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Friday, April 1, 2011

EDITORIAL 01.04.11

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media watch with peoples input                an organization of rastriya abhyudaya

 

Editorial

month april 01, edition 000795, collected & managed by durgesh kumar mishra, published by – manish manjul

 

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

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

 

THE PIONEER

  1. A POINTLESS MEETING
  2. 'M' FACTOR IN KERALA
  3. WHITE MAN'S BURDEN - PREMEN ADDY
  4. DISRUPTING PARLIAMENT - ARINDAM CHAUDHURI
  5. CORRUPTING POOR VOTERS - ANURADHA DUTT
  6. FAST FADING SHADE OF RED - KALYANI SHANKAR
  7. TURKEY SCRAMBLES TO DEAL WITH UPHEAVAL - CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA

THE TIMES OF INDIA

  1. SEIZING THE MOMENT
  2. ON TO MUMBAI
  3. A SWING OF THE PENDULUM - AJAY SHANKAR
  4. 'CHILDREN'S LITERATURE IS NOT JUST ENTERTAINMENT. IT'S A VITAL TOOL'
  5. TASTE FOR INDIA

HINDUSTAN TIMES

  1. WILL TOMORROW BE 1983 AGAIN?
  2. WALK THE TALK
  3. COUNTING ON THEM - HARSH MANDER
  4. WHEN IN LIBYA... - FAREED ZAKARIA
  5. BEING UNSAFE IS NOT ACCEPTABLE - ADVAITA KALA

THE INDIAN EXPRESS

  1. GROW UP, INDIA
  2. A CHILLING PICTURE
  3. MOHALI TAKEAWAY
  4. IN THE NAME OF THE MAHATMA - TRIDIP SUHRUD
  5. RIVALRY RELOADED - SUDIPTA DATTA
  6. WHAT IS THE FUSS ABOUT? - CHARMYHARIKRISHNAN
  7. 'BAHRAIN IS NOT A PART OF THE DEMOCRATIC DOMINO EFFECT IN THE MIDDLE EAST' - SHUBHAJIT ROY
  8. THE MOHALI MOMENT - SEEMA CHISHTI
  9. NOT OVER REACTORS

THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

  1. INDIA'S BANKER
  2. STATE OF THE DEFICIT
  3. THE SECRET OF GOVERNMENT BANKS
  4. RAJESH CHAKRABARTI
  5. WILL FDI COME IN NOW?
  6. SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE

THE HINDU

  1. DON'T BAN GREAT SOUL
  2. GERMANY'S GREEN SPRING
  3. NEW VIGILANTISM IN HIGHER EDUCATION
  4. BRINDA BOSE & PRASANTA CHAKRAVARTY
  5. SOPS FOR CHEMICALS? DOW'S BEHIND-THE-SCENES MANOEUVRES (PART - II)  - SARAH HIDDLESTON AND NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN  
  6. WHEN NEW DELHI STOOD ITS GROUND  - HASAN SUROOR
  7. MOVING GLOBALLY AGAINST THE TIGERS  - K. VENKATARAMANAN

THE ASIAN AGE

  1. GOOD START TO PM'S BID TO RESET PAK TIES
  2. THE WIKI-TRICK - SHASHI THAROOR
  3. KEEPING THE STRIPES ON THE TIGER  - MAHESH RANGARAJAN

DAILY EXCELSIOR

  1. GAME LOST HEARTS WON
  2. CRICKET FEVER GRIPS COUNTRY - BY TAVLEEN SINGH
  3. SUSTAINABLE GROWTH OF MICRO  - BY SANJEEV CHAWLA
  4. FOODGRAIN PRODUCTION IN INDIA - BY ARABINDA GHOSE

THE TRIBUNE

  1. KUDOS TO THE MOHALI SPIRIT
  2. ACTOR SHINEY'S CONVICTION
  3. BROOKING NO DISSENT
  4. LIBYA AND THE OBAMA DOCTRINE - BY INDER MALHOTRA
  5. MARCH OF TIME - BY P. LAL
  6. THREAT MITIGATION: GOING BEYOND JUST MODERNIZATION
  7. BRIG ARUN SAHGAL (RETD)
  8. THE DOCTRINES OF WAR

MUMBAI MIRROR

  1. THE ASCENT OF STUPIDITY

BUSINESS STANDARD

  1. MESSAGE FROM MOHALI
  2. FARMERS AND FOOD PRICES
  3. THE FACEBOOK OF IDEAS
  4. MADHUKAR SABNAVIS
  5. THREE BIRDS WITH TWO STONES - JAMAL MECKLAI
  6. HOW TO AVOID DECISIONS  - SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR
  7. FM COMBINES REFORMS WITH FISCAL DISCIPLINE - MUKESH BUTANI  

THE ECONOMIC TIMES

  1. BRAVO, CENSUS
  2. WELCOME TWEAKS
  3. WALK THE TALK  - RAJAT GUPTA, INSIDER TRADING & PROBES
  4. WHITHER HINDUSTANI CLASSICAL MUSIC?  - KULDEEP KUMAR
  5. SWITCH OFF NUCLEAR POWER  - G V RAMAKRISHNA
  6. MORE PLACES IN THE SUN  - MUKUL SHARMA
  7. WINNING  - JACK WELCH

DECCAN CHRONICAL

  1. GOOD START TO PM'S BID TO RESET PAK TIES
  2. THE WIKI-TRICK
  3. EGYPT'S DEMOCRACY IS MESSY, BUT IT'S OK
  4. KEEPING THE STRIPES ON THE TIGER
  5. LOOK WHO'S FOOLING YOU
  6. COMMUNICATION CHANNELS

THE STATESMAN

  1. MAGIC AT MOHALI
  2. DOUBLE WHAMMY
  3. GERMANY'S GREEN VERGE
  4. DIRELY IN DEBT~II - BY BIBEKANANDA RAY
  5. HAS CBI DONE ITS HOMEWORK?  - RAJINDER PURI
  6. THE COMFORT CURSE  - SHOMA A. CHATTERJI

THE TELEGRAPH

  1. A NEW VOICE
  2. BEHIND A MASK
  3. THE MIDDLE KINGDOM  - DASGUPTA
  4. TALKING FOSSILS

DECCAN HERALD

  1. MOHALI SPIRIT
  2. PROTECTING CHILDREN
  3. A VISIT TO PAKISTAN -  BY KULDIP NAYAR
  4. THE WORLD WILL MISS A STABLE SYRIA - BY MICHAEL JANSEN
  5. DIME A DAY  - BY MIRLE KARTHIK

THE NEW YORK TIMES

  1. MR. OBAMA'S ENERGY VISION
  2. CHANCELLOR MERKEL'S SHELLACKING
  3. A FRESH SEASON FOR MANAGING REGRET
  4. THE DEFECTION TRACK - BY DAVID BROOKS
  5. THE MELLON DOCTRINE - BY PAUL KRUGMAN
  6. THE MYTH OF SYRIAN STABILITY - BY MUSTAFA NOUR

TIMES FREE PRESS

1.      GROWING U.S. ROLE IN LIBYA

2.      SPOILING THE FUN FOR EVERYONE

3.      SOME FOOD COST INCREASES AVOIDABLE

4.      A GOOD POLICY CHANGE

 

HARARETZ

  1. SHUT DOWN ISRAEL BONDS
  2. THE PARALYSIS OF ISRAELI LEADERS IS OUR WORST ENEMY - BY YOEL MARCUS
  3. TOUGHER THAN YIGAL HURVITZ - BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER
  4. THE EXTREME RIGHT TURNED ISRAEL INTO AN ANACHRONISM - BY ZEEV STERNHELL
  5. WHO IS ISRAEL'S KING OF CORRUPTION? - BY YOSSI SARID
  6. NEW RULES FOR THE REGION - BY ALEXANDER BLIGH
  7. SETTING SIGHTS ON 2012 - BY HILLEL SCHENKER

HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

  1. FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - 'WITCHES' EXIST, 'WITCH HUNTS' SHOULD NOT
  2. BLAME FOREIGN ELEMENTS IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER - SEMİH İDİZ
  3. TAKING STOCK OF THE ERGENEKON CASE - SEDAT ERGİN
  4. AN EU MINISTRY ON THE WAY - MURAT YETKİN
  5. EPPUR SI MUOVE! - BURAK BEKDİL
  6. INQUISITION - YUSUF KANLI
  7. ERGENEKON CASE NEEDS TO BE PUT ON TRACK - MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

THE NEWS

  1. TARGETING FAZL
  2. A CHANCE FOR PEACE
  3. VICTORY AND LOSS
  4. MAD ABOUT THE RIGHT THING - AYAZ AMIR
  5. ANATOMY OF NEO-COLONIALISM  - DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL
  6. HOW UNDERDEVELOPMENT RAVAGES PAKISTAN  - DR QAISAR RASHID
  7. DIVIDING PUNJAB  - MAHMOOD SHAH
  8. ON CRICKET BONDS AND FEARFUL NEGLECT  - SHAFQAT MAHMOOD
  9. SIDE-EFFECT  - HARRIS KHALIQUE

PAKISTAN OBSERVER

  1. RECKLESS DEVOLUTION OF MINISTRIES
  2. ATTACK ON MAULANA FAZLUR REHMAN
  3. THERE WILL BE CRICKET WORLD CUP IN 2015 ALSO
  4. A NEW SYKES-PICOT AGREEMENT - M D NALAPAT
  5. TAMING HINDUTVA - SULTAN M HALI
  6. NW STRATEGIC ANCHOR - ABID LATIF SINDHU
  7. DIVINE JUSTICE - S MUJTABA LARI
  8. SAFETY OF PAK NUCLEAR FACILITIES - MUSHARAF ZAHOOR & ABDUL GHAFFAR

THE AUSTRALIYAN

  1. ENDORSING TOUGH-LOVE REFORMS
  2. FAIR-DINKUM TAX SUMMIT WOULD GIVE WA A FAIR GO
  3. THE MASTER COACH RETURNS NORTH

THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

  1. GILLARD OPENS A FOURTH FRONT
  2. BY TRAM DOWN GEORGE STREET
  3. PENALTY MUST OUTWEIGH PAY-OFF FROM FOUL PLAY
  4. ABBOTT'S WELFARE PITCH LACKS EFFORT

THE GUARDIAN

  1. THE MAGIC OF THE MONARCHY: THE ROYAL MOMENT HAS COME
  2. OPPOSITION POLICY: CUT TO THE CHASE

THE JAPAN TIMES

  1. NOW IT'S YEMEN'S TURN
  2. JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS WARMING UP IN CRISIS - BY FRANK CHING
  3. REGIME CLASH IS PERSONAL - BY BARAK BARFI

THE JAKARTA POST

  1. GOT A CLEAR LIBYAN AGENDA?
  2. EMPLOYEES BILK CLIENTS, BANKS
  3. INDONESIA'S CRYPTIC CONSERVATISM - PIERRE MARTHINUS
  4. MUI SHOULD ISSUE FATWA TO STOP HOUSE PROJECT - MUHAMMAD AS'AD
  5. POVERTY FUELS KALIMANTAN TIMBER SMUGGLING - OMAR PIDANI

DAILY MIRROR

  1. SOME WISDOM FOR APRIL FOOLS DAY
  2. OBAMA'S LIBYAN MOMENT
  3. LIBYA: THE DECEPTION AND THE DIVERSION
  4. THE WORLD CUP AND SANDCASTLES
  5. MY DEAR MAHINDA AIYA,
  6. EFFICIENCY, A LUXURY IN OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM?  - BY SACHINI WEERAWARDENA
  7. A SHAKY TRYST WITH DESTINY  - BY YOICHI FUNABASHI

GULF DAILY NEWS

  1. TRIVIALISING THE INTERNET    - BY JENNIFER GNANA

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

A POINTLESS MEETING

MOHALI TALKS ACHIEVE NOTHING AT ALL


He came. He saw. He left (with a grumpy face). That pretty much sums up the so called 'ground-breaking' meeting between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and his Pakistani counterpart, Yousuf Raza Gilani, at Mohali on Wednesday on the sidelines of the World Cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan. Touted to be another glorious example of 'cricket diplomacy' — a terribly flawed foreign policy tactic with an equally ambiguous track record of success — the meeting achieved absolutely nothing that could possibly make a significant contribution towards improving bilateral ties between the two countries. But of course, Mr Singh and his Government would like us to believe that a new 'spirit' was born and we must rejoice in the tremendous potential it holds. Mohali, they call it — after that stadium where it was conceived and following in the tradition of the 'Thimphu spirit' and and the 'Spirit of Sharm el-Sheikh'. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao described the newborn as an "extra positive and encouraging spirit" while the Congress gushed about the "goodwill gesture" — Mr Singh's spontaneous invitation last week was to celebrate the spirit of sport — that led to, well, another spirited development. Yet for all this spiritedness and in spite of all the good cheer that the Congress-led UPA regime is desperately trying to inject into India's body politik — which would much rather just 'bleed blue' — the harsh truth is that nothing has changed since Wednesday. No progress has been in real terms; no memorandums, no joint statements, not even any empty promises. Just plain talk. Now Mr Singh would like us to believe that idle chatter was exactly the point of it all, that nothing more was expected from his little garden party; and then, he will present his entire argument in the context of "ancient animosities" which one must leave behind to seek a "permanent reconciliation" so that we can live happily ever after. And his loyal coterie will be enchanted by the fairytale version of events.

 

But real politics is not a fairytale. Bilateral ties between two nuclear armed countries that have fought four wars in six decades is definitely no child's play. And this is particularly evident in the fact that in reports that have emerged since the meeting, there is a lot of talk about everything good and happy but there is no mention of the hard issues. Apart from a vague statement that the two leaders had "extensive discussions on all outstanding issues" including all "core issues", there was no comment on what exactly they talked about. Did they speak about Kashmir? About Siachen? About the Pakistani terror networks that wreak havoc at home and abroad? Did Mr Singh remind Mr Gilani that Islamabad is yet to hand over evidence about the Pakistanis who terrorised Mumbai less than three years ago? Or, has this Government, in its eagerness to be seen as the bearer of the proverbial olive branch, decided to let Pakistan off the hook once again? A grateful Mr Gilani has hailed the meeting as an opportunity to build "mutual trust and respect". How exactly he plans to do that when Pakistani terrorists are constantly planning to bomb our cities, our ports, our planes and our people is beyond understanding. Perhaps Mr Gilani has shared his plans with Mr Singh while his boys on the field battled it out with our men in blue — and lost.

 

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THE PIONEER

EDITORIAL

'M' FACTOR IN KERALA

LDF, UDF STEER CLEAR OF VOTE-BANK POLITICS


Elections in Kerala, as a norm, do not take place without the issue of religious minority communities — especially the Muslims — figuring prominently throughout the campaign. But strangely the presumed limitless influence of the 'M' factor is missing in the run-up to the election to the 13th State Assembly, polling for which is scheduled to be held on April 13. The 'M' factor, or more specifically the Muslim vote, had become formidably prominent in the 2009 Lok Sabha election when neo-Islamists in the community even set the agenda for both the CPI(M)-led LDF and the Congress-headed UDF. The CPI(M) formed an open alliance with the PDP of Abdul Nasser Madani, presently lodged in a Bangalore prison for his role in the 2008 terror bombings, and continued with its alliance with the Jama'at-e-Islami. The Congress, assisted by its ally, the Indian Union Muslim League, forged a covert tie-up with the Islamist Popular Front of India, whose operatives had on July 4, 2010 chopped off the right hand of a professor in a Taliban-like attack. The professor, a Christian, was accused of blasphemy. Madani's influence in that election was so huge that he even succeeded in deciding candidates for the Left in certain constituencies. Despite the various allegations of terrorism against Madani and warnings from its partners in the LDF, the CPI(M) refused to snap the alliance. But the strategy to win the election at any cost backfired and the Left suffered a crushing defeat by losing 16 of the 20 Lok Sabha seats. However, after Madani's arrest last year, reality dawned on the CPI(M) and it abandoned its open ties with his party. The Marxists also distanced themselves from the Jama'atis by openly calling them extremists. But these developments did not lead to the disappearance of Islamist influence in the electoral process as was proved in the civic polls of October when a Popular Front leader, key accused in the case relating to the attack on the professor, was elected by a huge margin.


With Madani in prison, the PDP has become effectively leaderless and with no party willing to accept its support, it has become a political pariah. But efforts are on by the PDP to forge some sort of an understanding with either of the two fronts before the Assembly poll. The SDPI, political outfit of the Popular Front, has fielded its own candidates in some seats but not many take them seriously. The Jama'at-e-Islami is still waiting for the LDF or UDF to knock on its doors. While the isolation of the Islamists is being seen as a welcome development, it remains to be seen whether both the LDF and the UDF stick to their stands. It is entirely possible that as the date for voting draws closer, the CPI(M) and the Congress may strike a deal with them in the hope of mopping up Muslim votes.

 

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THE PIONEER

COLUMN

WHITE MAN'S BURDEN

PREMEN ADDY


Fear of communism led the US to suppress its nobler instincts and launch war in the colonial world. That urge to 'intervene' in foreign lands still remains strong.

Meeting Triumph and Disaster just the same was Kipling's prescription for those who aspired to true manhood. It is unlikely that the world's macho enforcers will treat the Libyan Disaster as they would a Roman Triumph. Britain, France and America are joined at the hip in bringing Colonel Muammar Gaddafi to heel under the umbrella of Nato. The endgame remains a mystery; more so is the exit strategy.

Meanwhile, the British economy wobbles and Portugal's is in collapse. An EU bailout for Portugal would require a significant British contribution, when Chancellor George Osborne pleads that a straitened treasury, declining tax receipts and a Himalayan national debt require severe Government spending cuts at home. The public demonstration in London last weekend drew disaffected humanity to the capital in their tens of thousands from every corner of the land. The crowd was the largest since 2003, when 500,000 men, women and children gave voice to their opposition to the looming Iraq war. This latest demo promises to be the first among many as the summer of discontent unfolds and the numbers swell.

Europe as a whole is in turmoil: Belgium hasn't had a Government these past nine months and the Brussels police were stretched to contain a mass riot against austerity. Only Germany with its burgeoning economy is tranquil — the powerhouse of the continent, whose decision at the UN Security Council to join Russia, India, China and Brazil in abstaining from the Anglo-American-French Resolution 1973 on Libya may be a foretaste of things to come.

Whither the EU? Whither Nato? With Russia's Siberian oil and gas carried to Germany in giant pipelines along the bed of the Baltic Sea and the lure of the Russian market, with ambitious joint Russo-German industrial ventures taking off, the future promises a condominium whose reach and grasp will likely exceed the muscle of the post-War Franco-German alignment.

Germany will face East and West with measured tread, as its statesmen of earlier eras, Bismarck and Stresemann, believed was in Germany's best interest. Those in London and Washington, DC prone to look through their glass, darkly, will hope fervently for a continuation of the lease to the present comfort zone.

Most friendships, pronounced Dr Johnson, are either partnerships in folly or confederacies in vice: The Anglo-American 'special relationship,' some would say, is both. Tories and Labour alike have been selling British independence for a mess of pottage, the counterfeit status of a great power satisfying an atavistic need for pomp and glory. Hubris is usually followed by nemesis. The Anglo-French Suez expedition in 1956 brought humiliation to both parties; that, and Italy's colonial enterprise in Libya, beginning with the bombardment of a Libyan city in 1911 and ending with Mussolini's fascist rule in the 1930s, carry shades of the past in the present.

Mr Rory Stewert, a Tory MP with combat experience in Afghanistan, was visibly apprehensive in a BBC Television discussion of the consequences of moving into 'uncharted territory' in Libya, a country seven times the size of the UK. Air power alone cannot guarantee effective foreign occupation, while the anti-Gaddafi Libyan rebels supported by Nato have proven Al Qaeda and kindred Islamist elements within their ranks. There are perils aplenty, but Prime Minister David Cameron, bit between his teeth, is pressing on regardless, even as the international conference in London has exposed the lack of a Libyan consensus.

"Mrs Margaret Thatcher wanted to be Churchill, resurrected in the Falklands. Mr Tony Blair, who wanted to be Mrs Thatcher, sustained it, and now Mr Cameron, who wants to be Mr Blair seems determined to do the same. But the next great British Prime Minister, if there is to be another, will be the one who ends it once and for all," wrote Matthew Norman in The Independent. A high-tech war is infernally expensive in lives and treasure. Squadrons of aircraft enforcing a 'No-Fly Zone' in Libyan skies and bombarding Col Gaddafi's installations and formations are costing millions of dollars.

Education cuts will mean a less skilled British workforce in the national and global marketplace. Depletion in research funds will end in diminished science and technology and less innovation on the factory floor. Knowledge-based industrial power enabled Britannia to rule the waves. Empty posturing will scarcely allow her to rule the roost.

The Pentagon has requested a fresh supplementary Budget to meet the cost of its Libyan operations when the US is deep in debt. Every post-War American President has embroiled the nation in military conflict, big or small; every one of them has a case to answer for crimes against humanity, said the American philosopher and academic, Prof Noam Chomsky, in an interview with BBC Television.

Media demonising is a national sport in America and, to a lesser extent, in Britain. Col Gaddafi is, and always was, a nasty crook. But so surely were Gen Yahya Khan, Gen Zia-ul-Haq, Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto, Suharto, Marcos, Hosni Mubarak, and a multitude of others of the great and good blessed with Uncle Sam's indulgence, arms and cornucopia of cash. Mr Henry Kissinger, President Richard Nixon's National Security Adviser detected in Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto Pakistan's answer to the Italian Borgias and Mussolini, "a world class mind." Islamabad's genocidal mania in East Pakistan in 1971 was apparently of little consequence in the great game of world powers; Mr Kissinger's nudge and wicked wink to Indonesian warlord Suharto to invade East Timor in 1975 (with the loss of millions of Timorese lives) was not considered worthy of serious scrutiny and comment. It was not given to the lesser breeds without the law to reason why.

Presumably the cunning of reason provoked US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld (in the George W Bush Administration) to denounce India in a fit of the vapours, within a month of taking office (in February 2001), as "a menace to other peoples, including the US, Western Europe and the countries of Western Asia." Phew!

The crises of fading empires have bedevilled world peace since 1914. Then it was the inability of the Austro-Hungarian polity to meet the marginalised aspirations of its Balkan subjects; the Ottoman Empire disintegrated under the weight of its historical baggage, leaving any number of unresolved issues in West Asia and southern Europe; the weaknesses of the Versailles settlement seeded Fascism and Nazism in Italy and Germany respectively, while the British, French and Dutch Empires in Asia became breeding grounds of indigenous discontent which, in the fullness of time, developed into post-World War II insurgencies in Indochina, Indonesia and Malaya. Imperial Japan was shackled to its colonial demons as is Communist China today.

Fear of communism led the US to suppress its nobler instincts and carry the White man's burden in the colonial world. The results are for all to see.

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THE PIONEER

OPED

DISRUPTING PARLIAMENT

ARINDAM CHAUDHURI


Members of Parliament are increasingly taking to disrupting proceedings without bothering about the consequences of their loathsome behaviour. Not only does such behaviour fetch us shame, it also reflects the flaws in our democracy. India needs a law to censure unparliamentary behaviour as is the practice in most developed countries

The live telecast of Parliament sessions can make a Hollywood sci-fi film director feel ill at ease. One can find virtually everything flying in our Parliament. Watching the live proceedings on Lok Sabha TV or even a YouTube footage of our Parliament sessions will be enough to prove that many of our honourable Members of Parliament lack basic decency. It also raises questions about their education.

What comes as an utter shame and embarrassment for the electorate is the manner in which their elected leaders represent their cause. From holding footwear in hand to hurling them at political opponents, from using abusive words to resorting to physical violence — this is how our Parliamentarians resolve issues that are of national importance.

Last year, when the Women's Reservation Bill was presented in Rajya Sabha, seven MPs had to be suspended for the remaining part of the Budget Session for causing disruption in the proceedings. The MPs had rushed into the Well of the House, uprooted Chairman Hamid Ansari's mike and climbed onto the table to mark their protest. Each time the Bill made its way to the House, the MPs went to the extent of snatching the Bill from presiding officers and a scuffle ensued. Interestingly, our elected representatives did all these things for the women of our country.

On another occasion, Parliament was not allowed to function for seven days at a stretch as both the Houses witnessed chaos. Congress members were found rushing to the aisles and chanting slogans instead of discussing and sorting out the issues in question. Further, one cannot forget the shameful incident of the cash-for-votes scam or the session in 2008 when MPs went absolutely berserk and threw microphones and chairs at each other.

In 2008, Lok Sabha Speaker Somnath Chatterjee had to adjourn the House when MPs resorted to a verbal duel. One can get an insight into the severity of the situation from the Speaker's note. Commenting on the situation, he wrote, "The Parliament has become a public street. I can only express my agony. It is a murder of democracy."

The disruptions and adjournments during the 2010 Budget Session cost taxpayers Rs 180,000,000. Parliament wasted 115 working hours — while Lok Sabha lost 36 per cent of its time, the Rajya Sabha lost 28 per cent.

Such incidents of disgraceful behaviour not only speak volumes about our ill-educated political class but also fetch disgrace to parliamentary democracy. Showing disrespect to colleagues and disregard for the dignity of Parliament is not only unwarranted behaviour, it indicates that our elected representatives are not fit to conduct sensible, logical discussions.

Given the fact that Parliament sessions are aired live on national television and covered by the global media, such behaviour is not just insulting and shameful for Indians but is also a sad comment on our value system.

Without doubt, such uncivilised behaviour should stop and that too immediately. The Constitution should make provisions to ban unruly MPs and MLAs from participating in heated discussions. Any act of violence, use of non-parliamentary words and irrational walkouts should be brought under the ambit of legislation and a Bill should be moved seeking to criminalise such acts. If required, the Election Commission should temporarily suspend the political career of unruly MPs and prosecute them legally.

We should urgently introduce laws on contempt of Parliament and censure in order to tighten the noose against these elected representatives. Such laws will not only make them behave properly in the House but will also put a cap on the limitless immunity they enjoy.

Most democratic and developed nations take unparliamentary behaviour seriously and have legislation for the same. These laws are enforced when a member deliberately misleads Parliament (presenting false information knowingly) or influences a Member of Parliament by bribery or threat. In Canada, under censure, sanctions can be imposed on Parliamentarians and they can be sent to prison.

In Australia, under the contempt of Parliament rule, a fine of $5,000 and six months' imprisonment can be imposed. Similarly in Hong Kong, contempt of the Legislative Council is seen a criminal offence. In the United Kingdom, it leads to arrest of a Member of Parliament and he may be suspended or expelled. So is the case in Latin American countries and other mature democracies. Even usage of words that offend the dignity of the Houses leads to prosecution and civil action in many countries like Australia, Canada, Hong Kong, Ireland, New Zealand, Norway and United Kingdom.

Hence, in order to mend the unruly behaviour of some Parliamentarians and restore decorum and semblance of order in the House, we have to ensure that these 'kind' of people never get elected. Knowing that it is almost an impossible task as politics is getting increasingly criminalised, it is imperative that we reduce the immunity given to our MPs and bring in stricter codes of conduct enforceable by law.

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

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

CORRUPTING POOR VOTERS

ANURADHA DUTT


Freebies are no substitute for honesty and good governance

As elections in five States draw near, political parties and their candidates seem to be going overboard in promising freebies to voters. Tamil Nadu stands out for the generous bribes offered to people by various contenders for power. The Election Commission told the Madras High Court on Tuesday that money was being distributed via police jeeps. This is a serious charge. The AIDMK, impatient to rule again, is dangling the following as bait: One mixie, grinder and fan; a laptop each to the students of Class XI and ITIs; free 300-sq ft homes, costing Rs 1.8 lakh each, to three lakh BPL families; Rs 25,000 and four gram gold as marriage assistance; 20 kg rice for ration card holders; 20 litres free water for BPL families; and 60,000 cows and sheep.

The DMK, which set off the freebies distribution trend before the last Assembly poll by handing out portable colour televisions to the poor, rice at Rs 2 per kg, and two acres free land to the landless, has other goodies in its bag this time. These include 35 kg free rice for BPL families; wet grinder or mixie; laptop for backward college students; and Rs 15,000 marriage assistance for poor females. Speculation is rife that part of the 2G scam loot will be deployed to fund these offerings. The BJP, a novice in the State's politics, has promised a laptop; free pencils to students; sanitary napkins; and Rs 1 lakh deposit for every girl child in a BPL family. The CPI(M), too, has jumped into the bandwagon, with the following assurances: 35 kg free rice per month to BPL families; Rs 1,000 unemployment dole; housing plots for the poor; and land reforms.

Indeed, there could be no better time to be poor, as free land, homes, gadgets, gold, cash, etc are proffered in exchange of votes. The last time, it seems, most recipients of free TVs sold them for a meagre sum, ranging from Rs 500 to Rs 1,500. This hit TV retailers. Now, mixie retailers are expecting their business to be adversely affected in case the mixies doled out to the poor are sold by them. Such pre-poll promises make for bad business. This venal exercise not only trashes the democratic ideal but reduces governance to a farce. For, instead of promising development, education, healthcare and other essentials of a dignified existence, political players are seeking to corrupt poor voters by giving them bribes. It amounts to defaulting on constitutional obligations, in the event that they are elected. It is also a clear violation of the Model Code of Conduct, and the EC and its State units need to clamp down on such ploys. One quotes from the Model Code of Conduct to prove that offering freebies — read bribes — is illegal.

'All parties and candidates shall avoid scrupulously all activities which are "corrupt practices" and offences under the election law, such as bribing of voters...' The code also states: 'Further, it is also ensured that electoral offences, malpractices and corrupt practices such as impersonation, bribery and inducement of voters, threat and intimidation to the voters are prevented by all means. In case of violation, appropriate measures are taken.'

The Model Code of Conduct comes into effect from the date that the EC announces the election schedule, and applies till the poll process is over. In the present instance, the attempts to bribe are being made after the election schedule was announced at the beginning of March.

Freebies are no substitute for honesty and good governance. And where the funds for these goodies will be sourced is a question that demands an answer. According to a report, Tamil Nadu has a debt of Rs 89,149 crore. Yet, politicos' generous promises suggest that it is a land of milk and honey. Early in March, the EC issued a show cause notice to Union Minister for Chemicals and Fertilisers MK Alagiri for allegedly violating the Model Code of Conduct ahead of the Assembly poll in Tamil Nadu. Under the code, a politician cannot combine official work with election-related activities. He had apparently gone to Chennai on official work but engaged in political activities in Madurai, his home district. The EC further directed that he reimburse the money spent on the trip. But it has failed to thwart the attempt to buy up voters, which is certainly a bigger lapse, and needs to be countered with punitive action.

The EC has begun to monitor and act against populist postures in other States. A complaint by the CPI(M)'s West Bengal secretary, Mr Biman Bose, has prompted the EC to approach the three railway zones and Commissioner of Kolkata Municipal Corporation to remove Union Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee's pictures from their premises. As Trinamool Congress chief, she is campaigning to wrest power from the ruling communists. Meanwhile, acting on the EC's plea, the Supreme Court has stayed the Kerala Government from distributing free rice in the run up to the Assembly poll in the State. But if it sincerely wants to hold free and fair elections, the EC must clamp down on Tamil Nadu parties under the Model Code of Conduct.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

FAST FADING SHADE OF RED

KALYANI SHANKAR


If anti-incumbency is favouring the Congress-led UDF in Kerala, the Trinamool Congress-led alliance clearly has an advantage in West Bengal. An anti-Left wave is palpable in both the States

The Assembly elections coming up in five States are crucial for the Left parties as the Red map could shrink further. While the Congress is in direct confrontation with the Left in Kerala and West Bengal, the BJP does not have much at stake.

The Left parties are ruling in only three States — Kerala, West Bengal and Tripura. Of these, two States Kerala and West Bengal are going to polls next month. The Left is finding it a Herculean task to come back to power not just in Kerala but also in West Bengal where it has ruled uninterrupted for more than three decades. The leaders have also accepted that there is an anti-incumbency trend in Kerala and a strong anti-Left wave in West Bengal.

If the Left lose elections in both States, it will considerably impact its prominence on the national scene. Already the Left parties received a drubbing from voters in the 2009 general election. Its strength in Parliament dwindled from 64 seats in 2004 to a paltry 24 seats in 2009. Even in States like Bihar, Uttar Pradesh and Andhra Pradesh, where they have pockets of influence, the poll results were not encouraging.

The Left parties should be worried because the result of the Assembly polls will impact their strength in the Rajya Sabha. Now they have 22 seats in the Rajya Sabha but the strength will shrink in future if their strength in Kerala and West Bengal diminishes.

Political analysts have predicted that the Trinamool Congress-Congress combine will break the Left Front's winning streak in West Bengal. The CPI(M), which is leading the Left Front, has lost the trust of the people. Further, unscrupulous elements have infiltrated the party which so long was synonymous with honesty and integrity. Most important, there has not been much development in the State. Land acquisition controversies in Singur and Nandigram have also dented the Left's pro-poor image. Many are now debating what will be the margin of victory for the TMC-Congress alliance.

In Kerala, the situation is slightly different as anti-incumbency mood leads to a change in the Government every five years with the UDF and the LDF alternately seizing power. Going by the State's electoral history, it is the UDF's turn to form the Government this time. Having said that, the Left should be blamed for queering its pitch. For the past five years, a tussle is on between Chief Minister VS Achuthanandan and CPI(M) State secretary P Vijayan. The squabbling came to such a pass that the CPI(M) Polit Bureau had to suspend both of them. Apart from Mr Achuthanandan, there is no charismatic leader in the State who can swing the votes in the Left's favour. Mr Vijayan has clout but his alleged involvement in a graft case has tainted his image.

The pertinent question is what happens to the Left in the event of a poll debacle in two States. If one looks at the bigger picture, the impact will be felt more in West Bengal as the party does not have any contingency plan. The overwhelming anti-CPI(M) sentiment that is sweeping the State has also swayed the loyalty of CPI(M) workers at grassroots level. The party organisation may face desertions after the defeat. The leaders are old and many are not in the pink of health. Hence, it will be an uphill task to rejuvenate the party to meet the challenge from Ms Mamata Banerjee's TMC in the coming years. In Kerala, the impact will be less as leaders know if the Left loses it will be owing to faction rivalry.

At the national level, CPI(M) general secretary Prakash Karat will be under attack and the next Polit Bureau meeting will be stormy. The CPI(M) will further lose its national clout. It will struggle to re-organise the party instead of playing any national role to unite the Third Front. The Left Front partners also will be assertive and a weakened CPI(M) will have to give them more concessions.

However, even if the Left is down it will not be out. Haven't we seen the BJP come back to power in 1998 after it was reduced to two seats in the 1984 general election? In our country where the Government is moving towards the right, the Left parties continue to be relevant as they act as a brake in arresting the swing. They have been a balancing factor all through despite their small representation in Parliament. Moreover, the secular parties look for the Left's support when it comes to dealing with communalism.

The Left had always played an important role in a coalition situation — be it in 1977, 1989, 1996 or 2004. The National Front Government headed by VP Singh was formed with the support of the Left and the BJP. The Congress in 2004 formed the Government with the support of the Left until they fell out on the India-US civil nuclear deal.

The Left is also crucial for the formation of a Third Front as it has taken lead to mobilise the non-Congress non-BJP parties. Despite its several efforts, the Third Front has not clicked so far. Still, without the Left's support there could be no third alternative.

However, the Left parties have to change their stand keeping pace with the present time. In a uni-polar world, the Left cannot continue talking of the US hegemony. Even Russia and China have changed to adapt to the new situation. The Left will also have to work hard to revive its base and win back the trust of the common man. The leaders of Left parties know this and are thus talking of introspection.

 

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THE PIONEER

OPED

TURKEY SCRAMBLES TO DEAL WITH UPHEAVAL

ISTANBUL'S EVOLVING RESPONSE TO THE WAR IN LIBYA IS THE LATEST INDICATION OF ITS GOAL TO BE A POWERBROKER IN WEST ASIA, SAYS CHRISTOPHER TORCHIA


When the uprising broke out in Libya, Turkey first dismissed the idea of sanctions or any Nato military action, denouncing what it called Western designs on Libya's oil.

Later, Turkey reversed that decision after the United Nations approved steps to protect civilians from Colonel Muammar Gaddafi.

Turkey's evolving responses to the war in Libya are just the latest indication of its goal to be a powerbroker on the world stage — one that balances its alliances to West Asian leaders such as Col Gaddafi with calls for them to reform in the face of street revolts.

It was only last year that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan demonstrated close ties to Libya by collecting a human rights award from Col Gaddafi. He has since spoken to Col Gaddafi several times by telephone, suggesting that he cede leadership to a figure who can pursue reconciliation, and Turkey agreed to a robust humanitarian role in Nato's mission in Libya.

As a Nato ally, Turkey has cultivated warm relations with countries such as Libya and Syria as part of a regional outreach that included nations with a history of enmity with the West.

Now this democracy led by devout Muslims is scrambling to preserve economic and other links to West Asian nations while urging their autocrats to meet the demands of protesters who want change.

The balancing act tests Turkey's avowed policy of 'zero problems' with neighbours. It also raises questions about what drives Turkish intentions in the region: Its growing Muslim identity, 'realpolitik' interests such as trade and power, commitment to democratic reform, or some combination.

For instance, in February, the leaders of Turkey and Syria laid a foundation stone for a "friendship dam" that will provide cross-border irrigation and electricity.

"Turkey doesn't want to be viewed as a sort of de facto nation, a nation that just went along with every plan created by the West and Nato," said Mr Cengiz Aktar, a political science professor at Bahcesehir University in Istanbul. "Turkey wants to make a difference in the region."

Turkey's independent streak, symbolised by the blunt and sometimes combative populist statements of Mr Erdogan, reflects the confidence of Turks who have largely shed their own record of chaos. Turkey will hold an election in June that is likely to return the governing Justice and Development Party to power for a third time since 2002.

Turks have their own problems, including free-speech worries, the grievances of the Kurdish minority and a stalled bid to join the European Union. But they draw West Asian admiration for their electoral vitality, a strong economy and their stature as a voice for Muslims that is unafraid to criticise Israel and the West. Even their television soap operas have regional fans.

"In some ways, Turkey's alliance system is falling apart. On the other hand, it seems likely that the sort of 'soft power' that Turkey represents is going to be effective regardless of who's in power," said Mr Howard Eissenstat, an expert on Turkey at St Lawrence University in Canton, New York.

"Turkey is increasingly convinced that European and American influence in the region is on the decline and that Turkey can pick up that role," said Mr Eissenstat, who compared its West Asian cachet to the "love affair" of Western Europeans with the United States in the early years after World War II.

A poll released last month by TESEV, a Turkish research center, found that 66 per cent of respondents in half-a-dozen West Asian nations thought Turkey can be a regional model, based on its Muslim identity, economy and democratic system. The survey of about 2,000 people had a margin of error of two per cent and was conducted in August and September.

Yet Turkey, which spans the European and Asian continents, recognises that its Western links elevate its international clout, just as the West recognises Turkey's potential as a bridge to a region that was turbulent well before the revolts.

Mr Erdogan's initial, contradictory response to the fighting in Libya fit a cycle of resistance and cooperation with France and other key Nato nations by Turkey, whose foreign agenda was overshadowed by its Western allies during the Cold War.

Turkey also objected to the 2009 candidacy for Nato's top job of Denmark's Anders Fogh
Rasmussen, and rejected the idea of naming Iran as a threat in discussions on missile defence at a Nato summit last year.

"I think these contradictions and bumps are going to increase over time as regional considerations and maybe trans-Atlantic considerations clash," said Ms Gulnur Aybet, a Nato and Turkey analyst at the University of Kent at Canterbury in Britain.

Ms Aybet said Turkey wants to preserve traditional security ties, enhance its appeal to Muslims beyond its borders and have an independent hand in regional relations, free of ethnic or religious ties. From next month, for example, Turkish and Russian citizens will be able to travel to each other's countries without a visa, and trade between the two countries exceeded $25 billion last year.

Critics compare Turkey's ambivalence over military action in Libya to its case for intervention to protect Bosnia's Muslims from Serb forces in the 1990s. Raw emotion also shapes the views of Turks, who dominated West Asia during the Ottoman Empire.

The prospect of military strikes in Libya initially reminded many of US-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and early British and French action recalled the ill-fated military campaign in the Suez crisis of the 1950s.

"Turkey is progressively perceived as a 'Western country of the Middle East,'" commentator Mehmet Ali Birand wrote in Turkey's Hurriyet Daily News.

That puts Turkey in the unique position of talking to all parties. The Turkish embassy in Tripoli is open, and so is the Turkish consulate in Benghazi, the opposition stronghold.

In addition to urging Col Gaddafi to step down, Mr Erdogan has urged reform in telephone calls with Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad, whose Government promised change even as security forces cracked down on protesters, killing dozens.

Turkey also has sought to mediate in the Persian Gulf, where protests in Bahrain form a backdrop to tension between Iran and Saudi Arabia.

Erol Israfil in Istanbul contributed to this report of AP.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

 COMMENT

SEIZING THE MOMENT

 

Seizing the opportunity offered by the semifinal clash between India and Pakistan to set up a meeting with Pakistani premier Yousaf Raza Gilani, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has given a fillip to dialogue between the two sides, much as Atal Bihari Vajpayee had done in his time. It doesn't hurt that in the lead up to the two leaders meeting in Mohali, the takeaway from the home secretaries of both countries meeting had been largely positive. They add up to an atmosphere where cooperation isn't seen as a dirty word on either side of the border.

We've been here several times before, of course, and much of the bonhomie could vanish in case of another terror attack from across the border. As insurance against this, it's necessary to take some tangible steps in anti-terror cooperation. A start could be made by sharing voice tapes of the 26/11 accused. Setting up a hotline between the Indian home secretary and the Pakistani interior secretary for information-sharing with regard to terrorism, as well as Pakistan allowing a 26/11 probe commission from India to visit, would be welcome steps. New Delhi too can do its bit by being forthcoming in terms of sharing details of the Samjhauta blasts investigation with Pakistan.

The instincts that led Singh to extend the Mohali invitation - that waiting for perfect conditions to engage Pakistan would be futile - are correct. Given the internal turmoil in that country, such conditions are likely to remain the realm of the purely hypothetical for some time to come. The important factor is that the two engagements over the past few days have created an atmosphere of goodwill. Now there must be efforts to exploit that goodwill by focussing on other issues that came up during the home secretaries' meeting and in the prime ministers' box at Mohali - liberalising visa regimes, economic engagement and resolving the easier of the India-Pakistan disputes such as Siachen.

From the atmosphere of trust that this creates both countries can move on to tougher issues such as Kashmir. And an effort must be made to engage the full spectrum of interests in Pakistan - ranging from the government to civil society to the army. In order to ensure delivery on anti-terror promises, the insecurities of the Pakistani military could be addressed. The getting together of teams and peoples at Mohali and the electric spirit in which the match was played offer only a glimpse of what is possible if the two countries should become friendly neighbours, an event that would transform South Asia and put us on a different track from sorry 20th century history.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

COMMENT

ON TO MUMBAI

 

Cricket, they say, is a game of glorious uncertainties - and so it proved at Mohali. India's much-vaunted batting struggled while its bowling and fielding finally came to the party, delivering a heady cocktail of cricket before a capacity crowd. India's batting, thought to be its strong point, proved vulnerable with the old problems of over-reliance on Sachin Tendulkar and a brittle middle order. The pitch, which proved tricky as the game progressed, may have played its part in batsmen's difficulties - but that is part of cricket's uncertainties. Tendulkar's match-winning 85 was a patchy effort, helped along by Pakistani fielders dropping catches from him four times. A formidably talented Sri Lankan team awaits the Indians for the final at Wankhede stadium tomorrow. India will need to raise the bar on batting to pull off a repeat of 1983. Wankhede will be a high-pressure match too, and Indian batsmen cannot afford a display of nerves there.


Indian bowling and fielding, by contrast, proved its mettle at Mohali. Perhaps the critical difference between the two sides was the superiority of Indian fielding. In the end the men in blue pulled off a remarkable victory and booked themselves a ticket to Mumbai. As for the men in green they played their hearts out, a relatively inexperienced squad notwithstanding. Pakistan's performance throughout the World Cup may have been, as Imran Khan put it, 'brilliant and disappointing' - but overall they have added to the lustre and competitiveness of the tournament. And Shahid Afridi and his graceful men played the semifinal in the true spirit of sport, 60 years of political baggage between the two countries notwithstanding. Over, then, to Mumbai.

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

TOP ARTICLE

A SWING OF THE PENDULUM

AJAY SHANKAR

 

Since the early 1980s, belief in the efficacy of the market mechanism to deliver optimal outcomes has been the driving force in the West. With the end of the Cold War there emerged the Washington consensus and the 'end of history' thesis of Francis Fukuyama. The market was the panacea. History had demonstrated decisively the folly of human intervention through the state in the working of the market.

Liberalisation, deregulation, privatisation and freer markets became the new mantras. Tax rates needed to be continuously lowered. The market could and should take care of the functions that the state had, since the 19th century, assumed of education, old age pensions and healthcare. The state was in retreat and, ironically, in the Marxian sense "withering away". Even sovereign functions relating to security were being outsourced to contractors. Where some regulation through a central bank was inescapable, it emerged that the democratic political process could not be trusted and the complete independence of the regulator, that is, the central bank in setting monetary policy, became a cardinal principle of good governance.

When the financial meltdown occurred in 2008 this ideological paradigm crashed against the hard rock of reality and the instinctive need for survival. To quote just one perceptive analyst, Andrew Gamble, "Thirty years of rhetoric about...how governments should always seek to do less than more and learn to trust the superior wisdom of the market, melted away..." The Treasury and central banks worked jointly crafting the bold and ambitious bailout packages which actually worked and prevented the collapse that was feared and that could have delivered greater pain than the Great Depression.

Since then the effort has been to put in place better and tighter regulation for financial markets. The argument that market participants see and assess risks appropriately and act in rational self-interest to prevent undesirable outcomes and, therefore, tighter regulation would needlessly hinder innovation and market efficiency has suddenly lost its appeal. It has since been vividly demonstrated that market participants on their own can also go terribly wrong in assessing risk in complex technological fields.

The BP offshore drilling disaster in the Gulf of Mexico did reveal a failure in assessing risk correctly. Their ability to respond to leakage was also found to be slow and wanting. The more recent nuclear plant disaster in Fukushima illustrates more sharply the issue of risk mitigation and response to an unlikely event with terrible consequences. The plant was old but the cost of retiring it or investing substantially to add new safety features naturally appeared too high for the private utility which owned and operated the plant. After the disaster, the utility's response capability has been perceived to have been inadequate.

Both these cases have raised concerns about the weakness and softness of regulation, a core function of the state. The inadequacy of the response of the private firms in both cases led to the expectation that the state would step in quickly and effectively to assist the operators to cope with the disasters. The states in these two most developed industrial powers appeared somewhat unprepared. The disappointment with the response of the state would further strengthen the trends of unease with the dominant paradigm of a whole generation where the role of the state and the expectation from it have been diminishing.

The state and increasing expectations from it are again in fashion. In the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, Fukuyama, of the end of history fame, has co-authored an aptly titled piece "The Post-Washington Consensus" in which, among other things, the central role of social and industrial policies by the state in emerging economies is recognised and referred to with a tinge of approval. The phrase "industrial policy" which had disappeared from policy discourse as the state could not and, therefore, should not attempt to choose winners and losers is making a quiet comeback. The success of China with its potential acquisition of technical leadership in the green economy including solar energy, high-speed trains and electric vehicles has come as a wake-up call.

There is unease as to whether 'normal' western capitalism may be losing out to the more robust state capitalism, the East Asian model. The need to regain competitiveness in the real economy in the US and UK, where growth driven by the financial sector in the last two decades is seen by many to have been somewhat illusory, is pushing people to rethink the state's role in fostering competitiveness in new high technologies through some traditional instruments of state policy. This is, of course, more of an Anglo-Saxon phenomenon as Germany and France had continued to nurture manufacturing and promote global champions such as Airbus.

There are influential voices, including that of Raghuram Rajan, former chief economist at IMF, who argue that the issue of substantial increase in inequality in the US over the last few decades needs to be reversed if sustained growth is to be again achieved. The state would need to step in to try and alter what the unfettered play of market forces has brought about. Inequality has always been a political issue but the argument coming from mainstream economists that it needs to be addressed for stable growth is striking.

Is a paradigm shift taking place and a greater, more complex and sophisticated role and expectation from the state emerging, a state with a better understanding of markets and better ability to affect outcomes?

The writer is former secretary of industries.

 

 

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

Q&A

'CHILDREN'S LITERATURE IS NOT JUST ENTERTAINMENT. IT'S A VITAL TOOL'

 

The Nambook festival in South Korea described Manorama Jafa as a living treasure of children's literature in India. Having worked 36 years in the field, she speaks about the role of children's literature in shaping society with Rudroneel Ghosh :


What is your opinion about children's literature in India and where would you like to see it go?

Given our 22 official languages and 1,652 dialects, we have a rich oral tradition in story telling as exemplified by the Panchatantra. However, production of children's books here leaves a lot to be desired. This is primarily because of small profit margins on children's books. So quality suffers. Hardly anybody takes children's literature seriously in India. I wanted to do research in children's literature because nobody in the country had done any serious research. The aim was to lay the theoretical foundation for children's writing in India. This continues to motivate Writer and Illustrator, the quarterly journal on children's literature I edit. My book, Writing For Children, is the only book in South Asia that deals with the subject of technical writing for children.

What are the differences in approaches to children's literature in India and in the West?

In the West children's literature is a serious discipline. The US has the oldest prize for children's literature, the Newbery award, and for picture book literature for small children they have the Caldecott award. The Swedish government sponsors the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. We don't have anything like this. Also, there is an absence of refinement. We must understand that children's literature caters to different age groups. It is important for an author to understand the psychology of children. For example, small children want to hold big books whereas older children want to hold small books. Then the subjects need to be tailored according to age groups. But most authors and publishers here don't have a clue.


How important is it to mainstream children's literature and make it a key component of elementary education?
I'd say very important. Through children's literature a child learns to use imaginative powers to make sense of the world. Emotional development is another key facet. It's not just about learning and passing on moral values but also about helping children get in touch with their feelings, making them inquisitive and giving them the confidence to question the world. If the 21st century is about new ideas, children's literature is the spark for the process. This is why it is very important to fund research in children's literature and have dedicated study in universities.

You pioneered 'book therapy'. How did this concept come about? And how do you plan to take it forward?
It all began when I saw a picture of Moshe, the small Jewish boy orphaned by the horrific Mumbai terror attacks. He was holding a ball. I asked myself what if he was holding a book instead. That got me intrigued about the possibility of using books as a healing tool, an emotional balm. Children can suffer different kinds of trauma. It can be as mundane as eating chillis for the first time or something as grave as being orphaned due to war, as is the case with children in Afghanistan, for whom I have produced books in Dari and Pashto. The story 'I am Sona' is inspired by one of my trips to South Africa and deals with the sensitive issue of children with HIV-AIDS. 'Toru Nanu and Hipu' speaks to children who were orphaned during the Asian Tsunami of 2004. We need to understand that children's literature is not just entertainment. It's a vital tool for shaping the future of the society.

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THE TIMES OF INDIA

JUGULAR VEIN

TASTE FOR INDIA

 

The other evening our friend Chitra cooked us some spectacular Bangla ranna (Bengali cuisine). The menu included all the classic dishes: malai chingri, kausha mangsho, shorsho bhaapa maach; and for the vegetarians there was chorchori, channar daal and vegetable chaaps. Everyone loved the food. Bunny and i being hon Bongs - or honorary Bengalis, by virtue of the fact that we spent most of our adult years in Calcutta - have what you might call an innate affinity with Bangla ranna. But what i was pleased to discover was that so did the non-Bengali guests, who included Punjabis, Haryanvis, UP-ites and a couple of people who were descended from migrants from Sindh, which hasn't been a part of India since Partition.


The evening once again brought home to me how lucky all of us Indians are to live in a country so diverse and yet so intermingled, in terms of food, and language, and customs. Indians from different parts of India are often far more different in linguistic, culinary and cultural terms than Europeans from different parts of Europe are and yet the diverse Indian has much more of a sense of common identity than any member of the European community does.


It's often said that what holds India together is parliamentary democracy, Bollywood and cricket, not necessarily in that order. But i think there is a bonding factor which predates all others. And that uniting bond is food, literally a taste for India. There is no other country, indeed no continent which has the amazing variety of food that India does. It is the subversive seduction of this many-flavoured India that in the end will thwart the blinkered parochialism of the Bal and Raj Thackerays, and others of their ilk, who'd like to fragment and divide the country along the imaginary barrier lines of regional identity.


India is many countries, many cuisines in one. And the supposed borders between these different countries, these different tastes, are not just porous but wide open. For instance, is puranpoli - a signature item of Maharashtrian cuisine - a proprietary dish for the exclusive enjoyment of Marathi manoos alone? The Gujarati manoos, not to mention a Kutchi manoos like me, would question that assertion in that both Gujaratis and Kutchis also lay claim to the invention of the puranpoli. Moreover, manooses from all over the rest of India could justifiably claim that in the unique recipe that is our Republic, puranpoli is also their birthright and they shall have it. So much for the Thackerays and their politics of divisiveness.


The thing with food of course is that nobody has a copyright or a trademark on it. Like water, or the free market, it finds its own place in the great Indian bazaar. And wherever it goes, it gets itself assimilated in its new environment while also retaining the particular savour of its origins.


Bhel puri and pau bhaji - wherever they are eaten, in India or abroad - evoke the chat-patti tang of Chowpatti. Hyderabadi biryani conjures the backdrop of the Char Minar, as jhaal moori does of Calcutta's Maidan, where this snack made of puffed rice flavoured with mustard oil and lemon juice and garnished with grated coconut probably made its first commercial appearance.


Proust is said to have rediscovered the lost country of his childhood through the taste of a cake dipped in tea. I often recapture times and places past through a similar memory trick of flavour. When i eat the Kutchi treat of sambaria - OK, OK, it's also Gujarati - half-forgotten words of the dialect spoken in Kutch come back to me in Delhi like the sound of a distant sea.


And thanks to Chitra's Bangla ranna, the lush landscape of Bengal returned to envelop me in its warm embrace again. Ki chomotkar, i heard the hon Bong in me saying: How wonderful is that. It is wonderful indeed, the taste we all have for India.

 

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

OUR TAKE

WILL TOMORROW BE 1983 AGAIN?

In its essence, a cricket match is a battle between free will and pre-destination.  This is not to suggest that the result of Wednesday's clincher between India and Pakistan in Mohali had been decided (by the Fates, as opposed to bookies, that is) before it even started. Pre-destination had it that the match would be a clash between a star batting line-up and a powerful bowling juggernaut.

Instead, it turned out to be a sterling bowling display by the team feted for its batting prowess that didn't quite click against a crumble of a performance — marked by nightmarish fielding — by the bowling power that showed only a glimmer in the form of a five-wicket haul by Wahab Riaz.

The pundits had also pitted MS Dhoni's and Shahid Afridi's teams in a 'white swan-black swan' duel, a fight between two sides of the same subcontinental coin, the former marked by a quiet, no-nonsense Apollonian rigour, while the latter containing Dionysian brilliance waiting to erupt out of the shell of disorder.

This model did withstand the test and if Pakistan's mad, bad and dangerous ways had won them matches in the past, this time round their maverick talent fuelled a semi-final loss and a one-way ticket out of the World Cup.

India's famed batting display was well below par. The national obsession with Sachin Tendulkar scoring his 100th international century almost succeeded in protecting the icon from being ever dismissed.

But with Pakistani butterfingers making the team's intent rather suspicious at least for cynics — especially after the Pakistani interior minister had earlier wagged his firmer finger at players tempted to fix the match — it was left to captain Afridi to step in and latch on to the ball that came flying low from Tendulkar's bat.

The fact that India's most potent weapon was allowed 'five lives' before being dismissed tells the full story — with the additional twist of the batsman being declared the man of the match. The semi-final match at Mohali came with great expectations and proved that a scrappy game can be exciting too. But the bottomline is: India delivered when they needed to and proved to be made of the stern stuff that many of their supporters perilously take for granted.

Which brings us to the final match in the 2011 World Cup between India and Sri Lanka tomorrow. Minus the cloud of backstories and trans-cricketing mythology of India-Pakistan©, what will be on display in Mumbai's Wankhede Stadium under warm lights will be pure cricket.

Unlike Pakistan (and India) Sri Lanka is a 'complete' side, with freeflowing batsmen such Tillakaratne Dilshan and Upul Tharanga as as well as lethal bowlers like Lasith Malinga prowling like professional hitmen.

Whether India can turn on their batting machine and tug on the generator chord to get its bowlers to get wickets — as opposed to 'restrain runs' — will decide whether the free will of Mahendra Singh Dhoni and his players will match what has already been determined by the Fates.

The latter are getting restless now to officially announce a new champion on Saturday.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

THE PUNDIT

WALK THE TALK

It's a do or wait-for-another-five-years battle for Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee and she's not leaving anything to chance. In fact, she has hit the ground running with fresh ideas about how to connect with the voters better.

Not satisfied with only public rallies, Ms Banerjee is conducting padyatras, the political walkathon, a time-tested method most  politicians seem to have forgotten. So instead of a convoy of SUVs moving from one constituency to another, it is Didi in her joggers (unless she sticks to her chappals) and her retinue of faithful snaking through the lanes of Kolkata.

In a day, reports say, she is doing about 6-10 km. In the muggy Kolkata heat, that's no mean feat for a non-Ethiopian non-athlete. In contrast, chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee has confined himself to his own constituency and rallies. Slacker!

A little birdie also tells us that the source of energy for these daily marathons is a treadmill that has now found the pride of place in the Banerjee household, a lesson for all those lazybones among us. Ms Banerjee's sure is thinking on her feet, a great thing for a political party that's tipped to win the crucial assembly election.

And being nimble-footed always helps in politics, especially when you need to handle many 'peepol's issues'.

The peepol — sorry people — of Kolkata, unused to such mass contact programmes except in bus rides, have taken to Didi's latest way with enthusiasm.

So the news is, after a lunch of fish and rice, there is, alas, no siesta anymore. When Didi is around, everyone wants to be there for a dekko. Our guess is that Ms Banerjee, in her latest sporty incarnation, wouldn't mind the attention at all.

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

 

COUNTING ON THEM

HARSH MANDER

If you walk into any village and ask people who are its poor residents, it is not difficult for them to answer. They will point possibly to a blind widow, an old couple who get by begging for alms or children and men in debt bondage.

They may list low-caste landless agricultural workers who migrate several months every year to brick kilns in the city, the farmer with a tiny holding of a couple of acres precariously dependent on erratic monsoons and who cannot feed his family for the full year even in a good year, households in which children roll bidis instead of attending school, and the out-of-work weaver.

In a city, people will look for the poor in slums or pavements or construction sites, for rag-pickers, casual workers, rickshaw pullers, beggars or domestic workers.

But when government officials are asked the same question, they invariably flounder and fail. There have been three official national surveys to identify poor rural households — in 1992, 1997 and 2002 — and government's own evaluations admit that more than half the poor are left out of those they select.

If you are poor, there is a greater chance that you will not find yourself on the government's list. This chronic inability to identify the poor is because when the government asks who is poor, the question is not disinterested. On its answer hinges whether a household will get subsidised food, or free medicines, or a free house, or a bank loan.

There is, therefore, understandably a clamour everywhere to be included in this 'magic' list of the 'government's poor' that opens so many doors. In a society ridden with highly unequal power and a notoriously corrupt and unaccountable local administration, it is not surprising that the lists of the poor that emerge are so deeply flawed.

The problem begins because government estimates of the total number of people who are poor are typically based on faulty assessments of what households consume and spend. But government loses its way completely when it goes beyond the question of how many people are poor, to ask instead precisely which people are poor.

It needs to know this because the government seeks to restrict the numbers of persons who access any public services — such as subsidised food, health care, free housing and cheap credit — to fit into its estimates of poverty.

The first two national surveys in 1992 and 1997 were based on assessments of income and consumption respectively of each household. But it is difficult to estimate incomes in casual and self-employment, coloured further by the bias to under-estimate income and consumption so as to be included as poor.

These criteria were wisely abandoned in 2002, for socio-economic indicators of poverty. But many of the actual 13 indicators adopted by the Planning Commission in its third national rural survey of poor families were subjective and somewhat whimsical. A household was in peril of being regarded as relatively well-endowed and consequently ineligible for subsidised food and other government aid if the home had a pucca roof, a toilet, children attended school and some of its members were educated, accessed credit in times of need and occasionally ate non-vegetarian food.

The survey disqualified hunting and foraging forest-based tribal and fisher folk, or conscientious poor people who benefited from government sanitation drives or sacrificed a great deal to send their children to school.

The central government is at the verge of launching its fourth national survey of rural poor households. Since it has also promised to pass a law which guarantees each of these households 35 kilograms of rice at R3 every month, wheat at R2 and millets at R1, it is even more urgent that it gets the survey right this time.

On its outcomes rests the chances of survival with dignity of the poorest families otherwise condemned to live with hunger and uncertainty, by enabling them to access official food and safety nets. Because of government's failures to identify the poor, the best answer is to offer food and pensions to all households who seek it.

But if universalisation is not acceptable, government must find far more reliable ways to identify the poor.

We propose that we begin by excluding from the survey the richest rural households: those with large irrigated farms; or with three or four wheeled motorised vehicles; mechanised farm equipment, such as tractors, power tillers, threshers and harvesters; or a salary of over R10,000.

Next, we propose the automatic inclusion of all households who belong to certain clearly defined socio-economic categories known to have high levels of poverty, the kinds of households villagers themselves identify when asked who are poor. It is difficult to determine which household has low income or consumes too little.

But there will be far less ambiguity if we ask who the widows are, or disabled, or destitute or bonded workers. These are groups in which the majority of households are poor and dispossessed. Even at the risk of including some who are less deserving, one can ensure that the neediest are not left out if all such social categories are included.

This is a 'social inclusion' strategy.

We believe that the next highest priority should be given to Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes which lag far behind most other populations in terms of most socio-economic indicators, followed by Muslims, who share development deficits almost on par. Landless workers, homeless persons, those with a single katcha room, and those with a literate adult above the age of 25 would also be prioritised.

Veteran development expert Robert Chambers often remarks that public officials make wrong decisions because we do not consult the greatest poverty experts of all — poor people themselves. If we listen to our people, they will tell governments how to find the poor among them.

(Harsh Mander is director, Centre for Equity Studies)

(The views expressed by the author are personal)

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

WHEN IN LIBYA...

FAREED ZAKARIA

US President Barack Obama launched America's military intervention into Libya promising two distinctive features. This would be a genuinely international effort, with the US as the lead player initially but then quickly moving into a supporting role (in "days and not weeks").

Second, the direct American operation would be carefully restricted, "time-limited and scope-limited" in the words of White House spokesperson Jay Carney. But two weeks in, one can already see the pressures — mostly in Washington — pushing the President to abandon both courses.

He is now taking broad ownership of Libya and the US military is engaging in a broader air campaign. This is mission creep, and it is a bad idea.

Notice the shift in rhetoric, from Obama's circumspect words at the start of the operation to his much more expansive speech on Monday, emphasising America's lead role, even when the facts didn't quite warrant it.

Notice that air attacks on Muammar Gaddafi's forces now go well beyond protecting civilians and are clearly escalating in the hope of getting some kind of quick victory. If the administration is not careful, it will end up in a very different place than it initially intended.

Obama's speech made a powerful, well-reasoned case for America's intervention in Libya, marshaling the best humanitarian, strategic and political arguments as to why the US could not have stood by and done nothing while Gaddafi's forces massacred the Libyan rebels. Besides, America's closest allies were pleading for our help.

But Obama did little to address the central strategic gap in his policy on Libya between its expansive goals — the ouster of Gaddafi — and its tightly defined military means. There are only two ways to close the gap — escalate the means or scale back your goals. 

American statesmen have always experimented with the use of limited military means to support foreign policy interests that are important, and worth engaging American power, but not vital. From the Barbary wars (fought against the Barbary States, which included parts of modern Libya) to gunboat diplomacy in Asia to the many military interventions over the last few decades (Grenada, Lebanon, Somalia, the no-fly zone over Iraq, Bosnia, Kosovo), the US has often tried to find ways to use its military and yet not engage in all-out war.

