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Friday, March 18, 2011

EDITORIAL 18.03.11

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month march 18, edition 000783 collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul


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

































  6. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY  











  2. 'A SCOUT IS ...'





























Sadiq Batcha's mysterious death is an unfortunate development not just for his family but also the Central Bureau of Investigation that is probing the 2G Spectrum scam. Since Batcha was a key aide of the former Telecom Minister, A Raja, he was privy to nearly all the material that would be useful to the investigating agency in unravelling the case beyond what is known. His firm, Greenhouse Promoters, emerged as the primary front company for parking money illegally gained in the course of the irregularities committed by the Telecom Department under the tutelage of A Raja. That he was a prominent player is evident from the fact that the CBI had questioned him extensively in the recent past, and is believed to be satisfied by the information gathered. Clearly, Batcha was singing like a canary — either voluntarily or under pressure. The CBI may put up a brave front now and claim that the investigation will not be hampered by Batcha's death, but his departure from the scene is a setback. Several secrets have gone with him — secrets that could have helped the CBI effectively nail A Raja. After all, Greenhouse was no ordinary firm — the former Telecom Minister's wife and brother were on its board of directors. Batcha's dramatic rise from a small-time salesman to business tycoon uncannily coincided with the soaring political fortunes of his mentor, especially more so after A Raja took charge of the Telecom Ministry. So close was he to the then Minister that he intimately knew — and was deeply involved in the dealings of — various individuals who colluded with A Raja in perpetuating the scam that cost the exchequer a whopping `1.76 lakh crore. But now that he is no more, the CBI must go after A Raja's brother and wife who were associated with the firm and quit after it became known that their continuation would turn the spotlight on the firm and raise discomfiting questions. If Batcha was not arrested by the CBI despite such close links, it is for two reasons: First, he was readily sharing crucial information with the agency; and, second, there were indications that he would turn approver in the case.

This is why Batcha's death must be thoroughly investigated. After all, it is too much of a coincidence that the incident should happen a few days before the CBI was to submit its status report to the Supreme Court which is supervising the 2G Spectrum scam inquiry, and file its chargesheet naming the former Telecom Minister, among others. Batcha, having spoken so much and perhaps expressed his willingness to turn approver, could have been a star witness for the prosecution to strengthen its case in court. Chennai Police has claimed it to be a case of suicide, and if that is so the cause has to be ascertained. While the 'suicide note' the police say they found — several hours after the body was discovered hanging in the bedroom — does not pin the blame on any one, it takes the trouble of absolving A Raja of any wrong-doing. Several questions arise: Why did the police take so long to discover the note? Why should Batcha who, from all accounts, was fully cooperating in the investigations and, as an approver, could have escaped harsh punishment, suddenly end his life? Who were the people he was in touch with since A Raja's incarceration and what pressures did he face from them? Is the 'suicide note' genuine? These and several other questions need to be answered. Hopefully the CBI will come up with convincing answers.







By asserting that there will be no change in India's nuclear strategy, Union Minister of Foreign Affairs, SM Krishna, may have hoped to express the nation's commitment to "universal, non-discriminatory nuclear disarmament" — which is all very fine — but in reality, he has only wasted a well-timed, much-needed opportunity to revisit our decade-old No First Use policy. A pledge to refrain from using nuclear weapons until we are first hit with the same, it has been the cornerstone of our nuclear policy since the nuclear tests of 1998. But that was 13 years ago and much has changed since then. The Twin Towers have been bombed out of the New York skyline, Al Qaeda has more clout than the CIA, China has just become bigger and better and Pakistan no longer even pretends to be a functioning state, let alone a democratic one. In others words, the world of 2011 is very different from that of 1998 and we simply cannot afford to cling to what might just have become outdated policy — indeed, this was exactly the point made by former Minister of External Affairs and senior BJP leader, Jaswant Singh on Tuesday at a Lok Sabha debate when he noted that the policy is "greatly in need of revision" and warned that the present Government "cannot continue to sit in yesterday's policy". He cited India's multidimensional security concerns as an important reason why the Government must take a hard look at the policy. More specifically, Mr Singh pointed towards Pakistan's fast growing nuclear arsenal. He noted that Pakistan — a nearly-defunct state which is overrun by terrorists — has about 100 to 110 nuclear warheads, exactly double that of India's nuclear capacity. This is a matter of grave concern for India and it is imperative that the Government at least begin to deliberate on the matter.

During the debate, Mr Singh also delineated related security issues as well, expressing concern that the nation's foreign policy was being finalised in Washington, DC as the recent Wikileaks cables have revealed. He also noted that flawed foreign policy initiatives have led to disastrous consequences in Tibet (where we accepted China's domination), in Sri Lanka (LTTE camps still run in India) and in Nepal (where the Maoists are coming to power and we have done nothing to contain their influence). With respect to Pakistan, Mr Singh rightly pointed out that it was unclear if our bilateral ties were governed by "spirit of the Shimla Agreement, the spirit of Sharm-el Sheikh or more recently the Thimphu spirit." He also warned of India's dangerous indifference to the Chinese threat and advised that the country should intervene with caution in its larger neighbourhood in West Asia. Mr Shashi Tharoor who responded to Mr Singh, argued that China maybe aggressive but is also a billion dollar trade partner while in Pakistan's case, dialogue was must. As for the Gulf countries, Mr Tharoor agreed that we had significant energy, financial and human interest in the region.









His Holiness combines a rare blend of goodness and greatness that confounds his Chinese adversaries. His decision to devolve power may prove to be a master stroke.

Revered by his people and by communities across the world, the Dalai Lama combines a rare blend of goodness and greatness leavened by shrewd wisdom and humour that confounds his Chinese adversaries. His decision to devolve power to the elected representatives of the Tibetan movement may turn out to be a master stroke. By institutionalising power and authority and separating their temporal aspects from the spiritual, he has lifted the Tibetan people and their cause to an exalted plane, one that will give them a unique niche in the comity of nations. China's leaders have nothing to fall back on save ritual abuse of the man — their responses expose the vacuity of Chinese statecraft. The low cunning of Dickens's Artful Dodger and his mentor Fagin comes readily to mind.

Beijing has proposed that future Dalai Lamas would be appointed through a procedure fashioned by the Manchu rulers of China: The names of the contenders to be written down and placed in a receptacle with the Emperor drawing the lot. Politics is thus reduced to a lottery, the 21st century embalmed in the mores of the 18th. Small wonder that the title of historian WF Jenner's seminal work is entitled, The Tyranny of History: The Roots of China's Crisis. The country's dead classicism, underpinned by more than two millennia of centralised authority, is the cross its modern rulers choose to bear. Jenner explains: "Non-Hans win approval to the extent that they allow themselves to be drawn into Han tradition. They could easily be assimilated on paper, even when they were not in reality, by the homogenising device of writing their names in Chinese characters and in a Chinese form. It is very difficult to imagine historical writing being published in China that saw Han Chinese expansionism as genocidal... History as it is written makes it very hard even to consider the possibility that significant numbers of the subjects of Chinese regimes have refused to think of themselves as Chinese or accept the legitimacy of any Chinese rule over them and their territory."

Jonathan Spence, the Yale historian (The Search for Modern China) writes: "I understand a 'modern' nation to be one that is both integrated and receptive, fairly sure of its own identity yet able to join others on equal terms in the quest for new markets, new technologies and new ideas. If it is used in this open sense, we should have no difficulty in seeing 'modern' as a concept that shifts with the times as human life unfolds, instead of relegating the sense of the 'modern' to our own contemporary world while consigning the past to the 'traditional' and the future to the 'post-modern'. I like to think that there were modern countries — in the above sense — in 1600 or earlier, as at any moment thereafter. Yet at no time in that span, nor at the end of the 20th century, has China convincingly been one of them." The mismatch of time past and time present surely guarantees a troubled time future.

Such is the canvas of the China-Tibet relationship, from which also arises the challenges that beset China-India ties. Manchu China's determination to reimpose its defunct authority over Tibet, even in the declining years of the monarchy, is a lesson for our times. "There is a sort of tragic interest," wrote Lord Bryce — the British Ambassador in Washington, DC, after reading a confidential report from the American traveller and Tibetologist, WW Rockhill, which was made available to him by President Theodore Roosevelt — "in observing how the Chinese Government, like a huge anaconda, has enwrapped the unfortunate Dalai Lama in its coils, tightening them upon him till complete submission has been extorted". Tibetan defence, he said, had been weakened by the misconceived Younghusband expedition of 1904, hence "a strong, watchful, and tenacious neighbour which one day (could) become a formidable military power" would be ensconced on India's northern borders. (Bryce to Grey, December 17, 1908).

Two years later, the Thirteenth Dalai fled Lhasa for the sanctuary of India, as columns of the Chinese Army, under Chao Erh-feng's command, marched into the Tibetan capital. The country's Buddhist monasteries were looted and priceless scrolls were used to line the boots of the invading troops. The Morning Post (February 28, 1910) in London warned: "...a great Empire, the future military strength of which no man can foresee, has suddenly appeared on the North-East Frontier of India. The problem of the North-West Frontier bids fair to be duplicated in the long run, and a double pressure placed on the defensive resources of the Indian Empire... The Strategic Line has been lost, and a heavy price may be exacted for the mistake. China. In a word, has come to the gates of India, and the fact has to be reckoned with."

Following the collapse of Manchu monarchy, and on the eve of World War I, British, Chinese and Tibetan negotiators gathered in Simla to discuss Tibet's status. The talks ended in the fudge of the Simla Convention (July 3, 1914). Nothing was settled in this exercise of British diplomatic casuistry; Tibet was kept warm for Mao Tse-Tung's hordes half-a-century down the line.

This time the warning broadside came from Sardar Vallabbhai Patel (December 1950): "Chinese irredentism and Communist imperialism ... conceal racial, national and historical claims... While our western and north-western threats to security are still prominent as before, a new threat has developed from the north and north-east... India's defence has to concentrate itself on two fronts simultaneously. Our defence measures have so far been based on the calculations of a superiority over Pakistan."

India's current war doctrine envisages the possibility of a two-front conflict with Pakistan and China: strategic planning having caught up with unfolding ground realities. The surgery of partition had left India in a weakened state in the 1950s; hopefully it's a radically different situation today. There is full realisation that the Himalayas can offer no ironclad protection to India now than did the Maginot Line for France in 1940.

The flight of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama to India in March 1959 and the sanctuary given him and his followers were taken as a grave affront by Beijing, where concepts such as 'loss of face' prevail. The self-perception that the Middle Kingdom is the sole and rightful great power in Asia will be difficult to dispel through sweet reason alone. Beijing will brook no rivals, least of all India, which it affects to despise. But a warmed tributary system from China's primordial is unlikely to work to Beijing's satisfaction, however crafty its stitching. We are dealing, after all, with fascism sinified.







The nuclear nightmare haunting Japan has served to remind us about the dangers of opting for nuclear power as an energy source. Following the disaster in Japan, Switzerland, Germany and the US have decided to put on hold new nuclear power plants. But India still persists with it flawed policy of pursuing nuclear power at any cost

In African countries, hunters place a jar with a small opening filled with nuts near trees to catch monkeys. The jar is so designed that a monkey can easily push its hand inside but finds it difficult to drag it out. Most of the time monkeys stay there, unwilling to let go of the nuts. The peanuts which trap monkeys can be described as their unrealistic desires. Since we have evolved from apes, some of our actions closely resemble that of monkeys.

Our penchant for having nuclear energy is quite similar to a monkeys' desire for nuts, wherein we have no idea where it will lead us to. Unfortunately, right now we are unable to see beyond the nuts.

The recent earthquake in Japan followed by a tsunami that has led to dangerous levels of radiation leaking into the atmosphere signalling an impending nuclear disaster speaks volumes of how fragile nuclear plants are. In the event of a nuclear meltdown, it can be very dangerous as leakage of radioactive gases will not only result in a high death toll and permanent physical deformities and mental disorders but can make the area uninhabitable for tens of decades.

India, which is blindly following a dream of going the nuclear way, is ignoring serious threats that come with these reactors. The Three Mile Island accident in 1979 and the Chernobyl disaster in 1986 are testimonies to catastrophies that can be caused by such plants. Incidentally, India is no stranger to such accidents if the Journal of Contemporary Asia is anything to go by. In August 2010, it reported that between 1993 and 1995 more than 120 hazardous nuclear accidents took place in India. Now, the people in Maharashtra are protesting against the nuclear power plant being built in Jaitapur after adverse effects on the ecology have been noticed. Even if one ignores the Jaitapur protests, what comes as a surprise is how the Union Government seems to have forgotten the biggest disaster of Indian history. People have still not recovered from the Bhopal Gas tragedy which had nothing nuclear about it.

The whole nuclear saga began in October 2008, when we signed the controversial 123 deal with the US. This deal opened up a $250 billion nuclear reactor market and today we have companies (mostly American and European) waiting for their contracts to be finalised. India has already signed a huge contract with Areva to further its dream of becoming a nation with nuclear energy by building a 9,000 MW plant in Jaitapur in the Konkan region. It is said that the devil is in the details. The Konkan coast is located in the seismic belt and is categorised under high damage risk zone. For the record, in the last two decades this zone has experienced 92 earthquakes, of which three were major. The earthquake in 1993 measured 6.3 on the Richter scale. And on the top of this, we are using a very controversial and unapproved nuclear reactor for this plant.

As of now, India has more than 20 nuclear reactors dotted along the coastal areas that could be either exposed to earthquakes or tsunamis. Taking a lesson from Japan's tragedy, Germany has suspended contracts and agreements that would have ensured an extension of its nuclear facilities while Switzerland has decided to put on hold approvals of nuclear plants for the time being.

What we are repeatedly ignoring is the magnitude of the disaster that can occur. With no earthquake-resistant buildings and literally no public awareness on how to deal with such disasters, a Japan-like incident can literally wipe out a huge chunk of our population, leaving an equal number of people physically and mentally handicapped.

In case of India, the problem is not one of fragile plants but also about the way we dispose of our nuclear wastes. A year back, radioactive substances were found in a Delhi market. What is the guarantee that tomorrow Indian roads will not be littered with radioactive substances and garbage collectors and rag-pickers not collecting them? They will not even realise that these substances are hazardous to health.

Rather than going gung-ho over nuclear power, we should tap renewable sources of energy. We should especially bank on solar power plants since India is blessed with ample sunlight round the year. It will not be just safe and cheap but will also reduce chances of irreversible damages in the event of any disaster.

Studies show that average daily solar energy incident over our country is around 7 kWh/m2 (equivalent to 2000 solar hours per year), which is more than the current total energy consumption of the nation. Still solar energy comprise less than one per cent of the total energy produced in India while it is 35 per cent of the total energy produced in developed nations. What is of utmost importance is that new technologies make it possible to produce solar power at a lesser cost than nuclear power. Therefore, the question is why the Government is hell-bent on opting for nuclear energy when it knows solar energy is more cost-effective.

Alternatively, we can opt for thorium-based plants. Thorium is found in abundance in our country. India has 25 per cent of the world's thorium reserve. Energy scientists have confirmed that it can be an alternative source of energy. Most important, thorium produces hundred times more power than that of uranium and leaves essentially no waste. As per researches conducted, if thorium acquires scale in mining, it will cost less than uranium.

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







Do we really need another dam in a seismic zone?

The Delhi Govern- ment's profligate mission to turn the national capital into a 'world-class city', presumably at par with New York or London or Sidney, is by now too well documented to merit further comment. However, its continued and wanton flouting of environmental norms, in contravention of sage counsel, proffered by conservationists, still raises fear of repercussions in the long run.

Though much has already been written about the monumental folly of wilfully locating the Commonwealth Games Village on the Yamuna bed and floodplains, a seismically active and floods-prone zone, the devastation wrought in towns and villages by the recent earthquakes in Japan serves to underline the gravity of the lapse. The mushrooming east Delhi colonies and other settlements in the river's fragile environs, without enforcing safety norms, further testifies to the recklessness of the city's administrators and planners, who hardly seem up to the responsibilities they discharge.

Now, after squandering precious public funds and disregarding warnings by ecologists, this Government has renewed its demand for building the Renuka dam on the Giri river, a tributary of the Yamuna in Himachal Pradesh. The Union Ministry of Environment and Forest's refusal to clear the project last August has not deterred the dam's proponents from their utterly irrational course. They are looking towards the Himachal Government's exercise to re-assess the number of trees that face submergence. They hope that a reduced number would bolster the project's chance of obtaining environmental clearance. Debunking this view, Mr Himanshu Thakkar, Coordinator, South Asia Network of Dams, River and People, observes that the earlier assessment was incorrect as it did not take into account shyamlat or community land in the submergence area. The actual number of trees that would be sacrificed would thus be much more than the official estimate.

Opponents of the scheme see the ruinous Tehri dam, built on the confluence of the Bhagirathi and Bhilangana, and submerging a 43-sq km area, as a grim precedent. It was meant to meet the power and water demands of Delhi and some other centres of privilege in Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh. However, with large stretches of the Ganga and its tributaries having subsequently disappeared over long stretches, the shortfall in water flow effectively means that the intended targets cannot be met. Clearly, people would be well-advised not to believe all the assurances given by architects of projects, which are hamstrung by a massive cost factor and grave rehabilitation and environmental liabilities.

Conservationists point out that after ravaging the Yamuna's delicate eco-system in the capital and its vicinity, the Delhi Government has set its eyes on this breathtakingly beautiful forest zone, ostensibly to augment water supply to the capital via the proposed dam. Submerging the area would be a criminal assault on natural and historical heritage. Great sites such as the ancient Renuka Devi temple and lake, a popular pilgrimage, and part of the wildlife sanctuary are threatened by the project. An estimated 34 villages would be submerged and thousands displaced. The enduring trauma of people, ousted by the Bhakra, Tehri and other dams, and improperly rehabilitated thereafter, is a pointer to the magnitude of their suffering on account of poor implantation. In the event of the Renuka dam being built, a traditional farming-based ethos would die out even as a priceless bio-sphere drowns in a bid to quench the capital's craving for water.

And this thirst can never be quenched, reveal sources in Delhi Jal Board and independent experts. For, though the existing water resources are quite enough to meet the city's needs — with the supply of 191 litres per capita daily being higher than the per capita supply for First World cities such as Paris and Amsterdam — the shoddy distribution mechanism and network, with leaking pipes, ensure that much of the water is wasted en route to the destinations. Further, unequal distribution means that some areas, close to the treatment plants, have access to sustained supply while others, at a distance, get water for half-an-hour or an hour every day. This is a fallout of weak planning and implementation rather than shortage of water.

Mr Ashok Jaitley, Director, Water Resources, at the Energy Research Institute, confirms that a "huge quantum of water is lost in transit", and says that the management should account for this. He recommends GPS mapping, a costly initiative, to cut such loss. Instead of looking towards Himachal to augment water supply, city administrators need to conserve and better distribute the available water. DJB officials reveal that underground reservoirs are being made to counter the problem of unequal distribution. Another viable remedy is upstream storage, if a minimum flow of fresh water in the Yamuna can be ensured. And to cut revenue losses, DJB needs to clamp down on water theft and non-metered connections while upgrading the quality of pipes.

The plan to destroy a valuable bio-sphere stems from intellectual fatigue, not virtuosity. More efficient and honest management alone can ensure optimum use of the available supply and curtailing of water and revenue losses.







Jaganmohan Reddy is waiting to create political space for himself in Andhra Pradesh with the Congress losing its grip. If President's Rule is imposed, his calculations could go awry

Jaganmohan Reddy is not the first in Andhra Pradesh to float his own outfit. There have been many others who have done it before. While some like NT Rama Rao succeeded in capturing people's imagination and subsequently power in the State, others failed. There are others like Telangana Rashtra Samiti chief K Chandrasekhara Rao and Praja Rajyam chief Chiranjeevi who have partially succeeded. While Mr Chandrasekhara Rao became a Union Minister as a coalition partner of the UPA alliance, Mr Chiranjeevi's party has won 16 Assembly seats.

Now that Mr Jaganmohan Reddy has taken a plunge, the question is what is going to be his fate. Without doubt, he is a young man in a hurry. He is so much like his father YS Rajasekhara Reddy who has been a rebel all his life. However, YS Rajasekhara Reddy did not alienate the Congress central leadership. He only needled other Congress Chief Ministers until he became one. But Mr Jaganmohan Reddy dared to take on Congress president Sonia Gandhi by staking his claim for the Chief Minister's office after his father's tragic death.

Since the Congress has roped in the Mr Chiranjeevi's PRP to counter Mr Jaganmohan Reddy's threat, a comparison between the two becomes obvious. If film actor-turned-politician Chiranjeevi is a natural crowd puller, Mr Jaganmohan Reddy has been spending money to gather crowds. And it is not sure how long he can sustain it. On his part, Mr Chiranjeevi could not project himself as an alternative force and failed to emerge as a kingmaker. Though Mr Jaganmohan Reddy has the support of several Congress MLAs his strength is still untested.

Further, Mr Chjiranjeevi has not built up his party's organisation at grassroots level. But Mr Jaganmohan Reddy is trying to build a strong organisation by mobilising workers in districts. Most importantly, there was no political vacuum when Mr Chiranjeevi launched his outfit as the Congress and the Telugu Desam were strong contenders. But Mr Jaganmohan Reddy is making efforts to snatch some political space from the Congress when it has lost the goodwill gained by YS Rajasekhara Reddy and is plaguing by the TRS's demand for a separate Telangana State.

Definitely, there is a political vacuum in Andhra Pradesh that needs to be filled up. However, there are doubts whether Mr Jaganmohan Reddy's YSR Congress will succeed in filling up the space. Apart from the name of the party and the tri-colour flag with YSR's picture in the middle, nothing more is known. Will he be able to attract YSR loyalists in the State to boost his party's image is the question that is being asked.

Mr Jaganmohan Reddy in his campaigns has been talking of YSR's nine pet schemes like housing, pavala vaddi, old age pensions, rice at Rs 2 a kg, health insurance, Jalayagnam, free power, education and land distribution. However, he cannot take credit for all these programmes just because his father had implemented them as then Congress Chief Minister. After all, these are welfare programmes of the Congress. In order to sustain and attract voters, he must come up with some innovative schemes instead of repeating his father's promises and has to build a good team.

The Assembly election in the State is scheduled in 2014, two-and-a-half years away. The million-dollar question is whether he will be able to build his party before that. If the Telangana agitation becomes more violent, President's Rule may be imposed in the State. In such an event, Mr Jaganmohan Reddy's calculations may go awry.

Although the Congress has mishandled the Telangana crisis, there is still time to rectify the mistakes if there is a President's Rule. It has to find a charismatic leader to counter to Mr Jaganmohan Reddy when passions cool down. This is where Mr Chiranjeevi, who has joined the Congress recently, can play a role. There is talk of projecting him as the chief ministerial candidate in the next Assembly election. It is not as if the Congress in State does not have strong leaders but so far, the two candidates — Mr K Rosaiah and Mr Kiran Reddy — have failed to handle the volatile situation.

Mr Jaganmohan Reddy's future also depends on the decision of the Congress about creating a separate Telangana State. So far the Congress has promised more and delivered little. If the Union Government yields to the pressure and goes for a separate Telangana, Mr Jaganmohan Reddy can capitalise it in the Seema-Andhra region and may be successful in getting a fair share of votes.

Moreover, the Congress has been unable to control the two dozen Congress MLAs who showed up at Mr Jaganmohan Reddy's meetings. It cannot blame Mr Jaganmohan Reddy for his dynastic politics as it will reflect on the Gandhi family.

Mr Jaganmohan Reddy's soft spot is his vulnerability as a businessman. His wealth increased enormously during the regime of his father. From a small time realtor, he has become an industrialist with interests in power, mining, cement and media. His declared income had grown from Rs 8.19 lakh in 2003 to Rs 77 crore in 2009. The Income tax cases have already been slapped on him. So he is sitting in a glass house.







The Assembly elections coming up next month in six States are crucial not only for the Congress but also for regional political players like the Trinamool Congress, the DMK, the AIADMK and the Asom Gana Parishad. On the one hand, every State has political specificities of its own, on the other, every State is witnessing contests between multi-party coalitions.

With regional political parties emerging stronger in Indian politics over the past two decades, the Union Government, irrespective of the party in power, has become dependent on the support of regional players. They throw their weight around depending on the strength of their representation in Parliament and the national party in power — be it the BJP or the Congress — has to oblige for fear of losing the majority in the House. On the other hand, the national parties piggyback their regional allies to capture power in the States. Hence, seat-sharing becomes significant as it all adds up to coalition arithmetic.

The elections in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal are of utmost significance because if the DMK and the Trinamool Congress lose the electoral battle, their bargaining power at the Centre will diminish. The Congress and other allies of the UPA will become more assertive. The opposite holds true in the event of the DMK and the TMC emerging victorious as both parties without doubt will demand greater share of power at the Centre.

Seat distribution among allies, thus, is a serious political exercise as all parties are engaged in defending their political spaces and constituencies. The Congress has been involved in prolonged negotiations with the DMK on seat-sharing as it wants to strengthen its political identity in Tamil Nadu. The Congress is bargaining hard with TMC chief Mamata Banerjee for a larger share of seats in West Bengal because if it can win a sizeable number of seats it can stake claims to be a part of the Government after the election.

Further, the Congress knows how the DMK and the Trinamool Congress have turned their Ministries into personal fiefdom and often disregard the Prime Minister's instructions. If these two parties are given a long rope in the Assembly elections, they will become unmanageable after capturing power in the States. Hence, it wants to checkmate the arm-twisting tactics of its allies by sharing power in the States.


Even minor players in Tamil Nadu are engaged in positioning themselves as future partners in the governing coalition. The DMK has won over Mr Anbumani Ramadoss's Vanniyar caste-based regional outfit, Pattali Makkal Katchi by offering 29 Assembly seats (the PMK sacrificed two seats from its initial quota of 31 to the Congress to resolve the seat crisis) and a Rajya Sabha seat. The AIADMK, on its part, has roped in actor-turned-politician Mr Vijayakanth's DMDK by alotting 41 seats.

The stakes are also high in Assam where the Congress is fighting anti-incumbency while seeking a third-term in power. The Congress is being challenged by the Asom Gana Parishad-led alliance. Asom Gana Parishad gained prominence in Assam politics by leading the Anti-Foreigner Movement from 1979 to 1985. The issue of illegal Bangladeshi migrants has always engaged the attention of the people of Assam and the inadequacy of the Anti-Foreigner Act in checking the infiltration of Bangladeshis has always been a sore point.

In Kerala, the Congress-led United Democratic Front is likely to come back to power defeating the Left Democratic Front. The CPI(M)'s move to remove Mr VS Achuthanandan from leading the party can adversely affect the LDF's prospects as he is the only man capable of salvaging the LDF from a poll disaster. Further, Kerala has always witnessed anti-incumbency with the LDF and the UDF taking turns in forming the Government every five years.

Electoral contest in all these sates has a dual reality. On the one hand, the partners in a coalition will like to maximise their own strength at the cost of other partners, on the other, it will be a battle between two coalitions. This duality of coalitional politics at the state level explains the tug-of-war over seat-sharing.

Another reality of coalition versus coalition electoral contests is that every partner of a coalition concentrates only on its own social constituency and mobilises its own resources and cadre though all partners are supposed to help each other in winning polls. In fact, this is the reason why money power has become so important in politics. No major party leading a coalition shares its financial resources with its so-called allies who are left to fend for themselves. It is because every partner in a coalition wants to maintain its separate identity and maximise its strength.

The only model of united coalition is the alliance of Left parties in West Bengal, Kerala and Tripura. All other coalitions are temporary marriages of convenience. Tamil Nadu is a case in point. The AIADMK and the DMK have been constantly changing their allies every election. Mr Ramdoss's PMK was with the AIADMK in the Lok Sabha election of 2009 but it has walked over to the DMK before the Assembly election of 2011.










Following multiple disasters in Japan, the debate in India has mostly been about whether its nuclear plants withstand earthquakes, and the related question of the future course it should adopt in nuclear power. Imminent meltdown at the Fukushima nuclear power plant should indeed prompt such questions. Thorough safety audits need to be conducted at India's nuclear power plants, their results made public and debated, and if necessary safety protocols strengthened at existing and future nuclear power plants in the light of the Fukushima experience. Yet there's a larger question that's being lost sight of in this debate.

Let alone whether Indian nuclear power plants can withstand a Japan-style earthquake measuring 9 on the Richter scale, could Indian cities and population centres withstand such an earthquake? Let's assume India mothballs all its nuclear plants for fear of what might happen following such an earthquake, does that make us safe? Unfortunately, India's disaster management preparedness leaves a lot to be desired. Despite the fact that the country sits on a major seismic faultline - especially north and northeastern India - basic earthquake safety norms are lacking. The Latur earthquake in 1993 was a mere 6.4 on the Richter scale. Yet it claimed 10,000 lives. The Bhuj earthquake in 2001 that killed 20,000 people measured 7.7, while the Kashmir earthquake in 2005 - measuring 7.6 -saw the death toll rise to 80,000. None of these quakes is as devastating as the one that rocked Japan. Nor are they the worst that could hit the subcontinent.

The lesson here is that disaster management protocols need to be planned according to worst-case scenarios. That major cities such as Delhi (seismic zone 4), Mumbai, Chennai, Kolkata (seismic zone 3), or Srinagar and Guwahati (seismic zone 5, the worst in terms of risk) - could potentially be hit by a massive earthquake leaves little scope for complacency. Yet recommended construction and design codes for buildings are hardly implemented. Illegal and poor quality constructions continue to be the bane of urban India, coupled with a serious lack of awareness regarding safety norms. Should a severe earthquake hit population centres, nuclear meltdown will hardly be the worst thing to happen. Yet there's hardly any debate about our plans for meeting such contingencies.

Apart from enforcing earthquake-resistant building codes, emergency services such as fire brigades and hospitals are critical. They need to be suitably equipped and prepared. Important infrastructure such as arterial roads and airports need to be fortified. Decentralisation is the watchword in disaster management and block-level or community-level preparedness could dramatically reduce the loss of lives and property - as the Japanese have demonstrated.







Just when the multi-agency probe into the 2G spectrum scam appeared to make some headway, the sudden death of Sadiq Batcha comes as a setback to the investigation process. Thirty-seven-year-old Batcha's phenomenal rise from a small-town salesman to a real estate tycoon is more than just a rags-to-riches story. From the available evidence, his rise can be linked to the political fortunes of former telecom minister A Raja, currently under investigation in the 2G spectrum scam case. Batcha's real estate firm, Green House Promoters - with Raja's kith and kin holding crucial positions - started with an equity base of Rs 1 lakh in 2004 and went on to become a Rs 600 crore company within a short time. The firm, already under the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) and Enforcement Directorate scanner, is alleged to be one of the vehicles used to launder kickbacks from the sale of 2G spectrum licences.

As a key aide and business associate of Raja, Batcha was a crucial link to any investigation unearthing the money trail associated with the telecom scam. Reports suggest that Batcha was ready to turn approver in the case, and his death raises many questions. Opposition parties, both at the Centre and in Tamil Nadu, suspect foul play and an attempt to subvert the investigation process. Their demand for a CBI probe into Batcha's death is justified. On its part, the DMK government has indicated its willingness to do so. The political consensus in this regard is welcome.







The Indian economy's recent growth rates have given rise to hopes that we will soon sit at the high table along with the rest of the world's superpowers. Of course, it is shameful that a country which nurtures ambitions of being a major economic power has more than a third of its population living in abject poverty. It is not surprising, therefore, that successive governments in India have been gradually increasing expenditure on social sectors along with more direct attempts at redistribution through various subsidies. We now spend roughly 2.5% of our GDP on subsidies alone!

This expenditure should have brought large welfare gains in the form of a better distribution of consumptions. However, there are serious problems with the delivery mechanisms - only a fraction of the expenditure incurred on subsidies actually reaches the intended beneficiaries because of leakages and other institutional problems.

Many readers probably recall Rajiv Gandhi's oft-quoted remark that only 17 paise of every rupee of central government expenditure on subsidies actually reached the poor. What was true of the late 1980s remains true today. For instance, some recent studies of the public distribution system show that roughly half of the grain meant for the poor is actually sold in the open market. Add to this the other costs associated with the PDS and one gets pretty close to Rajiv Gandhi's estimate.

This is the background for one of the biggest policy initiatives undertaken by the UPA government in recent years: the announcement in Pranab Mukherjee's budget speech that the government will switch over to a system of direct cash transfers to BPL families instead of subsidising kerosene and fertilisers by the end of the year. It was noticeable that the government planned to continue with the prevailing system as far as foodgrains are concerned. Perhaps, it did not want to ruffle too many feathers since even slight modifications of the PDS are considered sacrilegious in some quarters.

This opposition is unfortunate, because there are several reasons to switch over to a system of direct cash transfers. The most important reason is that PDS shops will no longer have captive customers. All consumers - whether they receive cash transfers or not - would have the freedom to buy from any shop. An immediate implication of this is increased competition in retail trade. This in turn would reduce the cost of delivery to final customers, thus enabling the government to either save on the subsidy bill or increase the amount of cash transferred to beneficiaries.

Moreover, the issue of diverting PDS supplies to the open market will no longer arise since there would now be only one price for each product. The net effect will be a drastic reduction in the extent of leakages associated with the current subsidy system. Also, attempts to tinker with the price determined through demand and supply typically lead to misallocation of resources. For instance, one result of subsidising the price of kerosene is its use in activities which are socially undesirable.

An additional benefit is that any transfer of cash clearly increases the purchasing power of the recipient. In contrast, it is important to realise that all holders of BPL cards do not experience a similar increase in their purchasing power. National Sample Survey data shows that for one reason or another, as many as 40% of BPL card holders do not purchase foodgrains through PDS shops!

At least some of the opposition to direct cash transfers comes from an egregious misunderstanding of very elementary economic principles. For instance, one was astonished to hear a high-profile opponent of cash transfers state on prime-time TV, "This will raise prices. How can this be pro-poor?" It does not require a rocket scientist to demolish this piece of (non)reasoning! The direct subsidy received today by a BPL card holder is equal to the difference between the price in the PDS and the open market price multiplied by his ration quota. He cannot be worse off if he receives an equivalent cash transfer, but is asked to purchase only at the price which will prevail in the market - even though this is higher than the PDS price!

Cash transfers for redistributive purposes have been carried out with a lot of success in several countries. Perhaps the most famous of them is the Bolsa Familia programme in Brazil. This reaches 11 million families constituting a large fraction of the country's low income population. Poor families with children receive direct cash transfers, provided they commit to keeping their children in school and taking them for regular health checks. So, the programme generates two important benefits. It has a very direct impact on poverty and also improves school enrolment.

The Mexican Oportunidades programme, the country's principal anti-poverty programme, is very similar. It too is a conditional cash transfer programme, giving families in the target group monetary grants for each child who is enrolled between the third grade of primary and high school.

The case for trying out the mechanism of cash transfers in India is overwhelmingly strong. It seeks to replace a system with well-known deficiencies. It is a tried and tested system in other countries. Why should it not work in India?

The writer is professor, University of Warwick.








Permanent Black is one of India's leading academic publishers and the publisher is Rukun Advani. He interacted via email with Deep K Datta-Ray:

How do you decide what to publish?

You define your publishing areas. In our case, broadly, scholarship on the history, politics and sociology of South Asia. Then you try to acquisition from the most respected people in your field. Second, once you've read quite a lot of the literature in your chosen areas, you develop an instinct for intellectual quality and writing of international calibre. Third, you gossip, develop intellectual networks, to discover new currents and scholars, then chase and pounce. Finally, you get academic feedback on what you've netted and offer a contract if the feedback favours publication. These are the acquisitioning and decision-making procedures of university presses in the West. We broadly follow them. People often offer publishers money in the form of a subsidy or buyback. This may be good for the bottomline, but if such offers are accepted indiscriminately, it dilutes an imprint. If you're in this business for the long haul, you have to protect your imprint. This means you have to decline to publish a lot and accept only what you're absolutely sure of.

How does academic work on India, and done here, compare with what is done in the West?

The best from Delhi and Kolkata is as good, if not better, than from the West. On average, Indian scholars who are strongly grounded in local debates and cultures and languages produce the best. They have some advantage over non-Indian scholars, whose research funding is bigger but who aren't really breathing in the air. On the other hand, western scholars usually have more fluent English, and their institutions pressurise them to publish or perish. These differences have been erased to an extent. Scholars now travel very frequently between India and the West. Globalisation has helped raise this field to an entirely international level.

What are the main failings of Indian manuscripts?

Manuscripts by Indians, on average, need more work before becoming publishable. But for an editor this can be the happiest part of the process. If your editorial and production standards are good, they create enduring relationships with authors. The main failings in Indian publishing pertain less to editorial and acquisitioning than to marketing and sales. India's academic books market is too dependent on state funding to libraries. The low quality and high corruption levels of the Indian library system are big problems, increasing the costs and lowering quality.

What is the market share for academic books? What academic fields are of interest to readers?

In relation to school and college textbooks, the academic books market is very tiny. It's a niche area where if you sell 1,000 copies you've done well. Because of the West's problems with Islam, South Asian studies has attracted relatively better funding, resulting in a higher share of revenue from exports. Currently, academic books in South Asian studies that sell 1,000+ are often about Islam, Kashmir, forests, Hindu nationalism, Dalits, and women's issues. A book studying a forgotten tribe of low-caste jihadi Muslim women operating out of the forests in Kashmir and targeting the RSS would be my Da Vinci Code.

Is there anything special you do to publicise and distribute books by Indians internationally?

We've been successful selling co-publication rights for markets outside South Asia to university presses at Princeton, Columbia, Berkeley, and many others. For sales within India, the publisher's distributor is crucial. Orient Blackswan is largely responsible for our success. They have made our books available locally and globally via indigenous booksellers as well as international websellers.






Will India win the World Cup like it did way back in 1983? Will it at least reach the finals? Will it reach the semis? OK, OK, will it for God's sake manage to beat Burkina-Faso or will it get beaten by it, which would really be one hell of an upset because Burkina-Faso hasn't put up a World Cup team and as far as anyone including Jagdish Dalmia knows doesn't even play cricket?

Everyone in India is talking World Cup. And about how India will fare in it. Regarding which there seem to be as many opinions and points of view as there are people airing them. Because no one - not even the team members, including the captain, perhaps least of all the team members, including the captain - knows how the Indian team will perform.

That's the great thing about the Indian cricket team. Not just this cricket team but all Indian cricket teams ever since they invented cricket, or invented teams. Indian cricketers are, and always have been, totally and completely and bafflingly unpredictable. One day they'll play like world-class champs, as they did in 1983. The very next day - or maybe even on the very same day, if they're doing overtime - they'll play like world-class chumps who'd get themselves beaten to a pulp by the Mahjong Ladies Circle of West Yonkers.

Just suppose the Indian team showed consistent brilliance and won every match it played. How predictable it would all be. How boring. What would everyone have to talk about, speculate about, get into arguments about if one didn't know, from moment to moment, from match to match, whether it was time to bring out the ladoos of celebration or the rotten tomatoes of derision and disdain? 

By always keeping us guessing, the Indian cricket team brings unfailing and unflagging excitement into our lives. As does our equally unpredictable sarkar. It's a moot point whether our cricket team learnt its unpredictability from our sarkar or if it was the other way round. But our sarkar, our government - not just this government but all governments that have gone before it and all the governments that will come after it - is and has been and always will be as unpredictable in its performance as our cricketers. If anything, even more so than our cricketers.

One minute our sarkar is telling us all about the 9% growth it's about to achieve, and how our economy is going to overtake that of China's before you can say Veg Manchurian. The next minute, or in the very same minute, we're told how some elements of the same sarkar have scammed the country of hundreds of lakhs of crores. If the sarkari economy is growing at 9%, the scamkari economy seems to be growing at 90%, or 900%.

What's true of the macro picture is even truer of the micro picture of our day-to-day lives and how they are governed - or rather misgoverned - by our sarkar. When will the lights next go off without warning leaving you literally in the dark about what's happened to the bijli? When will the water tap suddenly go dry, making you go to school, office, kitty party all sweaty and unwashed? What will be the price of onions when you go to the bazaar to buy them? When will the Grand Canyon disguised as a pothole on the road outside your house get repaired? No one knows the answers to these and a million such questions. Least of all the sarkar.

And it's all these unanswered - unanswerable? - questions that give us so much to talk and argue about, to get excited and het up about. Suppose we lived in a country like Singapore, or Switzerland, which worked with clockwork precision and where everything was tickety-boo the whole time. How monotonously dull and boring it would be. But thanks to our unpredictable sarkar, we are saved from this fate worse than dearth.

So, will India win the World Cup? It already has. The World Cup of unpredictable excitement and chaos if not that of cricket. Howzzat!









The Reserve Bank of India in its continuing fight against inflation has raised the very real prospect of runaway prices eating into India's growth prospects. Thursday's quarter of a percentage point rise in signal rates point to further hikes as the central bank revised upwards its projection for inflation by March 2011 to 8%. More worrying is its prognosis of the current phase of rising prices. While prices on the farm have cooled off as expected, core inflation -minus the more volatile food and energy prices -shot up from 4.8% in January to 6.1% in February, significantly higher than the trend. Demand-led pressure is allowing manufacturers to pass on higher input prices to consumers, a scenario the RBI hopes to address through further increases in the interest rate.

Rate hikes are not costless, however. Investment demand in the country has not fully recovered from the 2008 credit crises and costly money weighs on decisions to increase capacity across the economy. Bank deposit rates have kept in step with the signals from Mint Road but lending rates are yet to align with them and are far from having peaked. Contractionary monetary policy thus adds to the significant risks the economy faces in maintaining its growth momentum. Principally, rising international oil prices that have not yet been absorbed by Indian consumers. The government's attempt to shield them from the surge could play havoc with its fiscal deficit target for the next year. The central bank thus cautions the government to spend wisely given that its fuel and fertiliser subsidies are almost certain to balloon. "The budget for 2011-12 indicates some easing of demand pressures from the fiscal side, thus creating space for private investment, but this will materialise only if commitments to contain subsidies are adhered to," the credit policy says.

The RBI draws some satisfaction that its monetary tightening is showing results. While credit growth remains above target, a squeeze has been felt since December as banks continue to raise their lending rates. The latest increases in the rates at which banks borrow from and lend to the RBI are expected to make liquidity in the banking system come closer to the deposits held by them. There is also some cheer on the trade front. The central bank reckons the current account deficit will clock in nearly a full percentage point lower than earlier expected, at around 2.5% of the GDP. But there is a strong case for policymakers to focus on the quality of capital inflows so that the balance of payments is sustainable. The news from across the globe is not to the central bank's liking, with the West Asia crisis and the Japanese nuclear disaster both contributing to the pressure on energy prices.





Diversification is clearly the name of the game for Colombian criminals today. We thought that there would be enough by way of jobs in the Cali or Medellin cartels to keep those inclined to skate on the other side of the law busy. Perhaps the pickings in other places are nothing to sniff at.

In fact, they seem to have been positively heady given the amount of trouble four Colombians took to wash up in distant Delhi to try a somewhat common and garden variety of crime, namely robbery.

The gang came armed with bolt cutters, despite which they breezed past our super sleuths at the airport.

Inexperience gave them away and before you could say Pablo Escobar, our doughty police were upon them.

Evading the US drug enforcement authorities is one thing, but getting the better of our lads in khaki is another ball game altogether.

This is a sad reflection on the feared drug cartels of Colombia who, we thought, ran a tight ship.

With surplus hopheads in the neighbourhood, we thought there would be enough business to ensure jobs for the boys.

Or it could be a cunning ploy on the part of the cartels to move into other trades. And they thought they would start with the basics, like robbery before graduating to higher forms of subversion.

This will be a cause of concern for our homegrown criminals.

It is bad enough that people of their ilk come from neighbouring states for a piece of the action, but when the challenge comes from foreign climes, it really is time to sharpen the tools of the trade.

Whatever next?

The Albanian mafia trying to take over the forged licence trade? All we can do in the circumstances is to retaliate by going to foreign turfs and giving them a run for their money.

So, one of these days, you might just find that a gang of car thieves from say, Muzaffarnagar, have popped up in Bogota for a jolly and a jaunt.

This is globalisation in the real sense of the word. Used bolt cutters, anyone?






As this article goes to press on Thursday, the Tokyo Electric Power Company was continuing with its unusual emergency procedure of pumping large amounts of sea-water into the Fukushima-Daiichi reactors.

The company hopes to cool the reactors and avert a complete core meltdown although the sea-water will corrode the plants, rendering them useless.

Meanwhile, the pools of water where radioactive spent fuel is stored have begun drying out resulting in fires due to hydrogen releases. Radiation levels have risen alarmingly and the workers involved in these operations themselves face significant health risks.

It is not necessary to paint worst case scenarios to point out that the situation is dire.

The tragedy in Japan should serve as a critical wake-up call for India, which has announced a vast expansion of its nuclear programme. A close examination of the events that led to the Fukushima accident holds important lessons.

The Fukushima plants are boiling water reactors - somewhat more advanced versions of the Tarapur I and II reactors near Mumbai. Even though the reactors were technically 'shut down' when the earthquake occurred, their cores continue to produce large quantities of heat. This will continue for weeks to come, and is a feature common to all nuclear reactors.

Although the reactors contained multiple cooling systems to remove this heat, the primary system collapsed when the earthquake led to a loss of electrical power. The emergency diesel generators, which provide back-up power, were flooded by the tsunami.

This resulted in a 'station blackout' and disabled the systems which provide cooling-water to the radioactive core. Station blackouts have occurred in the past, for example at the Narora 1 reactor in 1993, and are very dangerous.

The next stage of cooling depends on using the steam generated in the reactor itself to drive the cooling-water, but this requires DC power from emergency batteries for its controls to function.

When the emergency batteries ran out, the temperature in the reactor core started to rise causing chemical reactions that produced hydrogen - a highly inflammable gas - and eventually led to the multiple explosions of the past few days. The explosions at units 1 and 3 reportedly only breached the outer-wall of the reactor but the explosion at unit 2 appears to have damaged the containment enclosing the reactor core.

What lessons should we draw from these events?

First, no nuclear plant is completely immune to the possibility of a major accident. Multiple safety systems do not rule out accidents because they can be disabled by a single root cause, which in this case was the earthquake.

Redundancy may not help either: there were supposedly 13 diesel generators at unit 1 but none of them worked. Furthermore, new technology is not a panacea: the sophisticated electronics at Fukushima were of no use when the power supply failed.

Second, there were also a host of small failures, for example, release valves which did not work in the face of high pressure - precisely when their services were required. What could fail became evident only after the fact.

For example, replacement generators could not be used because the hook-up is done through electrical switching equipment that was in a flooded basement room. These small problems can, in some cases, combine to cause major failures. Such problems also make it clear that it is not possible to plan for all contingencies, and therefore protect against all possible accident pathways.

Third, the Indian government has argued that having multiple reactors at one site makes them cheaper and easier to build, but this comes with a safety penalty. Reports suggest that explosions at one reactor damaged spent fuel pools in co-located reactors. Moreover, the radiation leak from unit 2 made it difficult for emergency workers to approach the other units.

Fourth, the safety of all Indian nuclear facilities must immediately be reviewed in a thorough and transparent manner; all new reactor project plans must be suspended till this audit is completed and the detailed results are publicly available.

The prime minister has mentioned such an audit but it is imperative to involve independent experts from outside the atomic-energy establishment. In fact, the recent statement of the managing director of the Nuclear Power Corporation of India, who said that "there is no nuclear accident in Japan's Fukushima plants.

It is a well planned emergency preparedness programme", hardly inspires confidence in the ability of this body to conduct an impartial safety investigation.

The accident in Fukushima also vindicates the local people at Jaitapur who have been protesting against plans for six reactors, each nearly four times larger than Fukushima-Daiichi 1.

Jaitapur is also in a seismic zone and worse, its reactors are untested: not a single reactor of the Jaitapur design is in commercial operation anywhere in the world. After Fukushima, it would be sheer folly for the government to force this untested technology on the reluctant locals, who will bear the brunt of any accident.

The fable about the boy who cried wolf is often invoked when concerned citizens raise the possibility of accidents. It is worth remembering, though, that at the end of the fable, the wolf did come one day.

MV Ramana is a physicist with the Programme on Science and Global Security, Princeton University and is the author of a forthcoming book on nuclear power in India. Suvrat Raju is a fellow, Department of Physics, Harvard University. Both are with the Coalition for Nuclear Disarmament and Peace

The views expressed by the authors are personal





Abdul Hamid was my source of inspiration. No, not the Indian soldier who died fighting Pakistani forces in the 1965 war but his namesake who was my elder brother's classmate.

I don't remember the exact year but it was 1983 or 1984. I tagged along with my brother and Abdul to watch a movie in a neighbourhood cinema.

Just as Abdul stepped into the dark hall, he inserted the thumb and forefinger of his right hand in his mouth and let out a very sharp and loud whistle. I was both shocked and impressed by his brazenness. He became my hero and I decided to master the art of whistling.

I started devoting hours to mastering the art. I dreamed that whenever I went to a cinema, I would also whistle.

But in any cultured family, whistling in public places is taboo. Hence, learning to whistle at home can invite dangers, especially if your mother believes only in corporal punishment.

In my house whistling was considered a tool or weapon used by school and college dropouts and unemployed bums to tease women in public places. Or a way of enjoyment for the 'uncultured' lot who occupied lower or rear stalls in cinemas whenever the vamp gyrated to a raunchy number or the hero bashed the villain.

Braving the dangers, I started working hard to become a skilled whistler. The early results were poor. But as the days passed, my perseverance paid off. The loudness and the sharpness of my whistles increased, as did my parents' admonitions. But I persisted and the final results were excellent.

I didn't have to wait long to put my whistling to test. I was in Class 11. Senior students were being shown Guns of Navarone in the school auditorium. There's a scene in which a woman is stripped and caned. A nudge from the friend sitting beside me was sufficient. I didn't miss the chance and whistled. It was perfect - short, very loud and piercing. The students stopped murmuring and started watching the movie. I was deliriously happy. And got off unpunished.

But that was the first and the last time I whistled publicly. Later, whenever I was in a cinema, I would get engrossed in the movie and would forget to whistle. Recently, I suddenly wondered whether people still whistle in cinemas. I was thinking of this when Tees Maar Khan was released.

The song, Sheila ki Jawani, from the movie was already all the rage and I thought here was a song that would generate mega- whistling. I impatiently waited for the song. Katrina looked stunning as she oscillated her hips. But nobody whistled. When the movie ended, I wanted to ask the young men coming out why they didn't whistle during the song. But I kept my mouth shut.

Have audiences become cultured? No doubt, no man will dare to whistle with his girlfriend sitting beside him. But have guys stopped watching movies in groups? Have we lost the small joys and innocence of making a little mischief forever?

Rohit Ghosh is a Kanpur-based freelance writer and coordinator with INTACH. The views expressed by the author are personal.





The collegiate leadership of senior generals that has the veto power to take decisions on all matters of vital national security in Pakistan faces a dilemma. The intense anti-American sentiment in civil society is spilling over and Islamic fanatic elements seem to be fast penetrating the inner echelons of the civil and military security apparatus.

At the same time, hard economic times have befallen the country, with fuel shortages threatening industrial recovery, imports exceeding exports, inflation hitting double-digits but with foreign direct investment remaining negligible.

Pakistan remains heavily dependent for an economic bail-out on western donor agencies.

The sixth IMF loan tranche of $11 billion is likely to be indefinitely deferred due to Pakistan's political difficulties in implementing structural reform conditionalities.

The army itself has to rely on promises of US arms sales and grants for its modernisation programmes, designed not only to better equip its counter-insurgency capabilities but also to further its perpetual quest for parity with India.

The way the Raymond Davis affair dragged on till his release on Wednesday reflects the persisting mistrust between the ISI and the CIA.

Despite continuing cooperation in counter-terror operations in the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and along the Pakistan-Afghan border, American agencies have for long suspected that pinpointed intelligence inputs were being preemptively leaked by the ISI to enable prominent al-Qaeda and Taliban militants to shift to safe havens and escape the dragnet of drone attacks.

The resultant deployment of a large number of US intelligence personnel and security contractors into Pakistan under cover of short-term assignments, claimed as diplomatic, has long irked khaki circles in Pakistan.

The Americans had to withdraw Jonathan Banks, CIA station chief in Islamabad, in December 2010 under pressure from the Pakistani authorities.

Even as media reports have speculated on the possibility of a settlement between the two agencies through some sort of a trade-off, there have been reports of unsuccessful attempts by Islamic pressure groups asking the families of the Davis's victims to reject feelers for payment of 'blood money'.

The US has provided Pakistan with more than $2.1 billion in foreign military financing (FMF) since 2001. Supplies paid with a mix of Pakistani national funds and FMF include 18 new F-16 C/D category combat aircraft along with mid-life update kits, 100 Harpoon anti-ship missiles, 500 Sidewinder air-to-air missiles and F-16 armaments, including 500 AMRAAM air-to-air missiles.

In addition, 14 F-16 A/B category aircraft have been given under the Excess Defence Articles assistance programme. $1.5 billion is pledged annually under the civilian Coalition Support Funds project to strengthen Pakistan's capacity to take up counter-terrorism operations in Fata and to build education facilities in the Reconstruction Opportunity zones.

A March 2009 US White Paper mentioned some major problems being faced in implementing this programme: the poor absorptive capacity of Pakistani institutions, the lack of oversight and inadequate monitoring of fund disbursements as also the slow involvement of local actors in these development programmes.

During recent meetings with senior Pakistani officials, American ambassador Cameron Munter reportedly pointed to Section 206 of the Kerry Lugar Peace Act under which aid commitments could be cut off unless proper structures and mechanisms for aid disbursal were set up and verified through authorised channels. This can be interpreted as a veiled threat to let off Davis without undue fanfare.

Yet, the showering of rose petals by lawyers on Mumtaz Qadri, the assassin of Punjab governor Salman Taseer, as he was brought to court and the failure of the national assembly to pass a condemnatory resolution after minorities minister Shahbaz Bhatti was killed highlight this dilemma.

Meanwhile, the army has had to refrain from issuing any official condemnation of the incidents so far, despite a statement by Prime Minister Yousaf Raza Gilani in the national assembly that he would be consulting the security bureaucracy and army officials to find ways to stem the rot.

One problem the army faces is how to assess the extent of Islamisation within and to what extent to expurgate itself. Within its ranks, the 'Zia Bharti' officers (those recruited between 1977 and 1988), not all of them cleansed of Islamic proclivities, are now poised to reach decision-making levels of brigadier and major general. How they strike a balance between civil society pressures and the need to keep the chain of US munificence open will be crucial.

Every time a crucial senior appointment is made, the army seeks endorsement from the West. One indicator is already evident: ISI chief Lt Gen Ahmed Shuja Pasha, who was due to retire on March 18 after already availing a year's extension, has got a two-year extension.

This is quite unprecedented and may raise hackles among other army generals hoping to succeed to this post as also those disgruntled by Pakistani armed forces chief Ashfaq Parvez Kayani's own extension.

It seems this decision was cleared by the Americans when discussions were recently held between Kayani and US navy chief Michael Mullen in Muscat's al-Bustan hotel. At least, this is how the public in Pakistan may perceive the development.

In a sense, these shenanigans are symptomatic of a basic malaise - that of conflicting strategic goals between the two countries in the region.

It may be naive to hope that all differences would be resolved once US troops begin a phased withdrawal from Afghanistan and the ISI, the CIA and Afghan President Hamid Karzai seemingly agree upon a programme of rehabilitation and power-sharing with the Afghan Taliban that all can live with.

R Banerji is a former special secretary, Cabinet Secretariat. The views expressed by the author are personal.




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

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

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

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






The cabinet's approval of the draft of an amendment bill to the Constitution needed to bring into being the Goods and Services Tax means that it could, if all goes well, be introduced in Parliament during the current session. Given that the GST is one of the main planks — indeed, perhaps the structural backbone — of the reformist legislative agenda that the UPA outlined in the budget speech, it is good to know that it's moving on it with some reasonable speed. A GST will simplify the tax structure and act almost like a silver bullet in increasing compliance, reducing transaction costs while relaxing the overall tax burden. Yet a tax on goods and services to be shared between the Centre and states was not envisioned when the Constitution was written, so bringing it into being requires a grand constitutional bargain, whereby states get to tax some things hitherto reserved for the Centre, and vice versa.

It will require, in real terms, some grand political bargaining. The hurdles are not small: after it is passed by both Houses with a two-thirds majority, 50 per cent of states have to ratify it through a vote in their legislatures. The UPA can simply not command these numbers, and this amendment will need support across party lines. The opposition BJP, during its last general election campaign, had highlighted its commitment to the GST in its election manifesto. However, after that loss, it has dialled down its support considerably, claiming that some of its chief ministers believe it will significantly dilute states' autonomy. To the extent these concerns are legitimate they will have to be taken on board. The Centre has already written three previous drafts which were used as bases for negotiation with states; the cabinet cleared only the fourth in this series.

The political spadework needed to ensure this amendment gets the numbers it needs is considerable. One sensible approach would be to ensure you have enough people, even within the opposition parties, coming out in support of the draft so that it will be easily evident what is a resolvable issue and what is being held up purely because of political obstructionism. The leader of the opposition in Lok Sabha, Sushma Swaraj, has said the BJP is willing to sit down and consult with the government over the draft that's going to be introduced in Parliament. The government cannot afford to be slack in taking her up on the offer.






Kerala Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan has finally been given his long-marching orders by his estranged party. He hasn't been allowed to contest the coming assembly elections by the state committee of the CPM; they denied him a ticket for "health reasons". In the normal course of things, that would be it, particularly if the politician in question is 87. Except nothing about Kerala's prickly CM is easy. After all, he wasn't allowed to contest last time either, and yet he wound up as CM, and served his term.

VS thrives on confrontation. His term as CM has been a long battle saga, in which he confronted not just those he identified as corrupt — giving his party its main campaign plank this time round — but also his own party. His feud with state secretary Pinarayi Vijayan has achieved near-mythic proportions; the famously disciplined communists have been forced to tolerate attacks on party decisions that would raise eyebrows in just about any party. Major pronouncements from CM and party about policy began to fall along VS-vs-PV lines: VS objected to the CPM's wooing of a cleric with a dubious history, Abdul Nasser Madani, one of Vijayan's pet projects. And then VS took on IT parks in Kerala, calling them real-estate fronts; Vijayan moved to strip the CM of his IT portfolio and had him chucked out of the party's politburo.

