbourhoods around Jamia Millia Islamia, Delhi, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

INTENSE, RECLUSIVE

RAJEEV_LOCHAN

 

On a mellow Saturday afternoon last weekend, a handful of artists, friends, art lovers, neighbours and admirers gathered at Delhi's Lodi Road crematorium to bid 85-year-old Biren De a last farewell. And it was a quiet goodbye, just as the artist passed away, quietly, perhaps in his sleep. The death of the reclusive artist was hardly likely to cause a blip on the radar of the Indian art scene. He was, after all, not part of the hoopla surrounding the art market.

But everyone who was there on that sad occasion knew his significance in the history of modern Indian art. He belonged to that generation of artists who were evolving their own strategies to engage with modernity. Artist A. Ramachandran is of the opinion that he was among the first Indian artists to experiment with introducing indigenous elements in his abstract expression. This was way back in the 1950s. No doubt, De was familiar with the expressions of tantra art. But what spurred his creativity was the purity of forms — the phallic, the floral and the circular mandala and bindu — which he distilled from Indian aesthetic sensibilities.

Later, in the early 1960s, De was joined by a host of other painters like G.R. Santosh, O.P. Sharma, Prafulla Mohanti, Sohan Qadri and many others appropriating the tantra symbolisms. Indeed, the group Neo-Tantrik was formed and De became a part of it. But for De, it was not the tantra philosophy alone that triggered his creative experiments. It was, instead, a search for a new language of form and colour that would leave a resonance. That he achieved a certain metaphysical plane in his imagery was a result of his instinctive feel for forms and luminosity of colours floating in space. The intensity of blues and yellows in his painting was particularly compelling.

The painting "Genesis-I" in the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) collection is a prime example of the ease with which he projected elements of the sublime and the experienced. He could render the geometry of forms blended with nuances of energy to depict a pulsating tonality. At the same time, his compositions were structurally sound, an important element in abstract art. The NGMA has 17 of his works as part of its permanent collection.

De was a very honest artist who explored the possibilities of abstraction because he felt driven to do so. A reservoir of inner strength guided his brush and life, which he lived on his own terms. When the creative urge weakened, he did not flog his talent to join the bandwagon. The glare of popular attention passed him by and it would only be conjecture to think that he experienced a sense of pique. In any event, towards the latter part of his life, he became somewhat reclusive. And yet, he would always be there at significant openings and memorial meetings to express his solidarity with the artist community.

De was a fine academic painter even before he made his mark as an abstract artist. While he taught at the art department of Delhi Polytechnic, which later became College of Art, Delhi University, he was well-respected as a teacher. Many of his students who are eminent artists today praise his qualities as a teacher copiously. Says Paramjit Singh, well-known as a landscape artist: "He was one of the best teachers we had." His wife Arpita Singh, an equally important artist of the country, adds that he would take portrait classes and life study classes. She still recalls the meticulousness with which he taught them the finer points of drawing and light and shade.

From the mid-1970s, De taught at School of Planning and Architecture. He taught at the Art Studio of the institution. Students remember the care he took while teaching them drawing, modelling and so on. Architect A.R. Ramanathan remembers him as a soft-spoken teacher who was very patient with his students and encouraged them in their work. He says that De was always generous with his time, infusing the students with the basics of design which are integral to an architect's vision.

With De's death, the era of early Indian abstractions is drawing to a close. Hopefully, a new generation of sensitive art historians will be able to re-contextualise him.

The writer is director, National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi, express@expressindia.com

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

MICROFINANCE SAINT TO 'BLOOD-SUCKING' SINNER

MAHFUZANAM

 

The pioneer of microcredit, the founder of the "bank for the poor", Grameen Bank (GB), and a Nobel Prize winner for his work on poverty alleviation has now been called a "blood-sucker" and his life-long work described as mere entrapment of the poor towards greater indebtedness. In a virulent attack on the man who captured the imagination of the world with his model of collateral-free banking that gives small loans to the rural poor, making illiterate women recipients of 95 per cent of his loans, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina last December, accused Prof Mohammad Yunus of deception, of doing business with the lives of the poor, of treating GB as his personal property, and of misleading the government about his activities.

The PM's no-holds-barred attack on Bangladesh's best-known global face was triggered by a Norwegian TV documentary "Fanget I Mikrogjeld" ("Caught in micro-debt") aired in Norway and Denmark on November 30, 2010, in which microcredit was heavily criticised as a poverty alleviation model. More significantly, it also highlighted a dispute dating back to the late '90s, between Norad, the Norwegian aid body, and GB about the manner in which a grant of approximately $100 million would be used. The dispute was later settled to the mutual satisfaction of both Norad and GB, and the issue never raised again in the last 12 years.

Within less than a week of this incident the PM called Mohammad Yunus a "blood-sucker" and the government-backed onslaught was afoot. A government review committee was formed to look into GB's work; a former employee of Yunus, and a known critic, was appointed to the bank's chair; and the central bank issued a letter removing Yunus as managing director of GB.

Yunus went to the high court against the removal order — which was upheld on the ground that Yunus had crossed the age limit of 60 specified by banking law. The appeal to the appellate division will be heard on the 15th of this month.

Legalities aside, the attack on Yunus and his subsequent removal from the stewardship of the bank he founded has several implications that go far beyond the person. First of all, what is to become of GB? Will its present ownership and governing structure remain, or it will be fully taken over by the government?

GB operates under a special ordinance that gives it the power to run its own affairs, including appointing its own managing director. It is a most unique institution in the sense that is owned by its 8 million borrowers, who are its shareholders and have nine elected members on its 12-member board. The other three, including the chair, are nominated by the government. Originally the government's share was 25 per cent but later, as the bank's equity grew and government did not re-invest its share, according to GB, dwindled to less than 5 per cent.

Recently, the government has been claiming that GB is a government body, an "organ of the state" without explaining how. There is widespread fear that following Yunus' removal the government will assume tighter control of GB and try to run it as a government body, thereby destroying the unique features that lie at the heart of its success. With 8.3 million poor borrowers, of whom 8 million are women, and with a monthly loan disbursement of nearly Tk 10 billion, GB is a gigantic institution that directly touches the lives of more than 40 million poor people — if we take five members as the average size of each borrower's family.

Then there is the bigger question of what is to become of microcredit itself. If the PM's criticism that micro-lending does not help the poor, but only entraps them within a bigger web of debts, is to be taken seriously, then what is to become of the other microfinance institutions, which together serve an estimated 20 million borrowers affecting the lives of at least 100 million borrowers? Will Sheikh Hasina's government impose stiffer regulatory controls on them?

The question of high interest rates is a favourite subject for all those who want to denigrate Yunus and GB. So will the government impose a lower rate of interest for microcredit in the future? If so, then how many MFIs will still be in the business? And how viable will they be? This discussion on interest rates has been the subject of populist debate, rather then of serious research. Any arbitrary action in this field has the potential of backfiring, causing the sector itself to collapse, adversely affecting the very poor that the prime minister wants to protect.

There is a perception that the removal of Prof Yunus and the attack on his reputation is a prelude to an overall review by this government of the role of non-governmental organisations in general. Bangladesh's political parties, particularly their leaders, have never been fully comfortable with the role of NGOs. Many of them are suspected by the ruling party of the day of harbouring pro-opposition sympathies. In fact one of Yunus' perceived "crimes" is that his political sympathies are not clear, and could even be "unfriendly" towards the present government. Both our major political parties have publicly expressed their suspicion that many NGOs are politically active and play significant roles during elections. So Yunus' removal could trigger a wholesale review of government-NGO relations.

The outcome of the legal process will finally determine Prof Yunus' formal relationship with GB. However his place as its founder, as a man who caught the world's imagination as an poverty-alleviation innovator, as the man who effectively empowered women through access to funds which they had never before had in most rural areas, and as the man who brought the greatest amount of respect and honour to the country of his birth, remains indelibly etched in the hearts and minds of the people of Bangladesh.

The writer is editor and publisher of 'The Daily Star', Dhaka

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

GROWING PAINS?

SATHIALUR

 

Early last year, the economic mood in India was positively optimistic. The national mood and Sensex rose steadily till the last quarter, reaching a crescendo with the Obama visit. Subsequent events have rudely turned the mood into one of depression and despair, leading many to ask: "Will India ever change?" No pillar of our democracy has emerged looking good. The C-word is out in the open, discussed in social circles, debated on TV and denounced by all. Everyone, whether from the world of business, politics, bureaucracy, judiciary or media, or the aam aadmi, feels themselves the victim rather than the colluder. That itself is a good sign. Have we reached that inflection point in our maturity,at which we can grasp the nettle of corruption and make the radical change that is necessary?

Indian democratic institutions are imperfect, but they are well-established. There are disproportionately positive returns from dealing with corruption, and society can respond by confronting realities head-on.

The cost of corruption in India has been estimated by some analysts to be about 2 per cent of GDP. The late C.K. Prahalad startled the nation by estimating it at 5 per cent of GDP. 2 per cent amounts to Rs 90,000 crore per year, equivalent to the NREGA spend every year! At 5 per cent or $50 billion, we could provide quality education to all our children: a huge demographic dividend that would convert this nation in a decade into a truly global economic and political powerhouse.

One may not agree with the number, but many would concur with three statements about corruption: first, it is a moral and ethical stain on the national character which corrodes; second it is economically inefficient and harms the poor disproportionately; and third, it is a huge financial drain on the economy.

In this article, I argue that these recent events represent the "adolescent phase" of a maturing democratic capitalism and that positive change is possible when leaders in our society confront reality.

Just as adolescence is a necessary part of a person's growth, widespread corruption that touches almost everybody represents an adolescent phase in the development of a nation. Just as adolescence passes, corruption also morphs from being widespread and petty to fewer but bigger instances. Recall how, only 20 years ago, petty corruption characterised railway ticket booking, milk purchases, telephone booking and even cinema ticket buying. Luckily these are now distant memories. This, one would call the "shortages syndrome", where the rent-seeking class extracts disproportionate rewards from ownership of or the power to administer resources.

One political theorist portrayed 18th century England as "shot through with corruption and venality". It was as late as in March 1888 that a Royal Commission in England recommended "that it would be well if it were made a criminal offence to offer any member or official of a public body any kind of payment." (Corruption, Michael Clarke, Frances Pinter, 1983). Historians seem agreed that "corruption was endemic in 18th century politics, with the sale of office being a widespread phenomenon throughout Europe." (Political Corruption: Concepts and Contexts, K. Swart).

It is not clear historically how corruption declined as late as the 20th century. With the birth of the modern state and democracy, the line between private market and state affairs began to sharpen. "The emergence of proto-liberal sensibilities nurtured and promoted values such as neutrality, impartiality, merit and egalitarianism", according to Lisa Hill. (Adam Smith and the Theme of Corruption.)

Similar lessons can be drawn from the development of innovative and new business domains. Studying the history of technology diffusion, Harvard Business School academic Debora Spar suggested that there were four phases.

First was "innovation'" marked by tinkering, laborious exploration and the sudden thrill of discovery. Second came "commercialisation", when young pioneers rushed along the emergent technological frontier. They wanted to "grab the land" and call it their own. For example, radio spectrum became very controversial in 1924. Secretary of State Herbert Hoover aggravated the chaos by stating in an interview with the New York World that "if anybody would have an exclusive use of a certain wavelength, he would have a monopoly of that ether. That cannot be permitted." Third came "creative anarchy", when the pioneers demanded a level playing field and transparent rules to be able to hold their conquered lands. Lastly came the rules and regulators.

If leaders confront realities and act, the next phase does emerge. In the case of India, the uniquely inverted sequence of experiencing democracy (1947) before experiencing the power of entrepreneurship aka capitalism (1991) provides a further twist. America, England and Europe (also China and East Asia) experienced capitalism before full-franchise democracy. The industrial revolution ushered in capitalism. The resultant entrepreneurship made it possible for common folks to amass wealth and status, thus breaking down the traditional social structure. The possibility of earning money thus preceded the exercise of voting franchise, making people aware of their obligations before they became aware of their rights and privileges. So In India, rights and privileges were tasted before duties and obligations.

To confront reality, developments must become hurtful to enough players. Society and business people think of themselves as rational people, and part of that rationality is that once you have occupied a hole, you must keep your position in the hole. If matters get more difficult, then they dig the hole deeper. At some stage, it becomes clear: the deeper hole takes longer to get out of.

At such a turning point, leaders openly acknowledge that there is a problem. That is what "confronting reality" means. This could take the form of a demand, for example, to eliminate opaqueness, or to set out clear rules, or to stop obfuscating, all three being characteristic of the third phase of creative anarchy. It marks the transit point from the anarchy phase to the much needed rules phase. System and order follow because the pioneers begin to realise that there are costs to the chaos.

The final transition is just ahead, namely, competitive capitalism. Software, media, hospitality and FMCG are already there. The Indian economy is perched at the inflection from creative anarchy to the rules phase. It is time to lead and march in this new direction. We must see more wise leadership and citizenship.

The writer is a UK- and India-based economic and social policy analyst

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WAY TOO MUCH INFORMATION

 

Some facts of life are just plain counterintuitive. It can be too cold to snow. Heavy things float. Martinis have calories.

Here's another one with significantly greater import: Electronic information is tangible. The apps we use, the games on our phones, the messages we incessantly tap — all of it may seem to fly through the air and live in some cloud, but in truth, most of it lands with a thump in the earthly domain.

Because electronic information seems invisible, we underestimate the resources it takes to keep it all alive. The data centres dotting the globe, colloquially known as "server farms", are major power users with considerable carbon footprints. Such huge clusters of servers not only require power to run but must also be cooled. In the United States, it's estimated that server farms, which house Internet, business and telecommunications systems and store the bulk of our data, consume close to 3 per cent of our national power supply. Worldwide, they use more power annually than Sweden.

But it's not the giants like Google or Amazon or Wall Street investment banks that are responsible for creating the data load on those servers — it's us. 70 per cent of the digital universe is generated by individuals as we browse, share, and entertain ourselves. And the growth rate of this digital universe is stunning to contemplate.

The current volume estimate of all electronic information is roughly 1.2 zettabytes, the amount of data that would be generated by everyone in the world posting messages on Twitter continuously for a century. That includes everything from e-mail to YouTube. More stunning: 75 per cent of the information is duplicative. By 2020, experts estimate that the volume will be 44 times greater than it was in 2009. There finally may be, in fact, T.M.I.

Proliferating information takes a human toll, too, as it becomes more difficult to wade through the digital detritus. We're all breeding (and probably hoarding) electronic information. Insensitive to our data-propagating power, we forward a joke on a Monday that may produce 10 million copies by Friday — probably all being stored somewhere. Despite the conveniences our online lives provide, we end up being buried by data at home and at work. An overabundance of data makes important things harder to find and impedes good decision-making. Efficiency withers as we struggle to find and manage the information we need to do our jobs. Estimates abound on how much productivity is lost because of information overload, but all of them are in the hundreds of millions of dollars yearly.

In the corporate realm, companies stockpile data because keeping it seems easier than figuring out what they can delete. This behaviour has hidden costs and creates risks of security and privacy breaches as data goes rogue. In addition, large corporations face eye-popping litigation costs when they search for information that may be evidence in a lawsuit — so-called e-discovery — that can add up to millions of dollars a year. Cases are often settled because it's cheaper to just pay up. With so many resource challenges facing them, most companies postpone the effort and cost of managing their data.

Technological innovation usually carries with it the seeds that spawn solutions. Advances in cloud computing and virtual storage will help consolidate applications and data. But it might still be a question as to whether the planet can continue to feed our digital appetite. Improvements in the digital highway usually just lead to more traffic, and we're in danger of data asphyxiation as it is.

Is there anything we can do? No one wants to give up the pleasures and benefits that the digital domain provides. But we can at least wake up to the toll that it's taking and search for solutions. We can live a productive digital life without hoarding information. As stockholders and consumers, we can demand that our companies and service providers aggressively engage in data-reduction strategies. We can try hitting delete more often.

While some will be tempted to argue that it won't make much of a dent, we have to give it a shot. As with any conservation effort, it's the small actions of a large group that end up making the difference.

The writer works for a company that advises corporations on information management. The New York Times

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WHEN THE EARTHQUAKE DRILL BECOMES REAL

 

As I sat down with my laptop that evening, some hours after the massive earthquake had struck Japan, my cellphone emitted a grating squeal. It was a signal from the National Meteorological Agency warning that a large aftershock was about to hit the Kanto area, which includes Tokyo. Luckily, I had made it back home and was sitting in my sturdy apartment building; my 12-year-old son nearby in our living room. There wasn't much more I could do except wait for Mother Nature to take her course.

That particular temblor didn't strike Tokyo hard, but the city shook intermittently throughout the night, prompting my son and me to cross our fingers and hope that the shaking wouldn't grow stronger. Friday's earthquake was a vivid reminder to all of us in the country that, yes, the Big One really does come. Japan sits on extremely unstable land. Tiny tremors are common. We all know the drill: Dive under the table or go into an open field, turn off the gas. And always keep a supply of food, water, flashlights and helmets at home. My son's primary school had actually held a practice evacuation on the previous day.

But, not surprisingly, we become complacent. Years can go by without a destructive temblor. I'm pretty sure I have a box of portable emergency toilet kits somewhere, for example, but who knows exactly where. The last earthquake to hit Japan with major casualties was in 1995 in the Western city of Kobe, where more than 6,000 people died. Tokyo hasn't been the focal point of a devastating one since the Great Kanto quake in 1923. Like most Japanese, I didn't actually fear that a temblor would strike any time soon.

My jolt back to reality came as I was riding a train home after a morning of work and errands. The conductor announced that he would be braking hard, and a few seconds later we screeched to a halt. I felt the train sway. "It's like we're being rocked in a cradle," the elderly woman sitting next to me said. Back and forth like one of those magic carpet rides in amusement parks, the compartment swung in increasingly wider angles, making us fear that the car might flip over. Outside I could see the utility poles shaking. The passengers in the half-full train were quiet and calm. After a few minutes, the train crawled into the next station. The rail system then closed down, and I embarked on a 90-minute walk home.

Outside, people were milling about, afraid of staying inside where things might collapse. Nearly everyone clutched a cellphone even though the lines were jammed. I walked briskly because I wanted to meet up with my son. I was not particularly worried because he would still be at his school, which has a large open campus and new buildings that adhere to strict building codes. Still, when I looked down at my suede boots and saw his footprints on them — he must have stepped on my shoes on his way out the door in the morning — I decided not to brush away the dirt. Those imprints just might turn out to be a memento, I thought morbidly.

A few minutes into my journey, I got that queasy feeling again. I stopped and looked up at a lamp post. Yes. Swaying. Pedestrians halted, but cars continued on the road. When the shaking stopped I continued along, looking into store windows to survey the damage. It seemed surprisingly light, with the hardest hit being liquor stores where shattered bottles and dark-colored liquids covered the floor.

I knew things were really bad when I caught a glimpse of a TV screen through an office window. The entire map of Japan seemed to be surrounded by the flashing lines that indicate a tsunami warning. My thoughts meandered along with my fast pace. Would the nuclear power plants in the area hold up? There wouldn't be any looting, I was sure. I've never sensed any large-scale anger here that could explode in such times of chaos. How about our gold fish? Had it been thrown out of its tank?

Damage at home was minimal. The work day was ending, and hordes of stranded commuters stood by the train station wondering how to get home. About a hundred people were lined up for cabs. As I pedalled my way in the dark, I thought about how my son and I would bond on the way home over our first big earthquake. But that fantasy was short-lived. When the teacher brought him out, he was fuming. "Why did you come? I really wanted to stay the night at school," he said. The children had been lounging around in brand new blankets, watching DVDs and eating emergency ration cookies.

We spent the rest of the evening watching TV footage. We saw tsunamis sweeping over towns; ceilings collapsing and bright orange fires in the black night. My son grudgingly said, "I guess it's best to be home."

Kumiko Makihara is a writer and translator living in Tokyo

The New York Times

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

FAR FROM CHERNOBYL

Given the uncertainty over the extent of the damage to and by the Japanese nuclear plants, it's not surprising that both large insurance firms Munich Re and Hannover Re have been downgraded by various analysts. Indeed, Malaysia, which was planning to set up nuclear power plants, has now announced it will wait and study the Japanese nuclear accident before taking a final decision on whether to go ahead or not. In India, the head of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India Ltd (NPCIL) told Bloomberg the earthquake-induced accident was a setback to India's plans to increase its nuclear power capacity 13-fold, and would force a review of the safety of existing plants as well as the regulations for proposed plants. Not surprisingly, shares of French nuclear supplier Areva fell more than 10%, the highest fall in the last two years—Japan accounted for a tenth of Areva sales last year, and lawmakers in many countries have called for reviews of nuclear safety norms. Wait-and-watch is a good idea since, as experts point out, each day without a major release of radiation is an indicator of a good outcome, more so since there is a possibility of another earthquake hitting Japan, though of lower intensity. Monday's hydrogen blast in one of the units, experts say, was to be expected, but as Japan's chief cabinet secretary Yukio Edano has said, the inner containment vessel holding the nuclear rods was intact, suggesting the damage would be contained.

While the lessons from Japan will continue to be studied, it's important to keep in mind that there are technological solutions to each problem that crops up. After 9/11, some nuclear suppliers are designing plants to withstand an aircraft crashing into the dome; Areva claims its latest generation of plants have a special area to collect the residue in case of a 3-Mile type accident where the core melts; Areva's latest reactors also have an extra inner-lining of steel across the reactor to ensure, in case of a blast, as in Chernobyl, it gets contained within the dome. The costs of such changes will be high, and certainly the protocols established will need to be changed to take into account all new possibilities. Instead of knee-jerk reactions to the Japanese crisis, it would be more mature to study the new developments, examine how the nuclear industry plans to react to them, and perhaps raise the bar on the new standards plants must adhere to. Much will almost certainly be made in India, in time to come, about suppliers' liability. Any increase in liability levels will have to be weighed against whether it keeps major players from entering the business. What is more important is to ensure the nuclear regulator has enough expertise and teeth to ensure plants run according to exacting standards.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

ESTATE OF MIND


Do the children or relatives of influential people have the right to pursue a career or run a business, or not? A question that has dogged successive governments, and on all sides of the political spectrum over the years, it is increasingly being asked in the context of a news report in a financial daily that UPA chief Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law Robert Vadra has a tie-up with India's leading real estate firm DLF—he owns a share in one of its hotels and has even got unsecured loans from the firm. Vadra pooh-poohs the obvious innuendo and told the newspaper the DLF owners were friends of long standing—in any case, he said, if he were misusing his position as Sonia Gandhi's son-in-law and taking favours, he'd be doing much bigger things.

While there can be little doubt that family members like Vadra have a legitimate right to run their lives, and Vadra is not the first son or son-in-law who has business dealings with firms the government is in a position to oblige, there is equally no doubt the standards of probity applied to such relatives have to be of a higher standard than those applied to others. Caesar's wife, as the Prime Minister is fond of saying, has to be above even suspicion. Which is why we welcome Vadra's statement when he says, he has served a legal notice on realty firm BPTP Ltd for claiming that several of its projects were part-owned by Vadra. For the government and the Congress party, however, the problem is more serious. Given how many clearances a real estate firm needs from government, for land-usage to be changed, for FSI levels and a lot more, there will always be fingers pointed if the UPA chief's son-in-law has business dealings with a firm getting these permissions. The onus is now on the government and the Congress party to show that the clearances it is giving are not under any form of influence. For DLF, there are the obvious questions on corporate governance that arise, how was the company doing business if it was giving out unsecured loans, a charge incidentally also made against some of the firms that are being investigated in the current 2G scam.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

PROPITIATING LAKSHMI

M GOVINDA RAO

Despite the cricket extravaganza, the Budget presentation by the Union finance minister this year was full of media hype. After reading the Economic Survey, people expected that the Budget would contain measures to control inflation and provide relief to the people suffering from it, achieve fiscal consolidation, augment infrastructure to maintain the growth momentum, undertake measures to augment agricultural output, revamp subsidy regimes, liberalise the higher education sector and open up foreign investment in retail trade. Surely, all these policy changes need not be pursued in the Budget and hopefully some of these will be taken up during the course of the year. Indeed, the middle class taxpayers, particularly those on the verge of retirement and the really elderly, were pleased with the increase in the exemption limit. But there are larger issues in the Budget that needed to be addressed. It was important for the Budget to address the issue of fiscal consolidation, enhance allocation to infrastructure spending to accelerate growth in agriculture, maintain growth momentum in manufacturing and services, and undertake tax reforms in keeping with the objective of implementing DTC and GST.

On the face of it, the government's performance in bringing down the fiscal deficit in 2010-11 from the budgeted level of 5.5% to 5.1% in the revised estimate is commendable. However, credit for this should go to the revision of GDP by the CSO just a few days earlier. Had the government limited its deficit at the budgeted level in absolute terms, the GDP revision alone would have resulted in the deficit being reduced to 4.8%. In fact, the deficit in 2010-11 increased by R19,590 crore over the budgeted amount, pushing the fiscal deficit to 5.1%. Interestingly, even as the spectrum bonanza yielded over R72,000 crore more than the budgeted amount and buoyancy in the economy, including a high rate of inflation, resulted in higher income tax revenue collections to the tune of R25,950 crore. And much of this was used to pay additional subsidies (R48,000 crore), pensions (R11,000 crore) and reduce the disinvestment amount (R18,000 crore).

The finance minister, while presenting the Budget, invoked Goddess Lakshmi and he surely needs to if he has to adhere to the fiscal targets in 2011-12. The basic assumptions involved in setting the fiscal deficit target at 4.6% is that the central taxes should grow at 18.5% and the expenditure growth will be contained at 3.4%. This assumes tax buoyancy of 1.32 as the nominal GDP is assumed to increase at 14%. This may not be unrealistic, given the recent trend. What is, however, a matter of concern is the feasibility of containing the expenditure growth at 3.4% in nominal terms. This requires the growth non-interest expenditure to be contained at 1.4% and non-interest revenue expenditure to be contained at 2%. In some cases, the expenditure is supposed to decline in absolute terms and this is particularly true of subsidies (R20,583 crore) and non-plan expenditure on social services (R14,200 crore). Recent history is replete with instances of expenditure exceeding the Budget estimates by large amounts, casting serious questions on not only the credibility of the Budget but also its strategy of expenditure implementation and management.

A major item of expenditure proposed to be compressed in 2011-12 is on capital expenditures. In contrast to the Finance Commission's target on capital expenditure set for the central government at 3.1% of GDP, the Budget proposes to reduce capital expenditures from 2.1% in the current year to 1.8% in 2011-12. In fact, the proposed capital expenditure is lower than the current expenditure even in absolute terms by about R2,300 crore! Analysis shows that in six key infrastructure sectors, namely power, coal, railways, highways, shipping and petroleum & natural gas, the capital expenditure has been stagnant at 0.57% of GDP for the last 3 years and the budgetary contribution to investment spending in these sectors is just about 21%, with 79% coming from internal and extra-budgetary sources of public enterprises. This surely does not bode well for maintaining growth momentum. In the agricultural sector, where there are serious concerns about stagnancy in production and poor storage & marketing infrastructure, there have been hardly any worthwhile initiatives. It would be heroic to expect that a second Green Revolution can be achieved by spreading R300 crore on a number of schemes in the agricultural sector.

Another important initiative expected from the Budget was on tax reforms. Withdrawal of exemptions on 130 commodities for excise taxation is a welcome measure and hopefully the government will bring in the additional 240 items when the GST is introduced. It was widely hoped that the government would take measures to reform its excise duty regime to unify the tax rates by converting the specific rates into ad valorem and converging the rates. Yet another opportunity to convert the specific duties into ad valorem in the case of cement, for example, has been missed. Similarly, it was hoped that the government would expand the base of service tax by extending it to all services with a small negative list. This would not only have expanded the tax base significantly but also have facilitated the transition to GST. Contrarily, there is some tinkering in the rates that do not have implications for GST in the case of excises and continuation of selective taxation in the case of services. In fact, the approach of taxing all services with a selective negative list would have avoided the controversy on taxing services like nursing homes. There is certainly a case for taxing nursing home services because that could provide additional money for making more allocation to health care. However, it is not clear why only non-government nursing home services with more than 25 beds having central air conditioners should be taxed and not all nursing homes! Similarly, it does not make sense to distinguish between branded and non-branded items while taxing readymade garments once the threshold for taxation is decided. This type of tax policy calibration only leads to significant resource distortions. Once the threshold for taxation is determined, why can't all nursing home services be taxed?

The author is director, NIPFP

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

PROFESSIONALISING POLITICS

NISTULA HEBBAR

The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress (TNC) unveiled a series of surprising candidates for the upcoming Assembly elections in the state, not the least being Sabeer Bhatia, founder of Hotmail. Bhatia, who has no background in politics—and has as much chance of being caught in a Bengali michil (political rally) as Mamata Banerjee has of being in stilletos—represents the rather extreme example of what is now an acknowledged trend in politics and governance, the lateral entry of professionals and corporates into the heat and dust of electoral politics.

TNC, in fact, is a rather interesting example of a party that canvasses wide for talent and has a rather eclectic mix of people at the helm of affairs. While filmstars like Tapas Pal and Shatabdi Roy make up the glamour quotient, Saugata Roy represents a more genteel academic face of the party. Sultan Ahmad is a tough-guy politician in the traditional mode while Dinesh Trivedi, a businessman, represents the English-speaking chattering class.

Mamata Banerjee's recruitment drive, which has also managed to rope in Ficci secretary general Amit Mitra as the party's candidate against West Bengal finance minister Asim Dasgupta, is an attempt to make her party appear attractive to a wide audience, not just the rural, but the urban, as well as to soothe industry fears. Both Bhatia and Mitra are not your average business/ professional entrants into politics. Bhatia is an entrepreneur for the new class of hip-tech millionaires while Mitra, in his stint at Ficci, influenced opinions and policy, but can hardly be classed in the same class as other politicians from business backgrounds.

As a political trend however, it also points to an interesting aspect of India's political evolution. The point to note here is that businessmen and professionals were a class that kept away from the dirt of Indian politics. In the case of businessmen, they chose to bankroll political parties and wield the power that comes from holding the purse strings, while the professional class has more or less pitched for backroom jobs, restricted to strategising and, in some stray cases, taking on special projects in government.

Recent events, however, seem to show these are classes that are now interested in entering the political class directly, rather than wield power indirectly.

This could be due to two reasons. Let us be charitable and say that the first reason is sheer altruism, a genuine desire for public service. The second reason is a little less innocent. Over the last few years, especially the last two, a series of events have shown that when push comes to shove, the political class closes ranks within itself, and in most cases the crony capitalist or the compromised professional becomes the fall guy of any scam.

A Raja was perhaps the only exception, that too after the pressure was exerted by the Supreme Court. By and large, politicians who fall from grace, especially in graft cases, rise from the ashes, are given tickets by their parties and get some sort of rehabilitation.

Politics is a fraught profession and the cost of success is high, both monetarily and in terms of effort, but once you are in the club, it has unbeatable perks. Apart from the sheer networking potential, access to the way things are run gives you an unbeatable edge in whatever you do.

Whatever the reasons, the entry of career professionals, apart from the traditional ones like law and government service, into politics will in time be a transformative force. Until now, governance and politics was shaped by the sensibilities of those in the establishment, that is, the traditional political and bureaucratic class, which runs things in the sarkari way, or the ideological guerrilla of NGOs, conscientious objectors and perennial dissenters who provided the "alternative voice" to the establishment.

A third way of doing things will surely emerge from this influx of new blood, assuming of course that this notoriously gun shy class holds its nerve.

nistula.hebbar@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

JAPAN'S NUCLEAR WOES

Hammered by a tremendously powerful earthquake and then bludgeoned by a gigantic tsunami, Japan really had enough trouble on its hands. But as fate would have it, the only nation ever to witness the full horrors of nuclear war is, in addition to its other woes, face to face with a nuclear power nightmare. Problems with cooling three reactors at Fukushima Daiichi have already led to the venting of radioactive steam and two explosions. There are similar concerns about another reactor at the nearby Fukushima Daini plant. A desperate struggle is on to prevent the worst from happening — a complete meltdown of the nuclear core that could lead to large releases of radioactivity into the environment. With few natural resources of its own, Japan opted for nuclear power to supply a third of its energy needs. It has today more than 50 commercially operating nuclear reactors. These reactors were built taking into account the fact that they would be operating in a seismically dangerous environment. Unfortunately, Friday's earthquake, which was the worst recorded in the country, and the huge tsunami it unleashed set off a cascade of problems at the two nuclear power plants.

Safely shutting down a nuclear power plant is not simple. Stopping the chain reaction that keeps fission going, thereby producing vast amounts of energy, is just the first step. But even after that is achieved, the core of a nuclear reactor is still very hot. In addition, radioactive processes continue in the nuclear fuel, which too produce heat. The plant at Fukushima Daiichi relied on pumps powered by electricity to keep cooling water circulating. Friday's quake and tsunami knocked out electric supply from the grid. Standby generators kept at the plant for such contingencies could not be used because of the flooding and damage caused by the tsunami. Batteries, which were intended only to keep the cooling going until the generators came on, were soon depleted. The lack of cooling led to what Japanese officials say is only a partial meltdown of the nuclear cores in two reactors. Even if a total meltdown is avoided, it is believed that for many months to come the plant's operator will have to continue pumping in seawater to cool the two reactors and periodically release radioactive steam. People who have been evacuated from the area may not be able to return home any time soon. Understandably, these events in Japan have set off waves of concern in countries that have nuclear plants of their own, with worries about some unforeseen chain of events producing serious safety issues. In India, the country's nuclear agencies have promised a revisit of safety issues at all atomic plants. Such a safety audit must be carried out with a transparency that engenders public trust, without which nuclear power will not flourish.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

CATCHING IT EARLY

The public health priority identified by the international community of nephrologists to mark World Kidney Day 2011 is vital for advancing the campaign against cardiovascular disease. The key message is that protecting the kidneys also saves the heart. There is a lot of evidence on the link between hypertension and damage to renal function; in turn, chronic kidney disease (CKD) can produce high blood pressure; diabetes also leads to kidney damage. That is well known, but more recent data indicate that even lesser degrees of renal impairment, manifested as protein in the urine, result in elevated risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). This is true, in some cases, even where other factors such as diabetes, hypertension, and a history of heart attack do not co-exist. The findings may be disturbing, but affordable solutions are available to mitigate the risk. Where the problem is picked up early and a treatment regimen to reduce proteinuria initiated, there is a significant lowering of CVD risk. The promise of this approach, reported in the American Journal of Nephrology in February, is immense.

The number of deaths due to communicable diseases, and maternal, perinatal, and nutritional causes is projected to decrease in India between 2004 and 2030. By contrast, cardiovascular disease is expected to kill four million people in 2030, a sharp rise from 2.7 million for the base year. This forecast underscores the need for policy initiatives to achieve a substantial reduction in the incidence of cardiovascular disease. The reported CVD link to kidney disease makes it imperative to detect and treat early. As a goal, this is eminently achievable. Large-scale screening to detect proteinuria and early identification of CKD is the first step; involvement of the general practitioner and village nurse under rural health schemes will aid this. For those who are diagnosed with renal disease, other low-cost interventions, such as control of salt in diet, and treatment using angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers, can lead to a dramatic reduction in its progression. The processed food industry, which uses a large amount of salt, must be encouraged actively to participate in such a programme. The medical community has collected enough evidence to show that early detection and treatment stop individuals from slipping into irreversible renal failure. Now, it is pointing out that doing so can save them from CVD too. The agenda for prevention must get all possible support.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

SCEPTICISM OVER IRANIAN NUCLEARISATION

AS U.S. PRESSED FOR A VOTE AGAINST IRAN, INDIA'S RELUCTANCE WAS CLEAR.

SIDDHARTH VARADARAJAN

Barely two weeks before India cast its landmark vote against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency on September 24, 2005, senior Indian officials argued strenuously against a change in the country's stand. They told the U.S. that more time was needed for dialogue and diplomacy and that a referral to the U.N. Security Council would lead to "a slide into confrontation."

Once India voted against Tehran, the Manmohan Singh government defended its decision by pointing to the dangers posed by a nuclear Iran. But what the U.S. Embassy cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks reveal is that the Indian establishment was not overly concerned about the possibility of Iran acquiring nuclear weapons, and treated with scepticism American claims that nuclearisation was imminent. The Indian side was also wary of what voting against Iran might do to the country's energy security as well as its strategic interests in Afghanistan.

Though the government subsequently denied there was any connection between its anti-Iran vote and its fears about the fate of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal, the cables capture the linkage American officials often made between the two issues.

In the run-up to the IAEA's crucial board meeting, the U.S. believed that India was "engaged in a risky balancing act in its Iran policies." A cable sent off on September 2, 2005 (39738: confidential) noted: "While the GOI has no illusions about Iran's nuclear ambitions or support for terrorism, these concerns are subordinate in its foreign policy and economic considerations. New Delhi does, however, fear the consequences of being forced to choose between Iran and the US... if the nuclear standoff escalates. Against this danger, India sees Iran as an enormous actual and potential energy supplier, and a balancing power on Pakistan's opposite border. Thus, Indian policy tries to advance its interests with Tehran, appease the West, and largely ignore the looming crises."

The challenge for Washington was to get India off the fence, especially when this would be seen in India as siding with the U.S. "An op-ed by a reliably anti-American reporter for The Hindu on September 1 encouraged the GOI to stand by Iran as the 'litmus test' of India's willingness to pursue an ' independent' foreign policy," the cable noted.

In a lengthy cable sent on September 6, 2005 (39910: secret), David C. Mulford described a meeting with Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran on the Iran issue as "delivering the mail (wrapped in a brick)". The cable noted: "The Ambassador took Saran to task for what we had perceived in media reports as an unacceptably weak set of statements on Iran's nuclear program by Natwar Singh while visiting Tehran. Ambassador explained that the time was drawing near for fence-sitters to make hard decisions... Many in Congress and throughout Washington, he reminded Saran, were watching India's treatment of Iran prior to Congressional debate on the US-India civilian nuclear initiative. The IAEA BOG meeting September 19 offered India a chance to be helpful. The Ambassador stressed the moment of truth was approaching, particularly as it was now clear that the Iranians were working feverishly to weaponize despite their public statements and undertakings to the EU3. India had a key voice in the NAM and could swing opinion in the BOG; it was time, he said, for us to know where India stood."

The Foreign Secretary, however, pushed back. He "listened attentively to Ambassador's views on Iran." But he "also repeatedly questioned what he characterized as the ultimate outcome of our aggressive approach to Iran - namely, military confrontation." The Foreign Secretary urged "giving dialogue with Iran more time." He said India believed Iran's nuclear programme was best "sorted out" with the EU3, and "a slide into confrontation" would not be useful. "After Natwar's visit to Tehran, India realized the regime was 'hard line,' but Saran affirmed India's support for continued dialogue. Any rupture, said Saran, would end whatever leverage the EU3 or IAEA might wield. Saran professed his belief that referral to the UNSC would cause greater turmoil in energy markets, which would be detrimental to India".

Mr. Mulford was peeved by the Foreign Secretary's failure to note the dangers of a nuclearised Iran. "The Ambassador called Saran out on neglecting to mention one key element of India's long-standing position, that an Iranian nuclear weapons capability was unacceptable. Saran demurred, saying even the IAEA had cited Iranian cooperation in its latest report, while noting unresolved questions; was that, he said, not enough proof that Iran was trying to be in compliance?"

At this juncture, the cable continues, experts from Washington briefed the Foreign Secretary on the latest U.S. evidence against Iran. But the Indian side remained unconvinced. "Saran characterized the briefing as being more evidence of a delivery system than a bomb program... [He] again asked what it would take for the US to avoid the UN route... [He] conveyed that the Iranians had affirmed to Natwar their desire to avoid a confrontation, but needed a 'face-saving way out'."

The cable also suggests the Indian side was wary of the eventual consequences of any IAEA decision to refer Iran to the Security Council. The Foreign Secretary told Ambassador Mulford "armed confrontation was not helpful. It would, he said, be "quite disastrous" and the consequences needed to be thought through carefully. Armed conflict with Iran would impact India's interests. War was unacceptable to India, insisted Saran, and counselled us not to pursue a course of action with an unforeseen outcome. The Ambassador emphasized that India now had to calculate for itself which option was the least destructive of its national interests. America could not afford a nuclear Iran; could India? When Ambassador for the second time reminded Saran of India's long-standing policy that a nuclear Iran was unacceptable, Saran reiterated that third pillar of the formula. However, he again insisted that armed confrontation was also problematic. "How do we get where we want to get?"

The meeting concluded with Mr. Saran promising to convey the U.S. points to Natwar Singh. Mr. Mulford also offered to have his team brief Prime Minister Manmohan Singh "preferably before he saw POTUS at UNGA in September."

Mr. Mulford ended his cable with a comment under the hopeful title "Do We Detect a Chink in the Armor?" India, he said, needs to balance its strategic interests with Iran with its expanding ties with Washington. "We pushed Saran pretty hard, and although he pushed back with equal vigor we may have gotten our message through: it is time for India to make some hard decisions. We are approaching the moment when fence sitting will not be an option."

Three days later, a U.S. diplomat held a follow-up meeting with S. Jaishankar, Joint Secretary (Americas) in the MEA (cable 40223: secret), September 9, 2005. Hoping to ratchet up the pressure on South Block, the Bush administration had already gone public on India's Iran policy in Congressional hearings on the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal. But an Indian guarantee of help at the IAEA was still elusive: Mr. Jaishankar promised a non-paper to "clarify any misunderstandings" on Iran. "In any case, he said, Iran should figure in [Prime Minister] Singh's conversation later September 9 with the Secretary and in Foreign Secretary Saran's conversation the same day with U/S Burns. Much, he speculated, would be cleared-up that way."

In a comment, titled 'Smelling the Coffee', the cable notes caustically that statements on Iran by members of Congress "?served as a wake-up call to India that its Iran stance would directly impact its desire for legislative fixes that would implement the July 18 POTUS-PM Singh agreements, especially on civil nuclear technology. India is sufficiently concerned to restate its position on Iran's nuclear weapons. We have an opportunity as a result. The Indians believe they have been helpful in the IAEA on Iran, but we should press for more."

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President George W. Bush met in New York on September 13. Soon thereafter, instructions were sent to the Indian Ambassador in Vienna to go with the U.S. in the IAEA, should the Iran issue come to a vote.

A cable after the vote, dated September 26, 2005 (41355: confidential) described India's decision to support the US/EU resolution on Iran at the IAEA as "the most important signal so far of the UPA's commitment to building a transformed US-India relationship".

At the same time, the U.S. was aware of the risk the Manmohan Singh government had taken: "We need to appreciate that this is the UPA's first significant step away from the relatively risk-free comfort zone of the NAM (and Russia and China, both of whom abstained), but exposes the government to severe domestic criticism, runs the risk of losing vital support from NAM partners on issues such as a UNSC seat, and, not least of all, endangers traditionally friendly relations with Iran."

The U.S. Embassy advised Washington to be mindful of its public comments: "In the midst of the intense public debate on a highly complex domestic political issue in which the GOI finds itself being criticized from the left, right, and sometimes the center, there is no benefit for the USG to insert itself... While we need to be careful to not publicly exacerbate the downside of New Delhi's choice by giving fodder to critics who complain that India is kowtowing to the US or marching to our orders, we should appreciate the political and diplomatic difficulty of this step for the GOI."

The cable was prescient. Future dispatches would capture the mounting public criticism of the government's decision and warn against the danger of India failing to cooperate with further American requests.

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THE HINDU

OPED

26/11 INFORMATION AND A TRICKY DYNAMICS AT PLAY

SEEKING SPECIFIC APPROVALS WOULD BE ELEVATING FORM OVER SUBSTANCE': AMBASSADOR MULFORD

NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN

CHENNAI: Tensions between India and the United States over how much information from the investigation into the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai to share with Pakistan appear to have started with a request from the Federal Bureau of Investigation made on December 23, 2008.

The U.S agency wanted Indian permission to pass on the outcome of its interview with Ajmal Amir Kasab, the surviving terrorist in Indian custody, to Pakistani investigators. It also wanted to give them information concerning the Yamaha outboard motor found on the attackers' boat.

The Indian side did not respond. As a cable sent on January 6, 2009 by Ambassador David C. Mulford (185899: Secret) to Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte headlined "INDIAN CONCURRENCE ON INFORMATION SHARING - TAKING YES FOR AN ANSWER" reveals, on December 27, 2008, the FBI asked him to reiterate the request.

He did this two days later, on December 29, to P. Chidambaram. The Home Minister indicated India was not ready to give its concurrence "because there had been no signs the Pakistanis would cooperate in the investigation and were not providing the U.S. with access to persons of interest in the investigation, including Kasab's father".

The next day, the FBI broadened its request to include GPS data from the devices used by the attackers and to permit the release of information from the interrogation of a Bangladeshi detainee, Mubashir Shahid alias Yahya.

On December 31, Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon told Mr. Mulford that the Cabinet would need to decide whether India would share information from the Mumbai investigation "directly" with Pakistan, and if so, to determine what to share.

Then came the January 3 missive from Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice. In a rather more conciliatory manner, the Home Minister said India would decide "as early as possible" whether to concur in the U.S sharing information with Pakistan.

"At that point, Chidambaram framed the issue for decision broadly, which was whether information obtained during the investigation in Mumbai could be shared with the Pakistanis. He agreed that if information was shared, the FBI would be free to do so "to the extent necessary" and "according to your best judgment."

"He did not limit the information to the two items described in the initial [FBI] request, nor did he request that we seek item-by-item clearance," Mr. Mulford wrote. Then came the January 5 dossier, one for Pakistan and one for the New Delhi-based diplomatic community, with the Foreign Secretary saying that the dossier to the Pakistanis was a "limited" version, and the Home Minister telling Mr. Mulford that information sharing with Pakistan should be limited to what was contained in this dossier.

But, as the U.S. envoy noted in his cable to Mr. Negroponte, there were no restrictions on diplomats sharing the information, and the media were already running many of the details contained in the dossier.

Referring to the condition laid down by the Home Minister, the Ambassador wrote that these were "broad categories and should be read in that fashion. We detect no intent on Chidambaram's part to seek any sort of case-by-case approval of each specific piece of information developed during the investigation."

Such "a crabbed reading would be unworkable in any event," Mr. Mulford wrote, arguing that "after the Indian dossier has been widely and publicly distributed, as it has, seeking specific approvals would be elevating form over substance."

Mr. Mulford commented that "we believe strongly that we should take India's yes as an answer and proceed to use the information developed in the Mumbai investigation to push forward with the Pakistani authorities."

Two days earlier, on January 3, after getting a whiff of the Indian plan for the distribution of the dossier, U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan Anne Patterson cabled in dismay from Islamabad (185604: secret) that it would be a "premature" step by India.

She was concerned that "it will undermine essential law enforcement efforts and forestall further Indo-Pak cooperation. Our goal is not only to bring the perpetrators of this attack to justice, but also to begin a dialogue that will reduce tensions between India and Pakistan."

The U.S. later noted that India also wanted whatever information the Americans had from the Pakistani side — without Islamabad's prior approval.

Mr. Mulford cabled on January 6, 2009 (185827: secret) that when he passed on the information from the Pakistani government to the Home Minister and National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, the NSA asked "that any additional relevant information the U.S. had regarding the attacks be made available without pre-approval from the Pakistanis."

"[The NSA] said India needs to know the full story about the attack and argued that even a partial release of information would be useful. Narayanan and Chidambaram agreed that the information the U.S. had passed from Pakistani sources should also be shared on a similarly restricted basis with the Directors of the Research and Analysis Wing and the Intelligence Bureau," Mr. Mulford wrote.

 

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THE HINDU

WORLD BANK REP AND NEPAL MAOIST LEADER AS 'LUNCH PALS'

P. SAINATH

MUMBAI: "The local World Bank rep is so fed up with the corruption in the system that he has become a frequent lunch pal of the Maoist supremo." That was James F. Moriarty, Ambassador to Nepal, writing home in frustration on September 22, 2006.

The cable, running to several pages, was headlined "Crunch time in Nepal?" (79370: secret/noforn). While showing annoyance at the diplomacy and assessments of other western nations, and India and China, he gives Washington his own take on the situation. On the Maoists' drive to power in Kathmandu, he wrote: "The good news is that the Maoists are doing much of this through bluff. They have relatively little popular support, and they have nowhere near the military capability to take on the government's security services in an open fight."

He did add that "the bad news is that the bluff may work," but stressed that the Maoists had "relatively little popular support." Less than 20 months later, the Maoists found quite some popular support in the April 2008 polls for a new Constituent Assembly. They won half the seats chosen in the 'first-past-the-post' system and 30 per cent of the votes for seats under the proportional representation system. In all, they took 220 of the 575 elected seats, becoming the No. 1 political party. The nearest rival, the Nepali Congress, got 110, or half the number the Maoists did. Four months later, Maoist leader Pushpa Kamal Dahal, known also as Prachanda, was the Prime Minister of Nepal.