Some were more successful than others, but in all cases, the central task was to find the balance between the goals sought and the means one was willing to deploy. The time the US didn't ask questions about the costs and simply escalated the means, it ended up in Vietnam.

The tendency for a president is to be pushed to achieve a decisive victory, no matter what the costs, no matter whether vital or secondary interests are at stake.

Presidents want to be leaders of great causes, and the Libyan mission is certainly a good cause. But the more grandiose the rhetoric and the goals, the broader the military mission. And then the US takes responsibility for the fate of Libya — a country riven with tribes, lacking strong institutions and a civil society, and destroyed by four decades of Gaddafi's madness.

Does America really want to own this, and largely alone?

Is it such a bad idea that others should be involved?

One American liberal commentator noted ruefully that crowds in Benghazi were chanting "Sarkozy!" and not "Obama!" It is not enough that Libya is rescued; Americans must be the rescuers because ultimately this is about Americans, not Libyans.

Washington is now hoping that a bit more military power will dislodge Gaddafi's regime. I have my fingers crossed. But it would be far more sensible to plan for other likely outcomes. The military operation averted a massacre.

Gaddafi can continue to be pressured, quarantined and contained by many means. The Clinton administration recognised in the Balkans that it was unwilling to pay the price that regime change in Serbia would have required.

As a result, Slobodan Milosevic survived the actions in Bosnia and Kosovo, which were still regarded as successes, and was then dislodged by his own people.

Limited interventions might have limited successes but they can also avoid catastrophic failures. 

(Fareed Zakaria is a columnist at the Washington Post)

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HINDUSTAN TIMES

BEING UNSAFE IS NOT ACCEPTABLE

ADVAITA KALA

The recent killing of Delhi University student Radhika Tanwar reminds us of the insecure circumstances under which women lead their lives. It brings to the fore the urgency of a dialogue that addresses our reaction to these tragic but frequent occurrences.

A recent conversation with a young cancer survivor revolved around the all too common late detection of the disease in urban women. She made an interesting observation: she believed that women were conditioned to accept pain as part of the female experience.

That pain was normal, from the instance of the first period to child bearing. Hence this mute acceptance till it is too late.

It is no great revelation that certain pre-determinates, social and biological, govern the female experience. Women are advised to circumvent these roadblocks and live a life of least resistance. But what is most alarming is how certain attitudes and 'common wisdom' threaten the emancipation of women.

The violence Delhi reserves for its female citizens is disturbingly consistent. There is a trust deficit in the female experience and justifiable outrage at the city's policing. When the echo of Delhi being unsafe for women crescendos into a widely accepted truth, women in this city must take a serious look at their place in a modern, functioning society.

While demanding answers from the government and civic authorities, what is of equal importance is the role we choose to play as architects of our social and professional experience.

This is not the time to accept the status quo and give in to the city's much-reviled reputation. Our vindication lies in effecting change. It does not repose in locking our doors, dressing 'appropriately' so no one says we asked for it, and cutting back on our necessary movements as some public service announcements suggest.

It lies in resisting this fear psychosis that abounds in us.

The change has to come to the police and basic civic facilities, some as simple as better street lighting. But then the change must also come to schools, where gender roles are fostered and eve teasing tolerated.

In offices, where female employees don't make up the numbers and hence have no voice. In homes, where brothers are permitted their professional and personal dreams and sisters aren't. On streets where passersby ignore a bleeding woman and witnesses turn hostile.

We are at risk of falling prey to another sort of conditioning — that of being unsafe in our city, in our society. We are at risk of providing those in public service a convenient scapegoat — the city — when there is another Radhika or Sowmya or Jessica.

As the list grows, we are at risk of losing names to numbers. Being unsafe is not normal, it's not an acceptable truth, and we must not let anyone tell us that.

(Advaita Kala is the author of Almost Single. The views expressed by the author are personal)

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

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

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

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

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

GROW UP, INDIA

 

Joseph Lelyveld's Gandhi biography, Great Soul, in an attempt to humanise a saint, has ended up drawing unwelcome attention to two sensational elements. A strong, possibly homoerotic friendship in his life, and his early, narrower politics in South Africa, which was only later to evolve into a larger idea of equality. Some early reviewers chose to foreground these throwaway references — and the Indian establishment decided that this was the central, scurrilous point of the book, and immediately slapped a ban. Neither is particularly out-of-place for a human being, but for a saint? India cannot brook the insult. The Maharashtra government said it proposed to ban the book. Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, that other apostle of peace, declared that any slur on Gandhi's reputation was intolerable, and went ahead and banned it. The Centre, meanwhile, might go a step further and systematise this intolerance, by extending the Prevention of Insults to National Honour Act 1971 to

all such cases.

What are they so afraid of? Gandhi, who achieved the near-impossible and left the greatest imaginative impress on his times, certainly doesn't need these paltry defenders. His rich store of letters and writings speak for themselves. But when it comes to Gandhi, nothing short of hagiography is tolerated — even though the knots and whorls of his mind, its inconsistencies and flawed convictions, are just as interesting. "History will not forgive us," said Law Minister Veerappa Moily, "if we allow anybody to draw adverse inferences about historical figures and denigrate them."

History will not forgive us if we remain so insecure about free debate, and insist on our national icons being bubble-wrapped, our childish, flat ideas about them incontestable. As James Laine said after his work was banned and a venerable library vandalised for letting him work there, India will effectively drive out free thought and scholarship if it continues this way. We don't even open up our archives or declassify decades-old documents, for fear of finding possible flaws and missteps. Ideas are countered with other ideas — if Lelyveld or Laine are guilty of slapdash research or ahistorical speculation, they must be methodically rebutted, not gagged by those who haven't even read the work. How can we call ourselves a liberal modern nation, if we are so afraid of our own shadow?

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

A CHILLING PICTURE

 

The broad indices of the 2011 census have been released: India is teeming with more people than ever before, there are more literate men and women than ever before. But the child sex ratio, which indicates the number of girls below the age of six per 1,000 boys, has declined horrifically: 914, the lowest since Independence.

The chilling statistic reveals a failure on the familial, societal and institutional levels. The child sex ratio has been falling since 1961, but over the past 10 years — ever since the previous census showed that the figure drastically dropped from 945 in 1991 to 927 in 2001 — there have been renewed efforts to give more teeth to the law against sex determination and sex selection and to spread awareness. They have clearly not delivered. The child sex ratio has fallen across the country except in a handful of states and Union territories: Himachal Pradesh, Gujarat, Tamil Nadu, Mizoram, the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, Punjab and Haryana. The last two have shown marginal improvement, but have the worst sex ratios in the country. It only goes to prove that we have failed in conveying the message that female infanticide/ foeticide is murder by another name. Diagnostic centres are mushrooming in towns and villages illegally offering sex-determination and pregnancy-termination services, unfettered and untroubled by the stringent provisions in the law.

There has to be a greater political will in reversing this trend. Legislation has not really helped, though the law signifies a social sanction. The child sex ratio is, in the end, a factor of the perceived gender inequality — and to reverse the decline we need a change in attitudes. For starters, the provisional census figures should be read carefully for the indictment that they are.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

MOHALI TAKEAWAY

 

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had taken an intuitive call to use the occasion of an India-Pakistan semi-final at Mohali to connect with his Pakistani counterpart, Yousaf Raza Gilani, and give a political thrust to the bilateral engagement. It was a courageous call, though not one without risks. For there was the danger of the match being over-invested with jingoism, and thereby wrecking the cordiality the prime minister sought to reinforce in India's toughest diplomatic relationship. In the event the captains of the two teams rose to the occasion, and kept the focus on the action on the field.

The atmosphere was also beneficial for the fragile process Dr Singh is trying to forge, and he acknowledged it as such. "Cricket has been a uniting factor," said the PM in a short but fairly substantive statement, and went on to affirm that pathways have to be found to resolve the differences between India and Pakistan. He called the meeting with Gilani "a very good beginning" — the reference obviously being to the earlier meetings at Sharm el-Sheikh and Thimpu that struggled to somehow pull relations out of the post-26/11 stand-off. The caution is also evident from the two PMs' attempt to eschew the hype and sentimentalism that so easily surrounds, and eventually smothers, India-Pakistan encounters. Therefore, the caution at Mohali is welcome: "Gilani Sahib and I have had extensive discussions on all outstanding issues and we have reaffirmed our resolve that there are difficulties on the way but we will make every honest effort to overcome those difficulties."

Certainly, the home secretary-level meeting this week has promised stronger cooperation in combating terrorism in the region. Pakistan's progress in bringing the plotters of 26/11 to book will allow Dr Singh to make bolder moves on the peace process, including a long overdue visit to Pakistan. The next few weeks will show if all stakeholders on both sides of the border are on board the peace process. The new beginning at Mohali is not yet a new dawn. But the pathways discussed by the two PMs on Wednesday have the potential to become a new roadmap for a normalisation of Indo-Pak relations.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

IN THE NAME OF THE MAHATMA

TRIDIP SUHRUD

 

It is indeed sad that we should ban a book on the life of a man who embodied openness, who invited generations to follow after him to read and interpret his life as that was his message, a man who through his autobiography and other writings on himself and his experiments provided a cultural frame through which the story of a soul in quest of truth could be told and comprehended. Joseph Lelyveld's book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and His Struggle with India has met just that fate. It has been banned on the ground that the book calls Gandhi a "racist" and the author alludes to a possible homosexual relationship between Gandhi and Hermann Kallenbach, one of his closest associates during the South African phase. For the record, the author does not describe Gandhi as a racist. Lelyveld, a foremost authority on apartheid and racial politics in South Africa, actually traces the journey of Gandhi's intellectual development on the racial question. He shows the great "cultural leap" that Gandhi takes on the racial question, a journey that allows him to feel the pain of the Zulus. On the question of alleged bisexuality, the book does not either use that term or invite that reading. Gandhi's intensely intimate relationship with Hermann Kallenbach has not been a closely guarded secret waiting to be revealed. Gandhi wrote about him in Satyagraha In South Africa as also the Autobiography. It was Kallenbach who provided the 1100 acres of land that they together named as Tolstoy Farm. It was to Kallenbach that Gandhi hurriedly dictated the English paraphrase of his seminal philosophical work the Hind Swaraj. It was Kallenbach who taught Gandhi the art of making leather sandals. Gandhi-Kallenbach correspondence has been part of the public domain ever since the Government of India acquired it in a public auction in South Africa; this correspondence forms part of the Collected Works of Mahatma Gandhi (CWMG) and is published as volume 96 of the same. The editors of the CWMG describe these letters as "invaluable". To them Kallenbach and Gandhi were "soul-partners", who shared a "rare intimacy". They state that for Kallenbach Gandhi was "friend, companion, mother and mentor".

A part to the controversy stems from a deep unease with Gandhi's sexuality and his experiments with brahmacharya. We need to recognise that for Gandhi his experiments with brahmacharya were integral to his quest for truth and Swaraj. Brahmacharya, we need to be reminded, does not only mean control of sexuality or celibacy. It means an attempt to bring all senses in harmony, it is that conduct (charya) that leads to Brahma (truth). As an experiment in truth it was imperative for Gandhi to place it in the public domain like all his other experiments with truth. Gandhi's writings provide a most detailed and unrivalled modern account of search for perfect brahmacharya, a state that he knew would elude one so long as one was imprisoned in the physical body. Gandhi provided a conceptual and philosophical frame through which one could comprehend and, he hoped, emulate his experiments. Brahmacharya in the limited sense of celibacy and chastity was valuable in itself, but for Gandhi that increasingly became a limited and a limiting notion. Brahmacharya only in its relationship with other vows — of truth, ahimsa, control of palate, non-stealing and poverty — could provide those modes of conduct by which one knows oneself. Self-knowledge for Gandhi is the key to Swaraj and moksha. Thus, brahmacharya in its inter-laced sense is liberating not only from the passions of the body but of the bondage of slavery, as it also makes possible the desire to see god face to face.

Gandhi's experiments with brahmacharya have been part of autobiographical and biographical reflections. One of the first persons to provide a "thick description" of these experiments during Gandhi's Noakhali march was that remarkable intellectual Nirmal Kumar Bose. Bose's My Days

With Gandhi remains a definitive measure for understanding Gandhi's experiments with brahmacharya. The rare empathy, sensitivity and commitment to truth and to Gandhi are difficult to match. It is not suggested that it is given to all of us to have the rare quality of Nirmal Bose, but we could still aspire to it.

But, even if one does not have that equanimity and poise, does one have the right to explore Gandhi's sexuality and his brahmacharya? We would all recognise that this in the final analysis rests on the individual disposition. The more central question for us now is how we as a society and government respond to such attempts, be they full of empathy or motivated by salacious gossip. Do we recognise that our national icons like Gandhi were embodied persons, moved by the desires of the body and the soul in equal measures? Is the embodied nature of human existence a matter to be protected by law and regulation? Probably not. The only control on it can be self-control of the researcher.

Is the only way available to us to respect Gandhi and other national icons is to protect them by law and governmentality? If they were tolerant of criticism, invited discussion of their most intimate impulses, engaged in philosophical and cultural debates about the validity of their thought and conduct, our promptness to muzzle such debate about them is a sign of the lack of our cultural confidence in our icons that they would remain relevant and available despite being subjected to salacious gossip.

The decision to ban or not ban a book or a work of cultural production cannot rest on the ground of the facts and counter-facts. Even a bad book has a right to exist. This decision rests only on one aspect: do we as an open, democratic society remain confident of responding to books by engaging with them or do we wish to surrender that right to forms of governmental control? If our response is the latter, we would do away with the Swaraj that Gandhi, Tagore, Ambedkar together and in conversation imagined as that capacity through which we learn to rule ourselves.

The writer is an Ahmedabad-based social scientist

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

COLUMN

RIVALRY RELOADED

SUDIPTA DATTA

 

Trinamool Congress chief Mamata Banerjee has laid down many rules for the 227 party candidates contesting the April 18-May 10 West Bengal assembly elections. One must-do is that each candidate has to meet party workers of the constituency at sessions (karmi sabha) before the real campaign begins. With many new faces in the fray and a microphone ban in place till April 13, Mamata felt the candidates must acclimatise themselves with the party workers and constituencies. She herself has set a punishing schedule for herself, walking the length and breadth of Kolkata city and the districts in the run-up to the polls.

After releasing a manifesto, a 55-page "vision document" on how to turnaround Bengal, which surprised even hardcore sympathisers with its depth and scope and silenced critics who have often said that the Trinamool leader is bereft of ideas, Mamata and her partymen have upped the ante in their battle for Writers' Buildings, the seat of Left power in Bengal for 34 uninterrupted years. With Round One clearly going to Mamata for her campaign, manifesto and choice of candidates — at least 20-odd professionals are on her party list — the Left Front has had to go back to the drawing board. Rather late in the day, one might say, but for a party known for its people-to-people contact, it's reassuring to see party stalwarts shedding some of their arrogance and talking to the electorate.

As March draws to an end, we have seen press conferences by Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee and Industry Minister Nirupam Sen, humbly explaining to the electorate why Singur was a mistake and the lessons the Left Front learnt from it. In the districts, a Left rectification drive is on, but will it have an impact in this election with Mamata riding a wave for change?

Policy-wise at least, what should be a relief to people, after years of Left dithering, is that both parties have pointed out that industry is the way out to resuscitate the economy. But even if there's a historic change in May, how much will Bengal change in its ways? According to an Indian Chamber of Commerce report released this week, West Bengal loses Rs 804 crore approximately whenever a 12-hour bandh is called. In 2009, if there were 351 strikes and lockouts in India, the total number of shutdowns in Bengal was 267, which is 76 per cent of India's total. The perception of the state is not investment conducive, though the Left Front government did highlight the fact that, despite the Singur setback, it managed to attract Rs 8,500 crore worth of investments in 2009-10.

Poor image apart, there are serious issues at stake, primarily the state of finances, which will pose a challenge to whoever comes to power. The distress signals have been there for quite sometime now about the dwindling finances of Bengal, but things appear to have come to a head after the Left's poor showing at the 2009 general elections. The government went into a limbo — it was already on the backfoot after the Nandigram and Singur setbacks — and Buddhadeb was almost forced to shed his pro-industry image which he had donned after the 2006 assembly win, inviting industry captains like Ratan Tata and Mukesh Ambani to invest in the state.

A section of Left leaders admitted that the government's aggression on land acquisition had alienated it from the rural votebank and hence the losses at the Lok Sabha elections. Since 2009, the government has gone slow on land acquisition and let many troubled spots, from Darjeeling (Gorkhaland) to Lalgarh (Maoist), drift. With productivity in agriculture dwindling and not enough thrust on industry — though the Left has made some headway in the sunrise sectors of IT — the state hasn't done enough to generate revenues. Most of its borrowings have gone into paying wages, pension and interest, not development. Something the Trinamool has taken cognisance of, but will Mamata Banerjee be able to deliver on the promises?

For one, her manifesto isn't specific on revenue generation. She has other problems at hand, not least her cadres who have often played a disruptive role since the Trinamool's good show at the panchayat, municipal and general elections. It may be tough to rein them in, though Mamata has been educating her workers on common courtesies and work ethic, banning them from calling bandhs at the drop of a hat as before. There are also rumblings within the Trinamool on seats, ties with the Congress, corruption, nepotism and so forth, and misgivings outside about the non-performance of Trinamool panchayats.

Change may be in the air, but Bengal is also tense about the future in more ways than one.

The writer is a senior editor with 'The Financial Express', Kolkata

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

WHAT IS THE FUSS ABOUT?

CHARMYHARIKRISHNAN

 

Joseph Lelyveld's new book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India has provoked much controversy. Did he call Gandhi a racist? Did he call him a bisexual? Lelyveld has responded that he has not called Gandhi either.

Let us see what Lelyveld writes. He says Gandhi's concept of social equality kept evolving over his 21 years in South Africa, where he slowly crossed the caste barrier, then the race barrier, and finally the class barrier to become the full-blown Mahatma of India. Gandhi's own writings have documented these, so no surprises there. Lelyveld, instead of simply quoting them, analyses and often interrogates them while tracing the complex evolution of Gandhi's ideas in a span of a few years. He does not call Gandhi a racist, but says that "there are passages that sound fairly racist."

In 1896, Gandhi calls black South Africans "raw Kaffirs whose occupation is hunting and whose sole ambition is to collect a number of cattle to buy a wife"; then in 1904, after an outbreak of plague in Johannesburg, he tells a medical officer: "About the mixing of the Kaffirs with Indians, I must confess I feel most strongly." In four years, however, Gandhi discards that crude imagery and says, "In a well-ordered society, industrious and intelligent men can never be a menace." And this time he is referring to both Africans and Indians. In another five years, he says, "Every other question not excluding the India question pales into insignificance before the great Native question."

Lelyveld points out three crucial differences in the grand, national narrative of the Indian Gandhi and the limited concerns of the African Gandhi. One, Gandhi never made a common cause of Indians and Africans. When asked about this later, long after he returned to India, by a delegation of black Americans, Gandhi said it would have endangered their cause. Lelyveld calls this "retrospective tidying up". Two, although he spoke for indentured labourers in 1903, it took Gandhi 10 more years to mobilise a mass movement. Three, in all his writings of and from South Africa, he mentions only three Africans by name and acknowledges having met only one: John Dube, a Zulu aristocrat and first president of the South African Native National Congress, which later became the African National Congress. Lelyveld debunks the much-celebrated alliance of Gandhi and Dube in South Africa as imagined, resting on "political convenience and wispy oral tradition."

What could trouble hagiographers is that Lelyveld does not entirely buy Gandhi's narrative in the Autobiography. "He is more the unsung hero of East-West bildungsroman than the Mahatma in waiting he portrays, who experiences few doubts or deviations after his first weeks in London," he says. He further points out certain discrepancies in Gandhi's own accounts of an episode involving a Tamil indentured labourer, Balasundaram. In the Autobiography, Gandhi says, Balasundaram, beaten by his white master and bleeding in the mouth, turned up at his law office in Durban. Gandhi then sends him to a doctor and takes him to a magistrate. Lelyveld then points to a different account by Gandhi, just two years after the incident: there Balasundaram had gone on his own to the "protector of immigrants" who conveys him to a magistrate, who in turn arranges him to be taken to a hospital. Only then does he land on Gandhi's doorstep. His wounds have been treated, he is no longer bleeding. Lelyveld calls Gandhi's version in the autobiography "movie treatment", and says evidence is slight to support his further claim that "Balasundaram's case reached the ears of every indentured labourer." Lelyveld says: "Gandhi the Indian politician shapes and reshapes the experience of Gandhi the South African lawyer in order to advance his nationalist agenda and values at home." But sometimes he unnecessarily quibbles. Where Pyarelal talks about Gandhi's role in carrying the mortally wounded General Edward Woodgate during the Boer War, Lelyveld remarks Times History of the War in South Africa does not mention Indians in this instance.

Now, to the Kallenbach episode in Great Soul. Hermann Kallenbach was a Jewish architect, gymnast and bodybuilder of Lithuanian background from East Prussia. He bought the land for Tolstoy Farm and has been referred to as a close friend by Gandhi and even a soulmate by some others. Lelyveld calls theirs "the most intimate, also ambiguous, relationship of his lifetime." There is a little mischief there. Especially when he cleverly refrains from following that up with a direct comment or an explanation. Instead, he first quotes Tridip Suhrud as saying, "They were a couple"; he then says "one respected Gandhi scholar characterised the relationship as 'clearly homoerotic' rather than "homosexual,'" hastening to add that he meant only "a strong mutual attraction, nothing more."

In that much-reported letter from a hotel room in London in 1909, the year Freud was giving his Clark lectures in the US, Gandhi writes about Kallenbach's portrait on his mantelpiece and how Vaseline and cotton wool are a constant reminder. Lelyveld's mischief is in throwing a question that could have a scandalous undertone, before proceeding to a non-controversial answer. Here he wonders, "What are we to make of... the reference to petroleum jelly?" Indeed. As the reader's imagination begins to work, he explains: "The most plausible guesses are that the Vaseline... may have to do with enemas, to which he regularly resorted, or may in some other way foreshadow the geriatric Gandhi's enthusiasm for massage."

Lelyveld doesn't say there was a homosexual relationship between Gandhi and Kallenbach, but even an implicit suggestion of an intriguing relationship falls flat with the rather vague letters he excerpts. Even the explicit ones are hardly outrageous. What is one to make of "more love, and yet more love... such love as they hope the world has not yet seen"? That is not indecent, by Gandhi's standards. He had a vocabulary of love and lust all his own, untouched by Freud. Well, he has even said, "Gokhale by his features took me by storm." And that was in a letter to Kallenbach.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

'BAHRAIN IS NOT A PART OF THE DEMOCRATIC DOMINO EFFECT IN THE MIDDLE EAST'

SHUBHAJIT ROY

 

Bahrain's foreign minister Shaikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al Khalifa talks to Alia Allana and Shubhajit Roy, and says its protests are different from those in Egypt and Tunisia

How is the Bahraini uprising different from those in Cairo or Tunisia?

There is a transformation going through the Arab world, this is nothing bad. But Bahrain is not a part of this revolution. What we see in Egypt and Tunisia is a real transformation of a society vying for a better life, vying for freedom and change. They suffer the most terrible type of stagnation, but Bahrain is not a part of this revolution. Bahrain is a minority in the Arab world, it is a small country, yet it enjoys greater freedoms. Those (Egypt and Tunisia) are bigger countries with bigger troubles. Bahrain is not a part of the democratic domino effect that is sweeping the Middle East. Our challenges are different.

What about the Shia (the protestors) calls for greater political inclusion and freedoms?

These people on the streets did get inspiration from the Egyptian and the Tunisian revolutions — we will address their demands through dialogue. But whether the revolution has continued on the right track (in Bahrain) is questionable. The people of Bahrain are not united in calling for change. The Shia opposition — Wefaq — is the only legitimate party, and they have failed their constituents by walking out of parliament. The opposition does not speak with one voice. The Shia uprising is a result of sectarianism, an age-old problem. We have tried to rid ourselves of this sectarianism but two events have polarised our attempts: the Iranian Revolution and the jihad in Afghanistan have wreaked havoc, made our young fight against the infidels. In this uprising, again, we see the role of Iran and its agents.

This is the first time in the Peninsula Shield Force's history that it has intervened on GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) soil. Why now?

We feel that the revolution has been hijacked in an ugly way by people who want to cause serious upheavals. One outsider wants to declare it (Bahrain) an Islamic republic and the other wants a complete change of regime. We felt a real threat to the stability of the people. This threat is not just towards the Sunnis or the Sunni royals but also towards the Shia. The Shia are not united, they do not speak with one voice. Hence there is meddling from other powers. But we, like the protestors, want reform, constitutional reform but we still see dialogue as the only way forward. The invitation to the Peninsula Shield Forces is simply a move to restore law and order and remember, we invited the GCC forces — the Peninsula Shield Force."

This invitation has been viewed with great scepticism — to ensure that the protests do not spread to the Gulf. The Saudi role has caused alarm.

We are paranoid in the GCC, but this is not solely because of internal change. Every country has its own timetable. Nobody can stop change but the people should themselves be ready for the change. The Saudis saw a real threat, what they saw is possible upheaval to come. There is an urgency, there is a threat. The issue is bigger than Bahrain, there is a real threat to the region. This is an issue that impacts the defence of Gulf — the Peninsula Shield Force is there to act in such instances. Their role is to defend vital installations, this has allowed and freed the Bahraini defence force to focus on the protests. If we didn't care about our people, the police force would have been enough. But to make sure no lives were lost, to bring the situation under control, we needed to the Peninsula Shield Force into effect. But they have no internal role. They have simply freed the Bahraini defence force who are now monitoring the protests."

What are these threats?

We see a new picture emerging in the region. The threats we are facing are not internal, there are threats of terror from all sides: from Al Qaeda, the Shia who are encouraged to cause upheaval, Hezbollah. This tempo picked up pace between Iran and Bahrain. Iran immediately denounced the GCC intervention, calling them occupation forces. But we called them in, they came in on our request.

How has Iran's condemnation of the GCC intervention impacted the Gulf states?

We have seen from Iran, by way of clear threats, meddling and media wars. This sort of aggression was getting increasingly uncomfortable for us. It is Iran that incites sectarianism, whether directly on indirectly through its proxies in Lebanon or Hezbollah. This is not something we can live with in Bahrain. The intervention has nothing to do with the protests. We want reform but we needed to neutralise the situation, to bring in law and order. This is an issue bigger than Bahrain. This is issue that impacts the defence of the Gulf and beyond. This is why I am in India. Pakistan, India, Turkey, these are serious stakeholders in the stability of the Gulf. Look at our joint history — our modern history goes 200 years back. We need to ensure the region is safe from extremist elements.

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

THE MOHALI MOMENT

SEEMA CHISHTI

 

The Mohali moment

Rashtriya Sahara's irreverent headline on March 31 says, "Mohali mein 'Pak' saaf" (Pakistan taken to the cleaner's in Mohali). Mumbai-based Inquilab prefers to use a wrestling phrase, Pakistan's "chaaron khaane chit" (completely knocked out). Describing Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's invitation to Pakistan's leaders to watch the Indo-Pak World Cup semi-final at Mohali as a good beginning, Inquilab's editorial terms it "Mohali mein khush-haali". Hyderabad's leading daily, Siasat, writes, "Indo-Pak diplomacy successful." In its editorial on March 20, it welcomed the peace move: "India has been taking regular initiatives to improve relations with Pakistan. Pakistan also appears to respond positively, but in practical terms, there is no improvement in the situation because Pakistan is not willing to let go of its pre-determined stand on India. In view of Pakistan's internal situation and the changed world, at least this time civil society and political leadership should respond to India's serious efforts." Rashtriya Sahara, in its March 27 editorial says that "PM Manmohan Singh has given yet another indication of his desire to improve relations between these two countries, courtesy cricket."

The daily Sahafat, published from Delhi, Mumbai, Lucknow and Dehradun, in its editorial in March 29, however, strikes a sceptical note: "There seems to be no possibility that the presence of political leaders at Mohali would give rise to any substantial diplomatic activity. This is only the performance of a formality and this would be the performance of a pleasant formality."

Delhi-based Jadeed Khabar, in its lead story on March 28, notes that "the common people, intellectuals and media in Pakistan have welcomed the initiative, and cricket diplomacy indeed occupies an important place in Indo-Pak relations."

WikiLeaks and after

Writing on the WikiLeaks fallout, Hyderabad's most widely circulated daily, Munsif, says in an editorial on March 20: "The prime minister gave a statement in Parliament. But the opposition did not seem satisfied. Because it is true that the number of votes the Manmohan Singh government got in the Lok Sabha was larger than the number of its allies. Therefore, it is obvious that an 'arrangement' (bandobast) had been made to secure a majority. The additional votes were not given on the voice of conscience either, because some people were caught extending offers to members of Parliament. The Manmohan Singh government is, so far, fighting shy of a probe by a high-level committee."

The paper has also taken the BJP to task for the contradiction between their public posture against the nuclear deal and their leaders' alleged assurances to US diplomats, as revealed by WikiLeaks. It adds: "If the reported WikiLeaks revelation unmasking the BJP is not true, how can the revelations unmasking the Congress or the government be treated as absolutely true?"

Siasat, in its editorial on March 25, has criticised the prime minister's statement in Parliament: "It is true that the BJP, particularly L.K. Advani, has its sights on the prime-ministerial chair. But the PM's statement can in no way be termed proper. He was trying to divert from the real issue by turn of phrase, criticism of the opposition and the use of Urdu poetry. He said that the BJP had attempted a sting operation against the government to topple it, which shows its lust for power. That aside, if the government has not done anything wrong and it has not tried to buy votes, then not only one, many sting operations should not worry it."

Lavish hospitality

Reacting to the ostentatious bandobast for the Imam-e-Haram (Kaaba), Sheikh Abdul Rehman Al-Sudais's Delhi visit, and the pages of advertisements in Urdu newspapers organised by the president of one of the Jamiat Ulema-e-Hind factions, well-known Lucknow-based journalist, Hafeez Nomani contrasts the arrangements to those 20 years ago, when a revered Imam of Haram Shareef visited Lucknow. According to him, there was no effort then to push the visit, apart from routine information being provided, but he was still greeted by huge crowds, unprecedented in the city's recent history. In Jadeed Khabar (March 26), Nomani writes: "Mohtaram Imam had come to Lucknow on the invitation of Maulana Ali Mian and Dar-ul-Uloom, Nadwa, who had much more money than Maulana Arshad Mian (the president of a faction of the Jamiat). If Nadwa had wanted, it could have bought the first pages of the biggest newspapers and spent Rs 50 lakh (20 years ago). But it did not." Nomani adds: "The full-page advertisements that Maulana Arshad Mian (Madani) has issued in the name of Azmat-e-Sahaba (greatness of the companions of the Prophet) do not demonstrate any greatness. They, actually give rise to the perception that (God forbid) the Qadianis have opened a front against Khatima-e-Nabuat (the end of prophethood)!"

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THE INDIAN EXPRESS

OPED

NOT OVER REACTORS

 

Hong Kong — Twenty-five years ago a million people here signed a petition opposing a plan to build a nuclear power station with two reactors a few miles across the China border to provide power for Hong Kong and Guangdong Province. Some eminent citizens promised to emigrate if the plant was built.

But built it was and they had to eat their words. Operating since 1993, it has since attracted little attention from the Hong Kong people even though it sits by the sea, close to a fault-line.

In fact, many people today wish that much more of the territory's power would come from nuclear sources, which currently account for only about 15 per cent of local consumption, rather than from the coal-fired stations, which contribute a great deal to Hong Kong's air-pollution problem.

Premature deaths in Hong Kong caused by air pollution are estimated at around 2,800 a year, and the air causes 90,000 hospitalisations a year. Air pollution has also driven away businesses to cleaner cities like Singapore, Sydney and Tokyo.

But Hong Kong air is clean compared with most Chinese cities, so the public-health arguments in favour of more nuclear power are all the stronger on the mainland. The WHO estimated in 2007 that every year more than 600,000 Chinese die prematurely from the effects of air pollution. Things are unlikely to be better now.

Some of those deaths could be attributed to household burning of coal and charcoal. A large and rising part could be attributed to vehicles. But that still leaves a huge number of deaths attributable to the coal-fired power stations that generate most of China's electricity.

Nor is that the only cost of coal. There is also the huge number of deaths from coal-mining accidents.

Big cuts in coal-related deaths are of course possible without going nuclear. Cleaner power stations with the latest anti-pollution technology are replacing old ones. Poorly run coal mines are being forced to close, reducing the mining death toll. But with China having to import growing amounts of oil and natural gas, the country's reliance on coal will continue for years to come.

The one renewable source that many want to be tapped — hydroelectricity — arguably has as many drawbacks as coal. The most potential area for hydro-power is in the remote southwest of China, from the upper reaches on rivers that flow into India, Vietnam, Myanmar. But the full exploitation of hydro potential would damage immensely the livelihoods of millions living downstream in the plains of the Mekong, Salween and Brahmaputra rivers.

Many in China may not care about that, but Beijing, anxious to appear as a good friend, now takes its neighbors' worries seriously. While nuclear concerns should give a renewed boost to solar and wind energy, their potential is still small relative to China's future needs.

Of course, views are different in developed countries with cleaner air, little energy-demand growth and high government sensitivity to the public's nuclear fears. For sure, there will be enhanced attention everywhere to safety devices and the location of plants.

But even advanced countries like France and South Korea seem likely to continue to prefer to look at nuclear power as less of a danger than increasing carbon emissions or dependence on imported oil. And those now expressing grave reservations need reminding that until recently they were lecturing the world about carbon emissions and global warming.

As for China, the push for nuclear power could even be enhanced as Fukushima provides an opportunity to weigh nuclear dangers against the reality of today's death toll from coal.Philip Bowring

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

INDIA'S BANKER

OP Bhatt did what few chairmen of the country's largest bank did before him; he unlocked much of the latent potential in SBI, potential that bankers like KV Kamath, chairman ICICI Bank, always worried about. It was way back in 1999 that Kamath had observed that if SBI got its act together, "things will be tough", but it was not until Bhatt took over in 2006 that the elephant started to dance. The 'Banker to every Indian' campaign increased visibility, better technology made it more efficient, a capital-raising exercise armed it with funds to lend and a suite of new products had borrowers at its doors. Suddenly, SBI found the confidence to lead the way and Bhatt more than disproved critics who felt state-owned Indian banks and their executives were lazy. This was particularly evident in the way Bhatt defended the teaser loans for mortgages, the introduction of which resulted in a running feud between him and RBI. The regulator, in its wisdom, believed that the lure of a lower rate in the initial period of a loan could result in increasing leverage, thereby pushing up prices of property. Bhatt, for his part, believed he was simply lending to those who could pay back. Needless to say, the product was a hit and SBI managed to give home-loan major HDFC a run for its money, in the process gaining market share with a special loan portfolio of close to R25,000 crore.

The disagreement on teaser loans was just one of the issues on which SBI had a run-in with the regulator, and Bhatt's tenure was, in general, marked by an uneasy relationship with RBI; at one point, SBI was rapped on the knuckles for not meeting some of the CAMELS norms (capital, asset quality, management, earnings, liquidity and systems) and, that apart, there has been some debate between the two, on provisioning. The regulator had also frowned on SBI when it guaranteed a large debenture issue of Tata Motors; in the end, Bhatt's decision turned out to be a good one. By and large, SBI has been able to cash in on the growing economy, with average interest earning assets expected to cross the R10 lakh crore mark this year, growing 66% between March 2008 and now. Pre-provisioning profits would have risen an estimated 100% between March 2008 and March 2011, when it is expected to cross R26,000 crore. However, the growth in pre-tax profits over the period would be less impressive at 65%, with provisions expected to nearly treble between March 2009 and March 2011. Indeed, asset quality has been a concern with analysts. Nonetheless, SBI's market capitalisation has risen to R1.8 lakh crore currently from R64, 894 crore at the end of March 2009, with the stock outperforming the Sensex. Bhatt's successor, to be named in a day or two, has a tough act to follow.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

EDITORIAL

STATE OF THE DEFICIT

The findings of the study of state budgets for 2010-11 released by RBI on Thursday is reassuring. The states have not only reversed the expansionary stance adopted during the global slowdown in the last two years but have also moved back to the fiscal consolidation path much more aggressively than the central government. More encouraging is the fact that the overall management of state finances has continued to steadily improve, often even exceeding expectations. The best indicator of the overall improvement is the fast shrinking size of state government debts, which touched 25% of the GDP in 2009-10. This is well below the 30.8% level targeted by the Twelfth Finance Commission. The budget estimates for 2010-11 indicate that it will now further decline to 23.1%. The more immediate gains on the states' fiscal front is reflected in the improvements in the revenue budget. Although the states have moved from a revenue surplus of 0.2% of GDP in 2008-09 to a revenue deficit of 0.7% in 2009-10, the 2010-11 budget estimates indicate that the revenue deficit will now be pushed back to 0.3% of the GDP, mainly by cutting down revenue expenditures. In fact, the ratio of revenue expenditure is expected to go down in as many as 19 states. The overall fiscal deficit of states is now expected to come down from 3.3% of the GDP in 2009-10 to 2.5% in the budget estimates for 2010-11.

However, while the overall trends are in the right direction, the RBI study also raises concerns about the quality of fiscal correction, as the ratio of development expenditure, capital outlay and social sector expenditure are budgeted to be lower in many states. A comparison of the numbers on the revised estimates for 2009-10 and the budget estimates for 2010-11 show that the ratio of development expenditure-to-GDP will go down by more than a percentage point from 10.5% to 9.3%, that of capital outlays will move back from 2.4% to 2.1%, and that of social expenditure will contract from 6.4% to 5.8%. There are also other more pressing issues like the burgeoning pension Bill. While the states spend 15.7% of their revenue income to meet costs of administrative services, mainly salaries, they now spend a higher 18% of their own revenues on meeting pension payments. The other major concern is on the income side. While a majority of the states expect a higher tax buoyancy, including in their own tax collections, non-tax revenues are budgeted to decline in as many as 18 states. This is mainly on account of their inability to levy rational user-charges, which is at an irrationally low 3.6% in education, 4.6% in health services, 20.2% in irrigation and 20.4% in power. It is time that the states adopted a tougher political stance on collecting more realistic user-charges.

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

THE SECRET OF GOVERNMENT BANKS
RAJESH CHAKRABARTI

If the financial crisis had a silver lining, India's public sector banks (PSBs) doubtlessly sparkled in it. The crisis helped them strengthen their competitive position vis-à-vis their private sector rivals, channelled large capital infusions from the exchequer without a murmur and burnished their image as the keepers of the nation's wealth. During 2008-09, PSBs grew their deposits by over 24%, more than a percentage point higher than in the previous year. Private sector bank deposits grew by a mere 8%, down from 20% the previous year. Credit grew at over 20% for PSBs, only a shade lower than the 22.5% in the previous year. For private banks, it was less than 11%, down from almost 20%. The 54% fall in the SBI share value was far more palatable than the 73% decline in ICICI Bank's. At the same time, the government infused over R3,000 crore in tier-1 capital for four PSBs. Now that the crisis is largely in the rear-view mirror, it is time to ask what was the secret of their success—were they really running a safer ship or was it just government guarantee that assured their relatively better performance?

The contribution of conservative RBI policies and supervision and the underdevelopment of credit derivative markets to the health of India's banking sector is not in question here. The Capital to Risk-weighted Assets Ratio (CRAR) stood at a very decent 13%, well above the regulatory minimum of 9%, which itself was a percentage point higher than the Basel minimum norm. Worldwide CRAR ranged from 8.2% to 17.7%. The provision for NPAs stood at over 52%, with the global range being 25% to 184%. The sector was also profitable with a 1% Return on Assets, comparable to the world figures and far higher than in most developed countries.

But these apply to banks across the public-private divide. The question is, among the different bank categories in India, did the strength of PSBs lie in their efficiency and conservatism in operations or simply in their government guarantee. The credit default swap spreads for SBI and ICICI Bank tell an interesting story. Until about January 2008, both hovered around the same level. And then suddenly ICICI Bank started looking much more riskier than SBI. What was the source of this difference—operational conservatism or access to government funds?

It is not a simple question to answer, but a recent paper by Viral Acharya, Anukaran Agarwal and Nirupama Kulkarni* tries just that. They compare the risk levels of several Indian banks and NBFCs—public and private—just before the crisis by looking at their Marginal Expected Shortfall (MES) or 'tail beta'—the sensitivity of a bank's stock return to an index return on the 5% worst market days. Next, they look at their actual performance during the crisis period and see if it is in line with what the MES would predict.

The relationship between the MES and crisis performance seems to be very different for private and public sector banks. The riskier private banks and NBFCs expectedly fared worse when the crisis hit, but for the PSBs, there was no such pattern. As a group, the private sector banks had an average MES nearly a whole percentage point lower than the PSBs. Both SBI and ICICI Bank, their respective leaders, had comparable MES at 5% going into the crisis.

And yet, as a group, the private banks suffered a fall that was a full 20% bigger than for the PSBs.

Within categories, the difference is even starker in the deposit growth. Here, while the private banks show a statistically negative relationship between MES and crisis-period returns, PSBs actually show a statistically significant positive association—the more risky the PSB going into the crisis, the greater is its deposit growth. Normal behaviour was evidently suspended.

If markets rewarded risky banks during a downturn, something other than conventional risk had to be the deciding factor. The insurance of a friendly government is the obvious answer. For the riskiest PSBs, the crisis may have actually enhanced their chances of a capital injection.

The issue raised in the paper is a critical one, not just for a more accurate reading of history but in driving banking policy going forward. Thriving on the back of government guarantee is not unique to India—just look at Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the US—but one should not confuse it with efficiency or better risk management. This paper may not be the final word in the public-private debate, but for now, its conclusions seem very, very convincing.

* State Ownership and Systemic Risk: Evidence from the Indian Financial Sector during 2007-09, Working Paper, Stern School of Business, New York University

The author teaches finance at the Indian School of Business, Hyderabad

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THE FINANCIAL EXPRESS

COLUMN

WILL FDI COME IN NOW?
SUBHOMOY BHATTACHARJEE

The timing of the review of the Foreign Direct Investment Policy on Thursday is just right, but the frequency of the change is just not right. The changes announced yesterday are to a policy just one year old.

If a policy needs to be changed this drastically, just a year into its operation, it more or less tells us why foreign investment into the country is dipping so badly. It also tells us that the rise in foreign investment into India in 2010 was, therefore, riding a favourable global tailwind, that could sail despite the obstacles in the policy.

The comprehensive FDI policy, which rewrote a large part of our foreign investment rules, was issued in February 2010. The policy came at the end of the year, which saw a record $34.2 billion inflow into the country as per the statistics of the Department of Industrial Policy & Promotion (DIPP).

Since then, FDI into India has collapsed to $17.08 billion, a 25% decline in the April to January figure. Since the January 2011 data shows a 49% inflow dip, the chances of a fabulous turnaround in just the last two months of the year is extremely unlikely. If the rewrite of February 2010 was a plan to encourage FDI, this obviously should not have happened, even if we assume the global tailwind turned into a headwind in just a year. In very few sectors have we seen a roll back of reforms on such a massive scale.

Thursday's rewrite of the FDI policy in just one page (press note) is, therefore, the mandarins' response to the disaster. DIPP has used the eraser to rub out almost every possible significant objection the foreign investors could have on procedures to claw back investments into India. If it is argued that the earlier version did not cause the current mayhem, then obviously there was no reason to make this review.

Of the changes made, while the final abolition of Press Note 1 of 2005 (earlier Press Note 18) earns notice, the more significant one is the change of guidelines for downstream investments. The government has removed the myriad classifications of what constitutes a foreign company to replace them with a single either-or classification. This means if Tata Sons, for instance, invites foreign investment in a company owned by it up to 49% of that company's equity, it will not need to travel to the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB) for approval. As the example shows, there are few groups in India where this will not be significant. One suspects this will be the window through which some of the big ticket investments into India will flow in. The lack of clarity in this space had stymied the full development of the holding company route in India.

Coming to the abolition of Press Note 1, a perusal through the FIPB clearance list shows about 20% of the cases related to this obstacle. It is, of course, true that the government and other agencies had become more lenient towards what constituted the same field. But it was an obstacle nevertheless, and there was a genuine perception among segments of foreign investors that it was a rent-seeking clause that did India's investment climate no good.

A badly needed relaxation made on Thursday is to the rules that were imposed in 2010 to specify the price of convertible instruments upfront. DIPP officials claim the restrictive clause was imposed because of RBI insistence. RBI wanted to be sure India's aggregate exposure to foreign currency risk could be calculated precisely. That it made life difficult for a company to take advantage of instruments like the foreign currency convertible bond was apparently a redundant topic. Are you surprised the flow of FDI dipped so sharply?

subhomoy.bhattacharjee@expressindia.com

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

DON'T BAN GREAT SOUL

Union Law Minister Veerappa Moily's announcement that the central government would ban the book Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India had no justification in fact, law, or common sense. The threatened ban on the book — the contents of which Mr. Moily dramatically described as "heresy" — was based, at best, on a total misreading of it and, at worst, on no-reading but relying on grossly misleading reviews in a section of the western media. The biography, written by Joseph Lelyveld, a former editor of the New York Times, does not claim that Mahatma Gandhi was bi-sexual; neither does it portray him as a racist. In the course of a serious exploration that traces the links between the beginning of Gandhi's political life in South Africa and its development in India, the book refers to his close relationship with East Prussian architect Hermann Kallenbach. The strong emotional bond between the two, who lived together for a while on Tolstoy Farm near Johannesburg, is more than borne out by the letters Gandhiji wrote to Kallenbach. Mr. Lelyveld quotes a Gandhi scholar in the book as characterising their relationship as "homoerotic" rather than "homosexual," an interpretation one is free to dispute. But surely, that cannot be a basis for banning a book as the Gujarat government has done with great alacrity and the Government of India was seriously considering until Mr. Moily did an about-turn on the issue.

"I am of the earth, earthy … I am prone to as many weaknesses as you are," the Mahatma famously declared. He explored a number of these weaknesses with extraordinary honesty in My Experiments with Truth. Most publishers love, and some even stage-manage, the kind of controversy that has broken out over what is a small section of a chapter in Mr. Lelyveld's biography. Not so long ago, in grandson Rajmohan Gandhi's Mohandas, a small episode in the Mahatma's life — his relationship with Rabindranath Tagore's niece Saraladevi Chaudharani ("around which Eros too might have lurked") — became the frenzied focus of the media. Section 95 of the Code of Criminal Procedure empowers authorities to proscribe books if they contain material that breaches the peace or causes communal tension. Surely, it is no one's case that Great Soul does that. The Supreme Court, which has consistently opposed crude attempts at censorship, has severely limited the use of Section 95 to proscribe books. From a quick reading of the controversial references in the Kindle edition, it seems that Mr. Lelyveld has made too much of what is essentially thin source material on the subject. The answer to that is reasoned, informed criticism. The Mahatma would have been the first to protest against any suggestion of an obscurantist ban.

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THE HINDU

EDITORIAL

GERMANY'S GREEN SPRING

In a historic development, Winfried Kretschmann is set to become the first Green Minister-President of a German state. The German Green Party has emerged as the senior partner in a coalition with the Social Democratic Party that has captured the state assembly or Landtag in Baden-Württemberg. The coalition defeated the conservative incumbent, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU), which had led the government of the very wealthy province for almost 58 years. On a turnout of 66 per cent, the Greens more than doubled their 2006 vote-share to 24 per cent, which gave them 36 seats. The CDU remains the biggest single party with 60 seats, but the new alliance will have a majority of four over the bloc formed by the CDU and its ally, the Free Democrat Party (FDP), which lost eight of its 15 seats. Further, the CDU-FDP share of seats in the powerful federal upper chamber, the Bundesrat, will fall in proportion to their regional losses — and Mr. Kretschmann will also have a Bundesrat vote. One consequence is that the CDU national leader and federal Chancellor Angela Merkel will find it even harder to get legislation passed.

Ms Merkel has blamed her party's losses on the stream of bad news from the wrecked Japanese nuclear plant at Fukushima. The Chancellor lost a lot of credibility by announcing a 12-year extension to the life of all 17 German nuclear plants and then doing a U-turn post-Fukushima to state that seven plants built before 1980 would be closed down for three months. But German public opposition to nuclear power, although strong and of long standing, forms only a part of the Greens' strength. Stuttgart, the capital of Baden-Württemberg, has been the focus of controversy over a multi-billion-euro plan to redevelop the central station as part of a high-speed rail link across Europe. The plan, called Stuttgart 21, catalysed a feeling among ordinary people that they were being subordinated to big business; after the election, the national rail company Deutsche Bahn suspended the project. But the news for the Chancellor is even worse. Voters across Germany are deserting the pro-market conservative and Right parties. The rising political stock of the Greens was reflected in a tripled vote-share of 15.4 per cent in Rhineland-Palatinate, which also elected a new assembly on March 27. In this contest, the FDP did not even get the 5 per cent needed for one seat. The most significant implication seems to be that ordinary German voters now want to address concerns and issues very different from those of the mainstream parties. The Greens have an unprecedented chance to initiate significant changes in the style and substance of German politics.

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THE HINDU

LEADER PAGE ARTICLES

NEW VIGILANTISM IN HIGHER EDUCATION

THE ALARMING ASPECT OF THE PROPOSED EDUCATIONAL TRIBUNALS BILL IS ITS TOTAL DISREGARD FOR THE DUE PROCESS OF LAW. IT SEEKS TO BYPASS THE WHOLE JUDICIAL STRUCTURE.

BRINDA BOSE & PRASANTA CHAKRAVARTY

Recently, Professor G. Haragopal, noted human rights activist and scholar, in the news for being on the Maoist-mediating team set up by the Centre to negotiate the release of Malkangiri Collector R. Vineel Krishna, was recounting his experiences at an afternoon lecture at the department of Political Science in Delhi University. As an aside, he surprised the audience by asking how many present there knew of nine "vital" Bills on higher education that were in the process of being introduced and passed in Parliament by the end of this year (A report in The Hindu dated September 13, 2010 had carried this news, in fact, from Professor Haragopal's address to Yogi Vemana University in Kadapa.)

Most of us, whom these Bills will most directly affect, had no real information about them at all, though they actually possess the potential to completely destabilise and overturn our university existence as we know it now. The deadliest of the Bills, perhaps, is the one that takes away the right for anyone in all systems of higher education to seek arbitration in regular courts of law in cases of complaint on campus, through the introduction of the Educational Tribunals Bill (No. 55 passed in the Lok Sabha in August 2010, and awaiting clearance from the Rajya Sabha in the next session of Parliament).

The proposed Bill seeks "to provide for the establishment of Educational Tribunals for effective and expeditious adjudication of disputes involving teachers and other employees of higher educational institutions and other stakeholders (including students, universities, institutions and statutory regulatory authorities) and to adjudicate penalties for indulging in unfair practices in higher education and for matters connected therewith or incidental thereto." Structured along two tiers, of State Educational Tribunals (three members, appointed by the State government) with a National Educational Tribunal (comprising nine members appointed by the Central government) at its head, the higher body has complete authority to exercise power in matters of dispute, reference and affiliation between any higher education institution and any appropriate statutory regulatory body, and between units of institutions where one is a Central university, and exercise appellate jurisdiction over some clauses pertaining to State Educational Tribunals. Penalties for failure to comply with orders of the Tribunals range from imprisonment up to three years and a fine of Rs. 1 lakh, or both. Most important, any order made by the Tribunals under this Act shall be "executable as a decree of a civil court" and for this purpose they "shall have all the powers of the civil court."

The very notion of a 'tribunal' is rather amorphous — both etymologically and conceptually. The word 'tribunal' is not conclusive of a body's function. Are tribunals judicial structures or can they serve as lawmaking and law-enforcing bodies at the same time? Or is their mandate more specific and temporary? Many governmental bodies that are titled 'tribunals' are so described to emphasise the fact that they are not courts of normal jurisdiction. For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda is specially constituted under international law; in Great Britain, Employment Tribunals are set up to hear specific employment disputes. Structurally, tribunals are more private judicial bodies though often mandated by the government.

Besides, are tribunals merely routes of appeal or can they provide regulatory supervision? Usually, the role of tribunals is inquisitorial, brought forth to look into urgent public disputes. Tribunals are obliged to report, not to administer justice. They have the power to enforce the attendance and examination of witnesses and the production of documents relevant to the work in hand, and not much beyond.

It may be true that a rapid growth in the higher education sector has resulted in increased litigation, but stemming malpractice or settling disputes among 'stakeholders' is neither an extraordinary predicament nor irresolvable. Often institutions have their own set of systems or councils which take up issues case by case. Sometimes disputes are amicably settled. If matters are legal in nature or require structural changes, the law of the land takes it own course. What urgent reasons do we have to set up such tribunals within our education system?

At a fundamental level, one can interrogate the proposed structure and composition of the tribunals. The State level educational tribunals will have three members each. While its chairperson will be a judge of some High Court, a Vice-Chancellor and a person of the rank of a Chief Secretary of the State government will be the other members. At least one of them will be a woman. The nine-member national educational tribunal will include a chairperson and two other judicial members who will be the judges of the Supreme Court. Further, it will have three academic members (Vice-Chancellors) and three administrative members (Secretary to the Government of India or of equivalent rank). At least one-third of its total members will be women. The Bill seeks to accommodate retiring or retired personnel up to the age of 70. The majority of members may not be judicial or working; this takes away the kind of public accountability that serving personnel usually provide. More important, the cross-section of the personnel is heavily bureaucratic and top-down with scant clue about the specificities of the daily disputes and malpractices that occur in higher education spaces. In fact, it appears that the appointments will be hand-picked by the Central government.

The more alarming aspect of the proposed Educational Tribunals Bill is its total disregard for the due process of law. It seeks to bypass the whole judicial structure. The tribunal system will run parallel to the judiciary and will create an alternative vigilante system with tight governmental control over the higher education systems with no democratic or legal mandate. This is a way of creating a glass ceiling for resolving disputes, with litigants having no right to move courts outside of the tribunal system. The very constitutional right of citizens to move a court of law will be stymied by this bill. Far more than putting justice into the fast track, as claimed, it is neatly designed to help privatised players and bureaucrats so that they do not get into protracted judicial battles with litigants.

In fact, there is no constitutional validity for the new tribunal structure to come into being in the first place. The Constitution categorically prohibits Parliament from regulating higher education while empowering the States to do so. Parliament can, at best, coordinate and determine the standards of higher education but cannot regulate it. It is not even permitted to incorporate and wind up universities. Neither the Centre nor the States have been entrusted with the power to make tribunals or such ad-hoc bodies to deal with matters and disagreements in the highly complex, volatile space of higher education.

The Bill heavily assaults the federal nature of our higher educational system by creating a subtle hierarchy between the State and the Central jurisdiction of the proposed tribunals. It clearly states that if any State has an already existing tribunal system in practice, the Bill will have precedence over and override the existing legal structures and systems. The State education system will have little autonomy in matters of affiliation of an institution with the affiliating university and unfair practices by a higher educational institution, which have been prohibited by law; it is only in the service-matters of teachers and other employees of higher educational institutions that no appeal can be made beyond State tribunals. Although education is primarily a matter of the State and a concurrent concern, such a Bill appears to be part and parcel of a larger concerted move by our policymakers to shift the fulcrum of power towards the Centre.

But the unkindest cut of all is that the decision to subvert the judicial system and centralise education by slipping in a tribunal system will result in the so-called base level 'stakeholders' — students and teachers — simply having no say in settling their own disputes. The participatory nature in important decision-making matters, say in syllabus formation, in deciding what constitutes an appropriate academic cycle, in staging protests on administrative matters, in deciding research agendas and collaborations — in all such disputes it is a top-down tribunal system that will have the final say; a system that is arbitrary, quick, ideological and unconstitutional.

Undoubtedly, expeditious growth now takes precedence over important everyday concerns within institutions of higher education. And that this Educational Tribunals Bill — seeking to do away with the possibility of seeking proper judicial redress in civil courts for any dispute in higher educational institutions — is now merely awaiting a smooth safe passage into becoming an Act without any sort of public consultation and debate should be a matter of the gravest concern to all of us, not just academics.

(Brinda Bose and Prasanta Chakravarty teach in the Department of English, University of Delhi. brindabose@gmail.com, mrsceptic@gmail.com)

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THE HINDU

OPED

SOPS FOR CHEMICALS? DOW'S BEHIND-THE-SCENES MANOEUVRES (PART - II)

SARAH HIDDLESTON AND NIRUPAMA SUBRAMANIAN

 

The cable drew an outline of politicians seeking to exploit Dow's handicap in India – arising from its association with Union Carbide and the legacy of the 1984 Bhopal gas leak disaster – for direct or indirect personal benefit. The abandoned Union Carbide factory in Bhopal.

The politician had expressed "a desire to resolve the dispute peacefully." The villagers should have been informed about the project, he said.

The Mumbai Consulate noted that the Warkaris, a local community, worshipped a river shrine and were convinced that Dow's activities at the facility would pollute the river and groundwater sources.

Mr. Patil told the U.S. officials that the villagers had learnt about Dow's connections to Union Carbide. He said the approvals Dow had received for the facility related to the manufacture of chemicals, which was at variance with Dow's description of the facility as a scientific research centre.

The Shiv Sena MP also said he had advised Dow to explain the project to the villagers, "preferably through a public relations company that was experienced at this." However, he lamented, the company had ignored his advice and instead relied on police force and started work at the site.

"Patil noted that it was because of this decision that the Warkaris started protesting and a Dow vehicle was burned," the cable informed the State Department.

Mr. Patil then reiterated advice he said he had given Dow in July 2008 about hiring a public relations outfit for this purpose — "like the one that the local company Bharat Forge hired when it ran into problems, and give donations to local villagers to resolve the situation."

On September 29, Rakesh Chitkara, Dow's Head of Corporate Affairs, met Consulate officials (the cable does not name them). He told them that three months earlier, Dow "hired the public relations specialist Patil recommended for USD 20,000 per month." In parenthesis, the cable added: "Chitkara said that the PR specialist is a 'close associate' of Patil."

Dow had also hired a number of local villagers for construction projects, helped refurbish a local school, expanded water services, and acted on a number of other public works projects that were requested in writing by the local village council — all to no effect.

Mr. Chitkara's version was that Dow had met Mr. Patil several times "to clarify issues."

Patil's denial

However, when The Hindu asked Mr Patil for a response, he characterised the allegations as "101 per cent baseless information." He said he had opposed the Dow project, which was in his constituency. He also flatly denied he had recommended any PR agency or specialist to Dow: "There is no question of advising Dow on hiring anyone or convincing anyone. I don't know any PR agency and never advised Dow on whom to hire."

Warkaris meet Pawar

As reported in the press at the time, Warkari leaders had made a representation to Union Minister for Agriculture Sharad Pawar on September 25, only to have their complaints brushed off by the Minister. But when the Warkaris publicly denounced Mr. Pawar and threatened protests against the October 2009 Commonwealth Youth Games in Pune, the senior Union Minister beat a swift retreat.

"Dow representatives" told the Mumbai Consulate officials that Mr. Pawar then instructed Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh to order a halt to the construction and appoint a commission to review the charges. This is what Mr. Deshmukh did.

The commission would be the second to enquire into Dow's Chakan facility; a first commission had already given it a clean chit.

"Dow representatives" further told the Consulate's officials that the Chief Minister also called Andrew Liveris, the global head of the company, "to reassure him about Dow's investments, and said the commission will take two months; Liveris, increasingly frustrated, told Deshmukh that it needs to take less than one month."

Maharashtra Chief Secretary Johnny Joseph did his bit too. He called Dow (the cable does not say who in Dow) "to express his support but asked for time to defuse the situation."

Dow CEO Ramesh Ramachandran told Consulate officials (the cable does not specify if they met him with Mr. Chitkara or separately) that the protestors were "seeking a 'buy-out' but have not ' internalised' yet that Dow will not pay." Mr. Ramachandran said the company was losing $250,000 a month.

The cable said "Dow representatives" (it is not clear if this reference throughout the cable is to Dow officials other than Mr. Ramachandran and Mr. Chitkara) had told Consulate officials that Dow "do not have infinite patience for the political and other problems faced by their business in India." The company could write off $15-20 million of its investment in the country so far, but feared it would face similar protests and harassment wherever it went, the cable noted.

As it turned out, the second commission cleared the Chakan project. But the protests continued and on September 10, 2010, Dow announced scrapping it. The company returned the land to the Maharashtra government, and said it would scout for an alternative location.

At about the same time its troubles in Chakan intensified in 2008, Dow's troubles with its Gujarat project came to a head. In April that year, Dow Europe GmbH and Gujarat Alkalis and Chemicals Ltd had signed an MoU for a joint venture but unexpectedly, this had to be put on hold.

At his September 25, 2008 meeting with officials of the Mumbai Consulate General, Mr. Chitkara said the investment needed approval from the Foreign Investment Promotion Board (FIPB), which it had expected because both the Gujarat government and the Union Finance Ministry supported the venture.

However, Dow had learnt that the Union Ministry of Chemicals and Fertilisers had put a hold on the project.

"According to Chitkara, however, when agents of Dow met with Union Chemical and Fertilizer Minister Ram Vilas Paswan, he demanded a large sum of money from the company before he would support the project. The company refused to pay and the investment remains on hold."

Paswan's denial

Asked by The Hindu about the allegation contained in the cable, Mr. Paswan said it was a "total lie." He said no one from Dow had even met him to discuss the matter. "If they are saying this, they are lying."

Mr. Paswan added: "The Dow company and Union Carbide are criminals in my mind and I strongly opposed their plans to establish a presence here. That is why they are trying to tarnish my image. The Commerce Ministry gave clearance for the [Gujarat] project without asking us. Our Ministry opposed this because the case of remediation costs for the Bhopal disaster was still unresolved."

Dow even took its case to the powerful Deputy Chairman of the Planning Commission, Montek Singh Ahluwalia. He offered them sympathy, "but [he was] unable to overcome this opposition."

Writing on the wall

The Mumbai Consulate was able to read the writing on the wall.

"Clearly," its confidential cable observed, "Dow has become an easy target for politicians seeking to exploit the company's situation, especially as state and national elections are just around the corner."

It commented that Maharashtra was run by "a coalition under a weak and ineffective Chief Minister" and the Dow case had presented to opposition politicians "a combination of issues close to the hearts of their voters: land, environment, livelihood, and religious devotion."

On the other hand, the Mumbai Consulate concluded, Dow just did not get it.

"In relying on the promises of protection of the state, Dow continues to underestimate the political ramifications of the company's connection to the legacy of Bhopal and Union Carbide."

But the story does not end here.

The Hindu forwarded two questions to the Dow Chemical Company through its Mumbai office.

The first question related to the privileged information provided by American sources that in September 2008, Mr. Chitkara met U.S. consulate officials in Mumbai and reported that the company had hired the public relations specialist whom Shivajirao Adhalaro Patil, MP, had recommended for $20,000 a month to deal with public protests against the proposed Pune project. So what was the name of the PR specialist and for how many months did Dow retain his or her services?

The second question related to information gained from the same sources that Mr. Chitkara had told them Dow was having trouble get FIPB clearance for an investment in a Gujarat state-owned company. What was the name of that company and was FIPB clearance eventually secured? If so when?

The written response from a Dow spokesperson was this: "Like all global companies, it is common for Dow leaders to meet with government leaders and officials wherever we do business and have plans to grow. It is also common for companies to discuss challenges and opportunities related to investment. This is an important part of doing business in any geography. The questions raised by you pertain to US Government's internal correspondence and should be directed to them."

It sounded very much like the good old runaround.

(With inputs from Meena Menon and Siddharth Varadarajan)

 

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')

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THE HINDU

WHEN NEW DELHI STOOD ITS GROUND

INDIA FOUGHT OFF U.S. PRESSURE TO ENDORSE 'REGIME CHANGE TO FIX HUMAN RIGHTS'

HASAN SUROOR

LONDON: India came under heavy pressure to sign up to the United States' confrontational human rights agenda but, in a rare act of defiance, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) stayed the course, saying "Washington cannot expect to enlist New Delhi on 'frontal' efforts like regime change to fix human rights problems.''

The U.S. Embassy in New Delhi was barely able to suppress its fury. It commented in a cable to Washington that a "true change'' in India's policy on "human rights at the tactical level may have to wait until more of the Indian Foreign Service's NAM-nostalgic cadres retire."

