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media watch with peoples input an organization of rastriya abhyudaya
month march 25, edition 000789, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul
Editorial is syndication of all daily- published newspaper Editorial at one place.
- NOT A CAKEWALK
- GO JAPAN, GO
- REEKING OF HYPOCRISY - SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
- WE DON'T NEED ARCHAIC LAWS - ARINDAM CHAUDHURI
- SAVE THE SPARROWS - ANURADHA DUTT
- CHINK IN THE LEFT'S ARMOUR - KALYANI SHANKAR
- INCLUSIVENESS IS BECOMING COMPLEX - VINAYSHIL GAUTAM
THE TIMES OF INDIA
- A BUMPY RIDE
- GIVE AND TAKE
- KEEPING THE INCLUSIVE FAITH - SADIA DEHLVI
- 'INDIA NEEDS AN EDUCATED POPULATION, INCLINED TO INNOVATE' - DEEP K DATTA-RAY
- VENI, SIR VIV, VICI - RAJDEEP SARDESAI
- SOCIALIST CAPITALISTS - K ANJI REDDY
- SAFE AGAINST A CHAIN REACTION?
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
- FREE TOWNS
- PROMISES, PROMISES
- STUDIO ACT
- LET'S CLEAR THE AIR - JAITHIRTH RAO
- MIDDLE WAY OR THIRD WAY? - NIMMI KURIAN
- GIVING AS GOOD AS YOU GET - PUSHPA SUNDAR
- RED FLAG ON WORDS - YUBARAJ GHIMIRE
- WHAT A HUG REVEALS - NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
- WHAT'S YOURS SHOULD REMAIN YOURS - FLAVIAAGNES
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
- MAYAWATI'S MESSAGE
- STOCK TARGETS
- NUMBERS DON'T ADD UP IN INDIA - SHAILESH DOBHAL
- A TALE OF TWO MANIFESTOS - SUDIPTA DATTA
- THE HUNTED TURNS HUNTER
- LIZ TAYLOR: ART AND ALLURE
- ON POLITICAL SPACE AND COALITIONS - K.S. JACOB
- INDIA, U.S. DIFFERED ON TIMING OF BAN ON JUD - NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN
- MEA PRESENTS ITS WAR ON TERROR CREDENTIALS TO U.S. - HASAN SUROOR
- TOGETHER AND APART IN SRI LANKA - K. VENKATARAMANAN
- INDIAN SUPPORT FOR UN RESOLUTION ON ISRAEL ANGERED U.S. - HASAN SUROOR
- 'FEW IN UPA CONCERNED ABOUT THE PLIGHT OF DALITS' - SURESH NAMBATH
- CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS
THE ASIAN AGE
- STORM IN A TEACUP OVER WIKI CABLES
- CURIOUS CASE OF CABLES - SWAPAN DASGUPTA
- THE FRONTRUNNERS OF BENGAL - INDRANIL BANERJIE
- HOARDINGS, BUSES AND AN ELECTION - YOGESH PAWAR
- REGIONAL TRUST DEFICIT
- ANTI-RAGGING BILL
- MODI MAGIC
- BY TAVLEEN SINGH
- ELECTRONIC POLLUTION - BY DR. S. S. VERMA
- THE LOGIC AND ESSENCE OF REGIONAL COUNCIL FOR JAMMU - BY COL J P SINGH, RETD
- BLACKMAIL TACTICS
- TACKLING CHILD ABUSE
- LAWLESSNESS ON ROADS
- LEARNING FROM JAPANESE CRISIS - BY O.P. SABHERWAL
- GETTING RICH QUICK - BY HARISH DHILLON
- TROUBLED WATERS CAST AN OMINOUS NET OF SECURITY ISSUES - DINESH KUMAR
- THE NAVY SAILS INTO SUB-CONVENTIONAL WARFARE - VIJAY MOHAN
- LOOKING TOKYO, GOING JAITAPUR
- SPOTLIGHT ON TAX REFORMS
- TOO EARLY TO POP THE BUBBLY - AKASH PRAKASH
- INDEPENDENT DIRECTORS – UNPLUGGED - BHUPESH BHANDARI
- THE NUCLEAR BARGAIN - DEVANGSHU DATTA
- INDIA'S BROKEN NEWS BUSINESS - VANITA KOHLI-KHANDEKAR
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
- BANK ON IT
- THE MIDDLE-EAST BIAS
- PRIVATISING THE IIMS
- A DIGITAL LIBRARY BETTER THAN GOOGLE'S - ROBERT DARNTON
- AND ALL THE KING'S HORSES… - LUBNA KABLY
- STORM IN A TEACUP OVER WIKI CABLES
- CURIOUS CASE OF CABLES
- AMERICA'S DIVINE INTERVENTION IN LIBYA
- THE FRONTRUNNERS OF BENGAL
- DECEPTION OF DESIRE
- BENGAL GEARS UP FOR ANOTHER ROUND
- DEBAKI NANDAN MANDAL
- MOTOR CITY NOW A MODERN-DAY POMPEII? - RUPERT CORNWELL
- HEART OF THE MATTER
- PELF & PILFERAGE - SHIV KARAN SINGH
- CAN ELECTION REALLY END THE THAI IMPASSE?
- MAKE HASAN ALI APPROVER! - RAJINDER PURI
- PM, SPEAK MORE
- NARROW GATE
- DON'T FRET, READ HISTORY - ASHOK MITRA
- CHANGE IS IN THE AIR - MALVIKA SINGH
- MEEK ACCEPTANCE
- TACKLE PATRIARCHY
- MINDLESS WAR - PREM SHANKAR JHA
- TWO CRISES CAUSED BY HUMANS: JAPAN, LIBYA - JOHAN GALTUNG, IPS
- THE HUES OF HOLI - NAVARATNA LAXMAN
- SILENCE OVER NAKBA LAW ENCOURAGES RACISM
- IN ISRAEL, PARALYSIS IS THE MAIN PROBLEM - BY YOEL MARCUS
- WHO IS THE HYPOCRITE HERE? - BY ADAR PRIMOR
- SUPPORTING SETTLEMENT FREEZE HAS BEEN LABELED 'SUBVERSIVE' - BY AKIVA ELDAR
- WHEN A PRESIDENT SINS - BY ISRAEL HAREL
THE NEW YORK TIMES
- INFLATED WORRIES
- BY LAURENCE H. MEYER
- THE BOSS FALLS. THEN WHAT? - BY GREGORY JOHNSEN
- N.Y.C. VS. N.Y.S., THE PENSION BATTLE
- EGYPT'S UNFINISHED REVOLUTION
- LET THEM EAT CUTBACKS
- THE EGO ADVANTAGE - BY DAVID BROOKS
- THE AUSTERITY DELUSION - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
TIMES FREE PRESS
- STATE BUDGET AND EDUCATION
- GOOD REASONS TO DE-FUND NPR
- WHAT'S A TRILLION?
- ELIZABETH TAYLOR
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - CHP SWINGS AND MISSES
- FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - NO MORE SURPRISES, MR SARKOZY
- HOW TO PLAY INTO GADHAFI'S HANDS - SEMİH İDİZ
- FOR A LIBERAL, DEMOCRATIC AND PARTICIPATORY CONSTITUTION - NURAY MERT
- WHY ARE MUSLIM LANDS IN MISERABLE SHAPE? - BURAK BEKDİL
- MY VOTE COUNTED: A LAST-MINUTE TRIP FOR EGYPT'S REFERENDUM - HODA OSMAN
- TURKEY PROVES TO BE MIDDLE EAST'S 'WESTERN COUNTRY' - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
- THE NEW AND THE OLD - YUSUF KANLI
- HANGU ATTACK
- FAREWELL, LIZ
- REINVENTING THE IDEOLOGY OF PAKISTAN - AYAZ AMIR
- THE CRUSADERS ARE BACK - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
- A WOBBLY EMERGING GIANT - PRAFUL BIDWAI
- INDIA-PAKISTAN TRADE - ISHRAT HUSAIN
- MAGNIFICENT OBSESSION - AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
- SIDE-EFFECT - HARRIS KHALIQUE
- GOLD AND GRAIN
- GILANI'S ABHORRENCE OF WAR
- UN CONCERN ON FOOD PRICES
- BD CROWD AT BACK OF GREEN SHIRTS
- CORRUPTION CREATING CHAOS IN INDIA - M D NALAPAT
- RESOLVE TO SAVE PAKISTAN - SULTAN M HALI
- MESSAGE FROM TSUNAMI - TANVEER JAFRI
- ALLAH LOVES THE DOERS OF GOOD - ATIF NOOR KHAN
- ATROCITIES IN KASHMIR & INDIAN OBDURACY - AYESHA IFRAHIM
- LIGHTS DIM ON A HOLLYWOOD ERA
- NSW MUST EMERGE FROM LABOR'S HEART OF DARKNESS
- MOMENT OF TRUTH LOOMS IN BALI
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
- NSW IS OVERDUE FOR CHANGE AND RENEWAL
- TAYLOR-MADE FOR SUPREME STARDOM
- UGLY ABUSE HAS NO ROLE IN POLITICAL DISCOURSE
- SEX CRIMES: THE COST OF FAILURE
- EU ECONOMY: CUTS, GROWTH, DEBT AND DEMOCRACY
- IN PRAISE OF … AMATEUR SLEUTHS
THE JAPAN TIMES
- PRO BASEBALL'S VIEW ON DISASTER
- STRICKEN MILK AND VEGETABLES
- 'PROTECT' THE SYRIANS NEXT? - BY GWYNNE DYER
- INDIA'S SUPREME COURT ALLOWS EUTHANASIA - BY GAUTAMAN BHASKARAN
THE JAKARTA POST
- THE CONVICTED WHISTLE BLOWER
- TERRORISM EXPANDING, TOUGH INTELLIGENCE BILL NEEDED - DONNY SYOFYAN
- SOCIETAL SECURITY AND THE DANGER OF MILITARY PARTIALITY - CURIE MAHARANI AND CAHYADI SATRIYA
- A CONVERSATION ABOUT FAITH, A DIALOGUE ABOUT LIFE - MUHAMAD ALI, RIVERSIDE
- ALL SET FOR THE FIGHT
- UN UNLEASHES ALL HELL ON LIBYA
- COMPETITIVE SPORTS: PARENTS' EXPECTATIONS VS. CHILD'S CAPABILITIES
- LANKAN- INDIAN FISHERMEN RENEW TIES AT KACHCHATHIVU FEAST
- EARTH DAY: LET US BE GOOD STEWARDS
GULF DAILY NEWS
- MISTAKEN IDENTITY RUINING LIVES.. - BY JENNIFER GNANA
NOT A CAKEWALK
CONGRESS FACES UPHILL TASK
Two months ago, the Congress in Kerala had expected the election to the 13th State Assembly to be a cakewalk but as the date of polling — April 13 — is drawing closer, it is coming to realise that it may not be all that smooth after all. In fact, the Congress in Kerala has now found itself faced with several problems in the State. These include intra-party feuds, dissent among allies in the Opposition UDF coalition, charges of corruption and allegations of sex abuse against leaders. Additionally, the absence of a well-defined electoral agenda and the inability to seek votes on the strength of the party-led UPA Government as it is tainted by numerous scams has only made things difficult. So far, there is also no evidence of an huge anti-incumbency sentiment against the ruling CPI(M)-led LDF. Worse still, after wasting precious time over feuds in the party and the front, the Congress and its allies have only now realised that they do not even have a strong platform over which to fight the election. And now, there is no time left for formulating a credible platform as campaigning is about to end in exactly 19 days. Added to this is the possibility of leg-pulling and cross-voting in the context of State Congress President Ramesh Chennithala presenting himself as an aspirant for the post of Chief Minister — if victory blesses them — which was so far considered to be reserved for Opposition leader Oommen Chandy. Everything was going perfectly well for the UDF after the death of veteran leader K Karunakaran on December 23. But the emergence of renewed charges against former minister PK Kunhalikutty, de-facto supremo of the Muslim League, which is the second largest constituent of the UDF, over his alleged involvement in an sex abuse scandal changed the scene. Former Minister R Balakrishna Pillai, chairman of ally Kerala Congress (N) was imprisoned on corruption charges on February 18 by the Supreme Court whihc only made the situation worse. Close on the heels of this arose the possibility of Mr Chandy being made an accused in the infamous palmolein import corruption case. Amidst all these developments, reports of corruption in the UPA regime were flowing in on a day-to-day basis.
All this gave Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan, self-styled Marxist crusader against graft and sex abuse, the opportunity to claim that the Congress and the UDF were synonymous with social evil and political decadence. Surveys show that takers for the claims of Achuthanandan, lead campaigner of the Left, are increasing by the day. It is not that the CPI(M) in Kerala is without problems. In fact, it is presently facing the worst organisational crisis in its history. On the one side, its leadership has proved its total alienation from the class of ordinary and working people it claims to represent. On the other, it is facing the prospect of its influence being limited to Tripura as its electoral devastation in West Bengal is almost guaranteed. Also, there were several shortcomings in the LDF rule in the past five years. But, the Congress, trapped in its own corruption scandals, is unable to cash in on these weaknesses. The poll process, which had started as a possible prelude to the total collapse of the Left, has thus turned into a struggle for existence for the Congress party.
GO JAPAN, GO
ORDINARY FOLKS SHOW EXTRAORDINARY SPIRIT
Thirteen days after Japan was hit by a devastating earthquake which produced an equally ruinous 30 feet tsunami and pushed the island nation on the edge of a nuclear disaster, it seems like the worst is over, leaving behind a global example of what national preparedness should be like, along with several awe-inspiring accounts of individual courage and human resilience. The country that gave the world the word 'tsunami' is itself no stranger to natural disasters and has indeed, prepared itself well. Take a look at Japan's quake-resistant buildings that may have swayed but did not collapse despite the magnitude of the quake. Constructed in strict accordance to building codes, Japan's skyscrapers are fitted with extra steel bracing, hydraulic shock absorbers and rubber pads that make them some of the strongest buildings in the world. Similarly, tsunami warning signs and giant sea-walls dot the Japanese shoreline, allowing for quick evacuations that minimise the number of lives lost. Earthquake and tsunami drills are commonplace for citizens — thanks to the Government's large-scale public education programme that has ensured that every Japanese knows how to best respond to a crisis such as this. Indeed, it was heartening to learn how teachers and students at a low-lying secondary school, perilously located half a mile from the sea responded to the disaster — after the earthquake, students had gathered in the playground for a headcount when they they saw the tsunami coming and within moments, the staff and students were at the near-by safe site. Not a single life was lost even though the school building was completely destroyed.
An extraordinary example of how important it is to be prepared for such eventualities, this incident also speaks volumes about the Japanese trait of putting community above the individual in a disciplined manner that is now being repeated across Japan's tsunami-ravaged northern coastline. Take for example, Hadenya village — a small fishing hamlet that self-sustained itself for several days despite being entirely cut off from the rest of the country. It was not until Wednesday that the military was first able to reach survivors with aid and supplies. But by then villagers had successfully reorganised themselves to become a fully functional, entirely self-reliant community. Such stories now abound in the quake-ravaged nation where despite large-scale devastation there has been no fall in civil standards. It is hard to find a single photograph of survivors howling or beating their chest. There are no reports of stores and homes being looted, as is common in such situations. The media has not indulged in sensationalisation. No fear-mongering; only an organised calm that has held the world in awe.
REEKING OF HYPOCRISY
SUNANDA K DATTA-RAY
Having backed and armed the murderous Pol Pot regime and other tyrannical dictatorships in the past, the US has no right to 'intervene' in Libya.
Wars of intervention, ostensibly to rescue innocent sufferers from brutal rulers, bristle with so many paradoxes and reek of such hypocrisy that I cannot help but hope that Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, dictator though he is, gives the Western allies a bloody nose.
Libya is very different from Cambodia which seemed like an open and shut case for the intervention that Mr Brajesh Mishra so stoutly defended at the United Nations. Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge killed an estimated two million people. It reduced the country to grinding poverty. Yet — and in sharp contrast to the Western response to Libya — the US and the Association of South-East Asian Nations preferred this murderous regime to the opposition United Front for National Salvation supported by Vietnam. That was because the Soviets backed Vietnam, as did India. Power politics triumphed over humanity.
The US and China were ranged on the other side with ASEAN. It was an open secret that they were routing funds and arms for Pol Pot through Singapore. Sino-American collusion was bizarre enough without the paradox being repeated in personal relations.
While Singapore's Ambassador Tommy Koh led the diplomatic offensive against Vietnam for invading Cambodia and ousting the Khmer Rouge, the defence was led by his "guru", Mr Mishra. Way back in 1968, when Mr Koh was a 30-year-old novice at the UN, Mr Mishra had been one of three seasoned Indian diplomats (the others being G. Parthasarathi and Alfred Gonsalves) who had "mentored" him.
The battle was no less fierce because of enduring ties of affection, and Singaporean diplomats comment to this day on the aggressiveness with which Mr Mishra pushed what they call the Soviet line. According to Mr Koh's junior, Mr Kishore Mahbubani, who later headed the Singapore foreign office and was for many years permanent representative at the UN, no other Indian diplomat "was so very active on the Cambodian issue as Mishra, and after he left, the others just didn't get involved."
Mr Mahbubani claims to have been "stunned" when he visited India in the 1990's to find Mr Mishra so important in the NDA Government. "It was astonishing", he exclaimed when we were discussing my last book, Looking East to Look West: Lee Kuan Yew's Mission India. "Then he seemed very pro-Soviet, the most pro-Soviet among the Indian diplomats. Very outspoken in defence of Soviet policies." There was a further surprise in store for the Singaporean. Mr Mishra "had completely forgotten all about those hectic tussles in New York"!
That's diplomacy for you. Individuals follow governments that fight for the oppressed in one situation and back the oppressor in another. Dividing lines are faint and constantly shifting. James Cameron, the veteran British journalist who covered the Korean War, described movingly in his memoirs how the atrocities committed by the North Korean baddies were indistinguishable from the atrocities committed by South Korea's good guys. Japan and the US, yesterday's enemies, are the best of today's friends.
Changed roles are glaringly obvious in Vietnam where Vietcong tunnels and the museums and war remains evoke no bitter memories. On the contrary, China's growth has prompted Vietnam to make special overtures to the US they battled for so many years. It is no different, perhaps, from Sheikh Mujibur Rahman's welcome in 1974 to Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and his own participation (with his foreign minister, Mr Kamal Hossain) in the Lahore summit of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference.
The Western allies are struggling to find a credible rationale for their strategy in Libya while India ponders on the difficulty of following an independent foreign policy that serves the national interest but not necessarily America's cause. Meanwhile, the question that should be asked is whether gratuitous intervention is ever justified, no matter how detestable the regime. Perhaps it can't be asked too loudly because everyone knows that no matter what the interventionist might plead, he goes in for himself and not for charity. I can still hear Admiral William J Crowe, former chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, chuckling that the US would not have bothered defending Kuwait against Iraq if the emirate exported bananas. I was interviewing him for my book, Waiting for America: India and the US in the New Millennium.
Military men like him can afford to be blunt for they are not accountable to voters or posterity. Thus, Lord West, the former British naval chief, had no compunction about denouncing Col Gaddafi as a "loathsome" individual even before the Allied action began. Mr David Cameron is more circumspect, as the senior President George Bush was in 1990. He cited democracy and freedom to assemble a coalition during Operation Desert Shield which preceded the full-scale hostilities of Operation Desert Storm, because Saddam Hussein had made himself master of seven per cent of the world's fuel by annexing Kuwait.
Democracy and freedom can have played little part in an exercise that was directed by Prince Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's high-profile ambassador to the US whose royal master in Riyadh paid all the costs of that war. The Saudis and Kuwait's al-Sabah dynasty are hereditary friends. Iraq is their traditional enemy. It suited Riyadh to claim that Saddam was targeting Saudi Arabia's petroleum fields which would have brought more than 40 per cent of the world's oil production under Baghdad's control.
How the Western powers interpret UN Security Council's Resolution 1973 which explicitly bars a full-scale occupation force depends on how badly they want to control Libyan oil. It seems increasingly clear to them that despite the damage inflicted on government forces, the rebels are unlikely to achieve a military victory. The British are, therefore, talking of partition which will give them a foothold over part of the country at least.
If that happens, Col Gaddafi will not cease trying to regain lost territory. The Allies will not cease trying to use it as a springboard to acquire the rest. It will mean endless friction. The inescapable conclusion is that nations should be left to themselves to work out their own destiny. Intervention — no matter what the excuse — makes mockery of national sovereignty. Iraq and Afghanistan also demonstrate that a third party can push a country from the frying pan into the fire.
Wars to end wars only prolong warfare because the protagonists are so seldom honest about their aims.
WE DON'T NEED ARCHAIC LAWS
Sentencing of doctor-activist Binayak Sen to life in prison for sedition under Section 124A of the IPC is indicative of our penchant for colonial past. Most countries in Europe and Asia have abolished sedition law as it is inconsistent with the principles of freedom of speech
It is no secret that doctor-activist Binayak Sen has been deliberately made a victim of an archaic law. The way this law has been used to suppress the voice of Binayak Sen and others like him is a matter of utter shame. It shows how even today we cling to our colonial past and their discriminatory laws which were crafted to subjugate the people of India.
Binayak Sen was arrested for the first time on May 14, 2007 on the charges of allegedly helping jailed Maoist Narayan Sanyal under the garb of providing him medical aid — not to forget that the entire series of his meetings with Narayan Sanyal was being supervised by the jail authorities. Despite that, on December 24, 2010, the court sentenced Binayak Sen — a critic of the Chhattisgarh Government's counter-insurgency actions against Maoists — to life in prison for sedition under Section 124A of the Indian Penal Code.
The sentence was passed without finding any substantial evidence against Binayak Sen that could have proved his association with Maoist groups or his assistance to them in any form. In fact, it is the same law that was used against Mahatma Gandhi by the British to curb his non-violent freedom movement.
During his sedition trial in 1922, Mahatma Gandhi had described the sedition law as the "prince among the political sections of the Indian Penal Code designed to suppress the liberty of the citizen" and further stated that it was important to provide a citizen with freedom to display his "fullest expression to his disaffection, so long as he does not contemplate, promote, or incite to violence."
The charges of sedition against Binayak Sen has brought to light this prevailing archaic law whose legitimacy can only be comprehended after revisiting history. In the Indian context, sedition dates back to the Sepoy Mutiny in 1857, wherein the objective was to forcefully suppress the democratic aspirations of a particular section of society.
The skeleton of this section was derived from the common law of seditious libel, meant to control press and publications during that time. This law, regardless of being touted as curbing resistance, is nothing but a rotten remnant of the colonial past with the sole intent of suppressing potential voices against imperialism.
In its current form, the yardstick that gauges the amplitude of disaffection and the resultant violence is very vaguely defined and is highly subjective. Raising its voice against such an inhuman law, especially when people around the world are being made free in terms of expressing their views, the International Human Rights Watch requested the Indian Parliament to immediately repeal the sedition law which local authorities are using to silence peaceful political dissent.
The irony lies in the fact that the Chhattisgarh High Court went against the Supreme Court's ruling that clearly demarcates sedition from other acts by stating that "prosecution under the sedition law requires incitement to violence". At no given point of time did Binayak Sen resort to violence or propagate any such activity.
This dates backs to 1962 when the Supreme Court in the Kedar Nath Singh vs State of Bihar case ruled that the charge of sedition can only be slapped if the accused incited violence through his speech. Or else, it would violate freedom of speech and expression guaranteed by the Constitution under Article 19.
Moreover, the archaic law even jeopardises the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights ratified by India in 1979 which ensures full freedom of expression and prohibits any kind of restrictions. Unfortunately, this law is in the discretion of those powerful people who misuse it to victimise those who raise their voice against our prejudiced and discriminatory system and corrupt practices.
Last year in September, the Ugandan judiciary ruled that the sedition law was inconsistent with the principles of freedom of speech. It declared the criminal sedition offence unconstitutional, ruling in favour of press freedom. Similarly, this law in Malaysia is used to curb criticism of the state by non-Malays to protect political elitism. However, people there is protesting against this law and it is under review.
In Singapore, the maximum jail term for distributing a seditious publication is three years and not a life time. While in developed countries like the UK, the last prosecution for sedition occurred in 1972 and by 1977, the common law offence of sedition was abolished. In the US, the Sedition Act of 1798 that was used by powers that be and the elite class for political and other gains was abolished by Thomas Jefferson after he came to power. Similarly, it was repealed in New Zealand in 2007.
In sharp contrast, we are still following laws that have either been annulled or abolished in most countries. It is a matter of utter disgrace that the world's largest democracy still has laws which were once hurdles in the path of its own freedom struggle and is against the very definition of democratic rights.
Seen in this perspective, the Supreme Court should immediately release Binayak Sen and ensure that no innocent person gets victimised in future. For that, it needs to come down heavily on this draconian law and abolish it outright.
-- The writer is a management guru and Editor, The Sunday Indian.
SAVE THE SPARROWS
The decline in the number of house sparrows is alarming
Last Sunday was observed as 'World Sparrow Day' in an attempt to remind people about the alarming decline in the number of house sparrows, and the need to counter this. There was a time when the common sparrow widely nested inside homes. The bird's propensity for human company had earned it the name 'house sparrow'. In childhood, chicks, found lying on the floor after falling out of their nest, hidden in a crevice or upon a ledge high up on the wall, were placed in a makeshift shelter, a shoebox, lined with cloth, or a cage, and fed tiny wheat dough balls and water with a dropper. Few managed to survive. Those that did live in the cage till life ran out. On one occasion, we made a half-grown bird undergo flying lessons in a closed room over a number of days. Its parents would frequently circle around the cage, chirping and twittering. And then, one day, the cage door was left open and it flew away with its mother. That was indeed a moment of triumph.
Now, house sparrows are a rarity, as are garden squirrels, mongoose, mynahs, parrots, chameleons, ladybugs, fireflies, butterflies, dragonflies and other small creatures that were common sights in Indian cities till about two decades ago. Even snakes were sometimes spotted slithering about in parks and gardens. However, the past two decades' high economic growth, marked by increasing industrialisation, mining and deforestation, as well as construction frenzy, has resulted in a corresponding decline in their numbers. The shrinking green spaces and food base are inadequate to sustain them. The dry utilitarian worldview ushered in by economic liberalisation spares no thought for the bounties of nature, or the fact that ecological balance hinges on the harmonious co-existence of diverse species.
It is a worldview, best expressed by billionaire investor Warren Buffet's businesslike assertion that the recent earthquake in Japan had created an opportunity to buy shares, and that the cataclysm was no reason to be selling Japanese stocks. The havoc and loss of life caused by the quake, resulting tsunami and nuclear disaster were completely eclipsed by monetary calculations. In such a scenario, the condition of the house sparrow is clearly inconsequential though, it must be noted, that till a few years ago, Delhi's Chief Minister showed rare sensitivity to the right of fruit bats to live in the garden of her official bungalow. Some people had apparently advised her against letting them be there. But as our cities and towns deteriorate into soulless concrete jungles, their green cover making way for rapid commercial expansion, the ensuing disconnect with nature is serious cause for concern. The high incidence of disease and acute stress is a direct fallout of this phenomenon.
Under Chairman Mao, China resolved to exterminate sparrows, rats, insects because they ate up food grain. Sparrows, in particular, were targeted. He is reported to have said: "Here is the method — we make our resolution, we coordinate our actions, we divide our tasks, we cut off the food supply, we set up a trap and we continue our battle of destruction."
Given here is a report from a Shanghai newspaper, dated December 13, 1958, and reproduced on a website, about the launch of the ferocious operation. The report under the headline, the whole city is attacking the sparrows, states:
"On the early morning of December 13, the citywide battle to destroy the sparrows began. In large and small streets, red flags were waving. On the buildings and in the courtyards, open spaces, roads and rural farm fields, there were numerous scarecrows, sentries, elementary and middle school students, Government office employees, factory workers, farmers and People's Liberation Army shouting their war cries... In the city and the outskirts, almost half of the labor force was mobilised into the anti-sparrow army. Usually, the young people were responsible for trapping, poisoning and attacking the sparrows while the old people and the children kept sentry watch. The factories in the city committed themselves into the war effort even as they guaranteed that they would maintain production levels... 150 free-fire zones were set up for shooting the sparrows. The Nanyang Girls Middle School rifle team received training in the techniques of shooting birds. Thus the citizens fought a total war against the sparrows. By 8 pm tonight, it is estimated that a total of 1,94,432 sparrows have been killed."
The Chinese state-run media egged on people to annihilate sparrows. Millions were killed. China later paid a serious price for the crime, with no birds left to prey on locusts and grasshoppers, which wiped out crops. A famine followed. The war against the hapless birds was subsequently called off. But, today, sparrow numbers are reported to be dwindling around the world, with its status that of an endangered species in the Netherlands. The main causes for this decline are the shrinking nesting sites; exposure to radiation from mobile towers; and diminishing food base, with insects being wiped out by pesticides. Ingesting toxic agrochemicals via grains is another likely cause.
We need to remember that the earth is not for man alone. And sparrows' nesting sites in towns and cities underlines this truth.
CHINK IN THE LEFT'S ARMOUR
The conflict between Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and State secretary P Vijayan has dented the image of the CPI(M) in Kerala. The ongoing squabbles may benefit the UDF as the party organisation is in disarray
The Assembly election in Kerala will be a keenly contested electoral battle with both the LDF and the UDF almost evenly poised. However, to the LDF's disadvantage for the first time the fight between Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and State secretary of the CPI(M) Pinarayi Vijayan is out in the open. Though there were rumblings in the party even during the 2006 election, this time the squabbling reached such heights that the State leadership decided to deny Mr Achuthanandan a ticket in the coming election. The State unit was forced to retract its decision only after the CPI(M) Polit Bureau intervened taking note of the dissatisfaction among party cadres.
Realising that in the absence of Mr Achuthanandan — a leader known for his honesty and integrity — a possible electoral defeat is staring the CPI(M) in the face, the party was forced to field him. In fact, this was a replay of the 2006 Assembly poll. Then also the party first denied Mr Achuthanandan a ticket but was forced to backtrack on its decision after there was revolt in the rank and file. The last five years saw intense conflict between the two leaders, only to dent the image of the party. With the battle lines drawn clearly, the party organisation is suffering.
It is interesting to note that there are no big issues in the election in Kerala this year. If at all, the mood in the State seems to be anti-Left rather than pro-UDF.
Corruption in the CPI(M)-led Government is definitely an issue but Mr Achuthanandan's clean image and his crusade against corruption will give the LDF some advantage.
If one takes into consideration the general election of 2009 and the local body elections held last year, the Congress-led UDF seems to be in an advantageous position. Kerala was one of the key States which brought the UPA to power. Reducing the LDF to a four-seat front in the Lok Sabha, the UDF went from an eight-point deficit to a three-point lead. During the local body election in 2010, the LDF lost more than half of the local bodies.
One of the reasons that had helped in the turn around is said to be the squabbles within the LDF. The other reason is the Left's alliance with the People's Democratic Party, thinking it will bring in Muslim votes. The acrimony between Mr Achuthanandan and Mr Vijayan, who is accused of being involved in the Lavalin case, also tilted the balance in the UDF's favour. Over and above, factors like anti-incumbency mood at the panchayat level and discontent over reforms in the building rules had hit the LDF badly.
An analysis of the 2009 general election shows that the UDF got the support of lower middle-class families, middle income and high income groups while the LDF got support from low income and middle income groups. Caste wise, ezhavas and SCs supported the LDF while Christians and Muslims supported the Congress-led UDF. The two fronts are expecting similar support in the Assembly polls.
The restructuring of the Assembly constituencies will also be an important factor impacting the poll prospects of the LDF and the UDF.
While the Congress is confident of bagging the State, there are some factors which may reduce the margin of victory. For instance, the series of scams that has affected the credibility of the UPA regime at the Centre, spiralling food price, high inflation and factionalism are likely to affect the UDF's share of votes. According to some Congress leaders, the UDF could have walked away with a hundred odd seats in the absence of these issues.
While the Congress is not planning to project a chief ministerial candidate before the election, former Chief Minister Oommen Chandy and Kerala Pradesh Congress Committee president Ramesh Chennithala are the forerunners in the race. However, Mr Chennithala has the backing of the central leadership.
Congress insiders believe that the distribution of tickets will also be a big factor in influencing the margin of victory as disgruntled party workers may sabotage the prospects of official candidates.
Significantly, the initial reaction from the rank and file after the ticket distribution is not very encouraging. Both Mr Ramesh Chennithala and Mr Oommen Chandy are fighting to bag a larger share of seats for their supporters as the number of MLAs supporting them will be a deciding factor in the selection of the Chief Minister after the polls.
This has already resulted in some discontentment among Congress workers. However, the Congress leadership has managed to avert a crisis within the party by giving tickets to 23 sitting MLAs. Even Mr K Muraleedharan, son of K Karunakaran, who has come back to the party after a six-year expulsion has been given a ticket to contest the poll.
In the upcoming elections, the Left seems to be standing on a sticky pitch in both its citadels — Kerala and West Bengal. If the anti-incumbency factor is favouring the Congress-led UDF in Kerala, the Trinamool Congress-led alliance clearly has an advantage in West Bengal as the people are in the mood for a change. If the Left loses election in both States, only Tripura will be left in its kitty.
INCLUSIVENESS IS BECOMING COMPLEX
Some believe panchayti raj institutions will play an important role in digital inclusion. Others talk of e-governance and still others of financial inclusion as envisaged by the RBI. Inclusiveness is getting trapped in babble of ideas
We are living in times where the 'old' has tended to gradually wither away and gravitate to the economically and socially deprived segments while the 'new' has taken a grip of the successful and the economically prosperous classes. In an environment like this, talk of 'inclusiveness' can be complex.
There are other issues. The truth has a solid and constant core. However, how it is perceived, interpreted and applied makes all the difference. As a nation we are only on the verge of beginning to understand our own varying perceptions about India. Communicating it to those who have different perceptions and developing bridges with them will be another matter altogether.
One has to create a climate of openness and receive communication without the powerful getting mired into the easy temptation of disbursing petty patronisation and well-packaged booty for the social segment with which they identify.
We live in an era where many write their own prescriptions for India's development. The prescriptions, predictably, do not always concur.
Some believe that the CSCs and panchayti raj institutions will play their role in digital inclusion. Others talk of e-governance and still others of 'business correspondents' and 'business facilitators' as envisaged by the Reserve Bank of India. In the babble of ideas, at times it is difficult to make out the direction of discussion.
The truth as always is simple. Nothing will grow unless it takes root in the soil, psyche and ethos of the people. In the rush for propelling the cause of e-governance, we even seem to forget that Citizen's Information Centres were indeed the precursors to e-governance. It is the evolutionary character of an institution's organic growth that enables the steady development of the society.
Each one's truth is different. Each one's reality is different. The life of an Indian living in the hills can be tough even for getting a mandatory birth certificate. It means for him, travel. It means for him abandonment of his sparse livelihood for the period that he will be away. He has to travel miles to access a Government certificate called 'birth certificate' without which he may not even be considered as 'born'.
He cannot do this for every other certification which the system may require of him. Not only it is difficult, but he will even have to make multiple visits to the Government office and even have to wait for hours. How is he expected to maintain himself while waiting for the petty official, who has to give the certificate?
If there are any seminars or conferences devoted to the concerns of creating the kind of governance infrastructure which will make this happen, I am yet to hear of it.
There have been significant attempts to take, say, banking to the doorstep. The track record of Pondicherry in this regard is worth appreciating. However, the assumption that a retired school teacher is best suited for this barefoot mission clearly shows that 'travel to the doorstep' is given the lowest priority in our Government system. The senior wielders of power neither go to the villages nor settle in an environment of paucity of utilities. Clearly the 'business correspondent' model envisioned by the RBI to create financial inclusion did not work out. Perhaps it did not have the content to work.
It would have been simpler if a scheme had been introduced to ensure that this will be a part of the civil servants' orientation and training process — just as they are supposed to do their 'village reports'. They could be given projects which would familiarise them with concerns of actual delivery of services. However, this suggestion is in no danger of being accepted. Similarly the proposition that opening of bank account is synonymous with financial inclusion is as erroneous as it is comforting.
If one looks at the concerns of e-governance, financial inclusion, digital inclusion and more from the vantage point of 'the field', it is a great learning experience. First and foremost, one has to realise that inclusiveness is not just a political intervention; it requires redefining of social equations. These equations are rooted in the range of economic variance not just among the castes but also within the castes and one might add the sub-castes.
This is not being talked about. Such talks could mitigate the power of caste solidarity and those vying for political power cannot appear to be leading crowds which are not monolithic in character.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
A BUMPY RIDE
While the international community's eyes are riveted on Libya - where circumstances grow more intractable despite hopes that a UN-sanctioned no-fly zone would prompt a ceasefire - turmoil is sweeping across other Arab nations as well. Given the crucial role the region plays in India's foreign policy matrix, New Delhi cannot afford to be caught by surprise. It needs to keep track of rapid changes and devise policy accordingly.
In Egypt, which saw its Tahrir Square protests culminate in the successful removal of ex-president Hosni Mubarak, preparations are underway for the nation's first free elections in decades. While the short time to the polls might favour the only two properly organised political groups, the Muslim Brotherhood and Mubarak's National Democratic Party, Egypt appears to have started developing its democracy. In other parts, the struggle continues and involves considerable violence.
In Syria, where public demonstrations have been banned for 50 years, dissenters have taken to the streets. Government troops have responded aggressively, shooting protesters inside Daraa city's Omari mosque. In oil-rich Bahrain protesters occupied the capital Manama's Pearl Square, blocking access to the banking hub's financial district. Bahrain's king responded by calling in 2,000 Saudi Arabian troops, arresting opposition leaders, and sending forces to clear Pearl Square. In Yemen, although surrounded by vociferous protests from the streets and the uniting of tribal dissenters, President Ali Abdullah Saleh indicated he'd continue his 32-year rule. He might find himself a few hands short though, with top military commanders defecting to the rebel cause.
The role of the military in these movements is pivotal, deciding whether civilians will meet violence, shaping the international community's response and affecting the future. In Egypt, the army refused to target protesters, leaving Mubarak with few options but to step down. Yemen too may face an Egypt-like situation, with army commanders defecting. Elsewhere units of the army may fight each other, as in Libya. Even in places where the old order is winning, it is unlikely to emerge unscathed as explicit force will have to be used to keep down restive populations. To secure its interests it's important for New Delhi to stay responsive, offer help where needed and asked for, and engage with civil societies in the region to the extent possible. Change sweeping the Arab world offers both challenges and opportunities. But given the speed at which the jasmine contagion originating from Tunisia has spread throughout the Mideast, it's best to be fleet-footed and ride the wave of change rather than attempt to resist it.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
GIVE AND TAKE
Warren Buffett, 80-year-old sage from Omaha and the world's third richest man, is in India to promote philanthropy. Some of his remarks along the way also promote capitalism and a free market economy. He said in Bangalore that capitalism is unleashing human potential in ways that were unthinkable before. While 'philanthropy' is generally a positive word in an Indian context, 'capitalism' has negative connotations. No politician is willing to declare that he favours capitalism to unleash India's human potential (even if he thinks so privately). It may be obvious that one can't give away millions unless one is allowed to make millions, but not so to capitalism's detractors. The tenor of Buffett's remarks, however, prompts reflection on the intersection of philanthropy and capitalism in ways that go beyond this.
Buffett justifies his philanthropy by saying that life is about planting trees for others to sit under. He wasn't born with a silver spoon in his mouth, but he went to excellent educational institutions that were endowed by philanthropy. He also feels privileged that he was born a white male, at a time when opportunities were limited for blacks or women. In other words the system empowered him and he utilised the opportunities available. Having sat under a tree that nurtured him, he now wants to plant trees for others by giving away 99% of his wealth. While a market system works best to create and sustain prosperity, philanthropy as well as state support must lend a helping hand when individuals cannot access the market. So, let capitalism flourish and let philanthropy flourish. Only, make sure that philanthropy remains a matter of individual choice - because to make it mandatory would be tantamount to socialism.
THE TIMES OF INDIA
KEEPING THE INCLUSIVE FAITH
Imam Al Sudais's India visit to lecture at the Deoband seminary is sending some sections of the Muslim community into overdrive. I received a card from the India Islamic Cultural Centre (IICC) in Delhi to attend an address by 'His Holiness', Imam-e-Haram, Dr Sheikh Abdul Rahman Al Sudais, presently imam of the mosque in Mecca. The accompanying letter details the imam's achievements including his educational degrees in sharia law. In 2005, he received 'The Islamic Personality of the Year' award and stood nominated for the Dubai International Quran Award, which he accepted.
The 'His Holiness' came as a jolt, for no such prefixes have ever been added to Prophet Muhammad's name or that of his companions, who rank the highest in Muslim piety. As one devoted to Islam, i believe using the Quran to name an award belittles the sanctity of God's word and borders on blasphemy. Legitimising such an award by its acceptance seems a worse action. The early history of Islam contains no examples of spiritual or religious leaders accepting state or private awards. On the contrary, sharia and prophetic traditions frown upon those who seek or allow public adulation, for all righteous deeds are for God alone.
The Deoband leadership has requested that Al Sudais not be frisked during his visit to Parliament. Due respect must be accorded to the visiting imam, because he leads the prayers at the Kaabah. This reverence flows from 'where' the prayers are led and not because of 'who' the imam is. To quote Arshad Madani of the Jamiat-e-Ulama-e-Hind, "Sheikh Al Sudais is the highest religious leader of the Muslims". This is misleading because Al Sudais merely represents the highest-ranking sacred space. The worldwide Muslim majority does not subscribe to the radical Wahhabi ideology propagated by Saudi clerics.
This political, narrow, legalistic and literalist interpretation of Islam emerged from the desert wastelands of Najd in Saudi Arabia from among the followers of the Bedouin Abdul Wahhab, an 18th century self-claimed reformist. The trajectory of the Wahhabi movement is rooted in violence, legitimising jihad as an armed conflict to kill fellow Muslims in disagreement with their vision of Islam by declaring them kafirs, infidels. Related to the ruling family through matrimonial alliances, Abdul Wahhab's family continues to control the ministry of religion, quashing many reforms desired by the political leadership, particularly by the present moderate King Abdullah.
The Wahhabis, who call themselves 'Salafis', have a limited following in the subcontinent. It includes the Deoband seminary, Tablighi Jamaat, Ahle Hadith and the Jamaat-e-Islami in Pakistan. Together, they constitute not more than 15 to 20% of the total population. Unfortunately, the government and the public fall prey to media-driven stereotypes. The perceptions of these factions representing majority Muslim opinion are baseless. Muslims are not monolithic communities but adhere to varied interpretations of Islam. In India and Pakistan, the Ahle Sunnat wal Jamaat represented by the Barelvi creed has the largest following.
Saudi clerics, including Al Sudais, face international criticism for inciting passions against the Barelvis, Shias, other Muslim minorities and non-Muslims. The Saudi state outsources its Wahhabi ideology by spending billions of dollars in patronising the building and running of mosques, madrassas, journals and cleric training programmes. It remains the fountainhead of the extremism infiltrating Muslim communities, tearing their local cultures apart. The bombing of dargahs and Shia mosques in Pakistan is one such manifestation.
The Saudi state has robbed all Muslims in the world of their legitimate cultural, historical and spiritual legacy, both in the physical and spiritual realm. In 1925, despite global outrage, all mausoleums including those of the Prophet's family at Jannat-ul Maali and Jannat-ul Baqi, the sacred graveyards of Mecca and Medina, were demolished. Once reflecting Islamic glory and heritage, the bulldozed compounds are now typical Wahhabi burial grounds with rows of featureless unmarked graves. Several other historical sites continue to be obliterated.
Throughout history, Sufis and their disciples from different parts of the globe inhabited Mecca and Medina, the first centres of spiritual Islam. Now, the constant patrolling by the mutawwah, the religious police, ensures that pilgrims do not participate in collective spiritual gatherings. Forced to follow Wahhabi practices, devotees in Medina are not allowed to face the Prophet's chamber in supplication. Women face severe restrictions of time and space at the sacred mosques. It is decreed sinful and therefore criminal to write, read, sing or listen to 'naat', poetic praise, of the Prophet. Enforcements have washed away these traditions commonplace during Prophet Muhammad's life. Thirty-five among the Prophet's poet companions composed 'naat', Hassan ibn Thabit being his favourite.
The aims and objective of the IICC is to preserve and promote the composite and inclusive cultural traditions of Indian Muslims. Since its inception, the Centre has been trying to decode which cultural activities are sharia compliant and those that are not. Therefore, it is ironic and worrying that the IICC is one of the venues for the imam's address. I hope Al Sudais's discourse triggers a genuine and long overdue intra-faith dialogue amongst Indian Muslims as to what the rightful traditions of Islam are.
( The writer is a commentator and an author.)
THE TIMES OF INDIA
'INDIA NEEDS AN EDUCATED POPULATION, INCLINED TO INNOVATE'
DEEP K DATTA-RAY
Poul V Jensen came here six years ago as a management consultant and switched jobs to stay on. Now, director of the European Business and Technology Centre (EBTC), he spoke about EU initiatives to further develop environmentally responsible business with Deep K Datta-Ray .
What do EBTC operations say about the EU's attitude towards India?
Our operations suggest the contours and scope of EU interest. Though a pilot initiative, our funding is till 2017 because the EU wants to establish something substantial. Our remit is business and research related to climate change, an issue recognised by the EU as a global and paramount challenge. India isn't a big emitter per capita, but is on the way to becoming one, and we have the technology to help minimise pollutants as you modernise. We focus on sunrise industries: biotechnology, environment, energy and transport. They're commercially interesting and dependent on accessing the most efficient technologies and processes. So these are the perfect fit for us: commercial viability founded on environmentalism. We enable such joint ventures, ensuring Indian requirements are serviced precisely. The net benefit is everyone's. Indians get development and the world is preserved - or we hope it is!
In other words, you further globalisation, but isn't that best left to those most versed at it - MNCs?
The MNC globalisation model is about selling products here manufactured elsewhere. That's the traditional European view of India. We're trying to change it by helping small and medium-sized enterprises (SME) establish themselves here permanently. Not just sell, but do their R&D here, develop products here. Another difference is that our products are profitable but tailored to safeguarding the environment. Furthermore, we help SMEs because, often, bespoke research companies can meet Indian requirements most effectively. We help them by engaging the Indian government and conveying requirements and finding the best fit. So, we do globalisation but not the humongous corporate mega-deal type. We're focussed on highly specific projects tailored to localised Indian requirements. One size doesn't fit all, especially not for a country as big as India.
Telecommunications exemplifies India's ability to cut and paste foreign technology, but can India become an R&D hub?
The telecommunications transformation illustrates India's requirements and ability to absorb technology. To keep such revolutions happening, as India moves up the value chain - what we're encouraging by focussing on R&D - what is needed is not only an educated population, but one inclined to innovate. That's going beyond knowledge to having the confidence to think about how knowledge can be used to solve real problems or create opportunities. In terms of business this could be encouraged by a more participative management style. It requires independent thinking. That needs fostering. Our contribution is to help India gain exposure to the specificities of how Europe created and sustains an innovation eco-culture. There are annual meetings and if realised in a specific sector, that's good because even in a closed loop, a sector becomes innovative and may infect others.
What are the main investment concerns in your sectors?
As the router of opportunities in very high-value sectors, we deal with businesses whose only assets are knowledge, technology and highly trained people. They're concerned about Intellectual Property Rights because of bad experiences in China. We tell them that India is different, has a well-established judiciary but a case in court could take 15 years. In the meantime the person you're fighting is producing your product and selling it in your country! Thankfully, these are exceptional cases.
VENI, SIR VIV, VICI
One of the great joys of journalism is that it introduces you to many wonderful people, including childhood heroes. As a teenager growing up in cricket-crazy Mumbai in the 70s, one of the first cricket games I distinctly remember watching was the first Test at the Wankhede stadium with the 1974-75 West Indians. They had brought with them many young talents. Among them was a shy man with a ready smile who would eventually become a true knight of the sport: Sir Issac Vivian Alexander Richards.
Having Sir Vivian as a World Cup guest in the studio has been a special moment. He maybe a slightly greying 59, but when he walks in, images of the past come flooding back: of a muscular Richards hooking the fastest bowlers in the world without a helmet, of a gum-chewing genius, of a man who frightened bowlers into submission. In 2000, Wisden rated him as the greatest one-day and third-best Test batsman of all time.
There are many Richards stories one has delighted to. My favourite one is from his authorised biography. Apparently, as a young man from Antigua — a tiny island in the West Indies, smaller than Noida — Richards was having a difficult time adjusting to life in England where he was playing county cricket. The English routine was lights out at 10 pm, with no late night out. The 'early to bed' routine wasn't working, and Richards was struggling with his form. Which is when he decided to break the curfew and party till midnight. The next day, he scored a brilliant hundred. Asked for the secret of his success, he smiled, "You can take me out of the West Indies, you can't take out the West Indian in me!"
For an entire generation, Richards came to exemplify West Indian dominance in the game. Blessed with a unique constellation of fast bowlers and powerful batsmen, led by the calming influence of Clive Lloyd, the West Indies were unbeaten in all forms of the game for almost two decades. There was, of course, that one little slip-up in 1983 when India scored the biggest upset in World Cup history. Richards hasn't forgotten it. Or rather, he's never been allowed to forget it. It was, after all, his ill-advised pull shot that saw Kapil Dev run into the history books with a catch that has been replayed more often than any other moment in the game. Ask him about it today and Richards shrugs it off, "Bad day in the office!" adding with a quiet chuckle, "Remember, favourites in any sport do not have a divine right to win!"
But through the 70s and 80s, the West Indies did win almost every game they played. They were, arguably, the greatest team of all time. Cricket historians have suggested that Bradman's team of 1948 and the Australians under Steve Waugh were a match for the men from the Caribbean. But the statistics reveal otherwise. Windies between 1976 and 1992 won World Cups and did not lose a Test series. Waugh's Australians lost in India, while Bradman's team achieved its primary success in England. But even they couldn't match the remarkable feat of the West Indians in 'whitewashing' the English in consecutive series.
Which is why one of the sadder aspects of this World Cup has been to witness the near-total decline of West Indian cricket. Being crushed by Pakistan in the quarter finals was only the latest act of humiliation. The fact is they haven't beaten a top flight Test-playing nation in a one-day game in almost two years. The only time one has seen a flash of anger on Sir Viv's face was when I dared to suggest that the West Indians might have to 'qualify' for the World Cup next time. "We still have talent. It's the mind that can be a problem sometimes!" he said.
Maybe the West Indians aren't hungry enough to win any more. In his seminal book, Beyond the Boundary, Afro-Trinidadian historian CLR James wrote about how the idea of cricketing success was intrinsically linked to West Indian nationalism in the 1960s, an opportunity for a tiny group of island-nations to compete with the best in the world on even terms. Cricket was a passport to success and social mobility, for an entire people to claim their rightful place in society at a time when colour and race had divided communities.
No one was more conscious of this than Richards. Which is why he must be seen alongside Muhammad Ali as the two most influential sportsmen of their generation. Ali symbolised 'Black power', exemplified by his act of throwing his Olympic gold into the Ohio river after being refused service at a whites-only restaurant. Richards, too, had his 'Ohio' moment. In 1980, he was offered a huge fee to play in South Africa, enough for him to retire into the sunset. Instead, he publicly denounced apartheid and made it clear that going to South Africa would have meant never being able to face his friends back home in Antigua.
Today, the fire still burns in Richards, even if age has mellowed the man. He would love to see West Indies cricket succeed again as he knows, like any true sports-lover, that cricket without the Caribbean flair will not be quite the same game again. Yes folks, before there was Sachin, there was Sir Viv.
(Rajdeep Sardesai is Editor-in-Chief, IBN 18 Network)
*The views expressed by the author are personal.
We all feel a warm glow when we hear that billionaires are giving away substantial chunks of their fortune for philanthropic causes. A few years ago when Warren Buffett decided to donate his colossal wealth to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, many people asked me for my opinion as a businessman
. Then as now, I have maintained that it's far easier to create wealth than to spend it wisely. Buffet was canny enough to recognise this. So instead of grappling with what to do with his money and how, he outsourced the complicated task of ensuring that his millions made a positive impact to his friend, Bill Gates, and created an institutional framework for the art of giving.
Given the diversity, magnitude and pace of growth of our population, the human capital and institutional frameworks available with the State machinery is not ready to take on the challenge of efficient and equitable delivery of social services. We have seen this first-hand over the last six decades. But all is not doom and gloom. Successive governments have got smart. They have outsourced parts of their infrastructure (power, airports, highways etc) to the private sector and have reaped the economies of scale, time and efficiency.
Of late, some of the more progressive state governments have displayed political leadership in creating innovative frameworks to outsource basic services for the poor. The provision of midday meals, drinking water for rural communities and skill development for youth are three examples that come to mind. Innovative thinking is now needed to help governments find solutions for guaranteeing outcomes in the areas of elementary education, nutrition for under-5 children and primary healthcare. Philanthropists and business leaders should pool their intellectual resources to address this issue. How can we help governments by creating more efficient delivery mechanisms for the provision of these basic services for the poor? Can we build partnerships wherein business-to-government models are created for the poorest of the poor to avail these services free of cost? And for the population above this lowest level, can we create a framework where the service provider charges a user fee? In these cases, the State could play the role of an auditor and regulator safeguarding the interest of the poor or, at most, offer capital infusion or subsidy to the service provider.
Pharmaceutical companies have produced quality medicines at affordable rates for the poor as long back as the early 80s. This was later followed up by the fast moving consumer goods industry providing soaps and shampoo in small units at low prices. Fostering innovation in packaging, pricing and service delivery design will require not just a conducive environment but also a patient capital that is failure-averse and can be deployed to encourage the growing breed of social entrepreneurs.
One other major opportunity for philanthropists will be to invest in strengthening the not-for-profit sector. Post-liberalisation India has given birth to some amazing new generation organisations that need a corpus predominantly to attract, train and retrain talent. Bringing business efficiency, thought leadership, management expertise, supply chain management and an obsession for outcomes (read: return on investment) are what business leaders should infuse along with the philanthro-capital that they must bequeath to these new generation institutions that can serve as implementing arms of the State.
The infusion of philanthro-capital for the creation of human capital and sustainable institutional frameworks could be the best way to plug leaks in our social development system. The money that philanthropists are willing to give for the disadvantaged is welcome. But it must be channeled through the right institutional framework. We are fortunate we live in times in which capitalists are keen that their bottomlines are the lifelines for millions. They are the new breed of socialists for all the right reasons.
(K Anji Reddy is founder chairman of Dr Reddy's Laboratories Limited and the Naandi Foundation)
*The views expressed by the author are personal.
SAFE AGAINST A CHAIN REACTION?
The aftershocks of the March 11 earthquake in Japan are being felt in the world economy primarily through higher energy prices. Crisil Research estimates that with Japan shutting down 12.4 gigawatt of nuclear power capacity and Germany another 7.4 gigawatt, the price of liquefied natural gas could cl imb by as much as 50% over the next three months as the world's third and fourth largest economies switch to alternative sources of primary energy. Coal prices are likely to fall till the Japanese steel mills — the country accounts for a quarter of the world's coking coal trade — start rolling again while crude oil prices are held hostage by the crisis in West Asia, a Japanese switchover to oil will not have a significant impact. Refinery shutdowns in Japan, accounting for 9% of Asian capacity, have pushed up margins in Asia. But oil refiners elsewhere in the continent will have to grapple with high crude oil prices.
The second transmission mechanism is through Japan's position in the global supply chains of a host of industries from cars to computer chips. General Motors has already halted production at a Louisiana truck plant because of a shortage of parts from Japan. Moody's Investor Service points out that carmakers in the US have two months of inventories. But the 4.4 million cars sold by Japanese manufacturers remain vulnerable to seeing entire production lines grinding to a halt for the want of the proverbial pin from Japan. Similarly, US semiconductor manufacturers like Intel, AMD and Texas Instruments source a tenth of their revenue from Japan, which is the world's largest supplier of raw silicon wafers. Likewise, over 40% of the world's NAND flash memory chips used in mobile electronic devices such as smartphones and tablets are made in Japan. Already, spot prices of NAND memory chips have shot up by 20%. Again, Japan controls 90% of the global output of the basic resin used in integrated circuit chips and printed circuit boards.
India's direct exposure to the Japanese disaster is likely to be limited on the trade account because our big exports to the country comprise natural resources like iron, which will be back in demand once reconstruction begins in the second half of this year. The immediate trade disruption as the Japanese industrial complex shuts down is unlikely to be prolonged. Japanese investments into India, however, may face a longer-term squeeze as the country restores its devastated infrastructure.
