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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 16, edition 000781, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- DESTABILISING ANARCHY
- TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
- PRACHANDA PLOTS HIS NEXT MOVE - ASHOK K MEHTA
- NUCLEAR POWER FACES UNCERTAIN FUTURE - ANDREI FEDYASHIN
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- LESSONS TO LEARN
- STRIKING BACK
- WITH ALLIES LIKE THESE - SUBIR BHAUMIK
- 'COUNTERING COMMUNAL POISON HAS TO BE AN ONGOING PROCESS'
- DON'T PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON
- IF LOOKS COULD TELL
- A MURKY MELTDOWN - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- NO SHOT IN THE ARM - LALITA PANICKER
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- REALITY CHECK
- TRINAMOOL'S BIG TENT
- IN FUKUSHIMA'S RADIUS - C. RAJA MOHAN
- NO TRADE-OFF HERE? - YOGINERKALAGH
- THE WISDOM OF SURRENDER - MEENAKSHIGOPINATH
- TOO BAD TO SWALLOW - MILIND MURUGKAR
- HOPE FOR VS - MANOJ C G
- JAPAN'S LONG WAIT
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- SIGNALLING CONCERN
POPULISM'S ANDHRA FACE
- ZERO-SUM GAME - SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE
- IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT ONIONS ANYMORE! -OBERTO GUIMARAES-FILHO
- PLAYING WITH LIVES
- USE AND MISUSE OF THE PLACEBO EFFECT
- 'MAYBE MYANMAR IS OUR PAKISTAN'
- HOW INDIA MISSED THE BUS FOR TOP FAO POST - SARAH HIDDLESTON
- PAKISTAN 'NUMBER ONE PARTNER AGAINST AL QAIDA': NICHOLAS BURNS - P. SAINATH
- 'ELITIST CONGRESS LEADERSHIP UNWILLING TO ENGAGE WITH MASSES' - SURESH NAMBATH
- MEA TEAM'S VISIT INCENSED ISRAEL - HASAN SUROOR
- SHEIKH HASINA'S ADVISER DID NOT WANT HER TO LINGER IN INDIA - NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN
THE ASIAN AGE
- EXPORTS RISING, AND SET TO GO UP FURTHER
- REVOLT, ARAB-STYLE - P.C. ALEXANDER
- INTERPRETATION OF PAK'S MALADIES - S.K. SINHA
- DEEMED UNFIT - JAYANT V. NARLIKAR
- WANTED: A DISASTER MANAGEMENT POA - GAURI SINH
- TEACHERS TODAY - ANIMA NAIR
- "A BATTLE OF IDEAS"?
- TREE TALK
- REALITY OF FISCAL DEFICIT REDUCTION
- DR ASHWANI MAHAJAN
- INDIA'S STRATEGIC STAKE IN MIDDLE EAST - BY LALIT MANSINGH
- HOCKEY VERSUS HOCKEY...? - BY RAMU SHARMA
- LESSONS FROM FUKUSHIMA
- BUDGET LETS DOWN INDUSTRY
- HC BREATHER FOR SUKHNA
- UNENDING STENCH OF CORRUPTION - BY INDER MALHOTRA
- TORTURE CHAIR - BY TUSHIMA RATTAN
- CREATING CULTURAL CAPITAL
- TV REVOLUTION'S PASSING US BY
- FUKUSHIMA'S FALLOUT
- ESTIMATING INDIA
- IS NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE DEAD? - SHYAM SARAN
- UNFAIR ALLOCATIONS - M J ANTONY
- SHOULD ELECTRICITY REGULATORS PROMOTE COMPETITION? - PAYAL MALIK
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- PARLIAMENT ON HOLD
- SUBVERTING, SOFTLY
- SIMULATED SWIMS
- FREEDOM MEANS FASTER GROWTH
- IS PUBLIC-FUNDED HEALTHCARE IN INDIA VIABLE? - ANTONY JACOB
- POLLS, LEADERS & PAPER TIGERS - C L MANOJ
- A REFLECTIVE LIST
- TRIVIALLY DOES IT
- TIGERS & 'CHOPPERS'
- HISTORICAL SRI RAMAKRISHNA~I - BY MARTIN KÄMPCHEN
- BUT NUCLEAR POWER WILL STILL PREVAIL
- LET CHINESE JASMINE BLOOM! - RAJINDER PURI
- 100 YEARS AGO TODAY
- ON THE BRINK
- WAY OUT
- POWER AND GLORY - K.P. NAYAR
- NEW WAVE - STEPHEN HUGH-JONES
- CLIP THEIR WINGS
- CHRONIC PROBLEM
- LACKING INNOVATION - BY ALOK RAY
- COMMODITY PRICE VOLATILITY ACCELERATES - BY SUPACHAI PANITCHPAKDI
- A NATION OF SLOGANS - BY DINESH KUMAR
- JAPAN RELYING ON MIDEAST OIL WILL BE GLOOMY OUTCOME FOR ISRAEL
- WHAT'S BEHIND THE MOVE TO ACCELERATE CONSTRUCTION - BY ZAFRIR RINAT
- BARAK MUST JOIN OPPOSITION TO SAVE ISRAEL FROM DISASTER - BY ALUF BENN
- SETTLEMENT CONSTRUCTION HAS NO CONNECTION TO PUNISHMENT - BY YITZHAK LAOR
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- GOVERNMENT BY THE WEEK
- GEN. PETRAEUS REPORTS
- THE COURT'S RECUSAL PROBLEM
- FOREST RULES
- AVENGING ALTAR BOY - BY MAUREEN DOWD
- IN JAPAN, NO TIME YET FOR GRIEF - BY KAZUMI SAEKI
- THE HAITIAN LAZARUS - BY AMY WILENTZ
TIMES FREE PRESS
- GOV. HASLAM'S TOUGH BUDGET
- MAYOR COPPINGER FOR OUR SCHOOLS
- GOVERNOR NOTES RED BANK TEACHER
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - THE WISDOM OF TUNISIA'S CHEBBI
- YOU SHALL NOT KILL! - BURAK BEKDİL
- WHY THE DAILY NEWS IS SO GREAT - MUSTAFA AKYOL
- THE ISSUE OF INTERFERING IN HEADLINES - SEDAT ERGİN
- OBAMA TO THE RESCUE - SONER ÇAĞAPTAY
- WE NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO SEE 'URFA'S OXFORD' - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
- NEW CHP? - YUSUF KANLI
- COMMISSION ON LOANS
- BAHRAIN TENSIONS
- KALAT KILLING
- REFORMING THE STATE BANK - DR MUHAMMAD YAQUB
- TIME FOR HARD CHOICES - FASI ZAKA
- WHEN THEY COME FOR ME - FAROOQ SULEHRIA
- WHY WE NEED AMERICA - M SAEED KHALID
- PERSECUTED FOR BRAVERY - WHY LIBYA IS DIFFERENT - TANVIR AHMAD KHAN
- SHUJAAT EMERGES MORE MATURE, RESPONSIBLE
- REVITALIZATION OF DORMANT GAS FIELDS
- EXPRESS SOLIDARITY WITH TSUNAMI STRICKEN JAPAN
- PETER KING AND AMERICAN MUSLIMS - SAEED QURESHI
- ROLE OF MEDIA IN A SOCIETY - M A MALIK
- QUAID OF THE YOUNG NATION - PARVEZ JAMIL
- DEMOCRACY NEEDS STRUCTURAL CHANGES - YASMEEN ALI
- SURRENDERING MEDIA WAR WITHOUT FIGHTIG? - JAWAD RAZA KHAN
- INEXCUSABLE FAILURE OF JUSTICE
- EARTH'S DAILY WOES PROMPT 'OFF THE PLANET' THEORIES
- KEEPING HER DISTANCE ON Q&A
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- MURKY WATERS OF BARANGAROO
- REACHING OUT TO MENTAL ILLNESS
- FOOTY DOESN'T NEED AN IMPERFECT 10
- WITHOUT A BAN ON FLIGHTS, GADDAFI WILL WIN
- IN PRAISE OF ... THE SPEED LIMIT
- JAPAN DISASTER: THE COST OF A CRISIS
- NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE: DOGMA, DEMOCRACY AND THE DOCTORS
THE JAPAN TIMES
- ORIENTATION OF NAGOYA POLITICS
- EQUITIES MARKETS STRUGGLE
- THE LIBYAN REVOLUTION'S BEST HOPE? EGYPT - BY GWYNNE DYER
- TALE OF TWO DEFENSE POLICIES - BY HARSH V. PANT
THE JAKARTA POST
- SPYING FOR THE PEOPLE
- TALES FROM THE HOLY LAND - AL MAKIN
- DISASTER-READY CIVIL SOCIETY - DORITA SETIAWAN-FATHONI
- PAKISTAN, AHMADIYAH AND DEMOCRACY - SANAULLAH
- THE EU'S CONSERVATIVE AND CAUTIOUS APPROACH - MARIA MONICA WIHARDJA
- ANOTHER JAYASURIYA FROM THIS WORLD CUP?
- WAR VICTORIES, COST OF LIVING INDEXES AND DEVELOPMENT
- LESSONS FROM POST 2004 INDIAN OCEAN TSUNAMI RESEARCH FOR THE 2011 PACIFIC OCEAN TSUNAMI - BY PROF. ROHAN SAMARAJIVA
- JAPAN'S NUCLEAR WOES
GULF DAILY NEWS
- A SURGEON IN MANAMA - BY CHANDAN SEN GUPTA
BAHRAIN'S PROTESTERS ARE IRANIAN AGENTS
As the law and order situation in Bahrain worsens with anti-Government protests turning violent, the presence of security forces — 1,000 Saudi troops and 500 Emirati police officers — sent by the Gulf Cooperation Council to the country along with the imposition of a three-month-long Emergency rule is, without a doubt, evidence of steps being taken in the right direction. Ever since Mohammed Bouazizi set himself ablaze in Tunisia, acts of anarchy that have gripped all of West Asia and North Africa have been mistaken for a move towards democracy. But mayhem and street protests cannot, indeed should not, replace real politics and proper governance. Unfortunately, this has exactly been the case in several countries, including Bahrain where protesters are so taken in by their desire to overthrow the ruling Al Khalifa family that they have lost sight of the larger picture and discarded their initial demands for political and social reform. Those who have been following the Arab revolution will remember that when protests first erupted in Bahrain last month, the demands were essentially for greater political inclusion of the country's Shia majority and the establishment of a genuine constitutional monarchy. Bahrain has a Shia majority population but is ruled by a Sunni minority that likes to flirt with Western-style democratic ideas but effectively functions as an absolute monarchy. Predictably, this has lead to significant resentment against the Al Khalifa family and, therefore, the popular demand for wide ranging reform is by no means misplaced. But reform, even on a large scale, must not be mistaken for radical change. And this is where the protesters seem to have lost track. Let us not forget that unlike a certain Colonel in North Africa, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa has shown not just restraint but also a level of responsiveness towards popular demands. Apart from the one time that his security forces cracked down on protesters, King Hamad has allowed demonstrators to camp at Pearl Square without bombing them to death. He has freed political prisoners, facilitated the return of an exiled opposition leader, reshuffled his Cabinet and, mostly importantly, opened up space for a national debate. But sadly these concessions have done little to contain the increasingly disruptive protests which have since turned into a demand for the monarchy to go. If that were to happen, it would be detrimental to regional stability and security interests.
Bahrain is the battlefield where the staunchly Sunni Saudi Arabia will face Shia Iran as the two fight it out for regional supremacy. Iran has already bagged war-ravaged Iraq while Saudi Arabia has found itself without an ally after the ouster of Hosni Mubarak in Egypt and the fall of the regime in Lebanon, which has since been taken over by the Hizbullah which is firmly allied with Iran. The Sunni regime in oil-rich Bahrain is thus one ally the Saudis, and for that matter, the world, cannot afford to lose if it wishes to contain the influence of a rogue, Islamist nation. And to that end, the presence of foreign security forces in Bahrain — a response to King Hamad's plea to the GCC — is much welcome, especially since authorities have made clear that the GCC forces will only provide static physical security needed to protect buildings, oil reserves, etc, and will not be confronting protesters. That will be done only by the police and military of Bahrain which, with the imposition of Emergency rule, will now have more power to control disruptive activities.
TOO LITTLE, TOO LATE
LEFT FRONT HAS MISSED THE BUS
On another day, the CPI(M)-led Left Front's decision to field as many as 150 new faces for the coming Assembly election in West Bengal, axe nine sitting Ministers and bring in an increased number of youth and Muslim candidates would have been hailed as a major shift. But with the Left Front staring at a very possible defeat, the move is seen as a desperate last ditch effort to regain ground. Whether the gamble will pay off shall be known on May 13, but for now it indicates the Left's realisation of what went wrong in the decades it has been in power in the State. Veteran leaders of the Left Front, ensconced in positions of authority for 35 years without any meaningful challenge, had turned immune to the changes happening around them. They failed to catch the signals of unrest — on the few occasions when they did, they suppressed dissent with a mailed fist. Which led to more resentment and discontent, the culmination of which the Left Front will now see reflected in the poll results. Every single time the Left Front returned to power in West Bengal in the last seven Assembly elections, it proceeded to further its regressive agenda of industrial drift and resorted to its time-tested approach to dissent within and outside its ranks. If, despite all this, it returned to rule it was largely on account of the absence of a strong Opposition. This time, however, the situation is different with the Trinamool Congress riding an unprecedented wave of support and a resurgent BJP chipping away at the anti-Left and anti-Congress votes.
With its new look, the Left Front hopes to erase bitter memories among the voters and indicate its break with an earlier era. But two factors may foil the plan: First, the move comes too late for any sort of salvage operation to succeed; and, second, the voters are unlikely to believe that the Left Front, especially the CPI(M), has changed for the better. Nor will an election manifesto promising a back-to-basic agenda which places emphasis on agriculture and seeks to reassure the people that there shall be no forcible land acquisition for industry will work wonders. In a sense, voters in West Bengal appear to have made up their minds: They want to see a change in the dreary political landscape of the State which has been dominated by the Left for far too long and is now dotted by ageing figures who have little or nothing new to offer either by way of ideas or ideology. Like any other State in India, the young voters of West Bengal are driven by aspirations and they want to be a part of the growth story. Whether a new, non-Left dispensation will fulfil those aspirations is an entirely different issue. For it is nobody's case that the Trinamool Congress has a magic wand to change things overnight. Yet, Ms Mamata Banerjee represents 'change'.
PRACHANDA PLOTS HIS NEXT MOVE
ASHOK K MEHTA
With the Maoists joining the Government in Nepal led by Jhala Nath Khanal, we are witnessing the first phase of 'Operation Topple II'.
What is being played out now in Nepal is phase one of 'Operation Topple II', the brainchild of Maoist supremo Pushpa Kamal Dahal, popularly known as Prachanda, who is determined to recover the power his Government lost in May 2009 while trying to unconstitutionally remove Army Chief General Rukmangad Katowal. The Maoists are back in Government through a secret deal called the 'Seven-Point Agreement' with the Bamdev Gautam faction of the Communist Party of Nepal (UML), led by Prime Minister Jhala Nath Khanal, that took one year to fructify.
Having failed to wrest power and lead the Government through intimidation, street power, protest campaigns and even constitutional means — for which they consistently blamed foreign interference (read India) — the new plan envisages securing a foothold in the power structure with an ally who would do their bidding. The less than ingenious secret 'Seven-Point Agreement' has two key provisions: A separate force of Maoist PLA and power-sharing by rotation.
In other words, Mr Khanal will at some point in time hand over the Prime Minister's seat to Mr Dahal. This will not be easy to implement as the other faction of the CPN (UML), led by Mr KP Oli and former Prime Minister Madhav Nepal, has disowned the agreement. Mr Dahal's gameplan is not to rock the boat till the term of the Constituent Assembly is extended a second time before May 28 this year. British diplomats have described the move by the Maoists to join the Government as pragmatic.
The second phase of 'Operation Topple II' will ensure that Mr Dahal becomes the Prime Minister, taking Nepal into the first general election. The bottom line is that the Maoists must be in power during the run-up to the next election and integration of Maoist combatants and constitution-writing are secondary to securing power. The assumptions made by the Maoists are: First, there can be no peace process without them; second, they are the single largest party with 236 seats; third, they enjoy support from large sections of the people; fourth, only they have the organisational structures and political will; and, fifth, in the short term India can be neutralised.
The Maoists expect to succeed despite serious differences within the party. Mr Dahal's arch rival and Number 2 in the hierarchy, Mr Baburam Bhattarai, has become an open dissenter. He had campaigned for a Government of consensus and not one with simple majority which had failed in the past. Of the new Government, he said, "Khanal will not be able to deliver ... How can we join a Government led by a party we compete with?"
Mr Dahal's gameplan will encounter serious difficulties. The first of these is integration of Maoist PLA combatants which the Nepali Congress insists must be completed before drafting the Constitution. The Nepali Congress cites the intimidatory advantage of the PLA for the Maoists during the 2008 election. The Maoists seem to have rejected all previous agreements quantifying the number of combatants to be integrated with the Nepal Army. They are invoking the clause about a separate force in the 'Seven-Point Agreement' or at the very least, a 50:50 merger but in a separate force.
Last week another of myriad task forces was set up to evolve modalities of integration. No one has any illusions that the Constitution will be written on time by May 28. The Chairman of the Constitutional Council, Mr Nilambar Acharya, has periodically stated that the constitutional differences can only be resolved if the Big Three — UCPN (Maoist), Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) — grapple with them. Some 75 issues are outstanding but the big ones are the model of governance and political system and the basis of federalism.
The public mood in Nepal will not brook an extension for the Constituent Assembly without legislators producing at least a draft Constitution or at least its broad framework. The tough issues may be resolved through a referendum but the basic structure is a prerequisite for another extension of the Constituent Assembly's term. For a two-thirds ratification of each article of the Constitution, the Nepali Congress and the Madhesi parties would need to endorse it. In 2007, there was just one Madhesi party which has since grown to three, then united as one party for its demand of 'One Madhes, One Prades', later reverted to three parties and is now fractured further within each party. Together the Madhesi parties command the support of 83 legislators and are the fourth largest group.
The Maoists have been eyeing the post of the Home Minister promised to them by Mr Khanal. They already have the Deputy Prime Minister and Ministers for Information & Broadcasting, Tourism, Physical Planning and Peace and Reconstruction, the last being Maoist-PLA Commander-in-Chief Barsaman Pun. He will be assisting Mr Khanal in the integration and rehabilitation of Maoist combatants. Seven other ministerial posts have to be given to the Maoists. But Cabinet expansion is stuck over the coveted Home Ministry and a post for the Maoists' Agni Sapkota who has a murder charge against him.
Mr Dahal and his team's work is cut out: Gracefully cross the hurdle of extending the term of the Constituent Assembly before creeping into Baluwatar, the official residence of the Prime Minister. This is the crucial phase of 'Operation Topple II' to be achieved by stealth, diplomacy and, if necessary, fire. Mr Dahal and Mr Khanal are already wooing the Madhes Janadhikar Forum faction led by former Maoist Upendra Yadav. He has been offered the Foreign Minister's job, which he has relished earlier. The strategy is to secure the support of 301 members in the event the power-by-rotation agreement is wrecked by the KP Oli faction of the CPN (UML).
Like all bold and ambitious plans, many ifs and buts are attached. Mr Dahal's 'Dirty Dozen' have learnt the tricks of the trade and will tread the constitutional path with warnings of "a final and decisive revolt" and "be prepared for more bloodshed". This is Mr Dahal's last chance of returning to Baluwatar and promulgating the Constitution.
Meanwhile, some US Senators are terrified that the Maoists could turn Nepal into another North Korea. For the present, India has written itself out of the game, having missed the opportunity 18 months ago to strike a working relationship with the Maoists. Instead, it had tried to convert them into CPN (UML) without realising that the Maoists are turning the latter into their fold. South Block mandarins don't seem to recognise that relations with a new Nepal can never be on New Delhi's terms.
NUCLEAR POWER FACES UNCERTAIN FUTURE
Although the disaster in Japan has highlighted the risks of nuclear energy, nations will continue to use it for lack of a reliable alternative to feed their growing energy demands. But now efforts to expand the nuclear power base will be met with new challenges and costs
Aftershocks from the massive earthquake in Japan are reverberating in European politics and the nuclear power industry. While the disaster in Japan has highlighted the risks of nuclear energy, European nations will continue to use it for lack of reliable alternative to feed their growing energy demands. But now efforts to expand Europe's nuclear power base will be met with new challenges and costs, both financial and political.
Accidents at three of Japan's 55 nuclear power plants have cast the largest nuclear shadow over Europe since Chernobyl.
The explosions at Japan's Fukushima 1 and 2 nuclear plants come less than 25 years after the Chernobyl disaster (April 26, 1986), which the world's environmentalists, Green parties and movements and all other advocates of green energy have used as the main argument against nuclear power ever since.
The devastating earthquake has shaken the foundations of Europe's energy strategy. Europe recently started increasing its nuclear generation capacity. As the energy plans of the European Commission make clear, nuclear power had been seen, among other things, as a way to reduce Europe's dependence on Russian natural gas.
Now politicians are facing resistance to nuclear power at home. Organisers of an anti-nuclear demonstration at the Neckarwestheim nuclear power plant in south Germany on March 12 where pleasantly surprised when 50,000 people came to the rally — double the number expected. Chancellor Merkel has called an emergency cabinet meeting for March 14.
Elections will be held in three German provinces in March and in five more later this year. Merkel was far from safe before the disaster in Japan, and now her opponents are using her past support for nuclear power to scare up votes. Japan is famous for its strict nuclear regulations, and yet these accidents still occurred. What are the chances that Europe will succeed where Japan has failed? The argument is persuasive.
Anti-nuclear demonstrations have also been held in Britain, with some warning of the threat of earthquakes and tsunamis on the British Isles.
This is not a solid foundation for a political career, much less a nuclear energy strategy.
"How many more warnings do people need to get before they understand that nuclear reactors are inherently hazardous?" asks Jan Beranek, a nuclear campaigner at Greenpeace International. "We are told by the nuclear industry that things like this cannot happen with modern reactors, yet today Japan is in the middle of a nuclear crisis with potentially devastating consequences."
Not all nuclear experts share Beranek's view, but the danger of a nuclear disaster, whether large or small, is real.
Beranek believes that "Governments should invest in renewable energy resources that are not only environmentally sound but also affordable and reliable."
Although the reactor at Fukushima 1 is much more reliable than the one that exploded at Chernobyl, and although Japanese engineers did their best to prevent the large scale release of nuclear radiation, there is a very simple question that is nagging me: Why did the emergency cooling system at Fukushima fail in the first place?
Some say they were damaged by the tsunami. But how was this possibility overlooked in Japan, where earthquakes and tsunamis are endemic?
Such elementary mistakes can have catastrophic consequences.
Plans to expand the nuclear power industry will certainly be put on hold in Japan, where 30 per cent of electricity comes from nuclear power. Japan had planned to increase this figure to 50 per cent by 2020.
In some European countries, suspending nuclear energy plans could lead to an energy shortage that could seriously impair economic growth.
Britain had planned to build 10 nuclear power plants to complement its existing 19. Sites had already been selected. But the disaster in Japan will slow down the implementation of these plans, as residents of nearby towns and cities, as well as the electorate at large, are demanding a thorough review.
But energy experts say that if these nuclear power plants are not built now, Britain will suffer from power shortages as early as 2015 or 2018.
Britain is Europe's oldest nuclear power. It commissioned the world's first 50 MW reactor in Cumbria in 1956, although the world's first nuclear power plant was built in Obninsk near Moscow, Russia. Britain and France have recently initiated a 'nuclear renaissance' and agreed to jointly develop new types of nuclear reactors for export in a bid to dominate the market.
Ms Merkel's coalition decided in late 2010 to extend the service life of Germany's 17 nuclear power plants for at least 10 years.
The situation is no better in nuclear-free Italy. Russian President Dmitry Medvedev recently said that Italy has the largest electricity deficit and the highest electricity prices in the world. Italy has no nuclear power plants, but Mr Silvio Berlusconi had planned to build 10 nuclear power plants to ease the energy crisis. The disaster in Japan has certainly put these plans in doubt.
Nuclear power plants produce a larger share of Europe's electricity than in any other region in the world: 79 per cent in France, 76 per cent in Lithuania, and from 22 per cent to 51 per cent in Sweden, Belgium, Switzerland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany and Hungary.
Russian nuclear power plants generate the largest amount of electricity in the world, but just 17.8 per cent of the total electricity produced in Russia — about the same as in Spain.
-- The writer is a Moscow-based political affairs analyst.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
LESSONS TO LEARN
Given the rapidity with which events are unfolding, it's impossible to predict how the situation at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant will play out. To a watching world, the situation serves as a sobering reminder of the possible hazards of the use of nuclear power. The crisis has caused soul-searching among governments and the public at large about the safety of nuclear installations. This is understandable. But any such debate must be carried out with a clear head, and that requires us to guard against knee-jerk reactions such as denouncing nuclear power in toto and demanding that plants be shut down. If anything, there's much we should learn from Japan's nuclear crisis regarding the need to frame far more stringent guidelines for the operation of nuclear power plants worldwide.
There are raised voices against nuclear power both in civil society and among politicians around the world. In India, existing frictions over the proposed Jaitapur nuclear power plant have been exacerbated with opposition becoming more strident. Nuclear disarmament hawks have stepped up as well. But, as the prime minister points out, India's safety record should be kept in mind as also the fact that the Kakrapar atomic power station withstood the Bhuj earthquake of 2002 while the Madras station came through the 2004 tsunami safely. Former chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission Anil Kakodkar too has vouched for the safety of our nuclear installations. Nor can we deny the economic necessity of nuclear power as part of a diversified energy basket - including renewable and conventional energy - for sustaining India's growth.
Like China, we have big plans on nuclear power, hoping to push up generation to 63,000 megawatts by 2032. It's therefore all the more necessary that we revisit safety issues. Safety measures at today's plants are constantly being upgraded, making them orders of magnitude safer than earlier installations. This should not make us complacent. Here and globally, there'll be greater focus now on plugging every possible chink in safety assessments, and on choosing building sites more carefully and strengthening the structural integrity of installations and reactor designs with better materials and technological inputs. This can only be good for the nuclear energy sector. The other positive is that countries are likely to focus more on renewables.
What happened in Japan was freakish: the most powerful earthquake in its history followed by a tsunami that was the main cause of the crisis at Fukushima Daiichi. The right lesson to be drawn from events unfolding there is that even the freakish must be planned for where nuclear energy is concerned. The wrong lesson would be to impose an indefinite moratorium on nuclear power.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
The Indian Navy's capture of 61 pirates - rescuing 13 sailors in the process - is a major victory. In recent years piracy in the Indian Ocean, Arabian Sea and the Gulf of Aden has become a serious threat to international maritime trade. That around 40% of the world's sea-borne crude oil transits through the region adds to the concern. The navy's successful operation follows the government's nod to new rules of engagement and standard operating procedures (SOPs) for Indian warships. These measures reportedly range from allowing merchant ships to carry weapons for self-defence to letting the navy act on the spot without awaiting sanction. The navy's been patrolling the Gulf of Aden since 2008 and the Arabian Sea off Lakshadweep since 2010. With new SOPs that could even sanction storming of hijacked Indian merchant vessels, the navy can be more prompt and proactive in its anti-piracy combat.
Originating in Somalia's vast lawless areas, piracy has transformed from activities of small bands of disgruntled fishermen to a highly organised industry. Absence of an effective Somali government has helped the menace grow. As worrisome is the link between pirates and terrorist groups such as Al Shabab. An international naval taskforce is already deployed in the region to check piracy. But covering four million sq km of sea is no mean task. Greater international cooperation is crucial. On its part, India should expedite the passage of a proposed anti-piracy law to streamline and give greater legal teeth to its anti-piracy campaign. Finally, an estimated 30 ships are held by pirates along with over 700 hostages of various nationalities, including Indians. Recently, families of Indian sailors taken hostage recently petitioned the government for their early release. Sensitive handling of hostage crises is also in order.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
WITH ALLIES LIKE THESE
The long and tortuous seat-sharing negotiations between the Congress and Trinamool Congress (TMC) emphasise a second dimension to April-May's Battle for Bengal. TMC chief Mamata Banerjee's priority is to oust the ruling Left Front. But she is equally determined to marginalise the Congress and reduce it to a "signboard" - a threat she held out during last year's municipal polls. That the Congress started its bargain at 96 (of 294 assembly seats) and Banerjee offers half that number fits the recent pattern of Bengal politics, whereby the TMC is determined to establish itself as the "senior partner" of the Mahajot (grand alliance).
A settlement midway between the two initial offers may ensure the Mahajot is up and running. But the Bengal Congress leadership will be less than happy with a deal reinforcing their position as a 'junior' rather than equal partner. State Congress president Manas Bhuyan insists his party won many more seats than the TMC in the 2006 assembly polls, but Banerjee emphasises that "ground realities" have drastically changed in the last three years since anti-land acquisition agitations erupted in Singur and Nandigram. TMC's take-it-or-leave-it attitude has left the Congress little to bargain with.
There are three types of regional parties in India: those like the DMK and Asom Gana Parishad that grew out of regional movements; those like the Mizo National Front growing out of separatist movements; and Congress breakaways like Sharad Pawar's NCP and the TMC. While parties originating from regional or separatist campaigns have generally grown on an anti-Congress plank and rarely aligned with India's largest mass party (DMK is an exception), breakaways have turned to an alliance with the Congress at the first possible opportunity.
But while they view an alliance as necessary to two-tier power sharing (at the national and regional level), they have pursued the dual policy of trying to decimate the Congress at the state level while pursuing limited cooperation at the national level. Whenever the AICC has been unwilling to pander to them, they have turned to alternatives - BJP-led NDA or Left-dominated Third Front - but often, as in Banerjee's case, returned to the Congress-led UPA for a host of regional considerations, winning back the Muslim vote bank being one of them.
Banerjee realised long ago what the AGP in Assam did not: by no means should the big national party be allowed to dominate the alliance. So the TMC retained the upper hand when in the NDA and seeks the same with the Congress.
The BJP hijacked the Assamese regionalist agenda to stop illegal migration and secure power for indigenous peoples and tied it to its Hindutva agenda. The AGP has only now pulled out, realising the carpet was pulled from under its feet. The Bengali regionalist agenda Banerjee promotes is not so pronounced, more reason its distinct appeal needs protecting.
Banerjee has achieved what no Bengal Congress leader revolting against the party centre has. The tradition of unfurling the banner of rebellion is a century old in the Bengal Congress. Chittaranjan Das, Subhas Chandra Bose, Bidhan Ray, Ajoy Mukherji, Pranab Mukherjee and finally Banerjee - the list is long. But while Ray did not leave the Congress, the others floated parties: Swarajya, Forward Bloc, Biplobi Bangla Congress, Rastriya Congress. But none could achieve what Trinamool has. In 12 years, Banerjee has managed to turn the Congress into a "junior partner". Now, she seeks to marginalise it and make its survival critically dependent on the TMC. She seeks to benefit from Congress desertions while undermining the party in seat-sharing to reduce its legislative presence to the extent possible.
Indian democracy operates through elections and legislative activity, the former prioritised by parties. If a party gets a seat, it can almost demolish the alliance partner's local organisation and effectively take it over. That is why one has to credit Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi for refusing an alliance with the Assam United Democratic Front (AUDF) in successive assembly elections (2006, 2011) and the 2009 parliamentary elections. Had he not refused, the Congress would have surrendered its party organisation in Assam's minority-dominated western and central districts to the AUDF. Much as it had done in Tripura, with the TUJS and then INPT, both tribal parties, since 1983. Today, it rues the loss of the party organisation in the state's tribal areas, making it depend on tribal parties to fight the Left. The moment it does that, it loses critical support in Bengali-dominant seats.
If the Congress, afflicted by corruption charges and poor governance, cannot win more than 40 seats in the 126-member Assam assembly, it might have to turn to AUDF to form a government, besides the Bodo party supporting it since 2006. The AUDF may ask for a new leader instead of Gogoi. The latter has steadfastly refused to align with it, a price worth paying. The Congress has not allowed the BJP to run it down completely on the anti-migration issue, nor surrendered its party organisation in the minority areas.
Elections provide for competition among friends as with foes. In Bengal, Banerjee's swords aim at the Left while a few daggers point towards the Congress. In Assam, the Congress is desperate to win as many seats as it can, not merely to form a government but to avoid dependence on a feisty potential ally like the AUDF, whose chief Badruddin Ajmal may want a change in the state leadership to settle old scores with Gogoi. The Ahom leader who recently posed for a regional magazine in cricket flannels may get his "hat-trick", but at the risk of losing his place in the team.
The writer is a political commentator.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'COUNTERING COMMUNAL POISON HAS TO BE AN ONGOING PROCESS'
Thirty-six-year-old Faisal Khan works with the National Alliance for People's Movement (NAPM), and in October 2010 was instrumental in forming the National Committee for the revival of Khudai Khidmatgar. Inspired by Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan and Mahatma Gandhi, Faisal spoke to Humra Quraishi :
What prompted the setting up of the Khudai Khidmatgar movement?
For the last 12 years i have been working as a full-time activist. I have been disillusioned and unhappy with the working of civil society at the grassroots level. I don't believe that speeches or seminars can actually reach out to this country. We have to connect with the youth. So, we set up the Khudai Khidmatgar movement.
In earlier decades the common focus was to oust the British from India. What is the focus of this new band of Khidmatgars?
To connect with the masses, cutting across religious and regional divides. After all, Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Adbul Ghaffar Khan did exactly that and did it with so much of focus and selflessness. We have got this legacy and now our prime focus is to be there and connect with the masses...do whatever we can do for them.
How can such a movement take on the politician-police-babu nexus which can be brutal?
With sheer persistence and honesty. I've been jailed and faced some very adverse circumstances, but to better any situation you have to connect with the masses. In the end, only a non-violent approach helps. And i also strongly believe that no matter how hard-hearted a man can get, he loathes killings of human beings and it's just that he has to be shown the non-violent path.
How many members have you recruited?
The response we have been receiving is overwhelming, especially from young Indians. As of now, we have over 200 members from all over the country, from different sections and religions. A member must take out one day in a month to work for the masses, whether it's in a jhuggi cluster or to teach affected children or whatever else is required. A member must also give/donate Rs 20 a year and take an oath to work for this Khudai Khidmatgar movement.
Were you and your colleagues ever tempted to join a political party?
Today, all political parties in the country have only one agenda - how to win an election. They have no political workers with the necessary zeal and commitment and passion. Perhaps, that's why today you have Rahul Gandhi touring the entire country, looking for workers for his party. We have left our homes and careers to connect with the masses at the grassroots level, not to join a political party.
Mahatma Gandhi and Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan tried to bridge communal gaps. How do you plan to lessen those divides?
We follow the path shown by Gandhi and Khan sahib. Volunteers went to the Kumbh Mela with a peace delegation, distributed literature and interacted with others there. We've travelled to Gujarat where we conducted a sadhav bhiksha abhiyan along with the Kabir panthees, going from house to house and distributing booklets on harmony and peace. We also took a peace delegation to Ajmer Sharif, held a youth meet in Bhilwara - where a hundred young Hindus interacted with a hundred Muslims. Countering communal poison has to be an ongoing process. Just being there when a riot or a pogrom breaks out is not adequate, for poisonous communal propaganda has to be countered by a sustained, focused effort which we have begun.
DON'T PRESS THE PANIC BUTTON
With at least four Japanese reactors in various stages of crisis, it is inevitable that questions are being asked about the safety and costs of nuclear power. New Delhi, along with the governments of most industrial economies, insists it will not pull back from existing plans to expand the role nuclear power will play in the country's energy profile. Like most governments, New Delhi has called for a review of existing safety procedures and technology - and stopped there. At the heart of this reluctance to reconsider the nuclear option are three issues. One is a recognition that no technology is without risk. The real issue is whether the benefits of such a technology outweigh such risks. Nuclear power is particularly tricky because of the unusual toxicity of radioactive substances. The other issue is that nuclear power comes with an added benefit because of increasing concerns regarding fossil fuels - that they may be on a forever rising price curve and that they are contributing to catastrophic climate change. The truth is that, for now, nuclear power remains the only economically viable renewable source of energy. Finally, for countries like India who live in geopolitically tough neighbourhoods, having some reactors is an essential component of national security. If one is going to have some reactors, it makes little sense not to benefit from the electricity they generate.
The Fukushima emergency notwithstanding, the truth is nuclear power has a relatively good safety record. When things have gone wrong, it is often because some basic precautions or poorly thought through acts have been taken. What lessons can be drawn from Fukushima? The first is to have the best technology available. The Fukushima reactors were due for retirement. The Department of Atomic Energy says the newer Indian reactors would be able to cool their cores even if their power systems were knocked out - a circumstance that lies behind the present problems in Japan. The second is to avoid seismically active areas. India is generally less geologically unstable than Japan, but keeping reactors away from potential tsunami zones and the Himalayas is plain common sense. The third, and the one area where Japan excels and question marks arise over India's capability, is to have well-rehearsed and thought-out safety procedures and drills. The Indian nuclear system's drills have been described as infrequent and half-hearted. And the fact the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, the industry watchdog, is subordinate to the department it is supposed to be overseeing does not inspire confidence. India has an additional security concern in terrorism.
There is no reason to panic about nuclear power. Every nation has understood that maintaining options regarding energy sources is a crucial element of national security and prosperity in the coming century. Nuclear power should not be taken off the table. But there can be no excuse for not taking the fullest precautions to ensure that the risks that go with this, or any other technology, are contained or controlled.
IF LOOKS COULD TELL
The inimitable Pablo Picasso once said, "It takes a long time to become young." Well, we in India could have taught him a thing or two about painting over the cracks of old age with a dexterity that would dazzle him. You can be as old or young, not as you feel, but as you need to be by the simple expedient of fudging your birth certificate for a small price. So, if you wanted to get your pilot's licence when you are barely out of your teens, the local forger will show you as a healthy 23-year-old.
But don't assume you will get away with all this for ages to come. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi has decided that it will not go by the word of its employees when it comes to age. Noticing that its offices were rapidly beginning to resemble geriatric wards, its eagle-eyed authorities have begun health checks to determine age. And if you are pushing 70 while claiming to be a sprightly 55, you will be packing your dentures before you can say John Abraham.
But much of this scrutiny could come to naught if one were to opt for some plastic surgery, a spot of botox and other such enhancements. If the canny employer were to actually conduct bone tests, a pretty face will not be enough to ensure your longevity at the workplace. But then as the old saying goes, sorry, did we say old saying? Oh, here it goes, the older the fiddle the better the tune. And no, we edit writers are not as old or mature as our prose suggests.
A MURKY MELTDOWN
Fukushima in Japan is the global atomic industry's worst crisis since Chernobyl, and the first nuclear catastrophe watched by the global public almost in real time. This may yet lead to a meltdown not just in Reactor 1 at Daiichi, but also in six other reactors, including Daiichi No 3, which burns a more hazardous fuel (mixed plutonium and uranium oxides) than most reactors do. Even if there is no meltdown, it is clear from the release of Caesium-137, a product of fission of uranium atoms, that Reactor 1's core has been damaged, and an unspecified quantity of radioactivity released. Reactor 1 has exploded twice and Reactor 3 once, probably from accumulated hydrogen.
Helicopters have detected radioactivity from Daiichi 100 km away. Worse, as technicians struggle to cool down all three Daiichi reactors by pushing seawater, they are releasing contaminated steam and radioactive vapour as a desperate means to prevent a meltdown - a process that experts say could go on for weeks, even months. Meanwhile, the number of people exposed to high radiation doses has climbed to 190 and counting. New concerns are arising, focused on the presence of hundreds of tonnes of hot spent fuel at the tsunami-hit site. In the Daiichi plant, based on General Electric's Mark I design, the spent fuel is stored on site. Japan's nuclear crisis seems fated to continue. Daiichi's vicinity, from where 170,000 people have been evacuated, would become uninhabitable for months, even years.
Japan is special for many reasons. Its 55 reactors produce about a third of all its electricity. They have to follow strict earthquake-proofing construction norms. Japan's reactor safety standards are considered the best in the world with multiple redundancy: if one system fails, another takes over. In practice, redundancy doesn't always work. The Daiichi reactors did shut down with the earthquake, as designed. Diesel generators, meant to provide back-up power to cool the still-hot core and control rods (which regulate the fission rate), did kick in, as planned. But they stopped working within an hour, for as-yet-unrevealed reasons.
The core started heating up, precipitating the crisis with a meltdown potential. Everything now depends on whether the multiple containment of a melting core through a heavy steel container, and a thick concrete wall and dome, works or doesn't.
The Japanese crisis highlights the inherent hazards of nuclear power generation. Nuclear reactors are high-temperature-high-pressure systems in which a fission chain-reaction is barely controlled within a tiny space supercharged with energy. Reactors are both complex, and internally, tightly coupled. A fault in one sub-system like control rods tends to get quickly transmitted and magnified, plunging the entire reactor into crisis.
A loss-of-coolant accident, in which water circulation around the hot core is interrupted for some reason, is always a possibility. So is a meltdown. Such accidents can be triggered by human error or natural calamity. Experts who have designed, operated or licensed reactors agree that all reactor types can undergo a catastrophic accident.
This feature is unique to nuclear power. As public awareness of nuclear hazards has grown, nuclear power has become unpopular the world over. The Japanese crisis could sound the death-knell of the industry globally as nuclear authorities are questioning the assumptions on which they designed reactor safety systems and operating parameters.
We in India must be alarmed: the Tarapur reactors are also Boiling Water Reactors designed by General Electric, the same as Fukushima's, only smaller and one-generation older, probably with weaker safety systems. We must discard the 'It can't happen here' approach and introspect into our nuclear safety record, with embarrassing failures like a 1993 fire at the Narora reactor, the Kaiga containment dome collapse, frequent cases of radiation over-exposure at numerous sites, unsafe heavy-water transportation and terrible health effects near the Jaduguda uranium mines and the Rajasthan reactors.
We urgently need a safety audit of the entire nuclear programme, in which people outside the Department of Atomic Energy participate, pending a thorough, radical review of half-baked plans to rush into nuclear power expansion with untested reactors like Areva's EPRs at Jaitapur. To begin with, we must impose an immediate moratorium on further reactor construction.
Praful Bidwai is a New Delhi-based commentator and environmental activist. The views expressed by the author are personal.
NO SHOT IN THE ARM
One of the enduring mysteries of the UPA 2 government is what the health minister has been doing all this time in a country which has the highest disease burden in the world. In the case of the last minister, the irrepressible Anbumani Ramadoss, we knew all about the Don Quixotic battles he fought at the cost of real health issues. But the amiable Ghulam Nabi Azad, we are sure, will let us know one of these days what his blueprint for health in the country is.
There are certain immutable facts about the health sector. One is that spending on it is not likely to go much beyond the less than 2% of the GDP that it is at present. It is also fairly certain that the issue of health is not going to set campaign trails on fire as we go into assembly elections in five states. In fact, it has never been an issue in any election, even in states which suffer the most from crippling diseases and have high maternal and child mortality.
But instead of kvetching and grumbling about things we can't change, it might be worthwhile to rearrange the priorities on the health wish list. It is now quite clear that the curative approach is not going to work. By the time we get our public health system up and running, it will be too late for far too many people, the bulk of them children who are most vulnerable to killer diseases. If the government would make preventive health care its top priority, more than half our health problems would be solved.
Let's look at our universal immunisation figures. That only 58.5% children are fully immunised by the age of one year shows that our health system has not taken this issue seriously enough. In fact, the opposite seems to be happening. The budget for routine immunisation came down from Rs 618 crore to R511 crore from the last to this budget. There are simple and cost-effective solutions for many childhood diseases that can ensure that children don't die before they are five. Promoting oral rehydration therapy that is nothing more than administering a sugar and salt solution could prevent so many children from dying of diarrhoea.
Pneumonia is another killer in children which can easily be prevented with vaccines. It is passing strange that with 20% of all child deaths taking place due to pneumonia and diarrhoea, the vaccines to prevent the most common causes of these diseases have not been included in the national immunisation programme. It is a very small investment to ensure that we realise our demographic dividend some years down the line.
Most mothers, even among the educated, do not know the value of proper sanitation when it comes to their children. It is quite a common sight in cities to see mothers begging at street corners, cradling infants and holding filthy feeding bottles filled with what looks like milk. Breastfeeding has enormous potential to save the lives of babies, but there are few effective interventions through the many child programmes that the government has set up to disseminate this message.
Instead of trying to improve the health system at all levels, and god knows it needs that and much more, if the government were to give more weightage to vaccines, most of which are available in our thriving private sector, we could be off to a good start in combating other problems like rampant, drug resistant tuberculosis, cardiovascular diseases and a host of communicable diseases that invariably come during the monsoon months.
It is no one's contention that Azad takes to the field himself and try to inculcate awareness of children's health in their parents or medical helpers. But, sadly in India, little gets done unless there is a political push. And when politicians put their minds to an issue, it gets done with spectacular success like the polio immunisation drive. Cricketers to filmstars, all lent their voices to the campaign and it worked. We can't quite see the same level of enthusiasm for illnesses like diarrhoea and pneumonia which do not have physical manifestations like polio. The child gets these diseases, wastes away and dies.
All political parties have a huge asset which they do not make enough use of for the greater national good and for the more venal reason of getting votes. They have gigantic youth wings: the Akhil Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishad of the BJP, for example, expends its energies beating up sundry lecturers, the Shiv Sena's youth wing patrols the streets for any sign of behaviour not in conformity with Indian culture and we don't know much about what the other youth wings do.
These young, energetic souls could be drafted into promoting awareness of child and maternal health. After all, even from a purely selfish point of view, a family which benefits from such interventions is likely to vote for the party which helped it. We have seen that grand central schemes do not always work. But at the block level and zilla level, these youth wings could start an aggressive immunisation drive for easily preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea.
In all nations on the rise, healthcare gets progressively better as GDP grows. It would seem that India is bucking the trend. At the risk of sounding like Medha Patkar or Arundhati Roy, it is difficult to stomach the fact that children must die for want of interventions that cost a laughable amount when we can accept that people consider it a mere bagatelle to splash out R250 crore on a wedding.
If the government finds it hard to raise the money to incorporate these vital vaccines into the national immunisation programme, nothing stops it from exploring a productive private-public partnership on this issue. We have the technology, we have the vaccines and we have a burning desire to cash in on the demographic dividend. So what are we waiting for?
The young Congress general secretary has been trying to galvanise the grassroots of the party, and more power to his elbow. He might also think about lending his considerable weight to ensuring that conditions obtain which will allow our children to survive, allowing them to enjoy an India which they can, if they have the health and skills, catapult into the first world. If the party of governance shows the way, surely others will follow.
T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".
Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."
No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.
Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
A nuclear emergency of the sort Japan is battling to contain has a spate of short- and long-term consequences. The immediate focus of the crisis management is assessing the intensity of radiation and the impact on public health. The explosion at reactor 2 of the Fukushima Daiichi plant breached the metal containment system — something the earlier explosions at reactors 1 and 3 hadn't managed. Added to that, a pool containing spent fuel rods in reactor 4 caught fire. As a result, radiation rose significantly to harmful levels, up to dosages of 400 millisieverts per hour, where the average individual's exposure is about 3mSv a year. (Exposure to over 100mSv a year can lead to cancer.) As the danger zone was extended, with residents within 30 km asked to evacuate or stay indoors, the world had to admit it was perhaps looking at a catastrophe. The international reaction was expected. Anti-nuclear activists jumped into protests, most demonstrably in Germany, where Angela Merkel's government first suspended a life extension to Germany's nuclear reactors, and then decided to shut down the oldest ones. Vladimir Putin has ordered a review of the future of Russia's atomic energy sector, Switzerland has suspended decisions on new plants and anti-nuclear Austria has asked for a review of reactors across Europe.
Undeniably, Japan is witnessing a nuclear crisis. But that shouldn't mean curtains for increased use of nuclear power. Safety reviews and upgrades are necessary, but not panic and rejection worldwide. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did the right thing by addressing Parliament and assuring the nation that India's nuclear hubs are safe, with added assurances from the nuclear establishment which will immediately undertake technical reviews of safety systems. For reasons of energy security and controlling carbon emissions, countries like India that need large amounts of electricity — and a world worried about global warming and clean energy — will have to depend more and more on nuclear power in the coming decades. Once the panic subsides, it will be the lessons of Fukushima that will matter.
From the PM's assurance in Parliament, India must move to act quickly and improve safety levels at nuclear plants. It must also upgrade its disaster management systems so that it's able to handle multiple crises simultaneously. So, even as stocks of nuclear builders react to the current sentiment, another fact should be kept in mind: the Fukushima Daiichi plant, for all its design and safety sophistication, is still 40 years old and in queue for decommissioning. Current designs and technology for nuclear reactors are far more advanced and disaster-resistant.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
TRINAMOOL'S BIG TENT
If you are bringing in change, then better make it perspicuous, in-your-face, attention-grabbing. And if you are a rather young, 13-year-old party that wants to end an uninterrupted reign of 34 years, as Mamata Banerjee's Trinamool tries to do to the Left Front in West Bengal in the coming assembly polls, then it also helps to create your own colourful dramatis personae — people who seem to mirror a new order, personalities who have absorbing back stories to capture the imagination of the electorate and offset the organisation's own lack of a long glorious past. Mamata has got that part right, as she expands her clique of an already interesting bunch of actors, doctors and lawyers to include former IPS officers, playwrights, possibly a former chief secretary who was the trusted aide of Jyoti Basu, and even FICCI guru Amit Mitra and Hotmail co-founder Sabeer Bhatia.
Like with many things, here too, Mamata has borrowed liberally from the Left's book to create a coterie of intelligentsia, a group that could be projected as her singular slice of "sonar bangla". It was actually Singur and Nandigram that made her realise the value of a celebrated circle, of becoming their focal point and of the electoral cache that comes with it. The proof, as everyone knows now, was in the 2009 Lok Sabha polls when her motley bunch won 19 of 42 seats in the state. In this short but so far successful experiment, Mamata has not exactly made the cadre of "professional politicians" dispensable. But by drawing in people from other walks of life, allowing them lateral entry as candidates and into the Trinamool core group, she's opening up the political space, especially of Bengal, which has been marked by the Left's notions of indisputable hierarchy.
Yet, it may not be a smooth ride. It's not easy to unify a group that is mostly held together by the tenuous idea of change — a point which the Kabir Suman episode brought home forcefully — compared to a cadre that is brought up on both discipline and party programme. That could be one of the challenges facing Mamata post-polls. But, for now, she has carved out an exciting new space for rank amateurs in Indian politics. That, in itself, may well be a claim to change.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
IN FUKUSHIMA'S RADIUS
C. RAJA MOHAN
As Japan struggles to limit the damage at the accident-stricken Fukushima nuclear station, the prospects for increased use of atomic electricity around the world have come under a cloud. But when the current panic in Japan and the world subsides, one hard reality will stare at us: countries like India, which need massive amounts of electricity to improve the living standards of their people, will find nuclear power as a necessary element in their energy mix.
In responding to the nuclear crisis in Japan, the emphasis in Delhi must be on learning the right lessons from the Fukushima accident and strengthening the safety and security systems of its nuclear power plants.
In the interim, the immediate political damage, in terms of shaken public confidence in the use of nuclear power, is real. It halts the recent nuclear renaissance in its tracks.
Amidst mounting international concerns about global warming, nuclear power had come to be accepted as a valuable alternative in reducing the traditional reliance on burning coal and oil. Even those countries that were richly endowed with petroleum resources like Iran and Saudi Arabia have launched or begun to consider the building of nuclear power plants. Besides India and China, many countries in Asia — including Vietnam and Indonesia — have outlined plans for atomic power generation. According to some reports there are at least 100 nuclear plants on the drawing board in Asia.
The United States, which had not built new nuclear reactors since the Three Mile Island incident in 1979, has been extending the life of the old units and two new ones are expected to come up for licensing in the coming years.
Anticipating an increased reliance on nuclear power around the world, prices of uranium have surged and nuclear-equipment manufacturers were looking forward to brisk business. Fukushima, however, has reversed the momentum. It has given a new wind to the traditional opponents of nuclear power and won fresh converts. Not in the least in India, where plans to build new power reactors are facing opposition from local communities, as in Jaitapur, Maharashtra.
In Germany, faced with thousands of anti-nuclear protesters this week, and with an eye on impending elections in the state of Baden-Württemberg, Chancellor Angela Merkel has put on hold plans for prolonging the life of existing nuclear plants. Thanks to the expansive popular opposition to nuclear power, there already is a moratorium on building new power plants in Germany.
Politicians everywhere will respond to popular pressure and Merkel is no exception. So do stock markets. The French nuclear builder Areva dropped nearly 10 per cent as European bourses reacted to new fears about nuclear power. Insurers, too, will raise the costs of supporting nuclear power generation.
With all eyes on Japan's handling of the Fukushima incident, Delhi reacted quickly and on Monday Prime Minister Manmohan Singh ordered "an immediate technical review of all safety systems of our nuclear power plants, particularly with a view to ensuring that they would be able to withstand the impact of large natural disasters such as tsunamis and earthquakes".
This is just the first step. Delhi needs to implement a number of additional steps to restore public confidence in nuclear power generation.
In his statement in Parliament, Dr Singh said: "Work is under way in the Department of Atomic Energy towards further strengthening India's national nuclear safety regulatory authority." This is the moment, in fact, to consider making the nuclear regulatory authority a strong and independent body outside the ambit of the Department of Atomic Energy.
Fukushima has revealed that the much celebrated concept of "defence in depth" in designing the safety systems of nuclear power plants is not deep enough. Fukushima has shown the existence of many redundant systems that could not save the reactors from the double blow of the earthquake and the tsunami.
While the reactors withstood the stress from the earthquake and shut down quickly, the loss of on-site and off-site power following the tsunami prevented their effective cooling. This is the source of much of the trouble in Fukushima. Ensuring reliable power supply to run the cooling system under all conditions must be central to the redesign of nuclear power stations.
As the cooling systems failed and pressure began to build up inside the reactors, the Japanese operator had no choice but to release radioactive steam into the atmosphere. The hopes for a controlled release took a knock amidst new explosions at the station on Tuesday morning.
One of the central lessons from Fukushima is the importance of looking beyond the current reliance on containment structures to limit radioactive leaks. All current and future stations must be fitted with effective filtering systems that can reduce the emission of dangerous gases from the reactor when pressure on the system is relieved during an emergency.
Finally, even Japan, known for bureaucratic organisation and popular discipline, has not been able to cope with multiple crises at the same time. It will be reasonable to assume that India is unprepared to deal with even one emergency. Delhi needs to review the nation's disaster-management systems at all levels and equip local officials at nuclear sites to effectively cope with one or more emergencies around a nuclear plant.