In September 2006, however, Mr. Moriarty was convinced it could be otherwise. It was the other nations, he complained, that were pushing in the wrong directions. "The diplomacy here is getting complicated. The Europeans are all over the map with respect to recent developments. The Danes and Norwegians (who have some clout here because of their aid programs) are convinced that lasting peace is just about ready to break out and push the GoN [Government of Nepal] to be as accommodating as possible. The Brits, in contrast, seem convinced that the Maoists will soon be coming into power and are trying to convince themselves that that might not be so bad. The Chinese seem primarily interested in pushing Tibet issues with the weak, frequently ineffectual GoN. The local World Bank rep is so fed up with the corruption in the system that he has become a frequent lunch pal of the Maoist supremo. I'm trying to push back here on some of this, but it would help if the Department could have a serious, high-level discussion with the Brits on Nepal. We might also want to look at a demarche to the Europeans and others (reminding them that the Maoists are not just agrarian reformers and seem to want power rather than peace)." As it turned out, "The Brits" had made the better call.

Among the things Mr. Moriarty believed needed to be done was "brow-beating." As he put it: "Brow-beating: Ultimately, decisions made by Nepalis will determine whether this country goes down the path toward becoming a People's Republic over the next couple of months. That said, we need to increase the possibility that the leaders here will make the right decisions. I've been meeting regularly with the Prime Minister, urging him (so far unsuccessfully) to use the police to enforce law and order and bucking him up to stick to his bottom line of not letting gun-toting Maoists into the government (with greater success so far)."

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THE HINDU

IN NEPAL, 'INDIA'S FRANKENSTEIN'S MONSTER'

P. SAINATH

 

MUMBAI: "New Delhi seems oblivious to how close the Maoists are getting to victory here. That makes sense: New Delhi godfathered the working relationship between the Maoists and the Parties and doesn't want to acknowledge that it might have created a Frankenstein's monster. Moreover, India's Marxist party (a key supporter of the governing coalition) has proclaimed that everything here is going just fine. In that context, I hope that a discussion on Nepal will feature prominently in future conversations with senior Indian leaders."

That was James F. Moriarty, U.S. Ambassador to Nepal, writing home to the State Department, in his cable headlined "Crunch time in Nepal?," dated September 22, 2006 (79370: secret/ noforn).

"We need to do more to keep the Indians in lock step with us," the cable goes on. "I coordinate closely with my Indian counterpart here and in private he pushes the exact same message I do: that the police need to enforce law and order and that the GoN [Government of Nepal] should not let armed Maoists into an interim government."

"I was more than a little annoyed to find out, however, that the Indian Embassy had complained to the PM's office about our training activities with the Nepal Army…." This last one was "the incident" which "underscored the fact that, while worried about current trends, New Delhi seems "oblivious to how close the Maoists are getting to victory here."

"The next few months will go a long way to determining whether the Maoists have any intention of coming in out of the cold, or whether their only goal is absolute power. Up until now, all signs point to the latter. I continue to fear that a Maoist assumption of power through force would lead to a humanitarian disaster in Nepal. Just as important, a Maoist victory would energize leftist insurgencies and threaten stability in the region. It thus behoves us to continue to do everything possible to block such an outcome."

Cables from the U.S. Embassy in Kathmandu from 2003 onwards showed a nuanced, sometimes changing, assessment of the role of India and its diplomats in Nepal. The shifts were linked to unfolding events in Nepal, to the personal readings of the cables' different authors, and to India's own changing role.

In that 2006 cable Mr. Moriarty also called on Washington to prepare "for the worst." He says: "We need to be prepared for the possibility of a Maoist return to violence in November. The key will be to condemn as quickly as possible Maoist violence, while shipping as quickly as possible some 4,500 more weapons that we have in storage for the Nepali Army. Those weapons would have an immediate tactical impact but more importantly would shore up a government that will be under tremendous pressure to capitulate."

His predecessor, Michael E. Malinowski, in a cable dated September 25, 2003 (10972: secret/noforn), noted that India and Nepal would soon be pursuing extradition and mutual legal assistance treaties. It reported that the Indian Ambassador to Nepal, Shyam Saran, had explained to Mr. Malinowski that, in the past, the "GoI [Government of India] had regularly turned over suspected Maoists to the GoN without a formal treaty — earning criticism from human rights groups and INGOs such as ICRC in the process. An extradition treaty with Nepal would give the GoI a firm legal basis for such transfers in the future."

The cables conveyed the U.S. Embassy's readings of Indian officials. In one of them, dated December 14, 2003 (12516: secret/noforn), Mr. Malinowski reported Ambassador Shyam Saran as admitting to him that sometimes people in different branches of the GOI "go off on their own," and promising to look into reports of such deviations. Mr. Malinowski saw this as Mr. Saran's "first admission to us that some elements within his Embassy may be working at cross-purposes to official GOI policy" on Nepal.

Earlier, Mr. Malinowski had found: "Our frequent discussions with our Indian diplomatic colleagues here in Kathmandu are inconsistent in tone. Ambassador Shyam Saran is an unusually able professional who is comfortable sharing his well-informed political and security analyses of Nepal with our Ambassador and official visitors. We find that we agree in large measure with his views, including his profound skepticism about the motives of the Maoists and his emphasis on the importance of the legal political parties supporting the government. Saran has raised questions about US arms supplies to Nepal, but without complaints or threats. DCM (Ashok) Kumar, an often abrasive diplomat whose pursuit of Indian interests borders on chauvinism, has become more collegial and less plaintive as we have engaged him more frequently in discussions of US security policy in Nepal. Only Defense Attache George Mathai, a long-time Gurkha officer, continues to press our DATT to minimize lethal sales to Nepal, obviously delivering prepared talking points without the benefit of supporting information." (5730: noforn, dated February 14, 2003)

Cables sent around mid-2007 had Ambassador Moriarty's reports -- on the basis of discussions with Indian Ambassador Shiv Shankar Mukherjee -- that Indian officials were taking a "tougher stands on Maoists." One of them, sent on June 18, 2007 (112456: secret/noforn) reported that Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee "had expressed concern that the law and order situation in Nepal continued to deteriorate and Maoist abuses had gone unpunished. Moreover, Foreign Minister Mukherjee had been categorical in his discussion with [CPN-UML leader] M.K. Nepal that the Maoists should not be integrated into the Nepal Army."

 

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THE HINDU

PRO-U.S. TILT IN CABINET SHUFFLE

SURESH NAMBATH

CHENNAI: Cabinet reshuffles in India clearly have foreign policy implications, serving external objectives. This at any rate is the reading provided by a U.S. Embassy cable sent on January 30, 2006 (51088: confidential), sent by Ambassador David C. Mulford to Washington.

The January 2006 Cabinet reshuffle, which saw the removal of "contentious and outspoken Iran pipeline advocate" Mani Shankar Aiyar and the appointment of "pro-US" Murli Deora as Petroleum Minister was described by the American Embassy as signifying a "determination to ensure that US/India relations continue to move ahead rapidly." (See cartoon on Edit Page.)

The changes also strengthened the cadre of "modernizing reformers" at the top in the Government of India, the Ambassador reported. The net effect of the reshuffle, he said, was a Cabinet that is "likely to be excellent for US goals in India (and Iran)."

These Cabinet changes, in January 2006, mark a steady shift to the Right, a pro-U.S. direction within the first tenure of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA), more than two years before the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal came to fruition. The American Embassy clearly tracked India's tilt to the Right from early 2006 well ahead of UPA-I's rupture with the Left parties in July 2008. Although the nuclear deal was the tipping point that led to the Left's withdrawal of support to UPA-I, the cable shows that the foreign policy gap had begun to widen long before that.

Not surprisingly, Mr. Mulford could sense the Left's uneasiness more than any UPA leader could at that time. "The undeniable pro-American tilt of the Cabinet shuffle," Mr. Mulford added, "has infuriated the Left, which will view it as a throwing down of the gauntlet and an invitation to open warfare."

Mr. Mulford noted that Murli Deora was one of several figures inducted with longstanding ties to the Indo/U.S. Parliamentary Forum (IUPF) and the Embassy. "The UPA inducted a large number of serving MPs, including seven from the IUPF who have publicly associated themselves with our strategic partnership," he added. "To ensure that there are no foreign policy ripples before the President's visit, PM Singh retained the critical MEA portfolio and is likely to hold on to it until after the next session of Parliament concludes and Congress has weathered crucial Assembly elections in Kerala and West Bengal in May."

The Embassy's Foreign Ministry contacts welcomed Mr. Aiyar's departure, and commented that his energy diplomacy had "encroached on MEA turf too many times," leading to MEA appeals to the Prime Minister's Office to intercede. "Despite the PMO warning to back off, Aiyar's Ministry of Petroleum and Natural Gas continued to interfere with MEA attempts to craft policy, our contacts said, citing Pakistan, China, Burma, Bangladesh, Iran and Sudan as areas of inter-governmental conflict."

Mr. Aiyar's unwillingness to step back reportedly led to the Prime Minister's decision to remove him from this high-profile portfolio, and "cements MEA's position as the lead bureaucracy on strategic policy making."

Mr. Mulford pointed out that unlike Mr. Aiyar, who cultivated a reputation for anti-Americanism, Mr. Deora has been associated with the U.S.-India relationship for years. Mr. Aiyar's "self-promoting maverick diplomacy" was too much for the Prime Minister to accommodate.

Mr. Deora's "long-standing connection" to the Reliance industrial group, which includes significant energy equities, was described by the cable as his "only vulnerability." Besides Mr. Deora, the new entrants with strong pro-U.S. credentials, according to the cable, included Mr. Saifuddin Soz, Mr. Anand Sharma, Mr. Ashwani Kumar, and Mr. Kapil Sibal.

 

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

TROUBLES NEVER END FOR THE BJP

Considering the current goings-on at the Centre, it may not be farfetched to suggest that the BJP has become a victim of self-hate. The last Lok Sabha election dealt the party a blow, pushing it from the power perch twice in succession. It is two years since then but the saffronites are clearly yet to take a lesson from the debacle. In some measure, the Lok Sabha defeat was attributable to the BJP's intense factionalism and the leadership struggles within, although the rejection of its core ideology among broad sections of the electorate cannot but have been a factor. In recent years, the compulsions of coalition politics have helped take the edge off the ideology to some degree, allowing for wider acceptance among voters. But the effort needed deft husbanding by the party's top brass. This was available when the likes of Atal Behari Vajpayee and L.K. Advani were at the helm. With the era of the stalwarts effectively over, it has been open season for infighting among the next rung of leaders. The party faithful may have hoped that those struggling for top leadership roles would put the wounds of faction-fighting behind them after a major defeat, and seek to consolidate. That appears to have been wishful thinking.

The famed cleavage between Sushma Swaraj and Arun Jaitley is still on view, with none of the intensity ebbing. These second-level players have now been pushed into the top echelon and given top positions in the two Houses of Parliament, but do not appear to show an awareness of their new responsibilities. This is quite possibly because they see the current party chief, Nitin Gadkari, as a transitory figure, an interloper plucked from anonymity by the RSS — which continues to remote-control the BJP — and made BJP chief as a damage-control measure, in order to staunch the internal bloodletting after the departure of the stalwarts. As such, they still fancy their chances, working on the assumption that the stopgap cannot be in their way forever as his limitations would be exposed sooner rather than later. In the interim, the two contestants for the top job are jousting to pre-position themselves.

The BJP recently won key victories in Parliament by forcing the government — after months of blocking — to agree to a JPC probe into the 2G spectrum scam, and obliging the government to jettison P.J. Thomas as central vigilance commissioner. The government was on the back foot. And yet the principal Opposition party could not savour the day for long. The rifts within became apparent with Ms Swaraj tweeting that politics must move on after the Prime Minister had accepted "responsibility" in the matter of the CVC's appointment. She may have taken a broad, generous view — the kind that appeals to ordinary people — but Mr Jaitley appeared determined to put her in the dock by all but denouncing her approach when he said that he wasn't done yet with rubbing the Prime Minister's nose in the dust. To make matters worse, Mr Gadkari openly sided with Mr Jaitley at a recent press conference, whose timing gave rise to the impression that he wanted to put the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha in her place. Properly speaking, in the Westminster system, the Leader of the Opposition is the Prime Minister-in-waiting. Never before in this country has someone occupying that position been publicly humiliated by her own party. So it's an interesting question: was Mr Gadkari put up to the job by the RSS, or did he go solo? Either way, he has not enhanced his stature or that of the party he is privileged to lead.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

NUCLEAR FAMILY

ASHOK MALIK

Japan's earthquake and tsunami have now trigged a nuclear power plant meltdown that threatens the country with an epic crisis. A technological superpower that has developed excellence in earthquake-resistant construction — it is situated in one of the planet's most seismically active zones — Japan is better off, strange as that expression may sound, than most other countries. If a triple disaster of this type had struck a standard Asian or developing country, the casualties would have been in the hundreds of thousands and not the tens of thousands.

While such a calamity in an important country like Japan would have been front-page news at any time, it is worth noting that globalisation and inter-connectedness — as represented by business relations, 24/7 media coverage and the resultant public pressure — are making it impossible for the rest of the world to insulate itself from one country's ill-fortune.

Examples would help. As Madhusree Mukerjee's recent book Churchill's Secret War points out, the Bengal Famine of 1943 did cause some disquiet in Washington, DC, and had the United States leadership attempting to nudge the British government into action. It was to no impact, of course.

Today, such a situation would be impossible. In 1943, American society — as opposed to the foreign policy elite in the federal capital — had no idea about the famine in Bengal, about millions being allowed to starve to death, about the perfidy of the British Raj. There were no correspondents on the ground, no stark, terrifying pictures on CNN, no collection of relief material in small town neighbourhoods, no democratic expectation that the US government "do something".

Contrast this with the Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004, which devastated countries in southeast and south Asia. By this time, the world economy was much more engaged with the rising powers of Asia, and a truly global effort was launched to get help to those who needed it most. The possibility of being labelled insensitive forced American Express to withdraw a new television advertisement that showed a person surfing, lest the waves on the screen be misconstrued at a time when a monster wave had killed thousands. The advertisement was made only for American audiences, but many of the countries affected by the tsunami were key markets for AmEx. It needed to be seen as a responsible and caring corporate citizen, globally and locally.

Since external governments are being forced to respond — or put another way, since the price of non-response is today way too high — natural disasters and humanitarian crises are also increasingly acquiring a diplomatic implication. In December 2004, four countries with the most robust regional relief and maritime capacities banded together and became the first responders: the US, Australia, Japan and India. An Indian naval ship travelled to Sri Lanka to help that country recover.

These four countries, straddling the eastern Indian Ocean, ended up exciting strategic analysts who wondered if they could someday form an Asia-Pacific "concert of democracies". In the coming years, the idea of the Quad — for quadrilateral — as a politico-military alliance, and not just an ad hoc collective put together in the aftermath of the tsunami, took shape. Japan was an early proponent, till its government changed. The US and Australia were tickled by the thought but wary of snubbing China. India went along with the plan but never quite made up its mind. On their part, the Chinese went apoplectic and the Quad became an idea before its time.
Not all disasters take place in crucial economies. Disasters do the most damage in poor, unstable nation-states and societies, simply because the in-house preventive and first-response capacities are so abysmal. Three months ago, "Leading Through Civilian Power: 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review" (QDDR, as it is known), was released by the US state department and it spoke of "strengthen(ing) the international humanitarian architecture for more effective response to disaster and complex crises".
The QDDR had a special section on the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, which killed at least 1,00,000 people. It listed the US endeavour towards relief and reconstruction, the use of "crisis response technology". It saw climate change — leading to "significant changes to our global environment… migrant and refugee flows, drought and famine, and catastrophic natural disasters" — and epidemics as among seven "new global threats". "While pandemics and infectious diseases have existed for millennia", the QDDR said, "today they are more potent and potentially devastating. Since the 1970s, newly emerging diseases have been identified at the unprecedented rate of one or more per year… Globalisation, a transportation revolution, and international commerce allow diseases to spread more quickly. An outbreak of a particularly virulent disease in one country can become a regional epidemic overnight and a global health crisis in days".

In such circumstances, natural disasters can cause economic and security risks for the global system. The Kashmir earthquake of 2005 and the Pakistan floods of 2010 exposed the limited abilities of Islamabad and of its provincial governments. They gave greater space to religious non-governmental organisations, some of them linked with jihadist groups. Haiti is in the Caribbean, America's backyard. If the US had not acted, it would inevitably have faced a refugee surge.

What would be India's equivalent of the Haiti earthquake? It is revealing that India and the US are among the global and multilateral actors putting together a disaster preparedness and risk reduction framework for a possible earthquake in Nepal. A conference to take this forward is scheduled for April in Washington, DC. While nobody can predict earthquakes, past trends and timelines suggest the Himalayan region, particularly its Nepalese section, is in danger of an imminent earthquake. Historically, Nepal has seen a major earthquake — at least 8.0 on the Richter scale — once every 70-80 years. The previous one was in 1934, which also ravaged Bihar, with tremors being felt as far away as the city then known as Bombay.

Should Nepal see an earthquake — and one sincerely hopes it doesn't — then given its landlocked nature and the construction and population explosion in Kathmandu and other urban centres, South Asia will have a first-rate crisis on its hands. A concourse of refugees coming towards India; competition between India and China to come to the aid of a smaller neighbour they both see as in their zones of influence; the chances of non-state actors, such as Left-wing extremists, gaining control of the relief phase: the consequences can be many. Those are sombre thoughts, but in the week of Japan's tragedy, they are perhaps appropriate.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

IS THE CBI FREE?

PARANJOY GUHA THAKURTA

Is the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) truly autonomous? Very few believe that the country's premier police investigative agency is free from political interference. Yet, somewhat paradoxically, more people seem to have greater faith in the ability of the CBI (more than state government police agencies) to prosecute offenders, particularly influential politicians, if not, at least, unearth relevant facts relating to the commission of crimes, including acts of corruption.

In the complex case relating to misallocation and undervaluation of second-generation telecommunications spectrum, the CBI has not just placed behind bars Andimuthu Raja, former Union minister for communications and information technology, Siddharth Behura, former secretary of the Department of Telecommunications, and R.K. Chandolia, an official who was close to Mr Raja, the agency has also taken into custody affluent builder Shahid Usman Balwa who controls Etisalat DB (formerly Swan Telecom). And that's not all.
The CBI recently interrogated K. Kanimozhi, member of Parliament belonging to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), and her step-mother Dayalu Ammal, second wife of DMK head Muthuvel Karunanidhi. They were reportedly questioned in connection with the investments made by one of Mr Balwa's companies in Kalaignar TV which is owned by members of the family of the Tamil Nadu chief minister.
So, is the CBI truly independent to pursue any line of inquiry it wishes to in the 2G spectrum scam and is it genuinely not afraid to accuse any individual it holds responsible for the scandal, no matter how important she or he might be in the current ruling dispensation?

If indeed the CBI today appears relatively autonomous in conducting its investigations — it has to submit a chargesheet in the spectrum case against certain "unknown" persons that had been registered in October 2009 by the end of March — the people of this country have to be especially thankful to the Supreme Court of India. After the public interest litigation in the 2G spectrum case (in which this columnist is one of the three petitioners) was dismissed by the Delhi high court, one could scarcely have imagined how proactively the Supreme Court would take the matter up and eventually monitor the CBI's investigations.
In other words, the CBI may not have displayed the kind of autonomy it has so far if the highest court of the country had not prodded it to act expeditiously and independently. Interestingly, the fact that the CBI was acting under the directions of the Supreme Court was used by a section of the Congress Party to its advantage while negotiating for seats with the DMK in the run-up to the Assembly elections that have been scheduled for April 13. The CBI is expected to submit a status report on the spectrum case to the Supreme Court today.
Recently, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had suggested that one of the most important reasons why the government took as long as it did before ensuring that Mr Raja put in his papers — and action was taken against his allegedly criminal acts in depriving the national exchequer of huge amounts of money by manipulating the allocation of scarce and precious electro-magnetic spectrum to mobile telecommunications companies — was the "compulsions of coalition politics".

Few were convinced by Dr Singh's arguments because of the arithmetic involved. The DMK (the second-largest constituent of the ruling United Progressive Alliance coalition) has 18 members in the current Lok Sabha, whereas 34 members of the legislative Assembly of Tamil Nadu belonging to the Congress have been propped up Mr Karunanidhi's government in Chennai. The obvious question that arises is whether the DMK needs the Congress more than the Congress needs the DMK.

The DMK was initially adamant on not giving 63 seats to the Congress in the forthcoming Assembly elections. In fact, the DMK ministers in the Union government had threatened to resign over the seat-allocation dispute.
This is not the first time that Mr Karunanidhi has sought to virtually blackmail the government in New Delhi to abide by his wishes — he had earlier acted in a similar manner and successfully arm-twisted the Atal Behari Vajpayee government as well as the second UPA government. In fact, many argue that Mr Raja's appointment as the telecom minister for a second term in May 2009 was largely a consequence of the "politics of blackmail" mastered by Mr Karunanidhi.

The crucial difference on this occasion was that Mr Karunanidhi had to eat humble pie. His pressure tactics did not work, not with Congress president Sonia Gandhi nor the Prime Minister. The Congress stuck to its guns and, for a change, the DMK had to backtrack. The Tamil Nadu chief minister's emissaries were clearly told that the Union government would not be able to ensure that the CBI would not interrogate Ms Kanimozhi and Ms Dayalu, something the DMK was clearly keen on avoiding before the elections. But that was not to be. The elderly head of the Tamil Nadu government and his party would be further embarrassed if names of members of the "first family" of the state find their way into the CBI's chargesheet.

To return to the question that was raised earlier: Does the way in which the CBI has acted in investigating the spectrum scandal, under the direct supervision of the Supreme Court, suggest that the agency is basking in its new-found freedom? One would like to believe this is true, but it may be a bit too early to rejoice. Why? Information obtained through an application using the Right to Information Act filed by a news magazine indicates that during 2008 and 2009, the CBI was denied sanction by the Central government to prosecute 23 senior government officers (most of them above the rank of joint secretary) against whom charges of corruption had been investigated.

Paranjoy Guha Thakurta is an educator and commentator

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DNA

 

ONE GOVERNMENT, TWO CABINETS, AND NO GOVERNANCE

R VAIDYANATHAN

 

It is an open secret even in the Byzantine passageways of Delhi that the jholawala cabinet is more powerful than the cabinet of Manmohan Singh and will have its way.

 

The jholawala cabinet or J-cabinet – also known as National Advisory Council (NAC) – has many ideas to empty government coffers and bleed India with a thousand free-goods cut.

 

This J-cabinet has powers but no accountability while the cabinet headed by Singh has accountability but no power other than periodically confessing to having committed errors of judgment due to lack of information.

 

In the process, we find almost all institutions getting emasculated and headed by leaders whose collective thoughts can be published on a postage stamp.

 

In Rajasthan, a minister is sacked for saying the current president owes her position to cooking and washing vessels in Indira Gandhi's household in the post-Emergency days.

 

Close relatives of the former chief justice of India [and current chairman of National Human Rights Commission] are being investigated for amassing wealth running into crores when he was the chief justice.

 

The Supreme Court has sacked the chief vigilance commissioner since institutional integrity was compromised and PM told parliament that he did not have the full CV of the person appointed as CVC.

 

A cabinet minister is arrested in the 2G scam, CBI questions heads of dozens of telecom firms, and the government provides partial truths about the quantum of loss.

 

The unaccountable jholawala cabinet is on the rampage and wants to empty the exchequer in the name of solving India's poverty problems.

 

It wants to push through the food security bill at any cost. Two weeks before the budget, Dr Amartya Sen and other leftists and civil society groups, calling themselves the 'Kolkata Group', stressed the "right" to health care, education, and removal of poverty.

 

I have been trying to locate for many years a word called "duty" in all the writings of Sen, but in vain. Basically, the Kolkata Group, which has common members with NAC, wants to nationalise families a la European model, wherein the government cares for the elderly, woman and children.

 

The jholawalas are against any direct cash subsidy and insist on enlarging the public distribution system.They do not seem to have read the economic survey [2010-11], which, on page 38, says that anywhere between 40-55% of the food grains sent through the public distribution system are diverted.

 

This ministry of finance survey states: "The fact of the matter is the leakage that currently takes place is far too high. Once we give a legal guarantee to people about the food that they are to receive, if we try to deliver on this promise using our current delivery mechanism, we shall have to send twice the targeted amount of grain towards the targeted population."

 

But the J-cabinet does not care since someone has suggested that enlarging food leakages is a good vote-catching mechanism, even though it could swell our budget gap and empty the treasury.

 

NREGA is another jholawala mission that has leakages and is an unaudited and corrupt mission.

 

Singh's cabinet is in the grip of domestic and global big business. In spite of the possible pauperisation of crores of retail traders, they are going ahead with "retail revolution", which will let Wal-Mart run amuck in our country.

 

The "2G spectrum business" clearly established crony capitalism; other major "reform measures" will further open the floodgates of mega-corruptions. They will take place before the elections are held, possibly by the yearend.

 

The apparent cabinet runs like a rudderless ship and the real J-cabinet is running amok to empty the treasury.

 

It is unfortunate that the options available at this point are between jholawalas and crony capitalists, a leftover from our socialist legacy.

 

It is still possible to visualise a functioning cabinet that asserts its position, cleanses the system, and re-establishes the principles of integrity and transparency in decision-making. That cabinet will be able to close down the J-cabinet, whose existence is predicated on the shenanigans of the main cabinet and complete abdication of governance.

 

Unless the head of the apparent cabinet asserts himself and establishes good governance, the onward march of Stalinists cannot be stopped.

 

The sooner he does it, the better off he would be in dealing with the remnants of the Soviet-era Stalinists, who are an albatross around the neck of the entire nation. Will the Singh [lion] in PM at least roar, if not maul?

 

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DNA

HOW THEY LEARNED TO STOP WORRYING AND JUNK THE BOMB

PR CHARI

 

Also known as the Gang of Four, the American quartet comprises individuals with formidable and bipartisan credentials; it includes George Shultz, former secretary of state (1982-1989), William Perry, secretary of defense (1994-1997), Henry Kissinger, secretary of state (1973 to 1977), and Sam Nunn, former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

 

They have raised their voices over the years urging the United States and Russia to proceed towards nuclear disarmament.

 

They succeeded in anticipating president Obama's evocative statement in Prague in early 2009 expressing "America's commitment to seek the peace and security of a world without nuclear weapons.

 

" However, Obama had qualified that commitment by adding, "I am not naïve. This goal will not be reached quickly, perhaps not in my lifetime. It will take patience and persistence."

 

The American Quartet has pursued a similar logic by arguing for nuclear disarmament in their latest (March 7) Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal — they had jointly written Op-Eds earlier in 2007 and 2010.

 

After declaiming that the doctrine of mutual assured destruction has become obsolete in the post-Cold War era, they, too, have qualified their exhortation by urging that "as long as nuclear weapons exist, America must retain a safe, secure and reliable nuclear stockpile, primarily to deter a nuclear attack and to reassure our allies through extended deterrence."

 

The American Quartet has been using very sophisticated logic to press for radical reductions in the size of the American and Russian nuclear arsenals that account together for some 95 per cent of the world's stock of these deadly weapons.

 

In fact, they far exceed the arsenals of all the other nuclear weapon states — United Kingdom, France, China, India, Pakistan, Israel and North Korea. In their latest Op-ed the Quartet has stressed the need to review nuclear deterrence based security and stability.

 

Otherwise, it would be impossible to dissuade other aspirant nations from seeking nuclear weapons, leading to the proliferation of both nuclear weapons and nuclear actors, the latter includes non-state actors, religious fundamentalists and secular extremists.

 

Besides, the very existence of nuclear arsenals heightens the risk of accidental and unauthorised use of these weapons.

 

The Quartet thereafter recommended that the establishment of non-nuclear deterrence, based on conventional weapons, should be more adequately explored.

 

Finally, they suggest the highest priority being accorded to protecting usable fissile materials to ensure they are not acquired by extremists who may not hesitate to fashion a crude weapon and use it.

 

The basic issue here is whether nuclear disarmament is desirable but not feasible, or is it desirable and feasible.

 

The desirability of nuclear disarmament needs no belabouring, but serious doubts arise about its feasibility as reflected in Obama's Prague speech and the Op-Eds of the American Quartet.

 

A different line of reasoning is required to recognise the essential truth underlying nuclear weapons, which is that they are unusable for any rational purpose. Why?

 

Clearly any use of NWs between nuclear adversaries would result in mutual annihilation; it will also lead to the destruction of the very population and territory in dispute.

 

Clausewitz had warned that war without a rational objective is a senseless thing. The empirical evidence shows that, after the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, the United States and the Soviet Union had eschewed any direct confrontation.

 

Significantly, the United States and Soviet Union were even willing to suffer humiliating defeat in Vietnam and Afghanistan rather than contemplate using or threatening the use of nuclear weapons due to the prevailing moral taboo against their use.

 

South Asia, too, witnessed the Kargil conflict in 1999 after India and Pakistan had tested their nuclear weapons. Neither could enlarge the theatre of operations, fearing escalation of the conflict and possible nuclear confrontation.

 

Nuclear weapons are essentially also useless to maintain the peace. The post Cold War era has witnessed conflicts shifting from conventional to sub-conventional violence.

 

But, more generally, a shift has occurred in conflicts to proxy wars, insurgency movements, terrorist attacks, and the menace of suicide terrorism.

 

These have become daily occurrences in India, Pakistan and Israel, seriously affecting the security of these de facto nuclear weapon states.

 

Nuclear weapons have proven irrelevant to this range of subsisting and future conflicts. The real danger arises from ensuring the safety and security of nuclear arsenals and fissile material stocks.

 

That danger will persist until nuclear weapons remain available. So, the essential truth about nuclear weapons is that they are unusable, but constitute a danger to humanity due to their very existence, which makes the rational argument for their elimination. Nuclear disarmament, therefore, is desirable, and feasible.

 

(The author is a research professor at the Institute of Peace and

 

Conflict Studies, New Delhi)

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DNA

REALITY DOES NOT MATCH INCREDIBLE INDIA ADS

FRANCOIS GAUTIER

 

Nowadays, in every hotel, every railway station, every government office, you can find posters selling 'Incredible India!'

 

I have been a defender of India for years, but the Incredible India campaign does not always match the reality on the ground.

 

Take visas, for instance. Because India's intelligence agencies did not do their work properly and Headley was able to move freely around the country, preparing the 26/11 terror attack, visa rules have been tightened to a ridiculous extent.

 

Recently, I asked for a visa for my assistant, a French lady, who wants to work in India. She would help in the making of La Revue de l'Inde, the only magazine solely devoted to India in the French-speaking world, and which props up India as the natural, liberal and democratic alternative to China.

 

The Indian embassy in Paris offered her a 3-month visa! Visa rules in India are Nehruvian and outdated.The Chinese have understood that one needs to open one's doors if one wants investments. Incredible India!

 

Take railways. Twenty years ago one had to wait for a long time to get a confirmed berth on the Ranikhet Express, which connects Nainital and Ranikhet. Any change?

 

When we booked our tickets, we were waitlisted 12 and 13. A month later, we were still 12 and 13! Lalu Prasad & Mamata Banerjee might start new trains to please their constituencies, but they do not increase the existing capacities.

 

As a result, Indian Railways have hardly progressed in 20 years, whereas the Chinese have clean, comfortable and fast trains.

 

I say fast, because when we finally got confirmed berths, the train was seven hours late and took 14 hours to cover the 378 km that separates Delhi from Kathgodam, an average speed of 19 km per hour. Incredible India!

India is the largest democracy in the world. Is it at the moment? Reliance claims the government has asked them to spy on 1,00,000 phones. What about the other operators?

 

How many phones is this government spying on? CBI blatantly lets go of Quattrocchi, the only man who could implicate Sonia Gandhi in the Bofors scam, but goes out big time after Hindu 'terrorists'.

 

There is some progress, though, because a few people are beginning to point a finger at Sonia Gandhi, whereas before nobody dared for fear of some goons ransacking their office, or worse. Incredible India!

 

Speaking of mobiles. The 2G scam is not only about mobile operators bribing Raja to buy bandwidth at throwaway prices and sell it a month later at huge profits to foreign companies, as Tata did to Docomo; it is also about them thinking they can get away with anything and in employing strong-arm tactics to recover unpaid bills.

 

I have been a customer of Essar, (then Hutchinson, then Vodafone) since 1997, when I paid a deposit of 5,000, which is worth at least four times more today.

 

In 2008, my 11-year on-time paid connection (9811118828) was arbitrarily disconnected by Vodafone for a disputed bill of Rs2,000 (of unwanted ads while in Bali, which one of then Hutch executives had agreed to waive).

 

Then, on March 10 last year, I received a call on my new mobile from sub-inspector Kripal Singh (08010649949), who said there was a non-bailable warrant against me for unpaid mobile bills.

 

He gave me the mobile number of a lawyer at Delhi's Tees Hazari court (09540602039) and said that I had to pay him an amount of Rs7,500 before 5 pm, otherwise I would go to jail. Most people pay out of fear. Incredible India!

 

If only Indian politicians could hear what ordinary Indians are saying about them. Our driver in Jaipur, who is paid Rs5,000 a month by a hotel that charges Rs22,000 a day for a room, says with a smirk as soon as we get in his car: "India, My India, Incredible India, but everybody is corrupt, sir, I hate them all". Incredible India!

 

Good journalism should always balance criticism with positive outputs. Let me say then, that India has shown again that when in extreme distress, it can raise its head and correct its headings.

 

The judiciary and the press are fighting the incredible corruption cancer that has taken over Indian politics and some accountability is being primed at the moment.

 

In Jaipur again, I stumbled in a stadium with over 1,00,00,00 people, many of them youngsters, singing, dancing, breathing, and meditating with Sri Sri Ravi Shankar on the occasion of Shivaratri. That was amazing: Incredible India!

 

The writer is editor-in-chief of the Paris-based La Revue de l'Inde and author of A New History of India fgautier26@rediffmail.com

 

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DNA

WE NEED TO LOVE ANIMALS FIRST

N RAGHURAMAN

 

There are news reports that go beyond the blood-curdling tingle they send down the spine, offering a window into the devilish manifestations of human rage.

 

Last week's incident near Sahar International Airport where two youth allegedly decapitated 35 pigeons owned by a rival bird seller and splattered the road with blood exhibited human envy making victims of mute and helpless animals. It also pointed towards the heartlessness that coexists alongside kindness in Mumbai that prides itself on tolerance.

 

Unsettling is the fact that an incident of much lesser proportion would have been dubbed a massacre and made for national upheaval. This, in contrast, was muted, with only a police case and some eyebrows being raised, and then, curtains. Why?

 

Merely because the pigeons guillotined were defenceless? Is this the tenderness of heart that we proclaim to possess?

 

Just as the incident evoked an eerie similitude to a ghastly sequence from Mario Puzo's novel The Godfather, it raises a greater concern: the intolerance of aam Mumbaikars towards animals and birds.

 

I remember animal activist M Frida Hartley's words: "From beasts we scorn as soulless/In forest, field and den/The cry goes up to witness/The soullessness of men." It's this "soullessness" that perturbs me. Are we losing our respect for life?

 

The occurrences are confounding. When a stray dog, Sheru, was hit in the 26/11 terrorists' gunfire near CST, a photographer rushed the dog to an animal hospital in Parel. But again, a man was not allowed to take his sick pet dog in the lift at a posh housing society in Navi Mumbai because no one else could go when the dog travelled on the lift.

 

People in multi-storied buildings want to use lifts even for the first floor but they want the dogs with broken bones to walk up seven floors. If the fire brigade saves a kitten in distress, there are people who behead docile pigeons. Such aberration of behaviour hint at deteriorating tolerance levels in Mumbai, which is disturbing.

 

Actually, cruelty to animals finds free expression as there are no laws to deter them. In the UK, for instance, cruelty to animals is a criminal offence for which one may be jailed for up to 51 weeks and may be fined up to £20,000. In India, and indeed in Mumbai, no one is bothered. Why should anyone be? They do not serve our rulers' purpose. As American radio broadcaster Paul Harvey said, "Animals don't vote."

 

The IPC sections 428 and 429 which address the killing or maiming of an animal fall flat in the face of serious intent. A handful of animal rights activists and organisations keep the flicker of hope alive, but they are far from adequate.

 

The spotlight is obviously on us. Making a law and using it are completely different. If you see an abused dog on the road, what difference does a law make if you don't do anything about it? I am not an activist. All I am emphasising is we must learn to respect animal life just as we do human life; because, to maintain nature's balance, both lives must coexist peacefully. The basis of which should be dictated by the golden rule: Treat them as we would wish them to treat us.

 

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DNA

WHEN THE SHATTERED PIECES DON'T FIT

YOSHITA SENGUPTA

 

Mumbai local — swarming, fast,dependable, claustrophobic, and chaotic are terms associated with it. Most of the millions who travel in it everyday can't wait to get pushed out of it.

 

I find some comfort in the train. After a crazy day at work, the compartment feels like a living room. One can get rid of their bag, put their feet up on the seat and listen to music or read a book.

 

The people who stay in my mind are those who are out in the city post-midnight. They have stories to tell, stories that have the potential of bursting Bombay's capitalist bubble. Among them, there is one person I can never forget She is one person I keep hoping to see again.

 

I was in empty ladies' compartment of the 12.39 Borivli slow. At Mahim, a middle-aged lady, who looked like she was from the Northeast, got in. She wore tight-fitting denim pants and a dazzling red top. Her makeup was loud and hair, messed up.

 

She saw me looking at her, turned around and went to stand at the door. I felt guilty that I had given out the impression that I didn't approve of her presence.

 

She positioned herself carefully, in a way that I couldn't reach out to her. All I could do was stare. I was close to the "dark side" of the city. She, "the dark side", stood, lost in thought. I sensed a movement. She removedRs100 notesfrom her pocket. She rolled them up and was just about to put them in her rucksack when a tear roll down her cheek. I was rattled.

 

She turned around, this time completely away from me. Yet, I could feel her staring at me, mocking me. I begged for forgiveness. The silence we shared was like nothing like I had experienced. This wasn't the first time I had seen Mumbai's "dirty side", but it still affected me. This was the first time I had spent 30 minutes with it, alone.

 

And then, just like that, it ended at Jogeshwari. She got down.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

A WEIRD MISSION

 

Team Interlocutors defended its action of organizing a seminar for Kashmir women representatives by saying it wants to take them on board. Strange logic, it is indeed. The team met innumerable representatives of all shades of opinion ever since it began its field study. Those meetings did not necessitate holding any seminar. In what way and why would women representatives take a position different from what the team has already come across while interacting with other groups? More vociferous in that seminar were non-Kashmiri representatives from mainstream political parties. How could they be expected to reflect what precisely ailed Kashmiri women? It was evident that they would use the platform to voice the views of their respective parties and not of Kashmiri woman. However, if they did touch on that, it could nt be anything save euphoric endorsement of alleged victimization of Kashmiri women on the one hand and outright denigration of security forces on the other. That is precisely what the CPI (M) representative Brinda Karat did. Since there was no participation in the seminar of female representatives from security force personnel, say the widows or wives or mothers of martyrs either killed by the militants or injured by stone throwers, the security forces remained defenseless in the seminar. This may have given solace to the interlocutors that they succeeded in sidelining the females of affected security personnel.


What Brinda Karat said was what suited the separatists and their affiliates in Kashmir. A litany of allegations against the security forces, a wail on the death of those who were paid to disrupt law and order in Kashmir, and some tears for those jailed persons whose involvement in militancy related activities was established beyond doubt, all made the separatists happy and satisfied with Brinda of CPI (M) championing their cause. She won their minds and hearts and a few votes for her party. She grieved for those who pelted stones but had no sympathy compassion for those on whom stones were pelted. Where does the nation go when unprincipled politicians mislead it? She was inciting a section of Kashmiri population and for this criminal act she should have been meted out the same treatment that was shown to the BJP leadership for their "crime" of attempting to host the national flag in Srinagar. Why a different yardstick for identical action? If she thinks constituting a commission of inquiry into the alleged killing of 117 persons is a genuine demand, then by the same logic she should apply the same yardstick to the rise of armed insurgency in Kashmir in 1990, killing of hundreds of members of innocent minority community ending up with its expulsion and ethnic cleansing. Are not those victims as good sons and daughters of Kashmir as others? Are not they entitled to human rights, security of life and freedom of faith? Who will speak for them? Brinda's agony is about the bunkers in the city and the special powers given to armed forces and security personnel. Nobody is happy to see unusual presence of men in olive green in civil lines and urban localities. Nobody is happy to see abhorrent bunkers raised at street corners. But the precise question which she and her ideological allies should have asked is why the bunkers and what for. She would have done well to seek the answer from those families whose kith and kin fell to the bullets of the militants. Leave aside the victimized minority community of the valley, the families of late Mirwaiz Muhammad Farooq, late Abdul Ghani Lone, late Maulana Masudi, and hundreds of others in the valley would have shocked her with their answer.


It is time that politicians in our country stop making politically motivated statements and politicize human rights issues, particularly in the case of Kashmir. It is easy for them to ventilate pretentious sympathy for the separatists not for any real love of their cause but just to win some votes. If they have to speak of Kashmir they must speak of her people in the valley or in exile including those under enemy occupation. It is one thing to be a rabble rouser and another to be an astute politician with entrenched national interests. Kashmir issue should not be seen in isolation; its regional and international ramifications should not be underestimated. Kashmiri women who were present in the seminar said they would not talk of fatalities; they wanted to talk of Kashmir's separation from India. What answer had Brinda to that, and why did she circumvent a direct answer but tried to touch their sentiment of resentment against India. Does she think they took her point in its stride? What is her comment on Mirwaiz willing to make China a party to Kashmir dispute? What is her reaction to PDP showing parts of Ladakh as Chinese territory? Irresponsible tantrum does not behoove a mainstream political thinker. If the team interlocutors adopt a weird mission, which it is, then those who are affected must see to it that they do not outstrip their mandate.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SAFETY OF N-PLANTS

 

After earthquake and tsunami, Japan is faced with nuclear radiation threat following a blast in one of its nuclear reactors. It has raised question of security of nuclear plants against natural calamities in other countries including ours. How safe are our N-plants in Kaiga (Karnataka) and Kalpakkam in Tamil Nadu? Scientists say there is no danger to the Kaiga plant since it has been set up on a high point and is far away from the coast. In fact Kalpakkam plant did not suffer any damage during the 2004 tsunami. An additional wall was built to protect the plant after the tsunami. Similarly, when Gujarat was struck by earthquake in 2001, it had no impact on Kakrapar atomic power station near Surat. The design of a nuclear reactor is location specific. "The thickness and the height of their walls are planned considering the areas where a plant is set up", says chief spokesperson, department of atomic energy, S.K. Malhotra. There are two fast-acting independent and diverse shutdown systems in Kaiga. We also have a safety measures committee which conducts a mock exercise every two years to check the preparedness of different departments in case of an emergency. The Kalpakkam plant was saved when a tsunami hit Tamil Nadu coast because a decision had been taken to install electrical system about 50 ft above the ground. Consequently, nothing was submerged when the area was struck by the tsunami. Now given the intensity of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan, nuclear scientists will have to be prepared for extreme or inoperable situation.

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

JUDICIAL OVERSIGHT NEEDED, NOT ACTIVISM

BY M K DHAR

 

Almost all political parties in India have had a brush with the judiciary at different points of time and its verdicts in many landmark cases have caused them deep embarrassment. The judiciary is meant to be the watchdog of the people's democratic rights and apply correctives where transgression of the law takes place or where public interest is jeopardized or established rules and regulations are ignored or blatantly violated. It applies the corrective to acts of omission or commission on the part of ruling political establishments and powerful bureaucracy which ride roughshod over the law for personal or other gains. It also tries to discipline the bureaucracy, particularly in the higher echelons, when it routinely manipulates procedures to please the political bosses, from whom it seeks favours. Though some parties in the opposition now adopt a holier-than-thou attitude, if there is any difference at all between various political parties attitude to the courts, it is only of degrees.


Prime Minister Manmohan Singh allowed himself to be embarrassed by the Supreme Court by approving the appointment of a tainted officer P. J. Thomas as Chief Vigilance Commissioner, ignoring the FIR against the civil servant accusing him of corruption in the Palmolien case in Kerala. Chief Justice of the Supreme Court S.H. Kapadia reminded him that the institutional integrity of the office of the CVC must be kept in mind while recommending the name of a candidate. Whether Dr Singh acted under pressure from some other authority, or was kept ignorant of the fact by the Department of Personnel which processed the case, he alone knows but he allowed the opposition to corner him over the issue.


If it is the coterie of senior officials surrounding him, which obviously is interested only in feathering its own net and get favours for itself and its kin, it should be held to account. It is an unpardonable lapse on their part and reflects on the quality and competence of these officials who, unless shuffled, are bound to cause him more such embarrassments. Taking the blame for the lapse was graceful on Dr Singh's part, but those who kept him in the dark deserve to be punished.


The Court, however, did not give comfort to the leader of the BJP in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj, because it ruled against the principle of consensus in making such appointments as that would mean conferment of a "veto right" to one of the members of the High Powered Committee. If such a right was given to one of the members, the operation of the relevant Act would become impossible. The Committee could go ahead with its work even if one of its members was absent. That, however, is beside the point. The judgment establishes the principle that business cannot be as usual with bureaucrats charged with corruption and they continue to get promotions and plum postings without being cleared of the charges against them. Mr. Thomas sounded ridiculous with his defence that so many members of Parliament ware accused of various crimes and yet competent to make laws for the country and why a bureaucrat, on whom a mere FIR is thrust should be disqualified.


He tries to divert attention to the phenomenon of criminalistion of politics which is under consideration of the Government and to which successive Election Commissions have drawn attention, with the plea that this should stop. But a counter-plea is taken by such persons that a vindictive government could initiate false FIRs against its political opponents in order to disqualify them from contesting elections and subvert democracy. Therefore a judicial verdict was needed in such cases to prove that the accused were guilty of some crime and fit to be disqualified, if already elected to legislatures. But criminalization of politics does not provide any justification for criminalization of the bureaucracy -- which is regarded as the steel frame of governance -- and whose conduct must, at all times, be transparent and above board.

The Prime Minister made an unnecessary observation at the Commonwealth Law Conference held recently in Hyderabad, that the power of judicial review must "never be used to erode the role of other branches of the government". Judicial restraint was "vitally necessary to preserve the integrity and sanctity of the constitutional scheme premised on the diffusion of sovereign power". Some took this as directed at the Supreme Court, which was seized of the cases relating to Mr. Thomas' appointment and the 2G Spectrum, that did not work. The argument is flawed because, even though the judiciary should not unnecessarily intrude into the administrative domain, it should not in any way be restrained in passing judgment where rules and procedures are violated laws subverted and corruption takes place, shaking the very foundations of democratic governance. These are test cases and serve as a deterrent to authoritarian use of power or disregard of rules and procedures or of findings of authorities established by the Constitution.


Having said that, the judiciary should not entertain any notions that it is charged with the responsibility to govern, but should realize its role as only a watchdog of citizens' rights, ensure that the Constitution and laws are respected and deliver judgments where violations occur. People have approached the Courts with frivolous public interest litigations and obtained directions which have often gone unimplemented. These concern civic affairs, such as, removing restrictions on playing of cycle rickshaws in the Union Capital (imagine what a hell it will become for traffic movement) and stopping pollution by industries of the country's rivers.


Despite their judgments no one has taken heed and the Ganga has become more polluted since the courts intervened and Delhi's Yamuna remains as polluted as before, often forcing shut-down of purification and filtration stations. Such judgments remain on paper and the public sees no action after they are delivered. There are many more such judgments relating, for instance, to food safety, medical aid, road safety, air and noise pollution etc. the court feels obliged to step in where the executive fails in its duty, but the number of issues it has taken upon itself makes monitoring impossible, resulting in their continued violation.


The point is that where a government or civic authorities are empowered and competent to makes rules for civic and other affairs, the judiciary ought not to usurp their functions. It is a tall order to the government to bring back all the black money stashed in tax havens by lawbreakers. The ill-gotten wealth, which has escaped tax, has first to be located but banking secrecy often prevents such disclosures. The Government can take action when foreign governments disclose information about such accounts held by Indians. Cases against Hasan Ali Khan have been pending for years, yet the previous Vajpayee Government took no action. The spectrum auction system was introduced by Vajpayee's Communications ministers Promode Mahajan and carried on by Arun Shorey. While Mahajan is dead Shorey needs to explain what was the need to change the system, if not to let those interested, including politicians, benefit from it.


Some Apex court Judgments have awakened a deep sense of disquiet in the political class. The court may have merely corrected the executive's failure and what is termed "judicial activism" is only a rectification job. But Congress spokesman Manish Tiwari argues that between men in khadi and their eminence in black, lies the "intricate balance of constitutionalism. Any vacuum or transgression by either side can have long term implications for the Indian system". Nonetheless, people have a right to demand that judgments by the courts are based on sound reasons and are unaffected by fear, favour, or public opinion and should appear balanced and not prejudiced against one or the other party.


A few recent judgments do not stand the test of such scrutiny. Even though in one case the court had to delete an offending portion of its own judgment, in some other cases, they remain on record, giving rise to avoidable criticism. The judiciary normally does not visualize an enhanced role for itself when the government dominates the agenda. As Abhishek Singhvi, senior advocate, points out judicial activism is to an extent "an obverse mirror image of the executive strength".