T tion c wo Indian scientists -- Ajay Anil Gurjar and Siddhartha A. Ladhake -- are wielding sophisticated mathematics to dissect and analyse the traditional medita- chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six tion chanting sound `Om'. The `Om team' has published six monographs in academic journals, which plumb certain acoustic subtlety of Om that they say is "the divine sound".
Om has many variations. In a study published in the Inter- national Journal of Computer Science and Network Security, the researchers explain: "It may be very fast, several cycles per second. Or it may be slower, several seconds for each cycling of [the] Om mantra. Or it might become extremely slow, with the mmmmmm sound continuing in the mind for much longer periods but still pulsing at that slow rate." The important technical fact is that no matter what form of Om one chants at whatever speed, there's always a basic `Omness' to it. Both Gurjar, principal at Amravati's Sipna College of Engineering and Technology, and Ladhake, an assistant professor in the same institution, specialise in electronic signal processing. They now sub-specialise in analysing the one very special signal. In the introductoy paper, Gurjar and Ladhake explain that, "Om is a spiritual mantra, out- standing to fetch peace and calm."
No one has explained the biophysi- cal processes that underlie the `fetch- ing of calm' and taking away of thoughts. Gurjar and Ladhake's time-fre- quency analysis is a tiny step along that hitherto little-taken branch of the path of enlightenment. They apply a mathematical tool called wavelet transforms to a digital recording of a person chanting `Om'. Even people with no mathematical back- ground can appreciate, on some level, one of the blue-on- white graphs included in the monograph. This graph, the authors say, "depicts the chanting of `Om' by a normal per- son after some days of chanting". The image looks like a pile of nearly identical, slightly lopsided pancakes held together with a skewer, the whole stack lying sideways on a table. To behold it is to see, if nothing else, repetition.
Much as people chant the sound `Om' over and over again, Gurjar and Ladhake repeat much of the same analy- sis in their other five studies, managing each time to chip away at some slightly different mathematico-acoustical fine point. The Guardian
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
India is rapidly urbanising, and yet its urban infrastructure — with a couple of exceptions — has not seen the sort of large-scale investment needed to make its towns and cities up to the task, and upgrade their delivery of services to the extent required to absorb the migration of those aspiring to break out of agriculture. There is an interlinked set of reasons for this. Investment levels have been unsatisfactory, driven by poor returns and inefficiency in state clearances, caused both by an inability, in most states, to see cities as engines of growth rather than as locations for rent-seeking, and by an unwillingness to charge fair, reasonable user fees for the infrastructure once it has been developed.
The Centre has few levers with which to control this. However, a blueprint for a new fund — to be called the private-public partnership urban infrastructure fund, or PPP-UIF, is an interesting intervention that tries to nudge urban local bodies, frequently starved of funds and authority, towards more ambitious infrastructure projects. The idea is that loans with fixed interest rates will be provided to projects that have a major private-sector component in financing or operations, in which the private-sector involvement is decided through a transparent, competitive process, and in which each project will have a properly forecast revenue stream, estimated through new taxes or user fees. Several exemplary urban innovations in the recent past have worked through the private-public partnership route. Look at those that have been highlighted on these pages, through the regular column of Isher Ahluwalia and Ranesh Nair: the Indore bus service, in which six private operators run an integrated bus service for the Madhya Pradesh city; waste disposal in Rajkot, in which two private operators turn a profit while cleaning up the Gujarat town, and a privately run waste disposal plant takes care of solid waste; Nagpur's partnership with a French company to provide 24x7 water to its residents.
At root, the problem of political will continues to bedevil urban infrastructure. We need clever intervention to ensure that urban local bodies begin to stand on their own feet, coming up with financing plans that are locally responsive and independent of state politics, which will always wish to exert control over urban development. This plan, if properly implemented, might be a big step towards the upgrade of our cities.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Tamil Nadu Chief Minister and DMK leader M. Karunanidhi has exceeded his own standards of generosity this time round. Instead of free laptops for disadvantaged Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe students, he has decided to throw the offer open to all students. This apart from all the other schemes, ranging from bus passes to housing. The promises of 2006, including colour television sets and rice at Re 1 per kg, are nothing compared to this great giveaway.
These are not empty words — the DMK has kept its promise, at huge cost to the state's finances, and it hopes that this goodwill will tide it over the damage of the 2G spectrum scandal. Despite J. Jayalalithaa's blistering criticism of the DMK for leading the state into a debt trap, she's been just as profligate in her promises as the election drew near. These offers are ferociously competitive — so if the DMK offers mixer grinders to women, Jayalalithaa's AIADMK will match that, and also throw in an electric fan, even gold mangalsutras.
The DMK's early emphases on welfare and redistribution have, by now, become barely camouflaged inducements tailored to precise demographic segments. Over the decades, the ideas that drove the progressive Dravida movement have emptied out, and the DMK's assertive populism and the AIADMK's more paternalist version have ensured that Tamil Nadu elections are awash with material goodies. Apart from the practically free rice, voters have pulses and oil, free LPG and stoves, clothes during festivals, subsidised health insurance and extravagant subsidies to convert huts into pucca buildings. Some of these are unobjectionable measures — and if it takes an election to take these benefits to poor voters, so be it. But as a principle, it's highly corrosive. Instead of extending the ladders of opportunity to these voters, they are treated as passive recipients of a political party's whimsical largesse. Instead of being given their entitlements, and having their needs responded to through the government's considered policy choices, they are made to participate in this degrading freebie festival.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
Elizabeth Taylor belonged to the spotlight, owned it in fact, with an adjective-exhausting beauty that she accessorised with her strange fascination for over-the-top baubles. She grew up in front of the camera — from a precocious 12-year-old in National Velvet who so innocently pouted, "I want it all quickly. I don't want God to stop and think and wonder if I'm getting more than my share," to a teenager who took turns performing intense romantic scenes and studying in an improvised school room on the sets, to a star who effortlessly held the audience, both men and women, rapt even with her rather understated acting, marked by a minimum of movements. Not many complained; the violet gaze was often enough. She curiously carried over the on-screen melodrama and ostentation that was so much a part of Hollywood's golden age on to her off-screen life.
In so many ways, Elizabeth Taylor never quite left the sets of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, where she began her career with the unusual co-star of a collie in Lassie Come Home,
after a Universal guy dismissed her, "She can't sing, she can't dance, she can't perform," and which she was only too happy to exit when the iron reign of the studio system ended. Her life was Hollywood at its glamorous, fanciful extreme — in her romance with Richard Burton which she celebrated with carats, cruises and two marriages, in her octo-weddings and in her showy wardrobe. She was luscious Cleopatra, overweight Martha, the loud Maggie the Cat, the unattainable Angela Vickers, but she was, above all, the ultimate diva. And with the passing of Taylor, 79, Hollywood has lost the last of its golden girls.
She might be buried next to Richard Burton in Wales, as they planned in one of their marriages. That's so Liz Taylor. And that's so the Hollywood that was.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
LET'S CLEAR THE AIR
Minister for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has come up with an important suggestion. He has said that the current reporting structure of the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board (AERB) may not be the ideal one. The AERB reports into the Department of Atomic Energy (DAE) of the Union government. There could be a conflict of interest while approving the setting up of new atomic power plants and also while conducting ongoing safety and security inspections. It could be argued that the DAE would wish to "promote" nuclear power in India — and therefore, even with the best of intentions, today's AERB might be tempted into making the approval process for new plants less stringent; similarly, the pleas of the commercial nuclear power industry that certain safety features/ measures are too costly may also receive more sympathetic consideration than would be the case if the board were independent.
The growth of nuclear power in India requires broad societal consensus. The NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) phenomenon where villages/ towns/ districts concede the need for nuclear power stations but keep arguing that these plants should be located elsewhere as they are detrimental to the environment, livelihoods, etc in their own village/ town/ district is bound to gather momentum. This momentum will become unstoppable if the approving authority is seen as biased in favour of the industry (presumably rich, powerful and well-connected) and not in favour of the communities where the plants are located (presumably poor, powerless and lacking in influence). The AERB may be functioning quite genuinely without any bias. That fact becomes quite irrelevant. It is the perception of a possible bias which will discredit its approvals in the minds of the affected communities. On this point, Ramesh is quite right.
This columnist would like to point out that a similar logic applies to the current "approvals process" from his ministry of environment and forests. Even though he and the civil servants in his ministry may be operating without bias, the fact of the matter is that when it gives an approval, withholds one or cancels an earlier approval, it is almost invariably seen as arising from short-term political considerations.
The flip-flop on the Posco plant is a good example. The cancellation of the approval was first seen as a political move against the BJD which is in power in Orissa — and which by happenstance is not part of the UPA dispensation in Delhi. The reconsideration later is being seen as a result of the Korean government putting pressure on India. Now, as a matter of fact, all the actions of the environment ministry may in fact be perfectly valid, reasonable and correct. But that is not what it will be believed to be. The Vedanta story has similar overtones. The Congress party's desire to capture the emerging tribal votebank is seen as behind the anti-Vedanta stance. This is exacerbated by the fact that Scandinavian and Canadian business interests are perhaps behind the funding of the shrill anti-Vedanta campaign by NGOs and the Anglican church in Britain. Lavasa is seen by many as the victim or the beneficiary of internecine UPA politics.
In fact, the joke making the rounds is that the best way to stymie a competitor is not by making a better product at a lower price, but by funding NGOs to raise environmental objections and using political clout to get the ministry to hold up the competitor's new factory/ mine/ plant. The point is that, irrespective of the facts, the environment ministry's decisions can be seen as motivated, biased and so on. All of this is exacerbated by the fact that the ministry and other government bodies are seen as being unable and unwilling to ensure that the "conditions" attached to a "conditional approval" are in fact fulfilled.
Why does not Jairam Ramesh as part of his legacy to the country remove the power of discretionary approvals from his ministry and hand it over to an independent "Environment Commission" to be statutorily established and charge this commission with the tasks of granting and monitoring approvals? Appeals from this commission should go directly to a tribunal and then to the courts rather than through a slow and cumbersome judicial hierarchy. This commission would be along the lines of the Election Commission or SEBI where the members are appointed for fixed terms. Preferably the commission should be located outside Delhi. (In passing, it should be noted that SEBI and IRDA which are located outside Delhi have performed with greater credibility and perceived integrity than the TRAI which is located in Delhi!) Several of SEBI's decisions have been appealed. But on balance, most of its decisions regarding approvals for IPOs, fines for non-compliance, restrictions from capital market access, etc have been seen as fair and have helped the reputation of Indian capital markets — one soft infrastructure item where by all accounts we are way ahead of China, unlike in the hard infrastructure sector China is a decade, if not a century, ahead of us with respect to bridges or railways.
The environment commission could not only implement transparent procedures for approval of projects, but also monitor them. If a company or some investors flout SEBI regulations, they are fined and sometimes they are not allowed to access or invest in capital markets for a defined period. If a company does not comply with the conditions of a conditional approval, the environment commission can refuse to give fresh approvals or force a transfer of the project (and the rights associated with it) to another company through a transparent auction process. As one of our prominent citizens, Azim Premji, said, "If we can have an independent regulator for our capital markets, why not one for our water resources which are far more important than our financial resources?"
In giving up control, Ramesh will meet resistance from many in the political and bureaucratic establishment. But if he wishes to go down in Indian history as a Sher Shah, a Munro or a Curzon, this is his golden opportunity. Let's hope he grasps it.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
MIDDLE WAY OR THIRD WAY?
With the Dalai Lama's recent announcement to relinquish his political responsibilities, the importance of the recently held elections to the post of Kalon Tripa, or prime minister, goes far beyond the right to choose the political head of the community. Indeed, these are choices of the Tibetan community in exile that will go a long way in defining its sense of self, both at symbolic and substantive levels. Which way this conversation of change is headed will depend on how it tackles several tricky transitions.
The separation between monastic institutions and the state that is being attempted is one such critical transition. The future of Tibetan democracy crucially hinges on the capacity of the elected to wield effective political power and its potential to create separate realms for spiritual and political legitimacy. The introduction of elected political leaders will have progressive spin-offs in terms of giving the people the right to criticise and disagree. This will be an advance in itself, given that the centring of religious, spiritual and political authority in the Dalai Lama has worked to inhibit open criticism, as any critique may be seen as challenging the spiritual leader himself.
What is interesting is that the push for democratisation and secularisation of the Tibetan governance structure has come from the Dalai Lama himself. The moves towards instituting a rational-legal framework go back five decades, starting with the removal of hereditary privileges from the government and the holding of direct elections to the legislature as early as 1960. The Tibetan constitution even contains provision for the impeachment of the Dalai Lama. With the introduction of the Tibetan Charter in 1991, the traditional right of the Dalai Lama to appoint ministers to the Kashag, or the cabinet, was discontinued as was the right to appoint the Kalon Tripa.
Another critical transition will be to see if a new generation of leaders is able to introduce a new agenda and shift the debate on key issues. For instance, who will step on the thin ice of polarised positions and explore a creative space for dialogue? For the Tibetans, if the Middle Way approach has not delivered during the Dalai Lama's lifetime, can it be realistically expected to outlive him? And as disillusionment with lack of progress grows, what possible alternative ideas exist? Interestingly, Lobsang Sangay, senior fellow at the Harvard Law School and one of the leading contenders for the Kalon Tripa, has referred to the merits of a rights-based approach in his writings and speeches. It remains to be seen if a third way is likely to emerge, one which shifts the focus away from either complete independence or autonomy, towards civil rights, protection of minority rights under the Chinese law and greater "representation in government". The question is: does the political system have the bandwidth to debate these new questions or will it be stretched thin by competing pulls and strains?
How will the norms of legitimacy, representation and unity fare in this contested realm? Traditionally, the Dalai Lama has seamlessly personified these three values. Any move to de-centre the power structure is bound to throw up new tensions and contradictions. In such fraught times, what trade-offs are likely to be made between these key norms? For instance, will the push for democratisation prioritise representation or will diversity of opinion be frowned upon in a bid to preserve unity? Unity has always been a prime concern and there will be several occasions in the coming days when this will be seriously tested. And it is not as if there have been no rumbles or pulls in the past. The Dorje Shugden controversy saw violent clashes over the worship of the protector deity and the Dalai Lama had to issue an "explicit ban" in 1996 to suppress the practice. More recently, the move by Kalon Tripa Samdhong Rinpoche to resign from his post in 2009 was interpreted by China as "troubles within the Dalai Lama's circle". Again, it took the direct intervention of the Dalai Lama to persuade Samdhong Rinpoche to serve his full term.
A new Tibetan identity is in the making. Each of the transitions is highly complex and open-ended, with the potential to transform Tibetan politics. Depending on how these are managed, these could either create spillover benefits or go quite wrong. Either way, these conversations on change are best attempted during the 14th Dalai Lama's lifetime so that he can lend the process his credibility.
The writer is associate professor at the Centre for Policy Research, Delhi email@example.com
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
GIVING AS GOOD AS YOU GET
Bill Gates' and Warren Buffett's visit to India, to encourage the country's richest people to pledge 50 per cent of their wealth to philanthropy, has shone a new spotlight on Indian philanthropy. In the US, 57 billionaires have followed Gates and Buffett in this "Giving Pledge" and signed away half their wealth. A recent visit by the duo to China apparently met with great success, with a small group of the ultra-rich Chinese making some "very generous" gifts.
After their visit to India, only G.M. Rao of the GMR group has committed Rs 1540 crore ($340 million) to his GMR Varalaxmi Foundation. Unless many more follow suit, the inevitable questions will be raised: Why do more of the Indian rich not give to philanthropy on the scale of Gates and Buffett, considering that there are some 69 Indian billionaires among the world's wealthiest?
It is undeniable that our wealthy can, and should, give much more than they do. According to a Bain and Company report, India's giving in 2006 totalled close to $5 billion which translates into $7.5 billion in 2009 based on gross domestic product (GDP) figures, assuming the rate of giving has remained steady. This is only 0.6 per cent of India's GDP. By contrast, Americans gave more than $307.75 billion or around 2 per cent of GDP to charity in 2009, in spite of the recession, a drop of only 3.6 per cent over the previous year. More notably, corporate giving actually rose in 2009 to $14.1 billion, as did giving for international causes (by 3 per cent, to $8.89 billion).
However, to compare our philanthropy, dollar for dollar, to the American way is simplistic. Firstly, US philanthropy is exceptional and outstrips that of other developed countries. Secondly, philanthropic giving is not just a matter of writing multi-digit cheques, it is complex. Large-scale philanthropy, unlike individual charity, is a function of several factors — history, the socio-economic-cultural environment, the political and ideological underpinning of governance, fiscal policies, pressure from civil society and the opportunity for large-scale philanthropic investment. Our context, motivations, and philanthropic preferences are substantially different.
India, in fact, has a rich history of giving. One has only to look around our cities to realise how much has been contributed by our wealthy to society, in the shape of endowed institutions and social infrastructure of all kinds. Jamsetji Jeejibhhai was perhaps the only businessman in India's history on whose death Mumbai came to a standstill, with flags flown at half-mast in tribute to his munificence. More recently, many leading Indian business leaders have contributed generously to philanthropy, though the really substantial contributions in recent times have been to institutions abroad — to Harvard and Yale Universities by Ratan Tata, Anand Mahindra, N.R. Narayanmurthy, and Nandan Nilekani of $50 milion, $100 million, $5.2 million and $5 million respectively. The only outstanding philanthropic contribution for Indian causes has been that of Azim Premji, of approximately $2 billion, to his foundation to promote education in India. However, even this awesome donation is estimated to be only around 10 per cent of his personal wealth.
The reasons for the disparity in scale between Indian and American giving have to be sought deeper. Americans have always valued private initiative, and have jealously guarded against encroachments by the state. Social provision through private initiative was thus both a need and an obligation, encouraged by the state through tax laws. With inheritance tax rates of nearly 46 per cent for large estates of more than $2 million, it made economic sense for wealthy individuals to endow private foundations for charity before their death. There has never been an inheritance tax in India.
The colonial government followed laissez-faire policies and easy taxation of the rich, and expected and encouraged the wealthy to make up the social deficit. The consequence was flourishing philanthropy for social reform and progress, to which the growth of nationalistic feeling and Gandhi's influence also contributed. But independent India arrogated the obligations of bringing development and an equitable society to the state. India's planned, mixed economy, steep taxation, and control of profit-making as well as profit-distribution precluded a large role for philanthropy as an engine of social progress.
However, even with the most encouraging of state policies, the rich in India may still not give away half their wealth during their lifetime, simply because our philanthropic preferences are different. Family and kin ties are stronger here than in America. Wealthy business families in particular tend to have joint families and extended kin networks. While many American philanthropists have publicly stated that they would rather that their children made their own way in life, wealthy Indians prefer to leave their wealth to their children. Add to this a feudal mai-baap or noblesse oblige culture, and a strong religious influence. Even distant relations, dependents, servants, or religious organisations are preferred to an impersonal organisation.
A desire to control their philanthropic resources, rather than to adopt the more arms-length philanthropy characteristic of American foundations, and the lack of suitable opportunities that can absorb resources on the scale envisaged are cited as other reasons for not giving as much as half of one's wealth to independent organisations.
Moreover, large-scale philanthropy has always been used by Americans to win friends and influence people internationally . It is only now, with globalisation of Indian business, that the Indian rich are making contributions abroad and partly, this is a branding exercise. Finally, as Gates and others have acknowledged, it takes at least two generations of wealth in the family to feel secure enough to give it away. Large-scale philanthropy from the new super-rich will, possibly, come later.
If we want our rich to part with their wealth for the larger society, we must give philanthropy the status and recognition it enjoys in America, and facilitate the giving of large sums to needy causes and organisations by creating an enabling environment and infrastructure.
The writer is founder and former director of the Delhi-based Sampradaan Indian Centre for Philanthropy
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
RED FLAG ON WORDS
No one better understood the strength of propaganda and tactics for short-term gain in politics than the Unified Communist Party of Nepal-Maoists (UCPN-M). The Maoists, when they joined the peace process and gave up their ten year-long insurgency, were the centre of people's hopes for a stable, peaceful, democratic and prosperous Nepal.
The Maoists cashed in on that perception, but did little to earn it. It took much longer for the Nepali media — including the big privately-owned outlets — to tell the revolutionary "emperors" that they had no clothes on.
That was not without reason. The Maoists and the bulk of the media struggled together against the then king's 2005 coup. But this marriage continued, even as it slowly became evident that Maoist leaders could be as corrupt and dishonest as "bourgeois" leaders, and that the hopes for change and the consolidation of democracy were not on the Maoists' real agenda. Realisation dawned that the Maoists' outreach to the media was not proof of their love for the freedom of expression, but only tactical: using "useful idiots" towards their ultimate political goal of setting up a totalitarian regime, a goal which they never compromised.
During this period, the party sought to control media houses by expanding their trade-union base. Also, they set up their own media — print, radio and television — run and funded by the party or powerful leaders. Today, the Maoists have power, as the dominant partner in government, and with a clear radical-left agenda. But they don't generate the hope they did earlier.
Prachanda's leadership has become visibly weaker, with two senior vice-chairmen — Mohan Baidhya Kiran and Baburam Bhattarai — clearly challenging him on every front. Prachanda no longer controls the party's muscles and money exclusively, as he did in the past, when those two supported him, or at least did not challenge him in public. But as someone who knows the utility of the media, Prachanda immediately suspended the party's regular financial support to two powerful official organs — the daily Janadisha and the weekly Janadesh — as they had supported Baidhya and Bhattarai in the party feud.
Janadisha has died quietly, while Janadesh is on the verge of it. Other publications and periodicals, about five dozen in number, are waiting for a similar fate, while control of ABC Television and Mirmire FM could trigger further war among the top three leaders. But the pro-Prachanda group believes that he alone has the power to coerce the media, through his supporter Shaligram Jammarkattel who controls media trade unions, as well as the "crushing" industries that ruthlessly exploit nature for construction and development, funneling huge sums to the party's channel.
Divisions within the Maoists are inevitable. So, for Prachanda, control over the government — he can always have unpalatable party ministers dismissed using his clout over Prime Minister Jhalanath Khanal — is important, but the real challenge lies in controlling the money- and muscle-based party organs, like the trade unions and the military wing. Baidhya succeeded in having his loyalist, Netra Bikram Chand "Biplab", appointed head of the newly-formed "public security bureau" that will control the Young Communist League or YCL. But YCL chief Sagar has asked Prachanda to review the formation of the bureau, something that the Maoist chief may not find too easy to undo.
Prachanda, the hero of the 2006 movement, is now fighting to save his clout in the party. The only other leader in this category, a hero both in and outside Nepal for his role during the 2006 movement, died at the age of 85 last year. On March 21, on G.P. Koirala's first death anniversary, enraged people stopped an official function to have a public park named after him, and his statue installed there in recognition of the contribution he made in making Nepal a democratic republic.
Prachanda cornered inside the party, and GP detested even posthumously? This is not a spur-of-the-moment reaction; this is a message, revealing the extent of the people's frustration.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHAT A HUG REVEALS
NICHOLAS D. KRISTOF
This may be a first for the Arab world: An American airman who bailed out over Libya was rescued from his hiding place in a sheep pen by villagers who hugged him, served him juice and thanked him effusively for bombing their country. Even though some villagers were hit by American shrapnel, one gamely told a reporter that he bore no grudges. Then, on Wednesday in Benghazi, whose streets would almost certainly be running with blood now if it weren't for the US-led intervention, residents held a "thank you rally." They wanted to express gratitude to coalition forces for helping save their lives.
Doubts are legitimate, and the uncertainties are huge. But let's not forget that a humanitarian catastrophe has been averted for now.
This is also one of the few times in history when outside forces have intervened militarily to save the lives of citizens from their government. More commonly, we wring our hands for years as victims are massacred, and then, when it is too late, earnestly declare: "Never again."
In 2005, the UN approved the doctrine of the "responsibility to protect," declaring that world powers have the right and obligation to intervene when a dictator devours his people. This intervention is putting teeth into that fledgling concept, and here's one definition of progress: The world took three-and-a-half years to respond forcefully to the slaughter in Bosnia, and about three-and-a-half weeks to respond in Libya.
Granted, intervention will be inconsistent. We're more likely to intervene where there are also oil or security interests at stake. But just as it's worthwhile to feed some starving children even if we can't reach them all, it's worth preventing some massacres or genocides even if we can't every time.
I opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion because my reporting convinced me that most Iraqis hated Saddam but didn't want US forces on their soil. This time my reporting persuades me that most Libyans welcome outside intervention.
"Opinion was unanimous," Michel Gabaudan, the president of Refugees International, told me. Gabaudan said that every Libyan he spoke to agreed that the military strikes had averted "a major humanitarian disaster."
Some complain that Obama should have consulted Congress more thoroughly. Fair enough. But remember that the intervention was almost too late; Gaddafi's forces were already in Benghazi. Indeed, there was a firefight on Sunday outside the hotel where foreign journalists are staying. A couple of days of dutiful consultation would have resulted in a bloodbath and, perhaps, the collapse of the rebel government.
Before the airstrikes, Libyans were crossing the border into Egypt at seven times normal. Once the strikes began, the flow reversed. For all the concern about casualties, Libyans are voting with their feet, towards the airstrikes; they feel safer thanks to them.
It's true that there are enormous uncertainties: Can the rebels now topple Gaddafi? What's the exit strategy? How much will this cost?
Weighed against those uncertainties are a few certainties: If not for this intervention, Libyan civilians would be dying on a huge scale; Gaddafi would be locked in place for years; and the message would go out to all dictators that ruthlessness works.
The momentum has reversed. More airstrikes on artillery and armor will help. So would jamming his radio and TV. Arab countries are already delivering weapons and ammunition to the rebels, boosting their capabilities and morale. In short, there are risks ahead but also opportunities.
A senior White House official says that the humanitarian argument was decisive: "The president was chilled by what would happen to the people of Benghazi and Tobruk. There were critical national security and national interest reasons to do this, but what compelled him to act so quickly was the immediate prospect of mass atrocities against the people of Benghazi and the east. He was well aware of the risks of military action, but he also feared the costs of inaction."
I've seen war up close, and I detest it. But there are things I've seen that are even worse — such as the systematic slaughter of civilians as the world turns a blind eye. Thank God that isn't happening this time.
THE INDIAN EXPRESS
WHAT'S YOURS SHOULD REMAIN YOURS
The joint select committee of Parliament, in its 45th report submitted to the Rajya Sabha earlier this month, has urged the government to consider the introduction of the principle of "division of matrimonial property" into our matrimonial statutes. This is a sort of victory for women's organisations who have long been campaigning for this right. This is the first time such a recommendation finds a place in official discourse, and marks a new beginning.
The recommendation was made while examining the feasibility of introducing the provision of irretrievable breakdown of marriage (IBM) into our marriage laws. It is indeed surprising to note that while the Law Commission in its various reports had recommended that IBM should be introduced as a ground for divorce, it had failed to recommend that such a provision should be accompanied by a provision for division of matrimonial property. The basis for the recommendation was that several Western countries have incorporated such a provision into their matrimonial statute. But the short-sighted recommendation had failed to examine the provision in Western countries in its totality. Every country that has introduced this provision has also simultaneously incorporated the principle of division of matrimonial property. It was obvious that without such a provision, the introduction of IBM would cause grave hardships to both home-maker wives as well as to women shouldering the double burden of wage employment and home-making.
Alarmed at the government's intention to introduce a bill on IBM, women's organisations urged the law minister to consider including the provision of division of property at the time of divorce into this bill. So after its introduction on August 2, 2010, the bill was referred to the joint select committee of Parliament, whose recommendations now come as welcome respite.
Under the legal regime of separation of property, the property acquired by the husband is deemed to be exclusively his. And so, divorce renders most women destitute, devoid of shelter, economic security and property rights. While superficially, the notion that each person is entitled to their own property appears to be a just and equitable one, as we probe deeper into the ascribed gender roles within marriage, it becomes problematic. Our society views men as the primary breadwinners of the family. In order to facilitate this process, a woman is expected to sacrifice her career and dedicate herself totally to the task of caring for him. In this process, she is also expected to take on the task of home-making, child-bearing, child-rearing and caring for the sick. Even if she is required or permitted to work, in most situations, it would only be to augment the family income. Her earnings are treated as the family's supplementary income. The contribution of the home-maker spouse has no economic value. In a recent ruling, Arun Kumar Agarwal vs National Insurance Company (AIR 2010 SC 3426), the Supreme Court criticised the 2001 census enumeration which categorised 367 million home-makers as "non-workers" along with beggars, prisoners and prostitutes.
Though the matrimonial property gets accumulated through the active contribution of the home-maker wife, the husband exercises exclusive ownership rights over it. So when a marriage breaks down, most women are rendered destitute. A woman's right is confined to a monthly maintenance dole. If the woman has an independent source of income, she is denied even this meagre amount. During divorce proceedings, substantial sums can be secured to the wife only through negotiations during court proceedings in the event that the husband a hasty divorce. The introduction of this ground will take away the bargaining power that women have during divorce proceedings filed by their husbands and will render their situation even worse. It is in this context that the 1995 ruling in Ramesh Chander vs Savitri, (1995 (2) SCC 7) is an important marker. The Supreme Court directed the husband to transfer the house owned by him to the wife at the time of awarding a decree of divorce on the ground that the marriage has broken down irretrievably.
It is hoped that the government will now give serious consideration to the recommendations made by the joint select committee and draft a law that will ensure property division at the time of divorce. This is a challenging task as principles evolved in Western countries may not apply to conditions prevalent in India, for two reasons. First, the matrimonial home is not a nuclear household. In most cases it comprises of a family home that is owned by the parents-in-law. Secondly, the prevalence of a large amount of unaccounted money in our economy makes determination of wealth a difficult task at the time of divorce.
The writer is a matrimonial lawyer and director of Majlis, a Mumbai-based NGO which provides legal advocacy and litigation help to women
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
Elections in Uttar Pradesh may be a year away, but with chief minister Mayawati already in election mode, they could well get advanced. Not only is Mayawati supporting the Jat agitation and encouraging them to take it to Delhi—that's why the Supreme Court directed both UP and Haryana to ensure they ensured essential supplies to the capital weren't disrupted—she's holding back R150 crore worth of subsidies to Tata Motors if its 4,500-worker strong plant doesn't hire more dalits and OBCs, FE reported yesterday. It's ironic that at least one of India's political class, which has shamelessly stoked the reservation flame for decades, looks like he's getting badly singed. Haryana chief minister Bhupinder Singh Hooda is finding that nearly three-fourths of his installed power capacity (1200 MW at Khedar and 1,360 MW at Panipat) is close to shutting down with supplies of coal running out, thanks to Jats stopping trains from moving—the Court said it was constrained to pass its order "having regard to the statements made by the highest functionaries of Haryana and Uttar Pradesh indicating support to the agitation".
In UP, industrial production, which had picked up last year, is once again in danger of plummeting as investors stay out of the state. Unlike other members of India Inc, who have chosen to pussyfoot around the problem of the government wanting them to take on hiring quotas instead of approaching the courts, Tata Motors has said it will not give in. Taking on a few hundred dalit workers may not cost that much, but Tata Motors's argument is it will then open itself to similar pressure in the rest of the country—it has put the second phase of its R550-crore expansion on hold. Ironically, the CII survey of hiring of disadvantaged groups among its member companies found the lowest 'gap' in hiring was in UP—as compared to the 21.2% population share of SC/ST in the state, 17% of the workers in CII-member firms in the state were SC/ST. Which should tell CII its soft line is only encouraging politicians to ask for more.
There is enough data to show that SCs (indeed, any other group) benefit from education, urbanisation and higher GDP growth—incomes of SC households rose from R22,456 per annum when they were headed by illiterates, data from an NCAER survey in 2004-05 showed, to R85,023 for graduates; R37,615 for rural areas versus R85,000 in big towns; R34,807 for households in agriculture to R99,464 in modern services. Naturally, UP's low urbanisation and poor GDP growth ensures dalits in the state are doing pretty badly relative to other states. As the capital comes under siege from March 28, as the Jats are threatening, perhaps politicians in the Congress and BJP will also get a taste of what happens when they play with fire. Assuming they've stopped playing their childish games by then.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
The stock market is the usual target for any government in terms of using it as platform to garner revenue. The belief is that if people trade to make money, they can easily pass on a small part to the government. It is not surprising that we have a plethora of taxes on stock market transactions such as STT (securities transaction tax), service tax, education cess and stamp duty. Add to this the transaction tax that is levied by the enabler, the rate just multiplies. The Maharashtra government has almost doubled the stamp duty to be paid on stock transactions to 0.005% for all cash and derivative transactions. There are basically four constituents that would be affected by this move. The first is, of course, the government. Under status quo conditions, the government would get more revenue if transaction levels remain unchanged. On the face of it, the amount will not be much because on R1 crore of transaction, if the change moves from say R200 to R500, it should not matter. Not really so, if you are the second constituent in the form of a jobber or day trader who is actually trading on the price of a stock moving by one tick size. These are the ones who add liquidity and lower impact cost of trading. Higher taxes will make it less worthwhile to trade and there would be a disincentive to trade. Also, there will be incentive to change the location of the trading desk to more hospitable locations. As trading is online, it should not be an issue. But, what will stop other states from also imposing such a tax to bring parity?
This brings in the third constituent, the stock market. This is what we need to worry about. On one hand, we are trying to boost this market by popularising the equity culture, which, in turn, adds buoyancy to the capital market and investment climate and economic growth. On the other hand, there is this constant move to tax transactions in various forms. This will, in the medium run, affect confidence and send confused signals as we are talking of the DTC, where we are looking at a semblance of stability in the tax structures and simultaneously bringing in some arbitrary measures. The last constituent, i.e., long-term investors probably will not really bother about such enhancements in duties as they look more at the long-term returns where this increase may not matter. So which constituent should we be worried about? Clearly, it has to be the stock market in case we do believe that a robust and liquid system is necessary to foster growth.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
NUMBERS DON'T ADD UP IN INDIA
It's become all too familiar. Take any set of numbers—income, consumption, production, inflation, poverty, sales to television ratings—and you almost always have a big argument on it. All manner of consumer goods marketers, and lately even the head of one of the world's largest consumer expendable companies, Unilever's CEO Paul Polman, complain that market researcher Nielsen's Retail Audit does not capture its market positions accurately. There is this long-standing doubt and dispute over the robustness of television rating numbers by TAM, with niche channels and rural audiences supposedly getting short shrift. Ditto with readership surveys for the print media, which somehow again favour big newspapers and magazines over smaller and specific-interest driven publications. Time and again, industrial production numbers, as represented by the Index of Industrial Production (IIP), have shown to be in divergence with not just company production and sales numbers on the ground, but even with another set of government statistics, the Annual Survey of Industries. And every passing year, the National Sample Survey's private final consumption expenditure data is capturing less and less on what Indians consume, just 45-50% now compared to a high of 75% in 1970s.
One can go on and on, but you get drift. Numbers are not capturing the reality and trends in a rapidly changing and growing India. Where's the problem? Well, let's first take note of the issues raised by data users.
Marketers like Hindustan Unilever, Dabur and Marico point out that the Nielsen sample of 22,000 retailers covers under half-a-percent of over 11 million shops in the country. And then there is always the issue of capturing retail diversity in a country as heterogeneous as ours—from paanwallas, neighbourhood kiranas, rural haats and hole-in-the walls to fast proliferating swanky big-box retailers.
Similarly, TAM's criticism has been its very small sample size of just 8,000 peoplemeters in a country with over 400 active 24/7 channels, 138 million television homes, with around 30 million connected digitally. Add the complexity of at least half-a-dozen languages big with television audiences, and clearly you have a currency that looks far from robust. IIP suffers from a combination of an outdated base year (1993-94), though it is being updated to 2003-04 shortly, a basket of 543 products that overestimate defunct categories like typewriters and underestimate host of others like cell phones and LCDs, and a general lack of data reporting compliance by even organised sector companies. The NSSO expenditure data and CSO's National Account Statistics for National Income again trip at the altar of non-representation of the vastly changed dynamic of the Indian population, which is earning and consuming in fundamentally very different ways now compared to even a decade ago.
The key problem across all these data sets is non-representation of the universe, by acts of omission or commission, and the easiest solution bandied about is increasing the sample depth and spread to capture more robust data that may lead to a better quality of statistics for all manner of planning. That's easier said than done.
Take retail audits or television ratings, for instance. By some estimates, consumer goods marketers and broadcasters in India spend under half-a-percent of sales on market research, and that includes all company-specific qualitative and quantitative research, besides subscribing to industry-wide syndicated research like the one Nielsen Retail Audit and TAM's peoplemeters throw up periodically. A predominant view with market researchers is that penny-pinching marketers have driven the industry against a wall, and that sub-standard data quality is its natural corollary coming to haunt them now.
Assuming Nielsen and TAM were to double their samples in the quest for a better representation and take cognisance of genuine complaints by marketers and broadcasters who use its data, the industry too will need to rise up above its self-defeating emphasis on keeping investment in research untenably low, something that has hurt marketers more than research companies in the long run. Templatising large parts of consumer research on global lines by transnational marketers and researchers too is contributing to the current impasse where marketers are getting caught on the wrong foot in sussing out new consumer trends. Fundamental consumer research, so vital for a complex society and culture like ours, also needs to come back big-time on researchers' agenda and the marketers' budget.
It's a welcome sign that the government has overhauled a host of indices in the recent past—from revising the base year for inflation numbers, a new survey for estimating poverty is about to be kicked off and IIP will get a new and more current base year soon. But tardy implementation of the Collection of Statistical Act 2008, which was passed by Parliament last year, means the industry still openly flouts data reporting norms, as evident in far-from-compete IIP numbers every month. But luckily, think-tanks like National Council for Applied Economic Research's Centre for Macro Consumer Research have kicked off a massive survey exercise, covering over 5 lakh households across the country, to get primary-level data on income, consumption, ownership, purchasing power, intra-country money transfers, etc, and encouragingly will update this data every year hence on. That, hopefully, will fill some of the void that the government agency's income and expenditure data is failing to capture, and should be leveraged by policy makers and marketers to better understand the emerging new India.
THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS
A TALE OF TWO MANIFESTOS
One runs into 16 pages, the other 55, but that's not the only difference between the manifestos of the Left Front—seeking a record eighth term in power—and of the Trinamool Congress—aiming to unseat the Left after its three decades of rule in West Bengal. Typically, the Left Front's manifesto launches an attack on Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for his silence on corruption, ex-telecom minister A Raja, black money stashed in foreign banks and many other issues. "The Prime Minister cannot deny his responsibility regarding the issues of corruption on why was he silent for the last two years. This government has created an all-time record in corruption," it said. The Left is free to voice its opinion, and there have been concerns around corruption in public life, but this is a crucial election for the Left Front, and surely the PM's issue could have been discussed on another platform.
The Left Front chairman Biman Bose took it a step further at his press conference, saying the UPA government had succumbed to US imperialism. "The recent WikiLeaks exposes have proved how this central government has bent to the whims of US imperialism. The pipeline issue with Tehran went under wraps after indirect intervention from the US," he said. There are pressing issues in the state, the most critical being the state of finances, which the Opposition Trinamool Congress highlighted in its manifesto. But from the Left Front, barring admission that "mistakes" had been made and that there were "lapses" in its rectification drive, there wasn't too much attention on the need of the hour—how will Bengal mop up revenue to tide over a serious debt crisis with the outstanding liability at R1.68 lakh crore and growing. For the people of West Bengal, who have watched the government go into a limbo ever since the Left Front lost the plot in the 2009 Lok Sabha elections, the positive thing to note in the Left manifesto is that it has said it will not move away from industry.
In fact, the Left manifesto highlights past achievements—for example, it says West Bengal attracted investments worth R9,000 crore in 2009 after the Singur debacle. Bose has stressed that although agriculture is important, industry is the need of the hour, and that's a good sign for a people being forced to become used to an airport that makes you afraid to fly, bad roads, terrible transport and a health care system that sends thousands to Chennai and Vellore and Bangalore for treatment.
But what has taken even Mamata Banerjee's sympathisers by surprise is the Trinamool manifesto, which, in a departure from the past, clearly lays down a vision for the state. Many have attacked her for the party's lack of policy, but few can fault her this time. "We propose to rebuild the industrial might of West Bengal with an eye towards massive employment generation," Banerjee writes in a signed appeal. She has also detailed steps to spruce up agriculture, infrastructure, education, health and tourism. For instance, she promises to complete the process of Agricultural Produce Market Committee reforms and ensure "meaningful implementation on the ground level in key areas like direct marketing, contract farming, setting up of private mandis"—something industry has been clamouring for. The Trinamool manifesto, slickly promised with good production values, promises a lot, setting an action agenda for the first 200 days and then 1,000 days; but with the West Bengal government deeply in debt, Banerjee doesn't quite specify where the funds are going to be mobilised from. She has spelt out some steps, like improving enforcement of state excise, ensuring proper registration of motor vehicles, computerising commercial taxes departments, payment of stamp duties through banks and so forth. But will it be enough?
The other key issue, which the Trinamool manifesto is silent on, is the Maoist violence and how it plans to tackle it if it comes to power. Also, in the hum and din of election politics, there is infighting both parties have to contend with, and Banerjee has serious trouble brewing in South 24 Parganas, where the Trinamool won the panchayat elections but has largely failed to live up to the expectations of the people, especially the Aila cyclone victims.
THE HUNTED TURNS HUNTER
For an opposition party, the Congress is in a strange situation in Kerala: the party is more on the defensive than on the attack. After five years in power, the Left Democratic Front led by the Communist Party of India (Marxist) has effectively revived memories of corruption scams and sex scandals of the previous Congress-led United Democratic Front. A former Minister of the UDF, R. Balakrishna Pillai of the Kerala Congress (B), is in jail after being sentenced by the Supreme Court to a year's rigorous imprisonment in the Idamalayar hydel project corruption case. Mr. Pillai was felled by a sustained political campaign and legal battle waged by CPI(M) leader and Chief Minister V.S. Achuthanandan — who is now using the success in court to great advantage in the electoral arena. Another former Minister of the UDF, P.K. Kunhalikutty, the general secretary of the Indian Union Muslim League, is facing fresh allegations in the ice cream parlour sex scandal. Moreover, the Congress is having a tough time fending off charges of corruption directed at the United Progressive Alliance government at the Centre. Thus what looked like a one-horse race in October 2010, when the UDF decisively won the local body polls at every tier, is now developing into a keen contest.
However, the LDF faces the challenge of fighting off the anti-incumbency factor and voter fatigue. After 1977, when the Congress was voted back to power, Kerala voters have never given a combine two consecutive terms in office. There is still a substantial gap for the LDF to bridge, and to do this Mr. Achuthanandan and the CPI(M) will need to sustain the newly gained momentum till the very end. The UDF is trying to position itself as pro-development, a euphemism for pro-industry, in an attempt to take up the space provided by the pro-labour policies of the LDF government. But the Cabinet approval for the agreement on the revival of the much-delayed SmartCity Project in Kochi in February this year might blunt criticism on this score. Another concern for the CPI(M) is the factionalism involving State party secretary Pinarayi Vijayan and the Chief Minister; the LDF will be hoping the bad blood at the top will not seep down to the cadre level. Mr. Achuthanandan was given the ticket only at the intervention of the party's Polit Bureau. Whether he can work up a groundswell of support, as he did in 2006 when he was similarly nominated after being denied the ticket, remains to be seen. What is likely is that after two one-sided contests in 2001 (when the UDF won 99 of the 140 seats) and 2006 (when the LDF took 99) in a State where ideology and policies matter, 2011 will witness a close finish.
LIZ TAYLOR: ART AND ALLURE
Ask young people what they remember of Elizabeth Taylor and the answer is likely to be in the form of a furrowed brow. But there is little doubt they would have heard of her. That is how she left us, more a creature of the public consciousness than a prisoner of the pictures. As the stormy spouse of Richard Burton (and six others), she came to embody the romantic pursuit of lifelong love. As an AIDS activist, at a time few people were fully aware of the disease and fewer still wanted to be tainted with its homosexual associations, she came to represent strength and courage. As an outspoken critic of former U.S. President George W. Bush's handling of the Iraq war — in protest, she declined to attend the 75th Annual Academy Awards — she revealed a hitherto unsuspected political side. As gossip fodder, she, with her reckless lifestyle, spilling over with yachts and diamonds, virtually birthed the tabloid frenzy that envelops stars today. And as a world-class beauty, her name came to stand for physical perfection, even to those who had never seen a film of hers. It's a pity that these associations today have overshadowed what she was foremost — a wonderful actress, winner of two Oscars, co-star to giants such as Spencer Tracy, Richard Burton, Marlon Brando, Paul Newman, Montgomery Clift, and James Dean.
Taylor's cinematic career effectively ended when she won her second Oscar for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, in which she played a blowsy harridan opposite Burton. She was terrifyingly convincing as a wife on the brink of a marriage breakdown and a woman at the edge of sanity. But the public seemed less interested in her interpretation of Edward Albee's scabrous dialogue than in her intimacies with her co-star and real-life husband. Were Liz and Dick simply performing their parts, or were they making thinly disguised art of their real lives? This voyeuristic cloud completely eclipsed what was — and still is — a chillingly splendid portrait of the mysteries of marriage. Thereafter, Taylor's films (many of them with Burton) were mostly much less memorable, and her fame came less from being a star on the screen and more from being a regular in the tabloid press. For her greatest screen roles, we must look much earlier — he luminous child-aspirant of National Velvet; the pampered socialite of A Place in the Sun; the generations-spanning matriarch of Giant; the tempestuous empress in Cleopatra; and the wide-eyed manipulator of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, where she is breathtakingly beautiful, the very embodiment of temptation that Tennessee Williams dangled, like a ripe fruit, in front of his physically crippled hero. Few actresses have combined art and allure with such effortlessness.
LEADER PAGE ARTICLES
ON POLITICAL SPACE AND COALITIONS
THE NUMBER OF COALITION PARTNERS IN POLITICAL FORMATIONS IS INVERSELY PROPORTIONAL TO THE AVAILABILITY OF POLITICAL SPACE FOR DIVERSITY AND DISSENT WITHIN POLITICAL PARTIES.
India is the second most populous country in the world with roughly one-sixth of its population. Its federal, parliamentary and representative multiparty system makes it the largest democracy. The fact that the majority of its people did not have formal education did not deter the architects of our Constitution from recommending universal adult franchise. The regularity of regional and national elections, their fair conduct and their ability to usher in new political formations suggest phenomenal success with democracy. This is particularly true in the context of the divergent trajectories of politics and governments among our neighbours in the subcontinent. Nevertheless, the recent era of coalition politics and its compulsions demand analysis.
The freedom movement, led by the upper castes and the rich and landed gentry, morphed into the ruling class. Its leaders formed the Indian National Congress. Their promise of a secular and socialistic society received nationwide support. The party won many State and national elections and ruled the country during the first two-three decades. Gradually, the sheen wore off. The party's penchant for dynastic politics, its intolerance of dissent, empty slogans of an inclusive society and the excesses during the Emergency in the mid-1970s led to disillusionment among the people and its resounding defeat at the polls. About the same time, some States saw the emergence of regional parties, pushing local and regional agenda. The last three decades have seen the emergence of many regional, linguistic, religion and caste-based political formations across the country, fighting to represent the diversity of India's people and their distinctive interests.
Representation without empowerment: The initial excitement generated by universal adult franchise gave way to cynicism. The five-yearly exercise of elected representatives seeking the people's consent for re-election became a ritual. The initial hopes and dreams of the majority, the poor, were soon shattered with minimal changes in their lot. The original enthusiasm, when faced with an option of voting for different parties, gradually faded with the realisation that the choices provided no real alternative. Representation of people in the legislatures and the government did little for their empowerment.
Nevertheless, political parties soon realised the importance of identifying dominant socio-demographic pressures within constituencies. Religion, language, caste and community determined the choice of candidates rather than integrity, ability and policies. Matching candidates with dominant local identities was found to be a vote-winning strategy. However, these linguistic, regional, religious and caste considerations seemed to matter little after results were declared. People soon realised that their representatives did not represent their perspectives and priorities in the legislatures and governments. Political parties were quickly able to assuage the feelings of many elected representatives by sharing the spoils of power. Nevertheless, discontent gave way to factionalism and fragmentation of the polity. The realisation that large national parties fail to represent the diversity, divisions and pluralism in the country has accelerated the support for regional formations.
Space and growth: The space and choices for politicians were restricted. Autocratic leaders, family rule, religious and caste considerations produced glass ceilings within parties. The lack of true intra-party democracy, at the grass-root and higher levels, resulted in frustration among budding political leaders. Local and regional aspirations were stifled. Token representation, the norm in most political parties, denied empowerment of individual representatives and their constituencies. Many leaders with political aspirations moved out to form their own political factions. Many succeeded. Their ability to tap into local and regional discontent and the chauvinistic nature of their campaigns paid handsome electoral dividends. These gains multiplied their power and ability to take on and negotiate with national parties.
Telangana is a classic example of economic growth without political space and empowerment for its people. The complex caste equations in Andhra Pradesh marginalised their representatives, restricted their political space and limited their political emancipation, resulting in the birth of the Telangana Rashtra Samithi. The Bahujan Samaj Party and the Pattali Makkal Katchi brought together people and priorities based on support from specific formations. Mamata Banerjee, Kalyan Singh and Uma Bharti felt suffocated and squeezed out of political space and formed their own outfits, with varying degrees of success. Many breakaway factions of the Congress supported regional aspirations, which did not find articulation within the larger organisation. Many of these leaders and splinter groups now have much greater power outside the larger parties than they did when they were inside the organisations.
Coalition conundrum: The Left Front in West Bengal was the first coalition, which has successfully won and retained power for over three decades. Kerala also saw major fragmentation within the larger political parties and the resultant formation of coalitions. Such coalitions at the State level have been relatively stable both within the government and in the Opposition.
The last two decades have seen the rise of coalitions at the national level. The initial unstable coalitions have given way to secure alliances, which have brought in major reforms and significant shifts in policy. They seemed to have even enhanced democratic legitimacy, representativeness and national unity. Many parties have become skilled in the required negotiation, cooperation and compromise. Marriages of convenience between incompatible partners have given way to durable, flexible, pragmatic and evolving partnerships. Many parties seem to be able to paper over their contradictions. The temporary nature of their initial relationships within coalitions seems to have matured into established associations. Pre-election negotiations and agreements with common minimum programmes strengthen such arrangements and are now recognised by the electorate. The electorate, through tactical voting, often supports these united platforms. While regional issues dominate many campaigns, the electorate also seems to keep an eye on the need for stable formations at the Centre.
The larger national parties, which did not provide political space for local and regional aspirations within their rigid structure, are now forced to make much bigger compromises with dissidents who are their regional partners. Regional formations, with specific local support, have been able to extract greater concessions and a larger slice of the political pie. The national parties now regularly moan about the disproportionate powers of regional outfits. They blame the lack of progress on the coalition dharma with its committees, consensus and compromise. Nevertheless, pragmatic approaches (e.g. of the Congress) seem to be more successful than those driven by ideology (e.g. of Bharatiya Janata Party and the Left). Political parties will necessarily have to formulate inclusive agendas and frameworks to succeed in coalitions (e.g. the BJP in Bihar).
Intra-party democracy and political space: The few large national parties find it difficult to do justice to the diversity and complexity of India. However, while regional parties are here to stay, all parties would benefit from genuine intra-party democracy. Healthy debates within organisations and organisational elections at all levels will allow political space to raise genuine local and particular concerns. The dismantling of glass ceilings based on autocracy, family background, region, caste and religion will go a long way in creating an ideal environment for the empowerment of the diverse and heterogeneous people.
Many of our leaders and politicians are parochial and partisan. Their worlds are dominated by individual ambition, immediate goals, and narrow sectarian objectives, and they bat for limited constituencies. There is a dearth of visionaries. Many parties have non-inclusive agendas. It is politically naive to expect model parties with true internal democracies, but any movement in this direction will benefit the organisations and the nation. Until such time, the electorate will have to be astute in choosing the least damaging option. Often, the choice is between the devil and the deep blue sea. The fragmentation of parties and the number of partners within coalitions will reach an equilibrium and saturation when political space for debate and dissent is available and valued within political organisations. Without intra-party democracy in most national and regional parties, the polity will continue to fragment and parties will splinter; the pressure and complexity of coalitions will increase with further reduction of choice for the electorate. Coalitions have forced India to recognise that all politics is local. However, the question is: will it increase the insight among political leaders and transform political parties?
(Professor K.S. Jacob in on the faculty of the Christian Medical College, Vellore. The views expressed are personal.)
INDIA, U.S. DIFFERED ON TIMING OF BAN ON JUD
CHENNAI: The United States was dismayed when India moved a proposal for a U.N. Security Council designation of the Jamat-ud-Dawa as a terrorist organisation, concerned that this would stymie its own efforts to push through a "more ambitious list" of designations.
The UNSC's 1267 Committee, or the Al Qaeda and Taliban Sanctions Committee, designated the JuD on December 11, 2008, a day after India moved the proposal. It also designated the JuD leader Hafiz Saeed, the group's operations commander Zakhiur Rehman Lakhvi, and two others associated with it, Haji Mohammed Ashraff and Mohammed Ahmed Bahaziq.
The U.S. eventually threw its weight behind the designation – else the proposal could not have been approved — but a diplomatic cable sent on December 10, 2008 ( 182185: confidential) by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, reveals its unhappiness at being pre-empted by India.
Ted Osius, Political Counselor at the New Delhi Embassy, cabled that at a meeting with Ministry of External Affairs Joint Secretary T.C.A. Raghavan that day, he had expressed "dismay at GoI's actions at the UN Security Council on Tuesday, when it publicly called for designation of Jamat-ud- Dawa."
The diplomat explained to Mr. Raghavan this would "complicate" the U.S. effort to "get an even more ambitious list of designations through the UNSC 1267 Sanctions Committee."
The cable does not mention the inclusions in that "ambitious list."
Mr. Osius wrote that "Raghavan defended [India's] action and dismissed [U.S.] concerns." The Indian official argued that the U.S. and Indian proposals were "not mutually exclusive," and that it did not matter which one the 1267 Committee acted on first.
According to Mr. Osius, the Joint Secretary told him India hoped the move would further pressure Pakistan to act against the perpetrators of the Mumbai attacks. At the same time, it was a message to the Indian public that its government "is getting things done."
Mr. Raghavan explained to the U.S. diplomat that "if China and Pakistan intend to co-operate, designations would move forward."
Two previous attempts by the U.S. to have the JuD designated — in 2006, and in 2008, months before the Mumbai attacks — had failed. On both occasions, China put the proposal on "technical hold," demanding to see more evidence against the group and the individuals.
Unanimity on the designation was reached only after the Mumbai attacks. The U.S. forced Pakistan to cooperate in the effort, and China removed its "hold."
On the basis of the cable, The Hindu made independent enquiries earlier this month about the dissonance between the U.S. and India on this issue. An official source who was familiar with the deliberations in the sanctions committee at that time confirmed that the U.S. indeed had ''wanted to do things at its own pace,'' and was upset by the Indian proposal.
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')
MEA PRESENTS ITS WAR ON TERROR CREDENTIALS TO U.S.
INDIA ALLIED WITH NATO COUNTRIES IN VOTING AGAINST RESOLUTION ON GUANTANAMO PRISONERS
LONDON: Within days of breaking ranks with developing countries to vote against a Cuba-sponsored UN resolution condemning the ill-treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, a senior Ministry of External Affairs official telephoned the Political Counselor at the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi to "make sure" the Indian "gesture" had been noticed.
An Embassy cable dated April 25, 2005 ( 31383: confidential) sent to the State Department under the name of Charge d'Affaires Robert O. Blake, Jr. was quick to acknowledge the "positive gesture": "India's willingness to vote against the Guantanamo resolution reflects New Delhi's firm line on GWOT (Global War on terrorism) issues and suggests we may be getting through with our reminders to the GOI that countries aspiring to UNSC permanent membership need to step up to the plate occasionally."
The cable, accessed by TheHindu through WikiLeaks, reported: "Following up earlier approaches by the Charge, MEA Joint Secretary (Americas) S. Jaishankar called PolCouns on April 25 to make sure we had noticed the GOI's April 21 'no' vote on the Cuba-sponsored UNHRC resolution condemning US practices at Guantanamo. Jaishankar noted that most South Asian countries (Nepal, Bhutan, Pakistan and Sri Lanka) had abstained, while other major powers including China, South Africa, Malaysia and Mexico voted for the resolution (which failed 22-8-23). He argued that India, in going on record against the Cuban resolution, associated itself with a group composed mainly of NATO allies and other close partners like Japan and Australia."
Dr. Jaishankar, who was one of the nuts-and-bolts negotiators of the Indo-U.S. nuclear deal between 2005 and 2007, is now India's Ambassador to China. Mr. Blake, who like Dr. Jaishankar is a career foreign service officer, went on from India to become Ambassador to Sri Lanka and the Maldives, and is currently Assistant Secretary for South and Central Asian Affairs in the State Department.