VS isn't easy to dislodge. It's not just his still-formidable popularity and his dogged tenacity in a fight. He brings to a bout, after all, the weight of history: he is the only remaining person from Kerala of the famous 32 who walked out of the CPI in April 1964 to set up the CPM. That party has put inner-party discipline above this history, and above electability. Will it regret that decision?






The Reserve Bank has hiked the policy interest rate by 25 basis points. While this is a move in the right direction, as long as the rate hike is less than the hike in inflationary expectations, the stance of monetary policy is expansionary as real interest rates have not been raised. Since the inflation forecast of the RBI has gone up from 7 per cent to 8 per cent, a move of 100 basis points, this suggests an easier stance of monetary policy.

While both fiscal and monetary policies are responsible for the present high inflation situation, the fiscal situation cannot turn out to be better than what it is estimated in the budget. The risk might be on the downside since oil prices may rise and the oil subsidy bill may be much higher than budget estimates. Unless the RBI believes that the fiscal situation will actually play out exactly as estimated, or may even be better, the policy stance will be easy. The other element of the monetary story right now is the tight liquidity situation in the market. Banks are borrowing at the repo window from the RBI on a regular basis. In this situation, a 25 basis point increase in the policy rate is seen as an effective increase unlike when there is an easy liquidity situation. But even though tight liquidity and small 25 basis point hikes have come to characterise RBI policy for many months now, it has not been effective in controlling inflation.

Will the 25 basis point hike be enough to bring inflation down? Unlikely. There has been a long and persistent build-up in inflationary expectation and an upward drift in inflation for more than two years. Full capacity utilisation with growing demand coming from high government spending characterise the Indian economy today. While the 25 basis point policy is a "safe" one, since it cannot do much damage, it is not safe if inflation is the biggest risk as it can pull down investment and growth and damage the Indian growth story. The weak transmission of monetary policy and long lags suggest the policy rate should have been hiked by more. The longer the high inflation stays with us, the greater will be the build-up of inflationary expectations and the harder it will be to get rid of them.








Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee's recent assertion in Parliament that the government was trying to make a profound "transition towards a more transparent and result-oriented economic management system in India" should not be examined in a narrow context of improving the delivery of public goods and services to the poor. Of course, it is necessary to better target subsidies to the poor and curb wasteful expenditure, but that is only a small part of the story the finance minister tried to project in his annual budget statement in Parliament.

The bigger picture suggests that the UPA, which is faced with a serious mid-life crisis in its second term at the Centre, is acutely aware of the growing "productivity deficit" that exists in government functioning. The productivity deficit is not just about economic efficiency; it is also about the way the state needs to reinvent itself and its myriad institutions to manage the aspirations of a billion people. This fundamentally involves re-conceptualising the notion of power as is currently seen to be exercised and negotiated in our multi-layered society.

The state is also under tremendous pressure to ensure that power becomes a "productive force". The term as conceptualised by several Western philosophers is complex; closer home, the notion of productive force has come to be viewed in sharply differing ways across the political spectrum.

Broadly, the term "productive force" would mean that which seeks to give a sense of identity, order and capacity to the people at large. The difference lies in understanding what would be needed to operationalise it.

For instance, in the wake of liberalisation, the attempt by the government to radically alter the existing delivery mechanism — through smart cards, direct cash transfer, among others — of public goods and services may perhaps be seen as an enabling force in the sphere of economics.

India's rise in the global economic order has driven the state and the ruling political elite to create new structures and institutions which enable power to flow productively through the entire system.

Take the UPA government at the Centre and its attempt to give a unique identity to all its citizens. Is it possible to see this as an attempt at creating a structured existence for its citizens? Of course, this process is not easy as the record of the state in trying to maximise the productivity of power has been abysmal over the decades. This is manifested in the massive corruption at all levels of interface between government bodies and citizens.

It is often asked why in Western societies citizens face virtually no corruption while procuring a driving licence or a passport. The reason for this can perhaps be traced to the fact that those industrial societies have, through a long-drawn-out political churn, already made a transition from feudal to democratic order and created a grid of productive power systems largely accessible to all.

In an overarching context when we examine the idea of power as a productive force in India, what is the picture that emerges? India has been going through a severe churn over the decades in which the ruling political class has tried, and often failed, to turn power into a productive force. Jawaharlal Nehru worked on the idea of an "enlightened" bureaucracy through which the productive potential of power could be pursued to bring about some social and economic equality and order. Of course, that top-down experiment failed partly because the Congress party itself was a coalition of such powerful vested interests that fundamental ideas such as land reforms remained a dream.

Decades later, his grandson Rajiv Gandhi attempted a most ambitious bottom-up transformation of the productivity of the power system through new, decentralised panchayati raj institutions. The jury is still out on how successful these institutions have been in bringing about better and more equitable governance in the country.

From Nehru to Rajiv Gandhi, and now to Sonia Gandhi, the Congress has been grappling with the question of how to ensure that power actually becomes productive for society, and in turn also improves the political fortunes of the party. The Gandhi family is yet to find a firm answer to this. In fact, the shrinking political base of the Congress over the past few decades is a sign that this question is too complex to be fathomed by the grand old party.

In fact, some of the regional political leaders appear to be using power as a productive force more effectively than the Congress at the Centre. The relative success of Nitish Kumar and Mayawati in expanding their political base over the years is a case in point. They have managed to establish a gut connect with their voters and have provided them the comfort that power will be used to create appropriate institutions which are productive socially and economically.

There is an element of trust involved here. It is not for nothing that non-upper-caste leaders are better equipped to deliver on key political economy reforms. This is because they enjoy the implicit trust of their voters and therefore are able to use power as a productive force much more effectively. So when Nitish Kumar talks about direct cash transfer as a means to deliver social programmes, the Bihar electorate actually believes his sincerity of purpose. When the Congress says it will deliver government subsidies and other social goods through "new" institutions such as the UID, there appears to be some scepticism largely because of a legacy of failures.

So when Pranab Mukherjee talks about transforming the way the UPA government will work in future, he is not referring to the nuts and bolts of social and economic efficiencies. He is perhaps articulating an idea and a hope that the Congress party is still looking to create new institutional structures which substantially enhance the productivity of power through inclusive means — and thereby bring the much needed boost to the party.

The writer is Managing Editor, 'The Financial Express',







In the past, pace bowlers have famously put Asia's cricket-playing nations on top of all must-visit lists while planning holidays for their mothers-in-law. These days, they are flying across India, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh with their wives and girlfriends.

A lot has changed since the 1980s — when England all-rounder Ian Botham thought of his "relative by marriage" while describing the trauma of spending a tiring day under the harsh sun while bowling on tracks with no bounce, pace or sympathy for someone who runs in hard and bends his back. Botham, 55, is back to the destination he once dreaded. But he's likely to have a wry smile while watching the award ceremonies at the end of the game from the commentary box.

The first 35 games of this World Cup have thrown up a startling statistic. Surprisingly for a version that has gradually transformed from an intense bat-and-ball contest to a slug fest between big-hitting batsmen, 13 bowlers have bagged the Man of the Match award before the business-end of the tournament begins. Although the pitches have been slow and low, the majority of the bowling heroes have been pacers.

Of the 13, seven are men who regularly touch 140 kph and occasionally record 150 kph on the speed gun. These days, the likes of Dale Steyn, Shaun Tait, Lasith Malinga, Mitchell Johnson, Umar Gul, Kemar Roach and Hamish Bennett aren't hiding in the dressing room, but are seen walking away from the field with a trophy, and a swagger.

That's a quantum leap from the show put up by the pacers during the batsmen-dominated 2007 World Cup in the West Indies. Ironically, back then, on pitches where the game's greatest pacers had intimidated batsmen for years in the past, the speedsters had been reduced to a side show. Though, Shane Bond and Malinga managed to avoid a total no-show for the pacers in 2007 as they got one Man of the Match each in the initial days of that Cup.

Four years later, the pacers made their presence early in the tournament. After the first India-Bangladesh game, in which the aggregate run count went to 653, the tide turned. The Kiwi pacers Bennett and Tim Southee dismissed the Kenyans for 69 and the game was over before lunch. In less than a week's time, New Zealand were on the receiving end of a similar pace assault from the Australians. This time, it was Johnson and Tait who were flexing the pace muscles. Roach's hat-trick and Malinga's "four wickets from his five-ball" frenzy followed, and the highlights on TV were now dominated by visuals of shattering stumps, batsmen with crushed toes withering in pain, and the triumphant pacers sporting broad smiles.

The pitches haven't seen a sea-change while the conditions too have remained the same. So how is it that there are seven pacers in the tournament's top 10 wicket-takers' list at present? By being quick in the air and bowling up, the role of the pitch has been marginalised. And by mixing the "surprise short ball" with "full deliveries", the batsmen are in a fix.

Moreover, fate has conspired to bring together an Aussie pace line-up full of bowlers who bank on raw speed. Players with a long history of injuries — Brett Lee, Tait and Johnson — have touched peak fitness at the same time. The same is true for Malinga. Since India is a second home for the likes of Lee and several other IPL old hands from Australia, the code has been cracked and circulated within the team.

With the Kiwis hiring Alan Donald as their bowling coach, youngsters like Bennett and Southee are now aiming straight at the stumps to enjoy rich rewards. In case the pacers fail to strike in the first spell, the subcontinent also provides them with the opportunity to use reverse swing later in the game. Dale Steyn, after a forgettable opening spell, returned to torment the Indian batsmen.

But pacers who have banked too much on swing and bounce haven't been among wickets. James Anderson and Morné Morkel have struggled to be among wickets as they haven't got the length right. Anderson had bowled too short to get the swing while Morkel hasn't got the bounce that he does at home in South Africa.

No pace debate can be over without the mention of Pakistan. With leg-spinner Shahid Afridi in terrific form, the pacers haven't had much say. Umar Gul has had a day, but the team's famous tearaway Shoaib Akhtar happens to be on the sidelines in the group games. The knock-out rounds will see the spotlight on Akhtar. A Pakistani loss will automatically mean the end of the road for the speedster from Rawalpindi. Maybe, one of Akhtar's signature spells will seal it for the pacer in the 2011 World Cup.








The Indian Express reportage on the Samba spy scandal has thrown light on a sordid episode in the Indian army, where a clear case of injustice to some junior army officers could not be rectified, despite the intervention of two prime ministers, Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi.

The Samba case goes back to June 1975, when two gunners of the Indian army were arrested by army authorities for trans-border espionage activity on Pakistan's behalf. This information came from the Intelligence Bureau. Thereafter, the case took a tortuous course with the Military Intelligence Directorate manipulating it and thereby putting several junior army officers' lives in jeopardy. The story put out by some military intelligence officers was that a number of army officers were taken across into Pakistan where they gave the Pakistan intelligence officers information about their units and other related matters. According to this version, several Indian army personnel were trapped, one after the other, in a continuous link by junior Indian army officers who had turned hostile to the Indian army and friendly to Pakistan. This resulted in a number of army officers being arrested and confined to interrogation centres where they were reportedly tortured. Since the initial tip-off was given by Intelligence Bureau authorities, the IB should have been co-opted in the subsequent investigations and interrogations by the military intelligence authorities.

The director of military intelligence, who was handling the investigations, was reluctant to let the Intelligence Bureau participate, even though there were clear standing instructions that the IB should be associated in the interrogation of army suspects in espionage cases. The director of the IB wrote several letters to hte director of military intelligence, to no avail. It was only towards the end of 1979, and that too after some of the army officers had been court-martialled and sentenced to imprisonment, that the director of military intelligence agreed to allow the IB to look into the case. The IB insisted on interrogating all the suspects, but not all of them were made available. Eventually a joint team consisting of representatives from the IB, R&AW and J&K police, headed by a deputy director of the IB, went into the case thoroughly and recorded the evidence. The deputy director was V.K. Kaul, an expert in counter-espionage investigations. He later headed the Bureau of Police Research and Development in the home ministry.

The interrogation of the suspects was carried out in the Delhi cantonment in the presence of army officers designated by the military intelligence directorate. The team conducted a thorough investigation and unanimously concluded that the case built up by the army authorities was totally suspect, and that there was very little substantial evidence to support the various accusations. None of the 11 civilian officers who were implicated in the case was found guilty by the joint team, which recommended that no action against any of them was called for. This finding alone should have alerted the army authorities to take a fresh look at the entire case. Unfortunately, this did not happen. By the end of 1979, seven army officers were dismissed, six had been sentenced to jail terms ranging from six to fourteen years, and one was acquitted. One of the officers court-martialled and sentenced was Captain Rathaur and his sentence was awaiting confirmation. Notwithstanding the findings of the joint team, the army authorities were processing more cases against the remaining suspects.

A few days after I was appointed director of the Intelligence Bureau in February 1980, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi handed over to me a bunch of petitions from the dependents of some of the army officers who were under court-martial proceedings in the Samba spy case. The petitioners had made a pathetic plea for a impartial inquiry, and the prime minister asked me to look into the case closely and report to her.

After examining the files carefully, I discussed the case at length with the head of the joint team, V.K. Kaul, and it was clear to me that there was something very seriously wrong in the case. I sent a detailed report to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi stating that the entire spy case was doubtful, unsubstantiated and unreliable. The prime minister discussed the case with me and a few days later, ordered a review of the case by the defence ministry. Unfortunately, nothing happened, as the army authorities had strongly opposed a review or dropping of the proceedings on the grounds of army morale and discipline. Some of the aggrieved officers later went to the Delhi high court and then to the Supreme Court, but the judicial bodies declined to go into the case.

Six years later, in August 1986 when I was governor of Sikkim, there was a report about the plight of the Samba spy case victims, who were still clamouring for justice. I wrote to the then prime minister, Rajiv Gandhi, who was also holding the defence portfolio, with a copy to the minister of state in the defence ministry, Arun Singh. I suggested that the Samba spy case might be looked into afresh and that my comments as director of the IB, made in 1980 in my report to Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, might be considered.

I had reiterated the various discrepancies and improbabilities in the Samba spy case and my opinion that the accused army officers and others deserved a proper inquiry. The PM replied saying that he had directed a review of the case.

The release of Captain Rathaur after nine years in May 1989, despite the 14-year sentence, and the subsequent sanction of gratuity were apparently the outcome of the review ordered by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi in late 1986. Both the release and the sanction of financial benefits were a grudging and belated admission of the fact that the case against Rathaur and his colleagues was not all that straight. But would that be enough?

The case needs to be reopened and examined without prejudice or preconceived notions. If it is perceived, on review by an impartial authority, that the evidence against the accused is suspect and there is an element of miscarriage of justice, it should be rectified and the unfortunate victims restored their dignity and honour.

The complete story of Sarwan Dass, the villain of the whole case, has now been published in full, if nothing else, this points out to the need to reopen the case afresh. Moreover, the postmortem report of Havaldar Ram Swaroop, which has now surfaced, clearly shows that he was tortured during his interrogation by military intelligence.

After the Armed Forces Tribunal declined to intervene in the matter on technical grounds, the plight of these unfortunate army personnel is pitiable indeed. Under Article 165 of the Army Act, 1950, the chief of army staff may annul the proceedings of any court-martial on the grounds that they were illegal or unjust. It is hardly necessary to recapitulate the Samba spy case from the beginning. The army chief, General V.K. Singh, may like to send for all the papers on this case, empowered by the Army Act, review the case with an open mind and take action as he may deem fit.

The writer is a former IB chief and governor of Sikkim, West Bengal and UP







Live and let live

Applauding the Supreme Court's judgment dismissing the appeal for euthanasia for Aruna Shanbaug, who has been in Mumbai's KEM hospital for 37 years, paralysed after an assault, Hyderabad's leading daily Munsif writes in its March 9 editorial: "According legal permission to end a life is a complicated matter. But if the court had allowed it in the case of Aruna Shanbaug, it would definitely have been injustice to those who have been looking after her so far and are not in favour of allowing her to die. This decision of the court is fitting, from the perspective that whatever happens, the right to life and death is not in the hands of human beings, and God has especially kept this right for Himself."

The daily Sahafat, published simultaneously from Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun, in its editorial (March 10), writes: "We completely agree with the view expressed by the lawyer representing the government, Mr Vahnavati, that India is emotionally not prepared to accept euthanasia. There is also the danger that the ruthless sons and daughters of old parents can, and would, make wrong use of this provision. Therefore, before giving any legal and constitutional sanction to such killings, it is necessary to debate different aspects of this matter. Basically, life is a blessing from God and the right to end it too rests with God alone."

Judging Godhra

Hyderabad-based daily Siasat, in its March 3 editorial regarding a special court's judgment on the Godhra train fire incident of 2002, writes: "The perception that strongly emerges from the judgment is that the law of our country is strong and it takes decisions without any prejudice. But, if we consider the cases other than the Godhra case, we find that courts or judges have not demonstrated the same commitment towards justice as the Sabarmati court. Law is blind and, therefore, it should treat every accused in the manner it treated those accused in the Godhra train fire case. Whether it is the riots following the Godhra episode or killings of lakhs of innocent Muslims in other parts of the country, those guilty were not given death sentences after years of legal proceedings, as was done by the judge in the Godhra case."

The paper adds: "There have been many cases in the country in which large scale killings (qatl-e-aam) have been committed under conspiracies. Following the Godhra episode a conspiracy was hatched for burning alive Muslims in various villages, lanes and bylanes of Gujarat but the arms of law and justice desist from expressing an opinion on the aspect of conspiracy. In various parts of the country, other than Gujarat, crimes have been committed according to conspiracies, but no guilty person has so far been given a death sentence... Justice demands that those guilty in the anti-Muslim riots of Gujarat are punished through fast-track trials. There should not be any discrimination in dispensing justice."

Hyderabad's other daily, Munsif, in its editorial on March 4, describes this judgment as "a poor joke in the name of justice, that ignored many important facts", and one that "amounts to an insult to the highest court of India, the greatest democracy of the world." The paper writes: "Until a few hours before the judgment was pronounced, it was being claimed that the investigating agency had solid proof against all 94 accused, and all of them would definitely be held guilty. But only 31 out of the 94 accused were declared guilty and the most important accused (Maulvi Umarji) who was being described as the prime conspirator, has been acquitted. The acquittal of 63 persons and the sentencing of only one-third of the accused raises questions about the entire investigation."

Delhi-based daily Jadeed Khabar, in its editorial (March 3) says: "It is certain that on appeals to the higher courts, there will be changes in the sentences awarded by the special court, because the large number of accused who have been acquitted goes to prove that the police and the prosecutors were faced with practical difficulties while trying to prove that the Godhra incident was the result of a conspiracy, and they have not been able to present their case strongly."

The Congress-DMK bind

A commentator in Rashtriya Sahara (March 12) says that the road ahead is not easy for the Congress-DMK alliance in Tamil Nadu. According to him, the Congress is faced with a contradiction between its long-term goal and short-term objective. "Rahul Gandhi wants to strengthen the party (long-term goal) but in the party does not want to face a situation similar to its fate in Bihar (short-term objective). Karunanidhi wanted to exploit this contradiction but he did not expect the Congress to take the stance it took." On the other hand, "Jayalalithaa has strengthened her chances in the election by keeping away from Hindu organisations and appeasing the minorities as well as forging an alliance with Left parties."

The daily Sahafat writes in its editorial on March 11: "The Congress has got its demand (on number of assembly seats) conceded by the DMK. But it has failed in its objective, for which it wanted to get rid of the DMK. The DMK's misdeeds are bound to have an adverse effect on its ally, the Congress, in the Tamil Nadu elections."






I set out from my home in the port city of Yokohama early in the afternoon last Friday, and shortly before 3 pm I checked into my hotel in the Shinjuku neighborhood of Tokyo. I usually spend three or four days a week there to write, gather material and take care of other business.

The earthquake hit just as I entered my room. Thinking I might end up trapped beneath rubble, I grabbed a container of water, a carton of cookies and a bottle of brandy and dived beneath the sturdily built writing desk. Now that I think about it, I don't suppose there would have been time to savour a last taste of brandy if the 30-story hotel had fallen down around me. But taking even this much of a countermeasure kept sheer panic at bay.

Before long an emergency announcement came over the PA system: "This hotel is constructed to be absolutely earthquake-proof. There is no danger of the building collapsing. Please do not attempt to leave the hotel." This was repeated several times. At first I wondered if it was true. Wasn't the management merely trying to keep people calm?

And it was then that, without really thinking about it, I adopted my fundamental stance toward this disaster: For the present, at least, I would trust the words of people and organisations with better information and more knowledge of the situation than I. I decided to believe the building wouldn't fall. And it didn't.

The Japanese are often said to abide faithfully by the rules of the "group" and to be adept at forming cooperative systems in the face of great adversity. That would be hard to deny today. Valiant rescue and relief efforts continue nonstop, and no looting has been reported.

Away from the eyes of the group, however, we also have a tendency to behave egoistically — almost as if in rebellion. And we are experiencing that too: Necessities like rice and water and bread have disappeared from supermarkets and convenience stores. Gas stations are out of fuel. There is panic buying and hoarding. Loyalty to the group is being tested.

At present, though, our greatest concern is the crisis at the nuclear reactors in Fukushima. There is a mass of confused and conflicting information. Some say the situation is worse than Three Mile Island, but not as bad as Chernobyl; others say that winds carrying radioactive iodine are headed for Tokyo, and that everyone should remain indoors and eat lots of kelp, which contains plenty of safe iodine, which helps prevent the absorbtion of the radioactive element. An American friend advised me to flee to western Japan.

Some people are leaving Tokyo, but most remain. "I have to work," some say. "I have my friends here, and my pets." Others reason, "Even if it becomes a Chernobyl-class catastrophe, Fukushima is 170 miles from Tokyo."

My parents are in western Japan, in Kyushu, but I don't plan to flee there. I want to remain here, side by side with my family and friends and all the victims of the disaster. I want to somehow lend them courage, just as they are lending courage to me.

And, for now, I want to continue the stance I took in my hotel room: I will trust the words of better-informed people and organisations, especially scientists, doctors and engineers whom I read online. Their opinions and judgments do not receive wide news coverage. But the information is objective and accurate, and I trust it more than anything else I hear.

Ten years ago I wrote a novel in which a middle-school student, delivering a speech before parliament, says: "This country has everything. You can find whatever you want here. The only thing you can't find is hope."

One might say the opposite today: evacuation centres are facing serious shortages of food, water and medicine; there are shortages of goods and power in the Tokyo area as well. Our way of life is threatened, and the government and utility companies have not responded adequately.

But for all we've lost, hope is in fact one thing we Japanese have regained. The great earthquake and tsunami have robbed us of many lives and resources. But we who were so intoxicated with our own prosperity have once again planted the seed of hope. So I choose to believe.

Ryu Murakami is the author of several books, including 'Coin Locker Babies' The New York Times






The movement of Saudi Arabian and United Arab Emirates troops into Bahrain on Monday is a cause for concern on three levels.

It suggests that conservative Arab leaders in key energy-producing states are worried about the potential for unrest in Yemen to their west and Bahrain to their east to spill over into their countries. It accelerates the long-simmering ideological war between some Arab leaders and the Iranian government, with an unspoken but strong undertone of Shiite-Sunni tensions. It is likely to spark fresh internal tensions in some Gulf states where Shiite minorities will raise the level of their demands and protests.

It is potentially good news, though, on two other fronts: Saudi Arabia is asserting itself and showing it can act decisively, and the United States is showing itself to be a marginal spectator in this process.

The UAE foreign minister said Monday the move was designed to defuse tensions in Bahrain and "to support the Bahraini government and to get calm and order in Bahrain to help both the Bahraini government and people to reach to a solution which is for the best for the Bahraini people."

This is a legitimate and reasonable goal, but sending troops from other Arab countries is about the worst possible way to achieve it, given the context in which this occurs.

Internally, a serious homegrown challenge to the ruling elite in Bahrain reflects the wider revolt of Arab citizens who are fed up with being denied their full rights. Regionally, this is likely to be seen as the latest political proxy battle between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which in some places (Iran, Palestine, Lebanon) also occasionally become armed clashes. And globally, (with the added symbolism of the US Fifth Fleet home base in Bahrain) this is the latest phase of the ideological battle that has defined the Middle East for the past two decades, and especially since the demise of the Iraqi state in 2003: The Iranian-Syrian-led regional defiance and resistance to US-Israeli-Arab conservatism.

In most of these spheres and in proxy battles, pro-American conservative Arabs have generally retreated and lost ground to Iranian-Syrian-led groups, with only occasional exceptions. If Bahrain is now the latest active battlefield of ideological and ethnic conflict, the military gesture by Saudi Arabia and the Emirates is likely to have exactly the opposite effect of its intended calming goal. It will stoke resentment and active opposition by many in Bahrain and around the region, who will see this move as an "occupation," as some Bahrainis already said Monday.

The lesson that many will draw is that two different standards apply to Arab citizen rights. In countries like Libya, Egypt and Tunisia, the world will accept or actively support constitutional changes that citizens of those countries demand. In other Arab countries like Bahrain, the rights of citizens are secondary to wider energy and security needs, which is one reason that protests by citizens of some Gulf states are increasing.

Sending in Saudi-UAE troops is probably a counterproductive overreaction because tensions in Bahrain are purely political and local. They can be resolved through national negotiations that reconfigure the system in a manner that affirms the equal rights of all citizens and subjects the power elite to credible mechanisms of accountability and participation, what Arabs are demanding across the region. Issues that were fixable in Bahrain will now be less so because they have shifted into an arena defined by foreign troops.

An inner beast has awoken in Saudi Arabia, as sending Saudi troops to other lands is a sign of real concern and growing panic, but also of self-confidence in foreign policy.

The implications of this move are enormous and also unpredictable. It is also fascinating that the US says it was not aware of the decision on cross-border military movements by its closest Arab ally.

As my learned political scientist friends would say, "Holy smokes!"

There is no better sign of the reality that Washington has become a marginal player in much of the Middle East, largely as a consequence of its own incompetence, inconsistency, bias and weakness in allowing its policies to be shaped by neoconservative fanatics, pro-Israeli zealots, anti-Islamic demagogues, Christian fundamentalist extremists, and assorted other folks who trample American principles and generate foreign policies that marginalise the United States abroad.

Rami G Khouri is editor-at-large of 'The Daily Star', Beirut. The New York Times








To hike or not to hike, was ultimately not an issue for Hamlet or rather RBI, as it has gone in for the 8th round of rate hikes, which was, in fact expected by the market. This monetary policy review was not expected to go beyond interest rates; and liquidity, though tight, has been so for over 6 months, was not expected to be addressed. One can guess that RBI expects conditions to return to normalcy when we enter the new financial year and that the present high levels of borrowing from the repo window are temporary. The statement is brief and highlights that the economy is still under the threat of inflation, which will not reach the 7% mark by March-end, but be closer to 8%. Therefore, RBI has persevered with the rate hike. It has highlighted core inflation as the main concern today, which goes beyond the ordinary argument of supply bottlenecks. But the question to be asked is whether or not this core inflation is due to high demand pressures. Is the economy getting overheated? One is not sure, if one looks at the industrial activity that may have shown signs of slowing down. Also, investment is slated to be lower this year according to the CSO and the government has not been spending. Besides, GDP growth at 8.6% is not significantly higher than 8% last year to fuel these thoughts. In that case, where is the spending that has to be curbed through higher interest rates? If this was the case, the higher prices of manufactured goods could just as well be driven by high commodity prices—metals and crude oil, which are actually imported from the global space.

Food inflation is coming down and will probably continue to do so on the back of a high base year as well as rabi harvest flows. So the rate hike may have a limited impact on inflation emanating from primarily

supply impulses or rather the lack thereof. Banks have been equivocal in their response of whether they will be increasing rates—if they don't, then the hike would not be justified and if they did, it will further affect investment decisions. Clearly, RBI's take could leave one confused as one does not quite know what to expect in future. Will RBI continue to increase rates and, if so, do they have a target number of inflation in mind? What one can conclude is that RBI will keep looking at the inflation number before releasing its foot from the rate hike pedal and the number could be 6% to begin with. What happens to growth in this period? One cannot guess as every hike in the past has had industry saying that it has reached the limit but corporate numbers have so far not reflected the pain. While this is comforting news, we cannot stretch our luck.





Corruption is the flavour of the season and the scam-hit government appointed a Group of Ministers (GoM) to find ways to tackle the problem some weeks ago. Some of the ideas being worked on include a Lokpal Bill, removing discretionary powers of ministers and chief ministers for allotting land for instance, auctioning of resources, faster permission to prosecute corrupt bureaucrats, and so on. The 9-member GoM, in turn, has appointed a 4-member sub-committee to discuss the Lokpal Bill with civil society activists led by Anna

Hazare. Given that little has been done about a suggestion made by the Planning Commission more than a year ago to remove licensing powers from ministers and pass them on to regulators who report directly to Parliament and follow a transparent procedure for licensing based on the ministry's policy directions, there is some reason to be sceptical though.

Interesting, in this context, is what Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu has just begun work on, a proposal that tries to attack the source of petty corruption, the type that affects the common man. Basu argues in favour of changing the incentive structures for the Bribe Giver (BG) and the Bribe Taker (BT). If both are equally guilty under the law, the simplest version of Prisoners' Dilemma will tell you, the two will settle for the least-best position as far as society is concerned—neither will admit to their guilt. Change the incentive, let the BG go scot-free and he no longer has the same incentive to keep quiet. While it will take him a few months of research to finalise his new 'game', Basu has a caveat—giving BG a free get-out-of-jail pass should apply only to corruption where a bribe is given for services a citizen should have got automatically, harassment-bribes as it were. It is your right to get a driving licence once you pass the test, it is your right to sell food provided your restaurant meets the food safety and hygiene requirements … in such instance of harassment-bribes, Basu advocates letting the BG off. It may work, and it may not, since if the BT feels he's going to be ratted on anyway, he may not take bribes but may not grant clearances either! Presumably Basu's research and consultations over the next few weeks will come up with solutions for this as well. Turning state's approver is another way of altering incentive structures to offer the same results for the larger crimes, but if Sadiq Batcha was indeed going to turn approver and his suicide turns out to be a homicide, that's not a perfect solution either.

The good news is that the powers-that-be are looking for more than piecemeal solutions.






Japan continues to grapple with uncertainty on the extent of the damage caused by the earthquake, tsunami and escalating nuclear crisis. The latest jolt from the unfolding crisis challenges the country's economic revival at a crucial juncture—just when the economy was beginning to recover from the recession of the last two years. While Japan has, time and again, been afflicted by natural disasters, the recovery from calamities such as the Kobe earthquake in 1995 as well as from the World War II (1939-1945) has been swift due to rapid improvement in productivity aided by technological advances and supported by a relatively younger, well-educated and hard-working population. Unlike in the past, Japan no longer enjoys the demographic dividend of a young population. Its shrinking workforce and rapidly ageing population could constrain a speedy recovery from the current calamity.

In Japan, a period of rapid population explosion, especially in the working age group, supported growth dynamics. In 1960, the Japanese economy was worth $44 billion, 1.6 times smaller than the UK and 12 times smaller than the US. By 1970, when Japan was riding the cusp of its demographic dividend (with a dependency ratio as low as 45), the economy had grown to $206 billion, racing past the size of almost all European economies and contributed 7% of world GDP. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Japan's working-age population lay at the crux of economic development. As per World Bank estimates, labour productivity was the highest in the 1970s, posting a decadal average growth rate of above 4%, but has been declining since. It stood at 3.9% in the 1980s and reduced thereafter, stagnating at 2%. In addition, there was a steep reversal in the trend from 2000 onwards, as working age force started shrinking, and played a vital role in lowering growth potential. Japan's potential growth has fallen from 4.5% in 1970s-80s to 1.6% in 1990-2000s. In fact, even total population has begun to fall since 2007 and by 2015, Japanese working population would be close to what it was in 1995.

Japanese people are now older than the generations that rebuilt the country after the previous natural and man-made calamities. As per UN estimates, currently, a much larger section of Japan's population, about 31% (or 38 million) is 60 years or over, as compared to a mere 9% (8 million) in 1960 and 20% (26 million) in 1995. Against this, population in the working age (15 to 59 years of age), has been shrinking in recent years. The working age population, which rose to 80 million in 1995 from 56 million in 1960 has fallen to 72 million in 2010. By 2015, this figure is estimated to fall to 68 million, while the population in the ages 60 and above, is estimated to touch 42 million. The overall dependency ratio (ratio of number of individuals aged below 15 and above 60 divided by the number of individuals aged 15 to 59), which reduced to 57% in 1995 from 64% in 1960, has risen to 76% in 2010 and is estimated to increase to 83% in 2015. Japan's economy faces the issue of a fast rising old-age dependency ratio and a slowing child dependency ratio. Child dependency ratio today, is almost half of what it was in 1960, while old-dependency has risen 1.2 times over this period.

Such a marked turn in population dynamics can have a major impact on a country's economic activity. First, with a marked decrease the in productive population, the contribution of labour input to economic growth could subside. In addition, if the savings rate in the country starts to fall with declining wage earners and an increasing percentage of aged population, investment and hence contribution of capital input to growth could wane, thereby affecting long-term growth potential. Also, as population size decreases, a prolonged period of stagnation could return. A smaller workforce will also contribute less to the country's tax collections, as an ageing population pressurises on the fiscal front.

Finally, consumption levels could moderate due to declining wage earners and an ageing population that spends relatively more on health and medical facilities. However, learning from Japan's experience, the change in population structure could, at most, be seen as speed breakers in its path to a speedy recovery.

Among other things, Japan's economic recovery also rests on the restoration of power supply. The earthquake and tsunami have severely affected the country's nuclear power generation capacity. For a nation with around 25% dependency on this form of energy, the restoration of its nuclear power stations and subsequent recovery of electricity is crucial to get the economy back on its feet. The next few years will test Japan's resilience in terms of raising productivity, pushing consumption and investment demand, and ultimately raising the country's growth potential. In contrast, the burden of an ageing population on social security provision and fiscal liabilities remain high. The Japanese government has limited choices to address this widening gap—either expand the labour force or improve labour productivity, none of which can be immediately addressed. There is little doubt that once the restoration activity begins, there will be renewed enthusiasm to rebuild the nation and one could see productivity levels surge in the short-term. However, considering that the pool of workforce is much smaller than was available previously, sustaining high growth will depend on raising productivity to 1970 levels, else the supply of labour force has to be expanded. This challenge may result in the reform of Japan's immigration policy, allowing more foreign labour into the country to help reconstruct the nation.

The author is an economist at Crisil. The views expressed are personal






The state budgets for 2011-12, tabled in their legislatures since early February, indicate that because of the pick up in the economy, the states have refocused on fiscal consolidation. The more innovative have initiated new strategies for raising resources outside state budgets to fund infrastructure investments and further accelerate growth.

The fiscal numbers clearly show how the states' gains are already much ahead of the Centre's. While the central government has struggled to push down the revenue deficit from 5.2% of GDP in 2009-10 to 3.4% in 2010-11 and maintain it at that level for the coming fiscal, states have already scaled down the revenue deficit from 0.8% in 2009-10 to 0.4% of GDP in the budget estimates for 2010-11.

Now, the initial numbers for 2011-12 are even more encouraging. Budget estimates from almost a dozen states show that major states like Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Bihar, Andhra Pradesh and Kashmir continue to maintain a surplus on the revenue account, even while others like Gujarat, Rajasthan and Orissa, are all set to turn this year's deficit into a surplus next year. In fact, the available numbers, so far, show that among major states, only Haryana and Kerala have sustained the revenue deficits into the coming year. The continued efforts to shrink the deficit have ensured that the fiscal deficits of almost all states now remain below 3% of GDP.

Apart from the shrinking revenue deficits, the other numbers on revenue collections and expenditure also corroborate the states' emphasis on fiscal contraction and balanced budgets. For instance, the numbers on revenue and expenditure growth targeted in the state budget for 2011-12 indicate that many of the states have ensured that the targeted expenditure growth is much lower than the growth of taxes and total revenues. Most prominent in the category are Bihar, Gujarat, Haryana and Kashmir.

While the Bihar budget has projected tax collections to go up by 18.3% and total revenue receipts to surge by 21.3%, they have restrained the state expenditure growth to just 11.2%. Similarly, in Haryana, while the tax collections are projected to increase by 15.9% and total revenue by 16.1%, the expenditure bill of the government is projected to grow by a far lower 10.1%. However, the overall expenditure growth projected for 2011-12 varies widely across states, from a low of 9.2% in Gujarat to a high of 23.6% in Kerala.

What is more notable are the new strategies adopted by some of the more innovative states to stimulate investment and growth, especially in the infrastructure sector, of which Karnataka, Kerala and Gujarat are examples. With the growth rate in Karnataka picking up from 3.7% in 2008-09 to 8.2% in 2010-11, the government has stepped up the pace of infrastructure projects, especially through the PPP route. The state now has an impressive record of pursuing as many as 91 projects involving a total investment outlay of R67,792 crore. Further, Karnataka is also contributing as much as 50% of the cost of 16 railway projects in the state.

In Kerala, the focus of the state budget is on improving the road network at a cost of around R40,000 crore. The state plans to fund the programme not through government borrowing but through autonomous companies controlled by the government, which would raise loans and rebuild the road network. For this, three to six months of revenue from the motor vehicles' tax every year is to be deposited in an escrow account through legislation. The companies would also raise additional funds from advertisements and land development.

The other major ambitious infrastructure project in Kerala is the North-South Super-fast Rail Corridor over 500 kms costing around R50,000 crore. Though the business model for raising funds is yet to be decided, the Delhi Metro is conducting the feasibility study and the state budget has also allotted funds for a detailed project report.

In fast industrialising Gujarat, which can give China a run for its money, the focus is on a "Green Energy Fund", which will be financed by levying a green cess at the rate of two paise per unit on non-renewable electrical energy, including captive energy. The proceeds of the fund will go for funding the purchase of non-conventional energy and for the protection of the environment.

In fitting reflection of the growing economic clout of the state, the state's 12th Plan outlay will touch R1,27,653 crore, which is around 15% higher than the total plan target of R1,11,111 crore.

Two notable social security schemes announced in the state budgets for the next year are the free cycle to girl student in Rajasthan and the gift of a fixed deposit of R10,000 for every child born in Kerala. Following the examples set by Bihar and Orissa, the Rajasthan state budget has now made allocations for distribution of 1.42 lakh cycles to the girl students in rural areas studying in class IX and X. The R10,000 fixed deposit in Kerala, along with the accumulated interest and principal, is to be made available to the child to avail of a bank loan linked support for higher studies, skill development training or self-employment after plus two.






The Bahraini ruler, Hamad bin Isa al-Khalifa, has combined a violent crackdown on pro-democracy protests with a request that Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) forces take up station in his country. About 1,000 Saudi Arabian troops, together with police from the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have moved in. The Emir has declared that a state of emergency will obtain for the next three months. There have been violent clashes between demonstrators and government forces. Doctors have reportedly been attacked in hospital wards and six opposition leaders, including the human rights campaigner Abduljalil al-Singace, arrested. Moreover, the very nature of the confrontation is changing rapidly. Although the Saudi troops are located 20 km from the capital, Manama, protesters have called their presence an occupation which gives Bahrain's own forces "a green light to kill our people." Inevitably, leaders and members of the public elsewhere in West Asia, and further afield, have reacted angrily. In Iraq, 4,000 followers of the Shia cleric Moqtada al-Sadr have marched through Basra, chanting that Bahrain is doing to its own Shia population what Israel is doing to Palestinians in Gaza. Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has likened the foreign troops' arrival to Saddam Hussein's 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

While such responses are a clear result of Emir al-Khalifa's appeal to his neighbours for troops, they also introduce a further and very dangerous element, namely the exploitation of existing sectarian issues. The Bahraini government has long been known for discrimination against its own Shia majority, who comprise 60 per cent of the population. Secondly, Saudi Arabia itself has a 12 per cent Shia minority, most of whom live near the border with Bahrain; furthermore, the Saudi ruling family's commitment to rigid Salafism makes Riyadh very anxious about any Shia influence real or imagined. The United States, not for the first time in this part of the world, is revealing its own impotence. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has criticised the Bahraini crackdown and has called for peaceful political change, but the White House can easily be put under many forms of pressure. Manama can close the U.S. Sixth Fleet base in Bahrain. Secondly, the U.S. imports substantial amounts of Saudi oil, and is also very hostile to any Iranian support for Shia groups in the Gulf, irrespective of the evidence for or against Tehran's actual influence. Tragically for the ordinary people of Bahrain, their largely non-sectarian and entirely justified campaign for democratic reforms is at serious risk of obliteration by a combination of outside religious agendas and Washington's concern with its own instrumental interests above all else.





The International Labour Organisation has done well to include a draft convention on decent work for domestic workers in the agenda for the 100th session of the International Labour Conference, scheduled for June. For centuries the domestic workers have lived along the margins of the international workforce. Well-documented reports by the ILO and other organisations point to the universality of their woes. Entirely informal in nature, domestic work, at its most anguished state, is nothing but a form of slavery; at its best, it is dogged by uncertainty. The most common failing by societies is the exploitation of this ubiquitous group of workers. Data available with the ILO suggest that domestic work ranges from four per cent to 10 per cent of total employment in developing economies and between one per cent and 2.5 per cent in industrialised countries. As the ILO's 2010 report, 'Decent work for domestic workers', points out, this section of the workforce is "undervalued and poorly regulated" and a major part of it is "overworked, underpaid and unprotected." An international convention backed by the ILO is an overdue move towards mainstreaming this long-neglected workforce.

In India, as in the rest of the world, there is no clarity on the number of domestic workers. National estimates vary from 4.5 million to more than 100 million. As elsewhere, they are drawn from the informal sector and comprise, largely, women and children. However, there are moves by the Central and various State governments to put in place legal measures that have the potential to create a better future. That only a handful of States have set minimum wages for domestic workers is one clear indication that the country has a long way to go before it gives them statute-backed recognition and dignity. Two recommendations by the Central government's task force merit urgent attention: the need to include domestic work in the Union list of scheduled work for fixation and enforcement of minimum wages, and the extension of welfare measures, including health, maternity, and disability benefits and old age pension, to domestic workers. The current moves, in India and elsewhere, can only be described as a much-delayed attempt to do the minimum decent thing by this crucial segment of the workforce. The hope is that this will be the beginning of a coordinated process that addresses a global social injustice that has persisted for centuries and will continue unless there is political and social will to end it.








The Supreme Court's judgment in the CVC case is a very important, path-breaking one. It prompts one to ask whether what the Supreme Court has said in this case does not have wider implications beyond this particular case. Several things become clear from the judgment in this case: the selection procedure must be open and transparent; all relevant facts and aspects must be taken into account; 'impeccable integrity' is a sine qua non; reasons must be recorded for both the majority and minority views in the selection process. Underlying all this is the tacit assumption that the selection to high office must be guided by procedures and criteria.

The Supreme Court has been taking keen interest in the institution of the CVC. The general public and the media are also very interested in appointments to this institution. It is undoubtedly an institution of great importance. However, there is another constitutional institution of still greater importance, namely the CAG, in which, quite inexplicably, the public, the media and even the Supreme Court do not appear to take the same degree of interest. The CAG as an institution has recently come into some prominence because of its reports on the Commonwealth Games and 2G cases, but even now, it cannot be said that there is widespread and adequate appreciation of its constitutional position and the importance of what it does.

The CAG is our Supreme Audit Institution (SAI), i.e., the supreme institution for enforcing the financial accountability of the Central and State governments, other public authorities, institutions receiving substantial funds from the government, and so on. Wherever public funds are involved, the CAG has a role to play. The crucial importance of this high functionary in our constitutional system can hardly be over-stated. Several distinguished leaders of the past (Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, Dr. Radhakrishnan, Dr. Rajendra Prasad and so on) have attested to this, and extolled the virtues of this high office. In particular, Dr. Ambedkar's remark in the Constituent Assembly that the duties of this functionary are even more important than those of the judiciary has been repeatedly cited. The status and independence of the CAG is ensured through a variety of provisions, which need not be detailed here. An important point to bear in mind is that the CAG, at the time of appointment, takes an oath similar to that taken by the judges of the Supreme Court, that is to say, to "uphold the Constitution and the laws", whereas a Minister has to swear an oath only to act "in accordance with the Constitution."

What then is the current system — the criteria, the definition of the field of choice, the procedures — for the selection of this high constitutional functionary? The short answer is that there seems to be none; at any rate, none that anybody knows of. The processes are entirely internal to the government machinery; no one outside has any knowledge of what criteria are applied, how names are short-listed, and how a final selection is made. It is not the intention of this article to imply any reflections on any of the appointments made so far. In particular, this writer holds the current CAG in high regard. However, it needs to be said that if some out of the eleven CAGs appointed so far have been good, that must be attributed to accident, not design.

Leaving past selections aside, let us consider how future selections should be made. The present 'system' leaves the matter entirely in the hands of the Cabinet Secretary, the Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister and the Prime Minister himself (with a certain limited role for the President thereafter). This is no system at all. However good and noble the individuals concerned may be, the process is bound to be influenced by a wide range of extraneous considerations (i.e., considerations unrelated to the requirements of the job) which need not be gone into here.

One is not saying that the internal bureaucratic selection process is entirely ungoverned by any criteria; perhaps seniority, a good record, extent of relevant experience, and so on, are gone into. It would be very strange if they were not, but one simply does not know. A criterion that seems to have come to be applied over the years is that the person to be selected should have served as a Secretary to the Government of India. As there are not many non-IAS Secretaries, this criterion virtually limits the field of choice to retiring IAS Secretaries. Even out of that limited field of choice, there are no discernible selection criteria, judging by the results.

The question arises: if clear criteria, full relevant information, compliance with procedures and complete openness and transparency are so important in the case of the selection of the CVC, are they not even more important in the case of the position of CAG? It is of course true that the CVC Act lays down a committee procedure (the Prime Minister, the Home Minister and the Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha) for the selection, whereas the CAG's Act does not. However, that idea was of fairly recent origin and was incorporated in the Act relating to the National Human Rights Commission and in the CVC Act. The committee procedure was not laid down in either the CAG's Act or the legislation relating to the Election Commission. That does not mean that the committee procedure is good for the CVC and the NHRC, but not good for the CAG or the CEC. The principle of a broad-based selection committee is even more important in the case of the CAG (and CEC) than in that of the CVC. The lacuna in the older laws needs to be remedied. The actual composition of the Committee will of course have to vary from post to post. For instance, the selection committee for the CAG will have to include the Chairman of the Public Accounts Committee.

As for criteria, the need for them is self-evident. Selection to any senior positions in government, and particularly for high constitutional positions, cannot be arbitrary; they have to based on a careful spelling out of the job requirements, and going beyond that, on a visualising of what kind of person we are looking for. It is simply inconceivable that such appointments can be made without any criteria. The Selection Committee will definitely have to go by certain criteria and fields of choice.

This article does not propose to spell out the author's ideas (set forth elsewhere) on the appropriate field of choice and the selection criteria to be adopted. After careful consideration and wide-ranging consultations, these can be laid down in the CAG's Act through amendments. (Apart from other things, impeccable integrity is surely as crucial for the CAG as for the CVC.)

It may seem to some of the readers that this article is arguing the obvious. Curiously enough, it does not seem to be so obvious. Two writ petitions to the Supreme Court asking for the laying down of criteria and procedures for the selection of the CAG, one by the late H.D. Shourie of Common Cause and the other by B.P. Mathur, a retired Deputy CAG, failed. Speaking subject to correction, the Supreme Court seemed uninterested in the subject and somewhat reluctant to enter into it. The contrast between that attitude and the keen interest shown by the Supreme Court in the CVC case seems difficult to understand. Would not the Supreme Court like to extend the excellent principles that it has laid down in the CVC case to other high constitutional positions?








CHENNAI: Did M.K. Narayanan "jump"? Or was he "pushed"? U.S. Ambassador to India Timothy Roemer found the former National Security Adviser's suggestion that "he sought to depart … somewhat unconvincing, given the NSA's assiduous cultivation of senior USG [United States Government] contacts through the end of 2009." Mr. Narayanan was appointed Governor of West Bengal on January 16, 2010.

In a cable sent on January 15, 2010 ( 243925: confidential) to the Secretary of State's office in Washington and copied to U.S. embassies around the world, Mr. Roemer said that during a private meeting a day before his appointment as Governor, the NSA dodged a question on whether he was departing voluntarily. Mr. Narayanan had replied that he had had a "great run" in his five years as NSA and that he had discussed a possible move with the Prime Minister as early as in June 2009. When Mr. Roemer specifically asked whether his perceived rivalry with Home Minister P. Chidambaram had contributed to the departure, Mr. Narayanan quipped that the Home Minister at times needed someone "to check him and put a bit in his mouth."

Congress general secretary and former Madhya Pradesh Chief Minister Digvijay Singh was more candid about Mr. Narayanan's exit. Mr. Roemer's cable stated that Mr. Singh told the Political Counsel of the Embassy that a "turf battle" between Mr. Narayanan and Home Minister P. Chidambaram over which of them has "primary intelligence and counter-terrorism responsibilities" was a reason for his impending departure.

Mr. Digvijay Singh said that while the Intelligence Bureau, the Research and Analysis Wing and the Central Bureau of Investigation all reported to Mr. Narayanan, himself a former chief of the IB, "Chidambaram was bent on consolidating all intelligence, internal security and counterterrorism functions in a single entity that reported to him." A second reason for Mr. Narayanan's exit, according to Mr. Digvijay Singh, was his age. (Mr. Narayanan was 76 when he was appointed Governor of West Bengal.)

While refusing to speculate on who would succeed him, Mr. Narayanan told Mr. Roemer that whoever took the job would have "a reduced portfolio with the future NSA no longer retaining dominance on the full range of strategic issues, including defense, space, intelligence, and India's nuclear programs." While he would not confirm whether he would accept a governorship, or if he had sought it, Mr. Narayanan observed that West Bengal had "every imaginable challenge," including border problems, counter-terrorism issues, naxalites and chronic underdevelopment.

The cable noted with a touch of regret that his departure "presents a challenge to moving forward swiftly on our agenda in India." Describing him as a strong backer of the U.S.-India relationship" it said he "served as a key conduit to the Prime Minister and Sonia Gandhi" who "could bang heads within the Indian bureaucracy to move issues of interest with us."

It stated that the three leading contenders to succeed Mr. Narayanan were former Foreign Secretary Shivshankar Menon (who got the job), the Prime Minister's Special Envoy for Climate Change, Shyam Saran, and the former Ambassador to the United States, Ronen Sen. The cable noted: "While Menon did take the fall for the Prime Minister's politically disastrous July 2009 joint statement at Sharm [Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt] with Pakistani PM [Yusuf Raza] Gilani, he is seen as a loyal and highly experienced diplomat."








CHENNAI: M.K. Narayanan's departure and Shivshankar Menon's appointment as National Security Adviser were further signals of Home Minister P. Chidambaram's "growing power relative to other foreign policy officials."

A cable dated January 22, 2010 from United States Ambassador Timothy Roemer ( 244959: confidential) to Washington said that Mr. Narayanan's replacement by a career diplomat "lacking background in internal security, comports with Minister Chidambaram's reform agenda" — which is to consolidate all intelligence, internal security and counter-terrorism functions under a single entity that reported to him.

Mr. Roemer noted that Mr. Chidambaram appeared to be backed by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, "despite [the former] lacking a strong electoral base." The envoy added: "However, Chidambaram's management style and rapid ascent to power has rubbed many within his own party the wrong way."

Mr. Roemer said: "Menon's appointment [as NSA] also signals that the Prime Minister's Office will remain the focal point for key strategic relationships at the expense of the Ministry of External Affairs under S.M. Krishna, thought to be largely a figurehead."

Striking a positive note while discussing Mr. Menon, the cable said that while the career diplomat, the grandson of India's first Foreign Secretary, was "not reflexively pro-American," he saw the strategic value of the U.S.-India relationship.

Mr. Roemer observed: "He took a hard line on a variety of issues over the course of the civil nuclear cooperation agreement negotiations, including at a critical moment during the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) deliberations, but also skillfully piloted critical decisions through the Indian bureaucracy. He expressed surprise that the FBI role in the investigation into the 26/11 Mumbai attacks did not generate more controversy, but thus reassured, later advocated a more robust cooperative relationship on counterterrorism."





CHENNAI: India's policy on Kashmir has "become consolidated under the more forward leaning Home Minister P. Chidambaram after the exit of National Security Adviser M.K. Narayanan, who played a dominant, conservative and often obstructive role" according to a cable sent on February 1, 2010 ( 246481, confidential).

U.S. Ambassador Timothy Roemer found that "Narayanan cast a huge shadow over decision making on internal security issues." He added that as a result of his "intelligence and security background as well as his ties to the Nehru-Gandhi family, he seldom lost a bureaucratic or policy battle." While "Narayanan's natural instinct on Kashmir (and Pakistan) was cautious, conservative, and obstructionist," Mr. Chidambaram was described as having shown "he is willing to be a risk-taker on this intractable issue."

The cable referred to new confidence-building measures taken by the Indian government in Jammu and Kashmir. These included Defence Minister A.K. Antony's announcement that the Army would further reduce its visibility and that the State police would play a more prominent role in counter-terrorism, especially in urban areas.





CHENNAI: Washington was so keen on a nuclear deal with India that its New Delhi Embassy worked to "put Sonia Gandhi in a box" by wooing the opposition BJP and breaking the coalition with the Left parties, an Embassy cable sent on May 16, 2008, ( 154231, confidential) has revealed.

Ambassador David C. Mulford reported on a "carefully timed" approach to BJP leader L.K. Advani that he made in early May 2008. He urged Advani to "exhibit statesmanship and either back the nuclear deal or withdraw opposition to it".

In the cable, Mulford also scripted out a rationale that the BJP could use to present its volte-face. The "possible script" included the BJP agreeing that it was a "good" overall deal and that it was "in the larger national interest," and the possible enactment of the BJP's own Hyde Act if and when it came to power.

A new BJP posture, Mr. Mulford knew, would put the UPA in a spot: "It would … put Sonia Gandhi in a box; if she goes ahead with the deal, her Communist allies would be livid, might pull out of the coalition and possibly not have anything to do with the Congress Party post-election. If she does not go ahead with the deal, she will be seen as having let India down when it faced a crucial choice in order to stay in power for just a few more months. If Sonia goes ahead with the deal, she can call the Communists' bluff secure in the knowledge the BJP is pro-deal."

It appeared from the cable that Mr. Advani turned down the U.S. advances at this May 8 meeting, though Mulford was later informed by Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon that Advani was "glad he came". The Ambassador also called upon former President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, who informed him that "he too had met with Advani to seek a shift in the BJP leader's thinking."

"Embassy," an undeterred Mr. Mulford told superiors in Washington, "will keep reaching out to BJP opinion shapers to see if we can provoke a shift in the party that could bring the civil nuclear issue to a head by the end of May."






LONDON: India is "concerned" that Saudi Arabia is funding religious schools and organisations that contribute to extremism in South Asia, including India, a senior Indian diplomat is reported as saying in a U.S. diplomatic cable accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

The cable, dated September 9, 2009 ( 224156: secret), from the U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Richard Erdman, quotes Rajeev Shahare as telling him: "Indian Islam is a tolerant Islam, and we cannot abide by the spread of extremist views." Mr. Shahare was India's charge d'affaires in Riyadh at the time.

Treatment of Indians

Another "sticking point" in bilateral relations, the Indian diplomat is reported as saying, was the treatment of Indian nationals living in Saudi Arabia. Unskilled Indian workers were "sometimes mistreated by employers, and suffered from restrictive Saudi foreign-labor practices."

Mr. Shahare reportedly told the U.S. Ambassador that the Indian government had on several occasions proposed a bilateral agreement protecting the rights of Indian workers, but "the Saudis refused this out of hand." He also complained that Indian companies operating in the kingdom faced an "unsatisfactory regulatory climate."

"He cited Saudi requirements for maintaining large local bank balances, particularly in the case of foreign-owned trading companies, and 'Saudiization' of the work force, as specific impediments to further growth and investment. For example Bank of India, which hopes to open a branch in Jeddah in 3-4 months, was currently balking at a requirement that its entire front office staff be Saudi," the 2009 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Riyadh reports.

Other "sore points" in India-Saudi relations that remained despite a vast improvement since King Abdullah's visit to India in 2006 included the Saudi tendency to view India through a "Pakistani lens" on issues like Kashmir and the treatment of Muslims.

"While these bilateral sore points remain, they are now (to some extent) politely ignored in the context of greater economic cooperation. Shahare described India's policy as aimed at strengthening the economic relationship, to the point where it becomes the dominant factor in the political relationship. The Indian Charge remarked that while India and Pakistan were often lumped together when discussing politics, Pakistan was 'not a real counterpart' to India on the economic level," Mr. Erdman wrote.

India was also irritated by Saudi Arabia's criticism of its relations with Israel, Mr. Shahare told the U.S. Ambassador. He added: "We repeatedly remind them we were among the first to recognize a state of Palestine, with Jerusalem as its capital and that the Indian commitment to the Palestinian cause remains unwavering. However, India must put its national interest first, and there are compelling pragmatic reasons for its relationship with Israel.''

Israeli satellite launch

The Indian diplomat described the Saudi media's description of an India-launched Israeli communications satellite as "a spy satellite that would watch Arabs" as "unfortunate.''






MUMBAI: U.S. Ambassador to India David Mulford was clear in his assessment of what India's support for Palestine really was about in recent times. In a cable dated September 6, 2005, he spoke of India's "historical rhetorical support for Palestinian statehood (important for domestic politics)" ( 39915: secret/noforn).

"The UPA derives an important portion of its support from India's 150 million Muslims, and it came to power in May 2004 with a stated goal of recalibrating India's relations with the Muslim world, especially on the Palestinian question. Portraying itself as a defender of Muslims in India and a champion of the Palestinian cause, the UPA has made reinvigorating ties with Middle East and Muslim countries a high priority."

The cable goes on to say: "The second goal is to rally support for India's perennial battle to be admitted in some status to the Organization of the Islamic Conference, which has been critical of India's Kashmir stance. Although both of these goals derive mostly from domestic electoral political considerations, rather than strictly foreign policy objectives, New Delhi has recognized that its lacklustre relations with Arab and Muslim states have become a foreign policy liability, and is working to rectify that."

It adds: "As part of these broader goals of deeper engagement in the Middle East, New Delhi has floated suggestions recently that it could play a mediating role in the Israel-Palestinian conflict, as a state with growing working relations with Israel and (at least) bona fides in the eyes of Palestinians (Note: Ref C reports on the latest disappointing India-Israel interaction. End Note). However, given its generally weak relations with most Middle Eastern countries and lack of gravitas, most dismiss this vision as unrealistic."