The Supreme Court should also show some heightened interest in allegations of corruption against members of the judiciary itself, particularly when these pertain to the higher and even the highest judiciary. Senior advocates Shanti Bhushan and Prashant Bhushan have leveled serious allegation against judges of the Supreme Court, past and present. The two lawyers face contempt case, but they have refused to retract the allegations and offered themselves to be punished. The case of a former Chief justice has hogged the limelight and the assets of his kith and Kin are being probed in alleged corruption cases.


Two judges of the High Courts, one of whom just retired, are also facing prosecution and their cases should be decided expeditiously. The charge made by some against the judiciary that it does not live upto the standards it sets for the executive needs to be disproved Justice Kapadia has Spoken about "fairness in action" raising hopes that if the rot has set in it needs to be checked in time in the interest of democratic, accountable governance and a judiciary with un-impeachable integrity. [NPA]

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

WEST ASIA IN TURMOIL: OPPORTUNITY FOR INDIA?

BY DR SATISH MISRA

 

Political turmoil has been raging in West Asia and North Africa for over two months. What began from Tunisia and spread to Egypt is engulfing more countries and their regimes as each country is struggling to come to terms with it.


Col Mummar Gaddafi's Libya is currently occupying the primary attention where almost civil war like situation is slowly but surely emerging. What would ultimately happen in oil rich and tribal dominated Libya may be anybody's guess but one thing is certain that the world is going to face a prolonged crisis impacting the global economy.


Almost the entire western media, after the fall of the long serving Tunisian President Zinedine Ben Ali and Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, has started predicting that dictatorial regimes of the oil producing states of West Asia and other mineral rich countries would started falling like the nine pins. The problem with the western media is that they tend to generalize a bit too much and see things from their own perspective and understanding which is totally different from the existing realities


Both Tunisia and Egypt are the inheritors of ancient civilizations and that is why the response of the people and even the erstwhile rulers was totally different than the response of the Libyan people and Col Gaddafi. Moreover, the role of Armed Forces in Egypt was decisive in ensuring that there was almost no bloodshed and the exit of Mubarak was so painless. Mubarak had invited troubled himself by breaking the long –existing understanding with the Armed Forces. Former Egyptian President Gamel Abdel Nasser had developed an understanding with the Armed Forces that political power shall rest with one from the Armed Forces which was evident in case of Anwar al Sadat and then Hosni Mubarak. But Mubarak was also trying his best to make his son succeed him.


Undoubtedly, the fire that began in Tunisia and Egypt is spreading but the outcome is going to be different. While in the Gulf region a different dynamics of power game is developing, in Libya because of its predominantly tribal character the outcome may be different.


Moreover, the rebel forces in Libya are not well organized and are also ill-equipped to meet the military might of the Gaddafi forces. Gaddafi had over the years kept the Armed forces weak and had rather spent the resources on developing the intelligence set-up of his the tribal society which is divided. His grip on administration and levers of power is too tight to be shaken easily by sheer enthusiasm. Rebel forces lack military expertise and strategy. They are fired by emotions. They face Gaddafi who is least bothered about human rights and does not mind using force to suppress opposition.


Though the rebel forces are seeking international intervention but there are serious differences among them. If the US and some western countries decide, as the current thinking in the western capitals suggests, to militarily intervene then there is every danger that Gaddafi may be able to turn the table on them by accusing that the western power were keen to capture the oil wealth.


There appears to be some truth in Gaddafi's assertion as majority of western interventions in the last three decades has been only in mineral wealthy regions. The US and its allies have remained silent rather have overlooked human right issues in undemocratic regimes. Classic examples are of Saudi Arabia, China and many other countries with whom the US has happily done business.

Another focal point of the turmoil is closer to India that is the Gulf region where protests have been going on for quite some time now. A new strategic dynamics is unfolding in the region what is known as Persian Gulf region. Emergence of Iran as the predominant power in the region appears to be forgone conclusion. Unlocking of Turkey from the western orbit is another fact which cannot and should not be overlooked.
Continuing spiral of protests in Bahrain is a serious challenge to feudal kingdoms of the Gulf region. The long-suppression of Shia population from Sunni rulers is adding fuel to the simmering fire of genuine and legitimate grievances among the people of the region. There is over 20 per cent unemployment among the youth.
Monarchies of the region are facing real challenge from democracy aspiring and internet savvy youth population which appears to be determined to find its share in the political and economic power. Iran will not leave any stone unturned to reduce the US influence and hold on the rulers of the region.
In this backdrop, India should make its moves which are in consonance with country's long held views. If India is seen rather even perceived standing close to the US, then the country is going to lose heavily.
Time has come to improve ties and relations with Iran and Egypt. It seems that South Block and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's strategy thinkers have put on their thinking caps as appointment of an Indian ambassador to Iraq suggests. The visit of National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon this week and his meetings with Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi and Secretary of Iran's national security council is a very small step towards India's response to emerging dynamics in the region.
India has enjoyed excellent relations with Iran, Egypt, Iraq, Syria and many other countries of the region but the country's foreign policy establishment in its enthusiasm to come closer to the US had ignored its time tested ties with West Asia. Time has come to take corrective steps to restore the balance. [NPA]

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

WOMEN AND CHILDREN WELFARE SCHEMES

BY NIRENDRA DEV

 

The position of women has been always held high in the Indian civilization. The women-power has been hailed as 'Matri Shakti' and the existence of the womenfolk used to be celebrated as an essential half of spiritual enlightenment. Therefore, it is not without reason that even after Independence, the Government has been laying continuous emphasis on the general development of the women and especially their empowerment including adolescent girls and the children in all spheres of life.
The major task to cater to the welfare of the women, their holistic empowerment especially of the marginalized sections primarily rests with the Ministry of Women and Child Development. On this backdrop it is worth mentioning here that under the UPA dispensation, the Ministry has taken the giant and vital steps towards launching two new schemes. They are-Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (SALA) to address the multidimensional issues of the adolescent girls in the age group of 11-18 years. According to the programmes drawn by the Ministry, initially the programme will be implemented in 200 districts across the country.
Another such significant initiative undertaken by the Ministry is the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) – Conditional Maternity scheme. Initially to be implemented in 52 districts, the scheme aims to improve the health and nutrition status of pregnant and lactating women. The scheme will also create opportunities for pregnant women to associate themselves with the Anganwadis and the health centres.
SABLA
The Rajiv Gandhi SABLA was approved by the Government on August 16, 2010 and formally launched on November 19. The Anganwadi centres will be the focal point for the delivery of the services and are meant to implemented through States and UT's with 100 per cent financial assistance from the Government at the center. SABLA aims at empowering adolescent girls for 11-18 years by improvement in their nutritional and health status and upgrading home skills, life skills and vocational skills.
Help towards Motherhood
Similarly, in October 2010, the Ministry of Women and Child Development, approved the Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY) – Conditional Maternity schemes.
The scheme envisages providing cash directly to pregnant and lactating women during pregnancy stage as it attempts to partly compensate for wage loss to the carrying mothers. The essential objectives of the scheme are to improve the health and nutrition status of pregnant and lactating women and the infants. Further, pregnant women of 19 years of age and above for first two live births are entitled for benefits under the scheme. The beneficiaries will be paid Rs 4000 in three installments till the child attains the age of six months on fulfilling specific conditions related to maternal and child health. The scheme also makes its clear that the Anganwadi worker and Anganwadi helper would receive an incentive of Rs 200 and Rs 100 respectively per pregnant and lactating woman after all the due cash transfers to the beneficiary are complete. Official sources say an allocation of Rs 190 crore was made for the financial year 2010-11 and an estimated 13 lakh beneficiaries are expected to be covered under the scheme.
ICDS
Besides these schemes, the Ministry has been undertaking several long-term and time-tested projects to provide social and economic means of support including shelter, counseling, vocational training and financial assistance to the targeted women and children. Among all the major schemes, the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) is the flagship programme, which was launched in 1975 with the principal objectives to improve the nutritional and health status of children in the age group of 0-6 years.
The scheme among other things also aims to enhance the capability of the mother of a child to look after the normal health and nutritional needs of the child through proper nutrition and health education.
The concept of providing a package of services is based primarily on the consideration that the overall impact will be much larger if the different services develop in an integrated manner as the efficacy of a particular service depends upon the support it receives from related services.
It is in this context, ICDS ensures convergence between the Ministries of Women and Child Development and Health, Sanitation and drinking water, Rural Development and the Department of Elementary Education.
In 2009, the Government brought in a few changes in the funding pattern and decided to introduce the concept of cost sharing ratio between the centre and the state with effect from 1st April, 2009. It would be 90:10 basis for all the North Eastern States and 50: 50 basis for other states.
In the recent times there has been also a significant increase in the Central Government's spending on the implementation of the scheme. As against the allocation of Rs 10391.75 crore for the 10th plan, the fund has been raised to Rs 444,000 crore in the 11th Plan.
For ICDS, the Government has been also partnering with several international partners. These include World Bank, the United Nations International Children's Emergency Fund (UNICEF) and also the World Food Programme.
Over the years, it has been appreciated by the Government that early childhood care and education at the pre-school stage is increasingly being acknowledged globally as a critical investment for enhancing school readiness. With an overall supportive and enabling policy environment in place, the Ministry is now embarking on the next step of developing a time bound plan of action in partnership with public, private and voluntary sectors at both the national and the state levels to translate the policy directives into field realities.
In short, the Ministry is in constant move. And by the new initiatives and upgrading the already existing ones, it is only trying to break the new frontiers in the realm of comprehensive development of the targeted women and the children. (PIB)

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

GENDER-SENSITIVE BUDGET

PUNJAB FOCUS ON WOMEN, EDUCATION

 

Dr Upinderjit Kaur has served a largely spiceless, unappetising dish. It does not cater to popular taste. She has not hurt anyone except the treasury. Being the first woman Finance Minister of Punjab, she is gender sensitive. She has cut the age limit for the old age pension for women to 58 from 60, made education up to Class 12 "actually free" for girls up to plus two and on the Bihar pattern announced free bicycles for all girl students in Classes XI and XII apart from providing a Rs 15,000 LIC investment at the birth of a daughter. She could have gone a step further and introduced the budget's gender auditing to find out how much outlay touches women.

 

If a government avoids fresh taxes, then ideally it should cut unproductive expenditure too. There is no sign of that. State enterprises with politicians on board will continue to bleed the exchequer. VIP culture and administrative flab remain intact. Despite the accelerated tax collection, Punjab's fiscal health will deteriorate. No correctives after Manpreet Badal's ouster. The fiscal deficit – the gap between revenue and expenditure – will rise from Rs 7,188 .68 crore this year to Rs 8801.33 crore in the next. Punjab's debt will mount to Rs 77,585 crore by March, 2012, from Rs 69,549 crore now. She blames the fiscal mess on militancy, the tax holiday to the hill states and Central discrimination and does not explain why funds routed through Central schemes remain unspent and why resource mobilisation is so tardy.

 

Coming from Education to Finance, the minister has shown a distinct bias, which is justifiable, for her previous portfolio. Education has got a hefty 52 per cent jump in the budget outlay. Creditably, Punjab has climbed to the third position in the educational development index from 14th in 2006-07. The same enthusiasm in resource allocation is missing for health, infrastructure, industry and agriculture. Punjab State Power Corporation Ltd badly needs a fiscal lifeline. The government is neglecting own generation and depending heavily on private firms, which will provide expensive power. It will either raise the subsidy bill or make farm and industrial production further unviable, harming over-all growth and employment generation. A larger vision for development is missing from the budget.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FRESH CRISIS GRIPS JAPAN

ANTI-NUCLEAR LOBBY MAY GET HYPERACTIVE

THE threat of radiation leakage of serious proportions from two of Japan's nuclear power plants, crippled by last Friday's earthquake and tsunami, has sent disturbing signals all over the world. Japan, aided by the US, is trying to prevent the meltdown of the "core" of the affected reactors, but how far it will succeed remains to be seen, particularly after the massive explosions at the nuclear plants. Already reports say that the extent of radioactivity outside the plants is twice the level considered safe by Japan. A complete meltdown of the "core" may result in a major crisis which may take a very long time to bring under control. The Japanese, who initially did not show signs of nervousness, appear to be getting restless. There is no way to prevent the unimaginable loss Japan will suffer owing to the unavoidable release of radioactive materials towards its cities and villages.

The situation is such that the emergency cooling process at the damaged reactors will have to be continued for over a year. As a result, radioactive steam will have to be released into the atmosphere regardless of the contamination to the environment it will cause. One can imagine the catastrophic effect of it all as the wind in the region blows from the sea to the inhabited areas in Japan. Nature's law under the prevailing circumstances is going to work against all the efforts man is making to fight its onslaught.

The harrowing times being experienced by Japan, having unmatched preparedness to cope with any kind of natural disaster, raise serious questions about the very argument for promoting nuclear power generation. Why locate nuclear power reactors in an area where there is even the slightest chance of their getting damaged by a natural calamity? No country can afford to have such facilities in areas falling in a high seismic zone or near its coastline faced with a tsunami threat. India is one of the countries where the issue will be debated strongly. The anti-nuclear power lobby may become hyperactive in days to come. After all, its argument has got considerable strength from the disaster that has struck Japan.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

FRESH CRISIS GRIPS JAPAN

ANTI-NUCLEAR LOBBY MAY GET HYPERACTIVE

 

THE threat of radiation leakage of serious proportions from two of Japan's nuclear power plants, crippled by last Friday's earthquake and tsunami, has sent disturbing signals all over the world. Japan, aided by the US, is trying to prevent the meltdown of the "core" of the affected reactors, but how far it will succeed remains to be seen, particularly after the massive explosions at the nuclear plants. Already reports say that the extent of radioactivity outside the plants is twice the level considered safe by Japan. A complete meltdown of the "core" may result in a major crisis which may take a very long time to bring under control. The Japanese, who initially did not show signs of nervousness, appear to be getting restless. There is no way to prevent the unimaginable loss Japan will suffer owing to the unavoidable release of radioactive materials towards its cities and villages.

 

The situation is such that the emergency cooling process at the damaged reactors will have to be continued for over a year. As a result, radioactive steam will have to be released into the atmosphere regardless of the contamination to the environment it will cause. One can imagine the catastrophic effect of it all as the wind in the region blows from the sea to the inhabited areas in Japan. Nature's law under the prevailing circumstances is going to work against all the efforts man is making to fight its onslaught.

 

The harrowing times being experienced by Japan, having unmatched preparedness to cope with any kind of natural disaster, raise serious questions about the very argument for promoting nuclear power generation. Why locate nuclear power reactors in an area where there is even the slightest chance of their getting damaged by a natural calamity? No country can afford to have such facilities in areas falling in a high seismic zone or near its coastline faced with a tsunami threat. India is one of the countries where the issue will be debated strongly. The anti-nuclear power lobby may become hyperactive in days to come. After all, its argument has got considerable strength from the disaster that has struck Japan.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

UNLICENSED AND DANGEROUS

PEOPLE'S CONFIDENCE IN PILOTS NOSEDIVES

 

Pilots have a glamorous image in the minds of the public, and it came as a shock that 3,000 to 4,000 pilots are under scrutiny of the Directorate-General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), which is looking into their papers to identify possible forgeries used to get flying licences. Two pilots have already been arrested and more arrests are likely as the investigation progresses. Ironically, it is the DGCA that has issued the licences in the first place. Instead of scrutinising the documents and checking their authenticity when they were submitted, and then issuing licences to the successful candidates; the regulatory body seems to have done the reverse, given licences first without due diligence. Only after one of the pilots who had alleged forged her papers was exposed, did the DGCA start the drive to check the documents of others.

 

The Indian airspace is already crowded and there is a serious lack of infrastructure, which has not been able to keep pace with the growth of the nation's civil aviation sector. It is certainly possible that the DGCA, swamped with the additional workload, gives licences without rigorously checking the papers. However, why the very body responsible for implementing, controlling, and supervising airworthiness standards, safety operations, crew training in India would do something like that is a question which begs an answer.

 

The DGCA's role will certainly be questioned by investigating agencies, since it is likely that there was a degree of connivance and looking the other way by officials concerned. Concern has also been expressed in Parliament about the issue. The DGCA needs to restore the confidence of the public by thoroughly checking the documents submitted by all the pilots and identifying those who committed fraud. It needs to reassure the public that pilots who fly them are bona fide, and fully qualified.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

INDIA & BALLISTIC MISSILE DEFENCE

AN UNCERTAIN, DEBATABLE OPTION

BY P.R. CHARI

 

ON March 7 India shot down a mock enemy ballistic missile in an exercise to test its Advanced Air Defence interceptor. A Prithvi-2 target missile was fired from India's Chandipur test range and another Prithvi missile some 10 miles over the Bay of Bengal was successfully intercepted. The interceptor had been fired five minutes after the target missile was launched. Apparently, several detection systems comprising long-range and multipurpose radars were tasked to detect and identify the target missile within three minutes of its liftoff.

 

The interceptor achieved a speed of 4.5 Mach (4.5 times the speed of sound per second) before the target was struck. The complexity of this manoeuvre can be appreciated by comparing it to firing a bullet to strike another bullet. But the present exercise is far less difficult than what obtains in a conflict situation. For one, the exact time when the incoming missile is fired will not be known; neither will its direction nor the trajectory be known, making the task of detection, tracking, acquisition and attack infinitely more complex than in a controlled exercise like in Chandipur.

 

A word about India's ballistic missile defence programme, which derives from its indigenously designed missiles and indigenously developed and integrated radars. It had employed its short-range Prithvi missile in an exo-atmospheric (outside the atmosphere) mode and an anti-ballistic missile role at the end of 2006, when it intercepted another Prithvi missile at an altitude of 50 km. The virtuosity of this feat can be highlighted by noting that India is the fourth nation in the world to have demonstrated this capability and the third nation to develop it indigenously.

 

A year later, in December 2007, a short-range missile was tested in an endo-atmospheric (within the atmosphere) mode at an altitude of 30 km. It is claimed that working together in tandem, both these missiles will provide an almost assured kill probability. Two new anti-ballistic missiles (AD-1 and AD-2) are being developed to intercept intermediate and long-range ballistic missiles with a range up to 5,000 km. India already possesses the Russian S-300 ballistic missile interceptors. It is now seeking the advanced Russian S-400 anti-ballistic missile.

 

This might be the opportune time to reflect on the generic question of ballistic missile defences. Indeed, the strategic instability arising from deploying missile defences had made the United States and the Soviet Union in May 1972 to enter into the Treaty on the Limitation of Anti-Ballistic Missile Systems (ABM Treaty). It limited ABM deployments by the super powers to two sites (later reduced to one site) to protect their national capitals with a maximum of 100 missiles placed on a maximum of 100 launchers. The ABM Treaty began unwinding when the Reagan administration decided in the early eighties to use space to deploy anti-ballistic missile systems — the famous Star Wars modality — that was prohibited by the ABM Treaty.

 

The then Soviet Union's efforts to catch up in this costly arms race hastened its economic collapse.

 

Later, the George Bush Administration abandoned the ABM Treaty altogether. So, a contrarian argument can be made that the high costs of the competition for ABM defences led to the fall of the Soviet Union, the end of the Cold War and the American triumph. But these high costs also make the argument against pursuing missile defences. Apropos of this, one-on-one deployments will not work, meaning that every anti-ballistic missile may not destroy an attacking missile. These must, therefore, be widely deployed and fired in salvos to ensure total kill probability.

 

The allied problem relates to the credibility of missile defences. It would be presumptuous to argue that it is technologically feasible to establish a fool-proof missile defence system to assuredly detect and destroy 100 per cent of the adversary's incoming missiles. This is virtually impossible, given the vast geographical areas to be defended that permit ingress from all points of the compass and across land and sea frontiers. But even an improbable 99 per cent likelihood of their destruction is not enough in the strategic situation prevailing in southern Asia with India, Pakistan and China possessing nuclear weapons. Even if one nuclear missile escapes detection and destruction, the results could be catastrophic.

 

The conclusion is obvious; even after astronomical costs have been incurred, missile defences will not ensure 100 per cent security. An argument is sometimes made that even if missile defences cannot provide total security, their presence complicates the adversary's calculations. This argument overstates the case, since the adversary could position his missiles where the missile defences are either sparse or non-existent.

 

Finally, the critical strategic issue remains unaddressed, which postulates that mutual nuclear deterrence is premised on the assumption that nuclear adversaries, if attacked, will always remain capable of inflicting unacceptable damage upon each other. Resultantly, great emphasis has been placed on the survivability of the deterrent, and retention of the capability at all times to ride out a first or pre-emptive strike while retaining the capability to launch a devastating second strike on the aggressor. Missile defences complicate this basic nuclear ethic. Theoretically, they could permit the country deploying missile defences to feel confident that it could ensure that its own nuclear force is invulnerable to attack, permitting it to contemplate a disarming first strike. The end result, however, would be a weakening of the entire fabric of mutual assured destruction and nuclear deterrence.

 

In these circumstances, the adversary would be left with a Hobson's choice. Either to emplace similar missiles defences with their high costs and uncertain technological capabilities. Or, to increase its numbers of nuclear warheads and launchers to provide for a much larger attacking force to evade missile defences. Both these scenarios would definitely heighten nuclear instability.

 

Consequently, the downside of missile defences is numerous, but their advantages are uncertain. Whether India should pursue this route to keep up with the Joneses, particularly the United States, is debatable. Why, then, does India want to pursue this expensive, uncertain route? Can this question be asked under the RTI Act?

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

I'M GLAD MY KIDS DIDN'T HAVE TIGER MOM!

BY PUNAM KHAIRA SIDHU

 

WHEN PISA test results showed that Shanghai students' scores were far ahead of American students, President Obama referred to it as a "Sputnik Moment" — "the humbling realization that another country is pulling ahead in a contest we have become used to winning". In this scenario comes Yale Professor Army Chua's book "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mom", a 'politically incorrect' account of how she raised her daughters with a disciplinarian upbringing, Chinese style. And while it's got Americans introspecting their parenting styles, Indian parents are using it to strengthen their own mission-mode upbringing of their kids. And that's got me worried, because I was raised by a "Tiger Dad".

 

We all turn into our parents as we grow older and I did too. So there I was, a 'Tiger Mom' pushing her kids to work towards A's, play the guitar, tennis, golf and work at calligraphy and math. But I had not reckoned with the boys' genes and their 'Laidback Leo' father. They had soon replaced my teeth with dentures!. 'Laidback Leo', loves, supports and does not judge- B's and C's are happily accepted and in fact the boys chide him  for not having higher expectation of them. He is proud of their well-rounded personalities and their high emotional quotients (EQs). And the boys love him and would die for him.

 

When they were growing up, we dreaded PTAs where we got routinely pulled up for the boys' "attitude" and pranks. But the same 'attitude' has helped them excel and adapt to situations, without, parental supervision even while kids raised by 'Tiger' parents have floundered. I constantly seek approval, while my boys have a self esteem, you cannot dent. The answer to Chua's Battle Hymn should be the "Lullaby of the Laidback lion" –my spouse's 'politically correct', account of parenting his progeny, American style. Childhood is a time of 'nurture' – why turn it into a 'battle'?

 

Indian and Chinese kids grow up with such odds (we are 1 billion plus) that competition is built into their DNA. But it is perhaps incorrect, like Chua, to assume strength when children are fragile in every way. Let the fire in a child's belly decide where he puts the bar. Would it be fair for a parent to place the bar and push until the child has fractured both legs trying to cross it?

 

'Tiger Mom' or 'Laidback Lion' – the jury's still out. But history is witness that innovation and creativity can be stifled by too much discipline. Bill Gates, Michael Dell and Zuckerberg rejected degrees for creativity- a Chinese Mom would have coerced them into submission and insisted that they finish college, get their degree and put in some piano practice as well!

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

WHETTING THE BLACK CATS' TEETH

COUNTER-TERRORIST OPERATIONS IN RESPONSE TO THE CARNAGE IN MUMBAI OVER TWO YEARS AGO WAS AN IMPORTANT EPISODE IN THE HISTORY OF THE NATIONAL SECURITY GUARDS. IT PRODUCED SEVERAL LESSONS FOR THE PREMIER ANTI-TERROR FORCE, SOME OF WHICH ARE IN THE PROCESS OF BEING IMPLEMENTED. AFTER A QUARTER CENTURY OF EXISTENCE, IT IS TIME FOR INTROSPECTION AND REORGANISATION TO MEET EMERGING CHALLENGES AND TO OPTIMISE THE FORCE'S FULL POTENTIAL

COL RAMESH DAVESAR (RETD)

 

IT has been 25 years since 1986, when National Security Guards (NSG), the elite commando force for carrying out specialised security tasks was raised. During this period the NSG has more than once proved their mettle and professional acumen. Except for delayed reaction against Pakistani highjackers in December 1999, the NSG successfully executed counter-terrorist operations in Punjab, Akshardham in Gujarat, Jammu and Kashmir and more recently in Mumbai during the December 2008 (26/11) terror strikes. The Silver Jubilee year is aptly timed to carry out reappraisal and review its command and control set-up as well as reorganise to face new challenges.

 

The NSG is modelled on the lines of Special Air Service (SAS) of the United Kingdom and the GSG-9 (a.k.a. Federal Border Police) of Germany; the former being an Army outfit while the latter is purely a police establishment. The designated role of the NSG is anti-hijacking, hostage rescue and counter terrorists (CT) operations.

 

Primarily, the NSG has two special Action Groups (SAGs), one Special Support Group (SSG) and three Special Rangers Groups (SRGs). Post 26/11, in order to improve reaction capability, four hubs have been created at Kolkata, Mumbai, Chennai and Hyderabad, each having a SAG team comprising approximately 250 personnel. The SAGs are trained for CT operations and therefore, are completely staffed by Army personnel including officers, while the SSG supporting the operations has majority Army deputees. The SRGs, meant for VIP security and support operations, have manpower drawn from the central police organisations (CPOs). Thus, the SAGs along with the SSG form the NSG's teeth, as Army personnel are the major component of the force's overall strength of 14,500.

 

In order to execute its assigned role and tasks, the NSG adopts military tactical battle drills for raiding hideouts, fighting in built-up areas, conducting heli-borne operations and storming high jacked aircraft, etc. It is evident that the assigned tasks and their execution are Army specific or shall we say, an extension of the offensive and specialised operations for which Infantry units in general, and the Special Forces of the Army in particular, are trained. Rightly so, the SAGs are therefore staffed and commanded by the Army personnel. Conversely, with due respect, the state police, the CPOs and the IPS officers are basically trained in maintenance law and order and crime prevention, except for the limited and subsidiary exposure they would have got while operating in the counter insurgency (CI) grid. It is therefore axiomatic that Army operations are best comprehended and conducted by Army officers only. But ironically the overall command of the NSG is with an IPS officer, which is not only surprising but is also operationally untenable. Perhaps we are the only country where Army troops are commanded by police officers.

 

One may argue that since the NSG is a paramilitary force (PMF) and functions under the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), its command has, therefore, been delegated to a police officer. Conversely, the Assam Rifles (AR) also being a PMF has the complete line and staff appointments held by Army officers. One may further attempt to justify this arrangement by quoting that the GSG-9 (one of the NSG's role models) is also commanded by police officers. This, however, is a wrong comparison because the GSG-9 is totally a police outfit with no elements from the Army. Hence it has been appropriately placed under a police officer. Take a look at the SAS of UK, the other role model. Keeping in view the sensitivities and nature of the specialised tasks, the UK has very rightly branded this force as a regular Army unit as it is strongly felt that that it is an operational necessity. In order to optimise the full potential of this elite force, the NSG must be commanded by an Army officer, preferably from the Special Forces.

 

The 26/11 terror strike, apart from other things, brought out important lessons and highlighted operational and logistic loopholes such as our sea frontiers being vulnerable to infiltration, the requirement of captive air transport to enhance mobility, deficiency in overall command and control of operations and lack of coordination with local military and state agencies. Presently our coastal defence is woefully porous and needs to be substantially beefed up because the Navy is already overstretched on their conventional role while the Coast Guard and the Navy's Marine Commandos (MARCOS) are inadequate for effective maritime surveillance. With increased incidents of sea pirating it becomes all the more prudent to reinforce our strike capabilities against misadventures from the sea route. Therefore the NSG should raise a marine wing organised on the lines of MARCOS and staffed by naval personnel for carrying out CT tasks in the second tier or in brown waters and relieve MARCOS to operate strategically in the first tier or in blue waters.

 

As regards providing inherent mobility and improving reaction capabilities, in addition to provision of long-range airlifts, NSG headquarters as well as the new hubs should also have heli-lift capability for faster movement of their teams over short distances.

 

It must be understood that such military-like operations against the terrorists, whether conducted by the armed forces or by any other agency including the NSG, are executed with the operational and logistics support from the local military formations and the civil administration. Somehow a complacent impression has been created that the NSG can carryout such tasks independently on its own steam, which is ethically incorrect. Going back to 26/11, during the entire operation while the local Army units provided outer cordon at various points of action, the Navy along with MARCOS were deployed to dominate the coastline. Therefore it is a misplaced belief which must be set aside. Further, the local military formations have adequate knowledge of the security scenario and have the professional and administrative wherewithal to conduct such operations. In fact, to optimise the desired success, the NSG operations must be conducted under the overall command and control of local army formations, which are inherently best poised for effective planning and execution of such tasks.

 

In order to further optimise the operational capabilities of the avant grade force; we must carry out objective analysis of the existing organisation, command and control structure as also taking note of the operational expediencies, handover the overall command of the NSG to an Army officer, particularly one from the Special Forces. Also keeping future threat perception in mind, captive airlift as well as short-range marine special mission capability for the NSG must be considered as an inescapable necessity.

 

SOME NSG operations THAT ARE IN THE PUBLIC DOMAIN

THE NSG commenced its charter in 1986 by combating terrorism in Punjab with initial operations in Amritsar. Primarily a counter-terrorist assault, anti-hijack and hostage rescue force, its deployments are usually kept under wraps and most of its operations are classified. Some known and successful operations include:

            May 11-18, 1988 - Neutralised terrorists holed-up inside the Golden Temple, Amritsar during Operation Black Thunder- II

            April 25, 1993 - Rescued Indian Airlines Boeing 737 hijacked by Islamic militants during Operation Ashwamedh in Amritsar

            October 1998 - Combat missions against terrorists in J&K. Black Cats heli-dropped into countryside.

            July 15, 1999 - Freed 12 hostages held by armed terrorists who had stormed an apartment complex in Kashmir and killed four people

            August 21, 1999 - Neutralised armed terrorists hiding in a house in Delhi

            September 25, 2002 - Operation Vajra Shakti to free hostages held by terrorists who had killed 29 people at the Akshardham temple in Gujarat.

            November 26, 2008 Mumbai attacks - Operation Black Tornado and Operation Cyclone to flush out terrorists and rescue hostages after multiple attacks across Mumbai.

THE WISH LIST

THERE have been occasions when the functioning of the NSG has come under critical review, particularly over the non-availability of state-of-the-art tactical combat and surveillance equipment as well as poor transport and mobility arrangements. A section of NSG Rangers, belonging to the Special Ranger Group, has been assigned on VIP protection duties. After the 26/11 Mumbai carnage, some of the modernisation programmes include induction of:

            Corner shot guns

            Laser designators

            Advanced communication sets

            GPS & GPRS technological systems

            Wall surveillance radars

            Night vision devices

            Protective goggles

            Special tactical gear

            Thermal imaging cameras

            Mini remotely operated vehicles

            Non skid shoes

            Ghillie suits

            Assault helmets with-in built hands-free communications

            Level-3 bullet-proof vests

            Knee pad and elbow pads

            SIG SG 553 guns

            Taser electric stun guns

            Anti-Materiel Rifles

            Chartered helicopters and use of civilian aircraft for emergencies.

— Compiled by TNS

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

THE MSD OF CAPTAINCY

THE INDIAN SKIPPER'S BIGGEST CHALLENGE IS STAYING TRUE TO HIMSELF DESPITE ALL THE CRITICISM, EVEN IF NO ONE ELSE UNDERSTANDS THE CHOICES HE MAKES


One of cricket's great theories, of which Virender Sehwag is a living example, is that a batsman must always play his natural game irrespective of the match situation. It's a line of thinking that suggests instinct, touch, and in an odd way, mindlessness is superior to pre-meditation, application, and analysis.

 

But while this concept has been held valid only with regards to batting, over the last two years Mahendra Singh Dhoni has taken it to a territory hitherto unexplored. He has emerged as a natural captain, as it were: a man of many paradoxes to whom things just come, as opposed to a strategist who burns the midnight oil studying the strengths and weaknesses of the opposition.

 

He is not an obvious genius on the field, like Imran Khan or Steve Waugh, nor a crafty collector of match-winning resources off the field, like Sourav Ganguly. In his own strange way, he likes to wing it – with the approach of a gambler, and a belief that things will somehow fall into place exactly as he wants them to. To use a poker analogy, if he's dealt a King-Five (a hand with which you can either play aggressively or conservatively) he will fold one round, and go all-in the next.

 

There are times, like in this World Cup for example, when it seems his only motivation is proving that he is the boss: the decision to first pick and then stick with Piyush Chawla, the sarcastic banter with the media, the sudden shuffling of the batting order against South Africa, the outburst that some batsmen are playing for the galleries rather than for the country. This authoritarianism, however, is contradicted by a hands-off approach to nets, and by the fact that he's not a control freak when it comes to how his team mates prepare for matches.

Dhoni's most celebrated achievement is that he stays with his unorthodox approach despite the constant over-reaction from fans and experts that tends to pull Indian captains down. He doesn't second-guess what the critics want. He doesn't care for other people's opinions. He doesn't go for the easy save-your-own-skin tactic. But, at the same time, his greatest ploy to date was setting a negative, ultradefensive 8-1 field in the final Test against Australia at Nagpur two years ago that not only choked the batsmen for runs but also frustrated them into throwing their wickets. It was just not cricket, and just not Dhoni. Needless to say, it worked like a charm.

 

Being so random in his decisions, there is no way for anybody to tell what he wants now, and what he will want in the next match. Dhoni mixes things up on a whim – sometimes dismantling what's working, sometimes holding on to what's not. For the lack of a better explanation, it seems he's simply banking on luck.
 

When he tossed the ball to Ashish Nehra instead of Harbhajan Singh against South Africa three days ago, Dhoni was going by gut rather than logic; the same gut that has served him well since 2007, when a team of nohopers was handed to him for the inaugural World T20.

 

The difference this time is that India, due to their own success over the last two years, have gone into the tournament riding on a wave of unrealistic expectations. The media painted a picture, happily lapped up by fans, that all the team needed to do to lift the title was show up. This one, they said, was going to be for Sachin.
    Now, at the half-way mark, every mis-step, every stutter, is being seen as a letdown. Nehra is the villain today, just as Chawla was to blame last week. But favourites do not have the divine right to win. That's the beauty of sport; that's how West Indies lost in 1983, India and Pakistan in 1987, Australia in 1992, India in 1996, and South Africa in 1999.

 

Dhoni likes to talk about the big picture these days. About how winning a match is a process rather than an isolated event. His biggest challenge now is staying true to his form of captaincy despite what is being said. Even if no one else understands what he's doing; even if he's really just a maverick riding his luck.

 

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

COLUMN

SUBBARAO'S DATE

HAS RBI FALLEN INTO AN EXPECTATIONS TRAP?

Assume for a moment that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) did not have to come forward with any press release on monetary policy this coming Thursday. After all, there was a time when the central bank took a view on monetary policy only twice a year and it was not long ago that it yielded to the market's Q-culture. RBI Governor Duvvuri Subbarao, a half marathon runner himself, chose to become more quick footed in his responses and decided to come forward with a mid-quarter statement. While he did say in a recent speech that "Notwithstanding the scheduled quarterly and mid-quarterly reviews, we (RBI) reserve the right to alter our policy stance at any time to respond to the evolving macro-economic situation," the fact is that once a date for making a statement gets fixed, the RBI comes under pressure, from public expectations, to say something or the other. If there was no scheduled mid-quarter statement to be made this Thursday, the question of what signals the central bank would like to send on inflation management would not have arisen quite as sharply as it has. Should the RBI raise rates? If so, by how much? If not, why not? Such are the questions being asked. Given conflicting expectations of bankers, who don't seem to want a rate hike, and markets, that seem to expect a 25 basis points hike, it would appear the RBI has trapped itself into a position where it would be damned if it did, damned if it didn't.

Has inflation gone away as a problem? While economists seem divided both on this question, and the related one of whether monetary policy can address the problem, business expectations are that growth would be hurt by seeking to contain inflation through more rate hikes. In India, there is always some confusion about what indicator should be used to draw conclusions about inflation. If core inflation is to be the policy barometer, the jury is still out on whether or not current trend warrants a rate hike. Equally, credit growth has not gone out of control.

 

On the other hand, with sceptics questioning the Union finance minister's fiscal numbers, the RBI may feel obliged to act on the monetary side to rein in expectations. It is a Hobson's choice for the governor. If he had kept the option to 'respond when he must and when he can' open, and not tied his hands by fixing a mid-quarter date, he may have been able to fudge his choices a bit more. With recent trade and industrial production data suggesting a slowdown in economic activity, and given current global uncertainties, this may have been a good time for RBI to lie low and wait, rather than act. If RBI had taken more decisive action last time, with a 50 basis points hike, it may have had good reasons for inaction at this time. Between no hike and a 25 basis points hike there isn't much choice. Since no one wants a higher hike, and RBI may not feel sanguine enough to avoid a hike, it may settle for a neither-here-nor-there compromise. Since there is a date, one might feel compelled to make a proposition!

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

THE EURO REDUX

FRANCO-GERMAN LEADERSHIP STEERS EUROPE BACK FROM EDGE

It may be too early to say that Europe is completely out of the woods as far as economic growth and stability are concerned, but there seems no doubt that the Euro has risen like Phoenix from the ashes of the region's sovereign debt crisis. In June last year, when Greece was on the verge of defaulting on its sovereign obligations, it was trading at 1.19 to the dollar. Most analysts had predicted that it would remain stuck there and perhaps drift lower. The doomsayers predicted a collapse of the currency claiming that the interests of the relatively stable 'core' including Germany and France conflicted with the fiscally overstretched periphery, particularly the PIIGs (Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain). However, the currency bounced back as Greece was bailed out. Some of these anxieties resurfaced during Ireland's sovereign debt crisis in November but could not push the Euro below 1.29 to the greenback. Today, the Euro is trading at average levels of roughly 1.38-1.40 to the dollar and could head higher if the region's central bank, the European Central Bank (ECB) hikes interest rates in April, as the majority of forecasters expect.

The revival of the Euro's fortunes is underpinned by one critical factor — the growing conviction among investors that the European Union's heavyweights, Germany and France, are committed to the currency's survival and are willing to reach deep into their pockets to bail their less fortunate neighbours out. The European Financial Stability (EFSF), for instance, was created in May 2010 with a hefty corpus of 750 billion Euros to assist members of the monetary union in periods of stress. Germany is the biggest contributor to this followed by France. While this was structured initially as a temporary lifeline that would expire in 2013, it is possible that it could become permanent mechanism. (This is likely to come up for discussion at the European Union Summit due this weekend). A second factor that has worked in favour of the currency has been the sheer momentum of the region's growth engines, Germany followed by France. Industrial growth in Germany in January was a 'China-like' 12.5 per cent while France followed with a more sedate but respectable 5.4 per cent. This does not, however, mean that the regions' problems are all over or that news from the region is likely to be uniformly cheerful. Rating agency Moody's, for instance, downgraded Greece's and Spain's sovereign bonds over the past week on the apprehension that their fiscal austerity measures are inadequate.

 

 While these ripples could muddy the waters periodically, the Euro looks like it is here to stay. As anxieties over its survival have receded, the Euro is back in the reckoning as a global reserve currency. This has taken the pressure off gold that was being seen as the only alternative to the dollar. Currency stability also means that the region could be viewed as an attractive investment destination both for bond and equity investors. For emerging markets that are sagging under the weight of their own problems, they will have one more rival to compete with.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

 

THE FUND OF THE FUTURE

SHOULD INDIA CARE ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE INTERNATIONAL MONETARY FUND?

SUMAN BERY

 

In January this year, the Independent Evaluation Office (IEO) of the International Monetary Fund (IMF) publicly released a report on "IMF Performance in the Run-Up to the Financial and Economic Crisis". The IEO is a relatively small unit, which operates independently of IMF Management and at arm's length from the IMF's Executive Board. It is a relatively recent creation, established ten years ago in response to the growing criticism of the role of the IMF in the developing world by large sections of civil society. Many of the rules of operation of the IEO were established under its first Director, Montek Singh Ahluwalia. Over its first decade of existence, the IEO has reviewed a number of controversial issues in Fund-country relations and policy advice, following an agenda largely defined by the IEO itself, in consultation with a broad array of external stakeholders.

 

 The focus of the above-mentioned report is explicitly not on the Fund's performance during the crisis. Instead, the report examines whether the Fund's analyses in the period 2004-2007 showed any awareness of the pressures and risks accumulating in the financial systems of the advanced countries. It concludes that the Fund largely failed in this task. This failure was no minor matter: it occurred in an area the IEO considers central to the mandate of the organisation, namely its "surveillance" function. Such surveillance is both multilateral (through the Fund's global review documents, such as the World Economic Outlook and the Global Financial Stability Report) and bilateral (through its so-called Article IV country consultations). The purpose of such surveillance is to highlight risks to the global financial and monetary system, so as to create pressure for pre-emptive action.

In trying to account for this institutional and intellectual failure, the IEO cites several cultural and institutional factors. These include a high degree of groupthink; intellectual capture by influential academics and powerful institutions (particularly the US Federal Reserve and the Bank of England); and a general mindset that a major financial crisis in large advanced economies was unlikely. The report also criticises an institutional culture that discourages contrarian views, and urges the executive board and management of the institution to work systematically to alter the culture of the organisation. In the view of the authors, the present relatively unquestioning hierarchy needs to be transformed into a culture is both considerably more tolerant of dissent, as well as better placed in integrating information and insights currently scattered across the organisation.

Of course, the judgement of the IEO is just that: a judgement arrived at by a small, independent staff on the basis of a specific, transparent methodology. Also implicit in this judgment is the belief that things could have been otherwise, that it was indeed possible to discern the build up of systemic risks with the information then available, as was done by a few lonely voices in the midst of the boom. One must also accept that the incentives of any evaluation organisation will lead it to stress weakness, rather than to celebrate success. Perhaps facilitated by the fact that these lapses occurred when a different senior management team was in place, the current management has accepted the main points of the critique as a basis for the current reform of the Fund.

To what degree does this critique of the Fund's performance matter to India? We have so far defined our agenda in the IMF primarily in terms of increasing our quota share, in order to obtain enhanced voting rights and representation at the executive board. It is less clear what our agenda should be once we achieve this desired enhancement. As noted earlier there has been a vigorous debate for many years in the industrial countries about the role, mandate and effectiveness of the Fund, but this is not a debate that has had much resonance in either official or intellectual circles in India. In candour, I must say that I myself have in the past argued that India should take greater interest in the reform of the multilateral development banks, particularly the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank, than in the reform of the Fund. I have taken this view largely on the assumption that India is very unlikely over to seek a Fund programme, and so far has not been very exercised on issues of international monetary reform.

What this latest IEO report (and discussions around it at a recent workshop in Berlin) have brought home to me is an innate tension between the Fund's crisis prevention and crisis response roles. The fact of the matter is that from the 1980s onward, the IMF was increasingly bypassed by the major powers as a forum for macroeconomic co-ordination. To the extent this occurred at all, it took place within the framework of the G-7, not at the Fund.

Despite the views of the IEO that global surveillance is a central mandate of the organisation, in reality the Fund became increasingly specialised in crisis management in the developing world. This is a role, which requires speed of response, the aura of certainty, and the political backing of the major industrial economies. By contrast, the lack of academic and policy consensus at the present time, means that an effective and enhanced role for the Fund in global surveillance would require much greater open-mindedness and diversity, exactly as called for by the IEO report.

The jury is still very much out on whether the major players in the global economy are in fact willing to accept the role of the IMF as honest broker, despite the real economic hardship that their acts of omission and commission have inflicted on others. We have other examples of international institutions, notably the WTO, which have been able to be neutral between major and minor actors in the global trading system, largely because they are not burdened with a financing role.

Accordingly, the issue facing the Indian authorities is whether they believe it is in India's interest for the Fund to play a more prominent role in global surveillance. If the answer is yes, then we probably need to pay more attention than we have so far on what this implies for the internal organisation and structure of the IMF.

The author is Director-General of National Council of Applied Economic Research. The views expressed are personal

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 BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THE MYSTERY OF MISSING INDIAN LANGUAGES

WHY DON'T WE SEE MORE INDIAN LANGUAGE CONTENT ON THE INTERNET?

VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR

 

Why don't we see more Indian language content on the internet?

 

 For instance, there are over 200 odd million people who can read and write in Hindi. But Hindi doesn't figure in any listing of the top ten languages used on the internet globally. Japanese, a cussedly difficult language to read or write, makes it to the top five. This, from a country with less than one-tenth the population of India.

It is not as if Indian languages fare better at home. Any listing of top ten websites out of India brings up only English portals. "On an average, Indian language websites get about 12-15 per cent of the traffic that English sites get," says Prashanth Rao, general manager, Times Internet. Advertiser interest in them is even more abysmal. He would know. Rao earlier worked with one of the largest language portals in India, Webdunia.com.

The reasons seem elusive. It can't be because there isn't a market for language content in India. The fastest growth in audience and revenue numbers is coming from language newspaper groups such as Jagran Prakashan, DB Corporation or Malayala Manorama, among others. In television the most exciting companies, as any investor will tell you, are the ones with a "language play" in their portfolio. There is Sun, Eenadu, Zee and more recently Star India. There are others such as Viacom and Sony, which are now aggressively pursuing Indian language markets.

This is not surprising. In the Indian media and entertainment business, scale and profitability can only be achieved by catering to its heterogeneity.

Take TV news for instance. In 2000, the only challenger to state-owned DD News was Star News, an upmarket English news channel (then). That is when Aaj Tak came along and made news more relevant and real. It set the Hindi news market and finally the language news market on fire. Ditto for entertainment television after the success of Zee Marathi and Sun TV.

So why haven't we seen an Aaj Tak on the net? Or a Sun TV or a Dainik Jagran? Three reasons emerge.

One is penetration. At last count, there were over 83 million internet users in India going by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India numbers. India is the world's fourth-largest internet market in the world, according to Internet World Stats. Yet both Rao, and Rediff.com founder Ajit Balakrishnan reckon that penetration is a huge issue. "The internet is working its way very slowly through the 75 million 'English-knowing' group; once it crosses that level it will move to Indian languages," says Balakrishnan. Rao adds that till the whole broadband/penetration story really hits small-town India, a la mobile phones, language content cannot take off.

They have a point. Cable penetration took off fastest in Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. That is when the language television industries in each of these states took off. Globally, take a look at Japan and Korea, where everyone is on broadband across devices. So, usage is very high and therefore their languages figure in the top ten.

Two, "The effort so far has been to 'translate' content into local languages rather than actually 'create' content that is relevant to a particular language group," says Sanjay Trehan, head, MSN India. For example, says an IAMAI-IMRB report on vernacular content, Hindi websites tend to be too literal and true to the classical Hindi instead of the spoken Hindi. This makes it inaccessible even to Hindi speaking people.

Three, "There is no one language domination unlike Mandarin in China," says R, Sundar, CEO, Times Business Solutions. Most of the hardware is still configured to English. The sheer variety of languages makes configuring hardware and software around one language somewhat uneconomical. Besides English remains, says Sundar, an aspirational language.

The bottom-line; inspite of a ready market, the eco-system to serve it is not yet ready. A successful Indian language search engine could have kick-started it. While there is the odd Raftaar (a Hindi search engine), "India has so far not come up with its own version of Baidu (a very popular Chinese search engine)," says Trehan.

If much of this sounds chicken and eggish, it is. Penetration will drive content or vice versa. But one of them has to take off first. The question is what will?

vanitakohli@hotmail.com

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

BUDGET ON THE BACK BURNER

A K BHATTACHARYA

 

If the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) has its way, Parliament will approve the Union Budget for 2011-12 by March 25, in less than a month of its presentation on February 28. This will be both unusual and unprecedented. Worse, it will deal a blow to the time-honoured tradition of subjecting the government's annual Budget to elaborate scrutiny and discussion by members of Parliament, before the final assent by the president.

The schedule, followed for several decades, is that the Budget receives Parliament's nod of approval by the first week of May. A lot happens during the nine weeks between the presentation of the Budget on the last working day of February and its passage in the first week of May. Various parliamentary committees examine Budget provisions and present their findings to the finance minister. Also, members of the two Houses get an opportunity to discuss the various provisions in the Finance Bill and even make useful suggestions on the expenditure programmes of a few central ministries. There is, of course, a short recess in between. But that only allows the parliamentary committees to complete their scrutiny of the Budget and table their reports before the two Houses.

The UPA seems set to give all these elaborate procedures short shrift this year. The recess, originally scheduled from March 16 to April 4, will stand cancelled. Parliament will approve the Budget by March 25, even though the parliamentary committees' reports will not be available by then. So the Budget session of Parliament, normally the longest one of the year, may come to an end by March 25, making it the shortest Budget session ever!