"This was a positive gesture for the GOI," commented the April 2005 cable cleared by Mr. Blake, "made easier by the fact that New Delhi could invoke its policy of generally opposing country-specific UNHRC resolutions. That policy results in incongruities such as democratic India abstaining on a UNHRC resolution to sanction North Korea and opposing resolutions against Cuba and Belarus. As with the DPRK, the path of least resistance in this instance would have been an abstention."
The cable interpreted "India's willingness to vote against the Guantanamo resolution" as reflecting "New Delhi's firm line on GWOT [Global War On Terror] issues" and suggesting that "we may be getting through with our reminders to the GOI that countries aspiring to UNSC permanent membership need to step up to the plate occasionally."
The policy shift was also seen as providing "a useful starting point for discussion at the May 17/18 Global Issues Forum regarding US-India efforts to better synchronize our approach to multilateral human rights issues and coordinate in global efforts at democracy promotion, as we have done recently in Nepal."
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')
TOGETHER AND APART IN SRI LANKA
INDIA-U.S. MILITARY COOPERATION WAS EXCELLENT IN TSUNAMI RELIEF BUT CONCERNS VARIED ON REBUILDING OF PALALY AIRFIELD
CHENNAI: When U.S. troops arrived in Sri Lanka for relief work in the aftermath of the December 2004 tsunami, alarm bells rang in sections of the Indian establishment, media and the strategic community over possible American 'intrusion' into its backyard. But U.S. diplomatic cables of the time, accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks, show that the official thinking in the United States favoured utilising its military participation in relief efforts to strengthen "military-to-military" cooperation with other participants in the effort, especially India.
In New Delhi, Political Counselor Geoffrey Pyatt on January 7, 2005 clarified to Ministry of External Affairs Director (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Maldives) Taranjit Singh Sandhu the extent of U.S. military presence in Sri Lanka. On January 10, 2005, Ambassador David Mulford in New Delhi wrote in a cable ( 25165: confidential): "Sandhu seemed surprised to learn that the widely reported figure of 1,500 US troops in the country was incorrect, and that the USG [United States Government] was going to refocus some military assets on Indonesia because India was doing a very good job of providing assistance to Sri Lanka." And, Mr. Mulford added in a note in parenthesis: "We have heard from others that the Indian Embassy in Colombo has been a source of some of these alarmist reports about US military plans for Sri Lanka."
However, India, which dispatched its Navy to render immediate relief and medical aid to Sri Lanka, was actively cooperating with the U.S. troops on the ground. In Colombo, Ambassador Jeffrey J. Lunstead, apparently responding to suggestions that the cooperation be upgraded into joint Indo-U.S. efforts, saw no need to "turn this into some sort of joint (as opposed to cooperative) effort," which is in a cable sent on January 5, 2005 ( 24950: confidential).
Reporting that based on a U.S. initiative, a cooperation mechanism was in place for all foreign militaries working in the island nation, and that there was a daily coordination meeting, Mr. Lunstead said: "The Indians enthusiastically participate in this meeting."
'Are separate efforts'
The Government of Sri Lanka itself did not want this to be "a possible Indo-US condominium." The Ambassador had assured that country's Foreign Secretary that the U.S. was cooperating with India, "but these are separate efforts." Despite the "excellent relationship," the Indians were also "very careful to assert their independence." Indian High Commissioner in Colombo Nirupama Rao had made it plain that on the civilian side she was ready to share information, but she did not want any greater level of cooperation or coordination. When a number of bilateral donors formed a coordination group and nominated one member to be their liaison with the GSL, she emphatically stated that "India will not let anyone represent us."
The U.S. Ambassador added: "We and the Indians are good buddies and share all information. Our mil [military] program is about to get off the ground. Let's not try to fix something that is not broken."
On third party usage
If these observations were of a piece with the growing convergence of interests between India and the U.S., there were phases in which their military concerns were divergent. For instance, in discussions that preceded India's decision to assist the rebuilding of the Palaly airfield in the Jaffna peninsula, a crucial air and military base for the Sri Lankan security forces in the peninsula through much of the war with the LTTE, it is clear that the Indian help came with a rider that the U.S. thought did not accord with U.S. interests. India wanted to be consulted on all "third party usage of the airfield," which is in a cable sent on November 17, 2004 ( 22910: confidential). The U.S. thought such restrictions would be "unfortunate."
India's Deputy Chief of Mission in Colombo Mohan Kumar, and First Secretary Amandeep Singh Gill told U.S. Embassy officials that the proposed agreement on rehabilitating the Palaly airfield would include a clause requiring that India be "consulted" on all third-party usage. "We are not trying to shackle the Sri Lankan government," the Ambassador, Mr. Lunstead, quotes Mr. Gill as saying. "But we would naturally expect to be consulted."
However, Foreign Minister Lakshman Kadirgamar told the U.S. there were no such restrictions on third-party usage. "I personally settled that," he said.
In his comment, Mr. Lunstead noted the Indians and the Sri Lankan Foreign Minister had "widely differing ideas" about the contents of the proposed agreement, but the U.S. was on record expressing its concern on such restrictions.
(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')
INDIAN SUPPORT FOR UN RESOLUTION ON ISRAEL ANGERED U.S.
'INDIA'S AIM IS TO STAY IN GOOD FAVOR WITH NAM WHICH PRESUMABLY WOULD SUPPORT ITS CANDIDACY FOR A NON-PERMANENT UN SEAT'
LONDON: India's backing for the UN resolution on the Richard Goldstone Commission's report which heavily criticised Israel for its December 2008 military offensive against Gaza was interpreted by the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi as a bid to curry favour with Arab and Non-Aligned Movement countries in order to "build up support for its candidacy for a non-permanent seat in the run-up to October 2010 UN Security Council elections."
American diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks reveal heavy lobbying by the Embassy to get India to vote against the resolution which, it claimed, was "based on the biased conclusions of the Goldstone report.''
A cable ( 233042: confidential), sent under the name of Ambassador Timothy Roemer on November 4, 2009 — hours before the voting — said: "PolCouns [Political Counselor] delivered reftel demarche on November 4 to Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) Joint Secretaries for UN Political (UNP) and UN Economic and Social (UNES) Divisions and emphasized the significance the USG would place on India's support for opposing a resolution based on the biased conclusions of the Goldstone report.''
The same cable ends with the "comment'' that India was "likely" to vote for the resolution.
"India is likely to continue to vote along with Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries on issues related to the Middle East as it seeks to build up support for its candidacy for a non-permanent seat in the run up to October 2010 UN Security Council elections."
Earlier, in a cable sent on September 25, 2009 ( 227006: confidential), Mr. Roemer reported that the Embassy had delivered a demarche to the MEA Under Secretary for United Nations Economic and Social (UNES) Division Abhishek Verma on September 24.
"Poloff (Political Officer) emphasized to Verma that India's support for a balanced resolution, based on an unbiased approach to the Goldstone report, was of great importance to the United States…. Post (the Embassy) will continue to express our strong interest in this matter and will report progress …," it said.
Despite strong opposition from America and many of Israel's other allies, the resolution, drafted by Arab and NAM nations, was adopted by the UN General Assembly on November 5, 2009. It endorsed the Commission's report which stated that Israel had used disproportionate force, targeted Palestinian civilians and destroyed civilian infrastructure. It was also critical of Hamas and other Palestinian armed groups for mounting rocket attacks against Israeli civilian targets.
The non-binding resolution called for independent investigations by Israel and the "Palestinian side" on allegations of war crimes raised in the report. Both Israel and Hamas rejected the allegations.
Americans were to hurl the opportunism charge at India again when they failed to persuade it to vote against a string of "UNGA (UN General Assembly) resolutions with anti-Israel bias."
"The Indian Mission to the UN in New York will vote in favor of resolutions that reaffirm support for the three UN institutions devoted exclusively to Palestinian issues as New Delhi remains unwilling to review its policy on Israeli-Palestinian issues," said a cable dated November 19, 2009 ( 235589: confidential).
Commenting on India's position, Mr. Roemer returned to his old theme that its "aim is to stay in good favor with NAM countries which presumably would support India's candidacy for a non-permanent seat during October 2010 UN Security Council elections."
He wrote: "Despite India's good relations with Israel, India's interests in fora like the UN are usually in lockstep with Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) countries, especially on issues related to the Middle East…The Indian Government is likely to remain inflexible on its UN voting strategy through the 64th UN General Assembly and continue to support resolutions with an anti-Israel bias. Its aim is to stay in good favor with NAM countries which presumably would support India's candidacy for a non-permanent seat during October 2010 UN Security Council elections."
'FEW IN UPA CONCERNED ABOUT THE PLIGHT OF DALITS'
CHENNAI: "While the UPA has focused on bettering the lot of the Dalit community, it is dominated by upper caste Hindus, very few of whom are genuinely concerned about the plight of dalits," the American Embassy said in a cable sent under the name of Ambassador David Mulford on June 22, 2005 ( 35177: confidential), and accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.
'Little upward mobility'
"This ensures that dalits will continue to be an oppressed, discriminated group in India. Although the GOI [Government of India] has passed legislation and established government bodies to administer these laws, it has failed to attack the root of the problem," the cable said. "There are success stories, but acts of violence and prejudice against dalits, combined with government negligence, persist and there is little upward mobility among the dalit population."
The Embassy wrote that without a broader, more comprehensive approach to teaching tolerance and equality early in primary schools, it is unlikely that the social acceptance of caste-based discrimination will fade any time soon.
"The increasing dominance of the private sector in the economy could also result in greater economic polarization if there is no mechanism in place to combat job discrimination."
Embassy interlocutors reported that after one year of United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule, limited government efforts to improve the socio-economic status of dalits have shown little success. "Government reservation laws do not extend to the private sector, the largest and fastest growing segment of the economy. Most experts believe the key to ending discrimination is a comprehensive education campaign starting at the primary level to teach acceptance of dalits, a topic completely absent from India's public school system."
Failure to organise
"Despite the political success of dalits such as current Minister for Chemicals and Fertilizers Ram Vilas Paswan, dalits' failure to organize at the national level has limited their ability to demand equal rights. Until the Indian majority increases pressure to change the status quo, many dalits will remain trapped below the poverty line in manual labor jobs with few mechanisms for upward mobility," the cable went on.
CORRECTIONS AND CLARIFICATIONS
The first paragraph of the front-page report "No cash was given for votes: Manmohan" (March 24, 2011) said "… no one from the Congress or the government had indulged in any lawful act as alleged in a U.S. Embassy cable…" Many readers have pointed out that it should have been unlawful as correctly mentioned in a quotation in the second paragraph.
It was not the Sixth Pay Commission that introduced the revision of dearness allowance twice in every calendar year, on January 1 and July 1 as mentioned in the third paragraph of a report "6% dearness allowance rise for Central staff" (March 23, 2011). It was in effect even before the Sixth Pay Commission.
The expansion of NATO was given as North Atlantic Treaty Alliance in the third paragraph of a report "Cracks in Libya coalition" (International, March 23, 2011). It should have been North Atlantic Treaty Organisation.
The fourth paragraph of a report "Lokayukta to send White Paper to Moily" (March 21, 2011) said that Karnataka Lokayukta N. Santosh Hegde expressed his displeasure over the Jan Lokpal Bill. It should have been Lokpal Bill.
It is the policy of The Hindu to correct significant errors as soon as possible. Please specify the edition (place of publication), date and page.
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THE ASIAN AGE
STORM IN A TEACUP OVER WIKI CABLES
The WikiLeaks affair — which rocked our Parliament last week and again on Wednesday — should have just been a laugh, and then been allowed to slip through the sieve. It needed media exposure, and some exchange of gossip to keep things lively in the political space as might befit an active democratic ambience. That might have been the right way to treat diplomatic tittle-tattle. Instead, our politicians, not to say some of the chatterati, avidly opted for the tactics of foaming at the mouth. The outcome could not but have been a disappointment, and also some egg on the face, for some, as the BJP in particular has learnt.
The principal Opposition party had begun with a bang — in Parliament demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, no less, on the implied WikiLeaks allegation that the UPA-1 government had survived the Lok Sabha trust vote in July 2008 by "purchasing" Opposition MPs. The party ended its engagement with the WikiLeaks business on a whimper in the House on Wednesday when it became evident that there was a possibility (word on the ongoing police inquiry appears to hint at this, though the issue is not clinched) that BJP MPs, as part of a strategy to show the first Manmohan Singh government as corrupt, set themselves up for sale, but the plan backfired. Ironically, no one on the BJP benches turned a hair when Dr Manmohan Singh laid into Lal Krishna Advani, who remains his party's pre-eminent figure despite the decline in his official status.
Do allegations of "purchasing" MPs call for an investigation? They do. That's obvious. Working under the remit of the then Speaker, the redoubtable Somnath Chatterjee, whose sturdy reputation for fair play is widely acknowledged, a parliamentary inquiry found there was no conclusive evidence to support the charge. The Prime Minister merely quoted this finding, but he was accused of "misleading" Parliament. It is a black spot on our democracy when adducing the report of a parliamentary committee is held in contempt. A criminal investigation was also ordered into the allegation of trading of MPs, and entrusted to the Delhi police. That is still going on, and reportedly poised to take an interesting turn. In view of this, it is hard to see why many Opposition figures called for an investigation when that was already on. They did not make clear, but were they referring to an investigation into the diplomatic cables sent by the American embassy in New Delhi to the US state department in Washington, made public by WikiLeaks? If so, the idea is preposterous, and can only have emanated from weak political minds. Think of it. Will India countenance an official inquiry by a host nation (the US or any other) into its confidential diplomatic communications? Typically, such cables are in the nature of assessments or surmises (about a government or an official, and change according to situations). By definition, these cannot be a subject matter of investigation. The government is right in holding that diplomatic cables are "speculative, unverified and unverifiable". Court summons cannot be sent to writers of such assessments (diplomats, who legitimately enjoy immunity without which they cannot do their job) to appear in the witness box. We are not in an age or place where offering opinions is a crime, leave alone by accredited diplomats.
None of this matters as much as why the Opposition parties decided to home in on the WikiLeaks case when there is so much fodder around, and when it is self-evident that diplomatic cables are beyond prying? On current evidence, it appears that UPA-2's opponents would seize at any straw. In the event it appears futile to expect that proceedings in Parliament are going to be smooth in the foreseeable future.
THE ASIAN AGE
CURIOUS CASE OF CABLES
One of the delightful gifts I gave myself last Christmas was a curious collection of diplomatic despatches. Parting Shots is a collection of what its editor Matthew Parris has called "an extraordinary beast", the Valedictory Despatch of an envoy before he retired to walk the Labrador on the South Downs. The valedictories (as they were called) weren't just a confidential report to the minister or permanent secretary; convention deemed that they also be circulated to colleagues in the diplomatic service.
In 2006, the valedictories were formally discontinued by a humourless foreign secretary. Presumably she saw nothing funny in the observations of the pre-politically correct generation of Britons. Although the murder of yet another noble tradition was robustly denounced in the gentleman's clubs, New Labour's killjoy streak may have actually saved the United Kingdom from grave embarrassment in the age of WikiLeaks.
Random selections from two valedictories by Her Majesty's envoys to Thailand may explain why candour and confidentiality can't be separated. Writing on the eve of his departure in July 1967, Sir Anthony Rumbold debunked the belief that "Thais are rather easier for Europeans to understand". "It seems to me", he wrote uninhibitedly, "that Sino/ Indian/Malay/Thai ways of thought are so alien to ours that analogies between events in Southeast Asia and events in Europe are nearly always misleading… The general intelligence of Thais is rather low, a good deal lower than ours and much lower than that of the Chinese. But there are a few very intelligent and articulate ones…"
In a similar vein, Sir Arthur De La Mare in his valedictory of November 1973 noted that like "other people including ourselves the Thais tend to gauge their status by the past… Inordinately vain and race conscious by nature they look upon themselves as the elite of Southeast Asia. After 37 years of acquaintance with them… I cannot say that I find their pretensions entirely justified. Except for those who have Chinese blood they are indolent and feckless". Before launching into a clinical dissection of the Thai character, Sir Arthur confessed he was doing so "since it is now immaterial whether my superiors consider me better fitted for a lunatic asylum than for a diplomatic post…"
It must be a matter of intense reassurance to Washington D.C. that most of its diplomats do not share the refreshing lack of earnestness that marks their trans-Atlantic cousins. The phased release of what the White House described as the "unauthorised release of classified documents and national security information" by WikiLeaks has titillated the charmed world of politics, diplomacy and the media. Only India's Prime Minister is in denial, insisting the cables are "unverified and unverifiable". However, contrary to what the state department feared, the contentious cables have so far neither led to riots and regime change nor forced American diplomats into involuntary purdah.
The cables can be classified into two broad categories. First, there are the assessments of issues and events as seen through the prism of American interests. The US embassy in New Delhi thus inquired into the Bharatiya Janata Party's apparently unrelenting opposition to the Indo-US nuclear agreement and was urged by Washington to be inquisitive about the preferences and predilections of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. Although the quality of some of these assessments have been called into question — a British columnist wrote that "what the American embassy thinks about the (Conservative-Liberal Democrat) coalition (in the UK) suggests not an alliance at risk but an embassy with a talent problem" — their legitimacy is undeniable.
Diplomatic outposts, after all, exist to feed the home government with assessments of the goings-on in different parts of the world. What is, however, interesting is how little these assessments differ from conventional media wisdom of situations, suggesting the US embassy's reliance on what are called "open sources" — the euphemism for the lack of insider knowledge.
Secondly, there are reports (often woven into situation updates) of private conversations with public figures. It has, for example, emerged Rahul Gandhi's view of internal security is woefully one-sided and that the relationship of former national security adviser M.K. Narayanan with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was tempered by mutual disrespect. The scepticism of one journalist over the political potential of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is the subject of an entire cable — a pointer not so much to the journalist's perceived proximity to the family as to the paucity of the US embassy's open contacts.
WikiLeaks may have set out to damage US interests and perhaps even trigger a global wave of anti-Americanism. However, there is precious little by way of ammunition in the leaked cables to bolster the highly conspiratorial view of a US engaged in subversion. The 25,000 stolen US diplomatic cables don't as yet make for another Mitrokhin Archive. Arguably, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports — if these were ever to find their way into the public domain — could point to the non-diplomatic games. But these WikiLeaks indicate a separation between legitimate diplomacy and undercover operations. For all their interest in the survival of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the trust vote of July 2008, US diplomats could only gain limited access to the skulduggery of the operation to woo Opposition MPs — and that too because two unsavoury fixers chose to boast. If the UPA gets singed by witness account of a proposed act of criminality, it will amount to unintended collateral damage.
The image of the Ugly American hasn't been strengthened by WikiLeaks. The cables have been remarkably restrained — so unlike the eccentric British valedictories. Yet, the WikiLeaks have damaged American diplomacy grievously. They have subjected it to peer group ridicule.
The sheer porousness of a system that can lead to one disgruntled man downloading 25,000 secret cables from secure servers has left the world in a state of bewilderment. A nation unable to respect private conversations has been decried with the disdain befitting a diplomat incapable of holding his drink. After WikiLeaks, few will be willing to engage US diplomats in uninhibited conversation. That's good news for the American spook community.
Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist
THE ASIAN AGE
THE FRONTRUNNERS OF BENGAL
Six months ago virtually every political analyst in West Bengal was of the opinion that Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress alliance would sweep the forthcoming Assembly polls. Now they are not so sure. The tide, some aver, is turning; Marxist prospects are once again brightening. Instead of a landslide now most predict a tough fight.
While Bengal's voters might not be doing a major rethink, they certainly are hesitating. These last minute qualms point to a real concern about the future of the state, beset as it has been with years of stagnation and fading hopes.
The basis of the current irresolution seems to be the uncertainty surrounding Ms Banerjee's capability to deliver the state from its travails. Her intentions are good but capabilities suspect. She has also a slew of advisers, mostly men with considerable experience and acumen. But her handicap is her own politics and ground conditions in the state.
The development challenge in West Bengal is monumental. To begin with the state's population is huge; it was 80-plus million 10 years ago and is expected to be well above 90 million today, which is way higher than Germany's population of 82 million (2010 estimate). The state's density of population is the highest in the country and among the highest in the world (see table).
Not surprisingly, the pressure on land is enormous. Sadly, Ms Banerjee in the past has not supported the notion that industry can support far more hands and mouths than can agriculture. Her opposition to a few key industrial projects and smaller development projects around the state has encouraged a culture that completely resists land acquisitions. Should her party come to power, it is a given that the Opposition will use the same tactics against her and scuttle many a project.
Then there is the problem of a crumbling administrative apparatus. In the past decade or more, the Left government in power has presided over an ossifying state structure that cannot provide proper administration, development or dispense justice at the lower levels. Non-governmental organsiations (NGOs) too complain of huge functional problems at the grassroots caused by decrepit administrative structures and an increasingly obstructive Marxist hierarchy.
Turning around West Bengal would require a miraculous overhaul if not a complete resuscitation of the bureaucracy. Otherwise, even the best of intentions will not translate to grassroots development. Ms Banerjee's track record in the Indian Railways does not inspire confidence. None of her colleagues have demonstrated any kind of administrative skills either. Under the circumstances, to expect Ms Banerjee to do a Narendra Modi in Bengal would be completely unrealistic.
Ms Banerjee's shortcomings, however, are unlikely to have a significant impact on the outcome on the results of the Assembly polls. Her efficiency is not the issue; getting rid of the Marxists is. A tour of the state suggests that the electoral tide has decisively turned against the ruling Left Front. Evidence of a huge popular yearning for political change is mounting and palpable.
In many areas, Marxist grassroots workers claim they too would vote for a change of government. They say that even lower-level democratic structures such as the panchayats and zila parishads have become unreceptive and have come under the complete control of a static Marxist hierarchy. An interesting report done for the World Bank a few years ago, reported a dramatic decline in local participation in democratic institutions during the past one decade or so in the state. If this is a widespread phenomenon then a Trinamul victory would be substantial.
The next government, most agree, would be headed by the Trinamul Congress chief Ms Banerjee, who seems destined to be propelled to great heights by her powers of vitriol and rhetoric and not by ministerial performance.
The political implications of all this is not very reassuring. Bengal has long entered a period of high political risk. There is every reason to believe that a Trinamul victory would exacerbate rather than diminish potential conflict levels in the state.
Bengal will remain a high risk area for business and industry for some time to come. While trading activities are unlikely to be affected, setting up large industries would be subject to conflicting political pressures. Just as in the case of development initiatives, industrial initiatives too would face opposition in terms of land acquisitions, compensations and human resources.
It would be a huge mistake to assume that even a stunning electoral loss would lead to the destruction of the Left in West Bengal. The Left Front might collapse, given that it has been tottering for a while, and its principal constituent, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), is likely to come into its own. The CPI(M) would nevertheless remain a powerful political force in the state for many decades to come. In the circumstances, it might have been more sagacious on the part of the Marxists leadership to actually prepare for an electoral defeat rather than to somehow prevent it from happening. That way they could have formulated a strategy for the tumultuous years ahead and looked to the polls five years in the future.
Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi
HOARDINGS, BUSES AND AN ELECTION
Despite my strong views against political hoardings and their disturbing diarrhoeal display, I saw one a month ago that left me smiling. Finally, the authorities seemed to have woken up to my neighbourhood and were connecting it with feeder bus route to Jogeshwari station. Of course, all this had happened, the poster proclaimed, in rather large font size, "thanks to the untiring efforts of the Shiv Sena" and went on to credit local MLA Ravindra Waikar and corporator Sumangal Koltharkar, who were together hogging more space on the flex hoarding than all the matter put together. Both of them seemed happier than me as they smiled down beatifically.
And sure enough on March 1, after a rather high-decibel cracker-cacophony-coconut routine, the bus route was launched. Since that photo-op, I haven't met a single person who has taken the once-in-20-minutes bus. Yes, I haven't surveyed all the 3,000 plus flats in the colony but it's a bit weird that even the istriwallah and security guards still rely on the autorickshaw drivers who've elevated the sadism of refusing to ply to an art.
I asked an auto driver what he thought of the competition and he just shrugged and said with disdain, "This is only the beginning. Let elections get closer and we'll see more of this tamasha." As he spoke I drifted into a flashback about a spot on the east of the station four months ago. At two in the afternoon, in the blistering heat, songstress Usha Mangeshkar was belting out Mungda from six-foot-high speakers outside a puja pandal so loudly that one is sure Lord Satyanarayan himself must've fled from the noisy puja organised by the Autorickshaw Chalak Malak Sena's local chapter!
An hour later, while returning from the bank, I saw a vermillion-marked leader in all-white addressing the crowd. Pointing to a BEST bus driver honking to clear the autorickhaw drivers gathered bang on the road, "Let them honk all they want. I assure you the buses will never be allowed to ply. This is our rozi-roti and we will not let BEST snatch it away." His audience greeted this with loud cheers and lusty whistling.
So what had changed? Why is the Sena making these announcements at the fag end of the five-years it has enjoyed power? Is this being everything-to-everybody an indication of the desperation gripping the deflated saffron outfit as it stares at what could possibly be its toughest election, after uninterruptedly ruling the BMC for over decade and half?
The Sena party supremo in a marathon interview in Saamna said that he reads about civic complaints from readers in newspapers and immediately issues orders to his office bearers to see that these are addressed.
Balasaheb, can you ensure we don't get only invisible buses to ply in our colony? Jai Maharashtra.
Some senior legislators have articulated vigorously in the Assembly in the course of discussion on demand of grants for departments under the charge of the Chief Minister. Baig of PDP and Tarigami of CPI (M) were prominent speakers. Notwithstanding their customary anti-India punch that helps them socialize with the separatists, there is a marked note of change in thinking. The perceptible change is realization of the obvious implications of Centre-State relationship in a spectrum of trilateral interlocution now underway. While the Left leader has thrown a hint about his party likely to get reconciled to State's accession within the parameters of the Instrument of Accession signed by the last Maharaja of J&K, PDP leader has focused on the theme of "trust deficit" among the three regions and also between the state and the Union. Although he has not elaborated his "trust deficit" theory, yet in all probability he feels that in what might be the future shape of the State, Jammu and Ladakh regions are likely to bid good bye to long era of domination by the Valley that had led to discrimination. Talking of trust deficit that Jammu has about Kashmir, Baig is aware that there are fundamental views stimulating the trust deficit. Let us make no bones of ground situation if we mean to be in search of redeeming mutual trust. First, Jammu and Ladakh regions do not accept that J&K is a political issue. To them accession to the Indian Union is final and irrevocable. Therefore to them, what is happening is a question of bad governance bedeviling the State. But on the other hand, accession to Indian Union is challenged in Kashmir overtly as well as covertly for no other reason but that it is a Muslim dominated region. Secondly, Jammu and Ladakh regions want closest ties with the Indian Union in order to derive maximum benefits from its secular democratic dispensation and be active partners in country's all round development. But Kashmir region, with Kashmir-based leadership in the forefront of the government, stubbornly calls Kashmir a political issue, and refuses the national party in opposition in the Parliament to hoist Indian flag in Lal Chowk. If Kashmir leadership has any misunderstanding or complaints with the managers of Indian State, they should not have nursed animus against the tricolour, which is a symbol of Indian nation, and Jammu is part and parcel of that nation. The Kashmir dominated Government should have been alive to the sentiments of the people in Jammu region in the case of Amarnath shrine land row or flag hoisting issue but owing to Valley obsession it was not. This is a symptom of trust deficit. Kashmir considered hoisting of flag as an act of inciting public sentiment and attempt at disrupting peace. But the State Government did not think CPM (I) leader Brinda Karat's inciting of communal tension in the course of her address in women's seminar in Srinagar as threat to communal harmony of the State. That is where Jammu's trust deficit in Kashmir finds roots. Thirdly, while Jammu and Ladakh regions strongly support State's pragmatic and progressive relationship with the Indian Union, which means keeping pace with the march of political, economic, social and Constitutional development of the country, Kashmir region launched a regressive movement under the rubric of "freedom movement" for " azaadi, back to pre-1947, pre-1952, greater autonomy, self rule" & etc. Jammu and Ladakh regions consider all these demands retrograde, secession-oriented and totally unacceptable. Therein we find the roots of trust deficit. When plan allocations to Jammu region are lesser in ratio than its revenue proceeds, it leads to trust deficit.
In his speech PDP leader castigated Sheikh Abdullah's merger mantra of Persian verse "man tu shudam …." It is good he has spoken out what lies deep in his mind and the mind of the people he represents. Why then the hypocrisy of removing trust deficit among the regions? Because the plebiscite front was launched hence the trust deficit. Why should not his party leadership have the courage to tell the Kashmiris frankly that they denounce accession as such instead of adopting the ambivalence in "self-rule" formula? Sheikh Abdullah abandoned the nomenclature because he believed in steps forward; PDP leader repudiates it because he believes in steps backward. No political organization or ideology in Kashmir can force Jammu and Ladakh regions to submit to their regressive outlook in State's relationship with the Indian Union. Baig is too generous to Kashmir leadership by saying they made some mistakes. The fact is that they made no mistake in misleading the Kashmiri youth unless he means to say that their mistake was of accepting the accession. The fact of the matter is that instead of raking the issue of Jammu's trust deficit in Kashmir, the speaker should have actually discussed the trust deficit of Kashmir leadership within its fold. But that being a harsh and bitter reality, the PDP leader chose to divert it to regional trust deficit. It is not fair to say that the Indian Government did not implement the recommendations of the Working Groups on Kashmir. The constituting of team interlocutors and investing it with an upgraded mandate is a sequel to the basic work done by the working groups. Why does not PDP castigate the separatist organizations for putting a hurdle in finding a solution to Kashmir issue by refusing to talk to the interlocutors? By adopting non-committal attitude in this matter, the party is helping increase regional trust deficit.
Government has done well to introduce anti-ragging bill in the Assembly. Though the State Government has awoken very late to the need of giving teeth to anti-ragging campaign, it is a very welcome step. The menace of ragging the new entrants to educational institutions has spread like contagion in the country with dire consequences. A good number of new entrants to educational institutions unable to bear the shame and humiliation of ragging were forced to leave the institutions and cut short their educational career. This is a loss to the society and the country. In some cases fatalities also occurred. The loss of a precious young life is unbearable to the parents and to the nation. The Supreme Court has already slammed ragging and in some cases it has even reprimanded the State Governments for being lax in enforcing anti-ragging law. There are also cases in which the heads of the institutions had to bear the brunt of not being strict in enforcing the law. Although this menace has not taken any serious toll of life or career in the state so far, yet the Government cannot take it lying low. The Education Minister has taken a timely steep in tabling the anti-ragging bill, which hopefully will be passed by the House. However the important question is that of implementing the law, when formulated, in letter and in spirit. If it remains a law on the paper and is not enforced to the benefit and protection of student community, the exercise of giving it legal force would be futile. That should not happen.
ON THE SPOT
BY TAVLEEN SINGH
Even before Narendra Modi arrived for his session at last week's India Today conclave there was a buzz of excitement about his presence. Opinion in this gathering of liberal opinion makers was heavily weighted against him. The journalists were all implacably hostile and spent their time preparing questions on the violence that swept through Gujarat in February 2002 and that continues to haunt him wherever he goes. The drawing room intellectuals in the audience were prepared to have a more open mind on the Chief Minister of India's fastest growing state but admitted that there was something about him that continued to give them the creeps.
All in all there was a hornets' nest awaiting him and this is why the speed with which he disarmed the stings was so impressive. The Aaj Tak anchor, Ajay Kumar, who introduced him made no effort to conceal his hostility and although he admitted that Gujarat was making remarkable economic gains under Mr. Modi tempered this praise by adding that the chief minister was a 'cunning and clever' politician. The implication was clear: no matter how impressive this man may seem remember what he did after Godhra.
Mr. Modi ignored the implication and began his address with this question. 'Can our country become one of the world's super powers?' He answered the question himself by saying that his experience in Gujarat had led him to believe that India could indeed become one of the world's most powerful countries if it set itself some clear goals. He said the 'Gujarat model' was proof that the cynical, defeated mood that prevailed in the country about our political leaders and governance in general was wrong. 'In Gujarat we have shown that those same government offices, those same government officials and those same old laws and regulations can be used to bring about development and change.'
By the time he got to pointing out that the 21st century was widely acknowledged as Asia's century and that the race was between China and India he had everybody's attention. He then listed what he considered India's three advantages over China. Democracy, youth power and a judicial system that worked. It was on these three strengths, he said, that India needed to build. In the rest of his speech he explained what he had done in Gujarat to bring about the changes that even his worst critics admit have happened. His secret, he admitted, was that he had emulated another famous Gujarati politician, Mahatma Gandhi, by copying how the Mahatma had enlisted the masses into the movement for India's freedom. There had been other leaders before him who had made their contribution to the cause of freedom but they had failed to build a mass movement. In Gujarat all the changes that have happened since Modi became chief minister ten years ago were made possible because he made ordinary people participate in them through campaigns to gain popular support. He called it his 'jan andalon' method which he said he used for every change from rural healthcare to agricultural productivity.
When he finished speaking the drawing room liberals in my vicinity whispered among themselves about how wonderful it would be if Modi became prime minister. The questions were, as usual, about the violence he had presided over but they failed to deflect from the general sense of hope and optimism that Modi had succeeded in creating. Everyone I spoke to agreed that what India needed was a leader like Modi. What made this opinion even more pervasive was that Modi made such a vibrant contrast to the lackluster performance we had witnessed earlier from the Prime Minister. He addressed the first session of the conclave and said nothing new. In the monotone we have become accustomed to he gave us a catalogue of his government's 'achievements'. The Right to Information law, the Right to Education act, the rural employment guarantee scheme, the rural health mission…the list was long. When questioned about failures to deal with corruption, child malnutrition and black money he gave a series of bland answers and banalities.
In a conclave glittering with stars the two that shone brightest on the first day of the conclave were Shahrukh Khan, for obvious reasons, and Modi for making people believe in the possibility that there could one day be real change in politics and governance in India. If we had taken a referendum that morning I am prepared to bet that more than 80% of the audience would have voted in favour of a man they usually love to loathe.
Now for a few words about the India Today conclave. As someone who regularly attends this sort of conclave and who has for more than fifteen years gone every year to the greatest of them all in Davos I have to say that last week's conclave was the best I have attended in years. Aroon Purie has modeled his conclave on the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in Davos but so have many others. In Delhi there is a surfeit of Davos imitators and most of them are so dull that after the first couple of sessions most people start to flee. At the India Today conclave the sessions were so good that it was hard to miss any.
What made the sessions riveting was that almost none of them were politically correct. So in a session on whether religion had destabilized the sub-continent Subramaniam Swamy was allowed to express the view that there had been no religious problems in India until Islam and Christianity came along and demanded that everyone accept that their religion was the only way to God. He was allowed even to state that if Islam stopped declaring itself to be God's last message half the sub-continent's religious problems would sort themselves out. In a session on Kashmir the secessionist leader, Syed Ali Shah Geelani, was allowed to state his well known view that India had no right to Kashmir and that it belonged to Pakistan. He may have been booed afterwards but he was allowed to make his point. But, among the stars who glittered at the conclave, and there were many, I have to admit without any concession to political correctness, that Narendra Modi shone brighter than all the others. Even those who came prepared to hate him left with a very different view. This is because he spoke not of his personal 'achievements' but about the country India could become if we work towards a higher goal.
BY DR. S. S. VERMA
Modernization has brought a heavy pollution of Earth. There is no stopping of pollution. Different forms of pollutants have wreaked havoc. From air pollution to noise pollution to water pollution natural resources have been spoiled. In the post modern age there is a new and deadly form of pollution (i.e., electronic pollution) is silently shattering the nature. Many electronic innovations are frequently dialed, watched, surfed, charged, booted up, commuted on, cooked with, and plugged by us in our daily life. Considering our typical day, like most of the people, it starts in front of our coffee maker and toaster, ends as we set the alarm on our cell phone, and involves no end of computers and gadgets, televisions and microwaves in between. It is no exaggeration to mention that we are almost zapped all around with electronic gadgets. Today a large section of the society owns a cell phone, watch TV and use Wi-Fi. With such a growing association and dependence of electronic items in our day to day life style, we are ignoring to a great extent the adverse effects of their uses on our health just to satisfy our comfort and style. It is a well established fact that all most all the electronic gadgetry like mobiles, TV sets, electric lines, high voltage lines and computers etc. are electromagnetic polluters. The very electronic innovations that have changed our lives are also exposing us, in ways big and small, to an unprecedented number of electromagnetic fields.
Environmental pollution is largely thought of in terms of toxic gases and dangerous substances, but there is now another more insidious source of pollution which can be added to this list and that is electronic pollution. Invisible electronic pollution surrounds us twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, interrupting our bodies' natural flow of energy. Unlike well known types of environmental pollution, electronic pollution can neither be seen nor smelt and hence is more dangerous. As such its effects are hard to determine, yet logic alone should be enough to assess its potential hazards. We are talking here of the threats to health posed by the burgeoning number of electromagnetic signals all around us from various electronic gadgetry we are surrounded. The reality is that the atmosphere around us is swamped by hundreds of thousands of these emissions. We are being bombarded by them every moment of our lives, and it seems the height of naivety to imagine this electronic chatter is having no effect on us. And for some, that pollution has reached the point of toxicity, causing fatigue, irritability, weakness, and even illness. However, health and pollution experts are always ready with strategies for avoiding and mitigating the damaging effects of electro-pollution.
A look at the wide range of such emissions gives a sobering insight into the problems we are creating. As well as millions of new mobile phone subscribers, the air is also saturated with radio, television, and satellite broadcasts. The number of stations and channels is growing bythe day. Then add to this, signal from TV remote controls, microwave ovens, as well as computer games, faxes, photo copiers, scanners, and printers, and we have an environment that is already overloaded with electronic emissions. The bewildering thing is there are no plans to curb this pollution; just a chillingly complacent attitude that what cannot be seen cannot do damage. This it must be recalled was the attitude to nuclear energy. Initially it was looked upon as clean and safe and when voices of protest were raised these were dismissed as extremist. Yet the trouble with electronic pollution is that so far as no-one has yet appreciated the future hazards. Even worse is that by the time this problem is identified it will be difficult if not impossible to tackle.
The intensity of electronic pollution is very strong. As more and more electronic gadgets are used, pollution coming from these equipments is destroying the human lives and atmosphere. Not only the current generation is suffering but also the generations to come will be made to pay heavily for the present mindless electronic pollution. It is believed that the effect of electronic pollution will be apparent in a large number of ways. Predominantly these will be manifest in a growing list of psychological complaints including confusion, panic, paranoia, strong mood swings and violent and aggressive behaviour. Complaints of this nature have already seen a marked rise in incidence, and we believe that in the coming years this trend will escalate quite dramatically. Electronic pollution may also cause benign and malignant tumours as well as a wide number of physiological complaints that will be hard to account for. The fact is that this is a situation we should have never been faced with. Proper research should have eliminated the possibility of harmful electronic effects. But then with so much money involved it was always inevitable that such concerns would be carelessly brushed aside. There are number of non-conclusive reports on the use of say mobiles and such studies will just continue on with their "inconclusive and misleading" outcomes until enough persons are affected personally and begin to demand realistic and proper testing.
Studies on health effects of electromagnetic radiations indicate that:
* Symptoms such as asthma can occur within a period of two weeks for continuous nighttime exposure while a human infant is sleeping.
* Exposure may be associated with Alzheimer's disease, ALS, heart disease, miscarriage, birth defects, infertility, mood disturbances such as depression, and quality of sleep.
* Of particular concern is the link between EMFs and cancer, especially brain tumors in cell phone users.
* Electronic pollution poses particular dangers for children.
Recognizing that some exposure to electronic pollution cannot be avoided but there is need to exercise retrains in the use of electronic gadgetry.
* Do not use any electronic gadget other than for a couple of seconds in an emergency.
* Eating nutritional food and regular exercises may help physically shield us against the negative health effects of electronic pollution.
BY COL J P SINGH, RETD
A VIEW POINT
BJP's unprecedented electoral gains in the last election in Jammu region from 1 to 11 seats represents growing public resentment against Kashmiri domination and secondarily to the secessionism in the valley. The widely known position and programme of BJP for full integration of J&K with Indian Union and removal of political and economic disparities between the regions, as election plank, went well with the electorate giving it sizeable mandate to fight for the rights of Jammu region. Amarnath Yatra row after denial of land for temporary infrastructure followed agitation in Jammu region and counter agitation in Kashmir which pitted two regions in open confrontation. Pro Azadi agitation in the valley during the summer of 2010 enhanced the distrust, widened the gap and opened the eyes. Broad interaction by interlocutors to ascertain existence of regional confrontation has confirmed discrimination and divide. Luckily the situation being curious and alarming has been clearly understood by them.
Redressal of the issue is expected to be included in their report. Formation of Regional Council is expected to be recommended. BJP, NPP, JSM and other parties as well as social organizations have raised the issue in Legislative Assembly and outside in the streets. It is heartening to see that the prevalence of discrimination was questioned unitedly and vigorously in the Assembly and uniformly projected to the Interlocutors.
State govt's appointed Finance Commission examined the past budgetary allocations to the regions and studied disparities in development. They found glaring flaws in both the areas. Hence the members from Jammu and Ladakh took strong objection to the practice and advocated balancing of the allocations which was over ruled by the Chairman who happened to be govt appointee and pro establishment. The data published by the media revealed that Ladakh and Jammu were glaringly ignored in the allocation of funds and creation of developmental infrastructure. The report was presented to the govt by the Chairman without considering other members sensitivities, showing yet another act of domination and gross discrimination. The final report submitted to the govt and discussed in media suggests that Ladakh and Jammu have been glaringly ignored in the allocation of funds and creation of developmental infrastructure.
Disclosures of this report increased the regional tension and the deepened distrust. Resentment among the people of Ladakh has increased after these disclosures and their demand of Union Territory is becoming stronger by the day. They have adopted a different insignia of their own and adopted a regional Flag with this insignia to display their distinct identity. This has been done to express their stand against the discrimination and domination.
Seeing regional discrimination galore, the govt of India appointed separate planning commission task forces for Jammu and Ladakh to examine the disparities in the regions as well as to study the needs for development of these regions with a view to remove disparities and to hasten development. This exercise aims at neutralizing the unprecedented attention which was being given to the valley over the years and to minimize the developmental disparities. Hence the resurgence of BJP in Jammu region, sustenance of Panther Party and Jammu State Morcha and victory of an independent candidate in Kathua as well as revelations of Finance Commission and the formation of regional Task Forces are indications of increasing dissent and removal of imbalances.
Hence the demand of separate Regional Councils for neutralizing discrimination and removal of disparities is a logical conclusion. Regional Autonomy Committee appointed by state govt in 1998 under the chairmanship of Sh Balraj Puri has also recommended formation of Regional Councils with delegation of some specific legislative and administrative powers to the elected representatives of the councils and delegation of rest of the powers to the three tier Panchayat Raj System.
Will Jammu get a Regional Council or not or some other alternative will prop up is a matter of speculation. Which of model will Jammu get, if it is on the cards, should be made known earliest. Will it be the one recommended by state autonomy committee, or as demanded by Jammuites or the one yet to be recommended by Interlocutors. But if Statutory Council is the solution to the problem; what will be its contours, needs to be seriously debated inside and outside the Assembly. While this debate may not yet be allowed in the Assembly for various reasons; a serious debate outside the Assembly must start firstly to question the basis and prevalence of discrimination and secondarily to put the process through political, constitutional and administrative reviews.
The present govt must see the light of the day and clear the proposal out rightly in the cabinet meeting because the leaders and ministers of the coalition govt are often heard declaring that all regions will be treated at par and will get equal share in developmental and employment processes. Unless regional councils are formed and inter region harmony is established, Pakistan factor of fishing in the troubled waters and secessionism in the valley may not be neutralised.
( Writer is a columnist, political analyst and social worker )
AGITATORS NEVER SPARE A THOUGHT FOR COMMON MAN
IN ordering the removal of Jat agitators from railway tracks forthwith, the Punjab and Haryana High Court has done what should have actually been done by the administration in the first place. But the Haryana Government has been going soft on the agitation demanding reservation, which has been causing immense hardship to the common man. With railway tracks blocked at various places, anybody wanting to travel through Haryana has been hit. Particularly vulnerable have been students and daily commuters. The state has been suffering huge losses and even the thermal plant at Hisar has been panting for want of coal. Yet, the government has been taking it easy, as if it was none of its concern. Things could well worsen, with the Jats threatening to blockade Delhi and deprive it of milk and vegetables.
Unfortunately, that line of least resistance is not adopted in Haryana alone. The governments in almost all states tend to look the other way when the agitators take the law into their own hands and the man on the street does not know to whom to turn to for help. There is a virtual unhealthy competition among various groups of protesters as to who can cause the maximum disruption and inconvenience to the public because that is considered the measure of the success of an agitation.
Instead of curbing the tendency, the governments tend to encourage it, by offering concessions only after the "justice-seekers" have taken to the agitation path. That prods yet another group to "take to the streets till we get our dues". Bengal is a classic case of how a vibrant state got reduced to a wretched existence, thanks to the never-ending morchas, bandhs and agitations. The model must not be replicated on an all-India scale. The court intervention recently put a halt to the Jat agitation in Uttar Pradesh. Perhaps the same may also happen in Haryana. But this is one issue on which the government needs to come to the people's rescue, before the judiciary does.
TACKLING CHILD ABUSE
NEW BILL FILLS THE GAP IN JURISPRUDENCE
IT is heartening that the Centre has tabled the Protection of Children Against Sexual Offences Bill, 2011, in the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday. This was long overdue since child abuse has not only increased in the country over the years but is also having a deleterious impact on child psyche. Data from the National Crime Records Bureau show that the number of cases of sexual offences against children has risen from 2265 in 2001 to 5769 in 2008. The gravity of the problem can be gauged by the fact that two out of every three children are physically abused. The Bill has some unique features to protect children against offences of sexual assault, harassment and pornography. It provides for imprisonment up to seven years and a fine of Rs 50,000 for those found guilty of sexually assaulting children. Sexual assault will also include fondling the child in an inappropriate way, which would invite a punishment of a minimum of three years in jail. The Bill, which will now be sent to the Standing Committee for examination and scrutiny, envisages establishment of special courts for trial of such offences.
Significantly, the Bill provides for treating sexual assault as an "aggravated offence" when it is committed by a person in a position of trust or authority over a child, including public servants. This is a very important provision because studies by the Union Ministry of Women and Child Development, UNICEF and Save the Children, an NGO, reveal that most of the time the sexual abuse was perpetrated by someone known to the child or in a position of trust and responsibility. Not surprisingly, most children did not report the abuse to anyone. Studies reveal that only 53 per cent of children reported having faced some form of sexual abuse.
The Bill is expected to fill the gap in Indian jurisprudence. Though 19 per cent of the world's children live in India, the country has no special law at present to tackle the menace of child abuse. The Indian Penal Code does not spell out the definition of child abuse as a specific offence. Nor does it offer legal remedy and punishment for the offence. Moreover, the IPC laws are rarely interpreted to cover the range of child sexual abuse. Even the Juvenile Justice Law does not specifically address the issue. Despite all its merits, the Bill would help the country only if it is strictly enforced by the authorities after due enactment by Parliament.
LAWLESSNESS ON ROADS
CHALTA HAI ATTITUDE MUST CHANGE
MORE persons die in road accidents in India than anywhere else in the world. The dubious distinction was snatched from China last year, according to the WHO's Global Status Report on Road Safety. The number of accidents in India for 1,000 vehicles is 35 compared to four to 10 in developed countries. In more civilised societies such bloodshed on roads would have shaken public conscience and jolted the rulers. Indian patience, however, is phenomenal. Expectedly, the blot has not changed the chalta hai attitude of policymakers and executors.
One does not need experts to pinpoint causes of road mishaps. These are too obvious and known: drunken driving, speeding, laxity in issuing driving licences, low use of helmets and seat belts, pot-holed and unlit roads, and lack of immediate medical help and police action. In Punjab and Chandigarh the authorities have set up liquor shops right on highways in a bid to boost excise revenue. There are not enough policemen to regulate traffic or enforce the rules as a large battalion is deployed on VIP security. Given the frequent congestion and traffic jams on roads, security men make way for VIP vehicles. Since there are special planes and helicopters to ferry VVIPs, they perhaps do not realise the hardships of or risks to the safety of ordinary road users.
Any responsible leadership would have given mass road transport a priority to reduce the use of private vehicles. Every town and city would have got separate lanes for two-wheelers. Chandigarh has made some progress in this direction. Metropolitan cities are turning to rapid mass transport systems to manage local traffic problems. These are some commendable initiatives but the need is to change the official and public mindset and adopt zero tolerance towards lurking dangers to human safety. While creating awareness about the traffic rules among children, there is need to spank hard adults driving recklessly on roads.
LEARNING FROM JAPANESE CRISIS
BUT NO NEED FOR PANIC REACTION
BY O.P. SABHERWAL
IT would be a "tragedy of errors", to use a Shakespearean metaphor, if India's nuclear power programme — an area of advanced science where India is on the forefront world-wide — is slashed in response to the crisis brought about by nature's fury in Japan. That would be a big blow to Indian economic development, opening power generation to the ravages of crippling environmental pollution from coal-based thermal plants, and still leave a big void in the target that nuclear power generation was expected to provide — a target of 63,000 MWe during the two decades ahead.
That, of course, does not mean that India and the world can minimise the lessons of the nuclear crisis in Japan, unleashed by a monster tsunami in the wake of a massive earthquake. On the contrary, there are vital and very timely lessons that need to be imbibed by all countries — India certainly — that intend to use nuclear energy for economic advance. But in order to avail of these lessons, an objective, knowledge-based approach is required, not panicky knee-jerk responses.
It has rightly been stated by the Prime Minister in Parliament, and emphasised by top scientists, that the Indian nuclear establishment has all along given primacy to safety parameters — reactor design, double containment construction shielding the reactor vessel, elevating safety features progressively, etc. The result: India's nuclear power plants have now a passive safety system that shuts down reactor operations automatically even on a single fault. It is also true that the Indian reactors have successfully withstood both the tsunami onslaught in 2004 and the earthquake that devastated Bhuj in Gujarat in 2001. Barring the turbine fire accident at Narora in the first phase of indigenous reactor construction, the Indian reactor operations over three decades have set up a unique safety record.
And yet the nuclear crisis in Japan is a stern warning. All the existing safety parameters have to be re-examined and further strengthened. It must be accepted that Indian nuclear establishment's safety attainments are not enough. A more stringent approach to all facets of safety of reactor operations is called for. And the lessons from Japan's nuclear crisis need to be assiduously learnt. Some of these lessons can easily be pin-pointed.
First, the cooling system — the system that failed to perform in the Fukushima reactors, since there was insufficient electricity back-up after the tsunami resulted in botching up electricity availability. The lesson from Japan for India and the world is to insulate the cooling system that has a key role to perform once the reactor shuts down in an exigency. The Indian nuclear establishment has notable attainments of indigenous technology in building coolant channels. They have to extend R & D in this area in order to insulate the cooling system from all possible natural disasters, just as much as operational hick-ups.
Second, the Fukushima site was particularly vulnerable, being in the most dangerous seismic zone. Even if this may not be applicable to India, the site selection committee must apply more stringent criteria for all future nuclear projects. Gujarat's Kakrapar reactors have been rated (in 1998) among the best in the world. But notwithstanding the fact that they withstood the ravages of the Bhuj earthquake of 2001, future reactor sites must avoid earthquake-prone locations. Another criterion should be to avoid the east coastal zones despite Kalpakkam reactors having withstood the tsunami depredation in 2004. Experience has shown that it is the east coast areas that tsunamis have done the maximum damage.
Third, reactor design selection is of key importance in the safety parameters. The safety features have been progressively enhanced in modern reactor designs. The Indian indigenous PHWR reactors have enhanced safety features. Yet there should be no complacency; the Indian nuclear establishment needs to upgrade safety features of the new 700 MW PHWRs whose construction is being undertaken. Possibly, the Indo-Canadian nuclear cooperation agreement inked recently may enable joint research to this end.
It is equally important that in the selection of reactor designs of imported light water reactors, a very high degree of technological perfection is sought. These reactor designs have to be of proven record, and nothing but the best has to be accepted.
Our sympathies with the Japanese people notwithstanding, it should be accepted that the Japanese nuclear authorities of the Tokyo Electricity utility have been complacent, if not callous, in this regard. The Fukushima reactors were based on 1972 vintage GE boiling water reactor design, and their lifespan was fully exhausted. And yet, early this year before the devastating earthquake struck Japan, the Fukushima reactors' life-span was extended by another 12 years. And this without any technological upgrading, ignoring the extreme vulnerability of the seismic zone in which these reactors were located, thereby displaying the grip of commercial motives that pervade the Tokyo Electricity utility.
We note that Tarapur 1 and 2 reactors are of a similar GE boiling water design, and of even older vintage. But it must be said to the credit of the Indian nuclear establishment that technological upgrading has all along been injected into the GE design and the consequence is the success story that we have at Tarapur. In fact, Tarapur 1 and 2 reactors are not what the GE left behind and, with American sanctions imposed on Indian nuclear facilities for 30 years, it was Indian nuclear capability alone that kept these reactors functioning so well. However, even Tarapur 1 and 2 have long completed their life-span, and have been given a second five-year extension. For how long? The NPCIL must determine the life-span of these reactors, keeping stringent safety audit in view.
Fourth, and perhaps the most important factor in the quest for safety, is the need to elevate the status and capability of the Nuclear Regulatory Board. As of now, the AERB is subservient to the AEC whose operations it is supposed to watch — with vigilance and a critical eye. Even though the AERB is an adjunct of the AEC, its status as a watchdog needs to be upgraded. The Indian nuclear regulatory body should function somewhat like its counterparts in France and the United States: equivalent in status to the Atomic Energy Commission. The second requisite for the nuclear watchdog to effectively safeguard nuclear operations from transgression is to add to its knowledge pool by close linkage with the International Atomic Energy Agency.
All said and done, it needs to be recognised that extracting energy by splitting the atom is a knowledge-based technology, which requires constant upgrading. It has both plus and minus points. Radiation is a hazard if allowed to spin out of control. Its strong counter-balancing plus points are: (a) that nuclear energy is perhaps the only large-scale energy source that can fill the void of fast depleting fossil fuels, already being priced out, threatening inflation and the fabric of the economy; (b) it is the only non-pollutant alternative to fossil fuels that threaten catastrophic climate change, posing the biggest challenge to mankind.
It is for these reasons that nuclear energy has become a critical requirement of India's growth plans. The fact is that India's growth projections and the corresponding energy needs are unsustainable without large tapping of nuclear energy. The target of 63,000 MWe of nuclear energy capacity by the year 2032 as visualised in the Integrated Energy Policy takes these factors into account. It is a tough goal, but the attainments of India's nuclear establishment are paving the way for realising this goal.
The writer has authored a book, "India's Tryst With The Atom".
GETTING RICH QUICK
BY HARISH DHILLON
LIKE most school teachers, a major part of my energies have been spent in performing that fine tight rope act, in the management of my finances, between meeting my day-to-day needs and trying to secure a future where there will be no pay and no social security.
I often hated myself for not being able to buy my son the much needed pair of shoes till the following month or my daughter the book that she so desperately wanted to read till the next pay cheque arrived. Under the circumstances it was inevitable that my mind would sometimes turn to get-rich-quick schemes.
A very dear friend brought a stockbroker home to dinner and this gentleman succeeded in convincing me that my days of penury were over. I took a loan and the stockbroker duly invested the money in an impressive portfolio. The only trouble was that every morning, duly armed with a calculator, I would scan the stock figures and calculate my notional losses or gains for the day. If I gained I would sail through the day on a wave of euphoria. But if I had lost my day would be a dark day and I would lose even my joy in my teaching.
I decided that I didn't want to live with these mood swings and put my shares up for sale. I received some initial payment and was told that the rest would come to me after the closing of the year was over. The year closed and we were well into the New Year but there was still no sign of the money. I made a trip to Delhi, only to find that there was a big padlock on the stockbroker's office and no one knew where he had gone — not even his wife or his father. There was little consolation in the fact that my friend had been cheated of a much larger sum of money — it took me the major part of two years to pay back my loan.
My second foray into getting rich was in the field of real estate. A "friend" informed me of a beautiful plot on Dehra Dun's posh Rajpur Road which was up for sale. It was a distress sale and was being offered at a throwaway price. This throwaway price entailed not only taking another loan from my Provident Fund but also borrowing money from my sister. A year later I received a legal notice and realised what the 'distress' had been. The plot had been transferred to the seller on the basis of a fake will, the will had been contested and knowing that he would lose the case, he had found a convenient sucker in me.