The cable presents a discussion on the August 10, 2005 visit of West Asia Envoy Chinmaya Gharekhan: "Our contacts tell us that India's prime concern with Syria is for its influence on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, where India is trying to carve out a role for itself, after recognizing New Delhi's increasing marginalization. The other current interest, as illustrated by Gharekhan's recent Damascus visit, is India's desire to find low-risk options for re-engaging on Iraq."






NEW DELHI: On the eve of Manmohan Singh's meeting with George W. Bush and Condoleeza Rice in New York in September 2005, a cable ( 40501: confidential) from Ambassador David Mulford in New Delhi advised the U.S. Secretary of State to tell the Prime Minister that his government's failure to take "difficult steps" on Iran could jeopardise the civil nuclear agreement with Washington.

According to the cable, sent on September 13, 2005, Mr. Mulford complained to Dr. Rice about the unhelpful attitude of senior Indian officials and advised her to encourage the Prime Minister to "exercise leadership." He wrote: "In my meetings with the Foreign Minister and Foreign Secretary [Shyam] Saran, I have found them reluctant to acknowledge that Iran could jeopardize both our nuclear initiative and India's regional security interests."

He urged her to "sketch the real challenges we face in implementing legislative actions necessary for us to fulfill the civil nuclear vision of the July 18 Joint Statement, and to challenge India to take equally difficult steps on relations with Tehran and separation of India's civil and military nuclear facilities."

The linkage Mr. Mulford made was surprising, for though India had agreed in that Joint Statement to separate its civil and military nuclear facilities, it had not made any commitments on Iran. Nevertheless, he advised Dr. Rice to use her meeting with the Prime Minister and the External Affairs Minister "to encourage the GOI to exercise leadership on this Iran issue, rather than hiding behind the NAM consensus, as happened on UN reform."

Congressional hearings had already alerted India to the need to stop sitting on the fence on the question of Iran's 'nuclear weapons program', he wrote. "New Delhi is trying to support us without alienating Tehran, on whom it depends for current oil supplies, future natural gas imports (pipeline and LNG), and access to Afghanistan and Central Asia," the cable noted. Though India's attachment to Iran could weaken in the long run if it "is able to secure other energy sources (e.g., gas pipeline from Bangladesh) and alternative access routes to Central Asia (e.g., overland transit through Pakistan)," its leaders "must be made to recognize that Congress is watching India's role at the IAEA with great care, and the Indian vote in Vienna will have real consequences for our ability to push ahead on civil nuclear energy cooperation."

Mr. Mulford said the looming Iran vote at the International Atomic Energy Agency was a "significant early test of India's readiness to exercise the responsibilities of global leadership." The country felt "squeezed between admonitions from us and pressure from the Iranians." Under the circumstances, "the Indian instinct will be to lie low and hope that discussions in New York avoid the unpleasant prospect of [an IAEA] vote on September 19. We need to give a clear accounting of these stakes, while also preserving the significant equity that we have built-up in the transforming U.S.-India relationship."

President Bush and Dr. Rice met the Prime Minister later that day. None of the WikiLeaks India Cables provide a readout of that meeting. But shortly thereafter, instructions were sent to the Indian Ambassador in Vienna to vote in favour of the U.S. resolution at the IAEA censuring Iran.






Kerala has witnessed something unusual. Of all people, chief minister V.S. Achuthanandan has been denied permission by the CPI(M) state committee to be a candidate in the forthcoming Assembly election. The recommendation is not likely to make any sense to the ordinary voter in the state. It is noteworthy that it was made in the presence of party general secretary Prakash Karat and politburo member S. Ramachandran Pillai. This is bound to strengthen the feeling that it had the sanction of the top leadership.

Technically, the CPI(M) has not yet made a formal announcement on keeping Mr Achuthanandan out. Perhaps that will happen after the state committee's view has run the gauntlet of its district committees. Even so, considerable damage may have been done to the CPI(M)-led Left Democratic Front on the eve of the Assembly election. The Marxists' LDF allies cannot be amused.
The chief minister's sturdy record of probity and his determination to go after corruption, even when perpetrated by those in his own party, has brightened his image considerably among ordinary people in Kerala. Five years ago, when he was swept into office after being initially denied his party's nomination, which was eventually secured under popular pressure, he was seen as an antediluvian figure. Many felt Mr Achuthanandan might not be the right man to lead the state in the context of an economy which leans toward market-based solutions. In some measure, the critics have been forced to do a rethink. While Kerala has been slow to attract investment (for example, it took five years for the SmartCity Kochi agreement to come through), the state's public sector undertakings have turned the corner. Mr Achuthanandan has also evinced an interest in promoting the information technology sector and the environment.
Kerala's voting pattern has for long been cyclical, with the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front being elected alternately every five years. It is, therefore, possible that the LDF may have been worsted by the UDF this time around even with V.S. Achuthanandan leading the Left's campaign. Many, however, felt that the CM had earned enough goodwill, especially outside his own party, that might have enabled him to put up a good show. After the step so tellingly indicated by his party's leadership, Mr Achuthanandan's moves will no doubt be watched with interest by supporters and opponents alike.
The CPI(M) in Kerala is notoriously faction-ridden. This too is a factor that an election machine can do without. Ironically, both the chief minister and his bête noire, Pinarayi Vijayan, the state party chief, have been kept out of the Assembly stakes, though for different reasons. Mr Achuthanandan was famously known to bend party discipline to pursue his own agenda, and Mr Vijayan labours under a chargesheet in the Lavalin case. It is not common for senior Communists to attract charges of corruption. Whether such a denouement confers an automatic advantage on the Congress and its UDF partners can only be speculated on at this stage, although Congress and UDF leader Oomen Chandy enjoys a lot of personal credibility. The Congress and its partners have other problems though. A senior Congressman and former minister has landed in jail on corruption charges. A prominent figure from a UDF party is in trouble owing to a sex scandal.
Less than a month remains for the election, and the Kerala electorate is likely to have a lot of material coming its way to judge the contestants in a battle which might have more than its normal share of drama. It is also possible that voters might factor in developments at the Centre when they weigh the options before them on election day.






Today, this column appears in one more city — our sister newspaper Deccan Chronicle makes its first appearance in Kochi. Inspired by the city's famous Chinese fishing nets and Kerala's renowned prowess in athletics, I thought this might be the occasion for looking anew at India's ties with China — not through the prism of diplomacy or trade this time, but with an eye to our sporting differences, and what they reveal about our two countries.

It has become rather fashionable these days to speak of India and China in the same breath. These are the two big countries said to be taking over the world, the new contenders for global eminence after centuries of Western domination, the Oriental answer to generations of Occidental economic success. Several recent books explicitly twin the two countries. Some even speak of "Chindia", as if the two are joined at the hip in the international imagination.
Personally, count me amongst the sceptics. It's not just that, aside from the fact that both countries occupy a rather vast landmass called "Asia", they have very little in common. It's also that the two countries are already at very different stages of development — China started its liberalisation in 1978, a good decade-and-a-half before India, shot up faster, hit double-digit growth when India was still hovering around five per cent, and with compound growth, has put itself in a totally different league from India, continuing to grow faster from a larger base. And it's also that the two countries' systems are totally dissimilar. If China wants to build a new six-lane expressway, it can bulldoze its way past any number of villages in its path; in India, if you want to widen a two-lane road, especially in Kerala, you could be tied up in court for a dozen years over compensation entitlements, even assuming that agitations, political demonstrations and passionate landowners agree to let you acquire the land needed for the widening in the first place.
In fact, in case anyone wanted confirmation that twinning India with China is, to put it mildly, premature, one has only to look at the medals tally at the Beijing Olympics. China proudly ranked first, with 51 gold medals and a total of 100. You have to strain your eyes past such step-children of the global family as Jamaica, Belarus, war-torn Georgia, collapsing Zimbabwe and even what used to be called Outer Mongolia before stumbling across India in 50th place, with precisely three medals, one gold and two bronze.
This is not, in fact, a surprise. Whereas China has set about systematically striving for Olympic success since it re-entered global competition after years of isolation, India has remained complacent about its lack of sporting prowess. Where China lobbied for and won the right to host the Olympics within two decades of its return to the games, India rested on its laurels after hosting the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982, so that it is now considered further behind in the competition for Olympic host-hood than it was two decades ago. Where China embarked on "Project 119", a programme devised specifically to boost the country's Olympic medal standings (the number 119 refers to the golds awarded at the Sydney Games of 2000 in such medal-laden sports as track and field, swimming, rowing, sailing and canoeing), Indians wondered if they would be able to crack the magic ceiling of two, the highest number of medals the country had ever won at this quadrennial exercise in international sporting machismo. Where China, seeing the number of medals awarded in kayaking, decided to create a team to master a sport hitherto unknown in the Middle Kingdom, India has not even lobbied successfully for the inclusion in the Games of the few sports it does play well (kabbadi, for instance, polo, or cricket, which was played in the Olympics of 1900 and has been omitted since). Where China has maintained its dominance in table tennis and badminton, and developed new strengths in non-traditional sports like rowing and shooting, India has seen its once-legendary invincibility in hockey fade with the introduction of Astroturf, to the point where its team even failed to qualify for Beijing.
Forget "Chindia" — the two countries barely belong in the same sporting sentence.
What happened at the Olympics speaks to a basic difference in the two countries' systems. It's the creative chaos of all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood versus the perfectly-choreographed precision of the Beijing opening ceremony. The Chinese, as befits a Communist autocracy, approached the task of dominating the Olympics with top-down military discipline. The objective was determined, a programme ("Project 119") drawn up, the considerable resources of the state attached to it, state-of-the-art technology acquired and world-class foreign coaches imported. India, by contrast, approached these Olympics as it had every other, with its usual combination of amiable amateurism, bureaucratic ineptitude, half-hearted experiment and shambolic organisation.
In China, national priorities are established by the government and then funded by the state; in India, priorities emerge from seemingly endless discussions and arguments amongst myriad interests, and funds have to be found where they might. China's budget for preparing its sportspersons probably exceeded India's expenditure on all Olympic training in the last 60 years.
But where China's state-owned enterprises remain the most powerful motors of the country's development, India's private sector, ducking around governmental obstacles and bypassing the stifling patronage of the state, has transformed the fortunes of the Indian people. So it proved again in the Olympics: the wrestlers, boxers, runners, tennis players and weightlifters who made up the bulk of the Indian contingent, accompanied by the inevitable retinue of officials, returned with just two bronzes amongst them, while India's only gold — in shooting — was won by a young entrepreneur with a rifle range in his own backyard and no help from the state whatsoever. Young Abhinav Bindra was, at 25, the CEO of a high-tech firm, a self-motivated sharpshooter who financed his own equipment and training, and an avid blogger. He is, in short, a 21st century Indian. At one level, it is not surprising that he should have won India's first individual gold in any Olympics since a transplanted Englishman competed in Indian colours in the 1900 Games. India is the land of individual excellence despite the limitations of the system; in China, individual success is the product of the system.
So "Chindia" is a myth. But the Commonwealth Games demonstrated that the Indian way can produce results as well. Not as single-mindedly or overwhelmingly as the Chinese, but impressively nonetheless. Those fishing nets dipping into Kerala's waters prove that we in India can still adapt Chinese ways to an Indian style.

Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency






Email this pageFebruary 27, 2011 was like any other day as far as the news cycle was concerned. The King's Speech swept the Academy Awards and the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, imposing sanctions on Col. Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya. On the same day in 1986, the US Senate allowed its debates to be televised on a trial basis. This was one of the first instances of democratic deliberations being made directly accessible to the people.

Closer home as a result of the Godhra train massacre in 2002 on this very day, the death anniversary of India's first Speaker, Sri Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar — who was conferred the title of "The Father of the Lok Sabha" by Jawaharlal Nehru — has been relegated to a mere side note. Dadasaheb Mavalankar, as he was popularly known, had the ability to leverage the best practices from the parent Westminster system and tweak them to the specific needs of the Indian parliamentary system. Dadasaheb's efforts thus gave birth to initiatives such as the modern-day Question Hour, the discussion on the President's address and motion of thanks. Over the years, these initiatives have stood the test of time and have become institutions by themselves.
With India arriving on the global stage, the role of the Speaker of the Legislature as the guardian of the temple of democracy needs to evolve continually. In India, Speakers of legislative bodies and Parliament follow more or less the traditions and conventions established by the Speakers of the British House of Commons. While the Speaker's role of overseeing the business of the House — regulating discussions, admitting questions, accepting amendments to motions and bills and ensuring the smooth functioning of House committees — will not fundamentally change, the role of the Speaker in assessing the functioning of Parliament against a predefined set of widely-accepted criteria needs to be institutionalised over a period of time. In fact, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), an organisation that fosters contact, coordination and exchange of experience among Parliaments and parliamentarians of Commonwealth countries, of which India and Andhra Pradesh are members, formulates a self-assessment tool kit for Parliaments based on the principles of representativeness, oversight over the Executive, Legislative capacity, transparency, accountability and effectiveness. A cursory look at the parameters would show that we in India still have a long way to go.

The experiment in Andhra Pradesh to train legislators in computer usage and providing them with laptops was a step towards empowering legislators and making them more effective. Laptops have been installed with a constituency monitoring software, developed specifically for members of the legislative Assembly, to keep a tab on the activities and developments in constituencies. Seamless net connectivity was also devised and delivered.
Andhra Pradesh also happens to be the only state with digitised archives and proceedings of the Assembly (apart from the Indian Parliament), and Andhra Pradesh will soon be launching e-petitions, a unique initiative that aims at enabling citizens to represent their grievances and also petition their elected members through the Internet, which can then be monitored effectively.
Overall, 71 million users accessed Internet in India in 2009. This puts India's Internet penetration at roughly six per cent and thus multiple interfaces, including mobile phones, television and other media, needs to be looked at so that the right mix of initiatives are designed and conceived.
Legislators can be effective only when their constituents are aware of their rights and the Speaker, as the guardian of the House, must facilitate initiatives that increase such awareness. Botswana has instituted a "Parliament on Wheels" in which the Speaker of the legislative body and information officers tour villages to explain the role of Parliament in society. South Africa's initiative to ensure that the younger generation is aware of Parliament's proceedings led to the production of an award-winning comic book, A Day in Parliament, which has been distributed to every school in the country. The Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly promotes frequent interactions with school-going children and plans to encourage youth parliaments across the state.
The Speaker's role as a facilitator of "legislative effectiveness" does not translate into "abdication" of the Speaker's primary responsibility of maintaining decorum in the House. This, in fact, continues to be of absolute importance and the disruptions of the December 2010 Winter Session of Parliament and the disruption in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly during the governor's address in February 2011 reflect the challenges that Speakers face in making the legislature function. The Speaker has to be sensitive to the atmosphere in the House and, at times, when there is excitement or continuous interruption, is required to create conditions in which an orderly and relaxed debate can proceed. The fine balance that a Speaker needs to maintain between allowing legislators to express themselves and ensuring maximum leverage from a legislative session is derived will always be a challenge.
Speakers, who are elected representatives apart from being presiding officers of a House, run the risk of distancing themselves from the electorate. As Speakers stay neutral on public issues discussed during the term of the legislature, this may leave them vulnerable for re-election. Heavy workload keeps them away from the electorate during sitting time. Thus, personal integrity and self-discipline are required in copious amounts to be an effective Speaker.
The changing Indian political scenario with multi-party coalitions and sensitive emotional issues requires a facilitator more than a mere presiding officer. It will be an interesting challenge for Speakers of legislative bodies across India as they make an effort to effect this transition.

Nadendla Manohar is the acting Speaker of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly and was elected deputy speaker of the House in 2009. He represents Tenali constituency in Guntur district






With all the multiple social networking platforms racing for our email addresses, a lot of us seem to have rediscovered old school friends who had disappeared (sometimes with good reason) over the years. Meeting them after more than 12 years isn't exactly an exalting moment. But dare I admit to that!

So on one of those endless searches to find where everyone is, I received an email from one of my classmates. Anyhow, I read the mail - twice. About 2,000 words (a document attached to the mail), narrating how life had taken her all over the place and she finally married the man she was having an affair with (against her parents' wishes) and after nine years of being married, she is quite unhappy but she has a daughter who is so beautiful that she can barely take her eyes off her and she also happens to be her only achievement in life.

I haven't quite found a way to reply to the saga. Apart from the fact that I have absolutely no inclination to tell her about my life, I also can't quite forget the fact that she used to despise my guts. I also remember how she, at the age of 16 (!), had claimed that she'd bedded one of the hottest Bengali actors of the time and we were so shocked by that blatant lie that it took us a while to start watching that man's films again.

Why do some people feel the need to connect with the past all the time? Unless there's someone absolutely irresistible you want back in your life, I really don't get the whole "let's get back to the old times" bit. Sure, I have found an old professor I used to admire, hoping to improve my writing or my old best friend whose number I'd lost or even a colleague I admired at the beginning of my career. But would I go and submit a 150-page dissertation on how life has been? And that is also why I can't handle the question "what have you been doing all these years?"

Apart from struggling to make a living, I can never quite find a response.

Over some really bad food one day, a good old friend put my mind to rest. Her explanation went such: We are all losers. And we move ahead in life, hoping that someone, at least one person we thought would find the hidden treasures of life, is a bigger loser than us.

We want to know if someone who knew us when we were 10 years old is fatter than us or not, richer than us or not or worse still — luckier in love or not. That is exactly why we stay up nights, haunting the various online search engines, typing in those names and wondering if any of them has an email address, a virtual profile with pictures and some dark secret that no one knows yet. After all, without such information it becomes extremely difficult for us to survive. We went back to the bad food after that — the noodles were greasy and left stains on my serviette.
I have to go back and reply to that email, I said to myself.




A few days ago I walked into a rally in the narrow, crowded lanes of Hyderabad's old city.

The All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen was celebrating its 53rd anniversary with a procession that took it through communally sensitive areas.

In addition to the khaki-clad local policemen, I also saw a detail of armed security personnel. Sporting camouflage-patterned combat fatigues and a no-nonsense demeanour, they walked in single files on either side of the congested lane.

Their epaulettes identified them as belonging to the 'BSF', the Border Security Force. Now according to the Union ministry of home affairs, the BSF 'keeps vigil along the line of control in J&K, the Indo-Pak border and the Indo-Bangladesh border'.

But here it was, in Hyderabad, keeping vigil along Abid Road.
The Indo-Tibetan Border Police was raised to guard India's boundaries with China. But in February last, home minister P Chidambaram inaugurated a new ITBP camp at Idayapatti, near Madurai, a few thousand miles away from the northern borders.

The camp, he explained, would not only allow South Indian ITBP personnel to stay close to their families, but would also allow them to assist state governments in times of any emergency.

Over the years, this force has been used to protect VIPs in New Delhi, carry out counter-insurgency operations in J&K, protect Manasarovar yatra pilgrims, and secure Indian facilities in Afghanistan.

The efficient, smart and often female personnel you encounter at airports are from the Central Industrial Security Force. It was first raised to secure vital public-sector units. In response to terrorist threats, it is now also deployed at a few large private corporations.

Another 128 private corporations have requested its protection, a service for which they are required to, and are ready to, pay. And a CISF contingent is guarding the UN mission in Port-au-Prince, Haiti.

By now you might have realised that there is a gap between the stated missions and the actual jobs that our central paramilitary forces are tasked with. This gap is widening.

When forces assigned to a particular mission end up doing slightly different things, it is called 'mission creep'. Guarding the Himalayan frontiers requires an entirely different set of skills, equipment, mindset and organisational structure compared to protecting the vice president from assassins.

Mixing up the two not only creates inefficiencies but risks undermining their overall effectiveness. In the case of our paramilitary forces, 'mission creep' is too mild a phrase to describe the actual situation.

The gap is widening not because of a shortage of manpower, funds, or a sense of purpose. An ITBP recruitment rally in January, in Bareilly, UP, attracted over 100,000 aspirants for a mere 416 positions.

Chidambaram has not only provided 'huge amounts for procurement' of modern equipment but also pushed the expansion programme through the government machinery.

So our paramilitary forces will almost certainly have many more battalions and better weapons in the years to come. However, without structural reforms, it is unlikely that the outlays will lead to better outcomes.

Why do we need BSF for the border with Pakistan, but the ITBP for the border with China and the Sashastra Seema Bal for the borders with Nepal and Bhutan? Why should the Assam Rifles be distinct from the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF)?

My colleague Bibhu Prasad Routray argues that it is a good idea to merge the various central paramilitary forces into a single force. Indeed, given that most of them are doing each others' jobs anyway, wouldn't it make sense to bring them under one chain of command?

If this is way too radical, then why not rationalise them into three forces with distinct roles - internal security, border security, and infrastructure security? This is as good for accountability as it is for the forces to develop greater competence within their domains.

In fact, massive expansion of central paramilitary forces without structural reforms could end up being counterproductive. The most important links in the internal security chain are the beat constable, the local police station, and the deputy superintendent of police. Policing is a state subject.

The massive expansion of central paramilitary forces after 26/11 belies the total refusal of all state governments to implement the Supreme Court-ordered police reforms.

Indian states persist with a colonial police structure designed to keep a subject population under the rulers' thumb. Persuading them to change is hard enough. If a state government comes to believe that it has easy access to large numbers of central forces, it will have fewer incentives to improve its own police force.

The goal of internal security should not be about sending the CRPF (and certainly not the BSF) to Hyderabad. It should be about ensuring that the Andhra Pradesh police can handle the task without outside help.

Nitin Pai is founder & fellowfor geopolitics at Takshashila
Institution and editor of Pragati —The Indian National Interest Review







When government takes an action against some social evil, the first question one would like to ask is why a belated action. True, democracy is Leviathan but the watchdogs cannot play soft with such social evils as creep like canker into body polity. For quite some time there has been growing protest and anger against the vulgar and unbridled content aired by private television channels in the country. The contents that some of them have been handling is certainly repugnant to responsible sections of civil society for the reason that it goes against our social and ethical values. Depiction of obscene content in whatever neo-sophisticated form it may be is an assault on the modesty and conviviality of fair sex. It corrupts the mind of the youth, leads to conflict of outlook, and disrupts harmony in families; many a time leads to incubation of crime in the deep recesses of mind. Respectable families with decent social ethos are highly resentful of this obscenity.

Of late many of these private channels have embarked on defamation campaign against an erring official of high status, a leading business magnate or a prominent figure of considerable social status. Maligning them with concocted stories mostly baseless or at least controversial is a clever way of extracting favours and largesse. The way these channels have started waging unrelenting propaganda campaign against an errant person or organization puts the very philosophy of the right to information to severe show of disapproval. Since TV is a visual means of dissemination of knowledge, its impact is swift and far reaching. But private channels cannot win popularity or public appreciation by blowing events out of proportion. The language and phraseology they use are far below the accepted norms of communicability in a civilized society. Since there are no checks, the vicious pursuit of the mundane has been carried on unabated. Yet another theme that causes displeasure to the viewers is indiscreet publicity given to criminal acts of sensitive nature. The acts are dramatized and footnotes of minute description are added to the action and words of the dramatic personae. Put it crudely, one may say that by doing so these channels are creating an army of criminals in our country, something reverse of what the desk-book formula says about the purpose of allowing private channels to function.

Though belated, government's decision to contain this evil through legal instrument is welcome, and sooner the steps are taken the better. Inception of a self-regulatory mechanism to monitor programming content on television and mandate that all channels abide by a pre-determined code of content is the precise term of reference. "We plan a body headed by a retired Supreme Court or a High Court judge and comprising stakeholders from the TV industry, civil society, National Commission for Women, National Commission for the Protection of Children, the SC, ST and the Minorities Commission. This body will deliver judgments on matters involving the quality of TV programming. Where they are unable to resolve the issues in time, the Ministry will step in," Union Information and Broadcasting Minister Ambika Soni today said in the Lok Sabha when members raised concerns about vulgarity being aired into Indian homes through television. This is a solid commitment but the real question is that the 13-member Regulatory body drawn from various walks of life and headed by a retired judge of the Supreme Court should be allowed to function with fullest independence and sense of responsibility. It should not degenerate into a favour-offering body and ultimately end up as another source of scam. It is likely that in a bid to prove its utility and efficacy, the Regulatory body will come down with a heavy hand on some of the private channels or at least on some of their more disgusting programmes. Those whose financial interests are likely to be damaged in the process will try to raise hue and cry and even may take to litigation. The government has to be determined to uproot the evil lock, stock and barrel. Chaperoning the private TV channels means providing educative programmes and decent entertainment or disseminating such information as induces civil society to healthy growth.







General Administrative Department of the J&K Government refused to divulge information about the annual property statements of IAS/KAS officers in the state administration as was demanded by the Convener of J&K Right to Information Movement under the RTI Act. This has provided interesting subject matter for the State Information Commission as it falls within his jurisdiction. The GAD has sought shelter behind Section 8 (f) and (i) of RTI Act of 2009. Apparently, GAD seems to have taken only a selective part of the Section as protective shield and not the entire Section. This gives rise to a legal issue which only accredited institution can dispense with. For example, Section 8 (f) of RTI Act 2009 says information about the assets of IAS/KAS officers can be withheld if making it public threatens personal safety of the incumbent. Thousands of government employees fill their annual property reports and they are not anticipating any threat to their safety. Under Civil Service Conduct Rules, public servants have to mandatorily disclose their assets and liabilities every year. However, we would not go into the nicer legalities of the matter and leave it to the law knowing punditry. But apart from that, the subject merits ethical jurisprudence. No state can insulate a very small group of top functionaries/babus against such information the disclosure of which is justified by larger public interest. In view of rising corruption and scams in the country, sometimes attributed to closer dealings between the top echelons of bureaucracy and developmental agencies of civil society, it became necessary to put a check on disproportionate accumulation of wealth. It was this ethical jurisprudence that made the judges to pass a resolution on July 23, 2010 approving that they would submit their property assessment reports annually and these could be made available to the public on demand. The Supreme Court in one of its judgments laid down that all persons fighting elections including Panchayat and Municipal elections must make annual declaration of their assets. Now if the judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, MPs and other elected representatives are required to disclose their assets and liabilities, how come a small section of IAS/KAS wants to be kept out of the purview of this ethical jurisprudence? They should walk in step with all other sections of society from the lowest to the highest and change the mindset that they are a privileged clan created by some divine dispensation.









The worst story of 26/11 is the one that has been least told. I remind you of it this week in view of the nuclear crisis caused by the earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Just before the terrorists arrived in Mumbai in November 2008 a group of reporters from a foreign TV network – CNN I think – landed on a Mumbai beach and managed to travel unchecked to the Bhabha Atomic Refinery. They did this just to check safety standards with the idea of doing a story. Had they been real terrorists with suicide bombing in mind they could have blown up a nuclear facility that would have killed millions in India's commercial capital. The point I am making is that for us to have a major nuclear crisis in India we do not need a massive earthquake or the terrible wrath of a tsunami. All we need is a Pakistani suicide bomber and we are done for. After 26/11 flights over the Atomic Refinery were banned and security measures were intensified but I have little doubt that, in usual lackadaisical Indian fashion, there has now been a slackening.

It is this that we need to be worried about most when it comes to building nuclear power stations in India. I am not among those who oppose them. On the contrary I believe that it will be next to impossible to meet India's vast and rapidly escalating power requirements without using nuclear power. Despite the fuss that environmental activists like to make nuclear power is probably the most environmentally friendly power source we can hope to develop. Coal pollutes the atmosphere and hydro-electric power has so destroyed our rivers that in the upper reaches of the Ganga, the Bhagirathi that used to be breathtakingly beautiful for its emerald waters, has been reduced to a trickle. So nuclear power could be the solution to all India's power problems but before we go ahead and build more reactors we need to make sure that Governments in the states in which they are due to be built understand that normal Indian carelessness in these matters is firmly curbed.

There are ways to do this that have so far never been tried. Workers manning nuclear power stations need to be specially trained in safety measures. In the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power station there are 50 workers who are putting their lives on the line to prevent a huge nuclear catastrophe. They are being exposed to five times the maximum level of radiation that human beings can be safely permitted to be exposed to but if they were not doing their best to prevent a full meltdown at this nuclear power station it is possible that the world would already be facing its worst nuclear crisis ever.

In India we are generally careless about such things. As far as I know workers at nuclear power stations do not receive any special training for a crisis. Nor has anything ever been done to teach ordinary people living in the vicinity of a nuclear plant what they should do in case of a crisis. They are not told about either safety measures or of the environmental advantages that nuclear power brings. More than seventy percent of power in France is nuclear, in Japan nuclear power constitutes about 30% of the total supply and in India we currently get less than one percent of our power from nuclear plants but we hope to eventually build this up to more than 20%. We have no choice but to do this since there appears to be no other way of ensuring that every one of India's billion people have access to electricity at some point in the not too distant future. But, unless there is a concerted effort on the part of state governments and the Government of India to educate people about the advantages and dangers of nuclear power we could face a disaster without even needing to wait for an earthquake of the kind that has devastated Japan.

There are other lessons in disaster management that India can learn from Japan. Did you notice the absence of panic? The orderly way in which rescuers went about their terrible task? The courage with which people who lost everything behaved? The methodical checking for radiation exposure? The cleanliness of the camps in which victims took shelter? These are not things that we see in India at the best of times. The main reason for this is the lackadaisical methods of Governance that we have become so accustomed to. Go into any Government office for any small purpose and what you will see, without exception, is huge amounts of time wasted on irrelevant, unnecessary procedures and almost no effort to facilitate the end purpose of these procedures. At a very small level you and I and the 'aam aadmi' encounter this when we apply for a passport or try to register a piece of property. If to do something so small we need to sign hundreds of forms and go through a small army of officials you can imagine what happens when someone is trying to build a road or power plant. Every project involves endless delays and every delay costs taxpayers more and more money and more often than not the delays are on account of procedures that should not even exist.

When governance is really needed in times of disaster the opposite usually happens. Officials are the last people you see when their presence is necessary. So if you talk to those who were trapped in the Taj and Oberoi hotels on 26/11 you will hear a hundred stories of how when they were finally rescued after hours of terror there was nobody around to help them. Not a single official, elected or appointed, considered it his duty to make any effort to set up a small rehabilitation office or trauma centre outside the hotels and at the railway station where travelers were mowed down by Ajmal Kasab and his friend there was even fewer signs of governance. Most of the policemen on duty responded to the terrorist attack by running for their lives.

So we must build those nuclear plants because there is no way we can meet our escalating power requirements without them. But, we must demand systems of safety and disaster management that we do not usually see in India. There is much we can learn from Japan as it faces the worst crisis any country has faced in recent years.








The 8.9 Scale devastating earthquake followed by the Tsunami in North Japan brings the entire global community on their knees and besides the human casualties which are still not fully accounted for and mount by the hour we have a series of Nuclear accidents as reactors overheat and the radiation damage is not fully understood and we have hundreds of experts who give us a hundred different assessments and lack credibility. The reality is that the position fluctuates by the hour and the future of Nuclear energy plants and new technology will be subjected to a safety audit once we are able to understand the form of the current contamination and the debate has already started in India and while there should not be any panic reactions we have to pay greater concerns to the doubts and the liabilities associated with Nuclear power generation. The casualties mount in North Japan and thousands could have perished in the Tsunami and many more may be infected by the radiation leaks and it may take many months before we have a definitive medical view in these accidents. North Japan is going through a Nuclear nightmare as climatic conditions create further complications with rain and strong winds and I wonder if the entire country is going to be ringed by Nuclear infections and already 200,000 people have been evacuated and the failure of the cooling system is a very serious issue and the entire technology associated with this process needs immediate scrutiny. We can appeal for calm and restraint in this crisis but things are difficult as by the minute several media reports indicate contradictory statements by experts on Nuclear 'infections'. We need not dwell on the doomsday theory but can anyone predict the climatic conditions in the future and the reality is that a 8.9 scale earthquake with close to 300 after shocks many above 6 have shattered the second largest economy in the World and no one can complain that the technology standards in Japan were not of the highest standard.

The Nuclear menace has put into the background the severe living conditions in many parts of Japan and there are millions affected as power supply is erratic, temperatures are below zero and there is no food in the Supermarkets and supplies of fuel are non existent in North Eastern Japan and even in Tokyo and while relief teams do what they can the wind and the rain spread the fear of radiation and there is always the lurking danger of further seismic eruptions. We have 25,000 Indians and like Libya I sincerely hope that a situation will not develop in which they have to be evacuated. The tragedy in Japan has pushed the volatile situation in the Middle East to the back pages and as I have written over the past fortnight the politics of oil and the power equations in the Middle East are beginning to prevail over the battle for freedom, human rights and wish of the people for a democratic form of Government. We have a civil war situation in Libya and thousands have perished as Colonel Gaddafi and his well armed force take city after city and now push towards Benghazi. Civil war can break out in Bahrain and now there are media reports of the Saudi Army units moving into Bahrain where the government has declared a Emergency for three months. No surprise that violence erupts in Yemen as the security forces swing into action and similar action will take place in other area's in the Middle East and North Africa and I wonder what will happen to the freedom movements in Egypt and Tunisia ?
The USA along with the UN deliberate on events and everyone will say the right thing but support for the existing power regimes in the Middle East continue and the security of Israel and 'oil' supplies are crucial issues and global super powers are only pushing the moderate dissenters into hard line options for the future. We have seen events in Afghanistan, Pakistan and in Iraq with daily bomb blasts and suicide attacks and with the forces deployed and the repression which will follow we look at a grim situation in the future. The battle for greater freedom is far from over and it was naïve of many to think that the change to a Democratic structure would be peaceful and while many in the global society will persuade the Rulers and the Army Dictators to initiate political and economic reforms and give greater democratic rights to the citizens this may not work in the long term as many have perished in the struggle and beyond a point the politics of divide and rule based on religious majority and minority factions does not work. The demographic pattern of the dissenters also determines their attitude and the youthful pattern indicates that we can expect a protracted struggle in the future. We have 5 million people Indians in the area and we have trading interests and are unlikely to rock the boat and disturb the status quo situation as it exists.

The World Cup is moving into the quarter finals and sadly we performed poorly against South Africa and lost nine wickets for 30 runs! I am not very surprised as we had shown weakness against England in the tied match and even the wins against Ireland and the Netherlands had become a struggle and if we are to progress beyond the quarter finals we will need a team effort to deliver the goods. The World Cup is quite open and no team can really be identified as having a 'edge' over the others and the dramatic swing in form for all the teams and the likely results will make the bookies very rich [I wish we could legalize betting.

The experts will know better but I cannot understand why Virat Kohli is shifted up and down the batting order despite his excellent form and a similar situation for Yusuf Pathan who is best at number seven! Skipper MS Dhoni has done us proud on several occasions but it was difficult to understand as to why he did not 'farm' the strike in the last few 18 balls against South Africa as both Ashish Nehra and Munaf Patel were no match for Dale Steyn who is the best pace bowler in the World! I wish we could have rested Virender Sehwag and Sachin Tendulkar for a match before the quarter final and as we tackle the West Indies we hope that Suresh Raina and R Ashwin can get a game and a change or two may be necessary on form.








The upcoming Assembly elections in Assam, West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Kerala and one union territory — Punducherry are crucial for the Congress, its UPA partner, the DMK, and the CPM, which leads the Left front.
However, the polls cannot be termed as a mini general election and their outcome may not reflect the real political mood of the country. Nevertheless, the results are bound to have a bearing on national politics and therefore the stakes are pretty high for the main contending parties.

Faced with a number of scams and with inflation staring at its face, Congress has to go the extra mile to refurbish its image, which has taken a dent in the wake of recent Supreme Court strictures in several scams.
In fact, it is for the first time that the Congress party is going to the hustings after being hit by corruption scandals and soaring inflation.

Some political observers have said the state elections, the biggest electoral exercise since the national election in 2009, will provide a barometer of the popularity of the Congress party-led ruling coalition that scored a resounding victory two years ago but has been facing public anger in recent months over the issues of corruption and rising prices.

Analysts also say that in the event of AIADMK and Trinamool Coming to power in their respective states, these parties could see sense in a Lok Sabha poll as quickly as feasible, rather than in waiting for 2014. Tamil Nadu has 39 Lok Sabha seats and in 2009, the AIADMK won nine. West Bengal has 42 Lok Sabha seats and in 2009, Trinamool won 19. If these parties sweep the Assembly elections, they could calculate that an early parliamentary poll would benefit them, increase their numbers and give them greater influence at the Centre. In other words, bolstering the UPA and keeping it going may not be as much of a priority, they say.

Tamil Nadu and Kerala, as also Punducherry, will this time have single-phase polling, while Assam will do it in two phases, as in 2006. West Bengal will, however, have the process in six phases in view of the threat from the Maoists and other law and order problems. West Bengal has 294 constituencies, the largest number among the states in the fray.

For the CPM, which heads the governments in West Bengal and Kerala. the elections will be more than crucial. Both governments, which are on sticky wickets, have been weakened by defeats in the Lok Sabha and local body elections in the recent past.

The over three-decade old rule of the Left Front in West Bengal is in danger with the Trinamool Congress-Congress alliance posing a serious threat to it.

The 2009 Lok Sabha election in West Bengal dealt the Left a severe blow, exposing an eroded base, and it remains to be seen whether anything has changed since then. This time, the elections will be devoid of the substance and symbol of Jyoti Basu.

In Kerala there is a tradition of the Congressled UDF and the CPM-led LDF coming to power in alternate elections and so the chances of a return of the present LDF Government are poor. The DMK will face the Tamil Nadu electorate after being tainted by the 2G spectrum scandal and in the midst of reports about lack of cohesiveness in the party.

Seat sharing talks between Congress and DMK had run into rough weather and soured the sevenyear- old relations between them. As the issue of seat sharing between alliance partners DMK and Congress became thorny, the AIADMK hoped to fish in troubled waters and expected to gain more seats.

Jayalalitha's party has formed a strong electoral alliance with film star Vijaykanth's DMDK and other smaller parties. But, the DMK blinked in the battle of attrition and conceded 63 seats for Congress under a seat-sharing deal between the two parties. Congress has also expected its desire to be a part of the coalition if it is voted to power this time, unlike in the past when it extended outside support.

The DMK will face the Tamil Nadu electorate after being tainted by the 2G spectrum scandal and The Congress, political observers believe, has more than a fair chance of winning in West Bengal and Kerala in the company of its allies, and is also likely to fare well in Assam because of the failure of the BJP and the Asom Gana Parishad (AGP) to forge an alliance.

The party seems to be comfortably placed in Punducherry too. But, Tamil Nadu remains a headache as the 2G issue has tarnished the reputation of both Congress and DMK, as a result of which, their chances of returning to power in Tamil Nadu have become somewhat dim.

Thus, midway in the UPA Government's tenure, the upcoming Assembly elections will be a test of each political party's true strength.

Moreover, the results will have major implications for the Congress-led coalition at the Centre. To sum up, the Assembly elections will definitely create ripples in national politics.










THE mysterious death of A.M. Sadiq Batcha, a close associate of former Union Minister A. Raja, in Chennai on Wednesday, has given a new twist to the 2G Spectrum scam being probed by the CBI. Doubts have arisen whether it was a case of suicide or there was foul play involved. The exit of Batcha, who was the director of the Chennai-based real estate firm Greenhouse Promoters, comes at a time when the CBI is on the verge of filing a charge-sheet in the 2G case. Batcha was not only a suspect in the case but also a key link in the money trail as he promoted five companies soon after Swan Telecom, a company allotted spectrum by Raja's ministry, sold its share to Etisalat. It is alleged that all these firms acted as a front for the kickbacks in the scam. Mr Raja's wife, brother and nephew are all directors in Batcha's firm. According to the doctor who performed the post-mortem, Batcha died due to asphyxia and that only pathological results can confirm whether it was suicide or murder. The CBI should probe it thoroughly to unravel the mystery.


The CBI had questioned Batcha a couple of times in connection with the case, being monitored by the Supreme Court. The documents seized from him suggest that there were transactions between the firms he owned. Speculation is rife that Batcha was contemplating turning approver in the case, which would have allowed him to be let off lightly in return for giving evidence against key suspects.


Of late, mysterious deaths of key witnesses and suspects have become a major problem in the country. In the absence of a witness protection programme, the criminal justice system has failed to address this problem. The deaths of Asutosh Asthana (Ghaziabad PF scam, 2009), Bharat Borge (Anil Ambani chopper sabotage case, 2009), Arindam Manna (Rizwanur suicide case, 2009), Ram Singh Maurya (BJP MLA Krishnanand Rai murder, 2005) Keki Balsara (Gulshan Kumar murder case, 2001) all reveal how key witnesses are eliminated by vested interests to hoodwink the law and subvert justice. Considering the fact that Batcha knew many things about Mr A. Raja and his links, he should have been given adequate protection. Not surprisingly, the AIADMK has urged the authorities to tighten security for Mr A. Raja and DB Realty managing director Shahid Balwa (who had told the CBI that Batcha introduced him to Raja), currently lodged in Delhi's Tihar jail after being arrested in the 2G case. An impartial inquiry into the purported suicide of Batcha is the need of the hour to establish the truth behind his mysterious death.









WHEN a journalist asked former Capt Amarinder Singh about shorter sittings of the Punjab assembly a couple of months before the present budget session, he had said: "The Akalis try to run away from debate on vital issues of the state's economy …" On Wednesday he did exactly what he had said about the Akalis. The Captain trooped out of the House along with his party MLAs after having his say on the budget. The Congress has decided to boycott the debate on the budget because, as the Captain put it, "we cannot discuss a bogus document on the floor of the House".


It is a sad fact of Indian democracy that whether it is Parliament or a state assembly, opposition parties tend to skirt debate on issues of public interest and instead resort to cheap gimmicks to disrupt the House proceedings, quite often to attract media attention. Legislators spend huge sums to get elected. On election, they make high-pitched noises, run down one another, even use abusive language and, if nothing else works, resort to walkouts and boycotts. What for? Why pay them hefty pay and perks if they cannot even perform their basic duty? If a budget has to be passed without a discussion, what else is more important? For a change, the Haryana assembly set a good example during its just-concluded session by having a healthy debate on various issues.


Questions have been raised about the authenticity of certain data carried in the 2011-12 Punjab budget. Former Finance Minister Manpreet Singh Badal was the first to raise doubts. It is possible that what Capt Amarinder Singh says is true. But he should present his case with figures and sources on the floor of the House to prove — to the satisfaction of all — that the budgetary figures are fudged. What is the point in asking for a White Paper and what is the guarantee that figures won't be fudged again? Instead of cribbing about the state's fiscal deterioration, the political leaders should sit together and evolve a consensus on a long-term plan to pull the state out of the fiscal morass.








AS was expected, Pakistan has finally released arrested US Embassy staffer Raymond Davis after the families of his two victims agreed to accept blood money. The Additional Sessions judge in Lahore who had earlier sentenced him to imprisonment for 41 days as an under-trial prisoner acquitted him on Wednesday as he was pardoned by 19 legal heirs of his victims on the payment of "diyat" or blood money. However, the formal announcement in this regard was made by Punjab Law Minister Rana Sanaullah in the evening after the US national, believed to be a CIA operative, had already left Pakistan by a special aircraft. This indicates that the government expected some trouble after the release of Davis. That is why no one can say with certainty that the Davis problem is over for the Pakistan government.


The US pressure on Pakistan is bound to ease with Davis finally getting freedom. Initially, Pakistan had been reluctant to release him as his claim for diplomatic immunity had proved to be hollow. The US had virtually failed to prove that Davis was a diplomat and, therefore, could not be proceeded against in accordance with the Pakistani law. Later on Pakistan was giving the impression of having buckled under US pressure, as it began to look for some legal loophole to free Davis. But the extremists in Pakistan had made it clear that they would not spare the PPP-led government in Islamabad if it accepted the US diplomatic immunity argument. Their viewpoint was strengthened by the then Pakistan Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, having lost his job owing to his insistence that Davis had no diplomatic status. The court ruling also supported the minister's line.


Releasing Davis on the payment of blood money is, obviously, a middle-of-the-road policy. Now the government can argue to silence the extremists that what had ultimately happened amounted to US admission that the suspected CIA operative had committed the double murder, which was not in self-defence, as was the American plea. But how the extremist section will react is difficult to predict at this stage, as they had been in favour of giving no concession to the US. The Pakistan government may find itself in a difficult strait if the Opposition led by Mr Nawaz Sharif's PML (N) also takes the extremist line. 











THERE is chaos in Libya with forces loyal to the Libyan dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, repulsing a rebel push to the west and then counterattacking with air strikes and increasingly accurate artillery fire on the strategic refinery towns. As Gaddafi's forces retake a series of strategic oil towns like Ras Lanuf and Zawiyah on the east coast of the country, which fell early in the rebellion to anti-government rebels, the West continues to debate what actions to take, including the creation of a possible no-flight zone to ground Libyan warplanes.


The opposition forces have failed to coalesce together and appear outmatched by government forces and troubled by tribal divisions that the government, reverting to form, has sought to exploit. Libya appears to be splintering along tribal lines, with the historically rebellious east falling quickly to the rebels while western Libya, traditionally more loyal to Colonel Gaddafi, remains under his control. With momentum seeming to shift, the rebels face the prospect of being outgunned and outnumbered in what increasingly looks like a mismatched civil war.


The debate on a no-flight zone has been getting louder in world capitals. European countries like Britain and France seem to favour the idea while the United States Defense Secretary, Mr Robert M. Gates, has underscored the difficulties of imposing such a ban, though he has seemed to soften his resistance in recent days. Britain and France are working on a United Nations resolution to authorise a no-flight zone, although it was unclear whether such a measure could gain the necessary votes of Russia and China in the Security Council.


The Gulf Cooperation Council has demanded that the Security Council should impose a no-flight zone. The Arab League, after dilly-dallying for weeks, has also decided to back the creation of a no-fly zone and wants the pan-Arab organisation to play a role in implementing it.


NATO has expanded its air surveillance over Libya from 10 hours to 24 hours a day to gather information on Libyan troop movements. There are now demands that it should find a way to share relevant information with the rebels.


The Obama administration is throwing out so many conflicting messages on Libya that it is blunting any potential pressure on the Libyan regime and weakening American credibility. Mr Obama inherited two wars in Muslim lands, which would seem to offer an argument for not getting entangled in a third. In his 2009 speech to the Muslim world from Cairo, he took pains to say that America had no imperial designs on Iraq or Afghanistan — a pledge that would be sorely tested if American military forces entered another Arab country, even if for humanitarian reasons.


This is a time of great tumult in the Middle-East, which is also testing the resolve of the international community to tackle difficult issues in the region. All major global powers are struggling with tough choices as they try to strike a balance between their values and strategic interests in crafting a response to the prevailing crisis in Libya. India is no exception but it is under the spotlight at the moment as it has assumed the non-permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council.


New Delhi has supported the Security Council resolution imposing sanctions on the Muammar Gaddafi regime that include a comprehensive arms embargo on Libya designed to prevent the direct or indirect supply, sale, or transfer of arms and military equipment to that country and a freeze on the economic resources "owned or controlled, directly or indirectly," by the designated Gaddafi family members. But this has not been an easy choice given the domestic political sensitivities involved. The ongoing discussions about the possibility of imposing a no-fly zone are making New Delhi more nervous.


India, despite being the largest democracy in the world, has largely watched the events unfold in the Middle-East in silence. In many ways, this reticence is understandable. The region has been witnessing a highly unpredictable situation and the government was taking its time to think through the implications. Moreover, for New Delhi to comment on events unfolding in the region would have been hypocritical given how seriously India takes the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of other countries. Much like China, India has traditionally resisted interventionist foreign policy doctrines emanating from the West and displayed conservative attitudes on the prerogatives of sovereignty.


Yet, India claims to be a rising global power today. America's endorsement of India's candidacy to the UN permanent membership, and India's easy victory in the election to the Security Council as a non-permanent member, do indeed represent recognition of India's credentials as a major global power. But India still needs to convince the world that it has a legitimate claim to a permanent seat on the council. Now in the spotlight, India is finding its actions on critical global issues — including its silence on the democratic turmoil in the Middle-East — being subjected to close and critical scrutiny. As a result, India is being forced to jettison its old foreign-policy assumptions and strike a delicate balance between the pursuit of its narrow national interest and its responsibility as a rising power to help maintain global peace and stability. India's success in this endeavor will, to a large extent, determine its future global profile.


The writer teaches at King's College, London.








Gone are the days when you called a spade a spade, believed in being upright and did not sacrifice your principles at any cost. Today, if you followed these ethical but outdated and discarded rules of life, you are sure to run the risk of finding yourself on the wrong side of your boss. Don't blame your boss for this but blame the system, which pushes a majority of the sycophants to the upper rung of the ladder in our democracy.


No doubt, every boss wants to have good and efficient workers under him. But the one who knows the knack of pleasing his boss, scores over the good workers hands down.


If you do not believe this, then I have to quote the recent and well-known example of Padam Singh, a DSP rank personal security officer to Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Mayawati.


The other day after alighting from her helicopter, when she accidentally slipped over a puddle, Padam Singh wasted no time in taking out his handkerchief and wiping mud from her sandals.


No wonder, 61-year-old Padam Singh was given an extension of two years after he retired from service last year and has been managing Mayawati's security for the last 15 years.


No eyebrows are raised over such shameful incidents these days because a majority of the politicians and bureaucrats have started viewing them as a sign of loyalty and respect towards them.


Now think of the top man in our Republic about three decades ago who went to the extent of saying openly that he could hold a broom in his hand and start sweeping, if the Prime Minister asked him to do so. There are many more such examples in our polity.


Sycophancy has assumed new dimensions over the years because of the encouraging response that it gets in our political system. The human nature being what it is, praise and adulation sound like music to one's ears.


An intelligent sycophant can always chalk out a successful career for himself. And at the end of it, he can tell us all: "Nothing succeeds like success".









THE economic costs of a catastrophe such as that which has struck Japan should always rank second to the human costs. Economic losses can be recouped; human losses cannot, and it seems almost improper to be trying to make a tally of the economic and financial consequences of what has happened as the terrible story continues to unfold. But such is the harsh reality of our ever more global economy, that these calculations are indeed being made — even if the answers may turn out to be wildly wrong.


So what can sensibly be said? Some thoughts first about Japan itself; then about its influence on the world economy and financial markets; and then finally about one industry that will be most radically changed by these events: nuclear power.


There is for Japan a template of sorts: the Kobe earthquake of 1995. Kobe is the port of Osaka (Japan's second city) and the earthquake there, while smaller in magnitude, struck a more densely populated area and resulted in 6,500 deaths.


The size of the local economy directly affected is broadly similar, some 7 per cent of Japan's GDP, though the balance then was more skewed towards trade and services while now it is manufacturing. The overall cost in 1995 worked out at about 2.5 per cent of GDP and that was a real loss of wealth carried by the country. But in terms of GDP there was little overall impact: some lost in the early months offset, maybe more than offset, by reconstruction-spurred growth thereafter. How can you have a real cost to wealth but no negative impact on GDP? Because resources used to rebuild are resources not available to be consumed. Debt is higher and living standards are further depressed.


If Kobe is the template, then this event feels somewhat more serious, sadly in human terms but also in economic. That is because the damage to the country's power infrastructure may have further-reaching consequences than the considerable physical damage in Kobe. But barring some further disaster it is hard to see the losses being more than, perhaps, 5 per cent of GDP.


That is huge of course, for this is the world's third largest economy, but it is not unmanageable. Japan does in any case face great challenges: its ageing population, its national debt, its anaemic growth, its social and economic rigidities and so on. This is an additional blow and one coming at a particularly difficult time, for the economy was already shrinking. But countries do recover remarkably swiftly from physical destruction and Japan has the social cohesion to speed it on its way.


The rest of the world? Well, we have seen the impact on the financial markets. It would have been astounding had they responded to the news, with all its uncertainties, in any other way. There may, as a result of the financial disruption, be some further and unforeseeable consequences: companies that might go under as a result, or financial institutions that would collapse if they are not rescued.


The Bank of Japan has made the right response by pumping money into the system and it is quite possible that the increases in interest rates that would shortly have occurred in Europe and the UK will now have to be delayed. On the other hand, this blow comes at a time when demand in the emerging world seemed to be slackening, reducing pressure on commodity and energy prices, so an improvement in inflation prospects might quite separately justify holding off a while yet before the inevitable tightening of monetary policy kicks in. Unless something unspeakable happens in the next few days, the markets should be able to look through the disruption and focus on the still-evident global recovery.


One thing however will be changed for a generation, maybe for ever. That will be the developed world's attitude to nuclear power. Power plants in most other countries are not built in earthquake zones but in Europe at least they are arguably more exposed to terrorist attack than those in Japan. This, mercifully, does not seem to be as dreadful in technical terms as the Chernobyl disaster, but in political terms its effect will be at least as big. This is not an inherently unsafe design in what was then part of the Soviet Union. It is a supposedly safe one in a technically competent, advanced economy.


We have already seen the reaction in Germany: it is taking seven of its 17 plants off-line for three months as it assesses the plans to extend their life. Whatever the balance of scientific argument, it will become very difficult to win authority to build new plants in the developed world. It may be that China can race on with its nuclear programme, and it has nearly half of all nuclear power currently being built. Maybe other emerging economies will be able to build new plants too, but to put the point at its weakest, nuclear power will not be a significant element in the global shift to a low-carbon economy.


This changes things. What is the point of switching to electric cars, with all the rare elements needed for their batteries, if the power to drive them is going to be produced by thermal power stations? We become a world even more dependent on the Middle East, and/or on oil and gas from difficult and dangerous ocean and Arctic locations. Maybe, just maybe, the developed world will use the price mechanism more aggressively to make people conserve energy. If that were so it would be a silver lining indeed.


We need to learn from this. There are many lessons — economic, commercial and social — that we can take from Japan. Anyone who visits the country will be aware of that, just as there are things that Japan can learn from the UK and Europe. What Japan does matters to us directly: it has, after all, played a huge role in rescuing the British motor industry. But it also affects us indirectly in that Japanese manufacturing technology has been one of the forces that have over the past generation reshaped the daily lives of everyone in the world. And now, as this dreadful story unfolds, the world economy will be reshaped again. — The Independent







The following are main developments after a massive earthquake and tsunami devastated northeast Japan and crippled a nuclear power station, raising the risk of uncontrolled radiation:


* Japan's top government spokesman says radiation levels around the quake-damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power complex in northeastern Japan are not at levels to cause an immediate health risk.


* Operator of the nuclear power complex in northeastern Japan recorded the site's highest levels of radiation at the No.3 reactor on Wednesday.


* Operator says it is unable to resume work on cooling the reactors due to radiation risk, and it is not easy to bring equipment to the site due to debris on the roads.


* Workers ordered to leave the plant were allowed back in after radiation levels fell. Operator says there were 180 workers on site as of 0230 GMT.


* Fire breaks out at reactor No.4 a day after a blast blew a hole in the building housing spent fuel rods. White smoke seen from No.3 reactor most likely to be steam from the water that is being poured to cool the rods.


* Authorities plan to bulldoze an emergency route to crippled reactor No.4 to allow access for fire trucks. A helicopter separately preparing to pour water on to No. 3 reactor—whose roof was damaged by an earlier explosion—to try to cool its fuel rods, broadcaster NHK said.


* World Health Organisation says there is no evidence of significant international radiation spread from Japan.


* No plan yet to extend evacuation zone near the facility, 240 km north of Tokyo.


* Australia urges its citizens with non-essential roles to consider leaving Tokyo and the most damaged prefectures, and Turkey warns citizens against travelling to Japan.


* France urges nationals living in Tokyo to leave country or move south. Two Air France planes on their way to begin evacuation.


* Radiation levels in Ibaraki, north of Tokyo, 300 times normal level but well below hazardous levels, Kyodo says.


* Fuel rods in the No. 1 reactor were 70 per cent damaged and the rods in the No. 2 reactor were 33 per cent damaged, Kyodo says.


* Japan's benchmark Nikkei average closes 4.5 per cent up on Wednesday after suffering its worst two-day rout since 1987. The index surged over 6 per cent at one point.


* Tens of thousands of people still missing since Friday's quake and tsunami. Food and water in short supply in parts of the northeast. About 8,50,000 households in the north without electricity in near-freezing weather.


* Some residents leave the capital; others stock up on food.

* Death toll is expected to exceed 10,000, and rescue workers are continuing to search coastal cities for survivors. — Reuters









Civilisation's future, EM Forster wrote in his July 1941 essay originally broadcast on BBC, demands something less dramatic and emotional than prattle about love. "Tolerance," he said, "is a very dull virtue. It is boring. Unlike love, it has always had a bad press. It is negative. It merely means putting up with people, being able to stand things."


Seventy years have passed since, and it seems clear that in that time we have grown more intolerant not less. Whether it is books, writing, art, religion, complexion, dress, headgear, worship or diet, we seem now only to be defined by hate.


The Bombay High Court's decision of March 11, 2011 in what I will call, for want of a better phrase, the Parsi priests' case has been described as 'historic' and 'landmark'. It is both, and not only because it is so exceptionally well-written by Justice Chandrachud, but because of its profound impact that reaches far beyond the litigation itself. Jamshyd Kanga, a former IAS officer, and Homi Khusrokhan, a highly regarded professional who served as the MD of various companies (Glaxo, Tata Tea, Tata Chemicals), both Parsis, sought the court's interpretation of the 1884 Parsi Panchayat Trust Deed. The immediate cause for the case was the trustees' ban on two priests from performing religious ceremonies at the Towers of Silence and at two agiaries. These priests had, it was alleged, conducted 'irreligious' ceremonies: funeral rites for Parsis who were cremated; navjots for children of mixed parentage; and marriages of Parsis marrying non-Parsis. The petitioners claimed that management of Panchayat properties, including the Towers of Silence and agiaries, is a secular function, and the trustees cannot ban priests from performing religious ceremonies there. The defence argued that the court was really being asked to determine what is or is not an acceptable Zoroastrian religious ceremony; essentially, that the 'purity' of the religion demanded the ban.


The context is an ancient religion, 3,500 years old, one whose vast influences are found in unlikely places. Paul Kriwaczek's excellent book, In Search of Zarathustra, tells of a journey through Central Asia to discover the roots of a faith which speaks of a single universal god and the tension between good and evil; teachings that presaged the teachings of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. In modern writing, the most immediate example of the religion's influence is, of course, Friedrich Nietzsche's Also Sprach Zarathustra, in which, following an epiphany, he attempted to reinterpret the religion. Nietzsche's book itself had many influences: from Richard Strauss and Gustav Mahler to Stanley Kubrick in 2001: A Space Odyssey. After pulling off a two-paragraph summary of Nietzsche's book, Kriwaczek gives us this astonishing passage: "On a damp and gloomy morning... on the other side of the square, in front of the imposing National Library [in Turin], a carter was savagely beating his horse. The horse fell to its knees. The austere philosopher, who had uncompromisingly condemned pity as a debilitating weakness, sped across the road and flung his arms about the horse's neck, a gesture of sympathy and solidarity with another living being. It was his last sane and human act. He would never return to his senses again. He had finally passed beyond good and evil."