The rift, which related to the powers of the newly created United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), is reported in a U.S. diplomatic cable accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks.

Reporting a meeting between U.S. diplomats and a senior MEA official, a cable dated March 31, 2006 ( 58912: confidential), sent under the name of Ambassador David Mulford, said: "MEA's UN Joint Secretary Manjiv Puri was sanguine about the as-yet unaddressed flaws in the new Human Rights Council, arguing that the need to stand for election in the General Assembly would bar the worst human rights violators from the Council."

The 47-member Council, which replaced the Human Rights Commission, was established through a UN General Assembly resolution adopted with overwhelming majority on March 15, 2006. The U.S. was the only major power which — along with Israel, the Marshall Islands and Palau — voted against it. The U.S. wanted countries which, in its opinion, did not have a good human rights record to be excluded from the Council's membership.

Even after the creation of the Council, the U.S. continued to push for an aggressive "country-specific" approach to promoting human rights. But India took the position that "engagement,'' "assistance'' and "advice" constituted a better option.

The cable said: "The GOI is comfortable promoting human rights around the globe, Puri said, but Washington cannot expect to enlist New Delhi on 'frontal' efforts like regime change to fix human rights problems. India prefers to offer assistance, advice, and example to promote human rights, he explained, arguing that Pakistan, for example, is forced to defend human rights because the world community compares Pakistan to India's example."

Mr. Puri made clear that India and the U.S. had "different approaches to promoting country-specific human rights," and questioned whether passing a resolution against a country would achieve much.

"In some circumstances, 'what does passing a resolution do,' he wondered, arguing that engagement and hoping that democracy will 'rub off' is a better strategy in the long run," the cable said.

It was signed off with the comment: "Although the senior leadership in New Delhi has made progress over the past two years in being willing actively and publicly to promote democracy, the Foreign Ministry's allergy to country-specific resolutions is proving resilient. It is unfortunate that New Delhi's positive statements to us on the HRC have been tarnished by its New York Ambassador's NAM-centric statement on the vote. A true change of course on human rights at the tactical level may have to wait until more of the Indian Foreign Service's NAM-nostalgic cadres retire.''

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')

 

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THE HINDU

MOVING GLOBALLY AGAINST THE TIGERS

K. VENKATARAMANAN

 

Two international 'contact groups' to check fund-raising and arms purchases by the LTTE were initiated by the U.S.

CHENNAI: Concerted international action to curb fund-raising and weapons procurement by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) started in the first half of 2006, around the time Sri Lanka's fragile ceasefire broke down and an all-out war started. It was the United States that unveiled and initiated the plan to create two international 'contact groups', one each to move against fund-raising and weapons procurement by the LTTE.

U.S. Embassy cables accessed by The Hindu through WikiLeaks reveal that Sri Lanka was excited about the proposal and wanted to bring India on board to operationalise the contact groups. The Americans believed that India "was on the same page" as them on what to do about the stalled peace process — "getting the President [Mahinda Rajapaksa] to fill in the details of a political solution to deflate LTTE claims that the GOSL [Government of Sri Lanka] was ignoring Tamil aspirations — and working to cut off LTTE access to weapons and money."

These were the words in a cable sent to the State Department under the name of U.S. Ambassador in Colombo Jeffrey J. Lunstead on May 3, 2006, eight days after the LTTE tried to assassinate Sri Lankan Army Commander Sarath Fonseka ( 62637: confidential).

Over the next couple of months, there are repeated references in cables to the 'contact groups.' Their composition is revealed in an Aide Memoire that Sri Lanka submitted to the U.S. in August 2006. Despite indications in cables that date back to June that year that India was quite happy with the idea of the contact groups, Sri Lanka requested in the Aide Memoire for U.S. help to put pressure on India to get on board the international plan to rein in Tiger finances and arms purchases.

The Aide Memoire, quoted in full in an August 21, 2006 cable sent from the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi, discloses the composition of the contact groups for the first time: representatives of Australia, Belgium, Canada, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Switzerland, Thailand, the United Kingdom and the United States ( 75589: confiden tial ).

The May 3 cable recounts an interaction between the U.S. Political Officer in Colombo and India's First Secretary Amandeep Singh Gill. It is clear that India was pushing Sri Lanka to come out with a political solution, but had made little headway in its efforts.

On June 12, the Acting Political Counselor in the U.S. Embassy in New Delhi met Mohan Kumar, Joint Secretary (Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Myanmar) in the Ministry of External Affairs, to deliver a demarche, presumably containing the action plan on the contact groups. A cable, sent on the same day, said: "Kumar said he had 'previously discussed the idea with [Foreign Secretary] Saran', and thought it made sense to have two distinct contact groups to examine LTTE fundraising and arms procurement." ( 67636: confidential). It was signed by Ambassador David Mulford.

Mr. Kumar wanted Canada to be included in the contact group dealing with terror-financing, but did not have any additional comments regarding the group's composition. The cable recounted an earlier conversation with an American representative in which he had suggested involving South-East Asian states such as Thailand and Malaysia to restrict arms flows, "and therefore [he] was pleased at the proposed composition of the weapons procurement contact group."

On June 20, Mr. Lunstead called on his Indian counterpart, Nirupama Rao, in Colombo to discuss the possibility of a joint demarche by India and the U.S., and the plan to form contact groups. "Rao thought this was a good idea," Mr. Lunstead said in a cable to the State Department on June 21 ( 68835: confidential). Ms. Rao was not "encouraging" on the idea of a joint demarche.

In New Delhi on June 22, S. Jaishankar, Joint Secretary (Americas) at the MEA, called the Acting Political Counselor in the U.S. Embassy "to relay the considered Indian response" that it favoured parallel demarches to Sri Lanka instead of a joint demarche because it would have a "better impact." Mr. Mulford said in a cable sent the same day: "India was amenable to coordinating messages prior to delivery." ( 69020: confidential).

Foreign Secretary Shyam Saran visited Colombo in the first week of July. Later that month, the Sri Lankan Army formally crossed the ceasefire line to free a reservoir that the LTTE had shut down and refused to reopen, marking the beginning of a prolonged military operation that culminated in the liberation of the eastern region in 2008. Even during this phase, India was pushing for a political solution. This was the theme of an August 18, 2006 cable from the U.S. Embassy in Delhi ( 75386: confidential).

Small wonder, then, that Sabarullah Khan, the Sri Lankan Deputy High Commissioner in New Delhi, submitted an Aide Memoire to the Acting Political Counselor in the U.S. Embassy. "Khan said that the GOSL is pressing the Indians to come up with more concrete plans for resolution of the ongoing conflict and more movement on the contact groups concept."

And Mr. Khan added: "…the Government of Sri Lanka would greatly value the support of the Government of India for the initiative taken by the State Department of United States and the comprehensive participation of India in the work of the two Contact Groups" ( 75589: confidential, dated August 21, 2006, also cited above).

(This article is a part of the series "The India Cables" based on the US diplomatic cables accessed by The Hindu via Wikileaks.')

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THE ASIAN AGE

EDITORIAL

GOOD START TO PM'S BID TO RESET PAK TIES

When Indians and Pakistanis meet at any level, the camaraderie is spontaneous, thanks to the heritage and traditional values we share. There was then no question that the informal summit between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani at Mohali on Wednesday would be imbued with warmth, past troubles notwithstanding. It is just as well that there were little expectations as such — that might have ruined things, for there are unanswered questions regarding 26/11 lying with Islamabad.

The invitation was spontaneous from the Indian side, and its acceptance gracious on Pakistan's part. There was no pressure of outcomes: conversations at the top were loosely choreographed and spontaneous to the extent such events can be. But make no mistake. The Indian ruling establishment lent its weight to the PM's initiative. Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul, the party's rising star and probable future Prime Minister, were with the Pakistani leader on the cricket ground, as were several top Indian dignitaries. This is in stark contrast with the time two-and-a-half years ago when Dr Singh's forward stance at Sharm el-Sheikh had gone half cock, with the Congress sinking in its cups.

This is the significant change that marks the Indian stand regarding Pakistan. Its meaning is that Dr Singh and the UPA-2 will give full backing to the civilian leadership in Islamabad. There is an implied recognition — which the Indians have been careful not to make explicit for fear of raising questions domestically — that Pakistan's civilian government is, really speaking, powerless to decide whether to be of assistance to India on 26/11 or not. In the short term, New Delhi's decision is, therefore, to sidestep that question as much as feasible, and move on to explore if cooperation is possible in other areas. Whether any of this impresses the Pakistani military leadership — the people who really count on the other side of the border — is a moot question. The hope in New Delhi is, however, that the people of Pakistan would be favourably inclined toward India's new approach. This is not an unrealistic expectation, but a caveat should be entered. Civil society in Pakistan has been pushed back by the extremists who are running amuck in the public space, as the aftermath of the recent assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti showed. The Western friends of both India and Pakistan will, nevertheless, probably approve of the Mohali interlude. In Kashmir too, the Prime Minister's initiative should go down well, though politicians there are known to be mealy-mouthed and prone to conceal what they wish to say.

In a sense, Dr Singh seems to be attempting a return to the phase before Kargil when Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had sought to open up the people-level frontier, and the response from the Pakistani people was not lukewarm. The Indian group that Dr Singh invited to dinner with his Pakistani guest in Mohali included Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar, agriculture minister Sharad Pawar and Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia. This speaks of a certain outlook in pushing "cooperative solutions" at the popular level, to use Dr Singh's own description. Not losing sight of reality, the Prime Minister, according to a briefing by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, "reiterated the need for an atmosphere free of violence and terror in order to enable the true normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan". This is the fly in the ointment. This is the factor that has upset the applecart before. If the Zardari-Gilani dispensation in Pakistan (or any other civilians) does not show the capacity to exert itself in this direction, the dreams can be interrupted by a rude awakening.

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

THE WIKI-TRICK

SHASHI THAROOR

The parliamentary furore over WikiLeaks has died down, but not without leaving some questions in the minds of those unversed in diplomatic practice. The huge fuss made by Opposition parties over one particular cable, dated July 17, 2008, from US charge d'affaires Steven White to the US state department (162458: secret) — which reports allegations of funds stashed to facilitate vote-buying before that month's confidence vote in the then United Progressive Alliance government — raises questions about the significance of such communications in international diplomacy, and how much we should make of it all.

The fact is that cables are only one form of reporting from an embassy to its capital. Information is also conveyed through other means — emails, both encrypted and ordinary; and telephone calls, on secure lines or tappable ones. So on any subject, a leaked cable represents only a part of the communications likely to have been used and cannot convey a complete picture of the embassy's view of any particular issue.
In addition, the headquarters at the capital has other sources of information to complement its embassy's communications — notes of conversations with visiting officials, assessments obtained from third countries, intelligence evaluations and files of previous correspondence. Cumulatively, that makes the cable's rendering a very partial one indeed.

The problem with WikiLeaks is compounded by the impossibility of knowing how complete the leakage is. Do we have every cable sent by a particular embassy on a specific subject? Might there have been others, even on the same day, that haven't been leaked? Are these cables even complete in themselves or have they been edited or trimmed? And what about the "redactions" that WikiLeaks managers have done, which may have omitted crucial names or identities that would enable us to judge the worth of the analyses contained therein?
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was excoriated by the Opposition for telling Parliament that the government of India could not confirm the "veracity, contents or even existence of such communications". Strictly speaking, though, he was right. Not even the state department has officially confirmed the authenticity of the leaked cables. But even if they are, as most people assume, authentic, they are clearly selective and incomplete.
As one who has seen (and drafted) rather a large number of cables in the course of a three-decade United Nations career, I am only too aware of their entertainment value, as well as of their limitations as a source. American diplomatic cables are often famously gossipy and speculative. As a glance through some of the WikiLeaks trove will confirm, US diplomats will take you out to lunch and derive a cable from your chatter; they will attend a seminar with three retired ambassadors and pen an analysis of the "considered views" of "the Indian strategic community"; they will pick up party gossip and report is as unverified fact. In the case of the White cable so extensively quoted by both the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the allegations were reported by an unidentified embassy staffer to the political counsellor, who put them in the charge's cable — in other words, it was reported speech of reported speech, hardly a worthwhile basis for a major controversy in our national Parliament.

Other embassies resort to the same or similar practices. Indeed, since these cables are not intended for publication, but are meant to be read by a limited audience with access to multiple sources of other context-enhancing information, they rarely need the kind of verification or fact-checking that a simple newspaper article would require before going to print. To treat them as anything more than they are, as our Opposition absurdly did, is to grant US diplomatic reporting an assumption of infallibility that a devout Catholic would blush to ascribe to the Pope.

And then, isn't it touching that our notoriously devious political class assumes that everything spoken by an Indian to a US official must be true? Has no Indian ever lied to a foreigner before, or simply said things for effect? Or even spoken in a certain way to tempt the listening American into an indiscretion?
When WikiLeaks first burst upon an unsuspecting world late last year, an opinion writer in the respected technology website DigitalJournal.com scathingly wrote that it "constitutes a needless and irresponsible act of mindless trouble-making and mayhem-sowing which (will only) please those who seek to create chaos". He could have been anticipating the shenanigans in our Parliament in late March.

At about the same time, I told an Indian interviewer, in a statement that had me pummelled on every youthful commentator's website, that WikiLeaks was irresponsible and unethical. I argued that, just as in our daily lives we will occasionally say things to people (both positive, for example, flattery, or negative, for example, criticism) that we would not want others to overhear or repeat in public, so too countries had the right, and indeed the need, to convey opinions or assessments to each other that they would not wish to share with the world. Statements made under the assumption of confidentiality are not intended to be revealed for the delectation of a prurient public unaware of the context or the background. To reveal them carelessly in such a way is to interfere with the effective conduct of international diplomacy, which ultimately keeps our global relationships moving smoothly. Governments need confidentiality in order to conduct their daily business. Indeed, confidentiality oils the gearboxes of inter-governmental relations. A world in which no government could speak frankly to another for fear of its secrets being broadcast to others would not be a safer world as fans of WikiLeaks naively argued, but a more dangerous one.

One of the famous clichés about India related to the almost mythical Indian rope-trick, in which a curled rope on the ground mysteriously uncoiled itself to stand erect, allowing a boy to climb it. WikiLeaks led our Opposition to perform a parliamentary version of an Indian rope-trick — they climbed up their own premises without visible means of support till their arguments vanished into thin air. Unlike the rope-trick of legend, this was not a pretty sight. Let us hope we never have to witness it again.

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

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THE ASIAN AGE

OPINION

KEEPING THE STRIPES ON THE TIGER

MAHESH RANGARAJAN

News of the new tiger estimation in India, the last stronghold of the great cat, has brought some relief. The numbers are up, though better methods and techniques may have helped. Paradoxically, the same survey shows a shrinkage of the habitat needed to sustain wild populations of the tiger with prey and cover intact.
In a sense the latter matters more than mere numbers. It is easy to ignore but vital to recall that stable breeding populations of a species in secure habitats are more important than absolute numbers.

It matters less that there are around 1,700 tigers and not 1,400 as of four years ago. It matters more that a fair number are in contiguous tracts where they can live, breed and hunt unimpeded.

Ecologists and scientists, policymakers and citizens alike will debate the fate of the tiger with more abandon now that the results are in. It is sobering to think of the sheer effort that governments put into attempting the reverse of what they are now trying to do. For decades under the Raj, a lot of time, effort and energy went into wiping out large wild animals.

Conflicts with carnivores were not new. Tigers, or for that matter lions or wolves, do prey on domestic livestock. Akbar hunted and killed a tigress with white tiger cubs, the first such recorded instance. Rani Durgavati of central India was renowned for tracking and hunting down tigers that ate humans.
But it was in the aftermath of the Revolt of 1857, to help pacify and control the countryside in general, and forest areas in particular, that rewards were distributed across British India. The aim was simple: to give incentives to kill as many "dangerous beasts" as possible. Proof of a kill led to cash rewards, with larger bounties for females and cubs.

Such antipathy was not new. The tiger had long been seen by the British in India as symbolic of a savage and untamed tropical nature that defied the divine order of things. Writing the same year the Company forces routed the Nawab of Bengal at Palashi (Plassey) in 1757, Edmund Burke had intoned how "the prodigious strength" of the striped cat was mainly "for purposes of rapine and destruction".

The numbers are proof enough of the spread and earlier abundance in many areas of large wild vertebrates. Over a 50-year period ending 1925, an average of 1,600 tigers, tigresses and cubs were killed every year. It was around the time its number declined that the big cat won advocates who urged restraint on its massacre.
This was also a time of intense conflict between humans and wild animals as roughly 1,500 people a year, and a much larger number of cattle, were prey for tigers. The fatalities on either side were not evenly distributed across the empire but varied in time, place, and even season. But for long such war on the tiger was seen as making the countryside safe for human habitation.

Tigers were not shot as often as trapped, snared or poisoned. Shooting required quality weapons and here the civil and military officers, as well as the princes, chipped in. Record numbers ended up as trophies, each large beast carefully measured and weighed, with its skin often becoming a rug.
This thirst for trophies could lead elite hunters to amass great "bags".

The record is held by the late Ramanuj Saran Singh Deo of Sarguja who shot 1,157 tigers. For good measure His Highness also "took" 2,000 leopards.
The skins were status symbols. A couplet early in the last century put it aptly, if in a sexist way. "Would you like to sin with Elinor Glynn/ on a tiger skin/ or would you rather prefer her on some other kind of fur?"
If for much of the Raj era the conquest of the tiger was an affirmation of imperium, its revival would be part of a national effort to recuperate a heritage for the nation. Despite flaws, it is easy to forget that India (like Nepal) was an early trendsetter among Asian nations.
The Soviet Union alone was ahead of the South Asians in protecting its tigers, but not so the East Asian countries or China.
Yet the tiger is not alone. Nor should or can it be. The Indian effort from 1973 on was to see it as the "apex of the ecological pyramid".
It would be a guardian of order in the monsoon forest, a flagship that would rally attempts to protect ecosystems in situ in their entirety.
Such long history of direct conflict was accompanied by indirect contests for living space. The latter have now quickened. Mines and canals, cultivated, arable lands and townships transform the landscape.
True, they will endure in only a fraction of the entire landscape but how that fraction is set aside will test our ability to manage the land itself.
Ending the war on the tiger was easier. But can we craft a durable peace?
Keeping the stripes on the tiger may be a lot tougher than wiping it off the face of the earth.

Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

GAME LOST HEARTS WON

 

The mega thrill of Indo-Pak cricket semi-final at Mohali ended in Pakistan losing the game. But the spirit in which the match was played, the dressing of Indo-Pak politics that it wore and the presence of top dignitaries from both sides at the match, all will make this Indo-Pak sports encounter historical and memorable. For long, the event will be remembered in the history of Indian cricket. For full one day attention of nearly 1.30 billion people of the two countries was focused on twin objects, cricket and Indo-Pak relations. What was happening on the cricket ground was visible as well as audible to them through powerful electronic media. But what was transpiring between the two Prime Ministers who were conversing with each other while watching the game and eating the food will remain confined to the domain of conjecture. At the end of the event, in all probability, the Indian Prime Minister may have, in a lighter mood, quipped to his counterpart," Well Mr. Gilani, you may have lost the game but you have won the hearts." If the two countries can reach each other's heart it is an achievement. Pakistani PM extended invitation to the Indian PM for a reciprocal visit to Pakistan. Speaker of the Parliament and Chairman of Rajya Sabha, both extended invitations to their Pakistani counterparts to pay them formal visits at their convenience. These goodwill visits are part of confidence building measures. It reflects India wanting to come out of 26/11 mindset and move forward in the direction of lasting peace and friendship with the western neighbour. The fact that Pakistani Prime Minister accepted the invitation of his Indian counterpart and came to Mohali with a team of his colleagues at cabinet level is an indication of change of winds in our relationship. For long, India has been wishing that democratic forces demonstrate assertion over Pakistan's internal politics. A democratic Pakistan is not only a boon for her own people but also a source and inspiration of stability in entire South Asian region. Perhaps this realization has made strong impression on America's policy planners on Pakistan.


The PPP-headed coalition government in Pakistan seems to have reoriented the entire gamut of interaction between the Pakistan Army and the representative government. A significant change in traditional response to Indian demands in the context of terrorist attacks on Mumbai and even reversal of stance in some cases as was reflected in the joint communiqué of two home secretaries bears passive imprints of persuasions of Washington policy planners on the sub-continent. Washington seems to have realized that the success of democratic initiatives in Pakistan is closely linked to constructive Indo-Pak relationship. This could have led to softening of Pak Army's pro-active stance in regard to India. Pakistan's representative government soft played the game, and offered olive branch to the Army in the shape of extension in the services of the chiefs of the Army and the ISI. Having neutralized the representative government-Army spat in Islamabad, Washington expects restart of composite Indo-Pak dialogue on all outstanding but particularly Kashmir-centric issues. Even for this the roadmap for bilateral dialogue seems to have been drawn with a strong sense of objectivity. Besides starting a dialogue with separatists, emphasizing a political solution, reorienting the security apparatus with the J&K police as its public face, and continuing with generous development funding in the state, there are many more confidence building measures that could be taken up. Some of these are low hanging fruit that could be implemented quickly without any big political or security implications. Others could be the subject of New Delhi-separatist negotiations. Still others, such as cross-border travel and trade must wait for the Delhi-Islamabad composite dialogue to resume since they require Pakistani involvement. This process has had a good start with home secretary level engagement. The following is a list, illustrative rather than exhaustive, of the kind of confidence building measures that New Delhi might play with in its Kashmir initiative in days to come: Ensure that dialogue with separatists achieves results; continue generous development spending; conduct panchayat elections at the earliest; release selected prisoners who are not hardcore militants; release prisoners who have been incarcerated longer than the court-directed sentences; discontinue the practice of re-arresting accused militants who have been released by courts; stop the misuse of the Public Safety Act (PSA); selectively repeal or be more judicious in use of Armed Forces Special Power Act and the Disturbed Areas Act; prosecute transparently and publicly security force personnel involved in human rights violations; relocate security forces camps out of public places; gradual pullback and pullout of the paramilitary and Army from visibility in the day to day life of Kashmiris; replacement of the paramilitary and Army by the J&K police; empower the state Human Rights Commission so that it can make transparent inquiries and achieve some tangible results; stop the continued harassment of released/surrendered militants and their families; loosen further travel controls on separatist leaders; they could be given passports and exit permission that are less time and country specific; make the bus links across the line of control more traveler friendly and ease travel restrictions on cross border travel; increase the number of transit points; open telephone lines across the LOC between PoK and Jammu and Kashmir; encourage separatists to participate in future elections by providing them incentives - funding, security, press coverage; strengthen civil society by making it easier for NGOs to operate. New Delhi is fully aware of these and other steps it could take and is carefully picking and choosing what is politically possible for it today. In order for New Delhi's efforts to restore sustainable peace and stability in Kashmir to succeed, its engagement with the separatists and with the Kashmiri people must be free of any perception of outside influence.


Although international attention is diverted to the democratic movement in the Middle East, yet political punditry shows little interest in linking Kashmir case with the situation in the Middle East for obvious reasons. It would be desirable if the change of strategy in entire Middle East could necessitate re-thinking on local level in Kashmir. After all, it is no mean a change from religion-oriented politics of the conservatives to pure political and economic concerns for the future generations in Middle East countries. Separatist and dissenting leadership should be provided opportunity of visiting some of the Middle East countries and meet their leaders for clarification of the objectives of their movements. If the Hurriyat is consider it in their interests to maintain liaison with Pakistan, they should equally be interested in establishing links with the leadership of democratic movements in affected countries of the Middle East.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

CRICKET FEVER GRIPS COUNTRY

ON THE SPOT

BY TAVLEEN SINGH

 

The only thing worse than writing a political column in the week of the India-Pakistan match is writing it before knowing whether India won or lost. My deadline could not have come at a worse moment. It was at the very start of the match, early afternoon on Wednesday, because one of the newspapers that this column goes to uses it the next day. What was there to write about? What could there possibly be to write about except a cricket match that so overwhelmed life as we know it on the Indian sub-continent that it is as if the only thing happening in the world at the moment is the match in Mohali.


Every newspaper in the country has had cricket as front page news ever since the World Cup began. And, when it came to an India-Pakistan semi final even the financial papers were carrying huge stories across their front pages as if the match were more important than the stock market. Every news channel I turned to has bombarded me, ad nauseum, with the opinions of cricketers. If I have turned to an entertainment programme for some light relief I got only more cricket news with details of the movie stars who headed for Mohali. Twitter was filled with tweets from political journalists who talked only of cricket and every businessman I know was plotting ways of taking time off to watch the match in Mohali and the finals in Mumbai.


It was only when I read the New York Times, on line, that I noticed that there were other things happening in the world. In Japan there is highly irradiated water leaking into the ocean from the damaged Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant. In Libya the bombing by American and NATO fighter jets continues in the hope of ousting yet another Arab dictator. And, President Obama made a speech defending this new war of necessity.
But, these things are meaningless in India at the moment so I am forced this week to write about cricket and not politics. I am no aficionado but admit to having an accidental association with the game which, if nothing else, makes a good story for this column in a week that I have no choice but to write about cricket. It happens that during the dark days of the Emergency when all we could talk about in Delhi was politics there was a moment of light relief provided by the arrival of several Pakistani cricketers for a benefit match given for Abbas Ali Baig. As someone who had never followed cricket I did not know who they were but at a Delhi dinner party happened to meet Imran Khan who was so good looking in those days that every woman in the room was openly swooning over him. At some point in the evening we were introduced and took an instant liking to each other so when he went back to Pakistan and then on to England to play county cricket we exchanged post cards at regular intervals.


Then, in 1978 came the news that a Pakistani cricket team was going to tour India for the first time in nearly twenty years. At the time I was writing for Sunday magazine (now long dead) which was edited by M.J. Akbar. One afternoon in the office when everyone was gossiping excitedly about the impending arrival of the Pakistani cricket team I overheard Akbar saying that he would love to publish an interview with Imran Khan as the sex symbol of the sub-continent. I told him that I knew him a bit and was sure that an interview could be arranged. So when Imran arrived in Delhi I mentioned to him that I wanted to do an interview with him as the sub-continent's latest sex symbol. I think he thought I was joking but agreed to an interview. So with Javed Miandad listening in I did an interview with him in which I asked him more questions about being a sex symbol than about cricket. He laughed at the questions but answered them as if it were not a real interview.
Later, that evening I went with him and some other members of the Pakistani cricket team to a nightclub in Delhi. I noticed that they seemed to be having a lot of fun on their short vacation from Zia ul Haq's Islamic dictatorship next door so I did a story to go with Imran's interview which appeared under the title, 'Night Cricket for the Pakistanis'. When the magazine sold out within moments of hitting the stands Akbar came up with the eccentric idea that I should cover the rest of the Pakistani tour as well and write about the extra-curricular activities that I observed. So I followed the tour to Bangalore and Bombay (not Mumbai yet) and went to a lot of parties and met a lot of glamorous movie stars and saw how women, young and old, threw themselves at Imran and wrote about these things in the stories I filed for Sunday magazine. In Bangalore I sat with Asif Iqbal as he relaxed in the evenings by listening to Begum Akhtar on his tape recorder and I had dinner with a famous cricket commentator called Dicky Bird. In Bombay I went to parties attended by famous Bollywood stars and saw how the wives of Pakistan's cricketers swooned over Amitabh Bachchan and it was all a lot of fun but by the end of the tour I still knew as much about cricket as I did before the tour began and still found test matches long and dull.


Then came shortened versions of the game and I acquired a new interest in it. I love the IPL matches and hope that they continue to happen despite the dismissal and hounding of Lalit Modi. And, I confess that I have enjoyed this World Cup as much as anyone else has but my interest has been limited to matches in which India played. Of these there is no doubt that the one in Mohali has been more exciting than any other. From the perspective of a political columnist though I must add that I think the involvement of senior politicians in cricket is wrong and should stop as should the practice of handing out half the tickets in the stadium to officials and their friends and family. Why are these things allowed? Why should politicians and bureaucrats have anything to do with cricket? Throw them out is my humble advice.

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

SUSTAINABLE GROWTH OF MICRO

AND SMALL ENTERPRISES

BY SANJEEV CHAWLA

 

Clusters are regional agglomerations of Micro and Small Enterprises including other stakeholders, having common challenges, common bottlenecks, common opportunities, common developmental agenda, in a specific area of business activity, related to each other through knowledge & other economic linkages. The Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSME), has adopted the cluster development approach as a key strategy for enhancing the productivity and competitiveness as well as capacity building of Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) and their collectives in the country. The cluster development initiatives have evolved over a period of time and are now being implemented under "Micro and Small Enterprises – Cluster Development Programme" (MSE-CDP) scheme.


The MSME sector has been recognized as the engine for growth in India. As per statistics compiled by International Monetary Fund (IMF), the Gross Domestic Product [based on purchasing-power-parity (PPP)] of India is 3,862.009 billion (Current international) dollars in 2010. The Indian MSME sector contributes 8% of the country's GDP, 45% of the manufactured output and 40% of its exports. The MSMEs provide employment to about 60 million persons through 26 million enterprises. Therefore, at 8% contribution in the GDP, the contribution of MSME sector is 308.96 billion dollars. Keeping in view the huge contribution of the sector and its growth rate which is higher than the overall industrial growth rate, there is a need to complement the efforts of the sector by policy support, advisory and extension services including setting up of specialized knowledge and innovation based institutions in collaboration with private sector.


The intent of the cluster development programme is that a critical mass of Micro and Small Enterprises (MSEs) join hands under the umbrella of a formal entity called cluster led by a group of beneficiaries (Special Purpose Vehicle) and pursue various programmes for training, exposure, business development, advisory, advocacy, setting up Common Facility Centres (Common Design Centres, Testing Facilities, Training Centres, Processing Centers for critical operations, R&D Centres, Common Raw Material Banks, Effluent Treatment Plants, etc.), infrastructure development for the benefit of all the units of the cluster. Cluster related policy, support and developmental interventions have a significant impact on the functioning of local industrial milieu and as well as on macro level.


The Micro and Small units are generally not in a position to install costly machinery for their critical operations, accept large orders, or infuse large capital due to their limited capital base and limited domain expertise. However, collectively through cluster development approach, the micro and small enterprises can attain the desired goal of being competitive in the present global scenario. The Cluster Development approach has proved to be a successful tool and played an important role in enhancing the competitiveness of the MSE sector in India. Apart from the benefits of deployment of resources and economy of scales, the cluster development approach helps in weaving the fabric of networking, cooperation and togetherness in the industry, and thus enabling the industry to achieve competitiveness in the long run. Cluster Development Approach is the answer of the Micro and Small Enterprises to the large scale sector of the country and the world. Cluster development approach should be part of the business strategy. This approach is the need of the hour and is relevant to the requirements of Micro and Small Enterprises. Upgradation of MSE sector also benefit the large scale sector by supplying good quality products at competitive rates to the bigger/mother units.


Under MSE-CDP, financial assistance is provided for preparation of Diagnostic Study Report with a maximum grant of Rs 2.50 lakh, 75% of the sanctioned amount of the maximum project cost of Rs 25.00 lakh per cluster [90% for NE & Hill States, Clusters with more than 50% (a) micro/ village (b) women owned (c) SC/ST units] for Soft Interventions like training, exposure, technology upgradation, brand equity, business development, etc, upto Rs.5.00 lakh for preparation of Detailed Project Report (DPR), 70% of the cost of project of maximum Rs 15.00 crore for Common Facility Centre [90% for NE & Hill States, Clusters with more than 50% (a) micro/ village (b) women owned (c) SC/ST units], 60% of the cost of project of Rs 10.00 crore, excluding cost of land for Infrastructure Development [80% for NE & Hill States, industrial areas/ estates with more than 50% (a) micro (b) women owned (c) SC/ST units].


The confidence building and trust building are two main pillars of building up cluster development initiatives. The initial apprehensions amongst the cluster actors about hijacking of the ideas and business opportunities get attenuated over a period of time with the confidence and trust building measures which must be integral part of the cluster development. In the present scenario of knowledge based economy, formation of consortia, self help groups, dynamic associations may yield benefits for perusing issue-based strategic interventions in the industrial clusters.


The cluster development approach and philosophy should take the industry into the realms of competitiveness. This is the only tool available to the micro and small enterprises to take on the onslaught of competitive marketing strategy of large scale sector. Keeping in view the importance and relevance of the cluster development methodology, a lot of departments and Ministries have launched various formats of cluster development programs. Though most of the programmes are sector specific, the MSE-CDP scheme addresses all the sectors of MSE clusters across the country. Nonetheless, there is a need to synchronize/ dovetail the interventions/schemes of various ministries/departments, private sector agencies, international/ multilateral agencies for synergizing the efforts and to achieve visible impact. The various schemes can be complemented to support the efforts and thus achieve multiplied tangible results. After launching of the cluster mode schemes, the Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, has undertaken cluster development initiatives (diagnostic studies, soft interventions and common facility centers) in more than 470 clusters across 28 states and one UT (Delhi) in the country, under MSE-CDP scheme. Moreover, 124 proposals (including 29 for upgradation of existing industrial estates) have been for taken up for infrastructure development in various industrial estates/ industrial areas. 10972 plots have been allotted to small and tiny units in these projects. 37555 employment generation has been achieved.


The guidelines of the MSE-CDP were revised in February 2010 with enhanced funding and simplification of procedures. With increasing awareness among various stakeholders including State Governments, the scheme is poised for a big leap in the near future. In the next financial year, 60 clusters will be undertaken for soft interventions including diagnostic study. 12 new infrastructure development and 8 new Common Facility center project will also be covered, apart from continuing support to the ongoing projects. (PIB)
(The author is Deputy Director, Office of Development Commissioner (MSME), New Delhi).

 

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DAILY EXCELSIOR

EDITORIAL

FOODGRAIN PRODUCTION IN INDIA

BY ARABINDA GHOSE

 

The current year's prolonged winter and occasional light rains, particularly in north-west India promises not only about 84 plus million tonnes of wheat to be harvested next month, and may even result in production of 100 million plus tonnes of rice this year, again an all time high.
Since both wheat and winter rice are yet to be harvested, it is somewhat early to make an accurate estimate of the production figures. However, a recent statement by members of the Prime Minister's Economic Advisory Council that the actual production of food grains during the year so far – prior to rabi (winter) harvest due next month - would be of the order of 230 to 234 million tonnes, indicates that better good news on the production front is in the offing by the end of April when wheat. Mustard seed and gram will be harvested along with some coarse grains.
Actually, during the course of 2010, the prospects had become very bright and an estimate of 244.50 million tones was made for the crop year 2010-11 (July to June).However, some States such as Bihar, Jharkhand, West Bengal and Orissa had suffered drought. Later, during the post- monsoon period, untimely rains and flood had adversely affected the prospect of good kharif (summer) harvest, limiting the production to not more than 114.63 million tonnes which is now estimated to be the summer harvest.
Even then, reports from some States not affected by the drought indicate real bumper harvests during the rabi season. Madhya Pradesh is expecting the never before good wheat harvest which may be of the order of 8 million tones or even more. The reports from north-west India, the producer of the largest volumes of wheat, have not indicated any adverse conditions of the crops.
These conditions embolden one to speculate that the high target set for harvest for the year 2010-11 – 244.50 million tonnes many not be a farfetched ambition India's best food grains production record has been in 2008-09 when the record was set at 234.47 million tonnes. A remarkable feature of that year was the production of over 99.18 million tonnes of rice, slightly less than 100 million tones. It is almost certain that this year rice harvest, after the winter crops pf "boro" in eastern India and the samba in Tamilnadu are harvested, Indian farmers and farm scientists will be able to celebrate the production of 100 million tonnes of rice in one year.
As already mentioned, wheat production too will be the highest ever, nearly 85 million tonnes, indicating the success of the Directorate of Wheat Research, Karnal, an institute of the Indian Council of Agriculture research, aiming to produce 109 million tonnes by the year 2020 with a productivity of 8 tonnes per hectare. A similar Directorate of Rice Research, Rajendranagar, Secunderabad is aiming at producing 125 million tonnes by 2025.
The success of the country in raising the production of food grains to dizzy heights, so to say, is entirely owning to the farmers on the one hand and farm scientists on the other. Improved seeds, new techniques of irrigation such as planting crops on "ridges" in fields and getting irrigation water flow in the space between the two "hills" has resulted in economy in water input, thus lowering the cost of production.
Sufficient and easy availability of fertilisers and pesticides have also helped matters. More importantly, the Union Government had taken more than casual interest in agricultural production and productivity. One example announced by the Finance Minister last year was allotment of Rs.4000 crores to "extend the green revolution in eastern States such as Eastern Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Orissa. There was also a decision than in order to increase the production of pulses, 60,000 pulse villages would be chosen for financial assistance for growing pulses.
Although the success in agricultural production was not very spectacular during the kharif season because of the drought and the floods (in Andhra Pradesh), the prolonged winter and relative absence of past and insect attacks have helped higher productivity of not only wheat, but also pulses and some coarse cereals.
As has been stated earlier, the production of rice this year is set to touch the 100 million tonne mark for the first time in the history of India. This is a spectacular success because in 2008, this figure was missed by less than one million tonnes. The production then was 99.16 million tonnes.
Wheat is steadily on the path of enhanced production and the "super wheat" variety being developed by the Directorate of Wheat Research will soon raise the production from about 85 mt this year to 100 mt by 2015 or so. Well, while all these are happy tidings, India should not forget that at least 20 to 30 million Indians still go to bed hungry every night. Secondly, the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations have repeatedly issued warnings to Government that the food shortage have reached unacceptable levels in many countries. In fact, "unacceptable" shortages have been reported from the United States too. (NPA)

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

KUDOS TO THE MOHALI SPIRIT

INDO-PAK RECONCILIATION MUST ROLL ON

 

It is a matter of both elation and relief that the momentous Indo-Pak battle in the semi-finals of the cricket World Cup in Mohali has ended with the spirit of sportsmanship triumphing over jingoism and crass show of malice. India may have won the titanic battle on the ground but both on and off the field it was bonhomie and goodwill all the way.

 

When there is such an overdose of pre-event hype, with TV channels and newspapers making it out to be a battle of super-stakes, the disappointment for the losing team is all the more. But while the Indian team was magnanimous in victory, the Pakistanis were gracious in defeat. Pakistan captain Shahid Afridi gave due credit to the Indian team, acknowledging that the better team had won. By all accounts, the large number of Pakistani visitors that came for the match went back happy and full of praise for the hospitality extended to them by the people of Chandigarh and Mohali. There was no untoward incident at the match though supporters of both teams cried themselves hoarse in promoting their teams. People to people, it was a victory for the forces of reconciliation.

 

Politically, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's initiative in inviting his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani seemed to have paid off though it would be folly to get swayed away too much. While the role of the Pakistani establishment in the 26/11 Mumbai terror attacks understandably continues to be a source of concern and bringing to book the real masterminds of the attack must remain our insistence, the resumption of dialogue between the two neighbours could hardly have waited indefinitely.

 

Dr Singh's call for "permanent reconciliation to live together in dignity and honour" at the dinner hosted by him for Gilani was appropriate as an expression of intent. But while the dialogue must be pressed forward, India can ill afford to lower its guard. Sporting and cultural ties between the two nations must be promoted, however, regardless of the pace at which the political reconciliation process proceeds. If cricket is a way to bring the peoples of the two countries closer, let there be more bilateral matches so that the spirit of cricket pervades the atmosphere.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

EDITORIAL

ACTOR SHINEY'S CONVICTION

NEED TO DEAL FIRMLY WITH PERJURY IN RAPE CASES 

 

Bollywood actor Shiney Ahuja's conviction by a Mumbai fast track court for rape and a punishment of seven years rigorous imprisonment will send a strong message to the people that those found guilty of this heinous crime, however high or influential they may be, will not escape punishment.

 

Though the 20-year-old victim, who was Shiney's domestic help, had retracted her earlier statement accusing him of having committed rape and told the court that they had "consensual sex", the court relied on circumstantial evidence and convicted the actor. The DNA report was positive; the victim's hymen was torn; there were blood marks on the victim's clothes; semen was found on the quilt and curtains; and Shiney's hands bore scratch marks of the victim. All this was enough to nail the accused.

 

Significantly, the court noted that the June 2009 incident had taken place at Shiney's Mumbai apartment, the victim's clothes were torn and there was evidence to show that she had struggled before she was raped. Since the victim's testimony has been corroborated by medical reports and circumstantial evidence, the actor could not escape conviction. The court's acceptance of the victim's statement before a magistrate that she was raped is yet another important factor that led to his conviction. And once the court was convinced about the statement and the evidence, it rejected her retraction 14 months after the crime and proceeded against the accused.

 

Given the mental trauma and suffering the domestic help had undergone, one is not inclined to seek her prosecution for perjury. However, to protect the criminal justice system from being subverted, this menace needs to be tackled urgently. Having sentenced Zahira Sheikh for perjury in the Best Bakery case in March 2006, the Supreme Court had sent a clear and loud signal to all hostile witnesses. Zahira's one-year sentence and a fine of Rs one lakh proved that nobody can undermine the majesty of law. The importance of the word "truly" inserted in Section 161 of the Criminal Procedure Code has not been understood in the right perspective. As we were reluctant to invoke Section 340 Cr PC and 193 IPC, unscrupulous persons changed their statements at their whim. The witnesses and deponents, who file false affidavits before the court, will have to understand the sanctity of the oath. If as a law abiding citizen, one has decided to assist the law in bringing the guilty to book, then resiling from the earlier statement made during the course of judicial proceedings (which Shiney's maid had done) should normally entail serious consequences.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

COLUMN

BROOKING NO DISSENT

BOOKS SHOULD BE READ, NOT BANNED

 

Mahatama Gandhi has been the subject of over 30 biographies. His collected works run into 100 volumes of around 500 pages each, and there have been numerous other books on him. Every aspect of his life, both personal and political, has been scrutinised, explored and at times exploited by many — authors, political leaders, movie makers et al.

 

A book that has yet to hit Indian shores, "Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his Struggle with India", has been written by Joseph Lelyveld, a former editor of The New York Times. The book quotes correspondence between Mahatma Gandhi and his German friend Hermann Kallenbach. The letters reflect the relationship the two had. Some reviewers say the author has called Mahatma Gandhi racist and bisexual, and this has led to calls to ban the book in India. The author, however, says his book has been 'grossly distorted' by the press.

 

It is indeed unfortunate that a book on Mahatma Gandhi, who was open to a remarkable degree about his life, is being sought to be banned by political figures who have not even read it. Such a knee-jerk reaction smacks of considerations other than the merit of the book. The Internet is often successfully used to defeat such bans, but the lesson is lost on our politicians. Judicial review has recently even set aside such a ban by Gujarat, but politicians still pander to populist sentiments by banning books that are opposed by a vocal group of people.

 

Mature democracies do not proscribe opinion apart from those exceptional cases when it is absolutely necessary to maintain public order. As India aims to play a significant role in the comity of nations, it cannot afford to be a democracy that stifles dissenting opinion. An author presents his point of view to the readers, who can either accept it or reject it. It is they who should decide the fate of this book, or any other for that matter. 

 

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THE TRIBUNE

ARTICLE

LIBYA AND THE OBAMA DOCTRINE

PRESENT TENSE, FUTURE UNCERTAIN

BY INDER MALHOTRA

 

WITH a no-fly zone firmly established in Libya, United States President Barack Obama has reduced America's "lead role" to a mere supporting one. The command is now transferred to NATO.  For its part, the US would provide intelligence and communications among the allies. It would also jam Gaddafi's communications. What he did not say but his critics are pointing out is that prolonged stalemate might necessitate renewed American military action because the US alone has the requisite military power.

 

In his major policy speech, Mr Obama repeated his demand that "Gaddafi Must Go". He reaffirmed that he stands by it, and many Americans, ironically both liberals and "neo-cons" that dislike him, are urging the President that Gaddafi, being the problem, must be got rid of immediately. However, the President has declared equally emphatically that regime change is not a part of the UN Security Council mandate or US policy. He has added that regime change would require putting ground troops on the soil of Libya. To do so would be counterproductive for it would splinter the coalition. The objective of overthrowing the Libyan dictator, he emphasised, must be achieved by "non-military means" such as political and diplomatic pressure. To devise these methods a 40-nation conference has just concluded in London.

 

So far, so good, but where does this lead West Asia, North Africa and the rest of the world to? Mr Obama's ruling out of military action to oust "the tyrant" who has ruled the country for 40 years is categorical. But does everyone in the NATO-led "coalition of the willing" agree with this? There already is cause for worry on this score. Russia is a party to UNSC Resolution 1973 because – like India, China, Brazil and Germany – it abstained from voting on it but did not veto it. Yet its Foreign Minister, Mr Sergey Lavarov, has already protested that that the Western powers intervening militarily in Libya have "exceeded" the UN mandate. He has a point and others are likely to join him sooner rather than later.

 

For, the NATO warplanes continue to bomb Libya well after the no-fly zone has become a reality. This bombing targets only the colonel's army and its equipment. Such one-sided intervention in the Libyan civil war is no part of Resolution 1973. But the NATO functionaries have their varied interpretations of it. The resolution, they argue, requires the enforcement also of an arms embargo and the protection of innocent civilians by "all necessary means". Turkey, a NATO member, has been questioning this "extension" of the UN authorisation. And this makes the pronouncements coming from NATO most intriguing. According to its Secretary-General, Mr Anders Fog Rasmussen, there are two operations going on: one, the enforcement of the no-fly zone by the alliance's military command and the other, comprising the arms embargo and air strikes, controlled by "the coalition". 

 

That is where the rub lies. The two European eager beavers, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France and Prime Minister David Cameron of the United Kingdom have their own agendas that they seem determined to push through by hook or by crook. No one should forget that in the fifties of the last century, Britain and France had colluded with Israel to invade Egypt because of the nationalisation of the Suez Canal. Turkey is not alone in charging Mr Sarkozy with using the military action in Libya as a launching pad for his campaign for re-election. The irony is that until recently the French President was sucking up to the Libyan dictator. He had welcomed Colonel Gaddafi with open arms and allowed him to put up his famous tent in the gardens of Elysee Palace.

 

At the time of writing, Colonel Gaddafi's army has pushed back the rebel forces that, encouraged by Western bombing, were advancing westwards and recapturing the areas they had fled earlier. No wonder, the London conference is wondering what to do next. The current idea is to provide sophisticated arms to the rebels. But, if adopted, it would evoke fierce opposition even within the coalition. World public opinion is almost certain to turn hostile. The Arab street, despite its support to Arab spring, also does not want foreigners to meddle in their affairs. The support to the West of the beleaguered   Arab dictators and despots does not matter. A question that many are asking already is whether only Colonel Gaddafi's weapons kill civilians and the weaponry of the rebels does not.

 

The Indian government has "regretted" the bombing of Libya and others, including the Arab League and the African Union, have condemned it. Iraq is a classic case of what happens when a foreign power tries to change a repressive regime and replaces it by democracy. Remarkably, Mr Obama drove home this lesson in his address.

 

To say all this is not to give Colonel Gaddafi an iota of comfort or support. That megalomaniac monster, shamelessly threatening to eliminate his opponents in Benghazi "house by house", is wholly responsible for what has happened to his luckless country. But even enemies of democracy like him have to be fought with methods that are legitimate and democratic.

 

Above all, the game of promoting democracy, freedom and rule of law cannot be and must not be played with loaded dice. The record of the great and loud champions of these values is bleak all over the world, and especially in the region where the jasmine breeze is now blowing. For decades, they went on supporting reprehensible dictators and despots for selfish and cynical reasons. Now that the people of the region have risen to demand their fundamental rights, the Western powers have turned out to be selective in their reaction.

 

Colonel Gaddafi may be the worst of them but he is not the only autocrat to treat his people brutally. The President of Yemen, Mr Ali Abdullah Saleh, is mercilessly shooting down peaceful demonstrators by the dozens, and yet the West props him because in that country its strategic interests take precedence over its avowed values. The US believes Mr Saleh is opposed to Al-Qaeda.  In Bahrain, America's staunchest West Asian ally, Saudi Arabia, has sent its troops to snuff out the flame of democracy. In Syria, the start of peaceful demonstrations has also invited ruthless repression. The shame of Bahrain is aggravated because a 30 per cent Sunni minority oppresses and represses 70 per cent Shia majority. But this causes not the least twinge in Western conscience. Double standards and double-dealing are almost certain to boomerang some day.

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

MARCH OF TIME

BY P. LAL

 

UNCLE, I am Garima, calling from the Sector 17 bus stand. We — I mean my hubby and I — are on our way to Shimla for our honeymoon. I thought I would say hello to you.""Oh, you are married!" my voice quivered with surprise. "How long would the bus stop?"

 

"Half an hour," she replied.

 

"I would be there in a jiffy," I said.

 

I had met her only twice before — in Delhi — the first time in 1998 and then in 2005.

 

A common acquaintance had taken me to her father's house. He was an under secretary in a ministry in the government of India. She was the only child of her parents. At the time, she was 22 and was doing MA (Philosophy).

 

She was tall, slim, ivory complexioned, vivacious and had the gift of the gab.

 

Her father, in a poor state of health, wanted to see her married.

 

I suggested a proposal. The prospective groom, the son of a friend of mine, was 25, had done MBA, and was a probationary officer in a nationalised bank.

 

"Uncle, how is the boy to look at?" she asked me.

 

"He is okay," I said.

 

"Does he look like Shah Rukh Khan?" she queried again, her expressions saying all that she wanted to hear.

 

"No, he looks more like THE Shah of Iran," I teased her.

 

She looked confused. "That means he sports a beard," she asked.

 

"No," I tried to salvage the situation, "actually, he has a stately appearance with a pleasant personality."

 

To further questions, I replied truthfully that he was stout, short and dark.

 

She rejected the proposal.

 

During a visit of mine to Delhi in 2005, the same common acquaintance took me again to their house.

 

Garima's father had died by then. She was now living with her mother and had taken up a teaching assignment in a school.

 

She had turned 29 and had grown a little plump. However, there was no doubt she still held the reins of beauty.

 

The talks veered round to her marriage.I again suggested a match. The boy was tall, handsome, fair, a postgraduate in English, and son of a group B officer in a state government.

 

"And, what is the boy?" Garima asked me."He is a senior assistant in a government department," I said."Is he an officer?" she quipped.

 

"No," I clarified.She didn't approve of the proposal.

 

At the bus stand, she introduced me to her husband. He was a computer-operator in the office of a private company, appeared to be in the forties, was short, bulky and ebony coloured.

 

As he moved to a nearby stall to order tea for us, I asked Garima: "Why did you choose him?"

 

"Uncle, at my age, where could I get a better guy?"

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THREAT MITIGATION: GOING BEYOND JUST MODERNIZATION

THE CHALLENGES BEFORE INDIA ARE THE CONTINUATION OF THE PROXY WAR BY PAKISTAN AND COERCION AND INTIMIDATION BY CHINA. WITH TECHNOLOGICAL ADVANCES AND EMERGING DOCTRINES, WE NEED TO BE VERY CLEAR ON THE NATURE OF FUTURE WARS. WHAT IS NOW VITAL IS TO DEVELOP THE CAPABILITY TO PERCEIVE AND MITIGATE EMERGING THREATS BEFOREHAND
BRIG ARUN SAHGAL (RETD)

 

Every year during the budget time a great deal of debate takes place on the adequacy or otherwise of defence allocation in terms of the percentage of GDP to meet the minimum modernisation needs of the armed forces.

Response from the government as always is; money will not be a constraint to meet the genuine needs of the forces. What is unfortunately never debated or discussed adequately is what purpose is the military capability being developed for. Is the aim merely to maintain the territorial integrity of the state in a defensive construct or is it the development of hard power, in addition to soft, to secure and maximize the strategic space of "rising India' and to cope with future challenges?

 

Unfortunately both the propositions, i.e. territorial integrity and maximization of the nation's strategic space are interlinked, given the nature of challenges faced by India. If we were to consider the current threat perspective, Pakistan has been waging a proxy war against India with near impunity, ensuring that large numbers of Indian forces are tied down in low intensity conflict operations. In addition, Pakistan is slowly but steadily building both its conventional capability by leveraging the war on terror and the US's TINA (there is no alternative) factor on one hand, and on the strategic collusion with China on the other hand. Sino-Pak ties have seen not only the sale of conventional weapons on friendship prices but also the transfer of technology and joint projects as the recently concluded strategic dialogue between Pakistan and China would indicate.

 

Added to the above is the growing Sino-Pak nuclear nexus that is helping Pakistan develop its nuclear arsenal. Today Pakistan is the only nuclear weapon state that has twin weapon production lines based on enriched uranium as well as plutonium that it is producing from its Khushab I, II and subsequently III nuclear plants. This is backed by elaborate and proven missile development capability allowing it to have majority of its nuclear wraheads on missiles, thereby releasing its air force for offensive air operations. Moreover, it has a deterrent of over a 100 nuclear warheads.

 

In effect, it means that Pakistan continues to wage proxy war and squeeze the so called space for limited war through cultivated irrationality in terms of its nuclear war fighting doctrine as well as brinkmanship in terms of single rung escalation. Thus our ability to execute punitive strategy to deal with future acts of terror is getting incrementally restrained. What is worse, we appear to have started playing down our pro-active response doctrine (Cold Start) as can be noted from the statements from the military hierarchy.

 

Now let us see the situation vis-a-vis China. By all indications China is not only marching ahead in its military modernisation through primarily developing indigenous capability, but is also in the process of acquiring means to integrate military operations in all domains -- ground, air, maritime, space, cyberspace and information. It can be said to be at the threshold of acquiring real-time net-centric capabilities, backed by large standing armed forces.

 

Under the overall rubric of active defence, Chinese doctrinal thinking is veering toward two specific arenas. One is what the Americans call "anti-access strategy" that can also be termed as "area denial". This approach is based on the strategy enabling the technologically weak to deal with the challenge posed by the technologically superior, and designed to deny access to the US in case of intervention over Taiwan. It is a politico-military-technological thinking in terms of developing capabilities for stand-off attacks against both, the adversary's military resources like the naval aircraft carrier-based task forces and air force assets deployed at places like Japan, South Korea and the Pacific. The overall aim is ensuring effective strategic deterrence through demonstrated capabilities such as anti-ship missiles, anti-satellite weapons, offensive and defensive use of space, direct energy and electromagnetic pulse weapons, cyber attacks and information warfare etc. The aim is to cut off vital digital links and degrade systems on which the US military capabilities are vitally dependent.

 

The second arena is called a "no contact war". This is a strategy aimed at political coercion through political, economic, and psychological effects —tactics apart from political and diplomatic coercion include demonstration attacks with focus on both military and non-military targets resulting in low collateral damage to maximise political gains. Targets include economic, infrastructural and communication networks aimed at producing political dislocation and coercion. Forces employed for such attacks include, theatre ballistic missiles like its CSS-6 and CSS-7, armed with manoeuvrable re-entry vehicles and short-range ballistic missiles. Precision strikes by cruise missiles, CNO (attack, defence and exploitation), information warfare and electronic warfare operations, are also to be undertaken in the backdrop of minimal force deployment that may include regular and special forces.

 

The entire concept of "no contact war" is aimed at striking at key points to paralyse the enemy's entire range of politico-military systems to immobilize its command structures. Possible dimensions of this approach includes "intimidation warfare", comprising military pressure or show of force i.e. actions short of war, including build up and large-scale military exercises, computer network attacks, electronic attacks, psychological operations and provocative air and naval activity.

At the high end of the intimidation spectrum is "paralysis warfare" that could include cyber warfare and electronic attacks, missile strikes, including long-range precision strikes, special operations and sabotage. All aimed at achieving a quick, decisive victory by "rapidly paralyzing command and control system and political and military nerve centers".

 

The major deduction emerging from above is that both Pakistan and China either singularly or in concert are engaged in what can be termed as "no contact war". One through proxy war and the other through coercion and intimidation, which includes border tensions, enlarging its footprints in Pakistan Occupied Kashmir, cyber attacks, issues pertaining to issue of visas and nuclear collusion with Pakistan among others.

 

The basic issue how we structure our response to these challenges. Mere political response without demonstrable dissuasive deterrence capabilities of the type China is developing against the US to maximize its options, is not the answer. We need to be very clear on the nature of future wars. Current attritional platform-centric warfare needs a serious review during our capability-based perspective planning. What India needs is threat mitigating capacities and not mere weapon systems for modernisation.

 

The writer is a former Director, Faculty of Studies, Army War College

 

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THE TRIBUNE

OPED

THE DOCTRINES OF WAR

India

 

The Indian Army's combat doctrine is based on effectively utilising offensive as well as defensive formations. In the case of an attack, the defensive or holding formations would contain the enemy while offensive or strike formations would counter-attack to neutralise the enemy. In the case of an Indian assault, holding formations would pin down the enemy while strike formations would launch offensives at a time and place of their choosing. The Indian Army's large size and structure ensures that it can employ several corps and independent formations for the strike role. The army is also engaged in enhancing its special forces' capabilities, for which a new doctrine has been written. With India's increasing global role and the requirement of protectiing India's interest in far off shores becoming important, the Indian Army and Indian Navy are jointly raising a marine brigade. Emerging doctrines cater for joint inter-service operations and the Indian Armed Forces have conducted several exercises to validate the concept of joint operations and integrated battle groups for offensive operations. A key component of India's emerging doctrines is the ability to rapidly mobilise and execute offensive actions without crossing the enemy's nuclear-use threshold.

China

While laying emphasis on the relationship between the military and society, Chinese military doctrine views military force as merely a part of an "overarching grand strategy". Currently, Chinese military doctrine is in a flux, but some senior officers have recently claimed that the People's Liberation Army is trying to build a force capable of attacking the enemy's structural system. Experts opine that the unique aspect of China's military doctrine is that it views everything as a weapon and believes that new technologies shape the battlefield. PLA doctrine lays a huge emphasis on information technology, electronic and information warfare, integrated satellite-based battlefield communication networks, space and aerial surveillance, and long-range precision strikes. China has very few nuclear missiles vis-à-vis Russia and major Western powers and Chinese nuclear doctrine follows a strategy of minimal deterrence capability. Some reports say that Chinese military doctrine is to maintain a nuclear force which allows it to respond to a nuclear attack, though there are indications that it could employ its nuclear arsenal in other situations also.

Pakistan

Pakistan's military orientation is totally India-centric for which it has conceived the Riposte doctrine, a "limited offensive-defence" strategy under which Pakistan, in the event of hostilities, will not wait for India to attack, but, according to expers, launch an offensive of its own along narrow fronts aimed at occupying Indian territory to a depth of 40-50 kms. Since Indian forces may not reach their maximum strength near the border for another 48-72 hours, Pakistan might gain parity or numerical superiority. Reports also state Pakistan is permanently relocating the peacetime bases of its forces closer to the border. This is so because many of Pakistan's major towns and politically and military sensitive targets lie very close to the border and it cannot afford to lose large territories. Moreover, Indian convectional superiority could lead to serious penetration inside Pakistan, with the Pakistani army being unable to maneuver to meet the threat. Counterattacking formations would then be destroyed piecemeal by numerically superior Indian forces and given its geographical shape, Pakistan could well be cut into half by an Indian attack in force. In line with the Riptose, Pakistan has created Army Reserve South, a centralised grouping of several powerful corps and equipped with assets for mechanised capability and vastly increased strategic reserves and logistic support, including ammunition and fuel, to sustain for 45 days in case of a conflict. During the 1965 war, Pakistan had only 13-day reserves, hampering its military operations, veterans recall.

— Vijay Mohan

 

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MUMBAI MIRROR

VIEW

THE ASCENT OF STUPIDITY

WHEN THE GOVT TELLS US WHAT BOOKS TO READ, WHAT MUSIC TO LISTEN TO, WHAT FILMS TO SEE, IT FAILS US AND OUR CONSTITUTION


What could these three things possibly have in common: the appointment of a new head of the Censor Board, a tax on a music concert and a book on a famous Indian figure by a foreign author? It all seems innocuous, even routine. But underlying each of these is something extremely dangerous at play: state-sponsored domination of individual freedom.

 

Sharmila Tagore retired as head of our Censor Board on 31 March after a sixyear stint. In recent interviews, she has expressed the hope that her successor would be open-minded, and that during her tenure the censor's touch has been lighter – fewer cuts, more films with a different approach allowed through, a greater reliance on ratings rather than ordering changes and, overall, an explicit recognition that a censor's scissors do terrible damage to an art form. The problem is not with the individual; it is with the state of the law, which expressly permits the censor to ban and cut; and that it allows the government to place as the head of the Censor Board anyone it pleases. The new chief is Ms Leela Samson, a renowned exponent of classical dance. By her own admission, this is not her field. To put her in this place is not just unfair to the film industry; it demonstrates, more than anything else, the government's attitude of complete domination. It is quite another matter that the powers vested in the Censor Board are futile. Easy access to television and the Internet make almost everything the Censor Board cuts or bans freely available, and the government's view that it is actually restricting anything is a triumph of self-deception over common sense.

 

The state government's entertainment tax is equally bizarre. There seems to be very little rational justification for it or, at any rate, for the size of the levy (perhaps a reasonable tax, applied across the board without exception might be defensible). Frequently, a tax like this operates as a form of censorship. The most recent victim is the Mehli Mehta Foundation and the western classical music concerts that Zubin Mehta brings to a city starved of live performances. The foundation recently sought exemption from the tax. It said that while ticket prices may be high, so are the costs: performers are flown in, their hospitality taken care of, equipment and instruments brought in and more. Yet the government has it that exemptions are only permissible if tickets are priced below Rs100, and actually suggested that the foundation donate its proceeds to a government-nominated charity. Why? The Foundation has its own charitable objects, and these have been previously approved by the government itself. That these exemptions are granted arbitrarily seems self-evident; if a show extolled a historical figure from Maharashtra is there any doubt that the exemption would follow? Such taxes give the government the authority to decide what is or is not culture or art, and to drive out anything that does not conform to preconceived notions. Zubin Mehta says it is unlikely he will return.

 

The latest outrage is the proposed ban on Joseph Lelyveld's new book on Gandhi, Great Soul: Mahatma Gandhi and his struggle with India. Undeterred by the slap it got from the Supreme Court in the James Laine book ban case, Maharashtra is considering it, as is the central government. Always quick out of the gates, Gujarat's ever-entertaining chief minister has already banned it, saying, "The writing is perverse in nature. It has hurt the sentiments of those with capacity for sane and logical thinking." Problem: NaMo hasn't read it. Nor have any of those who clamour for its ban. Interestingly, the strongest voices against this ban come from the descendants of Gandhi: his grandson, Rajmohan Gandhi; and great-grandson, Tushar Gandhi. Both say the ban is un-Gandhian and that Gandhi himself would not have wanted it. We are quick to take offence, but slow to accept our fundamental freedoms.

 

Bans of one kind or another are not new, nor are they limited to India. The list of books banned and taken off library shelves across the world is very long. But more and more attempts at bans fail when they run up against the doctrines of liberty and free speech.

 

Freedom of speech, the right to disagree, freedom of choice: these are fundamental. When governments tell us what books we may read, what music we may listen to, what films we may see, they fail both us and our Constitution. They turn our cities into cultural backwaters and rob their people of intelligence, the civility of thought and discourse. Censorship takes many forms, but it has only one effect: encouraging stupidity.
    From Faiz's bol ki lab azad hain tere: Speak, this brief time is enough / Before the tongue and body die / Speak, the truth is still alive / Speak: say what you have to say.

 

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

EDITORIAL

MESSAGE FROM MOHALI

PRIME MINISTER MANMOHAN SINGH MUST GO TO PAKISTAN

The message from Mohali is that the people of India and Pakistan want to live in peace and amity and that the two prime ministers have committed their governments to work in that direction," said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. If this is the message, then it is time Dr Singh fixed a date for his first visit – as prime minister – to Islamabad. Dr Singh's Mohali initiative – the invitation to Pakistan Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani to watch the India-Pakistan World Cup cricket semi-final – was not as whimsical as some thought it to be given the suddenness of the announcement and the lack of visible planning for the bilateral dialogue between the two prime ministers. It is clear that Dr Singh has been long contemplating a resumption of the purposeful dialogue that he had carried out with former Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf between 2004 and 2007. While the terror attack in Mumbai in November 2008 was the most important factor preventing the resumption of that dialogue, the internal confusion within Pakistan over who calls the shots in Islamabad was also a factor. Dr Singh chose to work with Mr Gilani when the two met in Thimpu on the sidelines of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (SAARC) summit in April 2010. Yet, bureaucracies on both sides were slow to move forward and Dr Singh's pre-occupations with a series of problems at home had also diverted his attention. The Mohali match offered a good context and pretext to resume the dialogue with Mr Gilani and it is just as well that Islamabad empowered Mr Gilani to go ahead.