After this I gave up all efforts to get rich quick and concentrated on performing my tight rope act to the best of my ability. Looking back, now, at the age of 69, I find that I performed rather well.
TROUBLED WATERS CAST AN OMINOUS NET OF SECURITY ISSUES
AS SOMALI PIRATES EXPAND THEIR KILLING FIELDS ACROSS VITAL SEA LANES IN THE INDIAN OCEAN, INDIA VIEWS IT AS AN ISSUE OF SERIOUS CONCERN THAT INFRINGES UPON NATIONAL SECURITY. INTERNATIONALLY, MORE RESOURCES ARE REQUIRED TO DEVELOP WORKABLE SOLUTIONS TO PREVENT CRIMINALS FROM EXPLOITING THE VACUUM LEFT BY SEVERE CIVIL STRIFE IN SOMALIA
IT started innocuously enough after Somali fishermen in the early 1990s began pushing back foreign trawlers fishing in the area. In time, it evolved into an extortion racket that saw local militias of an impoverished and war-ravaged Somalia extracting money from foreign fishing vessels operating in Somalia's exclusive economic zone. In the noughties it transformed into the world's major piracy centre accounting for 70 per cent of all worldwide attacks and 90 per cent of all hijackings.
Indeed, the growth of piracy off the coast of Somalia and in the West Indian Ocean region has been remarkable. Although Somali piracy is so far a ransom and hijack business, this combined with the threat it continues to pose to commercial shipping along with a worrying potential of developing an association with Islamist terrorism has put it at the forefront of international maritime policy making.
piracy figures for 2011 (As of 16 March)
Incidents for Somalia
Current vessels held by Somali pirates
Consider the statistics: From 22 attacks in 2000, Somali pirates carried out 108 attacks in 2008. In 2009, hijackings off the coast of Somalia accounted for 92 per cent of all ship seizures with 49 vessels hijacked and 1,016 crew members taken hostage.
Just how piracy in this region dominates world piracy statistics is evident from the fact that Somali pirates account for 14 out of the 15 hijackings and 83 of the 119 piracy attacks that have occurred worldwide so far this year. As of March 16 this year, there were still 28 vessels and 587 crew members held hostage by Somali pirates. This includes the Ukrainian tanker MV Faina hijacked in 2008 along with its cargo of battle tanks, artillery shells and grenade launchers.
Statistics is but only one aspect to the grim situation prevailing in the region. Of considerable concern is that in addition to 2.8 million sq km Gulf of Aden through which seven per cent of the world's oil supply travels through, Somali pirates have been plunging deeper into the Indian Ocean - up to 1,100 nautical miles from the Somali coast - to catch their prizes making it even more challenging to control. For example, in December 2010, the pirates had reached as far south as the Mozambique Channel, the island country of Madagascar and as far east as 72 degrees East longitude in the Indian Ocean, which is unprecedented.
Not surprisingly therefore Somali pirates continue to attack merchant ships plying the world's most valuable shipping lanes. On 12 February this year, the Maltese-flagged MV Sinin bulk carrier was seized 350 nautical miles east of Oman in the North Arabian Sea which was preceded a few days earlier with Italian-flagged MV Savina Caylyn hijacked 670 nautical miles east of Socotra Island.
The high stakes involved has resulted in several shipping companies directing vulnerable ships around the Cape of Good Hope to avoid the strategically important Gulf of Aden area. Maritime risk insurance of ships travelling through the region is in some cases estimated at $ 400 million.
Closer home, the issue is becoming a source of worry for India with Somali pirates operating within 600 nautical miles of the Indian coast. This is less than the distance between the Indian eastern coast and the Andaman and Nicobar Islands in the Bay of Bengal. Only last March 14, the Indian Navy captured 61 pirates and their ship, MV Vega-5, a previously hijacked ship, just 600 nautical miles from Mumbai. In two separate incidents in December 2010, a Panamian-flagged bulk cargo ship MV Renaur and a Bangladeshi vessel MV Jahan Moni were attacked and captured along with their respective crew by Somali pirates just 550 nautical miles off the coast of India.
With Somali operations fast expanding in depth, several international agencies including the European Union Naval Forces (EUNAVFOR) have been persuading India to either contribute to intelligence collected by its own maritime patrol aircraft or permit stationing of foreign maritime patrol aircraft to maintain surveillance on Somali pirates.
Maritime analysts say that the pirates are raising the stakes with greater numbers of weapons and more sophisticated tracking devices aboard both their smaller skiffs and the larger mother ships - often vessels that they have been seized earlier. And Somali pirates have been re-investing their profits to acquire better technology such as satellite phones, global positioning systems, outboard motors and, of course, weaponry.
So far Somali piracy is a ransom and hijack business. The problem has been serious enough to warrant six resolutions passed by the UN Security Council (UNSC) between 2008 and 2010, of which four were passed in 2008 alone. On ground, there are three sets of maritime forces conducting anti-piracy operations - the Combined Maritime Force's Task Force 151 or CTF-15 established in January 2009 to "deter, disrupt and criminally prosecute those involved in piracy"; Operation Allied Provider by North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) to protect World Food Programme aid delivery and to counter piracy; and Operation Atlanta by EUNAVFOR to ensure delivery to Somalia by World Food Programme vessels. The largest grouping is the International Contact Group on Piracy off the Coast of Somalia (CGPCS), created in January 2009 pursuant to UNSC Resolution 1851, with participation by nearly 60 countries and several international organisations that includes the African Union, the Arab League, the NATO and various UN departments and agencies. In addition, India along with China and Russia are among a few countries which conduct independent patrols. For India, these waters are valuable considering that India's imports and exports by sea are valued at $ 50 billion and $ 60 billion, respectively. About 24 Indian-flagged merchant ships pass through the Gulf of Aden every month while India's sea faring community accounts for six per cent of the world's seafarers.
At the heart of the problem lies the ongoing almost two-decade long civil strife in Somalia which is ridden by poverty, displacement, civil war, violence and an abject failure of domestic and international efforts to create an effective central government.
"It is vital that governments and the United Nations devote resources to developing workable administrative infrastructures to prevent criminals from exploiting the vacuum left from years of failed local government. All measures taken at sea to limit the activities of the pirates are undermined because of a lack of responsible authority back in Somalia from where the pirates begin their voyages and return with hijacked vessels," says Captain Pottengal Mukundan, Director of the International Maritime Bureau, which maintains a 24-hour piracy information centre.
Regular anti-piracy operations on the high seas by the Indian Navy had added a new dimension to its role. Tasked with protecting India's sea-lanes of communication (SLOC), encounters with pirates, especially on the western seaboard, are steadily increasing. In addition to its strategic role, this has now led to a bigger "police role" by protecting and liberating unarmed merchant vessels from civilian sea faring outlaws. Here, some sort of a parallel can be drawn with the army's long drawn anti-terrorist operations and combating proxy war, which fall in the domain of sub-conventional warfare or war by other means. Piracy and terrorism directly affect civilians and peacetime economic activity. They also have a bearing on foreign relations and trans-national organised crime, which in turn have a correlation with national security.
As per the International Maritime Bureau, which recently commended the Indian Navy for its anti-piracy operations, 174 ships have been hijacked between January 14, 2008 and March 11, 2011. The Indian Navy began deployment of warships on regular anti-piracy missions along India's SLOC in the Arabian Sea in October 2008. It has since escorted over 1,500 merchant ships and has had close to 20 confrontations with armed pirates in which five pirate vessels have been reportedly sunk and about 120 pirates arrested. As many as 25 Indian warships have rotationally patrolled the 490 nautical mile Internationally Recommended Transit Corridor from the Gulf of Aden eastwards.
Citing increased incidence of piracy in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) as an "issue of serious concern", the Ministry of Defence (MoD) has proposed a proactive role for the Indian armed forces under the United Nations flag to tackle the threat to maritime traffic from piracy.
"India is in favour of strengthening multilateral cooperation under a UN framework to meet the complex challenges of maritime security," says MoD's report for 2010-11, laid before the Parliament last week.
Stating that the threat of piracy and terrorism to international trade and safety of SLOC has emerged as a major problem, the report points out that piracy emerging from Somalian waters continues to endanger the safety of the sea lanes and is a matter of concern for the international community.
"The presence of Somali pirates in the waters around our western island territories has been an unwelcome development which requires heightened vigil," the report says. "The linkages between terrorists based in Somalia and transnational organised crime is also a cause of major concern globally," it adds. New Delhi is engaged in enhancing cooperative interactions and exchanges with various countries in the IOR to tackle common security challenges.
The Straits of Malacca in south east Asia, through which the trade routes to Japan, Korea and China lie, are also prone to piracy. More worrisome are reports of pirates operating off-the shores of the Andaman and Nicobar islands.
The India Ocean Region "is central" to India's maritime interests and security concerns as India's economic development is crucially dependent on SLOC because of the criticality of sea-borne trade in an increasingly inter-linked world, as well as because of the potential of vast economic resources of the oceans. Bulk of India's trade and energy requirements are met through the sea route.
The Indian Navy is the dominating maritime force in the IOR with an ever-expanding security role and responsibility in the emerging security paradigm. Its counter-piracy role is an opportunity to make its presence felt in international waters that are in close proximity to areas seeped in violence and instability and also to work alongside some foreign navies. Moreover, it provides for some realistic training ground in unconventional operations, an arena in which the navy's involvement may see an upward trend.
LOOKING TOKYO, GOING JAITAPUR
FUKUSHIMA IS NOT HIROSHIMA. BUT THE STATE'S NUCLEAR PLANT TOMORROW COULD WELL BE FUKUSHIMA TODAY
It can't be easy being a nuclear scientist these days. Following the Fukushima power plant accident, people have become allergic to nuclear power, seeing it as Satan's work-in-progress. Comparisons are drawn between nuclear energy and nuclear weapons (the kind they didn't find in Iraq), between Fukushima and Hiroshima, and Chernobyl and Three Mile Island.
Given the limited supply of traditional fossil fuels, their attendant problems, rising fuel costs, and the nability of wind, solar and alternatives to generate sufficient affordable energy, the debate about our needs being best met by nuclear power will not so easily die. Are we better off with the constant pollution of coalfired plants? Should we risk the catastrophe through generations of nuclear plant disasters?
The crippling of Tokyo's nuclear reactors has made governments everywhere, especially in Europe, revisit their approach to construction and safety standards. Jaitapur stands alone. Here, the debate is about something else entirely.
Shrouded in secrecy, its public hearings are a farce, the Jaitapur project is a mess, and it is of the government's making. People are banned from entering Ratnagiri district, including two judges, both of the Bombay High Court, one of whom later served in the Supreme Court. There's the revelation that the central Environment Ministry clearance relied on a 2008 EIA based on 22-year-old data which ignored the presence of two major creeks and had no analysis of marine life and biodiversity impacts. This in a place that is the home of over 15,000 fishing families. These elisions cannot be accidental. They point to a deliberate lack of transparency in planning.
Planning must be inclusive. It demands public participation. People have a right to question what is proposed in their backyards. That's not just desirable; it's the law both by statute and by judicial pronouncement. Constructing without public participation isn't planning; it's tyranny. Yet the principle is repeatedly ignored in all our large projects.
The point was hammered home in a debate on Times Now last week. Arnab Goswami's guests included Sunita Narain and Praful Bidwai representing the environmentalists, and two scientists, G Balachandran and VK Gaur. Ms Narain made a simple but effective case for transparency and debate. Mr Bidwai took a harder line, saying there should be no nuclear plant, and (as I understood him) no nuclear power at all. But it was Dr Balachandran, speaking first with his fingers steepled in front of his face like an atomic Sherlock Holmes, who typified everything wrong about the controversy. His composure evaporated after Bidwai and Narain spoke. Now, holding his forefingers up like a pair of missiles ready to launch at the two, he thundered, "I will not talk to nuclear illiterates!" Perhaps Balachandran forgets: we are all illiterates, in varying degrees. Certainly, most of us are nuclear illiterates. If he is only to speak to his own, he might as well not bother. If he propounds a project, he must show that it is safe. It is not for us to show that it is not.
The sanest and quietest voice was that of Dr Gaur. He made two major points both in line with Ms Narain's views: we need more transparency; and, while it is true we have the technology, we also have a 'cultural deficit'--an inability to do things right, to produce excellence. Dr Gaur's devastating assertions demand greater attention. Instead, all we get is pap: the Chairman of the Atomic Energy Commission recently said the streets of Delhi were more dangerous than nuclear plants, and predicted that Jaitapur being at a 10-metre elevation, "no tsunami" could ever affect it. Even for someone who apparently sits at the right hand of God, this is a bit rich. Like all of us, he probably cannot even predict breakfast.
There are very serious questions about Jaitapur. A Tata Institute of Social Sciences study says that the site is in an earthquake zone. Yet the Nuclear Power Corporation says there is no 'active' fault in a 5-km radius. But the Geological Survey of India says that in the 20 years between 1985 and 2005, there were earthquakes in the region. 92 of them. The biggest in 1993, topping out at 6.3 on the Richter scale; the GSI says the ground is unstable. Then there are the issues of local population displacement, environmental damage to a region rich with biodiversity, all of which seems not to matter to our nuclear boffins, and the problem of supervision: the nuclear overseer, the Atomic Energy Regulatory Board, is subservient to the Atomic Energy Commission. What might we expect from such a watchdog but that it will walk to heel? Japan is more disasterready than we have ever been. If they had such problems, nothing in our collective experience suggests that we will be better.
Fukushima is not Hiroshima. But Jaitapur tomorrow could well be Fukushima today. Obfuscation, shoddy EIAs, bans on entries and shouting on television are unconvincing answers to fundamental questions about trust and capability.
SPOTLIGHT ON TAX REFORMS
CENTRE OUGHT TO TAKE CUE FROM DELHI AND MUMBAI
Two state Budgets — one presented on Tuesday by the Delhi government and the other, a day later, by the Maharashtra government — have turned the spotlight on fiscal reforms in a manner that has many lessons for policy makers at the Centre. Among the many measures the government of Shiela Dikshit unveiled, the move to impose an additional tax on diesel-run cars sold in the Capital deserves special attention. It is a steep levy raising the registration tax burden on diesel-run passenger cars by 25 per cent. The inspiration for this levy has undoubtedly come from the recommendations made more than a year ago by an official committee, headed by former Planning Commission Member, Kirit Parikh. The committee had suggested that diesel-run cars should pay a special one-time tax to the exchequer since the fuel they use is heavily subsidised by the Union government. The Union government had accepted the report's findings, but fell short of implementing all its recommendations. It decontrolled petrol prices, but retained the subsidised price regime for diesel and other products like kerosene and liquefied petroleum gas.
That the Delhi government showed courage to tread where the Centre fears to go deserves unqualified approbation. Diesel vehicle manufacturers will resent the move but Delhi is the country's biggest market for diesel-run cars and the move will go a long way in reducing the distortions that subsidised pricing of diesel has created. The Union finance ministry should take the cue and move to gradually eliminate price preferences for diesel.
The Maharashtra government's Budget, on the other hand, rationalised the stamp duty regime for equity transactions. Consequently, the burden of stamp duty arising out of equity trading in the cash and derivate segments doubled. The net revenue gain following the stamp duty rationalisation is not much, but the move has given rise to a new set of problems since the stamp duty rates for similar transactions in other states, particularly in Delhi and Gujarat, are much lower. The stock-broking community has already begun exploring the options of routing its trades through offices located in other states, where the stamp duty rates are more attractive.
Traditionally, the stamp duty is an area of taxation that has remained in the domain of the states. There is no fear of diversion of business to other states when two neighbouring states have different stamp duty rates for transactions in non-moveable items such as real estate. However, this is not true of equity transactions because technology and the nature of the business allow them to gravitate towards states where the stamp duty costs are lower. The total revenue stamp duty on equity transactions is a tiny portion of the total revenue of Maharashtra, which still accounts for the largest equity trading business in the country. There is, therefore, merit in the argument that stamp duty rates for financial instruments such as stocks should be uniform across the country, protecting investors and brokers from complications arising out of the current taxation system. This may well boost stock trading volumes on the bourses and the states may even earn more revenue.
TOO EARLY TO POP THE BUBBLY
FUNDAMENTAL WEAKNESSES COULD SEND THE GLOBAL ECONOMY INTO A TAILSPIN
After going through a few harrowing days in the last week post the tragic earthquake in Japan, markets now seem to be convinced that all is fine. Immediately post the quake, markets seemed to wobble a bit, with the uncertainty around the impact on global supply chains as well as the concerns around the possible meltdown at the nuclear plant in Fukushima. Now, most market observers feel that the reactors are in control, the impact on global growth will be no more than 50 basis points and the supply chain disruptions are by and large manageable. So much so that markets in the developed world are back close to pre-quake levels, despite the possibility of new tail risks emerging in Libya, where we have the possibility of an extended conflict and no clear end game.
Global markets seem to be in a mood to keep rising, ignoring the continuing build up of concerns. We now have oil prices firmly ensconced at levels of $110, ongoing worries in the West Asia and North africa region, with Yemen and Bahrain in stress. The West seems to be getting entangled in a protracted conflict in Libya, from which there is no easy or clear exit. Portugal now looks likely to need a formal bailout, with fresh elections a strong possibility. Ireland remains a sovereign debt concern. The European Central Bank and Bank of England look likely to raise rates very soon, and the Federal reserve also will have to allow QE2 (quantitative easing) to wind down post June. Interest rates will soon start rising in Europe, and the Federal reserve will no longer buy treasuries. The impact of all this on markets and rates could be disruptive. The fiscal issues in both Europe and the US remain unanswered, with most long-term investors pessimistic due to the huge debt burdens and unsustainable fiscal arithmetic we see in these countries. Sometime soon, somebody will have to address these fiscal and debt issues and the actions needed to correct these problems will be painful and growth destructive. China and its attempt to soft land its economy, is another potential tail risk event.
Yet, despite all of the above baggage, markets refuse to give up, money continues to flow into developed market equities and momentum remains on the side of the bulls. Investors seem happy to play the accelerating growth profile of the US in 2011, and believe that earnings can continue to rise with expanding margins. The bulls point to current valuations being cheap, especially relative to interest rates, totally ignoring longer term valuation metrics like the cyclically adjusted private equity.
We will need a growth or inflation scare in the developed markets to shake the complacency markets are now in. The growth scare could come in the second half of the year, especially in the US, when some of the tax cuts and fiscal stimulus expire, and economists will have to pencil in slower growth in 2012. If growth were to slow next year, markets will wobble and fears of an extended period of sub par economic performance will reemerge. The winding down of the QE2 experiment, will also throw up some interesting challenges as to how do markets handle this transition? Will rates move up quickly? Who will be the buyer of treasuries to replace the Fed? Stopping further quantitative easing is one matter, but how will the Fed bring down its bloated balance sheet, and unwind its bond holdings? When will bond markets force action to tackle the fiscal mess, will international investors allow the dollar to go to zero? All these are questions, which will have to be addressed in the second half of 2011. While markets are complacent today, all these concerns are building.
Assuming for the moment that global markets hang in there for some time, before the inevitable day of reckoning, how will India fare? Surely, strong global markets and risk appetite will be good for India as well.
The problem to my mind is that the way markets are reacting, commodities and oil are leading financial markets on the way up. These asset classes seem to immediately catch a bid at the first sign of positive investor sentiment. India as we all know struggles in an environment of strong oil and commodity prices, with the fiscal, corporate earnings, inflation and current account all in stress. If one were to take current oil and commodity prices as a given, India would have to raise inflation estimates, earnings would have to be cut, interest rate will rise and valuations would not be in an attractive zone. India may go up, but will definitely lag other markets as it is difficult to see significant absolute upside. The equity market (EM) versus the debt market (DM) trade will also continue in such an environment. The reasons DM has been leading the way in 2011, viz. a narrowing economic growth gap with the EM economies, lower exposure to commodity and food inflation, less margin pressure on companies, etc will all be still operative.
India will actually do better (at least relatively) if global markets and risk appetite weaken. As one saw in the first couple of days post the quake, market weakness was led by oil and commodities and India did much better than its EM counterparts. Much of our underperformance was made up in a matter of a few days.
Thus, if global markets continue to go up, India will underperform on the way up, and has limited upside on an absolute basis, as the surge in global commodity prices will cap our upside. If global markets weaken, led by falling commodity prices, India will do better, but only in a relative sense, falling by less. Until we get our inflation issues sorted out, or push ahead on governance and economic reform-related issues, the market is probably stuck in a broad trading zone. The only caveat to this is investor positioning. Most funds are underweight in India, trading volumes have collapsed and investor interest in the country limited. The pain trade would be if markets move up, and catch investors on the wrong foot. Markets consolidating around current levels still seems the most probable outcome.
The author is founder and CEO, Amansa Capital
INDEPENDENT DIRECTORS - UNPLUGGED
Rajat Gupta has offered to be relieved of his responsibilities as the chairman of the executive board of Indian School of Business. The board will meet on April 2 and take a call on his offer. Gupta, ever since the Securities Exchange Commission charged him on March 1 of leaking market-sensitive information to Raj Rajaratnam, has resigned from the boards of Procter & Gamble, Harman, American Airlines, Genpact and New Silk Route. He has also exited the Public Health Foundation of India and Emergency Management & Research Institute.
The final word on Gupta is not yet out. It's perfectly possible that he may walk out exonerated of all charges. What the episode has done is turned the spotlight on the role of independent directors on the boards of companies. The matter has been brewing for a while. A few days ago, on March 11, the Securities and Exchange Board of India (Sebi) had barred three independent directors of Pyramid Saimira from sitting on the board of any listed company for two years for giving false and misleading statements.
Rules laid down by Sebi stipulate that independent directors ought to make up one-half of a board led by an executive chairman and one-third of a board that has a non-executive chairman. The idea is that promoters shouldn't enrich themselves at the cost of the business and the company should comply with all rules and regulations. The idea is noble. But rarely does one hear dissent from an independent director.
For the independent director, this is easy money. Each board meeting can fetch him up to Rs 20,000. The law allows 1 per cent of the profit to be distributed amongst the independent directors, and there is no cap on the stock options that can be offered. Prithvi Haldea of Prime Database had found a retired bureaucrat who had made Rs 2.2 crore in 2007-08 from his directorship in ten listed companies and two foreign companies. His income from four unlisted companies was on top of that. It's a cosy club. No promoter wants strangers on the board, and independent directors are only too happy to play along.
Analjit Singh has tried something new. Nine independent directors have been appointed on the boards of four of his companies: Max India, Max New York Life, Max Healthcare and Max Bupa. Singh claims that he didn't know seven or eight of them. According to him, executive-search specialist Egon Zehnder helped him zero in on the attributes required for the directors and then helped him find such people. On the Max India board, though he is the chairman, Singh does not represent the interests of the family. Instead, his family has appointed Ashwini Windlass, one-time head of Max India, to represent its interests. If the family has an issue, it is raised by Windlass and Singh may have to answer it!
But such instances are few. Primedirectors, a website promoted by Haldea to serve as a platform for independent directors, lists no fewer than 14,797 profiles — technocrats, retired civil servants and army personnel, doctors, engineers, chartered accountants, corporate honchos and lawyers, etc — and another 5,603 profiles are being processed. This should have been mined by all listed companies because these are highly-qualified people — there are 698 IIM graduates, 260 serving and former professors of IIMs, IITs and IISc, 1,157 hold doctorates and 85 per cent have work experience of at least ten years. Yet, Haldea says that only 350 companies have searched the website extensively and some 200 independent directors have been picked from it. To put the number in perspective, there are 4,946 companies listed on the Bombay Stock Exchange that need to comply with the rules on independent directors.
Their quality too remains suspect. In a paper titled "Independent Directors, A Myth", written in May 2009, Haldea had said that 198 independent directors were non-graduates, of which 75 per cent had not gone to college, and another 3,500 were plain graduates with no additional qualification. Of course, higher education is no guarantee of good governance but qualified people on the board can help. There was a time when Ranbaxy, India's largest drug maker, didn't have even one scientist on its board. However, several followers of the Radhasoami Satsang, of which the former promoter family happened to be followers, were appointed on the board.
Disillusioned with the whole concept of independent directors, Haldea says the work of the market regulator and auditors cannot be assigned to independent directors. Do they have the tools and expertise to detect fraud? Excessive policing hasn't helped the cause of corporate governance. Ever since the Satyam scam broke out in January 2009, Haldea says that over 2,000 high-quality independent directors have resigned. This is not a good sign.
Satyam is a good example of what independent directors can do. The independent directors on its board drew a lot of flak because they had no clue of Raju's misdemeanours carried out over seven long years. But directors appointed by the government did a wonderful job of holding the company together at a time when it appeared very close to implosion. Many of them worked overtime, personally called customers to hold on to Satyam and assured them of high-quality service delivery.
THE NUCLEAR BARGAIN
INCREASED PRODUCTION OF NUCLEAR POWER IN INDIA WILL COME WITH POTENTIAL DISASTER MANAGEMENT COSTS
To understand what occurred at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant (NPP), and its repercussions on the future of the nuclear industry, one needs a basic idea of how NPPs work. NPPs are built around a heavily-shielded reactor chamber or core, which is a concrete structure, surrounded by a steel containment vessel, designed to prevent radiation leaks.
Inside, fuel rods, (3.5 metres in length and 1 cm in width) are stacked up in fuel assemblies. The rods have zirconium casings, and contain uranium 235 (U-235), or mixes of U235 and plutonium Pt239, in concentrations of about three or four per cent.
When U-235 is hit by a neutron, it splits into lighter elements, releasing excess particles as energy. Fission is controlled by inserting or removing control rods from assemblies. The control rods contain cadmium or graphite to absorb free neutrons and they are used to shut down, or slow, fission.
The assemblies are covered by water, pumped at high pressure. The water absorbs heat, turning into steam, which drives turbines generating electricity, as in conventional thermal plants. The steam is continuously replaced by cool water and cooled in the massive towers characterising NPPs.
In some designs, the radioactive hot water in the reactor is cooled inside a heat-exchanger "jacket" of non-radioactive water, which receives heat but not the radiation. The non-radioactive water is used to drive turbines. Fukushima however, used Boiling Water Reactor (BWR) designs, which directly utilise radioactive water to drive turbines and can cause turbine contamination. Spent fuel, which is highly radioactive, is also stored under water to cool down, in shielded conditions before being moved out to landfills, which must be shielded for millennia.
The energy value of U-235 fission is immense. One kg of reactor fuel (containing 35 to 40 grams of U235) can generate as much electricity as 17,000 kg of coal. Even after shutdown, heat is generated by radioactive decay. Decay heat needs to be bled off for weeks after shutdown.
If heat isn't removed, and temperatures rise higher than the fuel-rods' melting point (about 1,000C for zirconium and 1,130C for uranium), the rods will melt. This is the so-called "China Syndrome" — a misleading description because meltdown cannot generate enough heat to burn through the Earth.
But if containment shields are busted, massive radiation may be released. This happened at Chernobyl in 1986 (the Soviet reactors had minimal containment shields) when radiation effects were seen across 140,000 sq kms. It nearly happened at Three-Mile Island, US in 1979.
This is what the Japanese are so desperately fighting to prevent. Damage-limitation after Chernobyl involved setting up an exclusion zone, depopulating 900 square kms permanently. Japan doesn't have that sort of territory to spare though it has evacuated a 20x20 zone temporarily.
It's imperative to locate NPPs near water sources and seawater is often used, as at Fukushima. At Fukushima, three of the six reactors were running on March 11, when the earthquake hit. Safety measures worked initially, with control rods inserted to shut down reactors as the quake was detected. Mains power failure occurred but backup generators kept coolant system working.
The tsunami hit some 30 minutes after the quake. The seven-metre waves destroyed supply pumps, and swamped the gensets and diesel tanks. The steam inside the reactors could no longer be cooled. Heat built up to a point where reactors 1, 2, 3 suffered meltdown damage according to the International Atomic Energy Agency. In addition, steam catalysed into hydrogen and oxygen, in a catalytic reaction with the zirconium. The hydrogen ignited to trigger at least two explosions. To prevent more explosions, containment vessels were deliberately breached to allow steam and hydrogen gas to escape.
The 1970s-commissioned Fukushima employed only active cooling systems. Newer designs use active-passive cooling designs, which are more effective if power is cut off. This disaster will surely lead to a global review of anti-earthquake and tsunami-safety measures for NPP. It will also lead to a review of spent fuel pool storage and landfill management.
This is all of particular relevance to India, which has 19 operational NPPs. In 2007-08, those supplied 1.6 GWh, operating at less than 50 per cent of total 3.7 Gw capacity due to lack of fuel. This was roughly two or three per cent of India's grid-generated electricity.
The 2008 Indo-US nuclear agreement cleared the way for uranium imports as well as new NPP technology. There are five new reactors under construction. By 2009-10, India's NPPs produced 22 billion KWh. In 2011-12, that may rise to 32 billion and by 2020, capacity is projected to increase to 20 Gw from 39 reactors, and by 2030, to 63 Gw.
These estimates are pre-Fukushima. After that, it's going to be a hard set of choices for India's policy-makers. Nuclear power presents a Faustian bargain. India has a huge, growing energy demand-supply gap and it's fuel-deficient to boot.
If everything works, nuclear power is a lot cheaper, cleaner and more convenient than coal, or other fossils. That is, of course, not accounting for potential disaster management costs. If there is a problem, however, the potential for damage is exponentially higher.
INDIA'S BROKEN NEWS BUSINESS
THE BUSINESS OF NEWS IS IN BAD SHAPE — AND IT SEEMS THINGS WILL ONLY GET WORSE
Why on earth would anyone want to launch a news channel in India? Going by the latest TAM Media Research figures, there are 122 news channels in the country, the highest in the world. They are fighting over an ad pie that has been stagnant between Rs 1,800 crore and Rs 2,000 crore for two years now. Worse still, the viewership of news channels shrank by one whole percentage point nationally between 2008 and 2010. Of the five listed TV news companies, only Zee News and TV Today made post-tax profits in March 2010. Most of the unlisted ones, except perhaps for Star News, are barely recovering their operating costs. Yet, many more news channels await permission to launch.
Where is this business headed?
"Nowhere," quips Ashok Venkatramani, CEO, MCCS, the holding company for Star News and other channels. He may well be right. Advertisers have been downgrading news. "Earlier news was meant to offer a credible environment to convey a message; today credibility is a big question mark," says C V L Srinivas, managing director, Starcom MediaVest Group. "Consumption is not driving this growth in channels," says I Venkat, director, ETV (Eenadu).
The issue is not competition, argue broadcasters. The issue is non-serious competition. Many of the new players have come into the market because they want to use a news channel as a tool of influence, favour or threat. These could be builders, politicians or even large companies from other industries.
A cursory analysis of the list of 122 channels shows that roughly one-third are owned by companies or individuals not interested in building a news brand. "Many of the regional channels are just political vehicles," says one industry insider. As a result, those who want to make money end up competing with those who have money to burn and no shareholder questions to answer. "Because of non-serious players, TRPs are not increasing," says B Ravindra Nath, managing director, Shreya Broadcasting. It entered the market in 2007 with Telugu news channel TV5.
The Telugu news market is, in fact, a great case in point.
In 2007, there were five news channels in Andhra Pradesh. In January this year, there were 17. Many joined the fray because Eenadu and Gemini were doing so well. There came the private equity-backed TV9, the corporate family-backed TV5, the political family-backed Sakshi TV and the media owner-backed ABN News. In the first few years, from 2007 to 2010, the news ad pie almost doubled to accommodate these channels.
But now, growth is slowing. From Rs 130 crore currently, advertising on Telugu news channels is expected to hit just about Rs 140-odd crore by March 2012. In a market where four more channels are expected, this will hardly sustain anything. The results are evident on air. "Standards are not what a news channel should have; there is a lot of content piracy and use of film content and a few of them resort to creating news sometimes when there is nothing much happening," says Sanjay Reddy, senior vice president of Sun Network and business head of Gemini TV.
That, incidentally, is the story nationally too, especially in hyper-competitive markets such as Hindi. As a result, "rates have been stagnant or have gone down over the last two or three years. A few large advertisers are managing without news. Earlier they bought news as a frequency builder, now they use other genres like music and movies to do the same thing", says Venkatramani.
In a normal business situation, there are three ways in which this would have been resolved.
One, there would be consolidation. But it is not happening. Take the example of Andhra Pradesh. "All the 17 (channels) are not surviving because of advertising. They have adequate funds so they will not sell out. Therefore, there is every possibility of an increase in operating costs," says Reddy. That is exactly what is happening. Vynsley Fernandes' Castle Media helps companies set up a news channel on a turnkey basis. He estimates that over the last two years, the capital expenditure to set up a language news channel has gone down to Rs 30-Rs 50 crore from Rs 50-80 crore. However, operating expenses have rocketed from Rs 15-20 crore a year to Rs 24-30 crore.
Two, there would be cost cutting. In the last two or three years, distribution and talent costs ( a huge chunk of operating costs) have more than doubled. Till digitisation takes place, distribution costs will remain out of control. So will talent costs, since everyone vies for the same pool of producers, reporters, technicians or anchors. "About 70 per cent of the operating costs in this business are not controllable, then what levers does one have to make money through cost cutting?" asks Venkatramani.
Three, there would be revenue augmentation, which shows some promise. For instance, currently 10 per cent of TV Today's topline comes from international and domestic pay revenues. "If I can increase it by even 2X [twice], it will be a significant change," says G Krishnan, executive director and CEO, TV Today Network. Star News is working on its mobile and online offerings. And media buyers approve. "Serious news seekers have started looking at alternate ways of getting news," says Srinivas.
What also works is doing long-term deals for revenue stability. For instance, Maruti Suzuki spent Rs 40 crore or so on advertising on news channels in 2010-11. "In news if something happens then you [an advertiser] get disproportionate ROI [return on investment]," says Shashank Srivastava, chief general manager, marketing, Maruti Suzuki. So a deal over one or two years works best. Over that period, some event or the other, which gets a huge spike in viewership, is bound to bring the "disproportionate ROI".
Also, some strong lobbying to make two policy changes could help. One, at present any channel that broadcasts news for even a few seconds is defined as a news channel. Actually, many channels broadcast several hours of pure entertainment programming every day. Just changing the definition will weed out the non-serious players.
Two, only 45 of the 122 news channels are members of the News Broadcasters Association (NBA) and are bound by its strict content code. The non-member channels are the worst offenders on content standards and piracy. Therefore, making a news channel licensee a mandatory member of the NBA would weed out a few more of the troublemakers.
What would really help tackle major problems is an autonomous media regulator à la Ofcom or Federal Communications Commission. However, this need has been ignored by all governments.
Despite the gloom, most broadcasters still believe that the fundamentals of the market – large audiences with growing purchasing power, a hunger for news and lots of unaddressed genres – remain sound. A lot of people still want to watch plain old news, reckons Barun Das, CEO, Zee News. He claims that in spite of a "zero sensationalism" policy, Zee News commands a premium from advertisers.
"It is a demand-supply thing. Every few years there will be some equilibrium," adds Sunil Lulla, CEO, Times Television Network. "There is some slowness. But other revenue streams such as subscription and sharing feed with mobile operators will start kicking in," says Krishnan. And so will consolidation. "Eventually, this will become a market with three or four players and 30 to 40 channels," says Das.
If it does happen, it is hoped that the consolidation would be worth all the trouble.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
BANK ON IT
THE RULES FOR NEW BANKS SHOULD PROMOTE SAFETY AND PUSH INCLUSIVE BANKING
The finance ministry is correct when it says that the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) should not curb foreign investments in new banks at 49%. Today, foreign investors can hold up to 74% stake in established banks; so, a lower ceiling for new banks will make no sense. Instead of making sectoral rules simpler and more transparent, the RBI's suggestion, if turned into policy, will create extra clutter with two different caps on overseas investments in the same sector. The government is also correct to specify that real estate companies should not be allowed into banking. The world over, real estate markets are subject to long-duration business cycles, which on the downturn have been known to destabilise entire economies. This happened in Japan in the 1990s and more recently in Europe and the US. Besides, India's real estate market is notorious because it is a sink of cash transactions and there's a very real fear that realtors could turn banks owned by them into money laundering machines. So, allowing real estate companies to start banks will be a recipe for the perfect economic storm and the RBI and the government are correct to be wary of such a possibility.
Less than half of all Indians have access to a bank account. This is a shame, in the second-fastest growing big economy in the world. For many years, inclusive banking has been talked about, but little has happened to push banking deeper into India's hinterland. Low levels of literacy combined with the mass of paperwork that all banks need to open and operate accounts contribute to the low penetration of banking. The lack of urgency demonstrated by commercial banks to open branches and services in rural India adds to the problem. To push banks to the hinterland, the RBI correctly specified that at least 25% of all branches of new banks must be in towns with populations of 10,000; the finance ministry should not dilute this by raising the population bar to 50,000. If it is serious about inclusive banking, the rules for all banks and not just new ones, should say that a quarter of all branches must be in towns where at least 10,000 people live.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
THE MIDDLE-EAST BIAS
THE WEST IS GUNG-HO ON LIBYA, QUIET ON BAHRAIN; THE PARTISAN ATTITUDE MUST END
The divisions within the international community over how to deal with events in the Arab world, particularly Libya, underscore the sensitivity that has accrued around the issue of intervention in a sovereign nation. The problem now is what to do in the event of a stalemate in Libya, with fighting continuing, and comparatively under-equipped opposition forces unable to take advantage of the air strikes and push back Gaddafi's forces. The idea of a de facto divided country is being bandied around as a possibility. That, per se, would be undesirable. It would recall the Iraq experience — difficulties associated with continually enforcing a no-fly zone and sanctions — as well as invite charges of western countries working to keep oil flowing from opposition areas. True, with Gaddafi having issued ominous threats, and his forces attacking opposition-held cities, the immediate need was to stop a bloodbath. But the West has remained quiet on, and maybe passively colluded with, Saudi Arabia's intervention in Bahrain. If the underlying principle of the widespread protests in the region has been the removal of autocratic regimes, that applies just as well to Bahrain as to Libya. The Saudis may have sent in their forces under the legality of a regional pact, but that does not take away from the fact that Bahrain is also witnessing protests for democracy.
There is an open but never-admitted partisan approach, based on big-power strategic considerations, at work in the region. That ambiguity has also reflected itself in India's stand on enforcing the no-fly zone over Libya. After abstaining from the vote at the UN, New Delhi has voiced opposition to the air strikes being carried out against forces loyal to Gaddafi. And remained largely silent on the clampdown against peaceful protestors in Bahrain. The cause of freedom and democracy must be upheld unreservedly. True, tribal complexity, like in Yemen and Libya, might complicate the picture. But an international consensus on first exerting pressure, and using force only to prevent civilian deaths, while seeking a negotiated, peaceful transition, must emerge.
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
PRIVATISING THE IIMS
THE HRD MINISTRY'S MOVE TO CHANGE THE INSTITUTIONAL CHARACTER OF IIMS IS ILL-INFORMED AND MISCONCEIVED
Behind the public view and without any public debate, the Union HRD minister is trying to reshape the public institutional character of IIMs. In a recent meeting with chairpersons and directors of IIMs, he took a series of inter-linked decisions which, if implemented, would effectively transfer the control of these institutions to private donors. These decisions are ostensibly aimed at 'shaping up' the IIMs to meet the competitive challenges from foreign players once the sector is opened up. They are based on the reports of three committees that the minister constituted in early 2010.
Intriguingly, all the three committees comprised existing chairpersons or directors of various IIMs who themselves were appointed by the minister. They had no representatives from the academia, industry bodies or the civil society. None of these committees held any consultation with major stakeholders: IIM faculty, the industry or the alumni. Neither did they collect any ground data, or record the views of past chairpersons/directors of IIMs or eminent educationists to substantiate their findings. Yet, interestingly, the three reports converge to support the virtual privatisation of IIMs by altering the basic structure of their existing memorandum of association (MoA).
Report of the committee on new governance structure sets the stage by proposing that the society of each IIM should be reconstituted so that it can run the institute as an "enlightened owner" (equivalent to a person having an equity stake in the company) and by suggesting that "the most effective way of bringing this about is by making the payment of a substantial donation to the IIM as a condition for becoming a member of the society." The reconstituted society would exercise all powers and ratify the appointments of the chairman and members of the board of governors (BoG) as also the director of the institute. The BoG would manage the institute on behalf of the society and the director should function as the chief executive officer (CEO)." As regards the composition of the BoG, the report states: "The practice of board members representing different interests should be given up."
Obviously, implementing these changes would require some major changes in the existing MoAs of the IIMs. The committee, however, provides no justification how the recommended dispensation (payment of donations) make the reconstituted societies more 'enlightened' than the existing ones. The fallacious nature of its argument is quite obvious. The argument can be turned on its head by contending that such an "equity stake" is more likely to lead to commercialisation of IIMs and destroy their public character and role. Similarly, changing the multiple stakeholder representational character of the BoG suggested by the committee is downright objectionable as it strikes at the very root of the concept of public institution.
The second committee on faculty and research deals with a number of issues: meeting faculty shortages; use of technology to leverage faculty resources, faculty productivity, etc. Most of the recommendations are in the nature of subjective views without any cogent argument or supporting data; some are misconceived. For example, the report suggests introduction of a system of annual work plan which is to be prepared by every faculty member at the beginning of an academic year based on a set of standard yardsticks (irrespective of his/her aptitude or academic interests) and submitted to the BoG for approval. At the end of the year, the BoG would review the plan's actual performance.
IIMs already have peer reviewed faculty performance appraisal systems. What is new in the committee's proposal is that the academic work of the faculty is to be submitted for review to the BoG, a nonacademic body having no competence. Nowhere in the world non-academics sit in judgement over academic work of the faculty. However, in the committee's own words such an "external review" is necessary "as a control system".
This reflects an efficiencyoriented corporate mindset that pervades the whole report. It seeks to treat the faculty as 'employees' who need to be controlled for attaining 'optimum performance'. This is totally repugnant to the idea of academic freedom necessary for any institution of higher learning. Ill-effects of such corporatisation of higher education elsewhere in the world are welldocumented; they are also very much visible among the private educational institutions in India. Such corporatisation affects not only the academic culture of the campus but also the very content of curriculum, which increasingly tends to get commoditised through efficiency seeking standardisation. Thus, the idea put forward by the committee to model the IIMs on the lines of a business firm is completely misconceived.
The third committee suggests measures for fund-raising by the IIMs on the lines of the US business schools. These recommendations are nothing wrong in themselves; but they sound ominous when read in the context of other two reports.
The shared mental model that underlies the three reports as also the decisions of the HRD minister is as follows: hand over the control of IIMs to private donors (.20 crore for corporate and .5 crore or less for individuals) and allow them to run the institutes 'efficiently' as 'enlightened owners'. It suits the government, as it is relieved of the fiscal burden of running the new IIMs (older IIMs have become financially self-sufficient more than a decade back) and it also suits the 'enlightened owners' as they 'own' the prestigious IIM brand at a ridiculously low price and are granted the licence to run the IIMs in their best 'enlightened' interests. The public at large only has to stand and watch the demise of a great icon of modern India — if the HRD minister has his way.
PRODIP KUMAR SETT PROFESSOR, IIM-CALCUTTA
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
A DIGITAL LIBRARY BETTER THAN GOOGLE'S
On Tuesday, Denny Chin, a federal judge in Manhattan, rejected the settlement between Google, which aims to digitise every book ever published, and a group of authors and publishers who had sued the company for copyright infringement. This decision is a victory for the public good, preventing one firm from monopolising access to our common cultural heritage.
Nonetheless, we should not abandon Google's dream of making all the books in the world available to everyone. Instead, we should build a digital public library, which would provide these digital copies free of charge to readers. Yes, many problems — legal, financial, technological, political — stand in the way. All can be solved.
Let's consider the legal questions raised by the rejected settlement. Beginning in 2005, Google's book project made the contents of millions of titles searchable online, leading the Authors Guild and the Association of American Publishers to claim that the snippets made available to readers violated their copyrights. Google could have defended its actions as fair use, but the company chose, instead, to negotiate a deal.
The result was an extremely long and complicated document known as the Amended Settlement Agreement that simply divided up the pie. Google would sell access to its digitised database, and it would share the profits with the plaintiffs, who would now become its partners. The company would take 37%; the authors would get 63%.
That solution amounted to changing copyright by means of a private lawsuit, and it gave Google legal protection that would be denied to its competitors. This was what Chin found most objectionable.
In court hearings in February 2010, several people argued that the Authors Guild, which has 8,000 members, did not represent them or the many writers who had published books during the last decades. Some said they preferred to make their works available under different conditions; some even wanted to make their work available free of charge. Yet, the settlement set terms for all authors, unless they specifically notified Google that they were opting out.
In other words, the settlement didn't do what settlements are supposed to do, like correct an alleged infringement of copyright, or provide damages for past incidents; instead, it seemed to determine the way the digital world of books would evolve in the future.
Chin addressed that issue by concentrating on the question of orphan books — that is, copyrighted books whose rightsholders have not been identified. The settlement gives Google the exclusive right to digitise and sell access to those books without being subject to suits for infringement of copyright. According to Chin, that provision would give Google "a de facto monopoly over unclaimed works", raising serious antitrust concerns.
Chin invited Google and the litigants to rewrite the settlement yet again, perhaps by changing its opt-out to opt-in provisions. But Google might well refuse to change its basic commercial strategy. That's why what we really need is a non-commercial option: a digital public library.
A coalition of foundations could come up with the money — estimates of digitising one page vary enormously, from 10 cents to $10 or more — and a coalition of research libraries could supply the books. The library would respect copyright, of course, and it probably would exclude works that are now in print unless their authors wanted to make them available. It would include orphan books, assuming that Congress passed legislation to free them for non-commercial use in a genuinely public library.
o dismiss this as quixotic would be to ignore digital projects that have proven their value and practicability throughout the last 20 years. All major research libraries have digitised parts of their collections. Large-scale enterprises like the Knowledge Commons and the Internet Archive have themselves digitised several million books. A number of countries are also determined to out-Google Google by scanning the entire contents of their national libraries. France is spending €750 million to digitise its cultural treasures; the National Library of the Netherlands is trying to digitise every Dutch book and periodical published since 1470; Australia, Finland and Norway are undertaking their own efforts.
Perhaps Google itself could be enlisted to the cause of the digital public library. It has scanned about 15 million books; two million of that total are in the public domain and could be turned over to the library as the foundation of its collection. The company would lose nothing by this generosity, and might win admiration for its good deed.
Through technological wizardry and sheer audacity, Google has shown how we can transform the intellectual riches of our libraries, books lying inert and underused on shelves.
But only a digital public library will provide readers with what they require to face the challenges of the 21st century — a vast collection of resources that can be tapped, free of charge, by anyone, anywhere, at any time.
(The author is a professor and the director of the Harvard University Library)
© The New York Times News Service
THE ECONOMIC TIMES
AND ALL THE KING'S HORSES…
In a quaint conversation between Alice, of the Alice in Wonderland fame and Humpty-Dumpty, the latter keeps reiterating a promise made to him by no other than the King, to put him together again, if he fell off the wall. But, we know the gory end result.
There are many such promises made in the Finance Bill, 2011, which perhaps are made with the right intent, but at this juncture one is skeptical of the results.
For instance, in his Budget speech, our finance minister (FM) had remarked: "The Indian automobile market is the second fastest growing in the world and has shown nearly 30% growth this year. World over, substantial investments are being made in the field of hybrid and electric mobility. To provide green and clean transportation for the masses, National Mission for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles will be launched in collaboration with all stakeholders." Alice would probably ask quite a few questions, such as: How? When? Hybrid and electric mobility requires a lot more to be done in India, rather than just R&D in this sector — such as proper roads, but that is another story. In India, hybrid or electric cars will have limited usage, by a limited number of people, on some limited routes. Yet, this announcement will perhaps (if one is as optimistic as Humpty Dumpty) be a beginning.
Some countries are not only pumping money into R&D efforts to promote the green auto sector but are also providing tax credits to the enduser. In the US, tax credit was available to hybrid diesel-electric cars, under the Energy Policy Act, 2005, which ended in December last year. These had granted up to $3,400 as a tax credit for the most efficient hybrid cars and $4,000 for a compressed natural gas vehicle. However, there was a catch. This policy called for a phase-out of the tax credit when any specific automaker sold more than 60,000 hybrid or clean-tech vehicles. News reports indicate that certain Toyota and Lexus hybrids became ineligible for tax credits much earlier in September 2007.
Now the focus in the US is on electric vehicles. Indeed, federal and state legislations offer many 'greenies' to the end-user. The tax credit can be as much as $7,500 plus a $2,000 credit for charging equipment installation. In 2009, Japan, in its tax reform bill, waived an automobile weight tax for people buying hybrid cars and electric vehicles. News reports suggest that normally, people purchasing new cars pay the automobile acquisition tax, which is equivalent to roughly 5% of the car's price, and three year's worth of the weight tax. This means a person buying a ¥2million car that weighs 1.3 tonnes has to pay approximately ¥1,6,700 in taxes. If the car is a hybrid or an electric vehicle, the taxes will be waived completely. Other types of environmentallyfriendly cars also receive 50-75% tax reductions depending on their fuel economies and exhaust emissions.
In addition, Japan also imposed a higher levy on gasoline. By adopting a carrotand-stick approach, many hybrid or electric car models, such as Toyota's Prius, became a runaway success in Japan.
As Zenobia Aunty's tiny car (not an expensive hybrid, but not a petrol-guzzling vehicle either) shudders as it passes a huge pothole, she grimaces. But, she is kind enough to let us know that a few concrete announcements have also been made. Full exemption from basic customs duty and a concessional rate of central excise duty has been extended to batteries imported by manufacturers of electrical vehicles. The government has announced excise duty of 10% on vehicles based on fuel cell technology. Exemptions have also been granted from basic custom duty and special CVD, to critical parts/assemblies needed for hybrid vehicles. The government has also proposed a reduction in excise duty on kits used for the conversion of fossil fuel vehicles into hybrid vehicles.
Indirect tax experts point to a slight snag in the above and say certain clarifications are required. In India, car manufacturers tend to import completely knocked down (CKD) kits and carry out assembling in India. As per a recent notification, a CKD unit means a unit having all necessary components, parts or sub-assemblies for assembling a complete vehicle but does not include a kit containing a pre-assembled engine, gear box or transmission mechanism; nor one that includes a chassis or a body assembly for a vehicle. The fear is that these kits may continue to be subject to higher basic custom duties, despite the intent to promote import of assemblies needed for hybrid vehicles.
The Mumbai heat, the pollution and the long drive is getting to Zenobia Aunty. So you are sure, she will keep a watch out on how the National Mission for Hybrid and Electric Vehicles will pan out.
STORM IN A TEACUP OVER WIKI CABLES
The WikiLeaks affair — which rocked our Parliament last week and again on Wednesday — should have just been a laugh, and then been allowed to slip through the sieve. It needed media exposure, and some exchange of gossip to keep things lively in the political space as might befit an active democratic ambience. That might have been the right way to treat diplomatic tittle-tattle. Instead, our politicians, not to say some of the chatterati, avidly opted for the tactics of foaming at the mouth. The outcome could not but have been a disappointment, and also some egg on the face, for some, as the BJP in particular has learnt. The principal Opposition party had begun with a bang — in Parliament demanding the resignation of the Prime Minister, no less, on the implied WikiLeaks allegation that the UPA-1 government had survived the Lok Sabha trust vote in July 2008 by "purchasing" Opposition MPs. The party ended its engagement with the WikiLeaks business on a whimper in the House on Wednesday when it became evident that there was a possibility (word on the ongoing police inquiry appears to hint at this, though the issue is not clinched) that BJP MPs, as part of a strategy to show the first Manmohan Singh government as corrupt, set themselves up for sale, but the plan backfired. Ironically, no one on the BJP benches turned a hair when Dr Manmohan Singh laid into Lal Krishna Advani, who remains his party's pre-eminent figure despite the decline in his official status. Do allegations of "purchasing" MPs call for an investigation? They do. That's obvious. Working under the remit of the then Speaker, the redoubtable Somnath Chatterjee, whose sturdy reputation for fair play is widely acknowledged, a parliamentary inquiry found there was no conclusive evidence to support the charge. The Prime Minister merely quoted this finding, but he was accused of "misleading" Parliament. It is a black spot on our democracy when adducing the report of a parliamentary committee is held in contempt. A criminal investigation was also ordered into the allegation of trading of MPs, and entrusted to the Delhi police. That is still going on, and reportedly poised to take an interesting turn. In view of this, it is hard to see why many Opposition figures called for an investigation when that was already on. They did not make clear, but were they referring to an investigation into the diplomatic cables sent by the American embassy in New Delhi to the US state department in Washington, made public by WikiLeaks? If so, the idea is preposterous, and can only have emanated from weak political minds. Think of it. Will India countenance an official inquiry by a host nation (the US or any other) into its confidential diplomatic communications? Typically, such cables are in the nature of assessments or surmises (about a government or an official, and change according to situations). By definition, these cannot be a subject matter of investigation. The government is right in holding that diplomatic cables are "speculative, unverified and unverifiable". Court summons cannot be sent to writers of such assessments (diplomats, who legitimately enjoy immunity without which they cannot do their job) to appear in the witness box. We are not in an age or place where offering opinions is a crime, leave alone by accredited diplomats.