The reason cited for curtailing the schedule of the Budget session is that five major states will have Assembly elections in April and May — Assam, Kerala, Puducherry, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Our parliamentarians, the UPA managers feel, need more time for campaigning in these states before the elections. If Parliament's Budget session ends by March 25 and the Budget is passed by then, the legislators can roam around freely, fully immersed in electoral concerns in their respective states, without worrying about either any constitutional crisis or their salaries. If the Budget exercise gets over by March 25, the government's expenditure including the disbursement of salaries to our legislators as proposed for the next year will face no problems.

Make no mistake about the UPA managers' political priorities and their cynical approach to the Union Budget. For them, it seems the parliamentary tradition of allowing a meaningful and constructive discussion on Budget provisions is an expendable aspect of political governance and far less important than the need for parliamentarians to engage in campaigning for Assembly elections in five states.

The UPA managers may argue that the quality of parliamentary debate on Budget provisions has been on a downhill journey for several years. The country, therefore, would not lose much if central legislators took a more active part in what, by common consensus, seem to be the most crucial Assembly elections almost at the mid-point of the UPA government's second five-year tenure at the Centre. However, that argument ignores the responsibility of the ruling coalition to strive towards upholding parliamentary values.

The UPA managers would cite another argument in support of their move to curtail the Budget session this year. That argument is of precedence. Even the National Democratic Alliance government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee had sought recourse to sacrificing a proper debate on Budget provisions so that there was neither a constitutional crisis nor derailment of the government's expenditure programmes. So why quarrel over what the UPA is planning this year if the main Opposition party in the current Lok Sabha has also been guilty of committing similar impropriety?

The problem is not just about the Budget. What happens to the several legislative Bills, including half a dozen financial sector reform Bills, that the government had planned to introduce or for which it planned to seek the assent of Parliament in the Budget session? If the session ends by March 25, what is the hope for any positive movement on this front? The government has already decided to postpone tabling the revised Companies Bill. No clear reason for this is available, but it would be reasonable to assume that the proposed curtailment of the Budget session must be a factor. There is also the amendment Bill to facilitate the introduction of the Goods and Services Tax.

The winter session of Parliament in 2010 was completely lost to the Opposition protests over the government's reluctance to accede to the demand for a joint parliamentary committee to probe corruption charges relating to the allotment of spectrum to 2G telecom service providers. Now, the Budget session will lose more than half its normal time because our parliamentarians prefer to take part in Assembly elections in five states. Any doubts on whether we are suffering from governance deficit?

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

RBI POLICY REVIEW - NAVIGATING ON THE CURVE

UPSIDE RISK ON INFLATION NECESSITATES A RATE HIKE, DESPITE DOWNSIDE RISKS TO GROWTH

RAJEEV MALIK

 

All eyes are on the Reserve Bank of India's (RBI) mid-quarter monetary policy review on March 17. It has so far been aggressive in its actions, having raised policy rates seven times, and effectively increasing rates by 325 basis points (bps) since early 2010. The actual monetary transmission has been even more potent since market rates have been well above the repo rate owing to tighter liquidity conditions, even if we discount the fact that banks woke up late to transmit the hikes in policy rates.

 

 The RBI will probably raise rates by 25 bps and stay the course with the hawkish bias. More open to debate is how much more aggressive is the RBI poised to be here on, as economic growth is most likely to moderate in 2011-12 even as trend inflation will be higher for longer. A gross domestic product (GDP) growth of 9 per cent in the next fiscal year despite an even more aggressive RBI appears to be an extremely low-probability outcome. Moreover, given the global dynamics in commodities, more adjustments in local prices are likely, which, in turn, will sustain core inflationary pressures.

India's improving headline inflation trajectory for much of calendar 2010 that followed from the severe drought of 2009 was thrown off course in December by the unexpectedly large hit from the fresh fruit and vegetables component of the wholesale price index (WPI). After hitting a high of 11 per cent year-on-year (YoY) in April 2010, WPI inflation eased to 8.1 per cent YoY in November, before reversing course to 8.4 per cent in December. The food composite index (weighted average of food components of the primary and manufactured goods subindices of the WPI) jumped in December to 8.6 per cent YoY after having declined to 6.8 per cent in November from 20.2 per cent in February 2010. Partly owing to government measures and improved supply, food inflation began to ease from the second-half of January. Indeed, the February WPI food inflation rate is likely to show a significant decline, though core inflation will rise.

Despite the reams that were written on the jump in food inflation being triggered by improving affluence and existing structural deficiencies, one of the key drivers of the jump in inflation in particular was the fruit and vegetable category. The surge in the prices of that category alone contributed a massive 1 percentage point to the 8.4 per cent YoY inflation rate in December. It can't be denied that a risk of a structural demand-supply imbalance in the food economy remains, as policy initiatives have not enhanced agriculture productivity even as higher incomes have boosted demand. But this risk is not entirely new, and still asserts itself mainly via amplification of the impact of supply shocks, such as poor monsoons. However, the government needs to get its act together on this important issue.

It is often overlooked that India's food inflation is not correlated with global food inflation. The claim by some that a good monsoon last year did not have a favourable impact on food inflation is incorrect, since food grain shows no pressure points owing to improved supply. So far, most of the structural pressure on food inflation has been concentrated in protein-rich food items such as eggs, meat and fish, and milk, which have been affected by improving demand and inadequate gain in supply. Indeed, eggs, meat and fish and milk categories together contributed half of the 8.6 per cent YoY increase in the food composite in December.

While food inflation is softening, core (in India's case non-food manufactured goods) inflation is likely to increase, especially owing to the pass-through of higher global commodity prices to local prices. Depending on the magnitude of the pass-through, inflation and the government's subsidy bill will be higher. While sensible economics dictates that the pass-through should happen, the schedule of state legislative elections suggests that a hike before that won't be preferred, but some action thereafter is highly likely.

The RBI's focus on WPI rather than the consumer price index (CPI) inflation means that core inflation will be quicker in adjusting upwards owing to the pass-through of higher commodity prices. The central bank is essentially trying to target prices of inputs and tradeables rather than final goods prices. Core inflation has already seen an uptrend in seasonally-adjusted sequential terms, but the RBI's response appears to be more geared to the YoY inflation rate, possibly because that is what the public identifies with and reacts to.

Higher crude oil prices remain a legitimate risk to the inflation outlook, and inflation is likely to be higher for longer. Apart from local factors, a new global normal for commodity prices suggests that inflation is likely to be higher than what we have been used to. The adverse impact of high inflation on corporate margins will be more pronounced given the stronger presence of the cost-push drivers of inflation and softening aggregate demand.

However, some deceleration in economic growth will soften demand-driven inflationary pressures, and the spending restraint in the Budget will be a constructive input in inflation management. The likely slippage in the fiscal deficit does not necessarily mean that domestic market borrowing will necessarily increase, as the government could again increase the foreign institutional investment limit in local currency government debt. In any case, the slippage will come more into focus later in the year.

Unseasonal rains late last year upset the inflation trajectory, but, in my humble view, the RBI is not behind the curve. It has aggressively raised rates, but hasn't formally targeted inflation, even if that means killing economic growth. Additionally, the uncertainty around the revision of administered fuel prices messes up the inflation trajectory. While managing inflation, the RBI is also ensuring that higher rates do not suffocate the much-needed supply enhancement in the supply-constrained economy. Also, the investment upturn in the current cycle is much weaker than in 2004-08, real lending rates are well in positive territory, and the actual monetary tightening is much more aggressive than what the current level of repo rate at 6.5 per cent indicates.

Thus, critics of the RBI overlook that the current monetary tightening cycle is dramatically different from that in 2007-08, despite the repo rate being lower now. The magnitude of the pass-through to higher local fuel prices remains a key unknown for mapping the inflation trajectory. Still, the full impact of the 325 bps tightening so far has not been fully transmitted, and some moderation in growth is already appearing even if the industrial production data overstate it. Since crippling growth is not on the agenda to win the inflation battle, the RBI will likely adopt a go-slow approach here on, unless sharply higher global commodity prices mess up everything.

The author is a senior economist at CLSA, Singapore

The views expressed are personal

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

SHARE ROYALTIES

TO ENSURE THAT PEOPLE AFFECTED BY MINING PROJECTS GET A FAIR DEAL


It has long been a scandal that people displaced by mining projects have ended up landless and in penury while mining companies have made huge profits. The new proposed legislation proposes a new levy — equal to the existing state royalty or 26% of net profit, whichever is higher — to a district mineral foundation. This will have representatives of the oustees plus the district magistrate. It will ensure monthly payments to each oustee family at the NREGA rate, with the rest being used for local development projects. This is certainly a good way to ensure that sums go directly to beneficiaries, and not simply to state governments who may fritter away the money elsewhere. However, while we support a sum equal to the royalty, we oppose the alternative of a 26% share of profits. Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia has opposed profit-sharing as unheard of internationally, which will discourage investments. It could also raise similar demands for profit-sharing in other sectors.


A far stronger objection is that mining operations can be conducted through a number of interlocking subsidiaries, so that the actual mining operation can always be shown as losing money, while the profits are siphoned off by other subsidiaries in the chain. Crooked companies will gain hugely at the expense of both oustees and honest companies. Besides, much mining is captive to power or steel plants, and it is difficult to lay down what share of profits (or losses) of an integrated company is due to mining alone. The government would like to believe that giving oustees a share of profits will keep them involved on a continuing basis, and get them engaged in company management instead of simply being a cash recipient. This is sham idealism. Even the savviest stock market investors in India do not try to manage companies they hold shares in. If dissatisfied, they simply sell shares. To expect tribals to take an active part in the management of a mining company is wishful thinking. The new law should simply specify that the district mineral foundations will get a sum equal to the state royalty. That is the simplest, cleanest way to make oustees stakeholders.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

MOB MENTALITY

CAN ONLY END THROUGH POLITICAL DIALOGUE, NOT IDENTITY MANAGEMENT POLITICS

 

Recent instances of mob violence, whether indulged in by organised groups or by people ostensibly rallying around a political issue, underscore the need for a debate on the culture of hooliganism and political violence in India. The larger issue is how political mobilisation has been envisaged and the relationship between power and force. The collapse or subversion of the rule of law, whether it is an unruly ruckus created inside Parliament or crowds running amok, like the recent mayhem unleashed by Telangana supporters in Hyderabad, is indicative of the absence of a genuine political conversation and the attendant conflict over decisionmaking. Often, agitational violence is a manifestation of those who feel left out or alienated from power or the decision-making process believing that only force can insert them into that process. That state of affairs can manifest itself in, say, a mob protesting the lack of trains passing through an area by burning railway coaches, with the passengers still inside. The state, however, is also culpable given the traditional propensity to use force to deal with opposition, protests or dissent. It isn't the case that mob violence is specific to India alone. Rather, the point is that a certain democratic and political immaturity, giving rise to a stunted notion of governance as well as citizenship, is quite often manifested as an interplay, and competition, between power and force.


Another regressive facet of this culture and praxis of political violence is when it seems to have embedded a socio-political pathology, an impulse towards fascism, as it were. Such as represented by groups targeting individuals, or people of a different ethnic origin, or even vandalising cinema halls in the name of preserving notions of morality, cultural characteristics or even jobs for locals. The sole antidote to such violence is a gradual maturing of political and democratic mobilisation, which would mean shunning competitive identity management and envisaging an inclusive democratic process. And a culture of democratic political dialogue, sans the necessity to deploy violence, will attend that.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BEASTLY BIASES

SOON, WE MAY NOT BE ABLE TO ASSUME THAT WE ARE THE CLEVEREST OF THEM ALL

 

We humans have always had a rather inflated notion of our own superiority and intelligence, which is why we do not baulk at hurling blatantly biased epithets at those we consider inferior. Every human language singles out various species of the animal world for special ridicule as supposed epitomes of idiocy. How have we arrived at the conclusion that it is fair — or even accurate — to deem a donkey to be synonymous with a fool? We have obviously taken advantage of the fact that there is no precise way of comparing human and non-human intelligence. So, we have been merrily assuming and alloting intelligence quotients to other life forms on earth. Even when we pit ourselves against artificial intelligence, there is a tilt in our favour in the form of language: machines speak only what we teach them via programs, so any comparison is bound to be skewed. Therefore, the endeavour by an Australian and a Spanish scientist to devise a universal scale of intelligence that can assess without language coming in the way, is a revolutionary step towards making us more mindful of our Ps and IQs.
Admittedly, their method will be beyond the ken of most averagely-proficient humans, for it proposes to gauge intelligence using an arcane element of computer science called the Kolmogorov complexity, that gives an objective value to the randomness of individual objects and can, therefore, be used to compare disparate species. If it ends up actually allowing us to get a sort of ranking, then it has huge ramifications not only for our own selfesteem but also for the future usage of the gamut of animal synonyms our languages are littered with that allude to less-thanintelligent behaviour, from hare-brained and jackass to batty, bird-brained and asinine. And that's just in English.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

PRESSURE-COOKER POLITICS

THIS SUMMER WILL SIZZLE WITH POLITICAL ACTIVITY AS THREE BIG TRENDS PLAY OUT IN THE STATE ELECTIONS

 

In another 24 hours, every party that's going to fight the crucial elections in four states this summer will finish doing their most gut-wrenching pre-poll activity: selecting candidates who'll contest each seat in these states.
The Left in Bengal has been the quickest off the block, announcing candidates for all but one of 294 seats in the state. Of these candidates, a staggering 149 are new faces. Nine sitting ministers have been dropped, which seems to show that the comrades realise that people are fed up with their current leaders and want change. It is always tough for parties to deny tickets to existing MLAs with winning records. So, the Left's success in dropping half its veterans shows another important thing. Party bosses figure they're going to lose anyway, so it's a good time to dump some apparatchiks and get in new faces.


Things are different for the Congress. It has a very good chance of winning Assam for the third time in a row, winning Kerala back from the Left and winning in Bengal with lots of help from the Trinamool Congress (TC). So, the haggling for tickets and seats is intense.


There are three reasons big trends emerging in this election. First, India's electoral battlefields are becoming unbearably crowded with voters and candidates. For example, during its first assembly election in 1951, Bengal was carved up into 187 constituencies, with a little less than 18 million voters. That's about 96,000 voters per constituency. During the last election, held in 2006, the number of constituencies had grown by more than 50% to 294, but the number of voters had shot up to 48 million. That's more than 1.6 lakh voters in an assembly constituency.


The first polls in what we know as today's Tamil Nadu were held in 1967, with 234 seats, the same number as today. Yet, in the 40 years to 2006, the number of voters had more than doubled from 21 million to 47 million. So, there are more than two lakh voters for an assembly seat in Tamil Nadu now. In 1957, Kerala had elections where there were only 78,000 voters per seat. Fifty years later, the number had doubled to more than 1.5 lakh.
Assam's case, where the first elections were held in 1951, is even more interesting. It then had 92 seats and 4.9 million voters, meaning about 53,000 voters per seat. But this was not the same Assam that we know today. In 1951, the states of Arunachal Pradesh, Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland were all part of Assam. Through the 1950s to the 1970s, each of these regions broke away from Assam and became individual states. So, geographically, by 2006, Assam was a fraction of its 1951 dimensions. Yet, by 2006, the number of seats had gone up to 126, voter strength had shot up to 17.4 million, with 1.4 lakh voters — nearly three times the 1951 number — in each seat.


Second, as voters have grown faster than seats, the inevitable has happened: local politics is now at pressure-cooker levels. With more than a lakh — sometimes two lakh — voters in each assembly constituency, different local aspirations, ambitions, identities and interests collide against each other, sometimes violently.
This is fertile ground for tiny regional parties catering to small slivers of opportunity, opinion or bias. These organisations are often short-lived, but that doesn't prevent a succeeding crop of narrow focus, short lifespan parties from sprouting. Here's a good statistic to see this process at work over time: the average number of contestants for one assembly seat in any given state.


In 1951 there were, on average, five candidates contesting a seat in Assam; by 2006, there were eight. In Kerala, four candidates slogged it out for an average seat in 1957, compared to seven in 2006. In 1967, only three candidates fought over a seat in Tamil Nadu. Forty years later, 11 people were trying to beat each other to a seat. Only the eternally argumentative Bengali is constant. For 60 years, a steady average of about seven candidates have squabbled over each seat.


    These trends can't be allowed to run forever. As populations go up and become more diverse, new constituencies need to be created to cater to people's aspirations. Put another way, a Kerala legislator who had to represent 78,000 voters in 1957 would have done a better job of it than his harried counterpart today, who has to deal with double the number. The process of creating new seats is called delimitation. It's been held up for more than 30 years by political bickering. That must stop. The government and political parties must sit down and create new constituencies. Otherwise voters will get increasingly confused, politicians less able to deliver results till one day, the political pressure-cooker bursts.


Finally, this election will see a huge erosion of the Left, which is likely to lose power in both Bengal and Kerala. That won't change anything at the Centre where since 2009, the dominant Left party, the CPM, has a measly 16 seats. But it will be a huge blow to the Left because major sources of support and funding will dry up. This blow could be so severe that any recovery, forget expansion, dreamt of by the Left could get dented. Bengal desperately needs a regime change. But a decimation of the Left, one of the few sources of non-religious, non-caste politics in India, might not be a complete positive at a pan-India level.
Some people say the defeat of the Left will also mean that non-Congress, non-BJP parties like the BSP, SP, BJD and so on will rush into the embrace of the Congress or the BJP. This is unlikely. Parties like Orissa's BJD that oppose the Congress do so because it is their main rival in the state. As long as they're assured a big chunk of local votes to fetch them power, why should they submerge their identity and merge with the BJP? Similarly, anti-BJP outfits like UP's Samajwadi Party are in no hurry to walk into the Congress' embrace as long as they can survive on their own.


The heat on the pressure-cooker is increasing. This summer promises to be a sizzler.

 

ABHEEK BARMAN

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

THROUGH THE THIRD EYE


A Bubble Burst

Some political honeymoons end rather quickly. Just four months ago, Prithviraj Chavan seemed the man of destiny. Before he was airdropped as Maharashtra CM, Chavan was minister of state in the PMO who also held a couple of other portfolios as well. He also held the post of AICC general secretary. For those who know Chavan, he comes across as a likeable and apolitical (sic) politician. One of the worst kept secrets at 24, Akbar Road, is that Chavan owed his rise not to his administrative/political abilities but to his being a yes-man to party masters. And now the S-band episode in ISRO and the PM's own explanation about how his junior minister (Chavan) had placed the to-be-CVC P J Thomas' file before him without informing about his legal antecedents have formally exposed what has always been whispered about Chavan's efficiency. Chavan may have left Delhi for Mumbai before his efficiency was formally 'discovered', but many partymen feel Chavan's personal meltdown in the Delhi durbar could make him a sitting duck in Maharashtra Congress' factional minefields. No wonder, the CM has chosen not to contest a by-election, but take the council route to enter the state legislature. His show has only started, it seems.


Montek-Watch
Who will bag that Maharashtra Rajya Sabha seat, vacated by Prithviraj Chavan when he landed in the Mumbai mantralay? The whispers in the Congress corridors say the aspirants from Maharashtra are keenly watching whether the high command will push for any of its nominees from outside the state, given that three non-Marathi names are doing the rounds. Some say Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia should be watched as some powerful sections are rooting for his entry to Parliament ahead of the Cabinet reshuffle. Others say Madhya Pradesh PCC chief Suresh Pachouri will be more than happy to 'escape from his state' if he can make it to the Rajya Sabha from Maharashtra. And the third name is that of AICC General Secretary B K Hariprasad, who is finding it tough to return to the Rajya Sabha from his BJP-ruled home state of Karnataka.


Fake Encounter

The BJP central leadership may be up in arms against the PM and UPA-II on the anti-corruption plank, but the expose of the saffron underbelly continues to haunt the party. No, we are not talking about RSS` problems with right-wing terror. A sort of Amit Shah-Sohrabuddin fake encounter episode in Gujarat is being played out in Rajasthan too. Under the Supreme Court-ordered probe into the Dara Singh fake encounter, the CBI is closing in on Rajendra Singh Rathore, a top BJP leader/MLA who was an influential minister in the previous Vasundhara Raje government. The CBI has already nabbed many police officers who were part of the special operations group formed by the previous BJP regime, that had gunned down Dara Singh, who, like Sohrabuddin, was a criminal. But the case is that Singh was gunned down at the orders of then-minister Rathore, who had some shady deals with the former. The buzz in Delhi is that the CBI probe will not only close in on Rathore but could nail some state cadre politically ambitious IAS officers too. The apex court ordered the CBI probe after the widow of the victim challenged the findings of a probe conducted by the then-BJP state government. So, what is common between Amit Shah and Rathore? Fake encounter woes!


The Kerala Plot

The decision of Kerala PCC chief Ramesh Chennithala to enter the electoral fray has thickened the plot. Chennithala made the move after gaining permission from 10, Janpath last week. His move coincides with the state opposition leader and ex-Congress CM Oomman Chandy being dragged into the old palm oil export case with the LDF trying to entangle him in the case as he was the then-finance minister. Since K Karunakaran's death, the anti-Chandy (a Christian) group in the state Congress has been arguing the need to project a Hindu face 'in order to retain the Congress' social balance' in the polls. Chennithala's entry, no wonder, made many in the Chandy camp smell a rat, more so when there are murmurs that the relationship between Chandy and A K Antony, the original axis against Karunakaran, isn't quite the same ever since Chandy replaced Antony as the last Congress CM.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

SERENDIPITY

MAMATA AND GOLIATH IN BENGAL

BASISTHA BASU


For all her fire and brimstone image, Mamata Banerjee loves cute little flowers like jasmine. And jasmine might well give her 22-year old crusade just the right topical flavour, for as recent events around the world prove, jasmine has the cutting edge.


For the CPM, the challenge is to not go below 100 in an assembly of 294 seats, over which it has lorded for 35 years. Right now, bookies think the Trinamool-Congress alliance will get some 180-200 seats. "It's just a guess though," warned one. "We were too caught up with cricket," he said.


Indeed, rational optimism even within CPM ranks rates Left chances at a shade over 100 seats. Diehards refuse to accept anything less than 150 (still a huge stepdown from 235 that the Left won in 2006), although the worst fears are that the Front may just aggregate between 55 and 75 seats. Historically, Left strength has ranged from 251 in 1987 to 199 in 2001.


As West Bengal readies itself up for the mother of all electoral battles from April 18, the debate is about what might happen after all the dust settles and Mamata wins. Does a very long and dreary day's sunset necessarily guarantee a glorious sunrise next morning?


A Trinamool friend recently said it suits the party high command to be seen as an "underdog". "We know what the questions are... will Mamata be able to deliver, can a rabble-rouser be a good chief minister, what will her cabinet be like, where are her ministers-in-waiting, will she be able to attract investment, can she reshape West Bengal, etc? It suits us now to have that kind of image. Let doubts remain, till we come and reveal our hand bit by bit." That's Hitchcock. Mystify, and keep people guessing. The Marxists aren't pushovers and they are working at a frenzied pace in rural Bengal to woo voters back. But Mamata has the wave with her and she is the favourite. 'Trinamool' in Bengali means grassroots, and roots are sub-soil stuff. That's what she has kicked up in her run-up to the polls, millions of particles of dust that lay at Ground Zero and now, suddenly stirred, have become a storm. The CPM has got blanked out by this aandhi. Attend any meeting of Mamata Banerjee anywhere to see her core strength. It's the nameless millions whose lives are inextricably intertwined with the soil they were born on. Mamata give them an identity, they give her their numbers.


The force will help her win, but Mamata will have to rein in this multitude once she is in power. Jobs, she cannot guarantee everyone, nor land. Some of her party's official representatives through past election victories, have turned out to be misfits. A Trinamool insider confessed "Greed reigns, as do bitter intra-party feuds in places, but I am sure Didi will be able to control this, once she comes to power".


Learning to unlearn the obsession with CPM will have to be her next big homework. Her management of Indian Railways hasn't been exactly world-class, and perhaps the only place she hasn't yet connected with her new services in the eastern theatre is Port Blair to Howrah station. For West Bengal, Mamata Banerjee will have to formulate a new growth-developmentprogress model that will translate the dreams she has spun, to reality.
Can Mamata deliver? Moses was Biblical stuff and Charlton Heston, a Cecil B DeMille piece of celluloid. Mamata's tryst with destiny, however, is for real. She will have to reach beyond the shadow of Singur, for which, the friendly local industry fan-club won't be much help. She will have to fight the scourge of land unavailability, bring the big boys of India Inc over, check her famous temper, figure out how to repay the . 1.96 lakh crore debt that the Left Front government would be happily leaving behind, a sum that is around 43% of the state GDP. She would need to create a few million jobs and develop state infrastructure to her pet "world-class" standards. Already, she has realised that developing world-class railway stations aren't as easy as she had thought.


Irrespective of whether Mamata Banerjee becomes the next chief minister of West Bengal or she prefers to play a Sonia Gandhi for Trinamool-in-government, managing West Bengal will not quite be making railway budget speeches or whipping up mob frenzy. The messiah herself will have to lead her people to the promised land.
For that she would need to be less flashy, less populist, a high-speed core processor rather than a feared, aggressive mass leader. Instead of ready-to-please yes men, Mamata Banerjee should gather around her turnaround specialists with a reputation for propelling and managing growth, people who can say "no" to her, when needed. Because turning West Bengal around, would be serious business. Winning Writers would make her an icon, the David who slayed the Goliath. But Mamata's real battle would begin only thereafter.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

NUCLEAR FAMILY

 

Japan's earthquake and tsunami have now trigged a nuclear power plant meltdown that threatens the country with an epic crisis. A technological superpower that has developed excellence in earthquake-resistant construction — it is situated in one of the planet's most seismically active zones — Japan is better off, strange as that expression may sound, than most other countries. If a triple disaster of this type had struck a standard Asian or developing country, the casualties would have been in the hundreds of thousands and not the tens of thousands. While such a calamity in an important country like Japan would have been front-page news at any time, it is worth noting that globalisation and inter-connectedness — as represented by business relations, 24/7 media coverage and the resultant public pressure — are making it impossible for the rest of the world to insulate itself from one country's ill-fortune. Examples would help. As Madhusree Mukerjee's recent book Churchill's Secret War points out, the Bengal Famine of 1943 did cause some disquiet in Washington, DC, and had the United States leadership attempting to nudge the British government into action. It was to no impact, of course. Today, such a situation would be impossible. In 1943, American society — as opposed to the foreign policy elite in the federal capital — had no idea about the famine in Bengal, about millions being allowed to starve to death, about the perfidy of the British Raj. There were no correspondents on the ground, no stark, terrifying pictures on CNN, no collection of relief material in small town neighbourhoods, no democratic expectation that the US government "do something". Contrast this with the Asian tsunami of December 26, 2004, which devastated countries in southeast and south Asia. By this time, the world economy was much more engaged with the rising powers of Asia, and a truly global effort was launched to get help to those who needed it most. The possibility of being labelled insensitive forced American Express to withdraw a new television advertisement that showed a person surfing, lest the waves on the screen be misconstrued at a time when a monster wave had killed thousands. The advertisement was made only for American audiences, but many of the countries affected by the tsunami were key markets for AmEx. It needed to be seen as a responsible and caring corporate citizen, globally and locally. Since external governments are being forced to respond — or put another way, since the price of non-response is today way too high — natural disasters and humanitarian crises are also increasingly acquiring a diplomatic implication. In December 2004, four countries with the most robust regional relief and maritime capacities banded together and became the first responders: the US, Australia, Japan and India. An Indian naval ship travelled to Sri Lanka to help that country recover. These four countries, straddling the eastern Indian Ocean, ended up exciting strategic analysts who wondered if they could someday form an Asia-Pacific "concert of democracies". In the coming years, the idea of the Quad — for quadrilateral — as a politico-military alliance, and not just an ad hoc collective put together in the aftermath of the tsunami, took shape. Japan was an early proponent, till its government changed. The US and Australia were tickled by the thought but wary of snubbing China. India went along with the plan but never quite made up its mind. On their part, the Chinese went apoplectic and the Quad became an idea before its time. Not all disasters take place in crucial economies. Disasters do the most damage in poor, unstable nation-states and societies, simply because the in-house preventive and first-response capacities are so abysmal. Three months ago, "Leading Through Civilian Power: 2010 Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review" (QDDR, as it is known), was released by the US state department and it spoke of "strengthen(ing) the international humanitarian architecture for more effective response to disaster and complex crises". The QDDR had a special section on the earthquake in Haiti in 2010, which killed at least 1,00,000 people. It listed the US endeavour towards relief and reconstruction, the use of "crisis response technology". It saw climate change — leading to "significant changes to our global environment… migrant and refugee flows, drought and famine, and catastrophic natural disasters" — and epidemics as among seven "new global threats". "While pandemics and infectious diseases have existed for millennia", the QDDR said, "today they are more potent and potentially devastating. Since the 1970s, newly emerging diseases have been identified at the unprecedented rate of one or more per year… Globalisation, a transportation revolution, and international commerce allow diseases to spread more quickly. An outbreak of a particularly virulent disease in one country can become a regional epidemic overnight and a global health crisis in days". In such circumstances, natural disasters can cause economic and security risks for the global system. The Kashmir earthquake of 2005 and the Pakistan floods of 2010 exposed the limited abilities of Islamabad and of its provincial governments. They gave greater space to religious non-governmental organisations, some of them linked with jihadist groups. Haiti is in the Caribbean, America's backyard. If the US had not acted, it would inevitably have faced a refugee surge. What would be India's equivalent of the Haiti earthquake? It is revealing that India and the US are among the global and multilateral actors putting together a disaster preparedness and risk reduction framework for a possible earthquake in Nepal. A conference to take this forward is scheduled for April in Washington, DC. While nobody can predict earthquakes, past trends and timelines suggest the Himalayan region, particularly its Nepalese section, is in danger of an imminent earthquake. Historically, Nepal has seen a major earthquake — at least 8.0 on the Richter scale — once every 70-80 years. The previous one was in 1934, which also ravaged Bihar, with tremors being felt as far away as the city then known as Bombay. Should Nepal see an earthquake — and one sincerely hopes it doesn't — then given its landlocked nature and the construction and population explosion in Kathmandu and other urban centres, South Asia will have a first-rate crisis on its hands. A concourse of refugees coming towards India; competition between India and China to come to the aid of a smaller neighbour they both see as in their zones of influence; the chances of non-state actors, such as Left-wing extremists, gaining control of the relief phase: the consequences can be many. Those are sombre thoughts, but in the week of Japan's tragedy, they are perhaps appropriate.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WHY PROTECT CHEATING BANKERS?

 

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 behaviour 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 programme — supposedly to help them keep their homes — under false pretences; with giving false information about the programme'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 programme 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 emphasise 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.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

WHY IS CHINA SO SCARED OF DALAI ?

 

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.

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

SAFETY LAST, WE ARE INDIANS

 

As I write this column, Japan is fighting to contain what could be the world's worst nuclear disaster in 25 years after the cooling failed at a third reactor. Already crippled by an earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale, and a tsunami, this is the first nuclear emergency with 24x7 television coverage, tracked on the Web, twitter and across social media sites. While we share Japan's terror and sorrow, several critical questions come to mind. There are the obvious ones that relate to the safety of nuclear power plants worldwide, including in India, and in the days to come these will come to the fore. But there is also the broader context of safety preparedness and practices that impact our day-to-day life. Every year, India celebrates a "National Safety Week" from March 4-10. During the week, there are elocutions, slogan competitions, lectures and workshops on various aspects of safety. But barely a day passes when newspapers and news channels do not refer to an incident that vividly illustrates our appalling lack of safety preparedness and practices in everyday life. Take just four examples: In December 2004, parts of southern India and the Andaman & Nicobar Islands were ravaged by a tsunami. India was among the worst-affected after Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Some 10,000 people are believed to have died, with thousands more missing. The tsunami cost India more than a billion dollars. In October 2007, India installed an early warning system for tsunamis at the cost of `120 crores. Last week, in the wake of the ferocious tsunami that lashed Japan, we learnt that part of our tsunami alert system has become dysfunctional. Fishermen have broken open and taken away the metal parts of many of the warning buoys deployed in the Indian seas. The government has been quick to deny any shortcomings in the tsunami alert system in the country but has not denied that the buoys had been vandalised. The second example: air safety. Last week, according to a media report, as many as 57 drunk pilots were detected in random pre-flight medical tests between January 2009 and November 2010. Of these, only 11 lost their jobs for endangering passengers; the rest got away with mild punishments. If you think having a drunk pilot is bad, what about a pilot with a fake license and forged marksheets? Once again, we learn from recent media reports that this too is happening. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation seems to have woken up at long last and is cracking down on errant pilots. Official statements suggest that vigorous checks will be put in place. We can only hope and pray before taking the next flight. The third heartrending example is from a hospital in Jodhpur in the news. As of now, 18 women, all mothers, have died, allegedly after being administered contaminated intravenous fluid more than a month ago. Of them, 15 died in the last three weeks at the Umaid Hospital due to medical complications during or immediately after they delivered at the hospital. But it is not just mothers. Five babies were stillborn and one was premature. The infants who survived are vulnerable without mothers to take care of them. This case has been a headline grabber for several weeks. But we still don't know whether the contamination was hospital-acquired or if the manufacturer was at fault. Five different inquiries are currently in progress to find out what went wrong and if there was medical negligence. The results are awaited. Till then, one thing is sure — the string of maternal deaths at this hospital is going to make it that much more difficult for government schemes promoting institutional deliveries. Once again, though we have institutions and individuals committed to patient safety, safety awareness and safety monitoring is not made a top priority. We have a National Accreditation Board for Hospitals & Healthcare Providers (NABH) under the Quality Council of India. But as the law stands today, hospitals, whether in the private or public sector, are not required to be accredited. B.K. Rana, NABH's deputy director, says, "Safety consciousness is growing" and that currently his agency has 500 applications for accreditation. But less than 100 hospitals out of the thousands in the country are accredited, despite incentives. The problem is that the vast majority of patients in the country do not insist on accreditation of the hospital they go to and it is perfectly possible to remain in business, and make profits, without accreditation. As a last example, consider the "building code". It is now well known that the death toll in last week's quake would have been far higher if builders in Japan had not adhered strictly to the code. Some high-rise buildings swayed as much as seven feet from the perpendicular during the quake, but stayed upright. Would this happen in India? The experience of the last major earthquake in this country — the one that took place in Gujarat in 2001 — does not inspire confidence. Many still remember how high-rise buildings in Ahmedabad came crashing down. And what has happened to the building code since then? It's there, but not mandatory. When buying or renting a flat, how many of us check if the building adheres to the code? The average Indian's lack of safety consciousness shows every day, whether through the reluctance to wear hard hats on construction sites or to wear seat belts in cars. Now that we know how many lives were saved in Japan due to safety consciousness of the average Japanese, perhaps it is time we took our own safety more seriously. * Patralekha Chatterjee writes on development issues in India and emerging economies and can be reached at patralekha.chatterjee@gmail.com

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

OUTRAGEOUS OMISSION

MOST VULNERABLE LEFT UNPROTECTED

 

OFFICIAL formulations can turn logic on its head. Last week much was made of this country having women in four key national positions ~ the President, Speaker, Leader of the Opposition and Chairperson of the ruling political alliance ~ but now we have a situation in which a vulnerable section of women could be deprived of legal protection against the worst possible kind of exploitation: sexual harassment of domestic servants. Happily, political differences have been sunk as senior representatives of the Congress and Left parties (there is no reason to doubt other parties will not join them) have declared an intention to insist on the inclusion of domestic servants in the ambit of the legislation aimed at curbing sexual harassment of women at the workplace. There is nothing "accidental" about that omission. The initial draft of the Bill that was vetted by the National Commission of Women had covered domestic help, its Chairperson "wonders" over the change in the proposed Bill. Both Girija Vyas and Brinda Karat have said they will dig their heels in when the matter comes before Parliament.

   It is more than likely that they will bring enough muscle to bear to rectify things, but is it not a national disgrace that something so obvious has to become a subject of some controversy? Would it require a committee of secretaries to determine the plight of women so poor and deprived that they seek demeaning work as domestic help to feed their families? To have to work in places where all kinds of exploitation is common, or to appreciate that unlike their counterparts in office and factory there may be no one around to respond to pleas for help?
What makes that omission downright despicable is the argument that it would be difficult to apply its provisions in the privacy of homes since there is no prescribed code for household aides. That is so typically bureaucratic: take the easy, convenient way out rather than burden the bloated government machinery. The minister for women and child development has said it would be preferable if the "victims" sought action under the existing laws ~ if those laws were effective why did the apex court find it necessary to direct enactment of a specific law to protect women at the workplace? The Cabinet must intervene, amend the provisions of the Bill before Parliament sets about processing it. Maybe, for once, Sonia Gandhi could put her clout to positive purpose.

FLAWED SCRIPT

KARNATAKA PROTEST LACKS SUBSTANCE

THE ruling BJP in Karnataka may have had its own reasons to gain brownie points by organizing the World Kannada meet at Belgaum, considering  the  political problems chief minister BS Yeddyurappa is facing and the border row with Maharashtra on that district. Yet the move to highlight the prominence of Kannada as a language and the pride of Kannadigas through the three-day meet cannot be questioned. But the needless controversy over the invitation extended by Yeddyurappa to software czar Narayana Murthy to inaugurate the meet, has soured an otherwise well intentioned effort.

A section of Kannada writers, activists and intellectuals had questioned the contribution of Infosys chief mentor, NR Narayana Murthy, to the development of Karnataka in general and Kannadigas in particular. While NRN,as Narayana Murthy is better known, may not have the intellectual traits of a writer, he can definitely lay claim to pioneering the software revolution in the country. It is because of Infosys that Bangalore has been put on the world map, even recognized as the software capital of India. Following the lead taken by Infosys, thousands of engineering graduates in India find it easy to get jobs today, something that was unthinkable till a few years ago. Together with Wipro's Azim Premji, NRN has provided lakhs of jobs to the Indian youth, including Kannadigas, directly. Indirectly, these jobs opened up new avenues and opportunities for scores of service providers like cab owners, drivers, courier companies and the several youths in fast foods joints that mushroomed following the boom in the IT sector.

 To dismiss or contest NRN's contribution to Karnataka or Kanadigas in  particular would, therefore, amount to admitting to a blinkered view. What more would these intellectuals seek from a person who is as much a native of the land as they are? While their protests earlier against Hema Malini, a non Kannadiga, being nominated from Karnataka for the Rajya Sabha seat by the BJP may have seemed  valid; those against  NRN are misplaced. That he had the full support of the state's youth was evident from the comments that followed the controversy involving him and the Kannada writers. One fan seemed to have echoed the views of all when he said: "Who said  NRN does not write. He has scripted the biggest success story and deserves more." Judging by the applause that NRN got after his brief speech at the controversial meet, his critics would be wondering why they made such a fuss.

NOT WORTH THE COST

WHY BELITTLE THE PRESIDENT?

DURING a recent visit to Nagaland, President Pratibha Patil was accorded a warm welcome. She revealed it was not her first trip as was the common perception and that she had visited the state 35 years ago as a minister. Several organisations submitted memoranda to the President. It is normal for orgnisations in any state to approach a VIP whenever he/she comes calling with the hope that their grievances will be looked into, even addressed. This hardly raises a reaction; but do these demands ever receive the attention they seek or will they go straight into the wastepaper basket? The deeper meaning of the President's visit to any state, particularly in the North-east, is to bolster the sense of India's territorial integrity. She also visited Manipur but empty streets greeted her after she was given a ceremonial guard of honour by a women's police contingent at the airport. This was because several Manipuri militant outfits had called a 40-hour bandh to highlight their demand for the restoration of Manipur's status as an independent state.

This, however, is not the first time the Head of State has been cold-shouldered. In 2003, President Abdul Kalam passed through empty streets ~ the only visible gain of his visit being the facelift of the route from the airport to Raj Bhavan. But he came at a time when all of Imphal Valley was up in arms over the looting in Nagaland of an Imphal-bound bus and the alleged rape of a woman passenger. Militant organizations had also imposed a 12-hour boycott in protest against the administration's failure to ensure security along Manipur's lifeline (National Highway 39). Dr Kalam spent barely five hours, having been invited to inaugurate a power plant. Considering the expense involved in preparation for a President's visit, is it really worth it?

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

A PARTY ON EDGE

WHYA AND WHEREFORE OF THE CPI-M'S DECLINE

BY TAPAN KUMAR BANERJEE


THIRTY years ago, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) was regarded as a pro-poor, progressive force. However, the party has come under strong criticism in the first decade of the 21st century. Dramatic indeed has been the change in perception.


The CPI-M has won every Assembly election since 1977. The serial victories can be ascribed to a disciplined and effective organisation that once had the backing of the middle and lower classes. The propertied class, for that matter, didn't oppose the party. Its earnest efforts to secure tenancy rights for sharecroppers and ensure land re-distribution strengthened the equation with the disadvantaged groups. Equally, the CPI-M never posed a threat to the propertied class. 


As a disciplined organisation, it was able to counter the deleterious influence of what can be described as elite factionalism. But discipline alone would not have enabled the party to remain in power for more than three decades were it not for the support base consisting of the middle, lower and property-owning classes. In a word, the CPI-M's stability as a ruling party is embedded in its disciplined character and mass support.
The origins of an effective, centralised political party can be traced to the terrorist background of many Communist leaders, pre-eminently Pramode Das Gupta, Hare Krishna Konar, and Benoy Chowdhury. They were terrorist revolutionaries before their conversion to Communism. They readily accepted the principle of democratic centralism. Discipline, hierarchy and the party's interests were the core values of political terrorism. 
With the decline of the Congress since 1962, the Communists laid emphasis on regional nationalism and the anti-rich solidarity of the middle and lower classes. In 1971 ~ after the two United Front experiments ~ the CPI-M emerged as a major contender for power. It launched a successful mobilisation drive in the countryside. There was an increase in the membership of the Kisan Sabha, an organisation of peasants with small landholdings, and the Krishak Mazdoor Sabha, the outfit of agricultural labourers.


Given its cohesive structure and the steady support base, the CPI-M was able to consolidate its position since 1977 till the early 1990s. It reinforced its hold over small landowners, landless workers, and government employees. Over the past decade the party has lost its support base in West Bengal. How does one account for the decline?


Palpable has been the failure of the basics ~ road construction, health services, education, nutrition, poverty alleviation, and checking infant mortality. The much touted success in the growth of agricultural productivity and decline in rural poverty has in recent years been tapering off. The National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (NREGA), which provides a minimum of 100 days of work to the rural poor, has been a failure in West Bengal. The dismal performance of the state government provoked the Paschim Banga Khet Mazdoor Samity, a non-party, registered trade union of agricultural workers, to file a public interest litigation in Calcutta High Court.


No less a failure has been the neo-liberal policy initiatives ~ privatisation of health care and of education, the ruin of the public distribution system, and a state-sponsored attack on farmers in a desperate effort to acquire their agricultural land for industry. Singur and Nandigram stand as symbols of this outrage by the state and on behalf of corporate capital. The two places also showcase the fierce resistance to this brutality by poor peasants, bargadars and landless labourers.

The government's actions are driven by party politics. Sharecroppers are registered only if they are loyal to the party. Frequent changes in land ceiling laws have harmed the development of agriculture. The upper limit of land-holdings is only four-and-a-half acres. No wonder many landowners want to dispose off their land. But even that is not possible in the presence of local party leaders. Change of ownership cannot be carried out without the approval of the party office.


The industrial economy in West Bengal is in the doldrums. The government has to contend with lay-off, lockout and closure of factories. The outlook for industrial expansion is bleak as is the employment scenario. The CPI-M's traditional working class base has weakened considerably.


The party has always been eager to garner  the support of the urban middle class. Towards that end, the government has doled out sops to its employees. The party has tried to influence transfers and promotions, even at senior levels. This has antagonised a section of the government employees. The middle class youth is disenchanted because of acute joblessness.


The government has been reckless in its use of force against critics.  Leading institutions of learning have been the victims of political interference. Several factors, therefore, account for the groundswell of resentment against the present government. That resentment was reflected in the serial defeats the party suffered in the panchayat, Lok Sabha and municipal elections.


The CPI-M is straining every nerve to recover lost ground before next month's Assembly election. The model code of conduct has come into force and it is too late in the day to woo the peasantry through such measures as compensation at market rates and rehabilitation. Since 2006, the party has faced the problem of reconciling the interests of  industrialists with those of small peasants, bargadars and landless labourers. In West Bengal, if agricultural land is to be offered to the corporate sector, a huge compensation will have to be paid to landless labourers and bargadars.


This is bound to double the price of land. The industrialist will decline the offer if the land price is raised.  The party will lose the support of the peasantry if the price is not increased. It is a damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don't situation. The CPI-M has followed a policy of conciliation and not confrontation vis-a-vis the capitalist class. It is, therefore, not in a position to increase the price of the land. In such a situation, the party is unlikely to regain the support of the small landowners, bargadars and landless labourers.
The CPI-M's failure to resolve the land issue, attract private investment and reopen sick factories has led to industrial stagnation and unemployment. The industrialisation programme has turned out to be a fiasco. It has widened the rift between the party and the urban working class. Intolerance and an aggressive stance have distanced the party from the masses. To that is added the charge of corruption at different levels.  Long after the collapse of the Soviet Union, the CPI-M on occasion conveys the impression that it is still steeped in the Stalinist tradition. This was particularly evident during the Nandigram offensives.  The party has moved away from democratic principles. There has been no serious introspection even after the serial debacles.


The writer is retired Reader, Department of Political Science, Asutosh College, Kolkata

 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

WHY TALK WITH PAKISTAN?

HOME SECRETARIES OF INDIA & PAKISTAN ARE SCHEDULED TO MEET LATER THIS MONTH. A DIALOGUE AT THIS STAGE WILL BE HARMFUL, WRITES RAJINDER PURI

On 2 March, home minister Mr P Chidambaram conveyed to Islamabad New Delhi's consent to a Pakistan commission questioning main accused in the 26/11 terror attack, Ajmal Kasab. It was a longstanding demand by Pakistan. India also requested permission to question the 26/11 mastermind Zaki-ur-Rehman Lakhvi. This too was a longstanding demand that had been endorsed by the US as early as 2008. Islamabad has flatly refused to concede to India's demand. It has cited the absence of appropriate law under which Lakhvi, held in custody by Pakistan authorities, might be questioned by India. It is a patently thin excuse. New Delhi is expected to iterate the demand during the home secretaries' meeting scheduled to be held in New Delhi on 28-29 March.
Why should the home secretaries meet at all? What is the point of persisting with this futile charade of a peace process with Pakistan that simply does not exist? It is conventional wisdom to state that a dialogue should always be encouraged because talking is never harmful. Talking in this case is harmful. It allows Islamabad to keep alive a false posture of reasonableness that it wants to display to the West. And it should be amply clear by now that those who direct Islamabad's policy are not interested in any peace process with India.
Whatever the intentions of Pakistan's civilian government, control is exercised by the Pakistan army. India has wasted much time and effort in trying to reach accommodation with Pakistan. Arguably India can be faulted for an inadequate response in the past. But now time is running out. Prolonging the phony peace process with Pakistan is only helping the Pakistan army to perpetuate its hold on the affairs of the country. On 3 February, this scribe suggested that if Islamabad's intransigence persists New Delhi should contemplate its hard option.
He wrote: "The key to curbing and eliminating terrorism rests with the Pakistan army. The time has come for Pakistan's civilian government to confront General Kayani. The time has come for General Kayani to confront the hardcore elements within the military that sympathise with terror outfits even if that entails disaffection within the army. That is something that must be risked if General Kayani is sincere. One believes that even today if General Kayani puts his mind to it he can take on the terrorists. But that would call for a basic reappraisal of strategic goals. Is he up to it? Is the Pakistan government up to it? If not, India would be left with no option but to take the hard option." So, is General Kayani capable of taking on the terrorists?
That does not seem to be the case if distinguished author and analyst Ahmed Rashid who specialises on Pakistan and Afghanistan is to be believed. Referring to General Kayani in the wake of the murders of Shahbaz Bhatti and Salmaan Taseer by pro-Blasphemy law fanatics, Ahmed Rashid wrote: "For its part, the army has so far failed to express regret about either Bhatti's murder or Taseer's. The army Chief General Kayani declined to publicly condemn Taseer's death or even to issue a public condolence to his family. He told western ambassadors in January following the assassination that there were too many soldiers in the ranks who sympathise with the killer…Any public statement, he hinted could endanger the army's unity."
It is clear from the above that General Kayani would rather risk the unity of Pakistan than the unity of its army. Well informed and sober newspaper columnists in the Pakistani media are predicting the inevitable disintegration of their nation unless the fundamentalists can be curbed. Only Pakistan's army can do that. The army is either unable or unwilling to attempt that. That is why this scribe urged New Delhi to seriously consider India's hard option. The hard option would be to encourage the disintegration of Pakistan. It would be to minimise contact with Pakistan and wait for it to implode. Balkanized Pakistan might more effectively curb terrorism. The sub-nationalisms of Baluchistan and of the Pashtuns in NWFP would be a stronger bulwark against terrorism than the hollow commitment to an artificially created nation as displayed by its army chief.  