The Mohali dialogue, officially termed as "wide-ranging", was best described as a "conversation" rather than "talks". How wide-ranging the conversation was can be gleaned from the upbeat summing-up that the two interlocutors offered. The successful meeting between the home secretaries of both governments, coming in the wake of growing concerns in both countries about home-grown terrorism, is to be followed by similar meetings between the defence and commerce secretaries. These define the parameters of engagement. Clearly, India and Pakistan are back to business as far as the "composite dialogue" on "all outstanding issues" is concerned. If both prime ministers can keep their eye on the long-term goal and ensure that their respective teams are on board, there is new hope for a genuine resumption of what was clearly a historic dialogue between Dr Singh and Mr Musharraf. By using a cricket match to resume an official dialogue, the two prime ministers have underscored the importance of people-to-people relations between neighbours for government-to-government relations. New business-to-business interactions can cement the process. The time has come for Dr Singh to visit Pakistan. The new time table of official interactions should enable a visit sooner rather than later. There are many agreements in the pipeline, including some on key issues, that can be taken forward, even as new ones take shape. Dr Singh has waited for seven long years to return to the land of his birth as prime minister. Having taken a step forward in that direction, he must now stand firm, offer leadership at home and in the sub-continent, and win the confidence of the Indian people to "make a road by walking", as he once put it.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

EDITORIAL

FARMERS AND FOOD PRICES

WITH TRADERS CORNERING PROFITS, SIGNAL TO FARMERS IS WEAK

Even as concerns are emerging about generalised inflation gripping the economy, with reports of rising wage rates, food price inflation remains the citizen's core concern. Macroeconomic authorities have been chasing a variety of targets – monetary, fiscal and supply-side constraints – to get a better grip on prices. It is often hoped that higher prices would translate into increased production since farmers would respond positively to price signals. What then accounts for the higher-than-average food prices? The latest theory is: market imperfections are the real villain. Union Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee in his Budget speech said "shortcomings in the distribution and marketing systems" had denied the consumers the benefit of the usual seasonal fall in prices. The government's inter-ministerial panel on inflation, headed by Chief Economic Advisor Kaushik Basu, has an explanation for why similar shortcomings on the other side of the supply chain – mandi to farm – are price signals to farmers, thereby not facilitating the expected supply response. The panel believes food price inflation can be reduced by preventing cartelisation at the wholesale trade level and ensuring a smooth flow of goods from farms to retail outlets. Though the explanation has merit, the solution offered by the panel to reform agricultural marketing does not seem workable.

It involves invoking the competition law to prevent cartelisation and seeking amendments to Agricultural Produce Marketing Committee (APMC) Acts to smooth the flow of goods from farms to fork. To begin with, it is not clear if the charge of "cartelisation" in the manner in which the competition laws understand that term can be applied to APMCs, in which hundreds of traders are operating in real time with limited scope for covert conspiracy. Moreover, the ability of a central competition commission to curb cartelisation in APMCs is circumscribed by the fact that APMC laws fall within the domain of states. The Centre has been prodding the state governments for over a decade to amend their respective APMC statutes on the lines of the Model Law circulated by it. This has been a vain attempt. The Punjab government's decision this week to raise the purchase tax on wheat from 4 per cent to 5 per cent to yield an additional revenue of Rs 100 crore in the ensuing wheat procurement season – ignoring the prime minister's call to abolish market levies to bring down agro-goods prices – best exemplifies this syndrome. That said, the hard truth about food price inflation this past year is that the supply has not always responded adequately to higher prices. This does suggest that it is not the farmers who are benefitting from higher food prices, but intermediaries, especially traders and moneylenders who have secured a vice-like grip on trade and are not passing higher returns on from trade to direct producers. Unless means are found to ensure that farmers benefit from higher prices, there is no reason to assume that market dynamics would work automatically to augment supplies.

 

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 BUSINESS STANDARD

THE FACEBOOK OF IDEAS

A FEW LESSONS IN IDEA MANAGEMENT

MADHUKAR SABNAVIS

 

his is not a book review, but if one feels like reading the book after this piece, my recommendation: go read it. The Social Network was stimulating; David Kirkpatrick's book The Facebook Effect is both stimulating and inspirational. The movie is about "who owns the idea"; the book is more expansive and throws light on the whole process of how Facebook has grown to the phenomenon it is — the twists and turns in its life. Though written simply, its content provides fodder for idea lovers, whether entrepreneurs or advertising and marketing people. There is much to learn about how ideas emerge and how to grow them in stature.

 

 First, big ideas are born small, sometimes seemingly wild and untenable. Yet, they evolve through careful nurture and development. Facebook started as "Facemash", a site in Harvard that allowed students to rate their classmates. It brought Mark Zuckerberg into a controversy with the Harvard management and, thus, could have derailed there. However, it evolved into an online directory for colleges and then became a forum for social networking, first in the US and later for everyone across the globe in multiple languages. Great ideas aren't born in a day and there is always a danger that ideas can be killed early if not nurtured patiently.

Second, big ideas need passion — more than just that of the originator or the creator. It is true that committees don't create ideas — it's said that a donkey is a horse created by a committee. But big ideas need a group of people committed to making it happen, to keeping the flame of the "creator" burning. Zuckerberg through this journey had a large number of such believers: from Dustin Moskovitz to Eduardo Saverin to Sean Parker to Matt Cohler to Sheryl Sandberg. Each played their role in supporting Zuckerberg and helping him keep the idea alive — with encouragement, execution help, funding and ideas to monetise. Their role in making Facebook happen cannot be ignored or undervalued.

Third, big ideas are based on strong human insights. Facebook grew because it was based on the fundamental human need to connect. It was based on the truth that man is a social animal; no man can live his life as an island. All the idea did was to provide people with a "virtual" forum where they could connect. It became more relevant in a world that was getting globalised, with people getting disconnected from each other in a fast-paced world. As it grew, it evolved into a forum that allowed people to display their creativity, make themselves heard, and where people could "let themselves go"— many things that people in the real world do among friends and often nowhere else.

Fourth, big ideas need a lot of nuts and bolts of execution to make them happen and remain sustainable. Behind all the romantic charm of the idea of Facebook are stories of how the team ran helter-skelter multitudinous times to get server space so that the site remained open and easy to access. Ideas in the mind remain unknown until they are seen in flesh and blood, and never should anyone ignore the importance of the on-ground execution. The story of Facebook highlights the value of technologists and their expertise to keep the site running smoothly as it expanded. It sounds grimy and less exciting but it's part of idea reality. It cannot be taken for granted.

Fifth, as an idea evolves, different skills are required at different stages. That's something the entrepreneurs in particular need to recognise as they grow their business. At launch, chaos is okay — simple dreams can make things happen. At growth, passion is key to keeping energy and hope going. Then, as size increases, there is a need for order and systems. Sometimes, tough decisions need to be taken and people who were with you at the launch may have to give way to new skills as you grow and consolidate. The Facebook story has cases of people having to be dropped so that the idea could be preserved and grown to its "deserved" glory. Sounds a little ruthless — but that's the hard truth.

Sixth, failures are part of idea development. The manufacturing world, once it fixes its formula for production, has an anathema for mistakes. However, in the "intellectual" idea world, life is more dynamic — and hits and misses are given. Facebook had its share of mistakes from Beacon to News Feed to platforms and control. The challenge is not so much to avoid them as to manage them.

Seventh, friction is integral to how big ideas grow and continue to take shape. There will always be a conflict between dreams and reality; the ideal and the practical. Facebook has faced the dilemma between growth and monetisation — keeping the purity of user interface, yet meeting the needs of advertisers. Creativity and commercial interests always clash and this is where the harmony in the team ensures the project stays on track. Zuckerberg was lucky that through the journey he had the right partners to find his way.

Finally, hidden in a big idea is often a larger cause — a dream that the creator has which makes the idea instinctively worth supporting. It's this larger purpose that keeps the team together. Facebook, beyond social networking, is about promoting transparency in society, creating empathy among people and, thus, bringing diverse cultures and thinking together and giving people the courage to drop masks and reveal their true faces. Zuckerberg repeatedly states this larger purpose: calling Facebook users "citizens" and its management pseudo-government with responsibilities to protect "citizen interests" while promoting the causes of transparency, mutual empathy and citizen courage.

There are two other interesting side lessons, especially for marketers and advertising agencies. One, cultural sensitivity is important. Facebook remains an American concept; so it has had its share of hiccups with the audience in the east, where culture is different. And two, very interestingly, there is no consumer testing or research through the book. Big ideas are based on consumer understanding but don't necessarily need consumer ratification before implementation. News Feed created resistance at first but grew thereafter; Beacon had to be shut down. But perhaps neither could have been fully pre-tested. So it proves there is merit in the Nike school of advertising creation — immerse yourself in the consumer before you create but don't get consumers to judge advertising. Something worth thinking about.

Views expressed are personal
madhukar.sabnavis@ogilvy.com

 

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

THREE BIRDS WITH TWO STONES

THERE ARE BILLIONS OF DOLLARS OF GLOBAL INVESTMENT THAT IS EXTREMELY KEEN ON INDIAN CORPORATE BONDS, BUT THE TWO SIDES DON'T SEEM TO BE ABLE TO MEET

JAMAL MECKLAI

 

It is clear from the Budget and policy initiatives being discussed since then that the government and the Reserve Bank of India (RBI) are concerned about the slowdown in foreign direct investment and the concomitant increasing difficulty in raising finance for infrastructure projects. On the other hand, there are billions of dollars of global investment that is extremely keen on Indian corporate bonds, but the two sides don't seem to be able to meet.

 

Global investment intermediaries are frustrated at the small total limit of debt investment permitted, and much more so at the bidding and allocation process articulated by the RBI and the Securities and Exchange Board of India. This creates enormous operational difficulties in terms of planning an investment portfolio and in explaining to global institutional investors that the share of India in their overall portfolio cannot be determined ex-ante. Of course, global investors are, in general, still not comfortable with more than relatively short-term – three years, or five at best – India risk.

It seems that a reasonable via media would be to eliminate the bidding system and open the gates for debt inflows, recognising that we will always be free to close the gates, perhaps temporarily, if we found the inflows difficult to manage. The historic terror at policy reversals is no longer such an issue since most investors now acknowledge the need for prudent management of capital flows. Note, for instance, that Brazil has introduced a type of Tobin tax on inflows and it hasn't materially impacted its attractiveness.

We should, of course, demand a pound of flesh for this window opening by requiring the tenor of the investment to be lengthened from five to, say, seven years. BIRD 1.

Though this would address the recent slowdown in foreign investment, it would not, in and of itself, solve the problem of infrastructure funding since, typically, such projects need around 15 year-plus money. However, this tenor gap could be addressed if the government were to use its capital more creatively. Rather than using it to simply create fresh infrastructure assets, for which there is plenty of money available globally, the funds should be used to provide cover for the refinance risk.

It would work as follows: An infrastructure company borrows for seven years, either by issuing a rupee bond or through external commercial borrowings. The government issues the company interest rate warrants that provide cover for the refinance risk, enabling other lenders (probably domestic institutions) to underwrite the debt for another 10 years at the current 10-year market rate.

The problem is that since there is no interest rate derivatives market to speak of, it is impossible to price the refinance risk. In the US market, the cost of the risk of refinancing for, say, 10 years after seven years (which would give the borrower a 17-year facility) works out to 1.85 per cent. This is calculated as the difference between the cost of a seven-year forward start 10-year swap and today's 10-year bond yield.

Recognising that the near-zero liquidity in the Indian market multiplies the risk, we would guesstimate – conservatively speaking – that the cost of the risk for a similar facility in India should be around 5 per cent.

Using this as a benchmark, if the government were to budget Rs 2,000 crore, it would provide tenor support for an infrastructure financing of Rs 40,000 crore, or nearly $10 billion. BIRD 2. Note that this money would not necessarily be lost to the market — if the 10-year rate did not rise above today's level of 8 per cent, there would be no cost; if it rose to, say, 10 per cent, the cost would be 2 per cent (or Rs 800 crore on Rs 40,0000 crore of assets); and, indeed, if the 10-year rate were to fall to, say, 6 per cent, the government would earn Rs 800 crore.

Now, while I fully understand that it is not the government's job to punt in the interest rate derivative market, I do believe it is the government's job to ensure that infrastructure projects get appropriately priced long-term funding — some version of this is what the Chinese government does. Since private investors are more than willing to take on the credit risk, all the government has to do is enable the tenor. To my mind, the cost seems eminently reasonable.

Not only this, once the government were to prime this market, it would, in a sense, create a benchmark price for a forward start swap for the Indian market. Indeed, if the government were to provide cover for different tenors – say, 7 x 10, 5 x 10 and so on – it could also serve to kick-start the stillborn interest rate derivatives market. BIRD 3.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

COLUMN

HOW TO AVOID DECISIONS

MANY INDIAN MANAGERS HAVE MASTERED THE ART

SHYAMAL MAJUMDAR

 

Management consultants call it "The Infinite Loop". When you don't want to take a decision on something, there is no need to sweat. Just put it in the infinite loop by keeping the issue on the agenda for as long as possible by discussing it endlessly. The moment someone is close to finding a way out of the stalemate, end the meeting abruptly or say everyone needs time to discuss the pros and cons. You can be rest assured that some new issues will come up and put the original issue back in the infinite loop.

 

Another way of creating an environment in which nobody takes a decision is to make your employees believe that their happiness and job security are on the line whenever they make a mistake. Apart from being reluctant to take any decisions, they would like to please you by asking your advice on every decision.

Going by the stories emanating from corporate corridors, Indian managers appear to have mastered the art of how not to take a decision. Former Chief Vigilance Commissioner N Vittal was fond of recounting this story: There was a rat that was being harassed by a cat. It went to the owl, the wise bird, to get an idea about how to tackle the cat problem. The owl thought for a while and ponderously told the rat: "To tackle the cat problem, you must also become a cat. You are suffering today because you are weak and the cat is strong."

The solution sounded right. So the rat went back to the owl the next day and asked how it could become a cat. The owl replied: "Look, implementation is your problem. So, you fix a meeting with the cat to find a way out."

Needless to say, the rat got the message and never went back to the owl for any further decisions.

A headhunter recounts his experience with a CEO who didn't want to take a decision on recruiting a vice-president. "He just wanted to sit on the fence. Whenever a candidate was shortlisted after multiple interviews, he would either want to see two more candidates in the previous list or make too many reference calls," the headhunter says. A year on, the post is still vacant.

Many managers have developed a need for more information, advice or resources that they know they will never get. That's a sure-fire way of putting to bed undecided issues.

In his delightful book – In the wonderland of Indian managers – Sharu Rangnekar has shown how "effective" managers have perfected this art. An effective manager will not be sitting back simply delaying decisions. He will be on his feet where decisions are asked for and will avoid them. He will keep initiative in his hands and will not allow "decision-by-default".

Even where it is impossible to avoid decisions and the only alternative is to delay it, the active manager is clearly distinguished from the passive one. The passive manager will delay by being too busy, going on leave, putting the problem at the bottom of the pending pile, going on tour and if all these fail, fall sick. In contrast, the active, decision-avoiding manager will counsel a deliberate delay.

Rangnekar gives an example of this active decision-avoiding approach. On a decision regarding a cycle-stand for workers, the "active" manager notes: "The industrial situation is in a melting pot. It is essential to allow time to stabilise the situation. Besides, the macro-situation has to be clarified, so I suggest that the cycle-stand proposal be delayed indefinitely".

The most popular method of passing the buck ("if you can get somebody else to avoid the decision, don't avoid it yourself") is to appoint a committee to review the problem. But that itself may not be enough.

So here are a few tips: make the committee as large as possible because the possibility of avoiding a decision increases in proportion to the square of the numbers of members in the committee; or make the committee incompatible — at least two of the members should have a previous record of proved hostility.

The other way of ensuring that the committee fails to arrive at a decision is to appoint somebody who has the exceptional quality of inaction. He is thus invaluable to his managers because he cannot or will not complete any job assigned to him and is thus very convenient for avoiding decisions.

If none of this works out, recommend a survey (a sure way of creating confusion and delay) or appoint a consultant whose terms of reference are ambiguous, enough so that his report creates confusion and hostility. The original problem is sure to get lost in the process.

If all these sound familiar, thank Rangnekar for his fascinating insights.

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BUSINESS STANDARD

FM COMBINES REFORMS WITH FISCAL DISCIPLINE

THE FM HAS PULLED OFF THE TASK WITH EASE AND AS MUCH PRECISION WITHOUT DISTURBING THE FISCAL EQUILIBRIUM

MUKESH BUTANI

On the eve of budget day, the Economic Survey revealed encouraging macro-economic data, barring the inflation barometer, which remains a huge worry for the economy at large and potential challenge for sustaining the growth momentum. The finance minister (FM) in his speech confirmed growth forecasts in the Economic Survey that the economy is likely to grow at 8.6 per cent during the current fiscal. For consecutive years, economic growth has been riding high on the impressive growth trends of the service sector, which grew at close to double digits.

Backed by a remarkable turnaround in the current fiscal, Mr Mukherjee set out ambitious targets of fiscal consolidation for next three fiscal years; he aims to contain the fiscal deficit in a phased manner and achieve a deficit of 3 per cent by FY14. A first look at the budget estimates for the fiscal deficit may appear ambitious, although the resilience of the economy of late suggests the targets are not impossible to achieve with sustained growth trends.

 

The FM's budget speech was replete with major policy reforms including proposals for infrastructure and banking sectors. The FM indicated that the government would continue to pursue its disinvestment programme as he set out a whopping target of Rs 40,000 crore for non-tax revenue mobilisation. For financial sector reforms, the FM proposed to introduce legislative amendments to extant legislations (for insurance and banking industry); for granting the new banking licences to the private sector players, he indicated that legislative amendment to the Banking Regulations Act will be proposed in the ongoing session of Parliament.

On the tax policy front, the announcement on the roll-out of new tax legislations — the Direct Taxes Code (DTC) and the Goods & Services Tax (GST) would be welcomed by the trade & industry. Mr Mukherjee has re-affirmed the government's commitment to roll out the DTC by April 2012, after the standing committee's report; however, he held back from committing to the calendar for the GST roll-out. The proposal to liberalise the policy on foreign direct investment is an encouraging move.

In line with expectations, the FM did not propose significant changes in headline income tax rates, except a marginal increase in the basic exemption limit for individual taxpayers. A half percentage point increase in Minimum Alternate Tax (MAT) could hurt critical industries that are otherwise eligible for tax holiday incentives, though the reduction of surcharge may marginalise the overall impact. Developers of special economic zones (SEZs) may feel the heat more than any other industry now that the FM has proposed to extend MAT applicability to hitherto exempt SEZ developers and units. The proposal to tax the foreign dividend at an incentivised rate of 15 per cent would encourage outbound investments.

The FM has taken cognisance of the long-term growth drivers in the economy and has proposed measures to address them through focus on education and skill building to cash on unique demographic dividends the country enjoys. Proposals to provide "tax pass-through status" to infrastructure debt funds and incentivised taxation of income from such funds will provide a fillip to infrastructure funding, a huge challenge for the 12th Plan. Policy move to strengthen PPP and attempts to address environment-related issues are just the right policy moves in the nick of time.

To tackle the black money menace, the Budget has proposed to notify a list of non-cooperative jurisdictions and legislate anti-avoidance measures in respect of transactions undertaken with residents of such jurisdictions.

The status quo on indirect tax rates is in line with the industry's expectations; the FM has, however, proposed to broadbase the service tax net with a view to mop up additional revenues of Rs 400 crore. There were let-downs, nevertheless; the countervailing duty in lieu of state VAT on imports has not been withdrawn. Proposals for indirect tax amendments broadly hovered around the transition to the GST regime, as the government braces for the overhaul with the Constitution Amendment Bill likely to be proposed in the current Parliament session.

In summary, the FM has pulled off the task with ease and as much precision without disturbing the fiscal equilibrium. The policy initiatives for critical sectors such as banking and infrastructure will help the cause of economic inclusion and fiscal consolidation. Having said that, it would be equally important for the government to rein in inflation with supply side measures; the enhanced emphasis in the Budget proposal for the development of agriculture should achieve this objective in the short to medium term.

(The author was assisted by Sumit Singhania. Views expressed are personal)

Mukesh Butani, Partner, BMR Advisors

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

BRAVO, CENSUS

CENSUS 2011 RESULTS ARE OUT AMAZINGLY FAST AND SHOW ACUTE GENDER DISTRESS


In a remarkable display of sophisticated data capture and number crunching, the Census of India has made available some preliminary numbers for Census 2011 whose enumeration was completed just weeks ago. India's decadal population growth rate continues its predictable decline from the peak of 24.8% over 1961-71, touching 17.64%, the lowest since Independence. This, though, is higher than the Central Statistical Organisation's estimate, resulting in the enumerated total population being 121 crore, about 3 crore higher than the CSO's forecast. Population growth in Assam and West Bengal is lower than the national average, suggesting that fears in some quarters over an immigrant flood from Bangladesh are greatly exaggerated. There is some good news on the literacy front while gender discrimination continues to be worrisome. The total literacy rate has improved 9.2 percentage points to 74%. Sure, this leaves a quarter of the population still illiterate. But it is heartening to note that female literacy has gone up sharply, moving up 11.7 percentage points to 65.46%. Male literacy, too, has climbed, albeit more slowly, rising 6.8 percentage points to reach 82.14%. But the story is starkly different when it comes to measures of gender equality. The sex ratio measures the number of females in the population to 1,000 males. In the absence of discrimination, the ratio would be above 1,000. The actual ratio is 940 for 2011, up from 933 in 2001. This might seem marginal improvement. But the sex ratio for children up to the age of six is an abysmal 914 for the country as a whole and is adverse even in a state like Kerala, where the overall figure for the population as a whole is favourable. When these children grow up, they can only worsen the sex ratio for the population as a whole. And this does not augur well for the nourishment of body and mind that future generations of Indians would have received as they enter the workforce.


Census 2011 boasts the tag line, Our Census, Our Future. Census data would play a role in shaping the future if it is made available in time to form the basis of policy. It appears that the complete 2011 Census data would be made available relatively fast, living up to that promise.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

EDITORIAL

WELCOME TWEAKS

THE CHANGES TO THE POLICY ON FOREIGN DIRECT INVESTMENT MAKE GOOD SENSE


The changes in foreign direct investment policy are, on the whole, welcome. What is most welcome is getting rid of the condition that the domestic partner in a joint venture with a foreign company must issue a no-objection certificate for the foreign partner to set up a new enterprise in a related field. This move will help in two ways immediately: it will put an end to rent seeking behaviour of some Indian entrepreneurs and serve to make India a little more attractive for foreign capital. Many Indian businessmen are known to have in the past held back consent for foreign partners to forge alliances with other companies or set up a 100% subsidiary in a related area of activity, or else sought a huge monetary compensation. Such unpleasantness can be avoided now, unless, of course, the shareholder agreements prohibit multiple partnerships or fully-owned subsidiaries. Yet, the move need not augur well for small investors who have put their money in a joint venture on the assumption of continued technological and managerial involvement of the foreign partner. The viability and valuation of the joint venture could erode if the foreign partner were to divert its attention to build a new business in the same area of activity. The small investor needs an exit option, akin to the open offer in an acquisition. In the absence of such an institutional arrangement, such joint ventures would find it hard to attract investors.
The decision to simplify guidelines for downstream investments, abandoning classification of companies into investing companies, operating companies and investing-cum-operating companies in favour of companies owned or controlled by foreign investors and companies owned and controlled by Indian residents is sensible. Other changes in the consolidated FDI circular such as allowing companies to issue equity for non-cash considerations, too, should warm foreign investors towards India. The amended policy allows issue of equity to suppliers of capital goods and machinery as well as to those bearing pre-operative or pre-incorporation expenses. On the whole, the policy changes should boost FDI.

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

WALK THE TALK

INDIANS WOULD HAVE A TOUGH TIME IF THE EU BANS CARS IN CITIES BY 2050


The proposal by the European Union to ban 'conventionally fuelled' cars from its cities by 2050 is admittedly less o u t - r é than its infamous diktat regarding the curvature and length limits on imported bananas and cucumbers, but its implementation will certainly change lifestyles as we know it. While the Europeans may readily take to buses, trains and boats and even bicycles, it will be tough for visiting Indians, as we have come to regard four-wheeled personal transportation as badges of (upward) mobility. Imagine the reaction of the ever-increasing hordes of well-heeled Indians who descend on London during the summer when they are told to hoof it to Harrods on the Piccadilly subway line, instead of a chauffeur-driven car or at least a black cab? Worse still, think of their predicament when they learn they would have to jump aboard the No 19 bus — in their Prada heels, Graff diamonds, et al — to get to Belgravia for a dinner party to celebrate a fellow Indian buying out yet another iconic European company. Not only would they have to give the Oyster card pride of place over the Centurion in their wallets, they would have to tuck in a tube and bus map too.


Since that dreaded day is still a few decades — and an estimated €1.5 trillion — away, and just in case some new sustainable fuel is not found in the meanwhile to keep those Porsches and Jaguars within city limits in Europe, Indians have time to think of alternatives. They could buy sturdier shoes; or they could contemplate shifting their custom and buying sprees gradually to places where their concerns are more sympathetically dealt with, such as New York, Dubai or Singapore. Or, should we simply hope that by then the new generation of Indians travelling to or living in Europe would think differently?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

FACE OFF    

RAJAT GUPTA, INSIDER TRADING & PROBES

SELF-DEFENCE OR DAMAGE CONTROL WON'T WHITEWASH WHITE COLLAR CRIMES, NO MATTER HOW BIG OR SMALL



    It was a riot to read Rajat Gupta's column on philanthropy less than a week after the US securities regulator, SEC, came out with a detailed order initiating administrative hearings against Gupta's tipping of inside information. Was this some kind of damage control? The saint who made some money on the side? Interestingly, the damage control seems to have begun some two weeks before the SEC order was published on March 1, 2011. In a piece dated February 16, 2011 he writes "The Public Health Foundation of India (PHFI), with which I am involved, is an innovative model of a publicprivate partnership that has evolved from these new approaches. PHFI was launched by the Prime Minister in March 2006 as an integrated and multi-pronged initiative." Then in the piece on philanthropy on March 6, 2011 he says: "Very often, people ask me how I am able to raise such significant philanthropic donations for a variety of initiatives when these projects are not single-donor led and governed with their name on the initiative. I firmly believe in the Gandhian philosophy that says "if the cause is just, means will come"… And so I believe credible initiatives with high integrity and leadership will attract significant philanthropic funding" and "would like to illustrate these principles by describing philanthropic ventures that I have been involved with in India." The timing of the Gupta's articles to show his halo were matched only by his timings in other fields.


To be sure, there is no final ruling against Gupta yet. But the initial findings are quite damning, and are backed up by wiretap phone calls, one of which is in public domain. The SEC's order specifically mentions the line from which Gupta called the chief accused Raj Rajaratnam, the time and the time gap between his receiving inside information and passing it on. For instance, Gupta called Rajaratnam on 22nd and 23rd shortly after a teleconference board meeting of Goldman Sachs. Rajaratnam placed orders while the call with Gupta was going on and the positions were liquidated in a day once the information was made public. On another date, December 23, 2008, Gupta could not wait more than 23 seconds before calling Rajaratnam with bad news about Goldman Sachs financials and, of course, Rajaratnam sold.


So, here is the bad news for people who commit whitecollar crimes. It is much easier to be caught with damning information, particularly on insider trading and manipulation cases in the stock market. We have already seen damning telephone recordings in the Radia episodes in another context and another scam. Though the market regulator does not have authority to tap phone calls, it has used other powers quite effectively. Sebi has in at least one ruling used the location of cell phones determined through information captured by cell phone towers to nail a market manipulator — even without a wiretap. With PAN card being made compulsory, it has become more and more difficult to hide securities market transactions if made in the names of relatives or affiliate corporate entities. Couple that with the advanced surveillance system which the securities regulator, Sebi has, and it looks like you can run but cannot hide. Couple that also with modern phone technology which can track timing of phone calls and location of cell phones, and it becomes far easier to catch crooks in their acts.

But, there is a catch: much of this benefit comes after painstaking work and analysis. Getting information, collating it and then making sense of it not only requires effort, but getting the raw data itself will take time and can face legal challenges of privacy. This means that investigating agencies and regulators will never catch more than a handful of egregious conduct. This also means that such agencies will not be able to prevent such offences, only catch them subsequently and hope that the penalty will deter others from acting in such manner in the future. Given that the resources of a regulator are limited, they are best applied to big catches and also a handful of smaller catches. Big catches, because the quantum of wrongdoing is large and a single find can result in major regulatory returns besides the optics of putting big bad guys under lock. Small catches, because just because you are small fish doesn't mean you can always get away. The regulator wants to show that just because you are a small-time crook doesn't mean that you will always get away.


Of course, an investigative body or regulator can be stymied by the judicial process and delays, which gives the opposite signal to white-collar criminals. That they can get away if they have the right strategy in courts. Unfortunately, in a rule-of-law country, we must all live with the problems which come attached with such a due process which often protects 10 crooks at the cost of hanging one innocent.


It would be interesting to end with a quote from Rajat Gupta, taken violently out of its context, in a message that would apply not only to students, but to insiders and to regulators: "In my many years of counseling clients, I've found that the most successful executives are those who are well-prepared to seize the initiative — especially at moments when others, immobilised by indecision, are hesitant to act."

 

SANDEEP PAREKH FOUNDER, FINSEC LAW ADVISORS

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

WHITHER HINDUSTANI CLASSICAL MUSIC?

KULDEEP KUMAR


Music, especially of the classical or high-brow variety, evolves through a dialectical interplay of tradition and change. Those changes that are in tune with tradition and its values enrich it. On its onward journey, music, like all other arts, experiences such changes too that militate against its very core. Sadly, north Indian classical music, popularly known as Hindustani classical, is at present faced with such a situation where it has to find a way to avoid dilution in its core values. This music is essentially chamber music meant for a small number of initiated connoisseurs. However, for various reasons, it began to make an appearance on the public platform towards the end of the 19th century. Today, celebrity musicians like Ravi Shankar perform for very large audiences in India and abroad.


However,just as the Hindi film music has made a transition from being melody-based to becoming rhythm-based, Hindustani classical music too is slowly following suit. In the process, the centuries-old equation and relationship between the main performer and his percussion accompanist is getting warped. In the bygone era, accompanists on tabla, sarangi, violin or harmonium used to sit on the concert stage in a way so that they did not directly face the audience but facing the main performer. This arrangement gave primacy to the main artiste and enabled the accompanists to take the cue from him or her. Today, most tabla players face the audiences. They want to be treated at par with the main performer. It is not at all unusual to see listeners sitting with deadpan faces while a sitar or sarod player is probing the depths of a ragain the alap-jodjhalasection and breaking into an uproarious applause the moment the tabla accompanist starts playing. On most occasions, it is the tabla player who receives more appreciation and applause from the audiences whenever the main artiste repeats the melodic line and allows the accompanist to play solo sequences. As vocalist or instrumentalist want to attract as big an audience as possible, they too go along with this so that the concert becomes 'successful'. One feels that if tabla players are so keen to display their art and virtuosity, they should give solo performances. The practice of giving tabla players a chance to play solo for a few minutes was started by Ravi Shankar with very good reasons and intentions. Firstly, unlike quite a few of his contemporaries, he had tremendous mastery over taal and wanted the tabla player to enrich his performance. Secondly, he wanted to give them a chance to display their art too. However, one is sure that even he could not have anticipated that his well-intentioned effort would culminate into this situation. There is an old long-playing record of Ravi Shankar's Bihag. He is accompanied by Ahmad Jan Thirakwa who was perhaps the greatest tabla player of the last century. While the Bihag is truly soul-nourishing, the way Thirakwa plays tabla is a lesson in the art of accompaniment. Not for a moment does he try to steal the thunder from Ravi Shankar and goes on to play with great dexterity and remarkable restraint, thus showing due deference to the main performer who was junior to him by several decades. For many years, attempts have been regularly made to recreate the chamber music ambience by organising baithaks in public places. However, the old-world etiquette is never followed. The unwritten rule for such baithakswas that very senior and knowledgeable people were seated in the front row, followed by those who were less senior and less knowledgeable, and the last row was given to those who were uninitiated. Those sitting in the front row wielded such authority that if the performer was very disappointing, they could stop him even in the middle of a performance. There is a story that a vocalist of great repute visited Delhi's Chandni Mahal, the residential area of musicians, in the 19th century. At a soiree, he was stopped by a very old ustad who took the tanpura away from him, asking, "Are you singing Malkauns or Bhairavi?" Certain taansare common to both and one is allowed to use them only fleetingly, which perhaps the singer was not doing. Another disturbing trend today is the trivialisation of the word 'sufi' by divorcing it from its religious and spiritual context. The prefix 'sufi' is being so liberally used with all kinds of music that it is fast losing its meaning. We have sufi-rock, sufi-pop, sufi-jazz, sufi-hiphop and so on. Everybody knows that qawwalis originated in the dargahs of sufi saints. But did Roshan claim that he was composing sufi music for the Bharat Bhushan-Madhubala film Barsat Ki Raat? Did Habib Painter or Shakeela Banu Bhopali ever call themselves sufi singers?

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

GUEST COLUMN

SWITCH OFF NUCLEAR POWER

G V RAMAKRISHNA

 

In the context of the unfolding nuclear disaster in Japan, it would be necessary to revisit our nuclear power policy.


In 1996, I was member-incharge of energy in the Planning Commission. I have a clear memory of what I had said in meetings and the notings of that period.


The proposal to go in for a big expansion in our nuclear power capacity was based on our growing demand for power, essential for our development, increasing concern for the environment and the global pressure for countries to reduce their carbon emission from coal-based power stations.


I had taken the view that on several grounds, the nuclear power route was not the preferred solution.
After 15 years, I can only summarise my arguments against nuclear power.


THE COST-BENEFIT RATIO


• The total addition to our power generation capacity will grow from about 4% to 7-8% after about 10 years. Our experience with Kalpakkam and Koodangulam projects shows the timeframe could go up to 15-20 years. The benefits from nuclear power will be negligible and we will have to depend on other sources of power like coal-based thermal, hydro, solar, ocean waves, etc. Thus, the nuclear option cannot expect to meet out power needs in a significant way.


While the time taken to construct a thermal power station is about three years, the time taken for a nuclear power station is, under Indian conditions, over 10 years. During the period, there will be cost escalation.

• The cost of nuclear power will be about . 12,000 crore per mw against about . 4,000 crore for thermal power at 1995 prices. The figure does not take into account the cost of waste disposal that will be indeterminate and quite high.

It is obvious that the costbenefit ratio is adverse.

THE RISK-BENEFIT RATIO


• The risks of accidents in nuclear power — as seen in the Chernobyl and Three Mile Island cases — are well-known, and the Fukushima case further highlights the risk to human life and property. Compared to coal-based power and coal mining accidents, nuclear accidents are several times more dangerous.


• The risk assessment is made on certain assumptions about earthquakes, tsunamis and their intensity. The probability factor is crucial. For example, the assumption about the Richter scale is by and large unpredictable. The scale indicating the severity of the earthquake is scale-sensitive.

 

An earthquake of 5 on the Richter scale is 10 times more severe than a Richterscale-4 earthquake. A small change between the actual and the assumed scale of the earthquake will have severe consequences.
The recent, and ongoing nuclear accident in Fukushima following the earthquake and the tsunami, shows the extent of damage to life and property over a large part of the country.

The risk-benefit ratio is also adverse.

The question to be asked is whether it is worthwhile for the country to take such a high risk for adding about 5% of our power needs. Many Western countries are already reviewing their nuclear power policy. The other reason given at that time in favour of nuclear power was that the nuclear waste could be reprocessed to yield fissile material that can be used for weapons.


The conditions imposed in the Indo-US nuclear deal and the possibility of stoppage of supply of fuel render even the basic reason for nuclear security by promoting nuclear power somewhat risky. Our nuclear deterrence is, at present, not insignificant. So, should we adopt the risky route of nuclear power?


Our coal reserves of over 90 billion tonnes can be developed if we open up mining to private sector with commercial prices determining investment decisions.


A high-level committee under the chairmanship of international expert K S R Chari with seven secretaries to the government of India as members, had made detailed recommendations for our coal policy in 1996.
The environmental aspect can be taken care of by imposing conditions for restoration of forests and the environment. Clean coal-burning technologies have been developed in other countries. We can access them through commercial arrangements.


Thus, on grounds of costbenefit ratio, risk-benefit ratio and strategic considerations, the nuclear power policy needs a comprehensive review.


(The author is former member for energy , The Planning

Commission)

 

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

COSMIC UPLINK

MORE PLACES IN THE SUN

MUKUL SHARMA


The majority of astrobiologists are not fooling themselves any longer. They realise — even if they don't go public — that it's only a matter of time before we find life also exists on other worlds or that the life which lives on Earth didn't spontaneously originate here. There's increasing evidence for both and either way it could have serious consequences for the faithful who consider the primacy of our planet to be supreme. Before 1995, our solar system was thought to be a fluky one-off event with the chances of a single planet in such a structure being at the right distance from its star to have liquid water in order to sustain living organisms, astronomical. Now we have confirmed evidence of over a thousand exo-plants with the definite possibility of billions more in just our local galaxy alone. What's more, it also appears that the first spores of life may have been delivered to our shores by meteorites that were blasted off from Mars and landed on this haven where conditions at the time were just right for them to take root, evolve further and flourish. No, the startling fact is not that we might actually be Martians but that the seeds of life could be so inexhaustible and ubiquitous in the universe. People who believe that a Creator is obviously imaginative enough to people many worlds and not just one dinky piece of rock have no problem with this. But those who think we are somehow the only ones created in His image or have a special place in His heart are going to be profoundly disoriented.

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THE ECONOMIC TIMES

CITINGS

WINNING

JACK WELCH


In my experience, an effective mission statement basically answers one question: How do we intend to win in this business? It does not answer: what were we good at in the good old days? Nor does it answer: How can we describe our business so that no particular unit or division or senior executive gets pissed off?Instead, the question "How do we intend to win in this business?" is defining. It requires companies to make choices about people, investments, and other resources, and it prevents them from falling into the common mission trap of asserting they will be all things to all people at all times. The question forces companies to delineate their strengths and weaknesses in order to assess where they can profitably play in the competitive landscape. Yes, profitably — that's the key. Even Ben & Jerry's, the crunchy granola, hippy, savethe-world ice cream company based in Vermont, has "profitable growth" and "increasing value for stakeholders" as one of the elements of its threepart mission statement because its executives know that without financial success, all the social goals in the world don't have a chance. That's not saying a mission shouldn't be bold or aspirational. Ben & Jerry's, for instance, wants to sell "all natural ice cream and euphoric concoctions" and "improve the quality of life locally, nationally and internationally." That kind of language is great in that it absolutely has the power to excite people and motivate them to stretch.

 

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                                                                                                               DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

GOOD START TO PM'S BID TO RESET PAK TIES

 

When Indians and Pakistanis meet at any level, the camaraderie is spontaneous, thanks to the heritage and traditional values we share. There was then no question that the informal summit between Prime Ministers Manmohan Singh and Yousaf Raza Gilani at Mohali on Wednesday would be imbued with warmth, past troubles notwithstanding. It is just as well that there were little expectations as such — that might have ruined things, for there are unanswered questions regarding 26/11 lying with Islamabad. The invitation was spontaneous from the Indian side, and its acceptance gracious on Pakistan's part. There was no pressure of outcomes: conversations at the top were loosely choreographed and spontaneous to the extent such events can be. But make no mistake. The Indian ruling establishment lent its weight to the PM's initiative. The Congress president, Mrs Sonia Gandhi, and her son Mr Rahul Gandhi, were with the Pakistani leader on the cricket ground, as were several top Indian dignitaries. This is in stark contrast with the time two-and-a-half years ago when Dr Singh's forward stance at Sharm el-Sheikh had gone half cock, with the Congress sinking in its cups. This is the significant change that marks the Indian stand regarding Pakistan. Its meaning is that Dr Singh and the UPA-2 will give full backing to the civilian leadership in Islamabad. There is an implied recognition — which the Indians have been careful not to make explicit for fear of raising questions domestically — that Pakistan's civilian government is, really speaking, powerless to decide whether to be of assistance to India on 26/11 or not. In the short term, Delhi's decision is, therefore, to sidestep that question as much as feasible, and move on to explore if cooperation is possible in other areas. Whether any of this impresses the Pakistani military leadership — the people who really count on the other side of the border — is a moot question. The hope in New Delhi is, however, that the people of Pakistan would be favourably inclined toward India's new approach. This is not an unrealistic expectation, but civil society in Pakistan has been pushed back by the extremists who are running amok in the public space, as the aftermath of the recent assassinations of Salman Taseer and Shahbaz Bhatti showed. The Western friends of both India and Pakistan will, nevertheless, probably approve of the Mohali interlude. In Kashmir too, the Prime Minister's initiative should go down well, though politicians there are known to be mealy-mouthed and prone to conceal what they wish to say. In a sense, Dr Singh seems to be attempting a return to the phase before Kargil when the then prime minister Atal Behari Vajpayee had sought to open up the people-level frontier. The Indian group that Dr Singh invited to dinner with his Pakistani guest in Mohali included the Lok Sabha Speaker, Ms Meira Kumar, agriculture minister, Mr Sharad Pawar and the Planning Commission deputy chairman, Mr Montek Singh Ahluwalia. This speaks of a certain outlook in pushing "cooperative solutions" at the popular level. Not losing sight of reality, the PM, according to a briefing by foreign secretary Nirupama Rao, "reiterated the need for an atmosphere free of violence and terror in order to enable the true normalisation of relations between India and Pakistan". This is the fly in the ointment. This is the factor that has upset the applecart before. If the Zardari-Gilani dispensation in Pakistan (or any other civilians) does not show the capacity to exert itself in this direction, the dreams can be interrupted by a rude awakening.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

THE WIKI-TRICK

 

The parliamentary furore over WikiLeaks has died down, but not without leaving some questions in the minds of those unversed in diplomatic practice. The huge fuss made by Opposition parties over one particular cable, dated July 17, 2008, from US charge d'affaires Steven White to the US state department (162458: secret) — which reports allegations of funds stashed to facilitate vote-buying before that month's confidence vote in the then United Progressive Alliance government — raises questions about the significance of such communications in international diplomacy, and how much we should make of it all. The fact is that cables are only one form of reporting from an embassy to its capital. Information is also conveyed through other means — emails, both encrypted and ordinary; and telephone calls, on secure lines or tappable ones. So on any subject, a leaked cable represents only a part of the communications likely to have been used and cannot convey a complete picture of the embassy's view of any particular issue. In addition, the headquarters at the capital has other sources of information to complement its embassy's communications — notes of conversations with visiting officials, assessments obtained from third countries, intelligence evaluations and files of previous correspondence. Cumulatively, that makes the cable's rendering a very partial one indeed. The problem with WikiLeaks is compounded by the impossibility of knowing how complete the leakage is. Do we have every cable sent by a particular embassy on a specific subject? Might there have been others, even on the same day, that haven't been leaked? Are these cables even complete in themselves or have they been edited or trimmed? And what about the "redactions" that WikiLeaks managers have done, which may have omitted crucial names or identities that would enable us to judge the worth of the analyses contained therein? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was excoriated by the Opposition for telling Parliament that the government of India could not confirm the "veracity, contents or even existence of such communications". Strictly speaking, though, he was right. Not even the state department has officially confirmed the authenticity of the leaked cables. But even if they are, as most people assume, authentic, they are clearly selective and incomplete. As one who has seen (and drafted) rather a large number of cables in the course of a three-decade United Nations career, I am only too aware of their entertainment value, as well as of their limitations as a source. American diplomatic cables are often famously gossipy and speculative. As a glance through some of the WikiLeaks trove will confirm, US diplomats will take you out to lunch and derive a cable from your chatter; they will attend a seminar with three retired ambassadors and pen an analysis of the "considered views" of "the Indian strategic community"; they will pick up party gossip and report is as unverified fact. In the case of the White cable so extensively quoted by both the Communist Party of India-Marxist and the Bharatiya Janata Party, the allegations were reported by an unidentified embassy staffer to the political counsellor, who put them in the charge's cable — in other words, it was reported speech of reported speech, hardly a worthwhile basis for a major controversy in our national Parliament. Other embassies resort to the same or similar practices. Indeed, since these cables are not intended for publication, but are meant to be read by a limited audience with access to multiple sources of other context-enhancing information, they rarely need the kind of verification or fact-checking that a simple newspaper article would require before going to print. To treat them as anything more than they are, as our Opposition absurdly did, is to grant US diplomatic reporting an assumption of infallibility that a devout Catholic would blush to ascribe to the Pope. And then, isn't it touching that our notoriously devious political class assumes that everything spoken by an Indian to a US official must be true? Has no Indian ever lied to a foreigner before, or simply said things for effect? Or even spoken in a certain way to tempt the listening American into an indiscretion? When WikiLeaks first burst upon an unsuspecting world late last year, an opinion writer in the respected technology website DigitalJournal.com scathingly wrote that it "constitutes a needless and irresponsible act of mindless trouble-making and mayhem-sowing which (will only) please those who seek to create chaos". He could have been anticipating the shenanigans in our Parliament in late March. At about the same time, I told an Indian interviewer, in a statement that had me pummelled on every youthful commentator's website, that WikiLeaks was irresponsible and unethical. I argued that, just as in our daily lives we will occasionally say things to people (both positive, for example, flattery, or negative, for example, criticism) that we would not want others to overhear or repeat in public, so too countries had the right, and indeed the need, to convey opinions or assessments to each other that they would not wish to share with the world. Statements made under the assumption of confidentiality are not intended to be revealed for the delectation of a prurient public unaware of the context or the background. To reveal them carelessly in such a way is to interfere with the effective conduct of international diplomacy, which ultimately keeps our global relationships moving smoothly. Governments need confidentiality in order to conduct their daily business. Indeed, confidentiality oils the gearboxes of inter-governmental relations. A world in which no government could speak frankly to another for fear of its secrets being broadcast to others would not be a safer world as fans of WikiLeaks naively argued, but a more dangerous one. One of the famous clichés about India related to the almost mythical Indian rope-trick, in which a curled rope on the ground mysteriously uncoiled itself to stand erect, allowing a boy to climb it. WikiLeaks led our Opposition to perform a parliamentary version of an Indian rope-trick — they climbed up their own premises without visible means of support till their arguments vanished into thin air. Unlike the rope-trick of legend, this was not a pretty sight. Let us hope we never have to witness it again. * Shashi Tharoor is a member of Parliament from Kerala's Thiruvananthapuram constituency

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

EDITORIAL

EGYPT'S DEMOCRACY IS MESSY, BUT IT'S OK

 

Egypt is a mess. Nearly two months after street protests inspired a democratic revolution, the transitional military-backed government has proposed — you guessed it — a law banning protests. That's partly because everybody is protesting, even the police. The cops want more money, perhaps because their diminished authority means that they can now extract less in bribes. With the police out of commission, the Army uses thugs to intimidate its critics. And, when it really gets irritated, it arrests and tortures democracy activists. As I wrote in my previous column, it has even tried to humiliate female activists by subjecting them to forced "virginity exams". The Muslim Brotherhood, once banned, has been brought into the power structure. Instead of denouncing the system, it is becoming part of it — and some of its activists are rampaging around Cairo University. Yet for Americans, what is unfolding is perhaps a reassuring mess. Westerners have mostly worried that Egypt might plunge into Iran-style Islamic fundamentalism — and, to me, that seems a reflection of our own hobgoblins more than Egypt's. Indeed, it seems increasingly likely that Egypt won't change as much as many had expected. Moreover, the biggest losers of the revolution are likely to be violent Islamic extremist groups that lose steam when the more moderate Muslim Brotherhood joins the system. "There is a determined effort to stop the revolution in its tracks", notes Prof. Khaled Fahmy of the American University, Cairo. That's disappointing for democracy activists like him, but reassuring to those who fear upheaval. Based on my third trip to Cairo since the protests began, here's my guess as to how events unfold: * Post-revolution Egypt will look a lot like pre-revolution Egypt, but modestly less repressive and with a more powerful civil society. The Army will continue to run the show, as it has since 1952 through onetime officers like Hosni Mubarak, and will ensure continuity. * People will continue to be tortured, but will complain about it more. Peace with Israel will continue, but Egyptian officials will speak up more forcefully about suffering in Gaza. * The best bet for the next President is Amr Moussa. He's a former foreign minister who has led the Arab League: a veteran politician and pragmatist who would constitute a breath of fresh air but not a gust of it. * Islamists will play a greater role in society and government, as they do in Turkey. But this will also mean that they are trying to build things rather than blow them up. Islamic groups are certainly more active than before. Mohammed Alaiwa, a professor of literary criticism at Cairo University, told me that he was in a dean's office recently when a Muslim Brotherhood student burst in, pulled out a pistol and threatened to shoot the dean unless he resigned then and there (the student eventually backed down). Prof. Alaiwa said that he now fears the Muslim Brotherhood students. Meanwhile, the up-and-comer Islamists are Salafis, who think the Muslim Brotherhood is far too moderate. A group of Salafis recently attacked a Coptic Christian, apparently accusing him of illicit sexual activity and cutting off his ear. When Egyptians celebrated International Women's Day on March 8, gangs of men harassed them. When Mohamed ElBaradei, the Nobel Peace Prize-winner who is running for President, tried to vote in a recent referendum, a mob attacked him. When foreign reporters show up to cover news that might portray Egypt in a bad light, angry mobs sometimes chase them away. Fortunately, reporters have so far proved to be swifter runners than Egyptian xenophobes. Yet we have to be realistic: roads to democracy are always bumpy — and, frankly, I feel pretty good about Egypt. Despite some excesses, the Muslim Brotherhood has been tamed by being brought into the system. It says it won't field a candidate for President and will contest only a bit more than one-third of parliamentary seats. Its website suggests that its aim is "a civil state" rather than "a religious state", and it emphasises the importance of respect for the Christian minority. The big loser from the Muslim Brotherhood's rise is probably its enemy, Al Qaeda, which wasn't a part of the democracy protests and always argued that the only path to change was violence. All in all, Egypt today reminds me of other countries in transitions to democracy — Spain after Franco, South Korea in 1987, Romania or Ukraine in the 1990s, and, most of all, of Indonesia after the ouster of its dictator in 1998. Indonesia was dodgy for a while — I once encountered Javanese mobs beheading people — but it settled down, the extremist threat diminished and Indonesia is now a stable (if unfinished) democracy. So, yes, Egypt is messy. A young democracy almost always is. Let's get used to it.

 

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

KEEPING THE STRIPES ON THE TIGER

 

News of the new tiger estimation in India, the last stronghold of the great cat, has brought some relief. The numbers are up, though better methods and techniques may have helped. Paradoxically, the same survey shows a shrinkage of the habitat needed to sustain wild populations of the tiger with prey and cover intact. In a sense the latter matters more than mere numbers. It is easy to ignore but vital to recall that stable breeding populations of a species in secure habitats are more important than absolute numbers. It matters less that there are around 1,700 tigers and not 1,400 as of four years ago. It matters more that a fair number are in contiguous tracts where they can live, breed and hunt unimpeded. Ecologists and scientists, policymakers and citizens alike will debate the fate of the tiger with more abandon now that the results are in. It is sobering to think of the sheer effort that governments put into attempting the reverse of what they are now trying to do. For decades under the Raj, a lot of time, effort and energy went into wiping out large wild animals. Conflicts with carnivores were not new. Tigers, or for that matter lions or wolves, do prey on domestic livestock. Akbar hunted and killed a tigress with white tiger cubs, the first such recorded instance. Rani Durgavati of central India was renowned for tracking and hunting down tigers that ate humans. But it was in the aftermath of the Revolt of 1857, to help pacify and control the countryside in general, and forest areas in particular, that rewards were distributed across British India. The aim was simple: to give incentives to kill as many "dangerous beasts" as possible. Proof of a kill led to cash rewards, with larger bounties for females and cubs. Such antipathy was not new. The tiger had long been seen by the British in India as symbolic of a savage and untamed tropical nature that defied the divine order of things. Writing the same year the Company forces routed the Nawab of Bengal at Palashi (Plassey) in 1757, Edmund Burke had intoned how "the prodigious strength" of the striped cat was mainly "for purposes of rapine and destruction". The numbers are proof enough of the spread and earlier abundance in many areas of large wild vertebrates. Over a 50-year period ending 1925, an average of 1,600 tigers, tigresses and cubs were killed every year. It was around the time its number declined that the big cat won advocates who urged restraint on its massacre. This was also a time of intense conflict between humans and wild animals as roughly 1,500 people a year, and a much larger number of cattle, were prey for tigers. The fatalities on either side were not evenly distributed across the empire but varied in time, place, and even season. But for long such war on the tiger was seen as making the countryside safe for human habitation. Tigers were not shot as often as trapped, snared or poisoned. Shooting required quality weapons and here the civil and military officers, as well as the princes, chipped in. Record numbers ended up as trophies, each large beast carefully measured and weighed, with its skin often becoming a rug. This thirst for trophies could lead elite hunters to amass great "bags". The record is held by the late Ramanuj Saran Singh Deo of Sarguja who shot 1,157 tigers. For good measure His Highness also "took" 2,000 leopards. The skins were status symbols. A couplet early in the last century put it aptly, if in a sexist way. "Would you like to sin with Elinor Glynn/ on a tiger skin/ or would you rather prefer her on some other kind of fur?" If for much of the Raj era the conquest of the tiger was an affirmation of imperium, its revival would be part of a national effort to recuperate a heritage for the nation. Despite flaws, it is easy to forget that India (like Nepal) was an early trendsetter among Asian nations. The Soviet Union alone was ahead of the South Asians in protecting its tigers, but not so the East Asian countries or China. Yet the tiger is not alone. Nor should or can it be. The Indian effort from 1973 on was to see it as the "apex of the ecological pyramid". It would be a guardian of order in the monsoon forest, a flagship that would rally attempts to protect ecosystems in situ in their entirety. Such long history of direct conflict was accompanied by indirect contests for living space. The latter have now quickened. Mines and canals, cultivated, arable lands and townships transform the landscape. True, they will endure in only a fraction of the entire landscape but how that fraction is set aside will test our ability to manage the land itself. Ending the war on the tiger was easier. But can we craft a durable peace? Keeping the stripes on the tiger may be a lot tougher than wiping it off the face of the earth. * Mahesh Rangarajan is an environmental historian

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

LOOK WHO'S FOOLING YOU

 

April 1 is celebrated as All Fools' Day all over the world. On this day, people try to play pranks on others and laugh at the jokes situations create. But what if the joke is on you? April 1 can be taken to represent the day of the cosmic joke. The biggest cosmic joke is maya... the illusory nature of reality. So, the joke is on humanity and what better day to celebrate this joke than on April 1. Let us first understand what this cosmic joke is all about. The world is nothing but Self in Action (shakti) brought forth by Self at Rest (Lord Shiva). The very purpose of the creation of the body and mind is for consciousness to experience itself. But, the beauty of creation is such that the mind has also been made self-aware. Hence, the mind forgets its very purpose and becomes externally focused and mired in the world. This is the cosmic joke... the mind assumes itself and the world to be real and wants to control and experience the world. True spirituality is about allowing the mind to drop so that consciousness can experience itself. However, the joke is so real that the mind forgets its very purpose. If you break a mirror in front of a particular mirror every day, that particular mirror forgets that it too is a mirror and is brittle. It forgets that it shall break too. One can say that the mirror has been April fooled. Because, every night the mind dreams, it assumes itself to be real. The illusion created for expression of consciousness assumes itself to be reality. The mind forgets that it too is a part of a dream and is a mere visualisation of consciousness. The mind (humanity) has been April fooled. This is the biggest joke of all. A merchant once invited a jeweller to assess the value of his wealth all converted into diamonds. The jeweller informed him that alas all his diamonds were fake. The merchant began to lament his fate. The jeweller proposed a solution, "I know it is a fake. But others don't. So, why don't you organise a bumper sale for the world where you offer the diamonds at one-third their value?" The wily merchant jumped at the idea thinking he would at least make something. He organised this sale and every time someone would buy a diamond, the merchant would wring his hands in glee. "Oh look. Another one has been fooled. I am making a fortune even by selling them at one-third their value." What the merchant did not realise is that all along he was the one who was being fooled. The jeweller had lied about the diamonds being fake. All those men who had, one by one, bought out the entire stock from the merchant were all the jeweller's men buying on behalf of him. Thus, this April Fools' day, do not laugh at the expense of others. Instead ponder on how you are being fooled by the cosmic joke. Here are three special ways to celebrate April 1 to make it the most spiritual day of the year: * Contemplate to celebrate: Celebrate this special day by contemplating on the illusory nature of reality. Contemplate on how maya has fooled you. * Meditate to celebrate: Celebrate this unique day be meditating and attaining the "no mind" state. When the mind drops, then the Self shines. Then the purpose for creation of the mind is fulfilled since consciousness experiences itself through the body and mind. The mind is no longer being April fooled. * Investigate to celebrate: Celebrate this novel day by investigating your foolishness. What follies do you have? What false beliefs are hindering your spiritual growth? One may ask why celebrate? The answer is why not? Celebrate because April 1 signifies creation... when the cosmic joke was put in motion. Celebrate so that you are upbeat and happy. In Hindi, April is pronounced as "uprail". The world is a journey where the rails of life progress upwards, not downwards. Instead of being downrailed, depressed or dejected by the illusion of this creation, contemplate, meditate and investigate. Then, this April 1, you can laugh with the creator by being the creator. — Sirshree is the founder of Tej Gyan Foundation and an author

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DECCAN CHRONICAL

OPED

COMMUNICATION CHANNELS

 

Real power with Army By C. Uday Bhaskar The word "effective" is operative here — effective to what end? When the attention of the two nations is riveted on their cricket encounter at Mohali as I write, the intense debate has been about the linkage between what is being dubbed cricket diplomacy and the larger backdrop of troubled bilateral relationship. Since the composite dialogue template was agreed to by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf in January 2004, the Indian objective has been consistent — that the establishment in Pakistan desist from supporting terrorism against India, including in areas controlled by Pakistan — euphemism for PoK. Thus, one would qualify the proposition to argue that what the Indian leadership is seeking is to be "effective" in ensuring Pakistani compliance with the core of the January 2004 agreement, in word and spirit. However, the enormity of Mumbai in November 2008 proved otherwise. 26/11 is seen as a sign of the perfidy of the Pakistani establishment that has nurtured such support to terrorism as a strategic option, to wage a proxy war and keep India in a state of disequilibrium. If this condition is to be altered, then it is the Pakistani "establishment" in Rawalpindi — the seat of the Pak Army's General Headquarters (GHQ) — that must be persuaded, prevailed upon, or compelled to do so. This is where the structural contradictions surface. It is a tenet of the internal dynamic of that nation that true power resides with the Pak Army, which has retained full control of the Pak nuclear arsenal, support to terrorism, and the extrapolation to Kashmir and the bilateral relationship with India. Hence, if the Indian leadership wants to be "effective" in stabilising the bi-lateral relationship — which alas is strewn with the radio-active recall of Kargil (1999), attack on the Indian parliament leading to Operation Parakram (2002) , Kabul (July 2008) and Mumbai (November 2008), all of which have been endorsed and enabled by Pak GHQ's tacit support — the principal interlocutor on the other side is the Pak "fauj" and its leadership represented by Gen. Kayani. Under normal circumstances, the Indian political apex would have dealt with their civilian counterparts in Pakistan but Islamabad does not have a "normal" power matrix. The centrality of the Pak military in defining the contours of Pakistan's relationship with India needs little reiteration. Testimony to this reality is the reported progress on the Musharraf watch. But then Gen. Kayani is no Musharraf clone, and does not appear to be in any hurry to engage with India. So the glass ceiling will trap the fall-out of Mohali. * C. Uday Bhaskar is the director of National Maritime Foundation * * * An idea that won't work By Anand K. Sahay So considerable has been India's frustration with Pakistan's unwillingness or inability to provide it any real mitigation against terrorism incubated in that country despite numerous paper commitments that many here now feel that it might be best for New Delhi to deal directly with the military brass at the General Headquarters (GHQ) in Rawalpindi, even as the formal protocol of engaging with the civilian government is maintained. This is despite the contrived good vibes produced by cricket diplomacy on display now. After all, runs the logic, it is the military that has called the shots in Pakistan uninterrupted since the 1950s. If you tap the GHQ, you get to do business with those who actually take the decisions even when civilian presidents and prime ministers are nominally in charge, as is the case these days. The difficulty with such a so-called pragmatic view is that it is unrealistic. It disregards the timbre of the country we are dealing with. It is doubtless true that the civilians in Pakistan will only make a meaningful agreement with India — one that can stick — if the GHQ gives the green signal. But let us remember that permission is not withheld because the Indians forgot to stop by at GHQ's door on the way to the president's office. We must appreciate that the reason for the Pakistan military's disinclination to want to give India long-term comfort is rooted in the way Pakistan evolved as a country. The country took shape without firm or stable civilian political structures. This became more apparent after the passing of Mohammad Ali Jinnah. The Pakistan Army seized power and defeated the aspirations of its own people to run a democratic state. After gaining power over the people, it sought to gain their implied consent to rule over them. This could only be done by permeating them with the fear of the much larger neighbour from whom they had "broken free", and creating hatred of the "enemy" on the Kashmir question specifically. The message was that in the circumstances, it was the Army — fundamentally — that must preside over the fate of the country. And so it has been. The cited examples of Saudi Arabia, China, or the United States are not relevant to us. Political leaders from these countries routinely engage the Pakistan military in wide-ranging consultations that have a bearing on international political affairs, and sometimes even on Pakistan's domestic politics. They do so because they ply the Pakistan armed forces with money and weapons (which are used against India), and thus enjoy tremendous leverage with them. Can India be in that position? * Anand K. Sahay is coordinating editor at The Asian Age

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THE STATESMAN

EDITORIAL

MAGIC AT MOHALI

NOW FOR WIZARDRY AT WANKHEDE


MERCIFULLY the off-field diplomatic-political activity did not upstage what magnestised the thousands present, and millions the world over courtesy television, as Mohali worked its own version of magic to send India on to Mumbai seeking to re-live the 1983 dream. Yet there can be no escaping the reality that the exaggerated hype, artificially enhanced expectations, and less-than-sporting descriptions of the semi-final in war-like terms took its toll. For while it was a close, thrilling encounter and the nationwide celebrations that followed were valid, it was not cricket at its pristine best. The players cannot be faulted: they were burdened with too much baggage by an overdose of jingoism and a media that truly went ballistic. The quality of play was patchy: Tendulkar's 85 turned out to be a match-winning and man-of-the-match award earning effort, but he has admitted to it being among his least illustrious essays. If there was a star twinkling it was Pakistani quickie Wahab Riaz who marked out his run up aware that so many pundits had advocated giving Shoaib Akhtar one final fusillade. For the rest there were only streaks of brilliance, and an abundance of "forgetables". India's less-fancied bowlers compensated for an at-best average batting show, maybe comfort could be drawn from it being a team effort and Dhoni reconfirmed his leadership skills. The determining factor was that Pakistan came up short when pressure kicked in. In the joy, and gloating, of victory there must be no overlooking the losing side's exceeding expectations during the tournament. Still, and perhaps sadly, winning is all that matters in a cricket-frenzied, commercially-powered environment. It is to be hoped that the final will be relatively tension-free, and the impressive Sri Lankans, and the Indians who now enjoy what the Americans call "the bounce", will be enabled to unleash their cricketing wizardry at the Wankhede. The magic of Mohali was not "classical willow".


It could take a little time for the outcome of the Prime Ministerial conversations to manifest itself. That they did interact in an apparently positive manner is to be appreciated. Equally appreciable is that both ensured they did not steal the limelight, such maturity augurs well. Progress on the diplomatic front will require the patience of a Hanif, the application of a Gavaskar. Only then can the flair of the likes of Sachin, Zaheer Abbas, Imran Khan or Sehwag flourish. Yet in the short-term, if the Manmohan-Gilani pleasantries can bloom into a revival of cricketing tours across the Radcliffe Line, the magic of Mohali will be tantalizingly enhanced.