Good and evil, sanity, what it means to be human, to be humane; it is but a short hop from Nietzche to Forster, for there are precepts in Zoroastrianism, as in all other religions, which are universal and not bound to dogma. Yet, doctrinaire views — inflexible attachments to practice or theory without regard to practicality — are the favoured weapons of fundamentalists everywhere. In their hands even the most moderate views can be deformed. As Forster also said, "it's very easy to see fanaticism in other people, but difficult to spot in oneself."

The Parsi community is unique, and uniquely Indian. It has many great qualities, perhaps the greatest of which is its remarkable generosity of spirit. It is this spirit that the judgment recognises when it condemns a narrow, sectarian religious perspective: "At least the Court cannot be a party to encouraging religious obscurantism."


This judgment of the Bombay High Court will now be taken to the Supreme Court. There, hopefully, it will be left untouched, for this is a judgment that India both needs and deserves. In a country which claims to be truly secular by law but which displays every indication to the contrary, this judgment is a reaffirmation of one of our most cardinal Constitutional principles. In it, we hear the distinct echo of Forster's recommendation for temperance. And we hear, too, the equally distinct voice of Nietzsche calling from the past: "You have your way. I have my way. As for the right way, the correct way, and the only way, it does not exist."


The immediate cause for the case was a ban on two priests from performing religious ceremonies




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Underlying inflationary pressures have accentuated, warns the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) in its mid-quarter review of monetary policy, adding that 'risks to growth' are also emerging. These concerns, the RBI explains, justify its decision to hike the repo and the reverse repo rates, under the liquidity adjustment facility (LAF), by 25 basis points, from 6.5 per cent to 6.75 per cent and from 5.5 per cent to 5.75 per cent, respectively. Would the RBI have been compelled to take this action this week if there was no mid-quarter review? Or, would this action have been superfluous if the central bank had, in fact, raised rates by 50 basis points at the time of its last quarterly review, instead of the 25 basis points hike? Economists and market analysts will debate that issue as much as whether the RBI's monetary policy actions will make any difference at all to the price level when a variety of non-monetary factors are also responsible for driving up prices. The merits and demerits of big bang rate changes versus baby steps will continue to divide analysts. However, the RBI has let it be known that it is still, indeed even more so, worried about inflation and will not take its eye off the price radar merely because growth is likely to be hurt.

The central bank has signaled several concerns: the threat of rising oil prices globally and the need for upward adjustment of domestic energy prices; incipient demand-side pressures as represented by rising non-food manufacturing inflation; doubts about the ability of government to get a grip on subsidies and contain the fiscal deficit within budgetary estimates; and, ability of the agricultural sector to ease supply-side pressures on the price front. Given all these concerns, the central bank has opted for caution and placed inflation management at the centre of its policy. If this means some dent on growth, so be it. The RBI is right to assert that fiscal consolidation remains a key priority in inflation management and inducement of higher growth. It is critical, says RBI, "to focus on the quality of expenditure, keeping the aggregate under control without compromising on the delivery of services. Only by doing this can the fiscal situation contribute to demand-side inflation management."


 On the external side, the RBI has conceded that its earlier alarmist view of a widening current account deficit may have been exaggerated and that the more recent "robust" performance of exports means that CAD can be contained at 2.5 per cent of GDP, a view already expressed by the prime minister's economic advisory council. The RBI's reiteration of the importance of bringing in "long-term" capital flows, especially foreign direct investment, "so as to enhance the sustainability of the balance of payments (BoP) over the medium-term" is a reminder to a government that has been lackadaisical in handling the challenge of attracting more FDI into the country. Taken together — its views on inflation, the current account deficit and capital flows — it seems the RBI does not see itself facing the impossible trinity at this time. The focus of monetary policy is the rate of inflation.







There is a fundamental inequality in the governance arrangement in New Delhi that continues to plague the United Progressive Alliance. Members of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi's National Advisory Council feel they have the right to criticise the government and its functionaries all the time, while no one in government is willing to return the compliment. In an interview to this newspaper, (March 13) the self-proclaimed father of India's green revolution, Dr M S Swaminathan, hurled invectives against planning commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia and the newly appointed chairperson of the Commission on Agricultural Costs and Price (CACP) Ashok Gulati. While Dr Swaminathan then sent a letter to the editor (March 16) denying he had said any such thing, the fact is that he did. The moot point is not what Dr Swaminathan said, but the fact that he felt no hesitation criticising two important members of the Union government, while himself being a member of NAC. That many in the Congress party see themselves as Her Majesty's "loyal opposition" is by now well known. Party members like Mani Shankar Aiyar have attacked government functionaries from the prime minister downwards with impunity. But, it is one thing for politicians to play politics and another for a scientist and a former government functionary to do the same.

There is nothing wrong about individuals having policy differences and nothing wrong in these being publicly aired. Indeed, there is nothing wrong in even suggesting that some policies may be pro-rich and others pro-poor. But to attribute motives, to charge someone with being pro-American and pro-multinationals and such like, to equate the appointment of a distinguished agricultural economist like Ashok Gulati as CACP chairperson to the appointment of P J Thomas as chief vigilance commissioner, as Dr Swaminathan did in his interview to a correspondent of this newspaper, is entirely objectionable, particularly when the concerned officials cannot defend themselves in public. Dr Gulati is a world-class agricultural economist who has earned distinction from his professional work. His decision to enter government, after years of working in India and abroad in research organisations, ought to be welcomed. The government needs more such professionals at various levels.


 In fact, there used to be more such lateral entry into government during the days of Jawaharlal Nehru, Indira Gandhi and even Rajiv Gandhi. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has tried to attract new professional talent into government only in his second term and this ought to be welcomed. Since Dr Swaminathan has withdrawn his remarks and recanted, in a letter to the editor, it will hopefully be the last time that NAC members will misuse their position to tarnish the reputation of those in government. The idea of creating an internal opposition to the government, in the name of ideological checks and balances appears to have gone awry. This is, of course, not to deny that NAC has not played a constructive role. Both the employment guarantee act and the right to information are important initiatives of NAC in UPA's first term in office. However, in the second term it appears NAC is unable to come forward with practical policy options for the government. Perhaps the time has come to wind up NAC.









It is remarkable that in the reams — or should I say screams — of media coverage of the protests rocking West Asia, there is very little about the threat of the outbreak of Islamic fundamentalist terrorism. Till relatively recently — indeed, perhaps, just before the Night in Tunisia — almost every Western analysis of any Muslim country carried varying and often significant overtones of Islamophobia. The currently decidedly supportive media coverage makes it clear that this page is turning, although it will take some time for the impact of several years of horrifyingly crude distortions of Islam to be unwound.


 The good news is that the immediacy of electronic media tells the tale as it is — everybody could see there were almost no bearded and robed protestors on the streets in Cairo or Tunis, certainly on the first three or four days of the revolution. They were simply people protesting peacefully, demanding a better life and a more responsive government — not that different than, say, the hundreds of thousands of Tea Party protestors who had recently jammed Washington D.C. demanding that Mr. Obama change his policies.

While the analogy is certainly not exact — for instance, the Tea Party protest was orchestrated, while the Jasmine Revolution was not; the issues in West Asia were much more critical, sometimes having to do with life and death; and so on — the point is to recognise that Tunisians or Egyptians protesting their perceived injustices are, politically speaking, identical to Americans or English or French people protesting their perceived injustices.

One remarkable difference, however, was the sight of tens of thousands of Muslims praying side-by-side in Tahrir Square and then getting up and demonstrating against the government. This definitive distinction — between Allah, on the one hand, and the government, on the other — suggests to me that, sooner rather than later, more and more Islamic countries will become — like Turkey and Indonesia — simply countries with majority Muslim populations.

Another dramatic change that will be driven by the protests — particularly those in Bahrain — is to bring the different Muslim strands — Shia and Sunni — closer together. Sunnis, in Tunisia and Egypt, who have tasted tear gas and rubber bullets and worse — will surely identify much more with the Shias, who are suffering the same atrocities on the streets of Bahrain, than with Sunni rulers, whether in their own country or elsewhere.

Now, I am no serious student of Islamic history, but I think it is obvious that when there is a lot of awaaz about anything in the world, as there has been about Islam over the past thirty or forty years, it means that there is some deep-rooted change going on. The last fundamental change in Islam was in the 1920's, when Ataturk defeated the Allies after World War I and converted the remnants of the Ottoman empire, which had been that the seat of Islamic knowledge and learning, into a secular nation.

Islamic thinking and scholarship was relegated to the edges and slunk away to reappear, snarling defensively, in Wahhabi Saudi Arabia and Egypt. The culmination of this change was 9/11, which, to me, marked the high point — the dying gasps, in a manner of speaking — of Wahhabi fundamentalism and the beginning of the evolution of a new Islam.

A critical element of this evolution must be the softening of the hard edge between Shias and Sunnis. I recognise that this hard edge may simply be the result of politics, as most hard edges are, but politics, particularly if they have been perpetrated for generations if not centuries, create walls that need to be torn down.

And it is patently clear that this Jasmine Revolution is in process of doing just that.

Another positive that will come — indeed, is already coming out — of these horrifying events is a newer, more liberal outlook on the "Arab street". The process of marching side by side with thousands of other people, all driven by the same impulse for change, always radicalises — or, at least, liberalises — mindsets. Talk to anyone in the West who marched for change in the 1960's and the 1970's. The true lesson of any protest that is genuinely grassroots is that we are all in this together, whether you wear a three-piece suit, a hijab or cutoffs and a T-shirt.

Of course, the cards are still being played out, and they will have huge geopolitical and economic implications. But I believe that when the tale is finally told, the real story will be that this glorious revolution in West Asia is the next step in the birth of a new, modern and yes, secular Islam.









On International Women's Day each year, the usual suspects issue their press releases, noting the disadvantages that women face in the work place and how female quotas for company boards can be the magic medicine to deliver improved performance.


 Corporate Affairs Minister Murli Deora obviously didn't want to be left behind this year, and announced that companies with five or more members on their boards must have at least one woman director. The minister is dead serious; the provision will be incorporated in the new Companies Bill, expected to be tabled in Parliament next week.

However, the response from the constituency that Mr Deora sought to address wasn't charitable. "Is feminism about the equal treatment of men and women, or the elimination of merit-based appointments?" was the response of the woman CEO of one of India's largest financial services firm.

Her counterpart in a leading management consultancy said women's appointments in such senior positions should not be seen as filling a quota rather than being made on the basis of merit. "Having female directors can't be part of corporate social responsibility; we can do without such charity," said another.

The consensus among senior women executives seems to be that while companies must identify and remove any barriers to female participation in senior roles, the government has no business telling companies how many women should sit on their boards because that extends way beyond any sensible boundary of corporate regulation.

Supporters of Mr Deora's move say the move to improve gender diversity in Indian companies is in keeping with Europe-wide action on the issue. France and Spain have followed Norway in introducing quotas. German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last month that the country's male dominated boardrooms were a "scandal". Last month, a committee appointed by the British government gave the country's 100 biggest companies five years to double the number of women on their boards from the current average level of 12.5 per cent to a quarter, or face mandatory quotas.

Mr Deora's backers also say a legislation was long overdue as India Inc has been unfair giving women access in boardrooms. Only 5 per cent of board positions are held by women in India's top 100 companies. Even this doesn't give the true picture since most women CEOs (35 per cent) are from promoter families. If they are taken out of the equation, the number would drop drastically. This, a study by industry body Assocham showed, is far less than 15 per cent in Canada, 14.5 per cent in the US, 12 per cent in the UK, and 9 per cent in Hong Kong.

Quota supporters also say investing in women must be taken out of the realm of ideology and into the executive suite. But will a knife of quotas at your throat help in achieving this? The answer is "highly unlikely".

There are many reasons for this. First, the assertion that companies with more female directors perform better than those with few or none is a mere perception. The truth is that no research worth its salt has been able to establish the truth of these assertions. For example, Norway was the first country to have a mandatory quota for women directors. But no one has ventured to claim that Norwegian companies have increased their profitability after five years of such quotas.

Also, a report by Egon Zehnder shows that Norway has no female executive board members (most of the positions filled by women in Norwegian companies are non-executive positions), compared with 6 per cent in the UK where no such quota exists as of now.

So, the worry is that even in India, board positions will be allocated to meet the quota, rather than to hire the best business talent available. Or, as another female CEO says, a quota will force an appointments committee to opt for candidates who are just seat-warmers.

Plus, availability of competent directors, irrespective of their sex, is a critical issue in India in any case, and a quota will only make things worse. The reason for fewer women directors has nothing to do with the absence of a mandatory quota and is more a social and cultural issue.

In his book Why Men Earn More author Warren Farrell says women make sacrifices at work in exchange for greater happiness in their lives as a whole. His book offers 25 reasons for a pay gap between men and women: Women work fewer hours, for example, and they don't stay at jobs as long as men do. Whether it's nature or socialisation driving their decisions, women tend to choose lives that allow them to spend more time with their families, Farrell contends.

Another view is that instead of wasting his time on quota in boardrooms, Mr Deora would do well to look at the broader problem. For example, an estimate by the US Population Division said India's women labour participation rate is only higher than Fiji's in a list of 14 Asia-Pacific nations. To put things in perspective, even countries like Bangladesh are far ahead of India.







The monumental corruption now manifest in the highest echelons of government and public administration has met with strong opposition in the form of a growing national consensus about the systemic failure of good governance and rule of law in the country. With many public officials accumulating assets disproportionate to their legal sources of income, systematising asset declaration is well-nigh the need of the hour.

Public disclosure of information and reporting are critical in ensuring transparency and accountability. Simply put, it is a case of "sunlight is the best disinfectant", as US Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis would say. India does not have a legal framework that reinforces asset declaration; it follows the tradition of institutional ethics that govern codes of conduct or disclosure rules. However, these are not legally enforceable integrity pledges setting out disclosure obligations. There is no ombudsman uniquely poised to review and monitor declarations of income and assets by public officials. In this regard, following suggestions may be considered.


 Rationalising bureaucratic accountability — a call for professional ethics: Rules requiring periodic disclosure of assets and financial dealings by public officials serve a dual purpose: they assist both the official concerned and the government in determining whether conflicting interests exist and provide a baseline and means for comparison to identify assets that may have been acquired through corruption. Based on the recommendations of the Committee on Prevention of Corruption headed by the late K Santhanam, the Central Civil Services (Conduct) Rules, 1964 were notified laying down the Code of Conduct for Central Government Employees with a view to maintaining integrity in public services.

Rules 18 and 18-A require all Class-I (Group A) and Class-II (Group B) public servants employed by the central government to submit a return of assets and liabilities and movable, immovable and valuable property owned, acquired or inherited by them and their immediate family members on first appointment and at such intervals as may be prescribed by the government. Statements of such returns by bureaucrats are deemed confidential under the law. However, the Central Information Commission in a landmark order in November 2009 decreed: "Disclosure of information such as assets of a public servant – which is routinely collected by the public authority and routinely provided by the public servants – cannot be construed as an invasion on the privacy of an individual."

Moreover, effectively enforcing and monitoring such declarations should form part of the Department of Personnel and Training's Annual Confidential Reports of government servants with a view to appraising their performance in the areas of their work, conduct, character and capabilities. Creating a framework in which people are hauled up for making false declarations or non-disclosure within accepted time limits would only be wholly effective if they were then subject to forfeiture of the undeclared property.

Ending political exceptionalism — an agenda for rule of law: An interim report by the National Election Watch disclosed that more than 314 crorepati MPs have been elected to the 15th Lok Sabha (2009) — an increase of 100 per cent compared to the 154 crorepati MPs elected to the 14th Lok Sabha (2004).

Given the privileged position that elected representatives of the country enjoy, which gives them unfettered access to public resources and plenty of opportunities to line their pockets, a public interest litigation was filed in 2001. This came from the People's Union for Civil Liberties, Association for Democratic Reforms and Lok Satta in the Supreme Court seeking a redress of the situation. In a landmark judgment, the Court issued a directive to the Election Commission. It layed down that all candidates filing their nomination papers for contesting national or state-level elections were to declare on oath in an affidavit their assets (moveable, immoveable, bank balance and so on), liabilities, educational qualifications, criminal antecedents and all pending cases of offences in which cognisance has been taken by a court of law. Not furnishing such information at the time of nomination makes the candidate liable to rejection and is considered a violation of the order of the Supreme Court.

Every member of both Houses of Parliament is required within 90 days of taking the oath to submit an annual statement of assets including moveable and immoveable property owned in India and abroad and liabilities owed to any public finance institutions.

Also, the Rajya Sabha (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Rules, 2004 specify that the declarations made by MPs are required to be updated every year and can be made available to any person with the written permission of the Chairman. The Lok Sabha (Declaration of Assets and Liabilities) Rules, 2004 specify that the declarations made by the Lok Sabha MPs shall be treated as confidential and shall not be made available to any person without the written permission of the Speaker. Besides initial disclosure, the rules do not contain an express provision for the declaration made by the MPs to be updated in case there is a change in the status of their assets and liabilities.

Despite the proviso under Section 75(A)(5) of the Representation of the People Act, 1951, which makes non-disclosure of assets tantamount to a breach of privilege of the House, there are no penalties severe enough to act as a significant deterrent for failing to disclose as required or for making false or misleading disclosure. The flagrant violations of parliamentary norms have seen 110 Lok Sabha MPs failing to declare their assets even eight months after their election to the 15th Lok Sabha, as reported by major national dailies.

It is imperative that constitutional bodies like the Election Commission of India play the role of an independent asset-monitoring body for the purpose. Successful enforcement needs to be institutionalised with the Election Commission having a clear mandate, capacity, resources and punitive powers to build an internal system that keeps and manages proper records, and monitors the timeliness and the validity of the assets declared by public functionaries. It must also have a system of checks on the accuracy of declarations, routinely policing income tax returns of the politicians whose assets are being monitored.

In addition, it would serve well if the election law requires candidates seeking election to Parliament to declare on oath that they have no undeclared wealth or property overseas. They must also declare that if any such assets are discovered then they authorise the government to confiscate those assets. Such a provision would empower the government to confiscate or recover any such ill-gotten wealth stashed away in foreign banks.

Reigning in political parties — a demand for internal democracy: The law in India dealing with disclosure of election and party funding is weak. The Income Tax Act exempts the income of a political party under Section 13 (A) from taxation. Parties are bound by law to maintain accounts regularly, record and disclose names of donors contributing more than Rs 10, 000 and have their accounts audited by a qualified accountant. For such disclosure norms to be institutionalised, political parties should submit an audited statement of accounts to the Election Commission and the Income Tax authorities each year and after every general election. All such information on political contributions and expenditure by parties should be made public through print and electronic means. The Election Commission should be the final authority to verify, audit and determine the disclosure of financial statements. Non-compliance by political parties should invite de-recognition and de-registration for a fixed number of years.

The institutional ability, especially of the Election Commission and Department of Personnel and Training, to ensure that political commitments are actually carried out needs to be buttressed. Necessitating citizen empowerment by raising awareness and ensuring public participation in information disclosure and reporting is required more than ever. Therein lies the success of sustained public action towards clean governance.

The writers are with the Public Interest Foundation, New Delhi









The rate changes by the central bank in its midquarter monetary policy review on Thursday, a 25 basis point rise in both the repo rate and the reverse repo rate, were predictable, bringing these rates to 6.75% and 5.75%, still below the pre-crisis levels. The revision of the estimate for year-on-year inflation in the concluding month of the current fiscal from 7% to 8%, too, comes as no surprise. What offers a welcome break from predictability is the central bank's forthright assessment that the main tasks for containing inflation are the government's rather than its own. Broad money growth has been just about keeping pace with nominal GDP growth and the RBI still has to inject liquidity into the system, thanks to a tardy pace of government expenditure in the wake of the government mopping up liquidity on assorted counts such as spectrum auction proceeds, disinvestment and hefty tax payments by companies. Given this, it is difficult to blame monetary excess for sustained inflation. The RBI identifies three tasks for the government to keep inflation in check and sustain growth: one, keep a lid on subsidies to keep the overall fiscal deficit in check, so as to leave room for robust private sector investment; two, remove fuel subsidies, so as to stop feeding inflationary expectations (after all, as global crude prices keep rising, domestic retail prices have to reflect them sooner or later); and, three, invest to raise farm productivity, to ease food inflation. The central bank notes with satisfaction that the Budget for 2011-12 does promise to make progress on these three vital fronts, and calls on the government to deliver on the promises made.
The challenge, clearly, is political. Raising retail fuel prices calls for courage and honest, persuasive communication with the public. So does reducing fertiliser subsidy, power subsidy and irrigation subsidy for the farm sector. The nearly 2% of GDP that goes to the farm sector as wasteful subsidy must be converted into investment, to boost yields and output. That conversion is an alchemy that only politics can muster, but only a politics of courage and conviction, not one of craven compromise.








To state that corruption is endemic in India is a truism. And that politics in India isn't just implicated in it but one of the systemic reasons for the entrenchment of that malaise is also hardly a revelation. To that end, even if taken at face value, the WikiLeaks cable which alleges that an aide of a Congress MP rather blithely revealed to a US embassy official that cash was paid to parliamentarians to ensure the survival of the UPA-1 government in the 2008 vote of confidence hasn't revealed something new about how our political class behaves. That pecuniary considerations play a role in how politics is conducted, be it bribing voters to buying party tickets or toppling or forming governments, is an insalubrious truth every Indian is aware of. And for the opposition to behave as if the unsubstantiated chatter within the diplomatic channels of a foreign nation establishes that only this particular government is culpable of wrongdoing is sanctimonious posturing. That is not to suggest that such transactions on the trust vote could not have been carried out. Just what else does the oft-witnessed spectacle of virtually all political parties, at the regional or national level, spiriting away their MLAs or MPs to some farmhouse or secluded luxury resort during government-formation or House vote exercises tell us about how things work? It is but one aspect of the sorry state of affairs where the 'power and pelf ' principle has corroded our polity to an extent that it constitutes one of the biggest dangers to our future.
Of course, acts of whistleblowing can well be in the larger public interest. Culpability for wrongdoing must also be fixed wherever it can. But there is also a need to establish linkages that can stand legal scrutiny. An opposition tries to put the government on the mat whenever it can. But the necessity to undo the perversion of governance through corruption, the need to change a putrid system, is a wider task which must be taken up by the entire political class as a whole. It can't, as in this instance, be a matter of continuing the current political battle on managing public perceptions on corruption.







    Even if Indian investigative agencies cannot be readily commended for their conviction rates — their success on that count is usually rare — their healthy approach towards procedural aspects in general needs to be appreciated. They always only grill, after all. Unfortunately, even then the results are not always palatable. Of course, some may quibble about why the sleuths cannot widen their repertoire to include equally low fat adjectival alternatives such as boiling, poaching, or roasting but the short answer would be that none of these would have such a searing impact on those being interrogated. Barbecuing may achieve the same effect but since it is best done in the open air, maintaining confidentiality is difficult and too many reporters get a whiff of what's cooking. When it comes to toasting, there is always a danger of unpleasant surprises popping up, and the quick and continuous movements usually needed for sauteeing can render it difficult for a lumbering government agency to execute. Roasting requires constant twists and turns and is therefore not naturally preferred by those who are used to getting their outcomes with minimum physical effort. Stir-fry is an shortcut option, but its suspicious Chinese allusions can prove uncomfortable when it comes to the crunch. Pressure (cooking) tactics, can prove counterproductive, for while it notionally saves time too, it often reduces the contents to a pulp without extracting anything worthwhile. On the other hand, there is nothing quite as bad as being damned by faint braise either: a tasteless, long-drawn-out outcome, due to inadequate power and fluctuating heat. The hardest criticism of all for the CBI to stomach, however, should be the conclusion that no matter how long it grills, the result is inevitably half-baked.








The public's visceral reaction to the terrifying images emanating out of Japan overwhelm nuances such as redundant reactor technology, modern safety mechanisms or geological stability of plant locations, nipping a nascent industry renaissance in the bud. Nuclear is once again a dirty word.

Beijing has suspended approval for nuclear power plants across the country, putting brakes on a development programme that accounts for almost 40 % of the world's planned reactors. In the US, billions in loan guarantees as well as the first wave of new plant licences since the Three Mile Island accident in 1979 are in jeopardy. Germany has idled one-third of its nuclear capacity. Spain, Switzerland, the UK, the US and India have announced safety reviews.

The Middle East turmoil and nuclear woes in Japan have revived sentiment in wind, solar and geothermal energy. The WilderHill Clean Energy Index, which had underperformed S&P 500 by nearly 9 % from the beginning of the year until the day of the massive Japan earthquake, has beaten the market by over 4% since. The 1995 earthquake in Kobe, Japan, provides reasonable template of potential loss. That quake killed 0.4% of the population and it took 3% of Japan's GDP to resurrect Kobe. Those are small fractions of the 20% loss of population and 30-50% of Portuguese GDP needed to rebuild Lisbon two centuries earlier.
In the initial week following Kobe, Nikkei fell 6.6%. Over next month, the index was down 5.26%, and over next three months, Nikkei fell 15%. Just under six months after Kobe was hit, Nikkei had fallen 25%. By end of 1995, however, the index regained all of its post-earthquake losses.

If nuclear power plants there have to stay offline and there are blackouts, it could disrupt supply chains. High-value goods, such as computer chips or specialised auto parts, made in Japan might have limited sources elsewhere around the globe.

Japan, unlike New Zealand after its recent Christchurch quake, can't cut interest rates much. Bank of Japan has injected 15 trillion yen ($181 billion) into the system. But that is unlikely to reverse the yen's surge (current $1 = 79Y is the highest since World War II) due to Japanese insurance companies repatriating foreign assets to finance claims payouts and Japanese investors repatriating funds for reconstruction.

Cost of commodities, from crude oil to iron ore and from copper to soyabeans, are likely to drop over the next days and weeks. Platinum and palladium could fall amidst weakened demand from Japanese automakers Toyota, Nissan and Honda, who have decided to stop production. Uranium prices will drop as consumption falls — and the few speculators active on the market are likely to liquidate their positions immediately, prompting abig price correction.

One could expect big, shortterm localised dislocations. For example, as steelmakers shut down because of a shortage of power in Japan, iron ore prices could drop but steel prices could rise. Copper concentrates prices could plunge, but refined metal could surge. Breaking windows is good for glaziers. But as economist Frédéric Bastiat pointed out a century and a half ago, the net effect damages the economy. Breaking every window in north-east Japan — and snuffing out thousands of lives — is a terrible way to stimulate the country's sluggish economy. Still, after an initial shock, the Japanese GDP should get a boost as infrastructure and homes are rebuilt. This will augment Asia's regional demand. The excess borrowing that the Japanese government is likely to take on to pay for reconstruction could drive up global bond yields slightly.


Japan is world'sthird-largest oil importer, behind only the US and China, and the top buyer of LNG and thermal coal. The reactors affected — 9,700 megawatts of nuclear capacity (a fifth of Japan's total) — will not return to power for the year, if at all. Tokyo is likely to close other plants for safety checks, or to rebuild defences against tsunamis.

The International Energy Agency estimates that it takes about 38.8 barrels of crude oil to replace 1 mw of idled nuclear power generation capacity in Japan. If the country were to replace its missing nuclear capacity with oil alone, it would have to import a further 3,75,000 barrels a day (b/d), on top of expected purchases this year of about 4.25 million b/d. Japan is more likely to opt for a combination of oil, LNG and thermal coal. The country significantly boosted its purchases of LNG, thermal coal and crude oil in 2002 after 17 of Japan's 54 reactors were shut down for safety inspections, and again in 2007 and 2008 after shutdown of Kashiwazaki-Kariwa atomic station (Japan's largest). Accordingly, higher thermal coal prices are likely. Annual contracts for the Japanese fiscal year, starting on April 1, 2011, are likely to exceed the record high of $125 a tonne set in 2008-09. Crude, fuel oil and LNG will also rise medium to long term. The reactors most likely to be impacted by the fallout are second-generation CPR1000 models. Third-generation reactors, like the AP1000 built by Westinghouse and the EPR built by Areva, are safer and less likely to be impacted.

Companies most directly affected are uranium miners and processors such as Cameco and USEC, and reactor-builders Areva, Toshiba, Bhel and General Electric. In the US, utilities such as Entergy and Southern Company, in the middle of relicensing or developing multiple reactors, appear vulnerable, while thermal coal producers Arch Coal and Peabody Energy could benefit. LNG manufacturers such as Shell and Chevron too stand to gain.
Because nuclear power plants have a life of at least 40 years, any decision to halt construction of atomic reactors and instead build thermal, coal or gas-fired plants could affect global energy and environmental policies.









FORMER MEMBER PLANNING COMMISSION Public Perception of Risk is Unwarranted
The nuclear disaster in Japan has raised grave concerns around the world about the safety of nuclear plants. But the chairman of India's Atomic Energy Commission said it is safer to live next to a nuclear plant than it is in Delhi. What we need to recognise is that most power plants involve some risk.

To make a comparison, we should look at the damage in terms of loss in terms of life, health, environment and property involved in different forms of power plants.

But such a comparison is difficult to make because the full cost of nuclear waste disposal is not easy to assess as the waste lasts for thousands of years. However, the risks posed by spent fuel are now starkly brought out by what is happening in the Fukushima nuclear plant.

If we do not account for the risks posed by spent fuel disposal, nuclear power would look much safer than coal-based power plants. Over the last 50 years, the death toll due to nuclear power plants around the world has been very small. Death toll due to coal plants would be much higher. Yet, the public perception of the risk of nuclear plants is much higher.

There are two reasons for this. One is that while the probability of a catastrophic nuclear plant accident is very small, the damage due to a meltdown could be very high. The general fear is that it could be as high as what happened in Hiroshima or Nagasaki. However, this is misleading. When Hiroshima was bombed, people had no advance warning. At Fukushima, the population in a 20-km radius is already evacuated. So, even if there is a meltdown, the loss of life would be limited. Of course, these will be a high loss of property.
The second reason why people are wary of the risk of a nuclear power plant is that it is a risk not knowingly and willingly taken by people. People who may be affected by a nuclear power plant accident feel that it is a risk imposed on them.

What is the way forward? Redesign nuclear plants and persuade people that they are safe. They have to be like Caesar's wife, not only flawless, also seen to be so.



EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR TERI We Need the Power, But With Scrutiny

The fact that India needs nuclear energy to contribute to its portfolio seems indisputable. Today, roughly half of India's population does not have access to clean energy forms and the other half that does have access cannot rely on either the quantity or the quality of energy provided. Therefore, if India needs to sustain an 8-9% annual rate of economic growth based on inclusive development, we would need to add approximately 6,00,000 mw of power by 2030. It is increasingly obvious that India's coal resources are not going to be able to support this growth. While renewable energy is an option, the need for stable base power makes reliance on nuclear power almost a given.

India has made huge efforts, therefore, to enter into the civil nuclear agreement with the US and extended the same with several other countries. The question now, in the wake of developments in Japan, is can India responsibly handle its current and future nuclear generating capacities? One serious accident in a nuclear plant can lead to large-scale and long-lasting impacts — impacts that do not differentiate between the rich and the poor or the young and the old. But it is also true that our inability to provide clean energy sources to the masses is resulting in around 4,00,000 premature deaths annually from indoor air pollution — largely impacting children under 6. It has also been estimated that air pollution in urban areas leads to approximately 50,000 premature deaths. The key difference between these casualties and those arising from a nuclear accident is that these are widely dispersed geographically and spread through the year, although repeated annually.
As such, we need to carefully evaluate India's options before closing the door on nuclear energy. Having said that, there is a need to open up the nuclear programme in India to greater technical, economic and social scrutiny. The people in the country have to be involved in the decision-making processes on location, safety and regulatory aspects and disposal of nuclear wastes. India needs to evaluate its own options in a local context.









One interesting feature of media reports on the recent spate of corruption cases has been the charge by some that this is leading to reduction in FDI flows into India. The logic seems to be that corruption charges in areas like the telecom sector, real estate and the Commonwealth Games has led to a focus on the office of the PM and points to a failure of governance. There is no doubt that governance has taken a big hit in the UPA's second term. That lack of governance and failure of institutions has been a feature of Indian governments is highlighted by the recent Supreme Court ruling on the appointment of the CVC, PJ Thomas. While this is difficult to challenge, the conclusion that this has anything to do with FDI is really a case of what statisticians call 'nonsense correlation'. This 'corruption in high places' is something that is witnessed in every economy: from US senators who earn in cash or kind to legislators in developed economies of Asia like South Korea and Japan. This corruption is also 'ideologically neutral'. It would be foolhardy to argue that corruption does not exist in communist China. Closer to home, the expected downfall of the Left government in West Bengal can probably be traced to what one may call the 'corruption of governance'. Yet, to draw a link from this to FDI is not very scientific.

The fears of decline in FDI seem related to recent data on monthly FDI flows into India. The graph with the article shows the movement of FDI from January 2009 till about August 2010. The trend in the graph does seem to indicate that the FDI flows have been drifting down since about July 2009. Actually, since about August 2010, FDI monthly flows have been around the same level with inflows of about $1.1 billion in February 2011. However, arguments based on this trend imply a marked misunderstanding of what exactly FDI is.
First, this trend of 'declining FDI' tells us little as it refers to FDI equity inflows (data shown in the graph). However, equity inflow is a better indicator of portfolio investment (we call it FII inflows) than of FDI. To understand this, it is essential to first define FDI.

Definitions of FDI are problematic. The main reason is that unlike portfolio investment, FDI involves a bunch of activities like managerial inputs, technology infusion, etc. which are not measured in the equity definition of FDI. Why do countries want FDI? For developing countries, the most important reason is the availability of better technology. This does not imply that foreign firms actually transfer technology. All empirical studies indicate that it is the 'presence' of foreign firms which positively impacts productivity of domestic firms via 'learning' the use of new technologies. This is now seen as far more important that than obtaining technology via purchases (or theft?) of drawings and designs. If one accepts this, then a better indicator of FDI interest is the long-term trends of FDI in India.

A look at the annual FDI flows indicates that FDI went up from around negligible amounts in 1991-92 to around $9 billion in 2006-07. It then jumped to around $22 billion in 2007-08, rising to around $37 billion by 2009-10. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to see that this recent jump in FDI was related to the recessionary conditions in the western economies. In other words, the stock of FDI jumped by almost $100 billion since 2006-07. The recent flattening of monthly FDI flows is a sign more of recovery in the western economies than any loss of long-term interest in the Indian economy. The monthly figures only show that the incremental FDI is going back to the prerecession years rather than indicating decline of FDI into India. In fact, even a monthly inflow of $1.1 billion is about 30% higher than pre-recession years.

The second reason why these monthly FDI figures are meaningless is the TINA factor. As China adjusts to a lower growth rate (mainly because of its unfavourable demographics), there is really nowhere else that firms can invest but in India. In any case, it is well known that FDI does not respond to short-term considerations and firms already invested in India are unlikely to move elsewhere. The crucial test then is not how to arrest a decline in FDI (there isn't any), but how India moves from a $10-12 billion FDI economy to one where investment levels are $30 to $40 billion.

I have written in these columns that the global economy has changed immeasurably since 2007. Barring any dramatic negative changes in policy, FDI will continue to inch upwards. Media reports indicate that an RBI committee will 'look into' the recent decline in FDI. My prognosis? A complete waste of time.

(The author is faculty at JNU)






                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL




Kerala has witnessed something unusual. Of all people, the Chief Minister, Mr V.S. Achuthanandan, has been denied permission by the CPM state committee to be a candidate in the forthcoming Assembly election. The recommendation is not likely to make any sense to the ordinary voter in the state. It is noteworthy that it was made in the presence of the party's general secretary, Mr Prakash Karat, and politburo member, Mr S. Ramachandran Pillai. This is bound to strengthen the feeling that it had the sanction of the top leadership. Technically, the CPM has not yet made a formal announcement on keeping Mr Achuthanandan out. Perhaps that will happen after the state committee's view has run the gauntlet of its district committees. Even so, considerable damage may have been done to the CPM-led Left Democratic Front on the eve of the Assembly election. The Marxists' LDF allies cannot be amused. The Chief Minister's sturdy record of probity and his determination to go after corruption, even when perpetrated by those in his own party, has brightened his image considerably among ordinary people in Kerala. Five years ago, when he was swept into office after being initially denied his party's nomination, which was eventually secured under popular pressure, he was seen as an antediluvian figure. Many felt Mr Achuthanandan might not be the right man to lead the state in the context of an economy which leans toward market-based solutions. In some measure, the critics have been forced to do a rethink. While Kerala has been slow to attract investment (for example, it took five years for the Smart City Kochi agreement to come through), the state's public sector undertakings have turned the corner. Mr Achuthanandan has also evinced an interest in promoting the information technology sector and the environment. Kerala's voting pattern has for long been cyclical, with the LDF and the Congress-led United Democratic Front being elected alternately every five years. It is, therefore, possible that the LDF may have been worsted by the UDF this time around even with Mr V.S. Achuthanandan leading the Left's campaign. Many, however, felt that the Chief Minister had earned enough goodwill, especially outside his own party, that might have enabled him to put up a good show. After the step so tellingly indicated by his party's leadership, Mr Achuthanandan's moves will no doubt be watched with interest by supporters and opponents alike. The CPM in Kerala is notoriously faction-ridden. This too is a factor that an election machine can do without. Ironically, both the Chief Minister and his bête noire, Mr Pinarayi Vijayan, the state party chief, have been kept out of the Assembly stakes, though for different reasons. Mr Achuthanandan was famously known to bend party discipline to pursue his own agenda, and Mr Vijayan labours under a chargesheet in the Lavalin case. It is not common for senior Communists to attract charges of corruption. Whether such a denouement confers an automatic advantage on the Congress and its UDF partners can only be speculated on at this stage, although Congress and UDF leader, Mr Oomen Chandy, enjoys a lot of personal credibility. The Congress and its partners have other problems though. A senior Congressman and former minister has landed in jail on corruption charges. A prominent figure from a UDF party is in trouble owing to a sex scandal. Less than a month remains for the election, and the Kerala electorate is likely to have a lot of material coming its way to judge the contestants in a battle which might have more than its normal share of drama. It is also possible that voters might factor in developments at the Centre when they weigh the options before them on election day.







Today, this column appears in one more city —Deccan Chronicle makes its first appearance in Kochi. Inspired by the city's famous Chinese fishing nets and Kerala's renowned prowess in athletics, I thought this might be the occasion for looking anew at India's ties with China — not through the prism of diplomacy or trade this time, but with an eye to our sporting differences, and what they reveal about our two countries. It has become rather fashionable these days to speak of India and China in the same breath. These are the two big countries said to be taking over the world, the new contenders for global eminence after centuries of Western domination, the Oriental answer to generations of Occidental economic success. Several recent books explicitly twin the two countries. Some even speak of "Chindia", as if the two are joined at the hip in the international imagination. Personally, count me amongst the sceptics. It's not just that, aside from the fact that both countries occupy a rather vast landmass called "Asia", they have very little in common. It's also that the two countries are already at very different stages of development — China started its liberalisation in 1978, a good decade-and-a-half before India, shot up faster, hit double-digit growth when India was still hovering around five per cent, and with compound growth, has put itself in a totally different league from India, continuing to grow faster from a larger base. And it's also that the two countries' systems are totally dissimilar. If China wants to build a new six-lane expressway, it can bulldoze its way past any number of villages in its path; in India, if you want to widen a two-lane road, especially in Kerala, you could be tied up in court for a dozen years over compensation entitlements, even assuming that agitations, political demonstrations and passionate landowners agree to let you acquire the land needed for the widening in the first place. In fact, in case anyone wanted confirmation that twinning India with China is, to put it mildly, premature, one has only to look at the medals tally at the Beijing Olympics. China proudly ranked first, with 51 gold medals and a total of 100. You have to strain your eyes past such step-children of the global family as Jamaica, Belarus, war-torn Georgia, collapsing Zimbabwe and even what used to be called Outer Mongolia before stumbling across India in 50th place, with precisely three medals, one gold and two bronze. This is not, in fact, a surprise. Whereas China has set about systematically striving for Olympic success since it re-entered global competition after years of isolation, India has remained complacent about its lack of sporting prowess. Where China lobbied for and won the right to host the Olympics within two decades of its return to the games, India rested on its laurels after hosting the Asian Games in Delhi in 1982, so that it is now considered further behind in the competition for Olympic host-hood than it was two decades ago. Where China embarked on "Project 119", a programme devised specifically to boost the country's Olympic medal standings (the number 119 refers to the golds awarded at the Sydney Games of 2000 in such medal-laden sports as track and field, swimming, rowing, sailing and canoeing), Indians wondered if they would be able to crack the magic ceiling of two, the highest number of medals the country had ever won at this quadrennial exercise in international sporting machismo. Where China, seeing the number of medals awarded in kayaking, decided to create a team to master a sport hitherto unknown in the Middle Kingdom, India has not even lobbied successfully for the inclusion in the Games of the few sports it does play well (kabbadi, for instance, polo, or cricket, which was played in the Olympics of 1900 and has been omitted since). Where China has maintained its dominance in table tennis and badminton, and developed new strengths in non-traditional sports like rowing and shooting, India has seen its once-legendary invincibility in hockey fade with the introduction of Astroturf, to the point where its team even failed to qualify for Beijing. Forget "Chindia" — the two countries barely belong in the same sporting sentence. What happened at the Olympics speaks to a basic difference in the two countries' systems. It's the creative chaos of all-singing, all-dancing Bollywood versus the perfectly-choreographed precision of the Beijing opening ceremony. The Chinese, as befits a Communist autocracy, approached the task of dominating the Olympics with top-down military discipline. The objective was determined, a programme ("Project 119") drawn up, the considerable resources of the state attached to it, state-of-the-art technology acquired and world-class foreign coaches imported. India, by contrast, approached these Olympics as it had every other, with its usual combination of amiable amateurism, bureaucratic ineptitude, half-hearted experiment and shambolic organisation. In China, national priorities are established by the government and then funded by the state; in India, priorities emerge from seemingly endless discussions and arguments amongst myriad interests, and funds have to be found where they might. China's budget for preparing its sportspersons probably exceeded India's expenditure on all Olympic training in the last 60 years. But where China's state-owned enterprises remain the most powerful motors of the country's development, India's private sector, ducking around governmental obstacles and bypassing the stifling patronage of the state, has transformed the fortunes of the Indian people. So it proved again in the Olympics: the wrestlers, boxers, runners, tennis players and weightlifters who made up the bulk of the Indian contingent, accompanied by the inevitable retinue of officials, returned with just two bronzes amongst them, while India's only gold — in shooting — was won by a young entrepreneur with a rifle range in his own backyard and no help from the state whatsoever. Young Abhinav Bindra was, at 25, the CEO of a high-tech firm, a self-motivated sharpshooter who financed his own equipment and training, and an avid blogger. He is, in short, a 21st century Indian. At one level, it is not surprising that he should have won India's first individual gold in any Olympics since a transplanted Englishman competed in Indian colours in the 1900 Games. India is the land of individual excellence despite the limitations of the system; in China, individual success is the product of the system. So "Chindia" is a myth. But the Commonwealth Games demonstrated that the Indian way can produce results as well. Not as single-mindedly or overwhelmingly as the Chinese, but impressively nonetheless. Those fishing nets dipping into Kerala's waters prove that we in India can still adapt Chinese ways to an Indian style. * Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency







I SET out from my home in the port city of Yokohama early in the afternoon last Friday, and shortly before 3 pm, I checked into my hotel in the Shinjuku neighbourhood of Tokyo. I usually spend three or four days a week there to write, gather material and take care of other business. The earthquake hit just as I entered my room. Thinking I might end up trapped beneath rubble, I grabbed a container of water, a carton of cookies and a bottle of brandy and dived beneath the sturdily built writing desk. Now that I think about it, I don't suppose there would have been time to savour a last taste of brandy if the 30-storey hotel had fallen down around me. But taking even this much of a countermeasure kept sheer panic at bay. Before long an emergency announcement came over the public address system: "This hotel is constructed to be absolutely earthquake-proof. There is no danger of the building collapsing. Please do not attempt to leave the hotel". This was repeated several times. At first I wondered if it was true. Wasn't the management merely trying to keep people calm? And it was then that, without really thinking about it, I adopted my fundamental stance towards this disaster: For the present, at least, I would trust the words of people and organisations with better information and more knowledge of the situation than I. I decided to believe the building wouldn't fall. And it didn't. The Japanese are often said to abide faithfully by the rules of the "group" and to be adept at forming cooperative systems in the face of great adversity. That would be hard to deny today. Valiant rescue and relief efforts continue nonstop, and no looting has been reported. Away from the eyes of the group, however, we also have a tendency to behave egoistically — almost as if in rebellion. And we are experiencing that too: Necessities like rice and water and bread have disappeared from supermarkets and convenience stores. Gas stations are out of fuel. There is panic buying and hoarding. Loyalty to the group is being tested. At present, though, our greatest concern is the crisis at the nuclear reactors in Fukushima. There is a mass of confused and conflicting information. Some say the situation is worse than Three Mile Island, but not as bad as Chernobyl; others say that winds carrying radioactive iodine are headed for Tokyo, and that everyone should remain indoors and eat lots of kelp, which contains plenty of safe iodine, which helps prevent the absorbtion of the radioactive element. An American friend advised me to flee to western Japan. Some people are leaving Tokyo, but most remain. "I have to work", some say. "I have my friends here, and my pets". Others reason, "Even if it becomes a Chernobyl-class catastrophe, Fukushima is 170 miles from Tokyo". My parents are in western Japan, in Kyushu, but I don't plan to flee there. I want to remain here, side by side with my family and friends and all the victims of the disaster. I want to somehow lend them courage, just as they are lending courage to me. And, for now, I want to continue the stance I took in my hotel room: I will trust the words of better-informed people and organisations, especially scientists, doctors and engineers whom I read online. Their opinions and judgments do not receive wide news coverage. But the information is objective and accurate, and I trust it more than anything else I hear. Ten years ago I wrote a novel in which a middle-school student, delivering a speech before Parliament, says: "This country has everything. You can find whatever you want here. The only thing you can't find is hope". One might say the opposite today: evacuation centres are facing serious shortages of food, water and medicine; there are shortages of goods and power in the Tokyo area as well. Our way of life is threatened, and the government and utility companies have not responded adequately. But for all we've lost, hope is in fact one thing we Japanese have regained. The great earthquake and tsunami have robbed us of many lives and resources. But we who were so intoxicated with our own prosperity have once again planted the seed of hope. So I choose to believe.









February 27, 2011 was like any other day as far as the news cycle was concerned. The King's Speech swept the Academy Awards and the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1970, imposing sanctions on Col. Muammar Gaddafi's regime in Libya. On the same day in 1986, the US Senate allowed its debates to be televised on a trial basis. This was one of the first instances of democratic deliberations being made directly accessible to the people. Closer home as a result of the Godhra train massacre in 2002 on this very day, the death anniversary of India's first Speaker, Sri Ganesh Vasudev Mavalankar — who was conferred the title of "The Father of the Lok Sabha" by Jawaharlal Nehru — has been relegated to a mere side note. Dadasaheb Mavalankar, as he was popularly known, had the ability to leverage the best practices from the parent Westminster system and tweak them to the specific needs of the Indian parliamentary system. Dadasaheb's efforts thus gave birth to initiatives such as the modern-day Question Hour, the discussion on the President's address and motion of thanks. Over the years, these initiatives have stood the test of time and have become institutions by themselves. With India arriving on the global stage, the role of the Speaker of the Legislature as the guardian of the temple of democracy needs to evolve continually. In India, Speakers of legislative bodies and Parliament follow more or less the traditions and conventions established by the Speakers of the British House of Commons. While the Speaker's role of overseeing the business of the House — regulating discussions, admitting questions, accepting amendments to motions and bills and ensuring the smooth functioning of House committees — will not fundamentally change, the role of the Speaker in assessing the functioning of Parliament against a predefined set of widely-accepted criteria needs to be institutionalised over a period of time. In fact, the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA), an organisation that fosters contact, coordination and exchange of experience among Parliaments and parliamentarians of Commonwealth countries, of which India and Andhra Pradesh are members, formulates a self-assessment tool kit for Parliaments based on the principles of representativeness, oversight over the Executive, Legislative capacity, transparency, accountability and effectiveness. A cursory look at the parameters would show that we in India still have a long way to go. THE EXPERIMENT in Andhra Pradesh to train legislators in computer usage and providing them with laptops was a step towards empowering legislators and making them more effective. Laptops have been installed with a constituency monitoring software, developed specifically for members of the legislative Assembly, to keep a tab on the activities and developments in constituencies. Seamless net connectivity was also devised and delivered. Andhra Pradesh also happens to be the only state with digitised archives and proceedings of the Assembly (apart from the Indian Parliament), and Andhra Pradesh will soon be launching e-petitions, a unique initiative that aims at enabling citizens to represent their grievances and also petition their elected members through the Internet, which can then be monitored effectively. Overall, 71 million users accessed Internet in India in 2009. This puts India's Internet penetration at roughly six per cent and thus multiple interfaces, including mobile phones, television and other media, needs to be looked at so that the right mix of initiatives are designed and conceived. Legislators can be effective only when their constituents are aware of their rights and the Speaker, as the guardian of the House, must facilitate initiatives that increase such awareness. Botswana has instituted a "Parliament on Wheels" in which the Speaker of the legislative body and information officers tour villages to explain the role of Parliament in society. South Africa's initiative to ensure that the younger generation is aware of Parliament's proceedings led to the production of an award-winning comic book, A Day in Parliament, which has been distributed to every school in the country. The Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly promotes frequent interactions with school-going children and plans to encourage youth parliaments across the state. The Speaker's role as a facilitator of "legislative effectiveness" does not translate into "abdication" of the Speaker's primary responsibility of maintaining decorum in the House. This, in fact, continues to be of absolute importance and the disruptions of the December 2010 Winter Session of Parliament and the disruption in the Andhra Pradesh Assembly during the governor's address in February 2011 reflect the challenges that Speakers face in making the legislature function. The Speaker has to be sensitive to the atmosphere in the House and, at times, when there is excitement or continuous interruption, is required to create conditions in which an orderly and relaxed debate can proceed. The fine balance that a Speaker needs to maintain between allowing legislators to express themselves and ensuring maximum leverage from a legislative session is derived will always be a challenge. Speakers, who are elected representatives apart from being presiding officers of a House, run the risk of distancing themselves from the electorate. As Speakers stay neutral on public issues discussed during the term of the legislature, this may leave them vulnerable for re-election. Heavy workload keeps them away from the electorate during sitting time. Thus, personal integrity and self-discipline are required in copious amounts to be an effective Speaker. The changing Indian political scenario with multi-party coalitions and sensitive emotional issues requires a facilitator more than a mere presiding officer. It will be an interesting challenge for Speakers of legislative bodies across India as they make an effort to effect this transition. * Nadendla Manohar is the acting Speaker of the Andhra Pradesh Legislative Assembly and was elected deputy speaker of the House in 2009. He represents Tenali constituency in Guntur district







There are certain people who are always happy and contented. Sages of the past ascribe to such people certain qualities that enable them to lead a pleasant life. Aarogyamaanrunyamavipravaasa Satbhirmanushyaissaha samprayoga Swapratyayaa vrithirabheethavaasa Shadjeevalokasya sukhani raajan Health, freedom from liabilities, absence of a situation that compels one to live abroad, the company of virtuous people, congenial occupation and fearless course of life are the factors that leave a person delighted and satisfied. A healthy mind is said to dwell in a healthy body. Therefore, one has to keep the body energetic and free from diseases. Clean surroundings and high level of sanitation are also required to create a society of healthy people. Liability of any kind is the root cause of tension and restlessness. One should never borrow money if one is not in a position to repay. Liabilities distance a person from friends and relatives and a "borrower" is looked upon with contempt and laughed at by his/her own kin and kith. Hence, our forefathers warned us against borrowing and lending. People leave their motherland at times of utter crisis — it may be financial or some other emergency situation. But being forced to go abroad and settle down there is a pity since one can never have peace of mind. Living away from near and dear ones, rid of the solace of one's native land and devoid of one's identity, leave people frustrated. Such a person never experiences peace of mind. Being able to live in one's own motherland is a blessing indeed. We all need a job to earn a means of living. But if the occupation does not satisfy our interests, it becomes a hard chore. We must enjoy our work, only then can we do justice to it. Any work which is not done full-heartedly, becomes mechanical, devoid of soul. Hence, one has to choose a vocation befitting his talents and tastes. True friends or the company of good people who are concerned about our progress promote our well-being. Their words inspire us and fill us with positive energy. The fellow-feeling one shares with them adds to our confidence. Hence, the sages say that the kind of people we associate with is a deciding factor in our peaceful existence. While prescribing norms for a joyous and peaceful life, our forefathers did not forget to warn us against the possible flaws in one's character that bring about woes and worries and against which one has to stay alert. Eershoorkhrinee thwasanthushta Khrodhano nityasankita Parabhaagyopajeevee cha Shadethe dukhkhabhaagina The sages of the past point out that six categories of people live in permanent dejection — the envious ones, the ones who cannot bear the worries of others, those discontented with what they have, the angry folk, the always-hesitant ones and those who depend on and serve the lucky ones to make a living. There are people who keep watching others make riches and fortunes and stay envious of them. They have no time to concentrate on their own work and feel contented at the produce of their own efforts. Similarly, there are people who are very much concerned about the worries of others. They empathise with them and imbibe their grievances, thereby getting burdened unnecessarily. Such people can never feel relaxed or happy. The reward for our efforts depends on the quality and quantity of our work. However, certain people keep looking for far higher rewards. They are never happy with what they receive. The obvious result is that lust for worldly accomplishments haunts them. No one likes a short-tempered person. Being a hated and "avoidable" person, one can never enjoy the boons of social life. One who is lacking confidence and is hesitant about everything can never tap the fruits of life. And those who find their means of living in the luck of others can also have no reason to prosper. Being observant of the ups and downs of others, they lack the spirit to take charge of their own lives. The precepts evolved ages ago, from long experience and observation, remain true universally even today. — Dr Venganoor Balakrishnan is the author of Thaliyola, a book on Hindu beliefs and rituals. He has also written books on the Vedas and Upanishads. The author can be reached at








IS it a case of the rule book rendering reality irrelevant, or just that one hand does not know what the other is doing? Over the past couple of weeks the external affairs ministry has been patting itself on the back, deservedly, for organising the evacuation of Indians from strife-torn Libya. Yet some officials of the home ministry appear unaware of the turmoil prevailing there. They insisted that a national of that country go home and have an application for an extension of an Indian visa processed from Tripoli ~ as if the counterpart of the babu would be "on his seat" while violence raged all around. They even initiated action to deport him. Fortunately the academic, who had to switch universities but encountered visa complications, was able to seek and secure relief from the Supreme Court. On a legal plane much significance could be attached to the court's initial acceptance that the provisions of Article 21 of the Constitution (the right to life and liberty) apply to foreigners too. And that to compel him to go to Libya (no commercial flights are operating there these days) in the current situation was a violation of human rights. But coming down to earth, the court "said it all" when it asked if the man should be sent to Japan instead!

Yet there is something typically sarkari to this matter. Most officers, and certainly their clerical underlings, have a mindset that believes that the prime purpose of a rule book is to complicate and frustrate people's desires. This is true across the board: be it getting a driving licence, having a skewed electricity bill rectified, or booking a reserved berth on a train; why even Kolkata's municipal parking attendants will insist on a perfectly parked car being moved an inch this way or the other before letting the driver alight. In the present instance the "offender" was a home ministry man, but the external affairs ministry handles its affairs no better. If applicants for a passport have tales of woe to tell after a visit to their local office, Indians abroad complain bitterly about the unhelpful attitude of the personnel at the embassy. And as the matter under judicial focus suggests, the ill-treatment is not reserved for Indians only. Not so long ago the home minister admitted to a "governance deficit", that manifests itself in so many ways. If a senior minister could read out part of somebody else's speech, perhaps our babus can be forgiven for not being alive to the political tsunami sweeping across North Africa.


THE Hooghly district administration's decision to stop the staging of a play has caused a flutter in the Marxist roost. It is reminiscent of the ban imposed by the Narendra Modi dispensation on the celluloid depiction of the Gujarat pogrom. Mr Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee's spirited condemnation of the administration's order is seemingly concordant with a secular dispensation's faith in the freedom of expression and culture ~ "It is not the Left Front government's policy to stop plays or any other cultural programme irrespective of political ideology." That doesn't quite clear the confusion created by withholding permission to stage Panchbaidik's Poshu Khamar, adapted from George Orwell's anti-establishment novel, Animal Farm. Apparently, the district authorities brought the curtains down in response to a complaint filed by a former CPI-M MP against the decidedly anti-communist content of the novel and the adapted play. Cut to the quick by the Chief Minister's statement ~ issued after Mrinal Sen's robust reaction to the stoppage ~ the administration has cited the rules of engagement to defend its anti-democratic action. Specifically, that the organisers failed to produce the amusement tax clearance certificate, an approval from the Pollution Control Board and the police permission. The Chief Minister's clarification doesn't quite clear the haze around the controversy. There is no denying that the district administration played the culture cop after the former CPI-M MP, Rup Chand Pal, complained that the play was politically motivated. The District Magistrate's point relating to procedural formalities is well taken, but the report does appear to be an afterthought in the wake of the Chief Minister taking up the issue with the Chief Secretary. Whether or not the compulsion was political or administrative has been left delightfully vague. The CPI-M's Hooghly district secretariat' s stand is at odds with that of Mr Bhattacharjee: "We will stop any play in Hooghly that portrays the CPI-M in poor light." This cultural policing on the eve of elections runs counter to the Chief Minister's statement: "I consider it improper that the play was not allowed to be staged in Hooghly."

There is little doubt that the administration played into the hands of a section of the party. Nor for that matter does Mr Bhattacharjee ~ with the Culture portfolio under his belt since 1977 ~ sound sufficiently convincing granted that he has forcefully countered a veteran comrade. It bears recall that plays on Nandigram and Singur weren't allowed to be enacted, most importantly on the Nandan grounds ~ the CM's favourite hangout. A section of the party and the administration have on occasion been overzealous in pursuing the antithesis of culture. Between the CM's defence of the performing arts and the DM's defence of administrative propriety lies a rigmarole over the dramatised version of Animal Farm.