The writer is a veteran journalist
and cartoonist

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

LIQUID ASSET

 NOW & AGAIN

ARDHENDU NAYAK

While he was growing up, our milkman Bhajuman Yadav,  had found out that water was indeed indispensable ~ at least to his trade. He promptly developed a fondness for it, dabbling more in it than the milk he squeezed out from his herd. Water has no smell, no colour, no taste ~ the perfect ingredient for perfect dilution. What more, it comes for free!

Bhajuman would be often seen extolling the virtues of expert dilution of fresh milk to his son who seemed more interested in winning the neighbourhood gili-dandaa championship than frittering away time on liquid assets. On the days when his attempts at dilution turned rather dilatory with wise customers breathing down his neck, Bhajuman's mood would be as sour as the milk he supplied sometimes.

Once, a friend of mine asked me to escort him to his place. The family had missed out on its evening quota of milk because the patriarch who fetched it every day had suddenly taken ill. I was instructed to reach Bhajuman's dairy well before the milking time, keep an unflinching eye on the process which found milk getting transferred to containers before being sold to customers and not to leave the milkman alone till I delivered him to my friend's doorstep.

At the dairy, I turned up at the right time and proceeded to take up a position from where I would have a commanding view of the milkman's operations. Given Bhajuman's renowned dexterity in matters of dilution, I could not risk even blinking. My unwavering gaze certainly unnerved him, unused as he was to work under such intense scrutiny.

A sudden wail assailed me, silencing the cicadas. I realised with a start that this was Bhajuman's version of ahir bhairon ~ vilified by him with the express purpose of scaring me away. But I stood my ground. Eventually, he finished whatever that was taking him unusually long to finish and we set off towards my friend's house. 
It was only a few minutes' trot. The sky was still overcast after a rain-soaked night before. We passed a pond which was overflowing ~ the water lapping against our ankles as we hurried. Frogs croaked and leapt carelessly, the scent of wet grass weighing heavily on the evening. The rustic charm was reinforced by Bhajuman's attire ~ a tattered vest, sodden lungi and a gamcha girdled around his waist.

Manu Chacha ~ as I referred to my friend's father ~ was waiting for us at the front of the house. The milkman's dour demeanour dissolved somewhat as approached a new customer with the reputation of making prompt payments without any haggling preceding it. "So Bhajuman," Manu Chacha proffered, "that way it rained last night, you must have heartily diluted milk without even having to go to the pond." Bhajuman grimaced. "What a thing to suggest, Sir! Water is anathema to milkmen who deal in fresh milk. Our reputation would be in tatters!" Manu Chacha began to smile before his face froze into an expression of incredulity. Bhajuman had just decanted milk from his container into a vessel and therein swam merrily two little fish! The milkman apologised profusely, saying he never knew how the two had found their way into the milk. A smiling Manu Chacha told him: "That's all right, Bhajuman. Just take the pond route every day." 

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

UN PLEDGES ALL SUPPORT TO TSUNAMI-HIT JAPAN

 

Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon has expressed deep sadness and offered a full support to Japan after massive earthquakes and tsunami hit the country which killed hundreds of people and destroyed towns, villages and infrastructure.


According to a statement issued by UN spokesman Mr Martin Nesirky in New York, Mr Ban said: "The world is shocked and saddened by the images coming from Japan." He expressed his deepest sympathies and condolences on behalf of the UN to the Japanese people and government. He described Japan as one of the most generous and strongest benefactors, coming to the assistance of those in need the world over. "In that spirit, the UN stands by the people of Japan and we will do anything and everything we can at this very difficult time," he said. Mr Ban hoped that under the leadership of Prime Minister Mr Naoto Kan and with full support and solidarity of the international community, the Japanese people and government would be able to overcome this difficult time as soon as possible. He said the UN would do all it could to mobilise humanitarian assistance and disaster risk reduction teams as soon as possible."


The Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported that its officials were in contact with their Japanese counterparts to see how it could help with relief efforts. UN has alerted the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group, a global network of 80 countries and disaster response organisations under the UN umbrella.


The UN's nuclear watchdog agency, reported that Japanese authorities have shut down several nuclear power plants and have extinguished a fire at one of them. No radiation release has been detected so far, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported.  IAEA said it was seeking further information on nuclear power plants and research reactors, "including information on offsite and onsite electrical power supplies, cooling systems and the condition of the reactor buildings," and added that nuclear fuel required continued cooling even after a plant was shut down. UN agencies said they were on standby to assist Japan and any other countries that may be hit by tsunamis in the aftermath of the quake, which was one of the strongest in recorded history.
The World Food Programme has staff on standby across the Asia-Pacific region so that they can respond to calls for assistance.


Ban's envoy

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has met his special envoy to Libya, Mr Abdul Ilah al-Khatib, in New York. Mr Ban told reporters after the meeting that his message on Libya had been strong and consistent about the need for violence to stop. According to UN deputy spokesman Mr Farhan Haq, Mr Ban said humanitarian aid must reach those in need and a peaceful resolution to the crisis must be found.  


Mr Ban said he had decided to dispatch Mr Khatib to Libya accompanied by a team that included senior humanitarian officials and staff from the UN's department of political affairs and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. He explained that the team's objective was to assess the situation on the ground and undertake broad consultations with Libyan authorities on the immediate humanitarian, political and security situation. Mr Haq noted that Mr Ban had been in touch with the Libyan foreign minister and had been promised cooperation in this regard.



Lakshmi Puri is ASG  

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has made five senior-level appointments ~ three Under Secretary-Generals and two Assistant Secretary-Generals (ASG) for UN Women. According to a statement issued by UN deputy spokesman Mr Farhan Haq in New York, the appointments are for heads of UN offices at Nairobi, at Geneva, Central Africa and two deputies to the executive director and Under Secretary-General for UN Women. Ms Michelle Bachelet, the executive director of UN Women, recommended that Mr Ban appoint two new deputies to UN Women at the ASG level ~ one woman and one man to reflect the need for gender balance. The Secretary-General has appointed Mrs Lakshmi Puri of India, a former IFS officer, as the ASG for Intergovernmental Support and Strategic Partnerships at UN Women. Mrs Puri has years of experience at the UN Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) and has worked in different capacities for gender equality and women's empowerment in the context of development, human rights, and peace and security.

 


Call for 3% UN budget cut

Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced that he is seeking a 3 per cent budget cut below the current two-year figure of $5.16 billion, owing to the global economic slowdown as the world struggles to emerge from the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. "We must be realistic about the current economic climate," he told senior managers of the budget for 2012-2013. "Even the wealthiest nations are tightening their belts and cutting budgets. The UN must be no less disciplined. We cannot go about business as usual." He said that it will be up to member states to discuss and decide on the ultimate budget to be adopted by the General Assembly in December for a two-year period. "The Secretary-General encourages all UN entities and UN member states to find ways to do more with less," UN spokesperson Mr Martin Nesirky said in a news briefing.



Women's empowerment

Secretary-General Mr Ban Ki-moon called on the business community to work with the UN to empower women to help break the proverbial "glass ceiling". The UN launched the Women's Empowerment Principles ~ a series of steps companies can take to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community as part of its broader campaign for empowerment and equality.  Mr Ban outlined the steps such as treating all women and men fairly at work; promoting education, training and professional development for women and measuring and publicly reporting on progress to achieve gender equality.


anjali sharma

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THE TELEGRAPH

LOYALTY FIRST

Faced with a threat, regimented political parties behave like fundamentalists. The threat that the ruling Communist Party of India (Marxist) faces in the forthcoming assembly elections in West Bengal is the worst the party has encountered during its long rule. Another party would perhaps have thought of new ways to ward off the challenge. But all that the CPI(M) does is return to outdated principles. The party's list of candidates for the Bengal elections reflects its inability to move with the changing times. The manner in which the party's nominees have been chosen exposes the hegemony of the ruling caucus. The party still swears by the Leninist principle of "democratic centralism" in organizational matters. The charade barely hides the fact that there is nothing democratic about the "centralism". The choice of candidates is thus little better than a means to reward loyalties to leaders at the headquarters. The party units at the lower levels act only as a rubber stamp. Communist leaders everywhere know the importance of the headquarters, from where all power flows. When Mao Zedong launched the disastrous Cultural Revolution in China in order to topple his rivals in the party, he therefore called upon the Red Guard to "bombard the headquarters".

True, the CPI(M) has brought in about 150 new faces, a large number of them young people, and denied tickets to 80 sitting members of the current legislature. But the first impression from this change can be misleading. The list of the party's candidates actually shows that a set of old faithfuls have been replaced by another. And, the criteria for their selection have more to do with their loyalty to the party headquarters than their individual worth. Just as Mao's crusade against the headquarters was a matter of his personal ambition, this test of loyalty is part of Alimuddin Street's internal battle. Mao's battle brought a decade-old catastrophe to China. It is doubtful if the tussle at the CPI(M) headquarters can help the party survive the assault by Mamata Banerjee and her allies. But the worst signal from the CPI(M) list is for Bengal's future. If Bengal has not changed much, it is basically because the party which has ruled it for 34 years changed so little. Now the list shows yet again that the party is incapable of changing itself. But those who fail to change themselves risk being left behind.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

INSIDE OUT

The European Union, contrary to its name, has been riddled with threats of disunity from its inception. Britain, for one, never quite liked the idea. Even within the EU, a set of relatively privileged nations, which adopted a single currency and formed the 'euro zone', continue to dominate policy changes. This has been a point of contention among the member states for a long time. The discontent was driven home deeper last week when a euro zone summit was organized with only 17 of the 27 member states. Expectedly, a range of responses, from paranoia to fury, broke out among the 'out' countries. Sweden, Poland and Denmark, in particular, strongly resented being left out of the loop. The history of the European project is full of instances where policies were set by a small group of powerful nations that foisted their decisions onto their neighbours, leaving them with not much option to either deny or dissent. From the common agricultural policy to the charter of fundamental rights, crucial norms and regulations were imposed on weaker, or non-euro, countries in this manner. Formal votes and veto rights in EU summits failed to offer any foolproof protection against such impositions.

The present discord has been augmented by the euro zone's sovereign-debt crisis, which has led to a bitter dispute between the economic giants and the dwarfs. It was hoped that Germany, as the biggest creditor country in the EU, would play a proactive role in the resolution of these differences. But sadly, Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has done precious little so far to control the in-fighting that is steadily corroding the EU's credibility. It is understandable that Ms Merkel does not wish to antagonize the German electorate by bailing out failing economies such as Greece, Ireland and Portugal. But then, she would not gain much favour from the smaller member states either by trying to discipline them with stricter fiscal rules. Such moves would be perceived by those EU members excluded from the euro zone as being high-handed and hegemonic — as a victory of economic nationalism over the principle of economic liberalism that encourages openness to the world at large. Ms Merkel has usually sided with the proponents of the latter idea. Hopefully, by making it clear that the euro-only meeting was just a one-off emergency summit, she will not let Eurosceptics have the last laugh.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

FIGURES IN THE LIMELIGHT

TO CATCH UP WITH INDIA, BENGAL NEEDS A PROPER ECONOMIC POLICY DIPANKAR DASGUPTA

It was a pleasant surprise to watch the celebrated thespian, Mithun Chakraborty, anchor a television show the other evening in which he restricted his guests from civil society to answering sharply posed questions instead of out-howling one another. Amongst the many issues he brought up, one in particular stood out. He took us back to the Singur imbroglio and asked the government's critics to explain why they did not insist that the entire 997 acres of land, instead of a mere 400 acres, be returned to the owners. At the basis of this question lay two distinct issues that he obviously wished to separate out. The first of these involved pure economics. The opponents of the Singur project have argued that the acquired area for the factory was a highly fertile, multi-crop land. Using it up for the development of industry amounted to an economic loss for an agriculturally advanced state. The second issue addressed the unwilling farmer problem, one which is fraught with unpleasant socio-political implications. It is an issue indeed that has stirred up intense emotions and is even threatening to dislodge the leftists from the Writers' Buildings.

Chakraborty's question was prompted by the fact that certain members of civil society had on occasion brought up both arguments in defence of their position. He was drawing the public's attention to the fact that this amounted to a contradiction of sorts. Indeed, if a loss of aggregate produce was the bone of contention, then it was the interest of the state that mattered, rather than that of the individual owners of the 400 acres. On the other hand, if one was defending the right of the unwilling farmer, then fertility of the acquired land was not the driving force behind the campaign. As far as one could make out, the question went unanswered.

Let us begin with the uglier of the two issues. Except under dire circumstances, such as a foreign invasion, the government is not morally justified in defending a decision to forcefully acquire land from the tillers by appealing to a law formulated by our imperialist rulers. Worse still, absolutely no argument can absolve a democratically elected government of the misdeed it committed by opening fire on people protesting against what they perceived as authoritarianism. It matters little which individual it was that issued the order to kill. The responsibility lies with the government as a whole. This viewpoint alone is sufficient to justify the questioning of the government's legitimacy.

To apply further economic padding to the standpoint amounts to seeking an unrelated second line of offence, and therein, as Chakraborty seemed to imply, lies the rub. To appreciate the point, it requires us to don the pure economist's cap. The following two graphs, based on data published by the Reserve Bank of India, can act as useful starting points for the purpose. The figures compare West Bengal and India on the basis of per capita outputs of agriculture, industry and services. The values of outputs are computed at 1999-2000 prices and the data covers the 10 financial years 1999-2000 to 2008-09, a period particularly relevant to the problem at hand.

During this period, West Bengal's growth path for per capita agriculture has displayed a trend rate of around 1 per cent as opposed to a rate of 1.3 per cent for India as a whole. However, as the diagrams show, the level of per capita output has been substantially higher for West Bengal. The underlying data reveals that for India, the per capita agricultural output was Rs 4,092.5 in 1999-2000 and rose up to Rs 4,456 in 2008-09. The corresponding figures for West Bengal were Rs 5,042 and Rs 5,465 respectively. Not only has West Bengal posted a higher agricultural output per head for the years under review, it continued to outshine India even after the acquisition of the prime land in Singur. In other words, as far as agricultural output was concerned, Singur turning into a wasteland made no difference at all to West Bengal's performance.

What was happening to industry during these years? West Bengal's per capita industrial produce remained at roughly half the level enjoyed by agriculture, whereas Indian industry managed to overtake agriculture around the year 2004 and remained in that state. In terms of trend growth rates too, West Bengal's 3.6 per cent was well below India's 5.2 per cent. And our much acclaimed success in the service sector produced a per capita trend growth rate of 6.8 per cent as opposed to India's 11.2 per cent.

The last of our graphs reveals a crucial fact. The level of West Bengal's per capita state domestic product has consistently remained below India's per capita gross domestic product throughout our chosen period. Moreover, the gap is increasing since India has displayed a trend rate of growth of 5.7 per cent as opposed to West Bengal's 5 per cent. If this is not a matter for concern, then there is nothing further to discuss. On the other hand, if we believe that the gap needs to be rectified then an economic policy is called for.

Short of a technological revolution, agricultural growth cannot be substantially increased. Besides, agriculture's share in the West Bengal SDP already stands at 23.8 per cent. It is unlikely to rise further. As opposed to this, the services sector explains nearly 67 per cent of our SDP, next to India's 65 per cent. The per capita trend growth rate in this sector, though, lies way below India's rate and West Bengal's economic policy is already giving it a boost. However, the fly in the ointment lies in the fact that a large part of this sector, especially the information technology subsector, is skilled-labour dependent. The latter being a scarce factor, a hard core industrial drive could well be the only alternative means to catch up with the rest of the country. This is the only sector that has the potential for simultaneous growth in output and employment, the latter on account of the fact that industry can absorb relatively low-skilled workers armed with job-specific training.

A crucial factor that needs to be kept in mind in this context is that it will be infeasible for a new factory to offer a job per "displaced" family, irrespective of the government under whose aegis it is constructed. Successful industrialization creates industrial hubs or townships which offer more indirect job opportunities relative to direct ones. The nature of indirect employment could even be painful and demeaning, working as household help being an example correctly offered by one of Chakraborty's guests. The government, therefore, will need to extend a helping hand to protect the economically weaker sections of the labour force absorbed into activities indirectly related to a factory, for that alone will protect the self-respect as well as incomes of the luckless many. However, their lot cannot be improved overnight — neither peacefully nor through bloodshed.

It would appear then that there was no error in the economic part of the government's industrialization policy, though cruelly inhuman errors accompanied its choice of strategy. On the other hand, as the data demonstrates, the opposition camp's fear that the government was engaged in acts that would make industry flourish at the expense of agriculture was unfounded. In this connection, the projects under contemplation by the railway and shipping ministries in Haldia and Nandigram should be encouraged, provided the notion of direct plus indirect employment generation finds acceptance. However, wisdom dictates greater private participation in the projects, or else the government's non-plan expenditure burden will rise over time, thereby worsening the fiscal deficit.

Chakraborty's programmes are proving to Bengal's relief that its civil society is capable of rational as opposed to emotional thinking.

The author is former professor of economics, Indian Statistical Institute, Calcutta

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

BREAK THE NEXUS

MALVIKA SINGH

Assaults on women, be it rape, eve-teasing, stalking, wife-beating, harrassing mother-in-laws, dowry demands and suchlike, never end. In a country where the earth is referred to as the mother, where goddesses epitomize purity and strength in the fight against wrong, where men are tied to the umbilical cord of their mothers, where clans have their kuldevis, where pujas and paths are mandatory in a majority of families, where women tie rakhis on the hands of their brothers, who in turn take an oath to protect their sisters, where women are the repository of culture and age-old traditions that have survived the distortions of age and time, men remain crude and cruel towards the female species, save their mothers.

We, Indians, know well that the police and other enforcement agencies are more often than not in cahoots with the gangs that stalk our land. They protect one another in that shadowy underworld. The destructive and heinous nexus has been allowed to grow and flower, aided and abetted by an administrative and political class that has looked the other way and never demanded that the truth prevail over the societal horrors, which have engulfed India from remote villages to metropolitan cities. Therefore, when our women leaders in high office and the wives of our rulers speak out and say 'this is shameful', the statement comes across as mere platitude, with no real resonance. No woman at the apex of our system has damned, unequivocally, the criminal assaults indulged in by the khap panchayats, for instance. Nor has there been a carefully calibrated and continuous campaign against those men who rape and get away on bail.

New offspring

Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Jawaharlal Nehru, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel, Sarojini and Padmaja Naidu, Indira Gandhi and other such real and true leaders with political and social commitment must be trembling with rage in the other world, watching the foundations of this nation disintegrate. Weak-kneed mouthing of 'protest' is meaningless in our age of information. All the women leaders — both elected and nominated, from all parties, the wife of the prime minister as well as the wives of cabinet ministers and parliamentarians — should establish a non-government organization with a mandate to pressure their spouses into breaking the nexus that is throttling India and Bharat. Do they — this privileged set of spouses — have the passion, commitment and gumption to step out of their subsidized homesteads, be counted, and work pro bono to bring about some semblance of order in civil society?

It is the exclusive type of governance that has aggravated the anarchy on the streets of our benighted nation. This business of 'leadership' — men ad women sitting in their ivory towers, protected by those who were mandated to protect the aam admi, but have been 'otherwise engaged' — is becoming an anathema to the people. Indians seem to be disengaging themselves from the hierarchies of the ruling power and the corrupt bureaucracy in a concerted effort to get on with their professional and personal lives.

It is all very well to have a one-point agenda for economic growth even if all else is falling apart — the assumption being that all will be well once 'growth' happens. But in a diverse and layered nation, this uni-dimensional stance will prove to be corrosive. The average Indian cares less and less about the institutions that once generated pride. It no longer matters who occupies high positions because individuals find ways of 'getting on'. This speaks volumes about the contractions 'Mother India' is going through, and there seems to be no one to help her give birth to a new, calm offspring.

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THE TELEGRAPH

OPINION

GOLDEN MEMORIES OF A TURF OF EMERALD GREEN

DESPITE THE MANY CHANGES, EDEN GARDENS IN CALCUTTA WILL CONTINUE TO MESMERIZE CRICKETERS AND CRICKET-LOVERS ALIKE, WRITES RAJU MUKHERJI

Till about 1840, the present Eden Gardens campus — of which the cricket ground was merely a part — was open land situated to the north of Fort William and at the western corner of the Esplanade, overlooking the Strand on the Hooghly. The then governor-general, Lord Auckland, and his family conceived the idea of a garden among the shrubs and trees that formed the northern periphery of Fort William. Initially, the park was known as Auckland Circus Gardens, but was rechristened Eden Gardens by 1854. The Royal Botanic Garden authorities were responsible for looking after the Eden Gardens.

In 1856, a Burmese pagoda of exquisite beauty was installed in the park by Lord Dalhousie. A band of musicians was in attendance every evening to entertain the prominent citizens who came to enjoy the fresh breeze. In 1864, the eastern boundary of the Eden Gardens parkland was extended, and the Calcutta Cricket Club given exclusive use of it in 1864. By 1871, the CCC had acquired the permission to have a permanent pavilion replace the thatched hut that had been serving the purpose till then.

The sylvan surroundings of the Eden Gardens enabled the Britons to relive the enjoyment of their 'summer game' in the pleasant Calcutta winter. The lush green turf, manicured to perfection, was regarded as the finest in the world of cricket. Alas, the pavilion is no more. After having been a witness to more than 100 years of cricket history, it was sacrificed to meet the demands of commercialization. If only the wooden pavilion had been preserved, it would have become a place of cricketing pilgrimage.

Eden Gardens has always had a way with cricket and cricketers. Where else in the world can one think of more than 60,000 enthusiastic spectators following every ball, no matter what the outcome? On this ground, cricket evokes many different emotions in many different people. The environs of the Eden Gardens, though no longer reminiscent of the beautiful English cricket grounds, blend marvellously with the mellow December sun that heralds a typical winter morning in Calcutta. Not too long ago, the pall of mist over the languid Hooghly had an ally in the swaying palms and towering poplars and pines that rustled playfully in the breeze to create perfect conditions for swing and swerve. Sadly, modern taste has led to the creation of of concrete stands and iron railings. As a result, the mist leaves at dawn and returns late, much to the comfort of batsmen today. Yet, even now, I can think of no other place that is as endearing as the Eden Gardens.

Recorded history has it that cricket came to the Eden Gardens in 1864 when members of the CCC found permanent refuge after having pitched wickets in the neighbourhood commons since 1780. The locals were thrilled at the sight of Englishmen playing cricket, which resembled indigenous games such as danguli and pittu. The English game was, undoubtedly, far more sophisticated and had a whole range of interesting possibilities to offer.

Cricket prospered in Calcutta even as the CCC made pioneering moves at the Eden Gardens. The princely families of Cooch Behar and Natore and, to an extent, the zamindars of Rangpur, Jessore, Murapara and Mymensingh patronized the game with the fervour of crusaders. Just as the CCC had its Eden Gardens, so did Cooch Behar its Woodlands in the suburb of Alipore, and Natore its Natore Park in Ballygunge, where we now have the Picnic Gardens.

The local population was delighted by the prospect but had to remain content with watching the Britons in action. It was only with the advent of the local clubs that the game became popular in the city. Professor Saradaranjan Roy — walking with books and bats — began to teach cricket to his Indian students at Metropolitan College (now Vidyasagar College) at a time when white students would be playing the game on the St Xavier's College grounds. However, the real impetus for the locals came with the arrival of Ranjitsinhji, whose world-wide fame as a talented cricketer had already reached India. Thousands of Calcuttans gathered to watch Ranji play. For them, to find one of their own countrymen breaking the shackles and beating the Britons at their own game was an inspiring ideal.

Test cricket came to the Eden Gardens on the last day of 1926. India was still not in the official league when Arthur Gilligan, with the great Maurice Tate in tow, led his MCC team on to the emerald green. It was the second of the two unofficial Tests scheduled in India that year. Gilligan went back sufficiently impressed with the cricketing and the organizational abilities of Indians. It was only a matter of time before the Imperial Cricket Conference gave its official nod and accorded India a place in the pantheon of Test-playing nations.

In December 1933-34, Douglas Jardine of England (then MCC) went out to toss with the Indian captain, C.K. Nayudu and Eden Gardens became the second venue in India to host an official Test match. Since then, numerous Test matches have been played on this ground. However, India had to wait till 1961-62 to earn its first Test victory at the venue when Ted Dexter, Ken Barrington and others were forced to acknowledge the superiority of Polly Umrigar's tactical acumen and the wiles of Salim Durani.

By the 1960s, cricket had become an insatiable passion for Calcuttans. The change from the meadow game ambience was brought about by the genius of Rohan Kanhai and Garfield Sobers as well as by the fury of Wesley Hall and Roy Gilchrist. Little did the brilliant West Indies cricketers of Gerry Alexander's 1958 team realize that they were about to transform the city's pleasant winter pastime into a collective infatuation.

There is no doubt that cricket was gaining popularity in the city ever since Ranji strode on to the Eden Gardens' turf and the local hero, Bidhu Mukherji, hit centuries against the CCC. Mohammad Nissar's ferocious pace, Mushtaq Ali's lissome elegance and Sir Jack Hobbs's brilliance had also captured the imagination of the locals who also marvelled at the exploits of Charlie Macartney, Vinoo Mankad, Lala Amarnath, Denis Compton, Keith Miller, and so on. But the actual metamorphosis came in 1958 with the advent of Rohan Kanhai and his mind-boggling stroke-play, which, at times, seemed to defy even the laws of gravity. Queues would form before a Test, and a match ticket became an established status symbol.

No longer could the cricket connoisseur enjoy his cricket in peace. He could not touch Everton Weekes's gloves before the latter went on a rampage. Nor could he ask Sonny Ramadhin or Fazal Mahmood for autographs while they loitered near the fence. These remained only as long-lost memories.

The world of cricket began to change suddenly. Economics did away with reclining seats; riots chased the shamianas away; concrete galleries teemed with people; lack of facilities led to violence; stampedes caused losses of life and limb. The famous pavilion of 1871, where Reg Lagden and Tom Longfield played billiards has vanished. The wicker chairs, where the three Vijays — Merchant, Hazare and Manjrekar — relaxed after their customary mammoth innings have gone as well. The mahogany table where Premangshu Chatterjee and Shute Banerjee discussed strategy is now a distant memory. However not all the old guards have gone. "Gangaram", the heavy roller, still stands. The turf that once prided itself on the fact that lawn tennis championships were held on it in the 1940s has also been able to maintain its former appearance.

Today, the stadium has undergone a complete face-lift. Individual bucket seats welcome 60,000-plus spectators who cross 17 gates to enter the hallowed grounds. The days of cucumber-tomato sandwiches and luchi-alur dom gulped down with fresh oranges and endless cups of tea are over. The era of humourous anecdotes have long receded. Wit has been replaced by sarcasm. Economics and statistics have taken over along with chaats and colas. However, even in the midst of mediocrity and false values, there are still a few men in the stands who cherish the artistry of V.V.S. Laxman. We still have people who doff their hats at Graeme Pollock, Clive Rice, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad, Andy Roberts and Michael Holding.These are the cricket lovers who make life bearable, who make it worthwhile to go down memory lane.

It is for them that the floodgates of nostalgia open. It was here at the Eden Gardens that 'Prince' Salim Durani and 'Panther' Chandu Borde lifted the hearts of the people time and again. Their memories are made of 'Tiger' Pataudi prowling in the covers; a young and ebullient Clive Lloyd chasing the red cherry as if his life depended on it; an injured Vijay Mehra helping India to win its first Test at the Eden Gardens with unmatched courage. They also cherish M.L. Jaisimha's belligerence; the dignity of Majid Khan, the stolidity of Ken Barrington, the rhythm of Lindwall's action and the unceasing hostility of Richard Hadlee.

Who can ever forget Gary Sobers sprinting at least 50 yards, from second slip to third man to catch a mistimed hook by Budhi Kunderan? Chandra's magic spell in 1974? The aura of Richie Benaud? Saeed Ahmed's combat with Subhash Gupte? The grace of Alan Davidson? Ajit Wadekar's catch at first slip to dismiss Underwood? Or Eknath Solkar's magic at short-leg, especially the catch he took to dismiss Tony Lewis?

Thankfully the disappointments at Eden Gardens have been few. None more so than the unfortunate incident of January 1, 1967, when a cruel assault on an innocent spectator, Sitesh Roy, sparked off a crowd invasion. The day's play had to be called off. The match would have had a premature end if Dilip Ghosh of Calcutta Gymkhana Club had not coaxed Sir Frank Worrell — then on a lecture tour of Indian universities — to prevail upon the two teams to continue.

The stampede in a queue for daily tickets that ended in the loss of five lives still remains a haunting nightmare. That was in 1969 when Bill Lawry's Australians were here. The game went on as none inside the ground had realized the extent of the tragedy that had taken place in the early hours of morning. Hopefully, the overcrowding of the 1960s and the resultant pandemonium are now a thing of the past.

However, if I were asked to choose just one of the many pleasant memories, my mind would would go back to that steamy morning of 1969 when the magnificent Graham McKenzie had shaken India's foundation and reduced to side to two down for nought. McKenzie was breathing fire, and into the sizzling embers walked Vishy. The first delivery was patted to the point fence, leaving Paul Sheahan rooted at cover. The following missile was directed past the same fielder to the extra-cover fence. Only a rare genius could have executed the shots with such ease and elegance. Eden Gardens had stood up to salute the little man's greatness.

Eden Gardens does not belong to India alone, but to the world of cricket. It was here that the West Indies vice- captain, Conrad Hunte, risked his life to bring down the West Indies Federation flag in the midst of the flames on that fateful day of January 1967. Steve Waugh sportingly waved six and did not appeal for a catch when his right foot had barely touched the boundary rope at this very ground. The same spirit still remains, the spirit that overcomes barriers. Eden Gardens will continue to weave its spell on generations of cricket lovers and cricket players in the days to come.

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

EDITORIAL

PAMPERING MPS

''IT WILL MEAN WASTAGE OF MORE PUBLIC FUNDS.''

 

It is unfortunate that the government has not paid any heed to the reservations expressed by various quarters, both official and non-official, about the Members of Parliament Local Area Development Scheme (MPLADS) and hiked its allocation from Rs 2 crore per MP to Rs 5 crore. The increased outgo involves an additional expenditure of Rs 2,370 crore an year.


MPs have been demanding an increase for many years and they welcomed finance minister Pranab Mukherjee's announcement on Friday. Other than them, there are very few who support the scheme. In fact, the widespread demand has been for scrapping the scheme altogether but the government has gone in the opposite direction and strengthened it. Originally the allocation for each MP was Rs 5 lakh, which was hiked to Rs 1 crore in 1994 and further increased to Rs 2 crore in 1998.


The conceptual weakness of the scheme was clear from 1991 when it was launched by the Narasimha Rao government. Rao's minority government had conceived of it as a means to secure the support of MPs by creating a vested interest for them. Though the supreme court has ruled that the scheme is not unconstitutional, its working has been mired in controversy and criticism.


The court's view that the legislators only had a recommendatory role while the actual execution of works was done by administrative bodies is not correct in actual practice.


The scheme in effect changes the role of legislators from law-makers to dispensers of patronage. Both the Administrative Reforms Commission and the National Advisory Council had found fault with the scheme as it blurred the distinction between the legislature and the executive. Problems at the implementation level have been serious.


The CAG had as early as 2002 found that there were many cases of wrong selection of works under the scheme, diversion of funds and pervasive financial mismanagement. The Planning Commission also criticised  it for lapses like irregular sanctioning of works, execution delays and lack of monitoring.


The government has kept changing the guidelines of the scheme in view of the criticism but it has not helped to bring about transparency and accountability in its working. States may also increase the allocation for MLAs, following the Centre's decision. This will mean misuse and wastage of more public funds. Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar has done well to scrap the scheme and this is the example that the Centre and other states should have followed.

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

COME ON, INDIA!

''THE TEAM MUST START PLAYING TO ITS TRUE POTENTIAL.''


In the aftermath of their astonishing collapse and subsequent defeat against South Africa last weekend, India's World Cup campaign may still be very much alive, if not kicking for the moment.


A 40-minute period of madness was the difference between victory and defeat in Nagpur, though many might argue that even 296 was a total that could have been better defended by a bowling group that is putting far too much pressure on the batting line-up. Zaheer Khan looms as the only potential bowling threat; the left-arm pacer has had to perform both the containing and the wicket-taking roles, what with Harbhajan Singh struggling to pick up wickets.


Barring the disastrous, India will line up in Ahmedabad on March 24 for the quarterfinal against an opponent as yet undecided. From the knockout stage till the title is just three straight victories away. The events of the league phase will have no bearing on performances in the must-win matches, and while confidence and momentum will be important going into that stage, they won't necessarily be decisive factors. India can ill afford to wish away the Nagpur fiasco, when they lost nine for 29, as just one bad night.


They must learn their lessons from their hare-brained approach during the batting Power Play, and resist the temptation of over-reaching during that five-over period because inevitably, whenever the sights are set too high, disappointment is never too far away.


If India are looking for positives, they can take heart from the fact that despite their numerous travails, they are still perched on top of the ultra-competitive, upset-ridden Group B.


They haven't fired collectively as a unit, the bowling shining through only sporadically and requiring generous help from the part-time spin of Yuvraj Singh to make its presence felt. Hearteningly, over the last couple of games, India's fielding has shown signs of turning the corner.


While they will never be the most athletic or dangerous fielding outfit, not with the personnel available right now, India aren't unaware that a run saved is a run scored, a run-out effected worth its weight in gold. The challenge ahead of Mahendra Singh Dhoni is in getting his team to play to its potential, and to channelise the upsurge of embarrassment and anger emanating from the Nagpur debacle into a gathering maelstrom that sweeps all before it.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

THE GROWTH ILLUSION

BY DEVINDER SHARMA


Mere fluctuations in foodgrain production is not growth and it is wrong to compute growth based on annual

production figures.

Economists are no better than book-keepers. They often dress up figures to create an illusion of growth. This year's economic growth figures have been very cleverly fudged to create a mirage.


It happened earlier in 2003-04. After a bad drought year of 2002, economist wrongly computed normal foodgrain production in 2003 as growth, in return jacking up the economic growth figures. Excited, the NDA went to elections in 2004 riding the mirage of 'shining India'. The rest is history.

 

Once again, Economic Survey 2011 talks of robust growth and steady fiscal consolidation as the hallmark of the Indian economy. After all, with a growth of 5.4 per cent for agriculture and the allied sector on the back of the increase in foodgrain production this year, country's GDP has been worked out at 8.6 per cent.


I see jubilation all around. Business CEOs, bank heads and policy makers are all excited. If you have seen the budget discussion — both prior and after the budget was presented on Feb 28 — you would have noticed that none of the economists have questioned the veracity of the claim. That is what worries me.


Now let us look at what has been claimed. The GDP in 2010-11 has been estimated at 8.6 per cent. Given the buoyancy in agriculture, and hoping that the monsoon would be normal this year, the government estimates that GDP in 2011-12 would grow at 9 per cent. And as many economic writers have explained the impressive economic growth is because of a resounding performance of the farm sector.


This brings me to the question whether agriculture has really grown? Since the 8.6 per cent growth the country has achieved in 2010-11 hinges on the robust performance of agriculture or as some analyst say on the manner in which agriculture has rebound, it is important to find out how true are the claims?


Agriculture growth in 2010-11 has been estimated at 5.4 per cent. This is primarily because foodgrain production for the current year is anticipated at 232.07 million tonnes.


A year earlier, in 2009-10, agriculture production had fallen to 218.11 million tonnes on account of a widespread drought in 2009, a drop of 16 million tonnes from the previous year's record harvest of 233.88 million tonnes. In other words, it is the 'quantum jump' in foodgrain production, from 218.11 million tonnes in 2009-10 to 232.07 million tonnes in 2010-11, that has driven the farm growth.


Criteria

Of course we know that foodgrain production is not the only criteria when we work out farm growth but it remains the predominant factor. But is India justified in computing the increase in foodgrain production in 2010-11 as the reason for 5.4 per cent growth in agriculture?


Let us look at some of the production figures. In the 2009-10 crop year, farm sector growth was only 0.4 per cent due to severe drought in 2009, which hit almost half the country, reducing foodgrain production by 16 million tonnes, says the Economic Survey 2010. In 2010-11, rainfall was normal, and so the country harvested 232.07 million tonnes.


Interestingly, while the nation rejoices at the recovery in foodgrain production this year, the fact remains that the anticipated food production for 2010-11 at 232.07 million tonnes actually is lower than what was achieved in 2008-09 by roughly 2 million tonnes.


Foodgrain production in 2008-09 was 233.88 million tonnes, and in 2010-11 it is 232.07 million tonnes. The country has therefore not even achieved the production recorded two years earlier, and yet we are mistaking it for growth.


I don't understand how can the fluctuation in foodgrain production resulting from weather aberration be construed as growth? More importantly, why are the distinguished economists point out this serious flaw in the estimates of farm growth?


Now, consider this. Assume that the 2009 drought had not happened. With the monsoon behaving normally, foodgrain production would have hovered around 232 to 234 million tonnes. If the foodgrain production had remained around what was achieved in 2008-09, this year's foodgrain production would not have shown a quantum jump of 14 million tonnes. Under the best of conditions, India could have claimed an increase in foodgrain production by say 2-3 million tonnes.


If the foodgrain production last year had remained at 230 million tonnes or more, the agriculture growth this year would not have been 5.4 per cent but somewhere in the range of 0.5 to 1 per cent. If the farm growth rate had remained at 1 per cent or a maximum of even 2 per cent, the country's GDP would have been around 6 per cent.

The GDP estimates for 2010-11 therefore are fake. As I said earlier, mere fluctuations in foodgrain production is not growth. In agriculture, it is wrong to compute growth based on annual production figures (now it is being done on a quarterly basis). Growth in foodgrain productions has to be estimated on a long-term basis, in any case not for a period less than an average of five years, to know whether there has truly been any growth or not.

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

WHERE IS THE VOICE OF THE AFRICAN UNION?

BY WANGARI MAATHAI, IPS


Many Africans, in both north and south, have for years moved in darkness, fear, and desperation.
As the world discusses the protests and battles sweeping North Africa — most recently in Libya — where is the African Union (AU)? Numerous multilateral bodies have called for respect for human rights and an end to state-sponsored violence, including the European


Union, the Arab League, and the United Nations.


In discussing the situation in Libya, US president Barack Obama did include the AU in a list of partners for finding a solution. But, by and large, the voice of the AU has been faint and largely ignored by the international media.

Surely the AU should have been among the first international organisations consulted as internal conflict engulfed AU member states in North Africa. Why wasn't it? If such conflicts were taking place in Europe, surely the EU would be central to a resolution.


One problem the AU faces, along with many African nations, is that it is not financially independent. It must seek funds from the EU, the US and others, including some of the wealthier member states despite their records on undemocratic governance and human rights violations. Libya, for example, is said to provide at least 15 per cent of the AU's overall budget. In 2009, Libya's now-embattled leader, Muammar Gadhafi, was elected to a one-year term as chairperson of the AU.


Dependency

This dependency hampers the organisation's effectiveness in many ways. It constrains its ability to have an independent voice and could account for the AU's relative silence on the situation in Libya, despite the threat of another protracted civil war in Africa.


Even when the AU has offered support to member states — as during the violence that followed the 2007 elections in Kenya — it couldn't provide the financial resources that might help bring about peace; that had to be left to other countries.


Another problem is that the AU has neither an army nor a peacekeeping force, so it cannot intervene militarily to protect citizens. It also has relatively little influence on national armies.


The US could apply pressure on former president Hosni Mubarak and Egypt's army by threatening to cut off the $2 billion in aid it provided. The AU has no such leverage over recalcitrant leaders. It can only use persuasion, which can easily be disregarded, as demonstrated by the stalemate and increasing violence in Ivory Coast following disputed presidential elections in 2010.


On February 23, Jean Ping of Gabon, the chairperson of the AU commission, did express 'great concern' about Libya, condemning the "disproportionate use of force against civilians" and the number of lives lost. He reinforced the AU peace and security council's call for an immediate end to repression and violence.

In the eyes of many observers, however, the AU statements came too late and were largely overlooked. No doubt the AU is still working behind the scenes, and the chairman, president, and relevant committees are in communication with leaders in North Africa, as well as the international community. But, unfortunately, the AU's voice is largely ignored in the world at large and within affected countries.


At the same time, many Africans, both in the north and south, hope that the AU will serve as a beacon against which every African state measures itself. But such hopes have foundered: many AU members remain below the standards that most of their citizens expect, and the AU cannot demand greater democracy than a critical mass of its members are willing to practice.


The AU has set benchmarks that would require the expulsion of members that don't meet them, such as expanding democratic space and respecting human rights; pursuing equitable and sustainable human development; and combating poverty. Members of the AU are also required to practice good, transparent governance and root out corruption. But many of these principles have been ignored by member states.


It is clear that the changes the peoples of North Africa are demanding won't be realised overnight, and they will have to accept that real change is slow. It will take time to build the institutions that provide checks and balances on executive power, including independent parliaments, judiciaries, armies, and police. these are often the first casualties of poor governance.


Many Africans, in both north and south, have for years moved in darkness, fear, and desperation. The AU could be the lighthouse that vanquishes this darkness — and a leading, credible international voice and presence, too. But enough of its members have to want to be this beacon, in action and not only words.


There is going to be change throughout Africa. Whether the AU and its member states can lead it, or will simply follow their citizenry, is the challenge.


(The writer is the 2004 Nobel peace laureate

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

SERENDIPITY

BY LASYA SHASHIMOHAN


The general ambience took me back to my own nursery school days.


One just expected a simple outing when our neighbour Ms K invited us to accompany her to her 4-year-old's school day function. One drove down to the venue. The hall was an impressive one; decorations made in keeping with sensibilities of tiny tots, and succeeding too — rows of balloons hung and a teddy-bear posted at the entrance to shake hands with visitors.


We walked in and occupied back seats. Kiddos had already taken to performing and zestful parents keen on capturing their offspring's 'Kodak moments' with cameras stood tall and bouncing, blocking our view. I suggested that my mom and Ms K shift to the front row as I thought it imperative that Ms K see her son perform.

The hall was teeming with people and I have a bit of an issue (I walk using crutches) and stoically opted to remain where I was; alone. Ms K would hear none of it, 'We've come together and will stay together', she said. Then taking my arm with firm gentle affection escorted me to the front row, getting folks to make way for me. Then we sat side by side.


Music commenced and the little ones danced to the inescapable bollywood film music (with the exception of Shakira's 'Waka Waka').


Among others, the commercial hit number, 'Bacchana ay Haseeno' was played and children in jazzy costumes and shades were expected to jive to it. Ms K, much amused, remarked, "What a choice of song to play, really! To think that these babies wouldn't even know the meaning of 'Haseena'...!"


The general ambience took me back to my own nursery school days where annual day functions used to be an assortment of traditional music, folklore, rhymes, fairy tales, mythology and national integration. There was an attempt to cocoon children from the 'adult world.' Playing film music in such situations, though, would have been considered a taboo, in fact a near profanity. Times have changed and how! (I am aware that this remark amalgamated with nostalgia must be making me sound doddering old!)


Anyway, this venture too was a great success. We collected our little guy from backstage. A much distraught Ms K fretted, "He didn't come on stage when his turn arrived. Apparently, he had dozed off!" Nevertheless, watching the smiling cheery child in his attractive red costume embedded with mirrors was such a great reward. "Bade bado ke saath hota hai, didi," I reassured, "In fact, one of our former PMs was a routine snoozer at meetings, remember?"


On our way back home, Ms K bought me the most beautiful string of beads and said she had found a true friend in me. The words, spoken in a simple manner, rang pure and genuine. Much touched, I kissed the necklace and murmured a thank you.


I had gone to see what I thought would be a simple annual day function and ended up finding a soul sister. I guess, this is what they call serendipity.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

BARAK IS RIGHT, AND ALSO WRONG

BY CONTINUING TO SERVE UNDER NETANYAHU, BARAK IS SUPPORTING A POLICY THAT HE HIMSELF BELIEVES IS DEVASTATING FOR ISRAEL'S FUTURE.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak has been warning that a "diplomatic tsunami" threatens Israel, in the form of sweeping international recognition of a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. In his speech on Sunday at the Institute for National Security Studies, Barak also warned of a sweeping delegitimization campaign aimed at "pushing Israel into the corner from which the old South Africa's deterioration began."

Barak offered a proposal for how to deflect this threatening wave. He called for negotiating with the Palestinians on all the core issues, with the goal of reaching an agreement to divide the land in the spirit of the Clinton plan - an agreement that would establish a viable Palestinian state while gradually evacuating all the settlements left outside Israel's permanent borders. "Anything else will deepen Israel's isolation and endanger its strength," he warned.

Barak was not deterred from saying this despite the shadow of the brutal murder at Itamar and the aggressive responses of his political partners on the right. In his speech, he leveled harsh criticism at "the inaction, the paralysis, the search with a fine-toothed comb for what the rightist or leftist public wants to hear at any given moment, followed by its utterance." It was clear to his listeners that he was speaking about Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has avoided making decisions and instead played for time.

Barak is right. If Israel wants to survive, to be rescued from the trap of international isolation, it must get out of the territories and hand them over to a Palestinian state. Netanyahu would have done better had he listened to his defense minister instead of to the heads of the Yesha Council of settlers.

But even though Barak's situation assessment is right, what he is actually doing about it is wrong. Barak insists that he must "try to exert influence from within," even after two years in which Netanyahu ignored his advice and his positions and the government only pulled further rightward. And his words seem particularly disconnected from reality after he lent his hand to the decision to build hundreds of new housing units in the settlements in response to the attack in Itamar.

Barak claims that his own faction lacks the necessary political power to effect change, and therefore, Kadima should join the government. That is how he pays lip service to his duty - by passing the buck to opposition leader Tzipi Livni. But in reality, by continuing to serve under Netanyahu, Barak is supporting a policy that he himself believes is devastating for Israel's future.

 

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HAARETZ

OPINION

NETANYAHU'S EXPLOITATION OF THE MURDERS AT ITAMAR

TO RIGHT-WING POLITICOS, CABINET MINISTERS, KNESSET MEMBERS AND WEST BANK RABBIS, THE FIVE MURDERED MEMBERS OF THE FOGEL FAMILY ARE A CATALYST FOR REALIZING THE GREAT DREAM: THE DREAM OF MESSIANIC REDEMPTION, OF THE GREATER LAND OF ISRAEL.

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

The horrific murders in Itamar were a crime against humanity. Entering a home in that manner and slaughtering five people in their sleep is a base, cowardly act, and it makes no difference whether the victim is an adult or an infant. Murder is murder is murder.

Motti Fogel, brother of Udi Fogel, said at the Har Hamenuhot cemetery on Sunday that the funeral should have been a private affair. "A person is born for himself, to his parents and siblings, and dies for himself, he is not a symbol or a national event, and death must not be allowed to become an instrument of something."

But it was not Motti who decided. Right-wing politicos, cabinet ministers, Knesset members and West Bank rabbis expropriated the murder of his brother and his family from Motti and made it a political event. To them the five murdered members of the Fogel family are a catalyst for realizing the great dream: the dream of messianic redemption, of the Greater Land of Israel.

Above the freshly dug graves the speakers competed among themselves as to who could be more extreme. Israel's Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, said there is no partner for talks on the Palestinian side, and the small community of Itamar should be turned into a major Israeli city - an extreme-right agenda voiced by a figure who is supposed to be the voice of the state.

"How long will you stay silent, how long will you grovel?" cried Udi Fogel's father, Haim Fogel, as if we weren't mistreating the Palestinians sufficiently, not burning enough mosques, not destroying enough olive trees, not expropriating enough of their lands and not killing enough of them.

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin seized the opportunity to declare that Israel "shall continue to build anywhere and at any time." Samaria Regional Council chairman Gershon Mesika said, "All the talk of peace delusions must stop."

Interior Minister Eli Yishai was quick to demand the construction of 5,000 homes in the settlements, while Vice Prime Minister Moshe Ya'alon denounced incitement by the Palestinians, as if he had never heard of the incitement by West Bank rabbis, for whom the Palestinians are gentiles not created in God's image.

Many others spoke of "hastening the redemption" - meaning extending Jewish control over the entire area between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River while "transfering" the Arabs to the other side of the river.

The murders strengthened the hands of extremists on both sides. Those on the Palestinian side want young settlers to launch a revenge campaign in their villages that will set off a third intifada.

Our extremists want that intifada to become an all-out war, the war of Gog and Magog, that will end in victory and the "cleansing" of Arabs from the land.

The only problem is that while both sides are confident in their own victory, only one side can prevail, and sometimes both lose.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, too, hastened to move the attack to the political arena. He promised to build 400 homes in the main settlement blocs and even declared, during a condolence visit, "We shall build our land," thus disclosing his true thoughts.

Netanyahu, after all, never believed in the two-state solution, despite his Bar-Ilan speech. To him, the entire land belongs to us, and the two-state shibboleth is meant only to buy a little sympathy from U.S. President Barack Obama.

Netanyahu believes in force and deterrence, and as the familiar saying in these parts goes, if force doesn't work, use more force.

Netanyahu's real plan is "to annex as much of the open territory as possible," as he said some years ago - somewhere around the 50 percent mark, while holding on to the Jordan Valley as a safety belt to the east. In the small, noncontiguous area that remains he would be prepared to give the Palestinians autonomy that would be called a "state."