To regain public confidence in nuclear power, Delhi must act, and be seen as acting, purposefully in improving safety at all levels of nuclear power generation — from the design of reactors to procedures of their operation and waste management. It must also question and reconsider the many traditional assumptions about India's nuclear power strategy — for example, the use of mixed oxide plutonium fuels, which could contribute more radioactivity in the case of a major accident.
Given the shortage of domestic energy resources, the increasing difficulties in building hydroelectric plants, and the international demands to reduce carbon emissions from thermal power stations, there is no question that India has to pursue the nuclear option, at least until other green technologies are commercially viable. The real question is whether Delhi has the political will to recast its management of risks associated with the use of nuclear power.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
NO TRADE-OFF HERE?
In the recent economic arguments in the budget papers — if one includes in them the budget speech, the Economic Survey and the FRBM Statements — there is a fascinating aspect which is both new and welcome. This is a perspective of India as part of a global financial entity. This is of larger interest since economic policy will need discussion as the year and its pressures continue. By the ides of March, as monetary reviews begin, the growth scenarios are moderated and foreign inflows are seen as lessening. Very interesting statistical pictures are now given, including in the Economic Survey, of India at a global cross-section, where the country is a speck in a global line and therefore lends itself to what it would be if it follows the global experience. For a people who have always looked inwards, this is a necessary widening of their lens in terms of visualising possibilities and dangers. It perhaps would be equally rewarding to add on to this understanding the Indian experience in globalisation, since we have been at it for well over 20 years now, and if one underplays a brief period, a longer century as an open economy.
Begin with the interesting point that 42 per cent of rural savings and 23 per cent of urban savings are held as cash. The survey makes the point that with the spread of financial institutions, this will get monetised. It then says it can lead to inflation. But the spread of monetisation of the Indian economy goes back to the period when India decided to nationalise its banks. One of the great arguments then was that apart from the hanky-panky the private owners of banks were doing, the spread of banks in rural and small towns was abysmal and nationalisation would correct that, which it did. There is solid econometric work to show that the level and structure of savings can be explained by that. These arguments will be important for the RBI on March 17.
Since there have been different periods of inflation, obviously policy reacted to this welcome trend differently. Logically I can think of a similar argument. The argument that a younger population will increase savings rates in India needs to be re-evaluated since our savings rates went up when our age structure was not changing. Similarly increased inflation is not inevitable with increased monetisation of savings, since other things don't have to be the same. It would be interesting to examine what Indian policy-making did for earlier periods of monetisation and low inflation. This will help the RBI to assess what the saver will do as FII assets become scarcer.
A more compelling argument is that as wages and prices adjust to some sort of hamburger/ purchasing-power-parity global index, India will face inflationary pressures. There is probably a lot of truth in this as a really long-term trend — although there is a Kuznets argument that different countries will grow in different profiles depending on their cultural history. He saw Italy valuing goods and services differently as compared to others. How smooth the process depicted in the Economic Survey's chart will depend on a host of factors. One of the major distorting factors in the current poverty debate, for example, is the use of current World Bank norms which are built on PPP price adjustments since they don't have price adjustment series separately for the poor in poor countries and don't even use them when they are available as in India. The relevance of hamburgers for valuing the basket of consumption of the rural Indian poor is not quite clear to me. Income distribution changes will obviously be a factor in our transition to the global adjustment path.
But the more interesting approaches in India would be the work of scholars like the late Manohar Rao at the Bombay School of Economics where he modelled the transition from a controlled economy to a globalised one and worked out the transition paths using control theory. Rao saw the process taking time which emerged from his macro-models. The tradition continues and some recent work by the Reserve Bank researchers shows that for low inflation the growth rate will not be higher than 7 per cent annual. There are more robust models, including straightforward inflation growth trade-offs, by Guha and me and by the Institute of Economic Growth macro-modellers, but they would suggest that we have inflation-fighting strategies involving businesses and alas trade unions, which is pushing the dominant thinking in policy-making too far.
The budget stays away from all that and needs to be complimented on its honesty for that and the survey correctly keeps the homilies on social trust at a rhetorical level. Will the RBI again only decry the fiscal overhang or carry the debate forward?
The writer, a former Union minister, is chairman, Institute of Rural Management, Anand, firstname.lastname@example.org
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
THE WISDOM OF SURRENDER
The Dalai Lama is a rare figure in human history. Celebrated as a preeminent spiritual leader by millions and respected as a statesman for our troubled times, he has, on the singular strength of his moral authority, succeeded in keeping the cause of Tibet alive on the international scene. This — in the face of ever-growing Chinese economic, military and political clout — is no mean achievement. The Dalai Lama is in exile in India as a "revered spiritual figure" — and that has been his visiting card at numerous capitals and seats of power. However, it has also circumscribed his political space.
While still a young man of 28, a product of traditional monastic education in the isolation of Tibet and newly exiled in India, Tenzin Gyatso envisioned a democratic Tibet in which he would have no formal political role. In 1963, he presented to his people and the world a draft constitution based on the Charter of the United Nations and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. His recent pronouncements, relinquishing all formal political authority, are of a piece with that vision.
For Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama, now 75, who describes himself as a "simple Buddhist monk", the March 10 announcement is in consonance with a process that he set in motion nearly five decades ago, not a "jasmine moment". He has been consistently exhorting the need to nurture representative democratic institutions, transparent electoral processes and robust governance structures for the Tibetan community.
In May 1990, the Dalai Lama accelerated reforms that heralded a democratic administration-in-exile for the Tibetan community. The Tibetan cabinet, Kashag, which till then had been appointed by him, was dissolved along with the Tenth Assembly of Tibetan People's Deputies, the parliament in exile. In the same year, exiled Tibetans in India and over 33 other countries elected 46 members to the expanded Eleventh Tibetan Assembly on one-person-one-vote basis. The assembly, in its turn, elected the new members of the cabinet. In September 2001, a further step in democratisation was taken when the Tibetan electorate directly chose their prime minister (Kalon Tripa) who happened to be a senior monk. In Tibet's long history, this was the first time that lay people elected the political leadership of Tibet. The Dalai Lama assiduously refused to indicate a preference or influence the outcome.
He has stated that his decision to devolve his formal authority to an elected Kalon Tripa has nothing to do with a "wish to shirk responsibility". To see it as abdication or, as in the case of the former king of Bhutan, a retreat from the domain of political influence could be shortsighted. On the one hand, it could mean a less fettered role for him and a space to circumvent the tremulousness of official protocol the world over, and facilitate more informal tracks for engagement. The Dalai Lama, after all, has had to contend with visa denials, regrets from heads of state and last-minute cancellations of invitations often under pressure from China. He has borne these with characteristic dignity, always mindful not to embarrass friends and supporters across the globe. On the other hand, the shedding of key political functions signals a separation of the secular from the religious in the formal structures of governance, possibly to also counter Chinese allegations of feudal obscurantism.
On almost all issues that pertain to the history, mythology and beliefs of the Tibetan people, the Dalai Lama has been willing to push the envelope. This includes interrogating the contemporary relevance of the institution of the Dalai Lama itself, maintaining that it is important "only so long as it serves the cause of the Tibetan people". As a possible riposte to the practice of the Chinese government to choose and appoint "reincarnations" of senior lamas, he has suggested that he could choose a qualified spiritual leader to inherit his mantle or appoint one through a referendum that reflects the will of the Tibetan people. At any rate, he remains sceptical of the possibility of his "reincarnating" in Tibet as long as he and his community are in exile. The vexed issue of succession will undoubtedly add both strain and complexity to the Sino-Indian dynamic and will require deft handling by India, as the recent Karmapa episode has amply demonstrated. Should the Dalai Lama's successor too step back from political authority as he has done, then a substantially different set of possibilities and calculations will be at play.
The real challenge now is to find in the current generation of Tibetans a leadership that is modern and secular with a deep empathy for Tibetan culture and values, along with the skills needed to negotiate and pilot the future agenda of Tibet. In the fray for the elections for the Kalon Tripa scheduled for March 20 are three candidates: Tashi Wangdi, Tenzin Namgyal Tethong and Lobsang Sangay, all with substantial international exposure and varying degrees of experience in serving the Tibetan community in exile. Significantly, none of them is currently resident in India, where 90 per cent of the community in exile now lives. In fact, a large proportion of the intellectual and professional elite of the small talent pool of the Tibetan community in exile has moved to greener pastures in the US, thanks largely to the generous number of visas and scholarships that the country has made available.
Will the new political leadership revisit or modify the Dalai Lama's Middle Way approach — "genuine autonomy" within the People's Republic of China — which radical Tibetans have been impatient with? How will it position itself to engage with governments and political leaders as the formal face of the Tibetan community? Or, will the Dalai Lama continue as the acceptable channel for dialogue even in a changed role? More important, how will the Tibetans in China, who look to him as the unifying symbol of their struggle, connect with the new dispensation? These are valid concerns.
A couple of things are clear: the Dalai Lama's decision belongs to a leadership trajectory that calls for a nuanced understanding of political power. And it represents a leap of faith in the Tibetan community's potential for democratic responsibility. What remains to be seen is how it collectively responds to this aspiration.
The writer is principal, Lady Shri Ram College, Delhi, and honorary director of Women in Security Conflict Management and Peace, which is funded by the Dalai Lama's
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
TOO BAD TO SWALLOW
The National Advisory Council (NAC) has now sketched out the "contours of a national food security bill". The goal is worthy: "Protecting all children, women and men from hunger and food deprivation." To some, the bill might appear utopian. The truth is worse. The bill reminds us of John Stuart Mill's denunciation of a government policy of his day: "What is commonly called Utopian is something too good to be practicable; but what they appear to favour is too bad to be practicable."
Much of the debate about the food security bill has been about the proposals for the PDS. Is it really necessary for coverage to be near-universal? And why is it important that food subsidies be distributed only through the PDS?
The evidence on both these questions is unusually clear-cut. The data is unambiguous that targeting methods (introduced in PDS in 1997) have excluded most of the poor. While better methods might be found, it is also clear that these would not be accurate either. If all of the poor are to be counted in, it would be far better to exclude some obvious categories such as income-tax payers, vehicle-owners and large landowners and to offer subsidies to the rest.
With regard to the second question, there has been about two decades of research on quantitative assessments of the efficiency of the PDS. The research is remarkably consistent in showing large illegal diversions of subsidised grains to the open market. In addition, numerous case studies have shown that even when the poor possessed the ration cards, they face problems with respect to the low quality of grain, unpredictable availability and irregular hours of operation of the PDS shops. It is no wonder, therefore, that many poor households do not use the PDS even when they have the necessary entitlement.
The response of the NAC to the demonstrated failure of the PDS is to repose more faith in it. Make entitlements legal, have grievance redressal officers with wide powers, hand over fair price shops to community institutions, put in mechanisms for community monitoring and social audits and use technology to computerise the PDS distribution chain. A handful of states have indeed made the PDS work on the back of such reforms. However, legislating that PDS should work all over India just as in Chhattisgarh or Tamil Nadu ignores the state specificities that made them successful — and also completely discounts the possibilities of alternative models that other states might come up with.
Indeed, an equally valid response would be to conclude that the PDS's failure is systemic and that the proposed PDS reforms will not work. Most states already have provisions for stringent policing and for the involvement of community institutions in managing and monitoring fair price shops. Yet, little has been achieved except to enlarge the set of players that need to be placated. Community institutions are not exempt from capture by dominant caste groups (often allied with the PDS dealer). Therefore, adding more layers of bureaucracy, whether from the government or outside it, will not help.
The NAC's unshakeable faith would perhaps be somewhat comprehensible if there were no alternatives available. This is not so. The world over, social programs have made dramatic progress with direct cash transfers. Here the subsidy is directly transferred to the consumer who uses it to buy food (and not necessarily just rice and wheat). In India, financial inclusion programmes in Bihar and Rajasthan are based on this model of direct transfers. It is stunning, therefore, to find out that the NAC draft bill makes no space for such programmes.
We do not claim to know that direct transfers will solve all problems. Nor are we sure that it can fully supplant the PDS. However, we do know that wise policy-making requires experimentation and adjustment. It is not inconceivable that within this decade, technology would allow us to deliver subsidies seamlessly through direct transfers. What is truly deplorable about the NAC draft is that it freezes the future and disallows adaptation to such possibilities. We hardly need to point out that modifying obsolete and outdated legislation is an immensely slow and cumbersome process.
The Central government does not and cannot deliver food subsidies. For this reason, successful interventions have happened at the initiative of state governments — mid-day meals, cheap rice, universal access, supply-chain computerisation. The food subsidy bill should not restrict potential innovations by states because of mindless adherence to a Central formula.
The food subsidy bill should be rewritten to confine itself to norms regarding coverage, entitlement and its financial equivalent and grievance mechanisms. States should be allowed to make subsidiary laws and administrative notifications. The bill should trust India's federal polity to use the financial commitments of the bill in imaginative and appropriate ways. The top-down approach does not speak well of the NAC's claim to speak for the poor.
Kotwal is a professor at the University of British Columbia. Ramaswami is a professor at the Indian Statistical Institute, New Delhi. Murugkar is a Nashik-based food and agriculture policy economist
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
HOPE FOR VS
MANOJ C G
Hope for VS
As uncertainty looms over the candidature of Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan in the April 13 state elections, CPM General Secretary Prakash Karat has praised the VS-led government, giving fresh hope to the veteran leader.
In an article in the latest edition of party weekly People's Democracy, which focuses on Kerala, Karat notes the LDF government headed by V. S. Achuthanandan has established "its credentials as a fighter against corruption" in the last five years. Karat's observation is noteworthy as the VS camp has always tried to project his fight against corruption as his USP.
Karat had earlier identified corruption under the UPA government as one of the key issues in the forthcoming elections. In his article, the CPM leader says that "in the recent period, one of the former ministers of an earlier UDF government was sentenced to a year's imprisonment by the Supreme Court in a corruption case. In the case of another former minister Kunjalikutty, a reinvestigation has been ordered in a sex scandal case and how it was covered up."
Karat claims that while the neo-liberal policies pursued by the UPA have created problems for Kerala, the Left government, overcoming these severe constraints and obstacles, has made significant progress in developing material production in industry and agriculture and registered splendid achievements in social welfare measures.
Harvest of souls
An article in People's Democracy attacks the government for moving towards direct transfer of fertiliser subsidies to intended beneficiaries under BPL category to prevent leakage. The article says that the question is: how many land-owners are BPL card holders? "The criterion for people living below the poverty line is well-defined and is there any scope of even small or marginal farmer becoming BPL? Then who are the beneficiaries? Hardly anyone. Allowing cash subsidy to BPL means no subsidy at all," it argues.
The entire requirement of fertiliser, the article points out, has to be met from the free-market only, and that too at international prices. "What will be its impact on food pricing when the price of one of the major agricultural inputs is benchmarked to global market price?" it asks.
It notes that seven public-sector urea-producing units were closed down, leading to this shortfall. It argues that the then Congress government in 1995 did not approve a revival plan of these fertiliser plants. The article also discusses loopholes in the mechanism for computing the cost of production of urea that have been exploited by corporates, and argues that instead of plugging these holes, the government is trying to deregulate the pricing of urea by benchmarking to the global price. "This corporate agenda has become the hidden agenda of the government under the fraudulent cover of cash subsidy on fertiliser to BPL families. Does it not amount to cheating of the worst kind when in the name of cash subsidy to nonexistent fertiliser users, you first stop the subsidy and then increase the cost of fertiliser to a global level by three times the present domestic price which would lead to an exorbitant hike in food prices?" it asks.
Minding our business
An article in CPI weekly New Age hits out at Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee for asking India Inc to help with a consensus in Parliament on major financial reform bills. "Is he right in seeking the help of big business to get the legislators to pass pieces of legislation? Isn't he insulting the elected representatives of the people?" the article asks."His age and heavy workload, as he himself admitted during his stint as external affairs minister, perhaps continue to tell on him," it argues.
The article observes that Mukherjee was not a "blind follower" of the market as were some of the other post-reform finance ministers. "When the whole world, after the global crisis, is recalling the days of bank nationalisation and the public sector occupying commanding heights of the economy in India, he should not surrender to the so-called commitment of business towards growth and development," it adds. The article concludes with the observation: "Both the FM and the PM must be missing the Left, whose support both of them simply ignored at the fag-end of the UPA-I regime," it says.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
JAPAN'S LONG WAIT
On August 9, 1945, my great-uncle was out fishing in the Pacific, far enough away from Nagasaki, that he missed the immediate impact of the atom bomb dropped by the Americans that day. My great-aunt was in their house outside Nagasaki; the family had 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 website is eerily still online, with 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.
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.
Mockett is the author of 'Picking Bones From Ash.'The New York Times
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The curious thing about monetary policy is that it has to not only be forward looking but also be either ahead or behind the market to have an impact. When the monetary authority does something what the market already expects, and is hence buffered, then the policy action is not quite that effective. So is the case with RBI's monetary review—the last for the year on March 17. Under normal circumstances, this should not matter, considering that we are in the last fortnight of the financial year where the government's borrowing programme is known and almost done with, and the banking indicators on credit and deposits growth are also almost final. Why then should we give importance to this policy? The answer is actually quite simple—we need to know how RBI sees the economy, which, quite interestingly, looks different when viewed from different angles. By this we mean that we all know that inflation is a concern but has been coming down. Besides, it is food inflation that has created a problem for us, something that RBI cannot actually address through its conventional tools of monetary policy. But, if RBI perseveres with rate hikes, which the market believes will be the right course, then it's indicative that inflation is still the target and that it will continue to work on this number until the final objective of either 4% or 5% (which will be stated in its Annual Policy in May) is achieved. In fact, any rate hike will be indicative of further hikes during the year.
On the other hand, growth, though sanguine for most part of the year, poses a puzzle. While the number of 8.5% or in its vicinity will be accomplished, there is some concern on whether or not investment has slowed down on account of high interest rates. If one talks to corporates, there is definitely concern as investment plans have been deferred and only necessary investment has been undertaken. Now, if this tendency persists, there is a possibility of industry being drawn back with capacity utilisation having reached the optimal levels across sectors, in which case potential growth gets affected. The IIP numbers have brought little cheer last week and it is very likely that the target this year of 8.8% in manufacturing will not be achieved. This being the case, RBI has to think deeper before tossing the coin. Past behaviour of RBI indicates that it would not like to spook the market and hence will opt for an increase in rates by 25 bps, though strong economic rationale would probably suggest that a pause on March the 17th could be the best solution until a clearer picture emerges when the year ends.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
POPULISM'S ANDHRA FACE
Chemicals and fertiliser minister MK Alagiri believes that welfare schemes such as the R780-crore drinking water scheme in Madurai launched by his father will help the DMK retain power in the Tamil Nadu elections next month. Fiscal purists, on the other hand, fear a plethora of such schemes in others states going to the polls will result in budgets getting out of whack and, eventually, hitting economic growth. The truth lies in between, and a lot depends on how welfare schemes are sequenced; it is actually possible to have reasonable levels of populism with high growth, the subject of the latest Economic Freedom of the States of India, released on Monday. While Tamil Nadu topped the charts, followed by Gujarat, the real surprise was Andhra Pradesh improving its position from 7th in 2005 to 3rd in 2009, roughly the period in which YS Rajasekhara Reddy was the state's chief minister. Andhra's growth rates rose from 5.6% in the pre-YSR period to 9.1% in the YSR period, a hike that's pretty commensurate with that in states with a rise in economic freedom levels—Gujarat, which saw its rank rise from 5th to 2nd between 2005 and 2009, saw a similarly high GDP growth.
Where YSR scored, the report points out, was in exploiting a window of opportunity by sequencing reforms well. Like his predecessors, YSR believed in very cheap rice, and free power and irrigation facilities; but by abolishing the land ceiling, reducing stamp duties, computerising property records, elaborate use of PPPs, unbundling of the state electricity boards, appointing more judges, YSR created an environment where business found it attractive to invest in the state—Andhra's rank on "business/labour regulation" improved from 10th to 2nd. As a result, private investment rose, GDP followed, and this left YSR enough funds to spend more on his subsidies in absolute terms while, at the same time, being able to contain his spending relative to state GDP—social audits of schemes like mid-day meals also helped make them more efficient. YSR never tackled powerful teacher unions but encouraged the hiring of contract teachers to improve the quality of schools; while being populist, he also spent more on irrigation…
None of this is to say governments can be profligate and hope not to pay for the consequences. Eventually, governments have to get their fiscal house in order. But if business is encouraged to flourish, this
creates a lot of headroom for achieving this, and growth allows for more social spending. The Freedom report, and the chapter on Andhra Pradesh especially, are recommended reading for the UPA's managers.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
India's disinvestment mandate is running a big moral risk. The risk stems from the almost zero fees the disinvestment-led managers have begun charging the government for handling the issues. The trend began several years ago but after the UPA government settled down to a sizeable disinvestment plan for every fiscal, it has become almost institutionalised.
When a company appoints a merchant banker to guide its issue, it pays a fee to the latter. The fees and related incomes are what drive the attractive investment banking business across leading financial centres.
It began similarly in India, when the government began its disinvestment programme. Early disinvestment managers used their contacts with industry to attract significant players to bid for the business.
The picture has changed now, as the number of companies offering such services have shot up. For each of them, a stab at being the lead managers to a government disinvestment issue is the best feather in their cap. The heavy duty competition means the companies are now willing to work for free to bag the mandate. As a result, for all the recent mandates, there are no single winners; instead there is more than one lead manager and several more names in the syndicate.
For a penny wise country, this has translated into an excellent bit of news. The government does not pay out anything, rather it earns everything from the programme. So long as the markets were on an upswing, this logic worked fine.
As the downturn in 2010-11 in the primary markets has shown, this is a dangerous logic. How much motivation would a merchant banker have to make an issue a success in a market that is tanking, when there is no income for its services? The merchant banker has already made its reputation when it got the mandate from the department. Subsequent to that, the fate of the issue does not really matter.
More, a zero-fee regime means that instead of the government holding the reins, it is the investment advisor who is effectively in charge. As we shall see later, it means when something goes wrong, the words of the contract are, for all practical purpose, useless.
In 2011-12, the government plans to raise R40,000 crore from the primary market through disinvestment in a clutch of big league companies, including Sail, IOC and ONGC. As it is, this is made difficult by a hugely sinking market buffeted by global and domestic bad news. In such a market, a disinterested group of investment managers is about the last thing one would expect the government will need both to market the issue and police the environment.
In its defence, the government managers have often said they are not responsible for having driven down the fees the advisors charge. This is true. But it is possibly time for the government to ponder if a minimum level of bid fees should not be built in, despite what the CAG or even the CVC might have to say. Incidentally, the absolute amount the government would pay out would not be substantial from the budget point of view. In most cases, it would be less than a couple of crore of rupees per issue.
There is, however, a more serious risk in continuing with the current zero-fee regime. Disinvestment is quite a complicated process, where there are several regulatory procedures to maintain. In addition, since it entails the prospect of making profits by a large number of investors—big or small—the chances of cutting corners by some of them are quite high. The IPO scam around the IDFC issue had nothing to do with the company but a lot to do with how easy it was to duck the procedure of applying.
Of all the crimes that could take place surrounding a public issue, insider trading will, of course, be the most severe but there can be several other less heinous crimes. A merchant banker carries a lot of responsibility to ensure none of this happens. The primary means to ensure compliance against any slip up is the contract signed between the banker and the department, with the monetary penalty etc pencilled in. In the absence of any financial inducements, the means available with the government will, therefore, have to be harsher.
This makes the resolution of any dispute more difficult. Right from the beginning, the government has to wield heavy duty weapons when a light rap on the knuckles, like withholding payments, would suffice in many cases. For the merchant banker, too, the incentive to mobilise support to avoid unpleasantness would be far higher.
Notice, this threat would not help the advisor develop an incentive to sell the issue better as the government would find it extremely difficult to pin charges of malafide on that score.
Since the Indian financial markets do not rank very high on the global league of markets, the government in any case will find it difficult to make the charges stick on the transnational ones. Instead, thanks to the publicity, the image of an Indian market hit by a misdeed, again, would be the more over-riding picture globally.
Of much more salience will be the impact of any unsavoury developments on the disinvestment programme. In the current state of mutual accusations that the nation finds itself, this is something to be carefully avoided. Yet the moral hazard, which the programme has opened itself up to, is something that needs to be switched off fast. The cost of doing so is pretty cheap and it will be an unwise state that does not address it.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
IT'S NOT JUST ABOUT ONIONS ANYMORE!
It's not just about onions! Inflation in India has been elevated for quite some time now, and while, initially, the surge in prices was led by food prices, inflation has become generalised. The accelerating rate of increases in prices started in mid-2009. Back then, commodity prices were still low because of the global financial crisis and headline inflation [as measured by the changes in the wholesale price index (WPI)] masked the underlying price movements being reflected in month-over-month changes in prices. India was experiencing a strong rebound from the crisis, and policies—including the interest rates set by the Reserve Bank of India (RBI)—were generally supportive of growth. Over the course of 2010, it became increasingly clear that as far as inflation was concerned, things had changed. Even outside of food, inflation had become uncomfortably high. RBI recognised the problem and started raising interest rates as early as January 2010, to the surprise of many who thought it was all about food prices and the previous year's drought. Indeed, food inflation remains in double digits, and more recently, international oil prices have risen sharply, thus putting additional pressures on headline inflation.
RBI cannot control rainfall or international oil prices but it can calibrate interest rates to cool down the economy and moderate pressures on domestic prices, particularly those that are set with demand growth and expectations of future inflation in mind. Higher interest rates can also help minimise the second round impact of supply shocks. And more importantly, by raising interest rates, RBI is effectively telling the country that low and stable inflation is an important policy priority that should be delivered, even when it is costly to do so.
Unfortunately, controlling inflation has proved far more difficult than many had imagined. As in many other countries, once inflation gets started, it takes a while to bring it back down; this is what economists call 'persistence'. Headline inflation, as measured by WPI, peaked at 11% in April 2010 and has declined only slowly to 8.2% in January 2011.
In addition to raising interest rates and communicating clearly its goal of low and stable inflation, RBI has provided a careful analysis of the causes of inflation. In his statement as part of the RBI's third quarter review of monetary policy 2010-11, Governor Subbarao noted that "Non-food manufacturing inflation has remained sticky, reflecting both buoyant demand conditions and rising costs". In addition, RBI has also looked at structural determinants of inflation. India's per capita income is growing rapidly and as a result their diets are changing significantly towards protein-rich items, such as milk and eggs. As supply is slow to increase, these taste shifts are making inflation even more persistent and more difficult to bring down.
As inflation remains high, Indian workers and companies start to wonder what the end game for inflation will be. After all, how much will you spend on food tomorrow? How much will salaries increase in 2011? These are questions in many Indian minds. RBI has been looking into this as well. It now publishes surveys that gauge perceptions of inflation. Perhaps not surprisingly, as inflation rose, so did inflation expectations, which poses challenges for RBI.
RBI can demonstrate to the public that it will take action to control future inflation. Despite several interest rate increases since early 2010, the policy rate (6.5%) is still below the current level of inflation. In economists' jargon, the policy rate is negative "in real terms". While it is hard to pinpoint the "right" level for the policy rate, when your economy is growing at 9% and your inflation is high, more often than not it's a sign that more needs to be done.
But how much higher should RBI allow policy rates to go? This is difficult to say but simple benchmarks can be useful. Historically, in India, the policy rate has averaged 1.5-2% in real terms, depending on the timeframe used.
If we take this as a gauge and add market expectations of 6.5% inflation (taken from Consensus Forecasts) over the next 12 months, the result is a policy rate of 8-8.5%. Since the average is taken over good and bad times, an appropriate real interest rate in good times like today may be higher than the average, which implies an even higher policy rate. There may be reasons to think that such a large increase in interest rates may be too high a price to pay for bringing inflation down. On the other hand, as we economists like to say, with the economy in generally good shape and inflation still uncomfortably high, now is not the time to hesitate.
The author is a senior economist working on India in the IMF's Asia and Pacific Department
PLAYING WITH LIVES
The latest in the series of scams that are tumbling out of cupboards in New Delhi relates to the forged mark sheets submitted by pilots to secure an Airline Transport Pilot's Licence. Co-pilots need this licence to graduate to a commander. At least some of them decided they could fake their way through the qualifying examination, and it was not until one of them landed an aircraft with its nose wheel down first and the incident was investigated that it transpired she had not legitimately passed her examination. That pilot from IndiGo and another from Air India have since been arrested on charges of faking their mark sheets; two others are absconding. The industry regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) says between 3,000 and 4,000 such licences are now under the scanner. Evidently there seems to be collusion among the pilots, touts, and some staff in the DGCA, who are in charge of issuing the mark sheets after the special tests that are held every three months to enable co-pilots to move up the ladder. Strangely, the DGCA had warned pilots at least twice in the past two years, not to fall a prey to such touts. Now, Air India has set up a three-member committee to probe all the licences and the mark sheets. It has come to light that sons and daughters of many DGCA staff have become pilots, and this gave room for suspicion of collusion and the entry of touts into this business.
Safety experts in the Aviation sector believe that anywhere between 50 and 60 of the serving commanders in various airlines could be suspect in the forged mark sheets scam, and about 200 with a co-pilot's licence need to be investigated about the genuineness of their papers. The unbridled growth of the aviation sector over the past decade has created a huge demand for pilots in recent years, with a simultaneous increase in the number of commanders needed. A commander earns at least twice as much as a co-pilot and hence the incentive for co-pilots to graduate as quickly as possible. But there cannot be any shortcuts to the commander's seat. While cheap and competitive fares have made flying affordable to the common people, greed and trickery of these illegitimate commanders are now putting thousands of lives at risk. Worse, if it is proved that a pilot of an aircraft that meets with an accident had forged documents, neither the airline nor its passengers will be entitled for even insurance claims. The DGCA has to get to the bottom of this scandal and weed out all unscrupulous elements. With an estimated 6,000 pilots on rolls, the regulator needs to streamline the process and set the house in order.
USE AND MISUSE OF THE PLACEBO EFFECT
Are placebos inert substances with no real therapeutic effect? Placebos go back to the origins of medicine as a science and as an art and have been part of the stock-in-trade of charlatanism and quackery. Today they are routinely used in human clinical trials for comparing the efficacy of experimental drugs; this is based on the premise that placebos containing inactive substances have nil therapeutic potential. But, although their use in clinical care for treating patients with imaginary or real ailments is reportedly showing some promise, their undisclosed use is considered questionable and even unethical — and hence is not formally approved by medical authorities anywhere in the world. Yet doctors in several developed countries are using them even when effective medicines are available. Anecdotal evidence suggests that many doctors in India have long been doing so. A recent study by the German Medical Association (BAK) found that half of German doctors were prescribing placebos to 'treat' depression and stomach complaints. The percentage of general practitioners taking advantage of the placebo effect to treat their patients shot up to nearly 90 per cent in Bavaria. That nearly 60 per cent of patients who had upset stomach and about a third of those with depression stood to gain shows that the placebo effect could be real. The placebo effect was maximised when administered as an injection, and factors such as size and colour of a pill determined the success rate. Being convinced that doctors understood their concerns and were taking them seriously played a major role.
This is not the first time placebo effects yielding positive results in clinical settings have been documented. A 2008 study covering nearly 680 U.S. internists and rheumatologists found that about half of them had prescribed placebos (without the patients being aware of it) over the past one year. Though the intent was to promote positive therapeutic expectations, it was considered unethical as the patients were kept in the dark. Withholding information amounts to cheating and threatens trust, so very central to clinical practice. Advocates of placebo treatment note that positive results can be achieved even without deception. But whether it can be adopted in clinical care after eliminating all kinds of deception is not fully known. Placebos given along with drugs in trials produced positive results but at reduced levels when patients knew of their doubtful efficacy. Evidence-based practice must wait for further research and for the formulation of clear guidelines for placebo use.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
'MAYBE MYANMAR IS OUR PAKISTAN'
U.S. PUSHED INDIA ON DEMOCRACY; INDIA WAS FIRM ABOUT ENGAGING THE JUNTA.
Long before U.S. President Barack Obama publicly asked India to use its influence to do more for a return to democracy in Myanmar, U.S. officials were quietly, but unsuccessfully, pushing New Delhi to take a tougher line against the military junta.
At each push, Indian officials told the U.S. that while New Delhi also wanted to see a democratic government in Yangon, it believed this could be better done by engaging with the junta rather than cutting off ties with it. Moreover, India had its own important geopolitical reasons to develop ties with the military regime.
More than 40 U.S. Embassy cables classified from New Delhi and Yangon, spread over the period from 2003 to 2009 and accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, confirm the reality that in diplomacy, national ideals are no competition to that thing called "strategic interest."
India had no problem dumping old friend Aung San Suu Kyi ('ASSK') to romance Myanmar's generals. The cables reflect U.S. frustration over the years at New Delhi's flat-out refusal to toe its line on Myanmar because of India's own concerns about growing Chinese influence in that country and safe havens in Myanmar for insurgents operating in north-eastern India.
In the cables, the U.S. comes out all for democracy in Myanmar – and for "ASSK." But significantly, in the same time frame it was working behind the scenes to arrange an agreement between Pakistan's military ruler Pervez Musharraf and Pakistan People's Party leader Benazir Bhutto in order to give the military leader a democratic look.
Imperative for several reasons
One notable conversation between Ted Osius, Political Counselor at the New Delhi Embassy, and Mohan Kumar, MEA Joint Secretary dealing with Myanmar, is reported in a cable sent on February 20, 2007 ( 97303: confidential).
Mr. Kumar told the American diplomat that engagement with the Myanmar junta was an imperative for India for several reasons.
"The ULFA guys hiding in Burma are screwing the hell out of us!" he said, noting that "Burma is the only one helping us" to tackle the northeastern insurgency. "Tell Bangladesh to co-operate and I am happy to say bye bye Myanmar."
India was also trying to deal with the insurgency by creating economic opportunities in the northeastern region, and Myanmar was crucial for this, too.
"Bangladesh's stubbornness in allowing access to transit routes for trade leaves us with Burma as the only alternative to connect the northeast to ASEAN markets," and provide an economic incentive for the United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) to lay down arms.
Mr. Kumar commented that the Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and China maintained close ties with Myanmar but did not face the same pressure from the U.S. to refrain from engaging with it. "Do you want us to connect through China?" he asked. Tit for tat, he asked Mr. Osius why the U.S. was not pushing for democracy in Pakistan. "Why not pick on Musharraf? Where is democracy there?"
He compared India's policy in Myanmar with the U.S. policy in Pakistan. "Maybe Myanmar is our Pakistan," he is quoted as saying in a dubious, though memorable, formulation.
But Mr. Kumar also allowed that India had not given up on democracy altogether, stating that the government "continues to push them at every opportunity."
One such opportunity apparently presented itself during an October 2004 visit of Senior General Than Shwe. Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Joint Secretary Mitra Vasishtha told Political Counselor Geoffrey Pyatt on November 2, 2004 ( 22299: confidential) that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had raised the issue of democracy with the General "in a much more intense way than could be expressed in the media," despite the potential for a negative fallout on the bilateral relationship.
She said New Delhi had battled for the inclusion of a paragraph in the joint statement that expressed India's support for "national reconciliation and an early transition to democracy in Myanmar," and described it as a "coup for India."
Ms. Vasishtha told the American diplomat that New Delhi decided to proceed with the visit even after the ouster of Prime Minister Khin Nyunt because India did not view his replacement as an indication of "which way the dust would fall" on democracy. Rather, it was an "internal struggle," she remarked, speculating that the junta might be somewhat fragile.
As evidence, the Joint Secretary offered the interesting observation that "Than Shwe travelled with the wives of two other powerful generals, Thura Shwe Man and Soe Win, who she mused may have been used as 'hostages' to ensure tranquillity among the generals in Rangoon during Than Shwe's absence."
Reflecting the Indian worry about China's influence in Myanmar, Ms. Vasishtha commented that "what you hear about the PLA [the Chinese People's Liberation Army] in Burma is only the tip of the iceberg." She added that U.S. intelligence must surely know this. She said China took Myanmar for granted and this was why Myanmar wanted to engage with India.
Confirming a $20 million Indian grant to the junta for the development of energy and gas infrastructure, Ms. Vasishtha said the funds would be given "only if they do certain things." She projected this as part of New Delhi's people-to-people strategy to encourage democracy.
Ms. Vasishtha was of the view that the world had made democracy in Myanmar synonymous with Ms. Suu Kyi, and predicted this could "backfire." She described the Nobel laureate as someone whose "day has come and gone."
A cable sent on March 30, 2005 by the U.S. Embassy in Yangon ( 29750: confidential) is headlined "All Smiles: Indian Foreign Minister's Visit to Burma." It is an account of Natwar Singh's March 24-27 trip.
"FM Singh knows Aung San Suu Kyi personally and, according to the Indian Embassy, 'holds her in high esteem'. However, Singh made no reference to her or the democratic opposition during his four-day visit, an Indian pattern of engagement with the regime that sticks to platitudes and doesn't rock the boat."
The cable noted: "FM Singh achieved his dual objectives of maintaining dialogue with Burma at the political level and pushing for certain development projects of benefit to Mizoram, including the Kaladan multi-modal transport project (Rakhine State) and a GOI-funded road project to improve access to a border-trade crossing opened in January 2004 (Chin State)."
The author of the cable, Embassy Chief of Mission Carmen Martinez, commented that India's "pragmatic" approach was "a severe blow to the leaders of Burma's beleaguered democratic opposition, most of whom draw their inspiration from India's historic struggle for independence and democracy."
At one point, the Americans tried to push New Delhi to make a public declaration of its ban on arms sales to Myanmar, in a cable sent on November 7, 2007 ( 129067: confidential). Joint Secretary T.S. Tirumurti acknowledged that a Myanmar request for military equipment had been turned down, but when Political Counselor Osius suggested the government go public with this, he offered no response.
Instead, he noted that External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee had sent a letter to the junta's acting Prime Minister to give UN Special Envoy Ibrahim Gambari "maximum broad-based access" to leaders in Burmese society, reminding the regime that national reconciliation must be "broad-based."
India did once give a glimmer of hope to the U.S. on Myanmar. Deputy Chief of Mission Robert Blake cabled on December 15, 2005 ( 47761: confidential), noting a shift from "months of wishy-washy Indian posturing on Burma" in Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's public call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Dr. Singh made the appeal on his return from the East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur, where he also said after a meeting with Myanmar Foreign Minister Soe Win that India "favors national reconciliation and the movement towards democracy, respect for fundamental human rights and allowing political activities to flourish."
Mr. Blake commented that this is a "strong departure" from New Delhi's "recent tactic of downplaying democracy concerns with the GOB [Government of Burma] in return for greater cooperation in energy and counter-insurgency operations near the shared border, and signals a greater Indian willingness to put public pressure on Burma's military junta." He described this as a "welcome development."
But when Cyclone Nargis struck Myanmar in 2008, it was India's influence with the junta that the U.S. fell back on (dealt with in cable 153452: confidential, sent on May 12, 2008) in order to reach international aid to the country. It is now known that very little of that aid actually reached the victims of the cyclone.
HOW INDIA MISSED THE BUS FOR TOP FAO POST
INDIA PUT FORWARD M.S. SWAMINATHAN, AMRITA PATEL, BUT TOO LATE.
CHENNAI: India missed a unique opportunity to place one of its leading lights in the field at the head of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) as their candidacy was offered too late for the 2005 election, a leaked cable dated July 28, 2004 ( 19191: confidential) from the U.S. Mission to the United Nations has revealed.
The names of Dr. M.S. Swaminathan, the driving force behind India's Green Revolution, and Dr. Amrita Patel, veterinarian and Chairman of the National Dairy Development Board, were proposed for the post of FAO Director-General by India's Permanent Representative Himachal Som at a private meeting with U.S. Ambassador to the Agencies for Food and Agriculture Tony P. Hall, on July 26, 2004.
In Mr. Hall's view, the proposals were "welcome," but they came too late and were too disorganised. "Som had not done his homework to assess the current state of play, and was probably at too early a stage in his thinking to be able to table a serious initiative," he wrote.
"This was a discussion we should have had four months ago."
The proposed candidacies came at a key moment when they might have gathered broad support, because it was the first serious proposal for the choice of an alternative Director-General. Dr. Jacques Diouf of Senegal, who was elected the FAO's first Director-General on November 8, 1993, had run the FAO for 12 years by the time of the 2005 election.
His "autocratic" leadership style had drawn ire from countries such as Britain, which in November 1999 threatened to withdraw funding for the agency if limits to the term of office were not introduced. After years of debate, in 2003 FAO members restricted a Director-General's tenure to two terms totalling 10 years.
But a loophole in putting this into effect in 2006 enabled Mr. Diouf to run again in 2005. This was clearly a cause for concern for India, as Mr. Hall reported: "Som said the GOI supports term limits for UN agency heads, and is concerned that another term for Diouf would result in benign neglect (or worse) of FAO by major donors."
The cable reveals both the extent to which "the great game" is still played from diplomatic offices around the world, and how far from practised India could be.
Mr. Diouf had already lined up "considerate, possibly sufficient" G77 support.
In comparison, "Som's seeming unawareness of Diouf's recent successes in lining up Caribbean and Islamic countries' endorsements, his lack of information about vacillation on term limits within the EU, and his failure thus far to even approach tentative Indian candidates," Mr. Hall wrote, made India's "trial balloon … fairly limp."
Two terms later, Mr. Diouf is still FAO Director-General. His tenure will be over in 2012.
PAKISTAN 'NUMBER ONE PARTNER AGAINST AL QAIDA': NICHOLAS BURNS
MUMBAI: "The U.S-India relationship was far more advanced in the private sector than government. India was not an ambivalent power, but one without a clear sense of global identity, with one foot still in the non-aligned camp and the other foot in the global actor camp." That is how the then U.S. Under Secretary of State, R. Nicholas Burns, characterised India and its equation with the U.S. in a meeting held in Canberra on December 4-5, 2007. This is revealed in a cable, dated January 3, 2008, from the U.S. Embassy in Canberra ( 136155: secret/noforn).
Mr. Burns gave this assessment to his Trilateral Strategic Dialogue counterparts from Australia and Japan "at the TSD senior officials meeting (SOM)." Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Secretary Michael L 'Estrange and Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister Mitoji Yabunaka represented their countries.
According to the cable, Mr. Burns stated that "Pakistan was our number one partner in the fight against al Qaida, and we supported the Musharraf government. Therefore, what happened in Pakistan was fundamental to our national security. U/S Burns also noted we are also paying attention to the Pakistan-India Composite Dialogue; while a hoped-for movement on Kashmir had been 'put on ice' by recent developments in Pakistan, the situation was markedly better than 1998 or 2001-2002."
The Japanese Deputy Foreign Minister was less enthusiastic. "Yabunaka shared his personal judgment that Musharraf was out of touch with the rest of Pakistan." Yabunaka also "expressed concern about command and control of Pakistan's nuclear arsenal."
Among other things discussed was "Afghanistan: Concern about Faltering Support in NATO." Mr. Burns "said Afghanistan had become an existential crisis for NATO, at odds with the 'one for all and all for one' credo." Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) Secretary Michael L 'Estrange "argued the desire of the Afghan government to engage elements of the insurgency was of concern; we needed to avoid any perception of weakness. Handled in the wrong way, this situation could undermine the coalition."
Further, "Burns briefed on U.S. efforts to recruit Paddy Ashdown to coordinate international civilian efforts; he requested Australia and Japan reiterate to Afghanistan's President Karzai and UNSYG Ban the need for a strong leader on international civilian efforts in Afghanistan. Both Secretary L 'Estrange and DFM Yabunaka agreed to do so." The reference is to British politician Paddy Ashdown, former member of the British Parliament and leader of the Liberal Democrats for over a decade. In the 1990s, Ashdown forcefully lobbied for military action against Yugoslavia.
The cable also summarises the presentation of Peter Varghese, who is currently Australia's High Commissioner in India but at that time holding another office. "Delivering an intelligence assessment, Australian Office of National Assessment Director General Peter Varghese said India was undergoing a historic transition, especially in regards to economic policy. Politically, while the nation had some sense of its intentions vis-a-vis China and South Asia, it had yet to articulate a strategic worldview. Much of India's future would be defined by its competitive relationship with China, which would shape its relations with the rest of East Asia. India would probably be less patient in its diplomatic relations than China, Varghese noted, but believed its ultimate interests lay with the forces of democracy and democratic change. India, Varghese concluded, viewed democracy as both a values-based and strategic asset."
'ELITIST CONGRESS LEADERSHIP UNWILLING TO ENGAGE WITH MASSES'
CHENNAI: The "elitist leadership" of the Congress, including party president Sonia Gandhi and her children, are unwilling to go into the countryside in the Hindi belt to engage with the masses and regain their loyalty. Besides, there are the problems of "overreliance on the Gandhi brand to solve all problems" and sycophancy, which is seen as a licence to "backbite and squabble behind the scenes."
This is the candid assessment of the internal state of the ruling party conveyed to Washington by the U.S. Embassy in January 2006.
The cable sent on January 27, 2006 ( 50883: confidential), reported that Congress weaknesses had become evident after the party gained power in 2004: "In the crucial Hindi belt, its elitist leadership (including Sonia Gandhi and her children) are unwilling to go into the countryside to engage with the masses and regain their loyalty. Inside the party, there is an over-reliance on the Gandhi brand to solve all problems. The insistence on outward displays of loyalty to the Gandhis has prevented the emergence of a strong and credible second tier leadership capable of mounting effective state-wide campaigns in crucial states like Uttar Pradesh and Karnataka."
"The coterie surrounding the Gandhis believes that public loyalty to 'Madam' gives them a license to backbite and squabble behind the scenes.
"The party leadership in Karnataka arrogantly dismissed JD(S) attempts to share power, insisting that Congress should predominate," the Embassy cabled.
Referring to the All India Congress Committee's January 22, 2006 plenary session in Hyderabad, it noted how 10,000 party leaders and workers went to "extraordinary lengths to demonstrate their sycophantic loyalty to the Gandhi family." Although Sonia Gandhi herself had requested that such demonstrations be held to a minimum, "participants staged disruptive demonstrations demanding that the party induct Rahul Gandhi into the leadership and provide him a space on the podium."
MEA TEAM'S VISIT INCENSED ISRAEL
SECRETARY RAJIV SIKRI BEHAVED 'MORE OFTEN AS THE REPRESENTATIVE OF THE PALESTINIANS'
LONDON: In an extraordinary outburst, recorded in a U.S. Embassy cable from New Delhi, and accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, Israel's Deputy Chief of Mission in New Delhi, Yoed Magen, accused a senior official of Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) of behaving "more often as the representative of the Palestinians, rather than India" during a visit to Israel in August 2005.
According to the cable, sent on September 1, 2005 ( 39624: secret), Mr. Magen gave U.S. Ambassador David Mulford "an unexpectedly downbeat readout of the August 28 visit to Jerusalem by MEA Secretary East Rajiv Sikri." The Israeli diplomat told Mr. Mulford that the Israelis refused to issue the customary post-visit joint statement after the Indian delegation "insisted" that it should be with the dateline Tel Aviv and not Jerusalem.
"The Israelis went all out for this visit," Ambassador Mulford relayed to Washington, "supplementing the formal Foreign Office talks (led by Deputy Director-General for Asia and Pacific Amos Nadai) with a call on Deputy Prime Minister Silvan Shalom. Magen reported that Indian Ambassador to Tel Aviv Arun K. Singh seemed shocked by Sikri's unreformed positions on issues like disengagement, adding that the Indian delegation appeared completely unmoved by changes sparked by Arafat's death, the Gaza withdrawal, and strengthened India-Israel ties. 'It was like nothing had changed', the Israeli DCM concluded."
In perhaps an unintended give-away, Mr. Magen "confirmed that the Israeli Embassy had been the source for a recent front page story and editorial in the pro-BJP Pioneer criticizing India for its failure to acknowledge the Gaza withdrawal."
The MEA earlier rebuffed the Israeli Embassy when it asked for a statement on Gaza, saying that disengagement was only one step in a long process."
Ambassador Mulford, of course, made no secret of where his sympathies lay. In a comment, titled "Profiles in Cowardice," he waxed eloquent on one of his favourite themes, the "duplicity" of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government's Israel policy: "The contrast in public approaches between the NDA and UPA government could not be more stark. The continued old-think in MEA … clashes with India's proposal during the visit last week of Israel's Chief Scientist Eli Opper to expand the soon-to-be-established USD 2 million per year joint Indo-Israeli R&D fund to USD 25 million … It also stands in marked contrast to India's expanding defense trade with Israel. The GOI is willing to get down to business with Israel in defense, commercial, and scientific areas … However, the foreign policy establishment remains mired firmly in the past as the Congress-led UPA (beholden to India's 130 million Muslims for a chunk of its political support) continues to posture itself as the defender of Palestinian ambitions. The net result of this duplicity is that others have done more with Israel than the UPA."
SHEIKH HASINA'S ADVISER DID NOT WANT HER TO LINGER IN INDIA
CRITICISM AT HOME FEARED.
CHENNAI: Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina's adviser did not want her to linger in India for fear of criticism at home
Gowher Rizvi, her Foreign Policy Adviser, "sabotaged" her planned stopover in Kolkata during a "transformational" 2010 visit to India as he believed any delay in returning to Dhaka would give her opponents time to "put their spin" on the visit before she had a chance to tell the nation about it.
Dr. Rizvi, who taught at a U.S. university before joining the Hasina government, believed that even the 24-hour delay in the Prime Minister returning home to accommodate her visit to Ajmer after finishing her meetings in New Delhi, was too much.
Dr. Rizvi confided this to the U.S. Ambassador to Bangladesh James F. Moriarty hours ahead of the January 10, 2010 visit.
The conversation, reported by Ambassador Moriarty in a cable sent on January 10, 2010 ( 243013: confidential), revealed the hopes Prime Minister Hasina and the Indian government pinned on this visit for improving strained ties with India, and the domestic difficulties of such a venture for the Bangladeshi leader given the country's confrontational politics.
Dr. Rizvi told the Ambassador that pre-visit negotiations with the Indian side had been held very close within the Bangladesh government. The Foreign Minister had been brought into the loop only in the last week before the visit. Dr. Rizvi was dismissive of the Foreign Ministry bureaucracy. According to him, it "lacked creativity and vision."
Contrary to the media focus on what new agreements the Prime Minister would sign in India, Dr. Rizvi revealed that in his negotiations with the Indians, the focus had been on implementing past agreements on transit and connectivity that had long been dormant. Two advisers in the Prime Minister's office had been drafted to help in the rapid implementation of these agreements.
"He told the Ambassador he thought the Prime Minister was making a mistake by delaying her return to Dhaka until January 13, following a one-day pilgrimage to Ajmer. Rizvi confided that he had 'sabotaged' the PM's plan to prolong her stay in India further by adding an additional stop in Kolkata," Mr. Moriarty cabled.
Dr. Rizvi had argued in favour of an immediate return to Dhaka following the conclusion of bilateral talks on January 12.
At his insistence, it had been planned that the Prime Minister would address Parliament on her return from India to outline the results of her visit.
But he feared that the 24-hour delay would allow the media and the opposition to put their spin on the visit before Prime Minister Hasina got a chance to say her piece.
Dr. Rizvi was not far off the mark, as the opposition Bangladesh Nationalist Party, led by Khaleda Zia, mounted a vociferous campaign against the visit calling it a "sell-out" to India.
THE ASIAN AGE
EXPORTS RISING, AND SET TO GO UP FURTHER
It is a matter of rejoicing that India has crossed the export target of $200 billion even before the close of the 2010-11 financial year because of the unexpected 50 per cent jump in February shipments. This was made possible by the turnaround in the American and European economies. Commerce secretary Rahul Khullar says he expects the fiscal year to end with export earnings of $230-235 billion. Buoyed by this performance, the government has set an export target of $400 billion for 2014-15, while Federation of Indian Exporters' Organisations chief Ramu Deora has predicted it can touch $500 billion by 2014-15.
This bullishness on exports is commendable and very necessary for an economy which has huge oil import bills and in recent times huge food and commodities bills as well. It will also help to bridge the current account deficit. It requires a lot of courage to set ambitious export targets in a world that is as uncertain as today's. First the global financial meltdown hit our labour-intensive industries then hardest, then the sovereign debt crisis erupted, and just when it appeared that some kind of stability was returning to the global system, the popular struggles emerged in West Asia and North Africa, throwing everything out of gear. More recently there was yet another blow, with Japan — the world's third largest economy — hit by a trinity of disasters: the earthquake, followed by the tsunami, and most serious of all, the threat of a meltdown in nuclear reactors damaged by the tsunami.
We must take advantage of the fact that many regions of the world, including Southeast Asia, West Asia, Africa, Latin America and even China are bullish on buying Indian goods. India's exports have got a major boost in recent times in Africa and Latin America: this is in large measure due to several concessions given to exporters by the government to diversify their markets. Earlier, there was a lot of dependence on US and European markets; this changed when exporters realised it was not wise to put all their eggs in one or two baskets when there was a whole wide world waiting.
While the government has done its part by giving Indian exporters a level playing field by way of interest subvention, a few more important changes need to be brought in — and these need no subsidies or additional funding. Transaction costs must be brought down, and the government needs to completely do away with what the exporters call the "license-quota-inspector raj". To reduce transaction costs, all transactions should be done online. The manufacturer, port authorities, shipping companies, customs, excise, the director-general of foreign trade, banks and exporters should all be linked online so that there is no person-to-person contact. This will automatically eliminate corruption and all the delays associated with it. Similarly, the "license-quota raj" system, which exists in the form of "advance authorisation", should be removed. A single cess should be imposed in cases where the government wants to regulate exports, such as in the case of iron ore.
Most important: the government needs to acknowledge, and not just pay lip service to, the role of small and medium enterprises. These account for 45 per cent of all exports and provide employment to 60 million people. Under a new rule, they are required to get a rating from credit rating agencies, which is proving a hindrance. They don't get good ratings because they are not listed. They want that the banks be permitted to take care of all the necessary formalities. If all these factors are taken care of, there is no reason why — barring unforeseen calamities — this country should not be able to meet a $500 billion export target in a few years.
THE ASIAN AGE
During the last three months north Africa and West Asia have been caught up in a wave of mass protests on the streets by the common people asserting their rights as citizens and demanding employment and an end to corruption and the tyrannical rule of dictators. When the street protests broke out first in Tunisia three months agoand heralded the Jasmine Revolution, most people familiar with the politics of north Africa had hoped that it would not be long before the street protests would spread over practically all the countries of the region.
However, the spread of protests has so far been confined to three or four countries, like Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Bahrain, while most of the countries of the Gulf region, such as Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Kuwait, etc. have been more or less free from the impact. The nature of unrest in Iraq, Syria, Mauritania, Morocco and Sudan has so far been mild. At any rate, protests of the type that took place in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya have not yet been seen in other Islamic countries in the region.