THE Trinamul Congress is not a new phenomenon in the North-east. In its maiden foray in the 2009 Arunachal Pradesh assembly elections it secured five seats and became the main opposition. Women in the region have a soft corner for Mamata Banerjee and, perhaps as a gesture, her party has appointed Toko Sheetal as its state head. Last month, the Trinamul Congress made a splash in Manipur when its candidate, K Sarat, defeated his nearest Congress rival in the by-election to the Kanjoutham assembly constituency. The victory was all the more significant because the party had established itself barely a few days before the poll. Many think it will have an adverse effect on the ruling Congress in the 2012 assembly elections but chief minister Ibobi Singh does not think so, perhaps because he has not lost sight of the advantage of belonging to the party in power. Former chief minister RK Dorendra resigned from the BJP to try his fortune with the Trinamul Congress. This is not the first time he has switched sides though, having moved from the Congress to the Janata Party, then back to the Congress and subsequently BJP. Several former non-Congress leaders are reportedly keen on joining the Trinamul Congress since the party's fortunes seem to be on the ascendant, more so because it is being touted to win the West Bengal assembly elections in April. Other states like Meghalaya, Mizoram and Nagaland are likely to take notice.

Whatever the Congress-Trinamul equation in West Bengal, the latter's decision to contest all 126 Assam assembly seats suggests it has made some assessment of the popular mood ~ the main being the desire for change. It does not lack a political base and is fighting the poll on the plank of removing corruption, ensuring development and transparency. With the Assam elections just three weeks away, the odds, however, do not seem to be in favour of any single party.









THERE is probably no English-language equivalent to the colloquial Hindi term ~ thingha. A "thumb in your face" comes close to it in a physical sense but does not fully convey the insulting defiance. Even if that slang does teeter on the unparliamentary, the leader of the Opposition's using it in the Lok Sabha sufficed to shake the government out of its slumber and kickstart the process by which a hopefully comprehensive policy will evolve on dealing with the fallout of Somali piracy.

Sushma Swaraj was not quite on target, it was not the government of Somalia but uncontrolled violent gangs operating from there that were holding seamen from all nations hostage ~ it is not an India-specific problem ~ but her "shot" went home. For family members of the sailors in captivity it meant the issue being raised in the highest national forum, it undid the damage caused by the disdainful attitude of the external affairs ministry, forced the Cabinet Committee on Security into a review that advocated policy formulation backed  by legal, naval, and other administrative moves.

So what if a few political brownie points were scored? For close to a decade now have Indian authorities struggled to come to terms with Somali piracy. Ignoring the warnings from the navy the government backed off from taking a lead role ~ despite having the most potent marine force in the extended region. The consequent vacuum was filled by a Nato-led naval group, even the Chinese chipped in.

Taking one of India's supposedly "principled positions" of operating only under a UN mandate, the Indian navy remained on the fringe: though the "results" it has shown escorting convoys of merchantmen through the Gulf of Aden have certainly been impressive. Over the last few days there have been some signs of action on the diplomatic front too.

To mix metaphors: though it might be too little too late, something is better than nothing. Circumstances have actually forced the government hand on the naval front. The pressure the Nato-led force has brought to bear has forced the pirates to extend their operations some distance off the east African seaboard: initially towards the Seychelles, and in recent months closer to India's island territories. The strategy of using hijacked vessels as "mother ships" trailing skiffs, which are used as assault craft, has widened the scope of pirate action. On three occasions in recent months has the Indian navy and coastguard neutralised the mother ships and skiffs, set free the "original" sailors of the small cargo vessel, taken the pirates prisoner and brought them to the Indian mainland. All that after a firefight to be sure. Finally has insular New Delhi learnt the value of an effective navy.

Yet the naval success also raises a few tricky questions, particularly operations away from the Indian coastline. The prevailing law requires that "military action" be taken only after the pirates resort to violence: that might not be easy to legally establish. To assume that anti-piracy operations will never come under judicial scrutiny could be sailing choppy seas. When the head of the Royal Navy visited New Delhi recently he was categorical that British law did not permit his men to take a pro-active role. There is no specific anti-piracy law on the Indian statute book, that is one of the moves being contemplated.

It will have to fall in line with prevailing international codes, so too the proposed move to have armed personnel aboard Indian-flagged merchant ships to ward off pirate-raids: if it were so simple why have other "powerful" countries refrained from doing so?

A flip side to the navy's "success" is that it could complicate, if not exacerbate, the conditions in which Indian sailors are being held hostage. The pirates have indicated they will use the hostages as bargaining chips to secure the release of their mates taken prisoner by the navy. In theory India could do so too, but will international codes and conventions permit that? And remember that holding some 90,000 Pakistani soldiers prisoners-of-war in 1971-72 was never "exploited" to India's gain. Having to play by the rules, as all civilised nations must, limits the scope for manoeuvre. The pirates have made it clear that theirs' is a blood for blood policy: there is controversy brewing over what caused four Americans aboard a yacht being slain, in contrast with how the release of a British crew was arranged earlier.

The proposed Indian policy/law will also have to factor in ransom payments ~ the main objective of Somali piracy. Convention prohibits governments getting involved in ransom issues, though they turn a blind eye or actually encourage the owners of hijacked vessels to pay off the pirates (for which unstated insurance premiums are paid). And it must be borne in mind that Indians serve aboard vessels flying a range of flags: according to one estimate seven per cent of all merchant mariners are Indian. While a ransom-code cannot be officially worked out, it would help merchant sailors to know just how far the Indian government would go to "protect" them ~ it might help them decide whether to accept or reject "signing on" vessels that would be plying pirate-risk waters.

Devising an Indian policy will obviously be complex, it is no overnight job, and merely making the navy's "rules of engagement" less-restrictive is not an ideal interim measure. Pressing the issue at the United Nations would certainly help, but thus far the international body has shown a reluctance to foster international anti-piracy task forces that will operate under its flag and mandate. Of course the ultimate solution will have to be restoring the rule of law in Somalia, tackling lawlessness at its root. That would appear as tall an order as choking the channels through which the pirates receive their payments.

Not only will whatever policy the government comes up with have to be comprehensive, it will have to be bolstered by a firm political consensus. Bringing Opposition leaders "on board" would be critical. For while the plight of the families of  the sailors taken hostage merits much more than sympathy, it must not be politically exploited.

   A consensus is vital not to prevent Sushma from referring to another thingha in Parliament, but to avert the whipping up of emotions that pressured the government of the day into the surrender at Kandahar.
The writer is Associate Editor, The Statesman






 Waqf corruption in India can be said to symbolise the most systematically-managed daylight robbery in India, perpetrated over decades. Waqf boards have almost institutionalised the tendency to wheel and deal in land donated in the name of Allah by the affluent for the upkeep of orphans, widows, divorced women, educational and charitable purposes and other social causes.

Waqf endowments in India are staggering. There are around 800,000 registered properties and as much as 6,00,000 acres of land ~ the largest in the world. About 77 per cent of the city of Delhi has been founded on illegally-acquired waqf land. The CGO Complex, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium, Delhi High Court, Delhi Public School (Mathura Road), Anglo Arabic School, newspaper offices at Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg besides umpteen Central government offices can be seen standing on waqf land. These waqf plots were lost because waqif management laws are inadequate and the Central Waqf Council is a toothless body.   

Meaning of Waqf

The concept of waqf is rooted in Quranic injunctions dealing with charity: "And in their wealth the beggar and outcast had due share." (Chapter-26: Verse-19). Also, "Ye shall never attain to goodness till ye give alms of that which ye love, and whatever ye give, of a truth God Knoweth." (Chapter-3: Verse-86). Islam's followers borrowed this concept of charity to set up the institution of waqf. It forms an important branch of Muslim Law for it is interwoven with the religious life and social economy of Muslims.

Literally, waqf means endowment of moveable or immovable property by Muslims for the welfare of the poor and the needy and for maintaining properties dedicated to mosques, tombs, orphanages, shrines, imambaras, madrasas and the like. The waqif (settler), in his deed, appoints a mutawalli (manager or caretaker) for the administration of the waqf. The waqif has the right to appoint either himself or any Muslim as mutawalli. Waqf endowments can be made in any form as enshrined in Qazis Act II of 1864, Dargah Khwaja Saheb Act of 1955, Central Waqf Act of 1954, Waqf Amendment Act of 1959, UP Muslim Act of 1960, to name a few.
"For over a millennium, emperors, nawabs and Muslims in India have been setting aside property and pledging it in the name of Allah for charitable work. They wanted the earnings from the properties to go towards the upkeep of orphans, widows and for other social causes but the waqf boards are not doing their job honestly. At least Rs, 10,000 crore could be easily raised each year just from the rent paid for waqf properties that have not been encroached upon ~ that is 30 per cent of the entire endowment in India," said Aziz Burney, the group editor of the Rashtriya Sahara Urdu publications. He said: "The legal cells are reluctant to move court to rid Waqf properties of encroachers. The most convenient refrain is 'files have been lost'. Besides, lawyers of waqf boards are usually on the payroll of encroachers who have already constructed multi-storey complexes on waqf land and have sold them or leased them out for staggering profits."

The Deputy Chairman of Rajya Sabha, Mr K Rahman Khan, said as per a report of a joint parliamentary committee headed by him, waqf land is only third in India in terms of quantum after tracts owned by Indian Railway and the defence ministry, respectively.

Glaring examples

How waqf has become an institution deeply mired in corruption can be gauged from the land scam perpetrated by the Maharashtra Waqf Board. It sold a 4,535 square-metre Waqf plot in the upmarket Altamount Road to Mr Mukesh Ambani for a mere Rs 21.05 crore in 2003 when its market value was not less than Rs 500 crore. Mr Ambani's 27-storey home stands on the plot now.

Similarly, in Bangalore, the land on which Windsor Manor Hotel stands is worth more than Rs 600 crore but has been leased out to the promoters of the hotel for only Rs 12,000 a month.

Most waqf properties have managers who treat even heritage sites as their fief where they think nothing of developing commercial structures and even homes as has happened in the case of Dargah Khwaja Sa'adullah Naqshbandi at the historic heritage site of Anglo Arabic School at Ajmeri Gate in Delhi. The Delhi Development Authority had declared it a heritage site in 1994 and in response to a PIL (no. 8759 of 2004) filed by this author, Delhi High Court ordered the eviction of as many as 51 families who had encroached upon the heritage property. But former occupants, property dealers, smalltime politicians and local musclemen are trying to re-encroach largely, as is rumoured, with the backing of the Delhi Waqf Board chairman, Chaudhary Mateen Ahmed.

There are tenets which forbid the desecration of a widow's dying wish in the matter of pledging property for waqf purposes. But that is done without remorse in most cases with the pledged land ending up in the possession of builders, smalltime politicians or land mafia. The ordinary Muslim holds waqf boards in too much esteem to think of seeking legal recourse despite being aware of the staggering corruption that feeds on them.
Such widespread corruption is also spawning a culture of extortion. An optical shop had been set up illegally on the premises of Fatehpuri Masjid after its owner got the necessary documents changed with the help of waqf and mosque caretakers. Some so-called social workers launched a tirade against the shop owner seeking his eviction but curiously changed their stance after money changed hands.

If not corruption, waqf boards are hamstrung by apathy. The waqf property of Dargah Baba Kapur near the border that Uttar Pradesh shares with Madhya Pradesh is spread over 550 villages. But not a single penny from the income from the property goes to the local waqf board. A pre-Independence era government department enjoys the largesse. Though locals have repeatedly urged the board to move court seeking restoration of funds for charitable purposes, it could be hardly bothered.  

Hand in glove

"Politicians, police, bureaucrats and land mafia covet waqf property because those can be found mostly in prime locations. This, despite the fact that waqf property cannot be sold or it's use altered for eternity. The interested parties have found ways to circumvent this obligation. Many such properties are leased out after pockets of the officials concerned have been sufficiently lined," said the journalist, Aziz Burney.

Unfortunately, most of the corrupt officials who sit on waqf boards are Muslims well aware of the implications of violating pledges made for charitable purposes. A builder or businessman first identifies a Waqf property, approaches the members or chairman of the local board and acquires it for a pittance after bribing the board members. Lack of accountability and a defined law in this regard come to their aid. Thousands of mosques and even graveyards have been encroached upon likewise across the country. "In spite of owning property spanning 600,000 acres, Muslims are one of the poorest communities in India," said eminent historian and scholar Prof Mushirul Hasan.

The waqf boards invariably have members who are puppets in the hands of the state governments, which are instrumental in installing them in the first place. As such, most are clueless about waqf management and relevant laws. According to Mr Iqbal Mohammed Malak, a social worker in Delhi, people aiming to make it big in politics generally target waqf properties and funds donated at holy shrines.
Theologically, once properties are dedicated in the name of Allah and waqf endowments made, the donation becomes perpetual, irrevocable and inalienable and as such, a waqf entitlement always remains a waqf entitlement.
During Muslim rule in India, there was no central body to look after waqf properties. In British India, all endowments, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, were managed by provincial governments. In post-Independent India, the Central Waqf Council is responsible for the management of Waqf properties. But it's glaring inefficacy, though exposed innumerable times earlier, scaled new heights when Delhi High Court ordered a probe into the embezzlement of funds by the Ajmer Dargah Khwaja Saheb Committee.
In Ajmer, of the umpteen waqf properties listed in the Dargah Khawja Saheb Act of 1955, Jannat Hotel had been leased for 15 years to Qayyum Khan. While the monthly market rent at that time had been Rs 100,000, the Dargah committee decided to charge only Rs 10,000 every month. The lease deed (of which the author has a copy) signed on 18 August, 1999 bore the signature of Prof Akhtarul Wasey, the Dargah committee president at that time. Any Dargah lease that goes beyond 5 years is deemed illegal as the committee is required to look for a better-paying tenant every three or five years so that the upkeep of the Dargah is not affected. The nine-member committee was dissolved after the author submitted a 70-page report to Delhi High Court pointing out the discrepancies.

Where's piety?

Possession of piety, honesty, Islamic scholarship, a good family background and sound knowledge of Sharia (Islamic Laws) is necessary to be considered for the post of mutawalli or waqf administrator. "Unfettered power that comes with the position often leads a mutawalli to corruption and nepotism," said Masoom Muradabadi, editor of the Delhi-based Urdu weekly Khabardar Jadid. Mr Imtiaz Ahmad Khan, a former chairman of the Delhi Waqf Board, points out in his book What is Waqf? how Sultan Alauddin Khilji had sacked and punished a mutawalli, Sheikh Hassan, after allegations of defalcation of waqf funds against him had been found to be true.
In modern India, when upright officials seek a probe, the district administration is more often than not interested, insisting that removal of encroachments may lead to law-and-order or communal problems. "Most waqf board members have little or no community feeling or sense of accountability," president of Zakat Foundation of India Prof. Zafar Mahmood said.

Seeking a solution

Mr Asif Mohammed Khan, the RJD legislator for Okhla in Delhi, who is fighting against encroachment on a graveyard in his constituency, said the need of the hour was greater involvement of the Muslim community in waqf affairs.
The Sachar Committee suggests an overhaul of the waqf board structure as the current system does not serve well to attract the right kind of people to the job of Waqf management. The panel mooted an Indian waqf Service on the lines of the Indian Administrative Service whose officers would work as chief executive officers (CEOs) of waqf boards. The panel pointed out that in UP, one CEO, as it were, was a Unani practitioner with little or no exposure to management practices while another in Shillong had not even cleared the school board examination.
There is a growing demand in the community for dissolving the current waqf boards and replacing them with a new umbrella organisation which will have sub-committees to look after education, welfare of widows, medical needs of the community, mosques, dargahs and the like. But what is even more important is that it should be done without foresaking transparency, accountability and empathy. 

The writer is an activist and a commentator

on social and religious issues







New Delhi, March 18, 2015: CBI sources today expressed dismay over the mysterious death of Finance Minister Kala Raja whose body was found riddled with bullets on the river bank. Kala Raja was a crucial witness in the 6G probe. Home Minister Rashid Supari has ordered investigation and promised that all steps will be taken to uncover the truth. The police suspect suicide. The victim shot himself thrice. In Parliament Opposition leader Chhota Rajan openly accused the government of complicity in a murder.
It might be recalled that a JPC had been acceded to by Prime Minister Dawood Ibrahim after serious allegations had been levelled that the government had failed to provide the opposition its fair share of the money collected from the issuing of 6G Spectrum licenses. Kala Raja had been entrusted with distributing the money. According to sources Kala Raja wanted to turn approver.

Kala Raja's death before the forthcoming mid-term poll has created a fluid situation. It is likely that the Chhota Shakeel Gang which was part of the People's Progressive Alliance (PPA) led by the ruling All India Coercive Gang might defect and work against Prime Minister Ibrahim. Chhota Shakeel was reputed to be close to the late Kala Raja and has always nursed a grievance against Home Minister Rashid Supari after the mysterious death of ten members of his Gang that remained unsolved.

First opinion polls undertaken by TV channels suggest a close contest and the emergence of another hung parliament. Poll analysts point out that while Dawood Ibrahim's Gang has a decided edge over Chhota Rajan's Gang, the latter has closed the gap by perhaps mobilising even more weapons and sharp shooters than the ruling Gang. Betting in Mumbai is very brisk. However up till now the odds still narrowly favour Dawood Ibrahim's Gang to emerge as the single largest Gang. 

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist







The adjourned meeting of the Imperial Legislative Council was held on Friday in the Council Chamber, Government House. Mr Jenkins (Vice-President) presided over a fair attendance of Councillors.
Mr Jinnah moved for leave to introduce a Bill to define the rights of the Mahomedan subjects of His Majesty to make settlements of the property by way of wakf in favour of their families and descendants. He said that ever since the decision of the Privy Council in 1894 (Abul Fata vs Rasamaya) reported in 22 Indian Appeals, there had been a strong feeling among the Mussalmans. That feeling had been expressed by sending memorials to the Government of India and by passing resolutions at meetings of various Mussalman Associations. That being the state of feeling he put certain questions last year in this Council and the answers showed that the Government recognised that a strong feeling did exist among the Mussalmans. Since then he had consulted the leading Mahomedans of the country, and it was decided that the only way by which the question could be solved was by bringing in a Bill. The Moslem League last year passed a resolution urging the Government to pass a law on the subject. The decision of the Privy Council had paralysed the Mahomedan law as regards the provision for the family, and children of a Mahomedan. After quoting the decisions of several Indian High Courts on the subject, he defined wakf as somewhat analogous to the English law of Trust. They were concerned here only with private trust with ultimate revision to charity. In the Privy Council decision their Lordships said that there must be a substantial dedication to charity and it must be for some fixed period. A Mussalman did not know what would be a substantial dedication, and at what period the charity would come in. That decision was not in accordance with the true principles of Mahomedan law and the effect of that decision was that wakf had been hunted down and declared non-effective.

The Maharaja of Burdwan said that as one who had always taken an impartial view regarding the relations between the Hindus and Mahomedans in India, Mr Jinnah had his sympathy on this wakf Bill, and he had much pleasure in lending his support to its introduction.







Logic is useful in cleaning up messes. Few people would disagree that turning a person trying to commit suicide into a criminal is one of the messiest — and harshest — laws that can be imagined. But Section 309 of the Indian Penal Code does exactly that, with imprisonment as one of the penalties for those who fail to die. Although many efforts have been made since the mid-1990s to repeal the law, nothing has worked. Now there is new hope, because the Supreme Court's judgment upholding passive euthanasia has quite logically suggested that suicide be decriminalized. The argument behind penalizing suicide is based on a peculiarly narrow reading of the constitutional right to life. But while the letter of the constitutional provision is considered to be violated by suicide, its spirit can be expected to have a wider compass. To be coerced or threatened to live violates that spirit, and a right implies both agency and possession. Making the suicidal into criminals conjures up shades of an unforgiving religion rather than well-meant but confused humane efforts at deterrence.

Section 309 certainly has not deterred suicides in the country. The figures were alarming enough in 2006, recording a 67 per cent rise over those in 1980. At that time, over 100,000 people committed suicide in a year, roughly 10 per cent of suicides in the world. This is just the official number of those who succeeded in killing themselves. The National Crime Records Bureau shows 127,151 suicides for 2009, a 1.7 per cent increase over the previous year. Suicides are rising. Between 1997 and 2005, according to one estimate, one farmer died every 32 minutes. That rate, it seems, has slowed. To go by Section 309, all these people are criminals who have given the law the slip. If nothing else, it is just common sense to differentiate between dangerous and ruthless criminals and deeply unhappy people who feel they cannot carry on. They range from the poor, debt-ridden farmer to the overworked student terrified of hurting his parents, from the helpless, tortured wife to the high-flying information technology professional. These despairing people and their spread across social, professional and economic bands pose disturbing questions about a society rendered fragile by sudden and rapid change. Healthy people who want to die need help, and so does the society that breeds them.






People everywhere vote to elect a government in the hope that it would improve the quality of their lives. The contesting political parties are supposed to offer alternatives as to how they would achieve that for the people. Unfortunately, the Left Front's manifesto for the forthcoming elections in West Bengal reads more like a party document than a policy statement. Since elections are all about political contests, the parties can legitimately place their contrasting points of view on important issues. But what matters to the people is what addresses their concerns and expectations best. The Communist Party of India (Marxist) may be worried about the challenge it faces from its opponents, including the Maoists. It is within its rights to call upon its cadre to rise up and regroup. But the people's concerns range from the near-collapse of governance in the state to economic stagnation and to a sense of drift that pervades all sections of society. The Left Front manifesto offers little to inspire hopes of a turnaround for Bengal. It is perhaps futile to expect the Left to offer any new vision. After 34 years in power, the CPI(M) clearly has nothing much to offer to the people of Bengal. Any plan it may have to rescue itself is not a recovery map for the long-suffering state.

What the manifesto offers, therefore, is a bunch of outdated ideas recycled with the aim of regaining the party's lost ground. Predictably, it begins with more promises of completing land reforms and ends with a pledge to "struggle" against the Centre on the issue of the state's "demands". The earlier call for Bengal's rapid industrialization is muted this time. If anything, this is an indication of a retreat on an important economic strategy. Bengal's economy can only get worse if agriculture continues to dominate it. It is only an industrial resurgence that can create jobs and wealth in a state which has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country. But the political reverses it suffered over its failed attempts to set up new industries has made the Left return to old, populist ideas involving land and agriculture. The manifesto is thus a strategy for a retreat, rather than an advance, as far as the state's future is concerned. A good manifesto may not be enough to win elections, but it is a measure of the political will to turn things around. The Left seems to have lost the will to take Bengal forward.






With the Supreme Court coming down hard on the government and the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, taking full responsibility for an "error of judgment", the furore over P.J. Thomas's appointment as central vigilance commissioner has come to an end. Although the Opposition had much more ammunition that could have demonstrated that the prime minister's misjudgment wasn't due to his being misinformed by a junior minister (who, incidentally, has also owned up to his full responsibility), Sushma Swaraj's magnanimous tweet that the country must "move on" prevented a confused Bharatiya Janata Party from going for the jugular.

Although the BJP deferred to the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, its heart wasn't with the forces of magnanimity. Would the Congress, many disgruntled backbenchers argued, have been so forgiving had any BJP-led government been similarly devastated by the Supreme Court? Last Wednesday, when the leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, Arun Jaitley, attacked the government for its vindictive harassment of companies that had signed agreements to invest in Gujarat, he was targeting the political spite that accompanies official decisions. Even the communists who see red at the very mention of Gujarat couldn't but agree with Jaitley's larger assertion that the federal grandeur of India has been tarnished by narrow partisanship.

Indian democracy is moving in contradictory directions. At one level, the system of one-party dominance that prevailed till 1989 is now history. Rahul Gandhi may harbour ambitions of restoring the Congress to its dominant status but there is no indication as yet that India is inclined to revert to political uniformity. Most of the national parties have had a shy at power at the Centre and a change in government in the states has become routine. There is no party which can claim to have ruled uninterruptedly for a prolonged spell. The only exception, the Left Front which enjoyed 34 years of uninterrupted rule in West Bengal, may well find itself in opposition after May this year.

Paradoxically, the willingness of voters to experiment with alternatives has truncated the boundaries of political tolerance. There may be lots of convivial clubbability among the young, English-speaking members of parliament across party lines in the Central Hall of Parliament. The scions of political dynasties in particular are inclined to socialize with one another and even travel together for 'leadership' junkets organized by American universities. Yet, this fraternity rarely extends to political decision-making and governance. From the Republic Day awards and gubernatorial postings to placements in quangos and even institutions of higher learning, patronage is guided by the narrowest considerations of political loyalty. There is little space for generosity and broad-mindedness.

In determining the choice of the CVC, both the prime minister and the home minister seemed determined to ignore the legitimate objections of the leader of the Opposition. In insisting on Thomas, for reasons that still remain in the realms of feverish speculation, it gave the Supreme Court the necessary opening to make executive appointments justiciable. Had the principle of consensus been adhered to — although this is not easy if the Opposition decides to be cussed — the judges may have had no occasion to intervene in a matter that belongs to the legislature and executive.

It is said that Thomas was chosen for his malleability. If so, it is an example of political short-sightedness. By preferring unilateralism over reasoned agreement, the political class made itself vulnerable to judicial encroachment.

The use of executive prerogative to reward political loyalty is souring the spirit of democracy and encouraging confrontational politics. All parties have been infected by the perception that political power involves 'adjusting' the faithful in the State-controlled institutions. In the six years it was in power at the Centre, the BJP often reinforced its outlander image by placing bumpkins in positions of importance. In West Bengal, the backlash against cadre intrusiveness was occasioned by the single-mindedness with which Communist Party of India (Marxist) supporters were accommodated in all public institutions, notably schools and colleges.

The foibles of red and saffron, however, pale into insignificance at the systematic way in which the Congress has undermined governance. To most Congress activists, it is the exercise of political power that attracts them to the party. This has been so since Indira Gandhi chose to extend public ownership and exert political control over the entire public sector. From loan melas to the disbursement of industrial licences in a shortage economy, India came to be governed by discretionary powers.

True, many of these powers have been whittled down with the erosion of the licence-permit-quota raj but in the psyche of the Congress, political patronage still remains an entitlement. The politician who lost his seat in a parliamentary election still demands to be 'adjusted' in some job so that he can retain a white Ambassador and official accommodation in the centre of Delhi. The man approaching senility still manages to pressure the government into sending him to a Raj Bhavan. And obliging ex-bureaucrats and lesser political functionaries expect to be provided berths in the thousands of State-funded bodies that have mushroomed all over India. Most important, the party is unhappy if this special courtesy is extended to either a non-party professional or, worse, to someone linked to an earlier regime.

The mindset of exclusion that is implicit in the exercise of political patronage has had a debilitating effect on governance. For a start, it has distorted the conduct of our legislatures. The government believes that all decision-making is its exclusive domain and, by way of a reaction, the Opposition is convinced that obstruction and street politics are the only options available to it. Many important economic reforms have been kept in abeyance because the government is not convincingly placed in the Rajya Sabha. But rather than take the route of meaningful consultation — as was done in the case of the Nuclear Liabilities Act — it prefers to keep the Opposition in the dark. The Congress and the BJP have broadly similar approaches to many facets of economic management. Yet there is precious little display of bipartisan politics.

Finally, the appointment of party hacks to public sector bodies has seriously hindered good governance. With the State underwriting sinecures, there has been a temptation to constantly add to the number of useless bodies funded by the government. In his first year in office, the prime minister promised thoroughgoing administrative reforms which would have rationalized and professionalized quangos. After seven years in office, he is yet to take even a modest step in that direction, not least because it would be unacceptable to a parasitic class that conducts its politics on taxpayers' money.

As India's governance deficit intensifies, it is time to look more closely at the strands linking inefficiency and venality with the culture of partisanship.







The Indo-US WikiLeaks have come as a delightful interlude in an otherwise distressing, scam-filled few months. The Indian contingent comes across as argumentative, with definite views and positions that it presented to the next-in-command — elements that prove India is a vibrant democratic polity, with its bureaucrats agreeing to disagree and then following the final policy dictated to them by their political masters. They also reveal the weaker links that softened the hard decisions which needed to be taken. Many journalists and commentators of this country have written, ad nauseum, about the Indian 'sell-out' to American policy, the chosen players who would enhance the interests of the United States of America in India, and more. Therefore, there is nothing new in any of the revelations, except that what was deemed 'speculation' has now been proved to be correct.

The US struggled for decades to make a substantive political and policy-oriented dent in India. It has never felt as comfortable and 'safe' as it does today. Recent ambassadors to India have a body language that speaks of supreme confidence, verging sometimes on arrogance, when they stride into South Block and other such portals. The scene is vastly different from the days of the Bowles, the Moynihans, the Deans and the Wisners. Partnerships are positive and need to be forged, but wholesale adherence to one 'ism' or the other makes no sense in a federal, diverse polity such as ours. We are a tried and tested civilization that may be poverty-ridden today but has the intellect, resilience, skill and numbers to pull out of the quagmire only if our leadership, in both the states and the Centre, were committed to that 'pullout'. We do not perform well as a 'puppet' of distant marionettes.

Easy options

Political and economic quid pro quos that come with uneven, unequal partnerships need to be crafted with great care and with dollops of self- respect. We need to extricate ourselves from the mindset of having been a suppressed and subjugated people for centuries and to ensure that we are not overwhelmed and suffocated, yet again, in this new millennium by another form of oppression by a 'superpower'. It has to be a true partnership with other global powers and not a tilting towards one easy option. Are we being 'used' to supply the geo-political requirements of the region by an alien power that will soon have to confront an equally strong power that belongs to this area? Are we getting a good deal on our own terms? Are we just bending low in deep salaam?

The challenge and excitement of devising abiding political and economic relationships require the leadership of the Opposition and ruling parties to be intellectually buoyant, well-versed in historical truths and present realities, committed to creating a new social order where transparent governance, integrity and respect for citizens dominate everything else. It was this sub-continent that showed the world how to unite under the banner of civil disobedience and non-violence, orchestrated and led by M.K. Gandhi, and to get a then superpower, which had reduced a 'rich' India into a grovelling and poor country, to retreat.

Leadership in India needs to think out of the box, needs ideas that ignite the evolution of effective policies aimed at making India self-sufficient. The world will fall in line if India is 'appetizing', liberated from government control, infused with administrative correctives, freed from corruption, allowed to grow in double digits within an infrastructure that is clean and transparent. We need to extend ourselves to the world and develop a foreign policy that is fresh and real. We need to see and feel growth, development, transparency and good governance. Enough of platitudes.


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There is no certainty whether anything will come out of the petition filed by former cabinet secretary T S R Subramanian and 82 former public servants in the supreme court seeking urgent reforms in the administrative services. It is also debatable whether reforms in the administrative set-up should be the result of a judicial fiat. But the courts are pushing governments to do many things which are otherwise not done. The distinguished civil servants who have approached the court would not be unaware of the boundary between the judiciary and the executive. If they, some of whom may have even resisted judicial activism in their official careers, have gone to the court to reform the system of which they were a part, the desperation must be clear to all.

The petitioners want an independent civil services board to be set up at central and state levels. They have said that "there is an urgent need depoliticise management of transfers, postings, inquiries, promotions, rewards, punishment and disciplinary matters relating to civil servants." One cannot agree more with them because the quality of the civil service has deteriorated very badly. A large section of the service is inefficient, corrupt, compromised and people-unfriendly. There are exceptions but they go only to prove the rule. The reasons for the slide are many. Detailed studies have been made by many commissions  whose recommendations are also being studied without any good result. Politicisation of the administrative system is a major cause of the degeneration, for which both politicians and officials are responsible, perhaps in equal measure.

Systemic reforms are needed but it is unlikely that politicians will have a system where the civil servants are independent-minded. A bureaucracy which is too independent may not be desirable either. The need is to have an administrative system which is both independent and accountable to the people. It is by misusing their power as representatives of the people that politicians have suborned the civil service. In a democracy the bureaucracy cannot be separated from political government and it cannot be wholly autonomous. The challenge is to find the fine balance between independence and accountability to the people. Ideally there should not be a contradiction between these two requirements but that is not the case in practice. There is no doubt that things are progressively getting worse and they need to be improved either from inside or by compulsion from outside.







The Indian community in Australia is in a state of shock following the gruesome killing of Tosha Thakkar, a 24-year-old Indian woman studying in Sydney. Tosha is believed to have been raped before she was murdered. Police say that her assailant stuffed her body in a suitcase and dumped it in a canal. Police have taken into custody Tosha's neighbour, a boy of Sri Lankan origin. The murder has revived unhappy memories for the Indian community in Australia. Over the past three years but particularly in 2009-10, several Indian students and immigrants in Melbourne and Victoria were attacked, even fatally. These attacks were believed by the Indian community to be motivated by racist hatred, although the Australian authorities  maintained that these were random and opportunistic, motivated by economic issues rather than race. The attacks heightened  tension between them and the Australian government and even put some pressure on India-Australia ties. Tosha's murder seems is bound to revive apprehensions of the Indian community in Australia. The sense of security of the community has been hit once again.

Heightened insecurity often prompts people to look for someone to blame. And in Australia, the Indian community has often blamed racism for their woes. They were justified in doing so in several instances in the past. However, preliminary investigations into Tosha's murder indicate that racism did not play a role. Yet sections of the Indian community have been quick to label the crime as racist. This broad-brushing of all crime targeting members of the Indian community as racist is not in the interest of the latter. It will not help in understanding or preventing the attacks. It is important that members of the Indian community in Australia are more restrained in their response.

Insecurity prompted by the attacks on Indians over the past several years resulted in a dramatic drop — around 50 per cent — in the number of students going to Australia. The Australian government must improve security for Indian immigrants. Whether motivated by race or not, crimes against Indians in Australia is rising. The Indian government must ensure that its citizens living overseas are secure.








Jamiat's exhortation to Musl-ims to preserve their way of living is understandable, but this shouldn't come in the way of the composite culture.

It is difficult to believe that the Jamiat-e-Ulma Hind should advise the Muslim youth not to watch television or hear music. I believe in Azamgarh district in UP Muslims in villages do not watch TV because of the propaganda that it is un-Islamic to do so. The same Jamiat was opposed to the creation of Pakistan because it did not want a separate country sought to be created on the basis of religion.

Pre-independence Muslim League was quite candid in its inference that after the departure of the British, the Muslims would be reduced to a hopeless minority and would be in no position to assert themselves to get their due. Therefore, the demand of the League was for an independent country to look after the affairs of the Muslim community. It is another matter that Pakistan did not follow the advice of its founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah not to mix religion with politics or state.

The Jamiat bravely stood by the side of the Congress which promised to set up a secular country after freedom. To raise the question of separate identity for Muslims after 10 years belies the Jamiat's original stand against partition. It was equally categorical in its stand that the Indian identity submerged all other identities — Hindus, Muslim, Sikh and Christian. Only the other day did it issue a fatwa against jihad, a war the Taliban were waging in Afghanistan and the north western border districts of Pakistan to impose the true tenets of Islam.

For the same organisation to warn against TV or music is to more or less ditto what the Taliban demanded and implemented when they came to power in Afghanistan or when they temporarily ruled the Swat Valley in Pakistan. The approach of the Taliban has been rejected by a large majority of Pakistanis who may stay silent out of fear but support the government in its efforts to combat terrorism.

Civil society takes the cake. It is getting thinner day by day and less and less determined in upholding liberalism. The assassination of Salman Taseer and minister Shahbaz Bhatti was not condemned by all the intelligentsia. Yet there is a determined lot which opposes the dictum of preferences and prejudices. Threats can drown the limited challenging voice, but cannot deny their existence.

Why the Jamiat is resiling from its original position may be because of the influence of Pakistani leader Fazal-Ur-Rehman who is said to be a constant advisor to Jamait-e-Ulma Hind. He did not like the views of liberal Pakistan People's Party (PPP) and parted company with it some time ago.

Composite culture

There is nothing wrong in Jamiat's exhortation to Muslims to preserve their way of living. But this should not come in the way of the composite culture which the country has assiduously built over hundreds of years. The Indian culture is an amalgamation of different cultures followed by Hindus, Muslims, Sikhs and Christians.

The revolt in the Arab World is all about defiance to religious fundamentalism or obscurantism. Old customs and traditions are not sacrosanct. They have to be reinterpreted to give space to new thinking. The youth have proved through their sacrifice that the modern is not bad just because it is new. It represents a fresh thinking. Yet it retains all that the religion demands.

The Jamiat has also announced to set up 'social reform committees' to promote Islamic rules and social values. By all means there should be committees. But they should ensure that every Muslim boy and girl goes to school. They should find out why there are drop-outs. Muslim states, including Pakistan, see to it that the youth is engaged in learning because that is going to help them overcome the economic backwardness and the perennial unemployment.

Reservation for Muslims, as enunciated by the Milli Council at its meeting in Jaipur, is understandable. It is justified to some extent. But reservations cannot be on the basis of religion. The criterion should be economic and backwardness. Poor Muslims and those from the Other Backward Classes (OBCs) are being denied their due because the creamy layer in the Muslim community corners most of gains.

The minority way of living is, indeed, threatened by the majority way of living. This cannot be met by the way the Jamiat is going about it. An average Hindu is not bigoted. He has proven this in the last two general elections by preferring the Congress to the BJP. And however contaminated policemen, there are quite a few who have defied the Hindutava government of chief minister Narendra Modi in Gujarat. Sad, Hemant Karkare did not live but he saw to it that the blame of Malegaon blast was put at the door of saffron terrorists, the real culprits.

The line plugged by the Jamiat-e-Ulma Hind may consolidate the Hindu vote on the BJP side. This is suicidal. Muslims should secularise Hindus if and when they are found wanting. Furrowing a communal line or indulging in such thinking is against the interest of India, not just Muslims alone. A parochial approach can tell upon the country's secular and democratic structure. The Jamiat should know that.








Since the global depression struck in 2008, the presence of media at WSF has dropped continuously.
Paradoxically, just as history is proving the World Social Forum (WSF) right in many of its predictions and analyses, the major media, those 'shapers of public opinion', are not increasing but in fact sharply decreasing their coverage of it. This silent treatment is a clear obstacle to the expansion of the WSF and a cause of real concern for many of its innumerable organisers and participants.

This situation was recognised in the Feb 10 declaration by the Social Movements of the WSF, which concluded that the forum must undertake "a battle of ideas, in which we cannot move forward unless there is a democratisation of communication".

It is curious that ten years ago journalists from around the world flocked to Porto Alegre to cover the WSF debates, which were given broad coverage in print and on television.
It could be argued that this was simply a result of the novelty of the forum and its flood of activists proclaiming, "another world is possible" while the rest of the world careened blindly towards disaster.

The surprise was greater still when the following year, in 2002, certain members of the WSF, where attendance rose steadily, were elected presidents of their countries.

The bubble

But these developments, it would seem, were moving contrary to the currents of history. In the same period, with the exception of certain slips capitalism, and especially financial capitalism, was charging full steam ahead. It outstripped the real economy, swelled the Gross World Product and international trade, and generated massive earnings for its businesses giving the impression that the good times would never end.

From its first years the WSF denounced with tenacity and rigour the elements of the reigning neoliberal ideology that would lead to global disaster: the so-called Washington Consensus that the International Monetary Fund (IMF) was imposing on countries of the South, extreme liberalisation, blind faith in the market as the ideal arbiter of the economy, rejection of any regulation especially of the financial firms which were conducting massive levels of speculation. The ruin that resulted is plain to see all around us.

One might think that, since history proved the WSF right, the media might have grown curious about the prescient arguments and predictions of the Forum. But the opposite happened: in recent years, particularly since the global depression struck in 2008, the presence of media at the forum has dropped continuously.

What was more logical was the parallel decline in the media's coverage of the World Economic Forum, which saw its fundamental postulates proved terribly wrong.

Of course, part of this contradiction has to do with the characteristics and errors of the WSF itself. The analysis of this matter is important given that the Forum constitutes the largest agglomeration of civil society in the world. Four aspects deserve close study:

- The structure of the forums consists of numerous simultaneous meetings on different themes. Thus the journalists must choose which they would like to attend and may find it difficult to make an assessment of the forum as a whole. This is accentuated by the organisational problems of the forum, which were particularly evident in the last meeting in Dakar. This dispersed nature of the event can thus distract attention from the ideas that it generates, including the best suggestions for solutions to the world's problems.

- In general the journalists who cover the forum are inadequately prepared. Providing good coverage of specialised debates requires a high level of expertise on fields ranging from ecology, finance, minority rights, and philosophical, political, theological, sociological discussions.

- The WSF has thus far lacked a true communications strategy. Despite its extraordinary capacity to draw people from civil society, its management and organisational staff is limited and lacks resources. It could produce better results if it recognised the importance of having and implementing a communications strategy.

- The operation of the mass media has changed dramatically in this decade and requires a rethinking that factors in the new modes of exchange made possible by the internet and electronic devices, social networks, and major alternative media like Al Jazeera and blogs like the Huffington Post, which have shown serious interest in this subject.
The coincidence of the Dakar Forum and the toppling of the regimes in North Africa has charged the debate and all groups linked to the WSF and challenged them to demonstrate the power and potential of those proposing to build 'another world' using new forms of organisation and communication.







The image of a polished gentleman who never spits in public has gone.

One of the primary disadvantages of chewing gum is to find  ways and means of disposing the lump after its work is done. Tasty to begin with, with as many flavours as the manufactures choose to introduce, it lose its taste progressively as it so happens in matrimony. When the point of zero return is reached, the chewer has to forcibly eject it. The elliptical path such a blob travels depends on one's jaw power. Men not only shoot it out to longer lengths but accurately as well to hit the intended target as they sharpen their skills by practising it.

Anyone chewing gum, transferring it from the left corner of the mouth to the right and back and forth resembles closely a cow that chews the cud with the lateral movement of the bovine jaws. While the cows have to throw such pulverised   grass or hay back to its cavernous stomach, the man to whom it is not a food or even a supplement has to dispose it off. One cannot remove it with hand as it will be yucky and  messy. Furthermore it will stick to the tip of the finger like the best adhesive available in the market.

Among the merchandise marketed during the cricket season, no other product will have such hidden visibility than a chewing gum. One cannot find out the name of the brand as it is concealed inside the mouth of the fielders who have to entertain themselves when the ball is not moving or flying in their direction. It will be interesting to watch when they will spit on the ground. Some will  do it when the monitor may not be showing them. But even   non-gum chewers would spit now and then, the prolific among them performing like a  spray gun all over.

Cricket used to be a gentleman's game when Test players played for a song. Now with mega bucks at stake and sponsors bidding for players with staggering amounts, the pressure comes on the latter to perform or else. The  image of a polished gentleman who never spits in public has gone. With pressure building up in the stadia, spitting may be recognised as a permissible de-stressing  act. Who knows the TV screens  that record the speed of ball in kilometres per hour, may even flash the speed of spitting for trivia-crazy cricket buffs.









There are people who see a crisis in every opportunity. And there are some who see an opportunity in every crisis. I'm among the latter.

A profound observation of the processes taking place in the Arab world should gladden the heart of anyone who favors freedom and justice in general, and every Jew in particular. It contains a kind of repeat broadcast of the Exodus from Egypt. But this time it's the Egyptians who are emerging from slavery into freedom. Almost without bloodshed, an entire nation rose up against the regime of torture, despotism and slavery. Every Jew should be pleased with a step that ends in a victory of justice and truth over oppression and lies.

An expression of this identification can be found in the wonderful words of Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, one of the Jewish leaders in modern times. In Nahalat Hasar, his commentary on the Passover Haggadah, the rabbi expresses the blessing that must be recited when witnessing an event that ends in liberation from the yoke of enslavement: "All the free people in the world, all those who favor and fight for human rights, have all joined the blessing of the Israelites ... because at the time when the freedom of the Israelites was born, their freedom was born as well, because those who left Egypt restored to human beings the understanding that they had lost: that they all have one Father and they have equal rights ... From those who left Egypt they received the book that confirms every man's rights, that writes and signs about the freedom of man and the divine dignity of every being."

Prior to any political and opportunistic accounting, we should be aware of the magnitude of the change from the point of view of Jewish ethics. On the political plane, it's true that there was a great blessing in the peace agreement with Egypt. But at the same time we mustn't forget that it was a peace agreement contracted with an autocrat and dictator, and not a genuine peace based on common values of genuine familiarity and closeness and an honest and open relationship with the Egyptian people.

Moreover: As is true of tyrants, the Egyptian despot also used anti-Semitism as a shock absorber, in order to divert the oppositional criticism leveled at him toward the Jewish people and the State of Israel.

I saw it with my own eyes: Shortly before the Alexandria summit, in which leaders of the three religions convened for a conciliation meeting, I met with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. At the meeting I criticized him for the anti-Semitism that was flourishing in his country, but he made do with a statement that revealed his tactics: "I don't understand. The anti-Semites are my greatest opponents." He wanted so say that that is how they find release through expressions of hostility and hatred. They have two options: to hate us or to love us. And he probably prefers the former.

Surprisingly, Israeli governments also accepted this unacceptable policy. It reached a point of true absurdity, the essence of grotesqueness, when the government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promoted an avowed anti-Semite, who declared that all Jewish books should be burned, to the position of secretary general of Unesco.

As a result of this cooperation, a barrier and a separation was created between Jews and Israelis on the one hand and the Egyptian people on the other. Now a real door has opened, and a worthy opportunity to make peace not only with the government, but with the Egyptian people and Egyptian society. It's true that we almost certainly will have to "pay" for that by making peace with the Palestinians too, but hasn't the time come to do so? We have an obligation to base the peace with the Muslim world on the many common values we share with the Muslims, values of justice and equality.

Not peace in the style of some members of the left, who promote it on the basis of hatred and separation from the Palestinians. "We are here and they are there" - such a peace perpetuates the hostility, and in the end even adds Knesset seats and popularity to supporters of right-wing politicians Rabbi Meir Kahane and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman.

On this plane interfaith peace is likely to make a decisive contribution. Quite a number of people watched the most recent uprising in Egypt with amazement; it revealed the fact that a vast majority of the Egyptian people are traditional. That doesn't mean that all its sons are suddenly turning out to be members of the sect of Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, but it definitely says something about the important place of religion in their identity.

One of the major challenges facing this interfaith discourse is how to change religion from a means of revenge, a destructive and deadly sword, into a powerful lever for achieving and making peace. Religion is not the problem. It is likely to be the solution. Recent events have proven that profound religious faith can dwell together with a civil constitution and democratic pluralism.

The time has come to climb down from the ladder. All the crazies have to climb down from the roof of hatred and totalitarianism to the ground of reality, ground that is planted with values common to all those who believe in one God: freedom, justice and peace, tradition and ethics. Fertile ground from which a different Middle East can grow.


Rabbi Melchior, who served as a government minister, heads the Mosaica Center for Interreligious Cooperation.








I am beginning to suspect that Ehud Barak is a frustrated journalist. He says things that were already written or are about to be written. He swipes hot items and dark forecasts about the government's conduct straight from our hands. I planned, for example, to write that we should expect a diplomatic tsunami this coming September when the United Nations General Assembly is likely to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders. And lo and behold, who should precede me with a warning article against the government if not the most senior member of that very government, the one who has the greatest influence on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu - Ehud Barak.

In an excellently constructed lecture at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv, he warned that when September arrives we are likely to face a diplomatic tsunami which most of the public (except Barak, of course ) is not aware of. It is true that there is no certainty that the United States will permit this grave forecast to materialize, and it is likewise not sure that a move of this kind would be to the benefit of the Palestinians. But a diplomatic tsunami at the UN General Assembly, just like a tsunami in nature, cannot be controlled by the heads of the big powers.

What is the difference, however, between a journalist and the defense minister? The difference is that the latter, in terms of both his personality and his role, is a member of the government and one of the two central figures that define its policy. He is supposed to act, not to write. What does it mean when he says he is warning us? Who is he warning? Himself or the prime minister? He always has the option of resigning (ha,ha! ).

Barak and Netanyahu are great friends, but it is not clear which of the two is able to wield the most influence. The cruel murder at Itamar spoke for itself. The international media, which is currently focusing on the disaster taking place in Japan with its tens of thousands of dead and imminent nuclear threat, devoted one line to the events at Itamar. CNN spoke of "intruders."

Netanyahu himself spoilt the effect of the horror by hurling the blame at the Palestinian leadership, and mainly devoted energy to finding "a suitable Zionist response," that is, approving the construction of 400 housing units in the territories. Perhaps they will, and perhaps they won't build them. In any case, under any agreement this construction will be earmarked for destruction.

Most of Netanyahu's considerations are aimed at the next news broadcast. The short term for him is the midday news magazine, and the long term is the evening news broadcast. It is not pleasant to put it this way, but the government's reaction spoiled the effect that this shocking act could have had, and diverted the world's attention away from the murder.

The question is what part Barak played in this decision. Did he initiate it? Was he a partner to Netanyahu's considerations? Barak himself, when he was prime minister, made a similar mistake in his response to the cruel and photographed lynch carried out by youths in Ramallah on two reservists who lost their way (on October 19, 2000 ). Barak at that time ordered Cobra helicopters to bomb "targets" in Ramallah. Despite the cruelty of the lynch, within a short while Israel was accused of bombarding the civilian population. With the "appropriate Zionist" response, they neither appease the settlers nor bring the dead back to life.

Observers are of the opinion that Netanyahu admires Barak. The question is, who ultimately makes the decision? Who has the last word? Barak is not eager to see Kadima join the coalition for fear that the price will be the defense portfolio. And it would not be sinful to assume that the exercise in which he broke away from Labor stemmed from his fear of losing that portfolio.

Barak is also not eager to see elections. According to confidential surveys, Netanyahu would garner support from Kadima voters while Barak would not get the minimum number of votes required to enter the Knesset. Which means that Netanyahu has the last word.

The events in Japan supposedly make matters easier for us. What is happening there overshadows everything that is happening in Libya. It is possible that what will happen in Libya, a victory for Muammar Gadhafi for instance, could have an influence on other countries, especially Bahrain and Saudi Arabia. The United States is indeed in favor of democracy but also in favor of the sources of its oil. And this is especially so since, in view of what is unfolding in Japan, nuclear reactors as a source of energy will not continue to be so popular.

The tsunamis in Japan will not solve our problems. But it is important to utilize this hiatus in the pinpointed pressure on Israel to prepare a satisfactory plan for a final status arrangement with the Palestinians. If Japan moved four meters as a result of the earthquakes, we are able to move from our nationalist fixation. Barak must decide whether he is on the left or the right, whether he is a media man or a statesman. September seems far off, but in a world of tectonic changes the future is tomorrow.







The recent murders in Itamar reminded me of the story of the SS soldier, the postwoman's "good boy" in Hans Fallada's novel "Alone in Berlin," who boasts of a photo in which he is seen banging the head of a 3-year-old Jewish child against the bumper of a car. I was reminded of it once again the next day, when I read in the newspaper that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had accepted German Chancellor Angela Merkel's invitation for a "reconciliation visit" to Berlin next month.

Two days ago marked the 46th anniversary of Menachem Begin's emotional Knesset speech about establishing diplomatic relations between Israel and Germany - in which he said the victims of the Holocaust "are commanding us not to carry out an absolute, final normalization before the eyes of the entire world, in the generation of the extermination, between the nation of the exterminated and the nation of the exterminators."

Only seven years after the "finest sons" of a nation that gave birth to Goethe and Schiller, Beethoven and Bach, sent millions of Jews to the crematoria, Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion signed the reparations agreement with what he called "a different Germany." At a stormy Jerusalem demonstration against the deal, Begin promised, "I will give an order: Yes! We know that you will show us no mercy, but this time, we too we will show no mercy to those that sell the blood of our brethren and parents - this will be a war of life and death!"

In November 1977, four years after thousands of Israelis were killed and wounded on the Egyptian front, Begin (then prime minister ) received Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in the Knesset plenary hall.

This week also marked the 14th anniversary of the murder of seven school girls from Beit Shemesh. Although the murderer was a soldier in the Jordanian army, the prime minister at the time, Netanyahu, did not hold the "Jordanians" responsible; and despite the fact that thousands of copies of "The Protocols of the Elders of Zion" are sold in Jordan, he didn't accuse King Hussein of "incitement" that encourages the murder of Jewish children.

When the trace of the murderers leads to the Palestinian territories, the exception immediately becomes the rule - a genetic trait that is characteristic of the Muslims. Palestine Liberation Organization Chairman Yasser Arafat signed the Oslo Accords and abolished the Palestinian Convention, in the presence of the president of the United States. Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas has repeatedly declared that he recognizes Israel and its right to exist in security within the 1967 borders. Abbas has also sent masses of Hamas activists to prison and invites Israeli peace activists to dine at his table.

One cruel murder is not enough for Netanyahu to bring the public back to the days in which we lived in constant fear of terror attacks, the days that brought his camp to power. There is a different Germany. There is a different Egypt. And in suitable borders, even a different Syria. But a different Palestine? Never.

The right does not consider the opinion of the moderate collective an authentic Arab voice. For them, the acts of the murderous exceptions are the determining factor. Their ears are attuned to the voice of an extremist minority and deaf to conciliatory notes, such as the Arab peace initiative of March 2002 - which proposes replacing the hostile relations with good neighborly ones. (The Arab League ambassador to Washington, Hussein Hassouna, said this week at a conference in Costa Rica that the organization is still committed to the initiative. )

Netanyahu, who complains about "the delegitimization of Israel," did not miss the opportunity to use the Itamar attack to breathe life into the destructive campaign that says "there is no Palestinian partner." "Moderate" Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, who froze plans for peace education, added fuel to the fire when at the Jerusalem Conference this week he spoke of "our neighbors," who educate their children to hatred, violence and death.

If the murderers wanted to intensify the hatred, violence and death among us, if they sought to etch into our minds that we will always live by the sword and the knife, Netanyahu gave them what they wanted. Have a pleasant trip to Berlin.







The undersigned has never been part of the business world, but he's had plenty of good business ideas. He actually tried to scatter them like seeds, but his efforts were in vain and they floated away in the wind.

One of these ideas will be retold here, in anticipation of the Purim festival. It comes back to bug me every time Purim draws near.

Back in the days when we lived on Moshav Margaliot, on the border with Lebanon, we would go hiking in the area every Saturday, drinking in the scenery and never getting enough of it. On one of those Saturdays, we went further out than usual and arrived at the Baram Forest. Suddenly we came across a sign - Mordecai and Esther were buried here. We were so excited we could hardly contain ourselves. How was it that we'd never heard that before?

Until then, we'd been under the mistaken belief that their graves were located in the town of Hamadan in central Iran. We apparently had not realized that, at some stage, their bones had been brought to Israel for reinterment, perhaps at the same time Ze'ev Jabotinsky's bones were flown in from New York. Or perhaps it had been part of some secret operation; so is it even permitted to reveal this?

The Zaka rescue and recovery organization clarified that Mordecai and Esther had actually been granted a double burial, both here and there, a schizophrenic event that is hopefully not disturbing their peace. And if it doesn't disturb them, then why not? Let there be as many saints' graves in Israel as possible.

And indeed those graves grow more numerous and fill the land. In particular, they fill the Galilee region, where all kinds of absurdities are accepted willingly. As we continued to hike, we came across more and more sites where the names of righteous men can be found. Every ruin has a name given it by entrepreneurs, and it is quite a lucrative source of income.

The first thing to do is give the place a clever label, every grave must have its own particular folk remedy. Women who have not been able to conceive venture to one, where they wrap themselves in prayer for the fruit of the womb; unmarried virgins who wish to find a match head to another. There is a righteous man somewhere who will bring peace to a household, and there is a most righteous woman who can provide a cure. The righteous understand the nature of the beast and if they do not exist, they invent them; the graves of ghosts soothe and cure, and living people cast themselves upon them with spiritual necrophilia.

Not every grave is meant to serve the needs of individuals; there are also national graves that serve the needs of the general public, and these grow in number mainly in the territories. Here even the skies are not the limit and for God's sake any sheikh's grave will be enshrined. Travelers to the Orient in the Middle Ages based their writings on the tales of some old local shepherd, and we've learned from their travelogues that Joseph the Righteous is buried here and Simon the Righteous is buried there. From one righteous man to another, our strength increases and our hold there deepens.

This is the reality of death with which we live, the same reality that gave birth to the idea: Why should we not also find some ruin near our home? And if there is no ruin close-by, why not build something and destroy it with our own hands? It would be labeled the site of national shrewdness, where all the blind people could go to make fools of themselves and prostrate themselves.

We had already succeeded in enlisting one of the good neighbors, who in return for a small sum of money and several appearances on TV was prepared to swear that he'd been saved in an instant. He would bear witness with his greedy eyes; and we had not given up hope of finding another partner who would bear witness with his mind's eye.

The preparations were going well, and we'd already decided for ourselves on the name of a righteous man free to take on another superstition, when suddenly everything collapsed. My wife, who was supposed to run the business with the children, and stuff the contributions into our own pockets, suddenly started repenting. The whole business didn't seem right to her. In a country strewn with real graves, she claimed, where every week fresh graves appear from yet another calamity, there is no place for graves parading as something else - which themselves cause disasters and produce more victims.

Not every Jewish orphan and her selfish cousin are Esther and Mordecai, and not every day is a happy day of Purim.






A program that Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer has developed jointly with universities in London and Nicosia, under which foreign medical students will do their residencies at Sheba (as reported by Dan Even in Wednesday's Haaretz ), exploits state infrastructure for a purpose that does not serve the public and could even undermine the quality of Israeli medicine.

The first to suffer will be Israeli medical students, especially those from Tel Aviv University who rely on the hospital, because Sheba is one of the best and most diverse hospitals at which to intern. The deans of the country's medical schools, who oppose the plan, are right to do so, because residency, which takes place at the patient's bedside, is the most important part of a doctor's training.

Given the overcrowding that already exists at the medical schools and the severe shortage of doctors in Israel, reducing Israeli students' options for interning is liable to further reduce the supply of future doctors.

Sheba's management claims the program confers "a dimension of excellence and a certificate of honor on the Israeli health system and its hospitals," while also undermining British efforts to impose an academic boycott on Israel.

These are bizarre arguments. The boycott has nothing whatsoever to do with the issue, and it seems doubtful that the residency program would undermine the effort anyway. Moreover, the Israeli health system and its medical centers are already renowned worldwide for their levels of excellence; they don't need further confirmation.