In his opinion, because any significant chunk of territory that Israel leaves would soon become an Islamic base, and every concession would play into the hands of Hamas and Iran, as few concessions should be made as possible.

Netanyahu is consistent in this regard. He never believed in a peace deal entailing genuine concessions. He opposed the Oslo Accords when he was a Knesset member and shattered them after he won the 1996 election. Now, in his second go-round as prime minister, he maintains the exact same policy, with an extreme-right cabinet and with the aid of his natural partners, Yishai and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

Netanyahu's real vision is to live by the sword. He will lead us from intifada to intifada, from war to war, and the murders in Itamar were just one more opportunity to heighten construction in the territories as well as the walls of hatred and blood between us and them.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

ISRAELI LEADERS' ANXIETY ATTACK OVER REGIONAL CHANGES

RECENT CHANGES IN THE INTERNATIONAL ARENA AND IN NEIGHBORING COUNTRIES HAVE SIMPLY UNNERVED THE POLITICAL LEADERSHIP.

BY MOSHE ARENS

 Would you believe it? Our leaders, who are supposed to stay cool and maintain steady nerves in case of an emergency, are having an anxiety attack.

The mass demonstrations in the Arab world and the recognition by some countries in the world of the nonexistent Palestinian state, and various statements heard recently that recent events in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have made it imperative to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict right now, seem to have frayed the nerves of our prime minister and defense minister.

The prime minister is rushing to come up with another plan for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that he intends to present to the U.S. Congress, which is not pushing for such a plan, while telling the 300,000 Israelis living beyond the April 1949 armistice lines, who insist that construction that has been frozen for many months be resumed, that we "should not be banging our heads against the wall."

The defense minister announces that we need to request $30 billion worth of military assistance from the U.S. in order to meet new dangers that he sees on the horizon. Does anyone know what they are talking about?

The prime minister's concern that Israel is being delegitimized seems to be fraying his nerves. Actually, there has been a significant improvement in the relations between Israel and many countries of the world in recent years, and despite the recognition extended to the nonexistent Palestinian state by some countries, there is no indication of a worsening of our international standing.

The present governments of France, Italy and the Netherlands have taken a far more positive attitude toward Israel than their predecessors. In the European Union, the countries of central and eastern Europe continue to declare their friendship to Israel and emphasize the special relationship that exists between them and us. Canada, which for many years gave Israel the cold shoulder, has adopted a particularly friendly attitude toward Israel under Prime Minister Stephen Harper. And most important of all, the new U.S. Congress, especially friendly to Israel, can be counted on to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship and block undue pressure on Israel by the administration.

So what's all the fuss about?

And what is the defense minister worried about? To the extent of wanting to request the astronomical sum of an additional $20 billion from America to shore up Israel's defenses? That request will certainly not be received with enthusiasm, even in a friendly Congress, which is now making heroic efforts to deal with a federal deficit that might be approaching a trillion dollars.

One can hypothesize a worst-case scenario in which the Muslim Brotherhood may end up taking over in Egypt, cancel the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and threaten Israel with war - but this scenario does not seem at all likely at this point. On the contrary, the thirst for democratization that seems to be sweeping the Arab world might improve the political climate in the area. This wave might even reach Iran and eventually bring about the downfall of the Khamenei regime, removing what is at the present a very serious danger facing Israel.

So what is the defense minister getting excited about? Why is he pressing the panic button? Does he, sitting in the defense ministry tower in Tel Aviv, see things that none of us can see?

Could the prime minister and the defense minister be engaged in a mutually coordinated spin operation directed at the Israeli public? The defense minister hinting at great threats facing us and emphasizing our dependence on American largesse, while the prime minister lets us know that we better accede to the wishes of the White House and make concessions to the Palestinians if we want to be able to receive additional assistance from the U.S., so that we will be able to defend ourselves against the great dangers that the defense minister claims are threatening us. Now that seems too preposterous to be true.

So if we analyze the recent behavior of our leaders we can only come to the conclusion that they are suffering from an anxiety attack. Recent changes in the international arena and in neighboring countries have simply unnerved them. Is there a good psychiatrist in the house? But as we have recently learned from the New York Times, psychiatric therapy is out and now pills are in. Xanax anyone?

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HAARETZ

OPINION

MONARCHS AND BRUTAL RULERS

EVERYONE - THE U.S. PRESIDENT, THE EUROPEAN UNION, NATO - WILL CALL ON GADHAFI TO GO BUT HIDE BEHIND THE NEED FOR A SECURITY COUNCIL RESOLUTION TO USE FORCE, A RESOLUTION THEY ALL KNOW RUSSIA AND CHINA WILL VETO.

BY SHLOMO AVINERI

 The upheavals rocking the Arab world, which have surprised rulers and observers alike, are far from over and have more surprises in store. But several characteristics can already be detected at this stage that will presumably come to play in the future as well.

The novelty in the recent events is that for the first time, Arab regimes have been toppled by popular uprisings. The Arab states had hitherto known only military coups and putsches. At times these were violent, as in Syria, Iraq or Yemen, and their leaders declared themselves "revolutionary councils." But in every case it was the army that seized power.

It is already clear, however, that despite the common aspects of the events in the Arab world, fed by access to borderless media, the developments are far from homogenous. Despite the existence of an encompassing Arab ideology, the determining factor is ultimately not what these developments have in common but the different social and historical conditions in each country.

First, it turns out that it is easier to overthrow relatively moderate authoritarian regimes that allowed a certain leeway for civil society to function, such as in Tunis or Egypt, than brutally oppressive regimes. Syria, Libya and even Iran show that the more oppressive the regime, the harder it is to bring it down. Zine El Abidine Ben-Ali and Hosni Mubarak may have been authoritarian rulers, but compared to Bashar Assad and Muammar Gadhafi, they were softies.

Second, traditional monarchies handle mass demonstrations better than republican regimes. This is because the monarchies have traditional legitimacy - in Jordan and Morocco the kings are seen as the Prophet's descendants and the Saudi dynasty is the protector of the holy sites. Republican leaders like Ben-Ali and Mubarak were merely members of a military junta that seized power by overthrowing the government. The monarchies' legitimacy could crack, especially in problematic places like Bahrain, but in the meantime it serves as a relatively effective defense shield.

Third, when a regime like Gadhafi's - combining an eccentric yet resolved personality with brainwashing ideology and loyal militias - decides to defend itself and does not hesitate to use force, the rebels have difficulty overthrowing him. Mubarak resigned because he hesitated to use force. The Libyan ruler has no such inhibitions. He may be defeated but it will be accompanied by blood and fire, not a retirement to Sharm el-Sheikh.

Fourth, overthrowing an oppressive regime does not guarantee transition to a stable democracy. In the meantime, the army is ruling Egypt and the questions of whether and how elections will be held and who will rise to power remain open. It is also unclear if the army will give up power.

Finally, "the world." The West is imposing sanctions and issuing lofty statements against Gadhafi, with whom most of these countries did good business until recently. But the West will not use force to carry out the values it is brandishing.

Everyone - the U.S. president, the European Union, NATO - will call on Gadhafi to go but hide behind the need for a Security Council resolution to use force, a resolution they all know Russia and China will veto. If a mass massacre takes place in Libya like in Srebrenica, or if Western nationals are hurt, perhaps the West will intervene. Talk about human rights does not always hold water when other people's lives are at stake - Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Darfur - and now Libya as well.

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HAARETZ

OPINION

A DISTURBING SYMMETRY

IT SEEMS THAT THE MOST RIGHT-WING GOVERNMENT TO EVER RULE IN ISRAEL CONSIDERS CONSTRUCTION IN THE TERRITORIES AS AKIN TO A TERRORIST ATTACK IN THE HEART OF THE PALESTINIAN POPULATION.

BY ALON IDAN

 The response came swiftly. On Saturday night, just 24 hours after the terrorist attack in Itamar, the government's ministerial committee on settlements approved the construction of hundreds of residential units across a few West Bank settlements. During Sunday morning's cabinet meeting, Interior Minister Eli Yishai said that Israel needed to build "at least 1,000 new housing units for every murdered soul." Even Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias also expressed his support for building in the West Bank as the apt response to the murder of the five members of the Fogel family. "We need to change the equation and to build in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria," he said. "We need to strengthen the settler movement, and the time is now."

During the debate, a number of plans that called for building in the settlements in response to the attack were considered, among them the founding of a new settlement or the expansion of Itamar. Ultimately, the cabinet resolved to build 500 residential units in the settlements.

On Sunday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited the parents of those who were murdered. "They murder, and we build," the premier told the Fogel and Ben Yishai families in Jerusalem during his condolence visit.

Defense Minister Ehud Barak also weighed in on the issue, saying: "This is a measured response to the attack in Itamar."

The murder in Itamar was appalling in every respect. It is difficult to fathom how one can be capable of slitting the throat of an infant. It is hard to grasp how a human being - irrespective of his mental state - is capable of taking the lives of five family members with his own bare hands, face to face, and without the use of an automated, technological device that would distance himself somewhat from the situation.

The extreme nature and brutality of the operation activated the Israeli leadership's most basic instincts. The fuse jumped. A rare moment in political terms occurred, one in which instincts acted directly to remove any pretense of usual diplomacy. That is how diplomatic considerations - those that are supposed to camouflage the instinct for vengeance with a veneer of rationality - were left outside the discussion. That is how the formula as expressed by Netanyahu was unwittingly coined: They murder, we build.

This equation has the fingerprints of copywriters all over it, for it redefines the symmetrical relations between the two nations: us and them, builders versus murderers. Yet beyond this symmetry and the simplistic, pleasing-to-the-ear nature of the equation, there is a fascinating glimpse into the depth of the world view held by the Israeli government regarding the settlement enterprise.

It seems that the most right-wing government to ever rule in Israel considers construction in the territories as akin to a terrorist attack in the heart of the Palestinian population. According to this logic, the brandishing of a knife is tantamount to a brick in the wall. The life of one soul is worth 500 housing units. The comparison between the value of a human life and that of a brick is understood to be a matter of cultural refinement - Israel prefers to build rather than to kill. But even this refinement does not negate the negative values which the government ascribes to construction in the settlements.

Since the attack is a brutal Palestinian act against Israel, the latter acknowledged in response that the settlement enterprise is a type of vengeful deed, a brutal yet nuanced Israeli act against the Palestinians, particularly after "construction in the settlements" was brandished as a weapon against the killings. Simply, the urge for vengeance has "culturally" actualized the basic principle of "an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth." The result was that for every criminal act of theirs, we will respond with a criminal act of ours. A special emphasis must be placed on the word "criminal." That is the nature of the equation, and the nature of symmetry.

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

EDITORIAL

JAPAN'S MULTIPLE CALAMITIES

Any comment on the disaster in Japan must begin with the stunning scale of human loss. Thousands dead or missing from the devastating earthquake and tsunami surge. Hundreds of thousands homeless. Whole villages wiped out. And now there is the threat of further harm from badly damaged nuclear reactors. The worst-case accident would be enormous releases of radioactivity.

The unfolding Japanese tragedy also should prompt Americans to closely study our own plans for coping with natural disasters and with potential nuclear plant accidents to make sure they are, indeed, strong enough. We've already seen how poor defenses left New Orleans vulnerable to Hurricane Katrina and how industrial folly and hubris led to a devastating blowout and oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

It is sobering that such calamities could so badly hurt Japan, a technologically advanced nation that puts great emphasis on disaster mitigation. Japan's protective seawalls proved no match for the high waves that swept over them and knocked out the safety systems that were supposed to protect nearby nuclear reactors from overheating and melting down.

It is much too early to understand the magnitude of what has happened. But, as of now, this four-day crisis in Japan already amounts to the worst nuclear accident since Chernobyl in 1986.

From early reports, it appears that the troubled reactors survived the earthquake. Control rods shut down the nuclear fission reactions that generate power. But even after shutdown, there is residual heat that needs to be drawn off by cooling water pumped through the reactor core, and that's where the trouble came.

The nuclear plant lost its main source of electric power to drive the pumps, and the tsunami knocked out the backup diesel generators that were supposed to drive the pumps in an emergency. That left only short-term battery power that is able to provide cooling water on a small scale but can't drive the large pumps required for full-scale cooling.

Early Tuesday morning, the frightening news came that Japan was facing the full meltdown of crippled reactors at a nuclear power station — with unknown and potentially catastrophic consequences. In a televised address to the nation at 11 a.m. local time, Prime Minister Naoto Kan pleaded for calm as he announced that radiation had spread from the reactors. He added that there was "a very high risk" of further leakages. 

With the United States poised to expand nuclear power after decades of stagnation, it will be important to reassess safety standards. Some 30 American reactors have designs similar to the crippled reactors in Japan. Various reactors in this country are situated near geologic faults, in coastal areas reachable by tsunamis or in areas potentially vulnerable to flooding. Regulators will need to evaluate how well operators would cope if they lost both primary power and backup diesel generators for an extended period.

This page has endorsed nuclear power as one tool to head off global warming. We suspect that, when all the evidence is in from Japan, it will remain a valuable tool. But the public needs to know that it is a safe one.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THEY'RE NOT LISTENING

Bahrain and Yemen are both important to American strategic interests. The former is home to the United States Navy's Fifth Fleet; the latter is battling, with Washington's frequent participation, one of Al Qaeda's stronger affiliates.

For those reasons, the Obama administration has chosen quiet diplomacy to try to persuade their rulers to respond peacefully and credibly to popular demands for change. Rulers in both countries have chosen repression over reform. Washington needs another plan.

On Friday and Saturday, Bahraini security forces again fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters. On Sunday, demonstrators shut down the roads leading to the capital's financial sector and held defiant rallies at a university — the most serious challenges to the royal family since the protests began in February. On Monday, at the request of Bahrain's ruler, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates sent troops to back up the government — a provocative and dangerous escalation.

The situation in Yemen is also quickly deteriorating. A demonstration in the capital on Friday that drew about 100,000 people was the largest of the three-week uprising there. On Saturday, four people died, including three who were reportedly killed after security forces fired on protesters. On Sunday, pro-government supporters used rocks, daggers and guns against the protesters. On Monday, four Western journalists were deported.

Protests in Bahrain are being led by the country's Shiite majority, which has long been denied full rights by the Sunni royal family. Though 70 percent of the population, Shiites are barred from serving in the Army or police force. Still, many would accept a constitutional monarchy backed by a new constitution and a government elected by the people.

King Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa needs to call off the thugs and begin a dialogue with the opposition. He also needs to replace his prime minister — a leading opponent of reform — with someone more enlightened.

In Yemen, pro-democracy protests are demanding the resignation of President Ali Abdullah Saleh. Mr. Saleh made a serious concession on Thursday when he said the country would have a parliamentary system by the end of 2011. He, too, needs to negotiate with his opponents and rein in his security forces and thugs.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates was in Bahrain on Friday, and he told reporters that the government's "baby steps" toward reform would not be enough. We suspect that mild scolding will not be enough to change the king's mind. The Obama administration needs to press both governments a lot harder. The window for encouraging peaceful change is closing fast.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

THE ABUSE OF PRIVATE MANNING

Pfc. Bradley Manning, who has been imprisoned for nine months on charges of handing government files to WikiLeaks, has not even been tried let alone convicted. Yet the military has been treating him abusively, in a way that conjures creepy memories of how the Bush administration used to treat terror suspects. Inexplicably, it appears to have President Obama's support to do so.

Private Manning is in solitary confinement at the Marine Corps brig in Quantico, Va. For one hour a day, he is allowed to walk around a room in shackles. He is forced to remove all his clothes every night. And every morning he is required to stand outside his cell, naked, until he passes inspection and is given his clothes back.

Military officials say, without explanation, that these precautions are necessary to prevent Private Manning from injuring himself. They have put him on "prevention of injury" watch, yet his lawyers say there is no indication that he is suicidal and the military has not placed him on a suicide watch. (He apparently made a sarcastic comment about suicide.)

Forced nudity is a classic humiliation technique. During the early years of the Bush administration's war on terror, C.I.A. interrogators regularly stripped prisoners to break down barriers of resistance, increase compliance and extract information. One C.I.A. report from 2004 said that nudity, along with sleep deprivation and dietary manipulation, was used to create a mind-set in which the prisoner "learns to perceive and value his personal welfare, comfort and immediate needs more than the information he is protecting."

Private Manning is not an enemy combatant, and there is no indication that the military is trying to extract information from him. Many military and government officials remain furious at the huge dump of classified materials to WikiLeaks. But if this treatment is someone's way of expressing that emotion, it would be useful to revisit the presumption of innocence and the Constitutional protection against cruel and unusual punishment.

Philip Crowley, a State Department spokesman, committed the classic mistake of a Washington mouthpiece by telling the truth about Private Manning to a small group (including a blogger): that the military's treatment of Private Manning was "ridiculous and counterproductive and stupid." He resigned on Sunday.

Far more troubling is why President Obama, who has forcefully denounced prisoner abuse, is condoning this treatment. Last week, at a news conference, he said the Pentagon had assured him that the terms of the private's confinement "are appropriate and are meeting our basic standards." He said he could not go into details, but details are precisely what is needed to explain and correct an abuse that should never have begun.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

DANBURY 11

In September 2006, an undercover police officer in Danbury, Conn., who was driving a van and posing as a contractor, picked up 11 Latino day laborers at a park and delivered them straight to federal immigration agents. The men were arrested and placed in deportation proceedings. In another city, this would have struck officials as abusive policing and a gross violation of civil rights. Not in Danbury. Its mayor said the city had only supplied "logistical support" to the agents.

The city should have learned its lesson last week when it agreed to pay $400,000 to settle a civil-rights lawsuit brought by eight of the laborers. The federal government is paying another $250,000 to settle claims against six of its immigration agents. Plaintiffs' lawyers say it is the largest settlement ever won by day laborers. Even now, Danbury's mayor, Mark Boughton, insists the city did nothing wrong and that the settlement was agreed to only at the suggestion of an insurance company. "We are not changing any of our policies, practices or customs," he told The Times.

Day laborers have waged struggles across the country for the right to assemble peaceably and look for work. Cities and towns keep passing ordinances to keep day laborers off the streets only to have them overturned by federal courts as violations of Constitutional rights. In Oyster Bay, N.Y., town officials are appealing a federal judge's decision to block, on First Amendment grounds, an anti-solicitation law that critics say was specifically — and unconstitutionally — aimed at stifling the rights of a single group: immigrant Latino men.

Mr. Boughton was the co-founder with Steve Levy, a county executive on Long Island, of Mayors and Executives for Immigration Reform, which sought to channel suburban resentment through harsh — but costly and ineffective — crackdowns. Both men should have learned that tough talk and unconstitutional laws don't do the community any good. Sometimes they also cost the taxpayers a lot of hard-earned money.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE SPORT NEEDS TO CHANGE

BY BOB HERBERT

Dave Duerson was once a world-class athlete, a perfect physical specimen whose pro football career included Super Bowl championships with the Chicago Bears and New York Giants. Friends and former teammates would tell you that he was also a bright guy — a graduate of Notre Dame with a degree in economics and, at least for awhile, a successful businessman.

When he shot himself to death in his South Florida home last month, the despondent Duerson, who was 50, fired the bullet into his chest rather than into his head. He did not want to further damage his brain. As he explained in text messages and a handwritten note, the former all-pro safety wanted his brain tissue studied, presumably to determine whether he had been suffering from a devastating degenerative disease that is taking a terrible toll on what appears to be an increasing number of pro football players and other athletes.

As The Times has reported, Duerson wrote, "Please, see that my brain is given to the N.F.L.'s brain bank."

Professional football has a big, big problem on its hands, and I'm not talking about the lockout that is jeopardizing the 2011 season. The game is chewing up players like a meat grinder. The evidence is emerging of an extraordinary number of players struggling with lifelong physical debilitation, depression, dementia and many other serious problems linked to their playing days.

Duerson's concern was believed to have been centered on chronic traumatic encephalopathy, an incurable disease associated with depression and dementia in athletes who played violent sports like football and boxing. A number of retired football players, including some who took their own lives, were found to have had the disease, which can only be diagnosed post-mortem.

Pro football, the nation's most popular sport, had been ratcheting up its violence quotient for years. Fans loved it. But a backlash has developed as more and more stories come to light about the awful price retired players are paying for a sport that increasingly resembles Colosseum-like combat. Few players escape unscathed after years of brain-rattling, joint-crippling, bone-breaking, consciousness-altering collisions. Many live out their lives in chronic pain, varying degrees of paralysis, and all manner of cognitive and emotional distress.

The N.F.L. has taken some remedial steps, especially in the area of head injuries. But pro football, always violent, is now violent in the extreme, and there is some question as to whether that violent style of play — and the consequences that flow from it — can really be changed. Paul Tagliabue, a former N.F.L. commissioner, told The New Yorker about the comments of a group of former players who had looked closely at the way defensive play has changed. "They raised the idea," said Tagliabue, "that it was no longer tackle football. It was becoming collision football. The players looked like bionic men."

I am an enormous fan of football, but I get a queasy feeling when I see one of those tremendous hits that leaves the opposing player lying as if lifeless on the turf. Or when I read about players like Andre Waters, formerly of the Philadelphia Eagles and Arizona Cardinals, who shot himself to death in 2006 at the age of 44. A forensic pathologist said Waters's brain tissue looked like that of an 85-year-old man. It turned out that he had been suffering from chronic traumatic encephalopathy, the disease that Duerson may have feared.

This is an enormous tragedy. So many players are suffering in the shadows. They need much more help from the N.F.L., the players' union and the myriad others cashing in on a sport that has become a multibillion-dollar phenomenon. And big changes are needed in the rules, equipment and culture of the sport to cut down on the carnage inflicted on current and future players.

I once was a big fan of boxing. I marveled at the breathless, elaborately detailed stories my parents' generation told about Joe Louis and the unparalleled Sugar Ray Robinson. I followed Muhammad Ali's career from beginning to end. I read biographies of the great boxers of the 20th century.

But I also saw the televised fight in March 1962 in which Emile Griffith beat Benny (Kid) Paret so savagely that Paret died 10 days later. Robinson also killed a man in the ring, Jimmy Doyle, in a fight in 1947. And it's no secret that even the greatest fighters tended to end up in bad shape, demented or enfeebled from the punishment of their trade — Louis, Robinson, Ali, so many others. I haven't been able to watch the sport in years.

It's a very bad sign that chronic traumatic encephalopathy, long associated with boxing, is now linked to football. With the carnage increasingly emerging from the shadows, there is no guarantee that football's magical hold on the public will last. Players are not just suffering, some are dying. The sport needs to change.

Roger Cohen is off today.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE IKE PHASE

BY DAVID BROOKS

On Jan. 20, 1961, John Kennedy delivered his rousing Inaugural Address. But this speech was preceded, as William Galston of the Brookings Institution has reminded us, by an equally important speech: Dwight Eisenhower's farewell address.

Kennedy's speech was an idealistic call to action. Eisenhower's speech was a calm warning against hubris. Kennedy celebrated courage; Eisenhower celebrated prudence. Kennedy asked the country to venture forth. Eisenhower asked the country to maintain its basic sense of balance.

While Kennedy gloried in the current moment, Eisenhower warned the country to "avoid the impulse to live only for today, plundering, for our own ease and convenience, the precious resources of tomorrow." We cannot, he said, "mortgage the material assets of our grandchildren without risking the loss also of their political and spiritual heritage."

Furthermore, Ike warned, the country should never believe that "some spectacular and costly action could become the miraculous solution to all current difficulties." He reminded the country that government is about finding the right balance — between public and private, civic duties and individual freedom, small communities and big industrial complexes.

I suspect that most of us can, in different moods, sympathize with both the Kennedy and the Eisenhower speeches, with both the rousing idealistic call and the prudent words of caution.

The Obama administration has tried to emulate both impulses. During the first two years, it hewed to Kennedy's seize-the-moment style. Now it seems to be copying the Eisenhower mood.

The campaign of 2008 was marked by soaring calls for transformation. Now the administration spends much of its time reacting to events and counseling restraint.

The Arab masses have seized control of the international agenda with their marches and bravery. The Republicans on Capitol Hill and in Madison, Wis., have seized control of the domestic agenda with calls for spending cuts.

The Obama administration has reacted to both of these movements by striking a prudent, middling course. Internationally, the administration has sought a subtle (overly subtle) balance between democracy and stability. Domestically, the president offered a budget so tepid that it effectively ceded center stage. He called for a few cuts but asked people not to get carried away.

On Friday, President Obama gave a press conference that perfectly captured his current phase. He acknowledged rising gas prices but had no new energy policy to announce. On Libya, he emphasized the need to deliberate carefully our steps ahead but had no road map to propose. On the federal budget fight, he spoke passionately about the need to reach a compromise. But when given the chance to talk about what it might look like, he rose above the fray and vaguely counseled balance and moderation.

It is easy to see why the president should be striking this pose now. Prudence is always a nice trait in a leader, especially in the face of a thorny problem like Libya. At a time when the nation is anxious, Obama is coming across as a cautious and safe pair of hands. The man is clearly not going to do anything rash.

Politically, this is a style that seems to appeal to independents. Obama is not going to get sucked into a left-versus-right budget battle and see his presidency get washed away. On budget matters, he seems to be playing rope-a-dope — waiting for the Republicans to propose something courageous and foolhardy like entitlement reform, thus giving him an opening to step in as the bulwark against extremism. It's likely that he can win the next election simply by force of personality, by overshadowing his opponent.

Yet this current cautious pose carries dangers, too. Eisenhower was president at a time when American self-confidence was at its zenith; Americans were content with a president who took small steps. Today, most Americans seem to think their country is seriously off course. They may have less tolerance for a president who leads cautiously from the back.

Prudence can sometimes look like weakness. Obama said his cautious reactions to the Libyan revolution amounted to "tightening the noose" around Qaddafi. Yet there is no evidence that Qaddafi is feeling asphyxiated or even discomforted. As he slaughters his opposition, Western caution looks like fecklessness.

Prudence is important, but Americans do have an expectation that their president will be the one out front, dominating the agenda, projecting strength and offering vision.

All in all, President Obama is an astoundingly complicated person. During the 2008 presidential campaign, and during the first two years of his term, I would have said that his troubling flaw was hubris — his attempts to do everything at once. But he seems to have an amazing capacity to self-observe and adjust. Now I'd say his worrying flaw is passivity. I have no confidence that I can predict what sort of person Obama will be as he runs for re-election in 2012.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

MEMORIES, WASHED AWAY

BY MARIE MUTSUKI MOCKETT

ON Aug. 9, 1945, my great-uncle was out fishing in the Pacific, far enough away from Nagasaki, Japan, that he missed the immediate impact of the atomic bomb dropped by the Americans that day. My great-aunt was in their new house outside Nagasaki; the entire family had only a few days earlier fled the city because my great-uncle feared a repeat of the bombing of Hiroshima.

I heard this story many times during my childhood. Back then, it made me feel that my great-uncle was a clever man. As an adult, I realized he was also very lucky, because cleverness alone cannot keep you safe.

For 36 hours after the earthquake and tsunami that eviscerated the east coast of Japan on Friday, I was unable to get any word from my relatives who oversee and live in our family's Buddhist temple in Iwaki City, south of Sendai, the biggest city near the epicenter. I wondered if they too were lucky and smart.

I wanted to know, and I did not want to know. I dipped into the world of the Internet, with its videos of water raging over the farmland and crushed ferries, and then quickly backed out. Not looking at the videos kept reality at bay, because the images of the coastline do not match the Japan that I know.

In the Japan that I know, I board the Joban Line train from Ueno station in Tokyo, and travel up the northeast coast to Iwaki City. If it's spring, the bento stalls in the station sell cherry blossom-themed meals to eat on the train: pink cakes made of mochi rice paste are cut into flower shapes. The train will stop at Kairakuen, a park in Mito City that is famous for its plum blossoms. In the evening, the trees are illuminated from below, making neon pink froth against an indigo sky.

Not long after Kairakuen, the train curves and begins to hug the coast. Then I know that I have entered Tohoku, the northern region of Japan where the goddesses and demons of legend seem to be alive and seafood is sweet.

Often on this journey, I will switch to a local train to get off at Nakoso, a town famous for its inns and hot springs. My favorite spa, Sekinoyu, is just yards off the beach, a vegetation-thick cliff at its back. The waves of the North Pacific crash right outside the windows.

I do not see how the spa could have survived the tsunami. Its Web site is eerily still online, with numerous photos of ocean views though the windows of baths and dining rooms; no status update is posted on its main page.

The Joban train now does not run any further than Mito City; past this, the tsunami has battered train tracks and highways, making passage nearly impossible. A section of one train was found on its side just north of Iwaki City, the cars abandoned.

The beach where I used to play at Oarai, a town whose name means "big washing" and which sounded romantic in happier times, is covered with sludge. Sendai is home to the most famous and romantic of summer festivals, Tanabata, when the stars Vega and Altair, who are in love but separated by the Milky Way, are reunited for one night. Sendai, site of many happy pilgrimages for me, has also been pummeled.

All this has happened even though Japan is arguably better prepared than any other country when it comes to earthquakes and other natural disasters.

When I was a child growing up in California, my Japanese mother would ask me, "How do you know a tsunami is coming?"

"When the ocean starts to disappear," I would say.

"And then what do you do?"

"Drop everything and run up a hill."

The residents of Fukushima Prefecture would have been taught this as well, and yet most would have had only 15 minutes to understand they had just experienced an earthquake, to notice the sea was retreating, and escape.

After 36 hours, I get through to my family at the temple in Iwaki. My relatives are unharmed, but there are new fears of a catastrophic meltdown at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, just 30 miles away. One of the family cars is full of gas, and they assure me that they can escape at a moment's notice. Fuel is in short supply, so in this, they are lucky.

I would like them to leave right away, but they refuse to flee. The job of the keepers of a Buddhist temple, after all, is to help shepherd souls into and through the afterlife. Since they were children, my cousins have held wakes, chanted sutras over dead bodies, and anticipated the needs of those in mourning. Nuclear fallout or no nuclear fallout, their neighbors will need them.

After 48 hours, the phone lines are not working again. I sit and wait.

Marie Mutsuki Mockett is the author of "Picking Bones From Ash."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

LET KIDS RULE THE SCHOOL

BY SUSAN ENGEL

New Marlborough, Mass.

IN a speech last week, President Obama said it was unacceptable that "as many as a quarter of American students are not finishing high school." But our current educational approach doesn't just fail to prepare teenagers for graduation or for college academics; it fails to prepare them, in a profound way, for adult life.

We want young people to become independent and capable, yet we structure their days to the minute and give them few opportunities to do anything but answer multiple-choice questions, follow instructions and memorize information. We cast social interaction as an impediment to learning, yet all evidence points to the huge role it plays in their psychological development.

That's why we need to rethink the very nature of high school itself.

I recently followed a group of eight public high school students, aged 15 to 17, in western Massachusetts as they designed and ran their own school within a school. They represented the usual range: two were close to dropping out before they started the project, while others were honors students. They named their school the Independent Project.

Their guidance counselor was their adviser, consulting with them when the group flagged in energy or encountered an obstacle. Though they sought advice from English, math and science teachers, they were responsible for monitoring one another's work and giving one another feedback. There were no grades, but at the end of the semester, the students wrote evaluations of their classmates.

The students also designed their own curriculum, deciding to split their September-to-January term into two halves.

During the first half, they formulated and then answered questions about the natural and social world, including "Are the plant cells at the bottom of a nearby mountain different than those at the top of the mountain?" and "Why we do we cry?" They not only critiqued one another's queries, but also the answers they came up with. Along the way, they acquired essential tools of inquiry, like how to devise good methods for gathering various kinds of data.

During the second half, the group practiced what they called "the literary and mathematical arts." They chose eight novels — including works by Kurt Vonnegut, William Faulkner and Oscar Wilde — to read in eight weeks. That is more than the school's A.P. English class reads in an entire year.

Meanwhile, each of them focused on specific mathematical topics, from quadratic equations to the numbers behind poker. They sought the help of full-time math teachers, consulted books and online sources and, whenever possible, taught one another.

They also each undertook an "individual endeavor," learning to play the piano or to cook, writing a novel or making a podcast about domestic violence. At the end of the term, they performed these new skills in front of the entire student body and faculty.

Finally, they embarked on a collective endeavor, which they agreed had to have social significance. Because they felt the whole experience had been so life-changing, they ended up making a film showing how other students could start and run their own schools.

The results of their experiment have been transformative. An Independence Project student who had once considered dropping out of school found he couldn't bear to stop focusing on his current history question but didn't want to miss out on exploring a new one. When he asked the group if it would be O.K. to pursue both, another student answered, "Yeah, I think that's what they call learning."

One student who had failed all of his previous math courses spent three weeks teaching the others about probability. Another said: "I did well before. But I had forgotten what I actually like doing." They have all returned to the conventional curriculum and are doing well. Two of the seniors are applying to highly selective liberal arts colleges.

The students in the Independent Project are remarkable but not because they are exceptionally motivated or unusually talented. They are remarkable because they demonstrate the kinds of learning and personal growth that are possible when teenagers feel ownership of their high school experience, when they learn things that matter to them and when they learn together. In such a setting, school capitalizes on rather than thwarts the intensity and engagement that teenagers usually reserve for sports, protest or friendship.

Schools everywhere could initiate an Independent Project. All it takes are serious, committed students and a supportive faculty. These projects might not be exactly alike: students might apportion their time differently, or add another discipline to the mix. But if the Independent Project students are any indication, participants will end up more accomplished, more engaged and more knowledgeable than they would have been taking regular courses.

We have tried making the school day longer and blanketing students with standardized tests. But perhaps children don't need another reform imposed on them. Instead, they need to be the authors of their own education.

Susan Engel is the author of "Red Flags or Red Herrings: Predicting Who Your Child Will Become."

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

JAPAN'S NUCLEAR PERIL

Just a few miles north of Chattanooga, on our Tennessee River, the Tennessee Valley Authority's Sequoyah Nuclear Plant uneventfully generates electricity for lighting and heating and cooling our homes, powering our businesses, and energizing our industries — all with hardly any unusual notice.

Other nuclear power-generating plants in the TVA area and throughout our country serve the people of our nation safely with much electricity.

In Tennessee, and the rest of the United States, we do not generally expect the huge earthquakes that often strike distant Japan.

But now we, and other people around the globe, are horrified as a Japanese earthquake and tsunami have caused damage at four of Japan's nuclear power plants. The quake and tsunami have directly killed thousands, and the nuclear plant damage threatens to kill or sicken more if there is a complete meltdown and radiation escapes in large volume. At this writing, emergency personnel are working feverishly to prevent that.

Such disasters are far more likely to be encountered in horror movies than in real life. When such events do occur, it is natural to ask ourselves whether similar nuclear dangers could threaten "us" and "our" area.

Although major earthquakes can occur in our country, massive ocean waves are not typical. And we are assured that in the construction of our nuclear plants, extensive safeguards were "built in" to guard against danger — including containment protocols and structures if a serious situation should develop at one of the plants.

Today, as a result of the natural disasters, the Japanese are experiencing their worst destruction since the United States dropped atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end Japanese aggression in World War II.

Naturally, as we recoil from the calamity in Japan, we recall the horror a quarter of a century ago at Chernobyl, in Soviet-controlled Ukraine, when an explosion at a nuclear power plant created the worst disaster involving nuclear energy production that the world has ever experienced. Dozens died. Many more became ill.

Today we are assured that our American nuclear plants have sufficient safeguards so that even in "worst-case scenarios" our people can be protected.

We hope the experts are right! Yet they surely are re-evaluating "possibilities" for catastrophe throughout the world.

Meanwhile, generous nations and good people typically are rushing assistance to Japan's disaster survivors, as many are mourning the loss of human lives.

We have had tragic floods and drownings when dams have broken. We have experienced coal mine cave-in disasters that have taken many miners' lives. There have been environmentally harmful oil spills. And now — added to the Chernobyl nuclear tragedy — we have an earthquake- and tsunami-caused nuclear peril in Japan.

We learn painfully from tragedies of many kinds, and we seek to avoid future catastrophes as we endeavor to aid those who survive and suffer.

And we are reminded that there are countless dangers in human life, from both natural and unnatural causes.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

WHAT SHOULD OUR PURE WATER COST?

A reliable source of water is essential, and fortunately, most of us don't have to dig wells or dip from rivers or creeks to get water. In our area, we are assured an abundance of purified, good-tasting water delivered by Tennessee American Water.

The company has asked state regulators for a 28 percent rate increase — reportedly estimated to be about $50 more a year for a home customer, more for industries or big water users. The company says it needs the money for maintenance and capital projects.

Naturally, nobody wants to pay more for anything. So what should a fair rate be? It should cover the company's costs in providing good service, plus a reasonable profit for stockholders, who put up the money to make the water service possible.

Since water service in our area is a monopoly, state law provides for the Tennessee Regulatory Authority to consider the facts and seek to arrive at a charge that is fair and reasonable, while assuring good service.

The water company's rate request unfortunately has dragged on for six months without TRA resolution. So on or after Thursday, the company may go ahead and raise its rates — though it could have to return part of the resulting revenue if the TRA later approves a smaller increase.

Under these drawn-out circumstances, doesn't that seem reasonable?

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

DNA AND 17 MYSTERIOUS RAPES

The crime of rape involves a horrible invasion of person. That horror was compounded in a chain of attacks — possibly now solved — that were committed over several years and throughout an extended geographic area.

Investigators have arrested a suspect in a series of sexual attacks on 17 victims — over 14 years, and in locations ranging from Connecticut to Virginia!

The key to solving the case, they say, was a cigarette the suspect discarded after appearing in court on a charge of stealing a bicycle. On it they found DNA, short for a hard-to-pronounce term: "Deoxyribonucleic acid." (Now you know why people generally refer to it simply as DNA.) Police say it matched DNA found after some of the attacks.

DNA contains a life "blueprint" code that differs among individuals, much as fingerprints differ. So police seeking to solve all sorts of crimes often resort to checking DNA evidence.

It may be the key to exonerating some potential suspects — or providing proof for conviction if a suspect and the DNA evidence match.

Human life and the knowledge of it are amazing things!

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS STRAIGHT – TIME TO TAP NUCLEAR BRAKES

It may well be that Japanese engineers will quickly stabilize the nuclear reactors damaged in last week's megaquake, pulling both Japan and the world back from the brink of the worst scenarios many now fear.

It may well be as Energy Minister Taner Yıldız put it over the weekend, that there is too much "information pollution" in the current environment to discuss the long-term risks of nuclear power in Turkey.

It may also well be that when we size up Turkey's energy needs, the risks of fossil fuels to an already changed and changing climate may well have Turkish citizens conclude that the virtues of a robust nuclear program outweigh the dangers.

But at the moment it is clear that the brakes should be applied both to the contracted nuclear plant scheduled for construction in Akkuyu, near Mersin, as well as the probable second plant now mulled for the Black Sea city of Sinop.

Just in the past two days, we have witnessed the consensus internationally around the so-called "atomic renaissance" evaporate in both Europe and the United States. At the weekend, some 10,000 activists marched in Berlin and another 65,000 protested in southwest Germany over Chancellor Angela Merkel's vow to continue an aggressive nuclear energy development program in her country.

In the United States, events have even staunch supporters of nuclear power now advocating a pause in licensing and building new reactors until a review of the lessons of Fukushima are complete.

"I think it calls on us here in the U.S., naturally, not to stop building nuclear power plants but to put the brakes on right now until we understand the ramifications of what's happened in Japan," said U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, long a leading voice for nuclear power, in a television interview.

We think that's right. As we reported yesterday, there are plenty of reasons to worry in Turkey, particularly in the case of Akkuyu, which lies just 20 kilometers from the active Ecemiş fault. That the project there, conceived in a no-tender contract awarded to a Russian company, was in many ways rushed is clear.

We take heed of the warnings of the Chamber of Electrical Engineers that seismic studies there have been inadequate. We also take note of the counsel of an engineer at the U.S. Geological Survey who told the New York Times yesterday that virtually all assumptions about seismic safety in the case of Fukushima proved wrong.

"Perhaps the message is we should re-evaluate the occurrence of superlarge earthquakes on any fault," he said.

The government may well yet convince us that Akkuyu and Sinop are reasonable sites for nuclear power plants. But it is the government's job to convince us and the rest of Turkey, not ours to quietly take reassurances at face value.

It is time to reopen the debate on power generation generally in Turkey, and nuclear power specifically.

 

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

CARRYING OUR PROUD PAST INTO A CHALLENGING FUTURE

DAVID JUDSON

ISTANBUL - Hürriyet Daily News

We hope today's front page caught you by surprise. We also hope you'll now direct your attention to our "real" front page to the right, opposite this column. For no, land reform is not on offer in Parliament. Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev is not inviting U.S. President John F. Kennedy to Moscow. And the Republican People's Party, or CHP, has not been banned from campaigning.

But those were the real events of the day exactly 50 years ago. And so as you can see, we took the news of our very first front page on March 15, 1961. We massaged the language a bit to meet contemporary standards. We reconfigured headlines to conform to today's format. And at last we mark this, our 50th birthday, with a "mock" retrospective of what the paper might have looked like – if edited by today's team.

I'll admit we had some fun dreaming this project up – and in putting it together, too. But the results of this exercise in amateur semiotics also reveal some surprising and sober truths. For if you compare our "mock" front page today with the real counterpart reprinted below, the contrast is stark in terms of typeface, use of capitalization and the general "look" of the newspaper. In short, it is a "retro experience," akin to how we might perceive a steel-rimmed Formica tabletop, a car with fins or a flickering black-and-white television. But recover from that first reaction and examine the news in a modern package; other than Khrushchev and Floyd Patterson defending his title, the contrast fades. Yesterday looks uncomfortably much like today.

Agriculture was a mess in Turkey 50 years ago and poverty among farmers was on the rise. While there are certainly fewer farmers today as a percentage of the population, their lot is only marginally improved. Our headline "Police fired on students, witnesses say," could have been used several times just in recent weeks. Europe's powers were trying to sort out Cyprus' Turkish-Greek skirmishing on March 15, 1961. With similar fecklessness, they are still doing so today. The CHP was at loggerheads with an authoritarian government in 1961. Although today's ruling party is hardly backed by tanks, one could draw a parallel or two. Tensions were rising between ethnic Turks and Kurds in northern Iraq's Kirkuk in 1961. A half-century has hardly eased the strains. And the minister of industry was abroad in 1961 to drum up investment, which also uncannily seems to mirror today's reality.

The cliche that "the more things change, the more they stay the same" is attributed to the 19th-century French novelist Alphonse Karr. I think he had a point. Which brings me to mine: Love them or hate them, newspapers are really a combination of two things. The first component is the bedrock "institution," that ideal and set of principles that survive through the years. The second part is the "organism" itself, the living, breathing and constantly innovating beehive of creativity that the staff renews each day – or as we are now learning in the age of interactivity, is renewed moment by moment.

In the latter sense, we are unquestionably changed from what we were on that first day, radically so. The only typewriter is in a small press museum that makes up a corner of the Hürriyet basement floor near the dining room. The offset printing technology, enabled by a suite of Macintosh computers, is one revolution away from the linotype that enabled our first edition. A further and far more profound revolution in our craft is the Internet. This frankly astounds us sometimes as it brings us large clusters of readers in places such as New York and Berlin and smaller clusters in places like Hyderabad and Sao Paulo.

An equally great change is that originally the Daily News was a brave but freestanding newspaper in Ankara, dependent solely upon its own wits and resources. Today, headquartered in Istanbul since 2006, we are at the middle of – and supported by – Turkey's largest media company with resources unimaginable in 1961.

But strip off that veneer of change, technology and corporate modernity, and in that first sense of a newspaper's existence, as an ideal and principles, we are unchanged from that moment when founder İlhan Çevik laid down the ground rules. Readers were promised the news "promptly, accurately and objectively" by Çevik in 1961 along with "complete impartiality." He kept that promise throughout his own long stewardship, and was followed in the effort by his son İlnur Çevik, who edited the newspaper through the turbulent 1980s and 1990s. Following the Çevik family editors was Yusuf Kanlı. He ushered the newspaper through the crisis years at the start of the last decade and its transition into the Doğan Media Group while keeping that same promise as well. My own stewardship of this proud promise began a little more than four years ago.

Only today's readers, of course, can judge how well I and the remarkable cast of some 50 editors, reporters and page designers are managing this important legacy today. Whatever success we might immodestly claim, however, can only be a reflection of the courageous, difficult and tireless efforts of all those who came before us.

"Present Turkey to the world," Çevik told his team a half-century ago, without varnish, exaggeration or fear of the truth.

It was good advice then. It is great advice today. Tomorrow, we will carry the same sense of mission into our second half-century.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

LOOKING AT THE WORLD FROM TURKEY

CÜNEYT ÜLSEVER

Foreign politics intertwines with national politics in some countries. This is quite true for countries such as Turkey that do not have any direct impact on the world's course yet are strategically critical.

Foreign and national politics in Turkey trigger each other almost every day and are developed by each other.

Readers know that the 21st century began not on Jan. 1, 2000, but on Sept. 11, 2001.

On that day, the biggest imperialist state of the world was defeated not by another imperialist state but an ideology (or faith). Technology, armaments, financial power and, in short, the dominion of the biggest imperialist power in the world, was found bankrupt by the terrorist organization al-Qaeda.

On the day of Sept. 11, we all surprisingly watched that an ideology (or faith) can challenge technology, financial power and the most advanced weapons.

The 20th century's paradigms for world domination were found bankrupt on Sept. 11. 

The source of the ideology (or faith) striking the biggest imperialist state of the world in its own house came from the heart of the Middle East, a region with 65 percent of the world's energy resources. Obviously, the Middle East will meet the needs of the 21st century.

In fact, an anti-American ideology (or faith) could have harmed the United States by hitting it in the Middle East. 

Military measures were taken in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it has been known all along that the power that was able to produce the most powerful weapon in the world, a suicide bomber, can only be dealt with via an antidote ideology.

Sept. 11, 2001, is also the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP's, birthday.

The hard-boiled Islamic political understanding could have only been challenged – other than Islam (the National View) – via an alternative thesis (Atatürk) that was kneaded together with Western civilization.

It didn't matter if it prioritized the conservative lifestyle.

It didn't matter if it is not so strict about laicism as long as it looked democratic enough.

Efforts at marketing the AKP as liberal-democratic political party flavored by "conservatism" came to the fore and, God knows, even I was impressed by the AKP, which was "ready to die for the European Union membership bid" from 2002 to 2004. 

The antidote that the West, i.e. the United States and the EU, was looking for was based on the development of an alternative thesis that would maintain connection with the Middle East and play the role of a big brother in the region while not contradicting with Western values.

The political-ideological-social counter-project to be applied against Iran, al-Qaeda, Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood came to life with the AKP in Turkey.

U.S. President Barack Obama approved Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, and this duo has gained more power during Obama's term.

However, there was a point at which the sides failed to reach an agreement and upon which they did not dwell much:

What could be the degree of the AKP's relative independence from the West in the Middle East?

I've insisted on explaining for two years that the AKP, after proving itself, will not be satisfied with the relatively independent decision-making authority granted by the U.S.

The sides have been testing each other at arm's length since Obama came to office in 2009. According to the U.S., the AKP is inclined to act with an independent decision-making authority that is more than it was granted on the "questions" of Iran, Armenia, Cyprus and now in Libya.

Erdoğan is getting more influenced by the slogan "one man Erdoğan" being chanted in the streets of the Middle East.

"Erdoğan President, Davutoğlu Prime Minister!" 

I think the Middle East might have a big brother – thanks to the authority to be given by the June 12 general elections in Turkey – based on a self-sufficient "one-man administration" that is way less dependent on the West.

It seems to me that the recent open and remorseless blow on the opposition press in Turkey has forced the U.S. and the EU to finally ask the question, "To what extent will the AKP be sovereignty?"

The June 12 will be an election in which people vote on the regime, not political parties.

In my best capacity, I will explain this to people everywhere.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

MOTHER NATURE DEMANDS RESPECT

SEMIH IDIZ

The devastating earthquake and equally devastating tsunami that hit Japan is an open warning from Mother Nature, who is telling us, "This is what I am capable of if you mess with me."

These disasters also tell us how insignificant the things mankind fights over are in the face of such destructive forces which have no nationality or religion, and which care nothing for the walls and borders that separate us.

Those who have watched disaster movies such as the 2004 film "The Day after Tomorrow," or the 2009 film "2012" were stunned by the visual effects – if not the storylines – showing natural forces at their most destructive. No one believed, however, that such things could happen in real life.

But the images pouring out of Japan now, which will no doubt continue to do so for some time, are much more shocking that anything Hollywood can conjure up with its technological and electronic capabilities, because they are real. We know for sure now that nature can provide as much devastation in real life as a movie can provide on the big screen.

The disaster in Japan is of course not the first warning from Mother Nature in recent years. We have been faced with such disasters since entering the new millennium from Southeast Asia to the Caribbean. Turkey has not been an exception either given the earthquake in 1999 which killed anything up to 30-35 thousand people.

As for Istanbul today, it lives under the constant threat of an earthquake that will destroy the city – much of which is made up of ramshackle buildings – and which scientists tell us could happen either tomorrow or 20 years from now and kill tens of thousands of people.