CURIOUS CASE OF CABLES
One of the delightful gifts I gave myself last Christmas was a curious collection of diplomatic despatches. Parting Shots is a collection of what its editor Matthew Parris has called "an extraordinary beast", the Valedictory Despatch of an envoy before he retired to walk the Labrador on the South Downs. The valedictories (as they were called) weren't just a confidential report to the minister or permanent secretary; convention deemed that they also be circulated to colleagues in the diplomatic service. In 2006, the valedictories were formally discontinued by a humourless foreign secretary. Presumably she saw nothing funny in the observations of the pre-politically correct generation of Britons. Although the murder of yet another noble tradition was robustly denounced in the gentleman's clubs, New Labour's killjoy streak may have actually saved the United Kingdom from grave embarrassment in the age of WikiLeaks. Random selections from two valedictories by Her Majesty's envoys to Thailand may explain why candour and confidentiality can't be separated. Writing on the eve of his departure in July 1967, Sir Anthony Rumbold debunked the belief that "Thais are rather easier for Europeans to understand". "It seems to me", he wrote uninhibitedly, "that Sino/ Indian/Malay/Thai ways of thought are so alien to ours that analogies between events in Southeast Asia and events in Europe are nearly always misleading… The general intelligence of Thais is rather low, a good deal lower than ours and much lower than that of the Chinese. But there are a few very intelligent and articulate ones…" In a similar vein, Sir Arthur De La Mare in his valedictory of November 1973 noted that like "other people including ourselves the Thais tend to gauge their status by the past… Inordinately vain and race conscious by nature they look upon themselves as the elite of Southeast Asia. After 37 years of acquaintance with them… I cannot say that I find their pretensions entirely justified. Except for those who have Chinese blood they are indolent and feckless". Before launching into a clinical dissection of the Thai character, Sir Arthur confessed he was doing so "since it is now immaterial whether my superiors consider me better fitted for a lunatic asylum than for a diplomatic post…" It must be a matter of intense reassurance to Washington D.C. that most of its diplomats do not share the refreshing lack of earnestness that marks their trans-Atlantic cousins. The phased release of what the White House described as the "unauthorised release of classified documents and national security information" by WikiLeaks has titillated the charmed world of politics, diplomacy and the media. Only India's Prime Minister is in denial, insisting the cables are "unverified and unverifiable". However, contrary to what the state department feared, the contentious cables have so far neither led to riots and regime change nor forced American diplomats into involuntary purdah. The cables can be classified into two broad categories. First, there are the assessments of issues and events as seen through the prism of American interests. The US embassy in New Delhi thus inquired into the Bharatiya Janata Party's apparently unrelenting opposition to the Indo-US nuclear agreement and was urged by Washington to be inquisitive about the preferences and predilections of finance minister Pranab Mukherjee. Although the quality of some of these assessments have been called into question — a British columnist wrote that "what the American embassy thinks about the (Conservative-Liberal Democrat) coalition (in the UK) suggests not an alliance at risk but an embassy with a talent problem" — their legitimacy is undeniable. Diplomatic outposts, after all, exist to feed the home government with assessments of the goings-on in different parts of the world. What is, however, interesting is how little these assessments differ from conventional media wisdom of situations, suggesting the US embassy's reliance on what are called "open sources" — the euphemism for the lack of insider knowledge. Secondly, there are reports (often woven into situation updates) of private conversations with public figures. It has, for example, emerged Rahul Gandhi's view of internal security is woefully one-sided and that the relationship of former national security adviser M.K. Narayanan with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was tempered by mutual disrespect. The scepticism of one journalist over the political potential of Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi is the subject of an entire cable — a pointer not so much to the journalist's perceived proximity to the family as to the paucity of the US embassy's open contacts. WikiLeaks may have set out to damage US interests and perhaps even trigger a global wave of anti-Americanism. However, there is precious little by way of ammunition in the leaked cables to bolster the highly conspiratorial view of a US engaged in subversion. The 25,000 stolen US diplomatic cables don't as yet make for another Mitrokhin Archive. Arguably, Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports — if these were ever to find their way into the public domain — could point to the non-diplomatic games. But these WikiLeaks indicate a separation between legitimate diplomacy and undercover operations. For all their interest in the survival of the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the trust vote of July 2008, US diplomats could only gain limited access to the skulduggery of the operation to woo Opposition MPs — and that too because two unsavoury fixers chose to boast. If the UPA gets singed by witness account of a proposed act of criminality, it will amount to unintended collateral damage. The image of the Ugly American hasn't been strengthened by WikiLeaks. The cables have been remarkably restrained — so unlike the eccentric British valedictories. Yet, the WikiLeaks have damaged American diplomacy grievously. They have subjected it to peer group ridicule. The sheer porousness of a system that can lead to one disgruntled man downloading 25,000 secret cables from secure servers has left the world in a state of bewilderment. A nation unable to respect private conversations has been decried with the disdain befitting a diplomat incapable of holding his drink. After WikiLeaks, few will be willing to engage US diplomats in uninhibited conversation. That's good news for the American spook community. * Swapan Dasgupta is a senior journalist
AMERICA'S DIVINE INTERVENTION IN LIBYA
This may be a first for the Arab world: An American airman who bailed out over Libya was rescued from his hiding place in a sheep pen by villagers who hugged him, served him juice and thanked him effusively for bombing their country. Even though some villagers were hit by American shrapnel, one gamely told an Associated Press reporter that he bore no grudges. Then, on March 23 in Benghazi, the major city in eastern Libya whose streets would almost certainly be running with blood now if it weren't for the American-led military intervention, residents held a "thank you rally". They wanted to express gratitude to coalition forces for helping save their lives. Doubts are reverberating across America about the military intervention in Libya. Those questions are legitimate, and the uncertainties are huge. But let's not forget that a humanitarian catastrophe has been averted for now and that this intervention looks much less like the 2003 invasion of Iraq than the successful 1991 gulf war to rescue Kuwait from Iraqi military occupation. This is also one of the few times in history when outside forces have intervened militarily to save the lives of citizens from their government. More commonly, we wring our hands for years as victims are massacred, and then, when it is too late, earnestly declare: "Never again". In 2005, the United Nations approved a new doctrine called the "responsibility to protect", nicknamed R2P, declaring that world powers have the right and obligation to intervene when a dictator devours his people. The Libyan intervention is putting teeth into that fledgling concept, and here's one definition of progress: The world took three-and-a-half years to respond forcefully to the slaughter in Bosnia, and about three-and-a-half weeks to respond in Libya. Granted, intervention will be inconsistent. We're more likely to intervene where there are also oil or security interests at stake. But just as it's worthwhile to feed some starving children even if we can't reach them all, it's worth preventing some massacres or genocides even if we can't intervene every time. I opposed the 2003 Iraq invasion because my reporting convinced me that most Iraqis hated Saddam Hussein but didn't want American forces intruding on their soil. This time my reporting persuades me that most Libyans welcome outside intervention. "Opinion was unanimous", Michel Gabaudan, the president of Refugees International, told me on March 23 after a visit to Libya. Mr Gabaudan said that every Libyan he spoke to agreed that the military strikes had averted "a major humanitarian disaster". "Men, women and children, they are ecstatic about the role of the coalition but worried that it may not continue", he said. Some Congressional critics complain that US President Barack Obama should have consulted Congress more thoroughly. Fair enough. But remember that the intervention was almost too late because forces loyal to Col. Muammar el-Gaddafi were already in Benghazi. Indeed, there was a firefight on March 20 right outside the hotel in Benghazi where foreign journalists are staying. A couple of days of dutiful consultation would have resulted in a bloodbath and, perhaps, the collapse of the rebel government. Just before the airstrikes, Libyans were crossing the border into Egypt at seven times the normal rate. Once the strikes began, the exodus ended and the flow reversed. For all the concern about civilian casualties, Libyans are voting with their feet — going towards the airstrikes because they feel safer thanks to them. Critics of the intervention make valid arguments. It's true that there are enormous uncertainties: Can the rebels now topple Col. Gaddafi? What's the exit strategy? How much will this cost? But weighed against those uncertainties are a few certainties: If not for this intervention, Libyan civilians would be dying on a huge scale; Col. Gaddafi's family would be locked in place for years; and the message would have gone out to all dictators that ruthlessness works. The momentum has reversed. More airstrikes on Col. Gaddafi's artillery and armour will help. So would jamming his radio and television broadcasts. Arab countries are already delivering weapons and ammunition to the rebels, boosting their capabilities and morale. In short, there are risks ahead but also opportunities. A senior White House official says that the humanitarian argument was decisive for President Obama: "The President was chilled by what would happen to the people of Benghazi and Tobruk. There were critical national security and national interest reasons to do this, but what compelled the President to act so quickly was the immediate prospect of mass atrocities against the people of Benghazi and the east. He was well aware of the risks of military action, but he also feared the costs of inaction". I've seen war up close, and I detest it. But there are things I've seen that are even worse — such as the systematic slaughter of civilians as the world turns a blind eye. Thank God that isn't happening this time.
THE FRONTRUNNERS OF BENGAL
Six months ago virtually every political analyst in West Bengal was of the opinion that Mamata Banerjee's Trinamul Congress alliance would sweep the forthcoming Assembly polls. Now they are not so sure. The tide, some aver, is turning; Marxist prospects are once again brightening. Instead of a landslide now most predict a tough fight. While Bengal's voters might not be doing a major rethink, they certainly are hesitating. These last minute qualms point to a real concern about the future of the state, beset as it has been with years of stagnation and fading hopes. The basis of the current irresolution seems to be the uncertainty surrounding Ms Banerjee's capability to deliver the state from its travails. Her intentions are good but capabilities suspect. She has also a slew of advisers, mostly men with considerable experience and acumen. But her handicap is her own politics and ground conditions in the state. The development challenge in West Bengal is monumental. To begin with the state's population is huge; it was 80-plus million 10 years ago and is expected to be well above 90 million today, which is way higher than Germany's population of 82 million (2010 estimate). The state's density of population is the highest in the country and among the highest in the world (see table). Not surprisingly, the pressure on land is enormous. Sadly, Ms Banerjee in the past has not supported the notion that industry can support far more hands and mouths than can agriculture. Her opposition to a few key industrial projects and smaller development projects around the state has encouraged a culture that completely resists land acquisitions. Should her party come to power, it is a given that the Opposition will use the same tactics against her and scuttle many a project. Then there is the problem of a crumbling administrative apparatus. In the past decade or more, the Left government in power has presided over an ossifying state structure that cannot provide proper administration, development or dispense justice at the lower levels. Non-governmental organsiations (NGOs) too complain of huge functional problems at the grassroots caused by decrepit administrative structures and an increasingly obstructive Marxist hierarchy. Turning around West Bengal would require a miraculous overhaul if not a complete resuscitation of the bureaucracy. Otherwise, even the best of intentions will not translate to grassroots development. Ms Banerjee's track record in the Indian Railways does not inspire confidence. None of her colleagues have demonstrated any kind of administrative skills either. Under the circumstances, to expect Ms Banerjee to do a Narendra Modi in Bengal would be completely unrealistic. Ms Banerjee's shortcomings, however, are unlikely to have a significant impact on the outcome on the results of the Assembly polls. Her efficiency is not the issue; getting rid of the Marxists is. A tour of the state suggests that the electoral tide has decisively turned against the ruling Left Front. Evidence of a huge popular yearning for political change is mounting and palpable. In many areas, Marxist grassroots workers claim they too would vote for a change of government. They say that even lower-level democratic structures such as the panchayats and zila parishads have become unreceptive and have come under the complete control of a static Marxist hierarchy. An interesting report done for the World Bank a few years ago, reported a dramatic decline in local participation in democratic institutions during the past one decade or so in the state. If this is a widespread phenomenon then a Trinamul victory would be substantial. The next government, most agree, would be headed by the Trinamul Congress chief Ms Banerjee, who seems destined to be propelled to great heights by her powers of vitriol and rhetoric and not by ministerial performance. The political implications of all this is not very reassuring. Bengal has long entered a period of high political risk. There is every reason to believe that a Trinamul victory would exacerbate rather than diminish potential conflict levels in the state. Bengal will remain a high risk area for business and industry for some time to come. While trading activities are unlikely to be affected, setting up large industries would be subject to conflicting political pressures. Just as in the case of development initiatives, industrial initiatives too would face opposition in terms of land acquisitions, compensations and human resources. It would be a huge mistake to assume that even a stunning electoral loss would lead to the destruction of the Left in West Bengal. The Left Front might collapse, given that it has been tottering for a while, and its principal constituent, the Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M), is likely to come into its own. The CPI(M) would nevertheless remain a powerful political force in the state for many decades to come. In the circumstances, it might have been more sagacious on the part of the Marxists leadership to actually prepare for an electoral defeat rather than to somehow prevent it from happening. That way they could have formulated a strategy for the tumultuous years ahead and looked to the polls five years in the future. * Indranil Banerjie is a defence and security analyst based in New Delhi
DECEPTION OF DESIRE
Questioner: Sadhguru, I desire freedom, but the more I desire it why does it seem to be less obtainable? Sadhguru: Generally people think freedom is physical. What freedom means for most people is "I become free from my work, my family and from all restrictions" — all that one thinks as restrictions — "if all these restrictions that bind me are gone, I become free". But wanting to become free also becomes a bondage. The very desire is a bondage. The moment this desire arises in you, you are trapped in the bondage. Everything that you see, everything that you perceive through your five senses namely sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch — one way or the other ends up as a thought process within yourself. Suppose you see something beautiful. For example you see a very beautiful car. The first thing, the first thought that strikes in your mind is: "Oh! How beautiful the car is". Between this and before it becomes a desire like, "Oh! I wish I had it", there is a certain space or amount of time. A thought is simply a natural process because the five sense organs are functioning, perceiving things constantly. And it ends up as a thought process. But it is we who unconsciously make it into a desire. Once the desire comes, there is a drive; there is a sense of incompleteness. A desire means that you are incomplete. A desire means, "I am here; something is there. If I reach this or get this, I am going to be total. When I reach the goal I am going to be total". That is the basis of a desire. At every step your desire will create an illusion. You often think that "If I get this, that is it". You think that after your desire is fulfilled you will be happy and content. Whether you really thought about it this way or not you must know that this is the fundamental quality of the desire. — Sadhguru Jaggi Vasudev, a prominent spiritual leader, is a visionary, humanitarian, an author, poet and internationally-renowned speaker. He can be contacted at www.ishafoundation.org
BENGAL GEARS UP FOR ANOTHER ROUND
DEBAKI NANDAN MANDAL
THE Election Commission appears to be keen on ensuring a free and fair poll in West Bengal. It is intent on following the "Bihar model". This is apparent from two successive visits by the six-member EC team and the frequent shuttling between Delhi and Kolkata by the deputy election commissioner.
What exactly is this "Bihar model"? In essence, it demonstrates that the Election Commission has switched gears from macro-management at the national level to booth-level management. This change in focus had enabled the commission to conduct a free and fair election in Bihar.
The formula presupposes a properly updated electoral roll, one that has not been subject to manipulation. The commission has insisted that the electronic photo identity card must be provided to every voter. This is called "cent per cent coverage of EPIC" in order to eliminate the possibility of false and bogus voting.
In view of the disturbed law and order situation, the election will be held in six phases. The booths will be manned not by the state police, but by the central paramilitary. In every constituency, a list of sensitive polling stations will be drawn up in consultation with the administration.
The EC has adopted a no-nonsense approach. Those officers suspected to be partisan will not be involved in the electoral process. This ought to send the right signal to the bureaucracy with a clear message that it must perform without fear or favour. The ceiling on poll-related expenditure and its scrutiny by competent observers is intended to tackle the growing menace of money power, black or white. Round-the-clock vigil of every constituency by the observer prior to the election date will guard against violation of the code of conduct.
The fact remains that Bengal is not Bihar. The latter had been plagued by corruption that marked the Lalu-Rabri dispensation. The unassuming, honest, and people-friendly Nitish was perceived as the saviour before the 2005 assembly election and after a long spell of jungleraj. The performance of Nitish during the next five years was generally welcomed. Bihar witnessed the return of democracy and development. His re-election last year was expected. The EC faced no difficulty in putting in place what has come to be known as the "Bihar model".
In West Bengal, during the past 34 years of Left rule, the people have been denied the right to dissent. In the name of democracy, the state has been subjected to one-party-rule. In the interest of electoral politics, the police and a section of the bureaucracy have been completely politicised. The CPI-M is reluctant to give any space to the Opposition. Even in the face of the Mamata wave, it is desperately trying to cling on to power. It is quite possible, therefore, that the EC might be thwarted in its efforts by the system that has been built up over time.
The districts of West Midnapore, Bankura and Purulia pose a forbidding challenge to both the EC and the state administration. In the 2006 Assembly elections, the Left Front won 39 out of a total of 43 seats in these districts. The CPI-M is straining every nerve to retain its hold in this region so that the party's final tally looks fairly respectable. This time, it might be difficult for the party to organise "motorbike rallies" to intimidate the voters on polling day. Nonetheless, the remote villages are contending with a silent terror, unleashed by the party goons. Cadres have warned the villagers that there will be none to protect them once the central paramilitary pulls out after the counting of votes.
The fear is palpable in such areas as Garbeta, Keshpur, Salboni, Chandrakona, parts of Jhargram, and Bankura. Indeed, people hesitate to talk freely for fear of reprisal. Allegations of police at the thana-level patronising the local CPI-M leaders are expressed in hushed tones.
Admittedly, the presence of Trinamul Congress in these districts does not match the CPI-M's organisational strength. Parts of Burdwan, Birbhum, Hooghly, North and South 24-Parganas are particularly vulnerable to inter-party clashes. Darjeeling and the Dooars are in ferment.
Will a free and fair election elude West Bengal this time as well? It isn't easy to answer till the electoral process is over. As a pre-requisite, arms and ammunition will have to be seized and the armed camps dismantled. The CPI-M is fast changing its tactics and strategy. A section of the police, from the thana level to the directorate ~ and close to the party ~ is allegedly trying to scuttle the efforts of the Election Commission. The fear psychosis must be dispelled, a sense of confidence instilled, and a level-playing-field created for all stakeholders. Unless this can be achieved, a free and fair election shall remain a far cry.
The general administration, headed by the Chief Secretary, will have to be dedicated and neutral to discharge its assigned role. The general administration is the direct responsibility of the Chief Secretary. There are three sources of power in India ~ the PM, the CM, and the DM. And of these three, the DM's office is the oldest and most enduring. SDOs and BDOs, who are invested with magisterial powers during general elections, are under the direct control of the District Magistrate. The Chief Secretary leads the team from the block to the secretariat.
Law and order is another crucial sphere in which he has to play a major role. It acquires tremendous significance during elections. As the head of the bureaucracy, he is called upon to ensure that the roles assigned to the magistracy and police, as per the statute and regulations, are effectively discharged.
The present Chief Secretary appears to be different from his predecessors. He is a man of few words and is scarcely seen on television, unlike many other bureaucrats. He was remarkably forthright in his first interface with DMs and SPs when he asked them to be neutral. He did not agree with the urban development minister when the latter claimed that the Gorkha Janamukti Morcha has links with Maoists and militants of the North-east. "I have no such information from Intelligence or any other source," was Mr Samar Ghosh's one-liner. He even expressed his anguish over being belatedly informed about the recent Barasat killing.
Leadership of the bureaucracy is the desperate need of the hour. Can he be a leader at this crucial juncture? West Bengal is anxiously waiting for an answer.
The writer is a former Joint Secretary, Government of West Bengal
MOTOR CITY NOW A MODERN-DAY POMPEII?
WASHINGTON, 24 MARCH: Long-battered Detroit has suffered a new blow, with the release of the 2010 census showing its population shrunk by 25 per cent over the last decade, equivalent to one person leaving the city every 20 minutes.
Little more than half a century ago, the Motor City was the fifth largest in the country, behind New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Now, as home officially to only 713,777 souls ~ less than half the total in its heyday ~ Detroit barely scrapes into the top 20 of America's largest cities, behind such upstarts as San Jose, California and Columbus, Ohio. Among major US cities, only New Orleans showed a greater percentage decline, almost exclusively due to Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
The latest figures were a shock to city authorities, who had been expecting something closer to 800,000.
Claiming that censuses frequently undercounted urban populations, Dave Bing, Detroit's mayor, announced a challenge to return ~ not least because a smaller city would mean less funding by the federal government. Even so, the decline confirms the city's woes: the crisis of the car industry and the loss of manufacturing jobs that depended on it, an inexorable decline in inner city schools, police and other services.
Vast swathes of the eastern part of the city lie abandoned, gradually reverting to nature like a modern-day industrial Pompeii. Last year, Mr Bing released a report proposing that sections of Detroit be returned to farmland and open space. If the plan goes ahead, it would amount to, according an expert, "the first organised and orderly deconstruction of a major American city."
HEART OF THE MATTER
PRESS TRUST OF INDIA
HOUSTON, 24 MARCH: Two Houston surgeons successfully implanted the world's first continuous-flow artificial heart in a 55-year-old patient, a significant advance that promises a smaller and much more durable alternative to existing artificial hearts.
Drs Bud Frazier and Billy Cohn took out the dead heart of Craig A Lewis on 10 March at the Texas Heart Institute.
Texas Heart Institute founder Dr Denton A Cooley held a Press conference yesterday morning to explain how the pulseless artificial heart was designed and how the medical advancement will help Lewis and others live a longer life.
After harmful proteins built up in his heart to the point it could no longer work, Lewis lived only with the aid of external breathing, dialysis and heart support machines.
PELF & PILFERAGE
AN EXPERT PANEL HAS BEEN GRANTED AN EXTENSION TO DRAFT NEW LEGISLATION FOR PUBLIC PROCUREMENT. BUT HOW PROMULGATED REGULATIONS FIT INTO DEPARTMENTAL PRACTICES WILL REMAIN A QUESTION GIVEN THAT THE POLITICIAN-BUREAUCRAT-BUSINESSMAN TRIAD CONTINUES TO OPERATE ABOVE THE LAW,
WRITES SHIV KARAN SINGH
Public procurement of goods, works, and services has contributed much to the nation ~ funding elections, generating employment for fixers, gifting retirement plans to bureaucrats, converting fly-by-night suppliers into rupee billionaires and hosting cartel feasts. All this, while lakhs of children continue to remain hungry. But is this monstrous bubble of crony collusion set to burst?
An expert committee of retired and serving bureaucrats, headed by ex-Competition Commission of India chairperson Mr Vinod Dhall, has been granted an extension up to 25 April to revamp policy and draft new legislation for public procurement. Taking cues from model procurement laws and guidelines of the United Nations Commission on International Trade Law (UNCITRAL), the World Trade Organisation (WTO) Agreement on Government Procurement (GPA) and that of Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) and tailoring them to Indian conditions, the panel will submit recommendations to the group of minister (GOM) on corruption.
The Union government has no official figure on total public procurement. A 2003 World Bank study estimated procurement by Central and state ministries, departments, local bodies, corporations, and public undertakings to be more than 20 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP). In 2009, ex-Central vigilance commissioner Mr Pratyush Sinha pegged it at 30 per cent of GDP, which means, out of a projected GDP of Rs 70 lakh crore, Rs 21 lakh crore will be spent on public procurement of goods, works, and services this year.
India's procurement norms, guided by General Financial Rules, occasional CVC circulars, and an array of state and department rules and codes, have been in dire need of a common legislation. Perpetual rule-bending, non-transparency, restricted competition and discretionary abuse have fostered mammoth corruption, criminal profiteering, and immense financial wastage. Funds for public good have lined private pockets, giving power to the undeserving. Being the government activity most riddled with corruption, and the key factor in demand and supply, most so in the construction sector, a revamp will impact both of India's booming economies, black and white.
Speaking to The Statesman, members have said that a national law, unified regulations, a centralised e-procurement portal, a bid-challenge framework and training for officers are being considered. The panel is seeking increased transparency, competition, value for money, and non-discrimination between foreign and Indian firms.
According to estimates, 20-30 per cent of procurement funds are wasted world-wide on an average owing to systemic inefficiency and corruption. India's wastage is above average. There is planning deficiency, little deterrence to corruption, opacity, absence of standard practices set by law, and inefficiency throughout the procurement cycle. Blacklisting of rogue firms is rare and ad hoc. Money from criminal profiteering is rarely recovered. And, there is no Indian equivalent to the False Claims Act, which has rewarded whistleblowers and helped the US government recover $27 billion since 1986 from contractors who committed fraud.
An ex-Prime Minister once lamented India's delivery leakage, stating that only 15 paisa of every rupee spent reached citizens. His son has offered more dire updates since. In terms of procurement, even a cautiously reasoned estimate will show at least 40 per cent of the expenditure earmarked for public good squandered. This would amount to Rs 8.4 lakh crore for the year, a fourth of Prof. Arun Kumar's estimate of the black economy, and seven times what is needed annually to provide food security for all.
A Confederation of Indian Industry (CII)-World Bank survey shows illegal payments to secure government contracts ranging from 2 per cent to 25 per cent of the order value. The Statesman's own investigations into railway procurements have revealed that routine pay-offs to Railway Board members and officials of Research Designs and Standards Organisation (RDSO), tender committees and excise total more than 15 per cent order value. As per an income tax department report, after junior officials took their share, suppliers bribed CWG Organising Committee officials with 15 per cent of the order value to allow for overpricing by 60 per cent. The margins are higher in case of lower-value purchases in states and for works contracts. After factoring in an average 10 per cent margin for bribe, the value of total procurement for this year works out to Rs 2.1 lakh crore.
Such margins encourage compromised quality, fudged quantity, and inflated prices. Cases of staggering overpricing, as evident in CWG purchases are but routine in the railways, which, like telecom and defense, spends around 50 per cent of its budget on procurement. Railways restrict competition, permitting only "pre-approved" vendors to win supply contracts through "open" tenders and impose quantity restrictions, thereby engendering bid-rigging cartels. Railways have lost at least Rs 50,000 crore in the past decade owing to rampant over-pricing in supply contracts, despite a highly regulated system manned by a specialised procurement cadre. A peek inside departments and enterprises across the nation reveals variations to the non-transparent and uncompetitive rot. Latest reports from the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India (CAG) expose how Bharat Heavy Electrical Limited (Bhel), the largest engineering enterprise in power and infrastructure, floats only 6 per cent of its tenders with 8 per cent value as open tenders. As for the 39 ordnance factories under defense ministry, the rate is 0-2 per cent which has triggered last purchase rate escalations as high as 5,207 per cent. In terms of works contracts, used for infrastructure construction like dams, roads, and schools, the corruption and losses are even more staggering. Procurement wastage begins at the planning level. Pressure from lobbies, self interest, or lack of vision, misdirect purchase. Questions about procurement priorities cutting across sectors gets a short shrift. The choices made by default deepen national inequalities with a minority cornering a lion's share of quality infrastructure and services. However, even planning within departments is vexed. Take defense procurement. Besides understated CAG exposés on inefficiency and corruption in procurement of ~ from rations to submarines ~ the last two decades have seen changing procurement manuals, offsets and grand visions of reducing India's import of arms to 30 per cent so as to support indigenous manufacture and self-reliance. What happened? Imports are in fact up to 75 per cent. The domestic defense industry, despite base and potential, has remained stagnant. And, as feared, the offset policy has been diluted, allowing for indirect offsets in civil aviation. Now, not only will offsets hike costs and cloak bureaucratic rent-seeking, they will also bring no benefit to the domestic defense manufacturer. Instead of cleaning the public sector rot on a war footing, sticking to direct offsets, and using leverage to prioritise and support the areas of weapons manufacture most needed for self-reliance and future export, the defense ministry has increased dependence on expensive import. Today, India is the biggest arms importer in the world.
Planning bungling abounds in every sector. In railways, the estimate of the critical stretch of the most high-profile project to connect the Kashmir Valley has risen four-fold since 2002 to 20,000 crore. Officials, more eager to sign contracts, failed to conduct basic surveys; blindly employed a century-old alignment used for toy-trains; and continue to construct an unsafe broad-gauge line along seismic fault-lines. According to one of the nation's most regarded engineers, Mr E Sreedharan, even if built at great extra cost and time, the line will be unsafe and unviable. A victim to such shoddy planning, corruption, and political expediency, cost of pending railways projects have escalated to more than Rs 1 lakh crore.
Can a new procurement law do anything about the myopia that characterises Indian administration? Will the panel try and address inventory management, in terms of anticipation of demand, or storage of what is procured, such as the foodgrain annually bought? What about the conditions purposely created for emergency procurement where rules are flouted for bigger kickbacks?
Even if worthy recommendations make it to a new legislation, how the promulgated regulations fit into departmental practices will remain a question given that the politician-bureaucrat-businessman triad continues to operate above the law. Speaking to The Statesman, a panel member has said: "We will try and address most problems. But, nothing can be done about dishonesty. Human ingenuity will create new problems."
The writer is The Statesman's Bhopal-based Principal Correspondent
CAN ELECTION REALLY END THE THAI IMPASSE?
After they parted some years ago when his trusted sidekick left his Chart Thai Party for the much more attractive Thai Rak Thai Party, the former Prime Minister and controversial politician Mr Banharn Silpa-acha, said his ties with Mr Newin Chidchob ~ a loyalist of arch rival and former Prime Minister Mr Thaksin Sinawatra ~ were over and done with.
That was just over a decade ago. But over a recent dinner, the two political veterans basically kissed and made up as their henchmen shook hands. So much for Thai gutter politics, where there is no such thing as a true enemy or true friend. They say nothing lasts forever, and this is so true in Thai politics. Vested interests are the only mode of operation for most, if not all.
But this doesn't mean the public should give up completely on national politics and not turn up at the polling stations when the next general election comes around in June or July. The incumbent Democrat Party, the leader of the coalition, will go up against the Opposition Pheu Thai Party in what is expected to be a fierce fight in which both sides play for keeps. Afraid of being sidelined when the dust finally settles, Mr Banharn and Mr Newin have apparently decided to bury the hatchet and form an alliance. The partnership is said to go under the slogan: "United We Go." But how far the two sides are actually willing to "go" remains to be seen.
But the upcoming poll is about much more than politics as usual. So much hope is pinned on this next election ~ the hope that it will put to rest the bloodless 2006 coup and the political bloodshed that ensued last year. So many lives have been lost and so much property destroyed because of the political standoff between various political factions and cliques. It has spilled over into the public realm and triggered social movements that have risen up to demand an end to business as usual.
The two leading forces ~ the People's Alliance for Democracy (PAD) yellow shirts, and the red shirts ~ both behave as if they are on a mission from God. The tactical alliance between the Democrats and the nationalist elements in the yellow movement didn't last, as the latter faction has turned against them over the government's handling of the Cambodian border dispute. The red shirts, on the other hand, rally behind former Prime Minister Mr Thaksin Shinawatra, possibly Thailand's most controversial politician ever. The telecommunications tycoon has become Thailand's most notorious fugitive, but he still continues to tap into the red shirts' grievances.
The grassroots red shirts are referred to as "prai", or peasants, but all their so-called leaders are all wealthy politicians doubling as Mr Thaksin's cronies. These men and women take orders from the fugitive billionaire, who has been permitted to bring Thailand to its knees in his relentless attempt to clear his name of corruption charges and get back his confiscated money. It is not that the red shirts are unable to see through this hypocritical arrangement. It is just a matter of political convenience that such a union has to take place. And like the yellow-shirt-Democrat Party alliance, the Pheu Thai-red shirt pact will eventually crumble after the alliance has outlived its usefulness.
It is hoped that the red shirts will be able to make a positive impact on the necessary political and social changes this country must go through, without causing any more bloodshed. Thailand is an extremely unequal society in many respects and the red-shirt movement is a consequence of that. But change doesn't come easy, and jumping into bed with Thaksin's cronies will not help the red shirts. If anything, it undermines their cause.
In addition, it is hoped that the military will not use questionable force to crush any further outbreaks of disorder, and learn that their place is in the barracks, not in the political realm. Finally, it is hoped that, difficult as it may be, justice will prevail for all sides.
MAKE HASAN ALI APPROVER!
The UPA government continues to deceive the public regarding the Hasan Ali case. It distorts the truth by omitting vital facts. Finance minister Mr Pranab Mukherjee is not the only one to specialise in misleading the public through half-truths. Speaking half-truths seems to be an epidemic inflicting the entire Congress party. The latest outburst of half-truths erupted from Maharashtra chief minister Mr Prithviraj Chavan.
The Maharashtra state government has suspended the police officer who made a recording of Hasan Ali in which the latter named the politicians with whom he had consorted. At that time, Hasan Ali was in police custody in relation to a forged passport case. Deputy police commissioner Mr Ashok Deshbhratar obtained permission from his superiors to interrogate Hasan Ali even regarding his foreign bank accounts that were much talked about then although no criminal case had been filed against him. The recording prepared after the interrogation found its way to the Maharashtra Assembly when an Opposition MLA laid it on the table of the House. Although named by Ali, home minister Mr RR Patil vehemently denied having ever met him.
After the recent suspension of Mr Deshbhratar for allegedly receiving bribes and attempting blackmail, chief minister Mr Chavan said that the recording had been doctored. He iterated that his home minister had never met Hasan Ali. Thereby, he justified the suspension of Deshbhratar from service. But the chief minister failed to speak the whole truth. The CD containing the recording has been tested by the forensic laboratory at Chandigarh . Its report revealed that the audio-visual bytes were not inter-linked but had been joined in sequence to give the impression of continuous interrogation. But the forensic report confirmed that there had been no dubbing, and that Hasan Ali had uttered the entire narrative that had been strung together.
Mr Deshbhratar claimed that he did this in order to present cohesive material to obtain investigative leads related to money laundering. That is not all. The CID investigation into the alleged meetings of Hasan Ali confirmed that although there was no record of any meeting with the Maharashtra home minister, Hasan Ali had indeed conferred with Mrs Sonia Gandhi's political secretary Mr Ahmed Patel and former Maharashtra chief minister Mr Vilasrao Deshmukh at the Juhu Centaur Hotel on 15 March, 2008. So would one describe Mr Prithviraj Chavan's remarks as reflecting the truth?
The Enforcement Directorate (ED) has confirmed that middle level politicians from Maharashtra, Andhra and Bihar had been named by Hasan Ali as his clients. Hasan Ali also confirmed to ED that his accounts in the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS) had been utilised to make huge transfers. The ED has announced its intention to conduct further probes abroad including, investigating Hasan Ali's links with international arms dealer Adnan Kashogi. It should be amply clear by now that politicians and criminals marely used Hasan Ali as a hawala operator. He has most likely revealed less important names to the ED as a warning to the powers-that-be to back off before he exposed the big players.
The ED should not waste time. First of all, it should release the names already revealed by Hasan Ali. This should be done to incite the named politicians to expose their bosses. Secondly, the ED, with consent of the Supreme Court, should offer Hasan Ali full amnesty as an approver provided he reveals the entire truth. Hasan Ali is not the problem. He is an ugly symptom of the problem. The problem is the enormous corruption that cannot exist without connivance at the very top of the political establishment. To really fight corruption, the top must be exposed. The fountainhead of corruption must be smashed. India cannot wait. Its government is paralysed when there is urgent need for it to act domestically and internationally. Time is running out. Switzerland, that profits from criminal money stashed in secret bank accounts should not be relied upon for assistance. Induce Hasan Ali to become approver.
The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist
PM, SPEAK MORE
It has been a consistent position of The Telegraph that the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, does himself and the nation a disservice every time he retreats into himself in a crisis. His performance on Wednesday in the Lok Sabha reiterates the point that whenever Mr Singh decides to come out and attack his critics he scores. His rhetorical sally in Parliament can only be described as a palpable hit. Mr Singh, as anyone who knows him will agree, is by nature an introvert and an introspective person. His instincts guide him to be thoughtful and reflective, but there are moments when the nation expects its prime minister to speak, to clear the air or to dispel fears or even to put down the Opposition. This is an onus of leadership. Mr Singh, in his second term as prime minister, cannot claim, as he could, as a last refuge during his first term, that he has had leadership thrust upon him. The United Progressive Alliance came to its second innings with the explicit announcement that Mr Singh was its prime ministerial candidate. Mr Singh thus cannot escape some of the responsibilities of leadership, however uncomfortable they are for a savant.
What is worth noting is that for an introverted person who is not a natural orator or debater, Mr Singh can be a good polemicist. In Parliament on Wednesday he spoke with wit and humour; he also cut L.K. Advani, the Bharatiya Janata Party leader and a veteran parliamentarian, to size. At the same time, he was charming towards Sushma Swaraj, the leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha, making her blush with an Urdu couplet. This was a deliberate ploy to play up divisions within the BJP. Thus Mr Singh showed that when he wants to he can play the political game. The idea that the prime minister is weak and incapable of making up his own mind needs to be permanently obliterated. Only Mr Singh himself can do this by coming out of his shell and speaking to the nation and by stopping the Opposition — both the BJP and the Left — from spreading canards against him. What Mr Singh cannot allow to be undermined, by rumourmongers and petty people, is his integrity, which is his biggest asset. No one expects him to tomtom his integrity, but his speaking to the nation when the chips are down always carries conviction and boosts morale. India expects its prime minister to do his duty, but from Mr Singh, India's first scholar prime minister, India rightly expects more.
Finding the golden mean is no easy task. The changes to the student visa rules that the home secretary of the United Kingdom has outlined seem to be seeking that path — trying to help the best students study in the best British institutions while weeding out those who are more interested in immigration than study and others who are being cheated by either fake visa operators or second-rate institutions. The changes are, therefore, multidirectional, and the British government is practical enough to give itself and its border agency a year's time to implement all the measures. The country is faced with a peculiar dilemma. Its economy, particularly that of its higher education institutions, its production profile, and reputation as a fosterer of excellence are in part dependent on its overseas students. Among these, Indian and Chinese students form a large percentage. But the country's workspace is becoming crowded. Overseas students pursuing higher degrees often take up unskilled jobs. Students left adrift by bogus agencies that have cheated them of their tuition fees have to do the same. And then there are those who use the student visa as a route into the job market with immigration in mind.
The abuses have obviously overtaken the benefits. The new rules will limit a student's period of stay according to his level of study, determine which jobs he can or cannot do — for those should be of benefit to the student as well as to the host country — and when he can bring in dependants. But it is the gateway into the country that shall become really narrow. For example, all sponsoring institutions would have to achieve the 'highly trusted' category, aspiring entrants would have to acquire a higher level of English than is allowed now, financial statements accompanying visas will have to come only from banks trusted by the border agency. This, the UK is hoping, will be enough to weed out unscrupulous agencies and scheming individuals. But the strictness is yet to become popular in the country. Authorities from the more expensive sectors in education, such as management studies, are worried that the squeeze on students' time and work opportunity will harm Britain rather than help it. It is unfortunate that human beings find so many ways to abuse opportunities when they are generously given. Correction may not be pleasant but it is necessary.
DON'T FRET, READ HISTORY
A DIFFERENT PAST MAY HAVE LED TO A DIFFERENT WORLD CUP 2011 CUTTING CORNERS: ASHOK MITRA
It is a tale of, really and truly, two cities. Or maybe not. For, three quarters of a century ago, Dhaka — then spelled Dacca — could hardly qualify for the sobriquet of a city. It was a dust-blown, haphazardly spread town with a population of at most one hundred thousand. It was not much different from the other small towns such as Burdwan, Mymensingh or Barisal sprawling across Bengal, slums interspersed with clusters of pucca residential structures occupied by upper and middle income groups, shops and one or two modest-sized markets, a high school or two for boys, perhaps one for girls too, a college, a branch of the Imperial Bank of India, a post office with a couple of branch offices, the police station and the court buildings. Somewhat physically apart would be the civil lines, wider roads, more greenery, quarters of senior civil servants still mostly British. What set apart Dacca, though, was its university, a post-World War I phenomenon, carefully planned to be a genuine centre of academic excellence with faculty drawn from all over the country. It occupied generous space in the sprawling civil lines area known as Ranna, which was demarcated from the town proper by the railway track. Unlike in the case of the other Bengal towns, where the elite consisted of just the civil servants, senior members of the bar association and the local zamindars, in Dacca, the university faculty added lustre to the crowd.
But even for this gentry, it was by and large dull, mofussil living. Only when the Christmas break approached, there was a sudden stirring of excitement. A fair number from among the town elite, including the university teachers, would meticulously plan a trip to Calcutta during those holidays. Calcutta was 200 miles away: it took almost a full day to reach it, the slow train from Dacca to Narayangunj, embarking on the lugubrious steamboat to cross the river Padma to reach Goalando, which took as many as eight hours, getting into the Dacca-Goalando mail train, a long night's journey, daybreak at the Sealdah station in Calcutta.
Calcutta was a dream metropolis, supposedly second largest city in the empire. Although the administrative capital had shifted to Delhi, Calcutta was still, besides being the provincial capital, India's major industrial and commercial hub. Even a brief spell in Calcutta the Dacca gentry would avidly look forward to. The sojourn had a specific purpose too. The Christmas-New Year season was usually chosen for an important cricket match in Calcutta. The Bengali bhadralok lived a dual existence under the colonial sky: stout espousal of the nationalist cause was no hindrance to intense passion for cricket, the imperial game. At Dacca, the gentry were starved of cricket. Two local sports clubs would arrange to play the game in the cold season. It was more an apology of cricket than the real thing; therefore the beeline for Calcutta around Christmas. The Eden Gardens there was sheer paradise, lauded by the MCC, no less, as one of the finest cricket grounds in the world, comparable to Melbourne's. Perhaps that particular year it was an official test match scheduled for Calcutta between India and England, the England team captained by Douglas Jardine. Or it was an unofficial test against a team put together and led by Lord Tennyson, grandson of the poet. It was heavenly fare for five days. The gentry would return to Dacca aglow with the memory of those indolent mornings and afternoons at the Eden Gardens. One or two of the returning pilgrims would narrate to an awestruck small-town crowd how they had the great good fortune of standing barely 10 feet away from C.K. Nayudu or of having a quick handshake with Mushtaq Ali.
History arranged an astonishing reversal of circumstances. The story is now stale. The Eden Gardens was to host this year's World Cup encounter between India and England in the preliminary round. Nostalgia gripped old-timers. It was as if it would be an abbreviated re-run of those five-day contests between the two country teams in the imperial-colonial days. What a disappointment, it was not to be. Representatives of the International Cricket Council inspected the Eden Gardens and found the venue unsuitable for holding the match. Calcutta was denied the game, which was shifted to Bangalore. And while Calcutta was lamenting this deprivation, Dhaka hosted the inaugural ceremony of the Cup festival with dazzling pomp and grandeur. Dhaka in fact has not one but two — one at Mirpur, the other at Fatulla — huge, swanky cricket stadiums equipped with breathtaking facilities. The inaugural match too was held in Dhaka, with India playing against the host team.
Venting their ire on malevolent forces conspiring against them is pretty purposeless; Calcuttans have to accept the nitty-gritty of reality. Dhaka is now the capital of an independent country, it is not anymore the somnolent district town it was 70 or 80 years ago, it has expanded 20 or 30 times in size and also in population, its airport is at least 10 times as busy as Calcutta's, its elite routinely go shopping in Paris or New York. While this transformation was taking place 200 miles north-east, time stood still in Calcutta. It is merely the seat of administration of one of the 28 states constituting the Indian republic; its political and commercial importance has shrunk over the years; whatever the reasons, it has never really recovered from the setback it received following the partition of the country; it is a poor relation of Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore and Hyderabad.
Stunned into silence by their fall from grace, Calcuttans may curse their ill luck. Luck, however, is much too nebulous a concept. Calcuttans would profit more were they to take a little trouble to read up the relevant political history. For instance, history will inform them that A.K. Fazlul Huq's Krishak Praja Party had worsted the Muslim League in the Bengal assembly elections following the introduction of the provisions of the Government of India Act, 1935. Huq's party had a strong base among the dispossessed peasantry; its programme focused on land reforms and amelioration of rural distress. While it humbled the Muslim League in a majority of the constituencies in which they faced each other, the KPP did not have an overall majority in the assembly to enable it to form the government. Fazlul Huq invited the Congress to join in a coalition with him on the basis of an agreed minimum programme and thereby shut out the Muslim League. The elder brother of Subhas Chandra Bose, Sarat Chandra Bose, who was the elected leader of the Congress legislative group, was keen to respond positively to Huq's overture. But the party's high command would not agree. The Congress had secured absolute majority in the assembly polls in all provinces barring Sindh, Punjab, Bengal, and the North-West Frontier Province. The party's top leaders were puffed up beyond measure. The Congress would enter office in a province, they decided, only if it had an absolute majority in the assembly. An exception was made for the NWFP, where the Congress formed the government with the help of a Hindu Mahasabha legislator. That province, it was sought to be explained, had "special problems". With the party's landlord lobby active behind the scene, such a dispensation was ruled out for Bengal; Sarat Chandra Bose was directed to spurn Fazlul Huq's offer. A peeved Huq turned to the Muslim League and to form a coalition regime led by him. The Muslim League could not quite believe its good fortune. The tide turned in Bengal, Huq himself soon joined the League. The wheels of history moved very fast from then on.
Calcutta, with its relatively poor Eden Gardens infrastructure, does not qualify to organize an ICC World Cup match while Dhaka is selected as the site for the Cup's opening ceremony. This is a remote spin-off of the chain of happenings in the wake of the holier-than-thou attitude of the national leadership of the Congress way back in 1937.
A further speculation may be in order. Subhas Chandra Bose broke away from the Congress in 1939; the overwhelming majority of the party's hitherto loyal supporters in Bengal moved away along with him. If perchance a break of this nature had taken place two years earlier — and on the issue of alliance with the KPP to thwart the Muslim League — the subcontinent's history would have been altogether different. Calcutta, too, would have retained its majesty and, who knows, might have been the natural choice for the inauguration of the 2011 World Cup jamboree.
CHANGE IS IN THE AIR
BONAFIDE: MALVIKA SINGH
It was more than reassuring to see and hear the prime minister deal with the attack that the Bharatiya Janata Party had mounted on him over the 'cash-for-votes' issue. With a rare smile on his face, he made an appropriate quip about the unrelenting aspirations of L.K. Advani to become the prime minister of India, and how, therefore, he has always opposed Manmohan Singh as the PM. An Urdu verse for Sushma Swaraj that made her blush was followed by much applause from the surprised — virtually startled — members of the treasury benches for their combative leader. Kapil Sibal's intervention was brilliant, and he argued cogently with facts and humour, both of which are essential ingredients of good parliamentary debates.
The body language of the ruling party was confident and its members appeared comfortable. It seemed that they knew they were in the 'clear', unlike when they were being assaulted for the 2G shenanigans, the CVC appointment drama, et al. Back then, their posturing was defensive and smacked of an attempt to cover up the horrific, manipulative realities of administrators.
What we see unfolding each day signals change and indicates a metamorphosis that is taking place. There is bound to be the shedding of old skin, making way for reform and for reinvention of the system of governance across the board. The United Progressive Alliance, led by the Congress, could capitalize on this great opportunity to overhaul and restructure a failed and faulty administrative machine inherited from an alien, colonial power that has remained virtually unchanged in independent India. As the muck surfaces everywhere — from licences for airline pilots to those for spectrum, from businesses having to bribe government servants for legitimate clearances to absurd, archaic rules and red tape in the service sector that generates the bulk of our GDP, from harassment by the authorities and a law-and-order machinery complicit with the criminal class to an Opposition that wastes time by demanding debates on ordinary memos that diplomats send to their home offices — we hope there is a messiah out there in the political arena who is passionate about India and its future.
Soon we shall have two new chief ministers in Tamil Nadu and West Bengal. Both are strong-willed, opinionated and committed to their states. In Uttar Pradesh too, Mayavati is slated to win. Federal strength is the future and our democracy will mature when power devolves to the states. A puppeteer, pulling at the state strings, cannot be sitting in the disconnected towers of the North and South Block or in the Planning Commission. Delhi must engage with India and not dictate terms to India. Times have changed: information technology permits ordinary Indians to see beyond their immediate concerns and aspire to a better life. The Right to Information Act has empowered citizens. A new generation is raring to take on ideas and initiatives that remained unexplored for decades. The inherent, traditional tools and values, techniques and expertise are alive and are waiting to be brought into play in a changed world.
There are three years left for the UPA. Imagine a scenario where the PM surprises us every week with declarations of time-bound administrative reforms, which would transform the mood on the ground. If the PM were to speak extempore to the nation once a month and share with us the complexities of an India in transition, India would rally behind the Congress. Ideas abound; all that is required is to open the doors of the government to new ideas and then whip the babu into delivering goods and services. The babu must cease to manipulate and disfigure India and its ethos.
''ELECTORAL DEALS ARE NORMALLY NOT MADE OF SENTIMENTS.''
The Congress did not have any option left in West Bengal but to capitulate to the take-it-or-leave it attitude of Trinamool Congress leader Mamata Banerjee in their seat-sharing deal. Considerations of practical politics made it accept Mamata's offer of 65 of the 294 seats in the state assembly against its original demand for 98 seats.
The party's claim to one-third of the seats did not reflect its strength in the state. Ever since Mamata had left the Congress about 12 years ago and formed her own party the Congress has been fast sliding in the state. In fact the party had lost its bearings even before that. It was inconceivable that Mamata would give any major room for the Congress after she built up her party and is now within sight of capturing power.
The Trinamool leader was willing to give even less to the Congress but added one more seat to her last offer of 64 and the Congress had to meekly accept it. Everyone knew that the Congress threat of contesting all the seats was an empty one. Its request to contest some seats in and around Kolkata was also not conceded. The closest it got was a seat 40 km away from the city. Even there it has no chance of victory as it is a CPM stronghold.
It also had to give up as many as five seats which it had actually won last time. But the Congress still would not have much to complain about. It could not break away from the alliance because the UPA government at the Centre is dependent on the support of the Trinamool Congress. The UPA government is equally dependent on the DMK but it could afford to take a hard stance in its seat-sharing talks in Tamil Nadu because the DMK is dependent on the party's support in the state. Mamata's prospects of victory in West Bengal may also be brighter than the DMK's in Tamil Nadu.
There is naturally some disenchantment and resentment within the state Congress over the raw deal it got and the humiliation it has suffered. But electoral deals are not made of sentiments. The general mood in the party would be one of grudging acceptance of the ground realities. After all it is not a very bad bargain, especially because there is hope of being on the ruling side after many decades in the wilderness.
''SCANNING IS STILL MISUSED FOR DETERM-INING THE SEX.''
Over 16 years after the enactment of legislation to ban sex determination of the foetus, its practice remains widespread. Pregnant women and their kin continue to find out the sex of the unborn child through ultra-sound scans and in the event of the foetus being female are choosing to abort it.
This has resulted in millions of girls 'vanishing' even before they are born contributing to a vastly skewed sex ratio in the country. This is reason for concern as a skewed sex ratio will generate an array of social problems. Activists have been pressing for stern action to tackle female foeticide. This resulted in the enactment of the Pre-Conception and Pre-Natal Diagnostics Techniques (Prohibition of Sex Selection) Act, 1994 under which scanning for sex determination was banned.
The legislation provided for stern punishment for violating the law. The judiciary has repeatedly intervened to push state governments to enforce the law. Yet scanning continues to be misused for determining the sex of the foetus. Almost a million female foetuses are aborted every year. Female foeticide is most rampant in states like Rajasthan, Haryana and Punjab and Karnataka too has a skewed sex ratio.
A part of the problem lies in the fact that it is hard to convict someone for the crime. For one, rarely are complaints filed. The service of determining the sex of the foetus is provided on demand and neither side is complaining. Doctors and technicians merely smile or frown to convey their information to the pregnant woman. In the circumstances it is hard to collect hard evidence.
Participants at a recent conference in Bangalore have stressed the important role that doctors have to play in fighting female foeticide. Indeed, gynaecologists and scanning technicians must stand at the frontlines of our fight against female foeticide. If they stand firm in not providing the information of the sex of the foetus, female foeticide will reduce. India has leaned on legislation to address the declining sex ratio.
But legislation only provides an enabling environment to tackle social problems. Since social problems have their roots in the minds of people and problems like female foeticide are closely linked to patriarchical mindsets, creation of social awareness is important. People must be made to understand that their girl children are assets to be cherished.
PREM SHANKAR JHA
Libya is not Egypt, the effect that this botched interven-tion is likely to have upon the international political system is too grim to contemplate.
When Tunisia exploded the west was caught by surprise and didn't know what to do. So it stood by and found, to its amazement, that people there wanted democracy, not an Islamic theocracy — to step into the future and not return to the past. So when Egypt exploded president Obama overruled his closest advisers, backed the democracy movement, advised president Hosni Mubarak to step down and urged the Egyptian military to ensure a smooth transition to democracy.
The entire world applauded. Quite suddenly the US ceased to be the Great Satan it had been for decades in the eyes of the Arab populace and became a country they could live with and even emulate. So when Libya exploded and instead of negotiating with the protestors Gadhafi started shooting and bombing them from virtually the first day, it was not only do-gooders on comfortable sofas around the world, but the Arab League that urged the US and EU to declare a no-fly zone over Libya in order to halt, or at least limit the carnage and, just possibly, force Gadhafi back to the negotiating table. That initiative has gone so horribly wrong, that it could well sound the death knell of western hegemony and plunge the Arab world into irretrievable chaos.
The purpose of the 'no fly zone' should have been to prevent Gadhafi from using his air force against defenceless opponents; it should have been to send an unambiguous message to all current and would be dictators that the world would not stand by and allow any regime to use weapons intended for the defence of the state against external threats, against its own people. Lastly it should have been to level the playing field in Libya just sufficiently to make the cost of military subjugation unacceptably high for the Gadhafi regime.
This required a carefully calibrated, restrained, use of actual force. Libyan planes that took to the air should have been warned to return to their bases; only those that did not obey or attacked the enforcing aircraft should have been shot down; Libyan retaliatory attacks that did no significant damage to the enforcers should have been ignored, and more serious attacks should have been responded to with pinpointed attacks on a few military targets.
Instead the US navy responded to a single Libyan attack on a US ship by unleashing a storm of cruise missiles. No one knows how serious the Libyan attack, or whether there even was one; no one knows what the cruise missiles were aimed at, and no one knows how many of them hit their targets. Therefore no one knows how many Libyan civilians the US navy has killed.
By its very nature aerial bombardment is imprecise. In the first Gulf War 76 per cent of the precision-guided US missiles fell outside the target area and killed thousands of civilians. It is a safe bet that the same thing has happened in Libya. But even if the civilian casualties have been much fewer the Libyan rumour mill will magnify the number of civilian deaths and the populace will believe every word it is fed. In sum, the US navy has done precisely what it and NATO had, under the UN Security Council's mandate, set out to punish and prevent. What is more, it has destroyed the moral high ground on which international intervention had sought to position itself.
The effect that this botched intervention is likely to have upon the already disintegreating international political system is too grim to contemplate. First, Libya is not Egypt. The latter is not only richer, but has a 5,000 year history of settled civilisation. The Libyans, by contrast are mostly Bedouin tribals and still belong to the desert. From the start the Libyan civil war was more of an inter tribal war than a struggle between an autocratic state and a growing, economically empowered, civil society yearning to flex its political muscle.
If Gadhafi chooses to fight he will be followed to the death by the majority of his tribe. If they are driven out of Tripoli they will take to the desert and continue to fight a guerrilla war.
Worst of all, just as the US' intelligent restraint strengthened democratic forces and weakened the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, the unbridled use of force in Libya will end by doing the opposite. It has severely damaged the standing of the Arab League, which had only wanted a no fly zone to prevent civilian deaths, and thereby weakened one of the few moderate regional organisations left in the Islamic world. In the end these countries will have spent another half a trillion dollars on war that none of them can afford, only to hand over at least the western half of Libya to al-Qaeda's affiliates and further strengthen their most implacable enemy.
Does the west have a death wish? Have Cameron, Sarkozy and Obama learned nothing from own bitter experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, and those of Israel in Gaza and Lebanon? The answer is that they have lost not their senses but their control of foreign policy. Today foreign policy is increasingly being made by the media. Every leader dreads the moment when caution, or inaction, by his or her government, even when dictated by the most powerful logic, will be presented on TV sets in billions of homes as cowardice or insensitivity to human rights. The weaker the government, the less is it able to withstand such pressure.
TWO CRISES CAUSED BY HUMANS: JAPAN, LIBYA
JOHAN GALTUNG, IPS
There were warnings, but they were dampened by strong interests and the lure of profits.
Japan lies on and near known tectonic fault lines, but the earthquake of March 11, magnitude 9 on the Richter scale, was the strongest in recent Japanese history, 1,000 times more powerful than the magnitude 7 earthquake in Haiti last year which killed more than 2,50,000 people. Earth tremors in Japan are not unexpected, but we still cannot predict the precise moment and location they will strike. Some animals seem to know, but with short warning time.
In Japan high rise buildings were built with tonnes of concrete and steel, strong and flexible, like the cherry tree branch yielding to let snow slide off. They sway at a low frequency in an earthquake, with things falling off shelves, but they remain standing up straight. The same principle was used for Japan's 55 nuclear power plants. But the warnings from the people who suffered nuclear genocide in Hiroshima and Nagasaki fell on deaf ears.
Many of those nuclear power plants were built close to beaches to use the nearby sea water for cooling — in the country that gave the giant flood-wave its name, tsunami.
The epicentre of the huge earthquake was 130 kilometres offshore. The tsunami, up to
seven meters high with a speed of 700 kilometres per hour, hit 650 kilometre of the coastline, flowing inland, reaching the city of Sendai — population one million — crushing everything in its way, killing, demolishing, carrying away houses, cars, trucks, buses, planes, factories, corpses, living people in their last minutes, cracking bridges and roads, then washing back out to sea.
The six nuclear power plants at Fukushima were destroyed more by the tsunami than the quake. Now Japan is bracing itself for the possible meltdown of one or more reactor cores.
The scientists knew the risk of tsunamis yet did not shout "Don't do it!" to the nuclear enthusiasts committed criminal neglect.
There were warnings, but they were dampened by strong interests and the lure of profits. Hidden by power plants, nuclear weapons can be built. Japanese hawks, craving to restore Japan's might in this way, kept the conflict with North Korea hot. Were Westinghouse and General Electric, after being hit by the Three Mile Island disaster of 1979, invited by the Japanese government to reduce its trade surplus?
We know Japanese resilience. The cherry tree will rise, there will be a sakura. There will be a reconstruction bolstering the economy, if short-selling finance hyenas are kept off a Japanese stock exchange artificially open to 'globalisation'.
We pray and hope: no more Chernobyls. Stop! We know enough to close all nuclear plants. There are alternatives.
Far from Japan, in Libya, the Israeli-English-French war on Egypt 1956 is being reenacted, without Israel, but with the US plus 7 UN Security Council members. The US again got Clausewitz's formula "by all necessary means" into the text. Minus 5 UNSC members who abstained from voting: Brazil, Russia, India, China (BRIC) and Germany.
The key western powers have been eager to get at Gadhafi ever since he deposed King Idris in September 1969, and remarkably, his old flag —and the French tricolour — is now in Benghazi. The rebels have good reasons, but seeing Libya only as an uprising against a brutal dictatorship is like thinking about earthquakes without tsunamis. There is nothing historical about using the UN for Anglo-American-French politics, with or without humanitarian pretexts. A no-fly zone over Bahrain, let alone Gaza two years ago, would have been historical. But the UN was not made for that.
A ceasefire offer was rejected in a country full of contradictions. The Arab world (minus some elites) is enraged over one more western intervention, with poodle puppy Norway — now on its third war against a Muslim country — joining in. 'Mission accomplished' will elude them, like it does in Iraq and Afghanistan. Ten years of war in Libya, with countless killed? We fear yes. We hope no.
BRIC+Germany are now called upon. Abstention is not enough. Be on the side of history and support the Arab liberation from western European-US-Israel dominance, from an economy that is causing ever more inequality and misery, and from autocracy. The Abstaining Five have experience in fighting such pathologies.
RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE
THE HUES OF HOLI
We smeared gulals and drenched one another with 'pichkaries.'