Most people in the Western hemisphere had expected that the street protests would soon grow into revolutions of the type the US witnessed in the 18th century or Russia in 1917. But the revolutions in the north African Islamic countries seem to be taking a totally different pattern. This should not be interpreted to mean that the street revolts will not eventually transform themselves into full-fledged revolutions. It should only mean that the Islamic countries of north Africa and West Asia find a new pattern of revolt more suitable to their aspirations. A few important reasons for this departure from the pattern of revolutions familiar to the West may be stated here.
The Mediterranean revolution which began in Tunisia had no prophets or philosophers like Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson in America or Robespierre or Voltaire in France, or Lenin and Trotsky in Russia. There have been no inspiring slogans like "liberty, equality and fraternity" which fired the imagination of the common people in the Mediterranean. The Jasmine Revolution in Tunisia was triggered by the insult inflicted on a 26-year-old fruitseller, Mohammed Bouazizi, by a woman official of the civic body. The young man was slapped by the woman official in assertion of her superior status assumed to herself. This affront to his pride and dignity compelled him to commit suicide by setting fire to himself. This was the end of his protest but the fire of revolution was ignited, marking the beginning of a new pattern, but a pattern natural to the people of the region.
The street protests have not been guided by any political party or leader and instead power in Egypt and Tunisia is now exercised by the armed forces which have proclaimed that very soon they will hand over power to a government elected by the people. Perhaps the only country where there is a political party with some support from the people proved by elections is Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood, which fought the elections six years ago, though fielding independent candidates, secured about 20 per cent of the seats in Parliament. But it has always been the enemy of Hosni Mubarak and was not allowed to function during the last several years. The street protesters in Tunisia and Egypt have clearly revealed that the jihadis have no political clout in these countries. They have, no doubt, won some support in Iran, Afghanistan and certain provinces of Pakistan, but they are not a real political force in the Arab countries.
Another important fact to be noted is that the present leadership in the US will not support the armed forces in their efforts to suppress by brutal force. Even though US President Barack Obama took a few days to express America's sympathy and support for the popular revolt in the Arab countries, it was still done in time and the Egyptian Army, whose officer class had been mainly trained by the US, has taken the message from the US correctly.
Many people who expected a quick spread of the message of democracy across West Asia are naturally disappointed that what happened in the anti-Communist revolution in East European countries, namely a quick replacement of the Communist regimes without much serious bloodshed, would happen in the Arabian world and Iran as well. But the situation in East Europe after the collapse of the Soviet Union was quite different from that in the Islamic countries of the Mediterranean and Iran. In eastern Europe, communism as a political ideology had been imposed on the people by the Soviet Union and the people had not really become converts to communism; communism to them was a convenient tactic to remain loyal to the powerful Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War. However, in the Islamic countries of the Mediterranean Islamic militancy had never taken root among the common people. On the other hand, they had strong dislike for Talibanism as they saw it in practice in Afghanistan or as they experience it now in certain regions of Pakistan. Therefore, even though popular revolts in this system may take more time to gain full acceptance among the common people, one can see enough signs that popular revolts will throw up leaders and philosophers who will provide the much needed democratic ideology to their protests. Different countries and regions of the world may follow different patterns for total change and what the Arab countries have taken to today may be the right course open to them. What is important to note is that these parties have opted for the democratic system, and they have done it through demonstrations on the streets trying to win the hearts of their long-suffering fellow citizens without breaking the heads of their former enemies.
Seeing the above analysis, are there any lessons for India? Frankly, in a well-established democracy like ours the revolutions in West Asia have not offered any new lessons. But one thing that is clear is that corruption will no longer be tolerated by the man in the street and that an all-out fight against corruption is necessary in India if the institutions of parliamentary democracy are to be preserved without being distorted or destroyed. We should, therefore, avail of this opportunity of the success of the Jasmine Revolution to focus on how to exterminate corruption from every sphere of activity.
P.C. Alexander is a former governor of Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra
THE ASIAN AGE
INTERPRETATION OF PAK'S MALADIES
To understand the Pakistani mindset, one has to go back in history. Sir Syed Ahmed, addressing a meeting on March 16, 1888, stated, "Is it possible that the two nations — the Mohammedans and the Hindus — would sit on the same throne and remain equal in power? Most certainly not". Jinnah succeeded in carving a separate nation state for Muslims. He had grandiose plans of the two wings of Pakistan in the West and the East being linked by a corridor passing through Muslim cultural centres like Delhi, Lucknow and Patna.
There was also wishful thinking about Hyderabad joining Pakistan. In the event, Jinnah got what he called a "moth-eaten" Pakistan with a divided Punjab and Bengal. This caused a feeling of deprivation among Pakistanis. It was accentuated by their not being able to get the Muslim majority state of Kashmir. Emergence of Bangladesh with Indian assistance made Pakistanis very revengeful.
The origin and history of Pakistan has been one of relentless hostility towards India. Indian leaders express goodwill for Pakistan and say that a stable, prosperous and democratic Pakistan is in India's interest. No one in Pakistan has welcomed India emerging as an economic power. On the contrary, radicals hold large rallies threatening "jihad" against India, under their government's benevolent eyes. Pakistan vehemently opposes India becoming a permanent member of the UNSC. Atal Behari Vajpayee, on a visit to Lahore, visited Minar-e-Pakistan. L.K. Advani paid handsome tribute to Jinnah at his mausoleum in Karachi. No Pakistani leader has ever visited Gandhiji's samadhi. Pakistanis misinterpreted history and had a romanticised view of their martial superiority. They fancied themselves as descendants of the Central Asian conquerors of the medieval period, who repeatedly subdued India, and not as the descendants of the conquered, who converted to Islam. Their belief of martial superiority received a jolt in 1947, a setback in 1965, and got shattered in 1971. Having failed to defeat India in war, Pakistan took to cross-border terrorism. Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto talked of a 1,000-year war against India and Gen. Zia formulated the strategy of a thousand cuts to bleed India to death. Gen. Kayani regards terrorists as strategic assets.
Pakistan has repeatedly committed aggression. A common feature is initial denial and, when the cat is out of the bag, silence. The 1947 invasion was first described as a freedom struggle of the people of Kashmir, with no involvement of the Pakistan Army. Major General Akbar Khan's book, Raiders Over Kashmir, spilled the beans. In 1965, after similar denials, Gen. Musa, the then C-in-C of the Pakistan Army, wrote in his book, My Version, that Operation Gibraltar, launched by him, did not succeed because the people of Kashmir did not support the invasion. Similarly, in the case of Kargil in 1999, Pakistan initially denied involvement and even refused to accept the bodies of its slain soldiers. Gen. Musharraf, in his book In The Line of Fire, admitted Pakistan's complicity in that war. In the case of cross-border terrorism, after repeated denials, Lt. Gen. Javed Nasser, a former ISI chief when a Cabinet minister, revealed in the Pakistan National Assembly that the ISI had been organising cross-border terrorism. Mr Musharraf has recently confirmed that Pakistan had been training the terrorists. The same story was repeated in the case of Kasab, the lone terrorist captured on 26/11. Pakistan denied he was Pakistani. With overwhelming evidence from international sources, Pakistan retraced its steps. It is dragging its feet in taking action against Lashkar-e-Tayyaba leaders and ISI officers who masterminded and directed that horrendous attack. Pakistan's 1947 invasion of Kashmir violated the Standstill Agreement. In 1965, it violated the Cease Fire Agreement. Cross-border terrorism, which started in 1989, violated the Shimla Accord. The Kargil intrusion violated the Lahore Declaration. Despite Mr Musharraf's commitment to stop cross-border terrorism in January 2004, this continued, and the most heinous attack, that of 26/11, took place. Matters have been further compounded by Pakistan getting consumed by hate and violence. The assassinations of governor Salman Taseer followed by that of minister Shahbaz Bhatti have been hailed by the vast majority with the small liberal minority terrified into silence.
Notwithstanding this dismal scenario, we should not remain mired in the past. We must endeavour to build good relations with Pakistan. However, while doing so, we must not ignore the past. The view that if the Kashmir issue is resolved Indo-Pak relations will get normalised is misconceived. Kashmir is the symptom, not the disease.
Pakistan wants to be at par with India in all respects, ignoring geographic and economic realities. Foreign powers hyphenated the two countries. That era appears over, with India emerging as a major economic power and Pakistan kept alive on life-support from the US. Pakistan's endeavour has been to tar India's image with the same terrorist brush.
The Havana agreement equated perpetrators of terrorism with the victims of that scourge. At Sharm el-Sheikh they tried to show that like Pakistan in Kashmir, India was promoting terrorism in Baluchistan. The terrorist attack of 26/11 is now sought to be equated with the attack on the Samjhauta Express. The latter was not launched across an international border nor by a state agency. Despite contrary inputs from US intelligence, Indian agencies unearthed evidence and are now prosecuting the guilty.
Politicians who talk about "Hindu" or "saffron terror" and maintain that it is more dangerous than "jihadi terror" are only playing into Pakistan's hand. Pakistan has been trying to play the China card against India. With the latter emerging as a leading economic power that may soon overtake the declining superpower, Pakistan may play the China card against the US despite all the sustaining billions it has been receiving from it. It has been exploiting its indispensability to blackmail the US. When action was taken against Chinese citizens, Musharraf promptly ordered the attack on the Lal Masjid seminary. When US journalist Daniel Pearl was beheaded, or when US "diplomat" Raymond Davis was apprehended, Pakistan has been defying the US, as with attacks in Pakistan on Nato convoys en route to Afghanistan.
Dialogue with Pakistan must be from a position of military strength. This requires that we retain our conventional military superiority over Pakistan at all times, with convincing second-strike Triad nuclear capability from land, air and underwater. We must also develop anti-missile capability to destroy attacking missiles in space. At the same time, we should ensure impregnable defence in the Himalayas to prevent another 1962. Our military strength must be suitably supplemented with sound foreign policy, ensuring good relations with other foreign powers. However, we should rely primarily on our own strength and not be pressured or become dependent on any power. It is only under such circumstances that dialogue with Pakistan can be successful — without India sacrificing her national interests and without following any misconceived policy of appeasement.
The author, a retired lieutenant-general, was Vice-Chief of Army Staff and has served as governor of Assam and Jammu and Kashmir.
THE ASIAN AGE
We seem to be in for vibrant times in the academia. The growing realisation that India needs a lot more educated human resources than presently available, has prompted moves for a rapid expansion of the higher education sector. Traditionally, this has been dominated by the university system, with the University Grants Commission (UGC) at its apex. There are two types of universities, the more advantageous of the two being the Central universities, while their poorer cousins come under their respective states.
Although the universities are said to be autonomous bodies, the reality may be otherwise. The Central universities cannot afford to ignore missives from the HRD ministry or the UGC, while the state universities have to listen to the mandarins of the state secretariats. To this list is now being added a third and rapidly growing category of "deemed to be a university".
In the portals of the UGC there is prominently displayed the following statement ascribed to Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru: "A university stands for humanism, for tolerance, for reason, for the adventure of ideas and for the search of truth. It stands for onward march of the human race for still higher objectives. If the universities discharge their duties adequately then it is well with the Nation and the People…" The Pocket Oxford English Dictionary defines the university as "educational institution designed for instruction or examination of student in all or many of the more important branches of learning, conferring degrees in various faculties…" The "all" or "many" is emphasised by the word "universe" which is part of the word "university".
A look at some of the famous and successful universities will show the above universal aspect. On the campus of such a university will be found scholars teaching and doing research in the arts and humanities as well as in science and technology. The Oxbridge college system is well known for successfully bringing together fellows from various subjects. Thus, when I was elected a Fellow of King's College, London, I was fortunate in having for my neighbour no less a person than E.M. Forster. That I could exchange ideas on the origin of the universe on the one hand and humanism on the other, with the author of A Passage to India was a rare privilege indeed. My other haunt, the Collège de France has the motto: "We teach everything". A student at such an establishment has much to gain from having a varied menu of subjects on the campus. Even if he does not study them all, even occasional lectures by distinguished scholars as part of the academic activity on the campus helps bring more maturity to his personality. A public lecture by Roger Penrose, whether on his views on how the brain works or whether the universe pulsates can expand the thinking horizon of a college student.
It is against this background that I have reservations as to whether the present rapid addition of colleges, institutions and national laboratories to the list of deemed to be universities is the right step. To the extent that these organisations can now give their own degrees, it will make the procedure easier for them, since the corresponding rules and their application in the universities is forbiddingly bureaucratic. But apart from the ability to grant degrees, has anything changed so far as the academic ambience of these institutions is concerned? This reservation is particularly directed against national labs and autonomous institutions in specialist fields, of the kind that are supported by the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, the Department of Atomic Energy, etc. If the original purpose was to raise the trained human resources significantly above the numbers presently covered, is it served by this addition of such highly specialised centres to the fold? For, even in a centre for excellence like the Tata Institute of Fundamental Research (TIFR), the typical student will be insulated from the universality of knowledge that was mentioned above.
There is another problem which has its origin in the way these research institutes were created. In the post-Independence India the initiative taken by Jawaharlal Nehru under the advice from eminent scientists Shanti Swarup Bhatnagar and Homi Bhabha, led to the creation of these institutes. While this step added vigour to scientific research in the newly independent country, it did so at a serious cost to the existing university system. It not only established these institutes outside the university system, but it also attracted talent away from the universities. This was the beginning of a decline in the university standards to which other factors also contributed.
Today, it looks as if the existing universities are being abandoned as "lost cause". Any changes for the better are being thought of as outside the existing university system. The deemed to be university is a solution under the same philosophy. When TIFR was thought of, the creator Homi Bhabha had envisaged the positive feedback the TIFR scientists would provide to the university system. The attempts by TIFR to establish contacts and teaching interaction with Mumbai University, and later with the Pune University, were of limited duration and could not continue. There can be a detailed post-mortem of such attempts, but the fact remains that one of the main reasons for TIFR to become a deemed to be university was the problems of coping with university rules.
Thus giving degree-granting authority to autonomous institutions like the TIFR or the CSIR labs will make only cosmetic change to the current situation, at best making it less of a headache for these institutions to complete the degree formalities. It will not meet the national need for a large number of trained human resources that India must produce in not too distant a future. Nor will we get graduates with an exposure to the humanities as well as sciences. To try to achieve this goal without involving the existing universities is being unfair to them. Granted that the typical university requires a sea change, can we not begin the procedure as a pilot experiment with, say, 20 universities?
Jayant V. Narlikar is a professor emiritus at Inter-University Centre for Astronomy and Astrophysics, Pune University Campus, and a renowned astrophysicist
WANTED: A DISASTER MANAGEMENT POA
"A crisis mother — would you be one?" I was asked this by the class representative of my daughter's school. A crisis mother is the one who alerts other mothers in her area in times of a, well, crisis. The one who needs to have a presence of mind because little children have to be evacuated in emergencies — fire, rain, floods, and the like.
My first thought — how on earth would I be able to get to school, more than a good hour away from my work place in traffic, should I be called upon to be there? And then, almost immediately it struck me, how trivial, to be hesitating on a confirmation because of traffic, roads, the distance involved, when in reality, the issue at hand was so crucial.
Disasters don't come with warnings attached, they just come. It is an important, necessary requirement, a crisis list, and I am thankful the school has the presence of mind to have such a provision. Because, as the earthquake, tsunami, explosions, in Japan have shown, one cannot be prepared enough for sudden adversity.
News reports outline how Japan was more prepared than China or Haiti before it to withstand nature's fury. Being exposed to quakes, it reportedly spends billions a year to ensure its buildings are structurally suited to withstand seismic pressures. Plus enforcing stringent measures, reports say, almost certainly kept the death toll lower than it would otherwise have been. Despite such preparedness, if there was still terrible havoc wrought, imagine the consequences without it.
And closer home? The '04 tsunami might have hit far enough away from the coast of this city to have spared it, but the floods of July 26, 2005, did not. In fact this very paper was launched in the midst of that crisis. How prepared could we possibly be to withstand nature's wrath?
Going by that one day itself, clearly, not prepared enough. City moms exchanged anguished stories on how they scrambled to fetch their offspring from schools. A few managed to reach school premises, only to find their babies missing. Later, amidst reports of the loss of lives and tales of heroism came the questions — including finger pointing at the weather bureau's inadequacies, the city's antiquated drainage system, and the like.
There are enough records on the drama and surreality of the situation, I've related these few incidents here only to highlight a particular point, which is, that in the face of extreme calamity, one may well be caught off guard. But if one can, if only by a little bit of practical foresight, increase the odds of surviving such sudden disasters, why not try?
Each and every disaster doesn't measure 9 on the Richter scale, but might cut close enough to the bone to cause real damage. The fire at Bombay House, very close indeed to my daughter's school, was enough to set warning bells ringing. Why can't the authorities propose stricter guidelines on fire/earthquake safety for buildings? Enforce their implementation? Get a public awareness programme in place to counter panic?
Structural engineers caution against the unsoundness of some of the older buildings in the city and the danger lurking therein. Why not get a mapping done? Or, at the very basic level at least, allow for a system of safeguard and support, as my daughter's school is doing.
Meanwhile, I told the class rep to absolutely do what she thought best — I would gladly be the crisis mother for my area. Because as every other parent on the planet, should a calamity occur, traffic or no traffic, regardless of time and distance, the one place I would want to be is close to my child.
There was an article in the papers two days ago about a seven year old boy. He had been made to sit on the floor of the classroom for six months. He was beaten regularly and nicknamed 'karate' because of the way he'd cross his arms in front of his face to ward off beatings. He was hyperactive and therefore punished in this fashion. His class teacher was a sadistic woman who ridiculed him constantly and eroded his confidence till he was reduced to a mere shell of his former self.
His name was constantly on the troublemakers' list that was sent to the principal. The child would plead to his mother that he done nothing wrong and was being beaten but she assumed he was disobedient. The child stopped complaining when the one person who should've taken his side disbelieved him. He withdrew into himself and spoke less each day till he just stopped talking. He went into depression according to the doctor whom the parents finally consulted.
The parents then went to the school and were told by the child's classmates that the floor was his regular seat. They told of the beatings and the constant mocking. The parents confronted the principal only to be told that their child was difficult and they didn't want him in the school. The school authorities refused to talk to the papers when questioned. This was an ICSE school in the city and not some impoverished government school in a remote village. The boy is now undergoing treatment in NIMHANS.
I was appalled but not overly surprised on reading this. I see enough evidence of quite a few schools' callous treatment of children. If the children are unable to tell their parents exactly what is happening, then they are openly ill-treated. My friend's son goes to the same school as my children. He has special needs. He is sent home at ten in the morning thrice a week because his sensory issues make some loud noises painful for him and the special educators won't handle it. He is frequently left lying alone on the mess tables downstairs with no teacher or helper in sight. He was beaten once by the PE teacher who on being confronted said "I wasn't aware he had issues". So the sports teacher hits all the other kids too and the principal says its no big deal. And yet they charge my friend extra for this 'inclusive' education.
The days are long gone when we revered teachers and believed that they were infallible. Now I wonder why some people become teachers at all and defame the few good people out there who are genuinely dedicated. The woman who punished that little boy and the principal who supported her deserve to be fired. How can we promise our children we'll take care of them when we entrust their impressionable minds to such heartless creatures?
Last two weeks witnessed sudden increase in militancy related actions in parts of the valley, particularly in Sopor area. Sopor has been one of the towns heavily infested with militancy. Reports from intelligence sources speak of nearly eight hundred terrorists of Pak-based LeT and other outfits ready on the border to cross over and join their moles in the valley. This seems to be part of a plan to spoil one more summer of Kashmir. Gunning down of two militants in Sopor last week has resolved the mystery of the murder of two sisters in Muslim Peer area of the town on 31 January. How strange that there was no protest rally against the killing of the sisters and no organization demanded enquiry into the tragic episode. It means that when militants force their way into private houses, drag out the family members and gun them down on the street, these are no violation of human rights. But when law enforcing agencies arrest the suspected accomplices in the crime for investigation, it is labeled as violation of human rights.
As militancy related incidents in the valley are showing upward graph, mainstream opposition has accelerated its anti-government or to be precise anti- National Conference tirade. In various rallies in the valley and more recently in Jammu, it has reiterated its "self-rule formula" and has been trying to convince the public that only its formula will ensure return of peace and normalcy to the strife-torn state. Now the party has come out openly saying that it has common agenda with the Hurriyat and draws a very thin line on where their commonalty becomes nominally divergent. To them Pakistan is an inseparable stakeholder in Kashmir dispute and that no solution of Kashmir problem can be sustainable unless there is the agreement of Pakistan. Any sensible person would welcome a formula for settlement of Kashmir issue if there is agreement of all stakeholders. But just talking of dialogue is not only a vague but also a misleading statement. Pakistan has repeatedly made it clear to India, to Kashmiris (both separatists as well as aazadi fans ), and to the world at large, that she will settle for nothing short of entire geographical Jammu and Kashmir. One may recollect the inconclusive six-month long talks between Swarn Singh and Zulfikar Bhutto, the then two foreign ministers of India and Pakistan respectively, in which India had hinted at her willingness to redraw the cease-fire line in J&K. What dialogue do the PDP or the Hurriyat or even the NC want India to hold with Pakistan and to what intent? This is never made clear by any one among them. Secondly, the PDP and its comrades among the separatists have put conditions for talks. One of these is to create conducive atmosphere for talks and for that they want a number of things to be done like release of detained persons, withdrawal of Army's special powers, withdrawal of troops from the valley etc. But there is no mention in these conditions of militants stopping their activities attacks, bomb blasts and killings. They want the army do everything to let the militants do everything they want to do. In other words, they mean to say that the militants are not outside their sphere of influence and would not disregard their persuasion. If this is the case, let it be translated into practice and the whole world will see that militants in Kashmir have said good bye to arms. This would gain them the goodwill of all Kashmir watchers and that would also mean bringing the Indian government under huge international pressure to negotiate a settlement. Anybody having love of Kashmir at his heart should talk in practical terms if the intention is that peace should return to Kashmir. Peace has to be given a chance and no peace can prevail and no formula can work as long as forces of disruption working in tandem in Kashmir are not contained. PDP patron has called it a "battle of ideas"; it is a battle of actions, not of ideas alone.
Forest department deserves three chairs for initiating an animated programme of Tree Talk as an instrument of increasing awareness among the people of the need to protect green cover. In view of increasing population in the country and the state, there is heavy demand on land. People unmindful of the importance of forests and green cover to the very existence of human specie have begun to cut down the trees and reclaim land for habitation. This is all unplanned and is causing serious damage to environment. The forest department has risen to occasion and taken the timely step of organizing civil awareness initiative. But awareness of responding to ecological balancing act should not remain confined to the urban population only. Actually it is the rural area that has much to do with ecology of their respective areas. Therefore Tree Talk initiative should be extended fairly largely to the rural areas of the state. Involvement of local people is of utmost importance in this laudable effort. Also the initiative should not be of temporary nature; it has to be brought up as a part of regular activity of forest department in collaboration with tourism and revenue departments. Associated facilities like parks, play grounds, swimming ponds, children's parks and entertainment should also come to the rural areas. Plantation of trees should not be just a ritual and a formality. It has to be inducted into the curriculum under the subject of forestry. Children need to be given education from early stages of how nature has to be protected and preserved. The ancient custom of tree-worship has to be revived with a touch of scientific modernity.
DR ASHWANI MAHAJAN
When Finance Minister was presenting his budget in the parliament for the coming year 2011-12, and the news flashed that fiscal deficit for the year 2010-11, which was placed at 5.5 percent of GDP in the budget 2010-11, is estimated to be 5.1 percent of GDP as per the revised estimates. Fiscal deficit for the coming year (2011-12) is estimated to be only 4.6 percent of GDP. It was thought to be a good news for the country. We understand that fiscal deficit is generated when the government spends more than its revenue receipts. To meet the deficit the government raises loans from the market or from the Reserve Bank. If loans are raised from the market, future government liabilities in terms of interest payable are increased. Presently nearly 25 percent government's total budget is exhausted in payment of interest. As a result government's expenditure on social services, Infrastructure, agriculture and employment and poverty reduction is affected.
If Government tries to fill this deficit by way of monetisation (printing of more currency), it is bound to be inflationary as money supply would increase. Whether this fiscal deficit is filled by borrowing from the market of or by printing more currency notes, Country's development is disrupted and difficulties for common people increase. So when the news came that the fiscal deficit would be confined to 5.1 percent of GDP, share markets welcomed it with enthusiasm and Mumbai Stock Exchange Sensitive Index (Sensex) rose by 600 points, but when the markets realised the truth, by close of the day, market came down by 480 points.
FRBM Act and the Fiscal Deficit
Few years back, the government tried to impose a restrain on itself by way of FRBM Act, that fiscal deficit would ultimately be brought down to 2.5 percent of GDP. But the government tore its own resolution into pieces and by the year 2008-09 fiscal deficit had reached almost 7 percent. The government argued that faced by worldwide recession, on the one hand it had to give tax concessions and on the other hand it had to increase government spending. In the Budget 2011-12, the Finance Minister announced that the government is committed to ultimately reduce the Fiscal Deficit to 2.5 percent of GDP as per FRBM Act. The Finance Minister's claim that Fiscal Deficit as percent of GDP is estimated to remain at 5.1 of GDP as a percent of GDP is being contented on various counts.
The Reality of Fiscal Deficit Reduction
Government claims that Fiscal Deficit has come down from budgeted 5.5 percent of GDP, to merely 5.1 as per the revised estimates. It gives the impression that government has worked hard to bring fiscal deficit down. But a close look at the data shows that in Budget 2010-11, Rupees 381408 crores of fiscal deficit was budgeted, whereas revised estimates for 2010-11 show that fiscal deficit has actually increased by nearly rupees 19500 crores to rupees 400998 crores. Thus we can say that in absolute terms fiscal deficit has actually increased. Reduction in fiscal deficit is actually due to workmanship of the Finance Minister. How could he manage to show a reduction in fiscal deficit as a percent of GDP?
It is being said in official circles that galloping inflation has helped the government in this task of showing a lower deficit. Let me try to explain the same using statistics. CSO estimates of GDP for 2010-11 show that, GDP growth rate in 2010-11 is estimated to be 19 percent at current prices. Growth rate of GDP at constant prices is only 9 percent; that is, real rate of growth. The irony is that the fiscal deficit is measured as percent of GDP at current prices. Since GDP has grown at 19 percent at current prices, fiscal deficit figure as percent of GDP looks smaller. Had there been no inflation, the same fiscal deficit would have been 5.7 percent of GDP. Thus inflation which is causing havoc to the common man has actually helped the government in patting its own back for lowering fiscal deficit. In fact had this inflation rate been 25 percent, the fiscal deficit figure could have been only 4.4 percent. Thus, when Finance Minister claims that fiscal deficit figure is lower this year, it is merely a crude joke with the common man reeling under hyper inflation
Budget estimates for 2011-12 show that fiscal deficit will remain 4.6 of GDP. If we look closely we find that compared to the budget estimates for 2010-11, fiscal deficit has actually increased by about 31,000 thousand crores in budget estimates of 2011-12. It is being claimed that as percent of GDP it has come down from 5.5 percent to 4.6 percent more. To verify the claim of the Finance Minister, let us consider the following:
For nearly one year talks are on to enact food security legislation and its implementation issues. In his budget speech the Finance Minister again reiterated that the government would bring Food Security Bill in the Parliament during this year. Despite so much talk and show of enthusiasm about food security legislation, no provision has been made in the budget for the same. According to rough estimates there will be approximately thirty to forty thousand crores of additional expenditure if food security legislation is implemented. Making no provision in the budget for this item means that either the government is not serious about food security or it is not transparent in calculation of fiscal deficit.
Every year for the expansion of employment guarantee program budget had been allocating more money in every successive budget. Although this year again announcements have been made to increase wages under the scheme, but for this no provision has been made in the budget. This implies higher outgo on MNREGA will further raise fiscal deficit.
This year budget makes a drastic cut in the subsidy bill by nearly Rs 20,000 crores. If political or other compulsion come in the way and subsidies are increased instead, fiscal deficit could grow even more. Thus it seems next year again fiscal deficit would be higher than what is shown in the budget. This is capable of aggravating the problem of inflation further. Any attempt on the part of RBI to contain inflation by increasing rates of interest is bound to affect development adversely. Thus we need to control fiscal deficit.
Normally government tries to cut subsidies of various types and expenditure on social sectors to keep its fiscal deficit under control. It should adopt some novel methods to increase its revenue instead. One such method is to keep in check revenue foregone due to exemptions given to corporate sector. As per the statement provided in this year budget, figure of revenue foregone was Rupees 511 630 crores in 2010-11, as compared to Rupees 482 432 crores in 2009-10. If this figure could be brought down by one lakh crores, scenario of fiscal deficit and shape of the budget would be entirely different. This way we can bring down fiscal deficit without affecting growth and social sector expenditure.
BY LALIT MANSINGH
Concern over the strategic balance of power in the Middle East is certainly more than warranted. The region itself, now more than ever is at a serious crossroads, either going in the direction of achieving stability, peace and prosperity with all that entails of commitments and obligations or heading in the opposite direction towards more tensions and wars (semi-wars, civil wars, or by proxy wars etc). These dramatic changes are directly or indirectly linked either to the vitality of the region in geostrategic, geopolitical and geoeconomic terms or due to ill-conceived and prepared policies combined with a lack of a coherent comprehensive strategic outlook. The crux of the matter is that this region is heading toward "strategic equilibrium"of a sort, but geopolitical and strategic realities tell us differently, from the general outlook, since 2003 there are serious dramatic political transformations in the New Iraq, whilst also still assessing how serious the Iranian internal political developments are since the second controversial term of the presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. Furthermore, there are various versions of imbalances of power in the Middle East, assessed in military, economic or in overall geostrategic regional terms in view of American-backed regimes are collapsing and the US is losing ground.
Popular Arab regimes will inevitably reformulate their policy towards Israel and the West, and during the next decade Washington will be fire fighting in West Asia.
If peace were to be established, the regional environment, particularly in the Arab-Israeli conflict zone should be stabilized by all possible soft and hard power means. At present looking into the current and the foreseeable future a number of pivotal regional powers such as Turkey, Egypt, Iraq, and Iran are all waiting for the results of internal dynamic interaction processes to occur with the anticipated serious ramifications. This is why "Good diplomatic encounters" among all the parties concerned is an essential recipe to contain all the "extremist forces". Clearly, the decision-makers concerned with the settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have to tackle complex and sensitive issues. Certainly "good governance" and "positive national integration" can go a long way to restoring various kinds of imbalances or some skewed balances. Iran has to play an important role in stabilizing the region.
India has to recalibrate its foreign policy towards the turbulent region in close coordination with other powers such as Russia, which has probably different stake.
India's stakes are high when the templates of geopolitics shift in West Asia. What pleases the eye most, though, is that the Indian establishment is commencing this rethink by first touching base with Tehran.
When prime minister Manmohan Singh deputed the most consummate diplomat in India's armoury on March 5 to wing his way to Tehran and deliver a personal letter from him to Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmedinejad, it did signify a major initiative in diplomacy. Although national security advisor Shiv Shankar Menon is a self-effacing diplomat by temperament who prefers to accomplish his work quietly without the entanglements of media publicity, much can be gleaned about the range and purpose of his political consultations with the Iranian leadership in Tehran on March 7 and 8.
First and foremost, Delhi factors in that the time is overdue to correct the aberrations that somehow crept into the bilateral ties with Iran. Ironically, it needed a robust bout of US pressure on India seeking to curb the latter's ties with Iran to prompt Delhi to introspect and draw some conclusions about the facts of life.
Towards October-November last year, in the run-up to president Barack Obama's visit, Washington sought out that India fell in line with the sanctions regime against Iran unilaterally imposed by the US and its European allies - over and above the regime imposed by the United Nations Security Council (which Delhi scrupulously complies with).
The bone of contention was the payment mechanism within the Asian Clearing Union (ACU) that India and Iran traditionally used to clear their bilateral trade transactions. Uncle Sam said, "ACU payments allow Iran to divert Indian monies for unlawful purposes and India would attract American and European reprisal". Delhi seemingly buckled under pressure although it was patently obvious that the US was crudely attempting to throttle India-Iran trade and economic relationship as a whole. But in life, shock sometimes prompts awakening.
Without ACU mechanism, India's $12 billion oil trade with Iran (our second biggest supplier) is not sustainable. And India can't do without Iran's "sweet crude", either, especially when oil price is galloping, long-term oil agreements are not easily replaceable and spot market is infested by sharks.
A recent Chatham House report titled "More for Asia: Rebalancing world oil and gas" underlined that "The oil and gas industry is set to undergo a decisive transition over the next 10- years as global balances of demand and investment shift towards Asia… and such a transition will have major geopolitical implications…. Chinese, Indian and Asian demand must be met from global supplies in order to balance the region's net deficits." Common sense suggests that in energy security, Indian and western interests are virtually competing.
India's energy ties with Iran, unsurprisingly, assume an altogether new meaning. Thanks to the US pressure tactic on ACU, Delhi, overcoming its bureaucratic lethargy towards innovative ideas, was compelled to negotiate a new energy relationship with Tehran. But Iran is one of those strange countries with which business can be developed only within the matrix of an overall political relationship.
Put simply, it's an ancient habit of the "bazaar". Menon knows it. What probably encouraged him is that despite the breakdown of the ACU mechanism, Iran continued to sell oil to India on deferred-payment basis. Now, somewhere hidden in it was a profound Persian message, which Menon understood.
A curious thing about diplomacy is that it is a seamless process. What began as an urgent search for an alternative to ACU crept towards a survey of the panorama of India-Iran energy relationship and may now be poised to tiptoe towards a long-term partnership in natural gas.
Another curious thing about diplomacy is, as the British heavy metal band Black Sabbath would say, "Never Say Die!" If ever India feels a compelling urge to revert to bilateralism in the normalisation of relations with Pakistan - and Raymond Davis' solitary confinement in Lahore's notorious Kot Lakhpat prison is a timely reminder - and if ever we realise that the brittleness of our ties with Pakistan is largely due to our failure to make our western neighbour a stakeholder in friendship, then, we don't have to go far beyond dusting up the Iran pipeline project.
However, the backdrop against which Menon undertook the strategic mission to Tehran had other brushstrokes, too. Question marks loom large about what lies in the womb of time in Persian Gulf, but Iran's rise as a regional power has become unstoppable.
Menon told Ahmedinejad: "New Delhi seeks the establishment of a comprehensive relationship with Iran… Many of the predictions you (Ahmedinejad) had about the political and economic developments in the world have come to reality today and the world order is passing through fundamental changes, which necessitates ever-increasing relations between Iran and India." Nothing further needed to be said. INAV
( The writer is a former Foreign Secretary Government of India )
BY RAMU SHARMA
The International Hockey Federation is rightly annoyed with the way the game has deteriorated in India but also mired in administrative disputes. It can help reinvigorate the game but can only remain silent spectator to the legal knots which the administration has tied itself into. The FIH has perforce been presented with two sets of people each claiming legal rights to govern the game. There is the IHF- the Indian Hockey Federation which for years has been representing and controlling the fortunes of the game and there is now Hockey India to which these duties have been transferred. The FIH had derecognised the former and introduced the latter as its successor as early as 2001 but the matter has remained in the courts, as the IHF has not accepted the change.
For the International body the problem of administration is but minor irritants but assume greater importance because of its involvement with India as a centre for major internationals in the immediate future. The Champions Trophy is to be hosted by India and it does not want to worry about petty rivalries in the organization.
It is a pity that the matter has taken so long to settle in India. The IHF earned a reprieve through the courts after its revamping by the higher authorities but its credentials has not been accepted by the Indian Olympic Association. Hockey India is the one which is the authority favoured by the authorities and also as well as the FIH. And more importantly has been running the show in India for the international body. There was World Cup in Delhi followed by the Commonwealth Games, also in Delhi. What better proof of authenticity can it offer?
It is a peculiar situation for the game in India. The rejuvenated IHF has no authority to run the show in India though it did hold the national championship once. As far as day to day running is concerned it is Hockey India which is holding dialogue with the international body. Because of legal restraints interference is ruled out. But problems in India are not going to bother the FIH. It has its own inviolate laws to follow and that is what it has told the Indian Hockey Federation. In fact it has reportedly not minced words at all, telling the IHF to stop claiming international recognition.
It is time now for both IHF and Hockey India to settle their dispute and show the world that the game in India will not suffer whatever the differences and the two sets of people will compromise and jointly back whatever steps the international body recommends. Given the strong reaction from the international authorities it is the only way open. (Syndicate Features)
LESSONS FROM FUKUSHIMA
INDIA MUST TIGHTEN N-SAFETY STANDARDS
The third explosion in four days that rocked the earthquake damaged Fukushima nuclear plant in northeast Japan early on Tuesday has understandably heightened fears in India over the safety of our own nuclear reactors from natural catastrophes. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's assurance in Parliament that Indian nuclear facilities are safe and that he was ordering a review of all the nuclear installations in the country may be good in so far as it was designed to stave off any panic reactions, but there is no room for complacency. India already has three nuclear plants in Kalpakkam (Tamil Nadu), Tarapur (Maharashtra) and Kakrapar (Gujarat) near the seaside. Indeed, with the requirement for large quantity of water for cooling at a nuclear plant and sea being the largest water body, seaside makes an ideal location for such plants. In December 2004 Kalpakkam was hit by a tsunami, but mercifully, the reactors were safe. Yet, there can be no guarantee that in future nature would spare the reactors there if adequate safety standards are not maintained.
Significantly, out of the 20 nuclear power plants in India, only two in Tarapur have boiling water reactors as the Fukushima nuclear plant has. Besides, seismic activity is much higher around Japan than it is in India. What India needs to watch out for most is the 21 new reactors that it plans to buy. Indian engineers will take time to grasp new and unfamiliar technologies — a dangerous situation in case of an accident. Take Jaitapur in Maharashtra for instance. The reactors proposed there are based on a technology that is untested elsewhere. In fact, nuclear power technology is inherently risk-prone and India would have to exercise extreme caution in dealing with safety issues.
While it is imperative that safety standards be rigorously followed, it would be dangerous to succumb to the anti-nuclear power lobby and reverse the direction of going in for nuclear power stations. India's requirements for power would be huge in coming years and this country can ill afford to ignore this form of harnessing energy. What is vital, however, is that lessons be learnt from the recent Fukushima experience where the blasts in reactors have caused widespread trepidation.
NOTHING TO SPUR GROWTH IN PUNJAB
The 2011-12 Punjab budget has given a raw deal to industry. The budget talks of the 2009 industrial policy, which was supposed to encourage IT, agro-based and food processing units. There is hardly any progress in any of these sectors. The budget has set a paltry Rs 10 crore for upgrading industrial focal points. Finance Minister Upinderjit Kaur also talks of 69 mega projects approved during the past four years. When these would become operational is anybody's guess. The government's rosy picture of industry has to be compared with what industrial organisations say. An Assocham study reveals that Punjab gets just 1.6 per cent of the total private and government investment made countrywide. Haryana gets double (3.8 per cent) of that.
Punjab leaders in general and finance ministers in particular like to blame the state's poor industrial progress on its locational disadvantage as well as the Central tax incentives to the hill states. Between 2002 and 2008, Dr Upinderjit Kaur claims, 274 industrial units either moved out or set up new units in the hill states. However, Assocham attributes the slow pace of industrialisation in Punjab to corruption, administrative delays, official apathy and high land prices apart from its geographical handicap. Poor governance has led to lower tax collection and consequently fiscal deterioration. All this keeps off investors.
Also contributing to growing industrial sickness is lack of quality power. Free power to farmers has forced domestic and industrial consumers to pay more and finance the Badal government's political largesse. Fiscal indiscipline and political and bureaucratic profligacy have almost bankrupted and incapacitated the government. The government offered no bailout to industry as global recession took its toll. There is no political will to plug revenue leakages and go after black money or mop up resources by taxing the rich, including farmers. Since agriculture is already languishing, industry alone can generate employment and push growth. A favourable policy framework, a corruption-free administration and a Gujarat-type aggressive political leadership can attract private investment and accelerate industrial growth in Punjab. The budget has missed a chance to move in this direction.
HC BREATHER FOR SUKHNA
LAKE CATCHMENT AREA MUST SURVIVE
It is heartening that the Punjab and Haryana High Court has stayed all forms of construction activity in the catchment area of Sukhna Lake, including the forest zone and the agricultural area falling in Punjab and Haryana. Housing societies own a large chunk of land lying mostly in the area from the regulator end of the lake up to Saketri. Some residential colonies are also coming up in Kansal village adjoining the lake. Had the court not intervened, they might have presented a fait accompli choking the once-pristine water body even further. Punjab and Haryana have been casual enough to provide permission for construction activity, with HUDA itself developing the Mansa Devi complex, part of which lies in the catchment area. The Town and Country Planning Department of Haryana has now clarified through an affidavit that this particular section has been designated as an open space zone and no construction activity is proposed there.
The states are obviously looking at their own interests rather than viewing the tricity as a single compact unit. One hopes that the well-meaning order would be implemented strictly, because real estate developers have the dubious record of nibbling away land. The lake, which is the pride of Chandigarh, has been choking because of various factors, and rampant construction in the catchment area can sound its death-knell.
Nor should it be seen as a matter concerning Chandigarh alone. Any construction in the catchment area can be a recipe for disaster whenever there is heavy rain. So, it is in the interest of Punjab and Haryana also that the area be preserved well. As the court had earlier said while staying the controversial Tata Camelot housing project proposed near the lake, there is need for Punjab, Haryana and the Union Territory of Chandigarh to convene meetings of the coordination committee instituted for integration of the respective master plans to ensure harmonious growth plans for the area.
UNENDING STENCH OF CORRUPTION
BESMIRCHED REPUTATION OF UPA-II
BY INDER MALHOTRA
OVER the last six months or so, a cascade of scams and scandals — ranging from the sale of 2G Spectrum to the daylight robbery in the Commonwealth Games to the Adarsh building racket in Mumbai and the burning of a district official by oil mafia in another part of Maharashtra — has not just overshadowed all other issues except high prices. It has also generated mounting anger within the country and has badly besmirched Rising India's image abroad. Rare is a prestigious publication overseas that hasn't underscored that corruption, though a part of India's life from ancient times has never before been so alarmingly high as now.
The latest issue of The Economist, that has written on the subject in recent weeks more than once, has deemed it necessary this week to devote not one but two articles to the subject. The heading of one is "A Rotten State", the sub-heading of the other: "Congress drags its feet over tackling graft. It may pay a heavy price". Evidently, no one seems impressed the Congress spokespersons' almost daily (or should one say, in view of TV talk shows, nightly?) claim that their party has taken firm action against corruption, unlike other political parties when they were in power.
For, the action in the 2G Spectrum mega scam came much too late and with obvious reluctance. It was in 2007 that A. Raja, then minister for telecommunications, perpetrated the spectacular loot. All concerned knew it. Yet, after the May 2009 general election, he was re-appointed to his old post ostensibly because of "compulsions of coalition politics". The Radia tapes give a flavour of how this was done. Only after the damning report by the Comptroller and Auditor-General was he asked to resign. It also says something about the Congress' crusade against corruption that the ruling party resisted the united Opposition's demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe for months and surrendered only after an entire session of Parliament had gone waste. Of late, the pursuit of the suspects in the Spectrum scandal has indeed been impressive. But this has nothing to do the Congress or the UPA of which it is the core. Mr Raja is in jail and the
The Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) has questioned the wife and daughter of the Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and patriarch of the Dravid Munnetra Kazhagam, M. Karunanidhi. It is because the Supreme Court is directly supervising the CBI's investigations.
Nothing underscores this more vividly than the case of Hasan Ali Khan, the Pune-based stud farm owner alleged to be the country's biggest tax evader as well as the biggest hoarder of black money in secret bank accounts in tax havens overseas. The shocking handling of his case demonstrates what happens when the higher judiciary does not monitor the functioning of the government's investigating and enforcement agencies. Normally, there should be no room for judicial interference in this respect. But, alas, the functioning of these agencies ceased to be normal decades ago.
Once again it was way back in 2007 when it was found that Mr Khan had amassed $8 billion in Swiss banks and he could be involved in gunrunning and even financing terrorism. Despite such grave allegations, nothing whatever happened to him for more than three years while he strutted around the country with impunity.
On one occasion, when the people's demand for his arrest became too persistent, the police reported that he could not be traced though anyone could have seen him at Pune Race Course. And so things might have gone on indefinitely had these stark facts not driven the Supreme Court to asking the government's law officers: "What the hell is going on in this country"? The next question the Supreme Court Judges asked was why hadn't there been "custodial interrogation" of the man.
No wonder, soon afterwards and barely 24 hours before the Union Government was to appear again in the Supreme Court, the Enforcement Directorate took Mr Khan into custody for interrogation. But the fiasco that followed could not have been worse or more revealing. The ED did ask for Mr Khan's custody for 14 days but, despite being given three days to furnish evidence to back up its request, offered material so flimsy that Mumbai's Chief Metropolitan Magistrate had no option but to release Mr Khan on bail. Under the circumstances, is it any surprise that most people believe that the ED botched the case not on its own but under instruction "from above", a charming euphemism for its political masters?
This focuses attention on what is the heart of the matter. Bribery and black money, especially when stashed in tax havens of which there are no fewer than 77, are obviously the two sides of the same cursed coin. They are also mutually reinforcing. However, the perception in the country is that the powers that be are even more indulgent to the crooks plundering the country and stashing black money abroad than to the other law-breakers including those with the gift of the grab. The motivation for this is said to be that hoarders of black money in foreign banks often act also as front men for high profile political leaders.
That should explain the widespread skepticism about the government's repeated plea that its commitment to the "confidentiality clause" in the Double Taxation Avoidance Agreements (DTAAs) with the countries concerned prevents it from disclosing the names of even those holders of secret accounts who are caught in the act. Even if this is allowed to pass, people ask, why hasn't the government yet ratified the UN Convention on Corruption and Black Money that it had signed in 2005? Timely ratification would have made it easier to compel foreign banks to come clean. In any case, in a country where top-secret military files are sometimes found on the roadside, the zeal to protect the anonymity of criminals is rather touching.
Nor should it be forgotten that the big blow that the Hasan Ali Khan case has delivered to the UPA government's already dwindling credibility has come in the wake of the Supreme Court's mortifying verdict quashing the indefensible appointment of Mr P. J. Thomas as Central Vigilance Commissioner. The Prime Minister has accepted the responsibility for this "error of judgement". But that hasn't persuaded the BJP, despite differences within its leadership, to close the issue. Its task is facilitated by the blame game that is going on. And as Mr Thomas has decided to file a revision petition in the Supreme Court, it has given the sordid episode a fresh lease of life.
BY TUSHIMA RATTAN
Last Monday morning found me miserable. I had to decide — writhe in pain or go the Tom Sawyer way and allow the doc to pull out my tooth. Probably no one likes the idea of sitting on a dentist's chair. This fear is so strong most of the time that it could be defined surely as a phobia. I have never experienced more irrational fear than that connected to visiting a dentist. Ogden Nash once rightly said, "Some tortures are physical, some are mental, but the one that is both is dental."
After two-three visits to him, I realised that I do not fear my dentist (a handsome man) as a person. I quiver when I think of sitting in that horrendous chair and seeing the torture tools — squeezers, dentures, forceps, spray guns, syringes, pluckers, cotton swabs and other equipment. I shudder to think that someone would drill my teeth. The idea of someone doing something with my teeth scares the devil out of me.
"The filling for the upper right tooth has come off," Mr Dentist had told me on my last visit. I know sooner or later I need to get rid of this tooth. "If you continue with this new filling, it will fall off again. Better extract now," said Mr Dentist.
My worst nightmare became a reality. I looked around and found walls covered with colourful charts that described various kinds of teeth — incisors used for biting the food, canines are strong corner teeth, pre-molars used for chewing, molars for final grinding and lastly wisdom teeth are the last to erupt in the mouth. This proves that more knowledge can sometimes become a dangerous thing.
The "chair of death" looks like a comfortable lounge chair, though there is no comfort once someone sits in it. A glass of water is always kept within reach in case your mouth runs dry out of reverence. Then there is a small washbasin in which you can spit, in all likelihood your blood, a machine with cables dangling, a mirror to see how ashen your face looks, while your teeth are being drilled, and you need a handkerchief to wipe your inevitable tears.
He injected anaesthetic and slit my gum open with a scalpel. He then got ready to take out my tooth, drilling and twisting it with some kind of lever. He stitched up the gum and it was over in about 20 minutes. My jaw got swelled and my gum leaked blood for about four days. I would call this as nuisance at its best.
Yesterday while having my favourite chocolate I recalled two things — one, the advice of my doc to brush at least twice a day regularly and two, a saying: "You don't have to brush your teeth, just the ones you want to keep."
CREATING CULTURAL CAPITAL
MUSEUMS OUGHT NOT BE STORING SPACES OF THE FOSSILIZED. THEY CAN BE DYNAMIC AND MODERN. THE WORLD-OVER MODERN MUSEUMS ARE TRANSFORMING THEMSELVES AND THE LIVES OF THEIR DIVERSE AUDIENCES IN AN EVER-EVOLVING DANCE OF CONTEMPORARY CULTURE. IS THERE ANYTHING TO ENGAGE 70 PER CENT YOUNG POPULATION OF INDIA IN OUR MUSEUMS?
Where is the Indian museum of the eternally evocative sari- the ultimate unstitched fashion statement of sheer functionality worn by millions in mind boggling variants? Where does one go as a tourist or a local resident to learn about Indian cuisine and spices that impacted culinary traditions around the world? Where is the living museum of Indian dance and theatre? Literature and poetry? Hall of Fame for our sportsmen and scientists? Where is our memorial museum chronicling the lives of heroes who lost their lives in Kargil and Siachin, protecting national pride? From those who died in the Bhopal Gas tragedy to the bizarre Bollywood juggernaut that reaches millions, there are countless stories awaiting a spatial, experiential narrative that dispels the conventional notion of museums and their relevance to our present day lives- from the celebratory to the serious.
While there are some new modern museums in the making in India, such as the KMoMA (Kolkotta Museum of Modern Art) and the Indian Music Experience (a la Experience Music Project in Seattle) that broke-ground last month in Bangalore, these are merely a scratch on the surface of viable opportunities and stories waiting to be shared.
Modern museums are evolving, transforming themselves and the lives of their diverse audiences in an ever-evolving dance of contemporary culture. They are seeking new definitions, new approaches, new meanings and new opportunities to enhance learning, appreciation and reflection to bring about sustainable change. The spectrum of projects, industry intersect, living culture and mixed use of story-telling and exhibit experiences offer a glimpse into the shape of things to come in the decades ahead. As museums continue to grow in myriad ways- adapting to the changing needs of experiential learning and collective memory, vast opportunities open for contemporary museums in a country like India. What was traditionally within the domain of curatorial academe is increasingly being influenced by those considered "outside" the arteries of museology per se, shaped by the vibrancy of our times. Many reputable museums around the world such as the Royal Ontario Museum have established institutes of Contemporary Culture in an attempt to explore their own relevance and tap into the changing demographics and learning methods of their diverse audience needs.
The cultural landscape of 21st century India provides significant investment opportunities and new projects that could have tremendous public interest and support. Untapped subject fields of fashion, design, music, cinema, health awareness and disease prevention, culinary arts, spice trade, the Bollywood phenomenon, partition, information technology and global commerce, et al, can all be transformed into rich museum exhibit experiences with travelling avatars in circulation at international venues. Examples of such initiatives with investment opportunities, urban planning, community revitalization and econometrics of success abound in various parts of the globe. These institutions have the power to influence trends, shape policy and engage visitors in a constructive dialogue while interacting with real-time variable parameters.
Globalization is beginning to affect cross-cultural dialogue at levels and their impact on the future of museums is yet to be fully discerned. The catalytic coordination of professional resources and implementation dynamics is expanding possibilities of reach and outreach resulting in remarkable optimization of financial and intellectual resources. Intercultural dialogue is changing the way architects and museum designers are approaching the visual manifestation of modern museums with increasing emphasis on the subtle aesthetic laced with fresh thinking that resonates with contemporary society.
Museum designers from different continents are cross-pollinating their creative rigours on to the creation of national museums which have remained obtuse to their own cultural backgrounds. Not only has the last decade seen an increased blurring of the local vernacular and national identities, it has experienced an unprecedented fluidity of resources that has re-shaped the manifestation of culture and heritage. From conventional leanings of curatorial practices to the frayed edges of neo-economic colonialism, museums face a plethora of challenges as they seek relevance while engaging diverse audiences. The seamless integration of communication between museum clients, architects, designers, curators, museum educators, fund-raisers and potential donors, is already generating a transformational impact in the ways museums are being conceived, funded and built.
Nouveau museums, art galleries and similar destinations of non-formal learning, experimentation and visual repositories of lifestyle, are vehicles of economic regeneration and inspiration in civil societies. Often leisure destinations with interesting contemporary twists attracts not only tourists, but other investment in allied sectors and industry keen on offering the quality of life that the ambience offers. Apart from generating direct revenues, employment, e-commerce, tourism and restaurant investments, real estate, retail and rentals, museums serve as cultural ambassadors for political, strategic and a range of community benefits. A working formula that offers a combination of tax incentives and targeted philanthropic edge at regional and national levels, can aid India harness a significant portion of its national taxable income towards a higher societal purpose. Imagine what a fraction of the current Indian GDP of $1.236 trillion can unleash! Such an investment in the non-profit sector of contemporary museums has the potential for strengthening our social fabric and triggering the need for infrastructural development, offering new destinations for both Indian and foreign tourists looking beyond the ancient bastions of heritage.
Cities with a soul attract creative minds. The timeless haunts become hubs and hot-beds of debate, discussion and ideas. The last few decades are witness to what can happen when scouting venture capitalists start giving credence to the creative innovators of Silicon Valley. The synergy between the patrons and the passionate impacts how form and function rearrange the measures of success. Design drives a significant portion of our cyclical economy. From the latest trends in wrist-watches, mobile phones, clothes, models of automobiles, luggage, eye-ware to whatever else is sold at malls by the millions, are all fundamentally driven by design. Corporate and individual philanthropy coupled with business acumen of the entrepreneurial Indian spirit that has seen the success of many design-driven themed-commercial environments, have the capacity to recognize the potential of modern thematic museums.
With Facebook crossing 200 million users in 2010 and You-Tube logging in 350 million user-hits a month, the rising tide of shared learning is forcing museums to seek a fresh perspective on outreach beyond their walls. India as an emerging tech-power, needs to recognize the enormous potential of riding this tiger in terms of investing in this realm and reinvesting the accrued commercial gains into the establishment of a National Museum Foundation to fuel further transformative growth that continues to sustain and celebrate our culture in unimaginable ways. Such a foundation in public-private partnership can play the role of a facilitator, think-tank and a service provider that aids advocacy and creation of a comprehensive cohesive policy framework for a new generation of museums. Add to this a new generation of museum visitors- the tweens- who wouldn't be caught dead in an already fossilized museum environment. Keeping in step with the changing times is an evolving need that gleans intelligent input and constant feedback from the i-pad laden generation where information spills at the feather touch of an icon beamed on a palm-held device powered by processors that defied imagination just a decade ago.