What happened in Japan is nevertheless the greatest warning from nature that present generations are aware of. It is also a number of disasters thrown into one, comprising as it does an earthquake and deluge of apocalyptic proportions, a potential nuclear disaster, given the explosions in the nuclear power plant that followed the earthquake, and an outbreak of pestilential disease.

The striking images coming out of Japan of thousands of cars, trucks, and leisure boats of various types and sizes being thrown asunder like so many dinky toys also provides us with a unique metaphor and a strong comment on modern life. The images are coming out of one of the richest countries in the world and – for all the commendable spiritual virtues of the Japanese – an intensely materialistic one.

We have no evidence at the present time to suggest that what happened in Japan is the result of climate change resulting from abuse of the environment by man. What we do have, however, is an example of the destruction Mother Nature is capable of unleashing without any mercy if her natural balances are disrupted by the seemingly insatiable avarice and greed of man.

We should therefore think hard about what we are doing to the world with our own personal carbon footprints and the kind of environment we are leaving our children and grandchildren.

There are many who will still prefer to say "I only live once, so 'après mois le deluge.'" But we have seen now that the deluge may not "come after us," but may hit us during our lifetimes.

The image of tens of thousands of automobiles being swept away in the tsunami begs many questions. Do we really need so many cars? If we do, are we using our cars efficiently and rationally? Are cars, really a "vehicle" that takes us from A to B, or do they provide us with an ego trip, given that the bigger and more expensive they are the more the person's sense of "self-importance" appears to increase?

Take Turkey, for example, where people have literally gone car crazy. Regardless of whether they are "gas guzzlers" or not, Turks prefer big and expensive cars if they can afford them. But what is the point of having an "Sports Utility Car" or "SUV" as they are popularly known if you live in Ankara or Istanbul, and have very little to do with the "sports" side of things.

The sight of a woman in furs and high heels, who steps out of such a car in front of an expensive hotel or shopping mall, while displaying certain airs and graces, is really nothing more than a bad caricature, reflecting an unsavory "nouveaux riche" mentality which has little respect for man, nature or the environment.

It is very unlikely that people of this ilk will make the necessary connections between the monster they drive and the quality of the air that they breathe. This is of course not something that is peculiar to Turkey, where people are mad about consumption, and where more or less anyone can buy a car now.

It does not make sense for other rapidly developing countries such as China, India or Brazil either to say to the West, "You had your chance it is our turn now."  There is no point in demanding "an equal quota" for polluting the world, destroying the environment and contributing to climate change just because the West did it, and continues to do so.

The bottom line here is that whatever heights man's avarice may reach, Mother Nature demands respect if it is to renew itself for each generation that is born. Otherwise it is more than willing to show its power of destruction.

Governments, and especially those that try to talk away the rationality of collective efforts such as the Kyoto Protocol so as to not do what is necessary – thus serving the interests of the automotive or oil industries – should take this topic much more seriously now that they have seen what can happen.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

INFLATION, UNEMPLOYMENT AND POVERTY

ERDOĞAN ALKİN

Recently the Turkish Statistics Institute released three important sets of data about inflation, unemployment and income distribution. Inflation fell to the lowest level in 41 years in February. The unemployment ratio also fell to 11.9 percent last year, although it was still considerably high. Unfortunately, there was no improvement in income distribution as of 2009. The share of the richest group's income in total increased from 46.7 percent to 47.6 percent in one year. That means this group is 8.5 times richer than the poorest group. This ratio was 8.1 in 2008.

Poverty also increased in Turkey in 2009 compared to 2008. The percentage of people living below the poverty line jumped from 16.7 percent to 17.1 percent. This indicates that nearly 13 million people can be defined as poor. The number of poor people was 11.6 million in 2008.

The deterioration in income distribution in 2009 can partly be explained by the worldwide crisis, but it must be accepted that there are deep-rooted reasons behind the situation. When figures on poverty in other countries, even in rich ones, are examined, it is easily understood that poverty is a common problem. However, this is not a consolation for the situation in Turkey.

It should also be accepted that unemployment is one of the main reasons of poverty and besides being a serious social problem, it has also some important economic and even political repercussions. People even in a modern society might begin to think that finding a job and not to live in poverty is more important than democratic principles such as justice and equality. And nobody can blame them because poverty and unemployment themselves go against these principles. Unfortunately, there is not a shortcut solution to the problem of poverty. Past experience in Turkey shows that some simple remedies in the macroeconomic sense, such as increasing wages, were not effective to balance income distribution.

Inflation has also negative impacts on income distribution. As many people know, during a period of accelerating inflation, some social groups increase their incomes parallel to or even faster than the rate of inflation, while other groups are not able do the same thing. This is another serious problem that is waiting at the doorstep of the world economy because of the jump in food prices. According to some political commentators, this is one the main reasons of the recent social unrest in the Middle East.

Even if the inflation rate is at a record low in Turkey, a rapid rise is expected during the coming months. After the winter last year, inflation began to slow down. This means that not only worldwide price increases in foodstuffs, some raw materials and oil, but also a negative base effect will push the inflation to considerably high levels in the near future. There are some attempts to cool down economic activity in order to offset the accelerating impacts on inflation. However, these attempts can only be partly successful. Unemployment, coupled with rising inflation, will not of course create social unrest like what ahs been seen in the Middle East. However, they could be the main problems to tackle for the new government after the general elections in June.

One method might be reaching out to poor families directly, one by one. The problem is the difficulty to reach a sound decision whether this method is feasible even if it looks reasonable. Traditional methods such as taxing the rich and giving to the poor have also not been as effective as expected. Instead, a deformed tax structure that contains an abnormally high indirect tax share in the total deteriorates income distribution further.

Improving public services such as health, education and transportation is another way to ease the pain of poverty. Some Western countries, especially Germany, France, the Netherlands and Scandinavian countries, are at least partly successful in this method. However, the Labour Party in the United Kingdom, which promised to make reforms on these issues, could not fulfill its promises and lost the latest general elections.

These difficulties and problems indicate that fighting poverty is not only a matter of intention. Even if the intentions are good, if the barriers that prevent reaching a more balanced and just income distribution are not identified properly, all governmental efforts will continue to be fruitless.

ealkin@iticu.edu.tr

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

DAILY NEWS, 50 YEARS YOUNG

YUSUF KANLI

 

Over the past five decades, the Daily News has always upheld the ethics of the profession, supremacy of law, respect to human rights and individual freedoms and the notion of democratic law

The Hürriyet Daily News was launched back in March 15, 1961, as an objective newspaper that would maintain the high values that today constitute the backbone of any modern society. The past 50 years has been a long road full of troubles, full of sufferings and equally full of excitement, amateur spirit and satisfaction.

When this writer joined the TDN family in 1977, the foundation pains were already over and the newspaper was placed on a course of expansion under the administration of İlnur Çevik, who had joined the paper in 1973 after completing his university education in Britain. It was no longer a paper produced in the basement of a building, nor was it published with vintage printing equipment.

When I joined the paper, it no longer consisted of a concise English-language summary of the previous day's news in Turkish-language media, or cut and paste clippings of some regional English-language newspapers. A long road was covered by the founding team and its successors under the guidance of late İlhan and Nurten Cevik. Still, the Daily News of 1977 was nothing comparable at all with the newspaper of this day.

Since 1977 the contents of the paper and the number of its pages were gradually expanded. State of the art technology was employed both at the editorial offices and at the printing works and by the mid 1980s it became the first fully computerized newspaper of the country. Not only was the Daily News the first Turkish newspaper to abandon electronic typewriters and move to computers, but it was also the first Turkish daily to go online and maintain a daily updated website since May 19, 1996.

But, all this is not what makes the Daily News the most respected English language newspaper of Turkey.

İlhan Çevik wrote in the first editorial of the Daily News that the paper would uphold the ethics of the profession, would always respect individual rights and freedoms, defend the notion of democratic law but, above all, would never discriminate.

Saying and doing are two different things. Over the past decades, the Daily News has always believed that in standing for democracy, human rights, individual freedoms and liberties, the notion of supremacy of law and, in general, organized civil society, one should never indulge in discriminative approaches.

The Daily News has been equally attentive to the human rights violations of both the villagers forced to eat "excrement" in an eastern village, torture and ill treatment complaints under detention and the separatist terrorist attacks on both the security forces and the civilian population. The newspaper has never differentiated between the sufferings of devoted Muslim people or the hardships faced by leftist intellectuals.

When the entire media was silent on political bans imposed on former politicians after the 1980 coup, the Daily News was a vocal opponent. It was even called by some people the (Süleyman) "Demirel news" at the time. However, as much as it campaigned for an end to the political ban imposed on Demirel, the paper also campaigned for the lifting of the bans on Bülent Ecevit, Alpaslan Türkeş, Necmettin Erbakan and others. It was also this paper that defied the ban introduced by the junta on criticism against the draft 1982 constitution. Its editors risked decades behind bars and appealed to the nation to vote against the draft they believed contained anti-democratic clauses.

The paper has always been for the territorial and national integrity of the country. But, at the same time, we have always defended that the Turkish nation is composed of several sub-identities and these sub-identities were enriching the culture of this country.

It was the first Turkish paper to acknowledge the "Kurdish reality" of the country and, indeed, it was the paper that pioneered in carrying the sufferings of the ethnic Kurdish people of the country to the front pages. Initially, a smear campaign was launched against the Daily News, but years later the prime minister and deputy prime minister of the country traveled to eastern Turkey and publicly acknowledged the so-called Kurdish reality.

The paper applauded the economic reform package of the post-coup administration and the economic revolution of the first Turgut Özal government in 1983. Still, the Daily News was one of the first papers in this country to start complaining that the Özal revolution failed to include the "social leg" and thus plunged the country into an atmosphere of social chaos and an erosion of social values.

While supporting the Özal reforms, the opponents were accusing the TDN of being "pro-Özalist," but when the Daily News started stressing that the Özal policies needed to be supplemented by social elements its voice was not heard.

These are just some of the examples of the principled journalism the staff of the Daily News has been trying to accomplish in conformity with the dictate of our founders. Full democracy, respect for the individual, the equality of all before the law, freedom of expression and of conscience, individual human rights, environmental awareness and the categorical rejection of all sorts of discrimination were some of the norms upon which the Daily News was established.

The past 50 years testify to the fact that the Daily News has never been a "pro-government" or "opposition" newspaper but rather has supported the policies it considered to be correct while criticizing those it considered wrong. The paper has always sided with the oppressed and with people whose constitutional rights were being violated. All through its 50 years of existence, the Daily News has always believed in the territorial and national integrity of this country. It has always contended that our differences are our wealth. It never believed a piece of cloth covering the head of a woman would endanger the constitutional and democratic system of the country, nor did it believe that recognition of ethnic and local differences would hamper our national integrity. Naturally, the Daily News has always fully abided by the principles of professional ethics.

Editors and editors in chief have come and gone since the Daily News was established. Mehmet Ali Kışlalı, Cüneyt Koryürek, Kurthan Fişek, Nick Ludington, Selcuk Akalın, Cevat Taylan, Rasit Gürdilek, İlnur Çevik, myself and current chief editor David Judson, have all successfully upheld the founding principles of the Daily News. They each contributed to the best of their ability to the advancement of the paper. As a former editor I appreciate the contributions made by each and every one of these dedicated journalists. Without the sacrifices and dedicated work of each and every one of them the Daily News would not have acquired the prestigious domestic and international reputation that it now enjoys.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

HAPPY BIRTHDAY, DAILY NEWS

FRANK WHITE

As the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review enters its 50th year on the Ides of March (as fearless as Caesar), fitting praise is called for and a look back and ahead. I have followed the paper for 43 of these years and can attest to its dramatic leap forward and increasing scope and depth.

What the newspaper means to Anglophone Turks, let them tell us. But for foreigners in Turkey or interested in Turkey for whom English is more accessible than the Turkish press, it is the essential organ of informed current discourse. How much it is read and discussed by Turks in influential quarters, let them say. I suspect its voice is heard and heeded as much indirectly as directly. For all others it is the best entry into all things Turkish. For that American diplomat who recently appealed to Turks to help him and his kind understand Turkey, nothing could do better than a year's subscription to the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review.

I had a teacher who claimed that if you read The New York Times every day for four years you would have the equivalent of a university education. The truth is that you need a liberal education to read the Times critically, and you need a good newspaper to keep an education up to date. Journalism and knowledge-gathering thrive in tandem.

I do miss the bridge column in the old Turkish Daily News, when it was a family-run organ before its elevation into the Doğan Media Group; and I miss the TDN Cafe in Çankaya. But in all other respects the new format under the leadership of Editor-in-Chief David Judson is miles ahead: in precision of English, coverage of Turkish and world events, mix of news, opinion, features, sports, and of course the much-expanded business and financial reporting and discussion. Even background pieces on history, archaeology and traditions relating to Turkey find space. The visual impact of the paper now puts it into the company of the best of dailies. Its online and electronic services and the South Weekly and City Brief supplements extend its life and usefulness.

Coming to terms with Turkey

But it is in the range and soundness of its editorial grasp that the Daily News has come fully into its new strength. Liberal and humane in outlook but respectful and critical of all positions on the political spectrum, the paper stands for the best in Turkish life and thought, enriched by contributions from the world's press and punditry.

What is happening in Turkey and what it means, what courses might conduce to its well being, is mainly for Turks to discover. But in world perspective the general situation of our time is due to the dissolution of many great empires in the 20th century and the consequent attempts by numerous new or reconstituted nations to survive and develop in unavoidable interaction. But not only national aspirations are unleashed, also tribal or sub-national groupings are free to assert themselves, and thus every nation has its own competing communities and their claims to integrate as well. And all are engulfed willy-nilly in globalized economic and technological processes at dizzying speed.

The world wars and the coda of the Cold War destroyed a spate of traditional and replacement empires, from the Prussian and German, the Tsarist and Soviet, the Austro-Hungarian and the Ottoman, to the Belgian, Dutch, French, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, to the Japanese and the British, and the fracturing of Yugoslavia. New power centers had unprecedented opportunity and impetus to emerge. The ambivalent surviving American empire, swinging between isolationism and intervention, part economic and part military, with the new economic imperia of the European Union and of Japan and China, with the built-in constraints of NATO and of the United Nations, have not been able to impose a harmonic new world order any more than the old empires could avoid rivalries and clashes.

In this ferment and turmoil Turkey finds its present context. Domestically, it deals with the worldwide resurgence of Islam in its own highly idiosyncratic and untried way. Issues of ethnicity, human and citizen rights, and multiple identities rightly jostle for their realization. Turkey's Ottoman heritage, Republican inception and contemporary challenges grind like gears propelling the nation into new undertakings. How it faces its internal dynamics and how it balances its ties to NATO and the United States, to Europe and its union, and to its own mostly Muslim neighbors will determine Turkey's character and destiny.

It will need the energy and sanity of many like the staff and editors and columnists at the Daily News, who have at heart Turkey's health and fulfillment – and who will report its progress without fear or favor – to steer Turkey toward its true destination. Many happy half-centuries to come.

* Frank White is a professor emeritus at City University of New York and lives part of the year in Alanya, Turkey. He can be reached at fwhitetr35@yahoo.com.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

IN THE SOUP

 

It is hard to know where we are headed or even which direction we are facing. The political uncertainty we have faced for months appears to have turned into a sea whipped up by a storm that could bring chaos of the worst kind. There is now growing doubt as to whether we, as a nation can withstand this – or whether at one point or the other things will simply fall apart. We have seen this happen more than once in the past. Today, we seem to be headed in that direction once more. We have a warning from Maulana Fazlur Rehman that the government seems unlikely to survive; Opposion leader in parliament Chaudhry Nisar Ali has warned that President Zardari is taking the country into a huge crisis and the PPP is reported to be considering more protests in Sindh over the appointment of the NAB Chairman. None of this augurs well for the country. The situation we see also gives rise to some basic questions. How long can we continue like this? How long can the country sustain the toll being taken? The chaos on the political scene means far more than material for TV talk shows or newspaper headlines. It means that we, in effect, have no governance, and there is instead, a paralysed system, which fails to deliver what people need. For months we have seen failures in this regard. A worsening state of affairs would plunge us into a crisis from which recovery would be still harder.


Sadly, there seems to be no recognition of this on the part of the government. Efforts remain focused on a bid to remain in power. The interior minister has been in touch with the MQM leaders in order to persuade them to offer the support the PPP needs. There is talk of dismissing the Sindh Home Minister whose comments triggered the latest crisis with the MQM. But such tinkering will lead us nowhere. While the PPP is desperate to save itself, what we actually need is a functional government. The absence of one will only lead to bigger problems for the people. Life is already veering towards the impossible for them because of an unchecked price hike and the multitudes of problems that arise from a dysfunctional system. Things cannot continue like this indefinitely. The time has come for the government to recognise the urgency of the state of affairs, and take immediate rescue measures. Unless this happens we will face only greater uncertainty with all its grim consequences.

 

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

NUCLEAR LESSONS

 

The two explosions at Japans' Fukushima Daiichi atomic power plant have tested safety at this type of installation in ways they have never been tested before; and so far it is looking increasingly like the built-in safeguards, even for worst-case scenarios, have held. It is too early to say that the danger is passed, and there could be another severe earthquake by Thursday according to Japanese seismologists which may further damage these installations, but it appears that radioactive leakage is minimal. By late on Monday afternoon there were concerns about the stability of a third reactor, with a possibility of a 'melt-down'. However, this is not looking like another Chernobyl, but it is going to raise a number of issues for the global nuclear power industry that require early resolution. Power supplies to the reactor were cut in the original quake and the diesel-generator backup system took over – but this in turn was overwhelmed by the tsunami which led to the reactors overheating and the explosions. The explosions were probably caused by a gas build-up and were not nuclear, because if they were there would have been a far greater release of radioactive material into the atmosphere and both pressure vessels – the core of the reactor that contains the fuel rods – appear to have survived intact. They are currently being cooled by seawater, because there was insufficient backup storage of coolant. The impurities in seawater mean that the Japanese have effectively written off these two reactors as they will be so damaged by seawater as to never again be usable.


The nuclear power industry is going to have to consider how best to bring electricity into nuclear power stations in the event of a supply failure, and diesel generators may not be the best way to do that. Clean coolant is also going to have to be stored against supply failure. Both of these measures have cost implications both for the generator and the user. The wisdom or otherwise of developing a 29 percent dependency on nuclear-generated power in a country that has a millennia-long history of massive seismic events, is called to question. Moreover, it appears that some if not all of the reactors in Japan are on or close to active fault lines. Our own nuclear plants are well away from areas of seismic activity, which does not mean that they are immune from it just that the likelihood of an accident of this type is considerably reduced. We would be unwise to be complacent and a review of procedures and structural integrity would be in order. The Japanese may have dodged the nuclear bullet this time, but there will be other quakes, other tsunamis. Alternative sources of power generation are suddenly looking increasingly attractive.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

REHABILITATION

 

The rehabilitation centre set up by the military in Swat to rehabilitate teenage and child militants has proved to be a successful experiment, with many of the youngsters now returned to their communities. But the exercise is one that needs to be replicated in more places and also followed up on. There needs to be some degree of monitoring of the young men going home, especially since the risk remains that attempts may be made by the militants who remain active to recruit them once more. What is most important is that jobs should be provided to those rescued from the militants' clutches, given that over the years unemployment has played a major role in fuelling the militant terror we have seen. Today it continues to haunt us and could indeed gain momentum once more over the coming years if things are not brought under check. The stepped up activities of militants that we see point to the potential dangers ahead.


We need rehabilitation schemes of various kinds in other conflict-hit areas as well. Schools for younger militants must also offer vocational training, offering them a means to secure their futures. We need also to see some effort to bring those with influence in communities to the corner opposing militancy. Prayer leaders, teachers and tribal elders all fall within this category. They must be persuaded to win over people and convince them that no religion, least of all Islam, advocates murder and death. Only if this message reaches enough people can we hope for any escape from the horrors that have become a part of our lives.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE WAY OUT OF OUR PROBLEMS

 ZAFAR HILALY

 

Whenever a study, like the one entitled The Future of Pakistan by Stephen Cohen forecasts Armageddon for Pakistan, chiefly because Pakistan is a nuclear weapon state 'with a bad record for proliferation', the American provenance of the study becomes obvious. Nothing else captures the attention of an American audience quite so dramatically.

We can be certain that the study will be hyped as a definitive analysis of what the future holds for Pakistan. That's because propaganda is that branch of the art of lying in which having deceived yourself into believing what you are peddling, though not really, you try and deceive others.


To be effective, propaganda must contain an element of truth so that the lie being peddled is more plausibly concealed and Cohen's study has a lot of home truths surrounding the nuclear lie.

For example, conventional wisdom suggests that the possession of nuclear weapons fortifies rather than weakens the state against its enemies. America led the way in this regard. Why else acquire, test and deploy thousands of nuclear missiles and, in America's case, allocate a significant percentage of its spending on defense – 750 billion dollars annually – which is more than the entire defense budget of the rest of the world combined, even as it runs up trillion dollar deficits at home, unless nuclear weapons enhance its security.

While such weapons in the hands of Pakistan may terrify Stephen Cohen and possibly Washington, how does that make Pakistan less secure unless, of course, we assume that the US intends to eliminate the 'threat', in which case, it merely reinforces the need for a weapon that could wreak havoc on anyone endeavouring to do so.

In such a scenario, the possession of nuclear weapons becomes even more necessary. Surely, what's good for the goose is good for the gander. Frankly, for Pakistan to adopt nuclear disarmament would be akin to behaving like a virgin in a brothel.


Indeed, as Cohen points out, Pakistan's proliferation record was not good in the past. But that was the past; today it is as good as that of any other country. In fact, it is better considering that the other day an American bomber flew across the US with an unsecured nuclear weapon in its hold undetected by those meant to monitor such weapon movements.


In any case, Washington has on numerous occasions said it was satisfied that Pakistan's nuclear weapons are adequately secured. If Cohen believed his own government he would presumably not list the safety and security of our nuclear weapons among the foremost reasons for his prognosis of Pakistan's eventual collapse. And if he does not believe Washington, the good news is that others do.


The other factors listed by Cohen for Pakistan's fast accelerating decay are more plausible, such as the consequences that lie in store lest we fail to address our economic woes and, of course, the demographic 'time bomb'.

Furthermore, it is entirely possible that a weak and decrepit government, like the present one, which ironically is considered an American creature, does indeed presage a weakening of the federation. However, Cohen's prediction that the Pakistan military will in due course collapse for assorted reasons including the military's obsession with India deserves scrutiny.


Our compulsive preoccupation with India of which Kargil will always remain the best example has proved self-defeating. And though we have not lost our reason, we risk losing everything but our reason if we continue to let this obsession with India weaken our resolve, divert our attention and dissipate our resources.

'The great proof of madness', said Napoleon, 'is the disproportion of ones designs to ones means.' This compulsive preoccupation with India is not shared by the people and has served to distance the army from the populace. Extremism and terrorism pose, by far, the more immediate threat, and refusal to concede that and act accordingly is delusional.


The military in Pakistan is indeed, sadly for an aspiring democracy, the pivot – the central pin – on which the entire mechanism of the federation is balanced. Its influence on all spheres of policy is pervasive and at times suffocating. At the same time, it has to be said that without the military to keep our adversaries at bay, the country would by now have floundered. Yet, the trouble is that the end may still be no different with the military in charge, not unless its role undergoes a conceptual transformation and is embedded in a new culture.

The security of the state and liberty of its citizens are the foremost requirements of any civilised society. Clearly, on this score, the government cannot deliver. While the center has failed miserably in its solemn duty to provide security, at the provincial level anarchy prevails and its police officers are clueless about who is in charge and to make matters worse its ranks have been criminalised to a great extent, compromising its integrity and professional caliber.


In the circumstances, the military's current posture of keeping aloof and sitting on the fence and, when pushed, dragging itself along it but never getting off, is naive. If it continues to maintain this ambivalent stance, not only will the country suffer, but also its own job will become infinitely more difficult later on. Fresh thinking on the role of the military and the reform and reorganisation of the entire security apparatus including that of the police and intelligence agencies to cope with the unprecedented challenge the country faces must begin with a sense of urgency and be pursued to the hilt or else Cohen's predictions will come true.


The military cannot function any longer in the same rut. The culture under which it works must change. The compulsory and irreproachable idleness of the traditional military man to which Tolstoy alluded must give way to a military that is not only a better fighting unit but is also politically involved and with a stake and direct role in the present and future policies of the nation. There is no point in shying away from this palpable requirement.

True, the purists who believe in civilian control of the military will be offended but civilian control of the military has never really been the case in Pakistan.


Pakistan has been stumbling from one crisis to another without let up for decades and the underlying tensions between the civilians and the military have brought us to the cumulative mess in which we find ourselves today. There appears to be no end in sight to our uninterrupted decline with the specter of national disaster looming larger with each passing day.


In such a situation we have to think out of the box, the sooner, the better. Only the combined strength of the civilians and the military – for once working in shared partnership with a shared stake rather than at cross-purposes and in mutual distrust – can offer the way out.




The writer is a former ambassador. Email: charles123it@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

EDUCATION REFORM IN PAKISTAN

MICHAEL BARBER

 

Imagine Pakistan in the mid-21st century. Currently, it has 180 million people; by then it will have 340 million and, unlike India and China, its population will still be rising. It will be a young country while the rest of the world ages.


In one future, the opportunity this offers will be seized. It is possible to imagine Pakistan as an economic powerhouse, helping to fuel sustainable, global economic growth. Of course, there is another future for Pakistan in which the size and youth of its population become a burden rather than an asset. This second future would be devastating for Pakistan and deeply problematic for the global community.


What will determine which of these futures will unfold for Pakistan? A number of factors will play a part, including regional and global geopolitics, but what has struck me forcibly in conversations I have had with Pakistani business, community and political leaders over the last year is that, with one voice, they say the single most important factor will be education.


At present, Pakistan doesn't have a good education system. Indeed, we must admit that the current education system is very poor.


However as poor Pakistan's education system may be now, it would be perfectly possible to successfully transform it over a generation. The fatalism that grips too many of Pakistan's leaders when they consider the education system, needs to be swept away. Recent history provides a number of success stories around the world; stories of invigorated education systems where sustained reform has liberated and empowered millions of people and transformed economies.


Research my colleagues and I have done explores the experience of school systems that embarked on their reform journey from a variety of different starting points. For Pakistan, most relevant is the experience of those systems in our sample that have successfully moved from poor to at least fair performance. From our analysis, three lessons can be drawn.


First, when the quality of education is very low, sharply defined programmes are needed to support students in achieving basic standards of literacy and numeracy.


Second, reforms must be sustained over time, with standards only improving if a critical mass of intervention is applied across the system, and with consistency, rigour, and discipline.

 

And third, the reform process must itself be ignited, whether in the wake of a crisis, or after a high-profile report exposes how serious failures are, or when an energetic and visionary leader takes personal responsibility for delivering change.


The results from a determined programme of reforms are remarkable. Minas Gerais, Brazil's third largest state, has half a million children in primary school. In 2006, an assessment found that fewer than half of eight year olds had reached the recommended standard for reading. The governor set a goal for improving this to 90 percent in just four years, with this target translated into school-level targets which were widely communicated to the public. Teachers were provided with lesson plans and workbooks for all their students, and offered sizeable bonuses if their school met its target. 73 percent of children met the reading standard in 2008 and 86 percent by 2010. In just four years, Minas Gerais achieved the best student outcomes of all Brazilian states.


Madhya Pradesh also took a regimented approach when the state's chief minister launched its 'Learn to Read' programme in 2005 after it discovered that literacy standards in its schools were very low. It rolled out a standardised teaching model across its systems of 138,500 schools, while mandating that the 17 million students in those schools should spend two hours a day on literacy. Again, the results were impressive, with the proportion of 11 year-olds who could read a story increasing from 86 percent to 95 percent.


Ghana provides another example of a country that began its reform journey by attempting to drive standards up to a minimum level. It also made rapid strides in increasing access. In 2004/05, only 59 percent of children went to primary school, a similar level of enrolment to that seen in Pakistan today. By 2008/09, 89 percent children were in school, while almost all children had textbooks, student health had improved, and free meals were given to poorer students.


So we can say with certainty that rapid progress is possible, even in a dysfunctional education system like Pakistan's. But what begins the process of reform?


Our research suggests that countries that have ignited reforms, and implemented them faithfully over time, rely on at least one of three events to get them started. A political or economic crisis may force a rethink, as governments scramble to carve a new path to a prosperous and secure future. A ground-breaking report can bring home the seriousness of a country's educational challenges, shaking the status quo and leaving the government with 'nowhere to hide'. Or an energetic and visionary leader can take upon him or herself the duty of driving reform. Of all these factors, leadership, whether political (president, prime minister, chief minister) or strategic (minister or secretary of education), is by far the most important.


Now is the time for leadership to overcome its fear of failure. The Pakistan Education Task Force has worked hard to create the energy needed for the March for Education campaign.


Leaders need to suspend disbelief, to have the courage to start. They need to take lessons from around the world and apply them systematically. They will work. In 2010, we saw the first steps in the right direction; in 2011 we will see real progress on the ground. People will begin to believe success is possible in Pakistan too.



The writer is co-chair of the Pakistan Education Task Force. Previously, he served British Prime Minister Tony Blair's government as his Chief Adviser for Delivery. Website:
www.educationemergency.com.pk

           

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

THE VOICE OF THE ARAB STREET

AIJAZ ZAKA SYED

 

The greatest tribute you could ever crave is to get it from your detractors. So when Hillary Clinton admits that "viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the United States (and around the world) because it's real news", the Qatar-based television network has every reason to celebrate and pat its own back. Speaking before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week, the Secretary of State warned that America is "losing the information war", citing the superior quality of Al Jazeera as one of the reasons for her opinion.


Clinton compared the Middle East-based TV network with the giants of US media outlets saying: "Like it or hate, it (Al Jazeera) is really effective. In fact, viewership of Al Jazeera is going up in the US because it's real news. You may not agree with it, but you feel like you're getting real news around the clock instead of a million commercials and arguments between talking heads and the kind of stuff that we do on our news which, you know, is not particularly informative to us, let alone foreigners."


Hmm. This is what many in alternative media and numerous independent conscience keepers of the world have been saying for years. I mean the bit about the unwillingness and inability of Western media, especially of those in the US, to see the whole picture and tell the other side of the story.


The US media has been too busy acting as the mouthpiece of the American empire and protecting the interests of the rich and powerful like those big boys of the Wall Street who continue to party recession or no recession. In fact, as a friend wrote this week commenting on Clinton's speech, the US newspapers have become newsletters of the US government.


This is why it is gratifying to see the world's most powerful woman work herself up over the growing reach of Al Jazeera and its ability and courage to offer "real news" as it happens – and in the process probably an alternative to the overbearing loudspeakers of the US media.


It's amazing what a critical difference a single voice of sanity, however frail, could make in the Goebbelsian cacophony of lies, half-truths and shameless spin. And what a fantastic journey of sheer courage and chutzpah – and of course loads of hard work and persistence – has it been for Al Jazeera.


It has changed the rules of the game not just in the incredibly dull world of the Middle East media but is forcing the movers and shakers of the world media to watch their step and constantly read and revise their script to keep pace with the change that the Doha-based network has come to represent. Al Jazeera has not just emerged as the real voice of the Arab street; it is pitching itself as a healthy, credible alternative, even if still hopelessly young and green, to the apologists and cheerleaders of the empire. It has been hard to miss for anyone following the whirlwind of change that has turned the Arab world upside down.


A great deal has been written and said about the role the Internet and social media networks such as Facebook and Twitter have played in sowing the winds of change across the Middle East. Doubtless, the history of popular uprisings in the region – in fact the history of our times – will remain incomplete without the amazing contribution the Net has made. However, Al Jazeera had been there, long before the FB and Twitter arrived in the Middle East, educating, informing and fashioning public opinion across the Arab and Islamic world.

In fact, by faithfully and courageously reporting the dramatic, lightning developments in Tunisia, beaming the action right into millions of homes across the Middle East and around the world minute by minute, it unleashed the tsunami that swept away Egypt's Hosni Mubarak and now threatens many of his fellow travellers.

With its unvarnished and unedited reporting of the ground-shifting developments in Tunisia and Egypt, it created a template of change, a truly democratic and home grown model, suggesting to the rest of the Muslim world they deserve better. That peaceful change is possible – without the intervention of our manipulative Western friends or the cynical, diabolic extremism as championed by the likes of Osama Bin Laden.


As a student of media and someone who has avidly followed Al Jazeera's breathtaking journey, it's uplifting to see a little known television network, once identified as the mouthpiece of OBL, grow from strength to strength and take on the Goliaths of this world.


In a region where the media has long come to act as the hand maiden of governments and journalism has largely meant publishing and broadcasting of endless comings and goings of royalty, Al Jazeera came as a burst of fresh, life-giving air.


While rest of the pliant, media establishment obsessed over what is known as "protocol news", Al Jazeera, in the words of its boss Wadah Khanfar, looked for "the real actors. We have been guided by a firm belief that the future of the Arab world will be shaped by people from outside the aging elites and debilitated political structures featured so disproportionately by most other news outlets."


It kept its ear to the ground, listening to the drums beating in the distance. This is why all those Western wonks and professional pundits failed to see the wave of change spearheaded by the Internet generation of young Arabs, dangerously aware of their democratic rights as well as the hopeless inadequacy of their elites, Al Jazeera saw the Arab revolt coming, as Khanfar so modestly claims.


It has exposed the shenanigans of both the corrupt, authoritarian regimes in the neighbourhood and the terrorism and tyranny of big powers. From Palestine to Pakistan and from America to Australia, Al Jazeera has defied and demolished the lies and narrative of the empire. No wonder it constantly finds itself under attack from both brotherly Arab regimes and the bullies of the West.


While the Doha-based network has been repeatedly banned and harassed in numerous Arab countries, its journalists and offices have often found themselves in the line of fire, literally, of the self appointed champions of freedom and democracy. Amazingly, despite being funded by the Qatari government, a close ally of Uncle Sam, Al Jazeera has managed to jealously guard and maintain its independence so far. Which is how it should be.

By the way, why can't we have more Al Jazeeras out there? God knows we do need them more than ever. Instead of chasing those billion dollar mirages in the sand, why can't Arabs invest more in the media? Instead of crying all the time about Islamophobia and negative stereotyping of Arabs and Muslims in Western media and popular culture, why don't they do something concrete to address it?


Al Jazeera's success, especially that of Al Jazeera English, proves it's possible to make professionally credible attempts on this front. If a tiny emirate like Qatar can do it, surely big boys like Saudi Arabia, Egypt and Turkey could do it. Even if five per cent of what many Muslim countries spend on the expensive junk sold by the West as arms was devoted to developing world class media, universities and research institutions, they wouldn't be stuck where they have been. For those who control the media will control the mind.




The writer is based in Gulf and has extensively written on the Muslim world affairs. Email: aijaz.syed@hotmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

PAKISTAN'S INCONCLUSIVE IMF TALKS

DR ASHFAQUE H KHAN


 At the invitation of Pakistan, an IMF mission visited the country from March 1 to 11. During their stay, the members of the mission held discussions on structural reforms and economic stabilisation with the authorities. With reference to structural reforms, the discussions centred on improvement of Pakistan's public finances and its financial sector. Discussions on economic stabilisation focused on addressing inflation, reducing budget deficit, reviving economic growth, handling the rising cost of oil prices, and improving governance.


Talks between the IMF and the Pakistani authorities remained inconclusive even after 11 days of engagement. A trust deficit was quite visible as the IMF wanted action from the authorities, while the Pakistani team tried to convince the IMF that this country would be taking a series of measures to address its economic challenges. The trust deficit, nevertheless, could not be bridged and the talks ended inconclusively.


The press released issued by the IMF at the end of the talks reflects the concerns of this Institution. The press release spoke of the need to reduce the budget deficit in the current fiscal year, and said that measures, if implemented promptly and consistently, will help improve budgetary revenue. The IMF also asked the ministry of finance to improve debt-management and governance, and promote savings, investment and growth through financial-sector reforms. It has also warned that "significant fiscal consolidation will be needed in 2011-12 to reduce inflation and ensure debt sustainability."


The outcome of the inconclusive talks was only a piece of advice from the IMF to the Pakistani authorities to reduce the budget deficit, broaden the tax bases to mobilise additional revenues and improve debt management and governance.


Why did the talks remain inconclusive between the IMF and the Pakistani authorities even after 11 days of engagement? The answer is simple. The Pakistani team was ill-prepared because it had not done its homework before inviting the IMF team. It did not handle the mission properly, lacked coordination, and the finance minister remained inactive until March 8, the last day of the originally planned meeting.


The IMF mission landed in Islamabad on March 1, and the technical level discussions continued till March 6 while the policy-level meeting started on March 7, and the finance minister joined the meeting on March 8. The talks ended inconclusively as the Pakistani team failed to give firm commitments on several measures that they had planned to implement. Telephone calls were made to the right quarters in Washington, D.C., requesting the extension of the visit of the IMF team for two or three days. The request was granted after promises by the Pakistani side that some actions will be taken within these days.


The Pakistani team went to the president with a wish list of measures that needed to be announced. As reported in the press, the president did not approve the list. Should the president be blamed for not approving the wish list? Was the president given enough time to look at the political consequences of the wish list? Is it justified to "force" the oresident to approve the wish list at the eleventh hour? The answer is no.


In my opinion, the Pakistani team should have taken the political leadership into confidence, the president in particular, over the list of measures before inviting the IMF mission. This was not done, and as such no agreement on FBR revenue and budget deficit for the year was reached with the IMF.


The IMF has asked the ministry of finance to improve its debt-management ability. Why has it specifically asked for improvement of debt management? Pakistan's public debt has not only grown astronomically in the last three years, but the maturity profile of domestic debt has worsened as well. The share of short-term debt (less than one year) in total domestic debt jumped from 42 per cent in end-June 2007 to 53 per cent by end-January 2011. The bulk of short-term debt is now being concentrated in three months' maturity, and as such is creating serious difficulties for the management of public finances.


Three months' maturity accounted for only one per cent of short-term domestic debt in end-June 2009 but increased to 37 per cent by March 11. Accordingly, 12 months' maturity declined from 76 per cent to 31 per cent during the same period. More alarmingly, Rs237 billion and Rs302 billion worth of short-term debt is maturing in the first and third weeks of April 2011 as such, and the government would have to refinance Rs539 billion maturing debt in April alone. It would be a nightmare for the finance manager to raise such a large sum of money in just one month. The IMF team expressed their serious concern over this development and asked the authorities to improve debt management. The finance minister needs to devote more time to debt management and strengthen its debt office by inducting professionals. The debt office has been the nerve centre of the country's macroeconomic policies. It has been crippled deliberately by the previous and current finance ministers.

It is abundantly clear that the current economic team is weak, lacks the capacity to address Pakistan's fiscal challenges, and loves to live in the past, as it wants to impose a flood tax after eight months of the unfortunate disaster. And the team and its captain are shy of facing the people and the private sector. Additionally, their laidback and lethargic attitude has caused serious difficulties for the country and its economy. The worsening of the maturity profile of domestic debt is the latest addition to the difficulties. Mishandling of the IMF mission may result in further cooling of relationship between Pakistan and the international financial institutions. Good job, Mr Finance Minister!

 

The writer is principal and dean at NUST Business School, Islamabad. Email: ahkhan @nbs.edu.pk


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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

DOES A PHRASE MATTER?

DR MALEEHA LODHI

 

The writer is special adviser to the Jang Group/Geo and a former envoy to the US and the UK.

Abandoned by the countries where the term was coined, the "war on terror" continues to be the phrase of choice used by officials and many media persons in Pakistan to describe the country's efforts to counter terrorism and militancy.

At a recent conference in Karachi, when a slide was flashed on the screen by one of the presenters, a puzzled participant sitting next to me turned around and asked what Pakistan's contribution to 'GWOT' meant. Global War on Terrorism, I replied, adding that this odd abbreviation for a mistaken phrase seemed to survive in our country long after others have dispensed with it.


Part of the rhetoric of the Bush era that was used to define America's post-9/11 anti-terror campaign including the military intervention in Afghanistan, the phrase was dropped by the administration of President Barack Obama. Explaining this shift in 2009, his adviser on counterterrorism and homeland security, John Brennan rejected not only the term "war on terror" but also the portrayal of the campaign as "global" and the suggestion of a battle against "jihadists" as a catchall category.


In a speech Brennan said that describing the counterterrorism campaign as a global war played "into the misleading and dangerous notion that the US is somehow in conflict with the rest of the world". Narrowing the US effort to a fight against al Qaeda was also designed to correct the folly of declaring war on a tactic, which is what terrorism is. As Brennan put it: "By focusing on the tactic, we risk floundering among the terrorist trees while missing the growth of the extremist forest".


It took the US seven years and a change in administration to abandon the use of a phrase that had been dropped by Britain even earlier. Several European countries had avoided it altogether preferring to view terrorism as a law-enforcement challenge rather than a war-like enterprise.


In the Obama Administration's National Security Strategy announced in May 2010 the document explicitly stated that the campaign against terrorism "is not a war against a tactic – terrorism, or a religion – Islam." It redefined the effort as aimed to defeat al Qaeda and its terrorist affiliates.


Does using and discarding the phrase really matter? Is this just a matter of semantics or does it signify something more substantive and consequential? These are important questions especially as many people in Pakistan continue to use the term especially in the media and the phrase has yet to be officially retired.

In fact the catchphrase mischaracterised the challenge and misdirected the response. The phrase was adopted by the Bush administration mainly because casting counterterrorism as a "war" was deemed useful to emphasise the urgency and gravity of the threat following 9/11, and to mobilise people and the resources needed for the military interventions that followed. It was also used to justify human rights and humanitarian law violations symbolised by Guantanamo Bay as well as interrogation practices that were universally denounced as torture.

The metaphor of war and the accompanying rhetoric of a battle against 'Islamofascism' had many unintended consequences. In the Muslim world – as the Obama Administration was to later acknowledge – it led to the widespread impression, including in Pakistan, that the US was engaged in a war on Islam.

The conceptualisation of counterterrorism as 'war' also conjured up apocalyptic visions of an epic, transcendental and open-ended struggle, a war without end, which had other unintended consequences. A "war on terror" conflated the threat, blurred the distinction between local grievances and global agendas, and ended up treating separate insurgencies and movements with diverse political and social roots as one big, undifferentiated transnational threat. This prevented these threats from being disentangled and addressed on the basis of their separate motivations and goals. Instead this fanned the flames of radicalism and made enemies for the US where none existed.


It was for good reason that the Obama Administration and other nations discarded this nomenclature and began to rethink their approach to countering terrorism. Moreover Obama's 2010 National Security Strategy stated that while counterterrorism continued to be a vital goal it would no longer define Washington's engagement with the world.


In this backdrop the continued use in Pakistan of the lexicon of 'war' raises a number of problematic issues. Language becomes important at two levels, perceptional and practical. In the case of the first it provides ammunition to those who seek to undermine Pakistan's anti-terrorism efforts by depicting these as part of 'America's war' and therefore create a conflict in people's mind about the legitimacy and 'ownership' of these efforts. Rather than criminalise them this language elevates terrorists to warriors and is used to accuse the state of waging war 'on its own people'.


The phraseology also has operational consequences. It makes no distinction between counterterrorism and counterinsurgency and militarises the response to terrorism. In both military action has a role but it is the police and intelligence machinery that is central to effective counterterrorism, which is fundamentally about law enforcement.

It is widely acknowledged that even in counter insurgency that relies on the use of force, the effort cannot succeed by bombs and bullets alone. Asymmetrical threats cannot be countered by conventional or exclusively military means. Unless the battle for 'hearts and minds' is also joined, aimed at separating the population from the insurgent, counterinsurgency cannot succeed. This means that military action has to be accompanied by several critical non-military dimensions – including effective governance, political and ideological efforts as well as post-conflict rehabilitation – in a comprehensive strategy to defeat insurgents and prevent their return.

If counterterrorism is seen as a 'war' it predisposes the campaign to be pursued primarily even exclusively by military means. This distorts the response and allows the civilian organs of state to wash their hands off their responsibility as seems to have happened. As last week's string of bombings and attacks across the country have underscored countering terrorism warrants a multidimensional strategy in which all elements of national power have to be integrated and deployed.


A combination of hard and soft power has to be used to isolate the perpetrators of violence from the general populace. And central to an effective strategy is engaging in the battle of ideas to counter the narrative used by terrorists to recruit followers and sustain their network.


In de-emphasising the diversity of the response, the language of war encourages an approach that relies only on hard power and distracts from the need to address the ideological dimension of the challenge.

From this perspective Pakistan's counterterrorism policy remains inadequate on several counts. The reliance on a 'kill or capture' strategy has reduced the effort to a numbers game that does little to address the flow of recruits into violent networks. Unless this flow is retarded or thwarted by a set of counter-radicalisation measures as part of a coherent campaign supported by government leaders, political parties and the media, the effort against violent extremism will not succeed. Such a campaign must mobilize public support on a consistent and not a fitful or one-off basis.


Effective counterterrorism also rests on strengthening and reforming the police, not just increasing their numbers. It means making the civilian intelligence machinery, especially in the field, more central to the effort.

The 'war' prism hobbles the development of the political, ideological and social dimensions of a strategy needed to deal with a multifaceted threat. A comprehensive strategy also has to be anchored in the recognition that when governance fails to provide for the basic needs of citizens or address social marginalisation grievances are nourished and breeding grounds created where people become susceptible to ideologies of violence and hate.


Discarding this phraseology will not by itself bring about a more effective approach. But if words have consequences, reframing the effort might oblige all organs of state to own up to their responsibility and urge society to also play its part rather than shift the entire onus on to the law-enforcement authorities.


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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

DAVISES AND 'MIKES'

ANIL DATTA

 

The shooting of the two young men by Raymond Davis in Lahore on Jan 27 was only the latest incident in which Americans have carried out violence against Pakistanis. However, the crime carried out by the sharpshooter called "Davis" (whose real name the State Department has refused to reveal) was the first time an American running an errand for his government killed Pakistanis in cold blood.


Last summer, the US embassy in Islamabad had settled out of court two cases of hit-and-run mortalities caused by its vehicles. The embassy paid out blood money to the victims' families under Pakistan's Qisas and Diat laws. The reported compensations were a modest ten thousand dollars each.


The Lahore tragedy in which Faizan Haider, 22, and Faheem, 20, lost their lives was compounded by the Land Cruiser of the US consulate general, speeding the wrong way to pick up Davis to prevent his arrest: it crushed a third motorcyclist, Ubaidur Rahman. Days later, the teenage widow of one of Davis's two victims committed suicide.

The driver and passengers of the Land Cruiser are believed to have been spirited out of Pakistan.


The US government claims diplomatic immunity for Davis. However, in the more than six weeks since the shooting, it has come to be known that the 36-year-old sharpshooter is a professional security contractor, a euphemism for mercenary.


However, even Davis did not cite diplomatic immunity when he was arrested, as he would have done as a matter of routine – and right – if he indeed had diplomatic status. Instead, he took the plea of self-defence.

He informed police interrogators he was a "consultant" at the US consulate-general in Lahore. It was later that the American government insisted that the man was an employee of the US embassy in Islamabad, and thereby "our diplomat," as President Obama referred to him.


Among the organisations for which Davis is known to have worked are the CIA and the notorious Blackwater, renamed XE Services. The unlicensed weapon he used to shoot the motorcyclists in Lahore's crowded, traffic-choked Mozang area is the advanced Glock pistol, which fires extra-lethal flat-nosed bullets and is used only by trained professionals in Davis's specialised trade.

Unlike Davis, Americans Tire Johnson and a man only identified as "Mike," for whose extrication money changed hands, had actually based in Islamabad.


Johnson was an officer of the force protection department of the US embassy. Just before dawn on July 25 last year, he hit and killed a teenager standing beside his motorcycle. Then he fled, with the motorcycle's wreck riding above the front bumper because it was meshed with his car's grille. Jawwadur Rehman bled to death. On June 4, "Mike" had hit 45-year-old Muhammad Yameen at the capital's Constitution Avenue.


Fortunately, there was no casualty when an American diplomat, reportedly drunk, ran a red signal in Islamabad in October 2009 and rammed a fire-brigade vehicle of the Capital Development Authority.

Back in 1960, when I was a boy living in Lahore, a speeding pickup belonging to the US air force communications base then existing in city knocked down a woman and her child at Ferozepur Road. A press photographer who happened to be present at the scene was prevented at gunpoint from taking the photograph of the corpses.


Before the Pakistani media woke up, as it has now, many incidents and crimes involving Americans had taken place over the decades, with little attention given to them by the press. However, the crushing of the mother and child had caused uproar in the press back then. Which is why I still remember the name of William Bridges, the American who grabbed the photographer's hair before his colleague pulled out the gun at the journalist.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THINK BEYOND SARAIKI PROVINCE

 

SOME circles have been vocal for quite some time in demanding a Saraiki Province by redrawing boundaries of all the four existing provinces but the idea has received a boost after a categorical statement by Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani that creation of the new province would form part of the PPP's manifesto for the next general elections. Addressing a public gathering in Jalalpur Pirwala on Sunday he declared that the PPP manifesto would suggest more provinces but named only Saraiki.