The much hyped 'super-moon' that appeared with all its celestial splendor on the night of March 19, belying many scary superstitious predictions and heralding the triumph of scientific observations, turned out to be a delightful spectacle which enhanced the gaiety of the Holi festival that fell that day. I happened to be one of those fortunate ones to witness the largest visible moon in the last few decades that illuminated our planet and the magic of that milky night took me back to the time when I enjoyed this much-cherished festival of colours during my professional life in central India.
People of different states might be following different rituals and traditions but what makes this glorious spring festival which falls on the full moon day unique is the spirit in which it is celebrated. Irrespective of age, sex, caste, creed, religion and social disposition we celebrated the festival with a genuine feeling of brotherhood and I recollect instances of even bitter enemies turning friends on this joyous occasion. We smeared gulals in rainbow hues and drenched one another with 'pichkaries' to our hearts' content. Mundane worries were forgotten as we fondly exchanged varieties of sweets and other exclusive savouries. Capping it all was the wonder drink 'bhang', an intoxicating concoction specially prepared for the occasion that set the proper mood for unbridled singing and dancing.
It is believed that the rituals followed commonly have certain logical and scientific connotations. Celebrated on the eve of spring season, the shedding of dry twigs and leaves by the trees are used to light the bonfire to mark Holika Dahan symbolising the victory of good over the evil besides resulting in clean surroundings. It is also the time to discard the colour-soaked old clothing and wear new ones just in sync with mother Nature who wears new green look with the onset of spring. The coloured gulals used are believed to contain certain healing ingredients especially for skin disorders. Another interesting thing that is much relished is that one can unleash the foulest-possible 'gali' (abuses) — to no one in particular, of course — to release one's bottled up bitter emotions and those outbursts are not supposed to be taken amiss!
The occasion had its share of sardonic humour too! A friend of mine had a deep-set aversion towards one of his assistants that was well-known in our professional circle. Once, on a Holi morning, my friend was taken aback to see this chap at his door step. Before he could react, the fellow explained that his guruji had urged him to go and embrace his worst-possible enemy on this auspicious occasion and that was exactly why he had come to meet him! Needless to describe the scene that ensued thereafter!
SILENCE OVER NAKBA LAW ENCOURAGES RACISM
THE APATHY OF THE MKS THAT DID NOT SHOW UP TO THE KNESSET VOTES ON THE NAKBA LAW AND ADMISSION-COMMITTEES LAW ENCOURAGES THE INSTIGATORS OF RACISM.
The votes on the so-called Nakba Law and the bill allowing small communities to set up admission committees, which the Knesset approved late Tuesday, add a shameful page to the parliament's history. The two laws are the latest in a growing list of disgraceful legislation whose entire purpose is to discriminate against Israel's Arab citizens, intimidate them and deny them their rights.
These laws - the parts that have been approved (such as the Nakba and admission-committees laws ) and those still pending (the bill to revoke citizenship for disloyalty and the bill on investigating human rights groups ) - are dangerously chipping away at Israeli democracy. The people directly responsible for this process are the same Knesset members from Yisrael Beiteinu, Kadima and Likud who sponsored the bills, as well as their colleagues from Shas, National Union and United Torah Judaism who voted for them. But the 60 MKs who did not take part in the vote are no less responsible.
Kadima leader Tzipi Livni and the whole faction but five MKs did not bother to show up for the vote on the Nakba Law. Nor did Atzmaut chief Ehud Barak and his entire faction, and most Likud MKs, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar, Finance Minister Yuval Steinitz and Culture Minister Limor Livnat. Even the few remaining Kadima MKs were absent from the vote on the admission-committees bill, save for Shlomo Molla, who voted against it.
Their thundering silence enables the extreme right to lead parliament and all Israeli society on a path of incitement against an entire community, infringing on its rights for the imaginary purpose of protecting the state and its values. The silence is no less worrying and outrageous than the laws themselves.
No excuse will hold water - neither coalition agreements nor an attempt to display a "Zionist" or "national" image. Certainly not fear of the political damage that openly siding with the Arab community could incur. The apathy of the 60 silent MKs encourages the instigators of racism, creating a convenient fertile ground for them to continue their disastrous activities. They must wake up before it's too late.
IN ISRAEL, PARALYSIS IS THE MAIN PROBLEM
BIBI'S ISRAEL TALKS A GREAT DEAL ABOUT PEACE BUT IS REALLY PLAYING FOR TIME. IN THE LONG RUN, THIS WILL DEMAND A HIGH PRICE FROM US.
BY YOEL MARCUS
Time flies, ladies and gentlemen, it flies. Next week, when the government marks two years in power, we can recall how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rushed the ratification of his new cabinet through the Knesset before midnight to ensure that it wouldn't go down as the April Fools' Day government. Indeed, the objective was achieved. The cabinet was sworn in at seven minutes before midnight. The festive ceremony during which the government was presented to the president at the President's Residence took place the next day, April 1. Netanyahu was getting a second chance.
Unlike his first term, when it wasn't clear whether Bibi was emperor or king of Israel, he has put a number of achievements under his belt in the past two years: economic stability, the increase in gross domestic product - in short a burgeoning economy. The country has passed the start-up phase and is not doing too bad. While the opposition claims that Bibi is living in Bibiland, the prime minister describes Israel under his rule as under a government of action.
In a booklet summing up his term's first year, Bibi counted 1,500 decisions that his government had taken. It's not clear how many of them had been carried out. In any case, in this hippopotamus cabinet with its 37 ministers and deputy ministers, Bibi is preserving the stability of his rule as the head a right-wing government. He hasn't lost one vote in the Knesset. But the price is that we aren't moving from any of our rigid positions, as far as security and peace are concerned. And that brings us to the terrorist attack at Itamar, the bomb near Jerusalem's central bus station, and the Grad rockets on Ashkelon and Be'er Sheva.
We take pride in our military might, but we have failed to consolidate the values of Israeli society, says Knesset member Nachman Shai (Kadima ). It's the Palestinians in Judea and Samaria who are eroding us because they're talking about the need to build a new society and the price to be paid for peace, while Bibi's Israel talks a great deal about peace but is really playing for time. In the long run, this will demand a high price from us.
The most important move by Bibi, according to one of his critics, was bringing Stanley Fischer here to serve as governor of the Bank of Israel, when Bibi was finance minister. Other than that, the Bibi government is a nothing government when it comes to ensuring Israel's future in a peace agreement. On the assumption that the terrorist attack in Jerusalem this week doesn't indicate something more far-reaching, the Palestinian Authority has advanced from terror to a diplomatic campaign - and it's on its way, quite successfully, to routing Israel in this campaign.
A number of countries have already raised the Palestine Liberation Organization's representations in their countries to diplomatic status. We haven't yet absorbed the fact that the world isn't very enthusiastic about our image as an international James Bond. Too much bravado, too many agents, too great a performance to assassinate one man in Dubai. You can understand Turkey when it stops an Iranian plane carrying weapons over its territory, but fewer and fewer people will understand Israel when it stops foreign vessels in mid-ocean because it sees fit.
It was quite amusing to hear Bibi's announcement on the radio that he was the one who "gave the instructions" to take over the arms ship heading toward Egypt. Whom did he instruct? The defense minister? The chief of staff? Who knows? Maybe he also gave instructions to the naval commandos on which side to attack from? The question is how many arms ships we haven't managed to catch. It's a fact that Hezbollah and Hamas are armed to the teeth, which shows that not every kind of weapon can be caught.
The day is not far off when, according to hints from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the West Bank and Gaza Strip will join forces to gain recognition as one Palestinian state in the UN General Assembly. Meretz's Haim Oron, who has abandoned political life, defined the situation in razor-sharp terms. The deterioration of our international status and the worrisome erosion of our ties with the U.S. administration pose a concrete threat to the future of the Zionist enterprise, he said.
One of the government's critics believes that something bad is happening to the national moral. The public feels an undefined pressure from all sides. The uncertainty about what is happening around us, the preparations by the United States to leave Iraq and Afghanistan in the near future, the weakness of President Barack Obama, the growing delegitimization of Israel throughout the world - all this sows fear.
And we, the Israelis, are immobilized, like a rabbit that has been blinded by a bright light in the darkness and doesn't know what will happen. And the government supposedly sees a light at the end of the tunnel, likes the idea of walking, but doesn't want to go as far as the light. In Israel, a democratic country under constant threat from extremist settlers, paralysis is the problem.
Oh, yes, I didn't forget - also Ehud Barak.
WHO IS THE HYPOCRITE HERE?
WOULD THOSE CALLING FOR ATTACKS ON LIBYA HAVE TAKEN RISKS TO SAVE THE LIVES OF 8,000 MUSLIMS WHO WERE MASSACRED AT SREBRENICA OR SENT HIS SON TO SPAR WITH THE HUTU MACHETES IN AN EFFORT TO STAVE OFF GENOCIDE IN RWANDA?
BY ADAR PRIMOR
"Impotent, incompetent hypocrites" - last week, the anti-European fad made its presence felt here, in full force. One radio commentator, known for his throaty voice, walked the extra mile, adding to this list of superlatives the scientific characterization: "rapists of minors." This was an apposite description because it provided an implicit explanation as to why the Europeans had yet to engage a holy war against the crazed wearer of dresses from Tripoli.
Is anything more thought-provoking than hypocrites who issue allegations about other peoples' hypocrisy? Many such accusers never left comfortable IDF bases during their terms of army service. But would even the warriors among them have taken risks to save the lives of 8,000 Muslims who were massacred at Srebrenica; who among them would have sent his son to spar with the Hutu machetes in an effort to stave off genocide in Rwanda; and who among them would be willing to trek to the deserts of Afghanistan to fight against the terrorist fanaticism of Al-Qaida and the Taliban?
The stringent criticism is, indeed, warranted when its objects are paralyzed by impotence. But the targets of the criticism are attacked even when they act in accord with the demands of the critics. It's a classic case of "damned if you do, damned if you don't." A minute before the attack was launched on Libya, Gadhafi was already positioned in Benghazi. Here I come, he informed the "dogs and rats," that is, his opponents, whom he promised to annihilate without "pity or mercy." Were he really to do that (and there is little doubt that he would slaughter his opponents if he was allowed to ), the Europeans would be subjected to a flood of ridicule and justified denouncement. Now that they are leading the attack in Libya, the cynics draw from their stock reservoir of claims: Everything is Machiavellian interest, it's all because of the oil, the waves of immigrants and the fear of terror; it's also claimed that the persons who sponsor the attack are bullying the weak, that they are waging a "war of luxury" and are "wagging the dog."
Some of these claims have foundation. David Cameron is trying to repair the errors of Britain's last government, and erase memories of wide-ranging relations forged with Gadhafi's government, the disgrace of the deal to release the Lockerbie attacker, and the involvement of Special Air Service (SAS ) forces who remained in Libya with their pants down. Sarkozy, for his part, wants to erase the memory of the tent that Gadhafi erected in the heart of Paris, the miscues of French diplomacy regarding the revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt; and he also wants to reverse poll results concerning Dominique Strauss-Kahn and Le Pen, results that pose a threat to his continued rule.
But do the cynical explanations constitute a full interpretation? Is it wrong to imagine that ideals of freedom, democracy and human rights are also in play? Isn't it possible that the Spring of Arab Nations, the recent revolutions, are exerting an influence?
Why is it wrong to assume that lessons learned from the disgraceful actions regarding Yugoslavia and Rwanda have motivated current policy in Libya? As ever, the justice of this war action depends on its results. Success in the action could lead to a revolution, with international repercussions. Europe is still far from conducting coordinated, effective common foreign and security policy. Yet at a time when the American superpower has decided to hide behind them, the Europeans have never appeared to have such policy reach. "He doesn't count us," European Union leaders complained after Obama took his post. It may appear that the operation in Lybia is a watershed event, one in which Obama has come to understand that he needs a strong Europe in order to promote his agenda in the world. He needs such a Europe in order to stand up to the Iranian threat; he needs Europe's security capabilities in the Balkan, and to implement policies aimed at stabilizing affairs in Iraq and Afghanistan. And he now needs Europe for his policies in the Arab world too - and yes, he will need Europe to effectuate his vision of peace in the Middle East.
SUPPORTING SETTLEMENT FREEZE HAS BEEN LABELED 'SUBVERSIVE'
ENLISTING JEWISH COMMUNITIES AGAINST THE PEACE PROCESS IS WITHIN THE FRAMEWORK OF THE "CONVENTIONS" IN RELATIONS BETWEEN THE COMMUNITIES AND ISRAELI GOVERNMENTS, AND A PRAISEWORTHY ACT.
BY AKIVA ELDAR
This week marked 16 years since the time when 93 American Senators wrote to President Bill Clinton, calling on him to move the United States Embassy to Jerusalem. A few weeks later, the prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin, who had gone to Washington to address the conservative pro-Israeli lobby AIPAC, discovered that his hosts had prepared a surprise for him. The Jewish activists had collaborated with their colleagues in Likud to turn this call into legislation in Congress. Rabin's face turned red with anger. He said later, in a private conversation, that it was clear to all that the president would use his authority to delay the implementation of the legislation, and he had no doubt that the initiators wished to drive a wedge between the government and the Palestinian Authority.
The following day, when he addressed the convention, Rabin spoke highly of them. After all, how can an Israeli prime minister condemn people who are interested in the welfare of a united Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel? As we all know, the U.S. Embassy is still located on Hayarkon Street in Tel Aviv.
Prof. Itamar Rabinovich, who at the time was Israel's ambassador to the United States, can tell how AIPAC, the Zionist Organization of America and Orthodox rabbis tried to undermine the efforts of the Rabin government to enlist economic aid for the PA that was aimed at strengthening its position vis-a-vis Hamas. Rabinovich, who in those days headed the Israeli team that was negotiating with Syria, was forced to deal with the campaign of incitement being carried out in Congress by those organizations against the proposal to position American forces on the Golan Heights as part of a peace agreement between Israel and Syria.
I was reminded of these events when I read the news item saying that MK Otniel Schneller had initiated a debate this week in the Knesset's Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Affairs Committee, about the "breaking of conventions of behavior between Jewish communities in the world and the governments of Israel by the Jewish-American organization J Street." The anger of this resident of Ma'aleh Mikhmash in the heart of the West Bank, a former secretary general of the Yesha settlers' council, was directed at the organization in the wake of its call on U.S. President Barack Obama not to impose a veto during the vote in the United Nations against expanding settlements.
Schneller, a member of the right wing who decided to settle in the Kadima party, condemned his colleagues from the faction who participated in J Street's annual conference in Washington and described this as "an act of subversion against the state [of Israel]."
From now on, one must say that enlisting Jewish communities against the peace process is within the framework of the "conventions" in relations between the communities and Israeli governments, and a praiseworthy act. On the other hand, support for freezing the settlements in order to further the negotiations means "breaking conventions" as well as "a subversive act against the state."
WHEN A PRESIDENT SINS
IF KATSAV TURNS TO THE PUBLIC AND REGRETS HIS CONDEMNATION OF THE COURT, PERHAPS MORE THAN ANYTHING HE DID DURING HIS YEARS IN THE PRESIDENT'S RESIDENCE, THIS WOULD HELP UNIFY THE NATION.
BY ISRAEL HAREL
Hundreds of thousands of people stood taller that evening in July 2000, when the representative of those who felt shortchanged was elected to the exalted position of president of the State of Israel. There was also some schadenfreude directed toward Shimon Peres, at the time a very controversial figure, and toward the Ashkenazi elites, who backed Peres.
Many of those who rejoiced then are unwilling now to accept Moshe Katsav's convicton and sentence.
The judges who are sending him to prison for seven years are identified in their minds as the henchmen of those elites. They remember, very clearly, the racist statements made about their man. In other words, about them. It wasn't only Katsav who was deeply insulted at the time. His supporters, inside and outside the Knesset, were dubbed by Amos Oz, the well-spoken leading representative of the "enlightened public," as "a combination of forces that is hawkish, ultra-Orthodox, refusing to face reality, rejecting peace, hostile to progress and enlightenment."
This week, some of Katsav's agitated associates and supporters are shouting: Libel! The media, they claim, never forgave him for defeating their leading light and used character assassination to convict him. Apparently, these authentic voices represent quite a large public that is convinced there really was a conspiracy against Katsav, because of his origin and due to hatred on the part of the media.
It is hard to convince these people that he had a fair trial. Nor do they accept the argument that showing vocal support for him is liable to cast them in the light of agreeing with the deeds for which he was convicted. Still, they must hear - from whom? Rabbis? Public figures who speak for this hurting public? Local and national media they may still trust? - that however much statements against Katsav were once tainted by ethnic hatred, that has no relation to the crimes for which he was convicted.
Katsav dug the pit into which he fell. His sins, and not a conspiracy of the legal system, brought him to prison. His bad deeds, and not the media, led his victims to complain and to testify against him. Moshe Katsav, and not former Attorney General Menachem Mazuz (though he stumbled ), led Moshe Katsav to the edge of the abyss. He is the man who harmed, in addition to his victims, himself, his family and the institution of the presidency, the hundreds of thousands who believed in him, who celebrated his election and who thanks to his exalted post felt their collective status rose.
It was not those who were "out to get him" whom Katsav betrayed. (After he placed a note in the Western Wall, columnist Yoel Marcus wrote that "by doing so he placed himself on the Haredi side of the political map." ) He betrayed those who fear that damage to his reputation will damage them as well. They are mistaken. Identifying with him for ethnic reasons is likely to undermine the public image of their community.
Their sense of deprivation largely originates in subjective feelings and, especially in the present context, reflects an unreal scenario. Those responsible are various manipulators, including Katsav himself and those close to him, who are exploiting ethnic identification with him to fish in murky waters. Responsible leaders, mainly the rabbis who speak to this community, must firmly reject any incitement that is designed to promote political careers by exacerbating hatred stemming from genuine deprivation (which does exist ).
It's hard to uproot a sense of deprivation. However, a way must be found to conduct a dialogue between the legal system, headed by the justice minister, for example, and the camp that feels shortchanged. Yaakov Neeman has good connections with spiritual leaders such as Rabbi Ovadia Yosef and Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar. They can be persuaded to tell their flock that Katsav was given a fair trial, and that identifying with a president who has transgressed - or supporting other famous convicted officials who claim they were victims because of their Mizrahi identity [their origin in North African or Middle Eastern countries] is a desecration of God's name - and, first and foremost, harms the good name of all his supporters.
The main obligation though falls on Katsav, and the rabbis and Neeman have the ability to convince him to fulfill it. To preserve what is left of his dignity, and that of Israeli officialdom, for which he was responsible, he must turn to the public and express regret for his harsh condemnation of the court, even if he adds a reservation that this does not constitute an admission of guilt. This act will help, perhaps more than anything else Katsav did during his years in the President's Residence, to unify the nation - the main role of an Israel's president.
******************************************************************************************THE NEW YORK TIMES
BY LAURENCE H. MEYER
ANY American who has shopped for groceries or pumped gasoline in the last few months knows that prices for food and energy have been soaring. Demand from fast-growing Asian economies is one major contributor to price increases; the turmoil in the Middle East is another.
All of this has made some economists and lawmakers in the United States nervous. They fear that higher prices for commodities will translate into higher prices for all goods and services and that the Federal Reserve, by ignoring commodity prices, has become lax on inflation.
While the anxiety is understandable, the fears are misplaced. They result from a profound misunderstanding about whether food and energy prices today help predict overall inflation tomorrow.
There are two fundamental measures of inflation: overall (or "headline") inflation and "core" inflation, which excludes food and energy prices because they are very volatile and mostly transitory and as a result don't necessarily reflect underlying inflation trends. A central objective of the Fed's monetary policy is price stability, defined as a low, steady rate of overall inflation. So are rising food and gas prices a sign that the Fed is falling down on the job?
The answer is no. There is very little that the Fed can do to control today's inflation, whether core or headline. What the Fed does influence is inflation a year or two down the road, which is why it needs to look to the future, not overreact to the present.
The most significant question for the Fed, then, is whether overall or core inflation right now is a more reliable gauge of where headline inflation will be next year. And the data unequivocally tell us that core inflation better predicts overall inflation tomorrow.
Given that core inflation is close to 1 percent, overall inflation next year will likely also end up at about 1 percent, well below the Fed's almost explicit objective of 2 percent.
But wait a moment, the Fed's critics say. They like to point out that the data haven't always told the same story about the link between underlying and overall inflation.
For instance, during the 1970s and early 1980s, an era of debilitating inflation, the markets had no confidence in the Fed's ability to keep prices stable. This meant that any increase in prices, including those for volatile items like food and energy, were almost immediately and fully translated into expectations of higher overall inflation in the future. Those expectations, in turn, gave rise to actual increases in other prices, not just food and energy. (If workers expect that inflation will be 2 percent in the coming year, they will demand a wage increase that is 2 percentage points higher than they otherwise would to keep improving their standard of living.)
So in the '70s, increases in food and gas prices affected both core and overall inflation. Some believe this is still the case today. But it isn't.
Since the inflationary era ended in the early '80s, the Fed has earned a reputation for keeping inflation in check. For more than a decade, the markets have operated under the assumption that in the long term inflation will be stable. This means that spikes in food and energy prices do not get translated into expectations of higher inflation down the road and thus do not lead to a general increase in prices, today or tomorrow. In light of the evidence, the Fed is right to pay more attention to core inflation than to overall inflation when making decisions about interest rates.
Critics who want the Fed to raise rates immediately in response to rising food and energy prices also tend to be skeptics of the Fed's decision last year to pump $600 billion into the economy by purchasing Treasury securities — even though, in my view, the two phenomena are entirely separate.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE BOSS FALLS. THEN WHAT?
BY GREGORY JOHNSEN
LATE Thursday night, amid rumors that he was about to resign after almost 33 years in power, a defiant President Ali Abdullah Saleh of Yemen went on national television to criticize demonstrators and declare a general amnesty for soldiers who had gone over to the opposition. His brief remarks were the latest act in a week of tense political drama in which scores of protesters in the capital were killed and Mr. Saleh's most important military ally defected.
The protests in Yemen have been building since Feb. 11, when Hosni Mubarak stepped down in Egypt. What started small has now grown into a mass movement uniting, at least temporarily, the varied interests of Yemen's fractured opposition around the single demand that President Saleh leave office. Tribesmen came together with student activists, while southern secessionists echoed northern rebels. Even clans at war for years put aside their blood feuds in favor of a common front.
The Boss, as Mr. Saleh is known by many in the country, survived three decades in the rough world of Yemeni politics by skillfully playing rivals off against one another. He tried to do the same thing this time: political concessions, bags of cash and new cars to wavering allies; violent crackdowns on demonstrators. But late last week, he overstepped.
Shortly after noon prayers last Friday, snipers at what has been dubbed the "square of change" near Sana University opened fire, killing about 50 protesters and wounding hundreds. The bloodbath resulted in a wave of defections by diplomats and military commanders, including Brig. Gen. Ali Mohsin al-Ahmar, the head of the First Armored Division. On Al Jazeera on Monday — President Saleh's 65th birthday, no less — General Ahmar announced that he supported the protesters calling for the president's ouster and that troops loyal to him would protect the demonstrators.
The short statement by the most powerful figure in the military — a member of Mr. Saleh's own tribe — signaled a new stage in Yemen's revolution. The politically astute General Ahmar has long protected the president's interests in the military, and his statement was an attempt to get ahead of the curve. By coming out in support of the protesters, he split Yemen's armed forces, leading to a tense stalemate as troops loyal to each man squared off.
The United States and Saudi Arabia are quietly lobbying for a negotiated agreement, hoping to avoid more bloodshed, and Mr. Saleh and General Ahmar met this week. But the fear remains that if the two old comrades fail to find a workable solution, the transition to a post-Saleh Yemen could be violent.
What is certain is that the day after Mr. Saleh leaves, the protestors' euphoria and unity will quickly begin to fade as they face rebuilding their country after years of misrule and impoverishment. The next government, whatever form it takes, will have to make difficult and unpopular decisions. The momentary alliances forged by common opposition to Mr. Saleh will not survive his departure; activists from the south, for example, say the revolution is the first step toward reclaiming an independent state for their region.
The United States and its international allies will have a limited window of opportunity to get things right in Yemen. No longer can the American government insist on seeing the country only through the prism of terrorism. Despite the Obama administration's insistence that it is pursuing a wide range of solutions to Yemen's multitude of problems, military and counterterrorism aid continues to dwarf all other assistance. The United States needs to do more to foster development in Yemen, to help create jobs and educate the country's young people, to help the rural villages that have endured years of empty schools and no electricity.
Think of it as a strategic investment to defeat the current generation of terrorists and to prevent the formation of future ones. The story of one community, Rafdh, is instructive. It was so desperate for help that it petitioned Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula to send men to teach their children. After an American bombing raid, the Qaeda members fled, and today, Rafdh's school stands unused once more.
This may well be the West's last chance in Yemen. If Mr. Saleh falls and the international community fails this time, Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula will be waiting in the wings to take advantage of the situation. Already, the organization has tipped its hand in recent statements, hinting at the argument it will be making in the coming months: Yemen, their ideologues have argued, has suffered under both monarchies and democracies. And now, they say, is the moment to finally return to the straight path of Islamic law.
If serious steps aren't taken to rescue Yemen from its downward trajectory, that argument will soon sound a lot more appealing than it does today.
Gregory Johnsen is a doctoral candidate in Near Eastern studies at Princeton and writes the blog Waq al-Waq.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
N.Y.C. VS. N.Y.S., THE PENSION BATTLE
¶Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants New York City to take control of its own business back from Albany, especially pension costs.
¶The city negotiates wages and health benefits directly with its employees' unions. But since the 1970s fiscal crisis — when Albany took over the city's finances — the State Legislature and the governor have dealt with the city's pension benefits. The way it usually works, the mayor negotiates a pension deal, which state lawmakers approve and then later "sweeten" for their friends in the unions.
¶Albany is notoriously compliant when it comes to demands from the powerful unions that represent the state's public employees, which is one of the reasons the state is in such deep fiscal trouble. Legislators have been even more generous to city employees because the city, not the state, pays for their generosity.
¶Unless New York City gets relief, the spiraling pension burden will cripple the city's finances for years to come. The city's contributions to the pension fund — for 293,000 employees and about 235,000 retirees — have risen from $1.5 billion in 2001 to an estimated $8.4 billion next year. Payouts to retirees have nearly doubled from $6.6 billion in 2002 to more than $11 billion this year.
¶Those breathtaking numbers have several drivers, including Mr. Bloomberg's own willingness to repeatedly raise city workers' salaries, especially for teachers, which raises pension costs. The recession also pushed down pension fund earnings, requiring an increase in city contributions. And retirees are living longer.
¶But city officials estimate that from 1996 to 2009, the Legislature has added $1.7 billion to the city's annual pension benefits. The costs would be even higher if governors had not vetoed hundreds of other sweeteners.
¶If Mayor Bloomberg wrestles back control from Albany, the immediate savings for the city's budget would be relatively small. Under the state's Constitution, previously approved pension deals cannot be renegotiated.
¶But with control, Mr. Bloomberg could immediately — without negotiations — cancel year-end bonuses for new retirees at a savings of $200 million in this next fiscal year. He also wants to negotiate new pension tiers for newly hired workers. The mayor's budget experts estimate their proposal could save $1 billion over the next eight years in pension costs.
¶The list of Albany's pension "sweeteners" — and the shabby political deal-making behind them — is long and well documented. In 2000, an election year, the Legislature agreed to annual cost-of-living increases for retirees that currently mean an additional $696 million annual payout. A second law that same year cost $406 million annually. It allowed nonuniformed city workers and teachers to stop contributing to their pensions after the first 10 years of employment. That law also allowed many police officers and firefighters to calculate their pensions based on their final year's earnings — including sudden, last-minute bursts of overtime — instead of the average of their earnings in their final three years. The law also forced the city to double its share of extra pension contributions for the uniforms from 2.5 percent to 5 percent.
¶Then there are the "heart bills," which automatically presume that a serious illness is caused by the job. With disability benefits, a city worker can often retire with 75 percent of pay instead of about 50 percent, a costly difference.
¶For all of his tough talk, Mr. Bloomberg's own record on pensions has not always been stellar. In 2009, when Albany introduced a less generous pension plan for new state employees, the mayor, who was running for re-election, did not push hard to get the city's new workers included. Now safely in his third and last term, Mr. Bloomberg sounds serious. His new tiers for new employees would be tougher than the state's 2009 pension plan.
¶He has proposed allowing new teachers and nonuniformed employees to be vested after 10 years instead of the current five. And they would have to wait until after age 65 to receive benefits, not the current 55 to 57. (The state puts retirement at 62 in most cases.) Overtime would not count toward the final salary calculation the way it often does now, and pensions would be based on an average of the last three years of salary, with overtime no longer included.
¶The mayor is also calling for a similarly tough new tier for new uniformed employees — police, fire and sanitation workers. And he wants to end the "heart bills" and cancel those year-end bonuses — currently worth up to $12,000 — for new retirees.
¶These are undeniably stricter terms. But given the current fiscal crisis, and the spiraling pension burden, they seem sensible and fair.
¶Gov. Andrew Cuomo has argued for less costly pension terms for new workers, but he has not said anything about returning control to the city. He should push the Legislature to do what Mayor Bloomberg is asking. This would not cost the state an extra dime. And it would put the political responsibility of negotiating with the city's workers where it belongs: back in New York City.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
EGYPT'S UNFINISHED REVOLUTION
While everyone is focusing on the war in Libya, the revolution is still playing out in Egypt — a vital fact that its neighbors and other nations should not forget. The mostly peaceful protests that overthrew President Hosni Mubarak six weeks ago were just the first phase in a transition to what, we hope, will be a democratic future.
Egypt is the most important Arab country and the touchstone for change in the Arab world. Egyptians are going to have to exert maximum commitment — over decades — to get this right. The chances of success are greatly improved if the United States and other major democratic nations stand by ready to help.
On Saturday, Egypt held its first free and fair election. Millions voted and overwhelmingly approved nine constitutional amendments to set the stage for parliamentary and presidential elections that are expected later this year.
The amendments begin to jettison a cruel and repressive system. They limit how long a president can serve (two four-year terms), make it easier for candidates to get on the ballot and restrict a president's ability to impose a state of emergency. Still, the process was flawed. The amendments were drafted by a panel appointed by the secretive ruling military council and rushed to a vote. They do not go nearly far enough and were not adequately publicized. A full rewrite of the Constitution will have to come later.
We share the unease of young protesters who made the revolution happen and worry their demand for democracy could be hijacked by the highly organized groups who campaigned hardest for the amendments: allies of the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood.
The military government on Wednesday took another step toward civilian governance by easing rules on forming political parties. But it also laid plans to outlaw demonstrations. The draconian, decades-old state of emergency must be lifted and with it curbs on freedom of speech and assembly. It would be much better if protesters and civil society groups were involved in these decisions, including setting dates for elections.
Egyptians are justly proud of what they accomplished and wary of outsiders, especially the United States, which long backed the old regime. But they need to quickly make political reforms. If they resist American help, there are plenty of newly democratic countries that can advise on political parties and rule of law.
Where the United States and Europe can bring crucial assets to bear is with economic reform. Egypt's state-run economy — where the military has a huge stake — has failed to create jobs for millions of young Egyptians. A recently announced multimillion-dollar American economic aid package is a good start. The Obama administration also promised to sustain its longstanding aid to Egypt, which runs about $1.5 billion a year, mostly for the military.
But more is needed. The West should pursue bilateral and regional trade agreements with Egypt (this would be a good time for Israel to reach out). Congress needs to expedite approval for an American-Egyptian fund proposed by the Obama administration, Senator John Kerry and others. Modeled after similar funds for post-Communist Eastern Europe, it aims to stimulate desperately needed private-sector investment. The total cost is unclear, but the money initially would be reprogrammed from already approved accounts.
This is a moment of great promise — and great risk — in the Arab world. Success is not assured. Washington and its allies must work creatively and urgently to help Egyptians build their democracy to make it a durable anchor of stability and tolerance in the Middle East.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
LET THEM EAT CUTBACKS
Food stamps are part of the social safety net, but they work more as the ultimate ground-level crutch for Americans staggering against poverty. During the recession, food stamps were an important factor in helping an estimated 4.5 million Americans stave off the official poverty (no more than $21,756 annually for a family of four) that engulfed nearly 16 percent of the nation. The stamps are win-win: $9 in fast economic stimulus for every $5 spent on food for a hungry family.
Sad wonder, then, that cuts in food stamps are the latest proposal heading for the House Republicans' budgetary chopping block. An attempt to set them back at the levels of 2007 — and cost a family of four $59 out of their $294 monthly allotment — is part of welfare "reform" legislation being proposed by leaders of the powerful Republican Study Committee. This group, embraced by two-thirds of the House majority, is the conservative engine driving much of the deficit-slashing mania to extremes.
Even last year, when the Democrats controlled the House, the political vulnerability of food stamps was clear as sleazy budget deals were attempted to tap the program to protect farm subsidies and other power blocks. Now the threat is worse as Republicans wildly estimate that they could save $1.4 trillion across a decade in cutting the full array of welfare programs — yet still help down-and-out families.
Vicious politics is already in the mix, including a surly provision to deny food stamps to any family that includes a worker on strike.
Surely hard times should find public servants protecting the neediest first, not targeting them for crumbs from a program more vital to society than another tired round of antiwelfare politicking.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE EGO ADVANTAGE
BY DAVID BROOKS
There's something I've always wondered about Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi: How does a guy who seems to be only marginally attached to reality manage to stay in power for 42 years?
He gives rambling incoherent speeches at places like the United Nations. His head is stuffed with oddball conspiracy theories and strange obsessions, like calling for the elimination of Switzerland or blaming the J.F.K. assassination on Israeli intelligence. He shows up in foreign countries in odd dress, with odd make-up and hair-gel preferences, once having pinned a photograph to his chest.
He has an all-female bodyguard contingent. In 2008, he announced that as part of a government shake-up, he was going to abolish all government ministries except Defense, Internal Security and a few others.
These are not the actions of a cold, calculating Machiavellian. Yet Qaddafi can't just be dismissed as a comic loon. He's maintained dominance in a ruthless part of the world, and he may outlast the current shambolic attempts to unseat him.
It seems that there is something advantageous in the megalomania that is his defining lifelong trait. He was kicked out of school for trying to organize a student strike. He began plotting a coup to take over the country while in college. He has repeatedly compared himself to Jesus and the Prophet Muhammad. He calls the Green Book, his book of teachings, "the new gospel."
That book, which Libyans are compelled to read (he canceled student summer vacation at one point and replaced it with indoctrination sessions), is filled with oddball notions and banal assertions. It consists of three parts, "The Solution to Democratic Problems," "The Solution to Economic Problems" and a section offering solutions to social problems.
Qaddafi apparently wrote the book with the conviction that he had discovered the answers to all human problems, which he calls the Third Universal Theory. In a characteristically absolutist passage, he writes, "True Democracy has but one method and one theory."
Along the way he offers banal observations as if nobody had ever thought of them before. He reveals that women menstruate and men do not. He unveils doctrines that have nothing to do with how he actually behaves: "Mandatory education is a coercive education that suppresses freedom. To impose specific teaching materials is a dictatorial act."
He seems to be one of those people who believes he possesses absolute truth, who wants to impose his thoughts on everybody else and exercise total dominance over others like some World Historical superman.
That's how he has run his country. According to the Freedom of the Press Index, it is the most censored country in the Middle East and North Africa, which is saying something. Experts estimate that as much as 10 percent or 20 percent of the population is made up of state security informants. To eliminate outside influence, Qaddafi at one point removed foreign languages from schools and removed the Latin lettering street signs. Early on, he expelled the Italian community, forcing its members to exhume the bodies of Italians from Libyan graveyards to take home. He broadcast the exhumation live on state TV. Street posters say things like: "Obey Those in Authority."
Over the decades, he has tried to remake the world in his own grandiose image. He tried to create a larger empire by merging Libya and Sudan. He tried to create a Federation of Arab Republics with Egypt and Syria. He tried to create an Arab Legion. He has named himself King of Kings, Imam of All Muslims and, in 2009, sought to create a United States of Africa. He has created dictatorship academies and has trained some of the world's most brutal autocrats, and, of course, he has supported terrorist movements in Australia, Ireland, Germany and beyond.
Yet this very megalomania seems to be both the secret to his longevity and to his unhinged nature. The paradoxical fact is that if you want to stay in office as a dictator, it is better to be a narcissistic totalitarian than a run-of-the-mill autocrat. Megalomianiacs like Qaddafi seek to control every neuron in their peoples' heads and to control every aspect of life. They destroy all outside authority and civil society. They personalize every institution so that things like the army exist to serve their holy selves, rather than the nation at large.
They are untroubled by doubt or concern for the good opinion of others since they already possess absolute truth. They are motivated to fulfill their World Historical Mission and have no interest in retiring peacefully to some villa.
Jeane Kirkpatrick was right years ago to make the distinction between authoritarian dictatorships and totalitarian ones. The totalitarian ones are both sicker and harder to dislodge. Qaddafi's unhinged narcissistic oddness seems to be the key to his longevity. So remember: If you're going to be a tyrant, be a wacko. It's safer.
THE NEW YORK TIMES
THE AUSTERITY DELUSION
BY PAUL KRUGMAN
Portugal's government has just fallen in a dispute over austerity proposals. Irish bond yields have topped 10 percent for the first time. And the British government has just marked its economic forecast down and its deficit forecast up.
What do these events have in common? They're all evidence that slashing spending in the face of high unemployment is a mistake. Austerity advocates predicted that spending cuts would bring quick dividends in the form of rising confidence, and that there would be few, if any, adverse effects on growth and jobs; but they were wrong.
It's too bad, then, that these days you're not considered serious in Washington unless you profess allegiance to the same doctrine that's failing so dismally in Europe.
It was not always thus. Two years ago, faced with soaring unemployment and large budget deficits — both the consequences of a severe financial crisis — most advanced-country leaders seemingly understood that the problems had to be tackled in sequence, with an immediate focus on creating jobs combined with a long-run strategy of deficit reduction.
Why not slash deficits immediately? Because tax increases and cuts in government spending would depress economies further, worsening unemployment. And cutting spending in a deeply depressed economy is largely self-defeating even in purely fiscal terms: any savings achieved at the front end are partly offset by lower revenue, as the economy shrinks.
So jobs now, deficits later was and is the right strategy. Unfortunately, it's a strategy that has been abandoned in the face of phantom risks and delusional hopes. On one side, we're constantly told that if we don't slash spending immediately we'll end up just like Greece, unable to borrow except at exorbitant interest rates. On the other, we're told not to worry about the impact of spending cuts on jobs because fiscal austerity will actually create jobs by raising confidence.
How's that story working out so far?
Self-styled deficit hawks have been crying wolf over U.S. interest rates more or less continuously since the financial crisis began to ease, taking every uptick in rates as a sign that markets were turning on America. But the truth is that rates have fluctuated, not with debt fears, but with rising and falling hope for economic recovery. And with full recovery still seeming very distant, rates are lower now than they were two years ago.
But couldn't America still end up like Greece? Yes, of course. If investors decide that we're a banana republic whose politicians can't or won't come to grips with long-term problems, they will indeed stop buying our debt. But that's not a prospect that hinges, one way or another, on whether we punish ourselves with short-run spending cuts.
Just ask the Irish, whose government — having taken on an unsustainable debt burden by trying to bail out runaway banks — tried to reassure markets by imposing savage austerity measures on ordinary citizens. The same people urging spending cuts on America cheered. "Ireland offers an admirable lesson in fiscal responsibility," declared Alan Reynolds of the Cato Institute, who said that the spending cuts had removed fears over Irish solvency and predicted rapid economic recovery.
That was in June 2009. Since then, the interest rate on Irish debt has doubled; Ireland's unemployment rate now stands at 13.5 percent.
And then there's the British experience. Like America, Britain is still perceived as solvent by financial markets, giving it room to pursue a strategy of jobs first, deficits later. But the government of Prime Minister David Cameron chose instead to move to immediate, unforced austerity, in the belief that private spending would more than make up for the government's pullback. As I like to put it, the Cameron plan was based on belief that the confidence fairy would make everything all right.
But she hasn't: British growth has stalled, and the government has marked up its deficit projections as a result.
Which brings me back to what passes for budget debate in Washington these days.
A serious fiscal plan for America would address the long-run drivers of spending, above all health care costs, and it would almost certainly include some kind of tax increase. But we're not serious: any talk of using Medicare funds effectively is met with shrieks of "death panels," and the official G.O.P. position — barely challenged by Democrats — appears to be that nobody should ever pay higher taxes. Instead, all the talk is about short-run spending cuts.
In short, we have a political climate in which self-styled deficit hawks want to punish the unemployed even as they oppose any action that would address our long-run budget problems. And here's what we know from experience abroad: The confidence fairy won't save us from the consequences of our folly.
TIMES FREE PRESS
STATE BUDGET AND EDUCATION
Bit by bit, the Tennessee General Assembly is reforming education, both to control costs and to make the interests of students the priority. But there is still a ways to go.
While the state House of Representatives and Senate are moving in the direction of reining in so-called collective-bargaining "rights" for teachers, the Republican-controlled bodies are not fully agreed on how to do that. The Senate version of the legislation is stronger, as it would keep school districts from engaging in collective-bargaining negotiations with teachers unions altogether.
That makes it the better bill, because government employees — who work for our entire public — shouldn't be empowered to negotiate collectively against the taxpayers who pay their salaries.
Therefore, the watered-down House bill should be strengthened to match the Senate bill, and the legislation should be passed in both bodies. Then Gov. Bill Haslam should sign it into law.
As Senate Speaker Ron Ramsey, R-Blountville, has correctly stated: "Last November, Tennesseans issued a mandate to the Republican majority to institute bold and meaningful education reform. ... [The bill] to outlaw locking taxpayers into funding union contracts is a prime example of the kind of reform Tennesseans have requested."
He is exactly right. When you consider that even a liberal state such as Wisconsin has recognized the harm and high cost of collective bargaining with teachers unions — and has voted to end it — surely conservative Tennessee can do so.
Separately, the governor's proposal to restrict tenure for teachers is commendably moving forward. Tenure is supposed to protect teachers from unjust or arbitrary dismissal. Obviously, we should hope that any firing in any line of work will be handled fairly. But it is too easy for tenure to become a way to protect ineffective teachers. Students can ill afford that.
The dedicated teachers in our public schools deserve support from parents and school administrators, and cooperation by students — plus reasonable pay.
But the goals of educating students and keeping spending under control are not advanced by tenure and collective bargaining.
TIMES FREE PRESS
GOOD REASONS TO DE-FUND NPR
Taxpayer-funded National Public Radio has long denied that it has a liberal bias. But as you may be aware, in a recent hidden-camera video, NPR executives were caught making ugly, false claims against conservatives, plus other alarming remarks.
For a variety of good reasons, the U.S. House has since voted to de-fund NPR. The Senate should, too.
The video was made by the same organization that recently documented a Planned Parenthood clinic disgustingly advising a man and woman posing as traffickers of underage girls that the girls shouldn't admit their ages because that would trigger reporting requirements.
In the latest video, the NPR executives are having lunch with two men posing as potential donors to the radio network. The men openly declare that their group is tied to the radical Muslim Brotherhood. (A cell of the Muslim Brotherhood was responsible for the 1981 assassination of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat.)
The men praise NPR for presenting the "Palestinian viewpoint" and approvingly say their nickname for NPR is "National Palestinian Radio." Replies one of the NPR executives: "Oh really? That's good. I like that."
One NPR official also eagerly attacks conservatives and the GOP.
"The current Republican Party is not really the Republican Party. It's been hijacked by this group that is ... not just Islamophobic but, really, xenophobic," said Ron Schiller, NPR's now-departed main fundraiser. "They believe in sort of white, middle America, gun-toting — it's scary. They're seriously racist, racist people."
Is it any wonder so many people consider NPR blatantly liberal?
On one point, though, we agree with Schiller. He said, "It is very clear that [NPR] would be better off in the long run without federal funding." He added, "NPR would definitely survive, and most of the stations would survive [without tax dollars]."
NPR's liberal bias, the fact that it can get by without taxpayer dollars and the fact that the federal government has no constitutional business subsidizing NPR are sound reasons why Congress should end its funding.
TIMES FREE PRESS
WHAT'S A TRILLION?
Most of us don't think often about a trillion of anything. We think in terms of ones or tens, maybe hundreds or thousands.
But as the late U.S. Sen. Everett Dirksen of Illinois is said to have remarked about exorbitant federal government finances, when you are spending multiple billions of dollars, pretty soon "you're talking real money."
So we can only wonder what he would think of today's trillions of dollars in spending.
Washington is adding more than $1.5 trillion this year alone to our more than $14.2 trillion national debt.
The spending is outpacing high taxes and multiplying the massive interest we must pay annually to finance the debt. Yet the president and Democrats in Congress keep resisting real budget cuts proposed by Republicans.
Obviously, we can't just cut off all runaway spending instantly — even if the American people approved. Our government must fulfill its constitutional responsibilities. But many federal officials scarcely even pretend they will insist on cutting wasteful spending to balance budgets — ever.
Shouldn't we as taxpayers insist upon reduction of a lot of unnecessary and unconstitutional federal spending?
When we are in a hole — and it's caving in — it's past time to quit digging.
TIMES FREE PRESS
She burst upon the American consciousness in the early 1940s. And "burst" is really the correct word.
Elizabeth Taylor was just a little girl. The movie that would propel her to stardom — "National Velvet" — was about a girl's love for horses. But all these years later, the movie, and its star, are unforgettable.
Everyone immediately loved Elizabeth Taylor. She was alternately "dewy-eyed" and "violet-eyed." She was sweet and beautiful — and naive.
Yet she came to be one of the ultimate movie stars. She won two Oscars, and millions of fans, in such varied films as "Cleopatra," "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof," "Butterfield 8," "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf" and scores of others.
It would have been hard to imagine in her early years that the little girl would become a femme fatale, and it's hard to forget now that she was really one of the most breathtaking beauties of our times.
She was a talented actress — but also a tragic celebrity.
Eight of her tragedies were marriages, too painful to name. And she suffered one serious illness, injury and accident after another — about 70 all told, according to one source.
There was no actress quite comparable to her. And even over several decades — and beyond her film career — she maintained her popularity.
Her life came to a close Wednesday at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
But her wonderful movies — and her heartbreaking tragedies — surely will be long, and emotionally, remembered.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - CHP SWINGS AND MISSES
A lot of political parties in the world must be envious of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP. For it operates in the absence of a strong and effective opposition.
A strong and effective opposition does not mean obviously objecting to every decision of the government, which was pretty much what the main opposition Republican People's Party, or CHP, had been doing prior to the new leadership of Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu. The party's new leader preferred to abstain from objecting only for the sake of objecting.
Yet this stance has added further confusion to the party's policy lines on specific issues.
Take the CHP's stake on the nuclear energy issue. The disaster in Japan has increased the concerns even among those who are not categorically against the nuclear option to cover Turkey's energy needs. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan's visit to Moscow, which included finalizing the details of an agreement to built a nuclear power plant in southern Turkey right in the midst of the nuclear tragedy in Japan, has offered a golden opportunity to the CHP to lead a campaign to exert pressure on the ruling government for a more transparent process that would bring the deal with Russia under close scrutiny.
To keep repeating that the government insists on the project benefiting one pro-AKP company, although not irrelevant at all, is by itself, however, not enough to demonstrate the risks of signing an agreement that could have deadly consequences. The CHP has unfortunately missed the opportunity to be the spokesperson of those who have serious reservations about the power plant to be built in Mersin and to mobilize those who until now were not aware of the perils of a deal that remains dubious for experts.
As well, take the CHP's stance on the Libya issue. The AKP's U-turn, from a statement calling NATO intervention in Libya an absurdity to sending five warships and a submarine as part of the NATO operation, is crystal clear even in the eyes of those who are not necessarily foreign policy gurus. Opposition anywhere else in the world would have seized the opportunity to show that the government has been inconsistent in its policies since the troubles began in Libya.
All the CHP leader came up with in his weak parliamentary speech was to recycle the fact that Prime Minister Erdoğan received a human rights award from Col. Moammar Gadhafi. Recycling this criticism falls short of drawing attention to the loopholes in the government's policies.
Abusing foreign policy issues to make gains in domestic politics is by all means a reflex to be condemned. Yet the CHP's latest stance on the ruling government's policies seems to be stemming from pure incompetence, rather than any motivation to be a responsible opposition.
The CHP should not waste any more time and better organize itself to scrutinize the government's policy choices that will have serious consequences for the country.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - NO MORE SURPRISES, MR SARKOZY
As forces loyal to Col. Moammar Gadhafi increased their advances toward Benghazi last week in a move that appeared to strike a deadly blow to the rebels' resistance, we might appreciate France for taking the initiative to stop the brutal oppression of a movement that asked for the end of four decades of one-man rule.
Yet how can we expect the international community to have confidence in the French leadership handling the Libyan crisis?
The French Republic, or should we say the Republic of Sarkozy, became the first country to formally recognize the rebels' newly created Interim Governing Council, after President Nicolas Sarkozy met with two representatives.
We are talking about a president who has made this decision without informing, let alone consulting, his own Foreign Ministry.
We are talking about a president whose surprise decision sent shockwaves through his allies in Europe, striking a serious blow to efforts to forge a common European foreign and defense policy.
After having failed to see developments in Tunisia, a country it sees as in its own backyard, and the initial gaffes that made France look like it was on the side of the corrupt regime in that country, perhaps one should have expected France – or Sarkozy – to be more pro-active on Libya. Equally, after having placed its bets on the Libyan rebels, one could not have expected Mr. Sarkozy to sit idly by and watch the rebels perish at the hands of Col. Gadhafi's forces. Think of France's diplomatic humiliation had Gadhafi's forces been victorious. And put the upcoming presidential elections in France on top of all this. Then it becomes easy to understand why France – or Sarkozy – has rushed to initiate the military intervention.
French officials have rejected the allegations that France launched attacks on Libyan ground forces near Benghazi on Saturday without properly informing its allies.
Yet some French commentators have pointed out, however, that the first French jets entered Libyan airspace many hours before anti-aircraft defenses were pummeled by U.S. and British missiles and planes on Saturday night. The French pilots were, therefore, at greater risk of being shot down.
That Mr. Sarkozy can go off his rocker, to the point of jeopardizing the lives of his own pilots, is his and his nation's problem.
The international community cannot take the luxury of putting a huge responsibility in the hands of Mr. Sarkozy. The fact that he was successful in mobilizing world powers – as well as Arab countries to support a U.N. resolution to open the way for a military intervention to stop a brutal dictator that refuses to listen to the demands of his people – is by itself not enough to let Sarkozy assume leadership. His track record is too tainted for just one healthy outcome to make us forget his past.
France – or Sarkozy – should yield leadership to a more international mechanism.
The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
HOW TO PLAY INTO GADHAFI'S HANDS
The mixed signals Ankara gave on Libya, and the manner in which it wavered on the question of how to prevent Moammar Gadhafi and his forces from unleashing a bloodbath against the opposition in Benghazi, seems to have provided French President Nicolas Sarkozy with an opportunity to try and push Turkey further from the West in general, and Europe in particular.
At least this is the way many analysts are interpreting the situation as it has emerged. Meanwhile, the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration is finding it very difficult to digest the fact that Turkey was not invited to last Saturday's summit in Paris, following which military operations against Gadhafi's forces began immediately.
The French side is explaining this snub by arguing that Ankara made its position on a military intervention against Libya highly apparent, and so there was no need to invite it to this crucial international gathering. The reference is clearly to the strong remarks by Prime Minister Erdoğan in Germany recently, when he referred to a possible intervention by NATO in Libya as "stupidity," and added that such a thing, which he said Turkey totally rejected, would be "unthinkable."
Needless to say the French explanation for its snub is not being taken at face value in Ankara, regardless of what Erdoğan may have said. The Turkish side also noted that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was invited to Paris, despite the fact that Berlin – like Ankara – opposed such an intervention.
The image of having been cold-shouldered in this way is obviously not one that is very helpful for the Erdoğan government at a time when elections are around the corner. This is why Paris is now being accused by Ankara with all sorts of ulterior motives, most of which have to do with commercial and oil interests in Libya.
The stupidity of French Interior Minister Claude Guéant, who reportedly said in an interview that President Sarkozy was "leading a crusade" in Libya, has also provided Ankara with fodder against France both at home, and in the Islamic world.
At any rate it is obvious that the rift over Libya has driven a fresh wedge into the already-icy relation between Turkey and France, due to Sarkozy's strong opposition to Ankara's EU bid. In the meantime both President Gül, and Prime Minister Erdoğan have openly accused President Sarkozy of "opportunism" in his approach to Libya.
The Erdoğan government is now trying to correct the situation by means of its veto-wielding position in NATO, and one of its conditions for participating in the implementation of the no-fly-zone, according to Security Council Resolution 1973, is that the command of all Libya operations should pass to NATO and not be in French hands.
How this standoff will be resolved was not clear at the time this piece was written.
Ironically if Turkey continues to block NATO from taking on a role in terms of the no-fly-zone, it will end up serving France's interests. Paris has after all made it clear it wants NATO kept out of this operation because involvement by the alliance would upset the Arabs.
Ankara responds that if Paris does not want to upset the Arabs it should first prevent people like Interior Minister Guéant from using highly charged words like "crusade," given how the Islamic world reacts to these. At any rate Turkey is not the only country convinced that Sarkozy is only seeking to glorify himself and France by leading this operation. Some EU members appear to be of the same opinion.
Under normal circumstances European leaders should have rallied around Sarkozy in the face of the accusations by Turkey. One would have thought they would want to do this in order to present a united front in the face of a serious international crisis. But like the situation during the break-up of Yugoslavia and two Gulf wars, we see once again a lack of unity in the EU as it faces a serious crisis.
The French news agency AFP, for example, quoted a senior EU diplomat on Wednesday saying, "Europe's common security and foreign policy is in crisis," and adding that "Europe has practically hit rock bottom on Libya."
Deutsche Welle, for its part, reported that "divisions between EU member states are delaying critical decisions on leadership of the Libya campaign, and contributing to the EU's inability to present a united front in almost all aspects of the [Libya] operation."
In the meantime, Italian Foreign Minister Franco Frattini went so far to say that if NATO did not take over quickly, they would consider closing off access to their bases in the Mediterranean, thus reflecting impatience with the French position of trying to hold on to the leadership of the military operation against Libya.
Italian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Maurizio Massari went further when he said: "France has been the most intransigent … Europe has divided. This isn't anti-French. We are talking about an important mission in which Europe has to act together to be credible."
All of this obviously reinforces Ankara's hand at a time when the French are trying to present Turkey as a "spoiler" on Libya. It seems that there are others in Europe that consider France the real "spoiler," especially in terms of the EU's efforts to display a united front on a crucial security and foreign policy issue.
Put another way, we see once again, a "union" that is in fact a "disunion" when the chips are down, and this is bound to tarnish the EU's image further at time when it is already struggling with an economic crisis that is forcing each member state to consider its national interest first before the collective EU interest.
In the meantime "spoiler Turkey" has decided to participate in the implementation of the arms embargo on Libya, if not the no-fly-zone thus far, by sending war ships to the region, a development which effectively leaves Ankara acting with NATO and poised against the Gadhafi regime.
This in turn is bound to highlight the inconsistency of the AKP in the eyes of the Turkish public, given Prime Minister Erdoğan's previous remarks about NATO involvement in Libya. Put another way, Libya has proved to be a messy crisis, not just for some European countries, but also Turkey.
It remains to be seen how the EU and NATO can effectively get their acts together and overcome this extremely confusing picture if the Libya operation is to end successfully, rather than remaining divided and undecided on an operation that everyone appears to be approaching from the perspective of their own interests.
It is also obvious that the longer these divisions last, the more Gadhafi will be encouraged in resisting the operation against him. We must remember, after all, that he used one European country against another masterfully in the past as he manipulated their interests to the hilt. The divisions in the West today on Libya could lead to the same if not overcome rapidly.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
FOR A LIBERAL, DEMOCRATIC AND PARTICIPATORY CONSTITUTION
I would like to present to your attention a press bulletin from the Platform for a Liberal Constitution, whom I also a part of.
Thirty years after the Sept. 12 military coup in Turkey, preparation of a new and democratic constitution has finally become a priority.
However, the rules that were made systematically restrictive by the Sept. 12 coup in political life still reign.
The Parliamentary Election Law in force was passed on June 10, 1983, and the Political Parties Law on April 22 1983.
From the Trade Unions Law to the Turkish Penal Code, from the Associations Law to the Press Law, in a wide range of laws, there exist restrictions and bans to prevent freedom of expression and assembly. Without the removal of these restrictions and bans, it is impossible for social actors to freely participate in the constitutional preparation process.
It is self-explanatory that the representation ratio in Parliament, where the preparation and endorsement of a new constitution is enabled, should be much more inclusive than ordinary parliaments. Only the power of such representation makes a detailed negotiation, social consensus and peace possible.