Understanding the immediate needs of institutional planning, while addressing the larger human needs to learn from our shared and unshared histories, our present continuum and our collective future, will increasingly shape the mission of new museums in times to come. The great Indian meta-narrative awaits museums of contemporary culture, living traditions, events, crafts, and also the curious and the quirky. There is no dearth of content and certainly no shortage of potential visitors.
(India born George Jacob, is a museologist, whose work spans 11 countries.)
TV REVOLUTION'S PASSING US BY
AS OUR FINEST WRITER CRAFTS A SHOW FOR US CABLE, IT MIGHT BE TIME TO LOOK AT OUR OWN TELEVISION
In the latest stage of his adventures with words, Sir Salman Rushdie is now writing a television show for hit US cable channel, Showtime. Rather awkwardly titled Next People, this isn't a Mad Men-like show about the people working behind Steve Jobs' mid-90s obsession (damn!) but a drama series based on a rapidly changing America, looking to explore the ongoing evolution of current politics, sex, religion and society.
It really is a dashed good idea — and not least because it's easy enough to picture the streamofconsciousness opening credits montage: rain-soaked Manhattan, a bushy-eyebrowed observer looking keenly and exhaustedly through a window, strangers jaywalking without a care in the world, beautiful people walking out of a Starbucks and into an affair, their suede iPad cases knocking together as boots used to, once upon a time. Then, of course, a redneck Senator wakes up on the 4th of July and discovers his nose is now a balloon.
All kidding aside, the golden age of American television is the ideal place for a writer as versatile as our very finest. With Hollywood obsessed with franchises and dumbing down, and it getting harder and harder to get genuinely good films made, the truly fascinating subjects are heading television's way. The idiot box is, if you look in the right places, where the smartest people are.
One of the greatest things about writing for television, especially for a writer who rambles as masterfully as Rushdie, is the luxury of building up characters and revealing them bit by bit, over several episodes, instead of all at once, in a painful spurt with jarring expository dialogue — something that film, pressed for time, often forces.
Many a film, for example, has two friends meet in a bar and offhandedly mention where they came from, what they do, and how they know each other. Efficient, perhaps, but markedly unreal. On the other hand, it took us five seasons to learn that Dexter Morgan doesn't really like doughnuts. Television lets you be real, adult, and unafraid of the less obvious.
The other truly great thing about American television is that they recognise it as a writer's format. Writers create the show and steer it in place, with directors changing with almost every episode. It is the writers that are celebrated and overpaid and encouraged to create more and more fictional worlds, and they have been doing so with gusto.
Who writes our television? When was the last time we watched a Hindi show because of who wrote it? Where are our Dan Harmons, our Mitchell Hurwitzs, our Aaron Sorkins? Well, they're all trying to write movie screenplays because we have turned television into the domain of the hack. There are talented directors in our TV, there always have been, but unless they do their own scripts, the writing is puerile and disgraceful.
It is paycheck work, where someone types out scripts for three episodes a day with the sole purpose of making the shows go on longer. Oh, it pays impressively well — especially when you consider the amount of thinking that goes into it — but at what cost?
American television is certainly not infallible (any country that cancels Arrested Development and makes Two And A Half Men their highest-rated show clearly has introspection-worthy issues) but they are creating stellar content. With established geniuses from all walks, like Martin Scorsese and Michael Chabon and Rushdie, clambering aboard, entranced by the increasing possibilities and potential of the thrillingly evolving television format - in a world where an episode broadcast in one country is tweeted about in another part of the world and watched, or ignored, everywhere. In realtime.
We have the writers. All we need is to give them the reins.
INDIA, LIKE JAPAN, WILL STILL NEED NUCLEAR POWER
As the only nation to be devastated by the consequences of a nuclear attack, the people of Japan can be expected to be particularly anxious about the fallout from a nuclear meltdown in the Fukushima-Daiichi complex in northern Japan. The two reactors owned and operated by the Tokyo Electric Company, Asia's largest utility, are among the largest in the world and have been built to meet stringent safety standards. This tragic accident, caused by an unprecedented combination of a huge earthquake and an enormous tsunami, is a reminder that no system is ever foolproof and there can only be varying degrees of probability of failure. However, just as the sinking of the Titanic did not bring maritime activity to a halt, this accident too will not bring the future of nuclear power into question. It will, of course, result in even more stringent standards being adopted for nuclear power plants.
As an island economy with few natural sources of energy Japan has no option but to depend on nuclear power. India, which has thermal and hydro power sources, will also need to tap nuclear power in years to come to sustain its growth and development. Hence, learning from other people's tragedies is a must for the Indian nuclear power industry. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh did well to order a review of safety at Indian nuclear installations and reassure Parliament on this score. India is not unique in being home to nuclear sceptics. Even as a "nuclear renaissance" is underway globally, voices against nuclear energy continue to find expression in India. The challenge before the government and energy policy strategists is to reassure public opinion that India not only has a good track record in safety of nuclear reactors, but that it will continue to observe the highest standards of safety.
India's rising demand for power means that it cannot ignore the nuclear option. Coal-fired and hydro power also come at a cost in terms of the environmental and ecological fallout. Coal contributes to carbon emissions and hydro power dislocates the habitat and its occupants. Despite some promising finds, it will be a while before gas-fired plants can significantly contribute to overall energy supply, given that the requisite infrastructure still needs to be put in place. Moreover, the probability of a similar nuclear mishap in India is considerably lower. Japan and the entire 'arc of fire' along the Pacific, lies in a high-risk zone for seismic mishaps with a risk rating of 8 or 9. For Indian reactor sites, the corresponding numbers range from 2 to 4. Indian reactors are also designed to withstand earthquakes. While the Narora reactor in Uttar Pradesh withstood an earthquake measured 6.4 on the Richter scale, Kakrapar continued to function normally even during the 6.9 point Bhuj earthquake. Reactors at Kudankulam survived the tsunami in 2004. New technology, including the 'radiation catcher' technology that is designed to help contain radiation leaks should they occur, and which is a standard feature of contemporary reactor design, will have to incorporate the lessons learnt at Fukushima. This is precisely how science has progressed, and so has technology. Mankind has repeatedly used every such tragic accident as an opportunity to extend the frontiers of human life on this planet.
ENSURING CREDIBILITY AND EFFICIENCY IS KEY TO CENSUS' SUCCESS
The recently concluded 15th Indian National Census is an exercise of staggering magnitude — by any standard. For perspective: the decennial Census covered an area of 3.27 million sq. kms, that included 640 districts, 5,767 tehsils, 7,742 towns and over 600 villages. Primary data on 1.2 billion people would be collected by over 2 million enumerators, specially trained for the purpose. The total cost of the exercise is conservatively estimated at Rs 2,200 crore, while the subsequent National Public Register project would cost an additional Rs 3,500 crore. The sheer magnitude aside, the latest census includes some novel features as well. The houselisting and housing Census, carried out in the first phase, was designed to provide comprehensive data on the condition of human settlements and housing shortages to assist in the formulation of appropriate housing policies. The second phase collated information that would form the basis of the National Population Register (NPR), a comprehensive database on all Indian nationals over the age of 15. A Unique Identification Number (UID) that would serve as all-purpose identification would be issued thereafter, overcoming the need for multiple 'ID Proofs'.
It is to the credit of the Indian Census authorities that they have consistently pioneered relevant technological innovations. For example, the 2001 Census introduced the Intelligent Character Recognition (ICR) software that enabled the scanning of Census forms at high speed. This revolutionary method enabled the extraction of data automatically, saving considerable manual labour and cost. The ICR has become the benchmark for censuses globally. The latest census and the subsequent NPR-based UID scheme introduces the 'Ten Finger Biometry' techniques that will provide fool-proof identification for all individuals over 15 years of age. The importance of this exercise that has been unfailingly conducted over the past 140 years cannot be understated. The Census has emerged as the most important source of information about demography, economic activity, literacy and education, urbanisation, fertility and mortality and many other socio-cultural indicators. Given the formidable obstacles to data collection in a vast land like India, the Census authorities need to be complimented for restricting the 'omission' rate to less than 2 per cent, which compares favourably with global standards. Ensuring credibility of data collection and processing and efficiency in publication of census data is vital to the overall success of this historic event.
While population growth in the southern states is at or near replacement levels, the story in northern India is vastly different. With a few minor exceptions, southern and western states are pulling away from their northern counterparts, in almost all indicators the Census touches upon. India in the aggregate has changed unrecognisably over the past two decades, particularly over the past ten years. However, the extent of inter-state and urban-rural differences is disturbing. Bridging these differences calls for active policy intervention. The Census has provided the numbers. The effort would amount to very little without clear-headed policy formulation and the political will to address these challenges. The results of the Census will be awaited eagerly by researchers, policymakers, politicians and all those interested in understanding India.
IS NUCLEAR RENAISSANCE DEAD?
THOROUGH REVIEW IS ESSENTIAL, BUT IMPULSIVE ACTION CAN BE COUNTERPRODUCTIVE
The recent explosions at the Japanese nuclear power plant at Fukushima, resulting from Tsunami devastation during the past few days and with more bad news likely to follow, are bound to have a major impact on the global nuclear power industry, including India. At the turn of the century, analysts had begun to talk of a possible "nuclear renaissance'. This was spurred by the rising costs of fossil fuels, concerns over climate change resulting from carbon-intensive energy use and helped by receding public memories of the nuclear disasters at Three Mile Island in the U.S. (1979) and at Chernobyl in Ukraine (1986). Taking into account the time lag associated with construction, the global nuclear power industry grew from 1 GW only in 1960 to 100 GW by 1980, 300 GW by 1990, but only 360 GW by 2005.
The slowdown in later years has been attributed to mounting project costs and to concerns over safety. The public mind associates nuclear power with all the negativity inherent in nuclear weapons. Nuclear power stations are often depicted by opponents of nuclear power as virtual nuclear bombs ticking away in our midst, likely to blow up as a result of accident, human error or design defect. There are also fears of what radiation leakage from such plants can do in causing a range of health hazards, including cancer. The disposal of highly toxic radioactive waste adds to public concerns. The latest developments in Japan are likely to revive and reinforce all these fears, even though some are exaggerated and not always based on scientific assessment.
It is estimated that currently the world has 448 nuclear power plants operating in 30 countries and with a total capacity of 376 GW. These plants generate 15 per cent of the world's electricity and as much as 30 per cent in Japan and 80 per cent in France. A major expansion of nuclear power is being planned in the next two decades. It is projected that by 2020, 73 GW of additional capacity will come on stream and by 2030 there may be nearly 600 GW of nuclear power capacity world-wide. Until recently, it was expected that the rate of construction would accelerate over the next several years. Will these expectations be belied?
In the 1980s, two-thirds of all nuclear power plants, mainly in Europe and the US, were cancelled under the impact of the Three Mile and Chernobyl accidents, though compounded by higher costs and other factors.
The nuclear renaissance that is now under threat has been largely the result of rising demand from countries in Asia, particularly, China and India. China currently operates 13 reactors with a 10.2 GW capacity and has 25 new reactors under construction. Its target is to achieve a capacity of 75 GW by 2020. India has 22 reactors with a total capacity of 4 GW but has plans to achieve 20 GW by 2020 and 60 GW by 2030-31. Together, the Chinese and Indian nuclear capacity additions constitute by far the largest part of capacity addition in the next couple of decades. Whether nuclear renaissance survives the Fukushima disaster will essentially depend upon whether these two Asian countries alter their plans.
The latest reaction from China appears unequivocal. It intends to go ahead with its planned nuclear power expansion though it intends to absorb the necessary lessons from the Japanese experience. In India, there has been an immediate and hopefully reassuring decision to thoroughly review the safety standards and procedures at all nuclear power plants. Undoubtedly, there will be a careful scrutiny of what went wrong at Fukushima and implement preventive measures. However, unlike in China it will be easy for mass media and anti-nuclear NGOs in India to play on public fears to retard, if not derail, the ambitious nuclear plans that were made possible by the Indo-US civil nuclear agreement in 2008. At the minimum, government may be compelled to adopt more elaborate and expensive safety methods to reassure a more fearful populace, thereby adding to the cost of nuclear power.
It is worth noting that major nuclear accidents that have occurred so far have all been in the developed world. The record of developing countries like India has been rated as among the best in the world. The people of India deserve to be advised in the most transparent manner possible, the risks as well as benefits from nuclear power and the credible ways in which the risks can be minimised. Public confidence can be built only if an effort is made to educate public opinion on nuclear energy and create an intelligent awareness of the technical, political and economic risks involved in comparison to other energy options.
At the Nuclear Security Summit convened by President Obama last year in Washington, it was agreed that international cooperation must be pursued in ensuring the safety and security of all nuclear and fissile material, living as we are in an age where non-state actors and terrorist groups could gain access to such materials and trigger a nuclear catastrophe in any part of the world. The future of the nuclear power industry requires a similar spirit of cooperation in ensuring the highest possible safety standards and security of our nuclear power plants, the formulation and adoption of global benchmarks and a world-wide disaster management network to help countries affected to draw upon the wisdom and resources from across the globe to cope with accidents of the kind being witnessed in Fukushima. For what happens to a nuclear power plant in one country is not just a matter of concern for that country alone. The nature of nuclear fallout and radiation is such that national borders become meaningless.
At the Washington Summit, India, China and Japan, all Asian countries, each announced the setting up of respective Nuclear Security Centres, open to participation by other countries, to promote security of nuclear materials, capacity building and research into safer and proliferation-resistant technologies. The three countries should take the lead to follow up on their initiatives and establish a collaborative effort to ensure the safe and less risky development of nuclear power in the 21st century. The fate of nuclear renaissance may well depend upon the success of their efforts.
The author is a former foreign secretary and currently senior fellow at the Centre for Policy Research
M J ANTONY
Why don't we see more Indian language content on the internet?
Successive chief justices in recent times have pointed out the neglect of the legal system in budgetary provisions. However, it had little impact on the allocation of funds in Budget 2011 for administration of justice. The increase is marginal, just enough to upset the inflationary factor.
The allocation for the ministry of law and justice in the Union Budget is Rs 1,432 crore, down from Rs 1,631 crore in the previous year (2010-11). It was Rs 1,394 crore in 2009-10. The allocation for the two years before that was Rs 751 crore and Rs 455 crore.
Compare this with the coal ministry, which gets Rs 9,303 crore. One does not dare to look at the allocation for the defence of the country, which has not fought a battle for more than a generation. We seem to need not only missiles but also world-war vintage tanks for the R-Day parade.
However, even the funds allocated to the law ministry are not fully available for administering justice. They include part of the election expenditure as well. In the proposed budget, Rs 85 crore is earmarked for "elections" and Rs 83 crore for "normal election expenses" and Rs 16 crore for preparing voters' identity cards. Thus, the total election expenditure is Rs 184 crore.
Then there are other expenses not directly related to the courts. There is huge provision for "secretariat expenditure", meant for translating Central Acts into Hindi and printing them. There is lumpsum provision for schemes for the benefit of the north-eastern region and other administrative expenses amounting to Rs 15 crore.
Some heads that will directly benefit the functioning of the legal system are: computerisation of district and subordinate courts, Rs 267 crore; Income Tax Appellate Tribunal, Rs 45 crore; and the National Law Tribunal, Rs 5 lakh. Infrastructure facilities for the judiciary will get Rs 427 crore. One chief justice described the present conditions as: "Most of the courts function from dingy, dilapidated and outdated structures with poor hygienic conditions even for judicial officers."
Special courts and family courts have been bunched together and allotted a miserable Rs 5 crore. Many districts in the country have no family courts, with Delhi having only a couple of them. The central government has declared that it shall no longer fund fast-track courts. Recently, the Supreme Court lamented that even the special court trying a corruption case against former minister R Balakrishna Pillai took two decades to conclude.
There is a Plan allocation of Rs 5,000 crore over a period of time to the states for improving the justice delivery system in the country. With the help of these grants, states can establish courts in shifts, special magistrates' courts, lok adalats, gram nyayalays and strengthen mediation as an alternative to adversarial litigation. The income generated by the courts through fees and fines also flow into the general pool of the Budget.
However, owing to the chronic neglect of the system for decades, these funds would scratch only the surface of the problem. The average expenditure on the judicial system was a miserable 0.02 per cent of the gross national product so far. At the ground level, this distresses thousands of families whose breadwinners are often confined in overcrowded jails even before the trial starts. Many of them complete the term of the maximum sentence even as they await their trial.
Nearly 60 per cent of litigation at all levels relate to central laws. New laws are being passed at every Parliament session. Therefore, the Union government has a duty to be less tight-fisted in the allocations. Last month, one Supreme Court bench attributed the delay in disposing 30 million pending cases to lack of infrastructure, non-appointment of judges and lack of funds. Against the Law Commission's suggestion of 50 judges for 1 million people, the present ratio is 10.5 for 1 million.
Though the sanctioned strength of judges for 21 high courts is 895, there are only 285 vacancies. The Allahabad High Court has the maximum number of vacancies, 87 out of 160, followed by Punjab and Haryana (22), and Gujarat and Calcutta High Courts 19 each. The subordinate judiciary is not better. There are 2,980 vacancies, though the total number should be 16,990.
As many as 4,108,555 cases are pending in the high courts, with the Allahabad High Court again leading with 952,862. The figure for the subordinate court is 27,374,908. The Supreme Court has 33,362 cases pending.
In the present Budget, the Supreme Court will receive Rs 95 crore, down from last year's Rs 98 crore and Rs 99 crore the year before. This might be less than what Parliament wastes in one session. As it is, the court can order distribution of food to the hungry, protect forests from corporate depredation, and even send venal politicians to jail, but its dignity does not permit it to behave like Oliver Twist with his bowl.
SHOULD ELECTRICITY REGULATORS PROMOTE COMPETITION?
OPEN ACCESS TO INFRASTRUCTURE FOR SUPPLYING ELECTRICITY WILL CREATE VALUE. BUT THE ISSUE MUST BE SEEN IN VIEW OF THE IMPACT OF COMPETITION ON THE POOR AND VULNERABLE SECTIONS OF THE SOCIETY.
Associate Professor, Delhi University
The state electricity regulatory commissions have been vested with several critical roles under the Electricity Act 2003 — these include the promotion of competition
Reforms in the electricity sector the world over have typically taken three forms: one, organisational reform of the incumbent; two, the introduction of competition; and three, establishment of regulation. The three components are irreducible to each other, but are intimately connected and are found in some form in reform processes. Electricity reforms in India seem to be missing the second component.
Open access to transmission and distribution wires is key to introducing competition in this sector. These wires are recognised as an "essential facility", access to which must be open and non-discriminatory to facilitate competition. Such national or local infrastructure monopolies (say, transmission companies for high-voltage transport and local distribution companies for low-voltage transport) merely serve as "toll roads" that facilitate transport of electricity in exchange for a "regulated fee". The economic argument for managing such infrastructure resources in an openly accessible manner is that these resources are intermediate goods that create social value when utilised productively downstream and that such use is the primary source of social benefits.
Therefore, an important role of the regulator is to manage these resources in the manner described above. The state electricity regulatory commissions (SERCs) have been vested with several critical roles under the Electricity Act 2003. These include the promotion of competition. Section 42(2) recognises the SERCs' role for promoting open access in a phased manner. Section 86(2) mandates the regulator to advise the state government on promoting competition, efficiency and economy in activities of the electricity.
One of the most disappointing aspects of the reform process has been slow (actually negligible) progress in competition and open access to wires. Several SERCs have notified open access regulations besides fixing surcharge and transmission and wheeling charges ("regulated fee"). But this has hardly helped consumers come forward to use the open access facility. The magnitude of wheeling charges and surcharge has de facto made open access unviable. The regulators have done little to determine a reasonable cross-subsidy element and recover it as a wheeling surcharge from the bulk consumer.
In their defence, the regulators point out that the state load dispatch centres (SLDCs) have failed to act as independent system operators owing to pressure from state governments. Open access has been blatantly denied by SLDCs to protect the State Electricity Boards from competition.
Continued interference by the government through the issuance of opportunistic "policy" directives has resulted in legitimately mandated regulatory functions being routinely compromised, affecting the effectiveness and independence of these regulatory institutions. One of their major functions that took a hit is the introduction of competition.
Given the insufficient institutional distance between regulators and state-owned firms, especially when there are no firewalls between them, it was naïve to expect the regulators to promote competition. Being two aspects of the same entity, namely the Indian state, regulatory capture by state-owned firms is a real threat.
Creating and sustaining independent regulatory institutions require a substantial degree of political and judicial maturity. Ultimately, the state actors have to forbear from routine interference in areas that they have so far considered part of the state's eminent domain. The line ministries have to commit to performing a mere supervisory function and steer the regulatory agency at arm's length. For transparency and accountability of these bodies, officials manning these commissions must be truly independent and accountable to the legislature/Parliament and not to their line ministries. This will minimise the conflict of interest.
Navroz K Dubash
Senior Fellow, Centre for Policy Research
Markets do seem to bring short-term efficiency gains but they can also bring gaming or the exercise of market power and capacity shortfalls as investors fear price uncertainty
In the years since the passage of the Electricity Act 2003, the failure of the Indian electricity sector to create scope for competition has led to considerable hand-wringing. But much of this concern is based on an insufficiently detailed understanding of what introducing competition in the Indian electricity sector entails, and what role regulators can and should play in doing so.
To begin with, it is incorrect to assume that India is traversing some well-mapped global path of success with electricity markets. Instead, there is a diversity of market designs, as each country structures its market around domestic political constraints. And there is a diversity of outcomes. While markets do seem to bring short-term efficiency gains, they can also bring gaming or the exercise of market power (California), capacity shortfalls as investors fear price uncertainty (Norway) and other such problematic outcomes. The jury is by no means decided on the wisdom and sustainability of electricity markets.
In India, we have sought to implement a limited form of competition – open access, largely dictated by our own political constraints. The idea is to allow independent power generators "open access" to public transmission wires on payment of a fee for use of those wires and a surcharge to compensate the public utility. This will enable them to contract directly with large electricity consumers, creating competition in at least a segment of the market. These consumers will likely be more creditworthy than cash-strapped state utilities, thereby encouraging the entry of more generators to bridge our supply gap. Regulators were charged with creating the implementing regulations for this approach.
The problem, however, is that to implement this idea effectively regulators must make political choices, something they are not equipped to do. Large industrial electricity buyers who are likely to exit are also those keeping the system afloat by cross-subsidising other users such as farmers and households. If, because of open access, they were to shift their power purchases to independent private generators, the finances of the public utility would become untenable, leading to declining quality of supply to poor, but politically important, constituencies. The key point is that the political impact of open access is, therefore, directly linked to a regulatory decision on the size of the cross-subsidy surcharge. Too low, and the public utility becomes dysfunctional leading to a likely political backlash; too high, and open access is a non-starter. Most regulators have chosen the latter, or have chosen to stall on implementation of open access.
The broader problem is that it is a fiction to think that by handing political decisions off to an independent technocratic body, the sector will effectively be de-politicised. Instead, the politics are only pushed underground. Regulators are not equipped to make discretionary decisions that create winners and losers, nor are they subject to the accountability structures necessary to do so with any credibility. Instead, such decisions should be the job of the political process.
Open access has been promoted as an economic instrument. But it is as much, if not more, a political reform mechanism — a way to deal with historically entrenched electricity pricing and subsidy patterns. If it is politically unviable to cut off subsidies directly, the thinking goes, perhaps they can be choked off indirectly by simply having the subsidisers (large industry) leave the public system.
Both electricity regulators as an institution and open access as an instrument have their roots in efforts to side-step difficult politics. But asking a technocratically constituted body – the regulator – to accomplish reform by stealth – open access – is a futile endeavour. If we are to implement open access carefully, the issue has to be revisited at the political level, with due attention to the impacts on the public system, and on the poor and the vulnerable who have no other options.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PARLIAMENT ON HOLD
A SHORTENED BUDGET SESSION KILLS DEBATE AND OPPORTUNITIES FOR NEW LEGISLATION
The Budget session of Parliament was supposed to work for three months, from late February to early May. Only now, it won't. The government wants to end all proceedings by March 25, less than two weeks from now. In that time, the Budget has to be cleared and all spending plans approved. In its hurry, the government is willing to sacrifice scrutiny of the Budget proposals by the many standing parliamentary committees and debate in the two Houses. It says that the reason for this headlong rush to clear the Budget and close Parliament is that five states are going to polls through April and May. Ergo, MPs need to go out and sway voters, not fellow parliamentarians, with their rhetoric. There is already pressure on MPs from West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, cutting across party lines, to get out of Parliament and on the campaign trail. For some time now, governments have started treating the Budget exercise shabbily. It used to be a four-step procedure involving preparation, presentation, debate and passage. From the NDA years, the scope of the third step, debate, has steadily shrunk. Today, the government can shave nearly a month and a half off the Budget session — and still claim to have passed the Budget.
In its haste to close the session this month, the government will miss its deadline to pass critical new laws to reform insurance, banking and pension funds, the government's role in acquiring land, rehabilitation of people affected by land acquisition and mining. A law to modernise company law is pending, and nobody knows when amendments to facilitate the GST will come through. The winter session was lost because the opposition refused to let Parliament function. Now no new laws can be enacted in the Budget session because everybody wants to go fight elections. Campaigning is a critical function of a democracy, one that keeps the political system competitive and on its toes. What this government seems to be forgetting is that the parliamentary system is equally important. Debate, lawmaking and holding the government to account, the principal activities of Parliament, can't be sacrificed at the altar of election schedules.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
DALAI LAMA'S MOVE TO DIVEST TEMPORAL AUTHORITY IS A SUBTLE CHALLENGE TO CHINA
The ongoing session of the Tibetan Parliament-inexile is set to be a historic one as it debates the decision of the Dalai Lama to step down as the political head of the Tibetan community and hand over that role to an elected prime minister-in-exile. The Dalai Lama's announcement, clearly, is a political move to pre-empt, and deny legitimacy to, the Chinese regime's plans of anointing its own Dalai Lama at a future date, and a nonetoo subtle reminder of the absence of political freedoms in China as a whole. But it is also a welcome step towards the separation of the clergy and political/foreign policies of the Tibetan community. While welcoming the democratisation of Tibetan politics this entails, India must remain aware of the complexities this will throw up, given its stated position of merely playing humanitarian host to Tibetans in exile. The Dalai Lama's exact future role is likely to be defined as the session of the Parliament-in-exile ends later this month, but China is likely to face a bigger problem while seeking to dismiss Tibetan leadership-in-exile as an unrepresentative and illegal clique, given that it has, so far, tried to deal with the situation by claiming it is engaging the representatives of the Tibetans even while seeking to engineer splits in the Tibetan religious leadership.
But the move is also a response to the changed situation within the wider Tibetan community, what with a younger generation discontented with the fact of the Dalai Lama's compromise policy having achieved nothing substantial. Indeed, one of the significant aspects of the widespread protests in 2008, which shook the Chinese regime and led it to tighten its repressive structure in Tibet even more, was the fact that they weren't led by the clergy, but by a wider section of Tibetan society, even within the Chinese mainland, rebelling against the erosion of their demands and continuing marginalisation. A non-clerical, more representative political leadership is likely to be better placed to articulate contemporary Tibetan aspirations while underlining the need for greater freedoms, individual and democratic, within China itself.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
HOW JHARKHAND INADVERTENTLY CREATED A POTENT NEW 21ST-CENTURY SPORT
Last month, Jharkhand hosted the 34th National Games. The host team normally has the advantage of practising in the facilities put up for the event. However, the Jharkhand swimming team was initially practising not in the main pool or even the practice-one but on the ground lest the water get dirty! T h e S u n d a y P i o n e e r newspaper quoted a Jharkhand sports directorate official as stating that the swimmers should practise elsewhere since there was not enough time to clean up the pool before the National Games. While showing the swimmers swimming on the land, Times Now wondered how many Olympic medals the USA and China would have won if their sports officials had the same attitude as their counterparts in Jharkhand. It was only after the telecast that Jharkhand's swimmers were allowed to use the pool.
Why, you may ask, in a state where a CM like Madhu Koda has allegedly amassed . 1,340 crore through kickbacks, was it not possible to put up an additional swimming pool where Jharkhand's finest swimmers could practise? You would be missing the point altogether. By ensuring that his swimmers initially practised on land and not water, the visionary Jharkhand sports official could have started a whole new sport. Each sport is an acquired trait in the sense that it becomes popular when everyone starts playing it the same way. If enough swimmers all over the world adopt the Jharkhand model of swimming on land and not water, that could become a new Olympic sport. We could even have a simulated prize-giving ceremony where the best simulated swimmers can be awarded simulated medals. Necessity being the mother of invention, swimming on land could even be followed by running on water during monsoon floods!
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
FREEDOM MEANS FASTER GROWTH
STATES WITH INCREASING ECONOMIC FREEDOM GROW FASTER AND THOSE WITH FALLING FREEDOM GROW SLOWER
How do we measure economic freedom, and how relevant is it for economic growth? Some answers come from Economic Freedom of the States of India 2011, a report just brought out by the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, Cato Institute and Indicus Analytics.
The report shows that measuring economic freedom at the state level is a difficult and inexact exercise, given data limitations. More important than the absolute freedom ranking of any state can be a change in rankings, showing whether economic freedom is improving or worsening over the last five years. While economic freedom can only be one of many factors that influence economic growth, the big picture emerging from the data is that, by and large, states with increasing freedom are growing faster, and those with worsening freedom are growing slower.
The only two states that showed a large increase in economic freedom between 2004-05 and 2008-09 were Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat, and they averaged 10.5% annual state GDP growth. States with a moderate rise in economic freedom averaged 8.1% annual growth. States with a moderate fall in freedom averaged 8.7% annual growth. And those with large falls in freedom averaged only 6.7%. The big picture is clear: more freedom tends to go with faster growth. However,economic freedom is not the only relevant factor, which is why some states with low rankings — notably Bihar and Chhattisgarh — have grown exceptionally fast. However, they have grown from a low base, and relied very lop-sidedly on construction in Bihar, and on mining and basic industry in Chhattisgarh. This pattern may not be sustainable without improving freedom indicators too. By contrast, improved economic freedom in Kashmir has not yielded fast growth because of terrorism. It can be no surprise to learn that Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh have been the big improvers. Less well known is the fact that Punjab and Maharashtra, once the two richest and fastest growing states, are now sliding downhill in economic freedom. Perhaps this is not really news: industrialists in western India have for a decade preferred Gujarat to Maharashtra. Punjab has lost the plot for some time, but can complain— with justice — that investments that would normally have come to Punjab have gone to neighbouring Himachal Pradesh and Uttrakhand because of unwarranted tax breaks given for investments in those states.
There are many statistical problems in measuring freedom. This report attempts to follow the methodology of Economic Freedom of the World, a global comparison of economic freedom brought out annually by the Fraser Institute and others. But the exercise needs extensive modification since the policy tools available to state governments are far fewer than those available to national governments. This report focuses on three categories of freedom at the state level. One is the size of government relative to state GDP. The second is legal structure and property rights. The third is regulation of business and labour. There are problems in locating data across all states that will help measure these three parameters. Even if better data were available, these three are obviously incomplete measures of freedom. For instance, in Bihar, historically the slough of despond, chief minister Nitish Kumar has generated rapid 10.5% growth. He vastly improved law and order — and hence business confidence —by jailing 38,000 gun-toting criminals. Unfortunately, the report's data cannot pick up this sort of improvement in economic freedom, and so Bihar remains at the bottom of the freedom list.
It was argued by Planning Commission chief, Montek Singh Ahluwalia, at the launch ceremony, that the report should have considered positive as well as negative freedoms. Freedom from hunger, illiteracy and insecurity enables people to become entrepreneurial, and providing these freedoms can often mean more government spending rather than less. Nitish Kumar, for instance, hired over two lakh contract teachers in Bihar to fill huge gaps in schools.
The problem is that we have no data that tell us how much government spending is useful and how much is wasteful. So, while useful spending may indeed provide positive freedoms, it is impossible to measure this. The report measures economic freedom as a falling share of revenue spending to state GDP. This is clearly a rough and ready measure, but looks statistically robust.
The top three states in 2009 were Tamil Nadu, Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh — no surprises there. The bottom states were Bihar, Uttrakhand and Assam. The only surprise here is Uttrakhand, a once-backward area that has recently done very well, averaging 8.4 growth in 2005-09. This is partly because of tax breaks for investment. But the state has also spent a lot on roads and education, and done those jobs relatively well. To that extent, rising government spending in this state could arguably have provided positive economic freedoms — as hypothesised by Ahluwalia.
A legitimate criticism of the freedom measures in the report, pointed out by chairman of the Committee on Agricultural Costs and Prices, Ashok Gulati, is that they mostly try to measure business freedom, ignoring the freedom of farmers. More than half the population is engaged mainly in agriculture, including most of the poor. Indian agriculture has long been cosseted on the one hand by subsidised power, water and fertilisers, and hamstrung, on the other, by compulsory procurement, export bans and restrictions on the movement and sales of farm products. It will be interesting to see if the inclusion of farmers' freedom in the index will significantly change the rankings of different states.
SWAMINATHAN S ANKLESARIA AIYAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
IS PUBLIC-FUNDED HEALTHCARE IN INDIA VIABLE?
CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER APOLLO MUNICH HEALTH INSURANCE A Three-Pillar Structure Will Work
Healthcare in India is widely recognised as a state responsibility and hence its demand, supply and delivery mechanism cannot be left to the forces of market economics alone. Nor can it be restricted to the care facilitated through public expenditure. The healthcare spend in India is expected to double (and touch . 2,250 billion) by 2014. A widespread lack of health insurance compounds the healthcare challenges faced by India. Barely 12-13% of the population has some form of health insurance cover in addition to the 10% who get covered through some form of government schemes. What then makes for a just healthcare system? I believe, India should work towards a three-pillar structure where the state can help make healthcare accessible to the population below the poverty line through free or almost free healthcare cover schemes such as RSBY, etc. For the share of population who are covered by schemes like CGHS, ESI, etc., the state should work more as a facilitator for better business environment and ensure the healthcare delivery mechanism is adequately incentivised and disincentivised.
As the third pillar, private health insurance, should play the critical role to support in financing the growing health insurance needs of the rapidly evolving Indian middle class. Health insurance is poised to play the critical role of financing medical innovation and technology and make them readily available within India. This should leave a strong rub off effect for the government run schemes through utilisation of the existing healthcare bandwidth.
India is standing at a crossroad where the need for healthcare is growing every minute. The recently promulgated reforms of the US healthcare system have an early warning for us in India. By taking proactive measures now, the Indian government can avoid the inevitable situation and steps adopted by the US government. Hence a more effective private-public partnership built on trust and transparency would facilitate universal healthcare access while enhancing our readiness to address the growing gap of healthcare demand and supply.
COORDINATOR INITIATIVE FOR HEALTH & EQUITY IN SOCIETY Only If Healthcare is Priority
Over 77% of Indians earn less than . 20 per day. The skewed economic growth has made health care and medical costs unaffordable to the poor. And their rising indebtedness and impoverishment is linked to hospitalisation. Public-funded health care is desperately needed by a large number of our women, children and senior citizens, who in spite of the economic growth continue to be malnourished, anaemic and suffer from both communicable and non-communicable diseases. Unregulated, privatised, commercialised and often exploitative healthcare may be viable for the providers and an extremely profitable business investment for some, but not for the majority of our people who need comprehensive, affordable and quality healthcare. So, comprehensive health and nutrition policies are a must. This requires those in governance and those setting priorities to view human resources as an investment, not as liability. Public funds can be generated and have been generated in the past. The country's ranking in the human development index will improve with inclusive growth. Over 47% of children under five are malnourished and maternal mortality is high. This is unacceptable. The chances of reducing malnutrition and improving healthcare are bleak if 'food security' policies are based only on starchy cereals, with no dals, oils, affordable vegetables, etc. Speculation has fuelled food price inflation. Faulty policies in food will negatively impact the health of the poor. Merely having a health policy does not make sense unless there is a conscious effort to target public healthcare. A constructive way would be to design a comprehensive — i.e., preventive, promotive, curative and rehabilitative — public health services. Healthcare of citizens should be given high priority (not mere 1% of GDP), with the public sector playing a major role. It is not the dearth of resources, but the lack of priority which has prevented investments in robust healthcare systems.
Public-funded health care in India can be made viable if and when health and public policy related to health is acknowledged as a priority.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
POLLS, LEADERS & PAPER TIGERS
C L MANOJ
One good thing about elections, apart from the ordinary people getting to play masters to their rulers on the day of reckoning, is we all get to know who is a real leader and who a mere pretender. Come poll season, the real leaders, the stars of the people's durbar, descend on the battleground by riding on the popular support, unleash their charisma and connectivity with the people to sway the voters. A leader may triumph or perish in these electoral battles, but never he or she shall shy/run away from facing the people's rating on the ground. For the true leaders, the waves of support and adulation from the masses work as their all-conquering drive. No wonder Delhi's rootless paper tigers, thriving by marketing their clever-by-half tricks through bonded hawkers, retreat to underground cellars when the bugles of electoral battles are sounded. Aware of their zero connectivity with the people and inability to fight it out on the grounds, these fake leaders try to package themselves as 'backroom players' and 'strategists'. Never mind these tricks, elections always remain an exclusive affair between people and their true leaders. The rest of the paraphernalia; the campaign coordinators, the speech-writers, fund-distributors, TV room speakers are mere helpers of the true leaders who fight it out in the open to win hearts and votes for their parties. No wonder, the mushrooming "notional leaders" of the national parties do not have any "national reach".
So, the next two months we will witness this celebration of popular leadership in Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal, Assam and Puducherry. There are many political ramifications to this round of Assembly polls. But beyond that, we will see four men — M Karunanidhi, V S Achuthanandan, Tarun Gogoi, Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee — and two women — Jayalalaithaa and Mamata Banerjee — leading these battles from the front, demonstrating what it takes to be true leaders.
One may agree or disagree with what these six leaders stand for, their style of functioning, their ideology or mantra of governance. But, what can't be disputed is the fact that these are leaders who have risen from the people's power and popular movements through decades of struggle. They try to attain power by winning the hearts of people unlike the 'cellar leaders' who try to capture power by bypassing people. Incidentally for three of them, this could be their last electoral battle. At 85, an ailing Karunanidhi is forced to lead yet another campaign due to the lack of consensus on his successor in DMK's first family as well the inability of his colleagues to match Jayalalithaa's firepower. It will take a few more days to formally know whether V S Achuthanandan, 87, will again defeat his inner-party rivals to bag a party ticket or not. But, the "VS factor' is sure loom large in this Kerala poll one way or other. At 75, not only the seasoned Tarun Gogoi is trying for an unprecedented hattrick victory in Assam, he is also the oldest of the 11 Congress chief ministers. After the death of YSR, Gogoi along with Sheila Dikshit and Ashok Gehlot remain the only tall Congress chief ministers given the high command has, strangely, done away with the tradition of grooming powerful regional satraps.
Interestingly, each of these six regional leaders has their very own unique political identity and contribution. Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa may be remembered these days more for the corruption charges. But, the Tami Nadu CM remains the face of a movement that brought in radical social transformation in the southern state, while his challenger symbolises the determination of a charismatic woman to survive and lead against all odds.
Achuthanadan does not have the theoretical skills of E M S Namboothirippad, administrative vision of C Achutha Menon and political craft of K Karunakaran, but he has the reputation of being a never-saydie grassroot fighter and incorruptible leader who shows, to his own party leadership, that the real power does not lie in 'capturing party committees' but in winning cadre support. Buddhadeb looks destined to preside over the withering away of the Communist West Bengal in a battle in which he, along with Biman Bose, is shouldering the accumulated burden of the Left Front rule as well the loneliness in the absence of war veterans like Jyoti Basu, Anil Biswas, Subhash Chakroborty, etc. Yet, Buddha will be remembered for showing the courage (his rivals may say Gorbachev-like) to try and reform the Left administrative doctrine, and for his clean public life and simple life style. Beneath Mamata's mercurial ways lies a steely determination, tempered by decades of lonely and courageous fight against an organised rival. Gogoi's clean image and his government's unique health schemes and pro-women and pro-rural schemes are his USP.
So, this round of elections is not only a tribute to these popular leaders but also a demo on how their public life holds a mirror to our `drawing-room leaders' and the young 'hereditary turks' who look for shortcuts to power and fame.
A REFLECTIVE LIST
CALDC AS THE OMBUDSMAN ?
THE CPI-M's list of nominees for the West Bengal Assembly election unmistakably bears the imprint of Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and the omnipotent Calcutta District Committee (Cal DC). No less crucially does it confirm the continuation of the legacy of the late Anil Biswas. This is reflected in the anxiety to bolster the nominations with a dose of blood transfusion, as it were. In retrospect, had the CalDC been quite as assertive after the Lok Sabha debacle, the contemplated course correction would not have remained a non-starter, despite the Chief Minister's occasional fulmination against the "haughty and the corrupt". The fine print of the list must make one wonder why the party had to wait for the nominations to be seen to be assertive against the tainted and ineffectual. Much as the list mirrors the mood of self-criticism, it is an open question whether the nominations will shore up the party's image before the first vote is cast.
The exclusion of as many as nine ministers is quite the most striking feature of the list, even if many of the failures haven't been dropped. It does signify the cleansing of non-performers and the corrupt. Small wonder why minister Manab Mukherjee, under a cloud over Rajarhat land deals and alleged personal profligacy at state expense, has been axed. Partha De, if a four-time MLA from Bankura, has been the victim of infighting in the district. Just as heavyweight Rabin Deb has been doomed to a similar fate. Implicit is the message that Mr De has been as indifferent as his predecessor in the school education department, notably in his handling of the primary teachers' training controversy. Jogesh Barman, another casualty, has made a hash of the rehabilitation package for Maoists. And the likes of Lakhsman Seth, at the root of the Nandigram outrage, have cut no ice.
Speaker Halim may have opted out on the face of it; but he did cause considerable embarrassment to the government ~ after the poll dates were announced ~ by insisting on a budget instead of the customary vote-on-account. The exclusion of the Deputy Speaker and the Chief Whip suggests that the party isn't particularly impressed with the conduct of legislative business, pitted against an increasingly raucous Opposition. Is the party trying to build up a second rung of leaders? Pre-eminent among them is 25-year-old SFI leader, Satarup Ghosh, who has been allotted the prized Kasba constituency. The SFI's string of victories in recent college union elections must have weighed decisively in the calculations. Another notable feature is that more than 50 per cent of the candidates are debutants ~ 148 out of 294 nominations. The marked increase in tickets for women and Muslims underscores the importance of the swing factor. Overall, the process of exclusion and induction illustrates that the party is eventually aware of its government's overwhelming failure. Alas, the realisation has dawned when prospects are almost beyond hope, beyond despair. CalDC has made the party turn the searchlight inwards. A message there for the overarching Alimuddin Street.
TRIVIALLY DOES IT
BOTH SIDES IGNORE CONTENTIOUS ISSUES
THE obfuscation, if not mutual deception, is complete. Thirty-three years after the "quiet influx" from Bangladesh was exposed in this newspaper, the 33rd "border coordination" conference was focused on the relatively trivial. A "joint retreat ceremony" by the BSF and Border Guard Bangladesh (BGB) is on the anvil on the Petrapole-Benapole border. Just as a similar ritual in Attari is not known to have influenced India-Pakistan confidence-building measures, so too will the ceremonial grandstanding on the eastern flank be an exercise in simulated bonhomie. And minus the twirling of the moustache that perhaps signifies the undercurrent of tension on the western border. The tourism potential inherent in the lowering of the flags is a trivial factor compared to the contentious issues at stake, notably border fencing, fake Indian currency, smuggling of narcotics, human trafficking and also, of course, the training hubs of the North-east militants and the relentless illegal influx. Quite plainly, there was no sense of urgency at the border coordination conference that ought to have dealt with the fencing issue that remains unresolved, an illustration of both sides agreeing to disagree. Still more shocking must be the impervious attitude of the authorities ~ once again on both sides of the high table ~ to the booming circulation of fake Indian currency in Kolkata and large parts of the country. On both sides, the overriding compulsion is to attract the tourist, the genuine as much as the fake, if the statement of the BSF Director-General is any indication. "We hope the Petrapole-Benapole checkpost will be a major tourist attraction like Wagah-Attari." This ought to have been the very least in the bilateral order of priorities. Yet it has been buttressed seemingly to the extent that it will relegate the smuggling of drugs, contraband and spurious currency. It is as trivial as the scheduled exchange of visits ~ would "junkets" be the right word ? ~ by spouses of senior officers of the two forces. A decidedly more substantive engagement must mark bilateral ties.
TIGERS & 'CHOPPERS'
RISK OF A MISMATCH
WILDLIFE tourism has ever been a balancing act, now a new factor is being added to the equation in the country's most celebrated game preserve ~ Corbett Park. In a bid to attract more of the money-generating visitors, the Uttarakhand government has decided to permit helicopter services to the park, as well as "aerial safaris". While there should be no quarrel with making Corbett more accessible through air links, it would be advisable for specialists in the management of the endangered big cats to be consulted before approving flights over the park from which tourists could hope to savour the magic of all that a wilderness area has to offer. Helicopters are very noisy "birds" and their frequent criss-crossing the Corbett skies could shatter the peace which all animals (humans excepted?) deserve. Particularly in a "sanctuary". To make comparisons with Africa is unrealistic: the parks there have not shrunk to the same extent as Corbett and other Indian preserves because of massive encroachment by the local populace, there would be few major roads running through them or places of worship in proximity to the core areas. Perhaps more importantly, the African "bush" and the Indian jungle are worlds apart. Lions, rhinos, giraffe etc live in "open" areas, hence can be viewed from quite a height. The Indian jungles are dense, even people on the ground do not see the tiger easily. That would mean the helicopters would have to fly low, create enough noise to drive the cats from where they "lie up", and hope that tourists glimpse them on the move. The thrill the tourist might enjoy could be torture for all the animals in the park, and in a game sanctuary the interests of wildlife warrants precedence. The ministry for environment and forests must take a call, the sooner the better. To await an impact-assessment after the aerial safaris have operated commercially would be unfair to both the "service provider" and the tiger. It might appear harsh and cynical to recall a Corbett-chopper story of not so long ago. A private helicopter made a "secret" landing in a remote area of the park to facilitate a moneyed-brat prove to his father that he was no less of a "shot". Yet if that happened once…
HISTORICAL SRI RAMAKRISHNA~I
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN HAGIOGRAPHY AND ACADEMIC RESEARCH
BY MARTIN KÄMPCHEN
MANY years ago, I gave a lecture in Kolkata on Rabindranath Tagore's visits to Germany in the 1920s. I described the enthusiastic response he received as well as the criticism his books and he himself had to face. Some of the criticism was due to envy, some to the strangeness of his exotic appearance, and because of the softness of his lyrical prose which these critics misjudged as weakness. After the lecture an elderly gentleman got up and said, sadly: "I am very sorry that you do not like Rabindranath." It took me a while to clarify that I was merely reporting some historical facts and had not revealed my personal likes or dislikes at all.
Another time, I was requested by a college teacher to find out the full text of the remarks the German Indologist, Paul Deussen, had made of Swami Vivekananda in his autobiography. Excerpts available in India showed omissions indicated by three dots. It took me some effort to get the book and find the quotation. The omitted sentences happened to be critical of the Swami. I wrote down the German text and added a verbatim English translation and sent both to my elderly friend. This was the last I heard of him; he cut off our relationship of many years.
These examples are typical. We in India find it difficult to distinguish between historical facts surrounding a historical figure and our own subjective attitude to such a figure. We tend to hero-worship and, in the process, to block out any traits that do not happen to conform with the venerable image we have conceived. The full facts of history are being suppressed because we refuse to accept a larger, more complex and contextual view of the figure we venerate. Whoever this figure is, he or she was part of history and thus part of the positive and negative processes and attitudes of the time. This does not detract from that person's heroic traits. In fact, I see heroism more truly exhibited in the ability to strictly follow a chosen path by conquering the hindrances and the opposition within oneself and in society.
This penchant to idealize and thus lift a person beyond history is responsible for why many saints of India have not yet been studied as figures of history. Myth and legend are being confused with history as verifiable by genuine records.
In the 1980s, I wrote a doctoral thesis at Santiniketan comparing the life of Sri Ramakrishna with the life of Francis of Assisi, the Italian saint. It was not well accepted by some devotees of Sri Ramakrishna who argued: How is it possible to compare an avatar with a mere saint? However, cannot Sri Ramakrishna, as a man of history, be compared with Francis, as a man of history? Their common ground is their historicity as human beings. Whether or not Ramakrishna was an avatar, and whether or not I as the author believe this, must not be part of an academic debate. It is an article of faith. By the way, personally, I have every respect for my friends who worship Sri Ramakrishna as their ista debatar. But again, this is outside academics.
As regards Sri Ramakrishna, the result of this idealizing predisposition, is that research on him has led into two directions. One path is taken by his devotees, especially by the learned monks of the Ramakrishna order and its followers. Scholarly rigour, spiritual and missionary zeal will have been invested in describing and interpreting Ramakrishna's life and translating the conversations with his disciples into English. This is hagiography, intended not only to acquaint its readers with the avatar, but also to inspire in them the love and veneration.
The second path is taken by academics who research on the historical time in which Sri Ramakrishna lived. They study him as historians, psychologists and scholars of religious studies. They are Indians, Europeans and Americans. As it always happens, some of the research is weak or slanted, even erroneous, and other works are original and brilliant. Unfortunately, most men and women of the first path reject these academic offerings wholly, the weak along with the brilliant. Probably, they consider academic research unhelpful in their spiritual quest.
I have felt grieved by this gulf in understanding and interpreting Sri Ramakrishna, feeling close to the ideals of the order, and at the same time, trying to be a true scholar. Why don't educated worshippers of Sri Ramakrishna desire to know more and ever more about the life of their chosen ideal? Is this not a natural yearning? Why do they fear that seeing Sri Ramakrishna as a historical figure would weaken their faith in him? This fear, I assume is one motivation for rejecting historical scholarship. Speaking for myself, scholarly enquiry has not dampened my enjoyment of Sri Ramakrishna's childlike, spiritual exuberance and his inspiring conversations. On the contrary, I have grown more appreciative of his enormous spiritual struggles after understanding the complex historical context in which he lived.
Probably the central question of this debate is: Can men and women who are not worshippers of Sri Ramakrishna truly understand him as what he is? Does it need a deep spiritual love for him to appreciate his essence? In other words, do academics miss his essence when they look at him as a figure of 19th century Kolkata middle-class society? This is an intricate question. Those who follow the first path would, I assume, reply that Sri Ramakrishna can be understood best by meditating on him, by devotedly loving him ~ not through history books. And this is the argument why they turn away from the scholarship of the historians as a waste of time.
My reaction to this is that educated persons looking at Sri Ramakrishna are obliged, by dint of their education, to gather all the facts of his spiritual and earthly journey. Such persons cannot afford to ignore the Sri Ramakrishna of history. Genuine modern education is bound to create a wish to understand an object of knowledge on all levels ~ rationally, emotionally and spiritually. Education teaches us that we are intelligent as well as spiritual beings and that we are whole only when we allow our various powers to interact with each other. We cannot but accept history as a necessary complement to our faith life.
(To be concluded)
The writer is a German scholar,
based in Santiniketan
BUT NUCLEAR POWER WILL STILL PREVAIL
The disabling of a nuclear power plant in Japan after an earthquake struck is certain to bring new thinking on the issue. This has been flagged by the extreme measures the Japanese authorities have used at the Fukushima Daiichi plant ~ pumping in impure sea water that will ruin the reactor core so as to reduce heat build-up and prevent a meltdown. Although this reactor, which dates back 40 years, was due to be retired by the end of March, another two units at the plant have also been flooded with sea water. Fukushima will be written off. The message in Japan's unconventional approach is that a meltdown had to be stopped, by any means. Operators of reactors with years of service left would see a lesson here. After the Chernobyl meltdown in 1986, the Soviets permanently entombed the plant with a concrete shell to seal in radioactive matter.
Nuclear generation of electricity is quite new, begun only in 1954 in the Soviet Union. The Fukushima incident will inspire a dynamic science to come up with new safety designs to make backups to cooling systems failure-proof. Backup failure was an unforeseen deficiency in the Japanese case. The good that will come of it is that it will be noted.
Next, the question of locating nuclear plants in seismologically unstable regions will provoke new debate. The scientific feasibility had actually been determined in Japan's case. This is why the Fukushima case will have experts scrambling as the plant had been built to withstand quakes. The building stood up well. It was the resultant tsunami which knocked out the cooling system. This is a new challenge. Now, another plant in Onagawa, close to Fukushima, is reporting cooling problems. Henceforth, quake-prone countries planning reactors, like Indonesia, can expect rigorous scrutiny by the International Atomic Energy Agency. Going nuclear would be discouraged of nations that lack an advanced technological base and the ability to produce nuclear scientists and technicians.
Nuclear power's future, however, will probably survive this calamity, provided its lessons are absorbed. This is because use of depleting fossil fuels to generate energy will have to end. More nations are thus investing in nuclear plants. This form of energy ironically is "clean", a natural alternative together with other renewable sources as global warming becomes the concern of the age. Japan is the world's third most nuclear-intensive in terms of operating reactors. It depends on nuclear power more than America does, but less than France. The thinking on the issue has shifted over the years from one of dogmatic opposition on safety grounds, to the more helpful line of trying to make its production safer.
the straits times/ann
LET CHINESE JASMINE BLOOM!
THE DALAI LAMA'S RENUNCIATION OF POLITICAL CONTROL IS PROBABLY POSITIONED TO COINCIDE WITH MOUNTING CRITICISM INSIDE CHINA OF THE GOVERNMENT'S INTRANSIGENCE OVER TIBET. TIME COULD BE RUNNING OUT FOR BEIJING, WRITES
A cartoon in a contemporary daily newspaper recalled Mao Zedong's dictum: "Let a hundred flowers bloom!" The Dalai Lama is shown adding cryptically: "Including jasmine." That cartoon said it all. Dalai Lama's formal renunciation of power could well act as catalyst nudging China to democratise itself. On Monday, Chinese Premier Mr Wen Jiabao discounted chances of a Jasmine uprising in China. But he conceded that there was need for political reforms that might allow people to criticise the government. He dismissed the threat of a Jasmine uprising with the words: "No such political movement is likely in China because people are aware of massive development strides it has taken in the past three decades."
Mr Wen is wrong, of course. Economic well being is no substitute for freedom. And he is mistaken in thinking that political reforms allowing dissent are sustainable in an undemocratic society. The Dalai Lama in all probability is more on the mark. His renunciation of political control probably is timed to coincide with developments inside China. He has access to information inside China unavailable to most. An increasing number of critics inside China are beginning to voice disagreement with Beijing's intransigence over Tibet. The Dalai Lama's unambiguous declaration that he wants Tibet to remain part of China and seeks only sufficient autonomy to safeguard Tibetan culture and identity is rubbished by Beijing. This betrays a pathological commitment to what lies at the heart of dictatorships: the desire to exercise total control. Dictatorships display ruthless power to mask a pathetic sense of insecurity.