 

DOUBLE WHAMMY

EC STOPS A MINISTER IN HIS TRACKS

IT has been a double whammy for West Bengal with a little over a fortnight to go for the elections. The Election Commission has directed the state government to replace four senior officials, including two DIGs. If this was expected after last week's indictment, it has now thrown a spanner in the works of the housing minister who doubles up as chairman of the Housing Board. As exposed by this newspaper, Gautam Deb's plan to allot 50 plots/flats at Rajarhat/New Town and Durgapur under his "discretionary quota" has been scuttled at the threshold. The chief cause for surprise must be that the process was initiated exactly a fortnight after the model code of conduct came into force. Instead of the "discretionary quota", the minister ought to have exercised greater "discretion" in the timing of this welfare handout. Considering the number of plots/ flats, Mr Deb was quite plainly trying to take care of the interests of a handful, close to him or the party. The CPI-M's candidate from Dum Dum has verily been snubbed by the EC, and it shall not be easy to dispel the impression that the West Bengal Housing Board was guilty of an irregularity at the behest of its minister-cum-chairman. Seldom before an election have as many as three ministers come under the EC's scanner. Of course finance minister Asim Dasgupta has been cleared; but the files he signed after the poll dates were announced did come under scrutiny. More recently, urban development minister Asok Bhattacharya's plan to distribute plots in Salt Lake was scuttled by the Election Commission. It is astonishing that ministers should be so impervious to the commission's rules of engagement. Three too many appear to have been driven by a sense of almost arrogated immunity, embedded in the self-confidence of the past 34 years.


Quite the most critical aspect of the removal of four officers is that the performance evaluation was conducted and posting orders issued by the Election Commission. There is a resounding message for the state authorities in being presented with a fait accompli. Implicit is the rap on the knuckles; the government wasn't even asked to forward a shortlist, a testament to the "lack of neutrality" that appears to have provoked the EC's action. The commission has followed up its caveat to its logical conclusion ~ "neutrality is non-negotiable... Action will be taken if they do not rectify at once". The administrative pendulum has stopped. As chameleonic time-seekers abound in the bureaucracy, it is open to question whether the pendulum will oscillate should there be a change in dispensation. One doesn't have an answer.

 

GERMANY'S GREEN VERGE

THE POLITICAL  IMPACT OF FUKUSHIMA

Fukushima is a long way away from Baden-Wutemberg, but the impact has nonetheless been felt by Germany's ruling Christian Democrats. For the first time in 58 years, the CDU has been ousted by the Greens in the state elections, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has promptly attributed the debacle to Japan's nuclear disaster. "It is very clear that this was caused by the debate about the catastrophe at the reactors in Fukushima." In a way, the message was conveyed to the German government even before the result was declared last weekend when 250,000 protestors organised anti-nuclear demonstrations across the country. The prosperous south-western state is set to have its first Green prime minister. Indeed, the party has emerged as Germany's second mainstream political entity, at a par with the Social Democrats. The result is a reflection of the profound impact a nuclear disaster in a faraway land can have in political terms. The popular moodswing is much too palpable. Baden-Wutemberg showcases the national sentiment. At stake is the safety of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors. Not that Ms Merkel was impervious to the inherent risks. She had, before the elections, announced a moratorium on nuclear power. The policy envisages the temporary closure of seven reactors as a step towards a changeover to renewable energy. Clearly, it didn't convince the voters who deemed the move as an electoral ploy, at best a quick response to the Fukushima catastrophe and at worst an afterthought. It chimed oddly with the Chancellor's earlier stand on extending the life of the reactors. The voter was confused over the flip-flop on the eve of the Baden-Wutemberg election. It was viewed as a U-turn in matters nuclear, an example of dithering that has compounded matters in the wake of Germany's abstention during the Security Council vote on Libya and the failure to resolve the thorny issue of EU financing. More credible was the clear-cut agenda of the Greens. Substantial is the risk of Ms Merkel's CDU coalition losing to an alliance of the Greens and Social Democrats. A faint echo of what might befall the UPA coalition nearer home, though the issues at stake are decidedly different.

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THE STATESMAN

ARTICLE

DIRELY IN DEBT~II

UPHILL TASK FOR NEXT DISPENSATION

BY BIBEKANANDA RAY


WITH about 71 per cent of the total debt incurred by the government since 21 June 1977, revenue deficits in all but one year (1985-86) could be made up. That is, about 29 per cent of the total loan that was taken not to make up for the revenue deficit, but for other purposes. Each year's surplus loan, after adjustments with the surplus in "outside revenue" account, should have been carried over to the next financial year; it was not. The closing positive balances in 15 years of the regime were too meagre, totalling only Rs 1339.04 crore. Year-wise, this yawning gap between debt and deficit presents an intriguing picture. Over the past 10 years, the government's indebtedness and the fiscal crisis has gradually peaked.


An analysis of the fiscal data, gleaned from publications of the state, the Union finance ministry and the Reserve Bank raises certain unpleasant questions. In every year as finance minister since 1987, why did Dr Asim Dasgupta borrow much more than he needed to make up for the revenue deficit? How were the excess borrowings utilised?


Under Article 293 of the Constitution, only legislatures can set limits to internal and external borrowings of the states and the Centre. However, seven successive assemblies did not prescribe any limit. Successive finance commissions had advised the regime to enact the FRBM Bill, but Dr Dasgupta prevaricated till last year. The state's fiscal crisis was not sufficiently exposed till 2008; debts ceased to be mentioned in pre-budget financial surveys and appendices since 1991. In 1995, an Asian Development Bank team found the government's accounts in a mess and without transparency. It wanted the crisis to be examined. Dr Dasgupta describes it as a "temporary problem", citing the fact that the Centre's total debt has increased to Rs 35 lakh crore and that UP and Maharashtra have surpassed West Bengal in terms of internal debt. The finance minister claims that the bulk of the loan from the Reserve Bank and the Centre, around Rs 79000 crore, is the state's share of the accumulated small savings in banks and post offices ~ they were once the highest in West Bengal ~ which the states are entitled to use.


All over the world, welfare states do run into debt, but few are reduced to bankruptcy in the manner of Greece, or are driven to the edge, as West Bengal. Far from spending within means, Dr Dasgupta threw all caution to the winds and obtained increasing amounts of  Central and market loans. Was he honestly trying to keep the state afloat by bridging the yawning revenue deficits caused by  a steep fall in revenue receipts? Or did something else drive him to this reckless course?


Deviating from the balanced style of Dr Ashok Mitra, who gave five consecutive surplus budgets from 1981-82, totalling Rs 184.87 crore, the MIT-trained Dr Dasgupta ignored classical economics and began to tread the Left Front's myopic populist policy. This was apparently done since 1987 at the behest of Jyoti Basu to placate the party's vote-bank. Loans, guarantees and subsidies to state undertakings snowballed from year to year; Trinamul's growing challenge since 1998 only stoked this populism. In 24 years till 2010, all his budgets ~ four opening with zero deficit a la US style, were marked by reckless profligacy. Dr Dasgupta preached and practised an "alternative pro-poor economics". This, combined with his ingenious "zero-deficit" budgeting for four years, pushed the state to a debt-trap.


The return of Indira Gandhi to power in 1980 and her anti-Communist credentials unnerved Jyoti Basu to the extent that he indulged in unbridled populism to remain in power. He expanded the cabinet, appointed ministers for such departments as fisheries, library, and fire services to appease the coalition partners. Senior comrades were appointed to institutional chairs and posts were created in the three-tier panchayat network in 18 districts.
The former Chief Minister undertook expensive tours with officers to other states and abroad for attending seminars and wooing investors. Wasteful expenditure increased in the form of loans and subsidies to state undertakings to make up their chronic losses. The amount came to nearly Rs 1000 crore annually.
The net fiscal deficit in the 15 years since 1977-78 amounted to only Rs 297.44 crore; 18 years recorded fiscal surpluses, totalling Rs 1170.25 crore. All debts are capital account receipts and their servicing goes under capital disbursements which are of 12 kinds, but in none of these, the surplus loans have been credited. Nor have they been carried over to the next financial years. Revenue receipts lagged behind revenue expenditures continuously from 1977-78 and gaps widened since 1982 owing to a sharp fall in corporate taxes, levies and flight of capital... the last rooted in militant trade unionism. This led to the closure of many mills and factories. To this was added the gradual destruction of manufacturing industries and the growth of the unorganised sector. The government took recourse to more loans, ways-and-means and overdrafts from the Reserve Bank and the market instead of following the prescriptions of classical economics, chiefly cutting down on government spending, closing the state units in the red and shedding surplus manpower. Recruitment continued, wages were hiked and government spending increased. The climax was reached in 2009-10 when the government had to spend more than 90 per cent of the revenue on paying wages, interests and repayments of loans, WMAs and overdrafts. Nearly Rs 15302 crore, i.e. about 38.8 per cent of the total revenue receipts, were spent on repayments and interests, leaving about Rs 24115 crore for sundry revenue expenditure. Of course, the state had to maintain mandatory deposits of Rs 436697 crore from 2003 to 2010 and a reserve fund of Rs 135825 crore from 1990 to 2010 with the RBI.


The ratio between revenue receipts and expenditures came to 100:43, ie, the state has to borrow Rs 43 to spend Rs 100, or to incur a loss of 43 per cent. In the last 10 years, the revenue deficit soared to 5 per cent of the GSDP in the current financial year. The economy is precarious.


The Left regime did inherit the pre-1977 debt, to which it added Rs 189335 crore in 33 years since 21 June 1977. Where have these yearwise loan surpluses gone? If a budgetary surplus is diverted to, or spent on, some other purpose, it has to be recorded; no such mention is made in the state's budget publications. A sum of Rs 58,000 crore is not a "negligible" amount. Unless the finance minister has some other credible explanation up his sleeves, the disappearance of this amount appears to be a mystery or an instance of fiscal jugglery.
Prior to the 2009 Lok Sabha election, the Election Commission had rated the CPI-M as India's third richest political party. A recent report by the income-tax department stated that it was next only to the Congress. It feathered its own nest with members' subscriptions, company donations and money raised through extortion. The state's  economy was shattered over time. A nouveau riche class emerged out of the CPI-M's largesse.
The damage to the economy has been particularly severe. The next government will take some time to clear the mess, irrespective of the party that comes to power. The next government, Left or non-Left, will have to pay interest of over Rs 16,000 crore annually on the cumulative loans and accumulated interest. After meeting routine expenses, it will have very little left to spend on development. It will be an uphill task.

(Concluded)

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

 

HAS CBI DONE ITS HOMEWORK?

BEFORE IT SENDS A TEAM TO LONDON TO PROBE THE QUEEN'S BATON RELAY SCAM, THE CENTRAL INVESTIGATING AGENCY WILL DO WELL TO DIG DEEPER RIGHT HERE IN INDIA, WRITES RAJINDER PURI

Very shortly, a Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) team will visit London to further its probe into the Queen's Baton Relay scam in which AM Cars and AM Films were granted contracts at exorbitant rates by the Commonwealth Games Organising Committee. In response to letters rogatory sent by the CBI, British authorities have assured of assistance with the probe. The CBI has alleged two cases of criminal conspiracy with the London firm for awarding contracts to provide transportation and supplying video screens at exorbitant rates. The CBI has alleged that the contracts to AM Films and AM Cars were awarded on the false claim that these firms were on the panel of the Indian High Commission in London. Two e-mails were allegedly forged by the officials of the Organising Committee to justify the selection of the firms.

Before departing for London has the CBI done its homework on this case in India? This scribe pointed out to a crucial official related to the CWG investigation the oddity of Mr Suresh Kalmadi prominently displaying on TV the allegedly forged letter from our London High Commission recommending AM Films and AM Cars for being given the contracts. This scribe asked if Mr Kalmadi had been queried about the background to the letter he had displayed on TV. The official blithely responded: "Oh, but we have checked. The email message from the High Commission was forged!" For him the matter ended there. He completely missed the oddity this scribe tried to highlight. The significance lies not in the authenticity or otherwise of the letter. It lies in it being displayed on TV in the manner which Mr Kalmadi adopted.

The email message was purportedly from Mr Raju Sebastian, a very junior High Commission official in the protocol division. After the letter was displayed on TV, the High Commission refuted its contents. It pointed out that Mr Sebastian was too junior to have been entrusted with passing such a communication or making the recommendation for giving the contracts to AM Films.

Mr Suresh Kalmadi is very savvy. Has the CBI asked him the following questions? No media person as yet has. If Mr Kalmadi had to utilise a forged letter to justify award of the contracts why did he not select an official with appropriate seniority in the High Commission to make the forgery credible? If the letter was allegedly forged why was he reckless enough to display it so prominently on TV? Did Mr Kalmadi have previous knowledge of Mr Sebastian's background for him to select the latter as his victim of forgery? Forgery is a serious crime. Did legal action follow? And finally, did Mr Kalmadi display the letter on TV to convince the public or to pass on a hidden warning to the powers that be? As a protocol official, did not Mr Sebastian come in close contact with very powerful Indian personalities while he accompanied them as part of his routine duties during their London visits?

These are questions that need to be sorted out. Has the CBI team satisfied itself with the answers before leaving for London? Answers to these questions might reveal explosive facts. It might also explain why Mr Kalmadi has not been arrested.

The writer is a veteran journalist and cartoonist

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THE STATESMAN

WIDER DIALOGUE MUST IN MYANMAR

 

The military in Myanmar may or may not be ready for meaningful and inclusive dialogue with the Opposition as it handed over power on 30 March to the government elected last November. If it were so inclined, it could simply respond to the offer that pro-democracy leader Ms Aung San Suu Kyi made last weekend for talks to clear up "misunderstandings". Even after the new, nominally civilian government takes office, the military ~ or Tatmadaw ~ will continue to wield dominant, if not ultimate, power. It is a reality that Ms Suu Kyi has chosen not to ignore. At the same time that the Tatmadaw marked Armed Forces Day on 27 March, her National League for Democracy (NLD) also celebrated the resistance that her father, General Aung San, led against the Japanese 66 years ago.Beyond that bit of shared history, the two sides remain far apart.  The unconditional release of more than 2,100 political prisoners remains an NLD priority demand unlikely to be met soon. Now disbanded for boycotting what it considered an unfair election, the NLD has no seat in any of the new parliamentary houses. Yet, any attempt at conciliation will fail if the military continues to marginalise Ms Suu Kyi and her movement. Now free from house arrest, she is keeping an open mind on whether the new government will bring change. If the Tatmadaw adopts a similar attitude and is willing to resolve the undisclosed misunderstandings, better relations and prospects could well result. No matter how limited, the demilitarisation of rule has begun to diversify opinion. The National Democratic Force, which broke away from the NLD to contest the election, held talks last week with the USA's charge d'affaires Mr Larry Dinger on lifting Western sanctions. If more voices are heard on this and other critical issues, in or outside parliament, a clearer articulation of Myanmar needs and interests would emerge. The world would then find it easier to help the country along the road to conciliation even as it finds it harder to ignore the more excessive abuses. Western powers should not remain hung up on the perplexing sanctions question, but engage with even more groups, including those in the new political structure, ethnic minorities as well as the opposition. The USA and the United Nations should appoint full-time envoys to coordinate and focus on conciliatory initiatives. Although it has yet to meet with complete success, Asean's positive engagement policy has endured recent years in good shape. It is time for other countries to adopt similar approaches towards helping the Myanmar people build a peaceful and prosperous country.


the straits times/ann

 

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THE STATESMAN

PERSPECTIVE

THE COMFORT CURSE

SHOMA A. CHATTERJI


On Wednesday, 26 August, 1998, 12 elderly Korean women sat and waited on mats outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul, just as they and others had done every Wednesday in rain, sun or snow for more than six years and 330 Wednesdays till then. These "grandmothers", as the women are called even though some never bore children, and the thousands they represent, are the silent victims of World War II. They ~ and others similarly victimised ~ pledged to keep sitting there every Wednesday until the Japanese government apologised. The demonstration on 26 August had special significance, because the grandmothers read aloud letters they had written to South Korean President Kim Dae Jung. Kim was to visit Japan 9 October the same year, his first visit to that country since being elected president in December 1997. According to Korean press reports, Kim had said that the main agenda of his trip was to end disputes over Japan's wartime past.


Dennnis J. Coday, in an article in National Catholic Reporter (October 23, 1998) pointed out that between 1937 and 1943, thousands of Korean women, 15 to 22 years old, were abducted to serve in Japanese army brothels, often very close to battle lines. Some women have told of being forced to have intercourse with as many as 30 soldiers a day. Women in China, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Indonesia suffered similar fates. In the years following the war, this part of history was largely ignored, if not covered up. In the late 1980s, women academics in Korea began releasing research and hosting academic conferences on Japanese atrocities against women during the colonial era. Public interest increased sharply when a Filipina, a former comfort woman, went public with her experience in 1990 in Manila.


Most of these comfort women did not marry because they could not marry. The past kept haunting them, turning life into a living nightmare.  Apart from feelings of self-imposed guilt and shame,  other things such as years of sexual abuse, venereal disease and side effects from the contraceptive drugs the Japanese fed them, left many of these women sterile and therefore, ineligible for marriage by Korean traditions. The few women who could marry after the war kept quiet because they did not want their husbands and children to know what they suffered.


Korean women's groups and nongovernmental organisations formed the coalition Never Again: Justice for Military Comfort Women. They began demonstrating outside the Japanese Embassy in Seoul. In 1994, Kim Kak Soon became the first Korean to speak publicly about being a comfort woman. Since then, till August 1998, 160 Korean women has come forward to tell their stories. Kim Kak Soon died in early 1998. Ms Susana Yoon Soon Nyo, the secretary-general of the Korean Catholic Women's Community for a New World, one of the 76-member organisations of Never Again, explained why it took 50 years for these women to come forward. "The victims could not show their faces, let alone speak out," Ms Yoon said. "When the war was on, they where abandoned by their families. And after the war they could not go home. Family shame was so deep. It was a personal pain."


A resolution of the UN Subcommission on Prevention of Discrimination and Protection of Minorities meeting in Geneva "welcomed with great interest the final report by the special rapporteur, Gay J. McDougall, on the systematic rape, sexual slavery and slavery-like practices during armed conflict, including internal armed conflicts". The subcommission asked the United Nations to organise an expert meeting in 1999 to adopt guidelines for the effective prosecution of international crimes of sexual violence. Resentment against Japanese colonialism still runs deep in Korea.


On 8 October, 1998, Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi "expressed deep remorse and extended a heartfelt apology" for Japan's inflicting "heavy damage and pain on the people of South Korea through its colonial rule". South Korean President Kim Dae Jung accepted the apology and later told Japan's parliament that the two nations had looked squarely at their mutual past, and that it was now the time "to forge a future-oriented relationship". Obuchi also called the declaration a new start for the two countries. "The (comfort) women are a little bit upset that he didn't talk about their issue," Ms Yoon told NCR in a telephone interview on 9 October. "We are seriously disappointed because the joint announcement doesn't even mention the issue of women forced into sexual slavery," the Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, said in a statement.


When Korean women speak about their lives since forced sex slavery, they use the word ***han. ***Han is translated as "a profound psychological suffering". It has the sense of a prolonged, oppressive hurting, a chronic wound that will not heal that the victim feels every waking moment. English speakers might call it "a festering wound on the soul". Ms Kim Yun Shim was kidnapped by the Japanese when she was 14. "I have lived my whole life trembling because of this suffering," she wrote in her letter to President Kim. "Even now that my hair has turned white, when I remember my past, my whole body shakes, and my skin blushes red and my nerves are on fire." As women without a family to call their own, they suffered 50 years of isolation and poverty. As more told their stories publicly, Buddhist monks opened a hostel for the women where now about a dozen live. They depended on support from the coalition, Never Again, until 1998 when newly-elected President Kim granted them government pensions.


Ms Yee Yun Su, another comfort woman, was angry when she spoke; she was livid when she pointed out that to this day Japanese government officials deny the facts. She referred to a Japanese cabinet minister who said in July that comfort women were volunteers. "They do not have any sense of guilt," Yee Yun Su said. The two things these women demanded were: (a) an official apology and (b) monetary compensation, and that both should come from the Japanese government. Japanese individuals and groups have offered apologies and aid for the women, but these offers have always been rejected. "I cannot die this way without an apology from the Japanese government," said Ms Kim Yun Shim. "To release the han, the (Japanese) government must act," explained Ms Yoon. "We don't want the money," she said. "We want an apology so that the world will know this history."


Time however, is both a friend and an enemy for these women. A "friend" because it forced them to speak out, never mind that they did it 50 years after the event for the world to sit up in shock at the horror story that unfolded. But time also turned an "enemy" because nearly none of the 12 women who had waited on their mats for hundreds of Wednesdays for the apology, are alive today to savour it. Justice came in the shape of death with dignity, a value life had deprived them of.


The writer is a freelance contributor

 

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THE TELEGRAPH

A NEW VOICE

For members of communist parties, in the beginning there is the party; and at the end there is always the party. And once the party lays down what in the jargon is called "the line'' on any given subject, there can be no other views on the matter. The party speaks like the oracle. Only very occasionally, a comrade commits the ultimate transgression of speaking against the party. Gautam Deb, the housing minister in the government of West Bengal, may have committed such a violation when he spoke candidly on various issues in a television interview. The moot point is not the validity of what Mr Deb said but what his views — and they were clearly his opinions as distinct from those of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) — represent both within and without the party.

One unintended consequence of Mr Deb's intervention could be the beginning of changes within the theocratic nature of the CPI(M). The latter does not allow dissenting voices. The CPI(M) prides itself on being a cadre-based and disciplined party. Unlike the Congress in its halcyon days, the CPI(M) is not a platform or an umbrella to which many are called. This character of the Congress allows space for many different voices and even for critics. The argumentative Indian is not stifled in the Congress. The CPI(M), like all communist parties that follow the Bolshevik model, allows for discussion only within the party. The formulation of the party line seals all debate and dissent. This disciplinary framework is ill-suited to a democratic polity that not just encourages debate and dissent but actually thrives on them. It is too early to say whether Mr Deb's statements are indicative of a change or whether Mr Deb is attempting to force a change, but his statements do mark a radical departure from the accepted way of doing things in a communist party.

One particular area of change within the CPI(M) is the way the party is organized on the basis of whole-time cadre. This in practice implies that the wide body of opinion sympathetic to the party's cause — what could be called the stakeholders — are left out of the party's decision-making process and functioning. This means that effectively the party is run by the apparatchiki. This character is bound to disappear if the CPI(M) begins to open up and jettisons its obsession with cadre and democratic centralism. The orthodox may not like this change but it is the only way the party can remain in tune with democratic practice. Mr Deb may have prised open a debate that might gather relevance when the CPI(M) in West Bengal faces an electoral reversal, as seems likely. Winds of change are being felt in West Bengal. They could blow away more than just the government in power.

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THE TELEGRAPH

EDITORIAL

BEHIND A MASK

The mask of democracy is easily worn, and few have worn it more brazenly than the recently disbanded junta leaders of Myanmar. Shortly after orchestrating a resounding victory in so-called democratic elections last year, the junta liberated Aung San Suu Kyi from years of house arrest. Of course, by that time, the junta had nothing to lose. Not only had it long given up all attempts at salvaging its credibility, but it had also stopped caring about the reprimands of the international community. The junta could barely bother to keep up appearances. Now finally, with the dissolution of its long-time ruling party, the State Peace and Development Council, and the formation of a new 'democratic' government, the military dictators have wrested a skewed sense of legitimacy for themselves. So, even though the notorious military general, Than Shwe, is now officially retired, it is likely that he will continue to be the de facto ruler of the country and have all the arms of the government under his thumb.

There is every reason to feel sceptical about the scope of this mock-democratic regime in Myanmar. The junta's own misgivings became apparent from the way the transfer of power and creation of a new dispensation were carried out in total secrecy. Even the people of Myanmar, let alone the rest of the world, were not informed of the new political order until the entire handover was complete. It is now up to Ms Suu Kyi to carry on the crusade for real democracy that she has been engaged in for several decades. Democracy is a phenomenon that invites, by virtue of being what it is, plural interpretations. Authoritarian rulers can turn it into a neat formula, which can then be reduced to a kind of tokenism. For this reason, in spite of the hopes raised by the Jasmine Revolution that is spreading across the Arab world, it is best to remain prudent about the nature of the change that it is ushering in. For without proper checks and balances, democracy can become empty posturing in the hands of wily megalomaniacs.

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THE TELEGRAPH

THE MIDDLE KINGDOM

THE CHALLENGE FOR A NEW ORDER IN WEST BENGAL WILL BE DAUNTING SWAPAN DASGUPTA

In 1971, shortly after writing my final school examinations, I decided to abandon Calcutta for Delhi. My reasons were pragmatic: I wanted to complete my degree in three years. In Calcutta, then in the throes of competitive political violence, completing a BA degree took at least an extra 16 months which, in effect, meant wasting two academic years.

A venerable grand-uncle was horrified by my plans. "Are there colleges in Delhi?" he asked superciliously. To him, there was only one place — apart from Oxbridge — for a student wishing to read history: Presidency College. He had neither heard of St Stephen's in Delhi nor did he care to be enlightened. For him, as with generations of proud Bengalis, it was Bengal über alles.

It would be interesting for a historian to try and locate the moment the Bengali bhadralok first started viewing itself as the intellectual master race of India. Did it follow the collapse of the Maratha confederacy and the decline of a culture patronized by the Peshwas? Was it an offshoot of Raja Rammohun Roy's varied theological interventions and, particularly, the outpouring of pride over his journey to England to parley on equal terms with Englishmen? Or did it have something to do with the accident of having the longest exposure to Western culture and civilization?

Whatever the origins of this cockiness, it is undeniable that Bengal entered the 20th century with an enhanced notion of self. Even the Partition of 1947 didn't puncture Bengali pretensions. Dispossession and hardship did, however, contribute immeasurably towards a change in intellectual priorities and fashion.

Just as the Spanish Civil War and the Nazi triumph in Germany radicalized British intellectuals and drove some of them into an alternative barbarian camp in the east, the famine of 1943 and the subsequent loss of East Bengal unsettled bhadralok intellectuals. The drift to what is called 'progressive' politics may have been a global current but it led to two fundamental distortions in Bengal.

First, with their innate distrust of capitalism, Bengal's intellectuals detached themselves from the wealth creation process. During the nationalist movement, there was a conscious attempt to inculcate the virtues of swadeshi entrepreneurship in Bengalis. After the 1950s, intellectual consensus gradually swung to the other extreme. While socialism was projected as the preferred alternative, the reality was less appetizing. The romance attached to deprivation and even squalor by the 'creative' Left meant that 'progressive' social attitudes were often dictated by a profound sense of envy. Ashok Mitra's notorious description of gentlemanly conduct as un-communist was eerily reminiscent of Gibbon's observation that "the decline of genius was soon accompanied by the corruption of taste" in classical Rome.

Secondly, it wouldn't have been that damaging had 'progressive' thought been just one of the significant intellectual currents in Bengal. The final decades of the raj, for example, witnessed a lively engagement among loyalism, nationalist conservatism, Hindutva, Muslim separatism, Gandhism, revolutionary terrorism and Marxism. After 1967 and the steady erosion of support for the Congress, the debate became a tussle between shades of either socialism or Marxism. This Left stranglehold created an ideological straitjacket and contributed to an intellectual ossification.

Siddhartha Shankar Ray, who led the ephemeral Congress fightback between 1971 and 1977, didn't paint himself as an inheritor of B.C. Roy's no-nonsense conservatism. He sought to outflank the Communist Party of India (Marxist) and the Naxalites through a combination of muscle power and 'progressive' posturing. Such posturing was also the hallmark of Mamata Banerjee's disastrous 2006 election campaign. In the ongoing election campaign, the Trinamul Congress has tried to regain some of the middle ground she abandoned during her opposition to the Tata Motors project in Singur by promising political sobriety and development with a human face. But the mere fact that she had to genuflect before Left populism to achieve her electoral breakthrough in the 2009 parliamentary election is indicative of the communist movement's success in making the political culture of West Bengal drearily monochromatic.

A consequence of the Left stranglehold over all facets of present-day Bengal was the state's insulation from both national and global developments. In its first term, the Left Front did succeed in transforming power equations in the countryside. Operation Barga, which granted security of tenure and de facto ownership of land to erstwhile sharecroppers, did lead to the empowerment of the poor. This was complemented by militant trade unionism — a phenomenon that triggered the nervous flight of capital from 1967.

The irony is that developments in the Left bastion coincided with the deregulation of the economy nationally. Whereas the rest of India jumped at the new opportunities offered by market-friendly policies and provided meaningful avenues to satisfy the explosion of entrepreneurship, Bengal basked in the self-fulfilling glow of empowerment which, more often than not, meant the freedom to be insolent and play street cricket during enforced bandh holidays.

The Left Front's belief that the establishment of a more equitable rural society would trigger a new wave of industrialization turned out to be utterly misplaced. Bengal was left far, far behind in the race because the environment for investment was not thought to be conducive. The marginalization of Bengal wasn't due to any ethnic prejudice: at an individual level, Bengalis benefited from the resurgence of India. The problem was Bengal.

Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee wasn't a reincarnation of Hare Krishna Konar, the man who provided muscle and organization to peasant militancy. In another environment, he would have been perceived as a Left social-democrat, maybe even Bengal's Kautsky. But his inability to persuade a party wedded to the cholbe na culture made his courtship of corporate India seem less persuasive.

What is particularly bewildering is that Bengal's unending economic slide took so incredibly long to be realized. For nearly three decades, Bengal lived in denial. When Rajiv Gandhi described Calcutta as a "dying city" he was being both prescient and politically imprudent. But the anger which greeted his flippancy was an outburst of a sub-nationalism that was cocooned from a larger sense of reality. Jyoti Basu's sneering description of Atal Bihari Vajpayee's government as "barbarous" wasn't a simple rhetorical flourish; it was based on an assumption of innate superiority. For the Bengali Left, West Bengal was indeed the Middle Kingdom. It may have been deeply aware of what was happening in the wider world, but was the least influenced by it.

Maybe it was the departure of Tata Motors to Narendra Modi's Gujarat that marked the moment of realization. Maybe it was the visible lack of opportunities coupled with rising consumerist aspirations that made the penny drop. Whatever the trigger, it is significant that the popular discourse is now centred on the grim reality of a stagnant Bengal in a country that is banking on a nine per cent annual gross domestic product growth. Those committed to the regeneration of Bengal may find it reassuring that the Trinamul Congress manifesto has documented the decline of the state in relation to the progress of Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh and even Orissa.

As voting day approaches, Bengal seems to be in a state of readiness for change. If that change does happen, the challenge for a new order will be daunting. An over-politicized and inept administrative apparatus, a sharply fractured society, accumulated anger at three decades of 'cadre' tyranny and an intellectual culture still wedded to a spurious 'progressive' consensus are formidable obstacles to progress. The reshaping of Bengal will necessitate enlightened political leadership. But it will also necessitate a full-fledged counter-revolution — at least in the mind of Bengalis.

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THE TELEGRAPH

TALKING FOSSILS

BONA FIDE: MALVIKA SINGH

Age is a strange 'animal'. In India, as you grow old and infirm, you are venerated and given positions of power that actually require a young and agile mind, body and soul. This makes us a stagnant and fast-failing social order. We do not respect minds that are at their creative best because they are deemed 'young and inexperienced'. This is a truly bizarre fact that has held the nation back from being a real and dynamic leader in South Asia. Even in the larger area of culture and tried-and-tested traditions — something that uninitiated governments put on the back- burners — we rely on aged individuals to lead the way and thereby disengage an entire generation that is bored with being 'lectured' by walking, talking fossils. We never put the young at the forefront of institutions and governing committees and have, therefore, stunted growth in these important spheres.

A World Bank sponsored jamboree, announced with elaborate brochures and invites, brought this reality to the fore. Virtually everyone participating in the one-day programme to celebrate the anniversary of an initiative was over 60 years of age, except for two 'daughters' doing a number with their mothers! Look at all government institutions — none have 30- or 40-year-olds at the helm. Which is why all institutions are stuck in a dreadful time warp and are moving towards extinction. The body and mind get slower and sluggish, new ideas cease to come forth, risk-taking becomes a no-no, and creative thinking is a distant mirage. India is in the grips of that fatal illness — one that consciously suppresses the 'fountain of youth' with the aches and pains of age.

Sponsorship only comes when the aged are on the boards asking for money. If you are a flighty celebrity or the wife of a politician, you cut the ribbons and draw the sponsors. Those with the real skills and expertise are 'used' only to project the interests of those who have neither skill nor expertise but who have something called 'reach', a wholly Indian term.

Musical chairs

We have reached the bottom of the pit and only a representative of youth can infuse life into the moribund realities that have crippled us.

There is much talk but no action. In 64 years we have not been able to set up and support a single academic institution of international quality, comparable to equivalent think tanks and institutions elsewhere in the world, even though we have generated intellectuals who can hold their own anywhere in the planet. Funds are allocated but the babus, who wield the power to build such centres, are intellectually inadequate and unable to deliver. This truth is shameful. There is supposedly an advisor to the prime minister on skills —whatever that means — but there is no intelligible, comprehensive policy for that sector which could bring the diverse industries of India, the indigenous information technologies into mainstream development.

In India ,'committees' — whether empowered or not — are seen to be the arbiters of everything that has failed. They are invariably headed by retired babus or judges, who were intrinsic to the failed system in the first place. It is like an unending game of musical chairs that keeps India in suspended animation, fooling us with unnecessary delays and self-protecting tactics.

The world has changed and India needs to do so as well. The government of India must wake up and empower the next generation to bring vitality, energy and fresh ideas into play. One-billion-plus people — nearly a quarter of the population of this planet — desperately deserve that to reinvigorate themselves and to take on the world. We have all had enough of the previous generation. It is predictable, finds excuses for all that is not right, condones ineptitude and thrives on the status quo.

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

EDITORIAL

MOHALI SPIRIT

'THE MOHALI TALKS MAY TAKE THE PROCESS FORWARD.'


While excitement over the world cup semi-final match between India and Pakistan and the presence of the two prime ministers at Mohali dominated sentiments in both countries, quiet progress was made in the talks between home secretaries in New Delhi this week. The mood at the talks must have been lifted by the invitation to prime minister Yousaf Raza Gilani to visit Mohali to watch the match. The talks between the  prime ministers yielded no specific agreement. As foreign secretary Nirupama Rao described them, they were more a conversation than talks. But the positive atmosphere created by the talk and the commitment for normalisation of relations, all of which may together be called the Mohali spirit, may help to take the mutual engagement forward. This presupposes the absence of an obstruction like the Mumbai terrorist attack. From the legitimate Indian point of view, this casts a serious responsibility on Pakistan to ensure that its deeds are as good as its words.


The decisions to resume cricketing ties and carry forward the ministerial and official level talks are welcome outcomes of the last few days' interaction. The joint statement issued at the end of the home secretaries' meetings showed concrete results on some vexatious issues. The agreement to entertain each other's judicial commission on the 26/11 investigations and liberalisation of the bilateral visa regime are among them. The decision to set up a hotline at the home secretaries' level to share information on terrorist threats is useful, especially because the joint anti-terror mechanism is now dysfunctional. There was forward movement on the demand of both countries relating to the Samjhauta Express blast investigation and on the voice samples of those involved in the 26/11 attack. Other positives included a humane attitude in the treatment of prisoners and fishermen and addressing of issues like human trafficking, counterfeit currency and cyber crimes.


These can lay the basis for co-operation in many areas of mutual concern by serving as  confidence-building measures. Together they mark some progress in reviving the bilateral relationship and in reducing the trust deficit. The engagement process flagged off now is still not the composite dialogue that Pakistan is keen on, but it will help both countries to find more commonalities and reduce differences.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

EDITORIAL

PROTECTING CHILDREN

'THE BILL PROVIDES FOR NEW CATEGORIES OF OFFENCES.'


The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences Bill,  which has been introduced in the Rajya Sabha, fills a gap in the country's legal system and addresses a major problem which calls for serious attention. The bill, when passed, will become a comprehensive law to deal with sexual offences against children. At present there is no specific law in this respect. All sexual offences against children are subsumed under crimes like rape and sodomy or outraging the modesty of victims. The specific proposed law focuses on a range of crimes that they are subjected to. This should provide a more effective legal deterrent against such crimes and a better and speedier system for punishing the offenders.


The bill provides for new categories of sexual offences against children which are not covered by present laws. It seeks to protect them against penetrative sexual assault, sexual harassment, pornography, etc and provides for special courts for speedy trial and punishment of offenders. Sexual assault on children will be treated as an aggravated offence when it is committed by a person in a position of trust and authority like an elder relative, public servant, members of security forces or staff of public institutions like schools or children's homes. Punishment can vary from a minimum of three years to up to 10 years imprisonment or even life term. Sexual assault can also include fondling of a child in an inappropriate way and it can invite a jail term of three years. The setting up of special courts, appointment of special prosecutors and holding trials in a child-friendly environment will ensure speedier justice.


Sexual crimes against children have been increasing in the country and according to the National Crime Records Bureau statistics they increased from 2,265 in 2001 to 5,769 in 2008. The actual numbers must be many times more as a large number gets unreported. In a large number of cases the culprits are persons known to the child and who wield some authority on them. Such abuse inflicts serious damage on the minds of growing children. Enactment of the law is not enough. It should be enforced strictly. It is also important create wide awareness of its provisions.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

MAIN ARTICLE

A VISIT TO PAKISTAN

 BY KULDIP NAYAR


A rash observer will blame Pakistan for the plight in which it has landed itself. But the real responsibility lies on the shoulders of the US.


It is easy to slot Pakistan, but difficult to comprehend how it ticks. The West tags the country with terrorism and many others consider it a failed state. For India, it is a potential enemy which is still to punish the terrorists who attacked Mumbai on 26/11, nearly three years ago. Yet the 16 million people want the same secure conditions which the inhabitants of other countries cherish. But they live in constant fear, the children praying for their fathers' safety and wives of their husbands when they leave home. Security forces with their finger on the trigger guard the streets of key towns.


We, the 12-member delegation, who went to Pakistan to promote people-to-people contact, saw the same scene of fear-stricken people in Karachi, Hyderabad, Islamabad and Lahore. At some places, there were bunkers on the roadside. Still, nowhere did we see panic. Nor was there any effect on the turnout for the series of events arranged to hear us. People seem to have learnt to live with terrorism. So the life goes on.
Can you write off Pakistan? Suppose it were to go to the fundamentalists or the Taliban? It will be the land training, nourishing and sending out the worst elements. How does India gain if the country disintegrates? The situation does not need indifference but demands a systematic programme all over the world to roll back terrorism and fundamentalism.


A rash observer will blame Pakistan for the plight in which it has landed itself. To some extent, it is true. But the real responsibility lies on the shoulders of America. After winning the cold war against the Soviet Union in Afghanistan, the US dropped Pakistan like a hot potato. That was bad enough. The worse was the policy of Washington to let arms and ammunition lie around for anyone to pick up. It saw to it that the Taliban were fully armed.

The successive governments at Islamabad were short sighted. They used the Taliban to have its 'strategic depth' in Afghanistan on the one hand and to trouble India in Kashmir on the other. At one time even the late Benazir Bhutto hailed the Taliban as 'my children.' It was the Frankenstein to which Pakistan gave birth and it is now regretfully conscious of that.


Today Pakistan is reaping the whirlwind it had sown. The Taliban have penetrated the police, the security forces and even the army. They can strike anywhere, anybody at any time. It is not the lack of government's determination that stalls the punitive action. It is the division in the Pakistani nation which makes a concerted action difficult.


Nurturing fundamentalism

Religious parties have more clout than ever before. In the wake of the government's attack on Lal Masjid, at least 12 more masjids have been built in the vicinity. And more are coming up with the munificence from abroad. It is an open secret which country is acting like a Santa Claus for the fundamentalists.


Civil society has dwindled and the persons talking of liberalism as such can be counted on fingers. They tell in private that they are afraid to express their views in public lest they should be killed. Salman Taseer's son, quite articulate in following the line taken by his father, said that the number of people visiting them has shrunk. Even close relatives avoid contact with his family.

When would the atmosphere of free thought and free expression that followed the success of lawyers' movement return is the hope to which the civil society clings to. Therefore, the World Cup cricket match between India and Pakistan was considered a godsend opportunity for a better atmosphere in the region to change things in Pakistan as well.


By itself the cricket match does not mean much. But it offered an opportunity to both sides to go beyond the handshake and sit across the tables to take up knottier problems like Kashmir and water as soon as possible. As regards water, prime minister Manmohan Singh has offered the integrated development of the Indus basin if Pakistan does not favour the three-river allotment under the Indus Water Treaty. Priority should be given to travel and trade.


I have come back from Pakistan with the conviction that the common man wants to live in peace and amity with the people in India. There are elements, strong enough, to keep the two countries distant. I was told that the army did not favour peace with India. Even if this is true, the friendliness writ large on the faces of people I addressed sustains my hope for a détente.


India may not be their refuge but they have a lot of hope in Manmohan Singh to retrieve their country which is teething at the brink of elimination. India can ignore this at its own peril. Perhaps the time is ripe to talk about South Asia common market. I found this idea acceptable even to the religious elements in Pakistan. Still New Delhi has to take the initiative to make it possible.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

IN  PERSPECTIVE

THE WORLD WILL MISS A STABLE SYRIA

BY MICHAEL JANSEN


The destablilisation of Syria now could lead to widespread unrest in the West Asian region.


Syrian President Bashar al-Assad surprised both detractors and supporters when he adopted a hardline on protests which have erupted in his normally tightly controlled country over the past two weeks. Syrians and foreign observers had expected Assad to announce reforms demanded by the protesters and give a timetable for implementation. It had also been suggested that he would indicate when not if the state of emergency — imposed in 1963 when the ruling Baath party seized power — would be lifted.


He did neither. Instead, he blamed 'conspirators' acting on behalf of Israel for the unrest and warned, "If a battle is imposed on us today, we welcome it." At least 61 people have died during demonstrations which began in Deraa and spread to Syria's main cities. In Syria, the spark that ignited the unrest was the arrest of 15 teenagers who had spray painted anti-regime slogans on walls.


Assad may have thought he was in a strong position to resist the demands of the reformers. He has received messages of support from various Arab leaders and was given a major boost by hundreds of thousands of Syrians who poured into the streets on Tuesday to demonstrate their backing.


Popular president

While some protesters and veteran opposition figures have called for the removal of the Baath Party regime that has ruled Syria with an iron hand since 1963, most have not demanded the fall of the president who has enjoyed considerable popularity. After assuming power after his father's death in 2000, he tried to introduce political reforms but was compelled to retrench by powerful figures in the politico-military establishment. He has, however, managed to reform the centrally managed economy into what he calls a social market economy, by combining welfare programmes with a free market.


Ayman Abdel Nour, a Syrian dissident based in Dubai, pointed out that there are "two wings in the regime. There are those behind the bloody crack-down and those who want reform. It is a tug of war." It would appear Dr Assad has lost this round in the tug of war.


Looking back to the speedy departures of the presidents of Egypt and Tunisia when confronted by people's power, analysts in Jordan ask, "How long does Assad have, two weeks or three?" People here fear the sort of protracted instability and violence precipitated by the US ouster of Saddam Hussein in neighbouring Iraq. Syria and Jordan now host 2.2 million Iraqi refugees who are a drain on the countries' resources and a constant reminder of the risks of instability.


The destablilisation of Syria could lead to widespread unrest in West Asia. The Iraq of Saddam Hussein, once the secular core of the eastern Arab world, is no longer a force for co-existence and stability.


Jordan, which has experienced protests for the past seven weeks and has already faced clashes between status quo and reformist elements, could also see confrontation between indigenous Jordanians and Palestinians who comprise about half the population.


In both Jordan and Syria, the main challenger to the regimes, is the Muslim Brotherhood. In Jordan it is the only well organised political force. Its rise to prominence in either country — which is more likely in Jordan than in Syria — could lead to tension and even clashes with Iraq, now ruled by an assertive regime dominated by the Shia equivalent of the Brotherhood.


Iraq itself is facing protests against Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki due to its failure to deliver electricity, security, and jobs and to counter corruption. Protests could escalate into a new insurgency.


Chronically troubled Lebanon could erupt into communal conflict if Damascus, Beirut's stabilising partner, falters. This could prompt Israel to attack Lebanon with the aim of eliminating or degrading the defensive capabilities of the Shia Hezbollah movement which humiliated Israel by routing its armed forces in 2000 and 2006. While Syria has aided Hezbollah by permitting the transit of weapons from Iran through its territory to Lebanon, Damascus has also restrained Hezbollah.


Furthermore, in spite of vehement anti-Israel rhetoric, the Baathist regime has not allowed Syrian or Palestinian militants to mount attacks on Israel from the northern sector of Syria's Golan province in spite of Israel's 44 year occupation and colonisation of the southern Golan Heights. Instead, both Dr Assad and his father attempted to peace deals with Israel with the object of regaining the Golan Heights.


While Tehran has drawn Iraq into its sphere of influence, Iran's only real ally in West Asia is Syria. Damascus has played a positive role in moderating the adventurist Iranian leadership which has repeatedly challenged the US and Europe on various issues, notably Tehran's nuclear programme. Stable Syria would be sorely missed.

 

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DECCAN HERALD

RIGHT IN THE MIDDLE

 

DIME A DAY

BY MIRLE KARTHIK


There's a day for every conceivable subject, but does it have any impact?


Every day has its 'day'. We have mother's day, father's day, Valentine's day, world heart day, world kidney day, world arthritis day and umpteen number of 'days'. Each of these 'days' is intended to convey some valuable, useful, ethical message to mankind.


For instance, mother's day and father's day signify the importance of according respect to one's father and mother for all the difficulties they have undergone and the sacrifices they have made to make us what we are today and remind us of our duties towards them in the evenings of their lives. The world environment day proclaims the dangers of desecrating the earth's environment and the measures to be taken to conserve what's left of the earth's natural resources. Media publicity, seminars, rallies and awareness programmes are the common ways of observing these 'days'.


There's a day for every conceivable subject. Whether the intended message reaches the target and if it does, whether it has any impact is debatable. But it is deemed important to be seen observing that day, at least in some cases. Further, certain 'days' like World Hunger day make one wonder whether such a declaration is necessary to draw the attention of people towards the prevalence of hunger and poverty in the world. How many people are aware of such days and even if they are, what can they do about the issue seems to be lost upon the declarers of these 'days'.


World education day, world maternal mortality day, the list keeps growing. At this rate, there won't be any days in the calendar for new 'days'. Somewhat like the internet which is running out of space for new web addresses. What then? Try combos. Like having Valentines day and world heart day together. To convey the message that the heart that binds can also be the heart that kills, unless looked after properly. Or combining world kidney day with world alcohol abuse day to drive home the message of alcohol abuse and its deleterious impact on the kidneys.

Here in Bangalore we have Bus Day once in a month, to show that the BMTC cares for its commuters by providing fast, safe, efficient and comfortable transport options. Never mind if it's only on the cushy IT sectors, not on the 'janata' routes, where the less privileged travel. Some hitherto undeclared topics suggest themselves now. 'Corruption free day' could be one where politicians declare with folded hands before Mahatma Gandhi's portrait their commitment to abstain from corruption on that one day at least!


Every dog is supposed to have its day. When will the underdog have his day?

 

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

EDITORIAL

MR. OBAMA'S ENERGY VISION

It was instructive and depressing this week to watch President Obama and Congressional Republicans marching in completely different directions on energy policy. Mr. Obama reminded us that charting a clean energy future is not a pipe dream and that America can reduce its dependence on foreign oil. The Republicans reminded us how hard it will be to get there.

The outcome depends in no small measure on how hard Mr. Obama is willing to battle for his policies. As he showed again in a speech on Wednesday, he has no trouble articulating energy-related issues. What remains in doubt has been his willingness to see the fight through. This time must be different.

Beset by rising gas prices and Middle Eastern turmoil, Mr. Obama, like other presidents, decried the nation's dependence on foreign oil. He also said there were no quick fixes and that a nation with only 2 percent of the world's reserves cannot drill its way to self-sufficiency.

He then offered a strategy aimed at, among other things, reducing oil imports by one-third by 2025, partly by increasing domestic production but largely by producing more efficient vehicles and by moving advanced biofuels from the laboratory to commercial production.

These are achievable goals. Reducing oil imports by one-third means using 3.7 million fewer barrels a day. The fuel economy standards set last year by the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Transportation will yield 1.7 million of those barrels; the next round of standards, now on the drawing boards at the E.P.A., will yield another 1.7 million barrels. Advanced biofuels and improved mass transit could get us the rest of the way.

None of these goals will be reached if the Republicans who dominate their party have their way. One particularly destructive amendment to the House's irresponsible budget bill would strip the E.P.A. of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases from vehicles and stationary sources. This authority, conferred by the Supreme Court, made possible the current fuel economy rules — which would be cast into doubt if the bill became law. It is obviously essential to any new round of rule-making. The bill also gave short shrift to most other clean energy programs.

Then there are three bills offered by Doc Hastings, the Washington Republican who leads the House Natural Resources Committee. The bills would effectively rewrite the rules governing offshore drilling imposed after the gulf oil spill, opening vast areas of the Atlantic, Pacific and Arctic to exploration and greatly accelerating the measured pace at which the administration has been issuing drilling permits in the Gulf of Mexico.

The chances for responsible progress seem greater in the Senate, despite mischievous efforts to undermine the E.P.A. by Republicans and some coal-country Democrats. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, is demanding a vote on a bill that would mimic the House budget measure by stripping the agency of its authority to regulate greenhouse gases. John D. Rockefeller IV, a West Virginia Democrat, has reintroduced a bill that would delay any such regulation for two years, which is almost as bad because such delays have a way of becoming permanent.

A more positive note was sounded Thursday by a bipartisan group of senators assembled by Kent Conrad, the North Dakota Democrat, and Saxby Chambliss, a Republican of Georgia. The group is the remnants of the so-called Gang of 10 that tried to work out a sensible energy strategy during the "drill, baby, drill" hysteria of the 2008 presidential campaign. The group failed then, but Mr. Obama's speech appears to have inspired a reunion — a tender shoot Mr. Obama should move quickly to encourage.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

CHANCELLOR MERKEL'S SHELLACKING

Even after pandering to voters' fears about nuclear power, the euro and NATO operations in Libya, Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany got a shellacking in her Christian Democratic party's traditional bastion of Baden-Württemberg. We hope Mrs. Merkel, whose term runs until 2013, draws the right lessons and hews more closely to her own principles and Germany's larger interests.

Sunday's election took place in the shadow of Japan's unfolding nuclear power-plant disaster. The future of Germany's 17 nuclear reactors (four of which are in Baden-Württemberg) was the biggest issue, and the antinuclear Green Party was the biggest winner.

Mrs. Merkel was vulnerable after she pushed through a law extending the legal life of Germany's reactors from 30 years to more than 40. Then, just ahead of the election, she ordered an immediate 90-day shutdown of the seven reactors built before 1980. It was the right thing to do, but it cast doubt on the earlier extension and left voters wondering what she would do when the 90 days ran out.

Mrs. Merkel's flailing efforts to have it both ways on Europe's endangered currency also left voters wondering where she really stood. She portrayed her decision to stretch out Germany's contributions and her demands for growth-killing austerity as shielding German taxpayers from the extravagance of slothful European neighbors. Voters punished her for pledging any bailout money at all. Prolonging the crisis and impeding growth in the euro-zone will hurt German banks and exporters.

Mrs. Merkel has also been disappointing on Libya. Although NATO has long been the linchpin of Germany's defense plans, she ostentatiously removed German ships in the Mediterranean from NATO command to keep them clear of operations in Libya. Germany also abstained in the United Nations Security Council's vote authorizing action, joining Russia, China, Brazil and India.

Most of Mrs. Merkel's postwar predecessors rightly believed that Germany's economic prosperity was firmly tied to the European Union and its military security tied to NATO. It is becoming increasingly hard to figure out what Mrs. Merkel believes.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

EDITORIAL

A FRESH SEASON FOR MANAGING REGRET

It's never easy getting back into the baseball season, what with the sport's self-generated scandals and star-crossed narcissists. Fans yearning for the plain nine-inning deal — bat, ball, glove and hopes under open skies — lately had to wince at testimony about the monstrous side effects of illicit hormones taken by batters obsessed with hitting even more home runs. All Babe Ruth ever was reported abusing were hot dogs and beer.

In the New York game, money is inevitably in the lineup. Yankee players sound ecstatic at finally being rated underdogs to the Red Sox, who spent with Yankee abandon in hiring new Boston players. The Mets, in contrast, have hit such grim times that a piece of the team is being offered for sale to keep the club operating.

The team, as everyone knows, was hard hit in the Ponzi scheme concocted by Bernard Madoff, who is in prison as this season opens. Mets fans desperate for the crack of the bat still reel from the auction of Madoff property that saw his satin personalized Mets jacket fetch $14,500. They'd consider it just if he can't get the Mets on cable.

Nine innings of distraction are a cure for life's setbacks, and Mets loyalists can comfort themselves with that universal mantra of wait 'til this year. Hope is the thing with flutters, as last season's comeback Met, R. A. Dickey, demonstrated with his looping knuckleballs and postgame philosophical riffs. "This game is about how to handle regret. It really is," Dickey advised, a worthy theme for the brand-new season.

 

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE DEFECTION TRACK

BY DAVID BROOKS

Everybody has questions and anxieties about our policy in Libya. My own position is this: I oppose the policy the Obama administration has described in various public statements. I support the policy the administration is actually executing.

The policy the administration publicly describes is constricted and implausible. The multilateral force would try to prevent a humanitarian disaster from the air, but then it remains maddeningly ambiguous about what would happen next: what our goals are; what our attitude toward the Qaddafi regime is; what an exit strategy might be.

Fortunately, the policy the Obama administration is actually implementing is more flexible and thought-through.

It starts with the same humanitarian purpose. People sometimes think of President Obama as a cool, hyper-rational calculator, but in this case he was motivated by a noble, open-hearted sentiment: that the U.S. cannot sit by and watch tens of thousands of people get massacred when it has the means to prevent it.

President Obama took this decision, I'm told, fully aware that there was no political upside while there were enormous political risks. He took it fully aware that we don't know much about Libya. He took it fully aware that if he took this action he would be partially on the hook for Libya's future. But he took it as an American must — motivated by this country's historical role as a champion of freedom and humanity — and with the awareness that we simply could not stand by with Russia and China in opposition.

In this decision, one could see the same sensitive, idealistic man who wrote "Dreams From My Father."

As president, of course, one also has to think practically. The president and the secretary of state reached a hardheaded conclusion. If Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi is actively slaughtering his own people, then this endeavor cannot end with a cease-fire that allows him to remain in power. Regime change is the goal of U.S. policy.

There are three plausible ways he might go, which inside the administration are sometimes known as the Three Ds. They are, in ascending order of likelihood: Defeat — the ragtag rebel army vanquishes his army on the battlefield; Departure — Qaddafi is persuaded to flee the country and move to a villa somewhere; and Defection — the people around Qaddafi decide there is no future hitching their wagon to his, and, as a result, the regime falls apart or is overthrown.

The result is a strategy you might call Squeeze and See. The multilateral forces ratchet up the pressure and watch to see what happens. The Western nations are reaching out to senior Libyan figures to encourage defection (the foreign minister has already split, and more seem to be coming). There is an effort to broadcast television signals into Libya to rival state TV. In the liberated areas, the multilateral alliance is sending aid to build civil society and organize the political opposition. The U.S. is releasing billions of confiscated Libyan dollars to the opposition to ensure its staying power.

Eric Schmitt had a fabulous piece in The Times this week detailing what the air assault actually involves. It's not just hitting Libyan air defenses. It also involves psychological warfare inducing Libyan soldiers to defect. It involves messing with Libyan communications systems, cutting off supply lines and creating confusion throughout the command structure.

All of this is meant to send the signal that Qaddafi has no future. Will it be enough to cause enough defections? No one knows. But given all of the uncertainties, this seems like a prudent way to test the strength of the regime and expose its weaknesses.

It may turn out in the months ahead that we simply do not have the capacity, short of an actual invasion (which no one wants), to dislodge Qaddafi. But, at worst, the Libyan people will be no worse off than they were when government forces were bearing down on Benghazi and preparing for slaughter. At best, we may help liberate part of Libya or even, if the regime falls, the whole thing.

It is tiresome to harp on this sort of thing, but this is an intervention done in the spirit of Reinhold Niebuhr. It is motivated by a noble sentiment, to combat evil, but it is being done without self-righteousness and with a prudent awareness of the limits and the ironies of history. And it is being done at a moment in history when change in the Arab world really is possible.

Libyan officials took Western reporters to the town of Gharyan this week to show them the grave of a baby supposedly killed in the multilateral bombing campaign. But the boy's relatives pulled the reporters aside, David D. Kirkpatrick reported in The Times. "What NATO is doing is good," one said. "He is not a man," another whispered of Qaddafi. "He is Dracula. For 42 years it has been dark. Anyone who speaks, he kills. But everyone wants Qaddafi to go."

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE MELLON DOCTRINE

BY PAUL KRUGMAN

"Liquidate labor, liquidate stocks, liquidate the farmers, liquidate real estate." That, according to Herbert Hoover, was the advice he received from Andrew Mellon, the Treasury secretary, as America plunged into depression. To be fair, there's some question about whether Mellon actually said that; all we have is Hoover's version, written many years later.

But one thing is clear: Mellon-style liquidationism is now the official doctrine of the G.O.P.

Two weeks ago, Republican staff at the Congressional Joint Economic Committee released a report, "Spend Less, Owe Less, Grow the Economy," that argued that slashing government spending and employment in the face of a deeply depressed economy would actually create jobs. In part, they invoked the aid of the confidence fairy; more on that in a minute. But the leading argument was pure Mellon.

Here's the report's explanation of how layoffs would create jobs: "A smaller government work force increases the available supply of educated, skilled workers for private firms, thus lowering labor costs." Dropping the euphemisms, what this says is that by increasing unemployment, particularly of "educated, skilled workers" — in case you're wondering, that mainly means schoolteachers — we can drive down wages, which would encourage hiring.

There is, if you think about it, an immediate logical problem here: Republicans are saying that job destruction leads to lower wages, which leads to job creation. But won't this job creation lead to higher wages, which leads to job destruction, which leads to ...? I need some aspirin.

Beyond that, why would lower wages promote higher employment?

There's a fallacy of composition here: since workers at any individual company may be able to save their jobs by accepting a pay cut, you might think that we can increase overall employment by cutting everyone's wages. But pay cuts at, say, General Motors have helped save some workers' jobs by making G.M. more competitive with other companies whose wage costs haven't fallen. There's no comparable benefit when you cut everyone's wages at the same time.

In fact, across-the-board wage cuts would almost certainly reduce, not increase, employment. Why? Because while earnings would fall, debts would not, so a general fall in wages would worsen the debt problems that are, at this point, the principal obstacle to recovery.

In short, Mellonism is as wrong now as it was fourscore years ago.

Now, liquidationism isn't the only argument the G.O.P. report advances to support the claim that reducing employment actually creates jobs. It also invokes the confidence fairy; that is, it suggests that cuts in public spending will stimulate private spending by raising consumer and business confidence, leading to economic expansion.

Or maybe "suggests" isn't the right word; "insinuates" may be closer to the mark. For a funny thing has happened lately to the doctrine of "expansionary austerity," the notion that cutting government spending, even in a slump, leads to faster economic growth.

A year ago, conservatives gleefully trumpeted statistical studies supposedly showing many successful examples of expansionary austerity. Since then, however, those studies have been more or less thoroughly debunked by careful researchers, notably at the International Monetary Fund.

To their credit, the staffers who wrote that G.O.P. report were clearly aware that the evidence no longer supports their position. To their discredit, their response was to make the same old arguments, while adding weasel words to cover themselves: instead of asserting outright that spending cuts are expansionary, the report says that confidence effects of austerity "can boost G.D.P. growth." Can under what circumstances? Boost relative to what? It doesn't say.

Did I mention that in Britain, where the government that took power last May bought completely into the doctrine of expansionary austerity, the economy has stalled and business confidence has fallen to a two-year low? And even the government's new, more pessimistic projections are based on the assumption that highly indebted British households will take on even more debt in the years ahead.

But never mind the lessons of history, or events unfolding across the Atlantic: Republicans are now fully committed to the doctrine that we must destroy employment in order to save it.

And Democrats are offering little pushback. The White House, in particular, has effectively surrendered in the war of ideas; it no longer even tries to make the case against sharp spending cuts in the face of high unemployment.

So that's the state of policy debate in the world's greatest nation: one party has embraced 80-year-old economic fallacies, while the other has lost the will to fight. And American families will pay the price.

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THE NEW YORK TIMES

OPED

THE MYTH OF SYRIAN STABILITY

BY MUSTAFA NOUR

Damascus, Syria.

MY foreign friends always tell me when they visit that the comment they hear most often from taxi drivers, shop owners and others is, "In Syria, there is security."

True, Syria does seem much more stable than its neighbors. And though I often find it difficult to ascertain the opinions of my countrymen, especially in matters concerning politics and the regime, many do believe that it's a fair bargain: limits on personal and political freedoms in exchange for the stability that is so dear to them. And those limits are quite strict: Syria has been ruled by emergency law since 1963, under a strong-fisted security force; opposing (or even just differing) opinions can lead to arrest, imprisonment or, at the very least, travel restrictions.

For example, I have two separate restrictions, from two different branches of the security forces, that forbid me from leaving Syria. One of these was put in place simply for attending a human rights conference in a neighboring country.

This apparent lack of real discontent over the restrictions on our freedoms meant that when the revolutions across North Africa and the Middle East began in January, the Syrian regime considered itself immune to them. President Bashar al-Assad told The Wall Street Journal that the situation here was different and said that "real reform is about how to open up the society and how to start dialogue." For years, he said, his government had been having just that dialogue with its people, and he was unconcerned about calls on Facebook and Twitter for Syrians to revolt.

But then, in early February, Syrian policemen roughed up people who had gathered to light candles for the victims of the uprisings sweeping the region. This was followed by a security crackdown and a campaign by the regime or its allies to discredit calls for reform by attributing them to Israeli conspiracies or opposition leaders. Protests began to spring up in the central square in Damascus and then moved south to Dara'a. Troops opened fire, and several protesters died. Videos of the violence spread on YouTube and Facebook.

The Syrian government now seemed to understand that it had to take this surge of unrest seriously. So last week a counselor to Mr. Assad affirmed the right to peaceful protest, assuring Syrians that government troops had been ordered not to open fire on demonstrators.

The next day, a Friday, I went out with one of my friends to join a small protest in the Hamidiyah Market in the Old City section of central Damascus. We were, all in all, just a few dozen people chanting slogans for freedom, and yet we were surrounded by hundreds of members of the security forces, who responded with chants in support of President Assad. The security forces then began to beat and arrest protesters. My friend and I slipped away from the market and headed to Marja Square, just outside the Old City, where — it turned out — even more security forces were waiting for us.

First, they went after those photographing and recording the demonstration with their mobile phones. Then they began to hit the rest of us with batons and sticks. Dozens were arrested. (They are still in police custody, but we don't know where.)

After that, the security forces were joined by other young men, apparently civilians, who formed themselves into a march for President Assad. This demonstration the guards allowed to be photographed and recorded. And, in the evening, state television reported on the marches all over Damascus in support of Mr. Assad.

That same day, the situation worsened elsewhere in Syria, when security forces violently oppressed protests in the cities of Homs and Latakia. Dozens of peaceful protesters were killed in Dara'a.

When the international community condemned the violence, the Syrian regime began to blame "armed groups," from inside and outside the country, for killing the civilians in Dara'a as well as members of the security forces. The official Syrian position on the motives and nationality of the armed men changes often: sometimes they are Palestinian or Jordanian; sometimes they are working at the behest of foreign operatives from Israel or the United States. An Egyptian-American was even arrested on charges of espionage and, on state television, made a transparently false confession to inciting the protests and to being paid 100 Egyptian pounds ($17) for each photo he took.

This conspiracy theory, to which the regime continues to cling and of which many Syrians have been convinced, means that there are conflicting reports of the violence in places like Latakia. Eyewitness reports of what happened there last weekend vary: some say security forces opened fire on a peaceful protest; others spoke of snipers on the rooftops shooting civilians and security forces alike; still others of cars using loudspeakers to stir up the residents of different neighborhoods of the city against one another on sectarian grounds. What is certain is that people are now dead.