Another claim made by Sheba and the Health Ministry - that the additional revenue this program will bring the hospital will be used to improve the residency program for Israelis and train additional clinical teachers - is equally dubious. Israel's largest hospitals have been operating as private profit centers for quite some time now on the theory that their profits will help the patients.

But meanwhile, medical tourism is growing and private medical services are taking over more and more of the facilities and manpower that are supposed to serve the taxpayer. The wards and even the corridors are overflowing, while there has been no significant increase in the number of doctors and nurses.

Given the shortage of doctors and the overcrowding at the medical schools, the only solution is for the government, the universities and the hospitals to change their order of priorities. Their goal now must be to increase the number of medical students and to create the appropriate conditions both for training them in Israel and for integrating them into the local job market.


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



As Japan's nuclear crisis unfolds, nations around the world are looking at the safety of their nuclear reactors — as they should. But most are also waiting until all the facts are in before deciding whether or how to change their nuclear plans. The Obama administration has vowed to learn from the Japanese experience and incorporate new safety approaches if needed.

That makes sense to us — so long as there is rigorous follow-through. The operator of the stricken plant, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, and the Japanese government have been disturbingly opaque about what is happening at the Fukushima Daiichi complex and about efforts to prevent a meltdown and the potential public threat.

That has deepened anxieties in Japan and around the world and led the United States government to take the extraordinary step of announcing that the damage to at least one of the crippled reactors may be far worse than Tokyo had admitted — and urging Americans there to move further away from the official safety perimeter.

Still, enough is known to begin raising questions about our own nuclear operations. We hope regulators and industry leaders are equally forthcoming about this country's vulnerabilities and challenges.

One of the first questions is whether current evacuation plans are robust enough. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission requires plant operators to alert the public within a 10-mile radius if a dangerous plume of radioactivity will be heading their way, and local officials decide whether to order an evacuation. The American Embassy in Japan, based on advice from Washington regulators, has told Americans there to evacuate to a radius of about 50 miles from the Fukushima plant.

Why wouldn't a worst-case accident here merit the same caution? The difficulty, of course, is that some plants — including Indian Point north of New York City — are within 50 miles of millions of people. Regulators will need to clarify this discrepancy or start coming up with more ambitious evacuation plans.

Regulators need to immediately review their safety analyses of two California plants, which, like the Fukushima plant, are located on the coast and near geological faults and might theoretically face the double calamity of an earthquake and tsunami.

The type of reactors used at the Fukushima plant — made by the General Electric Company, they are known as Mark 1 boiling-water reactors — have long been known to have weak containment systems. In Japan, they appear to have been ruptured by explosions of escaping hydrogen. American regulators will need to determine whether similar reactors in this country are vulnerable and whether modifications in newer versions have made them sufficiently safe.

The stricken Japanese complex housed six reactors in close proximity; explosions, fires and radiation spread damage among four of them and has made rescue efforts harder. Regulators will need to look at whether American nuclear plants with multiple reactors are vulnerable to the same cascading effects. In recent days, a new danger has emerged in the spent fuel pools adjacent to the reactors. At least one has apparently lost its cooling water and another is cracked and possibly losing water. If the fuel catches fire, it could spew radiation over a large area. Regulators here may need to expedite the removal of some spent fuel from pools to dry storage in casks.

So far, the all-important lesson would seem to be: have sufficient emergency power at hand to keep cooling water circulating in the reactors to prevent a meltdown.

The Japanese reactors seem to have survived one of the most powerful earthquakes ever recorded without major structural damage. The crisis developed because the plant lost electrical power from the grid and the tsunami knocked out its backup diesel generators. American regulators must ensure that all nuclear plants have enough mobile generators or other backup power in place if their first two lines of defense are disabled.





Alexandra Wallace is the student at the University of California, Los Angeles, who made the three-minute video seen by millions of people on YouTube in which she disparages Asian students for using cellphones in the library to call family members after the tsunami struck Japan.

The video's viral spread is a reminder of the Internet's power and the cost of heedless and hurtful postings. Ms. Wallace is rightly being criticized by university officials, fellow students and many others for her clearly racist words. She has since apologized through the student newspaper. Still, the university would do a great disservice to itself and the First Amendment if it goes ahead and disciplines her for the content of her words.

On his blog, Eugene Volokh, a First Amendment scholar at U.C.L.A., counseled why Ms. Wallace's video is "clearly constitutionally protected," no matter how obnoxious. A purpose of the American university, he said, is to debate major decisions about social and other policies — to build consensus and the foundations of community. To assure worthwhile debate, it's necessary to protect some worthless, even hurtful, opinion.

The video doesn't justify the basis on which U.C.L.A. is considering punishing her: that her words amount to a form of harassment against a group of students. Her most offensive words — said while mimicking people speaking an Asian language — sound like an ethnic slur, but it would be hard to argue that they were threatening. If used against her, that rationale could also be used, wrongly, to punish what Prof. Volokh called "a vast range of other speech."

Universities have long wrestled with this issue, with many adopting hate-speech codes that punish speech victimizing minorities and women. Some of those codes have been struck down in court for being too vague. Many have been rewritten as antiharassment codes, with statements like this one in U.C.L.A.'s Principles of Community: "We do not tolerate acts of discrimination, harassment, profiling or other harm to individuals on the basis of expression of race, color, ethnicity" and other traits.

The codes are useful tools against real harassment, but they should not be used to abridge the principle of free speech. That would be a far greater threat to education and to a strong democracy.






It never made sense to exempt online retailers from collecting sales tax. It's ridiculous now when so many states are in deep fiscal trouble. Illinois estimates that it is losing more than $150 million a year in uncollected taxes; California is losing an estimated $300 million a year. That would cover more than half the planned cuts for the University of California system.

It's good news that states are using new legal tools to force Internet retailers to do what every other retailer must do. It is disappointing to see fight back.

Amazon and other Web retailers are shielded by a 1992 Supreme Court ruling that retailers could be required to collect sales tax only in states where they had some physical presence. Amazon has kept itself off the hook in several states using warehouses owned by subsidiaries.

That strategy is now being challenged. In October, Texas sent a $269 million bill to the company for four years' worth of taxes, citing Amazon's Texas warehouse, owned by a subsidiary. In South Carolina, Gov. Nikki Haley is reportedly reconsidering a deal cut by her predecessor that would allow Amazon to set up a warehouse there and exempt it from collecting sales taxes.

Last week, Illinois passed a law forcing online retailers to collect sales tax if they have local affiliates — local businesses, blogs or nonprofits — whose Web sites sent business their way in exchange for a cut. New York, Rhode Island and North Carolina have adopted similar laws, and New Mexico, Minnesota and Vermont are considering their own legislation. After Amazon threatened to terminate its affiliate programs in California and Hawaii, governors in both states vetoed similar bills. The California Legislature is trying again.

Amazon isn't giving up. It is disputing the tax charge in Texas and said it will close the warehouse there. It challenged the New York law in state court and lost but is now appealing. It has terminated affiliate programs in Rhode Island and North Carolina and said it will sever its affiliate links in Illinois in April.

Collecting state taxes is not an unreasonable burden for online retailers. Amazon already collects taxes in five states, including New York, and it also collects taxes on behalf of physical retailers that sell through Amazon.

The best outcome would be for Congress to pass legislation requiring all retailers, online and off, to collect sales taxes everywhere they are due. In the meantime, states should not give in to Amazon's pressure tactics.





In Ivory Coast, an autocrat's desperate bid to hang on to power has led to unspeakable atrocities and hundreds of deaths. Hundreds of thousands of people have been driven from their homes. The international community must move quickly to halt this terror.

The United Nations has 9,000 peacekeepers in the country. Another 2,000 are authorized and are urgently required to protect civilians. There can be no more delay in deploying them and more may be needed. Civilians should be allowed to seek refuge at United Nations and French bases (the former colonial power has troops there to support the mission). The United Nations should consider ways to jam the state broadcasting system, which is inciting violence.

The mayhem was precipitated by President Laurent Gbagbo after he lost his re-election bid in December. The international community recognized Alassane Ouattara as the legitimate president. When Mr. Gbagbo refused to step down, the United Nations Security Council and others imposed economic and diplomatic sanctions.

Mr. Gbagbo then began what Human Rights Watch described as a campaign of organized violence that may constitute crimes against humanity, with killings and politically motivated rapes. On March 3, the army fired at thousands of women demonstrating peacefully, killing 7.

While Human Rights Watch blames Mr. Gbagbo's forces for the majority of an estimated 400 civilian deaths, pro-Ouattara forces are also faulted. Washington and Paris are right to press the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate atrocity charges.

The Security Council must strictly enforce sanctions against Mr. Gbagbo and his henchmen. The African Union should keep trying to persuade him to step aside. After years of unrest, voters in the Ivory Coast clearly voted for change. Mr. Gbagbo must not be allowed to thwart their will or plunge the country back into civil war.






More than three years after we entered the worst economic slump since the 1930s, a strange and disturbing thing has happened to our political discourse: Washington has lost interest in the unemployed.

Jobs do get mentioned now and then — and a few political figures, notably Nancy Pelosi, the Democratic leader in the House, are still trying to get some kind of action. But no jobs bills have been introduced in Congress, no job-creation plans have been advanced by the White House and all the policy focus seems to be on spending cuts.

So one-sixth of America's workers — all those who can't find any job or are stuck with part-time work when they want a full-time job — have, in effect, been abandoned.

It might not be so bad if the jobless could expect to find new employment fairly soon. But unemployment has become a trap, one that's very difficult to escape. There are almost five times as many unemployed workers as there are job openings; the average unemployed worker has been jobless for 37 weeks, a post-World War II record.

In short, we're well on the way to creating a permanent underclass of the jobless. Why doesn't Washington care?

Part of the answer may be that while those who are unemployed tend to stay unemployed, those who still have jobs are feeling more secure than they did a couple of years ago. Layoffs and discharges spiked during the crisis of 2008-2009 but have fallen sharply since then, perhaps reducing the sense of urgency. Put it this way: At this point, the U.S. economy is suffering from low hiring, not high firing, so things don't look so bad — as long as you're willing to write off the unemployed.

Yet polls indicate that voters still care much more about jobs than they do about the budget deficit. So it's quite remarkable that inside the Beltway, it's just the opposite.

What makes this even more remarkable is the fact that the economic arguments used to justify the D.C. deficit obsession have been repeatedly refuted by experience.

On one side, we've been warned, over and over again, that "bond vigilantes" will turn on the U.S. government unless we slash spending immediately. Yet interest rates remain low by historical standards; indeed, they're lower now than they were in the spring of 2009, when those dire warnings began.

On the other side, we've been assured that spending cuts would do wonders for business confidence. But that hasn't happened in any of the countries currently pursuing harsh austerity programs. Notably, when the Cameron government in Britain announced austerity measures last May, it received fawning praise from U.S. deficit hawks. But British business confidence plunged, and it has not recovered.

Yet the obsession with spending cuts flourishes all the same — unchallenged, it must be said, by the White House.

I still don't know why the Obama administration was so quick to accept defeat in the war of ideas, but the fact is that it surrendered very early in the game. In early 2009, John Boehner, now the speaker of the House, was widely and rightly mocked for declaring that since families were suffering, the government should tighten its own belt. That's Herbert Hoover economics, and it's as wrong now as it was in the 1930s. But, in the 2010 State of the Union address, President Obama adopted exactly the same metaphor and began using it incessantly.

And earlier this week, the White House budget director declared: "There is an agreement that we should be reducing spending," suggesting that his only quarrel with Republicans is over whether we should be cutting taxes, too. No wonder, then, that according to a new Pew Research Center poll, a majority of Americans see "not much difference" between Mr. Obama's approach to the deficit and that of Republicans.

So who pays the price for this unfortunate bipartisanship? The increasingly hopeless unemployed, of course. And the worst hit will be young workers — a point made in 2009 by Peter Orszag, then the White House budget director. As he noted, young Americans who graduated during the severe recession of the early 1980s suffered permanent damage to their earnings. And if the average duration of unemployment is any indication, it's even harder for new graduates to find decent jobs now than it was in 1982 or 1983.

So the next time you hear some Republican declaring that he's concerned about deficits because he cares about his children — or, for that matter, the next time you hear Mr. Obama talk about winning the future — you should remember that the clear and present danger to the prospects of young Americans isn't the deficit. It's the absence of jobs.

But, as I said, these days Washington doesn't seem to care about any of that. And you have to wonder what it will take to get politicians caring  again about America's forgotten millions.






The nice thing about being human is that you never need to feel lonely. Human beings are engaged every second in all sorts of silent conversations — with the living and the dead, the near and the far.

Researchers have been looking into these subtle paraconversations, and in this column I'm going to pile up a sampling of their recent findings. For example, Tobias J. Moskowitz and L. Jon Wertheim wrote a fantastic book excerpt in Sports Illustrated explaining home-field advantage. Home teams win more than visiting teams in just about every sport, and the advantage is astoundingly stable over time. So what explains the phenomenon?

It's not because players perform better when their own fans are cheering them on. In basketball, free-throw percentages are the same home and away. In baseball, a pitcher's strike-to-ball ratio is the same home and away.

Neither is it the rigors of travel disadvantaging the away team. Teams from the same metro area lose at the same rate as teams from across the country when playing in their rival's stadium.

No, the real difference is the officiating. The refs and umpires don't like to get booed. So even if they are not aware of it, they call fewer fouls on home teams in crucial situations. They call more strikes on away batters in tight games in the late innings.

Moskowitz and Wertheim show that the larger, louder and closer a crowd is, the more the refs favor the home team. It's not a conscious decision. They just naturally conform a bit to the emotional vibes radiating from those around them.

They say you only hurt the one you love. That may not be strictly true, but in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Johanna Peetz and Lara Kammrath find that people are more likely to break promises made to people they love. That's because they are driven by affection to make lavish promises in the first place. They really mean it at the time, but lavish promises are the least likely to be kept.

If you want a person to work harder, you should offer to pay on the basis of individual performance, right? Not usually. A large body of research suggests it's best to motivate groups, not individuals. Organize your people into a group; reward everybody when the group achieves its goals. Susan Helper, Morris Kleiner and Yingchun Wang confirm this insight in a working paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research. They compared compensation schemes in different manufacturing settings and found that group incentive pay and hourly pay motivate workers more effectively than individual incentive pay.

Joachim Huffmeier and Guido Hertel tried to figure out why groups magnify individual performance for a study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology. They studied relay swim teams in the 2008 Summer Olympics. They found that swimmers on the first legs of a relay did about as well as they did when swimming in individual events. Swimmers on the later legs outperformed their individual event times. In the heat of a competition, it seems, later swimmers feel indispensible to their team's success and are more motivated than when swimming just for themselves.

Not all groups perform equally well, of course. Researchers led by Thomas W. Malone at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Sloan School of Management have found they can measure a group's I.Q. This group I.Q. is not well predicted by the median I.Q. of the group members. Measures of motivation didn't predict group performance all that well either.

Instead, the groups that did well had members that were good at reading each other's emotions. They took turns when speaking. Participation in conversation was widely distributed. There was no overbearing leader dominating everything.

This leads to the question: What sorts of people are good at reading emotion? Age may play some role here. Jamin Halberstadt has a paper coming out in the journal Psychology and Aging that suggests that the young may on average read emotional cues more sensitively than the old. Halberstadt showed various people videos of someone committing a faux pas. Younger viewers were able to better discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Older subjects also performed worse on emotion recognition tests.

Taste may play a role, too. For the journal Psychological Science, Kendall Eskine, Natalie Kacinik and Jesse Prinz gave people sweet-tasting, bitter-tasting and neutral-tasting drinks and then asked them to rate a variety of moral transgressions. As expected, people who had tasted the bitter drink were more likely to register moral disgust, suggesting that having Cherry Coke in the jury room may be a smart move for good defense lawyers.

It's important to remember that one study is never dispositive. But if this stuff interests you, I have a newish  — in the Opinion section of The Times online celebrating odd and brilliant studies from researchers around the world. 






San Francisco

SINCE the 1930s, when the product first hit the market, there has been a plastic toothbrush in every American bathroom. But if you are one of the growing number of people seeking to purge plastic from their lives, you can now buy a wooden toothbrush with boar's-hair bristles, along with other such back-to-the-future products as cloth sandwich wrappers, metal storage containers and leather fly swatters.

The urge to avoid plastic is understandable, given reports of toxic toys and baby bottles, seabirds choking on bottle caps and vast patches of ocean swirling with everlasting synthetic debris. Countless bloggers write about striving — in vain, most discover — to eradicate plastic from their lives. "Eliminating plastic is one of the greenest actions you can do to lower your eco-footprint," one noted while participating in a recent online challenge to be plastic-free.

Is this true? Shunning plastic may seem key to the ethic of living lightly, but the environmental reality is more complex.

Originally, plastic was hailed for its potential to reduce humankind's heavy environmental footprint. The earliest plastics were invented as substitutes for dwindling supplies of natural materials like ivory or tortoiseshell. When the American John Wesley Hyatt patented celluloid in 1869, his company pledged that the new manmade material, used in jewelry, combs, buttons and other items, would bring "respite" to the elephant and tortoise because it would "no longer be necessary to ransack the earth in pursuit of substances which are constantly growing scarcer." Bakelite, the first true synthetic plastic, was developed a few decades later to replace shellac, then in high demand as an electrical insulator. The lac bugs that produced the sticky resin couldn't keep up with the country's rapid electrification.

Today, plastic is perceived as nature's nemesis. But a generic distaste for plastic can muddy our thinking about the trade-offs involved when we replace plastic with other materials. Take plastic bags, the emblem for all bad things plastic. They clog storm drains, tangle up recycling equipment, litter parks and beaches and threaten wildlife on land and at sea. A recent expedition researching plastic pollution in the South Atlantic reported that its ship had trouble setting anchor in one site off Brazil because the ocean floor was coated with plastic bags.

Such problems have fueled bans on bags around the world and in more than a dozen American cities. Unfortunately, as the plastics industry incessantly points out, the bans typically lead to a huge increase in the use of paper bags, which also have environmental drawbacks. But the bigger issue is not what the bags are made from, but what they are made for. Both are designed, absurdly, for that brief one-time trip from the store to the front door.

In other words, plastics aren't necessarily bad for the environment; it's the way we tend to make and use them that's the problem.

It's estimated that half of the nearly 600 billion pounds of plastics produced each year go into single-use products. Some are indisputably valuable, like disposable syringes, which have been a great ally in preventing the spread of infectious diseases like H.I.V., and even plastic water bottles, which, after disasters like the Japanese tsunami, are critical to saving lives. Yet many disposables, like the bags, drinking straws, packaging and lighters commonly found in beach clean-ups, are essentially prefab litter with a heavy environmental cost.

And there's another cost. Pouring so much plastic into disposable conveniences has helped to diminish our view of a family of materials we once held in high esteem. Plastic has become synonymous with cheap and worthless, when in fact those chains of hydrocarbons ought to be regarded as among the most valuable substances on the planet. If we understood plastic's true worth, we would stop wasting it on trivial throwaways and take better advantage of what this versatile material can do for us.

In a world of nearly seven billion souls and counting, we are not going to feed, clothe and house ourselves solely from wood, ore and stone; we need plastics. And in an era when we're concerned about our carbon footprint, we can appreciate that lightweight plastics take less energy to produce and transport than many other materials. Plastics also make possible green technology like solar panels and lighter cars and planes that burn less fuel. These "unnatural" synthetics, intelligently deployed, could turn out be nature's best ally.

Yet we can't hope to achieve plastic's promise for the 21st century if we stick with wasteful 20th-century habits of plastic production and consumption. We have the technology to make better, safer plastics — forged from renewable sources, rather than finite fossil fuels, using chemicals that inflict minimal or no harm on the planet and our health. We have the public policy tools to build better recycling systems and to hold businesses accountable for the products they put into the market. And we can also take a cue from the plastic purgers about how to cut wasteful plastic out of our daily lives.

We need to rethink plastic. The boar's-hair toothbrush is not our only alternative.

Susan Freinkel is the author of the forthcoming "Plastic: A Toxic Love Story."






Hong Kong

WATCHING the coverage of the crisis at the Fukushima Daiichi Nuclear Power Station unfold on TV, I was reminded of my own close call with a nuclear emergency.

In 1988 I was a newly minted shift technical adviser at the South Texas Project, a power plant near the Gulf Coast. Hurricane Gilbert, at the time a Category 5 storm, was bearing down on us. I received word from plant management that all workers should leave except for critical plant personnel like myself. I called my wife and told her to go inland with our 4-month-old daughter. Eventually the storm weakened and turned south. But there was never a question: my team and I would stay, regardless of what happened.

The situation facing the 50 workers left at Fukushima is a nuclear operator's worst nightmare. Fortunately, despite harrowing situations like mine, almost none of us will ever deal with anything like it. But the knowledge that a nuclear crisis could occur, and that we might be the only people standing in the way of a meltdown, defines every aspect of an operator's life.

The field attracts a very particular kind of person. I became a nuclear worker in the 1980s, in the wake of the oil crises of the 1970s. Nuclear power, for all its risks, seemed like the best alternative, and people like me who signed up at the time saw ourselves as the guardians of America's energy future. We were the ones who would prevent the risks of nuclear power from becoming a reality, who would keep the plants safe and, in turn, the country's way of life secure.

The same spirit motivates today's workers. Contrary to the depiction of nuclear operators as bumbling slackers in "The Simpsons," the typical employee is more like a cross between a jet pilot and a firefighter: highly trained to keep a technically complex system running, but also prepared to be the first and usually only line of defense in an emergency.

Training to be a senior reactor operator takes up to two years and involves demonstrating one's ability to process complex, sometimes contradictory information rapidly and under intense pressure. The training regimen also grinds into us the overwhelming importance of staying put in an emergency situation, even at great risk to our own safety. There are simply too many contingencies and too many functions that require close observation for an emergency to be handled remotely.

And so while the world wondered why the workers at the Fukushima plant didn't flee, my fellow nuclear operators and I weren't surprised. One employee is reported to have received a significant dose of radiation while trying to vent pressure on one of the reactor's containment vessels. There is no question that this act saved countless lives. But there is also no question that the operator acted knowing full well that he could suffer long-term injury from doing so.

Those of us in the industry are also watching the management of the crisis. It's easy to be critical, from a distance, and while I have yet to see anything that smacks of negligence or mishandling, a few obvious questions come to mind.

For one thing, considering the difficulties of managing a nuclear accident within a disaster zone, was the plant staff provided with the necessary technical support and equipment? It's also clear that procedures need to be in place for better handling of the insatiable demand for information from the news media. Finally, given the multiple problems at Fukushima, we should revisit the standard protocol for dealing with a nuclear emergency, which assumes a problem with a single reactor, even at a multiunit site.

We will likely hear numerous stories of heroism over the next several days, of plant operators struggling to keep water flowing into the reactors, breathing hard against their respirators under the dim rays of a handheld flashlight in the cold, dark recesses of a critically damaged nuclear plant, knowing that at any moment another hydrogen explosion could occur.

These operators will be hailed as heroes, and deservedly so. But if they are like the rest of the tightly knit community of nuclear workers, they will simply say they were doing their job.

Michael Friedlander is a nuclear engineer.







We in the United States undoubtedly have the best form of government that has ever been devised in the history of mankind.

Some of our Founding Fathers certainly were geniuses who understood the nature of government — and also understood human nature. They took both into consideration in writing the Constitution.

But while many of the authors of our Constitution were extraordinary men, are we today, as heirs of the Constitution, up to preserving the ideals they declared?

After all, "we, the people," aren't perfect. We don't always make good and unselfish decisions. We don't always elect the best and wisest leaders to run our government. That's why we need our Constitution — and should abide strictly by it!

The Constitution was written to protect the people and our freedom, by limiting the power of government. Some powers are specifically delegated to the federal government — but all others are reserved to the states or the people.

Many of our governmental problems today result from our frequent failure to adhere to the Constitution as it was written. There sadly is an inclination among people, personally and in government, to seek and abuse power, and that's where the trouble begins.

Also, it unfortunately is natural for us to demand too much "from" government, "for" us, without expecting to contribute "to" government. Many households pay no federal income taxes, for instance. We sometimes want too many benefits and too many rights — without accepting the corresponding responsibilities.

To protect our personal freedom, we need to remember that it is limited in ways designed to assure equal freedom for all others, for the benefit of all, without deprivation to any.

The constitutional government of our United States of America is really a miracle. It's amazing how our system of government under law, with personal freedom, has survived.

You may remember the story that Benjamin Franklin, after the Constitutional Convention in 1787, was asked what kind of government we had. Franklin replied, "A republic, if you can keep it."

Thomas Jefferson appropriately reminded us, "In questions of power, then, let no more be said of confidence in man, but bind him down from mischief by the chains of the Constitution."

That's still excellent advice, and a challenge to us all, as we seek to preserve our freedom, and good government of, by and for the people.





'A SCOUT IS ...'

One of the finest character-building organizations in existence surely is the Boy Scouts of America.

That's indicated by its high standards: "A Scout is trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent."

Our country has more than 1.2 million adults volunteering to lead and inspire more than 4.5 million Boy Scouts — many of them active in troops in the Chattanooga area.

Chattanooga was honored Thursday by having the head of all of our Boy Scouts of America speak at the Downtown Rotary Club. He's Chief Scout Executive Robert "Bob" Mazzuca, and he is based at Boy Scout headquarters in Irving, Texas, near Dallas.

He praised Chattanooga Rotary President Tom Edd Wilson as one of very few in our country who have been presented the national Distinguished Eagle Scout Award. And he also recognized the head of our local Cherokee Area Council of Boy Scouts, Scott Fosse.

Mazzuca's message was certainly in tune with the Boy Scout motto: "Be Prepared." He noted the patriotism of Boy Scouts and their health-building outdoor activities. But he lamented that our current youngsters are on the brink of being "our first generation to be less healthy than the generation before it."

Scouting programs are designed to promote not only good character — and "doing a good turn daily" — but also excellent physical health through wholesome outdoor activities.

Mazzuca emphasized that Scouting is about "a lot more than making a fire by rubbing two sticks together."

Boy Scouting is about developing young men through enjoyable group activities, and promoting values and skills that will last them a lifetime. Those are the marvelous benefits for millions of boys who are fortunate enough to take part in the challenging activities of the Boy Scouts of America.






It sometimes has been said ironically that at the end of our lives, whether we are bound for heaven or hell, we surely will have to change planes at the Atlanta airport.

That's because that particular airport is the transfer point for so many flights to — well, anywhere.

It now is reported, to the surprise of few in our area, that Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport in Atlanta remains the world's busiest airport.

But reporting what's first in anything always raises a question: "What's second?"

It's Beijing Capital International Airport in the world's most populous nation: Communist China.

Atlanta's airport had passenger traffic of 89,331,622 — yes, nearly 90 million! — in 2010.

Beijing's airport was second, with "only" 73,891,801.

Following were Chicago O'Hare with 66,665,390; London Heathrow with 65,884,143; Tokyo/Haneda with 64,069,098; Los Angeles with 58,915,100; Paris Charles de Gaulle with 58,167,062; Dallas/Fort Worth with 56,905,066; Frankfurt, Germany, with 53,009,221; and Denver with 52,211,242.

Many Chattanoogans fly out of and into Chattanooga Metropolitan Airport. But many local people just drive a little more than a hundred miles to join the crowd in Atlanta to begin their flights.

Can anyone look at our freeways and even imagine how crowded they would be if we didn't have so much airline service throughout our country — to everywhere?






We always tend to take pride in the growth of our community. So we are interested in the recently released figures from the 2010 U.S. government census that show Chattanooga's population has grown.

Officially, the 2010 census indicates Chattanooga has more than 167,000 residents — up from 155,000 in 2000.

But Mayor Ron Littlefield believes we may have been undercounted. So he may appeal for a review of the figures.

Why is the number important beyond "bragging rights"?

"A lot of funding" depends upon census figures, Littlefield pointed out. He wants Chattanooga to get its full, fair share.

The census figures indicate Tennessee's population increased from 5.7 million people a decade ago to 6.3 million in 2010.

The census also showed Soddy-Daisy and Collegedale are the fastest-growing Hamilton County communities.

The census is interesting. But much more important is the growth of economic opportunities — jobs — for our people. And our whole Chattanooga community certainly should be thankful that there is a lot of current good news in that important regard.







Reflecting on the challenging issue of Turkish immigrants in Germany, a sage once observed: "Back in 1961, the Germans thought they were getting workers. Instead, they got people."

Therein lies the problem of the two unamalgamated worlds, 50 years after the signing of the guest worker treaty on which we reported yesterday. Symbolically and hopefully, the deal to provide the muscle for Germany's post-war "miracle" was marked by German Ambassador Eckart Cuntz, State Minister for Turks abroad Faruk Çelik and the retired İsmail Bahadır, who was the 1 millionth worker to arrive with the program in 1969. All spoke warmly of the contributions to both countries and the many successes.

There have been many successes. Turks are members of the Bundestag. There are judges and university professors descended from those early waves of migration. Turks own more than 70,000 businesses in today's Germany. "German-Turks" choosing to come to the land of their parents' birth are in many walks of contemporary Turkish life and in fact help write and produce the Hürriyet Daily News each day.

But let's not kid ourselves. Turkish immigrants remain in many ways on the margins of German society. They suffer double the unemployment rates of other Germans. They are far more likely to commit a crime in Germany or be a victim of one. They are almost invisible in the German media when compared with the percentages of immigrants in British and French media. One recent study, by the Berlin-based Institute for Population and Development found that 30 percent of Turkish-origin students do not finish school and only 14 percent take the "Abitur" examination for a place in a German university.

To be sure, both Germany's government and Turkey's have made serious efforts in recent years to overcome these barriers to integration. Turkish leaders, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, have made calls for Turks to better embrace their adopted homeland and language. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has declared that successful integration is "decisive" for all Germans' well being.

But there have been miscues as well. Erdoğan's assault on assimilation as a "crime against humanity" was not helpful. Neither was Merkel's comment not long ago that mosque minarets should not overshadow church spires.

We worry too that much of the response to these lingering problems assumes a homogeneity among the Turkish population that invites one-size solutions and pro-forma solutions. Of the 3.2 million "Turks" in Germany, at least 600,000 are of Kurdish origins, whose problems are often unique. The same is true of the equal number of Turkish immigrants who are Alevis, members of a heterodox branch of Islam that hardly fits the profile of Muslims in many a German mind.

After 50 years, let's end the discussion of "workers," "immigrants" or "Turks." Let's discuss the problems of "people."

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.







Supporting Turkey's European Union perspective – or its ties with the West in general – has never been a vote winner for Turkish politicians, and is certainly not so now after the negative attitude of some countries in Europe to Ankara's EU membership bid.

To the contrary, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has started relying on strong and at times virulent language about the EU in particular, and the West in general, in the lead-up to the general elections in June. He is probably not off the mark either, given the antipathy Turks increasingly feel toward Europe and the United States.

The bottom line is that neither secular and nationalist conservatives, nor religious conservatives in Turkey, have ever had any real liking for the West, which in turn has not always made itself likeable to Turks. The position of secular and nationalist conservatives is particularly contradictory since everything they aspire to, from their secularism to their nationalism, as well as the way they dress and live, is essentially inspired by the West.

The general and sublimated belief, which has not just fed the nationalist Kemalist ideology, but also the ideology of political Islam over the decades since the Republic was founded, is that if Turkey exists at all today, it is not "because of the West" but "in spite of it."

This belief which is embedded in the Turkish collective psyche has roots which go back to Gladstone who wanted Turks to be thrown out "bag and baggage… from the province that they have desolated and profaned." The same attitude by Lloyd George in later years – and his support of the invasion of Anatolia by Greece in 1919 – united the Turks in a manner and with a determination no one expected at the time, and enabled them in the end to send their enemies "bag and baggage" from Anatolia.

Ever since then being too supportive of the West has not been something to be proud of in this country, even for those whose appearance and lifestyles are Western. It is also becoming clearer now that the basic reason for the secular Kemalist regime remaining firmly within the Western fold after World War II was the elemental fear of Communism from Russia.

Turning Turkey into a genuinely Western country, with all its modern and secular trappings, however, was never a prime consideration. To the contrary, Western notions of liberal education, press freedoms and democratic freedoms were often considered to be the source of "subversive thought designed to destroy the Republic" and treated accordingly.

Had the opposite been true, Turkey would be in a very different category of nations today. For example, few Turkish governments in the past acted in the spirit of the 1963 Ankara Agreement, which was supposed to pave the way for Turkey's membership in the EEC, as it was known at the time.

If they had, Turkey would have joined what eventually became the EU before all of Eastern Europe, as well as Greece, Portugal and Spain, since its democracy – for all its shortcomings then – was still better than those countries at that time.

But this was not to be, and once the Cold War ended an important "raison d'etre" for remaining embedded in the Western fold so firmly began to diminish, and continues to do so today. The support of European anti-Communists for Turkey during the Cold War also diminished rapidly of course. The xenophobic and Islamophobic attitudes that have emerged in Europe today, on the other hand, are only fuelling this trend.

Given this general picture, Erdoğan is now playing on what has become a classic nationalist theme against Europe. The latest report on Turkey by the European Parliament, which has especially harsh words on the topic of press freedoms, and justifiably so, has enraged him to the point of unleashing a torrent of abuse against Europe.

Ratcheting up his anti-EU rhetoric, he repeated a verse earlier this week from Turkey's national anthem, written by the nationalist poet Mehmet Akif Ersoy after the war of liberation, and thus openly demonstrated his innate animosity toward the West.

The verse he repeated talks about "Western civilization" as "a monster that has only one tooth left."  

Ersoy's reference was to a West that had no virtues or values left, but only its steel and military might (its only tooth), which in the end proved to be worthless against determined Turks driven by the faith in their hearts. It is telling that Erdoğan should have said, after reciting Ersoy's lines, that "there is no other verse that describes the West better than this."

Given his increasingly anti-NATO and anti-Western rhetoric in connection with the events in Libya, it is clear that this is a theme he is determined to repeat until the elections, and even after, depending on the outcome of the voting.

While this is no doubt music to the ears of the anti-Turkish European ultra-right, it must be of some concern to leaders in the West who are trying to make sense of what is happening in the post 9/11 world, and in the Middle East today, in an attempt to try and understand what is best for Europe.

The German Marshall Fund's latest "Transatlantic Trends" survey shows that the 51 percent of European leaders still see Turkey's membership in the EU as positive thing, which indicates that "losing Turkey" is not something they would favor in terms of Europe's long-term interests.

But these leaders are faced with a serous dilemma. Previously, factors such as the fear of communism, or Turkey's economic or military dependence on Europe, would keep Ankara in line with, and in tune with, the West. Turkey's standing, however, is changing rapidly and Ankara is acting much more independently now.

In the meantime, Turks are increasingly aware that there is no support for their country on the streets of Europe. The GMF's "Transatlantic Trends" survey shows that only 22 percent of Europeans view Turkey's EU membership as a favorable thing.

This is also fuelling anti-Western sentiments in Turkey, and is the reason why more and more Turks consider Ankara's continuing to knock on Europe's door, "which refuses to open," to be demeaning for the country. Erdoğan is clearly trying to play to this gallery now.

The question however is whether a Turkey that acts, not with the West, but more and more with the "Rest," to use Fareed Zakaria's designation, is good for the same Europe and U.S. Some will no doubt say it is. Others will disagree. In other words, opinion is split on this topic.

But given the currently hastened pace of history, it should not take more than a few years to see which side turns out to be correct. Looking at the picture as it is today, the only thing that seems tangible is that Turkey is rapidly drifting away from the West, and seeking new alliances and partnerships elsewhere, as demonstrated by Erdoğan's high-profile visit to Moscow this week.






Japan has been hit by not one, not two, but three disasters.

First a devastating, magnitude-8.9 earthquake… Then a cataclysmic tsunami… Now nuclear plant explosions and the danger of radiation…

For days, the world has been watching this triple Japanese disaster live on TV. The heart-wrenching images are at the same time very thought-provoking and full of exemplary lessons.

Previously, again in Japan, many earthquakes (though not as strong as the current one) have occurred. So, they are used to earthquakes in general and recover relatively quickly.

In fact, last Friday's earthquake, too – despite its magnitude – could've been dodged with relatively little loss of life and damage if the tsunami monster had not come and ruin the breakwaters and swallow entire settlements on the coast, drowning people in water and mud.

But this time, the disaster that has devastated Japan, causing the death of thousands and leaving hundreds of thousands homeless has proven how powerless technology can be against nature's wild forces. The worse, by hitting nuclear plants in the country that were known to be reliable, this monster has added a new ring to a chain of disasters.

Live examples

Within this tragedy, it is impossible not to admire the extraordinary calmness, silence, courage, and discipline of the Japanese. The emerging scenery makes one say, "I think nobody but the Japanese can act this way."

Their way of behavior, indeed, emanates from the "Japanese character." They are known as hardworking, disciplined, and calm people. But more importantly, the Japanese are not "individualist," yet "collectivist." That is to say, they are used to acting together. Therefore, Japanese people think about others as much as they think about themselves.

Several examples reflected in the media from the latest earthquake-tsunami disaster in Japan are really striking and amazing. In a flood region, victims were waiting for rescue boats in an orderly fashion and were getting on in the same orderly way. Because the cash register does not work after electricity is cut in a supermarket, customers put the goods they were buying back on the shelves again. Only 10 bottles of water remain in a store and there are three customers inside. But each grabs only one bottle and the seller doesn't charge extra. In Tokyo and other cities, electricity cuts are regular. So, in order not to cause additional electric consumption the Japanese do not turn on lights or use electrical utensils if it unnecessary.

Real citizenship

Mutual trust and solidarity reflect the most beautiful examples of citizenship and patriotism.

Owing to such social characteristics, the Japanese have managed to overcome many dire straits in the past and have reached a certain economic and social level. The current triple disaster, without doubt, will seriously shake Japan. The second biggest economy in the world until last year, Japan has already been facing economic stagnation. Now the Japanese have to fix the damage (estimated $160 billion) and regenerate depleting production. The Japanese government must also review and make new arrangements concerning the fate of new nuclear projects and of the 54 current nuclear plants that meet 30 percent of total energy need.

The Japanese say that they will recover shortly. Foreigners closely following Japan agree. The factor engendering such confidence is obvious: it's the Japanese character…

*Sami Kohen is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.






Reading The Washington Post the other day, I came across a piece in the Letter to the Editor section that I assume had been mistakenly put there instead of the humor section.

"The chief prosecutor in [the Ergenekon] case has stated that the journalists were taken into custody based on solid evidence unrelated to their work as journalists. As in any free, democratic society, Turkey's legal system enshrines the cardinal principle of 'innocent until proven guilty,' and due process is unequivocally and unsparingly accorded to all those accused in this case. The rule of law is a fundamental tenet of Turkish democracy. Turkey's judicial system is fully integrated into the European legal structures, and individuals tried under our system enjoy the right to appeal to the European Court of Human Rights," read the letter from Turkey's ambassador to Washington, Namık Tan ("In journalists' detentions, Turkey is committed to rule of law," The Washington Post, March 14, 2011).

But the sender's name proved that my impression was wrong, and that serious Turkish diplomats can often have a sense of humor, too.

Mr. Tan is right. With the current pace of court proceedings, the average length of the appeals process and the average length of potential European Court of Human Rights proceedings, the suspects will remain innocent behind bars probably until early next century. 

But according to Michael Rubin from the Washington-based American Enterprise Institute, "When Ambassador Tan hosts jazz concerts and depicts Turkey as a modern, democratic model for the Middle East, he is increasingly at odds with reality," ("For What Exactly Is Turkey a Model?" Commentary, March 10, 2011). Mr. Rubin's words did not escape the attention of "Turkish liberals."

For instance, prominent columnist Cengiz Çandar from daily Radikal quoted Mr. Rubin as writing: "While former U.S. ambassadors continue to shill for Turkey as some sort of enlightened democracy, the country is backsliding into dictatorship. Last week, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's Brownshirts staged middle-of-the-night raids on the homes of independent and critical journalists, taking several into custody. Turkey now ranks 138 out of 178 on Reporters Without Borders' press freedom index. That puts it beyond Venezuela, Egypt and Zimbabwe. When President [Barack] Obama and Secretary of State [Hillary] Clinton speak of Turkey as a model, someone might want to ask, for what is Turkey a model? How to transform a democracy into a police state?"

Apparently, Mr. Rubin's lines angered the "oooo-very-liberal" Mr. Çandar, who is now worried about an "anti-Turkish tsunami." According to Mr. Çandar, Mr. Rubin is a psycho-minded man and is well acquainted with some of the high-ranking officers who are now Ergenekon/Sledgehammer suspects. Only psychiatrists can judge the "psycho-minded" part, but the "acquaintance" part is probably accurate.

Mr. Çandar thinks, however, that: "It won't be impossible to reveal the organic ties between those like Rubin and our 'Ergenekoncus' [the supporters of Ergenekon]… Those who bash Turkey with the pretext of violation of press freedoms are friends of Israel… Apart from those like Rubin, many faces of the press with fame will also be unmasked…"

Some of "those Ergenekoncus," according to Mr. Çandar, were seen in the front line of the Taksim-Galatasaray marching crowd who protested the arrest of journalists. "This is a coalition we cannot underestimate," Mr. Çandar wrote. "Those who fear that a new wave of Ergenekon arrests may hit them have launched a counter attack." In his thinking, the protestors were the "comrades of the Ergenekoncus." (Luckily, I am neither a press face with fame, nor did I march with the protestors.)

Finally, in Mr. Çandar's fantastic theory, prestigious and influential Western publications like the New York Times, The Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times and the Economist took part in this "counter-attack" by publishing articles criticizing the Turkish government for the systematic violation of press freedoms. "And of course, the European Parliament's report on Turkey gave legitimacy to this platform [of the Ergenekoncus]," Mr. Çandar wrote ("The Source of the 'Police State' Rhetoric or Tsunami Against Turkey," Radikal, March 15, 2011).

Mr. Çandar's article is important in understanding the true ethos of the "liberal support" behind Mr. Erdoğan's government. I once coined the term "Lackeys Without Frontiers" in describing the influential "liberal" crowd that ethos brought together. Others called it opportunism disguised as liberalism. But let's not waste time with tags. What Mr. Çandar basically tells us in his powerful article is:

Mr. Rubin is a psycho-minded overseas Ergenekoncu (so he should be arrested if he ever lands in Turkey), The Westerners who criticize Turkey's poor press freedom index do so because they are friends of Israel (the Reporters Without Borders, too, should be an overseas Ergenekon operative), Some of the Turkish journalists who marched to protest the arrest of their colleagues will also be arrested because they, too, are Ergenekoncus (and they protested to prevent their own arrest in the future), The Western world's top newspapers are also instruments/assets in the overseas operations run by the Ergenekoncus (so their correspondents, too, can be arrested), The European Parliament is the overseas legislative branch of Ergenekon since the MEPs did not hesitate to give legitimacy to the Ergenekon coalition.

I am truly sorry, Mr. Çandar, that it may be practically impossible to arrest all those foreign operatives of the Ergenekon terror organization. But would it help Turkey's "great march toward mature democracy" if we surrendered to you only 50 MEPs, together with 100 foreign journalists, including Mr. Rubin? 






Even though I try to avoid or at least do my best to keep them aside in analyzing a development, I must admit plainly that like anyone, else I do have my prejudices and often I fall victim to my prejudices.

I do not like the "Taraf" or "The Side" daily, for example. If anyone were to suggest it, I would probably oppose them immediately, but when I stop for a second to think about it, I have to see the bitter reality that I have not spoken with many colleagues who joined Taraf and somehow, interesting enough, I have restored friendship with those who left the paper, which I find extremely contentious as it is definitely biased in favor of the "side" it chose to be with.

To cut it short, I must say, for example, the last time I spoke with Yasemin Çongar, the managing editor of Taraf, it was several years ago when she accompanied a Greek-American professor to my office in Ankara. At the time she was still daily Milliyet's much appreciated correspondent in the United States and I was the editor-in-chief of the Daily News.

Do I have any disagreement with Çongar? No… On the contrary, though I disagree with the political line the paper she has been heading, I do appreciate her – and Ahmet Altan's –courage in getting engaged in such a project like Taraf, which obviously is more than a newspaper but so far I am unable to positively describe what it indeed is. I have serious doubts regarding Taraf. I do believe from time to time that it is like a manipulation tool of some outside powers wishing to achieve some big aims in this land, most probably not very much in line with the interests of the people of this country. The paper, as its name implies, has been one of the "sides" in the fight waged in this country against nationalists, Kemalists and patriots. As it appears, under the claim of providing "advanced democracy" to the country, there is a revanchist campaign against the Turkish Republic and its founding philosophy.

Yet, when Taraf came under attack by the government because of some strong disagreements between the arrogant elements of political Islam, namely Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, and the pragmatist neo-liberals, I was among those voices who supported Taraf, repeating what is widely attributed to Voltaire, "I may disagree with what you say, but I shall defend, to the death, your right to say it."

It is difficult for the supporters of "advanced democracy" perhaps, but that short sentence indeed stresses in all clarity the fundamental principle of "ordinary" democracy. In the absence of freedoms of thought, expression and definitely press, there can be no democratic governance even if there are elections and a party wins an overwhelming majority in those elections. Of course it might be normal to confuse democracy with majoritarian rule. Similarly, there is a great difference between the rule of law, the supremacy of law and juristocracy or the justice system of a country coming under the control or strong manipulation of the political authority.

Yet as is said, "The court cannot be the property of a judge," sooner or later those who think that as the political authority they have the power to control the bureaucracy, judiciary, the legislative branch and society will discover the great illusion with which they have fooled themselves and made the country suffer so much. But, as is said, whatever might be done, rivers eventually find a channel to flow in.

Without further humming and hawing, I must congratulate Taraf for its journalistic success. Well, some people might not consider publishing WikiLeaks as a journalistic success. Some people might think it is electronic version of espionage. Some might condemn it as a conspiracy. Whatever. It is the fundamental duty of a journalist to inform the society about news s/he gathers or obtains somehow, provided s/he verifies what's at hand.

Even the U.S. State Department is not coming up with a claim that diplomatic correspondences entailed in the WikiLeaks are fake. On the contrary, there is a firm conviction that the documents are authentic. The fact that Taraf has acquired some 11,000 or more Turkey-related WikiLeaks documents and started to publish them is a success.

What Taraf has achieved is a journalistic success that must be applauded. Other newspapers should sit back and read what will be revealed in Taraf pages, rather than trying to undermine the journalistic success with some empty and envious smear campaigns.






Under present circumstances the most important step during Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Moscow was the attitude regarding the nuclear power plant project in Akkuyu in Turkey's southern province of Mersin, which left no room for the slightest hesitation.

Actually if we were to look at their interaction with the public both leaders have adopted an extremely brave, even risky attitude.

Of course, we wouldn't know what they talked about. I base my evaluation solely on their attitude exhibited in the press conference.

To tell the truth, we need to state that Turkey made an incredible gesture to Moscow that no other country would easily do, especially during a time of nuclear disaster in Japan.

Is Russia aware of its responsibility thereof?

Can you believe it?

Turkey open heartedly tells a country like Russia that has in the past experienced Chernobyl nuclear disaster and that is internationally not trusted in neither its technology nor in its nuclear disciplines nor in its staff matters, "No matter what happens, I do trust you and will continue with the project."

As the world is in an uproar and questions even a country like Japan that receives perfect grades, Ankara gives Russia such a boost.

Erdoğan gives much credit to Russia's nuclear industry. Certainly he will later ask for some extra guarantees and negotiate other matters. But this gesture means something else.

I can't help but wonder, "Are the Russians aware of their great responsibility they are about to take on?"

Erdoğan, if he wanted to, could have said, "In view of latest developments we will re-evaluate this project."

He didn't.

On the contrary, he supported the project. But let's not forget that Erdoğan is a politician who attaches much value to his own public. And no close relationship prevails in this matter.

From now on I will watch Moscow closely. I wonder if in exchange for such a gesture Moscow will pad Ankara's back.

Will it, for example, give support in the natural gas prices that it strongly opposes now?

Will it loosen its stiff attitude in the Cyprus issue?

That's the way it goes.

You scratch my back and I'll scratch yours.

A book on media

"Neler Yapmadık Şu Vatan İçin" (We did everything for this motherland), the first book of Şükran Pakkan, a successful reporter for the daily Milliyet, has been published by Postiga Publishing House. With her journalistic and academic side, Pakkan has a very different point of view reflected in her book. The book starts out with assassinations of journalists and continues to talk about nationalism and media in Turkey. Pakkan in her book talks about how to date the 63 assassinated journalists in Turkey have been killed. She stresses the point of "the instinct to silence journalists" she came across while investigating each murder. It is a must for everyone.







The US airplane that whisked Raymond Davis out of the country following his release has left behind a trail of fire and blackened earth. The anger over the freeing of a man who gunned down two people in cold blood has already triggered protests. These threaten to accelerate with all religious parties agreeing that protests will be staged on Friday. They will be joined by lawyers and perhaps other groups outraged by the devious deal that underlies the closing chapter in the tale of Davis and his doings in the country. The Pakistan Tehrik-e-Insaaf has already been out on the streets and various PML factions have also expressed their disappointment at the outcome of the case. The questions that have arisen from the manner in which the affair was handled continue to highlight many doubts and concerns. What agreements have been reached behind the scenes? Who was involved in finalising them and who was responsible for detaining the lawyer for the heirs of the victims? The central government has refused to provide any answers. There has been no comment from the prime minister or president and even the weekly briefing given by the Foreign Office as a matter of routine each Thursday was cancelled. The federal information minister has merely said the release came under Shariah law; the judge who delivered the verdict is reported to have gone on leave – ostensibly for security reasons. There is an element of mystery surrounding the role the Punjab government may have played or where the Rs 200 million paid as blood money actually came from. The US has denied making any payments and there is conjecture that the sum was removed from Pakistan's own exchequer.

What we are left with, is a government which stands more discredited than ever before and a further erosion of our standing as an independent nation. We can no longer even claim sovereign status. It is quite obvious that our government is unable to take any kind of stand against the US or defend the rights of its people. The failure to tell citizens the truth makes matters worse and underscores the fact that we live in a state where deceit is the norm and underhand deals worked out behind closed doors determine far too many issues. This is not how a democracy should work. Nor is it viable to have a set-up in which people are so aggrieved with their leaders and feel that they are serving interests other than those of the electorate which brought them into power. The Davis affair had placed a strain on Pak-US relations. But it had also arguably offered Pakistan an opportunity to make things more even. This has not happened. Things are perhaps back to where they stood before. But while the government may have wheedled its way back into the favour of the US and perhaps won a few pats on the back, it has lost the trust of people everywhere in Pakistan. In time, it may find this is an enormous cost to pay; many will never forgive it for selling the soul of the country in this dastardly fashion.







While the situation faced by the large Pakistani community in Bahrain, where one Pakistani national has been killed by protesters and another four have been injured, draws attention to the risks faced by persons living overseas. It also brings into focus the role of our missions in other countries. Following the targeting of Pakistanis in Manama by youth angered by the role of riot police which includes personnel from Pakistan and allegations of the use of excessive force by them, expatriates have been gathering outside their embassy seeking protection. While discussions have reportedly been held on how to offer this, the Foreign Office spokesperson in Islamabad has said there are no immediate plans to bring Pakistanis home. A mass airlift out of Bahrain may not be necessary at this stage, but we hope the situation is being closely monitored and that preparations are being made to rescue Pakistanis should the situation grow more volatile. It is a matter of concern that, in the very recent past, this has not happened in other places where nationals found themselves in peril. Pakistanis caught up in the terrifying violence in Libya were first brought out aboard a Turkish Airlines flight. Those trapped in Tripoli and other places stated they had received no assistance from the Pakistan Embassy. Similar complaints have been made by those who recently returned home after the earthquake in Japan, with the Pakistani mission in Tokyo apparently doing little to help them – even though our diplomats based in that country must have been aware of the sheer horror of the situation considering that Japan was struck by one of the worst natural disasters in living memory.

Our Foreign Office and our political leadership need to review the role of missions overseas. After all, staff is not posted to these embassies and high commissions simply to enjoy the pleasures of life in far-off lands. One of its principal roles is to assist Pakistanis based there. Yet we have heard repeatedly of failures to even visit those in jails or take any measures to help those in distress. The recent complaints of indifference that have poured in, both from the Middle East and elsewhere, must not be ignored. There is quite evidently something amiss with the working of our missions. Steps need to be taken to correct this and ensure Pakistanis in danger in foreign countries are not left to fend entirely for themselves. This is all the more true given that many Pakistani expatriates are poorly educated and lack the capacity to determine how to safeguard themselves in a violent or otherwise dangerous situation.








National dignity sold once again, crieth the prophets and pundits of the honour-cum-national-dignity armies as they give vent to their anger at the release, on the anvil of Islamic law, of the CIA operative, Raymond Davis.

But what exactly are they howling about? What item of national honour has been surrendered in the Davis affair? If they would suspend their outrage for a moment and consider the matter calmly – admittedly a tall order for ones so self-righteous – it is Pakistan which has had its way in the Davis affair, not the United States.

The US wanted Davis not to be arrested at all. And once he had been taken into custody all the pressure that Washington could harness and mount was directed at his immediate release on grounds of full diplomatic immunity. It wasn't just US diplomats calling for this but President Obama too in a tele-speech devoted to Davis. It couldn't have got any higher than this.

A dictatorial setup with its one-man point of contact, in the person of the military saviour, might not have withstood this pressure. But Pakistani democracy, with all its imperfections and dysfunctional characteristics, was able to absorb it, albeit in a haphazard manner, and convey to the Americans a simple message: that far from solving anything their ham-fisted attempts to browbeat Pakistan were complicating the issue. It was in everyone's interest to allow passions to cool.

That is exactly what happened. The Americans had to back off, not Pakistan. And the end deal, to the extent we can read its surface contents, is very much on Pakistani terms. It was a court verdict which allowed Davis to go free, as we had always insisted should be the case, and the families of the victims instead of being hung out to dry have been well compensated.

However high the horse of national anger we wish to mount, two million dollars and some more of blood money, added to the prospect of American visas, is not something to scoff at in our parts. Callous and cynical as it may sound, people get killed in Pakistan, wantonly and cruelly, all the time and they get nothing. The victims of drone strikes in FATA and target killings in Karachi certainly get nothing. The armies of the righteous crying coercion and duress should try to be a bit more honest on this score. With 20 crore rupees changing hands the coercion case is not an easy one to prove.

And consider the irony of it all: the deal concluded strictly in accordance with Islamic law, the changes in the penal code introduced by Gen Ziaul Haq, allowing pardon in murder cases in lieu of blood money. The CIA relying on Islamic law to get one of their own out of Pakistan: it can't get any thicker than this, the flavour of the sauce only heightened by the fact that in the forefront of the angry protesters is Zia's progeny, the Jamaat-e-Islami. Surely the Jamaat is not about to say that the blood money law, rooted in Islam, should be repealed? And if it is on the statute books how are the Americans debarred from using it?

To the mother of all our agencies, the ISI, must go an unqualified salute: it has played a masterful game. It didn't quite orchestrate the initial outpouring of anger against the Davis killings but in some of the first rallies in Lahore veterans and connoisseurs of Lahore unrest could detect the outline of its tender footprints. In Pakistan many things which appear to be spontaneous are far from being that.

At the other end of the spectrum was the tough stand taken by the Foreign Office, and the then foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi, on the question of Davis's immunity. Qureshi went out on a limb and said publicly, with a fair bit of grandstanding, that Davis did not have the blanket immunity the Americans were claiming on his behalf. Now few people would ever accuse the Foreign Office of too much independence. So the question arises whence this supply of extra vitamins? In this unaccustomed intrepidity too conspiracy experts could read the guiding hand of Aabpara, ISI Hqs.

Now what was the ISI trying to do? Not declaring war upon the United States, perish the very thought, or casting doubts on the American connection. It was closing all avenues around the Davis affair, drawing a circle of wagons around it, and leaving only one road open: leading to Aabpara and General Headquarters (GHQ).

In the first flush of emotion, the Americans tried to deal exclusively through the federal government and the interior minister, the inevitable Rehman Malik, who conveyed to the Americans that the Punjab government had been informed about Davis's immunity. This was a bluff because nothing of the kind had been communicated.

Through their Consul General in Lahore the Americans also tried putting pressure on the Punjab government but nothing came of it. The matter was already before the courts and the question of Davis's immunity had not been determined.

And this immunity was not forthcoming because the Foreign Office – at whose buttressing, one can only surmise – had taken a stand at odds with the wishes of the Presidency. In this reading of events Qureshi was acting less as a defender of national honour, as he has tried to portray himself, but as a pawn in the hands of our secret masters. If the ISI confers medals on useful instruments Qureshi surely deserves one.

It must have taken some time for all this to sink into the minds of our American friends. They were seeking a shortcut but were not getting it because all approaches were blocked by the chess game being played from Aabpara.

So perforce and not gladly the Americans had to opt for discretion over valour, behind-the-scenes contacts over Yankee-style bluster. When did this happen? No doubt when they had swallowed some of their anger, always a tough act to perform for an imperial power, and when they had gone over their maps of Pakistan afresh and seen how the ground lay.

What was the ISI, or rather the army, trying to prove? That the key to decisions relating to war and peace were still in GHQ and Davis's fate would also be decided there rather than any power-impoverished corridor in Islamabad. Better than anyone else the Americans know how things operate in Pakistan. But thanks to Raymond Davis they had to go through a refresher course on this subject again.

There must be smiles all around in Aabpara and GHQ, all the more so when most of the anger sparked by Davis's dollar-aided flight from Pakistan will be directed at the political class. The military have long specialised in having their cake and eating it too.

As a number of press reports have suggested – stories in which too the long hand of Aabpara can be detected – the ISI has had serious complaints about expanded CIA activities in Pakistan. It is not too farfetched to suppose that the Davis affair was an opportunity for these concerns to be aired and addressed.

If the CIA in Pakistan was running wild, here was a chance to rein it in. If Aabpara is given to emotion, Davis's name will be taken with emotion in those hallowed precincts.

Where does this leave the holy knights of national dignity and honour, threatening fire and brimstone and choking at the mouth because Davis – through an application of Islamic law, let us never forget – has flown the coop? Did these chumps really think that something as vital and life-saving for the Pakistani establishment as the American connection would be allowed to be jeopardised for the sake of an individual? This is not how the real world functions.









Beginning with Pakistani Women's Day observed on February 12 in our country, and International Women's Day, celebrated across the world on March 8, a hundred years of women's struggle for their rights are being celebrated. On this occasion, the women of Pakistan embarrass us as men and make us proud as a nation.