Can China become democratic? This scribe believes it can. What China's Communist Party leadership cannot tolerate is multi-party democracy as in the West. What the West and China's leadership do not appreciate is that democracy can flourish in a single party system too. At the risk of being very presumptuous, this scribe would like to outline how China can move towards a genuine democracy without sacrificing the core interests of its leadership. The core values of democracy rest on the beliefs of free speech and decisions taken on the basis of the majority view. This is how these core beliefs are achievable in a single party democracy which in fact would not be different from the partyless democracy advocated by Mahatma Gandhi and Jayaprakash Narain.
Any citizen seeking a political role would join the Communist Party. He would become a member only after pledging allegiance to the principles enshrined in the country's constitution which would not differ from the party's constitution. Each member of the Communist Party would be free to contest elections. The member would be free to propagate an agenda and seek public support for it. Without formation of any party individual members would be allowed to mobilise followers in support of an agenda.
To qualify for contesting elections each candidate would have to furnish evidence of minimal public support in order to restrict the number of candidates and make elections manageable. The Assembly would elect the President and Premier through democratic contests. Decisions of the Assembly would be taken on the basis of the majority vote. There would be complete freedom to create media outlets. The Judiciary would be independent. Any transgressions by it would be subject to either the Assembly or to the President on the basis of adherence to the written constitution.
All the characteristics of a genuine democracy would obtain except that there would not be a multiplicity of parties. Indeed, the absence of party discipline could conceivably ensure greater freedom of choice to legislators and render issues more important than blind party loyalty. That was one reason why Mahatma Gandhi was against the multi-party system. Whether the system is partyless or single party the characteristics remain the same.
So, what prevents the leaders of China to introduce full fledged democracy in their nation? Thus far Beijing has dealt with the Dalai Lama in Tibet. China's leaders were waiting for his departure from earth in order to impose their will over all Tibetans. Now the Dalai Lama will oversee how younger Tibetans utilise their new responsibilities. The result may be very different from what Beijing was expecting. Time could be running out for China. A great economy, a great civilisation and a great people should not impede the full potential progress of their nation by denying democracy to its citizens.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
100 YEARS AGO TODAY
Annual Convocation For Conferring Degrees
The annual Convocation of the University of Calcutta for conferring degrees on the successful candidates of the various degree examinations held by the University during the past year, took place on Saturday evening at the Senate House, and was presided over by His Excellency Lord Hardinge in his capacity as Chancellor of the University.
Punctually at 2.45, the Hon Vice-Chancellor, the Members of the Syndicate, and the Registrar received His Excellency the Chancellor at the foot of the staircase and conducted him to the Entrance Hall, where he was received by the Fellows clad in the University robes.
Shortly afterwards a procession was formed which entered the Hall in the following order:-
The Registrar with the Members of the Syndicate arranged two and two in order of seniority headed the procession, followed by His Excellency the Chancellor accompanied by the Hon the Vice-Chancellor, ex-officio Fellows, Honorary Fellows and Ordinary Fellows, arranged two and two in order of seniority.
The visitors and candidates for Degrees, who had already filled the Hall, remained standing until His Excellency the Chancellor had taken his seat on the dais. The Hon Sir Lawrence Jenkins, Chief Justice of Bengal, occupied a seat on the dais to the right of His Excellency and the Most Rev Dr R.S. Copleston, Lord Bishop of Calcutta, to the left of the Hon the Vice-Chancellor. The members of the Syndicate, the Honorary Fellows and the Members of the Senate occupied the seats on the platform to the right and left of the dais.
His Excellency the Chancellor then formally declared the Convocation open, and the candidates for the various degrees were presented to the Vice-Chancellor by the Principals of the Colleges at which they had studied or by the Deans of their Faculties.
ON THE BRINK
The scale of the devastation and the human tragedy in Japan is already so enormous that it is frightening to think of even worse calamities waiting to happen. But that is precisely the fear that envelops Japan and the rest of the world. Latest reports from Tokyo indicate yet another explosion in one of the damaged reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant and a fire at another, releasing large amounts of radioactive material into the air. The true proportions of the danger may still be difficult to quantify, just as the scale of human loss may take a while to measure. But enough is known by now for experts and governments to call the nuclear crisis in Japan the worst since the Chernobyl disaster of 1986. Policymakers, analysts and the common people in countries such as the United States of America and Germany see in the disaster in Japan a grim warning for the whole world. They have called for serious reviews of their governments' nuclear policies. In the US, where a policy for the expansion of nuclear power gained ground after decades of controversy, the potential catastrophe in Japan is sure to divide opinion again on the future of nuclear energy. Those who favour nuclear power as the cleanest energy available may have to rethink issues of safety more closely.
For a country like India, the Japanese tragedy has important lessons that should be learnt quickly and with all the seriousness that they deserve. It should be no comfort that nuclear power currently accounts for only 3 per cent of India's total power generation. The civilian nuclear deal signed between New Delhi and Washington two years ago aimed at raising India's nuclear power to 22 per cent of the country's energy production over the next two decades. The nuclear crisis in Japan does not invalidate India's nuclear policy but it shows how important it is to put in place the most rigorous safety and other technological devices. If its sophisticated and advanced technology could not protect Japan's nuclear plants from the ravages of an earthquake and a tsunami, a country with a lesser technological sophistication and a huge population could face far worse risks from natural disasters. India may have learnt some lessons from the earthquake in Gujarat in 2001 and the tsunami in 2004. The disaster in Japan is a warning that no time should be lost in improving India's disaster management systems.
There is something distinctly bizarre about the Supreme Court of India requesting the government of Pakistan to release an Indian who is a prisoner in Pakistan. The honourable judges who issued this appeal recognized their own odd position since they admitted that they could not give any direction to Pakistan authorities, as they have no jurisdiction over them. The question that immediately comes to mind is the following: why should the apex court comment on a matter that is outside its own jurisdiction? The answer is obvious. The court did so on purely humanitarian grounds. The motives of the judges are, therefore, noble and laudable. But those with a different view on the role and the duties of the judiciary will be compelled to ask if dispensing charity and displaying humanitarian sentiments are part of the responsibilities of the judiciary. The primary responsibility of the judiciary is to ensure that the laws of the land are upheld and adhered to, and further, to see to it that those who violate the laws of the land are justly and adequately punished following the due processes of law. This responsibility makes the judiciary a pillar of the democratic system. An appeal to a foreign government does not fall within the ambit of these responsibilities.
This particular case has other implications as well. The case was based on a petition filed by the prisoner's brother. The petitioner appealed to the court to direct the government of India to secure his brother's release from a prison in Pakistan. The court accepted this petition. There can be no doubt that the court wanted to help the petitioner and it has acted with the best of intentions. But what could the court do in the matter? As the court itself admitted, its writ did not run in Pakistan. Knowing this, the court admitted the petition. This is mystifying, to say the least. One consequence of the acceptance of the petition was the court wasting some amount of its very valuable time over a matter that was, on its own admission, actually outside its purview. The path to wastage of time was paved with good intentions. The Supreme Court, when it reflects on its own functioning and its own image, will have to face up to the possibility that its acceptance of the petition and its appeal to the Pakistan government were not entirely good for its self-image. The apex court, in its wisdom, should decide perhaps to stay within its own jurisdiction.
POWER AND GLORY
THE LAST WORD IS YET TO BE SAID ON GADDAFI OR ON HIS REGIME DIPLOMACY K.P. NAYAR
My earliest Libyan story comes from an Egyptian journalist who worked in Tripoli in the heady 1970s. That was a time when the 30-something, strikingly handsome Muammar Gaddafi, new to power after deposing King Idris, genuinely courted his people's support and campaigned for such backing among the country's 140-odd tribes, the source of real power in Libya.
One tribe in particular — the Magariha — was proving exceptionally difficult, so Gaddafi invited some Magariha leaders to Tripoli. As the tribal leaders sat down with Gaddafi in one of his now-famous tents to endless cups of mint-flavoured tea, conversation flowed freely. The tribal leaders spoke of how well the Magarihas were doing. One of their elders leaned over to Gaddafi and whispered that the tribe was awash with weapons, status symbols in societies which value guns more as insignia of rank or respectability than as weapons.
The Magarihas went home, satisfied that they had made a good impression on their new leader about the worth of their tribe. Now they hoped for a pride of place in the new order in Libya that was taking shape after the chaotic reign of the Senussi dynasty, which was more of a Sufi sect than any royalty, and whose entire history lasted barely 18 years.
The Magarihas were totally unprepared for what actually happened. Within days, the toughest of Gaddafi's security forces arrived in the areas where this tribe lived, ransacking houses, taking away the men for interrogation and executing those who resisted or showed any sign that the security forces interpreted as proof of being subversive.
However, like the Americans who invaded Iraq in 2003 and found no weapons of mass destruction, Gaddafi's men found no weapons of any consequence in the possession of the Magarihas. But the lack of weapons only convinced the security forces that the tribesmen had cleverly hidden them, perhaps anticipating a crackdown or having been warned in advance about it. The result was a brutal suppression of the tribe.
It was after a long time, and after much cruelty had been inflicted on the tribe, that Gaddafi realized the truth. Like Saddam Hussein, who pretended that he had nuclear and missile programmes so that he had control over his people and a bargaining chip abroad, the Magarihas had merely boasted about their weapons. These simply did not exist. In order to understand Libya and the ongoing turmoil in that country, it is necessary to understand its tribes and their curious ways.
It is tempting for many of us, schooled in the ways of democracies, to take a simplistic view and reduce the events in Libya merely to a conflict between an eccentric dictatorship and a people who want democracy. Actually, Libya's civil war is a tribal conflict that is rooted in the country's chequered history.
That explains the pre-Gaddafi flag of the monarchy being flaunted by the rebels in the eastern region, especially in Benghazi. King Idris was not the monarch of all of Libya, but initially just the Emir of Cyrenaica in the east. Forty-one years after Idris was deposed, such is the chasm between the eastern tribes in Cyrenaica and those in Tripolitania in the west that anyone or anything that has the backing of the former is bound to be opposed by the latter.
Libya, in its present composition as a state, is an artificial creation, a legacy of colonialism much like Transjordan, which eventually became the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. King Idris was foisted by the colonial powers on Tripolitania, now Tripoli and its neighbourhood, just as Gaddafi has foisted himself on the eastern parts such as Benghazi. A revolt against the bottling up of tribal feelings and loyalties for four decades was inevitable at some point, just the way the Balkans exploded after the end of the Cold War.
Perhaps that explains Gaddafi's very thoughtful soliloquy some years after he seized power, "I am a leader without a country," and his frustration with Egypt's abdication of Arab leadership when he said, equally thoughtfully, "Egypt is a country without a leader."
Even so, for those who watched Gaddafi with fascination — as a breath of fresh air in the 1970s, when he hopped up and down Tripoli, night after night in disguise, to understand the problems of his people and to get a first-hand feel of the shortcomings of his administration — it is difficult to live down the ongoing events in Libya. And who can forget that for many years after he seized power, Gaddafi refused to allot one of the newly-built houses for the homeless to his own father, who continued to live in a slum because ordinary Libyans with no patrons and godfathers had to be given preference over the parent of Libya's most powerful man?
A lingering image in my mind as I watched protests in Benghazi last week was that of demonstrators arriving at the seafront in cars, parking them and then joining the protests. There are not many countries in Africa where protesters have this luxury. Besides, Libya's rank in the United Nations human development index is not only not depressing, but, in fact, is also impressive in comparison to similarly-placed countries. It is, therefore, reasonable to assume that the last word has not yet been said on Muammar Gaddafi or his regime.
For the record, Ranjit Sethi, who was India's ambassador in Paris, once told me (while we were both waiting for Jacques Chirac, then president of France, to arrive at an event during his state visit to New Delhi) that "the French consider me to be one of them." There is only one other Indian ambassador I can think of whom the host country considered to be one of its own. That was Raminder Singh Jassal, who was once India's ambassador to Israel. He passed away last week.
For that reason, Ronen Sen plucked him from Tel Aviv and brought him to Washington as his deputy when Sen was ambassador to the United States of America. I vividly remember that approximately a year after the India-US civilian nuclear cooperation was announced with great fanfare at the White House, the deal was almost dead on Capitol Hill. Then, on May 10, 2006, Jassal managed to procure six letters in strong support of the deal from Robert Goodkind, president of the American Jewish Committee, and David Harris, the committee's executive director, addressed to Joe Biden, now US vice-president, Congressman Henry Hyde, after whom the nuclear legislation is named, and four other key Congressmen and senators.
Those letters, delivered through an Indian Jew whom Jassal used to call his "third son" but must remain unnamed lest his effectiveness is undercut, resuscitated the nuclear deal and eventually brought it into operation. "Localitis" is a fatal flaw among diplomats who come under the excessive influence of local situations, policies and politics by willingly suspending their better judgment. But ambassadors such as Sethi and Jassal are different: their host governments adopt them. When the history of the nuclear deal is written some day, Jassal will be remembered for how he bent the American Jewish lobby to India's will. Quite remarkable, considering this lobby is used to bending America to Israel's will alone.
Has any word ever joined English as fast as tsunami? It can be found in late-19th-century texts, but I doubt that before the Indian Ocean disaster of 2004 one English-speaker in a hundred had heard it. We had tidal wave, a far milder phenomenon. The Japanese original, oddly, started even milder still: tsu, harbour, plus nami, wave. Today, thanks to television, tsunami, in its fiercest meaning, is an English word.
English is peppered with words of alien origin. But, in common speech, unlike dictionaries, in modern times it has taken strangely few non-European ones, except, of course, from India. Food has brought in many words for dishes with no British equivalent. Sushi, a Japanese rice-and-fish ball, is one; so too shashlik, an ex-Turkish, then Russian word for a kind of kebab (which itself came from Persian or Arabic, but, remarkably, reached English by the late 17th century). But the big source has been the explosive spread of Indian restaurants in Britain.
One can argue which words are yet truly English, much as one can which dishes are in fact Indian, being prepared for British tastes by, often, Bangladeshis. My test is the speech of the average Briton, halfway between Indian English and American. I guess he can tell his chapati from his (ex-Tamil) poppadom; he knows of tandoori food, though not of a tandoor; but offer him words like dal, raita, aloo saag or even Britain's ubiquitous such-and-such tikka masala and he'll choke — as Indians may on the Bangla-British cooking concerned. As for vindaloo, the word is ex-Portuguese.
These culinary titbits have swamped earlier words brought home by returning nabobs or humbler folk retiring to their Surrey bungalows or the odd spin in a dinghy on the Thames. Those three Indian-born words and many more by now are indisputably English. But many, though familiar to the sahibs, did not survive the voyage home: Surrey has no nullahs (though today's roads may have anti-noise bunds) and a dak bungalow would certainly be taken as one with no windows.
Clothing too has played its part. Cashmere and calico long ago joined global English; so too kimono, Persia's turban and the now rare cummerbund. Lunghi and dhoti never made it, despite Churchill's contempt for "half-naked fakirs"; but salwar khameez and sarong are well on the way.
Though Asia's food and dress have added most to English, so have its oddities of geography or weather, like tsunamis. Typhoon is ex-Chinese — tai fung, big wind — though it may also owe its name to Typhon, a figure of Greek myth who produced such storms. (Ex-Chinese also is tycoon — big prince —though it arrived as an honorific from Japan around 1860, before getting today's meaning). But Russia's permafrost wastes in Siberia got tundra from the Lapps of far-north Finland. And its steppes, even in Asia, are indeed Russian.
Transport too has played its part, as with India's palanquin — it came via Portuguese from Oriya — or Japan's rickshaw or the junk (which is by origin Malay, not Chinese; so let's allow China its kowtow here, albeit one kowtows on one's knees, not on wheels or the sea). Or, recently, Thailand's tuk-tuk. And western India can claim the tank, the misleading code-word used by the British as they developed those vehicles for World War I.
And then there's war itself, and other violence. Middle Eastern Arabic gave us assassins, stoned on hashish, Malays ran amok and it was Japanese kamikaze pilots who slammed suicidally into hostile warships (no wonder we had to adopt their word: it's a wise English, not Japanese, saying that he who fights and runs away lives to fight another day). But honour where honour is due: it was not Asia but Germany that gave us blitz, short for blitzkrieg. Krieg means war, blitz is lightning. And so back to the tsunami and other strokes of nature.
CLIP THEIR WINGS
'UNQUALIFIED PILOTS SHOULD BE WEEDED OUT.'
Recruitment scandals are not uncommon in India, with ineligible candidates finding their way into government service or securing appointment in boards, corporations or other bodies. There have been umpteen charges of irregular appointments by public service commissions, the Railway Recruitment Board, etc and corruption and favouritism have been seen in them. The scandal that has hit the civil aviation sector is the latest and it is serious because of its implications for the safety of air passengers and the aircraft they travel in. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has decided to scrutinise the licences of over 4,000 pilots after reports that some of them who failed to qualify for their commercial licences may have used fake certificates to get their jobs. Two pilots have already been arrested and there are chances of more cases of fraud and irregularities coming out into the open in the coming days.
The scandal came into public view after repeated faulty landings of an aircraft by a woman pilot. It has since been found that fake marks sheets, procured through corrupt means, and other fraudulent documents have been used to secure pilots' jobs in airlines. Touts and middle men have reportedly been involved in the activities. The DGCA, which is the regulatory authority, has to accept blame because it has failed in its responsibility of vetting the documents. Connivance of DGCA officials in the irregularities cannot be ruled out. There have been reports that the kin of some officials, serving or retired, have benefited. The DGCA has the job of laying down, enforcing and monitoring airworthiness and safety standards and ensuring that the crew are best trained and equipped for their jobs. The scandal shows that it failed in its job at least in some cases.
Air travel has become much more frequent in India than in the past. Private airlines are very active and the sector is growing. But there have been complaints that the supporting infrastructure has not kept pace with the increasing requirements of the sector in terms of safety and security. The existence of pilots not qualified to fly adds a dangerous dimension to the problem. All of them should be weeded out to ensure safe travel and to create confidence in the minds of passengers. Action should also be taken against those who resorted to unfair means to secure jobs and others who facilitated it.
'MOST OF THE PATIENTS CANNOT AFFORD DIALYSIS.'
The growing incidence of chronic kidney disorders (CKDs) in India is reason for concern. Around 1.5 lakh new cases of kidney failure are diagnosed annually in the country and according to the World Health Organisation, over 2.5 crore people in India could develop CKD in the next two decades. Health experts are warning that the incidence of CKD is poised to grow as diabetes and hypertension — two of the major causes of kidney disease — are rampant. With India emerging as the world's diabetes capital, it is not surprising that CKD cases have grown dramatically in recent years. However, CKD is not inevitable for those with diabetes or hypertension. It can be prevented. Hence, careful monitoring of those who are at risk of being inflicted with CKD is an imperative. Early detection of CKD is also important as treatment is available.
CKD was once regarded as fatal. Not anymore, with dialysis treatment and kidney transplants providing those with CKD with hope and a new lease of life. However, high cost and lack of trained technicians and nurses is standing in the way of thousands of patients seeking dialysis treatment. The sophistication of dialysis treatment has improved remarkably as has the number of hospitals providing dialysis. But treatment remains elusive, thanks to the prohibitive costs of dialysis. In Bangalore, for instance, only 22.5 per cent of patients requiring dialysis are able to access the treatment. Most of those who begin treatment cannot afford to continue it. It is said that nationwide some 9,000 patients begin dialysis every year but around 60 per cent of them do not return for treatment. This high treatment drop-out rate means that most CKD cases in the country result in death.
Major strides have been made in kidney transplantation. The lifespan of people who have undergone transplants has increased. However, there are stumbling blocks here too. An important obstacle is the low availability of kidneys for transplant. This shortage has encouraged a booming and highly exploitative trade in kidneys. Public reluctance to donate kidneys of brain-dead kin remains formidable. While the government has taken many steps to improve availability of kidneys for transplantation, these have not worked sufficiently. Public awareness is low. People should be made to understand that donation of organs of a single person gives a new lease of life to nine others. CKD need not be fatal if treatment becomes more accessible and affordable.
BY ALOK RAY
The deteriorating current account deficit would worsen further if crude oil prices continue to rise and remittances from the Gulf decline.
Now that the dust has settled down over the Union Budget 2011-12, we can discuss its implications methodically. According to Kaushik Basu, the chief economic advisor, the budget presented by Pranab Mukherjee is not a game changer and there lies its virtue. What he means is that no changes have been made in the basic tax rates like excise, customs, income taxes or service tax. So, the emphasis is on continuity of the tax regime and that is what it should be.
At the same time, the tax base has been further broadened by including more items under the excise and service tax net (specially on services used by the relatively affluent people like air-conditioned hospitals, higher-priced hotels, air travel). Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) is imposed on SEZs. Total tax revenue is projected to grow by 18 per cent while government expenditure will grow by only 3.3 per cent.
The total subsidy bill is projected to go down by some 12 per cent. In particular, oil subsidy is expected to go down by Rs 15,000 crore compared to the current year while food subsidy will remain roughly the same. Fiscal deficit which has already come down to 5.1 per cent (as against the targeted 5.5 per cent for 2010-11) is further expected to go down to 4.6 per cent in 2011-12 and 4.3 per cent in 2012-13.
Pundits have doubts over the claimed success in fiscal consolidation. First, fiscal deficit for 2010-11 would have been 6.3 per cent, but for the bonanza of 3G spectrum sale which will not be available next year. Second, it is not clear how the oil subsidy bill can be reduced when the price of oil has been rising steadily in the midst of huge uncertainty in West Asia and the government does not have the political strength to raise the price of diesel, kerosene and LPG.
Third, the implementation of the Food Security Bill which would definitely increase food subsidy by a large amount has been postponed beyond April 2012 and hence its adverse impact will be on subsequent budgets. Fourth, the 18 per cent projected tax revenue growth crucially depends on achieving a 9 per cent GDP growth rate which again may not be achieved, given the falling FDI flows into India and the growing tendency of Indian companies to invest abroad.
The image of India being a good FDI destination has suffered due to rising inflation and lingering land acquisition and environmental hurdles affecting big-ticket investment projects like Posco and Vedanta. In the absence of a political consensus, there is no indication of progress in allowing FDI in multi-brand retail.
Possibly, the most significant announcement in the budget is the idea that direct cash subsidy will eventually replace the existing price subsidies on kerosene, fertilisers and domestic LPG. Along with the use of UID numbers to identify and target the real poor, it is expected that the direct cash subsidy will substantially reduce the leakage and improve the efficiency of the delivery mechanism.
A game changer
But at this moment it exists only as a concept. A task force has been appointed to recommend the implementation modalities. The team would submit its report sometime in the coming fiscal and then it would be first tried out through some pilot projects. If it can be successfully implemented, this would indeed be a game changer. Eventually the mechanism can be extended to direct cash (or coupon) subsidies on food also.
Apart from the uncertainties over the crude oil price and commodity price inflation (mainly due to global developments), the other major problem area is the deteriorating current account deficit (CAD) which would worsen further if crude oil prices continue to rise and remittances from the Gulf decline.
The rising CAD (as a percentage of GDP) is being increasingly financed by volatile FII money and less by the more stable FDI. Raising the cap on FII investment in infrastructure bonds to $25 billion and overall FII investment in corporate bonds to $40 billion should help reduce the infrastructure deficit but at the same time our reliance on unstable foreign funds would increase, making our economy more vulnerable in future. Even much of our foreign exchange cushion of nearly $300 billion consists of borrowed funds (like NRI deposits and FII money) rather than owned reserves like that earned through trade surplus (as in China).
The budget cannot offer much to contain high inflation — specially food price inflation — in the immediate run. That task is left to RBI monetary policy and export-import policy. The long term solution lies in improving productivity in agriculture. The budget offers higher credit flows (by Rs one lakh crore) to agriculture at lower interest rate, several measures to promote a second green revolution in the eastern region, to boost production and storage facilities for vegetables, pulses and oilseeds — the major contributors to food inflation. The key, however, is not higher financial allocation but implementation of the various schemes at the ground level where we have a chronic deficit.
The biggest beneficiaries from income tax relief would be the people in the 60-64 years bracket who would gain by more than Rs 9,000, because of the lowering of the age limit for senior citizens. Those few who would live beyond 80 years would benefit even more and would bless the finance minister in the twilight of their lives. Could not the FM reduce the age limit of the very senior citizens to, say, 75 years to enjoy a better life a little longer?
(The writer is a former professor of economics at IIM,
COMMODITY PRICE VOLATILITY ACCELERATES
BY SUPACHAI PANITCHPAKDI
Commodity booms and busts have been a regular feature of international markets for generations.
Commodity producers are again reaping the benefits of high growth, particularly from high-demand importers, like China, and are increasingly formalising their integration into global commodity value chains. There is a growing recognition that, properly managed, resource rents can provide an important tool in the fight against poverty.
At the same time however, there are serious concerns about the way in which commodity markets have been evolving in recent years. Since mid-2010, commodities have, for the second time in 3 years, been experiencing extremely high price volatility, which is exacerbating problems for producers, traders and consumers.
Volatility is an inherent feature of dynamic commodity markets, but the magnitudes we have recently seen point to speculative distortions, especially in oil, that can complicate the economic management of production and trade, in terms of the degree of exposure to risks and the uncertainties created for investment. Moreover, such volatility has huge negative impacts on vulnerable groups, such as low-income households in developing countries for whom food expenditure can account for up to 80 per cent of household budgets.
Prices for copper, for instance, have risen 35 per cent since the summer, and gold, sugar, and cotton all at 30 year highs. Recently, FAO's agricultural commodity index touched just one point below its maximum level reached in 2008, clearly signaling that the 2010-11 price hikes are similar in magnitude to 2008. Certainly, some features of the current episode of high prices remain unchanged from the first episode in 2008, such as the role played by the financialisation of agricultural commodities and the activities of some commodity funds, which seek to manipulate prices.
Nevertheless, other features are different and we should be careful to distinguish what might be distinct about the current boom. Last year witnessed several major weather events, from floods in Pakistan to fires in Russia and drought in other areas of the world, which have, for example, had a major impact on the prices of wheat and cotton. It is still open to speculation whether such events are related to climate change but the balance of evidence points to the increasing impact of climatic changes on agriculture. What is beyond doubt, however, was that short-sighted policy responses by some governments, including their use of export bans, exacerbated the price rises.
Commodities continue to provide the largest source of revenue and employment for dependent countries and their principal source of foreign exchange. Agriculture provides livelihoods for 2.3 billion people globally, mainly on poor, rural, smallholder farms, often with a high participation rate of women. However, as countries seek to rebuild from the economic crisis of 2008-09 and establish job-creating growth, one should perhaps be careful to distinguish between agricultural commodities that have a higher labour intensity from many non-agricultural commodities. Countries must pay further attention to this feature of growth in the commodities sector as they seek to innovate and diversify both within the sector and away from it, for example into higher value stages of the global commodity value chain or into related industries.
Despite a contraction in commodities trade and a fall in prices in 2008-09, the historical trend is towards increasing demand, especially in high growth areas in the developing world, which have been one of the main drivers of the commodity economy in recent years. Meeting that demand in a sustainable manner, whilst ensuring a sufficient and predictable supply, poses significant challenges. Ensuring such a predictable environment is also needed to address the acute problems of food and energy security, especially in environments of extreme poverty with the potential for social and political unrest. An increasing, and increasingly young population in the developing world, coupled with what has so far been a jobless recovery and a lack of social protection in many of these countries, will not easily withstand future price rises.
Commodity booms and busts have been a regular feature of international commodity markets for generations. However, the recent emerging phenomenon of the co-movement of all commodities has started to place certain policy restrictions on countries, in terms of their efforts to diversify their commodity sector. When commodity resources and markets are well managed and regulated, risks such as price volatility and commodity dependence can be lessened.
It is essential to mobilise support and dialogue between high-level policy makers, business leaders and other commodity economy experts.
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
A NATION OF SLOGANS
BY DINESH KUMAR
So what do I do? I order a double large and gulp it to finish it by the deadline.
We are a sloganeering nation. And believe that through slogans pasted all over the walls and hung over lamp posts, the results will follow. So, slogans come in various forms and lingoes on the same subject. Don't drink and drive, better be 'Mr Late' than 'Late Mr.' The fact is that we have one of the worst road safety scenarios in the entire world. We know by now how successful our 'we two, ours two' logo has turned out to be. Slogans without results create a credibility gap. I can't even remember how many times I have run into a live electric wire hanging low between the trees minutes after reading a very wise statement. Safety saves. What else is safety supposed to do? Harm?
Same thing happens in the business world. You find a mission and values statement, hung ornamentally in the reception rooms which read: the customer is the very rationale of our business; customers first always and every time. Then customer is kept waiting for an hour after the appointed time before he is called in and then his interview is interspersed with many incoming telephone calls. We believe that by shouting on the top of our roofs, results will follow.
We get exactly the opposite results. The word speed works like adrenaline shot in the arm of the youngster and he or she goes racing. Our parks are full of these notices: 'Obscene acts in public places are punishable by law.' Obscene act is not explained. Is winking obscene or does a blown smooching come under that category? All I know is that right under these warnings youngsters get into 'catch me if you can' mode.
When slogans fail to produce results which resort to control psychology which produces exactly the opposite results to what we desire. Close the bars and restaurants is the fiat given by our police. Last drink to be served at 11.30 pm. What an idea, sirji. So what do I do? I order a double large and gulp it to finish it by the deadline severely effecting my blood alcohol levels. Without these inane limits, I would have nursed and enjoyed my drinks keeping my sanity intact.
Those amongst us who have travelled overseas will confirm that the parks are open until late at night. Here many are shut down between 10 and 4 pm. The result: With a small felicitating fee paid to the watchman (which I do by handing over a packet of biscuits or a couple of bananas for which I also get a salute), you can have entry to the park and have exclusive environment made to order.
If quality of a product or service can be achieved by slogans then all we have to do is to paste 'build quality products' and paste all over the place.
JAPAN RELYING ON MIDEAST OIL WILL BE GLOOMY OUTCOME FOR ISRAEL
ISRAEL WOULD DO WELL TO ACCELERATE THE EFFORTS TO RELY ON OTHER SOURCES OF ENERGY, SUCH AS SUN AND WIND, AND TO CAREFULLY REEXAMINE ITS OWN NUCLEAR ECONOMY - BOTH FOR SECURITY NEEDS AND FOR CIVILIAN NEEDS - IN LIGHT OF THE EVENTS IN FUKUSHIMA.
No science fiction writer could have written such a plot with any credibility: Of all the countries in the world, Japan - victim of the only two atomic bombs ever dropped in war - is once again in nuclear danger. In a sense, this is the third strike this week against the island nation. After last Friday's tremendous earthquake and the subsequent tsunami, which according to unofficial estimates killed tens of thousands of people, the problems in a series of nuclear power plants arrived, threatening to realize the nightmares of every scientist, engineer and statesman.
Although yesterday, five days after the disaster, the Japanese government tried to reassure its citizens, reporting a steep decline in the level of radiation measured outside the damaged reactor in Fukushima, it's no surprise the all-clear sirens were greeted with skepticism. The series of mishaps worsened further when additional installations, including near Tokyo, joined the list of problematic reactors, even if not with the same intensity. The atypical Japanese willingness to accept assistance conveyed a recognition of the seriousness of the hour.
In addition to the tremendous sympathy for the suffering of the Japanese people, and everyone's fear of an economic chain reaction, the story of the tsunami and Fukushima seems to be sending another gloomy message. Japan, which is one of the most industrialized and advanced countries in the world, is a victim of progress. The nuclear genie has emerged from the reactor. This country - which is so energy hungry, which aspired to reduce its dependence on imported oil - has discovered that the substitute that was considered clean, safe and immune to an external embargo, is realizing the very risks that over decades were shoved aside into an ostensibly unfeasible footnote.
The Israeli ambassador to Tokyo, Nissim Ben Sheetrit, had the sense to evacuate the families of the diplomats from Japan, so they won't be in danger of radiation or suffer from the tribulations in the capital. In the overall context, it will be a gloomy outcome for Israel if Japan and others become more dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Israel would do well to accelerate the efforts to rely on other sources of energy, such as sun and wind, and to carefully reexamine its own nuclear economy - both for security needs and for civilian needs - in light of the events in Fukushima.
WHAT'S BEHIND THE MOVE TO ACCELERATE CONSTRUCTION
THE NATIONAL HOUSING COMMITTEES WILL APPARENTLY FOLLOW IN THE ROTTEN FOOTSTEPS OF SIMILAR COMMITTEESBY APPROVING CONSTRUCTION ON UNIQUE NATURAL AREAS, INCLUDING COASTLINES.
BY ZAFRIR RINAT
Members of the Knesset Interior and Environment Committee must be feeling quite foolish these days. They recently spent hours at committee meetings to prepare the new planning and construction law, which is supposed to streamline planning procedures. And now the prime minister manages, in under a week, to approve the promotion of a bypass law that enables the establishment of new bodies that answer to the name "national housing committees."
The purpose of these committees is swift approval of construction plans that include 200 or more residential units. They will be able to approve construction plans after abbreviated checks of environmental effects, with the help of private consultants.
Although the committees are supposed to take into account national planning considerations, it is clear that a mechanism of this type, which enjoys broad powers, will be able to skip easily over obstacles such as the Committee for the Protection of the Coastal Environment, which operates in the Interior Ministry and currently prevents many construction plans.
The problem of housing prices that the committees are supposed to solve is real, and part of the solution lies in increasing the supply of apartments on the market. But the fact that the prime minister and his team of economic advisers repeatedly ignore real planning and construction data raises questions regarding the true intentions of the new initiative.
It is hard to understand how planning committees are established so hastily, at a time when according to the statistics of the Israel Lands Administration there is an inventory of 160,000 residential units approved for construction on public land. According to figures gathered by the Interior Ministry, there are land reserves approved for residential purposes that cover an area of almost a millions dunams - more than all the built-up areas at present.
Recently the Open Landscape Institute, which operates as part of the Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel, conducted an analysis of plans approved for construction that have not yet been carried out. The analysis indicates that most of the barriers to housing construction are not related to a lazy official on a planning committee, or a boring bureaucratic procedure. The barriers are for the most part an absence of transportation solutions and infrastructure facilities, and budgetary disputes among the government ministries.
Defense concerns also impose various limitations on implementing construction plans.
There is no escaping the conclusion that there are political elements in the government that are interested in obtaining greater control over the administration of land resources, in a manner that will serve financial or political sectors close to them. This will also serve the policy of privatizing lands and national planning, in the spirit of the prime minister's economic and social philosophy.
After seeing that the process of formulating a planning and construction law was being delayed in the Knesset, these elements, headed by Netanyahu, circumvented the normal processes by establishing the national housing committees.
In order to promote construction plans for which there is broad consensus, including that of environmental groups, there are many additional actions the government could adopt in order to streamline the planning process, without any need for harmful legislation. Among other things, the planning committees can be reinforced with professional manpower, permit processes can be simplified, and there can be coordination among the various ministries for the purpose of streamlining the construction of infrastructure.
The national housing committees will apparently follow in the rotten footsteps of similar committees that operated about two decades ago. They will approve construction on unique natural areas, including coastlines, and will lead to the construction of neighborhoods that lack public spaces and access roads. They will encourage the construction of neighborhoods of private homes for a well-to-do population, for whom even today's housing prices are no problem. These well-off buyers will be glad to invest their money in places with a particularly beautiful view, a view which will have been stolen from the public.
BARAK MUST JOIN OPPOSITION TO SAVE ISRAEL FROM DISASTER
BARAK IS RIGHT WHEN HE SAYS THE CURRENT GOVERNMENT IS NOT SUITABLE FOR THE CHALLENGES ISRAEL IS FACING. AND YET, HE INSISTS ON HOLDING ON TO HIS CHAIR AND BEING USED AS SCAFFOLDING BY NETANYAHU, ALTHOUGH THERE IS NO VALUE TO HIS BEING PART OF THE GOVERNMENT.
BY ALUF BENN
Defense Minister Ehud Barak is a brave man, not only in his operations from the days of the reconnaissance unit, or in his proposal at Camp David to divide Jerusalem. He is also brave in his willingness to stand apart from the choir and say unpopular things on days of terror attacks and mourning. A few hours after the funerals of the Fogel family from Itamar, on Sunday, Barak gave a lecture at the Institute for National Security Studies. He made do with short condolences, and went quickly on to his main point: a serious warning of a looming "political tsunami" Israel might face if it does not immediately initiate a plan to divide the country.
"Responsible behavior is needed even at the height of pain and anger," Barak said, detailing the dangers Israel faces if it keeps up the diplomatic freeze. The most prominent of these dangers is a deterioration in the essential relationship with the United States. He also warned against the efforts Israel's opponents are making to push it into the place once occupied by "the old South Africa," excluded and isolated. Barak called for an Israeli diplomatic initiative that would lead to a two-state solution while annexing the large settlement blocs and evacuating isolated settlements. Otherwise, he cautioned, Israel would be struck by a wave of international delegitimization that will cause it major economic damage, and might have to face an uprising in the territories.
Barak saved the brunt of his statements for his good friend, former subordinate and current political partner, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Without mentioning the prime minister's name or title, Barak described the dangerous weakness in leadership. He depicted Netanyahu as a non-leader, when he spoke of "inaction, paralysis, seeking with a delicate weather vane what the public on the right or the left wants to hear at the moment, and reciting those words."
Barak dismissed out of hand the prime minister's arguments and explanations that Israel had begged for negotiations but the Palestinians refused. He is only reciting words, Barak said. Over the past two years Israel has not agreed to discuss the core issues. It is hard to imagine a brighter red light, or a more reasoned criticism of Netanyahu by the man closest to him; the one who knows.
Barak is right when he says the current government is not suitable for the challenges Israel is facing. And yet, he insists on holding on to his chair and being used as scaffolding by Netanyahu, although that there is no value to his being part of the government. Even after hundreds of hours of private talks and meetings with limited numbers of participants, Netanyahu has not accepted one piece of advice from Barak. Neither on renewing talks with Syria, nor a diplomatic initiative vis-a-vis the Palestinians, nor another settlement freeze, nor a preemptive war against Iran, nor bringing Kadima into the government. Nothing.
Barak's effectiveness ended in November, when his proposal to extend the moratorium on construction in the settlements for nine months in exchange for political and security guarantees from Washington was rebuffed. Barak sold Netanyahu the deal he had made with the Obama administration, but the mood in the forum of seven senior ministers had changed, with Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Ya'alon leading the opposition and inclining the prime minister to his side. Ya'alon has since become Barak's most serious opponent, and his likely successor as defense minister if Barak leaves the government.
Since that time, Barak has been busy trying to survive. It is not easy. The political exercise of leaving Labor as part of the ghost party Independence destroyed him in public opinion. He got rid of the leftists in Labor who were making his life miserable, and now the right wing is calling for his dismissal. And Barak keeps on with his "wanting to exert an influence from the inside."
Even by his own method, MK Tzipi Livni (Kadima ) and "the man who whispers in her ear" - a clear allusion to Haim Ramon - can exert a greater impact than he can. And that is from the opposition ranks, with Ramon not even an MK. Now Barak wants them to join the coalition so he will not remain alone to face Netanyahu, Ya'alon and their friends on the right.
Instead of raising such empty initiatives, there is one thing Barak can do to save the country from the disaster he predicts: Leave the government with his four colleagues, join Livni in opposition, and from there, lead the fight against Netanyahu's diplomatic impasse. Barak's warnings are chilling, but if he stays in the Defense Ministry he will bear full responsibility for the disaster he warns against. The time has come for him to show his courage again.
SETTLEMENT CONSTRUCTION HAS NO CONNECTION TO PUNISHMENT
IN THE IMMEDIATE AFTERMATH OF SUCH A TRAUMATIC INCIDENT AS THE ONE THAT TOOK PLACE IN ITAMAR, THE RIGHT WING EXPLOITS ITS 15 MINUTES OF MEDIA EXPOSURE TO IMPOSE ITS VERSION OF 'HISTORY.'
BY YITZHAK LAOR
A distant voice could be heard above the graves of the five slain residents of the settlement of Itamar. Motti Fogel - the literary critic of the Tel Aviv weekly Ha'ir and the brother of Udi Fogel, who was killed in Friday night's terror attack along with his wife and three of their children - sought to remove the murder from any context other than the pain over his brother's death. But he had no chance of penetrating the cheapened language that prevails after a terror attack.
No one allowed for the murder to be rescued from the sole context in which the right wing placed it. In the immediate aftermath of such a traumatic incident, the right wing exploits its 15 minutes of media exposure to impose its version of "history." Thus the army will get more land; the ministers will promise more construction; and now the extortion has even developed a visual element, so explicit it is practically pornographic. This has prompted its own national debate: respect for the dead vs. hasbara, or public relations.
We haven't made much progress in over half a century ago, when the bodies of the victims of the 1954 Maale Akrabim massacre, in which Arab gunmen ambushed an Israeli bus and shot 11 passengers dead, were brought back to the scene of the attack a day later so they could be photographed in the same positions in which they had died and been evacuated. We are still displaying the same joy in pouring salt on our wounds, all in the name of Israel's hasbara. But this isn't hasbara; it's a desperate need to impose "our" version of events, under cover of the horror.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was quick to go on the offensive: It's the Palestinian hasbara system that's to blame, since in the months before the murder it managed to get across its own version of events, specifically a warning about the diplomatic freeze. The context portrayed by the Palestinians is widely accepted the world over, and here was a chance to defeat the Palestinian PR machine through images of its very predictions of violence coming true. And so it was that by Saturday night, Netanyahu had begun his demagoguery, redolent with our moral supremacy in the face of their incitement to murder.
Here is how the sales pitch began: as an opportunity to "achieve PR goals." The policy of building settlements, we are told, is not an obstacle to peace. How so? Because the settlements should not bother those who genuinely want to make peace with us. We used to laugh at Vice Prime Minister Silvan Shalom when he gave that explanation in TV interviews every once in a while, but now anyone who dares doubt the sincerity of such a statement against the background of these five victims is seen as someone who ought to be ashamed of himself.
It has become impossible to question the credibility of the right in the face of the Itamar atrocity, because the right is the solution that the Jews who have died in the conflict are presumed to espouse; the right takes care of them, like the gardener of a cemetery.
And then began the competition among ministers over the number of housing units that will be built in the settlements - and the more you read about this logic, the more you realize that the true "price tag" here is not the term used by hilltop youth to refer to revenge attacks on Palestinians, or the cost exacted by the settlers or Kahane followers in and out of the Knesset. It's the logic of the State of Israel, and has been for many years: We either build settlements because we are strong, and the Palestinians accept the construction so there's no reason to make concessions, or they kill us and we build settlements as a punitive measure.
What is the punishment supposed to teach those being punished? That either way, we're going to build - whether it's before a terror attack or on the heels of a terror attack. Settlement construction is another way of taking advantage of an opportunity. Like the demagoguery of Netanyahu and the settler leaders, the construction has no real connection to blood or punishment. So why talk about punishing the Palestinians? Because the world is listening? Maybe, but that's highly questionable. Disfigured corpses are no rarity, neither in this region nor elsewhere.
How many complications will we encounter due to this strategy of building both before and after terror attacks? How many children, Jewish and Arab, will die? It doesn't matter. We will build, and bury, and build. A tsunami might move us, but it would never budge the settlement enterprise - which is an eternal concept, unrelated to the price it exacts on this bleeding soil.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
GOVERNMENT BY THE WEEK
¶ Parents have begun arranging alternative child care for their preschoolers, uncertain of whether their Head Start program will be there when they need it. The Social Security Administration is unable to open new hearing offices to handle a backlog of appeals. The Pentagon has had to delay equipment repairs. There is chaos throughout the federal government, as Robert Pear reported in The Times on Tuesday, because a riven Congress has forced agencies to operate on a week-by-week basis.
¶ Yet, on Tuesday, the House passed another short-term spending bill. This one keeps things going for all of three weeks. The Senate will almost certainly join in shortly to avoid an impending shutdown on Friday, the result of the stopgap bill from two weeks ago.
¶ These slipshod exercises in governance were choreographed by House Republicans, who knew that neither the Senate nor President Obama would ever accept their original proposal to gut nonsecurity discretionary spending with $61 billion in cuts through September, including riders to end financing for Planned Parenthood and the health care law. They had hoped to use the pressure of a potential shutdown to achieve much of their goal, but, so far, all they have accomplished is a cut of about $10 billion, mostly from earmarks or programs that the president himself proposed to cut. (The new bill cuts $6 billion.)
¶ House Republican leaders, who say they do not want a government shutdown, have, so far, held off their more fanatical freshmen, who want to slash everything in sight. But the leadership cannot do so forever, and the evidence of that was clear on Tuesday. More than 50 Republicans refused to go along with the three-week resolution because it did not cut enough. Several specifically complained that it allowed financing for Planned Parenthood and the health care law to continue.
¶ This is not a group that cares much for pragmatic compromise, and the three weeks are just a timeout. Representative Mike Pence of Indiana, a Republican who voted no on the new bill, spoke for many of his colleagues when he said the budget could not be resolved without a willingness to shut down government. "By giving liberals in the Senate another three weeks of negotiations," he said, "we will only delay a confrontation that must come."
¶ He is absolutely right about that. If Democrats, including the president, do not draw a clear line soon, making their priorities and their limits unmistakable, they will be harried by these kinds of votes for years. Even in the unlikely case that an agreement is reached in three weeks to finance the government through September, a different vote will be necessary just a few weeks from now to raise the debt ceiling. Republicans have already vowed to vote that down — even though it could be financially disastrous — if they do not get their way. And then there is the vote for the fiscal 2012 budget, which begins Oct. 1, and then the year after that.
¶ At some point, Mr. Pence will get his confrontation. If Republicans continue to press for cuts of tens of billions from discretionary spending, setting back the economic recovery largely for ideological purposes, Democrats will have to say no, even if that results in a short-term shutdown. The American people will be able to figure out who is at fault. Responsible governing means agreeing quickly to a deal to finish out the fiscal year, and then starting a serious talk about entitlement programs and taxes — the real causes of a soaring deficit.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
GEN. PETRAEUS REPORTS
In his first public assessment since taking over the Afghan war effort last year, Gen. David Petraeus was cautiously upbeat. He told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that Taliban momentum has been "arrested in much of the country and reversed in a number of important areas." He acknowledged that the progress is "fragile and reversible."
We respect the general, and we hope his caveated optimism is warranted. But we need to hear more from him and from President Obama about their strategy for holding cleared areas of Afghanistan and their plans for building up a minimally competent and credible Afghan government so American troops can go home.
With all of the other crises, there hasn't been a lot of talk about the Afghan war. Mr. Obama and his general should not misread that as acquiescence. A new Washington Post-ABC News poll found that two-thirds of Americans say the war is no longer worth fighting.
If there is ever going to be success in Afghanistan — that means a country that can govern itself and not provide a haven for Al Qaeda — this is the best chance. The United States and its allies have 150,000 troops and more than 1,000 civilians on the ground.
General Petraeus pointed to some promising gains: The Taliban has been cleared from long-held areas in Helmand and Kandahar Provinces. Drone attacks and missions on the Pakistan border have killed or captured hundreds more Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives. According to The Times, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan is expected to announce next week the transfer of six areas from allied to Afghan control. That should give a sense of whether the American strategy is working.
The challenges are daunting, starting with Mr. Karzai's weak and cynical leadership and the corruption of his government. His attempt to block the seating of a new, more independent Parliament fed fears among his own citizens about his autocratic ambitions. He only backed off after strong pressure from the United States, the European Union and the United Nations.
Pakistan's sheltering of both Taliban and Al Qaeda leaders is also profoundly worrying. General Petraeus insisted that Pakistanis increasingly understand the threat, but he needs to tell them that time is running out.
For the first time, American officials appear serious about the idea of political negotiations with the Taliban. We don't know if there is a deal to be had. But the best chance of peeling off fighters, or changing the minds of some leaders, is right now while the United States and NATO have a military advantage.
We still believe that the United States has a strong strategic interest in Afghanistan. We also know that Americans' patience with this war has all but run out.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE COURT'S RECUSAL PROBLEM
Supreme Court justices have life tenure to assure their independence and impartiality. The court's lack of a recusal policy leaves each justice to decide whether he or she is meeting that standard. That plainly violates the age-old legal principle: Nemo iudex in causa sua — no one should be a judge about his or her own case. It damages the justices' credibility and the court's authority.
The court is still not addressing the issue despite months of questions about possible cozy friendships, suspected political biases and family ties. Last week, Justice Antonin Scalia was asked to recuse himself from an upcoming case about alleged gender bias at Wal-Mart Stores because his son is co-chairman of the labor and employment practice at the law firm representing the company.
A bipartisan group of 107 law professors from 76 law schools have made their own proposal for how the court should solve its recusal problem. They argue that justices should follow the ethical code that applies to other federal judges. (Under the rule about avoiding the appearance of impropriety and not letting others "convey the impression that they are in a special position to influence the judge," Justice Antonin Scalia would not have been able to go duck hunting with Vice President Dick Cheney in 2003 after the court agreed to hear a case involving Mr. Cheney.)
If a justice denies a motion to recuse, he or she should have to issue an opinion explaining why and that could be reviewed by some as yet unspecified group.
The professors' proposal is a good start. Representatives Chris Murphy and Anthony Weiner are working on a bill based on it. It would be better for the justices to come up with their own similar proposal and adopt it — including a review process by a committee of justices to ensure accountability. That would not interfere with the court's independence and would strengthen its credibility.
If the justices don't act, Congress may have to require them to adopt a more transparent recusal process. That's not our first choice. But the questions about the court's impartiality are too serious to ignore.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
There has been good news recently for America's national forests, and some that could have been better.
On the decidedly plus-side was a decision by a federal district judge in Anchorage reinstating a Clinton-era rule prohibiting logging in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. The Tongass is home to some of the country's last remaining stands of primeval forest and is the crown jewel of the whole forest system.
The Clinton rule banned logging on nine million acres in the Tongass as part of a nationwide effort to protect roadless areas across 155 national forests. Bowing to the timber industry and Alaska politicians, the George W. Bush administration opened 2.3 million acres of the Tongass to logging. Judge John W. Sedwick has now invalidated the Bush rule as "arbitrary and capricious," partly because it failed to account for public input.
The other piece of news is more complicated. Last month, the Agriculture Department proposed long-awaited forest-planning rules. The rules, mandated by 1976 National Forest Management Act, are supposed to guide forest managers as they decide which parts can be logged and which should be fully protected.
The act's bedrock principle is that the health of the forests and their wildlife is to be valued at least as much as the interests of the timber companies. The Clinton administration's rules firmly embraced that principle; the industry-friendly Bush rules did not.
The Obama administration's proposed rules improve on the Bush rules and are full of high-minded promises about maintaining "viable" animal populations. But they are disappointingly vague on the question of how — and how often — the biological diversity of any particular forest is to be measured and what actions are to be taken to ensure its survival.
The net result is to give too much discretion to individual forest managers and not nearly enough say to scientists. This is dangerous because, over the years, forest managers have been easily influenced by timber companies and local politicians whose main interest is to increase the timber harvest.
As secretary of agriculture, Tom Vilsack has been more attentive to the needs of the forest, so far, than any agriculture secretary since the Clinton days. He should make sure these rules are strengthened.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
AVENGING ALTAR BOY
BY MAUREEN DOWD
¶ The district attorney is burning a eucalyptus-spearmint candle on his desk.
¶ "I think the press looks down upon the D.A. drinking Jack Daniels during the day," R. Seth Williams says with a broad smile, "so I light my little stress-relief candle."
¶ It's understandable if the former altar boy at St. Carthage in West Philly needs to light a votive. The 44-year-old Catholic, who still attends Mass with his family at the same church, now called St. Cyprian, is the first U.S. prosecutor to charge a church official for a sickeningly commonplace sin: Endangering children whom the Roman Catholic Church was supposed to protect by shuffling pedophile priests to different parishes where they could find fresh prey.
¶ Williams, the first African-American elected district attorney in Pennsylvania, was an orphan given up by his unwed mother. He was put into two foster homes before he was adopted at 20 months old by a Catholic family.
¶ "I grew up treating the hierarchy of the church kind of like rock stars," he said in his 18th floor aerie, where he keeps a small iron crucifix and a cross fashioned from Palm Sunday fronds. "If you're going to meet the cardinal, you're supposed to kiss the guy's ring, all this stuff. But it is what it is. I wish I knew the Latin translation for that.
¶ "There's no get-out-of-jail-free card for raping, sodomizing, groping, doing anything wrong to kids."
¶ Msgr. William J. Lynn, who served from 1992 to 2004 as the secretary of clergy reviewing sexual abuse cases for then-Cardinal Anthony Bevilacqua, appeared in court Monday. He is charged with felonies for allegedly helping the cardinal cover up molesters and transferring them to other parishes.
¶ "It was a conspiracy of silence to ensure the church's reputation and to avoid scandal," said Assistant District Attorney Evangelia Manos.
¶ Monsignor Lynn, a round, ruddy man in black priest's garb, sat silently in court behind his two lawyers — paid by the archdiocese — as a cheering squad of priests and parishioners watched.
¶ Lynn's co-defendants sat beside him: a rabbity-looking Rev. James Brennan, 47, charged with raping a 14-year-old boy named Mark in 1996 in his apartment; and the unholy alliance of a priest, the sepulchral Charles Engelhardt, 64, a defrocked priest, Edward Avery, 68, and a former Catholic schoolteacher, Bernard Shero, 48 — all charged with raping or sodomizing the same 10-year-old altar boy 12 years ago.
¶ Lynn's lawyer, Thomas Bergstrom, told reporters that the charges against his client were "a stretch" and that he was pleading not guilty.
¶ And Richard DeSipio, one of Brennan's lawyers, went on the attack against his client's accuser, now 29. "Their witness is in prison in Bucks County for stealing his sister's credit card and using it," DeSipio told Mensah Dean of The Philadelphia Daily News. "He's a convicted liar."
¶ On a local radio show on Tuesday, Brennan — a priest suspended by the church in 2006 — said he was uninterested in a plea deal, and his lawyer continued to paint the accuser as troubled.
¶ Even with a global scandal that never seems to stop disgorging disgusting stories, the Philadelphia grand jury report is especially sordid.
¶ It tells the story of a fifth-grade altar boy at St. Jerome School given the pseudonym Billy. Father Engelhardt plied him with sacramental wine and pulled pornographic magazines out of a bag in the sacristy and told the child it was time "to become a man," the report says.
¶ A week later, after Billy served an early Mass, the report states that Engelhardt instructed him to take off his clothes and perform oral sex on him. Then the priest told the boy he was "dismissed."
¶ "After that, Billy was in effect passed around to Engelhardt's colleagues," the report says. "Father Edward Avery undressed with the boy, told him that God loved him," and then had him perform sex. "Next was the turn of Bernard Shero, a teacher in the school. Shero offered Billy a ride home but instead stopped at a park, told Billy they were 'going to have some fun,' took off the boy's clothes, orally and anally raped him and then made him walk the rest of the way home."