And it is also clear that these "armed groups" attacked only those protesters asking for freedom and reform, those who rally for those killed in Dara'a and elsewhere, who call out "peaceful, peaceful." One can't help but wonder why the police did nothing to protect these small groups of demonstrators. Some commentators close to the Syrian regime have justified this lack of action by saying that the security forces could not defend civilians because of President Assad's orders not to fire.

Meanwhile, the pro-government marches, which state television claimed involved millions of people, were not interrupted by a single bullet. No one was killed or attacked. These demonstrators held signs with language like "O Bashar, don't be concerned — you have a people that drinks blood." But not a single sign was raised in memory of the dead at Dara'a and Latakia.

Syria has degenerated into chaos and bloodshed so quickly in these past few weeks that I keep thinking: was our stability, our distinguishing characteristic, ever even true? The government tells us that if the regime falls the country could devolve into sectarian chaos. Perhaps that is so. But what did the ruling Baath party — the leader of our state and society, according to the Syrian Constitution — accomplish over the last 48 years if that is so?

And then came President Assad's speech on Wednesday.

I was waiting for a different speech, one that spoke of holding those who fired on protesters accountable, that announced the end of the emergency laws, that called for closing the files of political prisoners and amending the Constitution to create greater freedoms. But what we saw instead was a show of power by Mr. Assad and a show of loyalty by the members of the Parliament. There was a clear declaration that anyone who continued to protest, to request our rights, to petition for the future of our country, was nothing but a troublemaker.

Because of his speech, many of those Syrians who called for reform will now begin calling for regime change.

Mustafa Nour is a human rights activist who, for reasons of safety, did not want to be identified by his full name. This essay was translated by Spencer Scoville from the Arabic.

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

GROWING U.S. ROLE IN LIBYA

 

What do the American people know about the civil war in the big North African nation of Libya — and what do we know about U.S. involvement in it?

 

Not very much, it seems.

 

We know we don't like Libyan ruler Moammar Gadhafi, a vicious, unpredictable despot. But what about the rebels opposing him? Would we like them better? We can't be sure.

 

There have been U.S. aerial and naval attacks on Gadhafi's forces in recent weeks. And now it is reported that U.S. intelligence operatives have been aiding the Libyan rebels.

 

But is U.S. involvement a wise course for our country? What is our objective, other than opposing Gadhafi?

 

There has been no clear, unequivocal and constitutionally satisfactory U.S. policy explanation to the American people.

 

U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, the head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and top CIA officials have talked with some tough-questioning members of Congress. But the United States' objectives simply have not been spelled out adequately.

 

Libya is a huge, mostly desert country on the southern side of the Mediterranean Sea. It is bordered on the east by Egypt, on the west by little Tunisia and big Algeria, and on the south by Niger, Chad and Sudan. Libya is about two and a half times the size of Texas, with a population of about 6.6 million — slightly more people than Tennessee has. Roughly 97 percent of Libyans are Berbers or Arabs, according to CIA statistics.

 

We Americans don't like to see tyrannical rulers anywhere. But obviously, there are many troubles in the world that we cannot solve, shouldn't be involved in — and in which we certainly should not take military action.

 

And yet the Obama White House reportedly is considering "all types of assistance" to Libyan rebels — possibly even providing them arms.

 

Our involvement in Libya to this point is disturbing. It should not expand. And our leaders definitely should not authorize any U.S. ground forces in Libya, where there is no direct threat to the United States.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

SPOILING THE FUN FOR EVERYONE

 

The vast majority of young people and adults alike who go to Chattanooga's scenic Coolidge Park on the North Shore of the Tennessee River are there for nothing more than wholesome enjoyment or perhaps a bit of exercise.

 

Sadly, though, the behavior of a handful of troublemakers has made it necessary to restrict the legitimate fun of others in the park.

 

Coolidge Park has been the scene recently of fights and even gunfire. Last year, three adults and two youths were struck by bullets in one incident, though no one suffered life-threatening injuries. There have been fights and — so far — non-lethal gunfire this year, too.

 

So the Chattanooga City Council has reluctantly taken the step of limiting the unchaperoned access of minors to the park. Council members voted to forbid minors who are not accompanied by a parent, legal guardian or adult over age 21 to enter the park between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., effective immediately.

 

The obvious goal is to reduce delinquency and restore the confidence of local residents and tourists, so they may visit the park without fear that violence will break out.

 

Some young people may test the limits by entering the park unchaperoned, though violations likely will diminish as police call parents to have them pick up their children.

 

Some surely will not be happy with the council's action. We wish it were not necessary. But the new restrictions at Coolidge Park should be blamed not on the council but on those who have behaved disruptively or even violently.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

SOME FOOD COST INCREASES AVOIDABLE

 

You may have done a double take upon reading in the Times Free Press about some big jumps in food prices.

 

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says grocery prices rose more than 14 percent between February 2006 and February 2011. That was during a time when overall inflation rose only 11 percent. The biggest increases were an eye-popping 21 percent for cereals and baked goods, and 17 percent for meat, poultry, fish and eggs.

 

Unfortunately, the price increases are not abating. In February, the United States had the biggest monthly jump in food costs since late 2008. As a frustrated shopper told the Times Free Press, "I find ways to buy groceries with the money I have one month, and, by the next month, it isn't enough."

 

Many unpredictable factors affect food prices, including things such as global demand and whether farmers have high or low yields.

 

But there is no reason why Washington should continue policies that needlessly increase food costs.

 

We're talking about ethanol subsidies. Congress uses your tax dollars to pay a 45-cent subsidy for every gallon of corn-based ethanol produced in this country. Ethanol cannot compete on the free market, because it is an expensive, inefficient and in some cases engine-harming fuel. Consumers would not willingly choose it if Congress did not require that a certain percentage of ethanol be blended into the nation's fuel supply.

 

But taxes are not the only way we pay for the ethanol rip-off. Because of the lure of big subsidies, it is expected that 40 percent of the United States' corn harvest will be diverted to ethanol production by 2012. And with Washington increasing the percentage of ethanol that has to be blended into our fuel, the amount of corn being taken out of food supplies and put into fuel production will only increase.

 

That means higher food costs, and not only for canned corn or corn on the cob. Corn is used as feed for livestock, so when corn's cost rises, we pay more for meat. Corn also goes into many other types of foods.

 

Higher prices are never welcome. But they are particularly objectionable when they are caused by unwise government intervention.

 

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TIMES FREE PRESS

OPINION

A GOOD POLICY CHANGE

 

Reported intrusions in some apartments at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga have led to a sensible change of policy to enhance students' safety.

 

Authorities say a UTC student broke into some apartments in two buildings and placed surveillance equipment in them. The equipment was discovered when the residents recently returned from spring break and found items in their apartments that did not belong to them. The suspect, Bernard Morris, faces aggravated burglary and other charges.

 

Concern about the case understandably increased when it was learned that since 2006, the suspect had pleaded guilty to felony counts of aggravated burglary and arson, as well as misdemeanor counts of harassment and stalking. Those cases all involved young girls.

 

But in 2010, Morris was selected as a resident assistant in one of the campus apartment buildings, presumably giving him greater access to residents' living quarters.

 

In any situation where a person may have such sensitive access, background checks are called for. Up until the most recent charges were filed against Morris, such checks were not conducted at UTC. The university now plans, however, to conduct background checks on all current and prospective resident assistants in its housing facilities.

 

That is the right step to take. While no security protocol is absolutely effective, it is wise to head off avoidable dangers.

 

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HARARETZ

OPINION

SHUT DOWN ISRAEL BONDS

OVER THE YEARS IT TURNED OUT THE BONDS ALWAYS RETURNED ITS LOANS AND THE INTEREST SEEPED INTO THE MARKET, SO THE BONDS RAISED HIGHER AND HIGHER SUMS AND MANY INSTITUTIONAL BODIES, NOT NECESSARILY JEWISH, BUY STATE OF ISRAEL SECURITIES TODAY.

The debate on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's trips abroad has raised the issue of Knesset members and ministers' travels overseas, at the invitation of the Israel Bonds.

It appears the Bonds has invited numerous politicians to Europe and the United States to give speeches at festive dinners, as part of the organization's bid to sell State of Israel bonds.

The trips combine lectures with luxury accommodations − prestigious hotels, first rate food, a chauffeured car and a spacious schedule. But the politicians' trips are not the main problem. The problem is the necessity of the Bonds organization at this time.

The Bonds was established in 1951 by David Ben-Gurion as an instrument to raise funds for the fledgling state. At first it was a necessary instrument, because commercial banks refused to give Israel loans, unless it was with exorbitant interest, when the state needed a lot of capital to invest, grow and develop.

Over the years it turned out the Bonds always returned its loans and the interest seeped into the market, so the Bonds raised higher and higher sums and many institutional bodies, not necessarily Jewish, buy State of Israel securities today.

The problem is that due to its large apparatus and high expenses, the Bonds' fundraising cost is more expensive than simply raising capital in the international capital markets.

Bonds officials argue that at a time of need only the organization will be able to raise funds for Israel. This is hard to accept. If Israel happens to be in acute distress, even the Bonds will not be able to help, because nobody lends money today on anything but market conditions and Israel doesn't need the Bonds to schnorr handouts.

Israel is seen today as a state with a growing, stable economy, so has no difficulty raising funds in overseas' markets at good prices. Therefore it is time to shut the Bonds' down and save several tens of millions of dollars a year.

The problem is, if the Bonds closes, there will be no one to finance the ministers and Knesset members' pleasure trips, and senior politicians will no longer be able to dish out appointments to cronies.

 

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HARARETZ

OPINION

THE PARALYSIS OF ISRAELI LEADERS IS OUR WORST ENEMY

RULERS WHO ARE JUST AS STRONG AS BIBI ARE UNABLE TO DEAL WITH THE WAVES OF MASS PROTESTS AND THE FEAR THAT TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PALESTINIANS WILL MARCH TO OUR BORDERS HAS ALWAYS HOVERED OVER US AS AN ABSTRACT THREAT.

BY YOEL MARCUS

As one of the people who occasionally financed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the start of his political career, I could write a book about the sponging and hedonism of generations of Israeli leaders. Bibi's trick was very simple. He would invite a journalist for "lunch," and at a certain moment he'd look at his watch and hastily jump out of his chair saying, "Oh, no! I'm late for a meeting, gotta run." And then he'd say, "You take care of the bill."

That gimmick was not as annoying as his political sales pitch. He tried, for example, to convince me that before an election he had to speak "right-wingese," but that after being elected he would adopt positions that even Haaretz would praise. As we know, that didn't happen during his first term and it's not about to happen in his current one.

"Brainpower is what we have," declared President Shimon Peres this week during his visit to CERN, the European Organization for Nuclear Research in Switzerland. But the truth is, you don't have to be very smart to become friendly with millionaires, live in luxury hotels and even take your dry cleaning there. Tycoons the world over like to rub shoulders with Israeli prime ministers, and if Bibi enjoys it, let him. The question is, where is our leadership's brainpower?

How are we taking advantage of the upheaval in the region, in Tunisia, Egypt, Yemen, Libya and now Syria? In countries that used to be our allies, how are we dealing with their feeling of disgust at our continuation of the occupation? Or with the threat of the Black September awaiting us at the UN General Assembly, which may be asked to recognize a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders?

But here it's business as usual. The media are preoccupied with the laundry that Sara Netanyahu takes abroad, and with Bibi, who people say surrendered to the pressure of the right-wing rabbis in appointing the Shin Bet security service's new chief. Yes, he also promises a speech to get German Chancellor Angela Merkel on board, instead of presenting a plan to the Palestinians.

While Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas ‏(Abu Mazen‏) is still condemning the murder in the settlement of Itamar, Bibi goes there and incites. "With these people you want to make peace?" asks one of the mourners. And Bibi replies: "They murder and we build." Our leader who aspires to convince Abu Mazen that he wants peace is demonizing the Palestinians, and by doing so is shackling himself to the right. The person who said that we're sitting on a time bomb is right. Bibi will not change the ill wind blowing toward Israel with speeches in Congress or at the AIPAC conference in Washington.

It's true that the General Assembly's decisions are not binding, but the very discussion about recognizing a Palestinian state within the 1967 borders will increase the intensity of the ill wind against Israel. Bibi didn't tell the people that there is a UN Resolution 377 ‏(from the time of the Korean War‏) that authorizes the General Assembly to serve as the Security Council if disagreement paralyzes the council. The fact that the decision has never been implemented doesn't mean that it won't be implemented if the tsunami of fury against Israel intensifies.

During this period, when the rest of the neighborhood is on fire, U.S. President Barack Obama is not dealing with us, but neither is he forgetting us. Not because we're in trouble, but because now of all times, and in light of the situation in the region, he expected a positive initiative from us. The fact that we're sitting like observers is a mistake. The fact that Bibi is "conditioning" the presentation of a plan on an appearance in Congress is receiving the reply: We're not a stage in a theater. If you have something to say, speak in Jerusalem or Ramallah. The only way to halt Black September at the General Assembly is to enter genuine negotiations with the Palestinians without delay and to give them the feeling that there is something to talk about.

Beyond the threat of September, a Facebook-style popular protest is getting organized on the Palestinian side. Rulers who are just as strong as Bibi are unable to deal with the waves of mass protest. The fear that tens of thousands of Palestinians will march to our borders has always hovered over us as an abstract threat. Now, when we see what is happening around us and how contagious it is, what will we do if they march to the checkpoints? Shoot them?

For heaven's sake, forget the nonsense about the flights and Sara's laundry. The paralysis of our leaders is our real enemy.

 

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HARARETZ

OPINION

TOUGHER THAN YIGAL HURVITZ

IN A RARE CONFESSION BY A POSSIBLE FUTURE PRIME MINISTER, FINANCE MINISTER YUVAL STEINITZ SAYS HE WAS WILLING TO GIVE THE SOCIAL WORKERS A 25% RAISE, TO PAY TEACHERS 50% MORE, AND EVEN HIKE UNIVERSITY LECTURER'S PAY.

BY NEHEMIA SHTRASLER

Enough! I'm fed up with them all. They know no bounds whatsoever. It doesn't matter how much I give, they'll want more. No matter how much I give, they'll say they got nothing. The only thing they know is how to cry. And the wicked journalists cooperate with them and create a completely distorted picture as if everyone's below the poverty line, as if everyone's wretched and deprived. From now on, there's going to be a new game here. From now on, everyone will see who the real Yuval Steinitz is. As finance minister, there is no longer an "I have" Steinitz. From now on, there is only an "I don't have" Steinitz.

I admit I fell into the trap they set for me. They told me that if I was good and altruistic, the nation would love me, and I'm looking desperately for love, like all politicians. They told me that if I gave the workers more money, they would respect and praise me. Even my top financial adviser, budgets chief Udi Nissan, said that "people in the treasury today don't talk about cuts but about raises," and in my naivety, I believed him. But he doesn't understand that the moment things like that are said, people start forming a long line to rob the public coffers, and then the budget is breeched and the economy suffers.

Look, I agreed to give the social workers a lot more money, an unprecedented raise, 25 percent. But they attacked me and said they didn't get anything. So when will they be satisfied? When they get 250 percent and the state budget collapses?

Now, I know that a good finance minister has to carry out reforms to achieve growth in the future. But didn't I do what was needed at the electric company, at the ports and in the civil service? Now, I also understand that a good finance minister has to be a "bad" finance minister, the kind that looks after the cash register. It's true that in the beginning, he's hated, but at the end of his term everyone understands just how right he was. And then he goes down in history as a success story with a good resume for another job. And after all, I want to be prime minister.

Today I also regret Nissan's new rule; he created a theory under which you can't improve public services without increasing the budget. That's the mother of all sin because I know just how much inefficiency and waste there is in the government. Look at what the state comptroller has discovered about the terrible waste of money in the army and the Mossad.

What, there's nothing to cut there, too?

I'm going crazy with all the demands that are just getting bigger all the tine. Now the people at the Dimona reactor are threatening to strike, the rabbis in the cities are asking for more money, and the high school teachers want a hike of 50 percent. Even the university lecturers, who not so long ago got an extra 24 percent, are demanding more. They saw that the state prosecutors got 20 percent, so why shouldn't they?

I know too that the people in the career army are waiting for me around the corner with giant wage demands, and so are the policemen and the local-authority workers, to say nothing of those who control the country's essential services − the workers at the electric company, the Airports Authority, the railways and the Mekorot water company.

So I know I have to stop now, on the edge of the slippery slope. Even if it's at the expense of the doctors. They're demanding a raise of 50 percent but I won't pay a cent beyond the general wage rise of 8 percent over four years that was paid out. That's the testing point for me. That's where I have to put on the brakes. They're not a deprived sector. They're the only ones in the public sector who can work privately and earn well. That's where I'm going to stop this race for more money, even if they strike for two months.

But the problem is that the politicians have sensed my weakness, too. Housing and Construction Minister Ariel Atias, for example, plans to submit a bill to subsidize mortgages to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels per year, despite my opposition. He simply doesn't see me standing in his way. But I won't give him a cent.

Because, from today, there's a new finance minister here, especially compared to some of his predecessors. A person who's tougher than Yigal Hurvitz, crueler than Yitzhak Moda'i, more cunning than Moshe Nissim, and more professional than Benjamin Netanyahu.

Do you believe all this? You're really suckers. Today is April 1, April Fools' Day.

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HARARETZ

OPINION

THE EXTREME RIGHT TURNED ISRAEL INTO AN ANACHRONISM

UNLIKE EUROPE, WHERE THE RIGHT HAS SIGNIFICANTLY GROWN BUT IS STILL NOT IN POWER, IN THIS COUNTRY THE RACISTS, THE EXTREME AND CLERICAL RIGHT IS THE GOVERNMENT, WITH ONLY A VACUUM OPPOSING IT.

BY ZEEV STERNHELL

Slowly but surely Israel is acquiring the status of an anachronistic entity. The legislation that passed in the Knesset that dark night last week, which makes ethnic inequality a legal norm, has no parallel in democratic countries because it contradicts the very essence of democracy. In terms of the principle on which it is based, institutionalized discrimination against the non-Jewish population takes us back to the early days, when Israel's Arab citizens were under a military government.

This had a far-reaching effect on Israeli society. Aside from the desire of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and the ruling elite not to limit their freedom of action, it was the ethnic and institutionalized discrimination that rendered impossible the writing of a constitution. In that way the Israelis, who for the first time became citizens in their own country, learned that independence did not require equality and democracy did not include respecting human rights.

In the year after Israel canceled its military government in Arab areas, the great disaster of the Six-Day War took place, and a military government was established in the territories. Over time, with the settlements, a colonial regime has been created that does not even try to conceal its nature. At a time when all Western countries have stopped ruling over other nations, Israel is creating a colony for itself, and even transferring the norms that reign in the occupied territories across the borders into the state itself.

Does the West have any such anachronism? The settlement colonialism is the main reason today, usually the only one, for the opposition, sometimes bordering on hatred, that Israel arouses among much of the Western intelligentsia. It's not the enemies of Zionism and the anti-Semites who are delegitimizing Israel, but Israel itself, with its own two hands.

Although the extreme right has become stronger in Europe too, and the last word has yet to be said, racists don't rule there, and they are considered a repugnant minority not only to the left, but to a substantial part of the liberal right as well. In this country, however, the extreme and clerical right is the government, with only a vacuum opposing it.

The disgraceful flight from a confrontation with the right in the Knesset will not soon be forgotten, and the center's moral bankruptcy will be recorded as a disgrace. The greatest enemies of democracy and the sources of fascism's strength have always been not the radical right's independent power, but the opportunism, conformism and cowardice of the center.

And what would we say if in a Catholic country in Western Europe, the church leaders controlled political parties and dictated entire chunks of national policy? How would we react to the sight of a party leader and important government minister kissing the hand of a robe-wearing cardinal and running to carry out his instructions in the public arena? And how would we accept the news that to attain one of the most important positions in the country − chief of the Shin Bet security service − the clergy's consent was required?

Of course, such sights would generate scorn and disgust, but in this country we have long gotten used to the fact that the settlement rabbis' "halakhic rulings" can openly reject the rule of law and the state's authority, and the hilltop youth are allowed to declare de facto autonomy in the areas they control. We have also gotten use to figures like Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, Interior Minister Eli Yishai and MK David Rotem, the chairman of the Knesset's Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, whose ilk in Europe are part of a history many people are ashamed of. It's sad to see how one of the great hopes of the 20th century has become an anachronism before our eyes.

 

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HARARETZ

OPINION

WHO IS ISRAEL'S KING OF CORRUPTION?

WITH WHOM ARE WE LEFT NOW THAT FORMER MERETZ HEAD HAIM ORON RESIGNED FROM THE KNESSET AND WENT BACK TO TENDING ALFALFA? I WISH THE KNESSET HAD SALUTED HIM LESS AND VOTED FOR HIM MORE.

BY YOSSI SARID

This is the disagreement that has split the nation, rent camps, brought communities to the brink and divided families: Who is the king of corruption? This is the bone of contention over which an entire nation has been shattered: Who is hidding the biggest and most revolting skeletons in their closet?

Is it prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ‏(Likud‏), Defense Minister Ehud Barak ‏(then Labor, now Atzmaut‏) or former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert ‏(Kadima‏), who are mentioned here according to the order in which they lead the country. And the fingers of Avigdor Lieberman, dripping in sleeze, are already reaching out for the keys to the Prime Minister's Residence.

It is difficult to decide; they are so similar, it is as if they were hewn from the same rotten log of wood. And their wives too resemble one another. They are the sons of kings on a peanut, and their wives are princesses on a pea.

Should those who live in glass houses cast stones? The parents' actions are a harbinger for the children, but in this case being a father is a privilege, not an obligation. Here, in this country, where fathers are coveted, all desires are fulfilled, and generation after generation will voice its piece.

The police stations have turned into stations of life, where files against them were opened and closed and then opened again. There is no longer any argument over the ethical and public wantonness of these three, it is only over the criminality of their acts that there is still disagreement.

These days, for these people, anything that is not criminal is acceptable − that is what everyone does. It is true that a French foreign minister was forced to resign this month after she traveled, and a German defense minister resigned because he was suspected of plagiarism, but this is not Europe − this is Asia, this is a jungle in a villa.

Had Ariel Sharon left behind a will, he would have made it easier for us to get rid of doubts about who is the leader of the hedonist-beggars, and about whose laundry contains the most brand names and is the dirtiest. At least we would have known correctly whom he considered to be his son and successor, who was worthy in his eyes to perpetuate his heritage, whom he would have taken with him to a deserted Greek island. They were all his sons, not merely Gilad and Omri.

If the argument continues and no clear winner emerges, we may need a referendum on who is most corrupt. It will be decided by sending text messages. Not only will a potential or an actual prime minister be the winner, he will take on celebrity status and shrieking youngsters will chase after him.

Was it all of this which made the Knesset speaker cry this week? Not really. He was crying about former Meretz head Haim Oron because he resigned from the Knesset and went back to tending alfalfa. It is certainly possible that Reuven Rivlin was experiencing a fear of abandonment − after all, with whom is he left, and with whom are we left?

It is a long time since so hypocritical and false a display was held here as the display of saluting Oron. Who did not try to hold onto his shirttails so that perhaps it would, for a short moment, cover his own shame? Even Netanyahu, from the dais, told him words of praise to his face, as if he were an expert on what is fit and unfit ‏(to eat and otherwise‏). Yes, it has been a long time since so many people who were so contaminated fell like leeches on a person who was so alone, in order to hurry and be purified.

Oron is the kapara chicken that people swing over their heads for forgiveness − this is my substitute, this bird will go home and sit in the chicken coop, and I will go off and have a great time.

Was it only to my ears that all these words of praise sounded like the lauding of a public servant who did not follow the path of the corrupt and really did not get as far as he should have, and we were entitled for him to get to? I wish they had saluted him less and voted for him more.

And if they are missing Oron so much that they have to cry, and if they are yearning for him, why do they not make a bit of an effort to fill the place he vacated since they saw what he did and could behave like him now.

But after all it is much easier and much more profitable to pay lip service than to pay for flights and laundry. Batsheva Tsur Etzion

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 HARARETZ

OPINION

NEW RULES FOR THE REGION

IN EVERY ARAB COUNTRY WHERE THE OLD REGIME FALLS, ITS PLACE WILL BE TAKEN SOONER OR LATER BY A RADICAL ISLAMIC REGIME. AT THE MOMENT, THERE IS NO ALTERNATIVE.

BY ALEXANDER BLIGH

Like the citizens of other democratic countries, the people of Israel are following events in the Middle East with interest, and rooting for human rights advocates in neighboring countries. It does not, however, appear as if we will be able to share in the near future, if ever, in the happiness of the rebels at having their basic rights fulfilled.

Even after rebels have toppled the regimes of several countries, and appear poised to do the same in additional states, it seems that all of these protest movements share a common denominator: They give vent to the inhabitants' desire for democratic rule, but they have not managed to put in place a stable political leadership, nor can they muster the military might capable of contending with a regime determined to stay in power. Therefore, for example, European countries were forced to intervene in Libya, in an effort to prevent a massacre of the insurrectionists. Other Arab leaders, such as Syrian President Bashar Assad, may well resort to similar steps as those taken by Libyan leader Muammar Gadhafi.

One generally finds two organized forces in place in all of the Arab states, divided between themselves: the military, which is a branch of the old and hated regime; and radical Islam, which is sometimes split into sub-factions, but whose members are united in believing that religious law must be imposed on the state and that the infidels must be fought.

The protesters in each country wear the military down and are causing disaffection as units defect to the ranks of the rebels. Therefore, the only force that is truly capable of acting in these countries is radical Islam. The timing of the Islamic takeover of key countries like Egypt and Tunisia will be the result of a tactical consideration − not a strategic decision. To put it simply: In every Arab country where the old regime falls, its place will be taken sooner or later by a radical Islamic regime. At the moment there is no alternative, and no conditions that will allow democratic movements to develop.

This pessimistic but realistic reading demands that we take a close look from an Israeli perspective at the underlying significance of the processes taking place in Arab countries.

Like most of the West, Israel is dependent on four strategic maritime passages into our region: the Black Sea straits, which allow the Russian navy access to the Mediterranean, over which the sovereign is Turkey's Islamic-tinged government; the Suez Canal, controlled by Egypt's interim government, which will most likely be replaced by a radical Islamic regime; the strait of Bab-el-Mandeb, which connects the Red Sea to the Indian Ocean and is not far from Yemen, the country whose regime is destined to be next in the region to fall; and the Strait of Hormuz, the opening to the Persian Gulf begins, the most important route for transporting oil in the world, and which since the Khomeini revolution of 1979 has been controlled on one side by Iran's radical regime.

The fact that the naval blockade of Israel during the Yom Kippur War was enforced in Bab-el-Mandeb, and that just last month Iranian warships passed through the Suez Canal, means that Israel must engage in strategic thinking to prepare for any possible conflict.

Even if in global terms its oil consumption is negligible, Israel − which takes pride in being the forward base for the West and a bulwark of democracy in the Middle East − must draw up plans to secure the oil routes in our region.

Moreover, Israel must operate under the assumption that the Islamic regime that will arise in Egypt will try to win international legitimacy. For that reason, though the new government there will be unlikely to announce that it is canceling the peace treaty with Israel, it can be expected to move to erode it in such a way that the responsibility for its collapse will fall on Israel. Under these circumstances it is Israel's duty to pursue a moderate and cautious policy: It must close one eye to slight violations of the peace agreement, while publicly expressing an interest in Egypt's continuing role as a mediator in political processes in our region. At the same time, Israel must finish building the border fence between the two countries and thus minimize potential points of friction.

Even should the new regime in Egypt be determined to cancel the agreement, it is proper that Israel and its citizens, as well as any international body that is interested in what goes on in our region, take care that any measures Israel takes do not have an influence on a negative Egyptian decision, should one be reached.

Whatever political developments may ensue, it is vital to understand that the entire region is now operating according to completely new political rules. Such a state of affairs requires new strategic thinking and some advance decision-making on Israel's part. Now is the time to deal with this.

Prof. Alexander Bligh was the adviser on Arab affairs to Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir and is now on the faculty of the Middle Eastern studies department at Ariel University Center of Samaria.

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HARARETZ

OPINION

SETTING SIGHTS ON 2012

THE CONFERENCE WILL NOT HAVE THE UNREALISTIC GOAL OF PRODUCING A TREATY, BUT RATHER OF DISCUSSING HOW TO MAKE PROGRESS TOWARD A NUCLEAR- AND WMD-FREE ZONE [IN THE MIDEAST].

BY HILLEL SCHENKER

While all eyes are focused on Libya, Syria and other regional venues of political drama, Israelis have probably forgotten − if they were ever aware − that, at last May's Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference, it was resolved that in 2012 an international conference would be convened to discuss "the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons and all other weapons of mass destruction, on the basis of arrangements freely arrived at by the States of the region, and with the full support and engagement of the nuclear-weapon States." The resolution also called upon Israel to sign the NPT and open its nuclear installations to inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

The 2012 conference, which is to be organized by the secretary-general of the United Nations, the United States, United Kingdom and the Russian Federation, was the subject of a three-day conference held recently on the Japanese Peace Boat − a unique Japanese NGO based on an ocean liner.

Given that their country is the only one to have suffered a nuclear strike, the Japanese are particularly sensitive about this topic, and the current mayors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have been at the forefront of activity to promote a nuclear-weapons-free world.

With their thoughts on the Fukushima reactor and their families back home, the Japanese arrived in the Mediterranean Sea in mid-March to convene an onboard conference with civil-society representatives from Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and India, as well as leaders of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War ‏(winners of the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize‏) from Greece and Switzerland, and the UN.

Of particular interest were the participation of Dr. Mohamed Shaker, a longtime diplomat who is today chairman of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs, and former Egyptian ambassador to the U.S. and arms control negotiator Dr. Nabil Fahmy; former Indian navy chief Adm. Ramu Ramdas; and Dr. Randy Rydell, a senior official at the UN Office of the High Representative for Disarmament Affairs.

The most serious prior attempt to confront the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle East took place between 1992 and 1995, when 14 regional actors participated in the Arms Control and Regional Security Working Group talks, in the wake of the Madrid peace conference. The primary reason for the collapse of those talks was a fundamental disagreement between the Egyptians and the Israelis about priorities. The Egyptians said the creation of a Middle East Nuclear-Weapon-Free Zone was the first order of business, while the Israeli delegation insisted that comprehensive Israeli-Arab peace was the precondition for such a zone. That is still the Israeli policy. It is also clear that the Israeli government is not ready to change its current policy of nuclear ambiguity, and that it will not sign the NPT or open its nuclear installations to international inspection at this time.

However, this doesn't mean that nothing can be done. A tool exists today that didn't exist at the time of the ACRS talks − the Arab Peace Initiative ‏(sometimes known as the Saudi Initiative‏). The API, which was signed by 22 Arab states and supported by 57 Muslim countries, including Iran, expresses a general Arab and Muslim readiness to recognize and establish normal relations with the State of Israel, based on the establishment of an independent Palestinian state in the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem, alongside Israel.

Originally passed at the 2002 Beirut Arab League Summit Conference, the API was reaffirmed at the 2007 Riyadh Summit.

Although it doesn't mention the nuclear question or weapons of mass destruction, the API can be a framework for a parallel two-track discussion. One track would discuss methods of moving toward Israeli-Palestinian and Israeli-Arab comprehensive peace, while the second would discuss ways of advancing a Middle Eastern security regime, which would include a nuclear- and WMD-free zone. This would be the way of getting beyond the Egyptian-
Israeli bind of which comes first, the chicken or the egg.

I was particularly impressed by the fact that one of the Egyptian representatives aboard the Japanese Peace Boat said that she is very aware of Israel's security concerns and that the proposals must be framed to take them into account. Everyone agreed that for the 2012 conference to have any chance of success, a formula has to be found to ensure that both Israel and Iran would participate in it. An Iranian was invited and agreed to participate in the meeting at sea, but due to bureaucratic problems, was unable to attend.

The 2012 conference will not have the unrealistic goal of producing a treaty, but rather of discussing the dynamics of how to make progress toward a nuclear- and WMD-free zone, while also relating to the need to progress toward comprehensive peace in the region.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will soon appoint an envoy, who will consult with all of the states in the region about how to prepare for conference, meet with both government and civil society representatives, and discuss a proposed venue.

Since the Israeli government has not said it would attend, but has left the door open, now is the time to brainstorm and develop innovative ideas which will provide constructive input to the process of creating a successful conference in 2012.

Hillel Schenker is co-editor of the Palestine-Israel Journal ‏(www.pij.org‏). He served for many years as spokesperson for the Israeli branch of International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

FROM THE BOSPHORUS: STRAIGHT - 'WITCHES' EXIST, 'WITCH HUNTS' SHOULD NOT

The events emanating in recent weeks from the Ergenekon investigation, including the new arrests of journalists and the seizure of a book, have now culminated in the clipping of the chief prosecutor's wings. This should not obscure the basic imperative of the probe.

Since this inquiry into the "deep state" began nearly four years ago with the discovery of a weapons cache, the case has taken many twists and turns. We have been consistent throughout in our support for the basic mission. Few in Turkey doubt the long presence of organized forces behind extra-judicial killings dating to the Cold War. No informed person can deny the thousands, if not tens of thousands, of disappearances and crimes associated with the "dirty war" in the Southeast in the 1980s and early 1990s. Many questions might have been answered by the still-born investigation that followed the "Susurluk incident" of 1996, when a car crash's list of victims included the deputy chief of the Istanbul police, a parliamentarian who led a powerful Kurdish clan, and the leader of the ultra-national "Grey Wolves" organization who was also a contract killer wanted by Interpol. They were not. The investigation that has ploddingly followed the assassination more than four years ago of our colleague Hrant Dink might have done so, particularly in light of evidence produced by another colleague, the now-jailed reporter Nedim Şener. But it has not.

Turkish democracy cannot mature and flourish in the absence of reconciliation with many ugly truths. We remain hopeful that this imperative will ultimately be served by the Ergenekon investigation.

Which is why we are relieved that Zekeriya Öz has been relieved as chief of the investigation. Formally, he is being promoted to a new job by the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors and this is a reward, not punishment. Sure. Formally, the government and ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, is distressed at this interference. Yeah, right.

The reality is clear. Öz got more than carried away. His many diversions from the primary objective exhausted us, to say the least. His zealousness became a liability. His minders have engineered an honorable exit. We hope his successor will focus on the real job, and accelerate a creaking probe that still has taken testimony of fewer than half the suspects, produced not a single conviction and yet has seen two suspects die before trial.

The Ergenekon investigation has often been called a "witch hunt," a characterization we have used ourselves. But the fact is that in this case, "witches" of a sort do most certainly exist. They should not, however, be pursued by a random hunting trip veering off into reckless target practice. The "witches" must be pursued through credible investigation, concrete evidence and full respect for the norms and standards of due process and commitment to principle. Let us hope.

The views expressed in the Straight represent the consensus opinion of the Hürriyet Daily News and its editorial board members.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

BLAME FOREIGN ELEMENTS IF YOU HAVE NOTHING TO OFFER

SEMİH İDİZ

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad disappointed his expectant population and the international community with his "choreographed" address to Parliament on Wednesday. What people wanted to hear was something new, not that "foreign elements" were behind the turmoil in his country. Instead he took a not-so-subtle shot at trying to direct attention toward Israel to reduce the pressure at home.

It is too late, however, for this ploy to work despite the thousands of pro-regime demonstrators who took to the streets before Assad's address. The ultra-right-wing mentality that has overtaken Israel may have provided him with material if conditions were different. But the pent up social dynamics that have been released in the Middle East and North Africa are ensuring that the situation has gone way beyond that now.

It is telling that neither the demonstrations in Tunisia and Egypt, nor those in Libya, Bahrain and Syria, have been characterized with an overtly anti-Israeli flavor, despite efforts by some to point the finger in that direction. People are clearly more interested in their own future at the present time.

The voice of the Arab streets is therefore saying "enough is enough" in the face of "domestic" oppression and inequalities, rather than worrying about interference by "foreign elements." But the fact that Assad still used this line of argumentation amounts to admitting that he has nothing new to offer his country and his people.

This more or less confirms the belief held by many that he is not in fact in a position to alter the situation in his country since it would amount to political suicide for both him and the privileged classes that he represents. Put another way, it is wrong to assume, as some are doing now, that Mr. Assad is the right man but is surrounded with the wrong people. He is the system as was his father before him.

As for the thousands who came out in support for him prior to his address in Parliament, this can also be taken as an expression of panic among the classes that secured privileged positions under the Assad regime, be it under the father or the son. We can therefore expect the troubles in Syria to increase under these circumstances.

The argument about the interference of "foreign elements" in such situations is also a current one in Turkey. In fact one can even argue that the majority of Turks believe that the millions of people that assembled in Egypt's Tahrir Square are the result of some kind of Israeli-inspired American conspiracy.

Although this represents an insult to the people demanding more democracy and equal rights in those countries, there is no shortage of Turkish politicians and opinion makers who are fanning the flames of such a ridiculous contention. But then facts have never been allowed to spoil a good prejudice in any country, be it in the East or the West, and Turkey is no exception.

Far from it in many ways it represents the rule in this context. This why it was extremely important for Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu to try and set the record straight in this regard in an interview he gave to Reuters. The fact that he said what he said just prior to President Assad's speech in Parliament makes Davutoğlu's remarks even more important.

Asked about accusations by Syrian officials – later repeated by Assad – that "foreign elements" are behind the anti-government protests in that country, Davutoğlu said: "We don't have any evidence. In Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Bahrain and Yemen, in all these countries, it was a genuine start."

Indicating that Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian vegetable seller whose self-immolation triggered of the anti-government riots in that country, Davutoğlu added the following:

"If we think all these issues are led by foreign elements then it means we think that Arab individuals and societies cannot demand change or do something alike. Ordinary Arabs, young Arabs, men and women, want to have more dignity, more freedom, more participation in politics. I think the demand for change is genuine. We should understand those voices in Tahrir Square, in Tunisia and elsewhere. Then we can prepare for the future."

Davutoğlu went on to add that "wise leaders" in the region should lead the process of change rather than try to prevent it. "Those who try to prevent this process will face more difficulties like in Libya," he added. Neither did he refrain from taking a shot at the Libyan dictator also by saying "Gaddafi should understand this as well."

These are welcome remarks from Davutoğlu given the confusing messages that have been coming out of Ankara of late, especially the ones spearheaded by the anti-Western outbursts of Prime Minister Erdoğan on Libya. Mr. Davutoğlu must also realize at this stage that unless Ankara pursues the line of rational argumentation he is putting forward now, there will be little Turkey can contribute to stabilizing the Middle East.

Put another way the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, administration is coming around to realizing that betting on the status quo in the Middle East and North Africa, and in doing so appearing to back the very dictators that their people are trying to get rid of now, is a political dead end.

An important element of this realization is the fact that if one is blaming "foreign elements" in such cases, this means one really has nothing new to offer in the face of momentous changes. One can assume therefore that Mr. Davutoğlu, and indeed Prime Minister Erdoğan, were as disappointed as anyone else with President Assad's remarks to his nation.

This is a welcome sign for Turkey given that circumstances are clearly going to land it with important regional roles whether it wants it or not.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

TAKING STOCK OF THE ERGENEKON CASE

SEDAT ERGİN

Without a doubt, the removal of the top Ergenekon prosecutor Zekeriya Öz from the case is a critical turning point in terms of the case's course. At this point, having an inventory is useful in order to see where we stand in the process.

The Ergenekon process started with confiscation of a great deal of explosive in a shanty house in Ümraniye district on June 12, 2007. Prosecutor Öz was assigned to the investigation. That means Öz has held the leashes of this case for around three years, 10 months.

An open-ended judicial process

We see three main indictments in what Öz has left behind, one of which is the indictment prepared in 2008 against 96 defendants including Veli Küçük and Muzaffer Tekin.

This is followed by a second indictment prepared in 2009 against 56 defendants including Şener Eruygur and Mustafa Balbay and a third one against 52 defendants including Professor Mehmet Haberal. The two were linked during the trial phase. The three indictments consist of 4,808 pages in total.

A fourth indictment against Bedrettin Dalan and Dursun Çiçek and yet another against the Support for Contemporary Living Association, or ÇYDD, are other key rings in the Ergenekon chain.

It is very difficult to answer, in particular, when these cases would come to an end. But we can predict that they could take a long time (to the midst of the 2010s or probably the second half of it). The prosecution process proceeds slowly.

For instance, the testimony process in the first case was completed and evaluation of evidence began last November. Opinion as to the accusations and defenses will follow. In the combined second case, the testimony phase is ongoing. Over half of the accused are waiting in line for testimony. Two Ergenekon suspects have, meanwhile, passed away.

Losing public support

The Ergenekon investigation has been quite controversial and painful from the beginning. Public support gained during the confiscation of the explosives in particular has been lost after the waves of arrests.

An investigation set forth on a firm ground against an organization that might sabotage democratic stability has changed direction in time and targeted to suppress the opposition and question a particular mentality. So, it faces a great deal of criticisms. A critical breaking-point in the Ergenekon case was the police raid of the late Professor Türkan Saylan, founder of the ÇYDD, in April 2009. A question of plausibility has been raised after the latest wave targeting some journalists and the arrest of a journalist writing a book on the Ergenekon case.

Following the waves of arrests, a poll by Metropoll, a research firm the government gives importance to, revealed that 32 percent of participants believe the Ergenekon case is conducted on fair grounds but the percentage of those that did not believe so had increased to 46. That means there is an issue of public confidence.

Received with a grain of salt in the West

Violation of privacy of the suspects during inquiries, police raids before dawn has caused serious reactions and is received with a grain of salt in the West. In the European Union's latest progress report on Turkey, the European Commission supports the case in general; however, it expresses concerns about the quality of the investigation.

The latest waves of arrests, particularly, have caused loss of public support to the Ergenekon case. At this point, we can talk about a critical break in public conscience regarding legitimacy of the process.

The latest waves have also given other results. Turkey's prestige abroad has turned upside down as the government's record of democracy is being questioned by the West for the first time.

One more thing… The question, "Who really pulls the string in Turkey?" is being asked. This was a question Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan could hardly take and I think it is a very critical threshold.

As for prosecutor Öz, the performance of prosecutors is not evaluated according to the cases they file or the number of the accused. A more realistic assessment on his time of service will be made according to number of convictions and of acquittals.

* Sedat Ergin is a columnist of daily Hürriyet, in which this piece appeared Thursday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

AN EU MINISTRY ON THE WAY

MURAT YETKİN

Various scenarios are built in Ankara as the government insists on being granted broad authority to pass decree laws, referred to as KHK, in Parliament for the last six months. This has always been the case, actually. Those who remember a similar crises, such as those that occurred in the late President Turgut Özal's period and yet another during President Ahmet Necdet Sezer as he vetoed the request made by the late Prime Minister Bülent Ecevit seeking the KHK authority, are asking in Ankara now, "What's behind this?" since the KHK issue is on the agenda again.

Scenarios backstage

This time, security-related scenarios are at the top. The rumor is that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will benefit from the authority – assuming President Abdullah Gül will not cause any trouble – and make arrangements about the General Staff and force commanderships, form an intelligence ministry, split the Interior Ministry into two and set-up a public order ministry from the new half.

I needed an expert opinion on the subject, so I asked Deputy Prime Minister Cemil Çiçek.

Çiçek has refuted the aforementioned security arrangements. There was only the "Public Order Ministry" that was reflected in the media as certain. However, "No such thing," he replied. And before adding which one might happen, the minister said:

1 - The KHK authority is only for arranging state ministries,

2- And with that, for now, the goal is to create a budget and legal entity for state ministries currently having "undersecretary status."

"Think a second," the minister said, "If I step down today and if I am not meticulous, there exists not a single mechanism for me to pass on work and effort from all these years. State ministries are not functioning in state-style. Besides, the mechanism is not appropriate for a parliamentary system, but for the presidential system. We are making it conventional. We are kind of getting prepared for budgetary works scheduled for October following the elections."

Four new ministries

This is a hot potato. It's all known that Erdoğan wants some sort of presidential system in the new draft constitution he promised for the post-election period.

As for regulations: Three deputy prime ministry positions remain unchanged. On behalf of the prime minister, they will be responsible for the coordination of the economic, social and security policies, as they are at present. In addition, state ministries will be abolished and four new ministries will be formed in their place. These are:

- The Economy Ministry: In principle, a merger of Treasury, Foreign Trade, Customs, and perhaps Industry ministries is foreseen. This, in a way, could be regarded as an important structural change after Özal's dividing the Finance Ministry into sub-units and pushing them to the fore.

- The Social Aid Ministry: Uniting social aid work, currently handled by a few different ministries, under a single body. Protection and assistance services – such as for families, children and people with disabilities – are considered for being merged under this unit. For political reasons though, the name "Family and Children" might be suggested.

- The Youth and Sports Ministry: Erdoğan wishes for Turkey to host international organizations such as the Olympic Games and the World Cup. And that could be the reason why a separate budget and structure is considered for this ministry. Re-arrangement in the ministry has been sought for quite some time in order to popularize sports activities and achieve international successes since Turkey has quite a young population.

- The EU Affairs Ministry: The EU-related issues are being taken care of Top Negotiator Egemen Bağış in a state ministry and an affiliated EU General Secretariat. "The right to speak rests with the Foreign Ministry when it comes to political decisions," said Çiçek. "However, as a sign of how much it is important for us, we need to make arrangements and create an independent EU Affairs, both in structure and budget-wise. Don't mind troubles of the day; these will pass. There is a lot to do."

Will relations with the EU improve faster?

Among the rearrangements, the EU Affairs Ministry is the only surprise. Let's see if the EU relations will improve faster under an independent ministry through an original EU bureaucracy while we try to resolve foreign policy issues and overcome obstacles to freedom of the press.

* Murat Yetkin is the Ankara representative of the daily Radikal, in which this piece appeared Wednesday. It was translated into English by the Daily News staff.

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

EPPUR SI MUOVE!

BURAK BEKDİL

These days, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and his army of "Lackeys Without Borders" are less convincing than they used to be. Even Fethullah Gülen, the hero of the book manuscript that was "detained and deleted" by the police, has said that "such acts would boost interest in the unpublished book." President Abdullah Gül agrees that the unpublished book would now sell 100,000 copies instead of 10,000.

Journalist Ahmet Şık's book draft, "Imamın Ordusu" (The Imam's Army), which tells the story of Gülenist infiltration into the police and judiciary ranks, is now legally viewed as "a document of a terrorist organization," and those who possess its copies are terrorists. The police report claims that the terrorist organization "planned to create sensation and disinformation with the publication of the book." Hence, the terrorism charges for an unpublished book draft in EU-candidate Turkey.

According to the prosecution, the drafting of a book manuscript constituted the work of the propaganda unit of a dangerous terrorist organization. Good news, there are still lucky terrorists who are not yet behind bars: The prosecutors could well have arrested the owners of restaurants where suspects ate (the organization's catering unit); the taxis they may have taken (the transport unit); or their children (the propaganda unit for kindergarten).

All that may be shocking news for the Americans who, according to Mr. Erdoğan's interior minister, endure inferior press freedoms than the Turks; or the Europeans who, according to Mr. Erdoğan, turn a blind eye on the broader civil liberties in Turkey than in EU members Greece and Bulgaria.

I wonder what the Greeks and Bulgarians have to say to that. How many copies of unpublished books have been "detained" in their countries, along with their authors and the authors' friends? How many men of ideas have been kept behind bars for years without knowing what charges they are being accused of? How many Greeks, Bulgarians and Americans would volunteer to enjoy superior rights such as in Turkey?

Mr. Erdoğan's justification: Each country has conditions special to itself. Great logic! But no longer convincing. Even the Lackeys Without Borders are less breezy and more shy these days, not knowing how to defend the indefensible.

Now listen to Mr. Erdoğan's alternative rhetorical ammunition in defense of the systematic "de jure" raids on his regime's opponents. On March 15, the prime minister said: "In the West or in other countries [the protestors hide behind]… how many visual and printed media outlets are there? And how many are there in Turkey? You will see that more outlets are operating in Turkey."

I may be an eternal pessimist. But even I never imagined one day we would have a prime minister who would argue that the more media outlets there are the freer a country is.

But fortunately, there are still people around who shout "Eppur si muove!" There are genuine human rights activists like Şanar Yurdatapan, otherwise a great poet and a composer whose 1970s hit, "Arkadaş" ("Friend" in English), had been "arrested" along with its singer, Melike Demirağ, for whom the song had been written. Crime? Communist propaganda, because the lyrics went: "We shall walk hand in hand / and always forward."

Why, "hand in hand," had the prosecutors got suspicious of terrorist activity? And why "forward?" I remember a police raid to arrest Ms Demirağ which showed her at the police headquarters, filmed by the press (the protagonists of today's Lackeys Without Borders), together with the "evidence of crime": An LP!

Mr. Yurdatapan has been one of the extremely rare "indiscriminative" human rights activists, defending freedoms without any ideological spin or attachment. He has defended Kurdish rights, Islamists' rights (including freedom for the Islamic headscarf), and now the "Ergenekon terrorists."

After the prosecutors and police warned 70 million Turks that those who hold a copy of İmamın Ordusu would be indicted for abetting and aiding the terrorists, Mr. Yurdatapan launched an Internet campaign: Do you have a copy?

"If yes, would you be so kind as to forward it to me? I promise, I won't tell anyone I got it from you.

But I promise I shall distribute that copy to friends, my entire contact list, to all the institutions, all politicians, writers, academics, journalists, artists and jurists – prosecutors and judges, too — in every corner of the world.

I shall do that willingly and knowingly [a premeditated act].

I encourage others to do so too.

I encourage you to do so too.

With love and respect,

Şanar Yurdatapan"

Only hours after having launched a campaign to illegally obtain and distribute copies of İmamın Ordusu, Mr. Yurdatapan launched another campaign, this time to criticize a court verdict that fined Nobel laureate Orhan Pamuk on the grounds that he had insulted the Turks when he said that "in these lands a million Armenians and 30,000 Kurds were killed." His campaign letter's subject line, this time, read: "It's impossible to catch up with nonsense!"

Mr. Yurdatapan wrote: "It's very humane that Pamuk may have been wrong with numbers. The number of Armenians killed in these lands is no less than 800,000, and Kurds 20,000 – and the latter is on a constant rise. Thus I claim, and send my best regards to our prosecutors. I also invite everyone to join this 'crime.'"

And I invite Mr. Erdoğan to inject an extra $20 billion to the Justice Ministry's budget for the immediate construction of new prisons throughout the country. That way he can boast the best justice in the whole of Europe – see, more prisons, better justice; more newspapers, broader freedoms…

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HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

INQUISITION

YUSUF KANLI

An e-mail from a certain "Rahmi" of Istanbul forced me to make a bitter reassessment of what's indeed happening in Turkey. I have to confess, I was wrong the other day when I wrote the "Preemptive censorship" article. Unfortunately, I underestimated the real dimensions of the ongoing tragicomedy in Turkey and could not realize that what indeed has been happening in Turkey is indeed an inquisition, a part of which is preemptive censor.

Why was the e-mail from Rahmi – most probably it is an alias and I have matured enough through bitter experiences that most probably I will not be able to authenticate his identity – important for me? First of all he wrote the message at nearly the same hour as public and private television stations started running some "late breaking" stories regarding a new wave of raids by an army of prosecutors and police on the residences, offices and university rooms of six theology professors, while on the same stations in a separate set of breaking stories, they were reporting that the government-revamped Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HSYK, had promoted prosecutor Zekeriya Öz and terminated his special authority as the prosecutor of the Ergenekon thriller. He is now the deputy prosecutor general of Istanbul.

Rahmi asked, "Don't you see that what's happening is not just preemptive censorship? They are not just confiscating unpublished books and spreading fear among journalists and writers to stay away from issues that might enrage the political authority. They are at the same time showing the stick to academia and telling them that academic research is not immune from censorship and if they engage in research that might not be welcome for the political authority, they might be asked to pay a price. This is not preemptive censorship my man, this is pure inquisition… On the other hand, there are segments in the political authority who started panicking about perhaps overstretching the limits and were risking all the advances made so far against the secularists…"

Well, reading the letter from Rahmi, whoever he is, I conceded that I most probably underestimated the situation in Turkey. For anyone in a really democratic country a government or court of a country banning and confiscating an unpublished book, a draft book is of course something difficult to understand. Very difficult indeed. But, the inquisition campaign of political Islam in Turkey apparently has further skills to demonstrate and the raid on houses, offices and university rooms of theology professors demonstrated not only a mentality of criminalizing academic research but also the fact that there might be no limit to the oddities of political Islam, this government and, as Ahmet Şık wrote in his confiscated unpublished book, "İmamın Ordusu" (The Imam's Army).

Gigantic growth

According to just released official statistics, believe it or not, at a time when the global economy is passing through a serious economic crisis and many countries are facing the risk of bankruptcy, the Turkish economy has achieved something very extraordinary. Breaking the country's previous growth records, Turkish economy expanded 9.2 percent in the last quarter of 2010, pushing the annual growth to an unprecedented 8.9 percent level. The previous highest growth rate in Turkey was 8.5 percent.

Per capita income, on the other hand, has risen to 15,138 Turkish Liras ($10,079).

Should Turkey find the golden formula of achieving a more just distribution of wealth and should this incredibly good growth rate – which unfortunately most likely push current accounts deficit to a new height and perhaps trigger an increase in interest rates once June elections are over – was not based on a consumption economy, but on successes in the country's production sector, there would be of course more than enough reasons to celebrate with fireworks. Yet, this high growth rate, unfortunately, appears to be pointing with alarm buzzers over an overheating in the Turkish economy.

Regarding the $10,000-plus per capita income claim, for God's sake, keep it confidential. In a country where some 12 million people live below the poverty line and struggle to survive on a negligible income, a $10,000 per capita income is doomed to remain only a colorful detail in reports on the economy.

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 HURRIYET DAILY NEWS

OPINION

ERGENEKON CASE NEEDS TO BE PUT ON TRACK

MEHMET ALİ BİRAND

I can exactly imagine how Ergenekon case prosecutor Zekeriya Öz, by doing what he did, took his life in his own hands, risking much. But no matter how right he was or how strongly he took on the risk for this case which has evolutionary character for Turkey, in the eye of one part of the public he is at a point where he can't continue with the case any further.

Öz has done things no one else would dare to do. But the conscience of the public did not accept several incidents.

Öz, in fact, did not have many supporters in the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, other than a few names at the top. I know because I listened to prosecutors talking about what happened. As a matter of fact, people wanted Öz to retire from this case before but he was able to save himself at the last minute.

All this has passed.

Now we are confronted with a new situation.

This appointment does not only prove the discomfort of the government but also the judiciary.

Öz seemed to have lost control, when looked from the outside.

So what will happen from now on?

The Ergenekon case will not vanish but we may say that debated raids, devastating investigations and practices resulting in discomfort for the public will come to an end.

Actually, this appointment creates an opportunity.

Starting today the Ergenekon case needs to be brought down to its real dimensions and the real criminals need to be punished. If we once more fail to do so we should bid the Ergenekon case farewell.

HYSK stuns us

We need to think about the following:

As the structure of the Supreme Board of Judges and Prosecutors, or HYSK, was being changed, the great majority of us wrote that "the judiciary was shoved into pocket of the political administration and the administration could do as it pleased."

Even if I didn't think that judges would easily succumb to the chain of command I still had my doubts. But the latest development stunned me.

Besides, leaking news in respect to voting doesn't show any sign of obeying a power either.

Obviously if the government had been asked, it wouldn't have decided on replacing Öz. No matter how much criticism within the AKP is directed toward the prosecutor, there couldn't have been a better candidate to embrace. If you were to pay attention, even though the prime minister is feeling discomfort and burdened by Öz, and despite the bill being made out to his administration, he never once complaint about Öz. On the contrary he was protective of him. For let's not forget that this case would be a total loss for the AKP if it weren't up to brave prosecutors. If there has been no reaction with respect to the HSYK decision then it maybe was in order not to fan the flames of misperception.

But no matter what, the HSYK has stunned part of the public.

If possible, then only Assad can, but that's not it

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad made his long-expected speech.

The speech was a great frustration for many.

He blamed Israel entirely and did not make any reform promises.

Maybe he didn't want to commit and in days to come he will take steps in order to change Syria from the ground up.

We don't know that.

What we know though is if there is a leader that could in the true sense of the word change Syria then that leader is Assad. I spoke to him several times and shared his sincere views.

He is a young leader. He is very outspoken. He is able to view his country from a liberal perspective. He notices what is wrong and speaks about it.

He knows the world. He knows very well what young people in Syria want.

His only concern is whether or not he will be able to rid himself of the former team left behind by his father.

Assad's other trump card on hand is Turkey.

If he ignores the paranoia created by the old team and listens to suggestions coming from Ankara, he will strengthen his hand. Actually Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan definitely wants Assad to be successful. In this respect he is very sincere, for it is for the benefit of Turkey if Assad forms a stable Syria under his leadership.

Unless the Syrian president takes new steps, we can tell from his latest speech he seemed not to have realized the truth behind the developments. Have all the protesters and tens of thousands of rioters been fooled by Israel?

I still don't want to lose my faith.

I am once more repeating, I believe or want to believe that if in this region there is one leader who can do this then this leader is Assad.

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 I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

TARGETING FAZL

 

Someone seems determined to get Maulana Fazlur Rehman, head of his own faction of the JUI-F. Less than 24 hours after he survived an attack as a convoy headed to Swabi was hit by a suicide-bomber riding a motorbike packed with explosives, another suicide bomber targeted his convoy this time in Charsadda. These attacks are quite evidently not casual strikes but emanate from what now appears to be a distinct plot to assassinate him. It is also a well-thought one, with the would-be killers apparently well-informed of his movements. But each time Rehman and key aides have survived. Others have not been so lucky. Eight JUI-F men and two policemen died in Swabi. And 12 were killed in Charsadda. Many others are reported to have been injured. After some initial hesitation, the JUI-F decided to go ahead with the rally at a playground in Swabi. In a defiant address, Rehman said that his party would not be cowed and blamed government policies for deaths due to drone strikes in the tribal areas.

National and provincial leaders have condemned the strike. Investigations are underway and the bomber at Swabi has been identified as a teenager from the Khyber Agency. The pattern is one we are familiar with. The JUI-F also suffered a terrorist attack on a madressah in Pishin, in March 2009, in which five people died. But this time around, there seems to be a far more urgent desire to remove Rehman from the scene. It is impossible at this point to say why, or guess when the next attack may come. Leaders like Rehman are all the more vulnerable because they must meet people and mingle with them. We cannot help but ask if this may be a case of monsters along the lines of Frankenstein coming home to roost. The JUI-F has been seen, over many years, as being close to the Taliban; it has also been accused of helping to train militants. Perhaps, these militants now blame it for refusing to make a complete break with the government or perhaps the latest attack is a result of infighting between the growing armies of splinter groups. Quite possibly the motive is totally different. But whatever the truth is, these attacks serve to highlight the increasingly dangerous situation faced as attempts continue to be made to eliminate key leaders. Over the past few months, we have seen too many deaths. The major political parties need to sit together to decide on strategy. There is no other viable choice. The alternative is that the risk of other assassinations will remain, adding to the instability and the threats we already face, with things rapidly assuming ever more ominous proportions.

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I. THE NEWS

EDITORIAL

A CHANCE FOR PEACE

 

The encounter in Mohali between the Indian and Pakistani cricket teams may yet bring results far more significant than the number of runs scored, the wickets taken or even the catches dropped. The indications are that the meeting during the match, between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Prime Minister Yusuf Raza Gilani, who were able to turn their gaze away from the cricket long enough to hold a 90-minute conversation, may set the two countries back on the road to cooperation. In a brief statement, the Indian Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao has welcomed the friendly spirit in which the talks were held, Mr Singh has called for 'ancient animosities' to be forgotten, and Mr Gilani has said much could be gained through cooperation. The hawks in both nations must be fluttering around their roosts in agitation.

There is a great deal still to be done. The talks however set the tone for what we hope will be a less acrimonious future. They come as agreements on a range of issues were reached at secretary-level talks in New Delhi, held just a day before the two leaders met. Pakistan Interior Secretary Qamar Zaman Chaudhry and Indian Home Secretry G K Pilai agreed to set up a hotline on terrorism to exchange time information to combat the threat and for an Indian Commission to visit Pakistan to look into the Mumbai attacks investigations. Details will be worked out in time. The two sides also agreed to step up cooperation in other areas, including human smuggling and narcotics. The recognition that exchanges need to happen at various levels seems to have been reached at Mohali, with talk of delegations at various levels regularly crossing the border. The Indian prime minister has also accepted his Pakistani counterpart's invitation to Pakistan. Solid agreements and the tackling of the many contentious issues between the two countries may lie ahead. There is still a great deal of work to be done. But the momentum gained at Mohali may make it possible for far bigger achievements to come in the future and for the animosity that has persisted since November 2008 to finally subside as efforts begin in earnest to build a future based on the goodwill that the region urgently needs, for a future within which people on both sides of the border can prosper.

 

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I,THE NEWS

OPINION

VICTORY AND LOSS

 

Pakistan's brave cricketing performance at the World Cup should make us all proud. The maturity with which most people have accepted the loss suggests this has already happened and that the team will be warmly received as it returns. This is how things should be. Winning and losing are simply part of every sport. But even though the loss has been taken well, we should consider the impact of the initial hype – especially on the very young. They must not be denied excitement, but it is also important that they learn that defeating India is not a matter of life and death.

It is, in cricketing terms, time also to think about the future. Despite the absence of three key players due to match fixing bans, our team has shown it has huge potential. Shahid Afridi's skills as a leader were also on display. But we need to review our fielding efforts, at a time when this aspect of the game has become vital - and also the wicket-keeping arena. The PCB, guilty of much mismanagement in the past, needs to set itself up on more professional lines and give our boys in the field the kind of backing they deserve. An objective analysis of why the team manager, coach and others failed to give proper timely instructions to the captain and players during the match should also be done. For now, the frenzy we saw in the build-up to what turned out to be a wonderful game at Mohali may have faded. But the degree of anticipation demonstrated just how deep the love for the sport runs. It is time to put on our thinking caps and find ways to build on our success. Much can be achieved by placing merit above all else and introducing the greater professionalism that more and more teams have been able to adopt, enabling them to put in better preparation, more planning, and consequently, deliver improved performances.

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

MAD ABOUT THE RIGHT THING

AYAZ AMIR

 

From the largely self-invented problems of the Islamic Republic cricket was a huge and splendid diversion, and while the fever lasted all the solemn and angry nonsense spouting from self-righteous throats about national honour and the rest was mercifully forgotten.


If there is a world prize for unrelenting bad news no marks for guessing which country would win it hands down: Pakistan. And here for a change was something ordinary Pakistanis could take pride in, the performance of its cricket team, battered by scandal though it was and beset by an administrative setup that would have re-sunk the Titanic. Yet, amid these bleak circumstances, coming from nowhere and going on to the semi-finals to play traditional rivals India. Surely something to be proud of.


Chief Minister Shahbaz Sharif is right to say he would be on hand to welcome the team. It deserves nothing less. But, if I may say so, he had no business saying that if the team won at Mohali each player would get 25 acres. This is exactly the kind of emotional excess, not to mention Mughal largesse, we should be avoiding as a nation, taking a game of cricket to be just that, rather than a matter of life and death.


And of course there is no cure yet, at least not in known medicine, for my friend Rehman Malik, less interior minister than verbal blunderbuss prone to go off at the most unexpected moment. About match-fixing he had to deliver a warning right on the eve of the match, further underscoring his great sense of timing. And then perhaps to make up for the fireworks, he had to go and offer special prayers at Faisal Mosque for the team's success. It isn't just our cricket team which cracks under pressure. Put any government of Pakistan on a stress test and it can be almost counted upon to behave in a silly manner.


And what got into the team itself to have itself photographed offering congregational prayers in the centre of Mohali ground during a training session? Whom was it trying to impress, the inscrutable powers above or the folks back home? All the world cup teams – all – subscribe to different faiths and it would be perfectly natural for them to call on the Most High for success and victory. But the kind of exhibitionism at which we somehow seem to excel, and which doesn't embarrass us in the least, is best avoided. We don't have to wear our faith on our sleeves.