The restricted space of my column permits me to allude to only two things today although there are so many other achievements of our women that deserve both mention and praise.

First and foremost is the remarkable courage shown by our women parliamentarians when it came to condemning the assassinations of both Salmaan Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti.

Earlier, there were attempts by other legislators as well but the resolve shown by Sherry Rehman to bring amendments to discriminatory laws and controversial clauses of the Pakistan Penal Code in the face of religious fanaticism and the threat of physical elimination sets an example for many.

After Taseer's life was taken, it was Marvi Memon who tabled a resolution to condemn the murder in the National Assembly. It was Nilofer Bakhtiar who said prayers in the Senate when men claiming to be progressive otherwise refused to stand up. These wounds were still unhealed when Shahbaz Bhatti was made the next target. Shahnaz Wazir Ali, Farah Naz Isphahani, Bushra Gohar, Nafeesa Shah, Nosheen Saeed and some of their other women colleagues in both the parliament and provincial legislatures were unequivocal in their condemnation of these murders. They made public appearances, wrote articles and took it upon themselves to represent sanity and forbearance in this society.

These women belong to different political parties and subscribe to dissimilar opinions when it comes to interpreting political realities. But their belief in a civilised and tolerant social order, a responsible state, and their understanding of the plight of both women and minorities in post-Zia Pakistan brought them together.

It is so unfortunate that these women are ridiculed by expedient friends and bigoted foes alike for having no direct constituencies of their own and for being elected on reserved seats and therefore taking a stance which could be unpopular in certain segments of the population. If we go by this argument, we should be reminded that all senators are indirectly elected and why shouldn't we hold the same dismissive views about both Rehman Malik and Babar Awan who hold key ministries and enjoy incredible decision-making authority?

What our women in the assemblies and the Senate have stood for is no small achievement. They have demonstrated responsible behaviour that is expected of parliamentarians. Hats off to them.

The other silent revolution coming about in our lives is reflected in the achievements of female students. When we see fanatical men blowing up their schools in some parts of Pakistan, girls continue to lead in all our school and high school examination results.

Also, something little talked about is the sheer number of young women making it to higher education in Pakistan today. The large universities of Karachi, Punjab, Sindh, Balochistan, Bahauddin Zakariya (Multan), Quaid-e-Azam (Islamabad) and Peshawar are dominated by female students. So are the medical colleges, law colleges, and architecture and engineering schools where women either constitute a majority or their numbers increase each year.

There was a demand voiced by conservative groups once that there should be separate universities and higher educational institutions for women in the country. They should be worried about men now. If not all, many of these bright women will be at the helm of affairs over the next couple of decades. A change is coming, silently.

The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor who works with progressive social movements.









As I write these words from the city where the last Messenger of Allah to all humanity once lived, radiation at about 20 times normal levels is spreading through Tokyo amidst panic that has resulted in the cancellation of Chinese airlines flights to Tokyo; closure of the Austrian embassy in the city; and the appearance of a rather self-revealing news that a 24-hour general store in Tokyo's Roppongi district has sold out of radios, torches, candles and sleeping bags.

The dawn in Madinah was, however, usual: well before the call for prayer, streams of pilgrims walked into the blessed sanctuary in the heart of the city through well-lit streets. They have arrived from all over the world, but most visible are Pakistanis, Iranians, Turks, and Indonesians.

They find their places in the vast Haram, struggle to get to the choice sections of the Prophet's masjid, queue in front of his noble house, and pay homage to him and his two companions buried in that very house which remains forever a place of mercy and blessings even though all that one can now see behind the green grill is semi-darkness.

Beyond the sanctuary, the world seems to be falling apart with every possible disaster unfolding at speeds no one could even dream of a decade ago. Thousands may have died in Libya, we are told, but even if the numbers are uncertain, death and destruction is certainly spreading through that land where a maniac has ruled for over forty years.

But regardless of the mania and the horrible crimes of that regime, what is so strange and utterly unacceptable in this day and age is the return of the colonial mentality. We had hardly gotten over the departure of Lord Blair, when David Cameron is trying to put on his shoes. Just imagine: a young upstart like David speaking like a king to the gentiles of his vanquished empire: "Do we want a situation where a failed, pariah state festers on Europe's southern border, potentially threatening our security, pushing people across the Mediterranean and creating a more dangerous and uncertain world for Britain and for all our allies, as well as for the people of Libya?

My answer is clear: this is not in Britain's interests. And that is why Britain will remain at the forefront of Europe in leading the response to this crisis."

Let us, for a minute turn the scale upside down and recall when millions, yes, not thousands but millions of men, women, and children marched through London and told Tony Blair that he cannot invade Iraq; that his claims are all lies and that he does not represent them.

Now, imagine, if at that point, a Muammar al-Qaddafi, Chavez or Ahamdinejad had the guts to say: Hey Tony, listen, you have lost legitimacy; you do not represent the will of the English people anymore. Leave the office or else our armies are coming and if you dare attack Iraq, we will consider it a violation of international law and impose a no-fly zone.

Such talk did not happen because no one in the third world has come out of the colonial bondage yet. But certainly, no one can tolerate Blairism anymore.

David Cameron is no match to that hypocrite, but still, he is trying his best to be like him and if it had not been for the unusual clarity of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, we could easily have another Iraq-like scenario. She is the one who told an EU summit last week that the no-fly zone idea was potentially dangerous. "What is our plan if we create a no-fly zone and it doesn't work? Do we send in ground troops?" she said. "We have to think this through. Why should we intervene in Libya when we don't intervene elsewhere?"

And somewhere in this deeply troubled world is Pakistan that no Pakistani can take out of his emotional and intellectual makeup. The news that MQM has once again been wooed by PPP is indeed just one more bubble coming out of that cesspool called Pakistani politics.


The only difference between a real cesspool and the one metaphorically representing Pakistani politics is that the latter is without a lid. Surveying the Pakistani situation from outside, it seems that there is simply no end to foul play; event after event, the nation remains hostage to the same set of nauseating and tiring faces which have dominated Pakistani politics for as long as one can remember.

The problem, of course, is that there is no alternative. That we have no possibility of a revolution in the near future. That we cannot even think of anything clean that will remove this dirt. We only have people who cannot live a day of honest living.

What a tragedy for a nation sucked into this unending drama of no consequence. One day it is Fazalur Rahman making the news, the next day it is MQM, the third day it is the chaudhries of Gujrat and so on.

While these people are playing with the lives of millions of people, newspapers are filled with unrequited sorrow: drones continue to kill babes, women, and men, and mad men continue to sprinkle petrol on their wives and children and set themselves ablaze in remote villages of Punjab and Sindh. What a terrible state of a country brought into existence through a lofty dream!

The writer is a freelance columnist.










The only constant is change. The adage is applicable aptly to nowhere but Pakistan. A perpetual activity can be monitored on the Pakistani political and social planes: something is happening somewhere. Incidentally, at least, four major trends can be discerned.

First, it is quite decipherable that recognised (universal) democratic principles are incongruous with the kind of politics practised in Pakistan. High moral grounds taken in the recent past are ceded to the lame excuse, political expediency. By showing a disposition to materialise the expediency, both PPP and PML-N are actually shifting the responsibility for averting any next military coup onto the shoulders of the judiciary and media. Politicians are perhaps forgetting that dishonesty – in both words and actions – is the undoing of democracy in Pakistan.

Further, it seems that coming to terms with the rule of law is hard for the central government led by the PPP. To lay claim to restoring the higher judiciary by an executive order is one thing but to comply with the orders of the same judiciary, is altogether a different proposition. Calling a province wide strike in reaction to the decision of the Supreme Court of removing Chairman NAB Deedar Hussain Shah has debunked the sense of insecurity plaguing the PPP. In fact, anti-judiciary hatred transforming into anti-federation caveat by hoisting the Sindh card is a bad omen for the country. Hitherto, one thing is clear: if not political parties, political thought is yet to mature.

Second, the strife for securing access to economic resources is touching the lethal limit of disorder in big multi-ethnic urban cities like Karachi. Target killings is one manifestation of that turmoil, psychological maladies may be another. The scary trend may be repeated in other urban cities of Pakistan like Lahore and Islamabad which are also rapidly getting multi-ethnic. The palpable population swell in cities is due to both (local) high reproduction rate and high urbanisation rate. The swell yields soaring demographic needs which outnumber the available resources leading to social discord. Nevertheless, scarcity of resources is a shared trait of big cities of the world. What is missing in Pakistan, however, is reviewing the definition of citizenship to meet the needs of cosmopolitan culture.

It is now evident that traditional disciplinary citizenship (which sprouts from government policies and relies on the taught means) is proving inadequate to cater to the wants of cosmopolitan culture. There is dire need to complement disciplinary citizenship with cultural citizenship (which with its two core values, equality and identity, predicates on the need to learn). Cultural citizenship has a special utility in sectarian and ethnic contexts in Pakistan: all are equal in the eyes of law (or the state) but identity of any one faction should be venerated by all others. Hence, it is not only the duty of the government to inculcate civic values in citizens by employing pedagogical means like teaching curriculum, launching campaigns, and enforcing law and order but it is also a duty of the citizens to learn how to cohabit in a society getting increasingly multi-cultural.

Third, the pace of class struggle has escalated manifold. In the twenty-first century, the concept of class is transnational promoted by the 'immigration culture'. The members of the lower and middle class of a developing country immigrate to affluent countries and come back after earning ample money to expand the upper class in their native countries. In concert with the same phenomenon – reverse migration – the upper class in Pakistan is expanding. Nevertheless, that reversal is also generating a social imbalance by accentuating differences between the haves and have-nots translated into thefts, robberies, and murders. Further, the disparity is making the deprived sections of society disheartened leading to melancholy and suicide. To counter the ugly trend, the missing link is 'cross-borders investment' in the form of Direct Foreign Investment (DFI) to set up new industries or launch development projects – which can enhance job prospects for the youth and make them economically contented. The expatriate Chinese and Indians have done so to change the economic outlook of their countries.

Fourth, micro-nationalism is thriving fast. Under the sway of globalisation, the idea of nation-state is evaporating while the concept of internationalisation is taking root. Being apprehensive of the would-be final picture of globalisation, people in the developing countries are seeking refuge in minor identities like language and ethnicity. It is one's language-nationality or ethnic-nationality that is embodied in micro-nationalism. Pakistan has started witnessing this phenomenon which manifests itself in peoples demanding vociferously for a separate province – even by dividing any existing province – on the basis of parochial relevance.

One of the reasons may not be that micro-nationalism is dearer to them but that people do not know what would happen once their identity is diluted. The fear of unknown forces them into underscoring the available identity: micro-nationalism is the last ditch effort to overcome that fear. The demand raised by people offers a chance to politicians to exploit and score political points (as it was done by Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gillani, the other day, when he publicly supported the possibility of carving a language-based province, Seraiki, out of the province of Punjab, but with the pre-condition that he wins the next general elections with the same mandate). Nevertheless, falling back on identity offers people the latent period to stay contented till the inevitable – global culture, for its being superior – takes over and offers a new and ultimate identity, global citizen.

In short, the political and social planes of Pakistan are in a perpetual state of flux.

The writer is a freelance contributor. Email:








 We are a people for whom honour matters. We are also a people ready to do anything for money. How does one reconcile the two? The release of Raymond Davis is a terrible jolt to our sense of honour. Yet, our law allows even a murder to be settled by paying blood money.

Our sense of honour is deeply ruffled when the US tells us to do this or that. And just in the last 10 years we have accepted from this heathen imperialist power around 12 billion dollars. Getting hurt and angry is our right. Getting money is our right. Or so it seems.

We live in a strange twilight zone where honour and avarice, bluster and servitude, denial and desire coexist without disturbing each other. What else would account for our consistent anger against the United States and our constant desire for its support?

Those sounding most offended in the aftermath of the Davis release were the main collaborators of the US during the Afghan war of the eighties. If it was our cause, why did we not do it alone? Our then president scoffed at the three billion offered in return for our services, calling it peanuts.

We demanded more, felt we deserved it, haggled like carpet dealers to up the price. After the wages were agreed upon, we called it a jihad. Got ignorant poor kids from collaborative seminaries – for a price, of course – and sent them into the killing fields of Afghanistan.

To give a halo of respectability to this mercenary venture, we draped meaningless nonsense in strategic clothes. We sometimes called it "PIA," Pakistan, Iran, Afghanistan, imagining a union as if they were our satellites. Or fished out hollow concepts such as strategic depth, to give the patina of Great Game to a crass business deal.

Now the same people see nothing but evil in the US. Frothing at the mouth, they call all our rulers quislings – carefully avoiding their progenitors – who have sold themselves to the great white monster for money. Talk about the pot calling the kettle black, or what is good for the goose not being good for the gander. I can keep flushing out cliches but the filth on their garments will never wash away.

Then there are the latter-day jihadis using their keyboards as medieval swords scything through infidels. They see treachery everywhere except in the institution they have deemed themselves to defend and speak for. They have no explanation for why a court or two courts, in a demented hurry, forgave all and allowed the dastardly Davis to flee the land of the pure.

Their carefully contrived fury is unleashed on everyone except the torchbearers of justice. The simple fact is that if we are guilty of dishonour, we all are. Or if we have placed expediency ahead of quixotic valour, we all must take the credit – or blame. There is no point in singling anyone out.

We are physicians much in need of healing. Before we go out and tell the world to take a hike, we have to see where we stand. Fractured from within, challenged from the outside, unable to pay our bills, we are substituting anger for lack of performance.

Or sacrifice. Nations like China that stood up to the world for twenty five years after the revolution, paid for their honour with blood. When they did not have enough to eat, they died of starvation rather than beg. When they could not get steel to build machines, they melted their plates and spoons across the nation, to create a bare minimum. And so on.

This is what sacrifice means. This is what getting respect takes. In our case, for one day there was shortage of petroleum in Karachi and we started to riot. Imagine if it is stopped for a month or two, because we decided that we are not going to beg for money to pay for it.

It is ridiculous to talk of honour with an extended hand, palms open. This high-flown rhetoric in our land comes only from those whose bellies are full. Ask the poor who serve you, work for you, pander and humour you, take every insult without hitting back, what a luxury honour is.

Who says we should not have honour or protect our sovereignty? We must, but it cannot be done with angry words alone or pointless demonstrations. We have to stand up for what we believe in. Particularly the full bellied, who are the most incensed.

The solution is not complicated, it is not molecular biology. Start paying your share to keep this nation afloat. No one is asking for outlandish sacrifices. No one is saying sell everything and give it to the nation. Just pay your reasonable share. If you have income, from whatever source, even if agriculture, pay a part of it to protect your honour and sovereignty.

Then, all your talk will have meaning. You will have a stake in this country, not just in an ideational sense but because you will be a partner in its upkeep. Then the notion of the collective will feel real and not just a mental construct that gives you a sense of identity. It is like building a house, not by watching from the wayside but brick by brick with your own hands. It is that sense of ownership which is needed, and over time will replace hollow patriotism.

Once we are able to pay our bills, then sovereignty will come too. No crash course would be needed. It is not a mythical concept that needs to be learnt. It is a state of being that comes from not being beholden to anyone. It is the confidence that standing by oneself gives. Alas, we have a long way to get there.

Until such time, let us do a clear-eyed analysis of what we can and cannot do. We are earning one hundred rupees and spending two. We will have to either stop spending or start earning. If we cannot do either we will have no other choice but to borrow or seek outright handouts. As long as we are doing that, we would not be able to stand up to anyone.

I am saddened by the way the Davis saga has ended. Not because I blame the government for going ahead with it. It had little choice given the circumstances. But because it was like a mirror showing me our shortcomings.

What this realisation should lead to is not chest-beating but a determination to do better. If this leadership is a failure, let us try to get another one. Or, better still, not wait but start doing what is right for the nation in our little sphere.

If we all come together, we cannot fail. If we don't, there is no point in crying for sovereignty.








With Raymond Davis now having presumably left the country, the whereabouts of the families who were said to have been paid 'blood money' unknown and which government or agency actually paid the money equally unknown – there is a lot we do not know.

Whilst it is understandable that the negotiations around the eventual release of this double-murderer were never going to be conducted in public, once the matter is concluded then surely there is no harm in the public, and the rest of the world, knowing rather more of the facts than is currently the case.

It is the absence of hard and verifiable information not just in this sorry case but in so many other matters that feeds directly into the culture of conspiracy theory and mistrust of this and every other government.

If we are not told then inevitably the common men is going to 'fill in the blanks' with often poorly informed speculation that quickly and by repetition assumes the mantle of fact-hood.

A day after Davis release we are still little the wiser. There are street protests and the judge who released him has suddenly gone on leave. In a classic example of slamming the stable door after the horse has bolted, a barrister has filed a petition in the Lahore High Court challenging the release and saying it was 'a violation of the law' – which must qualify as a frivolous waste of the court's time.

As to where the money came from, it appears that we paid up in the end, presumably against a quiet promise from Uncle Sam that he would hand us a fat brown envelope at some unspecified future date - but we cannot confirm or deny that.

The families that presumably are the sad beneficiaries of the deal may have to find new lives for themselves, because there are going to be plenty of people anxious to become their new best friends once the money lands in their accounts.

And the government?

Ah yes, the government. They appear to be busy saying as little as possible and putting distance between themselves and the decision-making process, claiming it was purely a judicio-legal matter and thus not for comment. Case closed.

The matter had to be resolved of course - but a complete absence of transparency has left a sour taste in the mouth and a sense of justice denied in the minds of a wider public.

The CIA and our sensitive agencies are already making cooing noises at one another indicating that it is back to business as usual, and Uncle Sam celebrated with a drone-strike killing at least 22 in Waziristan.

For the common man the Davis affair is going to stink for many years.








THE man, who committed broad daylight murder of two Pakistanis and is directly to be blamed for loss of two other precious lives, has ultimately been released in mysterious circumstances, triggering protests and raising questions about different aspects of the whole episode. During the next few days and weeks different versions would be advanced and charges and counter-charges levelled in a bid to shift the blame or justify what majority of Pakistanis view as 'misdeed'.

In our view, it was understood from the day one that the CIA agent would ultimately be released – not because of legal intricacies or lack of evidence but because he was a citizen of the most powerful country of the world that has the means to make small and weak countries declare day as night and vice versa. The drop scene of Raymond Davis drama has once again established the fact that the United States has the power of arms twisting to get its way through even if it means murder of justice and prevalence of law of the jungle. For several weeks, State of Pakistan and its people tried to defend their just cause and in fact, the entire world community backed their stance but ultimately the Federal and Provincial Governments, the Army, other institutions, judiciary and even families of the victims caved in and took refuge behind 'Diyat' payment, a face-saving solution, which the lawyer concerned claims was imposed upon the members of the family of the victims. Even this arrangement is questionable, as State Department spokesman Mark Toner declared on Wednesday that Washington did not pay the blood money. Who knows Pakistan itself had been forced to pay the money from its own sources or the amount might have been deducted from Kerry-Lugar funds, as the US did in the case of earthquake related assistance when Pakistanis and the international community were made to believe that Americans were leading the list of donors. Leaving 'Diyat' and subsequent pardon apart, one might ask what about high tech gadgets recovered from the American national, who, by all accounts and leaks, was a spy with the task to gather sensitive information about strategic assets of Pakistan and undertake activities to destabilize the country. The United States has been boasting about 'diplomatic immunity' to the confirmed killer but his release through payment of Diyat means such claims were bogus. Many questions have been raised and many more would emerge in future but what about hundreds of Davis in the country with the same tasks and missions. The Government definitely owes an explanation.








PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani during talks with Kyrgyz President Wednesday expressed the desire of Pakistan for multi-faceted and vibrant ties with Kyrgyzstan for the progress and prosperity of the two countries. During meeting the two leaders discussed the whole gamut of issues including promotion of bilateral trade, energy cooperation and regional and international issues.

In our view in the new emerging realities Pakistan must pay more attention to enhance interaction with (CARs) Central Asian Republics. Pakistan-Central Asia can work together in matters of security, stability and development of the region. They can collaborate in numerous areas, such as scientific and technical fields, banking, insurance, information technology, pharmaceutical industry and tourism. Central Asian Republics and Pakistan are also members of the Economic Cooperation Organisation (ECO) and bilaterally and through the ECO, many schemes and projects for intra-regional cooperation in trade and travel, industrial enterprises as joint ventures, banking and exchange of technology and technical know-how can be implemented for their mutual advantage. The CARs are rich in natural resources while Pakistan can export to them several products, it can import oil, gas and electricity. As the closest neighbours, increased trade relations would be a win win situation for all sides. Strategically, Pakistan and Central Asia are important to each other, as only Pakistan can provide the CARs with a comparatively cheaper and shorter outlet for its natural energy resources and its trade to the outside world through the ports at Karachi and Gwadar. Prime Minister did well to offer Kyrgyzstan the Gwadar deep sea port for trade and President Roza Otenbayeva responded positively saying her country was mounting the efforts for improvement of communication, transportation and road links with Pakistan for access to international markets via the Gwadar Port. The presence of President of FPCCI in the delegation and other businessmen was an indication that Pakistan was interested to boost commercial and trade ties with the Kyrgyz Republic. The odyssey by Gilani to Kyrgyzstan was the first by a Pakistani Prime Minister in sixteen years after Benazir Bhutto paid a visit in 1995. So the need is greater people to people and leadership level contacts as meetings at regular intervals pay dividend and remove hurdles in the way of close relationship in different fields particularly in trade and economic cooperation.







AS a follow-up of latest round of talks and understanding between PPP and MQM, leaders of the People's Amn (Peace) Committee announced on Wednesday that they had closed all their offices and suspended all their activities 'voluntarily'. President of the Committee Sardar Uzair Baloch, however, said their social services' project would continue without clarifying what kind of activities would be suspended.

It is a positive development and might help improve overall political environment and law and order situation in Karachi. It is understood that the move has been initiated as per agreement with the MQM, which means that the PPP was sincere about its implementation. But the very fact that this step was taken under pressure from MQM agitates minds as to why and who launched these committees and for what purpose. What they have been doing and why their activities were not checked if these were negative? There are allegations that members of these committees were involved in target killing and other heinous crimes and if it is true then what an irony that they had been labelled as 'Amn' (Peace) Committees. Governments root out crime but unfortunately, as per claims of MQM and media reports, an important player in Sindh administration openly backed this network of alleged 'criminals'. It is a sad story that at different stages of our history different forces and vested interests raised different bodies and pressure groups that became monsters with the passage of time and now it is almost beyond the capacity of the State institutions to deal with them effectively. We would beseech the worthy Chief Justice of Pakistan to take notice of this horrible scenario.









One of the country's most prestigious newspapers, The Hindu,has been carrying a series based on the 5000 Wikileaks cables which relate to India. The first installment carried details about how Mani Shankar Aiyar lost the Petroleum Ministry in a Cabinet reshuffle,because he was regarded as too pro-Iran and therefore anti-US.He was replaced by Murli Deora, who is known to be close to the US from the time of Ronald Reagan.

Mani Shankar Aiyar is no stranger to Pakistan,having served in the country as a diplomat for many years. He is among the few politicians with the ability to understand complex issues,and to take a long-term view of policy. Certainly he feels uncomfortable with those who argue that Delhi should unquestioningly follow the "advice" given by the US,France and the UK, and makes no secret of such views. Interestingly, another former Indian Foreign Service officer-turned-politician was also sacrificed, most probabably because like Aiyar,he too opposed the uncritical acceptance of advice from Europe and the US that has been the hallmark of Sonia Gandhi's policies. Like Aiyar, Kunwar (Prince) Natwar Singh too has a very high IQ and is far happier in the world of books and scholarship than he is with politics and polticians. In contrast to them,Murli Deora, who was in charge of the Union Petroleum Ministry till very recently has made no secret of his affinity for the US and for Europe, being among the many Indian politicians who spend a lot of time in both these continents. Murli Deora is a person of great charm,and it is this quality that enabled him to become one of the top fund-raisers for the Congress Party in the 1980s. Businesspersons know that he can be relied upon to help them,and hence have usually followed hos advice to donate generously to the Congress Party.

Murli Deora's mentor in politics was a soft-spoken barrister,Rajni Patel,who was the Congress boss of affluent Mumbai years before Deora took charge. However,while Rajni Patel had an affinity towards the Left, Deora has always been a backer of more privileges for private industry. He is the exact opposite of Mani Shankar Aiyar,and it is a commentary on Indian politics that he is still a powerful member of the Union Cabinet,while both Aiyar as well as Natwar Singh are without any official position. From the time (1947-64) when Jawaharlal Nehru was Prime Minister,the mainstream Indian establishment has followed a policy of verbally differing with the West while in effect obeying the dictates of the civilisation that dominated the globe for three centuries,till the close of the 1990s.

It is not accidental that the higher one goes in the Indian official establishment - especially in the economic ministries - the greater the proportion of children studying in expensive foreign institutions,such as Wharton,MIT,Harvard and Princeton. The monthly expenses of such tuition come to more than the annual salary of even a high official in the Government of India ( those of the rank of Joint Secretary and above), yet there has been no problem meeting these expenses. Usually,trusts and foundations indirectly funded by large corporates give scholarships and other assistance to the children of high officials. It would be a simple matter for the Income-tax authorities to get details of the number of officials whose children are studying abroad,but for obvious reasons,this is never done.

When the British ruled India,they paid very high salaries to the top civil servants. However,when Nehru became PM, he decreed that salaries should be cut to very low levels, a practice that has been followed to the present.Even the highest officials in the Government of India get a net salary of about Rs 70,000 a month, when a trainee fresh from an Indian Institute of Management gets Rs 2.5 lakhs per month in many companies. As Lee Kuan Yew pointed out,when there is a huge gap between discretionary power and official income,the temptation to be corrupt increases signficantly. It is a tribute to the quality of those entering the civil service that despite all the temptations,so many officers remain honest.

Lee Kuan Yew learnt from India's mistake and ensured that he paid very high salaries to senior civil servants in Singapore,which is an important reason why that city-state has a civil administration that is honest and effective,as does another territory where too salaries and pensions are high,Hong Kong.Unlike Nehru, the Chinese did not tamper with the salary structure of the administrative structure,with the result that while India is riddled with corruption,the Hong Kong civil service is clean.

Interestingly, not only do several children of senior officials have degrees from the most expensive foreign universities,but many are also working for foreign-owned multinationals, especially the financial companies whose greed has caused so much economic turmoil. Is it any wonder that several policies get framed in India that benefit foreign countries at the expense of the Indian people? Indeed,the Sonia Gandhi-led administration is also considering changes in the Patents Law that would destroy much of the domestic pharmaceutical industry.Since the new government came to power in 2004,the prices of several drugs have gone up by 800% and more, as has hospital care. The beneficiaries are foreign drug giants as well as insurance companies Now that events in Libya and Egypt demonstrate the fair-weather nature of the friendship of Western powers with local elites, there is an opportunity for India to join China in attracting huge amounts of capital.

Indeed, Muammar Gaddafy of Libya has already declared that he wants to divert investment from the US and the EU to India. He has asked India to provide technicians for the oil industry.Should India oblige,the way may be clear for India to become a significant player in Libya's oil industry. However,so total is the outsourcing of policy to the West that this request is being ignored by the Petroleum Ministry,which has thus far done a dismal job of ensuring either domestic production or access to foreign fields. The exploitation of proven fields has been painfully slow,while in most countries,Indian entities lose out to Chinese or Western oil companies.

That India is making progress is despite much of official policy,which remains geared towards creating multiple barriers to productive activity that can only be surmounted by bribes. India has yet to follow the example of Germany and seek out tax evaders who use offshore havens. The silver lining is that civil society is finally beginning to notice the magnitude of the problem created by official corruption,and is pressing for action. Should at least a few dozen big fish go into the net, the country would benefit substantially. However,as yet,there seems to be no evidence that VVIPs are in any danger of being held to account for the tens of billions of dollars they have stolen from the Indian people.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.








Afghan President Hamid Karzai's latest diatribe regarding the international troops leaving Afghanistan and taking their fight to Pakistan has hurt the sentiments of Pakistan. Karzai owes Pakistan the hospitality of hosting him when the chips were down, and being a second home for Afghan refugees. Mr. Karzai delivered his latest criticism of NATO efforts over the weekend in Asadabad, capital of eastern Kunar province, where he was visiting relatives of civilians killed in a raid by international forces. The Afghan leader said his government has shown NATO that the terrorists and militants are not in Afghanistan, but instead are hiding in neighboring Pakistan. Even if Mr. Karzai was addressing his own people, he should not have been so callous towards his neighbour Pakistan, which bore the brunt of the Soviet invasion and besides hosting millions of Afghan refugees including Mr. Karzai for over a decade, supported operations to oust the Soviets. After 9/11, Pakistan supported the US-led coalition, which defeated the Taliban and helped install Mr. Karzai as the President.

Civilian casualties are a sensitive subject on both sides of the Durand Line. Earlier this month, NATO's top commander in Afghanistan, General David Petraeus, apologized for an airstrike that killed nine children in Kunar province – the result of miscommunication, according to the coalition. Mr. Karzai has warned that NATO could face "huge problems" if the accidental killing of civilians does not stop. A joint report last week by the U.N. mission in Afghanistan and the Afghanistan Independent Human Rights Commission says there were nearly 3,000 war-related civilian deaths in 2010 – an increase of 15 percent over 2009's toll. The study concluded that insurgents and militants were responsible for about 75 percent of those deaths. The collateral damage owing to drone attacks in Pakistan, has led tempers to soar. However, for a US protégé like Hamid Karzai to ask NATO and other allied forces to deflect the attack towards Pakistan is pitiless. Mr. Karzai may have become overwhelmed by emotions after watching a child having had its limbs severed as a result of NATO's brutal attacks on civilian population but to wish the same fate on its ally and well wisher, Pakistan is a reprehensible act and cannot be condoned. Mr. Karzai appears to have lost all sense of reason for him to parrot the US that Pakistan is harbouring Al-Qaeda terrorists, who frequent attacks on NATO and US troops from their sanctuaries in Pakistan. If Mr. Karzai is a visionary and a statesman, he is presented to be, he would be urging the US not to 'take the fight to Pakistan'. The coalition forces will depart one day then Mr. Karzai will be left to contend with Pakistan and why does he want to turn a friend and ally into a hostile neighbour, who is here to stay. Moreover, if Mr. Karzai thinks that by 'taking the fight to Pakistan', Afghanistan will be spared; he is sadly making a mistake. Terrorists and extremists know no religion or territorial boundaries. Afghanistan will burn in the same fire as Pakistan as today Pakistan is suffering and bearing the brunt of suicide bombers and terrorist attacks because of helping Afghanistan.

There is a word of caution here for the US too. Former President Bush's impulsive action of attacking Afghanistan, without considering the consequences or even paying heed to the lessons from history is causing the US, once the sole superpower the ignominy of defeat. President Obama, too, relying overly on his trigger happy war horses like General Petraeus is going to cost him dearly. There is a time for action and there is a time for talk. Petraeus wants to negotiate from a position of strength but now it may be too late. The US has to cut its losses and withdraw, before there is total defeat. Let the Afghan-led reconciliation proceed with Pakistan's help and stop considering "taking the fight to Pakistan".

Under the prevailing situation in sub-continent with particular reference to US-led prolonged War on Terror and its likely outcome in the shape of de-induction of US/NATO forces from Afghanistan in coming years, a strong need is felt that Pakistan should take India out of reckoning as far as influencing Afghan media is concerned. Mr. Karzai should remember that Pak-Afghan brotherhood bonds have religious, historical and cultural foundations. Most of the Pakistanis migrated from Afghanistan. They have deep routed associations and linkages with the people of Afghanistan. It would not be incorrect to say that Pakistan is an extension of Afghanistan in the subcontinent. Pakistanis consider Afghan heroes as their own, for example Ahmad Shah Abdali, Mahmud Ghaznavi, Shahab-ud-Din Ghauri are not only Afghan icons but also symbols of respect and emblem of aspiration in Pakistan. Having named their pride after these heroes, Pakistanis feel a sense of delightful elation and a buzzing thrill. Good deeds of Afghan people are rated high in Pakistani mind. Pakistan and Afghanistan are secured / pledged by unbreakable social, ethnic, cultural and religious bonds. Any upheaval in Afghanistan palpably impacts Pakistan and vice versa. No two other counties can be compared with Afghanistan and Pakistan since they enjoy a common past, present and a foreseeable peaceful future.

Afghanistan is a cradle of civilization. It has an extremely rich culture and profound civilization based on a long cherished history. It has always positively influenced its surroundings while the external penetration of cultural change has always been brought to a standstill or out rightly rejected in Afghanistan.

This is due to tribal and traditional social order prevailing in Afghanistan. Nothing will work in Afghanistan unless the norms are followed in letter and spirit. Pakistan's national poet Allama Iqbal is highly respected in Afghanistan. Besides having full praise for Afghan nation, Allama Iqbal considered Afghanistan as the hub of Asia. He further suggested that Afghanistan must remain balanced and peaceful for peace in Asia. It is imperative that Mr. Karzai does not project the war into Pakistan and he gives due consideration to his Pakistani brothers rather than India, since blood is thicker than water.








After China, Japan manufactures the most number of vehicles in the world with 7,934,516 automobiles produced per anum with Toyota overtaken General Motors as the largest car maker in the world in terms of sales volume. Iron Ore is the most important ingredient required for the production of automobiles. Ever wondered how much Iron Ore is available in Japan? None. Africa countries are one of the world's poorest nations. However these countries are blessed with abundance of Iron ore. How many vehicles are these poor Nations producing having ample supply of Iron ore? None. So the richest nation having no Iron Ore is producing the maximum number of vehicles while the poorest of the nation's having all that is needed to manufacture the same are producing none. Ever thought what is missing? It's the "mindset", a fixed mental attitude that predetermines a Nation's response and the interpretation of situations. Khewra Salt Mines in Pakistan, the largest in the world, have an estimated total of 220 million tons of rock salt deposits. The salt range has the largest deposit of pure salt found anywhere in the world.

The current production from the mine is 465,000 tons salt per annum. This reserve cannot be consumed in 600 years even at the rate of 465000 lakh tons production every day. Pakistan's Coal reserves in Sindh (Lakhra, SondaThatta, Jherruck, Thar), Punjab (Eastern Salt Range, Central Salt Range, Makerwal) & Baluchistan (Khost-Sharig-Harnai, Sor Range/Degari, Duki, Mach- Kingri, Musakhel Abegum, Pir Ismail Ziarat, Chamalong) stand at approximately 184,123, 235 and 617 million tons respectively thus giving a total of 184,575 million tons of coal. This, if seen in the context of Oil equals billions of barrels.

Pakistan is the fourth largest cotton producer, third largest cotton consumer, second largest importer and has fourth largest cotton cultivated area in the world. Pakistan's yield per hectare is around Kgs 650, lagging behind dozens of countries.

The Reko Diq is a large copper-gold porphyry resource on the Tethyan belt, located in the dry desert conditions of southwest Pakistan within the remote and sparsely populated province of Baluchistan. The Tethyan belt is a prospective region for large gold-copper porphyries. The Reko Diq mining area has proven estimated reserves of 2 billion tons of copper and 20 million ounces of gold. According to the current market price, the value of the deposits has been estimated at about $65 billion.

The livestock sector contributes about half of the value added in the agriculture sector, amounting to nearly 11 per cent of Pakistan's GDP, which is more than the crop sector. The national herd consists of 24.2 million cattle, 26.3 million buffaloes, 24.9 million sheep, 56.7 million goats and 0.8 million camels. In addition to these there is a vibrant poultry sector in the country with more than 530 million birds produced annually. These animals produce 29.472 million tons of milk, 1.115 million tons of beef, 0.740 million tons of mutton, 0.416 million tons of poultry meat, 8.528 billion eggs, 40.2 thousand tons of wool, 21.5 thousand tons of hair and 51.2 million skins and hides.

What differentiates us from the developed Nations comes down to only one factor; it's our Mindset, which desperately needs a change. The likeliness of the Nations doing what they believe they can do depends on how much faith they have in their abilities. Humans with fixed mindset believe that their basic qualities (intelligence or talent) are simply fixed traits. They spend their time documenting their intelligence or talent instead of developing them. They believe that the talent alone can create success without putting in any effort. In a growth mindset people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work.

The dilemma being faced by our Country is the mushrooming growth of people with fixed mindsets. They somehow lack faith, motivation, hard work and above all education. Looking upwards towards leadership for the much desired change is a futile waste of thoughts, for the change of mindset comes from within each individual. Certainly not all of us will be able to do great things in life, but for sure we can all do small things in a great way. What our Country and the people living in it really need to understand is the basic fact that they won't simply become successful one fine morning, for that historical morning will never come on its own.

—The writer is a social activist.









Calamity comes from the Latin "calamitus" and appears to have an etymological relationship to "calamus", straw or reed. In this sense, it would refer to damaged crops. It in English means damage, disaster, adversity, catastrophe, tragedy, misfortune, cataclysm, devastation, etc. The word calamity was first derived from calamus when the corn could not get out of the stalk. Earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, tsunamis, etc., may cause terribly disastrous consequences for life- human, animal and plant. They may also result into a large-scale destruction of property and, more importantly, lifelong human distress due to medical and psychological reasons.

The issue of natural calamities and human sufferings is one of the most baffling subjects of science and religion as well as of various other fields of study like psychology and social sciences, etc. Every time a calamity occurs, it gives rise to questions of not only immediate practical importance but also having epistemological and philosophical significance. The people, quite reasonably, want to know the real cause of the death and destruction occurring at the occasions of natural calamities. What is the real cause of the loss? Is it a result of God's fury or man's folly? Have the natural calamities something to do with the moral behaviour of the victims? Or, they are the outcome of administrative negligence on the part of the rulers.

According to the Quran, God has created the universe with truth, purpose and meaning. All the phenomena and changes are controlled and governed by his absolute Will. However, God, being all-Powerful and all-Knowing, does not take arbitrary decisions. He simply does not need to do so. To think of Him behaving in an anthropomorphic manner is actually equivalent to demeaning Him.

The wrath of God theory presents Him as God of fear who acts like a despotic monarch. This is against the Quranic concept of all-Merciful, all-Wise, and all-Knowing Creator and Sustainer of the universe. His Will operates in the universe through laws of nature that He has ingrained in it. The laws of nature, according to the Quran, are the Divine laws- Sunnah, or methodology, of God in the words of the Quran.

Disasters and calamities, however, should definitely have a lesson in them for every wise person. They must remind us of the temporariness and fragility of our existence in this world. And, every such incident should certainly strengthen our faith in God and remind us of our duty to our fellow human beings.

When bad things happen, humans tend to scream, beat themselves, scratch their faces and wail. These actions are forbidden in Islam and are actually punishable. With regard to such actions, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has said:

"He is not one of us who strikes his cheeks, rends his garments and says things like the people of Jaahiliyyah say." (Saheeh) Rather patience should be observed when dealing with the initial shock of a catastrophe. Humans should turn to Allah in repentance and seek relief from the distress from the only one who can relieve it.

Allah Almighty says: "Who, when afflicted with calamity, say: 'Truly, to Allaah we belong and truly, to Him we shall return. They are those on whom (Descend) blessings from Allah, and Mercy, and they are the ones that receive guidance." (2:156-157)

No matter whether you are rich or poor, disaster is always around the corner. Instead of being a victim, be prepared for it by trusting Allah. For this is the only way to be a true believer and to attain salvation. And remember patience is a noble virtue. Humans with their imperfect thinking cannot see past the calamity to realise that perhaps the destruction can have benefits known only to Allah. The Holy Quran repeatedly tells us that this world is merely a testing ground with the real world being in the hereafter. Allah Almighty says: "And certainly, We shall test you with something of fear, hunger, loss of wealth, lives and fruits, but give glad tidings to As-Saabiroon (the patient)" (2:155) Nevertheless, we must also understand the real cause of death and destruction at the occasion of natural cataclysms. We must know that it is not the earthquakes, for instance, that cause loss of lives. The earthquakes only shake the earth's surface. They themselves are not a disaster, calamity or catastrophe. They are but natural and physical phenomena caused by natural geological process ingrained by God with a purpose. It is, for example, this process that gives the earth's crust its peculiar appearance, and makes and shapes earth's topography, the mountains, oceans, rivers, etc. However, when the people fail to fulfill the demands of the laws of nature, they may fall victim to the otherwise positive and beneficial natural changes. For instance, if we construct buildings in a region prone to earthquakes without following an appropriate building code, an earthquake may cause fatalities. Therefore, administrative negligence of the authorities may result in a calamity for innocent people.

We must pray to Almighty Allah to save us from natural calamities. We should reform ourselves, refrain from committing crimes, repent for our wrongdoings and ask for His forgiveness. Maybe, Allah, the Beneficial, the Most Merciful will spare us from the dreadful fate.







Terrorism has various names and forms as it is being practised through various tactics. Besides the terrorism employed by the non-state actors and the state actors against each other, cross-border terrorism is the worse form of terrorism as the forces of a state actor kill the innocent and unarmed persons or migrants inside its own border or after entering the territories of a sovereign state.

In these terms, in the past, although India and Bangladesh had agreed to combat cross-border terrorism, through coordinated patrolling along their frontiers and work closely on issues of Indian insurgent hideouts in this country and anti-Bangladeshis in India, while making substantial progress on security issues, yet Indian cross-border terrorism in Bangladesh has continued unabated intermittently.

As regards Indian atrocities on the innocent Bangladeshis, Brad Adams wrote in the Guardian, "Over the past 10 years Indian security forces have killed almost 1,000 people in the border area between India and Bangladesh, turning it into a south Asian killing fields…so far, no one has been prosecuted for any of these killings, in spite of evidence in many cases that makes it clear that the killings were in cold blood against unarmed and defenceless local residents."

While quoting an officer of the Indian Border Security Force (BSF), Adams further elaborates, "The border-crossers deserve their fate, as they are doubtless up to no good…which gives you a good idea of the attitude toward Bangladeshi migrants here. But the officer does not provide much context." In this regard, on February 3, 2011, while indicating Indian massacre aganst Bangladeshis, The Economist reported, "On January 7th, India's Border Security Force (BSF) shot dead Mr Nur Islam's 15-year-old Felani, at an illegal crossing into Bangladesh from the Indian state of West Bengal. Felani's body hung from the barbed-wired fence for five hours. Then the Indians took her down, tied her hands and feet to a bamboo pole, and carried her away. Her body was handed over the next day and buried in the yard at home."

In its report, Human Rights Watch (HRW) revealed, "Indian Border Security Force personnel routinely gun down cattle smugglers and other civilians crossing the border with Bangladesh despite negligible evidence of any crime."

The New York-based rights group in its 81-page, titled: "Trigger Happy: Excessive Use of Force by Indian Troops at the Bangladesh Border," disclosed, "The BSF-responsible for guarding against extremists, drug and weapons smugglers and human traffickers is instead using its muscle to detain, torture and kill with impunity…while authorities (BSF) say the suspects were killed in self-defense or for evading arrest, the Human Rights Watch said they found no evidence in any death it documented that the person was engaged in any activity that would justify such an extreme response."

Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch opined that the Indian "border force seems to be out of control, with orders to shoot any suspect."

The border force, with a peacetime mission of preventing illegal activity, is acting like it is in a war zone, torturing and killing local residents."

In fact, many of the Bangladeshis which were killed by the BSF over the last decade were poor farmers or laborers taking cattle across the border for trade. Some were hit by aimless cross-border firing or allegedly executed without due cause, such as 13-year-old Abdur Rakib was killed, while catching fish in a lake on the Bangladeshi side.

However, a number of reports and sources suggest that in several of the cases documented, victims were beaten up or killed, while smuggling cattle across the border at night. Others were tortured or killed merely on suspicion of being involved in cattle-rustling.

It is notable that the Indo-Bangladeshi border has long been crossed routinely by local people for trade and commerce. Relatives and friends separated by a line arbitrarily drawn by the British during partition in 1947—also cross the border.

It is surprise to mention that Indian security officials publicly admit that unarmed civilians trying to enter India illegally are being killed. Inspite of the fact, New Delhi has finished building a 2,000 km fence along the border of Bangladesh in order to put up a watch in stopping illegal immigration, smuggling and infiltration, but BSF has continued "a shoot-to-kill policy," even against unarmed local villagers. And the death toll of the innocent Bangladeshi people has been huge as the killings of these unarmed and defenceless local residents have no end. In this connection, sometimes those people are also shot by the Indian forces, who have not crossed the border, but are near the fence.

It is most regrettable that some Indian officials openly admit that unarmed civilians are being killed, while the head of the BSF, Raman Srivastava, remarks that people should not feel sorry for the victims—killings of the Bangladeshis as a legitimate target.

Notably, India has functional courts in this respect, but Srivastava apparently believes that the BSF can act as judge, jury and executioner. This illogical approach clearly ignores the many victims of Indian cross-border terrorism in Bangladesh. It is of particular attention that in 1971, with arms and weapons including training, India supported Bangladesh in getting independence, but afterwards, New Delhi started anti-Bangladeshi policies as Bangladesh refused to accept Indian hegemony and also established cordial relationship with China.

Here, it is worth-mentioning that at present, pro-India Hasina Wajid is the Prime Minister of Bangladesh, but even she has failed in deterring India from playing havoc with the Bangladeshi people.

In the most recent past, a report of the WikiLeaks has pointed out India's endemic torture in Kashmir, underscoring Indian soldiers and police who routinely commit human rights violations without any consequences. Permission has to be granted by a senior Indian official for the police to even begin an investigation into a crime committed by a member of the security forces such as the BSF. This rarely happens.

The response of various government officials to allegations of a "shoot-to-kill policy" has been confusing, saying: we do shoot illegal border crossers since they are lawbreakers; we don't shoot border crossers; we only shoot in self-defence; we never shoot to kill. Nevertheless, under the cover of self-defence, Indian forces keep on massacring the Bangladeshis. These facts show otherwise. India must revisit its "shoot-to-kill policy" otherwise it should be hauled up in international courts of justice.

In the wake of the Indian growing terror attacks against Bangladesh, what makes the wanton killings even more shameful is the lack of interest in these killings by major western foreign governments who claim to be champions of human rights. Nonetheless, Indian cross-border terrorism in Bangladesh continues unabated.









A prime minister struggling for an economic narrative to justify her carbon tax has been offered one. Her climate change adviser, Ross Garnaut, has adroitly picked up the Henry tax reforms Labor squibbed last year and handed Julia Gillard a policy that offers a possible political fix for the mess she has created on carbon. Professor Garnaut wants to use about half the revenue from the carbon tax to fund $5.75 billion in tax cuts for low- and middle-income earners. The idea is to reduce the tax-welfare churn and lift productivity by getting people back to work. It's a circuit-breaker for the Prime Minister, struggling to make the case for a tax that will flow on to higher electricity prices for consumers. The Garnaut model ticks the boxes on good policy but has the added political effect of making it harder for the opposition to attack a "big new tax". It would also allow Labor to claim it is undertaking much-needed structural reform.

The release yesterday of Professor Garnaut's sixth update to his 2008 climate change report, is perfect timing for Ms Gillard, who, in Adelaide on Wednesday night, was still on the backfoot over her "lie" on a carbon tax and the backlash from voters worried about its impact on the cost of living. In her address to the Don Dunstan Foundation, she sought to set the record straight on the promises she made at the election, saying: "Yes I did promise there would be no carbon tax. I also said to the Australian people that we needed to act on climate change, we needed to price carbon and I wanted to see an emissions trading scheme."

In truth, Labor's policy heading into the poll was rather more nuanced. Last July 23, Ms Gillard told an audience at the University of Queensland she would set up a citizens' assembly "to examine over 12 months the evidence on climate change, the case for action and the possible consequences of introducing a market-based approach to limiting and reducing carbon emissions . . . if we are re-elected, I will use the (carbon pollution reduction scheme put forward and then deferred by former prime minister Kevin Rudd) as the basis for this citizens' assembly and community consultation on the way forward in reducing pollution through a market mechanism. In doing so, I recommit to the need for a market mechanism."

You be the judge of whether that's a promise to introduce an ETS. The reality is that Ms Gillard's handling of the issue, from abandoning the assembly to her embrace of a carbon tax, has harmed her in the opinion polls and severely damaged community support for carbon action. Voters recognise the tax for what it is -- sensible insurance for the planet, but scarcely a first-order issue for an economy crying out for deep structural reforms to improve participation, productivity and skills training; that must keep a lid on inflation without flattening the non-resource sectors; and must ensure the benefits of the mining boom are locked in for future generations, for example, through a sovereign wealth fund. With so many challenges confronting Australia, the Prime Minister should give up trying to convince voters her carbon plan is akin to the landmark reforms of her predecessors, Bob Hawke and Paul Keating. On Wednesday, she was still claiming that without a tax, there would be job losses in agriculture and tourism, and that a tax would generate new green jobs. She's right; there will be more jobs -- for bureaucrats tasked with ensuring industry compliance.

Professor Garnaut has taken a clear line on assistance for trade-exposed sectors, warning this must be at a "realistic level" and has sought to shift the debate on assistance to households to a debate on economic reform. His model for a carbon tax of about $20-$30 a tonne appears to have the potential to stimulate growth by removing structural disincentives for low-income Australians to seek work. He calls it a "productivity-raising" reform of the personal tax system that would "generate positive effects on income distribution as well as national productivity". Indeed, lower- and middle-income earners would be better off under a carbon price, he says.

The Australian has long argued for lower marginal tax rates and a reduction in the tax-welfare churn. We also see the need for action on carbon. But the blurring of these separate imperatives is challenging. Confused policy goals can be a recipe for disaster: witness the problems in the Building the Education Revolution program, which was more about job creation than educational need. Yesterday, Professor Garnaut implied a carbon tax was likely to have little impact on Australian companies, telling the National Press Club that companies would be affected much more by what their biggest buyers, such as China, do, especially if they move away from nuclear power. So a tax that will have "modest" impact on the economy has morphed into a mechanism for raising revenue to fund tax cuts to lower- and middle-income earners.

There is room for caution, but on paper at least, the Garnaut approach seems an efficient way to offset higher household electricity prices. It reduces the chance for the government to set up a "slush fund"-- although with only half the revenue going to tax cuts, there will be scope for this too. Dr Henry's recommendations in this area were sound. Professor Garnaut's intervention is worth consideration. But real reform should not be confused with the politics of carbon. Labor must go much further if it is to address key challenges facing the nation.






The Greens' demand for a global phase-out of nuclear power as a "toxic and obsolete technology" in response to Japan's post-earthquake emergency has inadvertently highlighted the industry likely to be the major beneficiary of the crisis -- coal. South Korea, another big coal importer, is already predicting higher coal and LNG prices if Japan loses its nuclear nerve and invests in an alternative to atomic energy, which provides a third of its electricity.

Nuclear power, the cleanest and most efficient alternative to fossil fuels, has suffered a major set back because of the crisis at the Fukushima power plant. And while the earthquake and tsunami could not be avoided, the poor risk management that preceded it, and the appalling emergency response that followed it, could. Serious concerns about disruptions to the cooling systems of the plants emerged just hours after last Friday's quake, but little information or leadership was forthcoming from the Japanese government. By Sunday, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano admitted "the possibility" of an explosion in the No 3 reactor at Fukushima, but predicted no adverse affects on human health.

Japan's taciturn national government has been slower to act than Germany's pro-nuclear Chancellor Angela Merkel, who has turned off her country's oldest reactors for at least three months, ordered a review of all nuclear plants and suspended plans to extend their working life. As she said, events in Japan showed that "risks that were considered absolutely improbable still aren't impossible". Japan rates the emergency at level four on the seven-step nuclear scale, but France, with Europe's largest nuclear power program, rates it as level six, on a par with the Three Mile Island meltdown in 1979. Despite earlier reassurances, Japan has been forced to rely on US military help to manage the danger.

Unlike Australia, where robust debate and scrutiny of governments and public utilities is routine, the Japanese government and media have been reticent about demanding frank disclosures from the Tokyo Electric Power Co, which has a dubious record of accidents and lack of transparency. The positive side of Japanese civic culture was on display in the resolve and patience shown in the past week. But a culture of deference allows lacklustre performance by public officials to go unchecked and tolerates a leadership vacuum that failed to prevent a once-dynamic economy stagnating for 20 years. Despite the technological expertise and hard work of the citizens and corporations, which share a strong commitment to national prosperity, Japan has been beset by the collapse of asset bubbles inflated by lax monetary policy, one of the highest ratios of public debt to GDP in the world, under employment and abysmal growth. Successive governments have been unable to break the cycle.

The crisis at the Fukushima plant, which curiously was built 40 years ago on a tsunami-prone coastline, comes as the demand for cleaner power had created a fresh drive for nuclear energy. Some 60 new plants are under construction around the world, including 24 in China. As high radiation levels in Japan cause nations to take stock, the economic and practical problems of wind and solar power mean that coal, and to a lesser extent LNG, become the default option for baseload power. The task of reducing carbon emissions has become even harder.






Good luck to the Chinese in their marketing efforts to soften their image as carbon polluters. The communist state is keen to reposition itself on the side of the angels when it comes to consumption of coal -- with a little help, it must be said, from climate change advocates in the West. In Australia, both Prime Minister Julia Gillard and her climate change adviser, Professor Ross Garnaut, have been busy supporting the notion that China is addressing carbon emissions.

The Canberra cheer squad cites this as evidence that Australia has not gone out on a limb ahead of the rest of the world with its plan for a carbon tax-cum-emissions trading scheme. The argument is that, as China and India tackle emissions, there is less danger of jobs leaking offshore as production here becomes dearer. Indeed, we must lose no time in moving to exploit a "first-mover advantage" in alternative and renewable energy technologies.

On ABC TV's Q & A on Monday night, the Prime Minister implied coal-based energy in China was being replaced by wind-generated power. If only. The facts tell a different story. China may be closing down its "dirty coal-fired power generation" facilities, but that doesn't mean it is using less coal. Rather, every kilowatt hour of electricity saved from the old stations has been more than replaced by power from a coal-powered station using newer technology. Hydro, nuclear, wind and solar will reduce the proportion of electricity China generates using coal -- but not the overall amount. Under China's latest five-year plan, nuclear power will increase four-fold to 40 gigawatts; hydroelectric capacity will grow by 63GW; gas-fired generation by 22GW; wind power will more than double with an extra 48GW; and solar capacity will grow to 5GW. The figures pale against the extra 260GW of coal-fired power that will be produced.

China's moves on carbon were recognised by Professor Garnaut in his recent update to his climate change report, although he acknowledged the problems with renewables. But, overall, he now appears less worried than in his original 2008 report about the risk of exporting jobs in trade-exposed areas. Yet China's continued reliance on coal will make it harder for Ms Gillard to reassure voters about the tax.

The reality is that coal is king in the developing world. Globally, in the 25 years from 2008, coal-fired power generation will increase from 8000 to 11,000 terrawatt hours. (A terrawatt hour is equivalent to 1000GW hours.) Any drop in coal-generated power in the West will be more than offset by growth in Asia.

It is the developing world's need for energy that has motivated many in the West to try to use climate change policies to redistribute the world's wealth. This flawed agenda was exposed at the failed 2009 Copenhagen climate summit. For low-consumption advocates and far-left Greens, carbon reduction is about slowing capitalism and enabling Third World countries to catch up. This won't work. Nor is it good economic policy to use household compensation for the carbon tax as a proxy for more welfare. The Prime Minister must resist any temptation to mix economic and social policy. She must drop the generalisations about China's efforts and start getting down to specifics about her tax.






JULIA GILLARD has raised the stakes in the debate over a carbon tax. In her speech on Wednesday to the Don Dunstan Foundation in Adelaide, the Prime Minister declared that if Australia "does not adopt a carbon price in 2011 we probably never will. This is the year of decision." It is perhaps carefully worded - she does not, for example, rule out an emissions trading scheme. But nonetheless it is a telling, and rather depressing, commentary on the state of politics that her attempt at brinkmanship is even necessary. The consensus which once existed on the issue has disappeared following the Coalition's regrettable decision, under Tony Abbott, to switch to populist fear-mongering and pseudo-science instead of basing its policy formulation on evidence.

The folly of Abbott's own policy was exposed most recently in the Herald's report of an upcoming submission by the energy company AGL to the Parliament's multi-party climate change committee. AGL argues the Coalition's plan - which would use tax revenue to pay polluting power stations to close and then rebuild - would do nothing to assist the switch to a low-carbon economy elsewhere. (AGL is equally scathing of a government fiddle intended to soften the blow of a carbon tax on power generators and hence electricity consumers.)

AGL is only arguing what should be obvious: that a market-based solution to the problem of carbon emissions is really the only effective one. That the Liberal Party has to be lectured on the virtues of a market-based solution by a big-business group shows how far it has strayed under Abbott from its true course and its natural constituency. In doing so it has sidelined itself in what is the main political game of the coming decade.

An early move in that game occurred yesterday with the release of Professor Ross Garnaut's update of his climate change review, recommending a carbon tax of between $20 and $30 a tonne. His pragmatic acceptance of assistance to trade-exposed industries - reversing a previous position - shows he acknowledges the difficulty of getting any scheme implemented now. It is vital, though, that such help be temporary - as Garnaut recommends - so industries evolve quickly to survive in the new environment by reducing carbon emissions. Otherwise, the point of a carbon tax will be lost, and industry assistance will become a plaything of politicians and bureaucrats - as tariffs were in the McEwen era after the Second World War. If the government can get his suggested links between household compensation and reforms to the tax system to work, there may yet be hope that a carbon tax can gain broad voter support.



DOCTORS at Royal North Shore Hospital claim the net result, after a $1 billion renovation of the institution, will be one extra bed available to general patients. It makes a good headline for their campaign to increase resources to a major Sydney teaching hospital, but it is not quite true. It is close enough to the truth, though, to reflect badly on the state government and the health bureaucracy which planned the development. In effect, Royal North Shore Hospital, at a time of growing demand from an ageing population for health services, has had to spend $1 billion to mark time.

The Labor government claims the renovation will make 100 extra beds available. That is a worse half-truth. The hospital is currently funded to provide 397 acute beds for adult cases. But demand for its services has pushed it to do more with not very much, and space and staff occasionally have to be found to provide as many as 420 beds - often in rooms used as temporary wards which were not built for the purpose. The hospital is often stretched to capacity this way. Other beds among the supposedly new, extra 100 turn out to be bassinets and other specialty equipment such as X-ray trolleys. The very worst piece of dubious accounting in all this spin, though, is the decision to include among the new acute beds 13 which have been subtracted from the hospital's intensive care unit. It may be a renovation, but it is not progress.