¶ Billy fell apart and turned to heroin.
¶ The report says Brennan knew Mark from the time he was 9. When he was 14, the priest arranged with Mark's mother for a sleepover. "Brennan showed him pornographic pictures on his computer, bragged about his penis size and insisted that Mark sleep together with him in his bed." Then the priest raped him as he cried, according to the report.
¶ Mark also fell apart and attempted suicide.
¶ Out of the church's many unpleasant confrontations with modernity, this is the starkest. It's tragically past time to send the message that priests can't do anything they want and hide their sins behind special privilege.
¶ In Seth Williams's city, the law sees no collars, except the ones put on criminals.
¶Thomas L. Friedman is off today.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
IN JAPAN, NO TIME YET FOR GRIEF
BY KAZUMI SAEKI
WHEN the earthquake struck, I was at the hot springs in Sakunami, about 15 miles from my home in Sendai. I was playing host to a couple from Britain, and as I soaked in an open-air bath with Ben, the husband, powdery snow began to shake off the surrounding boulders. The next moment, small pieces of broken stone came tumbling down.
"It's an earthquake, a big one," I said, urging Ben on to the changing room next door. Without bothering to dry off, I pulled on my bathrobe. As I struggled to keep my legs from buckling and tied my sash with trembling hands, I was struck by the terrifying realization that the great earthquake off Miyagi Prefecture, predicted for so long, had at last arrived.
The fierce rolling of the earth lasted longer than I had ever experienced. As I learned later, this was not just the predicted earthquake. It was a giant quake in the waters off Miyagi; off the Sanriku coast in Iwate Prefecture to the north; off Fukushima Prefecture to the south. It lasted six minutes.
I heard screams from the women's changing room and eventually Ben's wife, Liz, appeared, supported by my wife. Earthquakes are rare in Britain, and I could see plainly Liz's great shock at experiencing one.
Public transportation back to Sendai, the big city closest to the epicenter, had stopped running, cellphones were not working and all flow of information had ceased. The inn kindly let us spend the night, and the following day a young tourist from Tokyo drove us in his rental car back to Sendai. The roads were torn apart and blocked at points by collapsed inns. The windows of larger buildings were smashed and the tile roofs of houses had crumbled to the ground, while old concrete-block walls were reduced to rubble.
Scenes of disaster appeared before my eyes, but in all honesty, I felt the scale of destruction was rather small. When I reached my home, on high ground, the lock on the front door was broken and the floor was covered with books, CDs and plates that had fallen from the shelves. But everything was dry, and there was nothing to alter my perception of the scope of the disaster.
This perception completely changed as I learned, little by little, the magnitude of the damage by way of the hand-crank radio, my sole source of information amid the continuing blackout. The Pacific coast of northeastern Japan has endured many tsunamis, including one from the 9.5-magnitude earthquake in Chile in 1960, and disaster preparedness is a strong part of daily life in the region. But this earthquake produced 30-foot-high waves, far beyond what anyone had imagined, wiping out entire towns. It is becoming clear that the number of casualties might reach the tens of thousands.
We lacked both water and gas, and our only illumination that night came from candles and the moon. With the lights of the city extinguished, stars shone brightly in the night sky. When I looked out toward the ocean the next morning, I saw in horror that neighborhoods close to the sea had simply vanished. Many of our friends lived in those areas. In the distance, I could see only the trees planted to protect the shore.
I found my elderly mother, who lives nearby and had taken temporary refuge at an emergency shelter, where she said that everyone complained of the cold while sharing rice balls. Many were coughing. The shelter was overflowing, and my mother decided to come home with my wife and me. On my way to and from the shelter, I passed a gasoline station where people lined up, hoping for a small amount of rationed fuel. Reports of a catastrophe at the nuclear power plant in neighboring Fukushima Prefecture, involving hydrogen explosions and radiation leaks, have come in. Now an invisible pollution is beginning to spread. People have acquired a desire for technology that surpasses human comprehension. Yet the bill that has come due for that desire is all too dear.
Even as I write, strong aftershocks continue. As he left, Ben spoke of a "calm chaos." It is true that faced with this calamity, the people of Sendai have maintained a sense of calm. This is perhaps due less to the emotional restraint that is particular to the people of the northern countryside, and more to the hollowing out of their emotions. In the vortex of an unimaginable disaster, they have not yet had the time to feel grief, sadness and anger.
Before I became a writer, I worked for 10 years as an electrician, until I suffered asbestos poisoning. My main job was to travel around Tokyo, repairing lights, including street lamps and the hallway and stairway lights in apartment buildings. For this reason, the sight of the well-ordered, unbroken expanse of the city's lights always brought me a great sense of relief. Will I ever again experience such peace?
Kazumi Saeki is a novelist. This essay was translated by Seiji M. Lippit from the Japanese.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE HAITIAN LAZARUS
BY AMY WILENTZ
SAY the name Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti this week, and it's as if the revolutionary slave leaders Toussaint Louverture and Jean-Jacques Dessalines were still riding over the plains and mountains here, astride Delacroix-worthy steeds, making their descent with sabers drawn upon the vast plantations of the French masters.
The Haitians one meets on the street or in their little shops or in the market or on the byways of the countryside and in the shantytowns of the provincial capitals are for the most part pleased at the prospect of former President Aristide's return this week from seven years' exile in South Africa. But when members of Haiti's tiny elite, small middle class and growing international community here discuss Mr. Aristide, they look over their shoulders, shake their heads, raise their eyebrows. They speak in whispers or in great gulps of nervousness.
Cut off their heads and burn down their houses, Dessalines told his troops, who went on to win a historic and singular victory over the French Army in 1804. Two centuries later, the elite, some of whom are descendants of the French colonists, still have a profound fear of the poverty-stricken general population. They understand fully that the triumph of the slaves never brought about the structural changes in Haitian society for which those early, bloody battles were fought. The ruling class still fears the overturning of the customary order. Revolution is a scary thing.
When the slaves gathered in 1791 to plot the end of French rule, there were about 500,000 of them on the island, and some 40,000 French colonists. Today the demographics are even more skewed, with about nine million people living in unimaginable poverty, while a microscopic elite guards among themselves whatever wealth is to be had here. Among all this flits the aid and development community, who have arrived in droves since the January 2010 earthquake, with their airy expensive apartments, S.U.V.'s, vans and pickup trucks, and packets of money to hand out.
In some places, the schism between haves and have-nots is almost farcical. Around the Place Boyer in Pétionville, the wealthy town above Port-au-Prince, clubs and restaurants with security guards cater to the elite and to foreigners, while across the street, in a refugee camp, hundreds of Haitians huddle under tarps and in tents in the mud and wind of the season's unpredictable rains.
It's perfect volatile tinder in which to toss the match of Mr. Aristide's return. Plunk a three-cornered hat on Mr. Aristide's head and sit him on a horse, and he is another revolutionary leader. The people in those camps are his people — though not, by far, his only people.
Jean-Bertrand Aristide has a complicated history. During the troubled times after the ouster of the dictator Jean-Claude Duvalier in 1986, he repeatedly confronted the interim junta with enormous, even foolhardy, personal courage. A Roman Catholic priest from a shantytown parish, Father Aristide gave sermons in those days that were biting and vituperative, intended both to enrage the country's rulers and make the people laugh at power. His amazing escapes from the many assassination attempts against him made him a kind of folk hero, a Lazarus who could not be eliminated. I knew him then, and remember him rising from these attacks, each time with a greater following.
For a long time, Mr. Aristide had no money; he had no social standing; he had no political party; he had no powerful foreign friends; his own church reviled him. These were all points in his favor among the Haitian people. For a long time, the people were his only power. While all other politicians (except for those whom he has supported) have had to rush around stuffing ballot boxes, altering counts and paying for votes, Mr. Aristide has twice been elected in clean balloting.
The first time was in 1990, in the first successful election after 29 years of dictatorship by Mr. Duvalier and his father, François. He won handily, but, with his leftist rhetoric and his huge support from the poorest sectors, he was not exactly the leader that the international community had envisioned when they promoted democracy and elections in Haiti. Reluctantly, international monitors certified his election.
Finding himself alone in a political sea of the entitled and the empowered, Mr. Aristide believed that all he could trust in the end was the brute power of the street — the "rouleau compresseur," as it is called in Haitian politics, or the steamroller.
He was almost pathologically reluctant to work toward agreement among his advisers, among equals. He shares this distaste with many Haitians, who believe that theirs is a fatally polarized society and that consensus-building here almost inevitably leads to capitulation to the elite, and by extension to the international community.
Seven months after he took office, Mr. Aristide was overthrown by the Haitian Army with the tacit approval of the United States and the international community. The steamroller did not save him, and he was sent into exile. His second term was much more violent, with supporters repulsing perceived conspirators with guns and machetes. There were also allegations of human-rights abuses and corruption.
It ended with another coup, in 2004, that was again supported by members of Haiti's business elite and tolerated, at least, by Haiti's international allies, putting an end to the people's flailing baby steps toward power.
Mr. Aristide gave the Haitian people two invaluable things: self-confidence and a voice, and thereby earned their lasting loyalty. That's not nothing, after 200 years of repression, but it is perhaps his only positive legacy.
During his first exile, in Washington, Mr. Aristide agreed to make compromises and concessions that were entirely the opposite of what he'd always stood for. Like a kidnapping victim negotiating his own ransom, he was willing to accept any demand in order to be allowed to return to Haiti.
Here was a people's president who, from a comfortable banishment, lobbied successfully for a brutal embargo against his own country, and who, returning to power in 1994, accepted international demands for a rapacious end to Haiti's import bans. Here was a Haitian patriot and intransigent denouncer of all collaboration with "imperialists" who was brought back to Haiti on the shoulders of an international military intervention led by the United States, and who countenanced the establishment afterward of what was essentially an international occupation force run by the United Nations, which controls the forces of order in Haiti to this day, Mr. Aristide having disbanded the army that helped oust him.
Mr. Aristide, of course, did not see this as hypocrisy. Above all, he felt, the people wanted him to return. And he was right the first time he returned, and he'll be right the second time. The Haitian people want justice and a decent life, and they think he's the man to give that to them. Yet they have already poured their love onto him and he has repaid them with nothing but dreams.
By the end of Mr. Aristide's two abortive terms, the Haitian revolution had once again failed. The only Haitians whose lives he improved were those to whom he personally gave jobs or for whose communities he personally — for reasons of political loyalty or old connection — provided housing or schools. He changed nothing structurally; he put in place only one institution, his own Aristide Foundation for Democracy, which runs a small university, mobile schools in five earthquake camps and many youth and women's groups.
In the past weeks, as Mr. Aristide plans his return, the United States has been putting pressure on the South African government to prevent him from coming back to Haiti at such a fraught political moment. Jean-Claude Duvalier, the ousted scion of the old dictatorship, has just come back to Haiti himself in a surprise move, and can be seen here and there, dining in expensive restaurants like the ones in Place Boyer, and moving around the city in big, rich-man's cars.
MR. DUVALIER'S appearance provided further justification for Mr. Aristide's return, for if the former reviled dictator can come back, how about the first democratically elected president? Haitians are preparing to vote (or not to vote) on Sunday in a contested runoff presidential election. The sudden entrance onto the proscenium of both controversial former leaders — one stage right, the other stage left — has highlighted the unreality of the current campaign, which pits a constitutional scholar against a popular musician.
Mr. Duvalier is unlikely to be permitted to run for office. And Mr. Aristide has said that he wants to return as a simple educator and to open a medical school. Having technically served his constitutionally allotted two terms, he could come to power now only if he were to pull off some Machiavellian scheme.
Whatever Mr. Aristide chooses to do in Haiti, his voice is likely to be very powerful, as long as he can avoid assassination. Given his popularity, he should be able to influence election results far into the future, if not the one immediately upon us. As always at election time, violence simmers just below the surface, and has exploded once already in this voting season because of anger over fraud.
Meanwhile, those who helped to overthrow Mr. Aristide or who thwarted his ambitions or who disagreed with him are worried for their own security after he returns. "Aristide does not have to open his mouth for his vengeance to be done," one young man said to me last week, with admiration. There is a perception of an impending payback time.
The incredible thing is that a narrative most Haitians thought was over is now to begin again. Because he is such a potent symbol of democracy for a huge number of people here, Mr. Aristide keeps popping up in Haitian history like a return of the repressed. In traditional Haitian belief, a person's soul goes back to Africa, or lan guinée, when he dies. For Jean-Bertrand Aristide to reappear in Haiti from his African exile would be a real resurrection.
Amy Wilentz is the author of "The Rainy Season: Haiti Since Duvalier."
TIMES FREE PRESS
GOV. HASLAM'S TOUGH BUDGET
One of the most difficult, sensitive challenges our public officials face — or carelessly refuse to face — in national, state and local governments is taxing and spending.
Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam has accepted his responsibility for sound financial leadership by proposing a $30.2 billion state budget that calls for the fourth consecutive year of belt-tightening.
Both private individuals and government enjoy economic booms that enable us to spend and not feel economic pressure. But reality in the current trying times calls for uncomfortable cuts in state spending.
The federal government long has borrowed, spent and increased our national debt too much. Our state can't, and shouldn't, follow suit. So now, with some of that "free federal money" from the failed $862 billion "stimulus" program no longer available to the states, Haslam reasonably has proposed a 5.6 percent reduction in spending — avoiding a tax increase. (Don't you sometimes wonder why anyone asks for the difficult job of meeting essential needs and making tough economic choices while seeking to avoid tax increases on our people?)
In Tennessee government, our biggest spending is for education, as it should be. Forty-two cents of every dollar goes to education. Additionally, under Haslam's plan, health and social services would get 29 cents. Then there would be 9 cents for law, safety and corrections. Cities and counties would get 7 cents, transportation 7 cents, resources and regulations 3 cents, general government 2 cents, and business and economic development 1 cent.
Where will the money come from? The sales tax will produce most of it — 54 cents of each dollar raised. Other sources will be 13 cents from franchise and excise taxes, 7 cents from gasoline taxes, 5 cents from insurance and banking taxes, 5 cents from gross receipts and privilege taxes, 3 cents from tobacco and alcohol taxes, 2 cents from motor vehicle taxes, 2 cents from income and inheritance taxes, and 9 cents from a variety of other levies.
To avoid taxing more, Haslam proposes painful cuts in spending. For example, he would fund 1,180 fewer state jobs, many through attrition.
Cuts are rarely popular, but Tennesseans should applaud the governor for providing sound economic leadership for our state in this challenging time.
TIMES FREE PRESS
MAYOR COPPINGER FOR OUR SCHOOLS
Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger says local public schools are, and should continue to be, a priority for our people.
At a public forum Monday, he said: "We've seen a small increase every year in the money that's actually going into the classroom. We're working toward that. Are we where we need to be? Of course not." He added, "There's nothing we can do in Hamilton County with your tax dollars that's more important than education."
Indeed, a good education is important for each child and our whole economy.
"The public education piece is really important to economic development and job creation," Coppinger said. "One of the things businesses looked at specifically is, do we have a trainable work force, what does our public education system look like, and will we be able to fill these jobs in the future? So far, it's been a resounding yes."
That's important in seeking a good and improving quality of life for all our people.
TIMES FREE PRESS
GOVERNOR NOTES RED BANK TEACHER
In one of the especially "nice notes" in Gov. Bill Haslam's State of the State address to the Tennessee General Assembly on Monday, he singled out Red Bank High School teacher Elaine Harper as a "great example" among our public school teachers.
The governor said: "Her advanced chemistry class was clearly engaged and enjoying" a class project. "Her students were learning about research methods — how to develop a hypothesis, isolate variables, conduct research, analyze results and arrive at conclusions."
All of us should greatly appreciate all of our good and enthusiastic teachers for their efforts to encourage and stimulate our youngsters in making the most of their educational opportunities.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - THE WISDOM OF TUNISIA'S CHEBBI
We quickly gave up an online search yesterday to track down just who was the first to put the geo-strategic ball known as the "Turkish model" into play. What else could we do in the face of a Google query that returned more than 77 million results? Even filtering out the Turkish modeling agencies and a few pitches for model boats, the cyber-world still teems with the term. So we offer a relieved "thanks" to the leader of Tunisia's opposition, Ahmed Nejib Chebbi. As his country is beginning to flex its democratic muscles, and as we reported yesterday, he has politely declined the many offers for his country to follow the "Turkish model."
Which is not to say that the many arguments and commentaries that have been constructed atop this thin wafer of a concept lack entertainment value.
A headline from the Jerusalem Post: "A Turkish model for Egypt?" Or the essay in America's National Journal: "What is the Turkish model?" The Daily Star in Cairo phrased the question differently in its headline: "Is there a Turkish model?" The Wilson Center in Washington D.C. apparently thinks there is. On that think tank's website you can find the tome: "Egypt and the Middle East: The Turkish Model." At the Brookings Institution, a think tank a few blocks away, there appeared less certainty: "An Uneven Fit? The Turkish Model and the Arab World" is that outfit's contribution. With typical German conciseness, a think tank there offered us simply, "The Turkish Model."
And then there is the essay by a former U.S. ambassador to Turkey on Politico.com: "Turkey: Democracy yes, but no model." It's not just in relation to the Arab world of course. The online journal Slate asked in its entry for this sweepstakes, "Can Turkey be a role model for Afghanistan?"
We could go on and on. We won't. From the outset, we've been more than uncomfortable with the world's sudden embrace of our referential value. So our hat is off to Chebbi.
"Tunisia doesn't want to follow a model," he told our reporter. "We want to construct our own democracy."
Absolutely right. Every society, every nation, every political culture is unique. The hunt for "models" is an exercise in futility. Sure, there are sources of inspiration. There are ideas that can be borrowed. There are experiences to emulate and those to avoid by democrats seeking to shape and better their countries. But a script to be followed? No, everyone has to compose and perform their own political music.
We doubt, of course, that Chebbi's polite articulation of this reality will stop the world's commentariat. It might slow them down, however. We'll take whatever grace we can get. If a respite from the model mania leaves the planet with a bit more unused ink and brainpower, we'd welcome its focus on Turkey's real democratic deficits, problems and challenges.
The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
YOU SHALL NOT KILL!
It was 2010, and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan was speaking, as tempered as always, to a crowd as tempered as the prime minister could be.
"These [people] even see babies in their cradles as a threat. They have killed babies in their mothers' arms," he boomed.
"These people," naturally, were the Israelis.
Addressing Israel's leaders from a public rally in Turkey, Mr. Erdoğan said in both Turkish and English: "You shall not kill." Then he showed his linguistic capabilities and went on: "You still don't get it? Then I shall speak to you in your own language: Lo tir'tsach!" He was referring to the sixth of the 10 commandments in the Old Testament.
In various other speeches, Mr. Erdoğan claimed that his fits of anger toward the death of children were "indiscriminative" of race and religion. "Wherever, whenever," he often said, "a child has been killed," he would fiercely stand against the murderers. All the same, he has been mute since Saturday.
In the early hours of Saturday, a Palestinian broke into a house in the settlement of Itamar and stabbed to death a couple and their three children, aged 3 months, 4 years and 10 years old. The slain bodies were discovered by the couple's 12-year-old daughter who was not at home when the murder was committed.
The "Imad Mughniyeh" cell, with alleged links to the al-Aqsa Martyrs' Brigade, claimed responsibility for the attack. The terrorist group is named after the "phantom" terrorist Imad Mughniyeh who was killed in a car bomb attack in Damascus which Hezbollah blamed on Israeli agents. Mr. Mughniyeh, or the "Shia bin-Laden," was one of the world's most wanted men (wanted in 42 countries) while he was enjoying a safe haven in the Syrian capital prior to his assassination.
Most predictably, we have not heard Mr. Erdoğan saying "You shall not kill" in Arabic, and we probably never will. That's hardly surprising since we have never heard Mr. Erdoğan speaking "indiscriminately" in the past against the killing of children and defenseless people in Itamar, or elsewhere in Israel – for Saturday's attack in Itamar was not the first of its kind. In May 2002, a Palestinian killed a 14-year-old boy and wounded another teenager in the same settlement. A month later, another Palestinian killed a woman and her three children. In July the same year another Palestinian stabbed and wounded a couple. And in August 2004, a Palestinian killed a resident of Itamar.
The killing of a 3-month old baby reminded me, inevitably, of what a "Palestinian warrior" told me in Ramallah in 2006. When he praised his suicide bomber sister who had injured a 95-year-old woman (and killed herself) in an attack, I asked him what was the point of injuring or killing elderly women or toddlers when young Palestinians also died in these attacks. He smiled and explained as simply as he could: "For us, even a 1-year-old Israeli baby is a soldier. And that [95-year-old] woman was also an Israeli soldier!" I thought it might not be safe to ask him any further questions.
But in 2008, this time in London and speaking to another Palestinian, I felt more comfortable and dared question the logic of the act that "indiscriminately angers our prime minister." I reminded him of a verse in the Quran (4:93): "Whoever kills a believer intentionally, his recompense is Hell wherein he will abide eternally, and Allah has become angry with him and has cursed him and has prepared for him a great punishment."
My Palestinian friend counter-attacked with another verse (17:33): "And do not kill the soul which Allah has forbidden, except by right." Then came his loud and tempered explanation: "The verse 4:93 forbids killing a believer. Israelis are not believers." I looked out from the window of the pub where his orange juice vs. my wine stood on the table like two objects silently telling us why we could never agree.
For a moment, I thought about reminding him that Jews, too, are believers, like other non-Muslim believers, or ask him if the Quran (in verse 4:93) permitted the killing of atheists. But he loudly went back to verse 17:33, with radiating eyes satisfied with the near victory in our little intellectual duel. "You see, that verse forbids killing 'except by right.' And it is evident that some killings fall into the category of 'exception by right.'"
I sipped my wine and got lost in thought, wondering how a doctoral candidate of engineering from a decent British university could defend the murder of innocent people only because they belonged to a faith other than his. How could he twist his own (and my) holy book so as to find holy justifications for the killing of innocent people?
"Never mind," he interrupted my thoughts, "You are not Muslim anyway. It is normal that you don't understand." "Wait a minute," I protested, "What does it mean 'you are not Muslim anyway?'" "I see that you are drinking wine," he replied. "I hope you don't mind if I leave you alone now. I have an appointment," he smiled and left the pub.
I didn't mind because he left. But one does mind when someone tells him that he does not belong to the religion to which he thinks he belongs. I cursed the missed opportunity of reminding him of the verses and hadiths that forbid Muslims from judging other people's faith by a man-made faith-meter. But then I thought my cute friend would find a way to twist them, too.
The hypocrisy over the killing of innocent people is not coincidental in any way. Last month, Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad hosted, in Tehran, a delegation from the disastrous Turkish flotilla Mavi Marmara, comprising the "Mavi Marmara mujahedeen, ghazis and families of the shahids."
The delegates participated in Iran's Revolution Day ceremonies, and the head of the Turkish delegation noted that: "We are here today with the longing and the determination to build a Middle East without Israel and America, and to refresh our pledge to continue on the path of the Mavi Marmara shahids."
On Feb. 12, the same Mavi Marmara activist reiterated "the promising words of the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran… that 'only a short time is left for the building of a Middle East without Israel or America in it, and we are praying for the quick arrival of that bright day, when all of us will meet in a free al-Quds [Jerusalem].'"
With five "Jooos" having disappeared from earth after the Itamar attack, that bright day must be arriving sooner.
I am still curious, however, about what rank the 3-month old Israeli "soldier" held. Captain? Lieutenant colonel? Certainly too young to be a general.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
WHY THE DAILY NEWS IS SO GREAT
AUBURN, Alabama – Unfortunately, I missed the 50th anniversary party of our paper, the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. For I am here, a college town named Auburn, to give a talk at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a libertarian think-tank, on "The Commercial Heritage and Contribution of Islam."
I actually can't complain at all from my short visit here: I learned a lot in just a day, from lovely terms such as "warfare state" – a pun on the "welfare" one – to the pacifist outlook of the American libertarian movement, which is not much known to the outside world. (Turkish leftists, who see "capitalism" behind almost every war in recent history, should certainly meet the passionately pro-capitalist and similarly anti-war thinkers here.)
A free paper
Yet being in Istanbul and joining my colleagues in celebrating the fifth decade of Turkey's oldest English paper would also have been great. For this is a great paper that I feel privileged to be a part of.
My story with the Daily News began some five years ago, when David Judson, who had just become the new editor-in-chief, invited me to join the new team that he was assembling to reform the paper. I happily accepted his offer to become the opinion editor, only asking for a column for my self as well. David said yes, opening a new career for me, and granting an opportunity that I will always appreciate.
After more than a year of extremely busy office work, which included work days that extended until midnight, I had to abandon my editorial role, for I needed to create time for myself for a book on Islam and liberty that I decided to write. (It is coming out this July.) But I kept writing my column – a decision which made some readers happy, others unhappy, and kept me always engaged.
Over the years, I have realized that the Daily News is unique in various ways. First of all, its team is unique. I know a bit about the rest of the Turkish media as well, and I can confidently say that the small team assembled here is one of the most sophisticated and the most diverse. I in fact don't know any other Turkish paper whose team includes Marxists (both Trotskyites and Stalinists!), liberals, secularists, Kurds, Alevis, Armenians, and the Islamic-minded at the same time. The same diversity is reflected in our editorial pages, in which you can find totally opposing views in neighboring columns. You can, alas, even read rebuttals and counter-rebuttals between the columnists.
That is the case, for the Daily News is indeed a truly free paper. I have been writing whatever I want since 2006, and no one ever told me to write or not to write anything. (Word has it that some other papers in Turkey do not offer the exact same freedom to its writers and reporters.) It is no secret that I have often been more lenient to the incumbent Justice and Development Party, or AKP, than most others in the opinion pages – for visions of my own – but this has never been a problem, even at times when the government showed an erroneous hostility toward the Doğan Media Group, of which the Daily News is a part. (This should have been one of the many indications that there is in fact no homogenous, centrally-planned and controlled Doğan Media Group, as many liberals and conservatives believe. But myths are really hard to refute in Turkey.)
The true story
The Daily News is also great thanks to its informed and responsive audience. The Internet takes us to the four corners of the world and brings back extremely rich feedback. Comments from our readers are often as interesting as the stories and pieces we publish. They also show how diverse our readership is. Personally speaking, I have received comments accusing me of being a crypto-Islamist who wants to take Turkey "back to the Middle Ages," along with other ones that blamed me for being too much of a reformist of the Islamist tradition. I have appreciated all.
The strength of the Daily News, I think, also comes from the complex drama that it tries to cover – that of Turkey. Unfortunately, this has been a poorly and superficially understood theme for a long time. That's why David Judson said five years ago that the mission of the paper would be to go beyond the "token Turkey issues," and tell the country's "true story."
I believe we have made real progress on that front – progress of which the whole Daily News team can be proud.
I am sorry that I could not share their pride in person, by having my slice from the 50th anniversary cake that I bet they had in Istanbul. I am rather enjoying a delicacy they call "grits" here – corn cooked in butter, basically – and packing to head to Atlanta for another talk. But I am sending my congratulations from 6,000 miles away: "Long Live the Hürriyet Daily News!"
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE ISSUE OF INTERFERING IN HEADLINES
One of the most striking parts of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's parliamentary group meeting speech last week was his question, "Is there any newspaper whose headline we have interfered with in the last eight years?" which was asked to express how tolerant he has been toward the media.
My guess is that we will frequently come across the prime minister's statement in the upcoming term. Objections have already been raised.
Is showing reaction to headlines not interference?
The first objection was raised by daily Habertürk Editor-in-Chief Fatih Altaylı after main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, Chairman Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu brought the issue to the agenda. Altaylı said that while he was the editor-in-chief of daily Sabah in 2007, one of Erdoğan's advisers called and asked him not to include in his top story a speech made by then-President Ahmet Necdet Sezer that criticized the government. But Altaylı didn't step back.
I don't recall going through a similar experience when I was the editor-in-chief of daily Milliyet. However, I believe, Erdoğan's public interference is no less important than the aforementioned quiet methods.
When you make a headline that would in a way disturb Erdoğan, you should know in advance that you might face a fierce retaliation the next day. For instance, when we used an article on the front page about a party meeting in which women and men sat separately in two different closed halls, he fiercely reacted against us.
I won't forget his reaction to one particular news story though. We'd used the headline "superstition" for a story about a sentence included in a Grade 11 religious textbook because it was claimed that ablution water increased a person's number red blood cell count.
Erdoğan reacted against us then, arguing that this was not a headline story and that similar discussions were adding to the tension in Turkey. After our story was proven to be correct, Education Minister Hüseyin Çelik admitted the mistake and the sentence was removed from the textbook in the following school year.
If the top story is wrong, close the newspaper
Another example which I find quite striking is that Erdoğan accused the daily Akşam of making false news because the paper led with a story about air pollution in Istanbul one day in 2008 and accompanied the news with a few relevant photos. He challenged the owner of the daily Akşam, warning, "You either close down your newspaper or you don't make false news." The next day, Akşam wrote that it stood by the story.
Similarly, this time about a TV news story on malfunctions at hospitals in 2008, Erdoğan said: "The media's duty is inspection. You call the relevant ministry for that. If the ministry does not really care, then you call the prime minister. If the prime minister is insensitive [toward the issue], then you go ahead and make your story."
The journalism doctrine based on providing "prior notification" – as referred to by Erdoğan in this example – is not in line with the freedom of the press.
Again, in the fall of 2008, the prime minister launched a boycott campaign against the Doğan Media Group following its news on the Deniz Feneri (Light House) corruption case filed in Germany and concluded with a sentence against the organization. His comments such as "sentence them to nothingness" did not reflect an understanding of press freedom. And the tax fines on the Doğan Media Group that came after these statements overlapped content-wise with Erdoğan's scolding.
There might also still be vivid memories of how Erdoğan called newspaper owners last year and said, "Bosses should be able to say to columnists, 'Pardon me, but you cannot work for me'" in reference to columnists who were "causing tension in the country."
Examples are plenty; content-wise, each is no less important than interfering in the top stories of newspapers and every incident directly reflects an understanding of the interventionist mentality against press freedom.
On top of this, the psychological state and perception thus created in some media outlets bring us to the core of the debates on press freedom.
By looking through this perspective, the problem is not only the restrictive provisions of the law; though such provisions are legally correct, the problem is not going away.
As long as Erdoğan sticks with his interventionist mentality, freedom of the press in Turkey will be a problematic issue in the face of the country's efforts to build an actual liberal democracy.
*Sedat Ergin is a columnist for daily Hürriyet, in which this piece appeared Tuesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
OBAMA TO THE RESCUE
As the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review celebrates its fifth decade and Turkish democracy its sixth, all eyes are on Turkey. Will the country overcome the political warfare between the governing Justice and Development Party, or AKP, and its opponents?
To those who doubt the seriousness of the conflict, a well-informed friend says Turkey's current polarization makes the divide between Blue States and Red States in the United States look like a monochrome affair. Will Turkey's six-decade-old democracy collapse under the weight of its warring factions?
Worry not, for there is a way forward. So long as Turkey has true media freedom, it will democratically pull through the current polarized environment. And fortunately for us all, President Barack Obama has significant leverage in this matter.
The AKP government has a rather positive view of President Obama, even if it takes issue with particular U.S. policies. This change resulted from Obama's April 2009 visit to Turkey, his first overseas trip after coming to power. The AKP has come to view this gesture as a sign of appreciation for the party and its policies.
What is more, the president and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan have a close rapport, with Obama regularly calling Erdoğan to exchange views on foreign policy. In recent weeks, for instance, the president has phoned Erdoğan at least a dozen times to discuss the events in Libya, Egypt, and elsewhere in Middle East.
Finally, as farfetched as it might sound, the AKP has an emphatic, if factually-incorrect, connection with the president. This bond stems from the fact that, as one Washington-based Turkey analyst has put it, "prominent AKP leaders believe that President Obama is a Muslim." The party leadership also believes that while U.S. government agencies might not like the AKP, the president likes the party and its "religion-based policies."
The appeal of President Obama to the AKP is such that even though the party might dismiss messages coming from various U.S. government branches, it is quite likely to take advice coming directly from the president. Proof of Obama's influence on the AKP leadership can be found in the outcome of last years' crisis over the proposed NATO missile defense shield. Turkish media reported that although the AKP initially objected to the missile shield to be placed under NATO aegis, after the president made it clear to the AKP leadership that the issue was of personal importance for him, the party simply acquiesced.
Economic issues related to the upcoming Turkish elections may also provide the president with considerable leverage vis-à-vis the AKP. Since coming to power in 2002, the AKP government has stayed popular thanks to economic stability. Although the Turkish economy has always been dynamic in nature, up until 2002, Turkey did not experience stable economic growth. The pattern of the Turkish economy was such that growth would always be followed by a downturn, as it happened in the 1993-1994, 1997, 1999, and 2000-2001 economic crisis following a few years of growth, creating a sense of perpetual economic instability.
This has changed under the AKP as Turkey has enjoyed almost a decade of stable growth with no annual downturns, even weathering the 2008 global crisis well. Now, as it prepares for elections, the AKP will be interested in repeating this success. To this end, the party needs to avoid a public row with Washington over its domestic or foreign polices, including the AKP's position on domestic media freedom. A major conflict with the United States could weaken the markets' confidence in the Turkish economy, creating politically damaging economic problems for the AKP in the run-up to the polls. If there was one time when the AKP were to heed calls from Washington, it would be between now and the June elections.
What is in this for President Obama? As Turkey faces elections in June 2011 in a polarized landscape between the AKP and its opponents, Washington can help defuse such tensions by taking action on media freedoms.
What is more, in the absence of a free media, the platform offered by the foreign media may become the only one in which the AKP's voice of disagreement with the U.S. can be heard. At a time when Washington desires Turkish support on a number of issues, ranging from countering Iran's nuclearization to using NATO assets in Libya, the president would do well to use his leverage to ensure greater media freedoms in Turkey. In a more open media environment, the AKP will be forced to publicly confront divergent views and will face also face increasing scrutiny regarding Turkey's frayed relationship with the United States. In this regard, the current window is a rare opportunity for the president's voice to be heard by the AKP.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
WE NEVER HAD A CHANCE TO SEE 'URFA'S OXFORD'
MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
Some of us perceive İbrahim Tatlıses as a rough and rowdy person who beats women. But when you look at him closely you'll see that you won't find any other person that represents the variety of Turkish society.
What affected me the most in all my life were his words, "We never had a chance to be educated in 'Urfa's Oxford,'" trying to explain why he was not able to go to school.
He is a person who started out in poverty and came so far.
A mixture of a little bit of Arab, a little bit of Kurd topped with a Turkish identity.
You won't find any other artist with such a charismatic mix.
If you haven't met him or spoke with him you won't understand the energy he emits.
When looked upon it from this angle I perceive him as a phenomenon, an event. Your worlds may differ, you may or may not agree with what he does, what he eats or his songs but you can't deny the energy he emits.
I have never met anyone else who can tell about Anatolia in a way he does.
Tatlıses has not only impressed this society, he has also impressed the region in which we live. From Greece to Middle Eastern countries I witnessed him spreading vibrations on stage while embracing those who understood him as well as the once that didn't.
Yılmaz Özdil in his article yesterday made a correct comparison.
He is a very excited, hyperactive person and representative of the Turkish approach who, instead of continuing with what he does best, undertakes tasks he does not know of and thus constantly loses money.
With his energy and lifestyle he has become a symbol of the Turkish mosaic.
You'll see that he will not stay in bed. Even if it'll be hard he'll get up and continue brighten our lives.
Ankara doing the right thing
Even if it is not every day, I try and update you on important developments.
In Libya the situation is not very enlightening.
No matter how much Gadhafi is taking over, from now on it will be hard for him to lead this country.
It looks like Europe's, and foremost France's, brisk attitude will continue. There will not be any good in starting an air blockade. And Washington does not seem too intent on stringent precautions either.
It's obvious what will happen.
Even if Gadhafi has the situation under control he'll regret it later. His life won't be easy from now on.
Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is right when he says, "Leaders who resist change will sooner or later be defeated."
This may be true but in Gadhafi's world such a concept does not exist. He rules Libya like a tribe, having his own way. He insists on this even though he knows that it can't go on forever.
And the reason is obvious: There is nothing else he can do other than waiting for the end.
Ankara's general Libya approach until now worked just fine.
Its approach in military intervention issues was especially important.
The West need not interfere in the region in the name of human rights. Steps taken with the purpose of securing oil and gas flow are no good. On the contrary, it just makes the situation worse.
In this respect Turkey may seem to be on adverse terms with the West but in truth it indicates the logical way.
Need to reconsider nuclear energy
The nuclear disaster in Japan has created more questions all over the world, including Turkey, regarding energy resources. Maybe it will bring many beneficial results.
See how in a sensitive, disciplined country like Japan that considers each step it takes in depth an unexpected natural hazard has turned all security precautions upside down.
Radioactive leakage can't be averted.
The world is terrified. Europe makes its new nuclear plants a priority on the agenda and puts many projects on hold. First the public needs to be calmed down.
Turkey's Energy Minister Taner Yıldız must be aware of the situation when he tries to calm the public by stating: "Japan uses outdated generation technology. Ours will be of advanced technology."
But he is not very convincing in view of the events.
Turkey badly needs nuclear energy. Besides, for the first time important steps are taken with newly developed projects to meet at least part of our energy needs.
But with latest developments our general approach needs to change.
For years now we have known an earthquake would hit Istanbul but we live in a country where no serious preparations are made. The society is insensitive. It does not even deem its life important. So naturally people will start resisting by saying, "If we are not to establish necessary precautions we might as well not get ourselves into the nuclear business."
There is only one way to escape this dead-end and that is to be transparent and convincing.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
At a breakfast organized by the Association of Diplomatic Correspondents, or DMD, I asked Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu what he indeed wants to tell people by constantly referring to his party as the "New Republican People's Party" or "Yeni CHP".
Apparently he was not expecting such a question though I supposed it is that "new" prefix he has provided to the old CHP that sent waves of hope through the Turkish society who wants to believe that there is indeed a viable alternative to the growing absolute one man rule aspirations of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his Justice and Development Party, or AKP.
First of all, the old CHP was etatist. That is it was placing the interests of the state, or defense of the state, before interests of the nation or freedoms of the individual members of this nation. Will the new CHP be a political party placing "national interests" and "defense of the state" in the back row and give prominence to interests of the nation, individual freedoms in full awareness that the era of serving to the state was closed long ago and now we are in a servant state era? Excluding a brief period in the 1970s – which saw the CHP vote exceed 40 percent for the first and so far the last time since Turkey moved on to multi-party democracy in 1950 – the old CHP never ever tried to place the interests of the state or defense of the state in the back raw.
Secondly, though it was the CHP that pulled Turkey from a one-party governance to a multi-party democracy or it was the CHP that introduced Turkey with the notion of social democracy, the old CHP was the "custodian" of whatever was left from the political legacy of the founder of the republic – and of course founder of the CHP – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, with a rather conservative understanding shunning any prospect of change or development. Will the "new" CHP be different than the "old" CHP and make a modern interpretation of the six Kemalist principles – which were symbolized in the six arrows in the emblem of the party – with awareness that Atatürk was indeed a pragmatist politician who would oppose his ideas be allowed to rust in conservatism?
I was not expecting Kılıçdaroğlu to go into details and explain with some striking examples why he insisted on referring the CHP under his administration as the "New CHP" despite criticisms from the former executives of the party that he should not attempt at all to devastate the fundamentals of the founding party of the Turkish republic. He did not indeed. He just said the new CHP would be a party the focus of which would be the people, not the state.
As someone who has been complaining for years that the problem of Turkey was not with the centrist, center-right or far-right political parties but rather the absence of a credible social democratic party because the parties that claimed to be social democratic were often far more conservative and indeed nationalist than the conservatives and the nationalists, that was indeed what I wanted to hear from him.
Now the election campaign period has officially started. Parties have started unveiling their pledges. It has become a fashion for Turkish political parties to pledge moon, stars and even go to the extent of bringing sea to the central Anatolian towns. Now, for example, some political pundits of the AKP have started writing that soon the prime minister disclose a "gigantic project" of building by 2023 – the 100th anniversary of the establishment of the republic – a tunnel-crossing from the Black Sea to the Ceyhan region in the Mediterranean, building at least three or four "deep sea ports" accessible with elevators from some Anatolian cities. Yet, the prime minister is criticizing the CHP of making "empty" promises to the nation.
Naturally, this writer cannot vouch for the "new" or "old" CHP. Yet, the pledge to establish a "family insurance system" and make sure at least 600 Turkish Liras (around 250 euros) monthly family income for every Turkish family appears to be far reasonable than the election time extravaganza of providing all kinds of household appliances – even to villages without electricity of running water – and sacks of coal even to holiday makers at the summer villas on the Mediterranean or Aegean beaches.
Shortening military service, providing paid military service and such opportunities to cut the impacts of compulsory military service on young Turks cannot be so bad ideas to be ridiculed as "fictional" by the premier. Or, pledging full freedom of press is of course something the premier and his comrades in political Islam can reconcile with their aspirations of creating a full allegiance system in this country.
Erdoğan and the CHP are apparently scared of the new CHP.
I. THE NEWS
COMMISSION ON LOANS
The two-member Supreme Court bench hearing the case on the Rs 256 billion loan write-offs by commercial banks over the last four decades, has agreed to a suggestion by the counsel for the State Bank of Pakistan that a commission be set up to examine the details of the waivers given to various industries and the powerful individuals behind them. It has also asked the SBP to publish suggestions for the setting up of the commission, for which banks would be charged, so that any borrower having an objection to the process would be able to come forward and approach the court. We must hope the process produces results. The loan write-offs have cost the exchequer huge amounts of money and have been a chief means of promoting corrupt practices of all kinds in the country. What is striking is the fact, as noted by the court, that only four of the beneficiaries on the list have come forward after their names appeared on widely publicised lists. This indifference to the plight of the nation by some of its richest sons is in many ways quite terrifying. A country abandoned by its own people stands little chance of moving ahead in any decisive direction.
For the same reasons, as has indeed been noted during the hearings of the case, we need to put in place tougher measures to deal with the loaning process by banks. It is an irony that while ordinary citizens who seek to build a house, obtain a car, or meet other needs have to go through a long and laborious process and then face immense pressure – or even threats – if they are even a few days late in paying an installment, people many times wealthier than them can get away with massive write-offs that quite often have little to do with the state of their finances. Some of the borrowing that takes place is based around the knowledge that this will happen. Today, no doubt, even as these words are being read, more loaning agreements are being negotiated at banks, with those wielding power eager to acquire sums they have no intention of returning. The findings of the commission to be constituted to look into these matters will be interesting. They should also aid in the vital process of setting up controls to prevent write-offs in the future. The SBP will almost certainly need to tighten its controls and ensure banks follow a set of rules laid down to prevent malafide write-offs and benefit those who seek funding for all the wrong reasons. Through the years many such cases have come forward; some like the case involving the Bank of Punjab remain before the courts. The SC's vigilant suo motu action in the loan write-off case should help prevent other similar acts of crime and protect the interests of both the citizens and the state.
I. THE NEWS
Early on Monday, military vehicles without national identity marks crossed the 26-mile causeway which connects the island state of Bahrain to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They were part of a multinational Arab task force called in at the request of the Bahrain government as it struggled with a deepening crisis. Those protesting against the current regime immediately dubbed the force as 'occupiers' and on Tuesday afternoon, Iran issued a statement decrying 'interference' in the affairs of Bahrain by other Arab states. Although there are similarities between the unrest in Bahrain and elsewhere, this is at heart, a sectarian clash. The Shia majority has long resented the rule of a Sunni minority and has many grievances, but it is the interests of foreign powers in Bahrain, particularly America and Iran, which heighten concerns. The Iranians would be beneficiaries of a regime change in Bahrain and a transfer of power to the majority, and would be displeased by the presence of an intervention force. The American Fifth Fleet has its base there and the Americans would potentially be the losers if majority rule – backed and perhaps underwritten by Iran – made their massive naval facility no longer welcome.
Iran has long sought to have naval dominance of the Gulf waters, an ambition that far predates the Iranian revolution.. If America had to find another home for the fifth fleet, it would, at best, face a period when its power in the Gulf was diminished, and worse cede some of that power to Iran which could move into whatever facilities the Americans vacated. It must be assumed that the Saudis are as aware of Iranian intentions as are the Americans – whose statement on Tuesday that they were 'unaware' of the move of foreign forces into Bahrain rings as true as lions declaring themselves to be vegetarian all along. If they were truly as unaware as they say they were then they should be dismissing from post every signals intelligence officer in the fifth fleet. Whoever controls Bahrain controls the Gulf and the oil traffic. To the northwest is Kuwait and to the east the Straits of Hormuz through which virtually all of the oil exported from the region has to pass. The USA and its close ally Saudi Arabia are going to be anxious to hold on to their strategically vital island state, but the unrest there has already begun to seep into the Shia eastern part of Saudi Arabia. Bahrain is a hinge on which much will turn in the coming days and weeks.
The wave of killings that has repeatedly shaken peace in Balochistan continues. The latest victim is Agha Mahmood Khan Ahmedzai, an office-bearer of the Balochistan National Party (Mengal) in Kalat, nephew of the Khan of Kalat, and a provincial minister. Like so many others before him, Achakzai was gunned down by motorcyclists who fired on his car. It is impossible to say what the motive may be, although, there is some conjecture it may be another assassination in the series of deaths involving nationalist leaders in the province.
The targeting of politicians makes the task of bringing peace to Balochistan increasingly difficult. Parties such as the BNP, which form a part of the political mainstream in the province, are essential to negotiating a settlement of any kind and developing consensus on matters that leave the people of Balochistan deeply disgruntled. The killing of key leaders means anger will grow and become more and more dangerous. The mix of nationalist, ethnic and sectarian violence we see in the province has continued to spiral. It has become essential to find a means to end it – or at least initiate an effort to do so. There is no evidence that this effort is currently being made, and, as a consequence, still stormier times could beset our largest federating unit.
I. THE NEWS
REFORMING THE STATE BANK
DR MUHAMMAD YAQUB
The SBP, as the central bank, has a crucial role to play in the financial and economic management of the country. Its main functions are:
• Formulation and implementation of an independent monetary policy
• Approval, regulation and supervision of commercial banks
• Management of the exchange rate
• Provision of banking services to all layers of the government
As monetary and exchange rate policies play an important role in macroeconomic management of the country, and a well-functioning banking system is almost a prerequisite for smooth economic development, the future of the economy is vitally linked with the effectiveness and efficiency of the SBP.
In recognition of its importance, the SBP has been strengthened in the last two decades through several legislative reforms and its internal restructuring. At the same time, some regressive legislative measures and other steps taken on considerations of expediency, and, at times, lack of sound leadership have inhibited the SBP from playing its role effectively.
It is important that the SBP undertakes a critical evaluation of its recent performance, and introduces reforms to remove the impediments that stand in the way of its efficient and effective functioning. Fortunately, at this critical juncture, the incumbent Governor, Shahid Kadar, possesses the necessary qualities to lead it in the right direction.
The major areas that require immediate attention include:
• Administrative breakup of the SBP in 2002 into two legally independent entities.
• Non-implementation of the provisions of section 9A and 9B of the SBP Act relating to monetary policy for a long time.
• Division of authority to appoint the governor and the board between two different centers of power.
• Inadequate programme for skill development and career progression of the staff.
• Lack of sufficient progress in improving the quality of banking supervision.
The administrative breakup of the SBP into two legally independent entities, called the SBP and the State Bank Banking Services Corporation (SBP-BSC), was a real set back, and has undermined autonomy, efficiency, and cohesiveness of the SBP. It has also increased administrative costs though duplication of administrative set-ups, added to difficulties in coordination between policies and operations, and created hindrance in career development of the professional staff.
The policy and operational functions of the SBP are intricately interrelated but the two independent entities will, with the passage of time, develop their own separate staff, procedures, traditions and personalities and lose intimate touch with each.
Bifurcation of the professional staff between two legal entities requiring adoption of deputation procedures for transfer of staff from one entity to the other is cumbersome and unnecessary, stands in the way of cross-fertilisation of skills involved in policies and operations, and impedes development of the core central banking professionals having experience in both policies and operations.
A careful consideration needs to be given for reunification and integration of the central banking functions under one umbrella in the larger and long term interest of functional cohesiveness, harmony and efficiency of the SBP.
The responsibility for the formulation and implementation of monetary policy rests with the SBP as provided in section 9A and 9 B of the SBP. If these provisions were consistently and faithfully enforced in the last decade or so, monetary policy would by now be standing on solid footing and making its contribution towards controlling inflation, promoting financial discipline and accelerating economic growth. Unfortunately, for some unknown reasons, the government and the SBP lost their way and failed to follow the law of the land.
It is important that the provisions of the law are strictly followed in letter and spirit. Laws are as good as their implementation and an effective enforcement of the provisions will produce the desired results of promoting economic growth within the framework of relative price stability. The present subordination of monetary policy to meet fiscal requirements of the government is not only a violation of the law but is also directly responsible for the high rate of inflation in the country.
The division of authority for the appointment of the governor by the president and of the board of directors and deputy governors by the prime minister has in it the potential of conflict and disharmony in the functioning of the SBP. From the point of view of the SBP, it is not important whether the governor and the board are appointed by the president or the prime Minister.
What is important is that they are not arbitrarily appointed or removed without a clearly laid down due process, that they have a uniform command structure and their tenures are guaranteed. The appointment and removal of the board and the governor should therefore be consolidated in one authority under transparent rules and regulations ensuring security of their tenure.
In the selection of the members of board of directors, due weight needs to be given to representation of professional skills with diverse geographical, academic and business background, and the advice and consent of the governor should be mandatory in their appointment. The tenure of the governor should be reverted back to the original five year nonrenewable term. That provision was replaced in 1993 by the present one that restricted the duration of the tenure to three years but made it renewable for a second term.
The temptation of renewal of second term may stand in the way of some governors taking bold professional stands on policy issues and therefore it is better to restore the initial decision of a non-renewable five year term.
In the case of deputy governors, their appointment should be taken away from the Ministry of Finance and handed over to the board of directors of the SBP to minimise the interference of the Ministry of Finance in the running of the SBP.
Moreover, deputy governors should be appointed from within the career stream of the SBP both to strengthen the input of institutional memory in high level decisions and to assure a career prospect to the professional SBP staff. In fact, that was the practice in vogue for a long time in the SBP that has lately been ignored leading to demoralisation of the career staff and undermining cohesiveness and uniformity of compensation to the staff at the same level of responsibilities.
The mid-level professional staff is the backbone of any effective organisation. It is for that reason that the SBP also needs to pay more attention to the professional staff from within and avoid the practice of large scale lateral entry at senior levels. Lateral entries may reduce the skill shortage in the short run but it demoralises the career staff and reduces the promise of career progression and skill development in the long run.
There is another negligence that also needs to be corrected. For almost a decade, the SBP has not filled the position of deputy governor policy on the phony assertion that an economist-governor does not need the services of a deputy governor policy. Given some humility and better understanding of the enormity of SBP tasks, every governor should feel the need for a strong team of economists under the leadership of a qualified and experienced deputy governor to develop policy conclusions on solid economic analysis and research.
Finally, the SBP needs to give equal weight to off-site supervision as to on-site inspection. It should gradually move on from policing and penalising the banks by detecting some minor violations through inspections, to examining the macro risk indicators of banks based on reliable data flow, improving governance guidelines for them, separating the roles of owners, board of directors and management and staff of banks in their governance structure, and imparting integrity and professionalism in banking business.
The policeman approach to bank supervision has by now become obsolete and counterproductive. It has been abandoned all over the world and replaced by modern tools such as 'stress testing' of banks.
The writer is former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.
I. THE NEWS
TIME FOR HARD CHOICES
Education isn't discussed much in Pakistan, despite the human and economic cost of a crisis that blights the lives of tens of millions of our citizens and leaves the country performing far below its potential.
The media in Pakistan devote, optimistically speaking, a little over one percent of their time to covering education. Most of that coverage goes to Matric results, transfers, and corruption cases. Very little to substantive debate on the issues that matter. The education emergency is wreaking terrible damage on Pakistan, but it has seldom been newsworthy.
This month, the Pakistan Education Task Force has been changing that, ringing the alarm through its March for Education campaign. (Full disclosure: I am on secondment to the Task Force's secretariat).
The campaign has been largely successful because of the goodwill of the media. The latter have shown a renewed willingness to identify solutions to Pakistan's chronic problems.
So finally we have a debate. Across the media, we are discussing how to push education to the top of Pakistan's crowded to-do list. But talk is not enough, especially when the conversation is started by a Task Force that draws more than half its members from the federal and provincial governments. Action needs to follow on from words.
Where do we go from here? First, we need all political parties to plot a way forward in education. This work has already been started. Back on February 5, 2008, 17 parties signed a Joint Declaration on Education for All, proclaiming their commitment to increase funding for education to four percent of the GDP.
They need to dust off that declaration and meet to work out how they can turn into reality the solemn promises they made that day. Each party should appoint one of its number to act as an education champion, and ask them to serve on a core political group dedicated to developing a cross-party response to the education emergency.
Second, it is time to hear directly from our most senior leaders. The president addresses a joint session of parliament next week. Much of his speech is likely to be taken up with the latest round of crises to hit Pakistan. But it is essential that he speaks forcefully about education, calling on political opponents to use the issue to surmount their partisan divisions.
Third, the federal government must stop seeing the18th Amendment as an excuse to drop the ball on education. The amendment wasn't just about devolution. It also inserted Article 25a into the Constitution, guaranteeing the right to schooling for all up to the age of 16. This is a national responsibility, and its delivery is the responsibility of the federation, embodying all levels of government. The 18th Amendment Committee should therefore turn its attention to this subject.
I would also beseech the prime minister to start putting flesh on the bones of his plan, announced in December, to make 2011 a Year of Education. He should begin to develop a Compact for Education with other political parties. Its signing would be the centrepiece of the education year.
Fourth, and most importantly, I would invite chief ministers to share their plans for education reform in each province. We know that each province faces imposing challenges, but in the wake of the 18th Amendment, all are developing new plans for education reform. These should now be explained to the nation.
The Council of Common Interests would, of course, be the most appropriate venue for the sharing of provincial reform strategies, and for the federal government to help ensure that, in aggregate, they are up to the challenge that lies ahead. That is why I would like the prime minister to call for a CCI on education to meet as soon as is feasible. It would be a powerful signal if every chief minister endorsed this call.
Fifth, it is time to hear from Pakistan's international partners, who have been complicit in decades of failure to translate development assistance into better education for our children. If donors have a strategy for education, it is a well-kept secret. Their efforts are fragmented, uncoordinated, and much less than the sum of their parts. We need to know what donors are doing in education, and how they plan to mobilise to help end the education emergency in Pakistan.