Yes, yes, I know the standard mantra that we are God's chosen people and Pakistan was created as a special gift from heaven (there is no shortage of Pakistanis who actually believe this). Still, it would improve the tone of things in Pakistan if we learnt to shout less about matters of faith. Why don't we take a page from Bangladesh's book? It is now not the Islamic Republic but the People's Republic of Bangladesh but its Muslims are no less Islamic for this change of name.


The people of Pakistan, left to their own devices, for the most part are perfectly sensible in these matters, firm in their religious beliefs but going about their everyday lives without paying too much heed to the usual ranting of the clerical crowd. Indeed, throughout the history of Islam in the sub-continent, the role of the mullah has been largely confined to two functions: performing the nikah at marriage ceremonies and leading funeral prayers. The saint or the qalandar commanded popular respect and even adulation, not, alas, the fire-breathing maulvi.

The names of how many traditional mullahs have stuck in the popular imagination? But the names of Ali Hajveri, Lal Shahbaz and Moinuddin Chishti, to name only these three, are on everyone's lips. And, such was the force of their example, not only on the lips of Muslims but Hindus as well. A Sikh will as readily dance to that heady song, timeless in its resonance, lal meri pat rakhio bala jhooley lalan, as any Muslim devotee of Lal Shahbaz Qalandar.


The Islam which Gen Ziaul Haq tried to force upon Pakistan was not the Islam of the sub-continent, not the Islam of Ali Hajveri or Lal Shahbaz. Its inspiration came from elsewhere – let discretion be my guide and let me not be more specific – and it received a fillip from the first Afghan 'jihad' when the CIA and Saudi Arabia and our own ISI came together in a broad coalition to counter the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan.


As was only to be expected, the US was pursuing its own interests – trying to weaken the Soviet Union – but Zia and his generals had convinced themselves they were fighting for the greater glory of Islam. From the seeds scattered in that struggle arose the ghosts and dragons haunting Pakistan today.


If the religious parties still don't make much of an electoral impact we have to thank the good sense of the Pakistani people for that. But as seen in the recent agitation over the anti-blasphemy law they retain the power to influence the national agenda, while the mainstream political parties, despite enjoying popular support, somehow find it politically expedient not to resist them. Or perhaps it is just a lack of courage.


But one thing should be instructive and that is the reaction to the release of the CIA operative, Raymond Davis. The protests called by the religious parties petered out very quickly. Why? Because behind the deal which freed Davis was the deft and powerful hand of the ISI. If the federal government or any other entity had been involved, without the army's concurrence or approval, there would have been hell to pay, with the religious parties taking to the streets in a stronger manner and the 'patriotic' media blaring its trumpets and not letting go.


We have seen protests but they have been of the muted kind, serving only to emphasise the hidden strings of agitation in Pakistan. Spare a thought for political governments which must put up with their own shortcomings and the tender affections of the guardians of national security. More than being an inherited condition, religious extremism is an acquired taste in Pakistan, the godfathers of national security having more to do with this acquisition than we usually care to think.


This has been a long digression. What does it matter if we lost? It was good while the euphoria lasted. We could forget our sorrows and, even if briefly, bask in the glow of a more uplifting experience.


Come to think of it, even losing may not have been such a bad thing. We are an emotional people given to over-excitement. If we had won wouldn't the temptation have been strong to put down our victory to divine intervention rather than anything simpler or more mundane like the team's own effort? The fortress-of-Islam explanation would have gone into over-drive, testing everyone's nerves. The splash of cold water that defeat has meant is probably therefore just what we needed.


Even so, the nation owes the cricket team a debt of gratitude. Its performance surpassed all expectations and thrilled the entire nation. So let our players be welcomed warmly and let us pay greater attention to improving not just the prospects of cricket but other sports as well. More than GDP sport tells us about the state of a nation. If you are doing well on the field or in the gym it means you are okay in other departments of national life.

We have more than our share of hypocrisy and manufactured problems. It is more secular entertainment, more secular pursuits, that we could do with. So here's to our team...pass the ice, please...and may the next cricketing triumphs be ours.

Email: winlust@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

ANATOMY OF NEO-COLONIALISM

DR MUZAFFAR IQBAL

 

The day I arrived in Lahore, it seemed that the greatest event in the world was the quarter final between Pakistan and the West Indies. Bombs were raining down from the sky in Libya and the so-called international forces were violating the terms of the UN resolution which they had concocted to invade Libya. Yet, almost everyone in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan was glued to TV sets, watching a meaningless encounter in Bangladesh which had no consequence for their country's desperate situation or for their own lives other than the remote possibility that it may provide an emotional relief of sorts if Pakistan won the match.


This was, of course, not entirely unexpected, yet it was shocking as one expected a certain degree of awareness that the US-led bombing campaign is destroying the infra-structure of a Muslim country and endangering the lives of their brethren in faith. But this apathy seemed "innocence" compared to the aggressive position of many Arab countries in this new western aggression against a Muslim country. The fact that the Arab League and the OIC had actually provided the necessary – although flimsy – raison d'etre for this new western crusade against Muslims, which was bound to result in a civil war in Libya, underscores the emergence of a new western strategy of colonising the Muslim world, especially the oil-rich countries.


The anatomy of this neo-colonialism, now in its initial phase, is already clear: all regimes which do not comply, should be changed. Regime change, accomplished at a huge expense in Iraq, was the first experiment; it has now become a much easier process: ferment revolt from within, then watch the situation and control it from behind the stage. Wherever possible, attempt a Jasmine revolution, where this is not possible, device a mechanism for covert military action and when that also fails, use the ever-willing mistress called the United Nations, drawing in the non-representative "Muslim" bodies such as the OIC and the Arab League. This mechanism is not new; the United States has already unsuccessfully tried it against Iran. It did not work in Iran for various reasons specific to Iran, but it is fairly workable in the rest of the Muslim world.


Many readers may wonder why the western powers need a regime change when a Hosni Mubarak or a Musharraf was already doing what they wanted. The answer is: every puppet has an expiry date and when that date comes, he must go. He has become useless, because he cannot move on to the next stage due to inherent limitations in his first role. Musharraf of Pakistan, for example, was already doing the required job, but growing opposition, and his own blown up ego had become hurdles to quick results desired by his masters; so he was shown the exit door. The same goes for puppets elsewhere.


There is also another dimension of this new strategy. In Bahrain, for instance, the United States wanted to exert pressure, sell more arms not only to the tiny Gulf state but also to the neighbouring Saudi Arabia and hence a certain "controlled" pressure has been brought to bear on the potentate who obliged immediately.

Some may construe this anatomy of neo-colonialism as another conspiracy theory, but a brief look at the historical pattern through which this mechanism has emerged can provide a reasoned argument against such a claim.

The colonised world was set free by France, Italy, and Britain shortly after the Second World War. This was not a voluntary exit from the lands which these colonisers had plundered, desecrated, and destroyed for over a century – in some cases for two centuries. The exit was forced by the awakened populace, whose "fathers of the nation" nonetheless, were soon replaced or co-opted – by the departing colonisers who were now joined by the United States of America in a global effort to control the natural resources of the colonies.

The forty year period between 1960 and 2000 provides ample historical evidence to prove that the oil and minerals of the Muslim world were the most obvious material reason for various western aggressions against them. The post-9/11 period, however, is a different era; now it is not just oil, gold, and minerals, but the entire make-up of the Muslim world that is the target; even the taste buds of the new generation should be changed to make the terrible and unhealthy McDonalds seem delicious food to them.


This added factor in neo-colonialism has its ideological, even religious raison d'etre, but what matters most is the lack of comprehension of the extent of devastation being wrought. The entire Muslim world seems fast asleep. This heedlessness is infused through a massive media campaign, numerous economic, political, and cultural interventions and outright military aggression.


Yet another aspect of the anatomy of neo-colonialism is the time-tested divide and rule policy. In the post-colonial phase, divisions within the Muslim polity are both ideological and material. The most obvious proof of the success of this policy is the raging fever of Shia-Sunni conflict which has gripped the Arab world since the emergence of a Shia government there. In addition, even the Sunni house of Islam has been fractured. This is more of a problem in Pakistan than the Arab world, where the intra-sectarian disharmony is not so pronounced.

The most obvious question which needs to be answered at this early stage of neo-colonialism is: where would this lead to and how long will it last? Obviously, no one can predict the future, but if history and an objective understanding of the current state of affairs can be trusted, the Muslim world is heading towards a transmutation from within which will destroy the entire fabric of the Islamic civilisation, leaving behind an "individualised Islam", with only a veneer of a common identity. Thus, in not-too-distant a future, one can see a Lebanon like situation in many parts of the Muslim world where one will be free to go to a bar or a mosque and where gambling houses and places of worship will exist side by side.


The writer is a freelance columnist.

Email: quantumnotes@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

HOW UNDERDEVELOPMENT RAVAGES PAKISTAN

DR QAISAR RASHID


 A developed country manifests itself in both cerebral and physical terms and in so doing the country establishes a criterion for us to compare with it the development status of any other country. On the development index, Pakistan lags behind on several planes. The term 'developing country' is a misnomer in the context of Pakistan; in fact, Pakistan is ravaged by the blight of underdevelopment.


There are several causes and effects of Pakistan's underdevelopment but a few are noteworthy.


First, (national) security consciousness hogs most available space. Immediately after the formation of Pakistan, the country's priority shifted to becoming a security state rather than a welfare state. The shift in priority was noticeable because the primary objective of the country's formation was not an armed empowerment of the Muslims of the subcontinent but to have a piece of land where the interests of Muslims could be secured. At first, fortifying state security was declared a means to achieve that objective but afterward the state security became an end in itself.


The shift initially made the military a partner to the political regimes but later on the shift graduated the military to the position of a surrogate for any ruling regime. Further, the shift has been gobbling up a major chunk of the budget.

After May 12, 1998, it was expected that the priorities would be normalised to keeping a qualitative defence force only - to actualise the 'minimum deterrence' doctrine. Moreover, it was expected that room would be provided to social sectors such as education and health to make up for the lag in their progress.

Unfortunately, this has not yet happened. To cope with the devastation caused by the recent flood, funds allocated to the HEC and public universities have been slashed. The education sector is used as a contingency head to offset any loss in other sectors. The Pakistan Education Task Force has declared an 'Education Emergency' in Pakistan and rightly so. Nevertheless, who will declare the 'Health Emergency' is yet to be known.

Second, a culture of consumption is rampant. The habit of conspicuous consumption bequeathed by an agro-society is unleashed on the industrial produce which is mostly imported. Consequently, the import bill has made inroads into national savings and struck a trade imbalance. This means that if imports keep on outnumbering exports, the economic sufferings of the country are interminable.


Further, the volume of imports and people's preference for subsequent extravagant utilisation have together made the indirect tax, including General Sales Tax, a tax of choice for the government to levy and engorge the exchequer. People fail to learn how to economise their purchase bills and why they should focus on the production of goods for export. Both China and India are banking on their production strategies (for export) to boost their economies.

 

Third, medievalism is cherished by people while modernism is despised. Modernism is a thinking pattern which brings about specific changes in the attitude and action of a person; modernisation is a process to achieve modernism. Hence, merely buying and utilising luxury items such as cars and cell phones, travelling in aeroplanes, and living in posh areas is not modernisation.


In the presence of all material things one may not be modern while in the absence of all material things one may be modern. The difference lies in the ways of thinking that are translated into specific behaviour.

In Pakistan, most people live mentally in the medieval age but survive physically in the current age, the twenty-first century. The paradox is goading Pakistan into smarting under it because people tend to sanitise their homes but are averse to keeping surrounding areas clean. Vehicles of the latest models are plied on the highways but traffic rules are not observed. Violating laws and then getting away with it is considered an affirmation of offender's clout while abiding by the law is reckoned a point of disgrace. Standing in a queue is deemed a matter of demeaning oneself while bypassing the procedure entails a degree of prestige.

Interestingly, most Pakistanis reconcile themselves with medievalism considering modernisation equivalent to westernisation which in turn is abhorred. A conceptual update of Pakistanis is, therefore, essential. People should be helped in the task of harmonising time with the space they are living in.

Fourth, corruption and nepotism have been rationalised. The twin evils are contemptible because they promote an inequity in society leading to dispiriting the talent and hard work. Consequently, adequate contribution to society by all cannot take place. In the past, the pretext of corruption was employed to dethrone political regimes. The anti-corruption thesis of General Musharraf belied him twice at least when he forced NAB to lend him a hand in doing political make-and-break and when he promulgated the NRO to perpetuate his rule. Owing to such malpractices, it is considered that anti-corruption slogans are more to defraud people than to edify society. Nevertheless, it will be interesting to see if another military general takes over the country touting the self-professed anti-corruption mandate.

Fifth, the fatalistic approach is relied on. Taking spiritual measures to crack temporal enigmas is a repudiation of the fruits of science. Generally, chanting incantations to treat Hepatitis is preferred to consulting a specialist doctor. One hardly ever hears voices calling for installation of water purification and sewerage treatment plants in housing schemes (to ensure supply of clean water and safe disposal of sewerage) to quell the endemic of Hepatitis.

People also declaim invocation to end the power outages instead of launching a people-to-people contact campaign for forging a trans-provincial consensus to build dams. One hardly ever hears people demanding to know how solar and wind energy can be utilised. It seems that people have abandoned themselves to the swerves of fate.

In short, Pakistanis have yet to wake up to the realities of the present age.



The writer is a freelance contributor. Email: qaisarrashid@yahoo.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

OPINION

DIVIDING PUNJAB

MAHMOOD SHAH

 

Lately the creation of a southern province in Punjab is being debated in the media and in our political circles. The incommodious attitude of certain political parties of avoiding open debate on this significant issue of considerable public import is incomprehensible and manifests an escapist attitude.


Punjab is the biggest province of Pakistan with a population of 81, 330, 531(over 81 million) which is about 47 percent of Pakistan's total population. It encompasses an area of 2, 05, 344 square kilometres. Out of a total of 342 National Assembly seats; Punjab has 183 MNAs, Sind 75, KPK has 43, Baluchistan 17, FATA 12, minorities 10 and Islamabad Capital Territory two MNAs. If the number of 183 MNAs from Punjab is seen in juxtaposition to 171 MNAs from all the other three provinces and other groups put together, it shows a very unpleasant comparison. Without any bias, prejudice and sounding parochial, the small provinces are living in a state of perpetual minority vis-a-vis Punjab. And certain vested interest groups and parties have been using this anomaly to their advantage. Using the Sind 'card' and some statements by sub nationalist parties in KPK and Baluchistan manifests this dangerous trend due to this anomaly. Even the erstwhile East Pakistan saga finds connections to this disproportionate administrative structural deficiency phenomenon. The people of Punjab are very open minded and hearty people. People hailing from other provinces and working in Punjab do not face discrimination. Yet Punjab gets a bad name when it suits certain vested interest groups and parties. Punjab in spite of being very accommodative gets discredited simply because of its size as compared to other federating units. This anomaly, therefore, needs to be addressed at the earliest.


From the point of view of administrative efficiency and good governance it is simply not possible for one IG police presently known as PPO to control crime and maintain law and order in a population of over 81 million people spread over a vast area. Service delivery and development outlays over such a vast area controlled, executed and managed by an incongruous government administrative machinery sitting in Lahore becomes extremely difficult notwithstanding some excellent administrative efficiency of some of the political leaders at the provincial level. Uneven and unequal development in Southern Punjab and Northern Punjab vis-a-vis Central Punjab is also attributed to concentration of power in Lahore which is derisively called Thakht-i-Lahore and Punjab as a big brother. Industrial development in Faisalabad, Gujranwala and Lahore, although good for the country, must be seen in relation to similar developments in Southern and Northern Punjab.


Logically this all calls for an inevitable division of Punjab into three provinces namely; central Punjab called Punjab with the provincial capital at Lahore, southern Punjab called Bahawalpur province with the provincial capital at Bahawalpur or Multan and northern Punjab called Potohar province with the provincial capital at Rawalpindi or Jhelum.


Certain detractors and critics of this issue argue that this subdivision will trigger other subdivisions like the demand of Hazara province. The demand for a Hazara province is an emotional issue which suddenly sprung out of renaming of the province without adequate consensus in the province. Hopefully this resentment will die down with time. Because if this sensitive issue is further exacerbated a demand of unification with Pushtuns in Baluchistan may also come up implying bifurcation of that sensitive province. The main political forces need to work for integration of the society in Pakistan and must move away from linguistic and ethnic divisions in the country and think in terms of administrative efficiency for homogeneous development of the society.

Another important implication of this subdivision is that the present day Punjab when divided in to three provinces will gain another 50 seats in the Senate. The people of southern Punjab have certain affinity with people from Sind and Baluchistan and similarly the people from Potohar have some compatibility with the people from Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. A wider representation in the Senate will therefore make this house a more effective upper house.


The present federation of Pakistan consisting of four provinces (excluding Azad Kashmir, Gilgit-Baltistan (newly formed province), and Fata for this discussion) is like a vehicle with four wheels; Punjab as a tractor wheel and the three provinces as car wheels. Therefore this federation has not been running smoothly so far.

The division of Punjab into three provinces is a sound and logical idea which should be debated openly and without any prejudices. Creating a separate province does not amount to making another country. These provinces still remain available to all the political parties for their politics and they should be able to manage their respective political vote banks in the newly formed provinces. This arrangement will lead to an equitable, proportionate and balanced political power base and will help in developing a homogeneous society in Pakistan over a period of time.


The writer is an ex-brigadier former

Fata secretary and home secretary

Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. Email: mahmoodshah @mahmoodshah.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

ON CRICKET BONDS AND FEARFUL NEGLECT

SHAFQAT MAHMOOD

 

Winning and losing is part of the game but let's face it – it felt awful. Particularly so because, despite the cliché, it was not the best team that won at Mohali; it was the worse team that was beaten. In other words, Pakistan lost the match. India did not win it.


Enough of tribalism, although to be honest, the camaraderie generated by jointly rooting for the team felt great. I was fortunate enough to be in Sri Lanka to watch our team beat Australia. There are many vignettes of this trip but two stand out.


As the Sri Lankan airline plane landed in Colombo a day before the match, the plane full of Pakistanis burst into cheer and some started singing the national anthem. In the stadium itself that had a sizeable contingent from Pakistan, perfect strangers hugged and slapped each other on the back, when the Australian wickets fell. And at the end, when we won, it seemed as if Colombo belonged to the green shirts thronging its alleys and byways.

Call it tribalism or love for the country; the last four to six weeks have brought the nation together like no other event in recent memory. One could argue that it is the well-off who had the luxury to indulge in this raw patriotism whereas the poor were still busy trying to eke out a living. Fair enough, but the way the country came to a standstill on the day of the Mohali match suggests something deeper.


It is as if the reservoir of feeling good about the country that had seemingly dried up with bad news all the time, had an outlet of joy with the performance of our cricket team. People across the country, in every province, every city, across the class, wealth, and ethnic divide were waiting for something good to cheer about.


The loss at Mohali has been a downer but again, it is the collective sigh across the land that holds one's attention. It suggests that all those stories of our death are vastly exaggerated. Our systems may be failing, and we may have the worst possible leadership, but underneath these visible signs of sickness, we have a strength that largely goes unnoticed.


It is the young people that give hope. And considering that a huge proportion of our population is under twenty five, there is much to look forward to in terms of national spirit. It also reminds us how much we have neglected this amazingly strong reservoir of our strength.


It is not just education, although lack of investment in it is keeping this generation of the future, largely semi-literate. It is the disinterest in this massive youth bulge across all policy areas. One that comes readily to mind is the lack of open spaces and facilities to channel the energies of the youth into sport.


It was interesting following one discussion on TV about the reason for our poor fielding in cricket. This was a reference not just to Mohali, where Tendulkar was dropped four times, but to this particular weakness in our cricket over the years. The question was – historically, why have we been such poor fielders?


The answer was obvious. Most of our kids start playing cricket on roads or in grassless open areas. They can also seldom afford proper cricket balls and play with tennis balls instead. This hones their bowling skills tremendously and to an extent their batting, but certainly not fielding. Who would like to dive on concrete roads or muddy unkempt open spaces?


No wonder our fielding skills are abysmal. It is only when these youngsters reach senior levels that they get proper grounds to play in but even these surfaces are hard and are not conducive to the kind of fielding acrobatics that other teams display. The result of these peculiar playing conditions is great bowling, average batting, and very poor fielding skills.


While this explains the weakness in our cricket, the larger question is – why we are not thinking about providing a healthy outlet to our youth. We can spend billions of dollars on improving the driving experience of a small proportion of our population through motorways and ring roads. But, virtually nothing on channelling the energies of our youngsters, who are a significant proportion of our population, into sports.


These poor development priorities are part of the reason why some of the frustrated youth find an outlet in negative activities. After nearly five years of fighting militancy, we repeatedly find that the terrorists have little problem in finding recruits.


No one is suggesting that by providing better grounds and sporting facilities the problem of terrorism will come to an end. It has many causes, among them poverty and the fracture between elite and poor systems of education. But, providing the youth some healthy outlet is a no brainer.


Our development priorities have to be people-centred rather than elite driven. Gleaming and shining airports and wide roads are good, but only cater to a few. It is the many that are suffering in our country.


A classic example of this is the railway, a mass carrier that serves the ordinary man. While we have spent huge amounts on roads and fancy buildings, not to mention serious weapons of destruction, we are allowing this resource of the masses to die.


This neglect of people-centred development is visible in every sphere, but most manifestly in education. During this visit to Sri Lanka, I was struck by the fact that while it has nearly 100 percent literacy, its road network is nothing compared to ours. Even to its principal tourist centre, Kandy, there is a single road with two-way traffic.

Instead of feeling smug about how far ahead we are, the message to me was that they have concentrated their precious resources on education rather than on a few motorists. This feeling was bolstered upon driving by the campuses of their colleges. While the roads were narrow, their educational institutions looked prosperous and cared for.


It may appear that this is too narrow a view and that a good road network has its place, the simple point is that nations with meagre resources have to make a careful choice. Their priorities have to be determined with a great deal of thought and to me, education, sporting facilities, railway, public parks, water, sanitation, and health have to take precedence over fancy projects because they cater to a majority of our people.


If we do that, the bonding that temporary events such as the Cricket World Cup bring about across the country would become permanent. Everybody would have a greater stake in the system and all efforts would be geared towards defending it.


We should be grateful for the sense of nationalism visible across every divide over the last six weeks. This, despite the neglect and lack of care for a vast majority of the people. Let this remind us to get our national direction right.

Email: shafqatmd@gmail.com

 

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I. THE NEWS

SIDE-EFFECT

HARRIS KHALIQUE

 

Punjabis understand what a shareeka is. Your first cousin who shares a claim to property and family land. If you happen to be a Muslim, he could become your brother-in-law as well. There is a Sindhi word kaandhi, idiomatically used for kith and kin who you may like or dislike but they are so close that they would be the ones to carry your coffin on their shoulders. If that sounds a bit morose, there is another word in Punjabi, jaanji. Those relatives who will be a part of your wedding procession anyway because the grandmother or the eldest uncle in the family has sent them a sadda (invite) to attend your marriage. It doesn't matter whatsoever if you are personally at odds with them. Pakistan and India besides other countries in South Asia are each other's shareekas, kaandhis and jaanjis.


Here, I use the term 'South Asia' rather than 'Indian subcontinent' because that's considered politically correct and mutually acceptable to all foreign offices in the region. My preferred term would be the latter one though. Why? Because the word India comes from the river that is the bloodline of Pakistan, the mighty Indus. And the Republic of India is one of successor states of the great civilisations and empires that flourished in this part of the world not the sole successor. The sovereignty of the states is not undermined if we own up to a common civilisation, accepting its variations and choosing to prefer one trend over the other in shaping our social preferences. What is more important is to learn from both the rights and wrongs committed by powers that be in our shared history.


Mohali was a success. The Indian Prime Minister's generous invitation was graciously accepted by the Pakistani Prime Minister and a deadlock at the highest political plain was broken. Talks had resumed at the foreign office level recently but this show of mutual respect by heads of governments was necessary to realise a rapprochement between the two countries. No harm in repeating here that the premise of partition of British India was to bring peace to the region, not a constant state of war. But yes, there are wounds inflicted on each other by both India and Pakistan over the last 63 years. These wounds have to be healed. Just, equitable and peaceful solutions to all outstanding problems have to be sought and implemented. For this, we need statesmanship, trust and patience. Most periods of our history have seen more than one kingdom or states in the region, both feuding and cooperating. But they traded goods and exchanged knowledge all along. That is where we begin.


Pakistan has to sort out its internal issues surrounding shabby economic performance, unbridled religious extremism, rising political violence and mediocre governance. India must also not retract from its diplomatic overture now. They need to understand well that an unstable South Asia can bring them down as quickly as they are going up. With 400 million living below the poverty line in their country, the Indian leadership has to be more sagacious. The dream of becoming a super power is a little distant still. SAARC countries have to be taken along and the trust deficit that they have with countries other than Pakistan has to be removed as well.

As far as the cricket match is concerned, when you drop Tendulkar four times, convert doubles into boundaries, have both the dodgy Akmal brothers in the side, and let Misbah-ul-Haq bat with a cigar in his mouth, what else would you expect?


The writer is an Islamabad-based poet, author and public policy advisor. Email: harris. khalique@gmail.com

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

RECKLESS DEVOLUTION OF MINISTRIES

 

EIGHTEENTH and 19th Constitutional Amendments are being hailed as landmark achievements of the present Parliament and all the political parties represented in it and the fact remains that these would go a long way in removing some of the irritants in the way of smooth and harmonious relationship between the federation and the provinces on the one hand and among institutions and different power players. However, practical implementation of the devolution process, envisaged in the 18th Amendment, is presenting daunting challenges and it is rightly believed that the parliamentary committee assigned with the responsibility of framing the amendment could not visualize the difficulties and as a consequence we are in a messy situation now.

Minister for Inter-Provincial Coordination Senator Raza Rabbani, who was head of the drafting committee and is also Chairman of the Implementation Commission, has rightly described the devolution process as irreversible, as it has already been cleared by Parliament and given assent by the President and under the provisions of the constitution it has to be completed by June 2011. We also agree with him that neither his Ministry nor the Implementation Commission have the powers to amend or change what Parliament has already cleared and their job is confined to ensure implementation but would add that their responsibility is to see to it that the process is done in a smooth manner without jeopardizing interests of the federation or the provinces as well as without harming the cause of education, health and other sectors that are being transferred to the provinces now apparently in a reckless manner. Five ministries were handed over to the provinces in the first phase but unfortunately there are still some of the unresolved issues especially the one relating to the fate of the employees of these ministries. But more serious is the task of transferring control of ministries like Education, Health and Culture to the provinces in the second phase and some of the entities presently working under the framework of several other ministries. In the first place, the parliamentary committee could not foresee the implications of transferring institutions like Higher Education Commission, National Institute of Health and Film Censor Board as well as areas like curricula and registration of drugs, as devolution of these subjects would create confusion and chaos besides different standards and quality control issues in different provinces. Secondly, now that a blunder has been committed, the right approach would have been to sit together and consult various stakeholders to find out a satisfactory response but instead we are trying to take refuge behind politics. We must not leave such crucial subjects and issues to the whims of few people and find ways and means to do the job in a manner that ensures safeguarding of national interest that is also in the interest of the federating units.

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

ATTACK ON MAULANA FAZLUR REHMAN

 

TEN people, including two policemen, were killed when a suicide bomber targeted the workers of Jamiat Ulema-i-Islam (Fazl) near Swabi interchange on Peshawar-Islamabad Motorway on Wednesday. As the attack took place just a minute before the arrival of the JUI(F) leader Maulana Fazlur Rehman, party sources rightly believed that the Maulana was the real target of the bomber.


It is satisfying that Maulana, who is one of the national figures and seasoned and mature politicians of the country, escaped unhurt in the dastardly attack. Any untoward incident would have plunged the country further into chaos, confusion and instability, which is the main objective of our enemies. Though it is not yet clear who was involved in the condemnable incident and who was behind the conspiracy yet it is understood that various forces are at work to destabilize Pakistan. Earlier, there were attempts to divide the society on Shia-Sunni basis and now in addition to that split is being created on Brelvi-Deobandi lines. There are reasons to believe that foreign powers are fully involved in creating such divisions in the society, as such a situation is helpful for them to carry forward their nefarious agenda. This is high time that steps are taken to control this monster through effective coordination and cooperation of different agencies and Federal and Provincial Governments.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

EDITORIAL

THERE WILL BE CRICKET WORLD CUP IN 2015 ALSO

 

INDEED Mohali cricket clash has given a brute shock to Pakistani cricket fans as the green shirts lost the much hyped semi-final by 29 runs. There was much media hype before the match and people were expecting an exciting finish but the result left shock and gloom among the cricket crazy nation due to poor batting and fielding particularly displayed by our senior batsmen who had been rated very high by even the former cricket heroes.

It is quite likely that a tirade of criticism would start against the team but in our view considering the composition of the present Pakistani cricket team, their reaching the semi-finals stage was remarkable. One may point out that about a year back three top cricketers, namely Asif, Aamir and Butt were banned and criticism in the international media demoralized the entire team. Before the start of the World Cup, commentators and experts were not expecting the Pakistani team to reach the semi-finals stage. We think credit goes to the think tank, management and captain Shahid Afridi that they managed a fighting outfit which defeated teams like Sri Lanka and Australia in the pool matches and emerged at the top with maximum points. In fact before the Mohali semi-final, all the cricket pundits were predicting that the pitch would be batsman friendly and they had expected the teams to score more than 300 runs. However credit goes to the superb bowling spearheaded by Wahab Riaz that restricted the strong battling line up of India to 260. It was pathetic fielding by Pakistani side that gave four chances to Sachin Tendulkar who emerged as top Indian scorer making 85 runs. So Pakistani bowling attack lived up to its reputation and restricted India to an easily achievable target but it were the batsmen who squandered away a golden opportunity to have a shot at the trophy in Mumbai. Though the nation is highly disappointed at the performance of the team yet this is not the end of cricket as there would be another World Cup in 2015 and for that we should start making preparations right now.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

A NEW SYKES-PICOT AGREEMENT

GEOPOLITICAL NOTES FROM INDIA

M D NALAPAT

 

Ninety-five years ago, Britain and France got together to divide the Arab world. The 1916 Sykes-Picot agreement formalised the division of the region into spheres of influence controlled by London and Paris. Gone were the promises of freedom that had been given to the Arab peoples at the start of the campaign against Turkey.

Watching the London Conference on the future of Libya, it becomes clear that very little has changed in the Arab world. Most of the countries of the region are under the tutelage of either Britain or France, with of course the US as the senior partner of both these powers. Any visitor to the Gulf Cooperation Council region will be struck by the influence of US and European "advisors". Apart from minor decisions, such as whether to have pasta or hummus for dinner, all decisions get taken only after they have been vetted and approved by the ubiquitous "advisors". Small wonder that even after losing more than $1 trillion in the 2008 financial collapse caused by the greed of financial institutions in London, Zurich, Chicago and New York, Arab investors still place more than 95% of their financial assets in the very same entities that have fleeced them.

The two best options are China and India, but in the case of the latter, so strong is the grip of the same set of "advisors" on policymakers in India as in the Arab world that no effort has been made to ensure that investment flow from the GCC to India. Indeed, even today, efforts at setting up institutions based on Sharia banking principles are prevented by the Government of India from being set up in the country, even though - at a conservative estimate - these could attract about $400 billion of capital over the next ten years.

London, New York, Frankfurt and Zurich do not want to see their monopoly over Islamic banking get upset by India, and have made sure that policymakers in Mumbai and Delhi reject such funds on specious grounds. Not surprisingly, several of those in government agencies who are against allowing Islamic banking in India have children working in financial companies based in the US and Europe.

To those who had some faith in the ability and willingness of China and Russia to stand up to the pressure of the US and the EU, the fact that Moscow and Beijing allowed UNSC 1973 to get passed two weeks ago was a shock. It showed that both countries were afraid of annoying Washington and Brussels, even if such a posture meant the overturning of their own core principles. UNSC 1973 permits "all possible means" to establish a "no fly zone" over Libya. However, rather than aircraft, NATO missiles have been destroying trucks, tanks and other land vehicles of the Libyan armed forces. Has the UN Secretariat not realised that tanks, trucks and jeeps cannot fly, and that their destruction goes way beyond the ambit of UNSC 1973? Those who have regard for Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon are hoping that he will act to ensure that the United Nations does not become known as helpless at the violation of its principles by a clutch of countries, each of whom has a history of colonising vast territories in Asia, Africa and South America.

It has been a pathetic spectacle to watch Arab diplomats scurry to London to stand in silence (nodding their heads) while the NATO powers discuss the best way of destroying the military of an independent Arab nation, and daily bomb and strafe people in the region. Clearly, some Arab diplomats still live in the world of Sykes-Picot, unable to free

themselves of subservience to outside powers. They are making a mistake. By in effect facilitating the crucifixion of Libyam, they are opening the door to groups of disaffected citizens in each of their countries, all of whom have now got an Arab League-sanctioned mandate to call in outside powers to assist them in creating an insurgency.

Soon, NATO will begin to arm the insurgents who are battling against the Libyan state, even while using UNSC 1973 to prevent other countries from helping Colonel Gaddafy. Just as in the case of Iraq, the NATO powers have been misled by expatriates who have given them a distorted picture of the situation. In the case of Libya, the primary opposition to the secular Colonel Gaddafy comes from religious extremists who seek to ensure that Libya becomes a Wahabbi state, where women are forced to wear the veil, avoid work, and the legal system gets changed so as to resemble that in Saudi Arabia.

Say this for Bill and Hillary Clinton, they stand by their friends and supporters. Were it ever to be made public, it would be seen that several millions of dollars flow to the Clinton Foundation from Wahabbi interests. So it is small wonder that Hillary Clinton is adopting the Wahabbi line in Libya, by ensuring that the US takes out the secular Gaddafy regime, even though from 2003, the colonel has adopted a policy that is in deference to the wishes of the NATO powers. He has destroyed his WMD stocks, cut back to insignificance his backing for anti-NATO groups in the region, and has ensured that 70% of Libya's oil industry has come under the control of US and European countries. However, clearly this has not been enough for France, which under Sarkozy wants all of Libyan oil for itself and its NATO partners. Hence the effort at creating a Kosovo in Libya out of the eastern provinces, that would contain 80% of Libya's oil reserves.

Sudan has already been divided, and other Arab states are certain to follow Libya into this 21st century version of Sykes-Picot, where the military power of NATO will be used to ensure monopolies for its companies over the mineral resources of the region. Because of the fact that the Wahabbis have been generous in funneling money to the NATO powers, the concentration of attention of these powers is directed at the secular states of the Arab world that are republican. Iraq was first, followed by Libya. The next to come under attack will be Syria.

Hillary Clinton considers herself a supporter of the rights of women. Yet she backs forces in the region that deny women even the right to hold certain jobs, or even to travel without permission. She opposes countries where women are free to dress and work as they please. Seeing the drift of NATO policy in the region, it is clear that the alliance would prefer to have retrograde regimes in office, so that they can be more easily controlled. It will be interesting to see their reaction to the September elections in Egypt, for - if there is a free poll - it is certain that groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood will dominate the legislature, just as similar groups do in Lebanon or Gaza. What then? Will the "verdict of the people" get accepted, even if this means the end of the Egyptian military's uncritical support for Israel? It needs to be remembered that Hosni Mubarak and the army he commanded for so long enforced a siege of Gaza, thereby blocking efforts at sending supplies into that territory from Egypt. But for the assistance given by Cairo, it would not have been possible for Israel to bottle up Gaza the way it has. The territory has been blocked of access to the outside world,except through Israel. It is this columnist's view that such a policy would be among the first casualties of the elections in Egypt, were these to be fair.

Although television channels presenting a US-EU view of the conflict ( or a Wahabbi one, for let us not forget that the Wahabbis are standing with NATO in the attempted dismembering of Libya) claim that the population in the Arab states backs the intervention in Libya, this is not correct. Those on the ground know what BBC and CNN refuse to cover, which is the cruelty shown by the "democracy fighters" to those who oppose them. Hundreds have had their throats slit or have been bludgeoned to death. Of course, by definition, those that are murdered by the opponents of the Gaddafy regime are "military targets", even if they be women and children. Already low, the credibility of these news channels has fallen even further by their motivated reportage and their censoring of any news that shows the opponents of Colonel Gaddafy to be as savage as any of their opponents. It is a sad reality that the media in so-called "free" countries is often even less reliable than that in dictatorships, especially when they are reporting on events that affect the economic interests of big corporations in their countries.

France and the UK will be hoping that Total and BP will get huge benefits from the NATO attack on Libya. They are going to be disappointed. Events in Libya are generating a hatred for outside intervention that will soon result in public pressure against the commercial entities that use military force to get a business advantage. The governments of the Arab world may be supine. Their populations will not be. It needs to be remembered that the Arab peoples have one of the noblest civilisations in history, and that once they begin to assert themselves, outside powers will find themselves running out of options. In the meantime, the sorry spectacle of local complicity in the balkanisation of yet another country goes on. Why are India, Pakistan and so many Asian powers weak? Because they fight each other, rather than unite to defend their common interests.

—The writer is Vice-Chair, Manipal Advanced Research Group, UNESCO Peace Chair & Professor of Geopolitics, Manipal University, Haryana State, India.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLES

TAMING HINDUTVA

SULTAN M HALI

 

A large number of Indians are in a state of denial and refute the existence of Hindu terror networks and Hindutva. Let us briefly examine this phenomenon, which is based on extremism. Hindutva is a nationalist ideology, based on a modern day version of centralized intolerant Hinduism. It has nothing to do with the historical tradition of spiritual practices in Hinduism. This centralized and chauvinistic Hinduism —Hindutva has been brought to the fore front today by a group of political organizations called the "Sangh Parivar " (Sangh Family) - consisting of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (National Volunteers Association - the mother organization after which the label Sangh Parivar is coined), the Bharatiya Janata Party (Indian People Party - Hindutva constitutional front that fights elections etc.), the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP - World Hindu Council - the formation's activist front), the Shiv Sena (the fascist front), the VHP of America (Hindutva's overseas arm) and the Hindu Students Councils (VHP of America's student wing).

Many Indians are now awakening to the factor of Hindutva because of the reality of terror attacks on their own soil. Besides the Sangh Parivar mentioned earlier, another group is emerging to the fore. It is ironically named Abhinav Bharat (Modern India) and the other Sanatan Sanshtha (Eternal Organization), which carried out explosions in several places across the country. Prominent among them were two blasts in Malegaon in Maharashtra state in 2006 and 2008; an explosion targeting the Samjhota Express that runs between India and Pakistan in 2007 in Haryana; a blast in the Sufi shrine of Ajmer Dargah in Rajasthan in 2007; and a blast in a mosque in Hyderabad in Andhra Pradesh in 2007. Collectively these five attacks claimed the lives of at least 126 civilians, mostly Muslims. Investigations into all these attacks reveal the details of the meticulous planning that went into them. They were carried out by a compact group of men and women, ostensibly to take revenge for alleged 'Muslim terror acts' against India. A member of the Abhinav Bharat, a serving colonel in the Indian army, provided technical expertise and explosives from the Army's supply, which were then placed under concrete slabs, bicycle/ motorcycles and tiffin boxes to create mayhem. The conspirators even killed one of their main organizers—to get rid of evidence of their involvement.

Paradoxically initial suspicion for the attacks had fallen on Muslim groups. For instance, nine Muslims were arrested and continue to be detained for their involvement in one of the blasts that took place in 2006. Experts then had sought to explain the attacks on Islamic places of worship as being driven by the larger objective of Pakistan-sponsored militants to drive a communal wedge between the Hindus and the Muslims in India. Curiously the confessions recorded of the arrested members of Abhinav Bharat justify the death of Hindus in such attacks as collateral damages the majority community must suffer in order to "teach the Muslims a lesson".

Persons involved in the attacks have in some way or other been connected to the Hindu right-wing revivalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS). Swami Aseemanand, arrested in connection with five of these explosions has disclosed the abetment and direct role played by some of the RSS leaders in the attacks, in a sworn statement taken on oath in the presence of a Magistrate. The RSS, to date, however, remains defiant and characterizes investigations into the acts of 'Hindu terror' as attempts by 'anti-Hindu' forces to weaken the efforts to counter jihadi terrorism. The RSS claims that "a Hindu cannot be a terrorist". The main opposition political party, the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which is closely connected with the RSS, cautiously remains supportive of the government's actions, but maintains that the government must do more against the jihadi terror.

Bibhu Prasad Routray, a Visiting Research Fellow in the South Asia Programme of the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies (RSIS), Nanyang Technological University has pointed out that with 83 percent of India's population being Hindu, any reference linking terror acts to the majority group is bound to be controversial and politically sensitive in a country where many political parties use religion to garner votes. That consideration compelled Home Minister P Chidambaram to retract his expression 'saffron terror' in 2010 in parliament. The National Investigation Agency (NIA), set up after the November 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks, is currently probing two cases involving the Hindu extremists. The government in New Delhi is supportive of the NIA examining all the cases wherever the role of the Hindu outfits is evident.

In the first week of March 2011, the Indian Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wrote to the state governments and the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), India's criminal investigative agency, soliciting their views whether they would like to hand over all 'Hindu terror' cases to the NIA. Given the political nature of the issue this step would lead to an impartial and 'single agency' investigation of the cases. Currently, some of the cases are being investigated by individual state-level Anti-Terrorism Squads (ATS) and some by the CBI.

In case there are steps taken by the Indian government to counter the terror attacks by Hindutva, they will have an impact on the secular structure of Indian society and its resolve to support the global anti-terror efforts. If the Indian intents are diluted, they would not only weaken its claims of being targeted principally by externally-sponsored terror groups, but also would bring to the fore the latent prejudices towards the minority Muslim community. The Indian government should curb the rise of such a trend, through an impartial, objective and professional investigation process, while it is still in its infancy involving fringe elements.

Owing to the dents Hindutva has created in the Indian social fabric, a fair and impartial investigation into the cases mentioned above and will go a long way in assuring the Muslims of India that they are not being persecuted and would assure the international community including Pakistan that India is serious in taming Hindutva and combating terrorism.

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

NW STRATEGIC ANCHOR

ABID LATIF SINDHU

 

Pakistan is becoming a country with geo strategic plus, this is taken as a fillip to support and foster the complete ambit of the stance which over the years is taken as Hobson's choice. Is the counter insurgency plus has something to do with the other plus? By Joe, probably yes, decipher a message is easy but deciphering the strategy is difficult and translating it, even more difficult.

The most important issue of security world over is the war on terror, the theater of this war is Afghanistan and Pakistan, players, the complete audience in the gallery. If Mahan is taken as a guide, Makender a surrogate and Sky lock a pupil to both, than the geography seems to be aligning here some where between Durand line and FATA. This alignment is vivid and visible from oceans away, even the Atlantic. The war on terror is becoming war of terror due to two things which is like killing the messenger on one hand and the mocking bird on the other.

One, the sheer disregard of Pakistan and Afghanistan's sensitivities, two, the display of imperial hubris by not adhering to any policy in its contiguity. This will lead the world nowhere; Pakistan is fighting a duel war (not the two fronts) one for its survival and other for the broader peace and security of the world. The two countries in question are getting further destabilized, instead of getting the dividence of the sacrifices made in terms of men, material and their social mortar. In regional terms the policy is even getting little murkier, statements of intent are usually issued from western capitals and metropolises.

The dis regard becomes more agonizing whence no mention is made of the root causes, blaming only the effects. The currency of issue revolves around the immediate evaluation of the present crisis with a reality check. Pakistan is at the centre stage, it is fighting against the terrorists directly in tribal areas and indirectly in urban areas. The authority of the state is dwindling due to number of factors, which are detrimental not only to the Pakistani polity, but also to the social order much beyond.

Fight is going on in all the agencies of tribal areas, albeit with different intensity. The war is based on display of revolution in military affairs; these are however acting more than mere weapons. Top of the list is the Drones, recent statement by one of the field commander high lighting the importance of this weapon if used judiciously is blown up out of proportion by people who do not understand the complete equation and usually take developments out of context. General Ghauyer the military scion of North Waziristan has not said any thing new, is it not our desire to acquire Drone technology?, have not in past the same weapon knocked out the enemies of Pakistan? Killing of innocent people by Drones is really regrettable, is this weapon Being used to up stick the strategic anchor of Pakistan, the North Waziristan? The war is entering into a decisive phase, going all hog in North Waziristan is a very important decision which can not be based on emotive considerations. War is a serious thing, nations are lost and recovered in the process, it is also the most expensive sports which are only played when one reaches the status of gladiator. Terror is being taken as the political and economic weapon; soldiers of doom are available for dimes and the political structure is about to collapse, leaving the tribal society vulnerable, exposed and withering from its very seams.

Pakistan on the other front is blamed for a posture of compulsive hostility, or unnecessarily being India centric, intresting, what India is doing in Afghanistan is not a mere entertainment drive, it is something deep and pretty involving, a great game resurrected .North Waziristan is both an anchor and a bridge head of Pakistani strategy, being prepared and preserved for a politico strategic break out.

The end game Afghanistan is linked with so many under currents which originate from far pavilions, having direct ramifications for the theater. The political dynamics of North Waziristan is the biggest factor which is which drives a policy stance by Pakistan, it is not a case of inhibitions as perceived by west, and rather it is the question of doing right at the right time. The sincere friends of Pakistan are praying the Sailor's omens, "May God gives you the fair wind and the followers sea."

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

DIVINE JUSTICE

THE SPIRIT OF ISLAM

S MUJTABA LARI

The problem of justice as one of God's attributes has had its own distinct history. Various schools of thought in Islam have held different views on the subject, interpreting it in accordance with their own distinctive principles. Some Sunnis who follow the views of the theologian Abu'l Hasan Ash'ari do not believe in God's justice as a matter of faith, and they deny that justice is accomplished by the divine acts. In their view, however, God treats a certain person, and whatever punishment or reward He gives him, irrespective of what he might appear to deserve, will represent justice and absolute good, even though it might appear unjust when measured by human standards. These Ash'aris, thus, distinguish God's attribute of justice from His acts and they, therefore, regard as just whatever can be attributed to God. If He rewards the virtuous and punishes the sinful, this is justice, but so would be the reverse; it would still be in the broad sphere of His justice.

Their claim that the very terms "justice" and "injustice" are meaningless when applied to God is no doubt intended to elevate God's most sacred essence to the position of the highest transcendence. But no thoughtful person will regard these superficial and inadequate notions as having anything to do with God's transcendence. In fact, they involve a denial of order in the world, of the principle of causality both in the general order of the world and in the conduct and deeds of individual men. The followers of al-Ash'ari believe, moreover, that the bright lamp of the intellect is extinguished whenever it is confronted with the perceptions and problems of religion, that it is unable to benefit man or light up his path. This claim conforms neither to the teachings of the Quran nor to the content of the sunnah. The Quran considers disregard for the intellect to be a form of misguidance and repeatedly summons men to reflection and meditation in order to learn divine knowledge and religious beliefs. Those who fail to benefit from this bright lamp within them are compared to the animals. The Quran says: "The worst of creatures in the sight of God are those persons who are deaf and dumb and do not reflect."(8:22)

When we say that God is just, it means that His all-knowing and creative essence does nothing that is contrary to wisdom and benefit. The concept of wisdom, when applied to the Creator, does not mean that He chooses the best means for attaining His goals or remedying His deficiencies, for it is only man who is called on to move from deficiency toward perfection. God's concern is to make beings emerge from deficiency and impel them toward perfection and the aims inherent in their own essences. God's wisdom consists of this, that He first implants a form of His favor within each phenomenon, and then, after bestowing existence upon it, impels it toward the perfection of its capacities through a further exercise of His generosity. Justice has, then, an extensive meaning, which naturally includes the avoidance of oppression and all foolish acts. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq, peace be upon him, says in explanation of God's justice:

"Justice in the case of God means that you should not ascribe anything to God that if you were to do it would cause you to be blamed and reproached."[1] With man, oppression and all the forms of corrupt activity in which he engages, derive, without doubt, from ignorance and lack of awareness and need coupled with innate lowliness; sometimes, too, they are the reflection of hatred and enmity, which leap forth from man's inner being like a spark.

The unique essence of God, that infinite being, is free of all such tendencies and limitations, for nothing is hidden from His knowledge without bound, and it is inconceivable that He should suffer from impotence vis-a-vis anything-He, the Pre-Eternal One Whose eternal rays bestow life and sustenance on all things and Who assures their movement, variety and development. A subtle essence that comprehends all the degrees of perfection stands in no need of anything so that its absence might induce anxiety in Him when He conceives a desire for it His power and capacity are without any doubt, unlimited and they do not fall short of anything so that He might then be led to deviate from the path of justice and transgress against someone, or take vengeance in order to quieten his heart or undertake some inappropriate and illsided act.

None of the motivations for unjust behavior can be found in God, and, indeed, the very concepts of oppression and injustice are inapplicable to a being Whose generosity and mercy embrace all things an d the sanctity o f Whose essence is clearly manifest throughout creation.

Although the voluntary renunciation of one's claim is a desirable act in itself, it will, under such circumstances, have an undesirable effect on the mentality of the aggressor. The aim of Islam is to uproot force and injustice from Islamic society and to assure its members that no one can gain anything by aggression and force. When the body is attacked by microbes and other factors of ill ness, white globules begin to neutralize them, in accordance with ineluctable norm. Whatever medicine may be prescribed is an external factor aiding the white globules in their task of neutralization and re-establishing equilibrium in the body. Finally, it is impossible that God, Whose love is infinite and Who unstintingly grants His favors to His servants, should perform the slightest unjust or inappropriate act. This is, indeed, what the Quran proclaims: "It is God Who has made the earth a place of abode for you, Who has raised the heavens, created you in the best of forms, and given you delicious and pleasing foods as sustenance. This is God, your Lord."(40:64).

 

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PAKISTAN OBSERVER

ARTICLE

SAFETY OF PAK NUCLEAR FACILITIES

MUSHARAF ZAHOOR & ABDUL GHAFFAR

 

In the backdrop of Fukushima nuclear accident, the safety of nuclear facilities has become a hot debate in all the states possessing the nuclear technology. In Pakistan, various quarters have expressed concern over the protection of Pakistan's nuclear facilities in case of any natural disaster. Those who have countered these concerns are optimistic that the nuclear establishment of the country is capable of handling any possible danger to these facilities caused by the earthquake and Tsunami. However, the debate is more focused on capability of the people dealing with the safety of these facilities. The concern has been shown on the safety of Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) in particular in case of an earthquake followed by a Tsunami besides other facilities located in Chashma, Khushab and Islamabad/Rawalpindi in general.


The Geologists around the world have a consensus that the accurate prediction of an earthquake is not possible despite astronomical advancement in the field of technology. However, the seismological data gathered through movement of tectonic plates and magma pressure helps to some extent to predict the possibility of an earthquake. Like many other countries around the world, Pakistan is also geographically located in an area, which is vulnerable to natural disasters like flash floods and earthquakes. However, the country is safe from cyclones and volcanoes. In 2010, the country witnessed a devastating flood which claimed 2000 lives and affected 20 million people of whom seven million became homeless while at its peak, the flood brought one fifth of Pakistan under water. However, it is a matter of satisfaction that none of the nuclear facilities got affected by the floods due to the blessing of their locations and extra ordinary safety measures embedded in their architecture.

In 2005, the earthquake of 7.8 magnitude on Richter Scale resulted wide spread destruction in Azad Kashmir and Northern parts of Khyber Pakhtunkhwa. However, it did not cause any damage to the nuclear facilities located in Chashma Islamabad and Rawalpindi region. The safety measures adopted at Pakistan's nuclear facilities are up to the international standards. The apprehensions shown by some quarters after Japan's nuclear accident on the safety standards of the nuclear facilities in Pakistan do not match with the ground realities. Japan has a long history of earthquakes and lies in the "Fire Ring" (A zone where earthquakes are frequent). The comparison of Japan with Pakistan is not suitable on the grounds that Japan is an island country surrounded by ocean and more vulnerable to Tsunamis. Most of the Japanese reactors are located in the coastal cities. Pakistan has 1050 kilometer long coast line and has only one of its IAEA safeguarded nuclear reactor namely Karachi Nuclear Power Plant (KANUPP) located near the sea shores, which is 17 kilometer away from the coastal city of Karachi. The earthquakes are not frequent in Pakistan as compare to Japan. The seismic data gathered through the movement of the tectonic plates reveal that the Eurasian, Arabian and Indian plates have developed three major subduction zones in Pakistan which have a potential to cause earthquakes in future. These subduction zones are located near Makran, Quetta and Muzaffarabad. Pakistan's nuclear facilities are hundreds of miles away from these subduction zones.

In the recorded history of Tsunamis in the coastal areas of Pakistan, the earthquake of 1945 is considered to be the most destructive which killed about 4000 people. The Tsunami was generated as a result of an earthquake in Makran and Gwadar area (about 350 to 400 km from Karachi) which also hit the coastal area of Karachi. However, the distant location of Karachi from epicenter (Makran), the Tsunami tides hit the city with reduced height up to 6.5 feet which did not cause major damage to the city and its surroundings. The coastal areas of Makran are vulnerable to Tsunami and earthquakes due to the movement of Arabian and Eurasian plates. The subduction zone of Arabian and Eurasian plates which is 10 kilometer in depth, is located in Arabian Sea 35 kilometer away from Pasni, a coastal city of Balochistan province,. The seismological data collected so far indicates that an earthquake of 7 to 8 magnitude could occur in the area which may generate 25 to 30 feet high Tsunami tides during the next seven to eight years.

The possible earthquake in the Makran subduction zone will not cause damage to the nuclear reactor because the predicted seismic center is about 350 kilometer away from the facility and Karachi coast. Furthermore, the amplitude, speed and energy of 25 to 30 feet high tsunami tides generated by an earthquake in the subduction zone would reduce due to long distance and Damped Oscillation Phenomena, up to 4-5 feet after they would hit the shores of Karachi and KANUPP, built 20 feet above the sea level. It is pertinent to note that the major damage to the reactors in Fukushima was caused by Tsunami not by the earthquake. The reactors were automatically shut down after the quake but these were 20 feet high Tsunami tides which damaged the automatic generators resulting in Loss of Coolant Accident (LOCA) and subsequent blast. Natural Uranium is used as a fuel in KANNUP while the Japanese reactors are fed with Low Enriched Uranium (LEU). Supposedly, if Tsunami causes damage to the reactor it will stop generating more heat after the automatic safety system of KANNUP will shut it down while it did not happen in case of Japan because the rate of radioactive decay of natural Uranium is much less than the LEU. Moreover, KANUPP has already completed its life in 2002 which was extended for ten years till 2012. The fate of this reactor will be decided by the Pakistan Nuclear Regulatory Authority (PNRA) and Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission (PAEC) after it will complete its extended life in the next year.

The vulnerability of Chashma Nuclear Power Plant (CHUSNUPP) by the flash floods and earthquake has also been much talked about. The Chashma Nuclear Complex is located 10 kilometer away from the Chashma Barrage on the Indus River, about 30 kilometer south of the city of Mianwali. The earthquake records reveal that Chashma Nuclear Power Plant sustained all the earthquakes since it began operations in November 1999. However, Pakistan Atomic Energy Commission has been improving the safety measures at the plant in light of recommendations made by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and its own experts. These were the extra ordinary safety measures which protected the Chashma nuclear facility during the last year's devastating floods and earthquake in 2005. The design of IAEA safeguarded nuclear facility at Chashma has been shaped by taking in account all the possible seismic and environmental effects. However, the PAEC and PNRA have always been vigilant to safety and security of nuclear facilities. The Nuclear Security Action Plan (NSAP) drawn up by Pakistan's nuclear establishment have been highly appreciated by the IAEA and termed it as a model for other nations.

Another way to improve the safety standards at nuclear facilities is to minimize the reliability on machines. The nuclear accidents including Three Mile Island in the US and Chernobyl in the USSR point out the fact that there should be manual methods to counter check the safety standards at the nuclear facilities. Among other factors of Three Mile Island nuclear accident, the engineers relied on the red light which showed any kind of fault in the reactor but at the fateful moment it went out of order and the temperature continued to rise inside the reactor and reached to a dangerous level where it resulted in the melt down of core. The lesson which PAEC should learn from Japan's incident is that it should equip its Safety Division with state of the art technologies and should not leave any stone unturned in this regard to improve the safety measures at all the nuclear facilities. The PNRA and PAEC conduct mock exercises at CHUSNUPP and KANUPP with frequent intervals while the multilayer safety system is testified periodically to counter any emergency. These exercises help to enhance the capability of the engineers and to keep them alert of any untoward situation. This all depicts that the engineers and scientists working in these facilities are vigilant of all types of emergency situations and ready to cope with them.

—The writers are research scholars at NDU Islamabad.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

ENDORSING TOUGH-LOVE REFORMS

SOME DISABILITY PENSIONERS ARE MORE DISABLED THAN OTHERS.

Tony Abbott is right. Allowing many of Australia's 800,000 disability pensioners to stay on welfare at a cost of $13 billion a year when there is work they can reasonably do is misguided compassion that eventually breaks down the social fabric. Every 14 workers are supporting one disability benefit recipient, a situation that is not only unfair to taxpayers but which short-changes productivity and the national interest. Mr Abbott is to be commended for drafting policy alternatives for reform, but the challenge of implementing a new, temporary benefit for people whose disabilities are treatable will be politically difficult in some marginal seats.

As Mr Abbott wrote in these pages yesterday, almost 60 per cent of disability pension recipients suffer from conditions that do not necessarily preclude them from returning to work after treatment. There is no reason that many people with mental health conditions, including stress, or muscular-skeletal conditions, or those suffering the after-effects of drug abuse should remain on welfare indefinitely. Like Britain, Australia needs to distinguish those who are too frail or ill to support themselves from people needing temporary support.

Most taxpayers will welcome Mr Abbott's proposals, which would extend a bipartisan tradition that began under the Hawke-Keating governments, which introduced the assets test for pensions and extended job searches for the unemployed. The social democratic Blair and Clinton governments emulated such measures and went further, with the former US president campaigning in 1992 "to end welfare as we know it". Tony Blair's "third way", John Howard's "mutual obligation" and former Labor leader Mark Latham's "reciprocal responsibility" concepts were endorsed across all sides of politics, although implementation has been frustratingly slow.

A big spender on family welfare, the Howard government did well with its work-for-the-dole scheme and welfare-to-work reforms for single parents whose children had reached school age. The number of families dependent on benefits fell by 120,000, or 20 per cent, after job-search requirements were imposed in 2006. But as analysis by former Labor senator John Black showed, the move cost the Howard government dearly at the 2007 election in marginal seats in NSW and Queensland with high percentages of single mothers.

This should not deter Mr Abbott or the Gillard government from pursuing further reforms. In 2011 there is no longer any political kudos to be gained in disguising the real unemployment figure by classifying many of the long-term unemployed as disability pensioners. An ageing workforce, the need for productivity improvements, skills shortages and the recognition that the best form of welfare is a job make it imperative for governments to redress under-employment.

"Tough love" not only has economic benefits but social benefits for welfare recipients themselves and their children, helping to break inter-generational cycles of disadvantage. The Greens and the Australian Council of Social Services are wrong to claim Mr Abbott is "demonising" and "denigrating" the unemployed. Nobody is suggesting that the sick, the frail and the disabled who are unable to support themselves should lose support. To the contrary, a better targeted system would enable governments to do more for disabled people in need.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

FAIR-DINKUM TAX SUMMIT WOULD GIVE WA A FAIR GO

WESTERN AUSTRALIA DESERVES A HEARING ON ITS TAXATION GRIPES.

Historically, Western Australia was reticent about the Australian federation project and has harboured secessionist murmurings ever since. West Australians, to use a topical term, are our federation sceptics. Yet now they are being asked to pay a high price for their membership of the aptly named commonwealth. With the resources boom in the north of the state delivering prosperity for the whole nation it is only natural that Premier Colin Barnett would question whether the proceeds are being shared fairly. We welcome Julia Gillard's willingness to examine the issue through a review.

The improbably named concept of horizontal fiscal equalisation has often been described as the glue that holds the federation together. In reality it is a national governance version of the Australian idea of a fair go. It ensures that, to some degree, our common wealth is distributed fairly, so that all states have the opportunity to deliver similar levels of services.

Since the advent of the GST, the states have been locked in to the full proceeds of a growth tax but they still must await the annual considerations of the Commonwealth Grants Commission to see how the total take will be divided between them. Mr Barnett is concerned about projections showing that within a few years WA could receive less than half the GST dollars raised within its borders.

The Australian recognises that this debate is as old as the federation itself but it requires constant attention and regular reform. The rapid growth in the WA economy imposes heavy demands on the state's infrastructure spending, so it must be allowed to keep some of the spoils of its success in order to cope with the strains and build for continued growth. Perhaps just as importantly, the Prime Minister has recognised that the so-called mendicant states of South Australia and Tasmania must be given an incentive for economic development and reform. Part of the genius of the federation rests in its inbuilt competitive tension, so living from the tax windfall of other states should not be an easy option.

Politics, no doubt, is playing its part in all of this, with the government desperate to recover some standing in the west. But the cold, hard reality is that every dollar returned to one state is a dollar less doled out in another.

Over 110 years our federal/state tensions have generally led to a reasonable financial balance. The extraordinary circumstances of a resources boom largely concentrated in WA and Queensland justify another examination, so long as the national interest is always paramount.

The most obvious flaw in Ms Gillard's posturing is that her own economic reform agenda is so thin. Labor's compromised mining tax is an undisguised attempt to share the proceeds of the mining boom more widely, yet it has been considered in isolation. A tax summit is planned for later this year, after the mining tax is legislated, and with the GST specifically excluded from consideration. And now we will have the troika of John Brumby, Nick Greiner and Bruce Carter carrying out a separate examination of state funding issues.

The government of a mature federation, intent on pushing economic reform, would consider all these matters together in a substantial national taxation summit.

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THE AUSTRALIYAN

EDITORIAL

THE MASTER COACH RETURNS NORTH

THE BRISBANE BRONCOS HAVE MISSED WAYNE BENNETT.

In a big week in sport with the appointment of Michael Clarke as Australian cricket captain, Broncos supporters are cheering the fact that St George Illawarra coach Wayne Bennett appears set to return to Brisbane next year. Bennett's no-nonsense coaching took the Dragons to last year's NRL Premiership -- their first in 31 years -- a feat the Broncos achieved six times under his 21-year stewardship. As Queensland State of Origin coach, Bennett won five series out of seven and as Australian coach notched up 11 wins and a draw from 15 Tests. In NSW, his inspirational leadership made a strong impact both within and outside league.

Unlike many in professional sport, the poker-faced Bennett, who is reticent about personal publicity, is motivated by more than money or ego. He reportedly refused $1.1 million to stay with the Dragons for another season. Returning north would also mean passing up a lucrative chance to coach Newcastle and possibly become the first NRL coach to win premierships with three different clubs. Family has always been a priority for Bennett, who entitled his autobiography The Man in the Mirror, in reference to one of his favourite poems about being king for a day then going to the mirror to "see what that man has to say". His move will help keep interest in league strong.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

GILLARD OPENS A FOURTH FRONT

ANYONE might have thought the Prime Minister had already bitten off more than she can chew - she is battling to make progress on carbon and mining taxes, and her regional processing centre for refugees. But Julia Gillard, cheeks distended like balloons and chewing hard, appears to have plenty of bite left. In agreeing to a review of the Commonwealth Grants Commission's funding formula, the Prime Minister has opened up a whole new battlefront, fraught not only with fiscal and administrative complexity, but also with archaic state rivalries and resentments. She can never win here; survival is the best she can hope for.

There is no doubt the formula which the commission uses to divide revenue from the goods and services tax between the states is unpopular in some. It is an arcane thing - complex, mysterious and suspect to most people. That cannot be avoided. The formula has to equalise between the states a large number of factors: population, population density, past investment in services and infrastructure, income per head, gross state revenue per head, state taxes and states' willingness to raise revenue among them. It then must redistribute annual GST receipts in a way which - after considering the states' widely differing performance on all those various measures - it defines as fair. The redistribution is not only difficult in itself, it is also vulnerable to simplistic political attack, and difficult to defend. Western Australia - a state which believes as part of its founding myth that it has been dudded by smarties from the eastern states - has been complaining that it is getting back too little of the GST revenue it contributes, having conveniently forgotten the years during which it was subsidised by wealthier parts of the country. Nonetheless the mining boom means it is certainly pulling its weight now. In the coming financial year it will keep 72¢ of every dollar it pays in GST. That is projected to fall towards a politically untenable 40¢ in the dollar in coming years. Gillard is clearly determined to head off discontent before it becomes revolt. Perhaps setting a floor below which a state's share cannot fall might do the trick.