Yet, an optimist might say, a poor renovation, or an inadequate one, is better than nothing. The hospital was rather down-at-heel, and even if the changes do little to add to capacity, they at least make the place more pleasant and do no harm. More can be done later. But as things stand, the optimist would be wrong.

The other justified complaint of the hospital's medical staff is the government's decision to sell more than half the hospital grounds as surplus to requirements. The proceeds from the sale are intended to pay in part for the redevelopment. As we have argued before, it is an extraordinarily short-sighted decision. Royal North Shore Hospital will indeed need to expand in coming decades. The land sale makes that far more difficult, if not impossible. Long ago governments bought land in and around Sydney for facilities - schools, roads, hospitals - they could foresee would be needed in future. Now, just as that future is upon us, the means to deal with it is being sold. A new state government should stop the sale quickly.





THERE is good news for Victoria's duck shooting fraternity: the 2011 season, which opens tomorrow, promises to be the best in years. According to the Department of Sustainability and Environment, the above-average rainfall over the past year has ''substantially improved environmental conditions'', with increased habitat for waterfowl, including game birds. This in turn has led to extensive breeding and wide dispersal of birdlife across eastern Australia's wetlands. As a result, the 2011 season will return to a full 12 weeks, and the normal regulated bag limit - 10 ducks a day, which can include two blue-winged shovelers, for each hunter - ''will provide adequate protection for game duck populations'', the department says.

All this is bad news, of course, for ducks. According to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, with Victoria's 22,000 registered shooters allowed to shoot 10 birds a day for the next three months, the 2011 season could mark the biggest massacre of native ducks on record. RSPCA president Hugh Wirth doubts that the department's 15 wildlife officers will be enough to enforce the bag limits, and has reiterated the society's call for a ban on what he calls ''this cruel and barbaric sport''.

The Age is on the side of the RSPCA - and the ducks. The most perplexing thing about duck shooting is why it hasn't already been banned here. The West Australian government stopped it in that state in 1990, New South Wales followed in 1995 and Queensland in 2005. Yet Victoria, a proud leader in progressive public policies on matters such as road safety and smoking, remains a bastion of the duck hunter.

This is still more perplexing given all the evidence indicates that ending duck shooting would be politically popular. A Morgan poll of 637 Victorians in late 2007, for example, found 75 per cent in favour of a ban.

That the ''sport'' of duck shooting is cruel is not open to question. Hunting flocks of wildfowl with a shotgun means rare and protected species are killed, and it means some birds, which are wounded but not immediately brought down, suffer lingering and painful deaths.

The Age first advocated a ban on duck shooting in 1992. A decade later, after a recommendation by Victoria's animal welfare advisory committee to end the practice, this newspaper wrote: ''We did not expect to have to restate the case for a ban in the 21st century.'' In 2011, surely, the time has come to stop the slaughter.







JULIA Gillard and John Howard have more in common than either would care to admit. Each has had to bear the political cross of a broken election promise and an unpopular but essential policy reform. Each has had to quell MPs' alarm over hostile opinion polls fuelled by blatant scaremongering. And each leader rightly concluded that they could not back down in the face of scare campaigns against a broad consumption tax (Mr Howard's GST) or pricing greenhouse emissions (Ms Gillard's carbon tax).

In a Labor-Coalition role reversal, it is now Ms Gillard, like Mr Howard before her, defiantly insisting that the policy is right for the country. (In both cases, The Age happened to agree.) It is their oppositions that opportunistically chose to exploit the difficulties of selling ambitious policy: Kim Beazley, and Paul Keating before him, originally wanted a GST; Tony Abbott endorsed the need to price carbon and even had a preference for a tax. It was once Labor that ran a ''tax on everything'' campaign and pilloried Mr Howard for breaking his ''never ever'' promise. The GST never had voter support before it took effect. On the eve of the 1998 election, opposition peaked in an Age/Nielsen poll at 53 per cent, with 37 per cent in favour. The Coalition clung to power with a minority of the vote.

By 2001, with the GST in place and dire warnings exposed as extreme, Mr Beazley's ''rollback'' attack fell flat. The GST is now widely accepted. What was all the fuss about? Today, the fuss is about a carbon tax. In this week's Age/Nielsen poll, support has fallen to 35 per cent, with 56 per cent against. Yet, until recently, even after the Rudd government's self-destructive retreat onemissions trading, there was long-standing support for a price on carbon.

The Gillard government also has the luxury of time to bed down the tax after announcing it, which Mr Howard did not have. The last election was only seven months ago. Barring the collapse of the minority government, voters will see the tax in operation before the next election. It is notable that a survey of 1045 voters this week found a sharp shift in attitudes when respondents were told they would be compensated for price rises. The Essential Media survey recorded a shift from majority opposition to a carbon tax, 49-38 per cent, to strong support by a 54-30 margin. Even by the highest estimates of its cost per tonne of carbon, the financial effect is less than a third of the GST's $50 billion-a-year impact. If the economic sky does not fall in, where does that leave a scare campaign?

This week, Ms Gillard at last confronted the problem of her broken promise, just as Mr Howard once had to do. She had ''walked away from that commitment'', she admitted, but argued that the government had to ''find a different way through'' to putting a price on carbon. That, as Ms Gillard said, is consistent with Labor's election platform and its voters' expectations. In a case of poor timing, Mr Abbott also reminded voters of his own inconsistency when he said the science was not settled and questioned ''if emissions are quite the problem that some people say they are''. He later backtracked, but the Coalition lacks credibility on climate policy because of such remarks and its record in office.

Ms Gillard is seeking to position the government between the ''extremes'' of Coalition opposition to a carbon price and Green resistance to compensating carbon-intensive industries most affected by the transition to industries using new technology and creating new jobs. The Prime Minister is right to resist the politics of populism - ''No opinion poll can change the fact that climate change is real'' - and the rigidity of ideological purists who wrecked the last attempt to begin emissions trading. Her government faces the challenge of rebuilding support for a policy that constantly reminds voters of a broken promise. None of this alters the fact that the policy is right. The Howard government held firm and its policy prevailed. The Gillard government must do the same.







George Osborne can take one of two options in preparing next Wednesday's budget. One is cautious and pragmatic, recognising the real dangers to the economy; the other is ideological and a dangerous gamble. Sadly, the chancellor looks set to choose the wrong course – while claiming that he is playing safe. The result is likely to cause hundreds of thousands of workers to lose their jobs needlessly and to retard the recovery further.

Option number one is to continue down the road the coalition has been going. In that case, next week's budget is likely to be the most modest since the banking crisis began. Mr Osborne has already set the overall shape of tax and spending for this parliament. The sharpest spending cuts since 1945 begin next month; all that remains now is to fill in the marginalia. For the Conservative chancellor, that means scrapping the planned penny rise in fuel duty – and gritting his teeth even as Ed Balls congratulates him on half-implementing his policy. It also means engaging in the Treasury equivalent of looking for coppers down the back of the sofa, by pouncing on any small improvement in the public finances and diverting as much of the money as possible towards the NHS.

Finally, since the coalition agreement demands that the personal allowance for income tax is gradually raised towards £10,000 a year, the chancellor will probably lift that a little, too. Nick Clegg will claim that as a Lib Dem win; some Tory backbenchers will mutter that the cash should have gone towards cutting inheritance tax.

Option two would begin by acknowledging that the UK remains in a deep slump. Even if one strips out the effects of snow on the last set of GDP figures, the Office for National Statistics still reckons the economy did not grow at all in winter. Then there is the rising oil price, which will depress growth and is already pushing up inflation. All this leaves the chancellor in need of a growth strategy – but unable to count on the inflation-watchers at the Bank of England to keep rates on the floor for ever.

A sensible Treasury minister would therefore ease up on his austerity plans. As the National Institute of Economic and Social Research pointed out yesterday, that is unlikely to cause tremors in financial markets. The chancellor could also get unemployment down, and boost the UK's long-term growth prospects, by announcing a building programme for social housing in areas where there is a shortage of homes. Mr Osborne may reject such ideas – but he cannot claim they do not make economic sense. The fear, however, is that his plans will place greater primacy on politics than sound management of the economy.





The country has a nuclear crisis, a fuel crisis, hundreds of thousands homeless, millions without power and water, and any one of these would test the strongest of nations

A week after an earthquake powerful enough to shift the earth's axis by 6.5 inches, shorten the day by 1.6 microseconds, and push Japan two feet into the ground, the country is struggling with multiple crises. Any one of these would test the strongest of nations. Japan has a nuclear crisis, a fuel crisis, 430,000 people homeless, 2 million households without power, 1.4 million without water – all that running concurrently with the task of recovering the bodies of over 9,000 people still thought to be missing. To say that this is the greatest emergency Japan has faced since the second world war – as the prime minister, Naoto Kan, said on Monday – is no exaggeration.

Radiation levels above and around the two stricken reactors of the Fukushima Daiichi No 1 nuclear plant have reached such a peak that crews trying to douse one reactor and its spent fuel rod pool were forced back. Increasingly, the ad hoc attempts to cool down the reactors and the pools – by using high pressure hoses from fire engines and Chinook helicopters dumping water from the air – appear not to have worked. The latest status of the four reactors at the plant hardly makes reassuring reading. That leaves reconnecting the plant to the grid and restarting the cooling pumps inside as the last line of defence before a major release of radiation.

It is not difficult to make the calculations of population movement that will ensue if large amounts of radioactivity are released into the atmosphere, particularly by one reactor which uses a mixture of uranium and plutonium. About 70,000 people have already been evacuated from a 20km radius around the plant, but double that number, who live within 30km, have been told to stay indoors. This advice has been contradicted by the US and Canadian governments, which have instructed their citizens who live within 80km of the plant to leave. Germany's embassy moved its operations from Tokyo to Osaka. If the Japanese government issued the same instructions to residents within 80km of the plant, you would have a major evacuation of hundreds of thousands of people. Where would they all go?

The perception of danger even in areas with lower radiation levels is enough to stop truck drivers delivering much-needed fuel to the areas devastated by the tsunami from using the Tohoku Expressway. So the road is being bypassed, causing further delays. Precise, real-time information to reassure emergency workers about local radiation levels is turning out to be as important as the supplies of fuel and food that they deliver. The Tohoku Expressway and other key routes should be lined with Geiger counters.

Mr Kan initially reacted well to the tsunami by mobilising 100,000 troops. He learned that lesson from the dithering of a precedessor at the time of the Kobe earthquake – the last comparable event. Mr Kan swiftly toured the earthquake zone and made a good national address on television. But he has since been absent from TV screens, letting his cabinet secretary do all the talking. With one crisis in danger of obscuring another coming up behind, Japan needs political leadership as never before. People need reassurance and a constant stream of information on which they can depend. They are getting little of either at the moment.

Of all the authorities, the Tokyo Electric Power Company, the operator of the plant, comes off worst. The most dangerous uranium at the plant is not in the reactor cores but in the 11,195 spent fuel rods stored at the site. Why so many? Because it is cheaper to store them on site than to dispose of them, while Japan awaits the opening of a reprocessing plant. Temporary storage pools have become permanent fixtures at power plants. The same is practised at plants in the US. The nuclear industry's inability to deal safely with its waste is coming back to haunt it.







NEW YORK, UNITED NATIONS — The massive earthquake and tsunami that rocked and ravaged large parts of northern Japan have caused near apocalyptic devastation to the land and the environment. The 9.0-magnitude shock, the largest ever recorded in the earthquake-prone country, was brutally magnified by massive tsunami waves that washed onto the main island.

The results were shockingly described by Prime Minister Naoto Kan: "Japan is experiencing its greatest hardships since World War II" as it tackles the aftermath of an earthquake, tsunami and a growing nuclear power-plant crisis.

Beyond the destruction, the deaths of probably more than 10,000 people and the dislocation of hundreds of thousands, comes the realization that the quake hit a country that is instinctively counted on to help with natural disasters elsewhere.

When natural disasters strike, be they in Haiti, Pakistan or, more recently, New Zealand, Japan has always been on the shortlist of first responders to offer help, assistance and followup aid, along with the United States, Canada, Australia and the Europeans. Now a tragedy has hit this key first responder head-on.

Anyone who covers natural disaster response, rescue and relief knows that Japan has distinguished itself as a major donor state. When the massive 2004 tsunami hit Indonesia and Thailand, Japan along with the United States and Australia were among the major donors in aid and followup relief. Last year's horrific earthquake in Haiti that killed over 220,000 people, also saw immediate aid from Japan. Much of this aid goes through U.N. humanitarian agencies and some is given directly.

Now the grim reaper has brought its horrible wrath to the island of Honshu and massive devastation in prefectures northeast of Tokyo, even as the economy remains in a cautious recovery.

Global assistance has been quick to mobilize, as American, British, Canadian and German specialized teams are sent into the humanitarian fray. Israel has been among the first to help just as it did in Haiti. Taiwan and South Korea, both with highly specialized disaster rescue teams, have helped, too.

The U.S. Navy aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan is on the scene offshore and, along with a dozen U.S. naval ships, is assisting with relief including precious helicopter assets.

The Japanese islands are no stranger to devastating earthquakes. The Great Kanto Quake in 1923 saw 100,000 die after a 7.9 magnitude shock. As recently as 1995, the Kobe earthquake (7.3 magnitude) killed 6,000. This earthquake (8.9 magnitude) was a thousand times stronger than the 2010 quake in Haiti. Moreover, a 10-meter tsunami that hit Miyako city and parts of Sendai turned a strip of a once-thriving seacoast into a grim wasteland.

Precisely because of the danger from quakes, aftershocks and tsunami waves, Japan has among the best preventive building codes and standards in the world — unlike Indonesia or many developing countries where poor building codes and unorganized civil defense magnify calamities.

Rescue teams and humanitarian agencies in Japan will confront a wider disaster than many imagine — devastation, flooding, fires and the dangerously damaged nuclear power reactors along the Fukushima coast. Massive power cuts will affect areas all the way to metropolitan Tokyo.

There will be very dark days ahead, with frightening aftershocks, yet the resilient Japanese will cope. And Japan's friends in the U.S., Europe and East Asia will offer what is needed for the massive search and humanitarian effort.

The terrible irony remains that nature appears to have shown little remorse in a country that in recent decades has been so very generous in assisting others with humanitarian gestures. Now it is our turn to help the Japanese.

John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of "The USA/Euroland Rift?" (University Press, 2010).






People who have taken shelter at evacuation facilities in northeastern Japan since the March 11 quake and tsunami are finding themselves living under harsh conditions. The central and local governments must make strenuous efforts to deliver aid and personnel to those places as soon as possible. The death of evacuees because of a delay in help must be avoided at any cost.

The number of people who died or are unnacounted for due to the magnitude-9 quake and subsequent tsunami topped 12,000 in 12 prefectures, most of them in the Tohoku region of Honshu, according to the National Police Agency. This is the first time since the 1923 Great Kanto Earthquake that the number of quake, tsunami and fire victims has surpassed the 10,000 mark. In the 1923 disaster, more than 105,000 people died or went missing.

More than 80,000 members of the Self-Defense Forces, the police and firefighting brigades are engaged in rescue and relief operations. Some 26,500 people have thus far been saved.

The final death toll is certain to rise. And tens of thousands of people remain unaccounted for. In addition, the discovery of a large number of bodies has been reported in various locations along the northeast coast. As the number of fatalities rises, local governments are having difficulty securing places to store bodies. The Miyagi prefectural government says that coffins are in short supply and that a power shortage is making it impossible to produce the dry ice that is needed to store bodies.

The physical damage caused by the quake and tsunami is beyond imagination. Lifelines have been ripped apart in many areas. Damaged roads are hampering the search and rescue operations being conducted by the SDF, the police and firefighters. Road conditions are also making it difficult to send aid to evacuation facilities.

At one point, some 550,000 people were housed at evacuation centers. As power supply is restored, some people have started returning home. Some 380,000 people remain in some 2,200 evacuation facilities, such as school buildings and community centers, in eight prefectures.

The number of evacuees from the March 11 quake and tsunami is larger than the number from the 1995 Kobe quake, which killed 6,434 people. At the peak following the Kobe quake, 316,700 people were housed at some 1,150 evacuation centers in Hyogo Prefecture.

Evacuees from the March 11 disaster lack adequate food, water, medicines, blankets, heating oil, etc. Cold weather is also adding to their misery. A peculiar difference from the 1995 quake is that volunteers are having difficulty in reaching evacuation facilities due to the disruption of transportation and the serious accidents at Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s No. 1 Fukushima nuclear power plant. As a result, there are not enough trained personnel to manage the evacuation facilities.

After the Kobe quake, volunteers were able to reach some 20 percent of the evacuation facilities in Hyogo Prefecture within 72 hours. They helped prepare and distribute rice, as well as classify and distribute goods provided by various aid organizations and citizens to quake survivors. They also accompanied medical workers to evacuation sites or quake-damaged areas to help survivors, especially the elderly.

But not everything went smoothly in Hyogo Prefecture. The central and local governments must learn from the 1995 experience. Local government workers were so busy procuring coffins and transporting bodies that they failed to address the needs of elderly evacuees. Several days after the quake, some elderly survivors developed pneumonia, stomach ulcers and other ailments due to stress and died. It is estimated that 900 to 1,000 people perished of post-quake fatigue and stress caused by the traumatic disruption of their daily lives.

Evacuees from the March 11 disaster are undergoing similar hardships. At Ishinomaki Senshu University in Miyagi Prefecture, where some 700 evacuees are staying, there are insufficient blankets, forcing some people to sleep on cardboard while using newspapers as covering. Meals consist of bananas, while juice is only provided in the morning and evening. There is no hot foot or drink. In a gymnasium in Sendai's Wakabayashi Ward, where some 200 evacuees are housed, only one oil heater is available and a shortage of heating oil means that it is turned off at night to save fuel.

The central and local governments and the private sector should cooperate so that goods, medical workers and skilled volunteers can reach evacuation facilities safely and quickly. Evacuation centers are likely to operate for a long time to come. Every effort must be made to save evacuees' lives with sufficient care and medical treatment.

Local governments should consider housing severely weakened people, especially the elderly, in welfare facilities. Citizens in areas not affected by the quake and tsunami should not hoard food, gasoline and heating oil.







The people of Indonesia outside Papua are clearly confused and keep asking: Why have indigenous Papuans never recognized and accepted the Act of Free Choice (Pepera) of 1969 but have consistently opposed the history of integration of West Papua into Indonesian territory? Do the people of West Papua of Melanesian ethnicity misunderstand Papua's integration into Indonesia?

These questions are not easy to answer as they involve a long struggle and journey. In the terminology of the Indonesian Institute of Sciences (LIPI), it is the Papua road map. The book published by LIPI, titled Papua Road Map: Negotiating the Past, Improving the Present and Securing the Future, contains findings of the root problems actually faced and questioned by the Papuan people so far.

This book has discovered and formulated four basic issues in Papua: (1) the history and political status of Papua; (2) state violence and human rights violations (3) marginalization of indigenous people; (4) discriminative development. This formulation offers room and opportunity to the Papuans and the central government to sit together for negotiation, mediation, communication and dialogue to propose options for a solution with elegance, dignity and equality.

However, in my view, the four problems found by the team of LIPI actually stem from a single root cause only: the history of Papuan integration into Indonesian territory through Pepera 1969, which was carried out in West Papua on the basis of the Indonesian system of consultation. This Indonesian method differed from the New York Agreement of Aug. 15, 1962 signed by the UN, the US, Holland and Indonesia that Pepera 1969 was to be realized through the international mechanism of one man one vote.

In the process of Papuan integration into Indonesia, the Indonesian military played a major and important role before, during and after Pepera 1969. An official telegram from Col. Soepomo, then the Tjenderawasih XVII Regional Military commander, dated Feb. 20, 1967, based on a radiogram of the Army Commander dated Feb. 7, 1967, said in anticipation of the 1969 referendum in West Irian (Papua): "Intensify all activities in relevant fields intensified by utilizing all material and personnel strengths of the Army as well as the other forces. Strictly follow the guideline provided. The 1969 referendum in West Irian must be won, must be won. Strategic and vital materials must be safeguarded. Minimize the loss of our troops by reducing static posts. This letter is an order to be executed. Make coordination in the best possible way."

Christofelt L. Korua, a retired police officer and eyewitness, said "the Papuans casting their votes in Pepera 1969 were determined by Indonesian officials and while the chosen people were in their rooms they were tightly guarded by Indonesian soldiers and policemen." (Interview by the writer in Jayapura, Dec. 11, 2002). "On July 14, 1969, Pepera started with 175 consultative council members for Merauke. On the occasion, a large troop of Indonesian soldiers attended…" (Official report of the UN: Annex 1, paragraphs 189-200).

Most members of Pepera 1969 were people coming from Menado, Toraja, Batak, Ambon/Maluku, and Buton. It was proven by the 59 pro-Indonesia statements in the present UN document. The US Ambassador to Indonesia in 1969 said "95 percent of indigenous Papuans wanted to have freedom" and Sudjarwo Tjondronegoro, the Indonesian team leader to the Act of Free Choice, acknowledged "many Papuans might not wish to stay with Indonesia".

Dr. Fernando Ortiz Sanz, the UN representative supervising the Pepera, in his official report at the UN General Assembly in1969 said "The majority of Papuan people indicated their desire to break away from Indonesia and support the idea of founding a Free Papua State." (UN Doc. Annex I, A/7723, paragraph, 243, p. 47).

What is clear and certain is that the outcome of Pepera has invited strong criticism and protests that continue today. Some noted historians like J.P. Drooglever and Hans Meijer have also discovered in their research that Pepera was steeped in orchestration so that Papuan people's free choice ended in falsehood while a group of voters under considerable duress apparently voted to absolutely support Indonesia.

US Congressman Eni F.H. Faleomavaega was among the initiators of an international movement demanding a review of Pepera in Papua. Along with fellow Congressman Donald Payne, Faleomavaega sent a letter to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon in February 2008, requesting a repeat referendum in Papua. Pressures and demands for an assessment of the political status of have also come from the parliaments of Britain, the European Union and Ireland.

Considering such root issues in the history of Papuan integration into Indonesia with all the orchestration and falsehood, it is a necessity to seek a settlement with the prospect of fostering peace, dignity and humanity between indigenous Papuans and the Indonesian government.

Therefore, the idea of a Jakarta-Papua dialogue between the Indonesian government and the indigenous people of Papua should be supported by all components of society. The dialogue of peace in this context should mean an unconditional talk mediated by a neutral third party like the Jakarta-Aceh dialogue that ended decades of rebellion in the western-most province in 2005.

The unconditional talk here should imply a dialogue without speaking of a free Papua and a unitary state of the Republic of Indonesia. It means an honest dialogue on an equal footing that should apply a new framework toward straightening out the history of Papuan integration into Indonesia.

Without the new framework, this paradox will never find a comprehensive and dignified way of resolution. For this reason, the talk should deal with the Papuan problems with pure conscience and clear minds in order to arrive at a settlement that creates lasting peace for the future of Indonesia and indigenous Papuans. The dialogue is an initial step to negotiate the past, improve the present and secure the future of Papuan people.

The writer is chairman of
the Papuan Baptist Church Alliance.





The nation is holding its breath. Within the space of a week we were confronted by two shocking events: the involvement of the Siliwangi Military Command in the alleged persecution of Ahmadiyah in West Java and a letter bomb sent to liberal Muslim activist Ulil Abshar Abdalla. Both evince the changing face of the nation's society, politics and religious life.

The Siliwangi Military Command for a long time has taken pride as a guardian of the Indonesian people and the national motto of unity in diversity. The legendary command was on the front lines of the fight to save the new Indonesian nation from attempts to set up an Islamic state led by Kartosuwiryo in West Java and Kahar Muzakkar in South Sulawesi.

The command today seems disoriented and has lost sight of its fundamental values and history. Its presence in an operation to "purify" Ahmadiyah followers in West Java might have been unintentional, but in any event was misplaced, scary and might have led to persecution.

We might ask how this disorientation is connected to terrorists who attempt to assassinate people with different ideologies. Both incidents occured because Indonesia is now experiencing constitutional anomie.

Anomie, as Durkheim said, is a condition where there are no norms and the regulatory framework decays. Everyone "aspires to everything and is satisfied with nothing".

Constitutional anomie, as I define it, is a disruption of the constitutional framework of a nation. In our case, it means that the fundamental principles embodied in the Constitution are no longer effectively realized in the day-to-day organization of politics and public life.

Constitutional anomie has manifested itself in Indonesia in six ways.

First, recent bylaws and statements from the elites contradict the spirit of the Constitution, particularly in terms of tolerance and diversity, and are becoming more open and more confidently expressed.

Second, officials manipulate the process so that it seems that the rules they create accord with the Constitution. Officials at many levels are confusing their religious and constitutional commitments.

Third, as a result of such manipulation, fundamental constitutional principles such as tolerance, religious freedom and diversity have been turned upside down. What is right and wrong has become unclear unconstitutionally.

Fourth, state officials are not on the same wavelength on realizing the Constitution.

For example, the President has made strong remarks on violence while elites talk, smile and offer open arms to extremist groups.

Further, governors have adopted bylaws that violate the spirit of constitutional diversity while top state officials in Jakarta, including the President stand mute.

The President seems to believe that Ahmadiyah, as a colleague said, is "a nuisance to his presidency and wishes they'd just go away."

Fifth, elites have been sending confusing signals on the principles buttressing the Constitution, leading to state hesitation in cracking down on extremists.

Sixth, a warm reception from state officials has made religious vigilantes more confident.

Underlying these six symptoms a tendency of the elite to exploit violence as political commodity to raise their popularity. The Constitution has been subordinated to constituents and bartered for short-term and myopic political interests.

Above all, constitutional anomie has been exacerbated since the principles of the Constitution have no longer been supported by words and action at the Palace and the House.

We are puzzled why the President himself rarely invokes Pancasila and principles of the Constitution as the foundation of Indonesian values. I am not questioning the President's commitment to Pancasila, only his inaction.

Constitutional anomie will be fatal for Indonesian democracy. So far we have seen how the abandonment of constitutional values and confusing signals sent by state officials has made the National Police hesitate to take action against violent groups because they do not have enough political support.

The Siliwangi Military Command is disoriented, which, as Durkheim said, happens is the first step on the road of anomie.

Constitutional anomie is like a river; it can sweep away anything standing in its way. Only those who hold to the Constitution and resist mingling it with their political interests will survive.

The most critical result of constitutional anomie is that the nation no longer shares the same spirit or sentiments. If this is not corrected, and the authority of the Constitution is not restored, the nation can fall into an irreversible and vicious circle of violence.

To stop this, soldiers should hold solidly to their basic values. They should not allow their integrity to be manipulated by the whims of Indonesian elites.

And state officials at many levels should stop running roughshod over the Constitution and commoditizing violence as political strategy.

History tells that the use of violence as political commodity will not only endanger the country, but also those who play with it.

If you play with fire, you get burned.

The writer is a lecturer at the School of Sociology and Anthropology at Semarang State University and active in Jamaah Mujahadah Asmaul Husna.





Tolerance today is an important but an overused buzzword. As nations struggle to come to grips with tensions arising from cultural and religious differences, tolerance is being widely preached, particularly in interfaith dialogues, amid skepticism about its effectiveness.

This is no more so in the United States and Indonesia. The first is afflicted by the rise of "Islamophobia" and the later by the growing intolerance among its Muslim majority.

Preaching mutual respect rather than tolerance has a much better chance of succeeding in promoting religious harmony in societies as diverse as these two countries.

The trouble is that a thin line divides tolerance and intolerance and people just easily switch between the two over the flimsiest of reasons.

An Indonesian scholar friend says the difference between tolerance and intolerance could be a matter of one church.

Most Muslims in Jakarta have no problem having a church in their neighborhood but they will object to a second one, even if it belongs to a different denomination, The predominantly Muslim neighborhood switches from tolerant to intolerant over one church.

In the United States, the difference can be a matter of "one mile or less". Most Americans say they have no problems with Muslims building mosques, but drew the line last year when they heard about the plan to have an Islamic center near the Ground Zero in Manhattan, calling it insensitive to the victims of the 2001 terrorist attacks by Muslim suicide hijackers.

Americans switched from tolerant to intolerant over the choice of a location of a new mosque. Move the center site a mile or less away, Americans will become tolerant again.

The Merriem-Webster online dictionary defines tolerance as "a sympathy or indulgence for beliefs and practices differing or in conflict with one's own". It implies acceptance of the presence of people with different beliefs and cultures, but it does not necessarily advocate respect, which is one (long) step

Another problem with tolerance is that it is judgmental, implying one's superiority. This also explains why people easily switch between tolerance and intolerance. I am better than you, but I accept your presence nevertheless in the name of tolerance, so the sentiment goes. The moment I feel threatened for whatever reason, I will no longer tolerate you.

Interfaith dialogues that are based on tolerance are therefore disingenuous at best because the religious leaders taking part believe in the superiority of their faiths.

The more they preach about tolerance when they address their congregations — whether Muslims, Christians or people of any other religion — the more seeds of intolerance they are planting in their communities as they inevitably must emphasize the supremacy of their religion.

No wonder there is so much skepticism about interfaith dialogues, even among participants, in promoting better relations and understanding. Instead, whether in the US or Indonesia, we are seeing societies tolerating intolerance growing in their midst.

Indonesia, whose government counts on holding interfaith dialogues among its soft power foreign policy, provides the best illustration. While touting intensive dialogues between religious leaders, the nation has failed to stem the rise of radicalism among its Muslim population.

The near silence of the Muslim majority to recent violent attacks on followers of the Ahmadiyah sect and Christian churches has raised serious questions about the value of these dialogues involving leaders of the different faiths.

Preaching mutual respect on the other hand would carry a stronger force as it puts everyone on the same level playing field. There are no majority-minority or strong-weak divisions that tolerance implies when you advocate mutual respect.

But is it reasonable to expect religious leaders to talk about mutual respect? The answer is probably not. The task of a priest or ulema first and foremost is to sell the superiority of their faith.

Preaching mutual respect carries the risk of being seen as preaching equality between all religions. Many leaders who go the interfaith dialogues do not necessarily sing the same tune when they return to their flocks even as they preach tolerance.

Preaching mutual respect is not really all that contradictory to religious teaching, at least if we go by two popular injunctions in Islam and in Christianity.

Surah 109 of the Koran ends with the verse "Lakum dinukum waliyadin" (To you, your religion, and to me, my religion). The second commandment in Christianity says "Love thy neighbor as thyself".

The first one is an instruction to non-Muslims that their faith shall be respected, but Muslims in return expect their faith too shall be respected.

The second tells Christians to love others, even their enemies, which include people of different faiths. The first one talks about mutual respect, the second one goes further by invoking love.

These are two profound instructions, in Christianity and Islam, about how one has to deal with people of different faiths. They are a far cry from the hatred, implicit or explicit, or even violence we are hearing being preached nowadays by some religious leaders. And they go far beyond the tolerance that is now being widely preached.

If we can't expect religious leaders to preach mutual respect, politicians are at greater liberty to take such initiatives. Politicians typically pander to popular sentiments, but one or two have firmly stood up to religious freedom and went beyond tolerance in preaching mutual respects, elevating themselves to true statesmen.

New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg is one rare example. In response to the controversial planned Islamic center in Manhattan last year, Bloomberg, the grandson of a Jewish immigrant, said: "We would betray our values — and play into our enemies' hands — if we were to treat Muslims differently than anyone else. In fact, to cave to popular sentiment would be to hand a victory to the terrorists — and we should not stand for that."

Sadly, we have not heard anyone in positions of power in Indonesia rising to the challenge when religious minorities are being attacked, harassed, and deprived of their rights.

We could do with a few more leaders like Bloomberg to preach mutual respect between people of different religions. The world would be a far better place to live in.

The writer is a fellow at the East West Center in Washington, D.C. and a senior editor of The Jakarta Post.





Once again, we are reminded of the inherent risks of nuclear power, which will always be vulnerable to the potentially deadly combination of human error, design failure and natural disaster.

Chernobyl was the world's worst civilian nuclear accident to date. But what is unfolding in the aftermath of the worst ever earthquake in Japan, at more than two nuclear facilities (at the time of writing), will remain unprecedented in the history of nuclear accidents.

Yet, it is by no means the only one: The history of nuclear energy is a history of accidents, right up to today — from partial meltdowns to radioactive leaks to internal system failures. Records show that these accidents are not confined to a particular time, country or reactor type.

Since Chernobyl, nearly 800 significant leaks accidents have been officially reported to the International Atomic Energy Agency. The agency developed a rating to classify the problems called INES system.

It classifies and distinguishes them on the scale from 0 to 7 on the basis of what impact they have on people and the environment as well as which safety or security systems were breached.

While the Chernobyl catastrophe remains the only accident of the highest 7th level as of today, there have been a number of accidents and incidents officially reported:

4 at level 4 occurred in Japan, India, Belgium and Egypt, 31 at level 3, of which 12 occurred at nuclear reactors, in 19 countries including Sweden, US, Russia, China, Spain, France and UK, 254 at level 2, of that 132 at nuclear reactors in 34 countries

Nuclear reactors may have undergone modernisation since the Chernobyl, but the root causes of the technology's vulnerability to accidents remain the same: Unexpected technological failures, operator error, lack of transparency in the industry as a whole, economic or political pressures, and potential terrorist attacks.

And most importantly the obvious — Earthquakes, Tsunamis and extreme weather events like hurricanes that cannot be predicted but have certainly become more recurrent than ever.


The new generation of nuclear reactors presents safety hazards because of higher levels of radioactivity.


Japan requires that the nuclear power plants are designed and built to be able to cope with certain levels of earthquakes. This means that the buildings, equipment and machinery should not be damaged up to the level of so called "extreme design earthquake".

However, the standards used for designing reactors in the past decades do not necessarily correspond to the potential strength of an earthquake. For example, in July 2007 an earthquake of 6.7 magnitude hit the Kaswhiwazaki-Kariwa power plant, causing movements 2.5 times stronger than the maximum design earthquake of its reactors.

It is believed that this earthquake was caused by the movement of an approximately 30 kilometers long and 25 km deep fault. This fault was not taken into account during surveys carried out for the design of the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa nuclear power plant. From analysis of the distribution of the after shocks from the 16 July 2007 quake, it is now believed that there is an active fault extending directly under the Kashiwazaki-Kariwa NPP.

The Kashiwazaki-Kariwa reactors have been shut down for several years, but four of them have been put back in service since, amid of controversy and protests by local citizens.

Because many of the reactors — including those in Fukushima — were built in 1970s and 1980s, the gap between their design and the scale of possible earthquake could be even bigger than in Kashiwazaki-Kariwa in 2007. Should a really strong earthquake occur, their technology cannot guarantee safety.

Apart from the robustness of the reactors itself, there are other factors that make them extremely vulnerable during natural disasters. One of the weakest points is a loss of electricity supply, leading to sudden failure of cooling and reactor control systems. This seems to have been the case in Fukushima, possibly caused by the flooding of the plant. But there were also other examples of near accidents from this cause (most serious one happening recently at Forsmark in Sweden, 2006).

Apart from design and construction problems, the new generation of nuclear reactors presents safety hazards because of higher levels of radioactivity that could be released in case of a major accident, due to their unprecedented size and the usage of high burn up nuclear fuel, both of which are driven by the desire to improve the reactors' economics.

For a light-water reactor (Fukushima's reactors are of the type Boiling Water Reactors), simulations have shown that the plume of radioactive materials in the air will go up at about 100 meter, depending on atmospheric conditions, but remain lower in the atmosphere than the Chernobyl accident of 1986, where radioactivity continues to cause long-lasting high levels of contamination over a distances of up to several hundreds of kilometers.

This means that the dilution of radioactivity will be generally lower and that contamination on the ground and in the air at ground level will be higher. If the wind direction pushes the radioactive materials towards highly populated areas, the consequences of such disaster could even be worse than the Chernobyl accident.

However, in more favorable circumstances, the wind could blow a large amount of the radioactivity towards the sea. Compared to Chernobyl, where radioactivity was released over a timeframe of at least 10 days, the main release are expected to be over a much shorter period.

If radioactivity is released in a shorter timeframe, the pattern of the release will be less diverse and more concentrated. Thus for both reasons, concentration of contamination is expected to be higher than for Chernobyl, but spread over a smaller area.

Although this is an unfolding situation, with conflicting reports from government agencies and the operating company TEPCO on the unfolding scenarios. One thing is clear, the present catastrophe would have allegedly almost been prevented. According to a database of the Research centre "Nuclear Training Centre" (ICJT) in Slovenia the "expected date of closure"

The Unit 1 of Fukushima-Daiichi pile was March 2011 after about 40 years.

The writer is the campaign director for Greenpeace Southeast Asia









Avishai Margalit the Israeli philosopher wrote a treatise on the Decent Society from which I have quoted often. In it he defines a civilized society as one in which people do not humiliate each other and a decent society as one in which institutions do not humiliate people.  My reason for frequently citing this is that throughout the yet to be resolved conflict in Sri Lanka and in parts of the country that were not direct theatres of armed conflict, issues of human dignity and decency abounded and yet do so be it on the basis of ethnicity, religion, class and dissent from the prevailing orthodoxy.  Now as we are faced with the challenge of moving beyond the post-war to the post-conflict and with it an unprecedented opportunity to forge reconciliation and unity, Margalit's treatise assumes a crucial importance and pertinence.

In response to international and national criticism of the inability and/or unwillingness on the one hand or the tardiness and lack of priority on the other to commence this process of reconciliation and unity, the regime points to the Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) as proof of its commitment to effect reconciliation and unity.   The shortcomings of the LLRC process apart, there are incidents that continue, are allowed to continue or are committed, that fly in the face of the declared commitment to reconcile and unite and which negate the spirit and raison d'etre of the LLRC.  Moreover, attesting to and augmenting the cancer of impunity, nothing is done to prevent, deter and punish these acts of hate, of hurt and of harm.

The controversy over the national anthem is one.  As reported, the rank ignorance and prejudice as well as the servility and silence of those who do know better that was paraded at the cabinet meeting which addressed the issue notwithstanding, the Deputy Director of Education in Jaffna who spoke out on the issue was murdered in cold blood on Boxing Day.  This egregious insult and repudiation of out millennia of civilization and of the great religions that are practised in this country was barely reported in the non-Tamil media.

The headquarters of the Army in Jaffna is to be relocated to the LTTE War Memorial in Kopay. The debate, such as there is on this issue is on the web. It is littered with arguments about whether LTTE cadre were actually buried in the grounds, the LTTE being beyond the pale, the legality of the LTTE"s use of the land in the first place and Allied treatment of Nazi memorials.  What is missing is the simple issue of the families of slain LTTE cadre treating the memorial as a space to remember and to mourn their loved ones, and the surely obvious question as to what this represents in terms of a demonstrable commitment to reconcile and unite?

It also begs the question of as to whether the denizens of the LLRC should take up these issues and remonstrate with the regime that incidents such as these – and there are many others which go unreported because of the fear of the victims and the fear and apathy of the media – undermine their work, impede reconciliation and send out the message that lessons are not being learned. 

There is also a new Human Rights Commission, an institution one would expect to turn to in these circumstances.  It is the first of its kind post 18th Amendment and therefore sadly not one in accordance with the international standard of the Paris Principles pertaining to such commissions or one that could reverse the demotion of our national Human Rights Commission by the international coordinating committee for such bodies.

All these nasty things- hurtful, hateful and harmful – stand. The hurt and harm and hate that spawned them unchecked become integral elements of public standards, ethics, morals, culture and sensibilities or yet more egregious examples of the lack of them.  Anything goes as long as it is does not contest but uphold triumphalism and majoritarianism in praise of the dynasty and its consolidation power.  

Consider for example the Prime Minister's remarks in the parliamentary debate on the extension of the Emergency.  Leave aside the farcical explanations of the source of his information, the message seems to be that the reason for extending the Emergency is that the LTTE though defeated is still around and still around as a security threat. The victory celebrations that we've had have clearly been premature and of the wishful thinking variety.  It seems that the LTTE will be around as long as the Rajapakshas are and with them the Emergency as the standard operating procedure for regime security.

Consider the report about the political appointments to the Foreign Service.  Those being appointed are friends and relations of the regime and with, on all accounts, little or no particular educational attainment or experience befitting a member of a once proud and professional service. It is indeed a national tragedy that the highly educated minister appears to be presiding over the disintegration of our foreign service.  With these appointments along with a pet Poo-Bah to oversee the ministry and the sidelining of the service professionals by the Bells and Bates', Pottingers and Potts at lavish cost and little success, our foreign policy has been reduced to knee-jerk jingoistic reaction, ill-informed, indiscreet statement in the interests of self-preservation and some bordering at times on paranoia. 

Indeed we are at a point at which in any healthy, vibrant functioning democracy both the prime minister and the foreign minister would have had to go, nay, would have gone them-selves without prompting because their position in office was untenable.

Not at this court; not in this country.  Perhaps it is the case that under this dispensation and equality of sorts applies. Margalit's point about humiliation holds for citizens, be they average, ordinary or extraordinary. Be they even ministers.





Nuclear disaster in Japan does not pose a serious threat to Sri Lanka

Q: The announcement of a possible nuclear disaster in Japan by an international news channel raised fears in the minds of the people earlier this week. As the Minister under whose purview the Atomic Energy Authority comes, how concerned are you of such a situation?

We have to understand the workings inside a nuclear plant to help us realize that, the chances of that happening in this scenario are not so strong. The problem with the Japanese plant however is that it was built 40 years ago; so although as a country prone to earthquakes they built it to withstand the vibrations of an earthquake, the highest it could stand for was 8.5 on the Richter scale. Last week's earthquake was 8.9 which could have destabilized the foundation. But even if there was a movement you can see that there is no threat of an explosion at the moment.  Even in that backdrop the possibilities of there being a threat to us in Sri Lanka are very remote because such effects don't really go beyond a 25km radius. Of course contaminated particulate matter can come through air, but it's doubtful if it can be carried over such a long distance. But, we are monitoring the situation.

Q: The CEB was for a decade at least considered an institution running at a serious loss and burden to the Treasury. But last week the announcement was made that the institution  had made a Rs. 5 billion in profits. How did this turn around come about?

Our financial difficulties stemmed from a huge operational loss, a serious total loss and a cash deficit, as well as a serious short term debt and an over draft. None of our indexes were really at a positive level. We've now made operating and total profits and a cash surplus and phased out our short term debts and brought the loss and overdraft to a zero after five years. We disproved the myth that state institutions like the CEB could not be made profitable. The fact is that these have not been allowed to go at a purely commercial basis-if they had that freedom the CEB can maintain that status quo. But there is a huge social responsibility component here, which forces these fluctuations. We can however now ensure financial stability with positive inputs like what we did with profits.

Q: Both the political entities and the institution itself have continued to be held responsible for this situation. What in your opinion contributed really to this situation and how can you maintain the present status quo?

The CEB cannot be blamed for some of the losses- some yes. One of those that they can't be responsible for is the rise in oil prices in the global market that was directly affecting the cost to the CEB – one that it had no control over. Secondly when we carry electricity to the villages we only get material loans to support us- the rest the CEB has to bear. When we did a replacement of the under ground cable system-50 per cent of the costs we had to bear. These internal cash generations have cost the CEB Rs. 12 billion- We sometimes spend Rs. 200,000 but charge only 12,000 to give a connection to a village house. A private sector company would not do this. Street lights are a huge cost to the CEB which stood at Rs. 2679 million last year or the unpaid bills of some government institutions considered essential like the security forces or hospitals was Rs. 12 billion. Then the religious institutions which get it at subsidized rates stood at Rs. 160 million last year. The displaced also get electricity free.

But there are areas CEB can help in like cutting down on material purchases- saving Rs. 1780 million last year below the budgeted amount. The human resource variance was nearly Rs. one billion, while the overhead variance saving was Rs. 600 million leaving the total saving at nearly 6 billion. We also made a Rs. 2 billion saving on the thermal power generations. The hydro power generating 46 per cent also made a huge positive input, although the mini-hydros cost us more than we anticipated.  But we encouraged that because it was a clean green energy.

Our one mission was to prove that we could run the CEB to a profit in spite of the social service component that we were burdened with. Our future target really is cash neutrality not looking at purely making profits but plan that by 2016 to make it a viable operation.

Q: But how feasible is this given the global pressures of escalating oil prices and the middle east crisis that will certainly have a direct effect on prices further?

Yes, we are going to be affected even if temporarily by the de-stability that has taken over the Middle East. But our greater issue in the power sector is that on the power demand and supply- the maximum power that has been used is 13.7 TWh estimated to go up to 30 by 2050. That means globally we have to prepare to meet this demand. But with all our gas, oil, coal and nuclear resources put together the maximum we can make is 6 TWh- a deficit of 10. This will create a huge demand for this resource base. A price escalation in the scenario is inevitable.

Q: What happens to smaller countries with a lesser purchasing power like us then? The government invites greater investment but how competitive do you expect to stay in this scenario?

A country like us will find it very difficult to meet that equation. One lesson we will have to learn is not to depend entirely on one single source- which we used to do. We happily depended on hydro as a power source and what happened  in 1996 when that resource came to a maximum was the power crisis. Then we opted to thermal as an emergency measure making that our main power source. Then when the oil shock came in 2008 the entire power system went in to a complete collapse forcing the CPC and CEB in to a financial crisis. So though we went into coal in a big way the demand increase for coal has also meant that it no longer is the cheap option it used to be.

And our priority now is to diversify the sources so that there is greater emphasis on large and mini hydro plants together with coal, oil etc. Then we would have a larger spectrum in our options. At present we are stuck in our limited options. The next solution of course is conservation. We want to direct our people towards that as much as we can. 70 per cent of cost of energy in an average office is for the AC. In a house nearly 50 per cent is on the refrigerator. Our households need to move towards energy efficient options and even look at energy as a main component in designing new houses. Sustainable urbanism is a must.

Then we need to look at greener energy options. We must encourage sources like mini hydro, modern bio mass, wind, geo thermal and solar. At the moment we project a 20 per cent input from non conventional  renewables by 2020.

Q: The Petroleum Corporation recently questioned the continuing burden on them with the CEB buying oil at subsidized rates, on grounds that it was affecting their own financial status?

There have been agreements between the CPC and CEB on oil purchase. We buy residual and heavy fuel- that is really a by-product of the refinery- then they import a low sulphur fuel and diesel and we also get naphtha We get diesel and low sulphur fuel at the market price. We get naphtha and heavy fuel at Rs. 42- in 2000 we got it for Rs 6 and it was free in 1980. The reason was that the Sapugaskanda 50 MW plant was built to offset the residual heavy fuel of the refinery. Last September we got heavy fuel for Rs. 26 then it was increased to Rs. 40. One thing that the CEB did was that they failed to pay the agreed price to the CPC for 4 years from 2004 which had run to Rs. 51 billion. That pushed the CPC to a financial crisis.

Of course you can't blame the CEB entirely for this because the government also disallowed the CEB to increase electricity prices which is why they couldn't afford to pay the CPC. But last year we made arrangements to pay Rs. 16 billion for the price we had agreed to. But the CPC's real problem is not this but the fact that the refinery is not efficient enough. They get 50 per cent of our demand from out. Its efficiency is so low that for example if you put 50 barrels you would only get 24 barrals of diesel. Same is true for petrol or kerosene. The need for modernizing the plant has been felt from the 1990s.

Q:How much longer do you believe our practice of subsidizing energy is going to prove feasible given all these constraints?

We need to decide where we are going to give subsidies. A country like Korea has subsidized but not education or health etc. My personal opinion is that electricity or oil should no longer be subsidized. If we continue to do this we are going to waste a resource that has a limited life time of a maximum 40 years. Certainly there is a section of the population who must be protected- the poverty stricken. We can't afford to provide petrol at the same price to both a Jaguar and a three-wheeler. But energy should not be subsidized.

Q: But given the political climate of countries like ours how politically feasible is such a measure?

Realistically given the political pressures there will be a problem. When they tried to do it in Iran they went in to a serious political turmoil, yet they managed it. There's no point in lying to the people. Our main problem is that there is a serious drawback in the way democracy operates in our country. It becomes a difficulty to launch long term policies. Even within the CEB while some trade unions would express pride at our ability to become profitable, others are also asking for an increase in salaries.

Q: Political analysts warn that the predicament of political regimes of Africa can prove a problem for countries like ours as well. Can we really draw such comparisons?

We can't draw comparisons of course but there is a situation there. What contributed to Libya is the youth bulge which no country facing that can avoid. There was a youth bulge in the Sinhala population when the 1971 insurgency happened and one in the Tamil population in the 1980's. This is no longer there in these two communities also it is visible in the Muslim community.

A regime that can't contain the youth bulge can't prevent this situation with the technological advances taking place. But don't forget that this sequence began in London with the youth who attacked Charles and Camilla. Then it happened with the attack on Sarkozy in Paris. What they did of course was to ruthlessly suppress both. It was the blacks in Paris that started it and that which influenced Africa. The effects of these advances is a problem at all levels not just in politics. Future revolutions in technology will further put pressure on our societies if we're unable to cope up. The further the gap between the people and the technology and the rulers the severe the effects.

But the political reality is that none of those societies will still enjoy democracy simply because the West will ensure that it will be so. Why did the West tolerate Mubarak? What then is the comparison to us? We have no issue with democracy, technology or a youth bulge.





US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's visit to Egypt had to include a tour of Tahrir Square, symbolic of the power of a people's movement to oust a decades-old regime. Ironically, the same regime was being supported by successive American governments amid feeble calls for democracy and respect for human rights. Visibly flustered at the rapid devolution of events across North Africa, the Obama administration, initially caught off guard steadied itself in time advocating full support of the Egyptians' call for reform and democracy.

Egypt, despite having emerged unscathed — unlike Libya, currently undergoing a violent conflict — still has a long way to go.  The clashes that broke out following former President Hosni Mubarak's exit are indicative of the precarious situation.  Like Israel, that is increasingly nervous about the possibility of a greater role of Islamist parties in Egyptian politics, the United States too has its own concerns. This was probably why Clinton saw it appropriate to visit Cairo and hold talks with the Egyptian power brokers.

The military of course is the principal power wielder at present in the face of an obvious vacuum in political leadership.  Her meeting with the chief of Egypt's Armed Forces Supreme Council, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi is particularly significant.  While efforts are underway by the transitional leadership in Egypt to hold fair and free elections in keeping with the principle of democratic reform, the military's position as an influential institution is also fully understood. At present, the military has been made it clear that it fully supported efforts to bring about the desired political change. The biggest proof is that Mubarak's much hated state security apparatus was recently disbanded — obviously with the encouragement and support of the armed forces.

By offering an economic support package aimed at creating jobs and promoting foreign investment, the US wants to make clear that it stands by the Egyptian people and not any particular regime.  Clinton has promised tens of billions of dollars in credits, private sector loans and facilitating duty free exports of Egyptian products to the US.

While the creation of employment for Egypt's very large youth population is the right sector to target, Washington must understand the dynamics at work.  It should take particular care to refrain from intervention in internal politics. The US must also understand that Islamist parties like the Muslim Brotherhood in all likelihood will be integrated within the political fabric.  What is particularly important is that the US must not give in to the paranoia that Islamic groups fuel extremism and promote an anti-Western agenda. Not only is this a biased perspective but further more it would eclipse any future dealings with such groups that actually enjoy significant popular support.

Khaleej Times





It is not surprising that the United States is turning a blind eye to the butchery in Bahrain, a key US ally. While the Bahraini people cry for help and plead with the international community to save them from a tyrannical king, the United States seems to be more interested in protecting its strategic interests than being of some help to the besieged people of Bahrain.

The West's apathy with regard to the crisis in Bahrain is in sharp contrast to its involvement in the conflict in Libya where it has imposed sanctions and initiated a process to declare a no-fly zone. After all, Bahrain's tyrant is America's tyrant. "Somoza may be a son of a bitch, but he's our son of a bitch." That was how US President Franklin D. Roosevelt is supposed to have justified Washington's support for the ruthless tyranny of Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio ("Tacho") Samoza. Very little has changed in US policy since that 1939 remark.

Like Samoza, Bahraini rulers are a law unto themselves and big-time human rights violators. Yet Washington will not call King Hamad ibn Isa Al Khalifa a tyrant or a madman who is killing his own people. Perhaps, such descriptions are reserved for men like Saddam Hussein, Muammar Gaddafi, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad or Hugo Chavez.

Videos posted on youtube show how pro-government thugs in Bahrain assault even female medics in a hospital for treating wounded protesters.

While pro-government thugs kill, wound and torture the protesters, US military chief Mike Mullen met King Hamad in February and assured him of the United States' support for his regime and reaffirmed the United States' strong commitment to the military relationship with the Bahraini defense forces. Early this week, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates visited the king. A day after his visit, Saudi Arabia sent a thousand-strong force to Bahrain.

The king and his ancestors have been devout servants of the British and the Americans since the 18th century. In return for their servitude, the British in the past and the Americans at present have agreed to protect the kingdom — more precisely the royal family, the usurpers of the public wealth of Bahrain — against threats from Iran or other countries, and cover up its human rights excesses.

Many political philosophers of the 18th and the 19th centuries warned of the tyranny of the majority and called for a bill or rights to protect the minorities. But what we see in Bahrain is the tyranny of minorities.

Tyranny in all its forms should be condemned. But the tyranny of the minority is worse, for the number of people who suffer under such a system is greater than the number who suffer in a tyranny of the majority.

Perhaps, after the dismantling of the apartheid regime in South Africa, Bahrain remained the only country where a minority dictated terms to a majority. More than 70 percent of the Bahrainis are Shiite Muslims, but they have little or no say in the government. The king, a Sunni Muslim, shares little political power with the majority. Whenever the majority makes demand for political rights, he unleashes brutal force on them and justifies it on the grounds that the protesters are Iranian agents.

The Shiites form a mere 10 percent of the world's Muslim population. But they are a majority in Iran, Iraq, Bahrain and Azerbaijan.

The Bahraini rulers and their American protectors concur that if democracy is given to Bahraini people, it will pave the way for a Shiite dominant pro-Iranian government. Such an assumption has forced the Americans to look the other way when the Bahraini regime kills and wounds protesters. The US has another reason to support the regime: Bahrain, a country of 290 sq km — less than half the size of the Colombo District — with a 1.2 million population, half of whom are foreign workers, is home to the US Fifth Fleet, which occupies one fifth of the country's land area.

The conflict in Bahrain is not between the Shiites and the Sunnis. Rather it is a conflict between people's power and tyranny. All that the protesters want is an end to the sham democracy which King Hamad introduced a few years ago. Under this system, a parliament exists and elections are held. But the gerrymandered results keep the Shiites under-represented in parliament. Besides, the upper house which comprises members appointed by the monarch has powers to quash the decisions made by parliament. The king appoints the cabinet but he takes the final decision. Naturally, such a system is in effect a one-man show. It promotes nepotism, corruption and discriminatory practices. Almost all the top positions, including the top military posts, are held by the minority Sunnis.

Who wants such a democracy in a country where 90 percent are literate? But democracy in West Asia is public enemy number one for the United States. The US has virtually lost Egypt to pro-democracy forces. It cannot afford to lose Bahrain, which is the most servile of all the Gulf regimes, by supporting the pro-democracy voices.

Thus, the crackdown of the uprising not only serves the interests of the ruling sheikhs but also of the United States. Compounding the situation, if not making a bloody situation bloodier, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states have sent troops to Bahrain to terrorise the unarmed populace. They are behaving like goons.

No such display of bravery or muscle-flexing can be expected from Saudi Arabia in defence of the Palestinian people who are being oppressed by the Israelis. A force which could not defeat the Houthi rebels in Yemen is now strutting about in Bahrain.

However much both Washington and Riyadh deny it, the Bahrainis believe, the Saudis have come to their country with the US nod. They see it as an invasion and ask the Americans why they do not call it an invasion.

Some of them see the Saudis as Sunni Wahhabi bigots who seek to eliminate Shiite Islam while others say the Saudis are simply serving their masters — the United States and Israel.







It's the end of a rather warm winter in Mumbai.

Those who expected breezy weather with serenading birds to announce the slow transition into summer were in for a rather rude shock last week.

I had just finished writing an exam and stepped out into the sun with a cold drink when voila, all the ice cubes melted in five minutes.

That wasn't the only thing unusual about last Wednesday.

McDonalds' ran out of all their ice-cream and iced tea by mid-afternoon and when I tried to locate a stall that sold cold water at Churchgate railway station, there was none.

When I finally managed to find moderately cold water, there was a long queue of people requesting the much harried stall holder if he could refrigerate their water bottles for two minutes.

At the end of my quest, I was so severely dehydrated that I downed 750ml in 20 minutes.

Walking outside at noon felt like stepping on hot coals so I wasn't surprised when my flip flops melted leaving bruise marks on my feet at the end of the day.

Last Wednesday was the hottest day for March in Mumbai in the last three decades with temperatures soaring to 41.6C.

Strangely, the nights are equally cooler resulting in a confused weather pattern that has left many people ill with cold and worried about the forthcoming summer.

Analysts say that this sudden rise in daytime temperatures is due to concrete, which Mumbai has in plenty, air-conditioning and vehicle population.

Breathing the air of the crowded metropolis for a day is equivalent to smoking 2.5 packets of cigarettes according to estimates, so it's only normal that the pollution will aggravate the already scorching heat.

It is a worrying situation and calls into question the change in weather patterns due to global warming.

The suffering of commuters on Wednesday made me think just how much more severe climate change could develop if we find it difficult to quench our thirst when we need to.

When recent reports on the Japanese tsunami came in, there was an interesting observation made that had the waves struck the Pacific island Tuvalu, it would have little defence being only three metres above sea level against the 10-metre waves.

Though the tsunami had nothing to do with climate change, the power of nature's fury and the chain reaction that followed its impact shows how little man is prepared to deal with ecological disasters.

If perhaps the most prepared country in the world to deal with earthquakes and nuclear crises is struggling so much to contain radiation and protect its people, then less developed countries would probably fail miserably.

There have been those campaigning against climate change saying statistics could always be manipulated to prove that we're headed for doom.

However, just a simple observation of the declining quality of the air we breathe and strange trends in our weather patterns is telling evidence that something is amiss.

Though much irreversible damage has already been done to the ozone layer, it's not too late to reduce using aerosols, less gas guzzling vehicles, plant more trees and use environmentally friendly cooling technologies to salvage our future.

As the end of another academic year approaches, most people will probably leave Mumbai for cooler climes, but those left in the city have to wait and watch to see what this summer will bring.

l Jennifer Gnana is a former Bahrain resident now studying in Mumbai


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