Finally, I would make a plea for some of the cynics to step aside and leave space for a new political initiative on education. Everyone in Pakistan's elite bears some measure of responsibility for our failings in this area. That includes military and civilian governments (who have each ruled the country for around half the time since Independence), all political parties, the business community, and even media and civil society, which have done a poor job of making education a frontline issue.
Maybe, this attempt to end the education emergency will end in failure. But it has begun to bring some powerful forces together and there is now the potential for a lot to happen. That is how change happens – nothing shifts for a long time, but then, suddenly, a breakthrough occurs. After that, the pieces can fall into place very fast.
I beg you all to join us in the March for Education and to think hard about what influence you personally, whatever position you hold, can exert in helping deliver change. We need you. We're fighting against long odds.
The writer is a columnist. www.educationemergency.com.pk
I. THE NEWS
WHEN THEY COME FOR ME
When Adolf Hitler was brutalising German society, the intelligentsia stayed mum. This intellectual cowardice bothered Pastor Niemoller who was heroically resisting fascism. After the end of the war, on Jan 6, 1946, Pastor Niemoller delivered a speech before representatives of the Confessing Church in Frankfurt. The text has many versions. The most famous one is:
"They came first for the communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a communist. Then they came for the trade unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a trade unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."
The capitulation before Mumtaz Qadri after Salmaan Taseer's murder and the opportunistic whitewashing of Shahbaz Bhatti's martyrdom may have delayed the inevitable. But appeasement is not going to thwart the unavoidable sequence. After "communists, trade unionists, and the Jews," to use the phrase in the context of today's Pakistan, they are going to come "for me". When they come "for me," many of us Pakistanis, including some in the media, may present the most pathetic spectacle.
In the Taliban emirate of Mullah Muhammad Omar the airwaves were meant exclusively for his Radio Shariat. But that was Afghanistan until 2001. Even in Karachi, Taliban-like elements have been making bonfires of television sets. To say nothing of Fazlullah's Swat, with his mullah radio.
Syed Noor of our cultural Ghairat Brigade chastised Veena Malik for not exhibiting an adequate amount of religiosity while starring in the Indian version of Big Brother. Now he has created a stir with his upcoming Aik Aur Ghazi (Yet Another Holy Warrior), with Mumtaz Qadri as the hero. But the tagline of this grim kitsch of a film (Punishment for Blasphemers: Decapitation) simply rules out any notion of forbearance. Aik Aur Ghazi and its pathetic tagline could be an attempt by Pakistan's dying silver screen to outdo a highly sensationalised, puritanical mini-screen. But isn't it really the case of Turkeys striving for an early Thanksgiving?
A tolerant society is a must for culture to flourish. What Syed Noor does not understand is that cinema, film, drama, music, theatre and all forms of entertainment are "vulgarity" in the puritan lexicon. What if a self-appointed Amir of Lahore declares punishment for vulgarity: stoning! Of course, people of Syed Noor's intellectual level are not bothered by such questions. Also, sections of the media and the cultural 'mujahidin' constitute a side kick to the role played by short-sighted politicians and their blind politics.
Appeasement of mullahs and capitulation before the Taliban is not merely a desperate attempt by the PPP-ANP duo to stay in power. It reflects their politics. They refuse to mobilise their mass base because they want to restrict their social base only to polling stations. If their mass base were mobilised, PPP and ANP workers would begin to raise embarrassing questions, and start making demands that their leaderships find awkward and politically inexpedient to meet. But that is not all: it is well-known that some of our politicians consider religious extremists "strategic assets".
If some reports are anything to go by, a scary explanation has been offered to the western diplomats in Islamabad for our top army brass not offering public condolences to the family of Salmaan Taseer - that any public statement (of condolence) could endanger the army's unity. It is said a scrapbook of photographs of Taseer's killer was shown to some diplomats in which he was being hailed as a hero by fellow police officers. The fact is that suicide attacks on Gen Musharraf's convoys were insiders' jobs. In autumn 2009, the General Headquarters in Rawalpindi was itself the site of a hostage-and-rescue drama. The gas station blown up by the Taliban in Faisalabad on March 7 was yet another message to the ISI. Given the increasing gravity of the terror situation, it seems they have already started coming "for me".
If Pastor Martin Niemoller were alive today and living in Pakistan, he would only need to make a few alterations in his statement about the inactivity of German intellectuals following Hitler's rise to power, and his words would be perfectly applicable to the Pakistani media, judiciary, politicians, army – even the "civil society":
"They came first for the Ahmadis, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't an Ahmadi. Then they came for the Christians, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Christian. Then they came for the Shias, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Shia. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up."
The writer is a freelance contributor.
I. THE NEWS
WHY WE NEED AMERICA
M SAEED KHALID
Anti-American sentiment in Pakistan is once again on the rise. But the second or third generations of Pakistanis who chant slogans against America in the urban centres of Pakistan are not fully aware of the genesis of the country's six-decade alliance with the United States. Nor do they seem to care that it was our leadership which first sought a close partnership with the world's premier economic and military power. In an atmosphere charged with anti-America slogans, few would be interested to hear that the Pakistan-US alliance was a marriage based on reason rather than convenience.
The two sides stand to lose a great deal in case of a rupture. They believe that the partnership is mutually beneficial and, despite periods of tension, it should not be allowed to wither away. Pakistani-US relationship is based on sound fundamentals. The first of these is that from its birth Pakistan faced financial and territorial insecurity. It was natural for the Pakistani leaders, who perhaps considered themselves more as heirs to the Mogul rather than the British Empire, to turn to Washington for support in the post-World War II era.
The Americans did not seize the opportunity of mentoring the newborn Muslim country representing the world's fifth-largest country in terms of population till they were confronted by the "red peril." India's reluctance to open its doors to western capitalism and its inclination to experiment with socialist methods internally and non-alignment internationally only helped the Americans to set aside their reservations and opt for friendship with Pakistan.
The relations hit road bumps because of America's "do as I say" methods, Pakistan's friendship with China, its use of American defence equipment against India, and other "issues," the thorniest being America's obsession against Pakistan's nuclear project. This was to result in a first parting of ways during the Carter presidency. Carter will be remembered as the US president who merely flew over Pakistan to land in Tehran to raise a toast to the "oasis of peace" that Carter considered Iran under the Shah. In barely ten months, however, the US was bending over backwards to win over Pakistan to meet the challenge posed by Russian tanks rolling down Afghanistan in December 1979.
America's disdain for Pakistan returned after the nuclear tests of 1998 and aggravated with Gen Musharraf's coup in October 1999. By the second half of 2001, Pakistan was on the verge of default on its foreign debt repayments. After 9/11, America was once again compelled to seek Pakistan's cooperation. There was one big difference though. The post 9/11 America was humbled but not sobered. It had turned aggressive and arrogant in its hour of grief. The mantra was no longer 'we are in this together'. The sole superpower thundered 'you are either with us or against us'. This time around, it was not one superpower enlisting support against its rival. America ran a uni-polar world and wanted revenge from the perpetrators of the 9/11 incident.
How Musharraf should have reacted to America's demand is still debated. To some, he sold out cheaply, seizing the opportunity of legitimising his regime. But he was in no position to haggle. The reward for that cooperation came quickly as Pakistan's economy was bailed out. Argentina, which faced a meltdown at the same time was asked to fend for itself and defaulted by December 2001. An Argentine analyst wrote at the time that geopolitics had dictated the US choice.
Today the US is upset that its "do more" exhortations regarding Afghanistan are not having the desired effect in Pakistan. A number of US moves have increased Pakistan's exasperation. The relations have reached a crossroads where a parting of the ways seems probable. How else can one explain President Obama's stand-alone visit to India, his criticism of Pakistan, an old ally, on Indian soil, and his excessive zeal for civil nuclear and other lucrative sales to India, while his envoys put the heat on Pakistan over the FMCT. The US idea of Pakistan decimating the Afghan Taliban to help America successfully complete its mission in Afghanistan is bereft of logic.
However, a major difficulty with the post-9/11 American doctrine is an excessive recourse to military means rather than statecraft or diplomacy. Today, military logic reigns supreme in the world's great democracy. Drone attacks in our border areas and gun-toting US commandoes under diplomatic cover in our cities are the visible manifestations of this military logic. Consequently, the Americans prefer to deal with Pakistani commanders and sleuths rather than the country's civilian leadership or bureaucracy.
The prevailing situation in Afghanistan and in our border areas does not vindicate America's militarist approach. Gen Musharraf used to argue that terrorism could not be overcome by military means alone. According to him, the military could only succeed in creating a favourable environment but solutions would come through political means. Was it his reluctance to apply Pakistan's full military might in defeating terrorism which encouraged the US to look for a more cooperative partner with democratic credentials? We may never know the whole truth, but American pressure for a liberal visa regime for their "diplomats" has resulted in tragic consequences. The Raymond Davis affair affected a floundering partnership.
A cooling-off period is needed to work through the imbroglio. In this period, the government could benefit from a brainstorming session attended by its defence experts, senior diplomats and financial managers for a policy planning review of Pakistan's relations with the US, India and Afghanistan. No such consultation would be fruitful without eventually bringing the major political parties on board. This way, Pakistan would be able to speak with confidence.
President Zardari would be well advised to postpone his planned visit to the US until after an in-depth reappraisal of our partnership with the US. Washington too may be reassessing its ties with Pakistan. The short-term future of the Pakistan-US alliance may very well depend on how the two sides cope with the Raymond Davis affair.
But in the longer term, a close partnership with US should not be viewed or pursued in isolation. Sixty years ago, we reached out to the US not only for financial assistance but for strengthening our defence as well. India was at the root of our defence doctrine. But that can change with an improvement of Pakistan-India ties, with this country maintaining credible deterrence. It is not too late to look for solutions nearer home rather than across the oceans. The 21st century is destined to see a gradual decline of America's global profile to the benefit of Asian powers. Let us adjust the pendulum in time.
The writer is a former ambassador and former head of the Americas/Europe Divisions in the ministry of foreign affairs. Email: email@example.com
I. THE NEWS
PERSECUTED FOR BRAVERY
RAHIMULLAH YUSUFZAI THE WRITER IS RESIDENT EDITOR OF THE NEWS IN PESHAWAR.
Nine years and one month after her husband and former Balochistan minister Abadan Faridoun Abadan was kidnapped from his hometown Quetta, businesswoman Niloufar Abadan has met the same fate.
It is the first time that a known woman has been kidnapped for ransom in the troubled Balochistan province. Harming women is a negation of our religious, human and cultural values, but that is now a thing of the past. For many the most important objective nowadays is to make money by hook or by crook.
More importantly, Niloufar Abadan is a Zoroastrian, or Parsi, and thus the member of a religious minority. The couple's plight is another evidence of the excesses being committed against the largely defenceless non-Muslim minorities in Pakistan. Poor and resourceless Muslims also don't fare well in this godforsaken country, but the minorities suffer more because it is easy to persecute them in the name of religion.
Faridoun Abadan was kidnapped on February 17, 2002. Despite the best efforts of his wife, he couldn't be recovered. He was 56 years old when he was kidnapped. If by any miracle he is still alive, he will be 65 now.
Niloufar Abadan was kidnapped on March 8 in broad daylight on Quivery Road while driving towards the Brewery Road. The kidnappers seized her as her car slowed down at a speed breaker on the road. She was on her way to attend an event on the occasion of the World Women's Day. It was ironic that a businesswoman and social worker was kidnapped on a day meant to highlight the plight of women and celebrate their successes.
Niloufar and Faridoun Abadan were rich and influential. Their wealth became their enemy and led to their kidnapping. Their influence failed to prevent their kidnapping and is unlikely to help in their recovery.
Niloufar Abadan is a cousin of former Senator Ms Khurshid Barocha. She served on the board of directors of the Trust for Voluntary Organisations (TVO), where one witnessed her concern for Pakistan and its poor and needy citizens. At times, the TVO officials felt she was being intrusive because she inspected work sites to ensure that grants given to community-based organisations for undertaking small development projects in Balochistan were properly and honestly spent. Few among the honorary directors of the TVO at the time were as keen and serious as Niloufar Abadan in pursuing this task.
Faridoun Abadan served as a minister in the then chief minister Nawab Akbar Bugti's cabinet in the 1980s. He subsequently was appointed special assistant to chief minister Jam Ghulam Qadir Khan of Lasbela and an adviser to another chief minister Nawab Zulfiqar Magsi, presently the governor of Balochistan. The high government positions that he held and his friendship with the ruling elite were of little help when he was kidnapped. Obviously, there has been a major breakdown of the law and order situation in the country, particularly in Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa and Karachi and those empowered to help the citizens are largely helpless against the organised gangs of criminals, militants, mafias, etc. They are no doubt able to upgrade their own security to unprecedented levels using state's resources.
Following Niloufar Abadan's kidnapping, Balochistan Chief Minister Aslam Raisani asked the provincial police chief to make efforts for her recovery. The police chief said a case had been registered against the unknown kidnappers and raids were being conducted to recover her. That is all they would be able to do because the kidnappers are one step ahead of the police and are known to cover their tracks while planning a crime. The poor lady most likely was kept in a safe house in Quetta before being shifted elsewhere. One could now expect a phone call to a family member demanding ransom.
This was the sequence of events when Faridoun Abadan was kidnapped in 2002. The narrator of the events then was Niloufar Abadan, who received the first phone call from the kidnappers speaking Balochi-accented Urdu 10 days after the kidnapping. The phone calls over the years became few and far between, but the ransom amount kept rising. The initial demand was for one billion rupees with a warning that it would be raised to Rs15 billion if she didn't pay up. A time came when the heartless kidnappers told her she must pay one million dollars if she wanted to hear the voice of her husband.
Threats were hurled on the phone to scare Niloufar Abadan into paying the ransom. Any other woman would have been intimidated, but the brave lady didn't panic. She stayed put in Quetta, singlehandedly running the family's liquor and distillery business and persisting with her efforts to recover her husband. Now that she has been kidnapped, one might argue that it was a mistake on her part not to shift from Quetta. Her answer to this suggestion at the time was that she needed to stay in Quetta to continue the search for her husband. Like a faithful wife, she didn't want to abandon her missing husband. However, she did advice her three children living in the US not to come to Pakistan.
One remembers Niloufar Abadan narrating the efforts she had made while searching for her husband. She had knocked every door, meeting the president, prime minister and Balochistan Chief Minister and seeking help from the police and military officials posted in Quetta. She travelled to Zahidan in Iran, the remote Dalbandin town in Balochistan's Chagai district and also Chaman on the Afghanistan border. She contacted the Afghan and Iranian authorities following reports that the kidnappers had shifted her husband to Afghanistan or Iran. She was told that Faridoun Abadan was being held in Iran's Sistan-Balochistan province by a kidnapping gang of Iranian Baloch operating in partnership with Pakistani Baloch. Some of the kidnappers had been identified and their hideouts were known, but short of a military commando raid or a major police operation there was no way the criminals could have been apprehended and Faridoun Abadan recovered unharmed. It didn't happen and hopes for recovering the businessman-cum-politician faded with every passing year.
Niloufar Abadan was courageous enough to make those efforts to recover her husband. She didn't succeed, but refused to give up. There is nobody now to make efforts for her recovery. Only 20 Zoroastrians were left in Quetta after Faridoun Abadan's kidnapping as others shifted to escape harm. No Zoroastrian felt safe in Balochistan after the treatment meted out to the most prominent member of their community. In particular, the younger Parsis left as it was no longer safe for them to live there. Members of other religious minorities including Hindus, Bohras and Bahais also began leaving Balochistan. The elderly among them were unable to leave, rooted as they were to Balochistan, a place they had called home all their lives.
Before Faridoun Abadan, three minority businessmen including Baharmil Bhatia, a Hindu, Sadiq Ali, who was from the Bohra community, and Hidayatullah Bandagi, a Bahai, had been kidnapped and freed after payment of huge amounts as ransom. Bandagi was tortured the most by his kidnappers, who cut the lobe of his ear and mailed it to his family in Quetta. Such was the terror of the brutal kidnappers that their victims refused to talk after their recovery.
It is possible that the same gang that seized Faridoun Abadan has now kidnapped his wife. The couple had opted to stay and invest in under-developed Balochistan despite the risks and at times even loaned money to the cash-strapped provincial government. One remembers Niloufar Abadan quoting her husband that they had to offer sacrifices to stop kidnappings in Balochistan. Both husband and wife have in a way offered that sacrifice, but the kidnappings continue and there is not much hope they would be safely recovered. Rather, the emboldened kidnappers unafraid of the law would kidnap more people and demand bigger amounts as ransom.
I. THE NEWS
WHY LIBYA IS DIFFERENT
TANVIR AHMAD KHAN
Covering complex situations in real time, present day media rely on the repetitive use of catch phrases and tag lines that are instantly grasped by the reader or viewer. The current turmoil in the Arab world has produced several such triggers of awareness such as 'Arab revolt,' 'Arab awakening,' 'days of rage' and 'Facebook revolution'. The leitmotif of reporting is the quest of Arab masses for democracy and freedom. Unfortunately, the labels obscure the particular context of each event.
The Libyan uprising has, from the beginning, fit only partially into the master story. Demonised for decades, Muammar Qadaffi came in from the cold in 2003 when he allowed the western oil companies back into Libya. He was then courted by virtually all European leaders including President Nikolas Sarkozy who has taken the lead in recognising the Benghazi-based rebel National Council as the legitimate voice of the Libyan people. The rapprochement with Tripoli was worth billions of dollars to western powers. In Libya too, the per capita income rose to $ 12,000.
The uprising in eastern Libya was immediately hailed as the beginning of the end of Qaddafi's 41-year-old reign. Triumphal reports sketched its inexorable westward march. After an initial hesitation, Secretary Clinton and President Obama both declared that it was time for Qaddafi to step down. The message was reinforced by the mobilisation of naval and air power. Libyan assets in the West were quickly frozen; the United States alone blocked assets worth more than $ 30 billion. The air became thick with incessant talk about 'humanitarian intervention".
A contrary narrative, written mostly by left-leaning analysts from Europe and North America, interprets western interest as lust for Libyan oil. Libya has about 3.5 percent of global oil reserves; its proven reserves stand at 46.5 billion barrels. It argued that the Libyan uprising was not an extension of non-violent movements in Tunisia and Egypt but an opportunistically timed armed insurrection supported by foreign powers. It opposed yet another invasion aimed at controlling, Iraq-style, the production and pricing of Arab oil.
The 'Brother leader' of the Libyans knew that the movement lacked a nation-wide dimension and had not cut through tribal loyalties. The bulk of his armed forces had not joined it either. He risked a bloody civil war by calling upon citizens to fight back and committed substantial troops to the defence of Tripoli, where a little less than one-third of Libya's population is concentrated. The movement rapidly changed into a ragtag army hoping to seize the capital with help from an expected western-enforced no-fly zone, which the Arab League supports and arms that Obama has asked Saudi Arabia to provide. Qaddafi has used the air force and tanks to wrest the momentum from the rebels for now.
To intervene or not to intervene; that is the question. In the Security Council, Russia and China may not support military intervention. India, Brazil and South Africa have opposed it in a joint communiqué. Obama will have to return to Bush era unilateralism and, in any case, Washington can hardly walk into another quagmire with its resources heavily committed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Without the US, Europe is sound and fury signifying nothing. The likely option is covert operations and sustained sanctions.
Libya needs an internal reconciliation. If Muammar Qaddafi is winning, he should act with magnanimity and seek an accord with his opponents by accepting radical reforms that focus on democratic institutions and equitable distribution of Libya's vast income. Recourse to revenge will only invite outside intervention in one form or another.
The writer is a former foreign secretary.
SHUJAAT EMERGES MORE MATURE, RESPONSIBLE
Though political upheavals raise their ugly heads time and again, it is quite reassuring that none of the stakeholders are ready to shake the boat and are expressing their complete resolve in continuation of the ongoing system. Apart from Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani, who told his Cabinet colleagues on Monday that despite its separation from the Punjab Government, the PPP would not become part of any adventure in the Province, PML(Q) leader Shujaat Hussain, who headed his Party's delegation during a crucial meeting with President Asif Ali Zardari the other day, has openly stated that his Party would vote for survival of PPP Government in the Centre.
Understanding between PPP and PML(Q) is an important development with far-reaching impact on the overall political situation of the country. In the past, the leadership of the two Parties had been trading charges against each other but they say there are no permanent foes and friends in politics. It is encouraging that the two Parties have demonstrated far-sightedness that would not only be mutually beneficial for them but also augurs well for the continuity of the system. It was in this spirit that despite the fact that relations between PML(N) and PPP were not based on sound footings from the very beginning but they managed to pull on for three years. Now that they have separated their ways and vowed to play the role of effective Opposition in National Assembly and the Punjab Assembly, even then they are not ready to indulge in politics of confrontation and are demonstrating wisdom and sagacity. The announcement of Ch. Shujaat Hussain would clear the political horizon further and, therefore, credit goes to him for extending the much-needed support to the system at the important juncture when some of the political Parties are demanding mid-term polls. Earlier the PML(Q) leader showed acumen by visiting 90 in Karachi as part of his campaign to forge unity among important political Parties and players. The PPP always claims to be champion of the policy of reconciliation but it would not be an exaggeration to say that, in fact, Ch. Shujaat Hussain is the architect of this much-talked-about policy. We hope that this policy would be pursued in letter and in spirit so that the Governments both in the Centre and in the Provinces could focus attention on the real issue i.e. fragile economy of the country.
REVITALIZATION OF DORMANT GAS FIELDS
As the country is facing acute shortage of energy, which is assuming dangerous proportions with the passage of time, President Asif Ali Zardari on Monday called for enhancing gas supply from the existing gas fields and reactivating the abandoned gas fields in Sindh to generate electricity.
It is regrettable that six out of nine gas fields in Sindh are dormant, not because they have depleted but for reasons like expiry of lease and ownership right under 18th Amendment. Though, according to reports, the quality of the gas of these fields is not suitable for domestic consumption yet it is understood that its utilization for power generation could save gas from other fields for supply to domestic and various consumers. Pakistan has also been facing power shortage for the last several years and installation of gas-fired thermal power Plants could help overcome power load-shedding and increase economic activity. Pakistan is bestowed with all sorts of natural resources in abundance but unfortunately these have not been exploited to the optimum just because of personal motives and interests. We have world's largest coal deposits in Thar that can meet our energy and fuel requirements but the pace of exploitation is criminally slow. There are huge deposits of gold and copper in Balochistan but again vested interests are hindering their exploitation and attempts are being made to hand them over to foreign companies for nothing. Similarly precious water is going to the sea but we have made the construction of water reservoirs a political issue. We hope that apart from personally assuring reactivation of dormant gas fields in Sindh, the President would also take active interest in removing bottlenecks in the way of exploitation of other natural resources that could take the country out of its economic woes.
EXPRESS SOLIDARITY WITH TSUNAMI STRICKEN JAPAN
To express solidarity with the devastating earthquake and Tsunami stricken people of Japan, Prime Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani did well to visit the Japanese Embassy to express his condolences to the Ambassador over the colossal loss of life and property. As details of the disaster are emerging, Pakistani people like in other parts of the world are shocked and hope that the Japanese people would get out of these difficult times with faith in themselves and help of the international community.
According to latest reports hundreds of bodies are washing up along shores in northeastern Japan, making clearer the extraordinary toll of the earthquake and tsunami that struck last week and adding to the burdens of relief workers as they ferry aid and search for survivors. About 350,000 people have reportedly been left homeless and are staying in shelters, awaiting news of friends and relatives among the many thousands who remain unaccounted for. The national police said early Tuesday that more than 15,000 were missing, though just 2,414 deaths had been confirmed since the quake, which the U.S. Geological Survey revised to a magnitude of 9.0 from 8.9. While people are facing rolling power cuts, food and petrol shortages, the authorities are still trying to reach many villages and towns which were destroyed by the quake and tsunami. However the greatest concern is what is happening in a dark piece of theatre at the badly damaged Fukushima nuclear complex, located 150 miles north of Tokyo. The nuclear complex has now seen three hydrogen explosions – one at each of its reactors – in the past four days, with plumes of smoke visible in the sky for miles around. The explosions have led to radiation levels that can affect human health, according to a Japanese official. The latest flurry of incidents has nonetheless added to the agony and an already tense mood. In this scenario, people of Pakistan fully realize the pain and sufferings of the Japanese people because they have been passing through crises. Though Japan has not asked for international assistance and the people and Government have the vigour and vitality as well as resources and the nation can once again stand on its own, even then in our view it is incumbent on every Pakistani to express solidarity with the Japanese people who have always been in the forefront to help us in difficult times.
PETER KING AND AMERICAN MUSLIMS
Rep Peter King's anti-Muslims assertions will backfire because there is no evidence, whatsoever, that the American Muslims harbor grudge or mala-fide sentiments against the United States of America. Mr. King's tirade and slander against the Muslims in recent years has been consistent, highly provocative and head-on. Peter T. King is the U.S. Representative for New York's 3rd district, and the current Chairman of the United States House Homeland Security Committee. It is his festering discrimination towards the Muslim population in America that impelled Congressman King to declare in December 2010, that after assuming the charge of the Chairman of the House Homeland Security Committee, he would hold hearings on the radicalization of Muslims. That is why the first hearing, was held on March 10, 2011, under the title of "The Extent of Radicalization in the American Muslim Community and that Community's Response."
In 2004, in an interview with radio anchor Sean Hannity, he made a sweeping yet false accusation that the Muslim leaders were not cooperating in the war on terror," He also hurled a preposterous claim that "80-85 percent of mosques in the United States were being controlled by Islamic radicals. It is pure falsification to malign Muslims for not cooperating in the war on terror? The fact that the Muslim leaders were very helpful in curbing terrorism and offering cooperation is candidly testified by various statements made during the first hearing. Along with other immigrant nationalities that now live in the United States, Muslim community too is enjoying the fruits and benedictions of a truly free, democratic and liberal society. They are well settled with their families in this great country. Their progeny and children are growing up and getting education, doing jobs or engaged in businesses.
If they profess and practice their religion, it does not mean that they dislike the other religions or the country they have opted to live. They enjoy the religious freedom in America in the same way as other religions and denominations do. In the backdrop of his cordial interaction with the Muslims in the past, Rep King amply knows that Muslims have integrated into this amazing society as patriotic and productive members. They serve in the army, work in the police force and respond on the call of duty where-ever they are needed. When questioned why he was singling out Muslims for these series of hearings, he brusquely remarked that there was no need to institute such hearing about other communities living in America. Muslims have come to the United States either by choice or forced out by the unbearable inhuman, social, political or economic conditions in their countries of origin They are patriotic and are immensely contributing towards making America great and strong in every manner and domain. The Muslim communities are extremely law abiding, keeping a low profile, peaceful and productive.
After the 9/11 horrific incident, the American Muslims have become extremely passive, docile and have come under enormous pressure. Although 9/11 was the dirty work of a few misguided Muslim youth yet the entire Muslim community in the United States and the Muslims beyond were uncharitably bandied with them. Instead of accusing those terrorists exclusively for that diabolic act, the blame was placed squarely on the Muslims as perpetrators of the terrorism. That was the unkindest slander and indeed myopic and unrealistic perception about the Muslims. Muslims are quite well aware that there was a bias towards them from certain anti- Muslim forces and quarters. As such they would not do anything that aggravates the animus towards them. They have been very submissive and try to avoid controversies lest they are despised and cast as villains. It is the most trying times for them. Let us not forget that one of the most outstanding and fascinating hallmarks of America is that its constitution gives the fundamental rights of freedom of life, liberty pursuit of happiness and religious worship to all the inhabitants. The Declaration of Independence written by one of the founding fathers Thomas Jefferson (later the third president) in 1776 specifically mentions in the first paragraph, the citizens' rights of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness as inalienable.
As we all know that the Federation of the United States of America is not run on the basis of religion or faith although the religion of the majority of the people is Christianity. However, other religions are not discriminated and they exercise full liberty to observe their religious obligations. If Peter King wants to single out the Muslims for an enquiry of what he calls radicalization of Muslims in American then better fist of all, he should get the 'Bill of Rights' removed from the constitution of the United States of America. The First Amendment in the historic Bill of Rights narrates that," Congress shall make no law respecting establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of the grievances." Mr. King's anti Muslims' overtures therefore, patently cut across the American constitution. In a way, this behavior is tantamount to the violation of this most sacred document that has distinguished the United States as a glorious land where there was no abridgement, ban or restriction on the religious pluralism. America is a sanctuary for the dispossessed, uprooted, persecuted and oppressed human beings from other parts of the world. Here they find freedom and galore of human rights that present a total contrast in their birth countries run by despots and tyrants. If Rep. King wants to solely focus on the Muslims and paint them in lurid colors and declare them en-masse as unwanted for a variety of his self-crafted dubious reasons then better he consult a psychiatrist or reconsider his erratic motives. Judged by Mr. King's entirely discriminatory drive against the Muslim only, it would be pertinent to infer that the world was not going towards clash of civilizations as propounded by Professor Huntington but was diverted in the direction of clash of Christianity versus Islam or the western civilization versus Islam.
Mr. King's bigotry and being of racist proclivities is well known ever since he stepped into the political arena. He has the dubious record and tendencies of pursuing the politics of division all along. His track record shows that he has been an inveterate opponent of giving a legal status to countless illegal immigrants living here for ages and working hard to build American economy. He opposes the closure of Guantanamo prison. He castigated Michel Jackson as a child molester and supported most stringent action against him. In 1980s, King was berated for actively supporting the terrorist Irish Republic Army.
Now all these off the mark tendencies and queer perceptions portray King as a person with narrow, un-American and irrational mindset. If the American citizens are discriminated on the basis of the ethnic background, their color, their faith and gender by some unscrupulous and racist extremists then certainly these people are doing a disservice to America. They are trying to distort its grand and lofty image as a bastion of equality and justice for all irrespective of their color of the skin or racial background. Let us not forget that United States is known as the land of immigrants and that does not exclude the white Americans as well.
—The writer is a senior journalist and a former diplomat.
ROLE OF MEDIA IN A SOCIETY
M A MALIK
The media as a watch-dog of public interest, carrier of information and promoter of a free and balanced debate, is the most dynamic institution representing the civil society. The plural and free media is considered to be an engine of change and progress in any society. It is because of its demonstrated and inherent ability to influence human perceptions that it is universally acknowledged as the fourth pillar of the state. Freedom of expression and the right to know are embedded in the UN Charter on Human Rights and also guaranteed in the constitutions of most of the countries including Pakistan, which obligate the governments to provide an enabling environment to the media to discharge its responsibilities in a free manner.
The media while enjoying its freedom of expression is also supposed to show a sense of social responsibility and adherence to the internationally recognized professional and ethical codes, because unbridled freedom is as much harmful to the society and the state as is its suppression by the government. So in the task of nation-building the government and media have complimentary roles.
Governments all over the world suffer from the disadvantage of incumbency as they are under constant scrutiny of the opposition, intellectual community and media with regard to their policies relating to governance. In the civilized societies such a scrutiny and criticism is considered as an essential and constructive ingredient of a democratic polity. The critics while pointing out infirmities, inadequacies and flaws in the government policies furnish cogent reasons to establish their view points and also endeavour to suggest better alternatives to the measures adopted by the government. That indeed helps the governments to re-evaluate their policies and fine tune them if required. The end result is that the government, opposition, intellectual and media all contribute to the strengthening of democratic traditions with the sole purpose of promoting the well being of the people and the country. The major onus for this national effort invariably is on the media.
A close look at the media landscape in Pakistan reveals that it has made a good use of its new found freedom and contributed tremendously towards strengthening democratic institutions, independence of judiciary and the unleashing of a new media culture in the country. The freedom of expression and unshackled media are perhaps the best things that have ever happened in this land of the pure and it augurs well for the overall progress of the society in the future.
However there are still certain grey areas which need the attention of the government and the media to ensure that this freedom remains on track and is not used as a license to discredit or malign the state institutions or the government by any media entity. Looking at the behavior of the media since the installation of the PPP-coalition government in the Centre, one feels that while the media as a whole has been quite positive in the discharge of its professional responsibilities, a section of the press and a particular media group have shown an unmitigated hostility towards the government in complete disregard to the internationally recognized professional norms and ethical codes. It has depicted an intriguing knack for contriving dismal scenarios divorced from the ground realities, propounded imaginative conspiracy theories, bandied around fictional and unsubstantiated stories of corruption in the higher echelons of the government and executed an incessant character assassination campaign against the top brass of the government, particularly the President, the Prime Minister and his family. Its editorials, articles selected for the OPED pages, news stories and comments by its correspondents invariably smacked of the venom and hostility that it harboured against the government and its leaders. The modus operandi has been to repeat the same unsubstantiated stories of corruption involving the person of the President, the Prime Minister and his family members at different intervals with the sole aim of rubbing in their skewed views of the matter. This behavior clearly falls outside the pale of the freedom of expression.
The government has shown remarkable tolerance for this erratic and biased behavior of that particular section of the media in the interest of the amity that exists between the government and the media as well as the commitment that the government has in promoting a free media culture in the country. It has taken a number of measures to unshackle the media and has been continuously engaged in interaction with the media organizations to create congenial conditions for an unfettered press in the country. It is also on record to have asked the media organizations to morph a code of ethics for themselves that facilitates and strengthens the freedom of expression, acts as a check on the indiscretions of the media and also helps in the development of a responsible media in the country. It is therefore imperative for the media organizations to ensure that its members remain committed to their obligations as a responsible social entity and strictly adhere to the internationally recognized norms of professional and ethical behavior. We have a government whose commitment to the freedom of expression is part of its political creed and which is quite open and responsive to the media initiatives concerning media freedom.
The country is passing through a very critical phase of its history and therefore requires a responsible and nationalistic approach by all the institutions of the country including media. It must continue to keep the government under strict scrutiny and at the same time make sure that it does not lose sight of the element of objectivity and its purposeful role in helping the nation to tide over the challenges that it is confronted with.
QUAID OF THE YOUNG NATION
Quaid-e-Azam's care, consideration and counseling for children, especially for the youth, knew no bounds. There is one enlightening story after another how he advised, counseled, groomed and rejuvenated the young nation during Pakistan Movement and for the future. Once, in April, 1945, Quaid-e-Azam visited a school in Qalat, Baluchistan with his host, Khan of Qalat. As a little boy shook hands with him, the Quaid pointed towards the Khan of Qalat and asked this boy as to this man was. The boy replied, "Our king". Next Quaid-e-Azam inquired with the little boy about himself and asked whether the boy knew him. The boy answered, "you are our King's guest". Finally, the Quaid asked the boy to introduce himself. The boy said," I am a Baloch". At this point the Quaid gestured towards the Khan of Qalat and earnestly requested him to tell children that they were first Muslims and later the rest of the identities.
Among Muslim League's monumental problems at the threshold of independence was scarcity of resources as the young nation was all set to embark on the road to development. It was at a Muslim League crucial meeting at the Sindh Government House Karachi, attended by Ghulam Hussain Hiddayat, Chief Minister of Sindh and Shaheed Soharwardi, that the Quaid advised the young nation to practice austerity, economize resources and believe in the magical principle of self-help, self-reliance and self-actualization. The importance Quaid-e-Azam attached to the youth and the inspiration he provided them need no introduction. When, in 1941, Raja Ghazanfar Ali, Quaid's close aid and admirer and Sir Sikandar Hayyat, Chief Minister of Punjab, desired to meet the Quaid, who was then attending the annual congregation of Muslims Students Federation in Lahore, the Quaid politely refused to give them appointments and requested them to check for his schedule with the office bearers of the Muslims Students Federation who were coordinating all his appointments during this period.
Quad-iAzam always regarded children as the future of the nation. He had always pinned high hopes in the future architects of the nation. The most inspiring part of the Quadi's guidance to the youth was that he himself chaired their meetings and was thoroughly involved in their guidance and grooming. He was so confident about the youth's potential that in 1937 he himself organized the All-India Muslim Students Youth Federation. The same year he presided and addressed its first meeting in Calcutta and said that youth was the cornerstone of Pakistan Movement, the nation has many Jinnahs in the making and our future is secured with the future generations. The year was 1946. General elections were like a referendum for Pakistan. Quaid-i- Azam was addressing the highly inspired yet well disciplined gathering at Islamia College, Lahore. He addressed the youth straight from the heart: "My dear young nation, I have neither lands nor the Victoria Cross to offer you. But I must tell you the fact that I am proud of you. It's not only me but the entire nation is proud of you".
Quaid attached top priority to the importance of sports for youth. In a meeting with the Organizing Committee of the First Pakistan Olympic Games held at Karachi from 23rd to 25th April, 1948, he said to the first President of Pakistan Olympic Association Mr. Ahmed E.H. Jaffar : "Dedicate yourself to sports promotion, for when you and I are gone, leadership will go into the hands of Youth, and Youth is our wealth, a raw material, that must be hammered into shape, into burnished steel to strive and smite in defence - the defence of the integrity and solidarity of Pakistan - the defence of the ideology of Pakistan." Quaid-i-Azam's feelings for and image of the youth can be gauged from many a statement he made about the young nation.
For example, he termed youth as ambassadors of the nation at Aligarh, acknowledged as the centre of Pakistan Movement and honored youth as magazine of the nation at a Patna's Muslim League congregation, believed in youth as the pillar of strength for the nation at so many places and so on. However, he prioritized for the youth the need for national character, respect for law, devotion to studies, spirit of self-reliance and the motto of unity, faith and discipline that resulted in the dream-come-true reality of Pakistan and where lies the salivation of our present problems and future prospects.
DEMOCRACY NEEDS STRUCTURAL CHANGES
Since it's inception in 1947, Pakistan has been riddled with the question of finding a system of governance tailor made for her needs. In the quest, Pakistan has had affairs with Parliamentary System, Presidential System, semi-Presidential System…..but has been unable so far, to determine what suits her best. All shades of governments and rulers came and went. Democracy was replaced by Dictatorship and Dictatorship by Democracy. Governments formed, mostly in coalition by the winning party joining hands with one winning provincially to form a majority and set up government.
If we look at the 2008 General Elections results, it provides an enlightening picture. Pakistan Peoples Party won a total of 94 seats excluding 4 for minorities and 23 reserved for women, bringing the score up to 130 seats. Pakistan Muslim League- N bagged 95 seats, including 3 for minorities and 17 reserved for women. Pakistan Muslim League-Q secured 55 seats including 2 for minorities and 10 reserved for women. Muttahida Qaumi Movement (MQM) walked away with 26 seats, including 1 for minorities and 5 for women. Pakistan Muslim League-Fazlur Rehman Group nabbed 5 seats including one reserved for women. Pakistan Peoples Party –Sherpao Group took 1 seat as did the National Peoples Party. Baluchistan National Party-Awami, bagged a whooping 18 seats.
Thereby, a total of 226 seats were contested for and won by various parties in elections, 60 reserved for women, 10 reserved for minorities, bringing the total to 336. Jamiat-Ulema-e-Islam (F) did not contest. The picture becomes clear as the mist clears by figures quoted. Collaboration and partnership of Muttahida Qaumi Movement becomes mandatory if the party bagging most votes needs to set up a government in Sindh. Once done,there are the constant tantrums thrown, and the provincial party, following in the footsteps of a film heroin, falls out with her lover, then is cajoled with sweets, flowers, and more expensive offerings. There are situations leading to a near complete break up of the love-hate relationship, only to realize, by both, near the brink ,how important the partnership is,managing to pull back and embrace- letting bygones be bygones- till the same cycle happens all over again!
Likewise, in Baluchistan, the active support of Baluchistan National Party (BNP) is mandatory to form government in province. In Peshawar, it was Awami National Party that won 13 seats, but none from Hazara. To form government, support by ANP to the party forming the provincial government is needed. What clearly emerges from the above scenario was that no single party is, across the board acceptable to the people of Pakistan. PPP emerges as the only party with representation in all four provinces securing half the seats in Sindh, one-third of seats in the Punjab, and roughly 30 per cent seats in NWFP and Baluchistan. PML-N, the second largest party is routed to Punjab only, with no representation in Sindh and Baluchistan, and, in NWFP, secured seats only in the non-Pushto speaking Hazara area. Ethnicity has started playing a big role in electing candidates-a dangerous trend.
The net result of this scenario is the following of an Appeasement Policy in dealing with the parties on board by the ruling party-whichever party is in the steering position, the 2008 General Elections results used as an example only. Instead of focusing on issues that should be focused on, time , energy, funds and resources are misdirected towards keeping the coalition partners happy and willing to keep government intact. Good governance suffers. It becomes relegated to the back burner. Insults are hurled at each other, accusations, counter accusations hold the day. Then miraculously, a ministry here, a promise there, and the sun comes out, bright and clear, till the next round! The interests of these small pockets of seats won by local parties may,and do, differ widely on issues from that of the ruling party. In the long run, it may be the national interest that is sacrificed at the alter of Appeasement! Who is to be blamed? The smaller parties? The ruling party? Or both?
I think it is the wrong system that is to be held responsible. So long there are smaller parties nibbling in the pie, demanding a slice, good governance will continue to suffer. Pakistan must seriously look at changing over to a Two Party System rather than a Multi-Party System it presently is. This is something we have never tried. Something so basically, glaringly wrong in our whole approach to democracy, that that it has effected governance by whomsoever government has been in power. Yes! It is time for those democratic infra structural changes in Pakistan.
—The writer is Lahore-based lawyer and also teaches in a University.
SURRENDERING MEDIA WAR WITHOUT FIGHTING?
JAWAD RAZA KHAN
In this world, where selfish realm has most of the time subjugated selfless ethics, nurturing a nation, that to (an ideological one) is in fact a complicated affair. This does not mean at all, that signifying the dogma of an ideological nation can be converted into its weakness, but indeed in-signification of the same through own wrongful deeds without understanding the importance of its presence in the roots can prove extremely fatal. On the other hand carrying the flag of ideology with light hands and without conviction can also make a nation falter. Just to elaborate, a famous commoner quote that Pakistan cannot be erased from this globe as it came in existence on 27th Day of the Holy Month of Ramadan, may sound logical to us as good faithful of Islam but then, where our test as an individual and as a nation lies? I think this concept of a guaranteed prosperity, which definitely prevailed in the most part of our history, has worsened the capacity of character building of Pakistanis.
At this point in time Pakistan is fighting wars of different attributes and intensities and if we peep through the corridors of history this is nothing exceptional to Pakistan, it holds good for every nation existing on this planet. To fight these low intensity conflicts or high intensity wars on all fronts we should ask ourselves following: Why are we fighting? What are we fighting? And most importantly how we are fighting? The answer of "Why" lies in the basic complexion of human Psychology which always look towards attainment of authority with mere absence of any harnessing power. Individuals combines into a society and societies constitute nations, so the question comes into mind then "why as nation we except morality and justice for us from others"? People of Pakistan must realize it now-It is the survival of the fittest.
The answer of "What" is even simpler we are fighting the need and greed to be fittest, possessed by other nations. It is indeed as simple as it is said "For greed, even all nature is too little." Certainly "how" need deliberate analysis of weapon systems available to us to fight and win. It is said and proved, number of times that wars are not won only through Armies or the military muscle alone-after witnessing the geniuses of power of media- flexing media muscle with precision for own interest is certainly a more workable and an economical option. One of the immediate deductions after this can be-"The road for Pakistan with free media should be unambiguous and less bumpy from now on."
I feel very proud when our belligerent media rightly points out the evil deeds of devils roaming in our society polluting every walk of life. It is even more heartening to see exposed corrupt policemen, politicians, criminals and even sometimes highly respected independent judiciary and Army. Media, which is now considered as one of the strongest element in the power corridors of Pakistan, must remember that making crowd a nation is a continuous and ongoing process. Responsibility to drive an average nation to supremacy requires a concentrated effort of state and media managers so that every individual should act like an institution in itself whish can catalyze this process of becoming nation and improving on and on. When I was in my childhood, our silver screen and mini screen icons use to say a peculiar sentence "Pakistan's Armed Forces are the guardians of geographical boundaries of our country and we are on guard for its ideological frontiers". At that point in time, I use to laugh it out that how can one be compared with a soldier, who is always ready to lay his life for the country but after understanding the importance of strategic communication and its techniques, I had to alter my opinion especially when I heard this from somebody like Donald Rumsfeld (The Perception Management Factory of United States). "In this environment, the old adage that 'A lie can be halfway around the world before the truth has its boots on' becomes doubly true with today's technologies…the longer it takes to put a strategic communication framework into place, the more we can be certain that the vacuum will be filled by the enemy"- Donald H. Rumsfeld, Secretary of Defense, Remarks delivered at Harold Pratt House, New York, N.Y., Feb. 17, 2006.
There is yet another classic example for concise application of Strategic Communication technique when Ms Sonia Gandhi talked about the successful cultural invasion of India on Pakistan through her satellite channels. Our satellite channels are certainly doing a wonderful job to occupy media space, and in some case regaining it through brilliance in the field of Dramas and Teleplays. All credit goes to our entertainment channels like HUM, ARY, TV ONE and many more…………… but for improvement one has to be critical in nature. It's time to discuss our "Amman Ki Asha", what a beautiful concept for solidifying the perpetual cultural onslaught by Indian media, completely in denial to the core ideology of Pakistan. Yes! One should expect this from enemy as said by Rumsfeld, but should we do it to ourselves? As they say "Nazar main rehthey ho jab tum nazar nahin attey", Yes indeed! Very logical in the context of terrorist activities conducted by TTP (Tehrik e Taliban Pakistan) and BLA (Baluchistan Liberation Army), the covert face of Indian Intelligence Agencies but tangent to what Mr. Jinnah fought for……….
The most astonishing fact about Amman Ki Asha was recently surfaced, when the slogan "LOVE PAKISTAN" was objected by Indian establishment and the observation was conveyed to Times of India in this regard. This incident has actually exposed the latent objective behind this conspiracy which can let us down yet again (God Forbid). We should not forget 16th December 1971, who so ever was responsible for that, will be taken to task-certainly role of Indian Government tops the list-history, has always been able to find the truth and is extremely cruel in this regard, but commercial pollution of media must be stopped before putrefying our roots of ideology. Failure of this potent weapon system (media), especially, if found parting its way with the enemy (may be unintentionally), for contaminating the ideology of Pakistan will lead to anarchy and chaos both in mind and soul of this nation. The war of survival is likely to suffer-it's time to weigh between the priorities and opportunities.
INEXCUSABLE FAILURE OF JUSTICE
PALM ISLANDERS HAVE REASON TO BE ANGRY WITH THE POLICE.
More than six years after Palm Island man Mulrunji Doomadgee, 36, died after being arrested and locked in a police cell by Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley for drunkenness, Doomadgee's community has good reason to remain resentful towards the Queensland police. Destructive riots are never acceptable, but the reaction of the islanders in December 2004 was understandable after a coroner's investigation revealed that Doomadgee, who was 1.8m tall and 74kg, died after his liver was cleaved in two, causing him to bleed to death after a scuffle with Sergeant Hurley, who was 2m tall and weighed 115kg.
To add insult to injury, after a protracted saga of flawed police investigations, obstruction and two coronial inquiries, Crime and Misconduct commissioner Martin Moynihan QC is prevented from taking the matter any further. This is because Queensland police have rejected the CMC's recommendation for disciplinary action against six police officers involved in discredited investigations into the incident. The problem arises from a dubious decision by police Deputy Commissioner Kathy Rynders that the officers should face only "managerial guidance", not disciplinary action. The police's shameful whitewash raises serious questions about whether Queensland police are any more publicly accountable now than 20 years ago when Tony Fitzgerald uncovered the corruption of former police commissioner Terry Lewis's regime.
Mr Moynihan did a good job reviewing the matter, concluding last year that the initial police investigation and the subsequent internal police review into Doomadgee's death were seriously flawed.
The CMC warned Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson that he needed to take responsibility for the self-protecting culture in which the botched investigations took place.
All of which underlines the futility of devolving responsibility for investigating police performance and possible corruption to police themselves rather than properly funding an independent watchdog to do the job without fear or favour. As Mr Moynihan says, the Doomadgee family and the Palm Island community had a right to expect the death in custody would have been investigated rigorously, impartially and thoroughly. Instead, they have good reason to be angry that justice has not been done.
EARTH'S DAILY WOES PROMPT 'OFF THE PLANET' THEORIES
IN A WORLD OF CHAOS, RATIONAL THOUGHT MUST BE OUR PRIORITY.
Life is precious and beautiful, and the simple fact it will some day come to an end for each of us is depressing enough, without people going out of their way to exaggerate the doom and gloom. We've long had doomsday and millennial cults of one kind or another, and while religion provides comfort for many, for others it threatens an awful reckoning. At The Australian, we leave matters of spiritual belief for the conscience of the individual but we do unashamedly promote the liberating power of rational thought. It is the triumph of reason that sets humankind apart, that has freed us from superstition, enabled us to prosper, to develop wondrous cultures, to travel and explore from the depths of the oceans to the fringes of the universe. Without the knowledge we have amassed over countless generations, we would live in fear of darkness, cower at a lunar eclipse lest it signal the end of the world or live much shorter lives, dying from preventable or treatable diseases. Science and knowledge have provided us with great advantages, yet some of us seem intent on abandoning that legacy in favour of New Age fatalism or Gaia and Mother Earth spiritualism.
Individual belief is one thing, but when these attitudes distort public debate and our education system, it is time to speak out. Such nonsense has reached a crescendo in the wake of the Japanese tsunami disaster. Yesterday, we mentioned an ABC broadcaster wondering whether the "Earth might be sending us a message", and an emotive piece on the ABC website about the awesome force of nature has triggered responses such as these: "Perhaps if we could live within the balance of nature better"; "This makes me wonder if the world will not violently readjust itself at times when the irritation of human usage grows too great"; and "Why don't we think of living (in) more harmony with nature?"
These are reactions from members of the public but they'll sound familiar, stemming as they do, from the public debate. We've heard instances also of schoolchildren scared by theories that the disasters result from our failure to care for the planet. Fearmongering over climate change has created such anguish that some people fail to distinguish between climate and geology. The climate hysteria has been propagated by scientists, educators and politicians who should know better. Even Tim Flannery, the paleontologist heading the Climate Change Commission, has spoken of the concept of Gaia, or Earth-as-a-living-organism, in the context of climate: "So Gaia, I think, is saying to us, 'It's time you took control'." He has spoken of sea levels "80m higher" and politicians love to warn of "dangerous climate change."
Since The Australian's first week, in 1964, we have run one of the world's first newspaper sections on information technology, demonstrating our commitment to technological progress. Australia needs to continue to look to knowledge, technology and sensible debate so that we can consider issues such as climate change properly. A rational discussion of the Japanese tsunami tragedy shows it was caused by a shift in tectonic plates that have been moving for millennia, that climate change is irrelevant to this event and our knowledge and technical progress have ensured fewer lives were lost than in similar geological episodes in the distant past.
KEEPING HER DISTANCE ON Q&A
JULIA GILLARD GETS BACK SOME MAINSTREAM CREDIBILITY
Julia Gillard is no teenager but it was her interlocutor, Tony Jones, who showed his age on ABC TV's Q&A program on Monday night. Jones is 55, the Prime Minister 49, but it was not those six years that made Ms Gillard seem more contemporary than the presenter. Rather it was his attachment to the era of Vietnam war protests and anti-Americanism in the face of her genuine embrace of US innovation and strength that demonstrated the generational gulf between the ABC and mainstream Australia. Jones, apparently perplexed that anyone could see past the 1960s, gave the Prime Minister a golden opportunity to separate her government from the left-wing baggage of 40 years ago. She was eight years old when the moratorium marches started in 1970, and has avoided the time warp that still drives some journalism at the ABC.
This failure of so many who work at the national broadcaster -- and in some sections of the commercial press -- to see the changes that have taken place in Australian society is worrying. They create the narrative, yet are out of touch with their own communities. Not that that was a problem for the Prime Minister. Labor's ratings are abysmal and Ms Gillard has a long way to go to rebuild her authority. But mainstream viewers on Monday night would have been heartened by a leader positioning herself so clearly in the middle-ground of Australian politics.
Ms Gillard has struggled with her image, her lack of vision and her failure to explain her policy -- and her backflip -- on carbon. But on Q&A she stood up for the US alliance; batted back the egregious smear of "treason" from the narcissistic Julian Assange; dealt with the claim she lied over carbon; and, for the first time, found the language to explain how a carbon price and a cap-and-trade scheme will work. On every issue -- from a no-fly zone to school testing -- the Prime Minister showed she is a practical, moderate leader of a government in which many are still fighting the left-wing wars of an earlier era. She even outfoxed Jones, who failed to challenge her when she said China was closing down coal stations but omitted to mention that China's demand for coal was increasing.
The Prime Minister says she's ready to take on the right-wing "shock jocks". On Monday night, she proved adept at taking on the left-wing commentariat over their view of the world.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
MURKY WATERS OF BARANGAROO
THE more that is known about the approval process for Barangaroo - ordinary planning rules circumvented, last-minute approvals signed by the minister before caretaker rules come into force for the election, a court case undermined by ministerial fiat - the less confidence it inspires.
The latest revelation is that in exempting the planned hotel from the normal rules so it can be built on a jetty protruding into the harbour, the government has created a precedent which will affect the legal status of all harbour jetties, and in effect privatise access to the harbour. Although the ramifications of the changes are yet to work through in practice, it appears to have created a windfall for existing owners of jetties: they will now be able to obtain a lease over their jetties, making them transferable and thus highly valuable assets.
In December, we reported that the Ports Minister and Treasurer, Eric Roozendaal, was proposing to change the way the government authorises private jetties around Sydney Harbour. Instead of licensing waterfront property owners to build or maintain jetties, NSW Maritime would offer 20-year leases. The difference is that a licence confers no exclusive rights of ownership, while a lease does. Certainly the government will charge landowners more - much more - for their jetties. But under a lease, a jetty becomes tradeable property and hence of great value. It also in effect privatises Sydney's waterfront. Why any government would want to pursue such an antisocial initiative is a mystery; why Labor would want to - the party which under Neville Wran and Bob Carr had tried to consolidate the harbour foreshore as public property - is completely opaque.
Roozendaal's proposal fell foul of conveyancing rules which, for any such lease to be valid, require the harbour to be subdivided into lots. What is most intriguing is that only last December the Planning Minister, Tony Kelly, who has now removed this obstacle by authorising a subdivision of the harbour for Barangaroo, was writing letters of protest - entirely justified ones, we believe - to Roozendaal over his proposal, because it would give waterfront owners exclusive use of the waters around their jetties. What imperative was strong enough to drive Kelly to approve rule changes for Barangaroo which contradict his own principled stand of two months previously? Whatever it was, he was wrong to do so. The subdivision should be revoked.
The incoming government after March 26 would be entirely justified in putting the Barangaroo project on hold until an Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry or royal commission can investigate all the circumstances surrounding its increasingly murky genesis.
REACHING OUT TO MENTAL ILLNESS
AUSTRALIA has a very high level of expertise in mental health, one that is being tapped by many governments in our Asian region as rapid social and economic change puts new kinds of stresses on their peoples. Here at home, also, we are becoming more aware of mental disorders and the damage they can cause to individuals, families and society, and aware too that the answer is not stoicism but treatment.