It is quite evident that the demand for a Saraiki province is moving towards its logical conclusion as it is being supported by important stakeholders. An influential group, led by former Information Minister Muhammad Ali Durrani, is already pushing forward the idea of a separate Bahawalpur province. Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly Faisal Karim Kundi had openly made such a demand during a function in Islamabad, urging the Prime Minister to do so as well while MQM too had been hinting that it would have no objection to creation of more provinces. A nationwide debate would be needed to thrash out the idea after considering all of its pros and cons so as to avoid any negative implications for the country. However, we would point out that the exercise should not be restricted to Saraiki province alone and aspirations of people of other provinces and areas should also be taken into consideration. People of Hazara have already launched a movement for a separate province while there are demands for carving out one or more provinces out of Sindh and Balochistan as well on ethnic and other considerations, as is the case with Saraiki demand. Of course, some people point out that provinces have become somewhat unmanageable because of their size and population and the objective of good governance can be achieved by having smaller administrative units. The objective of 18th Constitutional Amendment was to empower the provinces, delegate financial and administrative authority and decentralisation of powers and creation of more provinces might be in line with this philosophy. But we also must take into account the financial implications as more provinces mean creation of huge administrative machinery and offices eating up enormous money that could otherwise be spent on developmental and welfare activities.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

BEING CRITICAL OF DEFENCE BUDGET

 

IT has almost become a fashion in the country that every Tom, Dick and Harry talks about defence budget and other ticklish issues without knowing about their fuller implications. Criticism of the defence budget is on the rise for the last several years and regrettably some of the saner voices too speak about 'holy cows' and the so-called 'transparency' in defence expenditure.


It is in this backdrop that Director-General Inter Services Public Relations (ISPR) Major General Athar Abbas has come out with a strong rebuttal of such criticism. In a television interview, he pointed out that instead of making such demands, efforts should be made to streamline the usage of funds in civilian departments. Similarly, we agree with him that some foreign forces are trying to create a wedge between Army and the general public by portraying an impression of Army being a burden on national exchequer. One fails to understand what these circles want to achieve by spearheading a propaganda campaign against the Armed Forces of the country who need fuller backing of the nation to discharge their onerous responsibilities of defending the country against internal and external enemies, a job they have done with remarkable success. Being critical of Musharraf's deeds or misdeeds is something else but criticism of the armed forces as an institution is something quite different, which our leaders must differentiate. We must realise the fact that it is our own Army committed to the defence of the motherland and there would be no democracy or sovereignty without a strong and dependable defence. We should also be mindful of the geo-strategic environment in our region and beyond that has a direct bearing on security of the country and our national interests. India is stockpiling and developing an array of lethal and destructive weapons and it is understood that most of its military preparedness is directed against Pakistan. Under these circumstances, Pakistan can ill afford to lower its guards and has to provide necessary resources to the Armed Forces to enable them to be ready to thwart threats and dangers to the country.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

DR AWAN: DO MORE FOR ISLAMABAD

 

FEDERAL Law Minister Dr Babar Awan has said that the Federal Capital would be divided into two districts before the next financial year. Speaking at a function on Sunday, the Minister particularly referred to the establishment of Islamabad High Court by the present Government to provide speedy justice to the people and that the creation of another district was a step to facilitate the masses.


It is good of the Law Minister, who hails from the capital, that he ultimately intends to make the Capital a role model city with better facilities for the residents. Islamabad is one of the beautiful capitals of the world but it needs much more than what the Minister has stated. The Capital was built under a Master Plan but with increasing population and business activities the civic and other facilities originally estimated are coming under strain. Firstly, there are traffic jams and congestions and a comfortable model transport system is the demand of the time. Secondly, encroachments of all sorts in markets and at public dealing departments are causing inconvenience to the visitors. If one visits the District courts, he would undoubtedly find that the physical condition of the buildings is pathetic and there is no space for the members of the Bar to meet the litigants. In this situation, there is a need for a long-term development plan so that the Capital should not lose its lustre. Above all, Islamabad High Court, where fortunately prominent legal luminaries have been posted, its building which is a new edifice, needs to be refurbished with additional facilities to cope with the ever-increasing demand of cases. The learned Judges of Islamabad High Court deserve better enabling environment and comforts of all sorts to perform their functions. The facilities at the Islamabad High Court must match with the grandeur and beauty of the Federal Capital and that is possible only when additional space is allocated for more court rooms, reasonable facilities for the members of the Bar and all-weather seating place for the litigants. We hope that the Law Minister would pay personal attention to the improvement of facilities at the District Courts in general and in Islamabad High Court in particular so that they match with the spacious environment of the Capital.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

ROUND AND ROUND THE MULBERRY BUSH!

FRIENDLY FIRE

KHALID SALEEM

 

Whatever goes up must come down, as they say. The same can be said about anything that goes round. The recent India-Pakistan revelation that the bilateral talks are set to resume is one such. That and Pakistan's knee-jerk reaction in hailing the said development! The only thing that worries one, though, is the element of déjà vu in the whole rigmarole. Haven't we traversed the same ground before and come to grief in the bargain?

Every so often, when one has the time and energy to pay some attention to the things around one, there is a pervasive feeling of déjà vu. Before the perspicacious reader jumps to an unwarranted conclusion, one must hasten to clarify that this feeling is not due to any mental or physical handicap, but merely because one has indeed already been there. This is hardly an abnormal complaint in a state of affairs when the world happens to keep going round and round in circles without actually getting anywhere. Reminds one of the game children used to play, "Going Round and Round the Mulberry Bush". For want of a better example, one could cite the case of scientific studies that appear to be spawning all over like wild mushrooms after the rains. Incidentally, again like the wild mushrooms, one must start with the caution that some varieties of these may actually be poisonous. Virtually every other day, one comes across in the vigilant media the results of yet another of these scientific studies, undertaken no doubt at a hefty expense to the public exchequer. Most of these studies come up with results that contradict the results of earlier such studies undertaken yet again at – you guessed it – not inconsiderable public expenditure. The ultimate loser, naturally, is the gullible public that gleefully laps it up. What makes it sad is that, after a short interlude, the conclusions of the scientific study in question are invariably overturned by a subsequent study, undertaken at the behest of a different sponsor.

Everyone will, no doubt, recall having been warned, in the not too distant past, about the "harmful effects" of aspirin. This finding had spawned several medical discoveries in the shape of 'alternate' remedies for aches and pains that were proudly advertised as being totally "free of aspirin". The manufacturers of these new discoveries had a field day, making billions for their sponsors, until the results of another scientific study was unveiled, this time heralding the miraculous qualities of the very same lowly aspirin. This new discovery turned that once hated medication into an essential one for persons with heart problems. And to think that for years the public was advised to avoid taking aspirin because it was apparently "not good for the heart"!

An even more surprising scientific study made its advent not too long ago. This one gave a clean chit to chocolate, which, as everyone knows, had been on the negative list of all "healthy diets" for as long as one can remember. This new scientific study assured a gullible public that, despite the widely held belief to the contrary, eating chocolate was actually good for health, since it contained a certain chemical, with an unpronounceable name, that, in turn, happened to be very good for a person's metabolism.

Scientific studies that take the cake, however, relate to the consumer "beauty" products. How many of these can one cover in a short piece? Suffice it to cite just one of these studies that surfaced some little time ago. Here, then, is what transpired. Three organizations: 'The Environment Working Group', 'Coming Clean' and 'Health Care Without Harm', contracted a laboratory to test seventy-two 'beauty' products, including popular fragrances, make-up products and deodorants. The study reportedly discovered that a majority of these products contained "phthalates", which, it turned out, happened to be 'potentially harmful' chemicals that could lead to horrific side effects.

The study in question, aptly entitled "Not Too Pretty", reportedly found phthalates in fifty-two of the products tested. To cut a long story short (as the cliché goes) what the study proved was that the consumer had been led up the garden path by the big manufacturing corporations for years on end. Making money and still more money, it turns out, is the end all be all of all such corporations. And while they are busy taking advantage of an unwary public, where was the harm in commissioning some scientific studies along the way to suppress the bitter truth? The welfare of the consumer, apparently, does not enter into the equation at all. Now that one thinks about it, the scientific study aforementioned has not been heard of since. No prizes for guessing what happened to it!

This was just one random instance. One can quote myriad others. All one needs to do is keep on switching subjects. The only constant in the ever-changing equation remains the common man who is ever at the receiving end. Isn't it about time he (or she) was afforded some relief for a change? The tragedy is that when the time comes for some do-gooder groups to get into the act, their effort is either too feeble or comes at a time when the harm has already been done. By then, the poachers have already got away with their hot billions. As for the victims, for them there is no recourse. It may not be too far from the truth to aver that the whole hullabaloo is nothing more than a well choreographed drama staged for the benefit of the interested on lookers. It serves, merely, to divert the attention of the interested parties and provide the much-needed cover to the flim-flam crowd to conveniently cut their losses and move on to greener pastures.

Be that as it may, what remains undeniable is the fact that it is Nature that pervades all. One recalls having read some time back an item relating to a study that spelled out the curative and prophylactic properties of extracts obtained from various insects. Brings to mind the basic truism that cures to all ills and solutions to all problems are readily available in nature's bounty. They are just waiting to be discovered, if only man could discern where to look. And to that end too, the Almighty has provided man with the ultimate computer – the brain! What a pity, then, that man should have opted to become dependant upon one of his own creations – the machine. So much for the march of civilization!

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

REVOLUTION OR CONTROLLED 'PROCESS'

NEWS & VIEWS

MOHAMMAD JAMIL

 

White House spokesman Jay Carney said the other day that political upheaval in the Middle East and North Africa including Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya is a 'process', which is bound to reach its 'logical conclusion'. It is not difficult to infer from this statement that it is part of well organized plan, as a revolution is brought about for a fundamental change in the system of governance and economy replacing the status quo whereas a 'process' is initiated by somebody for ulterior motives and objectives. What has happened in Tunisia and Egypt is mere change of faces. President Barack Obama's national security team on Wednesday weighed how to force Moammar Gaddafi out of power and halt his brutal crackdown on those rebelling against his regime. But the White House said no action was imminent and set no timeline as attention shifted to a pivotal NATO session in Brussels. Various ideas are being tossed around vis-à-vis declaring no-fly zone over Libya, and to arm the rebels in Libya to fight the Libyan forces. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is to visit Egypt and Tunisia next week and meet with members of the Libyan opposition. She said the U.S. was reaching out to Libyan opposition leaders, and she would be meeting with them in the weeks ahead.


The US and the West have double standards. When frustration and fury of the people reached a critical threshold to warrant change, and army was trying to crush the movement, America and the West did not suggest no-fly zones over Egypt or moving the UN for intervention. They often talk of integrity and sovereignty of member countries of the United Nations, but in case of Libya they are poised to show utter disregard to these principles. The objective behind the controlled 'process' seems to be an effort to destabilize and divide Muslim countries so that they do not offer a palpable threat to Israel or challenge America's hegemony in the region. Quite a few analysts have presaged that there would be similar upheaval in Pakistan because of abject poverty, deteriorating law and order situation, religious, sectarian and ethnic violence and target killings in Karachi and Balochistan. Pakistan being a victim of terrorism and turmoil may catch the fire since the country is already in dire economic strait. Any ingenious move would push the country in the endemic crisis, leaving no chance to recuperate from riots or anarchy. It is imperative for the government and the patriotic segments of society to come forward and play a constructive role by forgetting petty differences with a view to safeguarding their future generations.


It is true that the formidable people's power in the Middle East and North Africa has forced the despots in Tunisia and Egypt to step down; and the ripple effect is also being felt in Yemen, Algeria and elsewhere. The royalty of Bahrain, the US fifth fleet's base is also threatened by people's power. Except Libya, the citadels that have fallen to this people's power or are at a great risk of a fall are mostly the ones that western powers had meticulously fortified. Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali of Tunisia was a long-time favourite of its erstwhile colonial ruler, France. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak was admittedly a U.S. sidekick. When he was visibly wobbling precariously, US secretary of state Hillary Clinton came on camera to pronounce that his government was secure and stable. But that conjecture or prediction proved wrong. In fact, when pro-American authoritarian rulers become unpopular due to the policies dictated by the US, and its unqualified support to Israel, the people rise against them. Anyhow, the region is not what it was a few months ago, and in the driving seat are now the region's youth, mostly educated. Though secularist in their outlook and views predominantly, they are religious-minded and practicing Muslims; they are moderates who do not wear their faith on their sleeves.

Anyhow, Senator John Kerry chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee said that two funds have been created - one is the Egyptian-American Enterprise Fund and the other one Tunisian American Enterprise Fund. The U.S. is sending disaster-response teams to provide humanitarian aid in areas in eastern Libya controlled by Qaddafi's opposition, Tom Donilon, the White House national security adviser, said during a press conference. Strengthened sanctions, holding people within the Gaddafi regime responsible for violence, and a freeze on more than $32 billion in assets held by Gaddafi and his associates, putting pressure on the Libyan regime is on he cards.


AFP reported that US senators want to create a "Marshall Plan" program to help Egypt and Tunisia recover from revolutionary turmoil and to showcase Washington's goodwill. US intelligence Chief James Clapper told members of the Congress that Libya is at risk of splitting apart into three separate parts, adding it is likely that Moammer Gaddafi would survive efforts to oust him. The United States announces it will soon send civilian humanitarian aid teams into opposition-held eastern Libya, but stresses the step should not be seen as a military intervention.

It would be pertinent to make a mention about famous revolutions in the past. The hungry Parisians, who had suffered from bad harvest, attacked the Bastille prison for political prisoners. And this was the beginning of the French Revolution that spread out to other parts of France overthrowing the monarchy and absolutism. It was indeed a step forward, as Napoleon had learned a lot from the revolution. The Napoleonic Code was established under Napoléon I in 1804, which did not allow privileges based on birth, ensured social welfare of the people, allowed freedom of religion, and stood for giving government jobs on merit. In 1917, the world witnessed October Revolution under the leadership of the Communist party, which replaced the monarchy and the economic system in Russia. Fredrick Angel the co-author of Das Kapital said: "Three great battles mark decisive stages in the prolonged struggle against feudalism: the Protestant Reformation in Germany, the English revolution (1640, 1688) and the French Revolution of 1789". There were conformities in the French, Russian and Chinese revolutions - class antagonism, inefficient government, an inept and corrupt ruling class - and last but not the least financial failure of the government.


At the time of revolutions, Russia and China were in different stages of development - the former predominantly industrial and the latter agricultural economy - yet communist parties were able to bring about successful revolutions in their societies by formulating strategies based on the ground realities. However, after 80 years of its existence, Soviet Russia disintegrated and China took the capitalist road. In late 1980s, when Soviet forces were defeated in Afghanistan, and Soviet Union was on the verge of collapse, Francis Fukuyama in his treatise 'The End of History' declared: "The dark forces, epitomized by fascism and communism, have lost, whereas liberal democracy has won". He believed that there will be no resistance to ruthless exploitation, but there have all along been turmoil, unrest, violent uprisings and upheavals emblematic of failure of capitalistic system. The US and the West is feeling the outcome of the contradictions of capitalism. But the fact remains that throughout recorded history, there has always been resistance against exploitation, and communism or no communism, the struggle continued in the past, continues at the present and would continue in future in one form or another.

 

The writer is Lahore-based senior journalist.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

FACTS ARE STUBBORN

RAJA WAHEED ASHRAF

Despite American pressure Raymond Davis is in Pakistani prison and being trialed, this is all due to the Pakistani media and people; otherwise he would have gone back to the US. When people know exactly what is happening around, they can become active citizens and play their meaningful and active role in the affairs of country. It is impossible to imagine of having real democracy or good governance without informed citizens. In any democratic dispensation, public opinion is required to develop freely and independently and journalists have a special responsibility in this regard.


Mass media being an instructor, informer, reformer, guide and a trend-setter is more accountable. Therefore it should follow ethics strictly. The purpose of ethics is to describe moral sentiment as well as to establish norms for good and fair behavior. Boundaries of ethics are drawn in different dimension in various societies. In Pakistan, the ethical dimensions are somehow similar to those of other countries having different demographic, religious and social backgrounds. Media ethics are formulated so that the media of a country can play a positive role for the betterment of society. The government-owned PTV and couple of its specialized news and entertainment subsidiaries dominated the Pakistani media till 2002. These channels were the only source of information for the people in Pakistan. Media in Pakistan purposely followed the ethical lines to broadcast the credible information, which gradually mounted the political interest and social responsibility of people and brought the maturity in society. The last decade has witnessed a great change in the media policy of the government due to opening of a lot of private television channels.


Gradually it has become diverse and touching the topics which once were considered not allowed for public. Today Pakistani media is one of the five pillars in the country i.e. government, opposition, judiciary, establishment and media. Pakistan's media has become an industry in the real sense of the word and is following its own agenda. By the opening up of the media industry, the unrestrained news channels are involved in a mad race of breaking news syndrome in order to win the public opinion and popularity instead of delivering correct information to viewers. Nowadays, prominent news channels are telecasting uncensored violence, crime stories, and live coverage of terrorist attacks while sacrificing media ethics.


Business interest of media to generate profit never let it to observe public service message time. News channels sensationalize the event to make them commercial which is against media ethics. The TV anchors are losing their credibility as they are found biased and they manipulate the issue most of the time, serving their owners or other specific stakeholders for petty gains. This practice is against the norms of journalism.


Sensitive issues regarding gender are highlighted in a vulgar way. Yellow journalism and inappropriate division of time for coverage of news events and personalities through electronic media raised the question about media ethics. Important issues of society that have to be dealt with more seriously such as public health, infrastructure, non-availability of potable water, load-shedding, wages, poverty, unemployment etc are not pursued by the media properly to a point where a solution is eventually reached. According to a survey by Gallup (in November 2009) it was found that almost one-third of Pakistanis (31%) blame media for political instability in Pakistan. There are two important implications of these findings: firstly, media is spreading disorder and uncertainty by distracting the public from real issues; and secondly, with unconfirmed reports they are discrediting themselves, and members of media are undermining their own profession and eventually freedom of the press.


All Pakistan Newspapers Society (APNS), Council of Pakistan Newspapers Editors (CPNE), and Pakistan Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ) have developed code of ethics to follow. Similarly, Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (PEMRA) has formulated rules to follow but implementation of these rules is not observed, which shows that Pakistani media is not fully mature. At this juncture, it is very essential to prioritize the socio-political health of the public through credible and news-worthy information and positive entertainment. It is necessary to develop a code of ethics for the media so that it could serve as a watchdog in the society besides serving public, through opinion about national and international issues and through provision of authentic and verifiable debates. Codes of ethics are formulated through which government can control the media, rules and regulation of Press Council Ordinance and the PEMRA are major examples of such codes in Pakistan.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

IS ENDGAME FOR PPP DRAWING CLOSER?

ALI ASHRAF KHAN

 

The all time friendly opposition of PML (N) demands included downsizing and cleansing of Cabinet size but the reshuffled cabinet of the PPP includes most of the names of the previous one and it becomes quite clear that the reason for the exercise of reducing the number of ministers was not to appease Nawaz league, NRO or any such cleaning the stable from the scars of corruption but trying to win time as the 45 day deadline of Nawaz Sharif was drawing closer. No will or concern for the much needed reform to provide any relief to people but only the will to stay in power is displayed by this step of the PPP led government. The dismal economic situation in Pakistan with periodical rising prices of petroleum and kerosene oil, electricity, gas and all the items of daily use including bus, rickshaw, taxi, wagons and rail fairs and the galloping inflation, with unprecedented load shedding of gas is disturbing national unity & solidarity, coupled with un checked corruption on rampage, leads to expose the inability of the PPP governments skill to govern and contrarily do what the IMF and so-called donors wants them to do – all contribute to a situation which is bringing Pakistan to the brink of total collapse.

The recent deterioration of US-Pakistani relations due to the refusal of the Pakistani Foreign Office and its Foreign Minister to succumb to the US illegitimate pressure in the Raymond Davis an under cover spy's case has created a new all-time low not only in the relationship between our government and the US, but public at large seeing the arm twisting tactics of US functionaries now demands in favour of justice to prevail, not only this, on 6th march, when the chehlum of Fahim and Faizan was observed in Lahore, the widow of Faizan Haider, who was married just two months before his murder said that they do not need any American aid and asked the government to provide justice to them, otherwise she will also commit suicide like the widow of Fahim, whereas Faizan's brother, Imran Haider has also filed an application in the Lahore High Court to make him also a party in the case, as such the matter has developed seriousness between the government and the Pakistani people including some of their own party members.


The impression of Shah Mahmood Qureshi was that he was enjoying his job as Foreign Minister and would not like to give it up quickly. The greater was the surprise for the general public that he did not succumb to the pressures of Hilary Clinton and his own party leadership to concede diplomatic immunity on the basis of fabrication of back-dated applications. That was the reason why the post of Foreign Minister was taken away from him. He preferred to lose his position to sell his conscience which is what is driving the PPP mad. Showing this much of steadfastness is quite a surprise for someone in a party which is not known for the steadfastness of its member or only then when it suits their own personal interests. And it does create frenzy because as Mr. Zardari well recognized this step will create a lot of popularity for Mr. Qureshi amongst the Pakistani people who are longing for respite from the malpractice of this government leading to rising economic disparity and miseries that lower income group people are committing suicide with families as the on going rate of inflation for lower strata of society is touching more then 15% or so. Therefore, this bold step has not only cost Mr. Qureshi his minister ship but has unleashed a smear campaign against him by his party colleagues. Quoting party discipline and citing the example of another disloyal PPP member, following on the foot steps of Mr. Farooq Leghari, who quite some years back dismissed another PPP government with corruption charges and thus earned the wrath of the PPP. President Zardari therefore is on record of saying he will not allow any party member to gain popularity by acting according to his consciousness. For the rest of the Pakistani people though and may be for some of the PPP members who resent the fast deterioration of the PPP image in public and the distortion of the memory of their revered party leader shaheed Benazir Bhutto this step of Mr. Qureshi should serve as a ray of hope in this bleak situation of our country where we live under multiple pressures and threats and the government is unable to show a way out of the crisis; on the contrary the Sindh PPP has created another problem by announcing that the Peoples Amn Committee allegedly involved in bhatta collection and killings has been declared as an affiliated body to the PPP Sindh, this enraged their coalition partners the MQM whose rabita committee has given a time notice to withdraw this stance or sever their coalition in government, a situation of untimely deadlock was on that PPP Sindh called for strike and close down in this province on Friday against the decision of Supreme Court to remove the Chairman NAB, whose appointment had some flaws, people fail to understand how a government in power can embark on war footage with its own pillars of state, why the option of review was not considered a better option if the government thinks they have a better case to support his appointment instead of confrontation with judiciary.


The menace of poverty is alarmingly increasing day by day, unemployment is increasing, people are disgruntled due to mounting socio-economic problems, sovereignty has been compromised against peanuts of dollars promised in aid, the ground reality is that every thing is getting bad to worse and can be seen on the ground by every naked eye, it is only the financial managers of ruling junta who are unable to distinguish between black and white. The global turmoil creating public unrest has crossed into many other countries including rich oil exporting giants and this is sufficient warning that Pakistan will soon face the heat of it, if practical remedial measures are not taken well in time and may go as a ray of hope that this act of neglecting the basic needs of poor strata of society may serve as a signal for a protest on the Egyptian lines. By letting Mr. Qureshi down President Zardari and his trusted associates are quite acting like former President Mubarak who even in the face of popular upheaval refused to read the writing on the wall and wanted to stay in power. May be this could be the much needed last straw that breaks the camel's back? In this crucial time it is only individuals who are honest and ready to sacrifice personal gains for this sadly and badly our messed-up country during last sixty three years.


Now just take a glimpse of Quaid-e-Azam's outlines for administration in 1948: The Cabinet Meeting was to be held – the ADC inquires, "Sir what will be served in the meeting…Tea or Coffee?" Sir looked up and replied sternly…the ADC was taken aback! "Whichever of the Ministers wish to have tea or coffee should drink it before leaving his home or when he returns home. The Nation's money is for the Nation and not for the Ministers!" After this instruction – as long as he was the Head of the nation …nothing except water was ever served in the Cabinet meetings.


What happened in recent Tsunami that hit coastel areas of Japan going upto Pacific zone. Don't you see that Japan, which claimed to have achieved advance developmental technology making them much superior and protected but failed to understand and follow the message of Allah Almighty revealed in Quran: Surah Al-Takwir It is mentioned that, "these Oceans, which now keep their bounds, will surge and boil over, and overwhelm all landmarks and Mountains "the eternal hills" will be swept away like a mirage," the recent Tsunami has taken its toll of more then 10,000 lives, loss of property and untold miseries, and we see natural blasts occuring in its two nuclear power plants in Fakushima in spite their claim for high technology and best protective and preventive measures. Nature has its own course of actions, which the power drunken man has forgotten in the frenzy of power and pelf. We pray before the creator of the Universe GOD Almighty to bless them in this hour of trial & tribulation with His mercy, and also give the Japanese nation courage and serenity to face this tragedy and guide them to change their worldly stance to come on the right path.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

A TREATISE ON PAK CIVIL SERVICE

QUDRAT ULLAH

Writing about sensitive issues and doing serious research work is not the usual forte of civil servants in Pakistan. They are mostly known in the public for their wanton arrogance, impassiveness and lust for power. However, after going through "A Treatise on the Civil Service of Pakistan: The Structural- Functional History (1601-2011)" written by Kiran Khurshid- a young DMG officer of 34th Common Training Program of 2005, I can now aver that our young entrants to the elite civil service are capable like their colonial predecessors who left countless footprints on the sands of history with their dedicated hard work and public service in the sub-continent. This 446 page book, divided in eight chapters, is an analytical study of the rise of the institution of civil service from the establishment of East India Company in 1601 to 2011, when decades of mismanagement and institutional decay have made this vital symbol of federation quite incapable of service delivery and governance in Pakistan. The book covers a span of more than 4 centuries. There are more than 300 pictures, career profiles of eminent civil servants, 45 tables depicting vital statistics, 23 flow charts and hierarchical structures, 12 maps of different territories, multiple charts and histograms developed from the original data as well as special articles in each chapter, relevant to the era, and an indication of the contribution of the eminent civil servants, make it worth reading.


The information regarding administrative divisions and logos of various tiers of governments has been collected from original sources. While civil service is a universally recognized institution; it was Confucius (551BC– 479 BC) in ancient China who proposed to recruit civil servants on merit through examination. In India, it was the British East India Company which established and organized a professional body of imperial civil servants which was later known as the Indian Civil Service. Because of its hard work, dedication and high intellect, it soon reached to the zenith of glory and underwent a transformation in the post-colonial period.

On one hand, memoirs of Indian civil servants portrayed civil service through rose tinted glasses; especially 'The Men Who Ruled India' by Philip Woodruff Mason and 'The Indian Civil Service: 1601-1930' by L.S.S O'Malley, the oft referred and widely quoted books on the subject overly romanticized and idealized this institution and the character of its members. On the other hand, the non-Service authors reflected a tendency to cut the civil servants to size. The Public perception regarding the civil servants, however, remained far from positive. This may be attributed to its evolution under the colonial rule. The colonial regime relied on this 'steel frame of administration' and firmly ruled through these civil servants over more than 25 million people.

After independence, the newly emerged state of Pakistan continued with the previous pattern of recruitment and training of the civil servants. Upon their selection in the civil service of Pakistan, the new recruits were sent to England for training. The first two decades witnessed an unprecedented rise in the authority of civil and military bureaucracy in Pakistan. This phenomenon can be attributed to a couple of factors; in the absence of a unified and mature political leadership, the British trained military and civil bureaucracy rushed to fill the power vacuum.Subsequently, an era began which is termed as the military-bureaucratic oligarchy in the history of Pakistan. The collusion of both civil and military bureaucracy for aggrandizement of political power projected their negative image in public and ruined the professional integrity of the institution. After the secession of East Pakistan in 1971, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, in an attempt to overhaul the administration and to put the civil bureaucracy in its right place, introduced administrative reforms in 1974. These reforms curtailed the powers of CSPs which was renamed as the DMG (District Management Group). It also placed all service groups on an equal footing as well as forbade the use of service titles like CSPs, PSPs or FSPs with the names of the officers. An integrated recruitment scheme as well as a post-selection training program was introduced for all the occupational groups. The recruitment and training is still done through the same channel proposed under the reforms.

The governance and the civil service are intrinsically linked; neither can be studied in isolation. In recent years, the government of Pakistan has contracted loans with the International Financial Institutions like IMF, ADB and the World Bank. In lieu of aid, these IFIs have shown a proclivity to impose their prescriptions for good governance also. One of the significant components of these packages is the restructuring and the rightsizing of the management and financial services. For instance, billions of rupees were spent on the World Bank funded Devolution Plan which is now being modified. Such policies not only generated a feeling of structural instability and insecurity among the civil servants but also among their clientele which is generally the public at large. Currently, the civil service of Pakistan is at the crossroads. Today, the young entrants to the civil service are bewildered about their role and the senior civil servants are disillusioned with what they describe as undue political interference in the executive work as well as with their posting and transfer which impinges upon their integrity. Overall socio-economic environment has changed a lot. A plethora of portfolios, autonomous bodies, semi-autonomous institutions, public sector corporations and departments have not only opened new vistas of opportunities for the civil servants but also have transformed their roles. However, this growth of the public sector has been challenged by the unprecedented growth of the private sector that has spillover effects on the roles and responsibilities of the civil servants by bringing the public sector into sharp contrast. Besides this, other multiple factors like population explosion, deteriorating


infrastructure and increase in financial liabilities of the state, have adversely affected the public service delivery. There is huge burden on the state resources because the growth in population has not witnessed the corresponding increase in the fiscal space rather relationship between the two remains inverse. There is one school of thought that strongly advocates the intrusive and assertive role of the state. It is against this backdrop that a civil servant has to carve out a niche for himself between the two extremes. It is hoped that our young civil servants would continue writing on issues of vital importance to help reform this service according to changing needs and requirements.

 

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

NBN NEEDS A RATIONAL RETHINK

IN its refusal to build a "big Australia" and fill critical skills shortages with higher immigration, the Gillard government is jeopardising the cost-effectiveness of its National Broadband Network.

Both trade unions and the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism are concerned that the $36 billion project, expected to create 25,000 jobs during its eight-year construction phase, will be competing for skilled workers with the booming resources sector, reconstruction in Queensland after the floods and Cyclone Yasi and the installation of smart meters allowing consumers to monitor their energy use.

Concern over labour shortages, which are likely to cost taxpayers and NBN users more money, should give Communications Minister Stephen Conroy pause for thought. So should the potential of wireless technology and Telstra's "contingency plan" for a least-cost fast broadband combining fibre and copper networks in the event of the NBN failing, revealed to Telstra shareholders recently.

In throwing all its eggs into the optical-fibre basket without a proper cost-benefit analysis, the government is risking a staggering sum of taxpayers' money. A more rational approach would deliver fast broadband by a combination of whatever technologies are most cost-effective.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

RIOTS SPARKED BY FAILED POLICIES

THE use of teargas by Australian Federal Police to subdue angry asylum-seekers on Christmas Island early yesterday after rioting and mass breakouts on Friday and Saturday further underlines the failure of the Gillard government's policy on boatpeople.

Saturday's protest coincided with the arrival of another 35 asylum-seekers northwest of Broome, bringing the total of unauthorised arrivals by boat to almost 3000 since Julia Gillard promised to "stop the boats" during last year's election campaign.

Unfortunately, Immigration Minister Chris Bowen's promised inquiry into the riot and breakouts is unlikely to be more than a bandaid measure. As the minister conceded yesterday, tension and frustration are running high at the Christmas Island facility, where some detainees have reportedly been waiting for 20 months for their applications to be processed.

Certainly staff levels should be increased. Rosters obtained by The Australian show that understaffing at the centre, which currently holds 2500 people, has become routine, with as few as 21 guards on night shifts, including reception staff. On some shifts, fewer than 10 guards are assigned to patrol the compounds. The government cannot entirely pass the buck to Serco, operator of the centre, however. The real solution lies in stopping the boats, an objective most likely to be achieved by preventing asylum-seekers reaching Australian shores. After seven months, the Prime Minister's ill-conceived notion of a regional processing centre on East Timor has proved to be little more than a thought bubble, leaving the government no real alternative but to reopen the facility on Nauru built by the Howard government and funded by Australian taxpayers. Such a turnaround should already be under way in the wake of the Christmas Island boat tragedy, which claimed 48 lives in December.

The Australian has repeatedly supported a larger humanitarian intake of refugees and would welcome a doubling of the current level of 13,000, provided it is part of an orderly process and not the people-smugglers who are filling the quota and lining their pockets with the money of desperate people risking their lives and those of their children on rickety vessels. Continuing to create thousands of new beds in detention centres will merely add to the pressures that caused the weekend riots.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

SENSE OF PERSPECTIVE VITAL IN JAPAN

SUCH is the scale of Japan's current trauma that even as we watch it unfold, we struggle to comprehend the horror and the task ahead.

The discovery of thousands of bodies, the airing of new vision showing the fearsome power of the tsunami and the ongoing drama of the damaged nuclear power plants have the rest of the world transfixed by the devastation and on tenterhooks for the survivors. We worry for the Japanese people at the same time as we admire their methodical response to this unspeakable disaster. The long-term ramifications of what we are seeing will be many, and they will vary from the deeply personal to the social, economic, environmental and political.

In recognising all of this, The Australian would note that even in our own country we could benefit from an element of calm in our response. We could do worse than emulate the organised stoicism of the Japanese.

It is no accident that tsunami is a Japanese word, with a literal English translation of harbour wave. On Honshu and the other islands of the archipelago, these surges of water pushed on to the landscape by shifts in the earth's crust have been part of living history and a constant threat of daily life. A number of Japanese tsunamis have previously taken tens of thousands of lives at a time, even hundreds of years ago when populations were much lower. From sea walls and harbour gates to warning systems and emergency routines, many modern adaptations have been put in place to minimise the risk. Clearly the awesome inundations of this tsunami, triggered by one of the strongest quakes ever recorded, were too powerful to be held back by the physical barriers. However, we have seen how the well-drilled responses (the earthquake itself provided the instant warning of a potential tsunami) in many of these coastal towns enabled countless thousands of people to evacuate to higher ground, or at least higher floors, and escape with their lives.

Yet yesterday, one ABC radio host was wondering aloud whether the "earth might be sending us a message". This is hysterical. Tsunamis are as much a part of the Japanese way of life as bushfires, droughts and flooding rains are part of ours. While not diminishing our sympathy, nor our terror, at the shocking loss of life, this realisation does enable us to keep a sense of perspective. We should recognise that on a historical scale, this was a massive earthquake and a huge tsunami, the likes of which we hope not to see again. But we should also see that given the power unleashed and the high populations in the danger zone, the loss of life would have been catastrophically worse save for the engineering and organisational advances made by the Japanese over many years of dealing with these threats. All the physical damage can be repaired and all the houses rebuilt; it is the lives saved that count.

Hysteria, too, has been evident in the reaction to the malfunctions and explosions at the Fukushima nuclear power plant. For political figures, such as senator Bob Brown, to seize on the problems as damning evidence against the use of nuclear power is premature. Nuclear experts have explained that a Chernobyl-style expulsion of radioactive material is technologically impossible. The incident is more analogous to the Three Mile Island partial meltdown in the US in 1979, where there was no loss of life, a reactor was decommissioned and a nuclear power station continues to operate today.

The Japanese authorities appear to be implementing extremely sensible precautions to keep people away from the site. Technicians continue to work towards safely shutting down, and then presumably decommissioning the damaged reactors. If they can do so without releasing radioactivity, they will have successfully responded to a dangerous incident prompted by an extreme natural disaster. Lessons will be learned for the operation of existing reactors and future nuclear installations. We place great hope in those making Fukushima safe because a radioactive spill would exact a terrible additional toll on the Japanese people. But let's not forget that even without that, thousands of people are unaccounted for, oil refineries and buildings are burning and hundreds of thousands of people need food, water, shelter and power.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

TIMOR PLAN LOST AT SEA

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.

 

NO EASY ANSWERS IN LIBYA

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.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

JAPAN QUAKE A DISASTER WITH MORE IN ITS WAKE

THE CRISIS SHOULD NOT SHUT DOWN THE NUCLEAR DEBATE.

IN JAPAN, hyperbole is not the political style. So when Prime Minister Naoto Kan described Friday's earthquake, tsunami and ensuing partial meltdowns in at least two nuclear reactors as the worst crisis the country has faced since World War II, he was not indulging in lurid exaggeration. The 9.0 magnitude quake that struck off the north-east coast of Honshu, Japan's main island, was the biggest in Japanese history and the seventh strongest on global record. The mounting death toll is expected to exceed 10,000, and the tsunamis unleashed by the quake and its aftershocks have wreaked devastation on such a scale that even a country of Japan's high level of preparedness will take many years to rebuild what has been lost.

Nor did any Japanese need Mr Kan to explain his reasons for invoking their nation's experience of World War II. Just as that conflict ended with Japan becoming the first, and so far only, country to be attacked with nuclear weapons, so now the deaths, havoc and homelessness caused by the quake and tsunamis are being overshadowed by fears that the cooling problems at several nuclear power stations will lead to a Chernobyl-style meltdown.

In part those fears have been aroused because initial assurances by Japan's Nuclear Safety Agency about radiation leakages from Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station subsequently became admissions of ''partial meltdowns'' in two reactors. An emergency was also declared at the nearby Fukushima Daini plant and the number of stricken power stations later grew from two to four, including one only 120 kilometres from Tokyo. The suspicion grew that the gravity of the crisis was being concealed.

The safety agency is undoubtedly concerned to avoid panic, but the comparisons with Chernobyl that critics of nuclear power around the world have been quick to make are misplaced. There has been a partial meltdown of fuel rods in the reactors, because of the difficulty in pumping enough water to cool them after the tsunami shut down power supplies. But thus far the containment casings around reactors in all the affected plants remain secure, and the levels of radioactivity around Fukushima are, although above safe limits, way below the amounts produced by Ukraine's Chernobyl accident 25 years ago.

None of this means that there is no danger, and it is a reminder that the risks involved in building nuclear power plants in earthquake zones are considerably higher than in geologically stable areas. Whether a country such as Japan, which relies heavily on nuclear energy for power generation, has better alternatives is another question, however, and not one to be answered in the immediate aftermath of the quake. For the present, the focus must be on resolving the cooling problems and preventing increased radiation leakage, and, above all, tackling the wider humanitarian emergency created by this series of natural disasters.

The nuclear crisis has, however, already acquired a global political life of its own. Germany's Chancellor, Angela Merkel, described the explosion caused by a build-up of hydrogen gas at one of the Fukushima reactors as ''a turning point for the world'', and ordered inspections of her own country's 17 nuclear power plants. Dr Merkel has not, however, suggested that Germany might do without nuclear power generation. The question is what kind of turning point this is.

It should certainly force other earthquake-prone countries that aspire to build nuclear power plants, such as Indonesia, to reconsider unless there is a reasonable prospect that they can do so safely. It should not, however, force other countries to turn away from peaceful uses of nuclear energy. And countries such as Australia, which have barely begun to debate those uses, should not allow Japan's calamity to stifle the debate prematurely.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

HOMELESS ARE STILL WAITING FOR RELIEF

AUSTRALIANS can't help but feel for all the people who lost their homes in the Japanese and New Zealand earthquakes. Who doesn't identify with ordinary people, people like us, hit by catastrophe? Yet we seem largely blind to tens of thousands of Australians who are homeless, most of them in circumstances beyond their control.

The 2006 census recorded a shameful statistic: 105,000 people were homeless on the night. Having campaigned on the issue, then prime minister Kevin Rudd signed a December 2008 agreement with the states and territories to halve homeless numbers by 2020, with a ''significant reduction'' in five years. These goals, however, expose any change in counting the homeless to political misuse.

Some advocates for the homeless say the Australian Bureau of Statistics' proposed new formula may cut numbers by a third if used in the census this August, providing a ''miraculous'' solution. Official definitions can mask a problem, as with ABS labour data, whereby a person who works for just an hour in the survey week is not counted as unemployed. Even if a new formula is justified, the results should not be misused to suggest targets have been achieved.

The Rudd government allocated more than $6 billion of its economic stimulus to public housing. The minister responsible in the Gillard government, Mark Arbib, points to a fall of 13,000, or 25 per cent, in community housing waiting lists. That is still less than half the 27,000 added since 2008 to waiting lists for state-owned public housing, which grew from 175,000 to more than 200,000. Less than half of the housing projects due for completion by December met the deadline - although Victoria's waiting list did fall from 41,200 in the September quarter to 39,000. The average wait is almost four years. Even priority cases wait 8.5 months. Many emergency shelters still turn away far more people than they can house for the night.

Most homeless people do not fit the old stereotype. They are people who can't afford rising rents, have lost jobs, suffered serious physical or mental illness or have fled violence or sexual abuse - 42 per cent are women and 46 per cent are under the age of 24.

It is unacceptable that one in 200 Australians is denied the basic human right of having a place to call home. The resulting lack of stability and dignity cripples their involvement in education, work and society. Given a secure home, people can and do rebuild their lives.

The moral, social and economic urgency of eliminating homelessness hasn't changed however it is measured.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

BRADLEY MANNING: CRUEL AND UNUSUAL

There was at least the ghost of an excuse for bullying foreign combatants but no US need for mistreating one of their own

It is now nearly a decade since 9/11, and in the aftermath of that atrocity the US "lost a little of its greatness", in the words of one courageous military lawyer, David Frakt. Mr Frakt was protesting to a military commission of "the pointless and sadistic treatment of … a suicidal teenager", a Guantanamo inmate put in solitary, then systematically sleep-deprived by being shifted from cell to cell every couple of hours. There was at least the ghost of an excuse for bullying and sometimes torturing Arab and Afghan "combatants". It was done in the name of saving American lives.

There is no such need for the cruel mistreatment now reported as being practised on one of their own, the diminutive US private Bradley Manning. Yet when Hilary Clinton's spokesman, PJ Crowley, wisely pointed this out – calling the treatment "counterproductive and stupid" – he had to resign. Mr Manning is accused of giving Wikileaks the video of a helicopter killing civilians in Baghdad, the logs documenting disasters of war in Afghanistan, and the 250,000 diplomatic cables which have shed such a dramatic light on world affairs. As a result, Mr Manning is made to stand naked outside his cell this morning, and apparently on all future mornings. This is the culmination of a punitive regime which has gone on for 10 months under which, although untried and unconvicted, he is not allowed to sleep or exercise in his cell during the day, is denied any personal possessions and is barred from conversing with the guards.

Every five minutes he is required to answer that he is fit and, if he turns his face away while asleep, he is immediately forcibly woken up. In an Orwellian trick, this is dubbed "prevention of injury" for his own protection. When Manning finally protested, sarcastically, that he could no doubt injure himself with the boxer shorts which are all that he is left with at night, the boxer shorts, too, were taken away. This regime of near-torture is perhaps designed to break him, in the hope he will incriminate WikiLeaks chief Julian Assange and other associates on some conspiracy charge. Yet is that sensible?

So far, the reaction of the Obama administration to the leaks has been relatively measured. It is tacitly accepted that no lives have been lost, and US diplomacy has not collapsed in the sunlight. Perhaps these frank assessments of corruption even emboldened the uprising against tyranny in places such as Tunisia. It would send a dire message to other tyrannies if the US itself responds to a leak as if it were itself a tyranny. It was, after all, the US top brass who failed to look after their data. We have not seen any heads roll there yet.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

NUCLEAR POWER: AFTER THE FLOOD

The tendency in Britain to postpone politically painful choices about building new nuclear stations is dangerous

The flattening of the whole town of Minamisanriku and the washing-up of thousands of bodies on the shores of the Miyagi prefecture are more than anything a human tragedy. But for westerners accustomed to marvelling at ingenious Japanese technical solutions to all manner of smaller problems, the unfolding horrors are something else too: a reminder of the frailty of the physical thread by which our whole civilisation hangs. Even without the explosions at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant, the other terrifying images would have stirred scepticism about human attempts to harness forces greater than themselves.

As it turned out, the great hydrogen blasts at reactors one and three were yesterday followed by a more dangerous failure of the cooling system in reactor two. The hundreds of millions of half-informed voters across the rich world, on whom consent for nuclear power ultimately rests, gazed on – bemused by the International Atomic Energy Authority's ill-judged attempt to soothe nerves by pointing to the dozens of Japanese reactors that had not blown up, and hoping against hope that the pumping of sea water into reactor two was not quite as desperate a measure as it sounded. In Japan, there will soon be fierce arguments about why so many reactors are built on the coast, and why any were placed near seismic faultlines. A wider debate is already echoing far beyond its shores. In Germany, where history instils an instinctive distaste for grand scientific and political claims about brave new worlds, the longstanding unpopularity of nuclear power is deepening. As editorialists picked up their pens yesterday, Angela Merkel qualified her pro-nuclear leanings, putting all her plans up for review and suggesting that everything needed thinking through afresh after the Japanese flood.

Closer to home the energy secretary Chris Huhne is mulling over the collapse of the "couldn't happen here" argument. It may have washed with Chernobyl in Soviet Ukraine but will not survive if the worst-case scenario plays out in high-tech Japan. That may still not happen, and if even the mix of an 9.0 magnitude earthquake, an accompanying tsunami and a hydrogen explosion does not cause lethal meltdown, then the balance of the rational argument could conceivably be more in favour of nuclear in a month's time than it is today. But as one of two Liberal Democrat cabinet ministers landed with implementing outright breaches of the party's manifesto – the other being Vince Cable on student finances – the ambitious Mr Huhne is well aware that scientific factors are not the only ones involved here. He may be keen to find reason to re-close a mind that only recently opened to the nuclear option.

For all the emotive force of events in Japan, though, this is one issue where there is a pressing need to listen to what our heads say about the needs of the future, as opposed to subjecting ourselves to jittery whims of the heart. One of the few solid lessons to emerge from the aged Fukushima plant is that the tendency in Britain and elsewhere to postpone politically painful choices about building new nuclear stations by extending the life-spans of existing ones is dangerous. Beyond that, with or without Fukushima, the undisputed nastiness of nuclear – the costs, the risks and the waste – still need to be carefully weighed in the balance against the different poisons pumped out by coal, which remains the chief economic alternative.

Most of the easy third ways are illusions. Energy efficiency has been improving for over 200 years, but it has worked to increase not curb demand. Off-shore wind remains so costly that market forces would simply push pollution overseas if it were taken up in a big way. A massive expansion of shale gas may yet pave the way to a plausible non-nuclear future, and it certainly warrants close examination. The fundamentals of the difficult decisions ahead, however, have not moved with the Earth.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

IN PRAISE OF… HISTORY

History boggles minds but also opens them, turning young minds towards optimism as well as understanding

History is bunk, said Henry Ford, who would have been delighted with Ofsted's new report which complains that the subject is becoming marginalised in England's schools. The country is alone in Europe, too, in allowing pupils to drop it at age 13, if they become bored. But then Ford would have been waiting in the schoolyard to tempt teenagers on to his car assembly lines, urge them to wear suits made of soya and avoid cow's milk on hygiene grounds, and take them on a tour of the murals at his factory by the red-hot Communist Diego Rivera, whose work – and that of his wife Freda Kahlo – the arch-capitalist admired. And there is Ofsted's argument in a sentence; the history of Henry Ford alone should entrance any student with a lively teacher or a nook at home to curl up with a book. What is richer than the story of the planet and its people – and other creatures? How can a child fail to be entranced by the unspooling of a lavatory roll to show the entire story of the earth, and the marking of the handful of millimetres at the very end which represent the time mankind has been here? History boggles minds but also opens them; and allowing for hiccoughs and setbacks, it tells a tale of progress which turns young minds towards optimism as well as understanding. Thence comes further progress. But the teaching of history can certainly be bunk, and there is Ofsted's real task: not so much compelling teenagers to continue with the subject as nurturing the teaching talent which makes them want to.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NUCLEAR POWER IN DISARRAY

Damage beyond imagination is unfolding in the wake of the massive earthquake that hit Japan on March 11. More than 5,000 people are confirmed dead or missing, and the death toll is expected to reach into the tens of thousands. In the Miyagi Prefecture town of Minami Sanriku alone, around 10,000 people are unaccounted for.

The quake, whose magnitude was upgraded by the Meteorological Agency from the original 8.8 to 9 — the strongest earthquake ever recorded in Japan — together with the ensuing tsunami forced 550,000 people mainly in prefectures along the Pacific coast of the Tohoku region to evacuate. The quake and tsunami destroyed some 50,000 structures. The destruction wrought by the tsunami alone is unknown at this point, but its severity can be gauged by two examples: It inundated more than 80 percent of the urban area of the city of Rikuzen Takada, Iwate Prefecture, destroying some 5,000 houses and buildings. In the city of Minami Soma, Fukushima Prefecture, the tsunami obliterated some 1,800 houses and buildings.

The public sector must step up its efforts to assist those affected by the disaster. In Miyagi Prefecture alone, as of Sunday night, some 14,000 people were stranded in locations such as schools, hospitals, hotels that are inaccessible by road. Helicopters should be utilized to provide water, food, medicine, blankets and portable toilets to these people, and of course, the same supplies should be provided by conventional means to those sheltering in evacuation sites. Coun