Lifting the 10 percent national election threshold in Turkey, which does not exist in other democracies, is vital and cannot be ignored for the sake of the political and economic stability of the country.
The 10 percent threshold, one of the most striking products of the Sept. 12 military takeover, not only prevents the representation of social diversity in Parliament but also develops irregular representation forms. For instance, the voting percentage of the Motherland Party, or ANAP, was 36 percent in the 1987 elections, but it was represented by 65 percent in Parliament. The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, gained 34 percent of votes in the 2002 elections but held 66 percent of the Parliament.
The Parliament to be constituted in the June 12 general elections cannot both make a claim of preparing the first civilian constitution of the Republic history and have this 10 percent threshold at the same time, which is a shame for democracy. For the correction, urgent amendments to the Parliamentary Election Law are needed. And for the implementation of changes in the upcoming elections, a temporary article should be appended to the Constitution, as it was in the 2002 and 2007 elections.
The elimination of the 10 percent threshold is the first requirement of a new civilian and democratic constitution. Otherwise, Parliament's legitimacy to prepare the supreme charter will become questionable.
The Sept. 12 military government created a constitution that made the executive stronger than other state bodies. And that has weakened not only the required balance and supervision mechanisms among state structures but the principle of the rule of law as well. Owing to such a constitutional design in Turkey, the executive and the government, in addition to broad authority and the jurisdiction of the Presidential Office, have excessive power compared to that of other state structures today. That power is also reinforced by the instruments of military tutelage, such as the National Security Council. This mentality survived after the legal expiration of the Sept. 12 government. Therefore, its influence on the new constitution efforts should be prevented. Without doubt, the presidential system is an extension of such a mentality.
In order for Parliament's democratic functioning during the constitutional preparation phase, some other changes are needed, too.
For instance, since the draft constitution is not an amended version of a former charter, but a brand new one, the approval rate in Parliament should be increased from 3/5 to 3/4.
By means of amendments in Parliament's bylaw and in the Constitution, member distribution in the parliamentary Constitution Commission should be adjusted not according to the number of seats but to the votes gained.
In order for the new constitution to be genuinely civilian, democratic and legitimate, the active involvement of civil society groups in the constitutional preparation phase is necessary. Arbitrary and pointless consultations with nongovernmental organizations do not entail the fulfillment of democratic participation. Democratic participation is possible only through the formation of effective and transparent mechanisms. Therefore, the Parliamentary Constitution Commission, on behalf of Parliament, should also assume the institutionalization of civil society participation.
Civil society representatives in the process should be granted equal rights to speak in the commission meetings.
A new constitution to be formed at the end of this process should guarantee a peaceful democratic life respectful to the world, all species' right to live and avoid discrimination of ethnicity, identity, gender, faith, political view, age, disability, civil status, and sexual orientation.
We want to live in a society where all have equal participation with a choice of different identities, beliefs/disbeliefs, ideas and living style.
We want to be the citizens of a country where people can live freely without the pressures of the state or non-state segments and without needing tolerance from others.
In the new constitution, we demand the inclusion, implementation and protection of civilian, political, social, economic, and culture rights enabling people to live in such a society peacefully.
For the preparation of the new constitution in accordance with the universal standards of rights and the principles of democracy, we urge all democratic institutions and our fellow citizens from every segment to strongly voice these demands as a whole.
* Nuray Mert is a columnist for daily Milliyet, in which this piece first appeared. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
WHY ARE MUSLIM LANDS IN MISERABLE SHAPE?
The Muslim world is in an awful shape. It's so sad that the Muslim region, despite its glorious past, today features poverty, misery, hunger, terror and (never-ending) clashes; it looks like a ruin. The situation in Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan and Bangladesh is well-known. Now, we have the same situation in Libya and Yemen. Let us not blame this on anyone else, my dear Muslim brothers. Before asking anyone else "why," we should direct the same question to ourselves: Why? Why are we in such a bad shape? We should look for the answer within us, and nowhere else.
I could easily guess the standard, never-surprising Islamist reaction to my comment in the paragraph above. Of course, I would be insulting my fellow Muslims since I am a "Zionist Muslim on the Israeli payroll." Hence the abundance of my insults... All sorts of pejorative adjectives and nouns coming before the word Muslim including miserable, poverty, hunger, terror, clashes and ruin... Putting the names of Muslim countries like Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan and Bangladesh in the same context with the same insulting adjectives and nouns... And, now, adding Libya and Yemen to my list of miserable Muslim countries... Putting the blame on Muslims for the miserable shape the Muslim lands are in today... Only a Zionist would do that? Like me? I beg your pardon; mea culpa!
But I apologize merely for deliberately omitting the "quotation marks" in the opening paragraph, since those words do not belong to this "Zionist" columnist. They, rather, belong to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan; quote-unquote... More adorably, Mr. Erdoğan said all that in the Mecca of the Muslim faith, literally, in Mecca... MaashAllah!
It is not a secret that I am not a fan of my country's most beloved personality – most, by the number of fans. And writing in this column, I have most often come under criticism for not acknowledging Mr. Erdoğan's metaphysical virtues – although there are many (non-metaphysical) of them that I do acknowledge. But his words in the opening paragraph of this column are my favorite so far. Yes, Mr. Erdoğan is right!
For decades, some Muslims and most Islamists fooled themselves with the idea that their misfortunes could only be blamed on Western/Zionist conspiracy theories. They have meticulously avoided self-criticism and, naturally, those "infidel Muslims" like this columnist who, perhaps in different wording, said the same thing the Turkish prime minister said just this week, were "Zionist spies."
I would hope that Prime Minister Erdoğan's piercingly realistic "let's-blame-ourselves-brothers" logic found echoes most among the people who are in his most inner circle, who make policy. But only last week, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu proudly said that thanks to new treaties for the removal of entry visas, "my citizens will now be able to pass freely through Syria and 'free Palestine.'"
Let's ignore for a moment why the foreign minister referred to Syria as Syria and to the Palestinian territories as "free Palestine." But I would have expected Mr. Davutoğlu to sit down for a cool moment and ponder why "his citizens" wake up in the dead of the night to queue up in front of foreign embassies with the hope of getting a visa to travel to infidel lands and, preferably, to stay there for good, instead of rushing to "free Palestine." Because they, subconsciously, know that Mr. Erdoğan is right, that Muslims can only blame themselves for their failures – like all other non-Muslim faithful or atheists should do. Because they, subconsciously, know that if they end up as Gastarbeiter they can have a good living; but if they end up in the Libyan desert for a handful of dollars they will probably have to be evacuated – if they are lucky not to have been killed.
I shall wholeheartedly agree to and follow Mr. Erdoğan's Mecca teachings, and ask my fellow Muslims a couple of questions in the hope that we may thus explore where we may have gone wrong. Why, for instance, would a majority of Muslims around the world welcome a significant role for Islam in their countries' political life (Pew Research Center poll findings, December 2010) while Hindus or Shintoists around the same globe do not?
Why would majorities in Pakistan, Egypt, Jordan and Nigeria favor changing their current laws to allow stoning as a punishment for adultery, hand amputation for theft and death for those who convert from Islam to another religion? Why would 85 percent of Pakistani Muslims support segregating men and women in the workplace (and 25 percent of Turkish Muslims, or nearly 20 million Turks)?
Why would, for example, a local member of Mr. Erdoğan's party declare that "women without the Islamic headscarf are like houses without curtains: They are either for rent or for sale"?
Or why would "Muslim warriors" explode a bomb in Jerusalem's central bus station as the evening rush hour begins and kill one woman and injure 50 people, including two pregnant women?
Most importantly, why would a Muslim as wise as Mr. Erdoğan, who thinks Muslims should blame themselves for their failures, not follow his own preaching?
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
MY VOTE COUNTED: A LAST-MINUTE TRIP FOR EGYPT'S REFERENDUM
I got excited as the plane approached the tarmac. A wide smile overtook my face. I felt more confident about my last-minute decision to travel from New York to Cairo to vote in Egypt's constitutional referendum.
I was anxious to get out of the plane. Polling stations had opened early in the morning. Egyptians were finally getting their first taste of democracy.
During former President Hosni Mubarak's 30-year rule, participation in elections was dismal. "Yes Mubarak" signs would sprout all over cities as voting day approached. Rigging was widespread. The headlines following Election Day usually read: "Mubarak gets 99 percent Yes."
Understandably, many did not see a point in voting. But things have changed.
The Jan. 25 revolution achieved more than just the toppling of the regime; it empowered the people. Interest in politics jumped, evidenced by how much newspaper readership and the number of viewers of political shows increased. The use of the Internet to find information and discuss pressing issues on social network websites doubled, according to a report entitled "Revolution 2.0" issued by the Egyptian technology company Techno Wireless.
The Supreme Military Council is now in charge and proposed six constitutional amendments, including limiting the president's term to a maximum of two four-year terms. Mubarak was president for 30 years and there was no limit on how many times he could run.
My husband and I were in Cairo for less than 24 hours. We had been watching the debates over the amendments with a mix of joy and pain that we were not going to participate in this historic day. Two days before referendum day, it suddenly hit us: we couldn't miss it. In a few hours, we booked our tickets, made arrangements for our two kids, packed our bags and headed to the airport.
It was a beautiful sunny day in Cairo. On our way from the airport I remembered the first time I ever voted, in the U.S. presidential elections of 2008. I was overtaken by a powerful feeling that was completely new to me. But it was bittersweet, as that day I also realized what Egyptians were missing.
Voting is addictive. Ever since my first vote, I have participated in every city and state election. I always bring my two kids, now four and six, along with me so they can appreciate and enjoy what I never had.
Democracy in Egypt always seemed like an implausible dream. But a little over two years after my first time voting, here I was heading to a polling station in Cairo to cast my first Egyptian vote. I was overwhelmed with emotion as I saw the long lines. Young and old, men and women, rich and poor people standing in lines that sometimes extended for over a mile to do something most of them had never done before. Eighteen million of the 45 million eligible voters participated.
The people standing in line with us were ecstatic. There was a strong bond between everybody, regardless of their viewpoint.
The Muslim Brotherhood and members of the former president's National Democratic Party, or NDP, were for a "yes" vote. Others, including many liberals, were in favor of a "no" vote, noting that quick parliamentary elections would benefit the Muslim Brotherhood and NDP, as new groups would not have enough time to organize.
We had decided to vote "no." We came closer to the stairway that leads to the voting room on the first floor and saw those who had already cast their votes coming down the stairs with big smiles on their faces, showing off their pink ink-stained fingers, used to ensure voters would not vote more than once.
It was my turn. As I walked down the stairway after casting my vote, I held my pink finger up high and started shouting, "Finally, our votes count!" People started shouting, "Yes! Our votes count!"
Our votes count. Although the results are out now with 77 percent of Egyptians voting yes, Egyptians spent a day not knowing what the result would be. Oh, the beauty of not knowing the results beforehand: magical!
* Hoda Osman is a New York-based reporter. This article has originally appeared on the Common Ground News Service.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
TURKEY PROVES TO BE MIDDLE EAST'S 'WESTERN COUNTRY'
MEHMET ALİ BİRAND
Turkey's attitude with respect to events in Libya has been deemed yet another example of its approach associated with other events to start a "shift in axis" argument.
The impression given by the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration was along the lines of leading Turkey into the right direction while facing two options:
- Turkey will behave like a Middle Eastern country and speak up, turning its back on the Western front.
- Or it will be in a status of a European country in the Middle East that is receptive to the sentiments of the Middle East and defends the region on the Western front.
Iran's nuclear politics, the Gaza issue, relations with Israel and finally the attitude to the intervention in Libya have formerly led to a widespread perception of Ankara behaving more like a Middle Eastern country.
Today we arrived at a point where Turkey is progressively perceived as a "Western country of the Middle East."
Ankara set and insisted on its principles.
It interpreted the sentiments of the Middle East and opposed NATO's attacks on Libya. At the same time, as a Western country of the Middle East it did not turn its back on the NATO. For, it knew that as a member of the organization it would be able to better get across the region's sentiments. It contributed to the military force overseeing the embargo on Libya because it knew that membership in the NATO and EU would strengthen its position, not weaken it.
It did the right thing.
We'll have a hard time but won't lose Libya
Libya is for Turkey an extremely important country.
We may say the opposite but the relation between Turkey and Libya is entirely linked through economic benefits.
In the 1970s Libya was the first and only country that opened its doors to construction companies from Turkey. Now each of these companies has become a giant that gained its first international experience and profit from Libya.
Gadhafi may have dragged Turkey through the mud from time to time but he never abandoned these companies.
Today the total value of projects by Turkish companies in Libya amounts to $25 billion and 25,000 families make money from these projects.
Libya is a giant country the size of 1.7 million square meters. But 90 percent of the country consists of a desert. It has 6.5 million inhabitants. The country's income from oil amounts to $80 billion. The per capita income according to their books is $14,000 but unemployment is about 30 percent. In real terms there is poverty in the country.
There is only one boss: and that is Gadhafi. He is a unique leader and according to some even eccentric. He is encouraged by the 140 clans and tribes in the country. He established his own equilibrium and distributed income as he pleased, which worked fine until recently.
Gadhafi spends this income of $80 billion by distributing cheap food and subsidies. And the most stunning thing about him is that he spends money on investments and modernization of the country. And the biggest share in this respect belonged to Turkey until now.
What will happen from now on?
Even if Western countries manage to overthrow Gadhafi or even if they fail and leave him injured, it will be hard to entirely abandon Turkey from Libya. No company, other than Turkish companies, is able to adjust to Libya's conditions. Even if some big projects are taken by Western companies, Turkey will always be present, be it as a subcontractor or conductor.
Turkey will have a hard time from now on.
But no matter what, in the end Ankara will be put in its former place.
Our real concern is Syria and Shiite uproar
In view of recent developments we all are focusing on Libya. Whereas what really bothers Ankara or gives it goose bumps are two developments.
- One is the uproar in Bahrain which is spreading over the region.
- The other is the constant agitation in Syria.
If we start with Bahrain it'll become clear how serious the situation is.
The Shiite majority in that country demands justice and is revolting against the Sunni minority. We see how Saudi Arabia is thus panicking and openly intervening with its military.
The only reason for it is that Iran would be in an uproar fanning the flames for a Shiite revolt resulting in a Shiite-Sunni tension in the region, foremost in Saudi Arabia.
This is the feared scenario.
This is creating fear to such extent that no one steps forward asking Saudi Arabia why it is sending military forces or telling them that they have no right to act this way.
And no one cares about the winds of democracy either.
As long as the status quo remains unchanged.
As long as U.S. and Israeli benefits remain unchanged.
As long as Iran doesn't increase its power.
When it comes to Bahrain even Ankara can't go beyond saying, "We are taking our task seriously and are in contact with all parties," even though it tries to teach others a lesson in democracy.
Ankara's one other concern is that no effective step is taken to stop the agitation in Syria.
To tell the truth, Bashar al-Assad, among all leaders in the region, is the one leader who is more likely to implement democratic reforms and changing the course of the country.
He is a young, liberal-minded, realist leader who was educated abroad.
And he has taken many steps since he took over his father's place but it still does not suffice.
The Syrian society is asking for more. It desires change.
Assad has only one obstacle. And that is the old structure. Those who remained in place after his father left resist change. They are afraid of democratization. And al-Assad is unable to change this outdated team and structure.
Just take a look; security forces drew their weapons even during first protests.
Erdoğan warned al-Assad in this respect many times.
And the reason is Syria's importance with respect to Turkey.
Chaos in Syria means a spoilage of the balance established with Turkey.
Yet these two countries have approached each other to such an extent of unification that an environment of trust was created.
The spoilage of such a relationship would cost dearly.
HURRIYET DAILY NEWS
THE NEW AND THE OLD
Since the 1648 treaties that are often simply referred to as the "Westphalia Peace," three top principles guiding relations between states and thus diplomacy for the past 350 years or so have been "respect of sovereignty," "sanctity of borders" and "non-interference in internal affairs." These principles of the "old world order" are apparently no longer valid in the not-yet-shaped "new world order."
It is indeed strange. For almost the past two decades, that is since the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the bi-polar world and Cold War politics, there have been such conflicting statements about the dawn and landmarks of the new world order that when it started is still not clear and what it actually is remains so far very contentious.
As it appears, it can be claimed that the "new world order" is perhaps the arbitrary rule of the sole superpower – which indeed has started to act like the sole sovereign power of the world – and some alternate satellite countries. Perhaps that is why this "new world order" does not have fixed principles, guidelines or roadmaps or what might be valid for one particular case might not be at all valid for another case even if there might be some incredible similarities between those two cases.
The problem of the "new world order" therefore is not the absence of some old principles – because when they are needed those principles are applied to the full – but rather the arbitrary nature in applying those principles as well as some other fundamentals, such as the right of protection of all societies.
For example it might take almost two years for the United Nations and an "international coalition of the willing" under the leadership of the global boss, the United States, to place aside those three pillars of the "old world order," put into action the new "right to protection" principle – which indeed became official only in 2005 – and intervene in the conflict in the former Yugoslavian territories. Hundreds of thousands of people, mostly Muslim, were butchered up until the "savior" came to stop the bloodshed for which Slobodan Milosevic and his men were held responsible.
In Kosovo, several years later, the principle that the borders of a country would be respected and any change should be done with the consent of that country was simply placed aside on grounds that Belgrade was not willing to agree to a resolution and recognition of the right to statehood of Kosovo as the only option. I do not have any complaint why Kosovo was encouraged to declare independence and why Kosovo's independence was recognized. On the contrary, I do congratulate Kosovar independence. I just can't understand why the same global boss and its satellites do not apply the same standards they applied to Kosovo and recognize the Turkish Cypriot independence as for the past almost half century a settlement of the Cyprus problem has been marred by Greek Cypriot disinterest in a settlement. Those who have a complaint with this fact should read from the TDN archive the article by Nikos Rolandis listing the peace deals rejected since 1967 by the Greek Cypriots.
One may revolt and complain of "double standards" or "Western hypocrisy" but this is the "new world order." It might take two years to act on Europe's mad man Milosevic, three days – in between the Security Council adopting the ceasefire and no-fly zone resolution and the start of bombing of Libya by French planes – might be enough to start punishing North African mad man Moammar Gadhafi.
Naturally, it might be argued that lessons were drawn from the Bosnia war and to avoid mass killings this time the international coalition of the willing acted more swiftly. But, still I just can't understand if in a country there is a Muslim government and a Muslim rebel group fighting that government and international community alarmed with the prospect of that Muslim government committing mass massacre of the Muslim rebels who captured some cities of that country, why the hell did the French interior minister describe the Libyan carpet bombing as a crusade?
Of course in today's world, individual rights and liberties come before the interests of the states or policy objectives of governments. Of course as regards human rights and liberties, there are no longer borders in the world and no country can complain of interference in its internal affairs if in that country there are rampant rights violations.
Yet, what's the difference between Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Libya?
Or, will there be a international coalition of the willing led again by the global boss to punish let's say Nicolas Sarkozy of France if as elections approach in some suburbs of Paris and other big French cities ethnic unrest erupts once again and the government not only applies excessive force but introduces as well some stringent xenophobic policies?
Perhaps before it is too late it is wiser to remember those principles that were the fundamental pillars of the "old world order."
I. THE NEWS
Even two years after the start of a damaging civil war that has left regions across the north in ruins, the killing has not stopped. Nor, it seems, has the ability of the groups behind the terrorism to motivate people to take the lives of others by giving up their own. Recruitment for this cause seems to be continuing. Five people died when a suicide bomber rammed a car packed with explosives into a police station in Hangu. The attack will act to demoralise our security forces that have taken the brunt of recent attacks and this, in turn, may bolster the spirits of those engineering these attacks, thereby raising the risk of future attacks.
It is uncertain how we are to deal with these waves of terror. No tactic used so far seems to have worked and we seem at times to be running out of options. But it is obviously essential that we find means to deal with the problem. We lack a unified strategy that cuts across departments and disciplines – for instance it would be useful if the police were to devote time to an education programme that would promote an active law-and-order culture. The police could also take a hard look at themselves and wonder why it is that they lack the support of the communities they are supposed to serve. The policemen who perish in such attacks all leave behind people who mourn their deaths. Many have died trying to protect civilians, at check-posts and entrance gates. Their courage needs to be applauded. Our duty now is to ensure that the deaths at Hangu and elsewhere are not in vain. And that the militants behind them are rounded up and eliminated from a society a large part of which they have already succeeded in shattering, leaving behind sharp shards spread out across its streets, squares and other public places. But to do that we need a radical change of mindset on all sides, and the sooner the better.
I. THE NEWS
Elizabeth Taylor died on March 23 in Los Angeles with her four children at her bedside, and so passes an icon of the cinema and a woman for whom the word 'celebrity' might have been invented. She had been married eight times to seven different husbands, and had been on screen in one format or another since 1942 when, aged 10, she made her debut in 'There's one born every minute'. Besides her acting talent, she had a talent for making money as well and was reputed to be worth $600 million at her death. She won Oscars twice for her performances in Butterfield 8 and Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf. She played everything from Shakespeare to low comedy. Her last film in 2001 was titled 'These old broads' and was a virtual parody of herself. Throughout her life she battled addictions to drugs and alcohol and had a succession of life-threatening illnesses which saw her hospitalised 70 times. She also battled with her weight, and the gossip columnists made much fun of her because of it.
Late in life, she became better known as a philanthropist than an actor, and campaigned tirelessly for AIDS/HIV awareness in the film industry. But what she will be remembered for most is not what she did, but for what she was. She was above all, the consummate celebrity, and most of those that pass themselves off as celebrities today could not hold a candle to Elizabeth Taylor. She was also perhaps the last of her kind, the product of the 'star' system of the 1930's and 40's and we will never see her like again. Her celebrity transcended borders and culture, she was famous everywhere and instantly recognisable. She lived her life to the fullest, regretted nothing that she ever admitted to, had millions of adoring fans who kept her on a pedestal and will live on in video and DVD achieving a kind of immortality denied to ordinary mortals. She will become the subject of wet-eyed nostalgia and her life and career picked over for decades to come, but a little honest-to-goodness fun went out of our lives when Elizabeth Taylor died; and the world is poorer for her passing.
REINVENTING THE IDEOLOGY OF PAKISTAN
The Pakistan ecstatic and bursting with joy after the victory over the West Indies in Bangladesh was the real Pakistan, the Pakistan that was always meant to be, the land of our hopes and dreams, rather than the ugly caricature on display when bigots and fanatics, and mind-blowing idiots, seize upon metaphysical or religion-related issues and try to whip up a storm over them.
Just a game of cricket and nothing more but it is hard to remember a similar explosion of joy across the length and breadth of the country, transcending all regional and provincial boundaries, as on this occasion. A profounder cleansing experience could scarcely be imagined. As long as the game lasted, everything else, all our sorrows – and we have more than our share of them – were forgotten. All that mattered was our team and its brilliant performance.
Here was joy pure and simple, joy unadulterated. If only Pakistan could always be like this instead of being a playground for some of the worst hypocrites to walk the planet. Did Jinnah, a civilized and urbane man if he was anything, create Pakistan so that these humbugs, supported by our friends in the military – let us never forget this crucial nexus – should preach right and wrong to us?
It doesn't matter if we win or lose the next game or the one after that. Much better for national passions to be excited by such an everyday thing as a game of cricket instead of Pakistani crowds showering with rose petals – the memory is sickening – a killer like Mumtaz Qadri.
A country swaying to the passions of a cricketing triumph, or plunged into sorrow if triumph turns to defeat, is a normal country, and may Pakistan always be like this. A country not swept by revulsion when hate and bigotry are celebrated is not a normal country. May Pakistan emerge from the shadows which keep it mentally chained and retarded.
Pakistan's foremost challenge is not Afghanistan or Kashmir or anything America-related, important as all these issues may be in their own right. It is to step into the light and leave the accumulated stupidity, collected in the name of ideology, of the past sixty years behind.
The foremost challenge is to be a normal country, rather than a messianic one tied forever to fictional notions of jihad and national greatness. And if cricket rather than anything else helps Pakistan to travel down this path, forgetting its delusions and embracing normality, then it is a greater force for good than anything else in our armoury.
The killjoy hordes can scarcely be pleased. Cricket is a distraction from the demons they have been pursuing. We have seen how they whipped up hysteria over the anti-blasphemy law and spoke with forked tongues after the killing of the Christian federal minister, Shahbaz Bhatti. And how they evoked national honour after the flight of the CIA operative, Raymond Davis. If only momentarily, much of this nonsense stands exorcised from the national mind because of the glories of cricket.
Which shouldn't mean that we rejoice in a state of distraction, forgetting our real problems. But it does mean that we should have a better understanding of what those problems are. We have erected false temples in the name of national security, pursued chimeras and fanciful objectives in the name of Afghan and then Kashmir jihad, and seen jihadi armies trained for external adventures turn into domestic nightmares.
Pakistan could have been a different place, a bastion of enlightenment, a crossroads of east and west, if we had laid the foundations of a tolerant and progressive state instead of allowing the most reactionary elements in our society to step forward and propagate theories of nationhood flying in the face of both logic and reason.
Our highest temples should have been raised to education and science, art and invention, sports and culture. We should have justified Partition by outperforming the rest of the sub-continent. And we should have been able to keep Pakistan together by not giving a raw deal to the people of East Pakistan. May our sins in this regard be expiated. And may we have the wisdom to do something about the anger seething in Balochistan. Are we incapable of learning from the past?
Why are our elite classes so dumb and feckless? Why can't they think through things clearly? And why are they incapable of taking a tough stand where such a stand is required?
Over the blasphemy law the religious parties were trying to stoke up an artificial storm. The federal government and indeed the entire political class should have taken a clear stand and called their bluff. But by doing nothing of the kind they allowed the fire-and-brimstone armies to make a nuisance of themselves.
Whether the Raymond Davis issue was handled properly or not, is it lost on the political class that the calls of the righteous armies to work up the masses on this issue have gone largely unheeded? The eruption of joy over our cricketing victory, by contrast, was utterly spontaneous.
Since the political class has little faith in itself it cannot bring itself to appeal to the good sense of the people. So by default the space thus left vacated is filled by the armies of the benighted. This is Pakistan's real tragedy, the cowardice of its governing classes. With no convictions to speak of, it is futile expecting them to have anything resembling the courage of their convictions?
How do we become a normal country? By going back to first causes and purging the national mind of all the ideological deadwood allowed to grow in it. National security will not be protected or enhanced by nuclear capability but by investing more in education and science and industrial endeavour. (Which doesn't mean we abandon our nuclear capability...only this that we stop treating it like something akin to the holy grail.) And we free our minds of the hypocrisy in the name of religion injected into it during the Zia years.
Pakistan is the only dry democracy in the world. In no other democracy do the dubious rigours of prohibition apply. This hasn't made us into a more virtuous nation. Such controls never do. The Americans tried prohibition and harvested organised crime. Our biggest harvest is hypocrisy on an industrial scale and lost revenues, the honourable calling of bootleggers earning what otherwise would flow into the national exchequer.
The reaction of the righteous armies need not be exaggerated. If the political class and the army are of the same mind – a necessary condition – Pakistan need not be the sole monument to dry democracy on the face of the earth. An open announcement to this effect may not be possible. But some reverse hypocrisy could be useful in that the rigours of prohibition could be eased by a simple repealing of the Hudood Ordinance 1979 whose only achievement has been not to open the gates of heaven but to make life more difficult for the ordinary Pakistani.
If only we could take four or five simple steps Pakistan would become a better nation, less stuffy and more at ease with itself: remove from public spaces some of the antiquated aircraft and tanks which do service as national monuments; strictly curb across the wide spaces of the Republic the misuse of the loudspeaker, surely one of the most insidious inventions of the devil; with immediate effect ban the use of the plastic shopping bag, another idea from the wrong side of heaven; use all the money in the Kerry-Lugar legislation for just one item of national endeavour, reviving our railways; apply creative hypocrisy to the Hudood Ordinance, there being no better antidote to the bigotry of the mind than being able to sit back and take one's ease of an evening; and cancel the next few cantonments being dreamt of by the General Staff and with the money thus saved build a few more sports and cricketing stadiums.
Just these steps and no other wonders and the hideous mask distorting the face of Pakistan will drop revealing underneath a slightly handsomer and more relaxed country.
I. THE NEWS
THE CRUSADERS ARE BACK
DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
Mercifully, it was Vladimir Putin and not Osama bin Laden who characterised the UN resolution number 1973 as "defective and flawed", even though he could have stopped it by using Russian veto power. "It allows everything," he said, "it resembles medieval calls for crusades."
Regardless of this characterisation and regardless of the reasons given by Britain and France, the two "great powers" responsible for massacres across the Muslim world as well as desecration of almost the entire Muslim world during the last three centuries, this UN resolution really takes us to a new level of western shrewdness and a new level of "international" coalition against Muslims. It has achieved what no previous resolution was able to. Also for the first time, we have "Muslim" support for West's aggression against a Muslim country in this naked form. Imagine upstarts like Qatar and UAE sending "their" planes to bomb Libya! Imagine a whole array of potentates and dictators "helping" Libyans get rid of their dictator!
There can hardly be any situation more ironic than this. But nothing matters anymore. Neither logic nor ethics; all that matters now is brute force. Morals, ethics, even basic human decency has long gone. If anyone is in doubt, just have a look at the grinning face of Jeremy Morlock, the young US soldier, posing for a photo, with his hand holding up the head of the dead Afghan boy he and his colleagues have just killed. These pictures were released by the German magazine Der Spiegel and they are available on the internet. But the strange thing is that there has been no outcry against this inhumanity, no "international" cry for justice, decency, even humanity. Just a horrible silence. According to testimony collected by Der Spiegel the boy had, as a matter of routine, lifted up his shirt to reveal that he was not hiding a suicide bomb vest. That was the moment Morlock, according to a pre-arranged plan, threw a grenade at the boy that exploded while other members of the rogue group who called themselves the "kill team" opened fire. Then they took pictures, smoked cigarettes and made jokes.
It is hard to believe that we are living in the twenty-first century. Even crusaders would feel ashamed for these acts of inhumanity. But nothing matters anymore, only greed and lust for power and brute force matter and these are abundantly present in the cunning "diplomacy" of the western world as well as in their arsenal of deadly weapons.
But back to Libya – a country forsaken by the entire Muslim world because of its ruler. This is of course not without justification: the maverick colonel has been a thorn in every eye and his "craziness" has soured relationships with many rulers, but to hand over Libya to the West for an undisclosed and open-ended invasion is utter folly. The UN is of course not to be blamed; as the true mistress of its creators, it always does what it is asked to. But unlike Iraq, this time around there is no outrage against this intervention; no mention of the duplicity that characterises this western intervention while similar situations in Bahrain, Morocco and Yemen remain unattended.
"Libya is not another Iraq," we are being repeatedly told, but it is. The US resolution is so vague that it really allows everything. Air strikes can cripple Libyan air force, they can even destroy its communication system, but eventually somebody has to arrive on the soil and that is where the slippery resolution has already started to lead. First it was said that it will only be the enforcement of a no-fly zone that will be required. Then, that new incarnation of Lord Blair, Mr David Cameron, started to talk about "international forces knocking over the government"; in other words, the objective is "regime change", just as it was in Iraq. His government comfortably won the Commons vote by 557 to 13, even though a few backbenchers used the six-and-a-half-hour debate to raise concerns about how the intervention would end.
Of course the nightmarish scenario for most westerners is the deployment of ground troops, not because they think it is immoral and illegal, but because it contains the possibility of body bags returning home – something everyone dreads. Thus when pressed on whether British ground troops could be deployed in a defensive role, Britain's cunning response was: "I don't think we would at this stage rule anything in or rule anything out but I agree with the distinction that you draw between landing an occupying force and the use of anybody on the ground. This is called testing waters, preparing public for the inevitable. Both Britain and France already know that they will need to send in troops even though US support is lacking for this, Mr Obama also knows this to be in the plan.
So, if we have western forces in Libya, and the Middle East continues to explode at the rate at which it is exploding, then where are we going with this open ended intervention: Are we at the beginning of a grand reconfiguration of the entire region? Are we at the beginning of a new world order in which Europe will claim its share of Muslim world along with the United States of America? If yes, then who is next? Syria is the obvious choice, as Yemen is too poor and too remote and all the other countries are already client states.
Imagine a new Middle East under western control, with all its oil and riches serving the masters. Imagine the fate of some one billion Muslims whose lives will be reconfigured in a manner they cannot even imagine. And the irony of this situation is countries like Pakistan, which can really play a role in stopping these new crusaders, are mired in an endless drama of no consequence.
The writer is a freelance columnist.
I. THE NEWS
A WOBBLY EMERGING GIANT
WikiLeaks cables disclosures have hit India. A major Indian daily, The Hindu, has accessed and summarised classified cables sent over the last few years from the US Embassy in New Delhi to Washington – and produced a political furore.
The most sensational disclosure is about the cash-for-votes scandal of July 2008, when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh staked the United Progressive Alliance government's survival on the India-US nuclear cooperation deal. The Left parties, on whose support the minority government depended, withdrew their backing. The Congress bribed other parties to support it during a confidence vote.
A TV channel's sting operation widely publicised this in 2008. It mainly indicted the Samajwadi Party. It now emerges that Gandhi family confidant Captain Satish Sharma got an aide to bribe the Rashtriya Lok Dal's Ajit Singh too.
Manmohan Singh pugnaciously defended his government in parliament. He said "the veracity, contents and even the existence" of the cables sent by the US embassy couldn't be confirmed and that in any case he had not "authorised anyone to purchase any votes".
Despite denials, the WikiLeaks disclosure constitutes a strong prima facie case that the UPA bought MPs to win the confidence vote. The government must let the Central Bureau of Investigation investigate the scandal under Supreme Court supervision and ask the US embassy to identify the staffer who reported the scam in the cables. Failure to do this will further damage the government's image, already badly tainted by numerous scams.
The Bharatiya Janata Party is doing its utmost to exploit the disclosures. But it too stands indicted. While it publicly criticised the nuclear deal, it wasn't serious about opposing it. BJP national executive members told the Americans "not to read much" into the party's foreign policy resolutions. LK Advani, no less, assured them that when in power, the BJP would "behave very differently from its days in the opposition".
The BJP opposed the US-India deal to affirm India's "sovereign" right to determine its nuclear policy. But its foreign and security policy is fundamentally Right-wing. It has been pro-US since the Cold War and sees India's future in strengthening a US-dominated capitalist world order. This makes it practise double standards – destroying its credibility.
However, the real importance of the WikiLeaks disclosures lies in illuminating the direction that India's foreign policy has recently taken, and showing how the world, in particular the US, views India's domestic situation and its response to regional and international events.
The disclosures contain generally useful, and sometimes valuable, information on diverse issues: domestic intra- and inter-party relations; Kashmir; public perceptions of the nuclear deal; India-Pakistan tensions; Iran's nuclear pursuits; and India's demand for UN Security Council reform, seen as mere "sound and fury".
Cables are routinely used by diplomats to convey information, analysis and assessments of the host country's positions. In the present case, they highlight divergence between the then-president APJ Abdul Kalam and Sonia Gandhi over the execution of the death sentence for Afzal Guru. They quote J&K Liberation Front leader Yaseen Malik as saying that hanging Guru would have an adverse impact in the Valley because the punishment is grossly disproportionate to the charge – of helping organise transport for the Parliament House attacks.
The disclosures highlight the differences between Prime Minister Singh and former National Security Adviser MK Narayanan over resuming talks with Pakistan in 2009. Singh had said India and Pakistan "have a shared destiny". Narayanan bluntly told Singh: "Your destiny is shared. Ours is not." It was highly improper for Narayanan to say this to his boss. Even more deplorably, he narrated this to a US diplomat.
On substantive foreign policy issues, India comes across as an emerging but diffident giant, which often capitulates to Washington's pressure, sometimes without offering resistance. This is especially so on Iran, over which the US arm-twisted India.
India voted three times against Iran at the International Atomic Energy Agency, thus enabling the Security Council to impose sanctions. India's votes were against its Ministry of External Affairs' conclusion that Iran isn't in substantive breach of its obligations under the IAEA charter or the Non-Proliferation Treaty. The US was deeply unhappy with the proposed Iran-Pakistan-India gas pipeline and made the nuclear deal conditional upon India dropping the project and helping isolate Iran.
The US doesn't countenance even a peaceful nuclear programme for Iran – although Iran has every right to pursue it. Barring some infringements of disclosure requirements, Teheran has cooperated with the IAEA. India sounds doubly hypocritical on Iran because it acquired its own nuclear weapons by abusing the civilian route – much like Pakistan did.
India's stance is at odds with its need for friendly relations with Iran, which it for decades partnered in Afghanistan against the mujaheedin and the Taliban. Afghanistan is vital to this region's future. And India-Iran relations will be crucial to Afghanistan's future.
The WikiLeaks cables show that New Delhi was so frightened of US annoyance at the April 2008 India visit of Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad that it notified the US embassy "even prior" to informing "other agencies within the Indian government". The MEA emphasised that Singh had rejected previous requests either to visit Tehran or for Ahmadinejad to visit India.
Recently, the MEA ordered its diplomats to do extraordinary things to please the US. Days after Hardeep Puri was appointed India's ambassador to the UN, he assured the US embassy in New Delhi that his "specific brief" was to seek a "higher degree of convergence" with the US. Puri repeated this assurance to US Ambassador to the UN Susan Rice.
Puri reportedly raised the "arc of failed states" surrounding India, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, and "noted the convergence between US and Indian interests. Specifically, he praised US policy on Sri Lanka", where the Rajapakse government was about to kill thousands of Tamil civilians while combating the Liberation Tigers.
In another bizarre development, the MEA asked its deputy ambassador to the UN Ajai Malhotra to undercut his own boss Nirupam Sen whom he accused of taking "a confrontational approach to the US". In dispute was the secretary general's selection. The Non-Aligned Movement demanded he should be from Asia. Malhotra offered to help the US promote its candidate in case the NAM proposal didn't find wider support.
That someone of Sen's impeccable credentials and stature should be overridden in such a slimy way speaks of the MEA's lack of professionalism and its pro-US bias. This is wholly unbecoming of a nation with a vision of global leadership.
The cables show the light-years' distance India has travelled from the Nehru-Indira Gandhi legacy of non-alignment and opposition to US hegemonism. They also show how the US has insistently, determinedly and obsessively attempted to push India into a subordinate relationship.
After the Soviet Union collapsed, India was the last major nation with an independent foreign policy focussed on demanding a more balanced world. The US has prised India from its independent policy moorings through inducements like the nuclear deal. It now wants India to become a supplicant and an obedient ally. The WikiLeaks disclosures should make the Indian public aware of this and provoke a strong response in favour of a fiercely autonomous foreign policy.
The writer, a former newspaper editor, is a researcher and peace and human-rights activist based in Delhi. Email: prafulbidwai1 @yahoo.co.in
I. THE NEWS
Pakistan and India signed SAFTA in January 2004 – which came into force in January 2006. SAFTA is aimed at reducing and eventually eliminating tariff barriers, facilitating cross-border movement of goods, promoting fair competition in the region and creating an effective framework for regional cooperation. But the agreement is still hindered by fairly restrictive sensitive lists, strict rules of origin and a slower time frame and scope.
Regional Trade Agreements like SAFTA will have positive effect on growth, trade, technological diffusion and foreign investment. Trade within the region will unleash new technology, lower domestic prices, provide new technology and usher in economics of scale in production and distribution as the effective market size expands. Joint ventures in pharmaceuticals, chemicals, petrochemicals, automobiles, agro processing, technology transfer arrangements among IT firms, and joint gas pipeline projects are some of the possibilities that can take place within SAFTA if harmonisation takes place.
India – a much bigger economy accounting for more than 80 percent of Gross Regional Product, imbued with self-confidence and aspirations to become an economic power – should demonstrate a greater degree of generosity instead of insisting upon reciprocity. A wider offer to its neighbouring countries in terms of opening up the markets and trade and removing barriers to mobility would be of ultimate benefit to India. It is advisable for India to establish asymmetric relationships with its neighbors and provide more concessions to them and expect less from them in return.
Given the large and growing size of its effective market the economic losses to India would be miniscule while political good will and returns would be substantial over time. Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka will be much better off economically if they are able to penetrate the buoyant Indian market. Friendly, peaceful and irritant-free neighbours would aid rather than hinder India in moving towards its long term goals. A region with the highest number of people living below the poverty line would surge ahead.
What needs to be done in practical terms to open up bilateral and regional economic cooperation. While India and Pakistan should continue the dialogue to resolve the core political issues they should start by focusing on non-political constraints that will promote bilateral trade. Businessmen of the two countries will then take care of the opportunities that will present themselves.
• Pakistan should grant MFN treatment to India while India should reduce its tariffs on agriculture commodities, textiles and other goods that are of potential value to Pakistan.
• Both countries should reactivate SAFTA and agree on a phasing out of the sensitive list over next few years. A restrictive list would nullify all the potential gains of preferential trade access.
• Technical barriers to Trade (TBT), Sanitary and Phyto Sanitary Measures (SPS) that are in fact, acting as powerful deterrents to exchange of goods should be rationalized and simplified. These are, in fact, non-tariff barriers that hinder the flow of goods.
• Trade facilitation through expeditious border crossings, new border crossings, quick custom clearance, telecommunication, improved transport links, shipping protocols, easing visa restrictions for businessmen should be carried out immediately. Railway, air and road connections between the two countries should be increased.
• Governor Reddy and I had signed an agreement for opening of branches by two Indian banks in Pakistan and two Pakistani banks in India in 2005. This agreement has not yet been implemented. Without banking services, opening of letters of credit, cross border transactions of funds, trade cannot take place.
• Domestic tax, tariff and subsidy policies that distort incentives for production and trade should be substituted in both the countries by more neutral policies.
• Institutions to manage and facilitate trade integration such as setting standards, quality control, technical regulations, material testing should be strengthened and made user friendly.
• Harmonisation in legal regulations for investor protection, contract and IP Rights enforcement, labour relations, would promote relocation of industries within the region as the expanded market size and mobility of goods and services would result in economies of scale. Locations for inputs, components, raw materials with low transaction costs would confer comparative advantage to final finished goods.
Let us recall that the 2006 composite dialogue had on its agenda resumption of Rail Service between Khokhrapar and Monabao, bus service between Srinagar and Muzaffarabad, religious visits to Lahore and Nankana Sahib, new shipping protocol, deregulation of air services and joint registration of Basmati rice.
The above outlined measures, if implemented sincerely, can open a new vista for the two countries in the 21st Century. It is high time political leaderships of India and Pakistan demonstrate courage and conviction.
The writer is dean and director IBA and former governor of the State Bank of Pakistan.
I. THE NEWS
AIJAZ ZAKA SYED
The writer is a columnist based in the Gulf and has written extensively on Muslim world affairs.
Despite being from the subcontinent, I belong to the rare species that isn't crazy about cricket. In a region where cricket is like religion and modest men like Sachin Tendulkar are worshipped like gods, one could never quite understand the basics of the wretched game, let alone get hooked to it.
Yes, there have been times when one couldn't resist the temptation to join the excitement of an India-Pakistan clash, which is like ages ago. As a teen, it was exhilarating to watch Imran Khan bowl and bat like a dream. And when he wasn't doing that, he would stand there on the field like a rock, the lord of all he surveyed. The majestic Pathan went on to win the World Cup for Pakistan. One only wishes he had been as successful in the cesspool of Pakistani politics.
One also often found oneself cheering for the fellow Hyderabadi, Muhammad Azharuddin, the stylish batsman and one of the great skippers India has had. And yes, like the rest of India, I must confess to being a big fan of the Little Master and the way the magician with the willow casts a spell on a billion people.
Notwithstanding these exceptions, I still find it hard to see people spend an entire day glued to their television sets, or worse, skip work to suffer the heat and dust of a South Asian stadium for a cricket match. It's even more vexing when it comes to Test cricket. How can anyone, for God's sake, spend four to five days chasing a ball?
A gift from our colonial masters, cricket has become a magnificent obsession across South Asia – and wherever South Asians have gone. When cricket fever grips the region – which is now like all through the year – you find just about everyone, from stuffy television pundits to men in the street, forever discussing the finer points and nuances of the game.
It's never just a game, especially when India and Pakistan are playing. It becomes a virtual war, a reflection of the many real ones that the twins have fought since they parted ways 64 years ago. Indeed, more than the Indians, it's Pakistanis who go all hyper when they take on the bigger neighbour, turning it into a do-or-die battle and often emerging victorious.
In doing so, Pakistan seems to make up for all the areas in which it can't match the big brother – in sheer size and numbers and in other ways.
In the past few years though, Pakistani cricket has been steadily going down the hill, clearly in sync with the general state of affairs in the country. From one leadership crisis to another and from one controversy to the next, the former champs have been going through the worst phase in their history.
That has changed with this World Cup. It's been an absolute treat to watch the Pakistani team take on the mightiest of opponents and take them to pieces. What a comeback it's been for Pakistan. Even for someone like me whose ignorance of the game is infinite, it's been fascinating to watch them demolish one world class side after another. From ravaging the gutsy Lankans to savaging the West Indies, this World Cup has been all about Pakistan's thumping march to glory, a team that was nowhere in the reckoning when the whole affair began.
The last two encounters have seen team green at their boldest and brightest. Earlier this week, they dismissed the Australians, the reigning world champions, at 176 beating a side that hasn't lost a single match since 1999. Then it was the turn of the West Indies, another legendary team, to be thrashed in a one-sided contest that Pakistan won by 10 wickets in Dhaka. The match against the Caribbean team marking the last lap of the ICC Cup coincided with the Pakistan Day on March 23. The team couldn't have offered a better gift to the folks back home.
As I write these lines, I don't know what's in store for Pakistan in the days ahead. But like all cricket fanatics – although I am not one – I am desperately hoping and praying to see India and Pakistan in the final battle. If that happens, what a thriller it would be – the ultimate fantasy of the aficionados of the sport. Because of the zero sum game between the neighbours and security situation in Pakistan, the two sides haven't played each other in years, especially on each other's territory.
For now though, it's the Pakistani team's stellar performance and how it's being seen back home that is an endless source of fascination for distant observers like me. Given the mess on all fronts, it hasn't been the best of times to be a Pakistani.
Fighting the monsters from the past and repeatedly betrayed by their politicians, coupled with the breakdown of national institutions and constant humiliation and persecution by so-called allies, Pakistanis have been fast losing hope and faith in their future as a nation.
I've seen close friends – fiercely proud Pakistani and proud Muslims – desperately look for their children's future in faraway lands like Canada, America and Australia.
What do you do when your country is daily ravaged by mindless violence and drone attacks and you're accused of being the sponsors of global terror and secret hosts of Osama bin Laden? What do you do when those who should be behind the bars for plundering the nation's coffers have taken over the reins of power?
Last week, a day after Raymond Davis, the American who shot dead two Pakistanis in cold blood from the comfort of his car and claimed diplomatic immunity, was released, 46 people were killed in yet another drone strike by the folks who call themselves Pakistan's friends.
No wonder cynicism has become the second nature of most Pakistanis today. Open the opinion pages of any Pakistani newspaper or tune in to a television network and you are overwhelmed by the all-pervasive despair and the talk of doom and gloom of all those eggheads. And to think this nation is just 64 years old, not to mention the epic sacrifices offered to earn this promised land!
Amid this deepening sense of desolation and all-round hopelessness comes the brilliant and breathtaking performance of Pakistani cricket squad. With their endless feats on the field, they have lifted the dark blanket of despondency off Pakistan.
Following the stunning victory over Australia, delirious crowds burst out on the streets across Pakistan to rejoice and celebrate like there's no tomorrow. After all, they haven't had much to celebrate in the past many years. Perhaps, never before anywhere in the world has a sport got so entwined and identified with the prestige and well-being of a nation.
The game of cricket has become a metaphor for a nation's quest for dignity and journey of self-discovery. By consistently winning on cricket pitches across the region over the past couple of weeks, Pakistan's dangerous 11 have nearly made up for all the failures on other fronts. They have revived and resurrected the fighting spirit of a beleaguered nation, rediscovering its self-belief and self-respect.
I. THE NEWS
The plastic cities of the monarchies and oligarchies of the Middle East are being threatened by the stemming of frail, green saplings of organic resistance. The ruling dynasties want to root out this growth at once so that a new oasis of human dignity, democratic values and social change could never appear in the Arab desert.
People are clamouring for political change across Maghreb and the Middle East. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Yemen and Bahrain, all are in the midst of unprecedented tensions in their history. Other governing families and classes in the region are both angry and nervous. Saudis on the one hand are trying to dole out money to their populace to keep them calm and have announced local body polls to create an illusion of participation in decision making among the citizenry. On the other hand, they have sent armed men to support the royal family and suppress the uprising in Bahrain.
The world watches. While rulers of influential countries are calculating their interests and accordingly weighing up options to interfere or stay back, civil society in these very countries is desperate to see democratic changes come about quick for their fellow global citizens. Until now, the western powers, led by the US, are selective. This is quite usual though. While we see them pounding bombs on Qaddafi's bases, Saudi intervention in Bahrain, exactly contrary to what the west stands for in Libya, continues unabated.
The reasons are far too simple. In the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia played out in Bahrain, the US will side with the Saudis. Iran is a theocratic democracy, marginally better than Saudi Arabia in terms of a cleric-controlled representative government but defying the policies of the US. Saudi Arabia is a theocratic kingdom but a close collaborator and a joint custodian of US interests in the wider region with Israel.
Although the Saudis do not recognise the Jewish state, they are hand in glove with their biggest sponsor when it comes to shared strategic interests. Americans get a rich ally who could foot its own bills and also of Americans at times like in the first Iraq war, and Saudis get what an unrepresented regime desperately needs, international political influence and military support.
For whatever it's worth, some Pakistani commentators including this scribe continue to ask of our civil and military establishment to revisit their old security paradigm and foreign policy imperatives in the country's interest.
But this is something that the US establishment does not wish to understand either, to better appreciate the emerging changes in global human society. They forget that supporting unrepresentative regimes of their liking in the developing countries including the Muslim world may have served their short-term interests but has tarnished their image among the large numbers of global population. How could you press for the inclusion of people belonging to different schools of thought in the political process in Iran and turn a blind eye towards your allies?
The US forgets that movements rooted in resistance to the monarchies and dictatorships in Arab and Muslim countries turn their wrath towards the west due to its unrelenting support to these regimes. American policy continues to lack depth.
Lastly, I am eager to put a couple of questions to Munawwar Hasan of Jamaat-e-Islami and Imran Khan of Tehreek-e-Insaf, the renewed champions of Pakistan's national honour and global Muslim pride. Do the citizens of all Muslim countries including Saudi Arabia have a right to democracy? What is your immediate reaction to Saudi military moving into Bahrain?
The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor. Email: harris. firstname.lastname@example.org
I. THE NEWS
GOLD AND GRAIN
Food seems to have become as precious a commodity for ordinary people as gold is for others with more means. The director of the World Food Programme in the country, Wolfgang Herbinger, had earlier warned that while a reasonable crop of wheat can be expected this year, people will not be able to buy it. This is a direct result of government policies that set the prices of food. As the largest buyer of wheat in the country, the price is determined by what the government pays farmers. While it has seemed eager to help these farmers, the people who consume the wheat appear to have been forgotten. The WFP believes this is one of the reasons why food prices in Pakistan did not fall in 2009 and 2010 as they did in the rest of the world at the same time. The consequences of the peoples' inability to buy food have been made very clear over the past few months. A survey from Sindh showed rates of malnutrition were higher than those in Sub-Saharan Africa and well over the WHO emergency level of 15 percent. The accounts we hear of suicides, domestic violence and all kinds of other evils are also in many ways a direct result of the growing desperation and frustration of people. The lack of employment and the absence of a social safety net of any kind add to the risks they face on a daily basis. We hear now that the problem has grown so acute that people are taking out loans simply to be able to buy food. As the WFP official points out, a good supply of grain in the country serves no purpose at all if people lack the means to purchase it.
What is ironic is that while the WAFP has picked up this issue and is now attempting to persuade the ministry of agriculture to reconsider its policies, a government elected in the name of the people, did not itself realise that rapid food price inflation had quite literally brought people to a point where starvation is a real possibility. Such a callous attitude is hard to even imagine. The government needs to re-evaluate what it is doing and consider what the impact of these policies will be on citizens everywhere. As things stand, their plight is worsening by the day. While the recovery of crops after the devastating floods of 2010 is obviously a good omen, it means little if prices of wheat and other essential items are to be fixed well beyond the reach of the people. We must do everything we can to ensure food is within the reach of every citizen.
GILANI'S ABHORRENCE OF WAR
PRIME Minister Syed Yousuf Raza Gilani has once again reiterated Pakistan's commitment to peace by declaring that wars are no solution and talks are the only way forward between Pakistan and India. Talking to an Indian delegation, led by veteran journalist and analyst Kuldip Nayar, on Wednesday he conveyed Pakistan's sincere desire to sit with India to resolve all outstanding issues peacefully and in a just manner.
From founder of the country Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah to PM Gilani, each and every Pakistani leader tried his level best to promote peace with India and went an extra mile in a bid to resolve the outstanding issues including Jammu and Kashmir through dialogue but no headway was made mainly because of lack of reciprocity from New Delhi. Ironically, in response to Pakistan's pious intentions and preference for peace, wars were imposed on it on several occasions. India, from the day one, launched an aggressive all-pervasive propaganda campaign against Pakistan and dismembered the country through aggression in 1971, when Indira Gandhi spoke of taking revenge of 1,000-year history. Students of history and neutral observers agree that India never accepted the reality of Pakistan and even now it is engaged in a sort of war against the country, as is evident from its gross interference in Balochistan and FATA. On the diplomatic front as well, India is pursuing policy of regional hegemony and that is why there is neither any progress in talks despite scores of rounds of discussions nor SAARC could move ahead despite its huge potential to bring about a meaningful change in socio-economic conditions of the people of the region. It was India's hostile posture throughout that forced Pakistan to go nuclear for the sake of its security and survival. We welcome Indian peace delegation but would point out that such moves and initiatives would not pay until and unless New Delhi demonstrates from its words and deeds that it is no more interested in establishing regional hegemony and realization of its dream of greater India. We hope that the sentiments expressed by Prime Minister Gilani would be reciprocated by his Indian counterpart and others who matter in New Delhi. The leadership of the region should realize that the biggest enemy of the people in this part of the world is poverty and backwardness and instead of fighting each other we should join hands to fight it out.
UN CONCERN ON FOOD PRICES
GOVERNMENT of President Asif Ali Zardari and Prime Minister Gilani has been taking pride in taking the wheat price to a record high for the benefit of the farmers, ignoring the flip side of the move that pushed millions more below poverty line. This has been certified by the Director for World Food Programme in Pakistan Wolfgang Herbinger who has observed that the Government pushed food prices too high for an impoverished population, which doubled in just three years.
The UN statement belies tall claims of a very rosy picture of achievement of the Government during the last three years. One agrees that Pakistan has been turned from wheat importing to wheat exporting country but at the cost of the common man who is unable to buy food to fill his stomach two times a day. Self-sufficiency is meaningless for a citizen who cannot afford to pay the cost of staple food but who cares? Before last sowing season, the Government was actively considering a proposal to hike the wheat procurement price even further to please the feudal lobby but could not do so in the face of hue and cry in media and fear of backlash. This is despite the fact that the wheat prices in Pakistan were much higher than those in the international market and this has been confirmed by the WFP Director who pointed out that wheat price in Pakistan didn't adjust when in 2009 and 2010 the wheat price had gone back a lot in the international market. It is also shameful that malnutrition has assumed alarming extent especially in Sindh where feudals, with vast expanse of agricultural land, dominate the Province. These feudals digest huge subsidies; do not pay due taxes and are not sensitive to the plight of their own people who are hungry and whose children are suffering from malnutrition. It is the growing disparity and gap between the rich and the poor that is driving unrest in Africa and Middle East. Though the situation is not yet ripe for any revolution yet disappointment and frustration are definitely there which may erupt at some point in future. UN statement should serve as an eye-opener for our economic managers in Islamabad, who should take steps to bring down prices of food, which have either been jacked up by profiteers or gone high due to wrong policies of the Government.
BD CROWD AT BACK OF GREEN SHIRTS
PAKISTAN entered the semi-finals of the Cricket World Cup by a clinical win against the West Indies and that too on Pakistan Day, which doubled the joy of people of Pakistan who thronged the roads and streets after scoring of the winning runs. But in our view another aspect of this clash has not been incidentally highlighted i.e. full to capacity Mirpur's Sher-e-Bangla Stadium at the back of the green shirts.