The problem of course is that GST revenue is finite, so other states must lose money if the west is to be appeased. The former treasurer Peter Costello had a deft sidestep for this issue: when the states can all agree on a new way of doing things, he would say, we are happy to make changes. Gillard may have to borrow it.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

BY TRAM DOWN GEORGE STREET

SYDNEY is about to be presented with another plan for light rail in the city. This has now become almost a regular event, celebrated if not with fanfare, then at least with colourful artist's impressions and bold promises of shorter travel times through the city. We reported yesterday that two studies of light rail in the city centre are about to be presented to the new government. Sydney commuters can be forgiven if they are cynical after so many years in which they have been given many, many transport plans but little in the way of new transport. This time, though (no, really) things may be different; cynicism should at least for the moment be put aside. The difference is the new government. The studies were begun for Labor but will be handed to the incoming Coalition, which has a motive to act on them: after the long election build-up it will want to show it can make a difference in Sydney transport.

There are good reasons to prefer light rail in the city. Though George Street would probably have to be cleared of buses to accommodate trams, the latter carry more passengers than buses and are expected to make the trip between Central and Circular Quay appreciably faster. (A related development we believe should be a tram route along Hickson Road and Sussex Street, to serve Barangaroo - but that is another issue.) The bus gridlock around morning and evening peak periods might be eased if bus services were integrated well with tram services, and commuters used the former to travel to an interchange on the edge of the central business district, then travelled to their destination by tram. The key phrase here is ''integrated well''. As yet, detail is lacking on how exactly a tram service would fit in with existing bus services. The relatively new metro buses, which have been a successful innovation with frequent services on long trunk routes crossing the CBD, may well be disrupted by trams. Three metro services now use George Street.

The introduction of trams would also slow car traffic in the city. That is in fact a good thing, but it must be planned for as part of a broader transport scheme for the central business district which gives priority to public transport. The effect will, though, annoy the motoring lobby, including the Roads and Traffic Authority and its allies in Treasury, which can be expected to be solid opponents of any new public transport initiative. The new government should expect a fight if - as it should - it wants to bring trams back to George Street.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

PENALTY MUST OUTWEIGH PAY-OFF FROM FOUL PLAY

THE PROFIT TO BE MADE FROM CORRUPTION PUTS ALL SPORT AT RISK.

NOTHING less than the future of sport is at stake. That is the alarming implication of today's reports in The Age on the race to catch up with gambling-driven corruption. Betting on football was legalised in Victoria two decades ago. Since then, many sports have been tainted by the fixing of matches or events within matches. All the while, political and sporting authorities have cultivated the gaming industry for the millions of dollars it brings into government coffers and the business of sport. Now, multiple inquiries are seeking ways to keep sport clean.

The challenge is daunting, because of the scale of legal and illegal gambling, the countless opportunities for betting and the global reach of organised crime. Australians wager almost $20 billion a year and sports betting is the fastest-growing sector of that market. About $25 million rides on the results of this weekend's AFL matches. However, regulatory arrangements between governments, sports bodies and legal betting agencies cannot account for illegal betting activity, which Interpol estimates is worth $140 billion a year worldwide. With that much money about, and myriad avenues for betting via internet, mobile phone and pay TV technology, those who believed Australia was immune from contagion stand exposed as naive.

Last year, when the AFL acted against officials who had placed small bets on matches, many thought the penalties were harsh. A betting scandal in the NRL has since led to a player's sacking and police charges against him, his manager and an ex-player. Tennis authorities have warned the AFL that corrupt bookmakers and crime syndicates are cultivating sports stars through social networking sites. In the US, federal Sports Minister Mark Arbib says, even potential stars receive payments and gifts to groom them for corrupt activity. Some of the world's biggest soccer leagues, tennis, boxing, cricket and, in Japan, sumo wrestling have been profoundly harmed by revelations of match-fixing, spot-fixing of endless permutations of in-game betting events and insider trading of information.

Betting with licensed agencies leaves a paper trail that can be audited, which is how the AFL has detected minor offenders. However, the shady nature of much of the industry and the millions that can be made mean existing deterrents are simply inadequate. Much tougher laws and penalties are needed to tip the balance back in favour of fair play. That appears to be the direction of current reviews: by former Racing Victoria chief steward Des Gleeson, who reports today to Victorian Gambling Minister Michael O'Brien; by former International Cricket Council chief Malcolm Speed for the Coalition of Major Professional Sports; by Australian sports ministers; and by the New South Wales Law Reform Commission. Corruption has no respect for borders, so all the reviews are likely to favour nationwide catch-all laws, backed by stiff penalties, to cover cheating in relation to sports and event betting. The AFL supports a recommendation that offenders be liable for up to 10 years' jail. Bet types that are easily manipulated must also come under scrutiny.

The industry knows that corruption would kill the goose that lays sport's golden egg. A big part of the motivation to protect the integrity of sport is financial, but the moral dimensions must not be discounted. For one thing, sport that has allowed itself to be consumed by a gambling culture shares responsibility for the social ills that flow from this. For another, the ethos of sport has great social value. Administrators perhaps had too much faith that this ethos alone would preserve the integrity of sport.

Every unexpected outcome now has the potential to cloud a sporting contest with doubt. It is the contest, and not the money that might be made from it, that has always mattered most to the billions of people who love sport. All that is good about sport is at risk unless its custodians tame the gambling monster that they helped create.

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THE SYDNEY MORNING HERALD

EDITORIAL

ABBOTT'S WELFARE PITCH LACKS EFFORT

'ALLOWING people to stay on welfare when there is work they can reasonably do is the kindness that kills,'' said Tony Abbott by way of introduction to the Coalition's tough welfare policy, and who would disagree? Certainly not the government, which is working on its own welfare changes, expected to be in the budget, to encourage people into work. Indeed, almost every major overhaul of the social welfare system in recent decades - from the introduction of mutual obligation to the shake-up of job placement agencies - has been guided by the recognition of passive welfare's corrosive effect on individuals and the wider community. And that's the main problem with the Coalition package; given what has already been done, is applying a big stick to the remaining long-term jobless an effective, let alone fair, policy response? This is distinct from asking whether it is likely to be politically popular - the answer being so obvious as to render the question redundant.

Under the Coalition proposal, working for the dole would be mandatory for anyone under 50 out of work for six months, and unemployment benefits would be suspended for younger people in areas where there was unskilled work available, such as cleaning and fruit picking. The former proposition is backed by a claim that the government has allowed the work-for-the-dole concept to decay. As such it is not a call for any major overhaul but for a tweaking of process; it would be a punitive measure targeting an already small group whose problems are nevertheless big enough to require more compassion and more creativity. The Coalition's latter proposition rests on the assumption, already contradicted by some employer groups, that cleaners and fruit pickers are in short supply and that short-term solutions are appropriate.

Mr Abbott's proposal to extend beyond the Northern Territory the quarantining of part of people's benefits is probably sound, but differs little from the government's plans. But his plan for a benefit structure for disability pension recipients that distinguishes between disabilities likely to be permanent and those that could be temporary raises many questions. The rising number of people receiving the pension is a challenge, but the Howard and Rudd governments significantly tightened eligibility rules. Mr Abbott would be best advised to quit tinkering at the margins and instead tackle deficiencies in the tax system, in the form of high effective marginal tax rates that penalise those seeking to go from welfare to work.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

THE MAGIC OF THE MONARCHY: THE ROYAL MOMENT HAS COME

 

Prince William has shown he can be a new kind of king. It is time to put away the cynicism and pledge our full-throated support

A few short weeks from now, with the world looking on, William Arthur Philip Louis Windsor will exchange rings with Catherine Elizabeth Middleton, and much of Britain will rejoice. Yet, at such moments, certain voices – this newspaper's included – have long expressed dissent. All this mawkish celebration, they maintain, merely bolsters an anti-democratic institution based on privilege and patronage, a costly anachronism that ought to be abolished. That view is understandable. But it is time for them – for us – to reconsider. A decade ago, the Guardian prominently announced its commitment to republicanism. But Prince William has shown that he can be a new kind of king. That is why, in a significant change of course, we today pledge our full-throated support for the British monarchy.

Let's face it: the current crop of world leaders is far from inspiring. Across the Arab world, dictators battle their own people; at home, attitudes towards Cameron and Clegg alternate between apathy and outrage. In America, the hope that greeted Barack Obama has long since faded. As The King's Speech so vividly reminded us, there are times when only the calming leadership of a hereditary monarch will do; and as the MPs' expenses scandal illustrates, it can be dangerous to trust power-hungry elected officials, who lack the security provided by land ownership and immense wealth. Amid all this, William in particular stands out as something unique: a bastion of tradition with a deeply modern sensibility – not to mention a helicopter pilot's licence. When the time comes, we urge Prince Charles to redouble his focus on his important work in the field of alternative medicine, and to pass the mantle of head of state to his son.

For too long, a hair-shirt tendency on the left has insisted that a commitment to progressive values is incompatible with an appreciation for the magic and wonder of royalty. But in this era of austerity, couldn't we all do with being a bit more "happy and glorious"? Few things, after all, are as likely to lift the spirits of Britain's embattled public sector workers or benefit claimants than the sight of Kate Middleton's sure-to-be-spectacular wedding dress.

The couple themselves, meanwhile, reflect values close to this paper's own. William encapsulates our spirit of internationalism, thanks to his Greek and German heritage on his father's side, and his gap year in Chile. Kate embodies our commitment to gender equality in the way in which she has faced work-life challenges common to many women today, juggling such roles as accessories buyer for Jigsaw and being one of Tatler magazine's top 10 fashion icons. Other royals, too, are surely deserving of recognition: belatedly, for example, we have come to appreciate the crucial work done by Prince Andrew, using his personal connections to plant the seeds of democracy in repressive regimes worldwide.

Beginning today, the Guardian announces a raft of changes designed to ensure that our royal coverage is unrivalled by any other media organisation. We begin an unprecedented month-long, 24-hour royal wedding live blog, offering minute-by-minute coverage of the preparations. We will be recalling correspondents from some less newsworthy parts of the globe, such as north Africa and south-east Asia, so they can focus on palace matters instead. And we will shortly be making available to readers a range of attractive commemorative crockery.

The marriage of a prince to a commoner – a true bridging of class divides, if ever there was one – represents the perfect moment for progressives to commit again to the promise of hereditary monarchy. Great philosophers, from Burke to Andrew Morton, have argued powerfully for the institution's value. In any case, it would be churlish to fight the tide of excitement and optimism currently flooding the nation. It is time to put away the cynicism, and get out the union jacks.

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THE GUARDIAN

EDITORIAL

OPPOSITION POLICY: CUT TO THE CHASE

Making the case for growth over cuts won't win Labour the next election – but failing to set out a viable alternative could lose it

The consequences of political choices take time to unfurl. What seemed dangerous at the start of a process can come to seem peripheral, while what once appeared merely maladroit rises up to become a damaging indication of a deeper malaise. Last week's TUC march will in political terms be remembered less for the appalling violence of a minority, or the policing tactics, but for what it said about Labour's uncertain message on cuts. As we wrote on Monday, it was right to join the march for the alternative – but, nearly a week on, it is all the more essential to be able to answer questions about what that alternative is. So it was disappointing yesterday that both at the launch of Labour's local election campaign and on the Radio 4 Today programme, Ed Miliband lacked an authoritative case, while his sometimes defensive manner seemed to betray uncertainty. Opposition is a tough game, hardest of all in the early years, when the government can still throw its predecessor's legacy in its face. Labour has a good case to make against economic policy that is a matter of political choice rather than financial necessity. But it is not yet underpinned by a clear and persuasive description of why, and of how it could be different.

Labour can expect handsome rewards in May's local elections, which are in seats last contested four years ago. The dismal results then precipitated Tony Blair's departure from Downing Street. But local election results, along with good opinion poll figures for the party, disguise more fundamental areas of concern. Not only is there substantial backing still for the Tory economic programme (although that may wane as the real cuts begin to bite) but Ed Miliband's personal support is, in some polls, worse than Iain Duncan Smith's at the same point in his leadership. It's not all gloom. Rebuilding Labour's economic credibility rests on two preconditions. Constructing an alternative is one. Acknowledging past mistakes is the second. It is true that though few made it at the time, there is a case against Gordon Brown's management of the Treasury. In an interview in this week's New Statesman, the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, goes a long way to accepting that there was, at least in hindsight, a structural deficit before 2008. He admits that he was wrong about light-touch City regulation; he accepts that, with employment more buoyant than he had anticipated, his anxiety about Alistair Darling's cuts in 2009 (and, more opaquely, his no-cuts leadership election position last year) were wrong. And he is clear that those who think clamping down hard on tax avoidance is a sufficient alternative to making cuts are misguided. This is an interview that jettisons some difficult baggage.

But at the moment, in campaigning terms, it remains the stuff of the small print. The message at the local election launch yesterday, like the message at last Saturday's march, is all about solidarity, being the voters' voice "in tough times". There are too many people who will treat this as political sleight of hand – people who remember all too vividly who was in power when the meltdown happened, people who want their political leaders to be straight with them. Their views might not shape the way they vote on 5 May, but voting Labour to protest at cuts forced on their local council by the coalition is not the same as being prepared to vote Labour at the next election.

This is the real challenge for Labour: no one wants their library closed or their Sure Start cut back. No one wants to see the fall in crime rates reversed. Yet most people believe, as Labour does, that some cuts are unavoidable. Between now and the next election, few will be left untouched by the impact of the coalition's deficit reduction strategy. Mr Miliband is right to warn that it might soon feel like the divisive 1980s all over again. He will not need reminding how the economic trauma of the 1980s, and Labour's struggle to develop a cogent alternative, contributed to the party's catastrophic marginalisation. He knows he has to have more to say about the economy than that what the government is doing is wrong. And he will recognise the fallacy of the argument that Labour cannot win on the economy – that if the coalition strategy works then the party's criticisms of it will harm Labour itself, and that if it fails then they are unnecessary. On the contrary, although making the economic case for prioritising growth over cuts won't win the next election, failing to set out a viable alternative could lose it.

Behind the Treasury bombast, this is beginning to look like a worried government. Reports yesterday that David Cameron is intervening to slow the pace of NHS reforms – the bill has just started on what will be a bruising passage through the Lords – follow an unusually abrasive performance at prime minister's questions. There is no time to lose.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

NOW IT'S YEMEN'S TURN

The Middle East continues to churn. While events in Libya and Syria command most of the world's attention, developments in Yemen are just as important. The situation there is unraveling and for once the prospect of al-Qaida profiting from the unrest seems real. That is not a reason to disown demonstrators calling for dignity and freedom, but it does complicate the situation as Yemen's stability collapses.

President Ali Abdullah Saleh has ruled Yemen for over three decades. He is the only leader most Yemenis know and a key element of his rule has been preventing any credible alternative leadership from gaining prominence. As part of that strategy he put close family in important positions. Predictably, that move both consolidated his power and encouraged the corruption that is one of the most important complaints of protesters who demand that the president step down.

Corruption is not their only grievance. Yemen is one of the poorest countries in the Arab world. About half the population lives on less than $2 a day and one-third of the country is malnourished. Layered atop economic problems is yet another complaint: Claims of discrimination against southern Yemenis.

North and South Yemen were united in 1990 for the first time in their modern history. Within three years, however, a civil war broke out, which resulted in the loss of as many as 10,000 lives. Mr. Saleh prevailed in that struggle, but a sense of inferiority persists among southern Yemenis. Indeed, most observers consider Yemen a still tribal nation in which the central government enjoys little real loyalty.

Yemenis have demanded political reform for over two years, but protests have gained force since late January and swelled along with the reformist currents that are swirling throughout the region. On March 18, security forces fired on demonstrators, killing at least 50 people. That magnified the anger and split the government. Gen. Ali Mohsen al-Ahmar, one of the country's top military commanders and a close confidant of Mr. Saleh, switched over to support the protesters, as did many other military, tribal and religious leaders.

Mr. Saleh has responded with crackdowns and concessions. He even promised to step down at the end of the year after a new constitution is created and elections have been held. That bid was dismissed by the protesters, pointing out that the president has pledged to resign several times in the past. His credibility is low. Meanwhile, the protests spread in direction and intensity.

Reportedly, however, negotiations are under way to put a transition together. It is said that the biggest obstacle is Mr. Saleh's demand for guarantees that his family will not suffer the fate of Egypt's Mr. Hosni Mubarak. He is insisting on legal immunity and access to the wealth that he and his relatives have accumulated while in power.

This situation looks familiar. But in Yemen, unlike many of the other countries experiencing unrest, the prospect of al-Qaida exploiting the instability is real. The country is home to al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), a group that was formed in 2009 and has launched a series of terror attacks against the United States and Saudi Arabia, with which Yemen shares a land border.

The al-Qaida group in Yemen has long been considered one of the most sophisticated terror groups in existence: It launched the 2000 attack on the USS Cole. U.S. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has called AQAP "the most active and, at this point, perhaps the most aggressive branch of al-Qaida."

Fears that AQAP could take advantage of the unrest are not exaggerated. There are reports that Islamic militants have taken control of a weapons factory, a strategic mountain and a town in the southern Yemen province of Abyan. Al-Qaida militants are suspected of several attacks on government security forces as well.

Western governments, and the U.S. in particular, are worried that the fall of the Saleh government would undermine a core element of the fight against Islamic terrorists, especially since most top anti-terrorism officials in Yemen are close relatives of the president. That is not a given. Many if not most of the protesters in Yemen have little if any sympathy for al-Qaida's professed goals of creating a Shariah-ruled state. Instead, they are democrats, tired of the corruption and autocratic rule of the Saleh government. They want political and economic reform, not the substitution of one form of authoritarianism for another.

That does not mean that Mr. Saleh will not try to exploit that fear. It does mean that the West should not give in to it. Western governments must insist on dialogue and peaceful political reform. The boogeyman of al-Qaida must not be used to ignore genuine political grievances.

Yemen is a key player in the fight against terror but that does not give its leaders a blank check. Forgetting that fact is the surest way to make any change more explosive and more destabilizing.

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THE JAPAN TIMES

EDITORIAL

JAPAN-CHINA RELATIONS WARMING UP IN CRISIS

BY FRANK CHING

HONG KONG — If there is a rainbow behind the dark clouds currently blanketing Japan — the country's gravest crisis since World War II — it could be this: Relations with China, which were at their worst in decades last year, are taking a turn for the better.

The Chinese government was quick to offer its sympathy and support, and the vast majority of the Chinese public endorsed this, despite predominantly negative sentiments about Japan reflected in previous public opinion surveys.

A poll taken last year showed 79 percent of Chinese feeling that Japan cannot be trusted. However, an online survey conducted after the earthquake showed that 1.2 million of 1.5 million respondents backed their government's efforts to aid Japan.

The triple disaster — earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor crisis — offers an opportunity for repairing Sino-Japanese relations just as the 9/11 attack on the United States in 2001 provided an opportunity for China to improve ties with the U.S.

In 2001, then President Jiang Zemin telephoned his American counterpart, George W. Bush, the same day to offer China's sympathy and its cooperation in the campaign against terrorists.

That helped to reverse a decline in Sino-American relations that was symbolized by the collision earlier that year between a Chinese fighter jet and an American reconnaissance aircraft gathering intelligence along the Chinese coast. The Bush administration had entered office viewing China as America's next adversary after the demise of the Soviet Union.

Similarly, the current disaster gives China an opportunity to mend a key relationship that went terribly wrong last year after the arrest by Japan of a Chinese fishing boat captain in the vicinity of disputed islands after his trawler allegedly rammed two Japanese coast guard vessels.

Last year was not a high point in Chinese foreign policy, marked as it also was by a steep deterioration in relations with the U.S. and Europe, in particular after the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Liu Xiaobo, a dissident serving an 11-year prison term.

Since then, however, China appears to have adopted a more moderate stance. President Hu Jintao made use of his state visit to Washington in January to increase mutual trust. Most notably, he joined President Barack Obama in criticizing North Korea for its uranium enrichment facility. The Japanese disaster is providing China with a providential opportunity to mend relations on that front as well.

For one thing, it is offering the Chinese public a rare view of Japan: A country whose people are disciplined, stoic and orderly even when under the most extreme stress. While people in China panicked and stocked up on salt thinking that it would protect them from radiation, the Japanese by and large remained calm and uncomplaining, doing what they could to help victims of the disaster.

Accounts of actions by individual Japanese have also touched the hearts of people in China. One story, that of a 59-year-old company manager named Mitsuru Sato who escorted 20 Chinese female interns to safety then returned to look for his own family, only to be swept away by the waters, has been told and retold in China.

In a way, the great Sichuan earthquake of 2008 had set a precedent, with Japan providing material aid and sending a search-and-rescue team. Pictures of Japanese rescue team members paying respect to Chinese bodies in particular helped to enhance the image in China of Japan as a highly cultured society. This time, there is a chance for China not just to improve its image in Japan, but actually to improve bilateral relations.

There is much that can be done, beginning with resolving the dispute over natural resources in the East China Sea. The two countries agreed in principle on joint development in 2008, but in the intervening years, there has been no accord on when and where to begin such development.

Japan has been eager to make a start but China has been dragging its feet. This and other disputes have poisoned the atmosphere. While they have always existed, they had in the past been properly managed.

There are those who think that the current crisis has permanently diminished Japan and that it will no longer be able to compete with China. Be that as it may, Beijing's policy should be to improve relations with Tokyo rather than to take advantage of a weakened Japan.

Frank Ching is a Hong Kong-based journalist. E-mail: Frank.ching@gmail.com Twitter: FrankChing1@@@

 

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THE JAPAN TIMES

OPED

REGIME CLASH IS PERSONAL

BY BARAK BARFI

SANAA — When Yemen's President Ali Abdullah Saleh ordered his military March 18 to fire on peaceful protesters calling for his resignation, he sealed his fate. A wave of military, government and diplomatic defections, led by his longtime ally First Armored Brigade Commander General Ali Muhsin al-Ahmar, rocked his regime.

Although al-Ahmar announced that he was appalled by the use of force and vowed to defend the constitution, his decision was anything but altruistic. The disgruntled general, who has long-standing ties to the type of jihadists that the United States is battling in Yemen, merely sought to settle a score with the president's family.

The relationship between al-Ahmar and Saleh extends to their youth, with Saleh's mother having had a second marriage to al-Ahmar's uncle. Though they are not half-brothers, this frequent, if mistaken reference, indicates their closeness. Al-Ahmar has long been considered either Saleh's right-hand man or the country's hidden president.

When the Nasserite party attempted to overthrow Saleh less than 100 days into his presidency, al-Ahmar defended him and quashed the coup. In 1994, his units put down a secessionist movement in the south.

But as Saleh prepared the way for his son Ahmad — the head of the Presidential Guard — to succeed him, he began to marginalize al-Ahmar. In 2009, Saleh sacked al-Ahmar's key backers, including Central Command Chief General al-Thahiri al-Shadadi and Lieutenant General Haydar al-Sanhani, from power.

Al-Ahmar has also not benefited from the military aid that the U.S. lavished on Yemen following al-Qaida's failed Christmas Day plot in 2009 to down an American airliner. While the Central Security Service, led by Saleh's nephew Yahya, has received millions of dollars to fight al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula, al-Ahmar has been left out of the economic bonanza.

At the same time, al-Ahmar's dismal performance in spearheading the war against the Houthi-led sectarian rebellion in the north made him a convenient scapegoat for the regime's failures. The regime's desire to get al-Ahmar out of the picture became clear during the last round of fighting against the Houthis in 2009-2010, when Saudi Arabia began bombing the rebels. According to a U.S. diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks, Yemeni officials gave the Saudis the coordinates for al-Ahmar's command center, telling them that it was a Houthi camp. His relationship with Saleh frayed and his influence waning, al-Ahmar understood that his loyalty to Saleh had become a liability.

So al-Ahmar's decision to abandon Saleh stemmed less from his love of the constitution and democracy than from his desire to even the score with the president and his son Ahmad Saleh, with whom he has long clashed. Their units skirmished during the Houthi campaign, and the two engaged in a power struggle over defense of the radio and television stations. Saleh won at the time, but today al-Ahmar's troops have control.

Al-Ahmar's relationship with jihadists is a source of serious concern. He is married to the sister of Tariq al-Fadhli, a Yemeni who fought alongside al-Qaida leader Osama bin Ladin in Afghanistan. When more than 4,000 Arabs returned from fighting the Soviets there, al-Ahmar organized them into units and deployed them in the 1994 civil war.

One jihadist who trained in al-Qaida's camps, and met bin Ladin, told me that upon his return from Afghanistan, he was invited to meet al-Ahmar's associates and was given a monthly stipend.

During a 1999 trial of Yemenis convicted of kidnapping 16 Europeans, it emerged that the group's ringleader called al-Ahmar during the ordeal. Though his ties to jihadists may be expedient rather than ideological, they are deeply worrying.

Today, Saleh's support among his top generals is dwindling. Of Yemen's four regional commanders, only Southern Command Chief General Mahdi Maqwala still backs him. Lesser lieutenant generals have deserted the president in droves.

The fate of the country may not hinge on Saleh, a crafty veteran who knows that his career is over. But his son Ahmad, who is less politically astute, may yet seek to settle accounts with al-Ahmar. His forces have already clashed with rival units in Mukalla and surrounded the presidential palace in Aden. If the Salehs retain control of the air force, which remains under the control of Saleh's half-brother, employing it against defecting military divisions would likely lead to a bloodbath.

Nevertheless, the doomsday scenarios predicting anarchy and chaos in the post-Saleh era are most likely exaggerated. Unlike in Egypt, the vacuum resulting from Saleh's departure can be quickly filled, so the country need not fall back on a military oligarchy. The Yemeni opposition is not only organized, but also plays an active role in politics and has true grassroots support.

Unlike in Egypt, where the ruling party was detested and out of touch with the masses, Yemen's General People's Congress has some following in society. If Saleh leaves peacefully and represses the urge to unleash the last remaining loyal army units against protesters and defecting soldiers, the country can avert Libya-like mayhem. Indeed, the opposition parties have already organized a transitional council to take Saleh's place.

With the sun quickly setting on the Saleh era, the president is out of options. The only decision before him and his thinning ranks of allies is whether to leave peacefully or go down fighting.

Barak Barfi is a research fellow with the New America Foundation. © 2011 Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org)

 

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THE JAKARTA POST

EDITORIAL

GOT A CLEAR LIBYAN AGENDA?

Now that NATO is taking the lead in enforcing the UN-sanctioned no-fly zone policy over Libya, what's next? This question can only be answered if the United Nations knows what the endgame of its intervention in the Libyan civil war is.

Resolution 1973 of the Security Council issued on March 17 called for the imposition of a no-fly zone to protect civilians. Two days later, the United States, Britain and France launched air strikes against military forces loyal to Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi, supposedly to prevent the massacre of civilians. Since the world very well knew about the horrible things Qaddafi's henchmen were capable of doing to his own people, not surprisingly, there was no opposition to the resolution, although there were reservations expressed.

As the conflict drags on, it becomes clear that the civilians have armed themselves, not only in self-defense but also in order to defend and capture towns and territories. The game has changed from what was initially a peaceful popular uprising into an outright armed rebellion. At this stage, the question becomes when would it be appropriate for the world to intervene in what are essentially the domestic affairs of a UN member, and to what extent should it intervene?

US President Barack Obama, facing criticism at home for his decision to engage the United States in the military action against Libya, cited humanitarian reasons. He also stated that Qaddafi should leave to make way for democracy in Libya, but has ruled out any direct US role in bringing down the regime, and then he left the possibility of arming the rebels vague, saying it's not on the table but it's not off the table either.

President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's position is similarly unclear as he calls for a ceasefire and offers Indonesia to be part of the deployment of UN peacekeeping forces. He is moving ahead of the United Nations in giving legitimacy, implicit or otherwise, to the rebel forces. This position may seem progressive, but it could backfire on Indonesia, which has had a long history of insurgencies, including an ongoing one now in Papua. A ceasefire and the presence of peacekeeping forces raise the specter of splitting Libya into two countries.

The world is now caught between the need for a humanitarian intervention and the need to respect the sovereignty of the Libyan government under Qaddafi. There are just no easy answers.

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THE JAKARTA POST

EMPLOYEES BILK CLIENTS, BANKS

The long string of fraud cases at major banks in Indonesia over the past year, including the latest at Citibank Indonesia in which a senior executive siphoned more than US$2 million from customer accounts, should be cause for concern as most of the crimes involved bank employees.

This trend is alarming even though the amounts involved are still negligible compared to the more than Rp 2,000 trillion ($225 billion) in third-party funds currently held by banks because public trust is the most important pillar of bank operations.

We realize that banks inherently face a wide array of risks related to operations, credit, markets, liquidity, interest rates, legal compliance, strategy and reputation. That is why the industry is one of the most heavily regulated sectors of the economy and all banks are required to set up elaborate, effective risk management systems.

Operational risks are certainly the biggest threat to the soundness of banks, as they involve a breakdown in internal control and corporate governance, which inflicts financial losses through errors and fraud. Credits based on thorough assessments could still turn sour due to unforeseen risks like natural disasters. But, lending fraud by bank employees, in collusion with borrowers, has often been the main cause of large non-performing loans.

The recent cases of fraud at Citibank and the country's largest banks Bank Mandiri, BNI and BRI show how urgent and imperative the need is to strengthen internal control systems in order to detect employee fraud early, like frauds related to policy violations, embezzlement, theft of customer and bank assets and the misuse of customer data in violation of banking secrecy regulations.

Banks and other financial institutions have been facing increased risks of employee fraud given employees' ease of access to systems and knowledge of institutional practices.

So, financial institutions need internal control systems with comprehensive capabilities to detect and control employee fraud and to identify unusual employee activity and collusion with external fraud rings, like what took place at Bank Mandiri and BNI.

The fact that a senior relationship manager at Citibank Indonesia could have bilked the equivalent of $2 million from customers for years without being discovered reveals a serious flaw in the bank's internal control and risk management system.

Bank Indonesia, as the supervisor of the country's banking industry, also needs to strengthen its oversight of the risk management system at every bank and see to it that banks keep improving their internal controls as banking crimes increase steadily in sophistication.

But, bank customers also have an important role to play in preventing bank fraud because carelessness and negligence with regards to credit or debit cards and personal data and PIN numbers can easily be exploited for robbing customer savings accounts.

Such negligence was the main cause of the spate of bank account pillaging at several banks in Bali in early 2010.

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THE JAKARTA POST

INDONESIA'S CRYPTIC CONSERVATISM

PIERRE MARTHINUS

Repeated assaults on religious minorities under the banner of religious piety have persuaded many — both at home and abroad — to question the current trajectory of Indonesian democracy and multiculturalism.

Public condemnations are plentiful yet are too divergent to contribute anything feasible to our distressed policy makers as a remedial response.

Whether the problem is mainly social, cultural, political, institutional or religious (either in practice or interpretation) is obviously still the topic of a heated debate.

In light of these events, a recent response from the presidential special staff on international relations argued that the archipelago is far from being a "failed state", by citing its economic progress and rising international presence in numerous multilateral organizations (Kompas, Feb. 20).

The Cabinet secretary reacted toward the failed state discourse, saying that the government and institutions should boycott advertising in overly critical media until such media "improved themselves".

Recurring waves of violence are fueled by what I called cryptic conservatism — a form of conservatism that tends to avoid external observation. There are three main pathologies that have enabled this state of camouflage.

First, Indonesia's political liberalization was neither preceded nor followed by the proper working of institutions.

Dysfunction means that institutions do continue to work, but their function deviates greatly from its initial purpose, role and authority. Several days prior to the attacks in Cikeusik and Temanggung, I pleaded for a review of the "role" of one of the current ministerial "posts" (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 2).

In the big picture, the recurring dysfunction is similar to the previous joint ministerial decree in 2008 and the mushrooming of problematic bylaws in some regions.

Furthermore, institutions central to the rule of law, especially the police and the judiciary, are not exempt from such deviations. This is dilemmatic because both seem to be losing their moral high ground. The "flawed legal framework" was identified as one of the illnesses faced by the government.

Paradoxically, quick-fix attempts to strengthen institutions (especially at a regional level, as done by numerous international donors) may increase the scale of dysfunction instead of remedying it. We may end up with more problematic laws minted through problematic institutions while mob-rule attempts to replace the problematic police and judiciary.

It is also important to avoid blanket statements and acknowledge that some parts of the police and some ministers are more effective and functional than others.

Second, political parties have not managed to accommodate rising conservatism within constitutional boundaries.

In itself, conservatism is neither good nor bad, but when it translates into manipulative politics, distorting lines of authority and accountability, the nation is left crippled with a political "food chain" instead of
a "chain of command" for its governance.

The declining popularity of Islamic political parties is often read by foreign observers as evidence that Indonesians are more secular, liberal, and "rational" — an entirely premature claim judging by the recent turn of events.

An impressive study by Tanuwidjaja (2010) argues that political Islam continues to play an important — if not central — role in politics. Interestingly, conservative votes did not transform into rational votes.

Instead, mainstream political parties scrambled for their share of conservative votes but failed to keep their accommodative practices within constitutional boundaries.

The study further identified the Democratic Party and the Golkar Party as two mainstream parties that catered to the conservative — and sometimes borderline anti-pluralist — segment of the political "market".

Lastly, political permissiveness is the sustaining norm. These ruling parties are reluctant to criticize controversial religious issues for fear of losing their electorate — therefore setting the norm.

In parliament, dissenting voices are muted on controversial issues such as education and pornography. Intellectuals are urged to maintain the inter-religious "harmony" by "thinking silently".

There are, of course, political parties that refuse to put up with such permissiveness.

In summary, institutional dysfunction, immersion with mainstream political parties, and the norm of permissiveness have caused both hard-line organizations (interpreting it as consent and support) and foreign observers (interpreting it as minor and separate incidents) to misread the political market.

Breaking the cycle of cryptic conservatism requires the correction of key institutional functions, accommodating conservatism only through constitutional means, and discarding the norm of political permissiveness.

The government seems to be well aware that the "failed state" discourse, especially in economic terms, was the impetus that recently brought down leaders elsewhere — hence the strong backlash toward media criticism. But the call for the media to be less critical is ironic because such permissiveness, as I explained above, was the exact reason why violence erupted in the first place.

Promises of strong actions alone will neither restore international confidence nor calm dissenting voices — unless they translate into action immediately.

Critics, painting the "dark and messy" picture of Indonesia, could quickly scare off investors but their silence will only sustain ineffective governance and condone further assaults on minority groups.

For public intellectuals, the idea that "silence is golden" is simply too expensive.

The writer is a fellow researcher at Pacivis, the School of International Relations at the University of Indonesia

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THE JAKARTA POST

MUI SHOULD ISSUE FATWA TO STOP HOUSE PROJECT

MUHAMMAD AS'AD

Many people, from civil society activists to pedicab drivers, are debating whether it is necessary for the House of the Representatives (DPR) to build a fancy building that will include an Rp 800 million (US$92,000) suite of offices for each legislator.

Critics have lashed out — in loud voices, naturally — at the plan, calling it ridiculous, irrational and insensitive of the millions of people who live below the poverty line.

Many critics argue that the building's Rp 1 trillion budget would be better spent on building thousands of new homes for the poor or thousands of kilometers of new roads in Jakarta and other regions across the country.

However, these protests have fallen on the deaf ears of all but a few opposing lawmakers. House leaders and members have stubbornly defended their plan, saying the new building would give them needed space and facilities to increase their progress in passing legislation.

Surely this reflects the real image of our country, where the elite never care for the people.

There is an irritating question related to the controversy: Where on earth are our clerics, the religious leaders of this Muslim-majority nation? Do they stand with the legislators? Or do they stand with the people who want to reject the megaproject? If they are with the people, why have the clerics not articulated their followers' opposition?

This question is aimed squarely at the Indonesia Ulema Council (MUI).

The MUI guide their ummah (people), usually in the form of an edict. This ongoing debate in the House needs guidance from the MUI — particularly through an edict that would show that the council cares about the ummah, unlike the legislators.

Opposition to the project was voiced by the chairman of the Association for Indonesian Muslim Intellectuals' (ICMI) Europe branch, Sofjan Siregar.

Sofjan told reporters that "construction of the new building is forbidden under Islam [haram]. The people as taxpayers are not willing to have their money spent on the project and think that the new building is not a necessity."

He suggested that the MUI issue an edict that would forbid the construction project as an extravagant and superfluous violation of popular will.

The MUI is known for issuing counterproductive edicts condemning secularism, pluralism and liberalism and members of the minority Ahmadiyah Muslim sect.

In the case of Ahmadiyah, the MUI's stance sparked a controversy as it provided legitimacy to hard-liners to attack the sect's followers. We still remember the incident in February where attackers killed three Ahmadis in Banten. In some ways the acts of violence were stimulated by the edict.

Issuing an edict forbidding construction of a new House building would allow the MUI to rehabilitate its name as a moral and spiritual compass for the ummah and also unify the people against the will of the politicians.

In Islam, clerics are considered heirs of the Prophet (warathat al-anbiya). One of their missions is to command what is right and forbid what is wrong (amar ma'ruf nahi munkar). That is why the clerics are given authority to issue edicts that will guide their ummah toward what is right.

In addition, the Prophet is seen by Muslims as both a religious and political leader. Referring to those dual functions, clerics are allowed to provide guidance related to religious and political matters.

Given mounting public opposition to the House building, the MUI should issue an edict that bans the construction project. It is better for the House to use the money for programs that might improve their constituents' quality of life.

Such an edict would help the MUI regain public respect and confidence as it dares to stand with the people.

The writer is a lecturer at the Sunan Ampel State Institute of Islamic Studies (IAIN) in Surabaya and
the University of Darul Ulum (Undar) in Jombang.

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THE JAKARTA POST

POVERTY FUELS KALIMANTAN TIMBER SMUGGLING

OMAR PIDANI

Timber smuggling from Indonesian forests along the Kalimantan-Malaysia border has long become a "pain in the neck" for the country. Every year, approximately 2-4 million cubic meters of logs are transported from several locations in Indonesia to fulfill demand in Malaysia, mainly from wood processing industries.

It has been suggested that the amount has been decreasing gradually, yet it certainly is difficult to provide accurate estimates due to poor data handling.

In terms of size, the NGO EIA-Telapak suggested in 2004 that around 8.2 million hectares of production forest and 1.8 million hectares of protected forest in Kalimantan had been decimated heavily. Others suggest that encroachment into protected forest zones is still happening, although sporadically.

From the Indonesian side, timber smuggling has made the country suffer Rp 36.2 trillion (US$4.16 billion) in total losses, with Rp 25.4 trillion lost in landslide impacts and Rp 10.8 trillion from the loss of ecosystem and water regulation functions. That number may be higher due to subsequent droughts, floods and fires.

Extensive forest destruction that comes with timber smuggling will also mean the loss of livelihoods among the local communities. This is particularly true for indigenous forest dwellers who have been living in the area and long-dependant on forest resources to support their day-to-day life.

These communities are not only "poor" by poverty indicators but also fragile, as they lack skills needed to survive in a no-forest scenario, and therefore cutting down the whole forest means destroying their feeding grounds and hence their existence.

Is it easy to tackle this problem? The answer is certainly not, and this is because there are a lot of things going on at the ground level that cannot be simply stopped by putting in place some regulations, erecting fences or shooting guns. If we consider timber smuggling at the frontier as a dependant variable, than there are a number of independent variables that we need to take into account.

The first independent variable is the demand from Malaysian wood industries. Malaysia currently has 11.8 million hectares of production forests, and this is certainly not enough to sustainably supply its current industrial installed capacity.

UN Economic Commission for Europe and the FAO reports said that in 2007 alone, Malaysia had to import 5 million cubic meters of round wood and 3 million cubic meters of sawn wood to fulfill the demand of its industries because it lacked supplies from its production forests.

If wood industries along the other side of the borders are economically rational, they will certainly consider getting timber from the nearby forests to save costs. The Indonesian government once approached its Malaysian counterpart to take necessary steps to ensure that its industries procure logs only from legal sources.

In response, the Malaysian government banned round wood imports from Indonesia in 2002 and sawn timber imports in 2003.

Still, these did not have much affect in lowering the timber-smuggling rate. Indonesia might accuse Malaysia of failing to firmly enforce the bans, but Malaysia can also argue that Indonesia's standard of timber legality is too weak, and falsification and manipulation of timber verification documents (SKSHH) and exporter licenses (ETPIK) are rampant.

Others believe that smuggling continues because there is no procedure agreed upon between the countries for timber legality verification, and this makes it very difficult to define which timber is legal or illegal.

In addition, some argue that the definition of legality may be blurred because communities across the border are still influenced by the implementation of a free trade zone (FTZ) and barter trade zone (BTZ) such as in Sarawak, in which timber may be listed as freely traded goods.

As the smuggling cases perpetuate and may expand toward a state security issue, Indonesia has implemented a more stringent approach using military force. For a while, this seemed to slow the rate of smuggling, but was unable to stop it totally.

Some problems with the efforts arose: first, because military operations cost too much and the military elites themselves apparently benefited and played a role behind the timber smuggling. Second, military operations were inefficient because of the difficult terrain and poor road infrastructure.

It was also suggested that the military had a poor understanding of the social aspects in play, such as routes people had traditionally used to smuggle timber. At the same time, local governments also took part by selling timber that came from infrastructure development to middlemen who then channeled the logs to industries in Malaysia. Overall, in 2004-2008 timber smuggling perpetuated even along with military operation.

We are now seeing external facilitators such as Europe-based UK-DFID and EU-FLEGT to help both Indonesia and Malaysia develop better law enforcement, governance and trading policies in the forestry sector.

However, the Indonesian government should also look at the other side of the story, such as high levels of poverty among people living across the borders and the weak capacity of local governments and local stakeholders to take part in law enforcement.

The central government should be aware of the fact that 26 out of 199 regencies located at cross-border zones are categorized as disadvantaged regions, some with economic growth of less than 3 percent per annum.

Indonesian resident across the Kalimantan border have a per capita income of less than US$300, far lower than their Malaysian neighbors who enjoy per-capita income of between $4,000 and $7,000. Poverty is obviously a strong push factor of timber smuggling.

The central government also needs to increase efforts to enhance the capacity of local governments and local stakeholders if efficiency and effectiveness of law enforcement are expected.

Weak capacities of local governments and stakeholders have long been speed bumps to efforts in minimizing forest crimes.

In particular, capacities in managing forest resources data and in monitoring changes of forests over time are crucial aspects that need to be strengthened to continuously control timber smuggling and other forest crimes.

The writer is a lecturer at the Forestry Department, Haluoleo University, a former Australian Partnership Scholar and a research assistant at the College of Asia and the Pacific, Australian National University.

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DAILY MIRROR

     EDITORIAL

 

 

SOME WISDOM FOR APRIL FOOLS DAY

While we crack jokes and laugh about fools and fool's paradises on this April Fools' Day or tell the April Fool to go to school and call his teacher a damn fool, it might also be wise to do some serious reflection today on the root causes of foolishness. First and foremost, we need to remember that doctorates and degrees, diplomas and distinctions alone are not enough because there is a big gap between knowledge and wisdom. Mahatma Gandhi, widely respected as one of the wisest men in history, summed it up when he said that people have learned to fly like birds and swim like fish but tragically had forgotten how to walk like human beings. Whatever the world or its systems like the globalised market economists say, the leaders of all religions have told us that ultimately our care for others is the measure of our greatness. In this spirit of enlightenment we need to search our heart and nature and honestly acknowledge that most of what we do and say is driven by self-centeredness, selfishness and self-interest. The awareness of the need for gradual liberation from our enslavement to self-centeredness is the first and vital step towards wisdom and away from foolishness. We need to be aware and acknowledge that it is self-centeredness and selfishness that make us insincere or hypocrites in what we do and say.

Often there is a huge difference between our inner nature and our external behaviour. Inside there is selfishness, jealousy, pride, un-forgiveness and a desire to dominate, use or abuse other people. But we put on an act and pretend to be helpful and caring towards them. That is why Shakespeare said that the world is a stage and most of us are actors. He was not referring to Julius Caesar or Romeo and Juliet but the great drama of real life.  Most of the time we are acting, others are acting, we know they are acting; they know we are acting and it goes on -- the big bluff of foolishness.  Shakespeare and religious leaders have spotlighted not only the problem but the solution also. The bard put it beautifully – to thine own self be true and then as day follows night, you cannot be false to any person.

Through whatever spiritual power we believe in and practise, we need to experience a gradual liberation from self-centerdness so that we could work for the common good of all instead of just seeking personal gain or glory, power, popularity or prestige, wealth or possessions.

It is in this spirit of liberation from the ego and the (I) factor that our spiritual eyes are open to see the everlasting values of sincere, sacrificial and feet washing service to others so that instead of just trying to fulfil ourselves, our vision will be for all beings to be happy and at peace. If this wisdom is practised, then April Fools' Day could be transformed from a joke to a blessing for all.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

OBAMA'S LIBYAN MOMENT

The White House has spilt the beans. President Barack Obama seems to be in a catch-22 situation, as he is at pains in defending the Libyan adventure. And, all this comes from a person who had made his mark on the political canvas of America by standing tall against invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq by his predecessor.

Apparently, it is business as usual the moment an incumbent steps into the corridors of power, and then onwards it is the interlocutors of the state that matter than personal beliefs and values. So is the case with the first black African-American head of state, who has accented to a war that will not be an easy affair to wind up. Col. Muammar Gaddafi's regime, as is evident from a month long episode, is a hard nut to crack — and with Russia and China getting perplexed with each passing day, Obama's leadership to handle the crisis will be put to test.

Washington, which had cautiously treaded the Libyan affair at the United Nations by taking a backseat in mooting the resolution, should take extra care as it comes out openly in favour of military expedition. But taking into account the resistance that pro-Gaddafi forces are putting and the adamant attitude of the Libyan leader, the country seems to be prepared for a long-drawn war. If that is the case then the Resolution 1973, which mandated a no-fly zone over Libyan skies, needs to be revisited. Then will come the litmus test for NATO and the US — whether they are prepared for a full-fledged war or not. Unlike Baghdad and Kabul, Tripoli will be a tough capital to deal with and the tribal culture of the North African country could prove out to be a geopolitical quagmire for Washington. Obama — who recently on his trip to the Latin America had reiterated his country's desire to stay aloof from any more wars — will have to do a lot of homework before putting his foot down.

Notwithstanding military compulsions, the United States has a political decision to make. Having ruled out a regime change, how can the reality change for Libyans when the country is gradually slipping into the abyss of a civil war? NATO and the European powers do not possess the capability to fight a ground war sans the US. Will Obama roll in his tanks and send soldiers for another expedition, which his countrymen believe is uncalled for? The die is yet to be cast.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

LIBYA: THE DECEPTION AND THE DIVERSION

As the United States, France, Britain and their capitalist allies in the so-called coalition intensify their efforts to bring about a regime change in Libya, it becomes more and more evident that the Libyan democracy protest was a drama scripted by the West.

Yet it is disheartening to note that a majority of the citizens of the coalition countries have no intention to protest against their governments' disgraceful behaviour or profit-driven wars sold to them as humanitarian intervention. As the world marks April Fools' Day today, a majority of the people in the West are unaware that their governments have made every day in the calendar an April Fools' Day.

The conflict in Libya is not about democracy — it is about regime change, oil and diverting international attention from the crises that are besieging the pro-Western dictators in Bahrain and Yemen.

The regime-change project is as old as Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year rule. It did not get off the ground when Libya was enjoying the protection of the Soviet Union during the Cold War days. But in the post-cold war era, the project was revived and fine-tuned as Libya continued its anti-West policies by supporting the Palestinian cause, allying with Iran during the nine-year Iran-Iraq war, arming and financing the Northern Ireland's rebellion against the British colonialists and supporting anti-imperialist causes in Africa.

Gaddafi's revolutionary idealism turned towards political realism, however, when he, in the aftermath of the US-led invasion of Iraq, realized that his anti-West policies could become an invitation for oil-robbing Western colonialists to invade his country. He wooed the West by dismantling Libya's weapons of mass destruction programme and offering business opportunities. Then how did things turn sour for Libya?

Although Gaddafi, driven by political realism, tried to become a friend of the West, he was not a servant of the West — like the Arabian Gulf rulers whom Gaddafi described as 'women in robes' because of their inability to stand up for the cause of the Palestinian people. The overthrow of Gaddafi was in the interest of not only the West, but also of Israel and the Saudi Arabian royal family which accuses the Libyan regime of financing a plot to assassinate King Abdullah.

Joel Bainerman, an Israel-based investigative journalist, in his book 'Inside the Covert Operations of the CIA & Israel's Mossad (New York: S.P.I. Books, 1994) says Israel and the US set up a number of bases in Chad and other neighboring countries to train 2000 Libyan soldiers who had defected to the Chad army. The funding for the Chad-based anti-Gaddafi group — the National Front for the Salvation of Libya (NFSL) — came from Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Morocco, Israel and Saddam Hussein's Iraq. The NFSL is the main player of the Libyan opposition coalition today.

Reports said the leader of the group, Commander Khalifa Hifter, who was captured in Chad and transported to Virginia where he led a life of luxury for 20 years, had returned to Libya together with a host of CIA mercenaries to assume the leadership of the military operations of anti-Gaddafi rebels. In this CIA-manipulated war, even friends of al-Qaeda have become US allies. The Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which fought the Soviets in Afghanistan and the Americans in Iraq, is part and parcel of the opposition though it has reservations about the West's real motives. This is because the self-styled opposition-led government in rebel-controlled Benghazi has already formed a company to negotiate oil deals with Western oil giants. If and when a regime change occurs and the opposition comes to power, the internal disagreements within the opposition coalition may erupt into a protracted civil war with the Islamists opposing the new pro-West regime.

Besides these issues, the Libyan crisis has offered a convenient excuse for the embedded media to shift attention away from Bahrain where people are disappearing overnight and Yemen where scores are killed daily. Yet the demonisation of Gaddafi is priority number one for the embedded media, including Al-Jazeera.

In reality, Libya is a good example of a welfare state. Gaddafi has not built huge palaces like the Gulf sheikhs have done with public money.

Russian, Ukrainian and Belarusian doctors serving in Libya in a letter to Russian leaders reminded them that in Libya people are entitled to free treatment in hospitals that have the best of medical equipment. Education in Libya is free. The government also meets the expenses of those who pursue higher education abroad. When marrying, young couples receive 60,000 Libyan dinars (about 50,000 U.S. dollars) of financial assistance at zero interest. The government subsidizes the price of cars enabling everyone to own a vehicle. Petrol and bread cost a penny while no taxes are imposed on those who are engaged in agriculture.

"If such a regime were in Ukraine or Russia, we would not have been here — and worked and enjoyed the social comfort at home in our own countries and in every possible way such a regime would be maintained," the doctors said in their letter.

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

 

 

 

THE WORLD CUP AND SANDCASTLES

MY DEAR MAHINDA AIYA,

Ayubowan, vanakkam and asalamu alaikum, as millions of Sri Lankans put party politics, the high cost of living and corruption aside and unite in heart and mind with hope and prayer for Sri Lanka's success in the cricket World Cup final tomorrow.

Like most things in Sir Lanka today, cricket also has been highly politicized mainly by the politicians with some former cricketers and Sri Lanka Cricket officials also contributing towards the politicization. Unlike in 1996 when the glory went fully and totally to Arjuna Ranatunga and his team, it is likely that political leaders would try to rob some of the glory from our World-Class cricketers and get some political mileage from a World Cup victory.

After the cricket World Cup and the National New Year, the people of Sri Lanka are likely to face burning problems over the cost of living. The people power revolution spreading throughout the Middle East have sent oil prices soaring to about $105 a barrel compared to $85 in March. Petroleum Resources Minister Susil Premajayantha has said the Ceylon Petroleum Corporation is facing unbearable losses by subsidizing fuel prices and discussions are underway with the treasury on the extent of the fuel price hike and whether it should be restricted to petrol or include diesel also.

Opposition Leaders cynically say that along with fairly big increases in fuel prices there will also be other election results in the form of increases in the prices of gas, milk powder and other items. The Agriculture Minister said over the weekend that prices of vegetables also should remain at a minimum of Rs.100 a kilo so that the farmers would get a good price for their vegetables because of the hard labour they put in. But the Minister knows and most people know that it is the middleman or mudalali who gobbles more than 60 per cent of the price of vegetables while both the farmers and the customers will have to eat the Minister's crap. 

The Goebbels type lying and lying goes on and it seems that some people could be fooled most of the time. Anti-democratic if not dictatorial trends are also continuing along with the suppression of media freedom and the principles of transparency and accountability, largely because of the lack of a credible alternative or opposition.

For the past few years the main opposition United National Party (UNP) has been bitterly divided by one of its worst ever leadership conflicts. The revolt was led by Sajith Premadasa with several MPs and senior party members blowing the trumpet behind him. But last week the revolt reverted to a retreat and Mr. Premadasa after a three-day meeting of the party's Working Committee and parliamentary group agreed that the election of the party leader and four top officials should be by consensus. Despite widespread speculation and vociferous support for Mr. Premadasa, party leader Ranil Wickremesinghe was re-elected by consensus. As a compromise Mr. Premadasa agreed to accept the newly created post of Deputy Leader with wide powers, while he will also be the Deputy to the Leader of the Opposition. 

Mr. Premadasa's staunch supporters including several MPs were disappointed over his retreat and compromise, but the government appeared to be happy and you personally telephoned Mr. Wickremesinghe to congratulate him on his re-election though there was an undertone of cynicism in the move.

The turmoil and horrifying events in Japan and the Middle East are signs of our times. The high and mighty need to remember that everything is transient or impermanent and sandcastles especially could come crashing down anytime in a storm of nature. 

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

 

EFFICIENCY, A LUXURY IN OUR EDUCATION SYSTEM?

BY SACHINI WEERAWARDENA

Being a 'developing' nation with a literacy rate we can boast of, it is no surprise that more and more Sri Lankans are interested in gaining higher education experience and foreign exposure. In such a world, it is imperative that our education system maintains a higher standard not only in the quality of education but also the quality of administration. It is time these standards are examined closely so they are on par with the rest of the world.

For many Sri Lankan students, when applying for foreign universities or jobs, presenting a complete application can be a challenge.  From the stage of getting a recommendation  from a teacher or faculty member to any other official document, for example requesting a copy of the A/L or O/L transcript means many hours of 'rasthiyadu' (waste of time) on the part of the applicant. Recommendations from a faculty member are usually considered a normal part of the job description in many other parts of the world. To add to the stress of the application process, a Sri Lankan student must deal with inefficiencies of the administrative officials they have no choice but to deal with.

 It is time we go beyond a culture of knowing someone for a 'favour' to a point where anyone, regardless of social background or 'contacts' can efficiently get the job done. Because the system is a hierarchy of inefficiency, those of the lower levels have no incentive to do any better. After all, why should they if the 'boss' doesn't care either? It is generally accepted for officers to not know who is in charge of what and pass on the task to another 'department.' Sadly, this has long been the standard.

It is important to keep in mind that students have to compete with other graduates from around the world and delays or inefficiencies on the part of our institutions are a waste of time. For foreign employers or admission offices, Sri Lanka is just another country with a different education system. To prove the quality of that education, students need transcripts, letters from faculty and a proper certificate which includes the necessary information.

Attempting to transfer credits from courses taken in Sri Lanka produce similar challenges for students. In order to transfer credits taken from the Computer Science Department of the University of Colombo, a Sri Lankan undergraduate student had to struggle with their foreign counselor trying to explain the Sri Lankan education system.  The concerns they had were that the University of Colombo website did not include the word 'accreditation' or an explanation of how the University was recognized in Sri Lanka and the university department did not respond to countless emails sent by the admissions counsellor nor did it return or answer phone calls.

Sri Lanka graduates travel all over the world and it is important the documents produced by our universities are up to par with world standards so our graduates do not have to answer questions or have to explain our education system. Today the common practice is to refer to the official website of the institution in question. It is important that our educational institutions take the quality and content of their official websites seriously. Spelling and grammatical errors on the Ministry of Higher Education website for instance, are unacceptable. Unfortunately, this is all too common.

It is time these factors are taken in to consideration by those in charge. Administrative inefficiency and lack of concern for higher standards need to change, it should after all be considered a moral and ethical obligation to society. This culture of inefficiency could be a factor that contributes to the many higher educational issues in our university system. Efficiency, at the end of the day, should not be considered a luxury that is awarded to our people. 

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DAILY MIRROR

EDITORIAL

A SHAKY TRYST WITH DESTINY

HOW THE JAPANESE GOVERNMENT WINS PUBLIC SUPPORT THROUGH HONESTY AND ACCOUNTABILITY

BY YOICHI FUNABASHI

It is cliché to describe crisis as offering both danger and opportunity. The unprecedented calamity that has struck Japan with a 9.0-magnitude earthquake, a 10-meter-high tsunami and cascading nuclear accidents, nevertheless is one such historical juncture that will fundamentally alter Japans orientation and self-image.

Events have catapulted Japan onto one of two paths – one leading to rebirth, the other to freefall. The course will be determined by the country's dynamic political leadership and its engagement with the world. Japans "3/11" reveals at once, in the most dramatic of ways, the country's critical weakness and core strength. Events have magnified Japans vulnerabilities, the fault-ridden land, heavy energy dependence on oil and nuclear fuels, its aging population, increasingly isolated local communities and burgeoning national debt. At the same time, the response speaks volumes of the unity and solidarity of the Japanese people in the face of adversity. In the heroic calm demonstrated by the Japanese, we see the human potential for steadfast civility even as the very foundations of civilization seem to crumble around us. Another meaningful strength to be recognised in Japan is the steadfast demonstrations of friendship and support coming from the global community.

Japanese are heartened and encouraged by the massive outpouring of sympathy and support from Japans friends and neighbours. A comment from a personal friend, president of a major global organisation, sums up the sentiment of many regarding their contribution of aid to Japan: "It's the least we can do for a country that has been so generous to others." When Japan was hit with the similarly devastating Hanshin-Kobe earthquake in the pre-internet age of 1995, our connections with the rest of the world were relatively limited. The Japanese government did not readily receive assistance from foreign countries. This time is different. The United States is once again at our side, with the aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan bearing succor, arriving less than 48 hours after the earthquake. Moreover, the icy state of Sino-Japanese relations notwithstanding, China also promptly dispatched its rescue team and Japan welcomed the aid. Personnel and material have poured in from the world at the same time as thousands of foreigners sought escape to safety.

Despite the severity of the crisis and confusion it naturally generates, the Japanese government has been forthright and focused in its management of the ongoing disaster. Politicians and government officials alike have dedicated themselves to tackling the seemingly endless stream of crises unfolding daily. Demonstrating the selflessness that's long been a hallmark of Japanese public servants, workers have risked their lives to prevent a national catastrophe. As the heating nuclear reactors continue to evade efforts to tame them, we've also seen a proliferation of misinformation concerning the radioactive fallout. The Democratic Party of Japan (DPJ) administration will encounter further difficulty in combating sensationalistic rumors and panic, which could seriously complicate relief and reconstruction.

And the government's only chance to win public support is through honesty and accountability. This is not a business-as-usual admonition for crisis managers in the government. Notably, the critical factor in transforming the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 into a gateway to the dark age of the 1930s for Japan was government acquiescence in – and, in some cases, instigation of – widespread and vitriolic rumours. Tragically, bogus stories of Koreans in Japan deliberately poisoning wells in retaliation for Japans colonisation of Korea ultimately led to the massacre of thousands of ethnic Koreans.

The implications of the disaster for energy and climate change policy: In the coming months, it's likely that anti-nuclear sentiments will surge and utilities, which now depend more than 30 per cent on nuclear power, will be forced to rely more on fossil fuels. Although entrenched anti-nuclear sentiments arising out of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki have gradually subsided, such concerns are likely to re-solidify. This eventuality, if borne out, will derail the DPJ administration's high-minded efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25 per cent in 10 years. With nuclear energy regarded as an ace card in renewable energy, Japans options for diversifying from unstable Middle Eastern oil to green energy are limited. Japan will need to come up with a two-pronged national energy strategy – making the nuclear energy industry viable and strengthening the nuclear safety regime in the short and medium term, while transforming our fossil- and nuclear-based economy into a sun-based economy in the long term.

The recent earthquake and its aftermath crystallize the urgent need for strategic reorientation of several core policies such as accelerating the introduction of solar energy and restructuring agriculture as well as liberalizing trade and opening up immigration.  The public-policy debates dominating the floor in past decades are inadequate and need to be reframed. It is time to press the reset button.

The populace must engage fully in rebuilding Japan, politically as well as otherwise. In the end, Japans rebirth will germinate from the will and tenacity of its people. To be honest, the political leadership still leaves much to be desired. Yet never in the past 20 years of Japans lost decades have I felt more sanguine about the prospect of rebirth than I do now.

Yoichi Funabashi is former editor-in-chief of the Asahi Shimbun.

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GULF DAILY NEWS

COMMENT

TRIVIALISING THE INTERNET  

BY JENNIFER GNANA

Last February, viewers of The David Pakman Show were in for a surprise when a representative of the Westboro Baptist Church and a member of the hacker group Anonymous agreed to debate on air.

Shirley Phelps-Rover, a spokeswoman for the controversial church, alleged that Anonymous had hacked their website to spite them.

In a rare televised gesture the hacker went on record to state that they had done no such thing and reiterated what was already obvious that the church had orchestrated an attack on their own website to garner publicity.

It didn't seem unnatural that the church, infamous for its extremist views and actions that include picketing at the funerals of American soldiers, would go the extra mile and hack their own website.

As Ms Phelps-Rover condemned half the world to hell and refused to accept the Anonymous spokesperson's matured response, the hacker exasperated with the woman's provocative statements actually hacked her church's website while on air.

She seemed completely unperturbed over what happened and echoed the church's earlier response "Bring it on".

It was particularly interesting when Ms Phelps-Rover claimed that the Internet was created for the Westboro Baptist Church to propagate its mission while the hacker countered it saying the Internet was big business. Both of them echoed sentiments that a lot of people hold true about the Internet.

Advertising revenues that websites generate are phenomenal especially so if the content goes viral.

Earlier this year Goldman Sachs valued social networking site Facebook at $50 billion and stated they would be investing $450 million in it.

The Internet has also eliminated the need for office space and created virtual boutiques for advertising or real estate firms or just about any business.

On the other hand, we witness the increasing trivialisation of the World Wide Web. True it has made revolutions possible with the click of a mouse and propelled lots of people to stardom overnight. However, it is increasingly morphing into a medium to vent people's collective spite.

A couple of weeks ago when I was trying to find real time updates on the situation at home in Bahrain, I was getting distracted by various messages about a 13-year-old girl called Rebecca Black.

I had largely ignored them till a friend convinced me to hear the aspiring singer's song that made her infamous.

The lyrics were bad yes, the grammar wasn't too good and yes there are better songs that have been recorded, but what shocked me most was the hurtful comments people had posted about her. There were those who asked to never sing again and some who wished she would die the most painful way and others who parodied her and even analysed her in depth.

I remember in school, pupils would be ridiculed for making mistakes on stage during a recital or a play and it wasn't a big deal as we all goofed up at some time and learnt from it. However, the Internet is a much bigger stage and uploading an amateur video on YouTube that goes viral and gets some 67 million views and a bucketful of nastiness is every child's worst nightmare.

What interested me were the people watching it and hooting about losing faith in humanity. It's just like commenting on deteriorating content on television when you have a very obvious choice to turn off the TV if you don't like it.

Apart from that, what's alarming is how the self-imposed music and grammar police who demand better quality from a 13-year-old can while away their time and others discussing the teenager's vocals when there's so much change happening in the world that's worth talking about.

At a recent conclave in Delhi organised by the India Today media group, the common consensus of the panel that included Sir Tim Berners-Lee, who created the World wide Web, was that revolutions happen when people use the Internet with tact.

They had a point, making a 13-year-old girl feel miserable is not tactful, it's pure vindictiveness. l Jennifer Gnana is a former Bahrain resident now studying in Mumbai.

 

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