It seems, however, that our mental health expertise is not being properly applied, or at least that treatment is not going to those at most risk of disorders turning into lifelong disadvantage. As reported yesterday by the Herald's health correspondent Mark Metherell, a study for the federal government shows that high-income earners are almost three times more likely to get Medicare-financed help from doctors and psychologists than low-income earners.
The wealthy and well educated have long been more ready to use the services of psychologists and psychiatrists, who tend to be clustered in the suburbs and resorts where the well-off live. But the biggest pool of need is among the young and poor who are in the outer suburbs and country towns, often trapped in unemployment. The Better Access program begun five years ago by the federal government is addressed at the long-underestimated extent of mental disorders among Australians. Already it is finding the problem much bigger than was thought: the program was estimated to cost $540 million over four years, but annual spending on it has almost reached that.
The good news is that many more people with mental problems are now getting treatment, and that patients have experienced significant reductions in their psychological distress as the outcome. But the program is still reaching only 46 per cent of those needing treatment. This new study helps us to understand why.
The conclusions already being drawn seem the right ones. Resources have to be focused on getting clinical psychologists and psychiatrists out to the people in need in sometimes remote or disadvantaged areas. Their services have to be available on the same basis as ordinary medical consultations in these areas, paid by bulk-billing or by very low fees on top of the Medicare payment. It might be added that even more work needs to be done in public education to teach people that disorders such as severe depression and anxiety are not normal and can be treated.
This is already a very big and still growing program, tackling a need that had been neglected for far too long. Fortunately this is one area where a constructive, bipartisan approach has prevailed in our political circles.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
FOOTY DOESN'T NEED AN IMPERFECT 10
AFL FINALS SHOULD BE A TEST OF THE BEST OF THE BEST.
ON THE eve of the 2011 AFL season, footy appears to be in rude health. The pre-season final between Collingwood and Essendon was played before 45,000 spectators at the Docklands stadium, the sort of attendance most elite sporting organisations in Australia would be delighted to attract to showcase games during their season proper. You do not have to be Eddie McGuire to acknowledge that a strong Collingwood tends to mean a stronger AFL. The prospect of a resurgent Essendon, with favourite sons James Hird and Mark Thompson in the coach's box, will only add to the gleam in the eye of those in charge of finances at AFL headquarters.
As some of the most powerful and best supported clubs from Melbourne reassert themselves, the expansion of the national competition continues apace. This season the AFL welcomes its 17th team, Gold Coast, captained by the captivating Gary Ablett jnr. Next season Greater Western Sydney is scheduled to join the elite competition, with the enduring Kevin Sheedy heading a brazen push into rugby league heartland. Can it be long before the case for the inclusion of teams from Tasmania and the Northern Territory proves irresistible to the game's governors?
Amid this prosperity, however, the AFL should be careful not to overreach. League officials are already floating the idea of moving to a final 10 in the expanded 18-team competition. The AFL's second-in-command, chief operating officer Gillon McLachlan, while stressing that no decisions have yet been made, has outlined a model under which the bottom four teams in a final 10 would play in the first week of an expanded finals series, with the two losers dropping out and the series then reverting to a final eight with the same structure as now.
That would be a retrograde step. The AFL's predecessor, the Victorian Football League, for much of last century was a 12-team competition with a finals series contested by the top four. Collingwood coach Mick Malthouse is right to say that the move to a top eight in the 16-team AFL competition has too often resulted in the rewarding of mediocrity.
The Age believes the quality and prestige of ''finals football'' would be further diminished if a team from the bottom half of the ladder were granted the privilege of taking part.
An extra week of finals would further bolster the AFL's coffers, but there are more important considerations in this equation. AFL finals should be a test, and celebration, of the best of the best.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
WITHOUT A BAN ON FLIGHTS, GADDAFI WILL WIN
THE REBELS HAVE ASKED FOR ONE. THEY SHOULD GET IT.
WHILE Western democracies debate the risks in bombing the runways used by Muammar Gaddafi's jet fighters, Libya's dictator is winning his country's civil war. And if he crushes the insurgents who are trying to depose him, his revenge will be swift and brutal. That is the reality that Western governments must not evade as they consider requests by the rebels and the Arab League for the imposition of a flight-exclusion zone over Libya, in the hope of denying Colonel Gaddafi the military superiority he now possesses. Meanwhile, perhaps emboldened by the colonel's resistance to the demands for democratic reform that have convulsed the Arab world, Saudi Arabia has sent troops into its tiny neighbour Bahrain, supported by police from the United Arab Emirates. It is increasingly clear that, whatever the pro-democracy movements may ultimately achieve, there will be no ''jasmine revolution'' across the region. At least some of the Middle East's most entrenched authoritarian regimes are determined to cling to power, and will not be dislodged except by force greater than that which they can wield themselves.
The hope that the turn to democracy would be a peaceful change was inspired by the toppling of Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali in Tunisia and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, after street protests that involved comparatively little fighting and loss of life. But both men had lost the support of their country's elites, especially the military; that is not true of Saudi Arabia or Bahrain, where the armed forces are in lock step with the ruling families, and in Libya the army is divided. Some senior officers and former regime officials have joined the rebels, but Colonel Gaddafi's regime still has most of Libya's trained regular soldiers at its disposal, and nearly all of the country's heavy military hardware. That he does not have the allegiance of most Libyans outside his own tribe is evident from the Arab League's confidence in declaring that his government has lost its legitimacy.
Legitimacy, however, is of small importance to the colonel, especially as his troops continue to force the rebels back on both sides of Libya's capital, Tripoli. In the east, the fighting is approaching Benghazi, the country's second-largest city and the centre for the interim opposition ruling council. The rebels describe their retreat as tactical, but the increasing stridency of their pleas for a flight-exclusion zone belies the description. And there have been no reported takers for Colonel Gaddafi's offer of an amnesty for those who lay down their arms now. The people of Libya have no illusions about his intentions.
While the colonel's noose tightens on Ajdabiya, the last rebel stronghold barring the way to Benghazi, the G8 group of leading industrial democracies has been meeting in Paris. Among those who have spoken to them are leaders of the Libyan opposition, who also later held a separate meeting with US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. They renewed their request for airspace restrictions, a call that has also been made publicly by the Arab League. And with those requests, the chief reason for refraining from international intervention in Libya has been demolished.
While there was a chance that any intervention, including a flight-exclusion zone, might be portrayed by Colonel Gaddafi as proof that the rebels are being manipulated by the West, there was a case for remaining outside the conflict. Such considerations are still grounds for not invading Libya, but that is not what the rebels have asked for. They want a flight-exclusion zone, and unless the West is content to watch as Colonel Gaddafi takes his revenge on those who have risen against him, their request should be granted. The Arab world remembers how, in the wake of the first Gulf War, President George H.W. Bush's administration called on Iraq's Shiites to rise against Saddam Hussein - and then did nothing while they were massacred. The West must not repeat that display of callousness and cowardice
IN PRAISE OF ... THE SPEED LIMIT
Those who choose to drive at sensible speeds save money and fuel, which is worth the risk of being mocked on Top Gear
Good news for those in a hurry: our thrustful transport secretary, Philip Hammond, has hinted that speed limits on motorways may be eased, permitting the 80 mph which so many do already, rather than the 70 mph that they ought to. A poignant contrast, this, with the situation in Spain, where – in response to an oil price now historically high and likely to go historically higher – the government is clipping maximum speeds from 120 kilometres an hour (75 mph) to 110 (68). One aim is to benefit the nation's flagging economy, since money saved at the petrol pumps will be spent elsewhere. But it's also a shift from which drivers will benefit. If you want to cut costs, the optimum speed for most drivers is 56 mph. Mr Hammond's own department has published figures which show that driving at 70 mph uses 9% more fuel than driving at 60. Other estimates indicate that cutting your average speed from 75 to 55 can bring savings of 20% or more. AA research suggests that many drivers are already curbing their speed; but what is striking, as you see every day on the motorways, is how many still aren't. If your car dashboard indicates, as most new ones do, your current consumption in miles per gallon, you can cut your speed and immediately see that you're saving money. That doesn't make driving cheap, but it makes it significantly less expensive. True, those who choose sensible, energy-saving speeds risk being mocked on Top Gear, but in present conditions that might well be considered a badge of honour.
JAPAN DISASTER: THE COST OF A CRISIS
Although the true economic impact of the quake and tsunami is unknown, the country may well be tipped back into recession
The FTSE down over 1%. The Dow off 200 points by the afternoon. Oil down. Tokyo shares plunging by more over a two-day period than they did during the crash of 1987. Investors spent yesterday sizing up the damage done to the world economy by Japan's earthquake and tsunami. The truth is that it is still far too early to form even a provisional answer to that question, for the very obvious reason that we still don't know how bad this crisis will get. As the engineers battling to regain control of the Fukushima nuclear plant could tell you, an awful lot remains in the balance.
However, there are some key questions emerging. Their answers will partly determine the medium-term economic impact of the tragedy that has befallen Japan. The first is obviously how the crisis develops. Fukushima's owner, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, has now admitted that there is a possibility of a partial meltdown, while officials say that is a "high possibility". Basic, important information such as the age of the fuel rods inside the plant has still not been disclosed – yet without knowing how new the rods are, the public can have little idea of the possible radioactive threat. As the OECD pointed out yesterday, we know that the four prefectures most affected by the earthquake account for 6% to 7% of Japan's GDP, but the destruction caused is "so large that it is not possible … to estimate its economic impact". Without even trying to put numbers on all this, the short-run impact is likely to be sharply deflationary, knocking out energy generation and disrupting the supply of both power and goods. It may well be that Friday's quake has tipped Japan back into recession.
The second is how policymakers react. The Bank of Japan has already begun pumping 23 trillion yen (£180bn) into the country's financial system. The prime minister, Naoto Kan, may well also unveil a round of reconstruction spending. After the Kobe earthquake of 1995 the government spent about 5tn yen, or what then amounted to 1% of national income.
Until it was overtaken by China a few months ago, Japan was the world's second-largest economy. It remains the source of much investment abroad. With little in the way of natural energy resources, Japan is likely to rely less on nuclear power in the coming months and more on gas and oil imports. That may well keep prices high over the coming weeks, especially if other countries rethink their nuclear plans. These and other consequences will mount up in the next few days and weeks.
The true economic impact of Friday's superquake is still to be accounted; what is clear is that it came while the global economic recovery was itself neither broad nor strong.
NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE: DOGMA, DEMOCRACY AND THE DOCTORS
For decades there has been remorseless change, so lacking in consistent direction or purpose that 'reform' has become a misnomer
They manoeuvred against the NHS until Nye Bevan "stuffed their mouths with gold", and doctors should not be mistaken for disinterested observers of the service. But when the BMA calls its first emergency meeting in 19 years and votes to denounce government plans as "dangerous", as it did yesterday, there is bound to be a stir. All the more so since similar doubts are shared well beyond the medical profession, not least among the Lib Dem activists who more or less unanimously disowned the coalition's blueprint in a vote at the weekend.
For decades there has been remorseless change, so lacking in consistent direction or purpose that "reform" has become a misnomer. Self-serving and public-spirited doctors alike want a break from top-down revolution. They were pleased last year when this was promised in the coalition agreement, and now they are fuming as they discover that every English GP is going to have to get involved in commissioning, thanks to a decision made in Whitehall.
Once all the upheaval is out of the way, however, that breed of practitioner who always has half a mind on the golf course might take to the new order. GPs are the best-paid, least inspected and most variable element of the service, and the money-grabbers among them could do alarmingly well. The Health Service Journal has established that experiments in handing family doctors the purse strings saw cash intended to pay for treatment being redirected towards equipment for GPs' own surgeries, which can be tantamount to lining their pockets. Add in financial engineering to convert clinical savings into dividends, and you see why we are reporting today that some doctors will get very rich, very quick.
Nobler doctors look on in dismay. Like the Lib Dem mainstream, they look forward in anger, to a regime that threatens to put profits before patients. News that Andrew Lansley's cheerleaders at the National Association of Primary Care are encouraging doctors to outsource commissioning to American corporates invites the suspicion that all the talk about putting physicians in charge is cover for a darker agenda. Lib Dems squirmed yesterday as Labour proposed to safeguard those family doctors who will want to continue to rely heavily on local hospitals, by sheltering them from the full rigours of competition law. It is an amendment many Lib Dems would dearly love to see adopted, but one they know will not be. A competitive market is at the heart of Mr Lansley's whole vision, and – regardless of whether one is heartened or horrified by that – trying to temper it into some sort of hybrid managed market is a recipe for muddle. Besides, as the lethal shortcomings at Mid Staffordshire showed, not every local hospital deserves saving.
But it is an awfully long leap from here to the conclusion that no "significant change" to the bill is possible, as No 10 briefed after the Liberal Democrat vote. Contemptuous of internal party democracy, something David Cameron never has to worry about in a top-down Conservative party, Downing Street is displaying a heavy-handedness that could put the coalition at risk. At a minimum, the Lib Dems must see to it that the GP-cum-corporate consortiums are subject to some democratic oversight, perhaps through the public health boards they have fought to establish. They should push, too, for a clearing up of the mess over price competition – Mr Lansley recently conceded changes which were supposed to preclude cut-price surgery, but remarks from the regulator have since revived fears of hospital price wars.
Cutbacks would have precipitated a medical emergency even without the reforms, but the breakneck changes will land the coalition with the ownership of all the pain. If Tory ideology prevents the Lib Dems from securing meaningful protections, then the third party beyond Westminster might very well judge that its leaders are in office, but not in power.
THE JAPAN TIMES
ORIENTATION OF NAGOYA POLITICS
In Sunday's Nagoya city assembly election, a local party led by Nagoya Mayor Takashi Kawamura became the No. 1 party. Although his Genzei Nippon (Tax Reduction Japan) failed to gain a majority in the 75-seat assembly, each of the traditional parties lost assembly seats.
Genzei Nippon's strength increased from one seat to 28. The Democratic Party of Japan, which used to be the No. 1 party with 27 seats, garnered only 11 seats and became the No. 4 party. The strength of the Liberal Democratic Party fell from 23 seats to 19 seats; Komeito, from 14 seats to 12 seats; and the Japan Communist Party, from eight to five. The Social Democratic Party lost its only seat.
The election was held after the assembly was recalled in a Feb. 26 referendum. In late August 2010, Mr. Kawamura had started a signature collection movement to hold the referendum. He aimed to change the composition of the assembly so that it would approve his call for making permanent a 10 percent residential tax cut and for halving the number of assembly seats and the amount of assembly-member salaries. In one month, he collected 369,008 signatures from voters, enough to hold the referendum.
The election loss Sunday dealt a serious blow to the DPJ ahead of "unified local elections" in April. Mr. Kawamura is expected to field candidates from his party in various parts of Japan in the elections and deepen cooperation with former DPJ chief Ichiro Ozawa, the rival of Prime Minister Naoto Kan.
Mr. Kawamura's maneuvers have had the effect of making traditional city assembly members examine whether they have seriously tried to address citizens' needs and aspirations. But his populist style in favor of tax cuts could lead to the deterioration of city finances and public services for citizens.
Mr. Kawamura's drive has the potential for turning the city assembly into a rubber stamp. While traditional parties must rethink their policies and attitude, voters must carefully think whether his politics is democratic in its basic orientation and will enhance their well-being.
THE JAPAN TIMES
EQUITIES MARKETS STRUGGLE
Worries about the economic impact of the devastating earthquake as well as the nuclear power plant crisis in Fukushima cast a cloud over the Tokyo equities market Monday. Before Friday's massive quake, the Nikkei Stock Average at the Tokyo Stock Exchange was trading around the 10,500 level. But it fell more than 6 percent to close at a four-month low of 9,620.49. The 633.94 drop is the largest since Oct. 16, 2008, when the Nikkei index tumbled by 1,089.02 following the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. At one point Tuesday, the index fell more than 1,000 to below 8,500.
Many factors are causing the worries. The quake has hampered economic activities in large areas of the Tohoku region. Major manufacturing firms, including Toyota Motor Corp. and Honda Motor Co., have announced temporary production stoppages after some of their facilities were damaged by the quake. The firms are also facing difficulties in procuring parts from Tohoku and other regions because of traffic disruptions.
The trouble at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s No. 1 Fukushima nuclear power plant on the Pacific coast has given rise to power shortages, hampering industrial activities. TEPCO Monday began planning rolling electricity outages — the first in TEPCO's history. They are likely to continue for some time.
In an attempt to alleviate fears that the quake will cause serious problems for banks and other financial institutions, the Bank of Japan injected ¥15 trillion into money markets on Monday, with an additional ¥6.8 trillion injection the following two days.
Despite the Nikkei index's plummet two days in a row, Japan's current account balance recently has been in the black, indicating the ability of Japanese firms to make profits from business activities abroad, especially in emerging economies.
After the quake, the yen grew stronger rather than falling in value. Japan, the largest creditor nation, is regarded as a stable, rich country. But post-quake reconstruction will be extremely costly. The government must act prudently in deciding how it will raise the necessary funds from bond issuance and other sources.
THE JAPAN TIMES
THE LIBYAN REVOLUTION'S BEST HOPE? EGYPT
BY GWYNNE DYER
LONDON — The Libyan revolution is losing the battle. Col. Moammar Gadhafi'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, Gadhafi'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 noncombatants, 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, Gadhafi had 1,200 of them massacred. All the people now fighting him, or helping the Libyan National Council that organizes 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 spring" 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 Gadhafi. An arms embargo is too slow-acting, as are economic boycotts and freezing Libyan government assets overseas. Gadhafi is fighting for his life, probably literally, and he know 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 Gadhafi'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 surface-to-air defenses. It's just that Gadhafi can win without his air force. Tanks and artillery beat courage and small arms every time.
U.S. Defense 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 defenses, which would require a lot of bombing. It would be perfectly possible to enforce the no-fly ban from the air, and only attack Gadhafi's ground-based defense systems if and when their targeting radars locked onto the enforcing aircraft.
Nevertheless, Gates is right to reject the no-fly solution, for two reasons. First, it wouldn't stop Gadhafi'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 Gadhafi's ground forces in their tracks. The Egyptian air force could easily shoot down any of Gadhafi'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 Gadhafi 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 neighbor. 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 Gadhafi 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 Abdul 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 and historian whose columns appear in 45 countries.
THE JAPAN TIMES
TALE OF TWO DEFENSE POLICIES
BY HARSH V. PANT
SPECIAL TO THE JAPAN TIMES
LONDON — China has declared that its official defense budget for 2011 will rise by 12.7 percent from the previous year. Last year there was a lot of hoopla surrounding the fact that China had announced a mere 7.5 percent jump in defense budget. It was the first time since the 1980s that China's defense spending increased by a single-digit percentage. But this year we are back to the norm of double-digit increases.
While China's civilian leadership has tried to downplay the latest increase, suggesting that much of the increase will go to human resources development, infrastructure and training, it is the response of the Chinese military that should be a matter of concern. Military spokesman Maj. Gen. Luo Yuan was unambiguous in suggesting that when it comes to military spending, there is no need for China "to care about what others may think." The international community has long demanded that China should be more transparent about the intentions behind its rapid defense spending. Now the Chinese military is making its strategic intent clear.
Divisions within China about the future course of nation's foreign policy are more stark than ever. It is now being suggested that much like young Japanese officers in the 1930s, young Chinese military officers are increasingly taking charge of strategy with the result that rapid military growth is shaping the nation's broader foreign policy objectives. Civil-military relations in China are under stress with the PLA asserting its pride more forcefully than even before and demanding respect from other countries. "A country needs respect, and a military also needs respect," wrote a major general last year in the PLA's newspaper. Not surprisingly, China has been more aggressive in asserting its interests not only vis-a-vis India but also vis-a-vis the United States, the European Union, Japan and Southeast Asian states.
The increasing assertion by the Chinese military and changing balance of power in the nation's civil-military relations should be a real cause of concern for China's neighbors. The pace of Chinese military modernization has already taken the world by surprise and it is clear that the process is going much faster than many had anticipated. A growing economic power, China is now concentrating on the accretion of military might so as to secure and enhance its own strategic interests. China, which has the largest standing army in the world with more than 2.3 million members, continues to make the most dramatic improvements in its nuclear force among the five nuclear powers, and improvements in its conventional military capabilities are even more impressive.
What has been causing concern in Asia and beyond is the opacity that surrounds China's military buildup, with an emerging consensus that Beijing's real military spending is at least double the announced figure. The official figures of the Chinese government do not include the cost of new weapon purchases, research or other big-ticket items for China's highly secretive military. As a result, the real figures are much higher than the revealed amount.
Despite this, India's own defense-modernization program is faltering. This year the Indian government has allocated only 1.8 percent of its GDP to defense, though ostensibly the military expenditure has gone up by 11.58 percent. This is only the second time in over three decades that the defense-to-GDP ratio has fallen below 2 percent of GDP. This is happening at a time when India is expected to spend $112 billion on capital defense acquisitions over the next five years in what is being described as "one of the largest procurement cycles in the world." Indian military planners are shifting their focus away from Pakistan as China takes center-stage in future strategic planning.
Over the past two decades, the military expenditure of India has been around 2.75 percent, but since India has been experiencing significantly higher rates of economic growth over the last decade compared to any other time in its history, the overall resources that it has been able to allocate to its defense needs has grown significantly. The armed forces have long been asking for an allocation of 3 percent of the nation's GDP to defense.
This has received a broad political support in recent years. The Indian prime minister has been explicit about it, suggesting that "if our economy grows at about 8 percent per annum, it will not be difficult for [the Indian government] to allocate about 3 percent of GDP for national defense." The Indian Parliament has also underlined the need to aim for the target of 3 percent of GDP. Yet as a percentage of GDP, annual defense spending has declined to one of its lowest levels since 1962.
But defense expenditures alone will not solve all the problems plaguing Indian defense policy. More damagingly, with the exception of this year, for the last several years now the defense ministry has been unable to spend its full budgetary allocation.
The defense-acquisition process remains mired in corruption and bureaucratic red tape. A series of defense procurement scandals since the late 1980s have also made the bureaucracy risk averse, thereby delaying the acquisition process. A large part of the money is surrendered by the defense forces every year because labyrinthine bureaucratic procedures involved in the procurement process make it impossible to spend the entire budget.
India's indigenous defense-production industry has time and again demonstrated its inability to meet the demands of the armed forces. The Indian armed forces keep waiting for arms and equipment while the Finance Ministry is left with unspent budgets year after year. Most large procurement programs get delayed, resulting in cost escalation and technological or strategic obsolescence of the budgeted items.
The Indian government has yet to demonstrate the political will to tackle the defense-policy paralysis that seems to be rendering all claims of India's rise as a military power increasingly hollow. The capability differential between China and India is rising at an alarming rate. An effective defense policy is not merely about deterring China. In the absence of an effective defense policy, India will lose the confidence to conduct its foreign policy unhindered from external and internal security challenges.
Harsh V. Pant teaches at King's College in London and is the author of 'The China Syndrome.'
THE JAKARTA POST
SPYING FOR THE PEOPLE
Many tragic attacks have afflicted people in Indonesia and overseas – mostly due to official failure to detect threats from their inception. Intelligence institutions are most liable for failing to stop such violence.
Remember the September 11 tragedy in the United States? The investigation by the 9/11 commission blamed fragmented and poorly coordinated US intelligence gathering for the fatal terrorist attacks. The panel faulted then CIA director George Tenet for not having a management strategy to battle terrorism before the attacks, while the CIA and the FBI were blasted for not sharing tips and information.
At home six separate bloody terrorist attacks — four of them occurring in the same place — occurred during Megawati Soekarnoputri's and Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's administrations.
Unlike as happened in the US, investigations in Indonesia were directed only at finding the perpetrators. No single investigation was launched of Indonesia's intelligence community, specifically the State Intelligence Agency (BIN), for failing to learn about or stop such attacks.
Recently there were two separate acts of mob violence in Pandeglang, Banten; and Temanggung, Central Java. Reportedly local security authorities were cognizant of the potential for mayhem; still the attacks occurred under the watchful eyes of police officers.
The above examples clearly show how the Indonesian intelligence community is still considered as a sacred, untouchable entity that is free from public scrutiny.
No BIN chiefs were held accountable for the attacks. The agency's chiefs were only replaced at the end of their appointed terms. The examples also show that early warning systems failed to work due to lack of coordination among the security institutions themselves.
Our intelligence community is in need of urgent reform to convert it from an "extraordinary" agency into a more trustworthy entity with increased capacity in line with rapid scientific and technical developments.
Critics have said that our intelligence community has been involved in political maneuverings — a tool used by those at the top to stay in power — and plagued by protracted problems ranging from an absence of a legal basis to operate to weak leadership and poor human resources.
There are four urgent items on the reform agenda for the intelligence community.
First, the nation's multiple intelligence agencies need a legal umbrella so they can perform their tasks.
Second, performance standards, particularly for the BIN, must be developed so agencies can be held accountable for failures in developing systems to detect and warn of threats to national security.
Third, leadership in the intelligence community must be developed by, among other things, promoting only those with intelligence backgrounds to lead the BIN.
Fourth, the BIN's role as coordinator for all the intelligence agencies in Indonesia must be restored. Many in the intelligence and law enforcement communities have said that the lack of such a designation has contributed to the intelligence community's poor performance over the last several years.
Last but not least, our intelligence community must improve its human resources. To have our own State Intelligence Institute (STIN) produce home-grown agents is a must. Also necessary is conducting exchange programs with other countries and continuously providing students of the institute, and also our intelligence officers, with the latest information technology to improve their capacity and capability.
THE JAKARTA POST
TALES FROM THE HOLY LAND
In Indonesia, religious piety has become a public norm. Indonesian Muslims pray five times a day, fast during Ramadhan, and perform pilgrimage (haj) to the holy land, Hijaz, a province in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, once or more in their lifetime.
No Indonesian Muslim dares to say in public that he or she has intentionally abandoned these Islamic religious rites. Those who are accused of ignoring these religious duties are usually branded as Islam KTP (Muslim by ID card). This is a form of contempt.
Mecca and Medina, where the Prophet Muhammad was born and passed away respectively, are regarded as sacrosanct. The Indonesian Muslims regard the two cities, which play a central role in their religiosity, in high regard. The Kabah in Mecca is the one direction which Muslims face during daily prayers.
During Ramadhan many TV and radios stations broadcast the tarawih (evening) prayers from the Prophet's Medina mosque. The audience watches and listens the program attentively.
During the haj season, many Indonesian Muslims sacrifice their properties — land, savings, farm animals, or anything else that can be sold — in order to pay for their journey to the holy land. Many Muslims have a dream of making a pilgrimage to the sacred shrines of the Prophet, regarded as a spiritual achievement.
Back home, the pictures of the Kabah and the Prophet's mosque are often hung on the wall.
Besides ritual purposes, not only do Indonesians go to the holy land to seek for knowledge at the universities, they also go to find jobs. In terms of numbers, we export more migrant workers than scientists or students.
However, the tales from the holy land are not always wonderful. The image of the sacred cities has been tainted by some accounts of tragic events that have befallen Indonesian migrant workers.
Last year, Sumiati, a domestic worker from West Nusa Tenggara, was tortured. Her suffering was described to have been worse than "slavery" (The Jakarta Post, Nov. 18, 2010). More detailed accounts, which are too horrible to be recounted here, are abundant on the Internet.
Various Indonesian media reported that many Indonesian workers are stranded under the bridge in Jeddah. Their dream of finding work in the holy land ended up in such a place where they stayed during the days and nights. Some were then sent home.
Eny Binti Katma, a domestic worker from Sukabumi, West Java, who was accused of killing a baby, faces the death penalty. So does Darsem from Subang West Java, who was charged with the murder of his master, who wanted to rape her.
Beheading is a common practice in Saudi Arabia, which has a record in discrimination against women, religious minorities and human rights violations, among which are those related to the abuse of Indonesian domestic workers. House of Representatives (DPR) Speaker Marzuki Alie once put it that "the torture has humiliated us as a nation" (The Jakarta Post, Nov. 20, 2010).
The holy status of Hijaz should not prevent the Indonesian Muslims, and particularly the government, from speaking of what befell their fellow citizens abroad. In the name of humanity and human rights a concrete step should be taken to save Darsem from execution and to prevent similar violence from occurring. To deal with the issue, besides collecting coins to pay the ransom of death penalty, as "Migrant Care" Indonesia did, diplomatic and political pressure should be on the table.
Yes, Arabic is a sacred language, by which God in the Scripture speaks to us. Muslims believe that an angle guards every Arabic letter. But, not all of those who speak the language, like some of us, commit good deeds. Some, just like some of us, violate the divine law.
Although the Muslims' direction of prayers is the Kabah in Mecca, it is hard to take the holy land as an example of democracy and human rights. By contrast, whereas other Muslim countries, such as Turkey and Indonesia, have advanced in blending democracy, secularization, and local Islamic characters, the kingdom remains kingdom.
An ongoing wave of democratic protests in the Middle East has hit Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Libya. The sacred land remains sacred.
The writer is a lecturer at Sunan Kalijaga State Islamic University, Yogyakarta.
THE JAKARTA POST
DISASTER-READY CIVIL SOCIETY
A powerful quake and tsunami that rocked Japan last week once again shook the world as it claimed more than 10,000 lives with hundreds of thousands missing. However, these figures are likely to be minimal compared to the magnitude of the disaster, which the Japanese prime minister recognized as a terrifying event that befell Japan after World War II.
One of the lessons learned from Japan in overcoming this unfortunate event is sophisticated technology supported by its civil society.
Learning from the Hanshin earthquake in Kobe in January 1995, the Japanese government began to see how the technology could not fully anticipate the impacts of disasters. Volunteers could. Thus, Kobe could be rebuilt.
Then the central and local governments were considered unable to overcome the impacts of the disaster because of their over-reliance on technology. In the aftermath, the Japanese government started investing heavily in the power of civil society that had previously been overlooked. As a disaster-prone country, Indonesia also needs to learn more of the importance of human helping others.
Disaster is a combination of hazards and risk. Risk arises as a combination of vulnerability, hazard and exposure (Blaike, 2004). Therefore, vulnerability is an important concept that needs to be understood further. Susan Cutter (2007), an expert in disaster vulnerability, contends that disaster vulnerability is a potential of loss. This potential could be due to a physical location, such as Indonesia, which is situated in the Pacific Ring of Fire.
Governments typically respond to this physical vulnerability by creating a policy to develop a disaster-ready technology to detect future disasters or building modifications. Potential vulnerabilities may also stem from social conditions such as poverty and population of children, women, the elderly, the disabled and other marginalized minorities. Social vulnerability is a pre-existing condition.
However, this vulnerability can be reduced. There are some efforts that we can undertake, one of which is to build resilience to disasters. A disaster reduction program is initiated not only by building the most advanced facilities, but also by involving human beings. The community needs to be prepared to use the facilities. Therefore, the disaster mitigation activities should include formulations and testing of emergency response plans, as well as organizing and installing warning and communication systems. Training, disaster response drills and stand-by directives and orders need to be disseminated (Flemming, 1957).
Local wisdom concerning disasters must be integrated with government programs. The vulnerability should prompt policy makers to develop policies that fit the real needs of the society. Disaster preparedness education needs to be accessible to the public. Communities must be able to recognize their strengths and weaknesses to reduce their own vulnerability. Community capacity building should involve the smallest units of the society such as families.
The vulnerability needs to be addressed with concepts of resistance and resilience. Fran Norris et.al (2008) views that resistance occurs if resources are available, rapid and redundant in encountering direct impacts of a disaster so as not to result in big losses. Of course, in the event of a powerful disaster, losses cannot be avoided. Therefore, the concept of resilience is important. Resilience takes place if resources are available, fast and can be accessed directly when a disaster strikes so that the communities affected can recover and adapt to environmental changes brought by disasters.
The vulnerability occurs when resources are not sufficient, rapid and redundant. The more severe, enduring and surprising a disaster, the more important these resources are to help the affected community to survive the impacts of the disaster.
What is important for us to learn from Japan's disaster this time is that we cannot wait for disasters to strike. We cannot completely rely on the government to do all the preparations for natural disasters. The government cannot either simply rely on existing technology without the help of people.
Sophisticated disaster response technology can only be successful if civil society is involved.
The writer, a Fulbright scholar, is a PhD student at Columbia University, New York.
THE JAKARTA POST
PAKISTAN, AHMADIYAH AND DEMOCRACY
Referring to the article written by Mohd Yasir Alimi titled the "Pakistanisation of Indonesia" in The Jakarta Post of March 7, 2011, anyone asking for the right of expression should avoid using abusive language.
The tenor of the article is so grossly tendentious that it looks as if Yasir had not intentionally defi ned the parameters of a failed state to cover up the emptiness of his so-called arguments. Pakistan has a vibrant democratic government, an independent and powerful judiciary with an equally vocal and forceful media.
Economically, the country has the highest foreign exchange reserve despite the ravages of the unprecedented fl oods of last year, which displaced 2 million people and incurred a loss of US$9.5 billion. The country is showing growth and attracting a reasonable amount of FDI.
On a political level Pakistan enjoys a status that is the envy of many countries. Non-stop high level foreign visits mark the prestige and respect the country enjoys in the comity of nations. On matters of religion, one should ponder deeper and more intensely before passing shallow comments.
With reference to the Declaration of Ahmadiyah as a minority, Yasir wrongly chastises President Zia-ul- Haq for declaring them non-Muslim.
The step was in fact undertaken by a very progressive and moderate Prime Minister of Pakistan, Zulfi kar Ali Bhutto, in 1974, not in 1984 as claimed. Why did he do so? The issue was agitating Muslims in the subcontinent for 94 years by then. It needed to be resolved to create religious harmony.
According to the Muslim majority, the Ahmadis do not believe in the fi nality of the Prophet-hood of Muhammad. They contest this assertion and believe that Mirza Ghulam Ahmad succeeded Muhammad as prophet. How come the choice of the majority be declared an abuse while minorities, in this case Ahmadis, be allowed to fl aunt the religion's sensitivities of mainstream Islam.
It must be kept in mind that as non-Muslims they are allowed to pray freely and abide by their faith, provided they do not use Muslim rituals and symbols. They are permitted to establish their houses of worship and follow their own religious decrees and traditions without any restriction.
The writer should have checked the facts before maligning Pakistan as a "laboratory of abuse in the name of religion". I ask, is Pakistan the only country that has declared Ahmadiyah a non-Muslim community? Would not the author care to consult liberal Indonesian Muslim scholars such as the heads of Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama to determine the difference between Muslims and Ahmadis?
If Pakistan allows the publication of religious books belonging to Hindus, Christians and Ahmadis, and their distribution, how can it then be termed as abusing minority religions? Our national laws do not allow blasphemous remarks against prophets including Muhammad, Jesus and Moses. Irrespective of faith anyone making such remarks is liable to stern punishment under the blasphemy law. More than any minority members, more Muslims were tried under this law. From 2007 to 2010, 253 persons have been convicted under the blasphemy law, out of which 244 were Muslims and only 9 were non-Muslims.
The constitution of Pakistan guarantees freedom of religion and fundamental rights to each citizen of Pakistan under articles 20, 21, 22, 26, 27 and makes no distinction on the basis of religion and creed. If I may quote here, section 295 of the Pakistan Penal Code (blasphemy law) is non-discriminatory and it applies to offending Muslims and non- Muslims equally. The government takes measures to prevent the abuse of the blasphemy law.
One needs to be mindful of the fact that although the minorities constitute 2.5-3 percent of the population, the government has fi xed a 5 percent quota for minorities in all federal services. The government has also made a special budgetary allocation for the grant of scholarships to needy students from minority communities.
Indonesia is a liberal, moderate and progressive state that thrives on its national ideology of Pancasila. There must be some reason why West Java, East Java and now the Jakarta governor is mulling over a ban on Ahmadiyah's preaching in public. Would the attitude of these three governors infringe on the national ideology? Ahmadiyahs have the right to abide by their faith and they must be protected. Simultaneously, they should not offend the majority's sentiments in public. This is the essence of democracy.
The Pakistan of today is fortifi ed by democracy. Our government draws its strength from freedom of expression. We need to realize that over the past nine years, Pakistan has lost more than 10,000 civilians and 3,000 personnel of the security forces against extremists and terrorists. More than 17,000 civilians of security forces have been injured.
The problem of militancy has plagued the whole world, it is an international phenomenon. It is not just a Pakistan- or an Indonesia-specific issue. We need to combine our efforts to root out this evil.
Pakistan has shouldered the responsibility in regard to the war on terror for about 10 years now. It needs support from the international community not point scoring utterances, to overcome the problem. The chaos created by the menace should not be used to discredit the state of Pakistan. In this regard, the international community needs to understand Pakistan's position and support its efforts to curb extremism.
At the same time, the international community should make an endeavor to eradicate the root causes of extremism. The soul of Pakistan is liberal. Our national ethos is progressive. Our mindset is democratic. Aberrations cannot defeat what is inherently the strength of our national identity.
The writer is the Ambassador of Pakistan.
THE JAKARTA POST
THE EU'S CONSERVATIVE AND CAUTIOUS APPROACH
MARIA MONICA WIHARDJA
Chairman of the European Union (EU) Delegation for Relations with the countries of Southeast Asia and ASEAN, Dr. Werner Langen, was visiting Indonesia from Feb. 21-25, 2011.
A separate meeting on regional integration was also held recently by the EU ambassador to Indonesia and Brunei Darussalam, Julian Wilson, on March 2.
Visits by individual EU Member States' offi cials since the start of 2011 — including the Swedish Minister of Trade, the French Minister of Economic Affairs, Finance, and Industry, and the Spanish State Secretary of Foreign Trade — also mark the tight relations between Indonesia and the EU.
Yet, this bilateral relationship seems to be on the "conservative" and "cautious" side that demands shifts of focus and more regular open public discussion forums between not only EU delegations and Indonesian officials, but also EU delegations and Indonesian stakeholders.
The visit by the EU delegation put an emphasis on a few areas of bilateral cooperation: Education (with a focus on primary basic education), governance, health, transfers of (green) technology for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs), reconstruction of disaster-stricken areas and trade-related technical assistance.
The EU's focus on development is a manifestation of the EU's ambitious support of the Millennium Development Goal to devote 0.7 percent of its Gross National Income to Offi cial Development Assistance by 2015 and the Partnership and Cooperation Agreement signed in 2009 by EU offi cials and Indonesian Foreign Minister Marty Natalegawa.
Indonesia also expects new investment in mostly high technology, including the nickel manufacturing industry in Halmahera, airplanes to Lion Air, and an electric train project in Bandung.
Meanwhile, the Swedish minister of trade visit focused on proenvironment investment in green technology, green infrastructure, green urban living and green energy.
Heavily forested Sweden (about 78 percent of the land is forest and woodland), which was the first country to adopt forest governance laws in 1886, can indeed be a model for Indonesian forestry. The Spaniards were also attracted to invest in Indonesia's energy, electricity, transportation, telecommunication, infrastructure and manufacturing sectors.
Later this year, Indonesia will sign the Voluntary Partnership Agreement (VPA) with the EU. This means that the only timber and timber products from Indonesia that can enter the EU countries are those that are licensed by the Timber Legal Verifi cation Assurance (or Sertifi kat Verifi kasi Legalitas Kayu).
The EU is drafting Illegal Timber Regulation to take effect in March 2013. By this regulation, FLEGT licensed timber from VPA countries will automatically get a "green light" entering the EU market.
Despite its potential benefit to improve forest governance, it may also face local resistance, especially by timber companies, with respect to additional costs of requiring certifi cates.
Since the trade in timber products from non-VPA partner countries (currently only Cameroon, Central African Republic, Ghana and Republic of the Congo are VPA partner countries) will be unaffected, it might mean a loss to the exporting VPA countries if EU consumers will prefer cheaper non-FLEGT licensed timber, or it might mean a gain to them if EU consumers will prefer more expensive environmentally friendly FLEGT licensed timbers or if EU purchasers will increasingly adopt policies favoring procurement of FLEGT licensed timber.
Another problem is on the supply side. Firms in exporting VPA countries which are exporting to EU before the VPA takes effect might re-route their timber exports to non-EU countries to avoid having to be verifi ed for legality. In some ways, the effects of this regulation on trade can be similar to the effect of the US Lacey Act in 2007.
While both Indonesia-EU and Indonesia-EU Member States cooperations are potentially mutually benefi cial, there are some important elements that are worth some considerations. First, the EU's development plan on education seems to be on the conservative side. "The net enrollment rate for primary education has almost reached 100 percent and the literacy rate of the population reached 99.47 percent in 2009" (Report on the Achievement of the Millennium Development Goals Indonesia 2010). Educational reform should shift its focus to tertiary education.
None of the Indonesian universities rank highly in either Asia as a whole, nor in Southeast Asia. At this stage of development, we need to encourage the creations of working professionals, in which China and India are having the comparative advantages. Professionals are also needed to operate the investment in heavy technologies.
Second, the EU approach to cooperation has been cautious. It is somewhat evident from the reluctance of EU to have an ASEAN-EU free trade agreement.
Some speculated that human rights issues in Myanmar might hamstring the idea. Bilateral FTAs between EU and only some ASEAN countries might result in a severe disadvantage to those ASEAN countries without the FTAs. If noneconomic reasons were the issues behind this, the EU would need to openly discuss them.
EU has also been cautious with respect to environmental issues, including the environmentally cautious demand-driven regulations and directives.
More open public discussions between EU and Indonesian stakeholders is encouraged on the following issues: (1) Indonesian palm oil market that has been facing a lot of pressure concerning the environment from the Amsterdam-based Greenpeace, (2) EU directives that under its current term will make Indonesian palm oil not environmentally qualifi ed to be converted into biofuel in Europe, (3) Indonesia-EU FLEGT VPA that will be signed later this year that has the potential to increase costs of acquiring certifi cates. Indonesians will eventually question how these EU regulations and directives as well as partnerships will benefi t not only the EU but also Indonesia.
The writer is a researcher at the Centre for Strategic and International Studies and a lecturer at the Department of Economics, University of Indonesia.
World Cups, like the Olympics, come once in four years and it's no wonder why countries that feature in such flagship events--whether it's football, rugby or cricket--go through more than a hysterical than a historical period until it's over.
By that time heroes would have turned zeroes or nobodies would have become some-bodies, while some will be nursing their wounds, mentally and physically, and others finding cupboards to rest their new found trophies.
Ironically Sri Lanka is yet to find a potential hero who could devastate the opposition like the good old Sanath Jayasuriya did in his heydays of 1996 although there had been a few flashes here and there when Lasith Malinga grabbed a second World Cup hat-trick against the underdogs Kenya and Tillekaratne Dilshan missed becoming the first player to crack a hundred and snatch a hat-trick against the other unfancied Zimbabwe team.
But then like in all other sports, the best can sometimes come at the last or as the pundits may argue, the World Cup will eventually start with the knock-outs from March 23. However, some players have put on the gloss on an otherwise sagging World Cup with some magical moments while the pundits have been groping in the dark.
For example very few analysts dared give New Zealand even a boundary line chance but now it seems the men from the land of the kiwis have threatened to ruffle feathers and take the World Cup down to the wire. They have already shown the sparks and may be their charismatic player, the Wellington-born batsman Ross Taylor has done what Jayasuriya did in 1996, in two games, one against Pakistan when he massacred the bowlers in sheer brutality.
New Zealand may not be among the hot favourites and Taylor may not be the best batting bet to some experts, but the Kiwis can hold their heads high going into the knockouts. They have one last first round game against Sri Lanka on Friday in Mumbai and interestingly here is where Kumar Sangakkara and his men will have to prove a point that they deserve their place in the quarter finals.
So far it has been a case of scattered performances with fluctuating fortunes for the Sri Lankans who will have to be at their very best if they are to live up to the expectations of 20 million people and the image of being one of the favourites in the tournament.
The good news however is that there is not much hard feelings in the Sri Lankan camp when it comes to the selection of the final playing eleven and hopefully it will stay the course for the bigger games ahead, now that the real battle is about to start. The saying goes, it's not how you won or lost, but how you played the game. But in Sri Lanka's case, it is how you played your players.
It's a local government election, none appear to care except the candidates' – incapable of enthusing the electorate.
The voters find the World Cup a more satisfying exercise than sorry politics- switch channels to watch cricketers and avoid politicians. Television was the last refuge of the politicians to reach the people; with prime time lost, the point of contact is gone.
With a dismal voter turnout - a tendency at local government elections, the staggering government majorities displayed at the last two national elections are bound to shrink inclusive of possible defeats in a few local authorities.
Incapable of carrying the voters to the booths is unhealthy for a government that won two elections overwhelmingly on a gratitude vote.
This is not an election to overthrow the President or to topple the government, many of the floating voters that sailed with the government and UPFA's principled voters at the last two outings, will get a chance to clear their conscience – whether it is worthwhile to exercise the franchise or care to teach a lesson to a under performing government, especially in the urbanized constituencies.
UNP has failed to attract the disenchanted voters without attractive options but has made a successful bid for the Fonseka vote in the DNA to the detriment of the JVP. Similarly, the JNP patriotic vote and the JHU's moral vote has evaporated or merged with the UPFA, due to abandoning the missions undertaken. JVP's weird switch to federalism after toeing a pro unitary line might further reduce its disappearing base without a Fonseka to prop its fortunes.
A comparison with the last round of local government elections would not be fair, as the JVP made a strong challenge to the government, though a constituent party of the UPFA. It enabled the UNP to win in a tight three- cornered struggle. That election was held after 40 JVP MPs were elected to parliament and the Presidential election was won with a strong JVP backing, at a time unlike as at present, where the JVP did not stand deflated.
Infrastructural development in the villages along with effective road networks, water and power provided on a grand scale and such voters entertaining a fear, that the work will come to a halt if UPFA candidates are not returned, is a trump the government holds. The propaganda machine delivers the credit to the President and not to the local politicians.The popularity the President still retains in the countryside is the bulwark of UPFA vote. Blaming the President is a pastime of an insignificant few in the cities but not in the villagers where the fault line stops with the government. Many local UPFA politicians are banking on returning to office on the back of the President's name. But a weak showing at the local government elections will dent the President's image as the leader of a strong government.
A hidden factor is the comfort of security that prevails in the country after 30 years of dreaded terrorism. Cheering crowds watched cricket without the fear of an explosion, while four years ago when Sri Lanka reached the finals in Barbados, LTTE carried a night raid placing the country on a red alert. There is a silent thanksgiving ongoing while the leadership in the UNP tilts in favour of the philosophy of the West to discredit the forces that won the war. Who stands up for the country is a hidden cog in the vote machine?
Public that travel by public transport knows the true value of security than the more affluent middle classes that motor. That is where the Pradeshiya saba voters' aggregate unlike in the miniscule urban councils - UNP's budding nursery. The UNP hierarchy continues to give a better hearing to the vocal elite than the silent rural majority, a factor that will cost votes in the Pradeshiya sabas but attract votes in the urban councils.
The cost of living factor has enraged the public servants, wage earners and the middle classes in cosmopolitan areas. In the rural setting it will be the lack of employment opportunities to the school leavers more than the prices at the market place. Wit the war receding into the background, youth feel dissatisfied with a government that does not give a hearing. The bottom line is the unpopularity of the under-performing elected representatives in most districts. Government candidates have lived merrily on the peoples vote, without offering a worthwhile service.
UPFA's traditional SLFP supporters watch converted UNP parliamentarians in charge of the election campaign, keeping the stout party loyalists away from the campaign trail. The disenchanted SLFP voters are reluctant to engage where their former political foes are at the forefront.
The opposition has lost its way with its continuing disunity and lack of proper direction in the midst of an overwhelmingly patriotic electorate, conditioned after years of separatist terrorism.
Sajith Premadasa had an opportunity of a lifetime in leading the UNP after 17 continuous years of UPFA administrations. His failure to accept the challenge, can restore a lame duck Ranil Wickremesinghe back to the helm; an election where the UNP may show gain due to the lapses of the government.
Forthcoming Municipal elections will further strengthen Wickremesinghe while the outcome in Hambantota will decide the future of Premadasa's ability to gain leadership.
The government postponed the municipal council elections in the mistaken belief of gaining another mighty winning streak, to capture the UNP municipal strongholds, is likely to backfire?
This election will decide whether Wickremesinghe will emerge as Opposition's Presidential candidate but he still has to cover a great distance to overcome the thrust of Mahinda Rajapakse's war victory.
In the North and East the voting pattern is the barometer to test whether the reconciliation policy is working. It's in the North's decisive vote that might disturb the voting patterns in the South at a close Presidential election. A factor discounted by both the major parties forgetting the Presidential elections of 2005.
BY PROF. ROHAN SAMARAJIVA
A great earthquake, one of the most powerful in recorded history, occurred off the coast of Honshu, North East Japan, on the 11th of March 2011. The previous Great Earthquake in Asia occurred off the coast of Sumatra, North West Indonesia, on the 26th of December 2004. Both were followed by local tsunamis and teletsunamis (tsunamis that travel large distances across the ocean). The scope and scale of the destruction of lives, livelihoods and property by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami generated a massive wave of humanitarian assistance, some of which was also used for research on how to respond to and prepare for such hazards in the future. Now, in the aftermath of the Pacific event, it is reasonable to ask what was learned from the Indian Ocean event.
LIRNEasia, together with several partner organizations around the Bay of Bengal, engaged in a number of disaster risk-reduction research projects since 2005, some that were self- and locally-funded, but the major project that started in 2006 was financed generously by International Development Research Centre of Canada. It focused on the "last mile" of the warning chain, that constituted by the communities where the actions necessary to save lives, livelihoods and property has to be taken. This note summarizes the findings that are likely to be of relevance in the present circumstances.
LIRNEasia's work focuses on disaster-risk reduction, not on disaster relief and recovery, the aspects of the greatest relevance at this moment, after the disaster has occurred.
Hazards with large geographical scope that can be detected in ways that allow around 60 minutes of forewarning are the one most amenable to information and communication technology based early warning interventions. There is not much benefit in using speedy electronic communication to warn people of hazards that can be predicted well in advance. Localized hazards do not require the distance-spanning abilities of ICTs. When warning time is too short, governments cannot issue warnings and people cannot wait to respond to government warning, the best example being a local tsunami generated by a near-coast earthquake. As they say in Hawai'i, your feet are your signal: if you feel tremors from an earthquake while on a beach, head for high ground without waiting for official warning.
The 8.9 magnitude earthquake that occurred on March 11th was only 130 km from the city of Sendai. It generated a local tsunami that would have seen water hit the shore minutes after the tremors stopped. ICTs and the best possible national official warning systems are of little value in such cases. Earthquake and tsunami resilient building codes, land-use planning and people's knowledge and preparedness are the only methods of reducing risks to lives, livelihoods and property. While the tally of damage is yet to be done, first reports suggest that it will be extensive though not as total as in Banda Aceh during the 2004 Indian Ocean event.
In the case of the teletsunami that was triggered by the 8.9 earthquake, ICT-based warning could, and did, play a role, as was seen in video from Hawai'i and the coastal areas of the western United States. Hawai'i was an exemplar of good practices in tsunami risk-reduction practices when we designed our project. The principles of hazard risk reduction do not differ from country to country. Yet their application varies widely, because the ground circumstances in different localities greatly differ. For example, telephone books in Hawai'i contain maps of areas vulnerable to tsunamis and evacuation plans. This works in Hawai'i. In countries where homes cannot be securely locked and people do not trust the police, evacuations will not work in the same way. The 2006-08 HazInfo study sought to identify the practices that would be most appropriate for coastal communities in Sri Lanka and the ICTs that would work best.
To be cont tomorrow
Prof Samarajiva is Chair & CEO of LIRNEasia
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.
GULF DAILY NEWS
A SURGEON IN MANAMA
BY CHANDAN SEN GUPTA
There was no way I could have deciphered the tune he hummed. It was probably some folk song from his native Kerala, or, maybe, a lullaby his mother sang while putting him to bed years ago. Perhaps it was the latter, for it had that instantaneous soothing effect.
"Don't worry, it is hardly a 15-minute procedure and you won't feel a thing," he said, referring to the minor surgery I was required to face to remove a small lump from my thigh.
"Er...but are you sure it needs to be done right away?" I managed to blurt out, and added, to lend more strength to my endeavour of dissuading him, "I am suffering from Pharyngitis, and took an intravenous antibiotic a moment ago."
"The antibiotic will help," he said cheerfully. "Whatever you decide doctor," I said, succumbing to his charm and the irritation from the mass of flesh developed into the size of a small grape.
I had grown accustomed to the hospital in Manama, visiting it for any minor ailment - from cold and cough to a sore tooth. But this was the first time a scalpel awaited me here, and the sight of a mere hypodermic syringe was enough to send shivers down my spine.
Before I could enter the Procedures Room, I saw an elderly Bahraini come out, a wad of cotton taped over his left eye. Around the time the Buddha strode on this planet, in the sixth century BC, Susruta performed cataract surgeries in India with the help of a curved needle, anaesthetising his patients with an herbal drink.
Some 600 years later, the Incas were using chewed cocoa leaves as an anaesthetic while performing surgery of the skull. Modern anaesthetics, synthetic in nature and more dependable compared to the herbal ones due to the ease with which they can be measured accurately, had done their bit to relieve one, largely, of his pre-surgical shock, but had done precious little to block the conjured images of bloodied scalpels, scissors and needles from my mind.
No wonder my, otherwise normal, blood pressure had shot up to 200/ 110, the moment I came to know of the "friendly" surgeon's intention to operate on me.
I couldn't help being drawn towards the tune. It was a soft crooning, and sounded so reassuring. The middle-aged man, with a graying moustache and hair, appeared at ease and engrossed in his work.
"He, probably, lives alone in Bahrain, having left his wife and children back home in India, like many of the other doctors at this hospital," I thought.
During an earlier discussion he had asked me to see him at any time between 4pm and 10pm, at the hospital.
I hardly noticed when he slid on his gloves and picked up the scalpel or when he pulled the mask over his mouth. The next moment I heard the assisting nurse ask, "Does it hurt?" I realised that the surgery was over. Through the corner of my eye I could see the jolly old man, who had just made an incision on my thigh and stitched it back, washing his hands over a shining stainless steel sink.
"Not a bit", I said, "I was so engrossed in his tune." He turned around and asked, "Do you follow Malayalam?" "No," I said, "But your tune was so comforting."
Wiping his hands on a sterilised white towel, he said with his trademark smile, "I told you that you'd be fine, didn't I?"
"See me the day after tomorrow, in the evening" he said, as he stopped briefly beside me. "I will, thank you doctor," I said, as he left the room humming to himself once again.
I recalled vaguely through my gleanings from books and magazines that hypnotism had helped in anaesthesia in certain surgical cases. If ever music had served to hypnotise a patient, this was it.
I was so mesmerised by the surgeon's humming during that brief moment when it mattered most, that all
terrifying thoughts had been driven out of my mind.
A simple act, borne out of one's passion for his work and humanity, had, truly, turned the medical centre into a House of God.
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