In fact Pakistani skipper Shahid Afridi before the match said that they would be playing at the home ground and he was right because the environment and 25,000 people who watched the match were all the time very supportive of Afridi squad. At every shot there was thunderous applause and similarly when they took wicket after wicket, there were jubilations. In Pakistan as well, there were celebrations across the country and the youths carried out fireworks and people distributed sweets over the much deserved victory. The win provided the masses a moment of joy in difficult situation. The Pakistan victory means their first journey to India since 2007 to play the semi-final in Mohali. Pakistan won't care who the opposition is and it will take an exceptional performance to stop them. Our bowling has been outstanding throughout the tournament but the problems were with the batting and it was very encouraging that the opening pair of Hafeez and Kamran Akmal clicked at the right time and one hopes that they would improve upon it in the next matches. While the nation prays for the national team, in our view the historic support to the green shirts displayed at the Mirpur stadium reflects the centuries old deep rooted ties of affinities between the two people and we are confident that in the days to come bonds of all sorts will be further strengthened between the two countries.
CORRUPTION CREATING CHAOS IN INDIA
GEOPOLITICAL NOTES FROM INDIA
M D NALAPAT
Especially since the 1971 defeat of the Pakistan Army in the east, the ISI has been seeking to weaken - and if possible destroy - the Indian State. The organisatioin has been funding, training and equipping multiple sources in India and abroad in furtherance of this objective. However, it has thus far had very little success, mainly because India is too big and too un-coordinated to suffer serious damage from the kind of tactics that the ISI specialises in. However, over the years, an enemy of the Indian people has emerged that is proving to be a potent threat to the future of the Indian Union. This is the shameless, uncontrolled greed of those at the apex of the political system in India.
Any visitor to the numerous discos of the 5-star hotels of Delhi will spot there a crowd of youths whose common factor is hedonism and access to cash. In selected discos can be recognized the sons and daughters of top politicians, officials and businesspersons, all having a wonderful time. This Community of Hedonists acts as a bridge between their parents, seeing to it that an opposition leader - for instance - avoids targeting the family of a ruling party VVIP. The daughters of businesspersons mix and mingle with the sons of high officials, and vice-versa, thereby helping to create a bond between the parents that ensures quick and reliable - if expensive - service for the businessperson at the hands of the official. Of course, the Intelligence Bureau stays far away from such dance halls and the farmhouses knowb to be the haunts of the fun-loving offspring of India's elite.This, despite the fact that several foreign agencies and missions send attractive males and females to such locations,to ensnare the children of VVIPs.So loyal is Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram to his boss Sonia Gandhi,that he has converted the Intelligence Bureau into a personal detective agency designed to protect the First Family of India. Rather than focus on threats to the people and to the state,Chidambaram has reconfigured the IB to meet threats to the primacy of the ruliong family. Because this columnist is a critic of VVIPs (and has been so for four decades in journalism), not only the telephones of himself and his spouse,but informed friends claim that even that of his chauffeur are being monitored - clandestinely and illegally - by the IB. Chidambaram has converted the Home Minu istry into a Fafkaesque behemoth that needs to get approached even an international conference takes place. Visas are held up, invitees are harassed,and buisiness deals blocked. Of course, those knowing the "proper channel" can navigate their way around such difficulties with ease.
If the IB is in this pathetic state,can the (much-discussed in Pakistan) Research & Intelligence Wing of the Cabinet Secretariat (RAW) be far behind? Because of the fact that many of its bosses have been chosen on grounds of personal loyalty to VVIPs rather than for any competence, the standards of the outfit have dropped to alarming levels.One of the past bosses was so close to a certain VVIP family that he used to personally go to London with huge bundles of cash that were distributed in secret to foreign relatives of the concerned VVIP. Not only did he personally hand over the cash,but he used to ask RAW officials not to accompany him on such "cash and carry:" missions. Naturally,he used to submit bogus receipts that showed the money being given to miscellanous South Asians,when in fact the cash was handed over to relatives and friends of a particular VVIP. The bureaucrat who ensured that this man took over RAW is likely to soon get a high position in the Prime Minister's Office,because of his closeness to a certain VVIP. Incidentally,this bureacrat is the uncle of the former RAW chief,which is why he pished his case despite being aware of his dubious background. Clearly,nepotism is no crime in today's India. A small group of bureaucrats close to a certain VVIP family are dominating the Government of India, making a mockery of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's efforts at fighting corruption.In the Income-tax department,the current chief is an already superannuated official who is in line for yet another one-year extension. Some unkind voices say that this is because of his proximity to a charming lady who - according to honest officials in the Finance Ministry - gives lists of those she wants raided. Of course,the lady always gets her way,and an average bribe of $10 million reportedly gets paid to stop the harassment. These days, the Income-tax, the Enforcement Directorate and the Department of Revenue Intelligence conduct multiple raids, which are quickly settled after the lady in question gets approached. Clearly the upright Minister of Finance, Pranab Mukherjee,is unaware of the havoc that this lady is causing in his prestigious ministry,or he would have taken action against such extortion. Will the Central Bureau of Investigation probe this lady? Of course not.Rather,it will go after the whistle-blowers. People such as Hassan Ali,who have laundered billions of dollars for VVIPs, will escape.
Why is this charming lady so powerful in matters of finance? How does she succeed in getting the agencies to intimidate and hound those fighting against such corruption? Why do even decent individuals such as the Finance Minister or the Prime Minister do nothing to stop the extortion racket that is seeing honest companies such as Infosys getting intimidated,and tax notices being sent for the "crime" of seeking investment in the State of Gujarat? Are they forced into silence because a share of the loot goes to a certain VVIP family,to get transferred to London in suitcases that leave the country unchecked because the Special Protection Force refuses to allow inspection of the luggage of the friends and family of a particular VVIP,whose family members always travel with multiple suitcases in and out of India,escorted by those whose duty is to protect the security of the country and not to prevent the customs authorities from doing their task? Shockingly,in India it is those who fight corruption who are harassed by the authorities,not those ensuring that cash and other facilities flow in abundance to selected VVIPs.
So what the ISI has failed to achieve, certain VVIPs in India are succeeding,which is to slowly poison and destroy India. These VVIPs go often to Dubai and London,where they meet with people known to be hostile to India,and enjoy their hospitality. Of course,the IB does nothing about such a huge gap in the country's security, and neither does RAW, for fear of annoying the super-corrupt at the apex of political power in India.Small wonder that a reaction is developing to such a situation. Swami Ramdev,a highly respected teacher of spiritual health,is leading a Crusade against Corruption.In a few years,millions of people are likely to agitate outside the homes and offices of VVIPs in India,the way they have done in the Arab world, so as to bring to book the super-corrupt who are destroying India. Sadly,poor Manmohan Singh seems to be running out of steam. He is getting weaker and weaker,because the agencies working under him technically but in reality being influenced by the Apex of Greed refuse to send the big fish to prison. Until that happens,the country is in trouble.
Unless Manmohan Singh takes courage in his hands and stands with Chief Justice of India Kapadia in cleansing the highest levels of his government of corruption,India is in trouble. Only a cleanup at the top can save the country from losing its future,and time is running out for the PM.Soon,unless at least a few big fish go to jail, he will be so politically weakened that resignation will be the only option. Yet another good man will get sacrificed to keep the Money Machine of the Apex of Greed functioning. Should the PM fail in implementing the will of the Chief Justice,the only solution may lie in the streets.
—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.
RESOLVE TO SAVE PAKISTAN
SULTAN M HALI
The President's address to the joint session of the Parliament on the eve of Pakistan Day was not only lackluster but devoid of the presentation of a concrete plan to combat the war against terror, which is wreaking havoc throughout Pakistan. As supreme commander of Pakistan's armed forces, it was imperative that he spell out a formal strategy and guideline to tackle the scourge of terrorism; alas he left a lot to be desired. Pakistan is facing one the major challenges in its entire history, challenges that threaten the very existence of Pakistan and needs astute staesmanship to pull the nation out of this morass.
Suicide bomb blasts and frequent target killings in big cities like Karachi, Quetta, Lahore and Peshawar, ongoing war on terrorism, impact of external interference into the internal affairs of Pakistan, espionage and sabotage activities of foreign spying agencies like CIA, RAW, MOSSAD and their networks working inside Pakistan have created feelings of insecurity and anxiety among the patriotic people of Pakistan. Western media and journalistic lobbies are also assertively engaging Pakistani intellectuals and media anchors to build public opinion in support of their nefarious designs. Offering free entry passes to attend interactive conferences, obliging the participants with gifts, sumptuous dinners, and other lavish grafts, have become the normal practice to attract domestic opinion builders. The aim is to win over their hearts and minds, thereby, making them unwitting facilitators of their view point or giving them a selective line of persuasion to achieve their objectives. In this context US officials openly purchase loyalties, offer employment in their security companies working in Pakistan, use bribery, coercion and other techniques including elimination through cold blooded murder with a view to accomplish their mission. The environment has been so contaminated that Pakistanis today feel an extreme sense of insecurity within their own homeland. There is a common perception that foreign spy agencies' ingress into Pakistani milieu including religious militants is actually promoting terrorism in the country. People whisper around that bomb blasts and suicide bombings are planned and backed by foreigners. On the other hand, on every bomb blast that goes off killing innocent people, the foreign media experts emphatically stress that Pakistan is faced with the proverbial existential threat posed by extremist elements. Unfortunately political situation in the country is also marred by conflicts and controversies, promoting frustration and social division. The nation appears to have become hostage to political division, social disorder, insecurity, and incapacitation. This carries serious perils for the state and there is a need for all segments of society including political elite, civil society, state institutions, intellectuals and other stake holders to feel the threats posed to the state and mull over options to save Pakistan. Today Pakistan is faced with numerous palpably dangerous challenges which urgently seek attention of all Pakistanis including authorities concerned, politicians and the common masses. These issues are serious enough to demand from the nation to bail out the country from economic mismanagement, political instability and foreign policy failings. Today unfortunately Pakistan is faced with the curse of poverty, rampant corruption, menace of ongoing war on terrorism including conditions of insurgency and militancy, mafia crimes including land grabbers/street looters, devastated education system, deteriorating quality of food and medicine, scarcity of commonly consumable commodities, power and energy crisis, public security and criminal justice system, demise of moral values, trends of increasing intolerance in the society, invasion of Indian culture, new great game and role of different stakeholders and divisive mindset of the nation. The people of Pakistan appear to be suffering from deep signs of anxiety, frustration, and low morale, sense of hopelessness and heightened sense of insecurity. Hence there is a need to take charge and fix responsibilities to steer the country in the right direction and create a new sense of hope among the people of Pakistan who are ready to offer any kind of sacrifices to share the challenges faced by the country and make it a story of success.
This Pakistan Day, the President and the people of Pakistan should have resolved to transform challenges into opportunities and convert hopelessness into sense of optimism with a view to overcome the real challenges faced by the country. It is still not too late to save Pakistan from threats posed by internal as well as external elements; but in order to do so; the political leaders must sink their differences and for a change think of Pakistan rather than their own vested interests. They should remember that without Pakistan, they would not have a platform to play their politics. They have to save Pakistan first from the machination, conspiracy and nefarious scheming of its detractors. Their actions must be in consonance with Pakistan's survival as a state. They need to act with a view to bring the whole nation cohesively on one page. As opinion builders and leaders, they have their work cut out to mould the inchoate mass into one solid edifice.
Unfortunately certain political factions are creating doubts and speculation in the minds of Pakistani youth using religious, ethnic, regional and chauvinistic themes. Their political agenda is based on personal advancement and greed. Hence they tend to ignore the sacrifices made by our elders with the desire to revive the glory of past and Islamic culture. The events that culminated into our freedom need to be celebrated with a view to evaluate as to how certain elements are losing their faith in the two nation theory. We need to make efforts to instill new vigor of faith and values in our youth, blowing spirits of enlightenment, courage and perseverance as per the dreams of Quaid-e-Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founding father of Pakistan. It is the duty of the media to promote the real teachings of Islam and religions harmony not only among various sects but also followers of other religions. The President should have given a clarion call to all the peace loving and patriotic citizens of Karachi to set aside their social, political economic and religious differences to extinguish the flames of fratricidal violence by adopting the strategy of forgive and forget and demonstrating bonhomie of the past. The media also needs to play its role in bringing the masses under one platform to meet the challenges headlong and avoid unwittingly becoming the tools of Pakistan's detractors.
MESSAGE FROM TSUNAMI
Nature's fury was at work once again on 11th March when a powerful earthquake of 9 magnitude hit the North-eastern Japan, triggering gigantic Tsunami waves which shook this mighty nation. This earthquake is said to be one of the five most powerful earthquakes the world has ever witnessed. This earthquake was so powerful it moved the Japanese coast by 8 meters and shifted the Earth's axis. It is well known that Japan is situated on the Pacific 'Ring of Fire' (margin of the Pacific tectonic plate are called) which is prone to large scale volcanic eruptions and earthquakes. Due to these geological conditions, the people of Japan are mentally and psychologically always ready to cope with such disasters. Thanks to this awareness of the people and dexterous handling of crisis by the government, the loss of life and property by this quake and tsunami was not proportionate to the magnitude of this disaster.
However, more than 7000 people are feared dead with toll increasing. This natural disaster has subsequently given way to a man-made disaster in the form of looming radiation threat from the 40-years old Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. Situated 240-km from Tokyo, the plant has suffered major damage by the earthquake and subsequent tsunami. One by one, four blasts occurred in all its four reactors. Twenty kilometers of area around the plant has been evacuated due to probable radiation threat. Feared by contamination, many countries have stopped importing food items from Japan. This radiation threat cannot be undermined since Japan itself is witness to the biggest ever nuclear disasters of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. This deadly combo of earthquake and tsunami has badly affected the Japanese economy. Economic impacts of the disaster are being felt across the globe. Asian share markets nosedived in the aftermath of this crisis. Japan's Multinational entities like Sony, Toyota, Nissan, Honda etc. have to shut down many of their plants. The city of Sendai in the north-eastern Japan has been razed to the ground by the giant tsunami waves of over 30 feet. All man made stuff like houses, skyscrapers, aircraft, trains, bridges etc. were blown away by the strong tsunami waves.
Over half a million people are rendered homeless, who are forced to take refuge in schools and other public buildings which withstood the shock. Here they are facing problems of severe cold and lack of food and potable water. Many ports, power plants and oil refineries are closed down. One oil storage facility even caught fire after the earthquake. The whole world has provided a helping hand to Japan in this hour of crisis. As always, America is in the forefront in relief works. It is hoped that the intelligent people of Japan with the use of their progressive science and technology, will soon overcome this tragedy and successfully turnaround their economy.
But the question is what we have learnt after witnessing such natural disasters time and again? In this era of science, can we afford to temper with the nature in order to fulfill our greed? Is nuclear power the most convenient and cheapest way to cater to our energy needs? Is their construction tenable at the cost of human lives? Or our scientists should look out for some alternate source to evade such a huge risk? Or such an element should be invented which can neutralize the impact of radioactive radiation on the environment? Japan's geographic location is also a source of concern. Geologists are well aware of the fact that Japan lies on the margins of two adjacent tectonic plates which are constantly in motion. Therefore, tiny earthquakes occur beneath Japan every hour. It is strange that notwithstanding the impending threat, the people of Japan are forced to live on such vulnerable spots in their "quake proof" buildings. New ways are adopted to make quake proof houses and skyscrapers. But nature refuses to honour any security criteria set by the humans. It cannot be predicted when these areas will again witness such a disastrous earthquake or tsunami. It is to remember that the tsunami of 2004 which mainly affected Indonesia was of greater force than this one. The height of those waves was about 80 feet which destroyed many small islands on its way. India was also affected by that tsunami. China has also witnessed many disastrous earthquakes.
Hence, the geologists and earth scientists of all countries should carefully study the destructive natural calamities like these. Allowing people to live in such areas is not the wisest, durable and reliable way. As permanent solution, people of such areas should be rehabilitated to safer places. Scientists and governments should understand that the earth cannot mold itself the way human wants. Therefore, it's wise to stay away from such areas in order to minimize loss. Such natural disasters teach the mankind to live in peace and harmony and understand each other's grief and sorrow.
ALLAH LOVES THE DOERS OF GOOD
THE SPIRIT OF ISLAM
ATIF NOOR KHAN
No religion has laid so much stress on the uplift of the poor and the distressed as Islam, and it is also the only religion that calls for the abolition of slavery. In today's troubled world, many people are experiencing "spiritual hunger," or a deep desire to seek truthful meaning. Some have shied away from organized religion in favor of secularism, perhaps believing that all religions are irrational due to the general rise in fundamentalism. Others have turned to fanaticism themselves, and then there are those in-between. Allah the Almighty says in Holy Quran "Do good to others. Surely Allah loves the doers of good." (2:195). Our beloved Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said "Feed the hungry, look after the sick, and strive for the freedom of the enslaved." (Bukhari, Muslim).
It is our prime responsibility to spread the message of Islamic truth to everyone; because Islam is the religion of humanity, its inspiring values such as peace, tolerance, and rationality naturally appeal to truth seekers everywhere. Islam teaches its followers to strive to develop their best qualities, because that is the goal of existence. God has given to each person various capabilities and resources, such as knowledge, money, strength, some talent or skill, etc. Every individual must use what he or she has been given to benefit other people as well as the rest of God's creation, not just for selfish ends. If this principle is neglected, then not only is there no relief for the distress and suffering of the needy, but man's increased selfishness makes him his fellow man's deadly enemy; and society as well as mankind become divided into factions and groups all trying to grab things from one another and destroying God's creation. The Holy Qur'an's guidance on this matter is very straightforward, pointing out the two paths open to each individual: the path of righteousness and the path of transgression. The Creator of all universes says "And (have We not) pointed out to man the two conspicuous ways? But he attempts not the uphill road; And what will make thee comprehend what the uphill road is? (It is) to free a slave, Or to feed in a day of hunger, to an orphan near of kin, or to the needy one lying in the dust" (90:10–16). The idea of the oneness of humanity is Prophet Muhammad's (peace be upon him) unique contribution to human civilization, and it came as a natural sequel to the foundation of his teachings: the Unity of God. Perhaps the most important teaching that upholds the concept of the oneness of humanity is that there is one law by which all people are to be judged: the law of personal deeds. As the Qur'an says, "He who has done an atom's weight of good shall see it. And he who has done an atom's weight of evil shall see it" (99:7–8).
Allah the Almighty has opened the path of our spiritual development by giving us free will, and the proper use of this benefit makes a person the vicegerent of Allah on earth . It is because of free will that a person is rewarded for his/her good deeds, which is mentioned in almost every page of the Qur'an. It directly states, "If you do good, you do good for your own souls" (17:7). A powerful way to show our gratefulness for the Divine privilege of free will is to strive to protect the freedom of others. The aim of serving humanity should always be Allah's pleasure. "And they the righteous] give food, out of love for Him, to the poor and the orphan and the captive. We feed you, for Allah's pleasure only – We desire from you neither reward nor thanks" (76:8–9). The Qur'an also warns that prayer without good deeds is useless. "Hast thou seen him who belies religion? That is the one who is rough to the orphan, and urges not the feeding of the needy. So woe to the praying ones, who are unmindful of their prayer. Who do (good) to be seen, and refrain from acts of kindness!" (107:1–7).
The greatest goal of Islam is to extend kindness to self and kindness to the creatures. It is this goal that determines the position of one before Allah in this world and the Hereafter. It is also this kindness that determines man's position among his fellow human beings. All obligatory and forbidden things are based on this kindness. Allah has made it obligatory in all His legislations. The Messenger of Allaah said, "While a man was walking on a road. He became very thirsty. Then he came across a well, got down into it, drank (of its water) and then came out. Meanwhile he saw a dog panting and licking mud because of excessive thirst. The man said to himself "This dog is suffering from the same state of thirst as I did." So he went down the well (again) and filled his shoe (with water) and held it in his mouth and watered the dog. Allah thanked him for that deed and forgave him." The people asked, "O Allah's Apostle! Is there a reward for us in serving the animals?" He said, "(Yes) There is a reward for serving any animate (living being)." (Al-Bukhaaree and Muslim).
Everyone can be among the best of people in doing good and, as a result, will be gladdened by it and respected by all people. Accordingly then, we should not let any day pass without utilizing it in doing good and not let any opportunity pass without utilizing it to benefit people. By visiting one of your friends you can bring joy to his heart and to visit a sick person. you can reduce the suffering of illness. Reconciling differences among people can remove the source of dispute. To say a word of consolation to comfort a sad soul; to contribute what you can to supply the needs of a poor man; to think how to initiate a charitable project; or to solve the political, economic and moral problems of a society; or to defend against economic. political and social corruption; to give shelter to a stranger who is grieved by being far from his family or country; to instill pleasure and happiness in the heart of an angry man; to secure a frightened man who has lost the sweetness of security and peace; to brighten the life of an orphan with sympathy and compassion; to hide the mistakes or errors of others which may happen in front of you without letting people know... all of these are noble and charitable deeds. We, Muslims, must thank Allah for guiding us to Islam. We should see to it that everything we think, say and do is done sincerely for Allah. We should dedicate everything to Allah: "Say: 'Truly my prayer and my service of sacrifice, my life and my death, are (all) for Allah, the Rabb (Only God, Cherisher and Sustainer) of the Worlds." (6:162). We should follow the Qur'an and Sunnah and refrain from Bid'ah, hypocrisy, show-off and any un-Islamic deed that will displease Allah. We should be God-conscious and God-fearing at all times. We must remember that Allah has appointed two angels for each and every one of us. One angel sits on the right and one on the left (to record all our deeds) (50:17).
We should fear Allah the Almighty and always be kind to ourselves by carrying out righteous deeds and refraining from forbidden things and also be kind to our fellow creatures, that our Lord may let us enter the Honourable Abode and ward away from us a painful punishment.
ATROCITIES IN KASHMIR & INDIAN OBDURACY
Recently, Amnesty International, in its report titled 'A Lawless Law' has termed the Public Safety Act (PSA) as a 'lawless law' and asked the state government to repeal it. Amnesty International flayed the authorities for using administrative detention as "a tool to hold hundreds of people each year without charge or trial in order to keep them out of circulation." Also notes that the "state officials often implement the Public Safety Act in an arbitrative and abusive manner… Detaining authorities fail to provide material on which the grounds of detention are based to detainees or their lawyers. Detainees can approach (often successfully) to the High Court to quash their order of detention, but Amnesty International's research clearly shows that the J&K authorities consistently thwart the High Court's orders for release by re-detaining individuals under criminal charges and or issuing further detention orders, thereby securing their continued incarceration.''
Amnesty International further says that many of the people detained under the PSA without charge or trial for periods of two years or more may have committed no recognizably criminal offence at all. "Under the PSA, detention can be justified for undefined acts "prejudicial to the security of the State" and for extremely broadly defined acts "prejudicial to the maintenance of public order. The possibility of detention on such vague and broadly defined allegations violates the principle of legality required by Article 9(1) of the International Covenant on civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which India is a party."
Ironically, human rights are violated on large scale in the so-called world's largest democracy. To crush the Kashmiri Liberation movement, India has employed various techniques including black laws. Prevention of Terrorism Act (POTA), Terrorist and Disruptive Activities Act 1990 (TADA) and Armed Forces Special Powers Act 1990, (AFSPA) are enforced in Kashmir despite the fact that they contravenes the Indian Constitution and international law. These laws violate the basic human rights such as right to life, the right to liberty and security of the person and the right to remedy. The Armed Forces (Jammu & Kashmir) Special Powers enforced on 10 September, 1990 authorized even a non-commissioned officer to search any place, fire at any person (and kill), or arrest on the basis of suspicion. TADA gives security forces and armed forces special powers for unauthorized administrative detention without formal charges or trial for up to one year. Under POTA, any person can be put into prison for not disclosing the information that can prevent an act of terrorism.
In Kashmir, there is one soldier for every twenty people. There are 5,00,000 armed troops, 3,00,000 army men, 70,000 Rashtriya Rifle soldiers, 1,30,000 central police forces as against the total population of 1 crore. In the past 20 years, a generation of Kashmiris has grown with soldiers at every street corner "often even in their living rooms". The grievance of the people is that instead of confining the role of the military and security forces to that of external defence and as against militants, it is regularly and continuously used for domestic repression; and as Professor Hameeda Nayeem says : "that has transformed the Indian state into a source of deep insecurity for the citizens – as instruments of the persistent violator of human rights and converted the Indian military into an illegitimate agent of repression. Both in turn seriously undermine the democratic credential of the state." This excessive militarization has resulted in wiping out all space for the exercise of democratic rights by the people, the result being terrorization of the people at large. This has resulted in ruthless action on all dissent, and at the same time the military indulges in acts of violence against people with impunity.
Human rights organizations are routinely denied permission to investigate in a free manner. Media-men are being attacked and arrested. Humanitarian relief is limited as external agencies are not being allowed to provide medical assistance and other relief materials. Many cases of human rights violation stem from abuse of power under repressive laws and police/army brutality unleashed against the Kashmiri people. They are taken into custody for acts that are legitimized by international human rights standards of free speech, freedom of association and assembly, and freedom of the press. The Indian government's failure to account for these abuses and to take rigorous action against its forces responsible for murder, rape and torture speaks volumes of its fake posture of secular and democratic state. These atrocities are true reflection of its policy of condoning human rights violations by the Indian security forces in Kashmir that needs to be addressed, the sooner the better.
LIGHTS DIM ON A HOLLYWOOD ERA
ELIZABETH Taylor relished the spotlight for almost 70 years.
As a child star she charmed 1940s moviegoers in Lassie Come Home , National Velvet and Little Women. As an adult she was the first screen actor paid $US1 million when she captivated her co-star Richard Burton and much of the world in Cleopatra in 1967. Away from the movies, but never far from the spotlight, Elizabeth Taylor was a complex character and a woman of faith who converted to Judaism in her 20s. A mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, her generous philanthropy and capacity for friendship more than matched her extravagance, overindulgence and weakness for 30-carat diamonds.
Taylor, whose favourite axioms included "big girls need big diamonds", personified Technicolor Hollywood glamour. As famous for her striking dark hair, deep blue/violet eyes and ruby mouth as for her acting skills, she recognised that she was a more accomplished star than an actress. She was ambivalent about the insular world of filmmaking after being steered into it by her mother. But Taylor's two Oscars were well deserved, especially the second for her portrayal of Martha, the carping, heavy drinking wife of an academic in the Ivy League drama Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Conscious of her foibles, including that she had more spouses than Henry VIII, Taylor once described herself as ". . . a very committed wife. And I should be committed too -- for being married so many times". Of her seven husbands, the first of whom was hotel heir Conrad Hilton, the actress regarded film producer Mike Todd, who died in a plane crash in 1958, and Burton, a leading Shakespearean actor whom she married and divorced twice, as her true loves.
It was Taylor's friendship with Rock Hudson, who died of AIDS, that motivated her to devote much of her energy and talents to taking a leading role in fundraising to help combat the disease. In that work, which became almost a full-time career, she was supported by her close friend, controversial singer Michael Jackson, with whom enjoyed watching Walt Disney movies and whose untimely death broke her heart. Taylor's own health problems, including chronic back pain, substance addiction, a brain tumour and congestive heart failure tested her resilience to the limit. Asked once what she would like written on her tombstone, Taylor opted for a simple phrase that in her case meant a great deal: "She lived." And lived large.
NSW MUST EMERGE FROM LABOR'S HEART OF DARKNESS
THE horror we predicted four years ago must finally end.
Elections seldom shape up as the lay down misere unfolding in NSW tomorrow but while a Coalition victory seems a foregone conclusion, there is much about this poll that is crucial for voters in NSW and around the nation. Voters have a chance to make a statement about what should happen to governments that turn their back on their commitments, toy with the trappings of power and administer the authority of the state for their own benefit rather than the community's. This is the manifest failing that NSW Labor has descended into over 16 years under Bob Carr, Morris Iemma, Nathan Rees and Kristina Keneally. It could not be summarised more pithily than through the words uttered by Premier Keneally herself: "We lost our way because we were too focused on ourselves and not enough on what matters to families in this state." Her frankness and apology are to be applauded, but they cannot, in The Australian's view, stave off a reckoning.
It must be said that the first decade of Labor rule, under Mr Carr, was largely successful. From staging the world's best Olympic Games, instigating transport infrastructure such as the Cross City Tunnel and the M7 Westlink, to consolidating the state budget and tackling police corruption, there were achievements to be proud of and much more to strive for when Mr Carr handed over to Mr Iemma in 2005. But if Labor had deliberately decided to fritter away that foundation and betray the public's trust, it could not have made a better fist of it. What was once a serious government has, for the past four years or more, become a pastiche of duplicity, peccadillos and incompetence, with leaders wheeled in and out at the behest of faction leaders, showing a contempt for voters. Along the way botched attempts to privatise electricity assets cost the state billions of dollars. Road and rail transport stagnated, angering commuters, while failed schemes such as the ditched Metro cost millions without moving a single passenger. The NSW hospital system has become the most troubled in the nation, regularly failing patients, and the state's economic growth has trailed national trends for a decade. Once proud Sydneysiders have become defensive about their city, while the regions have cried for help.
All this has been played out against a sordid backdrop of sleaze. A serving minister was convicted of child sex and drug charges, then a series of scandals unfolded with ministers dancing in their underwear, filmed dropping in to a gay sex club, downloading porn at parliament house and playing out their extra-marital affairs in public, while other MPs were caught rorting allowances. Labor mates have been appointed to high-paying jobs and the parliamentary team has danced to the tune of the ALP's Sussex Street headquarters. The people of NSW have seen laid bare the consequences of an unchecked culture of nepotism and patronage. Labor's advertising betrays it long gave up any chance of victory but merely has cautioned against voters handing too much power, in other words, too many seats, to the Coalition. This is a transparent attempt to save the political furniture and reserve the right to claim even a devastating defeat as some consolation. Voters need to see through this and examine the question from the opposite angle. If a government has failed to deliver, presented a long list of scandals and has been self-indulgent to the detriment of the community, what would it say about our democracy if it were not severely punished at the polls?
The only road to the remote chance of redemption for Labor would have been to make an honest attempt at reform and renewal, and this is where Ms Keneally has failed. While she has managed to wave goodbye to more than 20 serving MPs in the lead up to this election, she has done nothing to wrest control of the party from the union and factional powerbrokers who installed her and are largely responsible for the malaise of the past decade. The discredited and directionless NSW Right faction still holds sway through upper house leader Eric Roozendaal and leader-in-waiting and ex-Unions NSW boss John Robertson. In fact a disproportionate campaign effort has been activated over recent weeks to safeguard Mr Robertson's switch to the lower house in Blacktown, probably at the expense of other winnable seats. After the election, the NSW Right again will be left to divvy up what are likely to be the pitiful spoils of opposition. Despite Ms Keneally's talk of renewal, it will be situation normal. That is why The Australian can find nothing encouraging to say about the government's campaign, save for the energy, charm and relentless work ethic of Ms Keneally. If nothing else, she deserves to stay on as leader if she chooses, and if she commits to democratising her party.
The people of NSW deserve a change and will have high expectations for an incoming Coalition government. They rightly expect Barry O'Farrell to realise his promise to make the state No 1 again. This means he needs to ditch his small-target strategy immediately and demonstrate the sort of action and imagination that the public expects. The opposition has not been blameless in NSW's decline, from failing to do enough to win the last election, to colluding with the unions to thwart electricity privatisation. But on the weekend Mr O'Farrell deserves to be given a massive mandate, which he should use wisely. Partnerships can be formed with the private sector to provide new rail lines and roadways; train and ferry operations can be run more efficiently; Sydney can assert itself as the nation's premier city; and more nurses, teachers and police can be employed if union power can be challenged, bloated bureaucracies can be trimmed and private investment encouraged. Although unconvinced by the opposition four years ago, The Australian still urged voters to punish Labor or risk more of the same "horror" but we could not have foreseen the heart of darkness into which the party has descended. This time most voters should see that the horror of returning Labor would be unspeakable.
Mr O'Farrell has been disciplined and sure-footed, leaving Labor to run a scare campaign about his "secret" plan. We've been disappointed he hasn't revealed a transformative agenda and hope he does have a plan.
The Australian has no hesitation endorsing him to form government. We urge Mr O'Farrell to be bold and decisive from Sunday because the people of NSW are eager to see radical change for the better and there is no time to waste.
MOMENT OF TRUTH LOOMS IN BALI
PRIME Minister should ditch the failed regional centre idea.
Shambolic as the government's border protection management has become, there are no clear signs of any attempt to tackle the serious policy issues at play. There are detainees missing on Christmas Island but the Immigration Minister Chris Bowen cannot tell us how many. Fires and riots are destroying much of the facility, asylum-seekers are being evacuated, new detention centres are opened or under construction elsewhere in Australia and the latest boat arrival has been diverted directly to the mainland, but the government is remaining stubbornly inactive. There are now more than 6500 people in various detention centres, and still boats are arriving, which presents us with the inescapable conclusion that the government has lost control of the border protection regime. Mr Bowen's performance on ABC TV's Lateline on Tuesday was that of a minister at the end of his tether.
The last idea from Julia Gillard came in a pre-election thought bubble about a regional detention centre in East Timor. This idea has yet to be endorsed by the proposed host nation, let alone anyone else. As The Australian has already pointed out, in the unlikely event that that centre is ever built, it would be unlikely to make any difference. The government should abandon the proposal and examine other policy solutions such as reopening the Nauru centre and reviving a distinct visa category for asylum-seekers.
Most asylum-seekers merely transit other countries in the region on a pre-organised journey to Australia, so understandably the countries they pass through consider the problem as one of Australia's making. Unsurprisingly, they expect us to provide the solutions. Our neighbours view the prospect of a regional detention centre as an attempt to pass ownership of the dilemma to them. They would prefer that Australia put back the disincentives to people-smuggling to curtail this evil trade, which creates more than a little inconvenience and cost for them. For all these reasons, Australia's championing of the East Timor solution is struggling to win overt support in the region, creating only diplomatic headaches instead.
Next week, when Mr Bowen and Foreign Minister Kevin Rudd attend the Bali regional process on people-smuggling meeting, they will confront a moment of truth. At this crucial gathering, they must either obtain broad support from other nations for a regional processing centre or finally walk away from the idea. Australia cannot afford to waste any more diplomatic capital on this improbable scheme, nor can it afford to allow continued consideration of the idea to forestall the urgent task of finding other meaningful policy reforms.
Already Mr Bowen has quietly revised downwards Australia's aims for the Bali meeting. In recent interviews, he has spoken no longer of winning support for a regional centre but for a "regional framework". He should be warned that no vague commitment to a "framework" will disguise the regional centre plan's failure. Conspicuously, Mr Rudd so far has avoided involving himself in the proposal and will be forced to address it for the first time in Bali. Despite the obvious discontent it might stir within the government, he would do very well to assert his surer grasp of national security matters and ensure that his first intervention in his successor's misguided policy is to publicly consign it to history.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
NSW IS OVERDUE FOR CHANGE AND RENEWAL
At this point in election campaigns it is customary for newspapers such as this one to recommend to readers which way they should vote. The 2011 NSW election is different. Opinion poll results show any advice would be superfluous. For the lower house, and hence the next government of NSW, the outcome is not in the balance. Voters have made up their minds and turned away from Labor in large numbers - some to the Greens, most to the Coalition. And yet Labor, despite this statewide change in sentiment, may not be completely routed. Kristina Keneally has run a hard campaign in the most trying of circumstances and will no doubt live to fight another day, either in NSW or at a federal level. She is a talent. But the Premier's many skills will not be enough to change the outcome - nor should they. We believe the choice most voters appear already to have made is the right one: a Coalition victory is the result this state needs.
We need not go through the list of Labor's failures to explain why. They are well known, depressing and tedious to relate. Overlaying them all is the corrosive effect which power has over time on any political party. In Labor's case, its long reign has allowed the corrosion more time to act, so that the party has become hollowed out, emptied of ideas and energy, clinging to power for its own sake, and transformed into a simple, unthinking conduit for the ebb and flow of patronage between interest groups and government ministers who can do their bidding.
Of more importance is what voters have a right to expect of the first Coalition government for 16 years. We have heard too little of what Barry O'Farrell and his team want in detail to achieve. They have confined themselves largely to generalities for tactical reasons. One general promise that political leaders who win power from opposition usually make on election night is to govern for the whole community, not just those who voted for them. It is a cliche - but cliches become so because they are true, or at least people want them to be true. And this is indeed a desirable promise because it would mark the Coalition's big difference from Labor.
What tomorrow's probable emphatic victory of O'Farrell and his team shows is that NSW does not want a government which sees its task only ever in political terms: to redistribute resources to its own voters and its own electorates. The Coalition must indeed end the bias towards Labor's heartlands in many areas: roads (think of subsidised tolls on the M4 and M5, not the M2); hospitals (think of the botched redevelopment at Royal North Shore Hospital, and the sale of land there); planning (think of the brutal redevelopment around Ku-ring-gai) and other areas. But once balance is restored, it must be maintained.
It is important in other ways, too, that an O'Farrell government not just be more of the same. That may seem unlikely, but the risk is real. A change of government is partly an illusion: though the personnel and the labels change, the problems do not. Nor in many cases do the solutions to them, and more importantly the interest groups which those solutions affect. The Coalition is already subject to the same pressures and incentives that Labor felt and was seduced by. It will come under the same pressure from the club industry to increase opportunities for gambling; from hotels to water down restrictions on licences, and to ignore problem drinking. Developers will already be putting out feelers to see if an O'Farrell government can be influenced to sideline planning rules for profitable developments and ignore community protests in return for discreet donations. If all the Coalition can achieve is the same partisan, deal-driven winner-takes-all politicking, but with different personalities and a different brand name, it will have failed.
As well as avoiding the pitfalls of power, the Coalition must also change the way government works. It must end the bureaucratic infighting which bedevils the administration of the state in too many areas - particularly those to do with transport and planning. A government new to power after a long absence will find that difficult, but O'Farrell is the right person to be given the popular backing for early radical change. He has gathered and maintained electoral support because he is a moderate. That is an important point which those on the far right of the Coalition would do well to ponder. The size of his majority is likely to tempt some in the Liberal and National parties to flights of ideological fancy which the electorate will not support. The federal Opposition Leader, Tony Abbott, has demonstrated by his ill-judged behaviour this week in the carbon tax debate that it is possible even for a cause with some popular backing to falter when it is taken to extremes.
O'Farrell needs as much freedom as possible to clear away the detritus. That is why we believe voters - though their natural instinct might be to impose a check on unlimited power - should also support Coalition candidates in the Legislative Council. It will be difficult even with the Liberals' and Nationals' support at record levels for them to muster enough votes to win a majority of seats in the upper house. It is more likely that they will have a working upper house majority with Fred Nile's Christian Democrats and the Shooters and Fishers Party members. Yet at this important election, as NSW seeks a way to emerge from its stagnation and neglect, the new government should be given as free a hand as possible to implement reforms which will inevitably antagonise powerful interest groups. It would be better if this difficult process could go ahead undiluted by populist compromises.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
TAYLOR-MADE FOR SUPREME STARDOM
SOMETIMES, even legends can be overly self-critical. Dame Elizabeth Taylor, who died in Los Angeles on Wednesday, aged 79, once said: ''I don't like my voice. I don't like the way I look. I don't like the way I move. I don't like the way I act. I mean, period. So, you know, I don't like myself.'' Millions thought otherwise.
One critic described Taylor as ''the complete movie phenomenon - what movies are as an art and an industry''. She was also a great beauty, with violet eyes of cinematic depth and lustre, and was the sort of actress who lit up the screen from within.
Certainly, through a rich and varied life and career - not to mention eight marriages, two of which were to the same man, Richard Burton - the star that was Elizabeth Taylor far outdazzled and outpriced the Cartier and Krupp diamonds she owned. She appeared in more than 50 films, beginning in 1944 with National Velvet and ending, more or less, in 1980, with Franco Zeffirelli's Young Toscanini (a film so disastrous it was never released), in which she played an opera singer. But there was more to Taylor than winning jockeys, ageing divas, Egyptian queens and the shrewish, bloated Martha in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, the 1966 film that won her a second best-actress Oscar.
In truth, although it has been at least a generation since the name Elizabeth Taylor featured in the movie credits, her name is still in lights. Long may it remain so, for her talent, although varied, was at its greatest, formidable. The fame her talent and beauty brought her came at significant personal cost.
Taylor was one of the last survivors of the Hollywood studio system - the so-called star machine - which treated its actors like rivets to be bolted into so many vehicles. Or, in her own words, she became MGM's ''chattel'' until Cleopatra and its then record-setting million-dollar salary - along with the attendant Taylor-Burton scandal that proved more lasting and memorable than the film.
There are many victims of the studio system who have fallen on life's cutting-room floor, but Elizabeth Taylor transcended it, in the process becoming her own best legend and enduring force of celebrity. Living her life, as one of her directors said, ''was a kind of acting''.
Her observation, ''I'm not like anyone. I'm me,'' was not lost on her legion of fans, determined to investigate the life of ''me'' down to the last gold-plated factoid. Her jewels and her films survive her. Magnificently.
THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD
UGLY ABUSE HAS NO ROLE IN POLITICAL DISCOURSE
IT IS an image that may come to haunt Tony Abbott and should give pause for the Australian body politic. At a rally outside Parliament House on Wednesday against Prime Minister Julia Gillard's proposed carbon tax, the Opposition Leader addressed the crowd in front of banners that read ''Juliar, Bob Brown's bitch'' and ''Ditch the witch''.
Early this month, the independent federal MP Tony Windsor, who is a member of the Prime Minister's cross-party committee on climate change and therefore associated with the push for a carbon tax, received a chilling message on his mobile phone. ''You die. You die, you f---ing c---,'' the male caller said, before labelling Mr Windsor a ''dog'' and signing off: ''I hope you die, you pig.''
The banners behind Mr Abbott and the phone call to Mr Windsor are potent symbols of a worrying development in Australian public life. There is an ugly tone evident in our political discourse at the moment that should be stifled, not encouraged.
When Mr Windsor made the contents of his phone message public, and urged that the political system take a deep breath so as to ensure ''we don't end up with a tragic event'', some people responded by suggesting he was being too precious and should make more allowance for the rough and tumble of public life. We disagree. The most disappointing thing about that episode, beyond the phone call itself, was that Australia's political and civic leaders did not rise up as one to loudly and unreservedly condemn what had happened. No politician in Australia should have cause to fear for their safety because of their policies or beliefs.
It seems a long time since Mr Abbott suggested, while courting the independents after last year's election produced a hung parliament, that it may be time for a ''kinder, gentler'' politics. After the crucial independents decided to side with Labor, and especially since Ms Gillard's announcement that she intends to introduce a carbon tax as a forerunner to an emissions trading scheme, Mr Abbott has set about demonising the Prime Minister.
The Age supports the move to put a price on carbon pollution, but we also understand that it is a highly contentious proposition. We believe Ms Gillard should expect to pay a political price for having abandoned her explicit pre-election promise that no government she leads would introduce such a tax. We certainly support without reservation the right of Mr Abbott to hold her to account on this measure, and of him and anyone else so inclined to vigorously campaign against the Prime Minister and her tax.
But Mr Abbott has been playing with fire with his calls for a ''people's revolt'' and his constant branding of Ms Gillard as a liar. His decision to address Wednesday's rally, which was attended by former One Nation MP Pauline Hanson and representatives of the extremist League of Rights, raises questions about his judgment. It is difficult to imagine his political hero, the unfailingly polite former prime minister John Howard, allowing himself to be seen to be giving succour to such an abusive display. Mr Abbott was not responsible for the nasty, misogynistic posters that characterised the Canberra protest, but there is a heavy onus on the alternative prime minister to help foster a civil political culture
SEX CRIMES: THE COST OF FAILURE
The percentage of successful rape convictions as a proportion of complaints remains, campaigners say, in single figures
Delroy Grant, the so-called night stalker, was convicted yesterday of 29 offences, including a series of rapes of elderly women. The first was carried out in 1991. Eight years later, there was a chance to link him to what was already a pattern of burglary, violence and sex attacks. Ten years after that, in 2009, he was finally arrested. By then he had committed another 146 offences, including 23 further sexual assaults. The Independent Police Complaints Commission investigation into the case found that just three Metropolitan police officers should face misconduct charges.
This is the third such case in two years – and that is just in London. In March 2009, the taxi driver John Worboys was convicted of 19 charges of drugging and assaulting 12 women. Worboy's attacks spanned a five-year period and probably involved at least 19 other women. This time, the IPCC report led to the disciplining of five officers, and an overhaul of the way the Met investigates sex crimes. Weeks later, another serial sex attacker, a south London chef called Kirk Reid, was found guilty of raping and assaulting 71 women over seven years. Again, he might have been caught earlier. This time, the IPCC report led to five more officers facing disciplinary proceedings.
London might have the mournful title of UK rape capital, but the pattern is familiar across the country. Despite a concerted effort by the last government, the percentage of successful rape convictions as a proportion of complaints remains, campaigners say, in single figures. Progress like the network of sexual assault referral centres where police and medical staff are trained to help the vulnerable women who are most often (but by no means the only) victims have a proven record of success, and the number of cases pursued to prosecution – where the conviction figures are nearly 60% – are rising. Yet the Delroy Grant case is a tough reminder of how much is still to be done. The IPCC's light-touch approach to discipline is not helping.
Nor is the government. The home secretary should be cheered for taking up the recommendations of her predecessor's Stern report into rape complaints, but it seems reckless that, having been stung by the row over anonymity for those on rape charges, Theresa May then abandoned an inquiry into the bungled investigations. The police argue that better systems and smarter technology would prevent a repetition of the mistakes. They point to the rise in the reporting of sex offences. Yet they admit that there is one last victim of Delroy Grant's two decades of violence, and the errors that left him free to terrorise a community, and that is public confidence in their ability to hunt down such people in the future.
EU ECONOMY: CUTS, GROWTH, DEBT AND DEMOCRACY
Never before has the EU's political elite been so far apart from its citizens, or so fragmented
They thought it was all over. It isn't now. Europe's debt crisis remains toxic and unresolved, even as EU leaders meet in Brussels to back action that is supposed to restore the continent to good financial health.
Yesterday Moody's, a credit ratings agency, exercised irresponsible omniscience to downgrade 30 Spanish banks and warn Britain that cuts in George Osborne's budget may not be severe enough to sustain Britain's AAA rating, while Ireland reported that last year its economy had shrunk for a third year in a row. Yields on Irish government 10-year bonds peaked at 10.21% – which is market code for the rising risk of a default. To put this in context, Ireland, an independent nation still with a big economy, is now trusted less by investors than John Lewis, the British retailer, whose bond offer, at a much lower rate, was oversubscribed this month.
On Wednesday the Portuguese government collapsed after the country's parliament refused to back a fourth austerity package. In Brussels earlier in the week the police fired water cannon at protesters who feel that austerity is being imposed, without any democratic backing at all, to please the markets. Never before has the EU's political elite been so far apart from its citizens, or so fragmented. The notion of a common European home with common interests is failing as some states, such as Germany and Sweden, return to pre-crash rates of growth while others, Greece, Portugal and Ireland among them, remain broke. Even before the summit began, a draft of its conclusions was leaked. It suggests eurozone leaders have not worked out how to fund the proposed European Stability Mechanism and its €700bn bailout fund, which is supposed to sort out the sovereign debt crisis once and for all.
None of this means the EU is about to fall apart or the euro collapse, but it does pile on the pressure, particularly for Germany where Angela Merkel wants to renegotiate the terms of Berlin's payments into the fund. In the short term even the Portuguese situation is manageable. The markets had already factored in the probability of an EU bailout, along the lines of Greece and Ireland. But without a secure government in Lisbon it will be hard to agree or enforce the terms. Even Ireland, which does have a new government elected on a platform of implementing an austerity budget, is trying to renegotiate the terms of its EU aid: instead a further bailout looks more likely. By taking what was private bank debt on its shoulders the Irish state has made the country's task harder, since any default would be a national not just a commercial one. In Portugal and Greece, it was always the state that was doing the spending.
There seem to be three possible outcomes. The most likely is that the eurozone will somehow muddle through, at the cost of more bailouts to indebted states, and somehow a mix of growth and austerity will ease the crisis, at huge social cost in places such as Greece. Or some states could demand and obtain easier repayment terms – perhaps defaulting altogether and hoping to rebuild as Iceland is managing to do. But if that happens, their ability to borrow from anyone other than the EU will be shot through. Finally, the euro could collapse, its rich members taking one course and leaving the rest to go to hell in handcart. But that would effectively wreck the EU.
Of these the first is the most palatable option and the one EU leaders are sticking to. Even Britain, excluded from the eurozone core meetings, sees the advantages, which is why Eurosceptical David Cameron is saying so little. But what if the debt terms and enforced austerity prove so onerous that more governments fall rather than implement them? Perhaps some economies will never prove strong enough to crawl out from the commitments imposed on them. Britain is not alone in facing a hard choice between cuts, growth, debt and democracy.
IN PRAISE OF … AMATEUR SLEUTHS
Blay trawled chat logs to unearth the trail of a character who turned out to have morbid fascinations
Whether it is shrewd spinsters (Miss Marple), curious clergy (Father Brown) or high-schoolers with hunches (Nancy Drew), the world of fiction has its fair share of amateur detectives, outwitting the local plod. In real life we rarely hear about crime-solvers in the community. But the conviction last week of William Melchert-Dinkel in a US court, for aiding the suicides of Mark Drybrough, from Coventry, and a Canadian student, Nadia Kajouji, highlighted dogged digging by a 64-year-old Wiltshire grandmother, Celia Blay. First alerted to Melchert-Dinkel's activities in 2002, after encountering a depressed teenager who had met a "female nurse" online who "advised" them to take pills, Blay trawled chat logs to unearth the trail of a character who turned out to have morbid fascinations. He would befriend vulnerable and often young victims, feign sympathy and then enter into one-sided suicide pacts. Despite rebuffs from both the FBI and British police, Blay persisted for eight years until the Minnesota police took up the case and arrested Melchert-Dinkel on her evidence. Blay's tenacity echoes that of housewife Susan Galbreath, who tracked the perpetrators of a heinous murder in her hometown of Mayfield, Kentucky to justice over seven years, long after official law enforcers had given up. One striking feature of both cases was the police's initial reluctance to grapple with evidence amassed by amateurs. Melchert-Dinkel's conviction proves beyond reasonable doubt that this needs to change.
THE JAPAN TIMES
PRO BASEBALL'S VIEW ON DISASTER
The Central and Pacific leagues of pro baseball have shown contrasting approaches to their game schedule for this year in the wake of the March 11 quake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan. On March 15, the Pacific League decided to postpone the start of its season to April 12.
The Central League first announced that it will start its season on March 25. After the education ministry requested it to avoid games, especially at night, in the area where power is supplied by Tokyo Electric Power Co., whose Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant is in a crisis, the league postponed the start of the season to March 29. It decided not to hold extended games throughout the season, but it decided to hold night games on and after April 5. The education ministry then requested the league to rethink its night games plan.
On Thursday, however, the Central League decided to start the season on April 12 and not to hold night games in April. One wonders if it occurred, after all, to league officials that their earlier decision to start its season in late March would not have received public support, as people in the disaster-hit regions are in deep sorrow, suffering over the loss of family members and homes.
It appears that officials of the Central League have failed to understand the gravity of the fact that more than 20,000 people are dead or missing because of the quake and tsunami, and that elderly evacuees are dying in temporary shelters because of a lack of medical care.
In contrast, in the Pacific League, there was a strong voice among players and managers that the situation in Japan is not yet suitable to play and enjoy the game of baseball.
Three Central League teams based in the Tokyo metropolitan had wanted to hold night games in April. It is clear that this ran counter to the idea behind Tepco's rolling power outages. It appears that Central League officials did not understand the severity of the power shortage. A night game at the Tokyo Dome consumes 50,000 to 60,000 kW of electricity, equivalent to the amount used by 4,000 households.
THE JAPAN TIMES
STRICKEN MILK AND VEGETABLES
The government on Monday told Fukushima, Ibaraki, Tochigi and Gunma prefectures to suspend shipping of spinach and kakina, a locally produced leaf vegetable, following the detection of radioactive substances at levels above the provisional limits under the Food Sanitation Law. It also told Fukushima Prefecture to suspend shipping of raw milk for a similar reason. The radioactive substances apparently came from Tokyo Electric Power Co.'s stricken Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant. The government the next day called on people to limit consumption of spinach, cabbage and a few other leaf vegetables from Fukushima Prefecture.
The government, which had ruled out a large-scale nuclear accident, had not set allowable limits for radioactive substances in farm products. The health ministry hurriedly established provisional limits and notified prefectural governments March 17.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yukio Edano said that even if one continues to eat 1 kg of the spinach every day for a year, the accumulated radiation level will be one-fifth that of one computerized tomography scan. And if one consumed the milk at the national average amount for a year, the accumulated radiation level would be about the same as that of one CT scan, he said.
But one cannot completely rule out the possibility of a chronic health problem if farm products with a low level of radioactivity are ingested over a long time. Radioactive iodine collects in the thyroid gland, and children are most likely to suffer from internal exposure to radiation leading to thyroid cancer. While radioactive iodine has a half-life of eight days; for radioactive cesium, it's 30 years. The latter, though, is said to leave the body easily.
While the central and local governments must guard against radioactive contamination of food items, they must prevent a panic among consumers. They should carry out detailed radiation checks so that only products below the limits of contamination will be shipped to markets. They should provide accurate information to consumers to prevent an abnormal situation in which they refrain from buying even safe products. A close watch on fishery products will also be necessary.
THE JAPAN TIMES
'PROTECT' THE SYRIANS NEXT?
BY GWYNNE DYER
LONDON — March 18 saw the first nationwide protests against the Ba'ath regime in Syria. If these protests develop into a full-scale revolt, the regime's response may dwarf that of Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.
The last time Syrians rebelled, in the city of Hama in 1982, President Hafez al-Assad sent in the army to smash the insurrection. Hama's center was destroyed by artillery fire, and at least 17,000 people were killed.
The current Syrian ruler, Bashar al-Assad, is allegedly a gentler person than his father Hafez, but the Ba'ath Party still rules Syria, and it is just as ruthless as ever. So what happens if the Syrian revolution gets under way, and the Ba'ath Party starts slaughtering people again? Do the same forces now intervening in Libya get sent to Syria as well?
Syria has four times Libya's population and very serious armed forces. The Ba'ath Party is as centralized and intolerant of dissent as the old Communist parties of Eastern Europe. Moreover, it is controlled internally by a sectarian minority, the Alawis, who fear that they would suffer terrible vengeance if they ever lost power.
The U.N. Security Council was absolutely right to order the use of "all necessary measures" (meaning armed force) to stop Gadhafi's regime from attacking the Libyan people. But it does move us all into unknown territory: Today Libya, tomorrow Syria?
The "responsibility to protect" concept that underpins the U.N. decision on Libya was first proposed in 2001 by Lloyd Axworthy, then Canada's foreign minister. He was frustrated by the U.N.'s inability to stop the genocides in Kosovo and Rwanda in the 1990s, and he concluded that the problem was the U.N.'s own rules. So he set out to change them.
The original goal of the United Nations, embedded in the Charter signed in 1945, was to prevent any more big wars like the one just past, which had killed over 50 million people and ended with the use of nuclear weapons. There was some blather about human rights in there, too, but to get all the great powers to sign up to a treaty outlawing war, there had to be a deal that negated all that.
The deal was that the great powers (and indeed, all of the U.N. members) would have absolute sovereignty within their own territory, including the right to kill whoever opposed their rule. It wasn't written quite like that, but the meaning was clear: The U.N. had no right to intervene in the internal affairs of a member state no matter how badly it behaved.
But by the early 21st century, the threat of a nuclear war between the great powers had faded away, while local massacres and genocides proliferated. Yet the U.N. was still hamstrung by the 1945 rules and unable to intervene. So Lloyd Axworthy set up the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty (ICISS) to popularize the concept of humanitarian intervention under the name of "responsibility to protect."
It was purely a Canadian government initiative. "You can't allow dictators to use the facade of national sovereignty to justify ethnic cleansing," Axworthy explained, and so he launched a head-on attack on sovereignty.
The commission he set up concluded, unsurprisingly, that the U.N. should have an obligation to protect people from mass killing at the hands of their own government. Since that could only be accomplished, in practice, by military force, it was actually suggesting that the U.N. Security Council should have the right to order attacks on countries that indulged in such behavior.
This recommendation then languished for some years. The most determined opponents of "responsibility to protect" were the great powers — Russia and China in particular — which feared that the new doctrine might one day be used against them. But in 2005, the new African Union included the concept in its founding charter, and after that things moved quite fast toward the adoption of "R2P."
In 2006 the Security Council agreed that "we are prepared to take collective action, in a timely and decisive manner . . . should peaceful means be inadequate and national authorities manifestly fail to protect their populations from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity." Now, five years later, they're taking military action against Gadhafi.